The story I am about to tell Takes place in a land just south of Hell, Where whether you whisper, talk or yell Nothing untrue can be ...

The story I am about to tell
Takes place in a land just south of Hell,
Where whether you whisper, talk or yell
Nothing untrue can be said.

Further south from this place resides
A land where tiny porky pies
And massive, stinking chunks of lies
Are all that is heard, instead.

I found myself in True-Tell town
When I aimed for Hell but fell straight down
And bumped my head on the stony ground
Of the land where no one lies.

A dark and morbid place, it was.
The faces all wore frowns because
Their lips were bound by physics laws
To speak without disguise.

“The weather’s crap, and so are you,”
I heard from a man that I disliked too,
And I had no choice but to tell him, “You
Are a brute, and your belly’s too big!”

No one was nice, and depression surrounded
The people whose mutual resentment was founded
By their enemies’ mouths which repeatedly sounded
Critiques, nitpicks and digs.

Demoralised, I left for Lie Land
Hoping to bury my head in the sand
But instead, I found more sadness and
Deceit that stretched for days.

See, not a noise they make is true
Not even the laugh of a child of two
You'll find mayo in your tube of glue
And signs that point wrong ways.

I asked how to get out of there
For I was slipping into despair
A woman stopped and said, "Nice hair!"
When I knew from her face she’d hate it.

I tried to run home, but quickly saw
My sense of direction was lying more
Than the “EXIT” sign on every door
But after years of struggle, I made it.

And now, I’ve learned from those two towns
That there’s a kind of middle ground
A balance that a few have found
And here’s the lesson, brothers:

No matter circumstance or wealth,
Height or weight or mental health,
You only have to be true to yourself
You can lie to all the others.

What follows is a poem I wrote for a reading I did at the wedding of two of my best friends, Karl and Hannah. I set out with the aim of try...

What follows is a poem I wrote for a reading I did at the wedding of two of my best friends, Karl and Hannah. I set out with the aim of trying to capture on paper the kind of love you feel for someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. When I read it at the wedding in front of their 23,000 guests, there were tears and wailing and old women holding their hands up to the sky and children praying that they'll never hear another poem again and singing in the streets for days on end. I was carried through London on the shoulders of my admirers and everyone forgot that a wedding was even taking place. It should be noted that I'm writing this introduction before the wedding and setting this blog post to publish itself on a schedule.
I met a man who asked me why I’d ever want to be wed.
It’s the biggest waste of time and money on this earth, he said.
He told me all a wedding was was some rings and a piece of paper
And my time would be much better spent on some alternate caper.
I thought about the question, til my thinking bone was sore,
And then I came out with some words that I had never planned
Like, life is just a birth, some jobs, a death and nothing more
So why we bother with it, I’ll never understand.
War is just some bombs, a thousand limbs and two ideals
And no one ever questions how a soldier fighting feels.
Business is just money, and religion is just words
Yet people follow those two things in masses, swarms and herds.
The simple fact is this, I said: that everything boils down
To something pretty small if you cook it long enough
But the way I feel, forgive my heart, is simply like I’ve found
One person in eight billion who’s made of better stuff.
Laughing isn’t just laughing when I have her by my side.
It’s feeling so sensational I get all warm inside.
Sadness isn’t just a tear and anger not a scream
Because, to me, she means so much, they’re both more than they seem.
I’d literally do anything to make this woman smile,
And the icing on the cake is that I know she’d say the same.
I’d like to spend with her every minute, hour, while
And share with her my everything, from gladness through to pain.
So I’m afraid I don’t agree that marriage is just that,
A day in tails and fancy clothes and a silly hat.
The paper acts as wrapping and the rings act as a bow
To decorate the greatest gift of love I’ll ever know.

    What if the world you think is real is just a creation of your mind?      What if you’re a being, stuck in a box, imagining all of ...

   What if the world you think is real is just a creation of your mind? 

   What if you’re a being, stuck in a box, imagining all of this? 

   If you could, would you dream up a better world? You’ve wondered this ever since you were a kid, what change it would make to your life if you knew that you were the only thing that mattered and everything else, everyone else, was just a prop or a character you’d made up to fill the space.

