in pain, in the dark.
Piano wire nerves scream
in a white-heat silence,
searing through me,
blazing as I lie
longing for the morning
to bathe me in light
and chase away
this tortuous night.
in pain, in the dark.
Piano wire nerves scream
in a white-heat silence,
searing through me,
blazing as I lie
longing for the morning
to bathe me in light
and chase away
this tortuous night.
An intermittent intermission
while life melts in fission.
Fused and confused.
A pause for breath,
but not so long
or so final
or so primal.
As each beginning is an end
in a cycle which contends with us
and renders us with reality bites.
Slights and fights,
while in the sand we bury our heads
and look for the treasure
Delectable and delightful…
Any place to leave the pain.
His heart sank.
It happened while she was watching. She supposed it had always been coming; in fact, she knew it had been. It was all he’d had to give. For months; ever since it had happened. They’d gone through so much together; then the accident, but he’d held on.
“My heart will always be yours,” he’d said, “until the day it sinks so completely and can never rise again. When it does, you’ll be free”.
Six months had passed since he died.
She stared at the heart at the bottom of the jar of formaldehyde.
She was free.
Waiting for the kettle to boil I took my usual 5-minute breather on the balcony, around 5.30am. It had rained heavily the night before and the morning found itself under a heavy grey cloak. I always enjoy standing out there; breathing, observing, listening and thinking. The mountains wore skirts of cloud. I came in, tea in hand and sat down, with just the first sentence in my head. Strange how things go off on a tangent as they develop.
The cloud clung to the sides of the mountain. Beyond it, the sun had risen but the day had dawned pale and would remain that way. Water from last night’s rain clung to everything. Hidden blackbirds chattered in the trees and every now and again a crow would raise its voice above the drip, drip of the water. Pine scent filled the air, which was clean but sombre.
It was time to move.
There was now enough light to get a helicopter in the air and heat imaging would see through the cloud. He was sure he’d heard dogs in the valley below, and the rain wouldn’t cover his scent for long.
He grit his teeth as he tipped a little schnapps from his flask onto the blood-soaked gauze on his thigh. The schnapps was the only thing between a usable leg and infection. In this humidity gangrene would take hold soon if he didn’t find the help he knew was waiting for him.
Four miles to the border. Four miles till the forest sloped down on the other side of the mountain. He put all his weight on the pine branch he was using for a crutch and placed his holed leg forward.
It was time to move.
I woke up and Donald Trump was in his chair and Kim Jong-un was in his and it got out of hand. I don’t trust either of the bastards with their hand over the button…
In my bed, I slept
as half a world wept
at its sins and punishments.
In the dark bombs fell
a dictator laughed
and split the night, open.
Half a world sat motionless
arms raised in surrender;
to no avail.
In the dark machine guns rattled
an army laughed
and tore the night, open.
In the shower I stood, thankful
as water washed over me like tears
and half a world looked for water.
In the dark a mushroom cloud
a despot laughed
and lit the night, forever.
Once in a while I look back over my previous writing just to try and gauge whether, over time, it’s improving. I think it is. I also look for patterns. Patterns reveal the state during a certain period. My writing of late, especially the poetry, has taken a darkened path.
10 years ago I started having massive sleep disruption. This quickly grew into chronic insomnia, which I chose to ignore at my peril for a few years. 6 years ago I went under the ‘care’ of the local hospital, following visits to psychiatric specialists who tried to fathom out what the problem was. I was depressed, apparently. No shit, Sherlock. A few years of sleeping no more than 4 hours a night was conducive to wiping the smile off my face. They put boxes of pharmaceuticals in my hand and sent me away.
During this time I started writing. I was trying to read a book, unfortunately I can’t remember the title, which was so bad I gave up after 20-odd pages, which is something I never do. One dark morning I decided I would try and write something, surely it couldn’t be as bad as that crap I’d just given to the charity shop?
Writing became a regular in my life and it helped me where no amount of Benzodiazepine or Escitalopram could. In fact, I stopped taking anything after two years, against the hospital’s wishes. Fine, the pharmaceuticals help you sleep, but they leave you feeling hollow, devoid of emotion. I decided I’d rather not sleep. So here I am, not sleeping.
