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Things We Never Say

A Short Story

There are things we never say. Correction – there are things we’re not supposed to say, and few ever do. At least out loud. Politeness, fear of hurt feelings or judgement; the tenets of what constitute social norms. I find a flaw in such reasoning, but I am told that’s because I have no concept of normal. And with that, I’m led to yet another. What is normal? It is a construct of whatever is typical or commonplace for us.

In order to join modern, inclusive society I must conform to a set of acceptable standards. I trust the irony of the statement is not lost. The idea that because an idea belongs to the consensus it’s right concerns me greatly. If flat earthers get their way and convince enough people NASA has been hiding the giant ice wall holding the H2O in, should I abandon my sanity and go along with it?

Sanity is overrated. As I look at the insipid green walls – the same ones which surround me day after day – I can’t help questioning the decorator. If that’s the end result of mental wellbeing, it’s hardly a motivator. They probably thought the colour would be calming, but banality breeds escapism.

‘I need some help over here!’

Another man in white piles on, shouting “Easy now”, and my laughter draws at least one scathing glance. As if I’m the one making the situation worse. Henry is taken away for a ‘reflective break’. No doubt the gentle terminology lends him piece of mind, despite the fact he has none.

I slot another piece of jigsaw into place, completing the stumpy forearms of my Tyrannosaurus Rex. Like others of my generation, Jurassic Park was a fundamental part of my childhood, and I’ll always remember the sense of awe I had seeing it for the first time. I know what a dinosaur looks like, or I thought I did. Since my inaugural viewing in 1993, science has moved on. Dinosaurs were covered in feathers. Fact. But they’re depicted as they always were. Nobody wants a raptor to look like Big Bird. Does nostalgia, the desire to cling to the image of a scaly carnivore, change the truth?

People are free to believe whatever they want: the statement has been charged to me many times. What follows is less straightforward – as long as they don’t voice it. Of course, both are lies. Freedom of thought and expression are basic human rights, providing you don’t offend anyone. Offend … offend … a word like no other. Somehow this word has been granted a power few others have attained. Dropped from sententious lips, it bestows the user a status none can question. “I’m offended by that.” So fucking what?

‘Carl, it’s time for your meds.’

‘Piss off, Doctor. And close your legs, I can smell your meat.’

And there’s the look. Doctor Jones is disappointed in my choice of language. It displays the severe lack of progress she’s made, and so desperately needs to foster. No peer reviewed journal for her on the horizon.

‘Carl, we’ve talked about this. I understand you don’t want to be interrupted, but that’s not an appropriate way to speak to someone. Especially when they’re trying to help you.’

‘My sincerest apologies, Doctor Jones. If I have upset you in any way with my crude and unnecessary comment regarding your genitalia, I am most aggrieved.’

A smile replaces the furrowed brow.

‘Thank you.’

‘Now, fuck off.’

She places the pointlessly small paper cup on the table and leaves. She knows I’ll take the medication as surely as I do. The pills don’t work, so aside from a dry throat, there’s no reason not to. Besides, refusing would have me end up like Henry.

Psychiatrists have it all wrong. I watch them in here, blue-bottles flitting over faeces, believing their incessant attempts are important. Their concern for my apparent lack of empathy is more than a little misplaced. Why is the worry not directed towards those delicate souls out there who care what I think? Like the religious zealots whose faith cannot stand to be challenged, the fragile egos of the everyday human shatter in the face of blunt evaluation. Why not invest in the people whose self-worth is so dependent on the views of strangers?



‘The gentleman in the corner. Is he going to be here long?’

‘I don’t know. Why?’

‘His sniffling irritates me. Might I suggest he pulls himself together or finishes the job? Either way is fine.’

The exasperated sigh. ‘Hardly helpful.’

‘Well, nobody’s ever going to fuck him if he keeps sobbing like a pussy. No wonder his wife left.’

‘Take your meds, Carl.’

I have been asked if I understand grief. I do, and I understand it’s personal. But why have the added burden of a car loan after your mother has just died? She worried about me, and knowing my financial troubles were over would’ve eased her mind. Some felt her funeral wasn’t the appropriate time to voice that fact. I felt they didn’t know her half as well as they thought. It’s a strange thing how perspective changes after death. A person could’ve been stabbed in the street, by their own knife, in a fight they started, but still be the most funny, wonderful, kind individual ever to have graced this earth. “Do not speak ill of the dead.” For a lot of the people I’ve known, their demise could be considered an act of redemption, my mother not included.

Another question I am often asked is if I know why I’m here. I know why – the words my mind drums up are unpalatable. To get out, I must learn how to curb them. Doctor Jones suggested I focus on the difference between fact and opinion. Facts are immutable. Except when they’re not. Opinions can be changed. Except when they can’t. Either way, I’m informed I have to respect people’s views. Respect or tolerate?