   Would you worry less? Sometimes you worry yourself sick about things that don’t even seem to matter at all only a month later, under a new light. You spend so much time now wondering which of your towers is about to topple and land on top of you that you’re too scared to build any more; so what if you knew that they were creations of your own, and completely under your control? What if they were never to topple, and even those that did wouldn’t leave a scratch, because you’d already decided they were weightless? Your mistakes buried, past truly in the past, laid as a foundation for your future, perhaps you could move on from the things that you fear will come back to haunt you. Maybe you’d even realise that some of them were imaginary. You’re sure you read somewhere once that someone wise once said, ‘some of the worst things in my life never even happened,’ and that struck you as so applicable to yourself, so incredibly personal that it must have been written for you. What if it was? What if Mark Twain was just the name your mind gave to the part of its circuitry that came up with it?

   Would you feel less angry? Less stressed? Less hard done by? Would the world feel suddenly fairer, when you realised that it was all inside of your head? The injustices of your times, the people who’ve wronged you, the anger you’ve stored up, letting it build and build until you feel like a racecar tyre on its hundredth lap, just about ready to burst… surely all of that would fade into nothingness, drift away like a mist, when you realised that you made it all, and you could take it all back. Anyone you couldn’t forgive, you could just forget, and imagine up somewhere nice to meet someone to replace them. It wouldn’t be that hard, if you think about it, to just cut out the people who hurt you, to stop visiting the places that remind you of dark times. So why not do it, when the world is yours to shape? Why not replace those places and those people with somewhere and someone much nicer? You’re sure you would, if you carved out the horizon.

   And what if this world of yours, this elaborate dream, was shaped by the energy you fed it? What if it sipped up your negativity and held it in its mouth, ready to spit right back? What if the positivity you pointed at it was reflected right back at you? Would that change your attitude? Would you reassess the way you treated your imaginary friends, valued your imaginary possessions, lived your imaginary life? You’ve always known the areas of your life you’d like to change, the aspects of your personality that need tweaking; but you’ve never felt strong enough to do it yourself, never known exactly how it should be done. What if you decided? What if you set your own strength level, wrote your own self-help guide to patching up a chipped personality? Would you do it straight away, knowing that the positive effects of the change would be immediate? Would you be more open, telling the world how you feel, or heighten your guard, protect yourself more than you did when you were young and naïve and way too trusting?

   These are all things you’ve wondered as you stumbled through life, barely aware of what was in front of you, never planning more than a few days in advance because so much of your time was spent cleaning up, either mentally or physically, the mess you were kicking yourself for making yesterday. This is what you spent your time thinking about when you were boiling with rage at that girl who said that thing you didn’t like, or that boy who you knew would never be right for you but you liked anyway. You wondered it even when you were happy, wondered how you could grab hold of that feeling and keep it there forever, never have it kicked out by the darkness you knew would come one day.

   Schoolyard arguments. Punishments you were sure you should never have received, but did anyway. Unfair grades, and the smugness of those who achieved more. The awkwardness of teenage years, the spots and the hairs and the periods and the way your body changed differently to the other kids’ and the way they noticed it and made fun of you even though they were far from perfect themselves. The rejections, the puppy fat, the hormones, the way you always felt like you’d blossom tomorrow, but never did. Sexual experiences you regret, sexual experiences you yearn to relive, sexual experiences you wish your lover had never had or had at least never chosen to tell you about. Sexual experiences you’ve never had, but wish you could. Skills you never had, skills you have but can’t use, skills that everyone else but you seems to enjoy. The fact that one day, you are going to die, and there’s nothing you can do about that. Wasted careers, wasted years, wasted friendships and wasted effort, all combining to make a life, to build the person that you think you are, this mind stuck in a box, with a world it created living inside of it. What if all of these things that sound like obstacles, all of these horrid brick walls between you and happiness, all these mountains to climb, could be forgotten in an instant? What if they turned from mountains to speedbumps, because you said it should be so? Would you make it so? Would you be brave enough to do that? It sounds like it would be easy, but to decide that everything that used to hold you back is no longer a restraint at all is a brave step forward for someone like you. For anyone.