For anyone who doesn’t know, insomnia is a bastard. Mentally, it’s a dark and lonely place that leads ever downwards, where you will eventually come to your own private Niflhel. It cleaves you open and wrenches your tortured soul from your body while leaving you running on empty.
You stop telling people. You have to, because all you hear is “Yeah, I had a terrible night as well.” What? You can’t explain and they can’t understand so your interactions become sullen standoffs. You spend the day with a head full of cotton-wool; thinking becomes laborious and even the most banal of tasks requires consideration and reconsideration. Clear thinking is a reality enjoyed by other people.
Physically it leaves you hollow, like a wind-blown wheat husk dried in the summer sun, light and directionless yet always hoping for a respite, a resting place from its torments.
On the other hand, creatively it has been a wonderful input and output, where my notebook, 2H pencil and I join hands in the early hours and together we chase away the demons that frequently slip the pillow out from under my head. Those deep still hours of the morning welcome me, absorb me in their serenity and give me time and space to write. Ideas form and become words because of this. The majority of what you will find here was written while the world outside slept.
I hope reading this blog gives you at least a little of the pleasure it has given me.
Imagine someone just turning out a light. One minute I was in the sunshine, strolling over the small bridge that crossed the river that tumbled between grey rocks green with moss. The next, I’m crushed under a leaden sky and grey walls closed all around me, taking my air.
I find myself in front of what remains of a Cold War-era apartment block, the same colour as the sky with glassless windows, graffitied walls and waste of every kind strewn over the broken concrete.
A cold wind blows along the street and I pin the collar of my jacket with one hand and I look to bury my head in my jacket as litter dances little waltzes around me. I stand back from the building, taking it in. My stomach knots as the wind drops and the air stops breathing, tense. A pale face appears at one of the holes that were once windows.
I start to shake. The sky mirrors my soul as I wonder, not for the first time, why I came here. I know why. Pain. Pain is why I’m here here. White shards of pain that strip and shred the nerves as vultures tear at a long-dead carcass.
The first couple of months had been fine, taken care of by concerned doctors whose hands caressed the prescription that I eyed as a spectator watches for the matador to give the bull that final thrust. Even the sight of that little A6-size slip of paper was enough to alleviate the pain I (imagined?) felt.
Then, when I started to walk without wincing, the morphine prescriptions dried up and stopped. They stopped but my body’s craving didn’t. And so here I stand, shivering, waiting for a little packet of warmth.
The cheap quartz wall clock ticked its way through the dark minutes and hours in the studio. It wasn’t loud yet he was convinced he could still hear it, even with the door closed. He turned his face from one hot side of the pillow to the other. Still sleep evaded him.
The mind plays its darkest games in those still hours, when fears are more real. The swoosh of the scythe, like a knife through silk, is only a stroke away, and death stalks those wakeful thoughts. Car crashes become unavoidable. Work-related accidents a matter of time and media-induced paranoia of acts of terrorism places packages in every hidden shadow.
He flicked on the small book-light under the duvet and read a chapter of his latest acquisition, a paperback fiction bought at the station when the tannoy announced the cancellation of the train, and the drizzle continued unabated.
Satisfied, he flicked off the light and closed his eyes. He twisted. He turned. His brain churned. Damn it. His ears strained for the faint sounds of the wall clock but this time he could hear nothing. Content, he tried the new breathing exercises he’d been shown and tried to relax. No good. His mind shifted up to fourth. He was awake. A sigh passed his parted lips and, rising slowly to avoid making noise, he got out of bed.
He sat at the desk in his studio. He opened his notebook, took a pen from its holder and listened to the clock tick its way through the dark minutes and hours.
Love is a stroll in a sunlit garden, under a perfect blue sky
Love is the lurching axeman, blood dripping and stumbling through corridors hard and white
Love is the warm sun and a light summer rain
Love is the vise-grip of ice, the cold that rips the breath from your lungs and tears from your eyes
Love is the warm bed, as sunlight drifts through the gaps in the blinds
Love is the sword on which we commit the ritual of Seppuku: and give all.
‘So, who do you write like?’
‘Bukowski? You write like Bukowski? Ha!’
‘No, I drink like Bukowski.’
‘That’s why I’m here. So who do you write like?’
The doctor unzipped his black bag and raked around inside.
‘Why do I have to write like anyone? Why can’t I write like me?’