‘What is it now, Carl?’

‘Do you believe in God?’

She purses her lips and hesitates. ‘I guess I do.’

‘You guess?’

She takes a breath and grips the edge of the plastic table behind her. ‘Some things you just have to take on faith.’

‘Do you know why they say you become closer to God when you die?’

She smiles. ‘Because you’re with him in Heaven.’

‘No, because you don’t fucking exist anymore.’

‘Very droll, Carl.’

I once overheard the esteemed Doctor Jones tell Doctor Mason a joke, one which could only be categorised as wildly racist. Would she recount it at a conference or add it to her latest submission to the BJCP? Would she have laughed if I’d told it to her? It all comes down to time and place, and knowing your audience. This seems to be paramount. A comedian may say outrageous things, but we laugh because it is satire. Or is it? Have they tapped into a social consciousness, uttering the innermost thoughts of people’s minds, and presented it in more palatable fashion? Because I am a lone figure, and my forum is not that of a renowned funny-man, the result is ostracism.

When great men search, what is it they seek? Politeness? Acceptance? No, they quest for knowledge and truth. Frontiers of science and philosophy are explored by commitment to an ideal, and the barriers must often be torn down painfully and without regret. I don’t claim to be at the forefront of anything, however I can’t help but think my vilification is merely circumstance.

Had I money, I would be called eccentric. Had I fame, my behaviour would be explained away by the pressure. Had I cured cancer, nobody would care.

‘You taking your pills or what?’

I see him eyeing my Lilliputian cup. ‘What is it to you, Jack?’

‘Just wondering.’

‘Keep wondering, you fat fuck.’

He lumbers away, a crestfallen expression on his pudding face. It isn’t the first time we’ve had this tête-à-tête, so I can only assume he’s insane. Morbidly obese and as crazy as a box of frogs. But it obviously doesn’t bother him enough to do anything about it. In that, we share some comradery. He need only look in a mirror to see his faults, and yet he does nothing to fix them. Mine can’t be seen in physical reflection, but I know them all the same. Then again, like me, perhaps he does not see a fault but a facet.

There are few people I care to know well, and I’ve never met anyone whose life I wanted, so I model myself on no one. But I can draw comparisons. Take Vicomte de Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses; a cad who uses and shames women for entertainment. In the end, he dies in a duel, hopelessly in love with the target of his debauchery. Yet, in spite of all he did, there is sadness and forgiveness in his death. And then there’s Darth Vader. He destroys worlds, tortures his daughter and cuts off his son’s hand, to name only a few misdeeds. One single act of redemption – killing the Emperor – and he earns a hero’s welcome in the afterlife. Does an act of attrition make everything okay? They weren’t looking for it – if anything they accidentally stumbled across the one thing that could save them – and somehow all is forgiven. Would Hitler be absolved of his crimes if he shot Pol Pot in the head?

I keep asking these questions, and I still have no answer to the ultimate question; why am I really here? And I do not mean here as a matter of the meaning of life, the universe and everything – the answer to that is obviously forty-two. I mean in this institution, where harsh words and rudeness constitute internment. My sentence is a paradox. I impress no one, influence no one, or so I have been told, but my outspoken nature is considered a hate crime. Others have done worse … I know of at least one pumpkin-in-chief … and they haven’t been locked up. I suppose there’s still time.

I do know one thing: the human condition is a study in contrasts, reflected in society itself. The inertia of everyday life forces its inhabitants into bursts of outrage-motivated action. What sparks their fury remains a mystery to me. Nurse Gladys has worked here as long as anyone can remember, which, admittedly, isn’t very long for many of the residents, and she usually does the dayshift. The imprint of her buttocks in the sofa is testament to her work ethic. She’d have you believe she chooses the television programmes to prevent arguments; the noble humanitarian who screws up her face and switches the channel the moment a UNICEF or Oxfam appeal besmirches the screen. But Gladys knows righteous anger, knows when a great wrong has been done to the world, and sees fit to restore the balance.


She tilts her head back slightly in her seat. ‘Yes, Carl?’

‘What did they try to change the name of Coco Pops to?’

Gladys stills and then turns. ‘Choco Krispies. Ha! They regretted that one, didn’t they? Cost them a pretty penny, but we got our way.’

Smug satisfaction, without a hint of irony. A woman of the people,  fighting the good fight against the evil corporations.

‘Didn’t Kellogg’s make a fortune after that?’

She pauses. ‘Carl, take your meds.’

Words; subtle, well-chosen, and utterly false. Just a veneer to mask the truth beneath the surface. The things we think but never say.

 ‘Fuck off.’


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