   An imaginary world. An elaborate dream. Everything not quite as it seems, or as it has been sold to you. Maybe I’ve painted the picture of a world that’s way out of your grasp. Maybe I’m just imagining, myself. But what if I’m not? What if the world is already like this? What if, when you clean your glasses, open up the box you’ve been living in, you find that this is all already true? It could be. Maybe tomorrow would be a better day, if you decided that all of this was already the case, because you’d made it so. Maybe we can shape the world, all of us, because it is ours to shape. Maybe we are all just minds stuck in calcium boxes, cultivating our own view of the world we all share.

   Or maybe I’m drunk. I don’t know.

The quote is from Paradise Lost . The tattoo is by the amazing Paul Talbot .

The quote is from Paradise Lost. The tattoo is by the amazing Paul Talbot.

    The woman watched her lover’s face as he slept, watched his eyelids twitch and his mouth hang open, looking as peaceful as if he’d died...

   The woman watched her lover’s face as he slept, watched his eyelids twitch and his mouth hang open, looking as peaceful as if he’d died at the happiest moment of his life, and her heart swelled. She loved this man, she was in love with him, she was sure of it. She’d never be the first to say it – he’d say it first, and she’d follow – but she knew, deep down inside, that she was in love with him, and she would do anything for him. Of all of this, she was more certain than she had been of anything. So why, when she was left alone with her thoughts, did she spend so much time unhappy? Why did she worry so much? Why did her love feel laced with regret? 
   This is the bitter thought that gave birth to the frown she wore as she drifted into sleep.
   The next she knew, she was in a concrete desert, nothing natural in sight, except for the steady blanket of heavy rain that fell from the black sky above her. She had no hood, and the thick raindrops soaked through her hair as quickly as it had her clothes, drenching her from head to toe within seconds. The water was cold. Her teeth chattered in time with her kneecaps. She held her upper arms with her hands, looked around her in silence, searching for a sign or a landmark or anything that might place her.
   She found nothing. So she picked a direction, and began to walk.
   Soon enough, a ghost walked with her. It wore the skin of a human, but not its opacity. Light, rain, air all passed through it, as if it wasn’t there at all. But it was there. The woman knew that, and she didn’t mind. She walked with the ghost, and she listened to it speaking.
   ‘Hello,’ it said.
   The woman squinted against the sheet of rain as heavy drops clawed her eyelids downward, kept walking as quickly as she could.
   ‘Where are we?’ She said, feeling like she was shouting over the downpour.
   ‘Where does it feel like we are?’ Said the ghost.
   ‘The future,’ replied the woman, ‘or maybe the past. Anywhere but now.’
   ‘I suppose you’re right. That’s kind of when we are. But not where we are. Where we are is inside of you.’
   ‘That doesn’t surprise me,’ the woman said, changing direction slightly so that the rain wouldn’t be blowing directly into her face, only to find that the rain would always change direction with her. ‘Why is it raining so heavily?’
   ‘It’s always raining here. I’ve only seen the sun a few times, locked up in here.’
   The woman let out a short laugh. ‘That doesn’t surprise me too much either.’
   ‘So,’ said the ghost, with a hopeful voice, ‘are you going to fix it?’
   ‘I don’t know if I can,’ she said. ‘Everything is going perfectly. I have every reason to be the happiest I’ve ever been. I don’t know why it’s still raining in here.’
   ‘Something repeats itself in your head. Something is holding you back from feeling that happiness.’
   The woman nodded. Of course the ghost knew, it was a part of her.
   ‘Show me where it is.’
   ‘I want to tear it down.’
   ‘I was hoping you’d say that. We’re nearly there.’
   They walked on in silence, the woman fighting the drops of rain that threatened to crawl up her nostrils and down her throat and into her eyeballs, the ghost just drifting forward, never looking back. It seemed that they could walk forever and never reach anything. Finally, the woman became frustrated with their eternal trek, and stopped dead. ‘I’m sick of this,’ she said, ‘where are we going?’
   ‘We’re there now,’ replied the ghost, who had stopped a few steps ahead, and was now pointing at something behind the woman. ‘There it is.’
   The woman turned to see two black tombstones, each ten feet high, and made of something smooth and reflective as glass or marble. She asked what they were.
   ‘One is your past and future, rolled into one. The other is his.’