‘Everyone has influences. I aspire to attain the heights of some notable surgeons, in time.’
‘Hemingway? You write like Hemingway? Don’t kid yourself.’
‘No, I drink and fight like Hemingway.’
I coughed as the stethoscope was placed at various points around my back. I looked at the cigarettes on the table.
‘What about your poetry?’
‘Rimbaud? You …’
‘No, I drink like Rimbaud but I’m not French or gay.’
‘You’re going to die like Rimbaud.’
‘There is a heaven after all.’
‘No, seriously. The alcohol is killing you. You’ll have to stop.’
‘No going back.’
‘I can’t make you but as your doctor I’m telling you, you’re going to die, and soon if you don’t stop.’
‘If you don’t stop? Weeks, months. I can’t tell unless we open you up.’
‘You’ll stop? Really? Just like that?’
‘Do I have a choice?’
‘No, not unless you want to die. However, you still haven’t been published so it wouldn’t even be a very good career move.’
‘Well, I sold a story and one article.’
‘That’s good but you’ll have to do more and to do more you’ll have to stop killing yourself.’
‘Doc, take that bottle of grappa. It’s a good grappa and I don’t want it.’
‘Sure, I’ll take it. Thanks.’
‘Doc, there’s some good wine in the kitchen, take it, give it to your wife or your secretary.’
‘OK, thanks. Remember, there’s no going back. Falling off the wagon is not an option, you’ll die.’
‘No going back. Sure doc.’
He got his things together, wrote out an illegible prescription and told me to get my ass down the pharmacy. I passed him a bag with the bottles as we stepped out and I shaded my eyes from the low winter sun. He clanked his way to his car. I pulled a couple of envelopes from the mailbox.
‘No going back,’ he reminded me as his car coughed blue exhaust smoke into the cold air.
Back in the kitchen I tore open the post. My head swam from the hangover. For once it wasn’t a bill. It was the agency, they’d found a publisher, a real publisher who wanted to publish me. Me.
I opened the cupboard under the sink, reached behind the bin and pulled out a bottle.
‘No going back,’ I said, to no-one in particular as I toasted myself.
Sliced by razor
bleached with sorrow
Hung out to dry
saw your smile,
felt your kiss
The razor’s wound
but never eternal
As the heart beats once again
96 years ago the First World War, the Great War, was finally over. A generation of young men, those that returned home, were left to pick up the pieces of what they had experienced, seen and endured. They said it could never happen again. but it did; 21 years later. As terrible as the Second World War, the same as any war, was, there is something truly horrific about the trenches.
The ground heaves and shakes and small rivers of dirt fall, splattering my helmet and the pounding of the earth is like a fist in my back. I look at Jenkins; he’s now bleeding from the ears and nose from the concussion of this incessant artillery barrage. I look at the lieutenant; his face flares white in the explosion flashes; dark rings his eyes and he’s gaunt, like the rest of us. He’s one of us now. After two years in this hell-hole the only part of Cambridge that remains is his manners. He looks at me.
‘Don’t,” he says.
He knows I want to look, I can’t help it; George was my friend from the pre-war days. George who had the nerve to stick his head above the trench, only for a piece of shrapnel to tear it off and fling the rest of him across the trench. The trench, this devil-made wormhole. What will I tell his wife when I get back…if I get back?
A let up in the barrage and the shadow of the black Somme night passes across the trenches, leaving destruction, torn and twisted bodies, fatherless children and husbandless wives but now all was silent. We’ve been stuck here for months, barely advancing, barely retreating. The smell of the ripped earth and dank mud in which we wallow is everywhere, except when the wind blows towards us and the stench of death and decay replaces it.
The voice is faint but it’s there. In the sudden and welcome silence it’s as clear as birdsong on a June morning, agony and suffering coming through in just one word.
‘Who the bloody hell is that?’ Symes; newly arrived from the train, all shiny boots, clean puttees and enthusiasm. They always arrive with enthusiasm. What the hell are they telling them back home? Five days a week killing the Hun then Saturdays and Sundays off, French whores and bistros thrown in? ‘Can we not do something for that poor bugger sir?’ he says, turning to the lieutenant, who sighs.
‘Corporal, take a look and be bloody careful.’
