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Journal of Distraction - by Michael Kelly

Week 4 - Tuesday

But all is for the best and this is the best of all possible worlds. Some good news about the publishing thing - found a cheaper distributor - would have to raise the price a bit (was aiming at five quid a book but that was probably unrealistic) - or I've also found a good print-on-demand service - one way or another it starts to look do-able. There are still some hitches I'll have to think about when I can concentrate on it properly but it's basically green for go. I'll announce it on my website when it's ready. Oh - the price - probably around 199.99, a bargain. No, it'll be a normal price or I'm not bothering. And whatever it is I'm not doing any 99p bollocks, it will be rounded up to the nearest quid. I have more pride than to try to trick people with any 7.99 is psychologically cheaper than 8.00 nonsense, and besides I really need the extra penny. By the way, I was in Smiths the other day, and every single damn book or CD, almost without exaggeration, had a 'Reduced' or 'Half-price' sticker, and you know why? Because they get reductions on the listed price from the publishers. And you know how the publishers budget for that? They put the cover price up to take it into account. So you get it for the same price you would have paid only it's got a garish sticker on, because they think you're thick. I will also not take part in any nonsense like that if I can possibly help it. The only time you will see my book reduced in price is when it winds up in the remaindered bin.

But I refuse to countenance that possibility. Today is a day for celebration. And as the dark days are behind me now, and I will soon be the richest man in the world and will never feel any pain ever again, and in response to several extremely nosey enquiries, and even though I'm probably too tired tonight to do the story justice -

The last time I worked at the place I work now, about three years ago, I had a crush on - well, no, it wasn't even that healthy. I was obsessed with - well, no, not quite.

Leaving work and walking into town I used to pass a solicitors' office a few doors down. There were a row of offices that were just a converted terrace of houses, and the first of them, a solicitors, there was a big plate glass window where the front room would be, which was the reception. And every evening as I passed I used to see a pretty secretary sitting at the desk there. And she always looked so lonely and bored and sad and neglected. I don't know, there was just - maybe it was because it was evening, and I was tired and leaving work, there was just such a melancholy quality. I think somebody writes somewhere that someone observed without their knowledge, just going unselfconsciously about their business not aware you're watching them, always evokes tender and poignant feelings. (Come to think of it that's what led to my first three restraining orders.) But she really did look lonely, always just sitting there on her own, and I used to fantasise about going in and saying something to cheer her up, maybe just pretend to make an enquiry, but of course I never did. And so it went, and I passed her every night, and I used to do a little wistful sigh every time I saw her.

And then one evening I came out and it was pissing down with rain, torrential, like a tropical monsoon. And as I was putting up my knackered old black umbrella, there she was. She came dashing out of the office with a jacket over her head and ran to a parked car by the kerb and opened it, and she was getting soaked, poor darling. She wasn't getting into the car, she'd left the office door open, she just leaned in it rummaging desperately in a bag on the front seat, and she was absolutely drenched. And there was me with my umbrella. So obviously the gallant thing to do, the really cool thing to do, the thing I should have been able to remember with a happy smile for the rest of my life, was to hold my umbrella over her while she was messing in the car and then escort her back to the office.

Only I hesitated fatally, I'd actually walked past her by the time I decided to do it, partly because I was all, oh, but are you allowed to do that sort of thing nowadays? and partly just because I was really short on sleep that day and all my reactions were slow. But I did it, I'm still proud to think I did it, I stopped and turned around and started to swing the umbrella into position over her - from quite a distance, at arm's length, so I wasn't, you know, invading her space or anything. She didn't see my approach because she was ducked inside the car. Only as I say I hesitated, and my reactions were off, and by the time I got it into place she'd slammed the door and turned to dash back into the office and ran right into my umbrella and shrieked.

She was really flailing in a panic for a moment. I suppose from her point of view it was as if someone had just come out of nowhere and put a strange black spiky thing right over head, occluding her vision, and sort of garrotting her a bit as she ran into it. For a second she mustn't have known what the hell it was, this unexpected menace in her path, just this black hood descending over her eyes. I can still see her face as she turned to look at me in alarm, and imagine what my face must have been like in my alarm at her alarm, and see her seeing that and getting more alarmed, in fact downright panicked, all in slow motion. She was still running from sheer momentum, her head right inside my umbrella, with me sort of dragged along behind her holding it. The confusion can only have lasted for a second or so but it felt like ages and was horrible. I tried to smile and look like, 'You permit?' and after a moment she got what was happening and smiled her thanks. I still hold onto that as a consolation, that she understood what I was trying to do.

Everything would have been fine if the lamp-post hadn't been where it was.

I want to pass over the actual collision. I still get cold sweats. She didn't quite fall on her arse after she hit it but it was a hell of a smack. The next thing I knew people had gathered and she was holding her head. I fled. Down back alleys. I threw the umbrella away. She'd broken it anyway, soft cow. It lay in the gutter whipped by the wind and pelted by the rain, flapping pathetically like a dying bat, an emblem of lost dreams.

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