21: NO BULLIES IN HEAVEN
Look at you hanging there. You useless little boy. To think you ruined my life. To think you turned my life upside-down, now I can return the favour. You’re welcome.
Thank you for the shit, by the way. I’ll be talking to my therapist about that for a long time. Actually, I’m joking. If I had a therapist, I wouldn’t need to resort to, well, all of this sort of thing to work through my issues, now would I? And to think I owe it all to you.
Oh, I see. Thank you, yes, thank you very much, indeed, for clearing that up. Yes, you are of course not, and please note my giant ironic “air-quotes” here, my Rob. Thank you, too, for the gentle reminder that my Rob is dead, by his own hand no less, in a whole different timeline. You are indeed just a dumb kid from a different timeline.
But are you? Are you really a different person? Does a timeline make a difference, or is it a difference without a distinction? What makes a person what and who they are? You didn’t deliberately sit down one day, as you might if you were going to play some D&D, and decide to create yourself as you are now? You didn’t intend to make yourself like this, did you? You didn’t, when you were little and with everything still to play for, decide one day, “hey, I know, I’ll grow up to be a walking black hole. I’ll be a the sort of lump that a surgeon would want to remove it. Yes, I’ll be a tumour of a person when I grow up.” That wasn’t you, aged about six, was it?
You turned out this way because life happened to you. Because your illness happened to you. Bullies, teachers, your mum and dad fighting all the time. The world around you, terrorists, nuclear war, Vietnam on the telly every night. The way the Americans gave up going to the Moon. You told me a long time ago how much that really killed you, deep inside, that they gave up on the Moon. They just stopped. You said you always had the sense that the whole world went to the Moon, but that it was the Americans who gave up.
Was it that that did you in, Rob? Was it that that literally killed you deep inside, and you were never the same again, Space Age Boy?
Was that a tear? Oh my!
So what does make a person what they are in the end? What makes a person go? Why does a person do something? Why are you dangling up there like that? What on Earth did I do that to you for? What was I thinking? You know, it made fantastic sense at the time. I loved it. I got home that night, the night you threw shit at me–nothing like that has ever happened to me before, and, pardon the expression, but I have seen some shit–it was the night of the living shit, I had shit in my eyes, in my hair, I think I even had shit in my mouth, I’m sure that I had shit in mouth, I can still taste it. I was pretty much disassociated, I think. I was so traumatised, and this is me we’re talking about, Abuse Girl, Torture Girl, Razor Girl, that I just sort of stepped out for a little bit and I watched myself in the shower, fully dressed in the shower screaming and then putting all those clothes in the bin. I had intended burning them, but they were soaking wet and I didn’t want to wait, you know?
Shit has a weird taste. Shit-flavour, of course, pretty strong “shit notes”, you might say. But if you kind of live with it as a taste experience? You get kind of a ghost of the original food flavours, the food you ate before it was turned into shit. It was kind of fascinating.
My dad did that to me, when I was little. What I did to you up there, with the ropes and all that rigging. My dad did that. I learned about the punji stakes later, reading about Vietnam. I know it’s a bit much. It’s over-the-top. I wouldn’t be too worried about them. The bamboo is good and strong, though. There’s an early form of bamboo torture where the prisoner is suspended over a bamboo sapling, and the thing is it grows really fast, like nobody’s business, like no other plant you’ve ever seen, and the prisoner is strapped facing down, pretty much watching the bamboo growing up towards his belly. Which it does. It reaches his belly and keeps going, growing through him and out the other side, no problem, and possibly even better, with the increased flow of, um, nutrients.
Anyway, yes, Dad lashed me up like that, and he also bashed me until I bled, too. You know about piñatas? No? Imagine a toy on a string and the idea is you bash and bash at it until it breaks and lollies fall out. I was like that, but I just bled. Dad hated that I bled. He hated that I was a girl, you see. That was the whole problem. My girlness. It was worse, up on the hoist, once my period kicked in. It sent him into a fury of disgust. It made me unavailable, you see. For several days he couldn’t bear even to look at me. I was filthy. Unclean. It was, in a broken sort of way, nice. Nice things have always been broken that way for me. I have never liked anything whole or perfect. It’s why I liked you. You were wonderfully broken.
My Rob was wonderfully broken, and you are, too. This is my point. You are all broken. All the Robs. Across the full span of time. In all the timelines, every one, there is a Robert Bradford who is a walking talking pimple, a living scab. Who is such a nasty piece of work only other nasty pieces of work like me can even see you. You blend in to the general dead-channel static of daily life. You shuffle along in your black ripple-sole desert boots, with your huge grey school-bag, and every night you stare down the barrel of six to eight hours of homework and every night you think tonight is the night your homework will finally kill you and you kind of hope it does, because that would be pretty great, it would be a release from this misery you endure. There are no bullies in Heaven, you’re pretty sure. All the dogs you’ve ever known are there, your grandparents–and no bullies. How could you not like Heaven?
And in all the timelines poor old broken, scabby Rob ends up having some kind of ghastly crisis experience that leads him to wind up in a psychiatric hospital of some kind, and in most of those you meet versions of me. It’s more than karma: it’s statistics. And stats don’t lie. You and I are the original star-crossed, time-crossed lovers. The details are always different, and each story plays out differently. This is the first time this particular scenario has played out, for example. Other Fionas have gone swimming across timelines. There’s speculation in the Fiona Timeswimmer community about why it is that we can do this, what it’s for, to what end, and why it only came about with the advent of commercial time machines.
The dog? What dog?
No, sorry. What dog? I have no idea what you’re talking about. What?