I take off my helmet and place it on the butt of my rifle and slowly raise it above the trench, joggling the rifle to simulate movement: nothing. No sniper fire to split the night. The lieutenant hands me his field-glasses as I replace my helmet and climb the ladder. They say there’s nothing blacker than no-man’s land at night but that’s not strictly true, especially following a barrage. The artillery will always find something to burn, even if it’s just human remains, and little fires dotted around cast an unholy light in the field-glasses. I first scan the enemy lines, looking for movement, but I see none.
My vision jumps from crater to crater, searching for life and hoping for it also, in this God-forsaken pit of human misery. At first I see nothing, then I take a slower, longer sweep with the glasses. I see movement; slow, shambling movement some twenty yards away where the barbed-wire is stretched across and upon which hang torn and crow-picked corpses, like some infernal spider’s web. A slow, crawling movement catches my eye and even in the dead-light I can see enough. It’s a soldier, a German soldier, gone from the waist down, pulling and dragging himself inch by agonised inch towards our trench.
‘Well I’ll be damned. It’s a Jerry sir and in an awful state by the looks of it.’
‘What the Dickens…’ as he climbs up, taking the field-glasses from me and looks upon the awful site before us. He wipes his mouth with the heel of his hand, sighed and turns, stepping down into the trench. Not a moment too soon, as a high whistling noise is followed by chaos. The concussion from the blast is enormous, filling my head with a death-roar and I could feel my ears and nose bleeding freely. Symes is on the floor of the trench, his legs pinned down by dislodged sandbags but he’s ok. Upon hearing that whistle, the lieutenant, Jenkins and I all threw ourselves against the wall of the trench. Symes will learn, if he has time.
‘Corporal, who’s our best shot?’ but he looks at Jenkins, the Welshman is a crack shot and needs no introduction.
‘Take him out Private. I won’t risk stretch-bearers to bring him in but the sorry blighter has suffered more than enough.’ He moves aside from the ladder to let the Private through. The figure is nearer now but still a good fifteen yards away. No trouble for Jenkins, who could shoot a canary in a Welsh coalmine from fifty. The first signs of dawn are beginning to pink the early clouds, which a rising breeze is scattering. Jenkins brings the rifle up to his right shoulder, intent only on what he sees at the end of the barrel.
“God speed this bullet and put that poor devil out of his misery”, the lieutenant says, to no one in particular.
“Amen,” says Jenkins, and his finger tightens on the trigger.
As if in response the morning sun throws its first rays of light through the breaking clouds and onto the battlefield. The bombardment has done a lot but not enough; the barbed wire is still in place. If we have to go over the top we’ll be torn to pieces by the German machine-gunners.
The report of Jenkins’ Lee Enfield barks out. The lieutenant raises the field-glasses but they aren’t needed. As more lights floods across the battlefield the sliding, shuffling figure shimmers and fades to nothing.
We look at each other in silence. We’ve all heard stories of ghosts on the battlefield and I guess with so many men butchered on a daily basis it was only a matter of time. I wonder, should God grant any lasting peace on this Earth, in 100 years how many of our souls will still wander here, lost in a foreign land far from home.
I’d like to acknowledge http://femaleimagination.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/11-november-world-war-i-ends/ for the use of the photograph.
One hundred years on and…
A brief truce broken
A steel head awoken
And glared into the night
Apparently security means a dawn raid
An air raid,
The choke of smoke
Ashes to ashes
Dust to dust
On whose hands the blood
That puddles the street
Beneath frightened feet
Toe to toe
Door to door
Calibre counts much more
A prayer for the lost
And for those who remain;
The blinding smoke
The dust that chokes
The blood that soaks
The tears that burn
Amid the fires that turn
Earth to hell
A hell on earth
Suffer little children
As men hide among you
While their enemies’ bomb you
Poor innocent souls
As the death toll
Through wars’ devices
Bodies twisted and torn
Lives shattered and shorn
Of all hope of peace
A three day pull-out
A humanitarian hand-out
Look at me
Through your blood-shot,
They say security means war my friend
Do you really think
It will ever end?
Ah, at last. I’ve finally written something fictional, it seems ages since the last one. Thanks to Morgen Bailey and her Story Writing Exercises I found myself writing this at half past midnight, using the keywords: need, leave, Nebraska, pick, song. I went slightly over the 15 minute limit – 17 to be exact. Then I left it, went to bed and came back to touch it up this morning. So, thanks for that Morgen. Great exercise! So, let’s see how this little 550-worder stands up in the warm light of a summer morning shall we?
