The group leader was an officious turd whose name, Ronald, was actually his first middle name. Ronald was two minutes into a tiresome speech about Man and Man’s habits, Man’s desires in conflict with Man’s religion, Man’s Manness in conflict with Man’s Misunderstood Masculinity, and so on. After eight indulgently meandering sentences and 43 iterations of the word ‘Man’, even Richard, whose own gender-specific vernacular was exclusionary and unacceptable, was thinking something along the lines of shut up you arse, we’ve better things to talk about.
Before he could muster the words, Jenny stood up with enough force to knock her blue plastic chair over its hind legs and exclaimed:
‘Listen, Ronald, we’re here because we’re tired of wanking and punishing ourselves for it.’ Richard had never heard this said out loud. ‘At least I am.’ She glanced about the room.
‘Enjoying it and hating it at the same time, myself and it, hating and enjoying and spiralling into depression.’ It was true, all true. ‘I can’t remember what came before, because… Well, Because. But I know that it was in tatters long before I came here and I assume some of my colleagues feel the same way.’
I do! I do!
‘We would like to fix ourselves, women included. Your pontifications about Man and Man’s infernal Manness estrange half your assembly.’
She paused and cleared her throat. Richard danced a little, inside.
‘I am sat between two humans whose status is equal to mine.’ Richard and Jenny’s other neighbour, a weedy gentleman, turned and looked at her. ‘We would like to get started.’
Bravo! Should he applaud? Sitting down, Jenny looked round and winked surreptitiously at Richard, who just sweated.
Ronald grumbled something into his hand before gesturing to Jenny.
‘Well, Jennifer, please start us off.’ Specks of perspiration shone on his temples. He drew a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and dabbed at his forehead.
Richard watched him and shrunk satisfactorily into his seat, then focused on Jenny. She seemed wise beyond her years (mid-thirties at most, but she had a wizened elegance Richard found enchanting). Her hair hung gingerly over slim shoulders. A few wisps clung beneath her large Roman nose and pointed towards a triumvirate of moles on her left cheek, the largest of which boasted a modest fuzz. Hanging about her cat’s frame was a purple cardigan, thick-knit, tied like a dressing gown round her waist. Sandals protruded from beneath a maroon skirt and revealed crudely painted toenails, the smallest of which was barely a dot. Richard suspected the nail to be missing, the paint a diversion to the fact.
Folding his arms, his eyes met hers. He imagined their souls meeting in an ethereal playground, surrounded by swirling winds and eddying astral forces, shaking hands and sealing their mutual fates. He knew her little secret, her little toe secret, and nodded his recognition, with it forgiveness, understanding, admiration, all wrapped in ribbons of something like infatuation.
By now Jenny was midway into an anecdote and Richard had missed the whole first half.‘Without, I think, this element of structure, thoughts of it permeate my everyday. I can’t think straight, I can’t work.’
Gosh, he knew how that felt.‘Like I sit at my desk and, you know the classic, there’s a vibration somewhere nearby – a truck reversing outside, someone’s using the photocopier…’
Was she reading his mind?
‘So, without structure, thoughts of masturbation escape my control. The act itself becomes frantic. I rush it in order to somehow reduce the damage done to my conscience. It’s indulgent but in all the wrong ways.
‘And so this week I’m advocating Structure.’ She enunciated this word with a finality that brought Richard to a standing ovation. On his other side, Lara giggled. Ronald rolled his eyes at the newcomer. Tim, name yet unknown to Richard, weedy Tim, chin resting via hand, lower arm and elbow on bony knee, rent from his own oblivion by an uncontrollable guffaw, lost control of his limbs and slid polygonically into a prostrate mess of angles, jeans and Crocs.
If you enjoyed this, read more excerpts at the following links:
EXCERPT [Reveries]: Richard goes to his first Masturbators’ Anonymous Meeting
EXCERPT [Reveries]: Richard shits in the bath, is upset
EXCERPT [Reveries]: Richard, Jenny, and a pair of antediluvians
EXCERPT [Reveries]: Josie Haybottom is late
Buy the book here.