Oh my God! Oh my God! Someone did that? Someone really did that to your dog? That’s–my God! No, no, that wasn’t me. Yes, I was there, sure, I was there to kill you, well, I was there to kill your smug older self, you know who I–no, shut up, shut up, no! No! I said I didn’t do it! Why would I do it? I’m rotten through and through, and I’m wrong in the head like nothing else, butmI wouldn’t hurt a beautiful innocent three-legged dog, Christ! I love dogs! When you and I were together we had a dog, Bozo, a big goofy lab kelpie cross! I loved that dog! I’ve always loved dogs. That’s one of the things you and I talked about in hospital when we first met, and we were getting to know each other, yes I’m telling the truth, it’s you that has a history of porkie pies my boy, remember?
Anyway, I promise on Bozo’s grave that I did not harm Zonk that night, and certainly not as any kind of diversion. I set up my transfer to manifest directly into your bedroom and exited the same way. I was never in your yard, and never even saw your dog. God, what kind of bastard baits a dog like that? Was she left alone for long periods? Did both your parents work while you were at school, because maybe neighbours complained?
Okay, sorry, look, no, sorry. God, that’s lousy. I am so sorry, Rob.
No. No, this does not mean I am going to cut you down. Geez, kid. I’m not a total moron.
No. I’m not evil. You think I’m evil? You think I’m a cartoon, that I’m doing all this because I’m EVIL? How lame is that? I thought better of you than that, Rob. I always respected your intelligence. Even after you took yourself from my world I always respected your mind. But this, this whole EVIL thing? I’m a bit disgusted. I’m feeling all let down here. I’m disappointed in you.
I’m not evil. I’m angry. I’m crazy, but I’m in my right mind. I’m mentally ill, but I’m very high-functioning. I mean, look at all this. I did this, just me and my drones. I love drones, by the way. Best phone app ever. I love drones even more than time-travel. Why would you not want instant clomes of yourself to condense out of the ether and do things for you, or which you could drive around to do things? They’re impossible, violate at least six fundamental laws of physics before you’ve had breakfast, but then, your mobile phone is also a time machine, so hey?
Sorry, what’s that?
No, I told you. Why am I doing this? What do I want from you? What is the point? What, I suppose, are the victory conditions?
Well. On one level at least, this is therapy. From time to time I’m going to cut one of those ropes. Yes, see all those ropes. It looks like I could cut maybe six or seven of those before you have to worry too much. That’s comforting, eh? But yeah, therapy. I talk to you, and you talk to me. I’m going to teach you not to be a prick and kill yourself on me.
Oh what’s that? You totally promise you’ll never ever do that? Never never ever? Really?
Well, that was easy. Okay, let me go and get my knife, then. I’ll have you down from there in no time flat, kiddo!–
And just what kind of freaking moron do you take me for, huh?
Do you really think I’d accept anything the Princeling of Lies would tell me in a situation like this? Do you really? When you would sell out your own mum to get out of this?
You asked me why I’m doing this.
Revenge. Yes. Revenge. Blood-soaked, Shakespearean, revenge. Yes, one of my live-options is murder. I wouldn’t harm your dear little innocent dog, because she’s innocent. But you are part of the Rob Bradford Continuum. You share DNA, fingerprints, life memories, gut flora, microbiomes, and a million other forensic identity markers with all the other Rob Bradfords. The only things YOU SPECIFICALLY don’t have are the memories that come from your future experiences, assuming you get those. But for all intents and purposes, you are my guy. You are partially-baked, under-cooked, still frozen in the middle, needing two more minutes in the microwave, and in general suffering greatly from Not Having Had Proper Sex Yet (I will help you out with that, trust me, it’s great).
But again, what are we? Are we our experiences and the memories we form of those experiences? Are we our DNA? Are we our existential choices and the sometimes horrifying consequences? A decent philosopher (I slept with a really great one in university and the things we talked about were frequently better than the sex) would tell you that all these things make us who and what we are. But what makes us, from moment to moment, who and what we are? I have a clear, continuous sensation of shatteredness, of being something like a disco glitter-ball, millions of mirrored bits, all taped together this way and that, only loose and half-arsedly. I’m in danger of collapsing or flying apart at all times, but especially when the stress is on, like now.
Because an old boyfriend of mine is looking for me. I owe him money, in his mind anyway. I don’t really. But he thinks I do. It’s complicated. He also thinks we’re married. We’re not. We were never more than defactos. God. Why am I telling you this?
I’m telling you this because he’s trying to find me, and he might. You might meet him before I’m finished with you. It might get tricky. You need to tell him I’m a dominatrix and you’re a client. I do a bit of that sometimes, to make ends meet. You’d be amazed at the guys who get all hot and bothered over feet and shoes. Amazing money sometimes.
Anyway. Where was I?
Mirror-ball. Yes. Right. I’m making this up as I go. What do I want from you? I want an audience. You left without a word. You didn’t even leave a note. Not a word. You left when I wasn’t even in Perth. I was away in Adelaide at a bloody conference. Four days. You left on day two. When I found you you’d been gone more than two days. Imagine how that would have looked. Two and a bit days, hanging there with a bag over your head. The smell. The shit. God.
Not one fucking word.
At first I thought you must have been murdered. Like in a home invasion, burglary sort of thing. But everything was neat and tidy. You’d made the bed, done the dishes, the laundry. You’d even washed the dirty undies. The undies!
And not one word. Not even with the magnetic poetry kit on the fridge.
Nothing. You were at the bottom of the deepest pit of existence, all alone with your voices, and you never thought to say goodbye to me.
This is why you are here.
You are here to die again.
And this time you will say a proper good-bye.