My back is sore, my legs cramped and my coat can’t be pulled any more tightly around me. My breath fogs and my fingers and toes seem to have left me for warmer climes, but my ribs, hard against the hard cold wood, jolting and jerking, are the worst.
I’d taken a beating before leaving Summer Creek. Panning for gold in them hills can make you feel like a king, but it can make others feel like killing you, make them envious. I’d gotten away as best I could I suppose, considering the kicking I got. Still, I kept my gold, or most of it. They only found a few nuggets and the rest was well-hidden. It was the gold I’d promised not to touch: Janie’s gold. The gold I wanted to win Janie back with, the gold I need to win Janie back. As I move I can hear her letter rustle in my coat pocket, a crinkled reminder of a love gone bad, and a love now gone.
The hell was she doing in Nebraska anyhow? What, or rather who made her leave? I knew the answer to that; she couldn’t live alone for long, she needed company and preferable the male-type. The Lincoln postmark was the first thing I saw when I received the letter, two months ago now. It made my heart sink, then I panned just that little bit harder, worked just that little bit longer to bring her some gold from the Black Hills, to get her to come back to St. Louis. I’m a fool, I know but this is no fool’s gold in my possession. She’ll see that, when we meet. I still can’t believe she’s gone even now. I can think of nothing else as I sit, freezing my ass in this slow, empty cattle wagon, shunting and bumping through the South Dakota night.
I lay my head back, close my eyes and listen to the movement over the tracks, each cross-tie and rail joint out to get me. I’m sure I can taste blood now; punctured lung? Could be, 6 pairs of boots can do damage to a man already weakened with a broken heart. I begin to hum an old song; The ship that never returned, one of our camp side favourites. Billy would take that banjo from the sackcloth and pick like an Appalachian angel. Billy. Billy bust flat this autumn, running up debts and making enemies. They took his banjo, then they took Billy. Mountain justice. No one said anything, we all had debts but most of us were panning enough for our need; except Billy.
All this gold weighing down my pocket and I’ve not eaten in almost a week; feels like my stomach is touching my backbone: it probably is. At least I’ve Janie’s gold, hidden good. I would write her a letter or a note but my fingers couldn’t hold a pencil. I’ll just sit here all quiet. I wish there was at least a cow for company.
I feel so weak, so tired, it’s getting colder. I can taste the blood good now, getting stronger with every jolt of the train. I think I’ll just close my eyes a bit. I know I shouldn’t but just for a short while, I’m so tired. And so damned cold.
Living in a daily world of imaginary conflicts, in which the tide of others washed and pushed against him, He lived ever in anger’s twilight. The anger simmered, threatening to boil over but not quite managing to do so. In some ways it would have been better if it had.
In his make-believe world in which everything was a hurt against him, either directly or indirectly, he no longer lived; not in the true sense of the word. Whereas sensibility to his condition was heightened, other important aspects of his character were made obtuse. Happiness was an emotion felt by others. His anger would obtund any sense of enjoyment or achievement and his spiral continued downwards.
The world outside is bright
Spring fills the air
The fields and the trees are colour
Animals awaken from winter slumber
But within him the winter remained
And for him the clocks unchanged
He slivered on ice
where others walked on grass
He shivered with cold
while others warmed to the sun
He withered, his face white
when others danced with new life
He lingered in the shadows
whilst others cavorted in the long,
joyful hours of sunlight
He revered in his head
his sufferance in a world
where hurts imaginary
and conflicts obtusely
Beat him to the ground
into the dust, to be found
Where maybe hope one day
will bring him out;
out into the world again.
Depression can take manifest itself in various guises, this I know from personal experience. Whilst at the height of my chronic insomnia 4 years ago the hospital put it down to depression which, personally, I couldn’t understand as there was no real motive, so I believed. I just thought it was the other way around – that I was shot to pieces in the head, imagining scenarios which weren’t there simply because I didn’t sleep. Thankfully, with loving support and no lack of determination, I managed to untangle myself from the shadow-spectre of this awful and destructive condition.
During last 4 years I’ve started writing, which is a therapy in itself. I still don’t sleep anywhere near the recommended 8 hours but whoever recommends this probably has nothing to do all day. The above, in a very rough form, has been around quite a while, probably written during ‘recovery’ stage. Ordinarily I avoid personally-related posts, but this is different – I want that reminder there. I want to remind myself of where I was and where I am and be thankful for it.
p.s. – Shadowplay is a track by Joy Division from their “Unknown Pleasures” album. It just seemed apt in this case.
I was walking home from work. I guess I could have seen it coming, maybe should have. Now it’s a tad late. Happens.
The dog owner was dawdling along, retractable dog lead in one hand and mobile phone in the other, a million miles away. Facebook? Twitter? It’s all the same, he was distracted. The dog, a Jack Russell, was happy though; 5 yards away peeing up a conifer. The owner looked up, frowned and reined it in.
The suited owner of the Range Rover was also a million miles away; steering wheel in one hand and mobile phone in the other. Bloomberg? BBC news? It’s all the same, he was distracted.
The grey tabby was sitting on the wall across the road, watching the dog, unconcerned and not distracted.
The dog saw the cat, looked at its owner engrossed in his telephone and made a run for it. The cat did likewise. The dog got most of the way when the owner looked up and tried to put the brake on the lead. The car driver looked up, saw the dog run in front of the car, braked, swerved and mounted the kerb. The dog ran between the wheels.
The owner didn’t.
Waiting room, full again
Doctor’s patients, my patience
Your sickness, my illness
Your prescription, my medication
Your suffering, my pain
Your temperature, my fever
Your bone is broken, my fever hasn’t
Your chest X-Ray, my chest pain
You cough your heart up
Mine’s about to give up
Your cure from a Chemist’s lab
My end on a Mortician’s slab
Thanks once again Morgen.
Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the ninety-fourth piece in this series. This week’s is a 580-worder (with an American theme – happy Independence Day yesterday everyone) by Christopher Farley.
This story will be podcasted in episode 31 (with three other stories) on Sunday 8th September.
The Freedom Train
He closed his eyes for a second. He finally began to believe it really was over. The mountain of lies and the rivers, even oceans, of deceit no longer mattered. The affair was finally finished and could now be considered a thing of his past, where it should stay. It had become like a tedious end-of-season football match; neither side wanting to lose but both would be content if the referee blew time. Each had said their piece and each had gone their separate way. The thought of returning to his old life before his spree as a shoplifter in the…
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Would you accept damaged goods?
Would you accept a damaged heart?
Not physically, at least I hope
But damaged in the wars of love
Could, or should I even offer such
What would you think of me?
If I tried to hide the pain and hurt
Pretending nothing ever happened
I’d be like the used-car salesman
Who filled the noisy transmission
with sawdust, to cover up
The damage done before
I’d try plug the radiator holes
But my pain would still seep out
The mileometer I’d try to rewind
But the miles done would remain
I wanted to get away, run or even be put under, anything to get away from this jolting, numbing pain running through me. I didn’t know how long I’d been here, time became irrelevant. As I looked up I saw only a shape, fuzzy round the edges, not clear, just a silhouette. Alien. I could think only of the Cybermen on Dr. Who, way back when I was a kid. It was alien anyway, as was the hurt. It was less traumatic to break a bone in the body, I thought vaguely between white flashes of agony, the nerves in my face were standing on end, screaming at me, waving angry red flags at me. Half a second then another bolt of pain. I closed my eyes and my body went stiff, I felt my hands, back and legs soaked in sweat, I hadn’t even been laid out almost horizontal for more than a few minutes but the pain was becoming unbearable. I tried to move my head but to no avail, foolishly I thought it help me. My hands crossed themselves, twisting, sweating and entwining as the pain continued. Minutes passed.
A respite. I was unsure whether this pain had subsided or whether I was gradually getting used to it. However it had started to lessen, the flags went from red to orange, I had hoped for green but I guess that was asking too much. My face went from fingernail-on-blackboard nerve shredding torture to uncomfortably numb. My hands were sweating less and they stopped writhing like mating eels in a bucket. My shirt however was still soaked. I was breathing normally at least. Fearful the pain would start again I slowly opened my eyes once more.
A hand went up, the Cyberman’s head switched off and my dentist clapped me on the shoulder. “Smile”, he said, “you’re free to go.”