   The woman turned back to the ghost. ‘What do you mean?’
   ‘This is why you worry, is it not? This is what you spend your time obsessing over, all that time thinking about. Well now, you can tear it down, and stop this rain.’
   The ghost was right. That niggling feeling at the bottom of the woman’s heart which had been preventing her from feeling all the goodness that her new lover brought was a deep regret, and an infinite fear. She hated the things he’d alluded to about his dark past before her. Thoughts of his exes made her feel sick, and the sexual experiences he might have had outside of those relationships disgusted her. She loathed how careless he sounded, before they’d met. How many bad decisions he’d made, how it seemed like he’d been so much the opposite of the man she’d now fallen in love with.
   But underneath all of that, she hated the things she’d done that might come back to destroy them. The mistakes she’d made with past lovers, the friends she’d always known were mad about her but she’d never had the heart to turn down. She regretted everything about the loves she’d lost and the life she’d wasted, and it terrified her to think that he might learn it all and fall out of love with her, knowing the kind of person she could be when she lost control.
   And because of this, her future was shrouded in darkness. She’d never get over all of this because it’d always be there, hanging over yesterday, threatening tomorrow. There was no way to get rid of her past or his, and that made her sure that their future was doomed.
   Except, now, in this dream, just this once, there was a way to eliminate their pasts. And she wasn’t going to waste the chance.
   ‘Go ahead,’ the ghost said.
   She looked down at her hand, and found it to be filled with the handle of a heavy hammer, its head dragging along the floor at her side. She walked toward the tombstones, and lifted it above her head.
   On impact with the first stone, she knocked off a fist-sized shard which exploded into the air around her, cutting through the rain drops, and she ignored the pain that shot down her arms as best she could. No matter how hard it was going to be, she was going to destroy these blocks. She lifted the hammer again, and proceeded to batter the stone, knocking shards and chunks and lumps into oblivion with all the rage she’d stored up over all those hours of worrying away in the dark. Hitting until she couldn’t hit any more. Then hitting some more.
   Again and again, she hacked away at the past, smashing her mistakes into oblivion, furiously unaware that she was smashing herself too.
   With every blow, the rain grew thinner.
   But so did her skin.
   In fact, it was only when she’d destroyed half of that first ten-foot tall pillar that she noticed that she was turning pale, translucent, becoming a fog that nothing could touch. She panicked, dropped the hammer, and turned back to the ghost with tears in her eyes. ‘What’s happening to me?!’ She asked.
   The ghost approached her, placed its hand on her shoulder.
   ‘Don’t you see? Isn’t it obvious?
   ‘Your past made you who you are. Every single little thing that happened yesterday, the day before, ten years before now, all added up to make you just the person you’ve grown into today. Without your past, you’re not you. Destroy all that, you’ll destroy yourself.’
   The woman slumped to the floor.
   ‘So I can’t do it. I’ll destroy us both.’
   ‘Is there an alternative?’
   The woman began to sob. ‘I don’t know.’
   The ghost raised an eyebrow. ‘I mean… you could, y’know, just accept that the past is passed, and move on. Every day is a new day, and all that.’
   ‘If only I could.’
   ‘What’s stopping you?’
   ‘The things he’s done. He’s made such poor decisions. He’s been such a different person. How can I know that he won’t be like that again? I can’t be in love with people like that.’
   ‘Do you think he would want you if you woke up as who you were at seventeen? At twenty-two? Do you think your past is so much better?’
   ‘No. We all make mistakes, I know. It’s just, people have so much of a harder time forgiving other people’s.’
   ‘Why don’t you give him a chance to try? Why not give yourself a chance too?’
   ‘I have been! And all I do is worry about it!’
   ‘Is the issue here really the things he’s said or done? Is it really the things you’ve said or done? I’d bet it’s neither.’
   The ghost was right. What the woman was really afraid of was having her heart broken. She was afraid that this man might just be pretending to be the man she’d fallen for, and was due to snap back to some imaginary old ways at any moment. She was terrified that who he was when he was young and naïve and stupid was actually who he was underneath, and that that young and stupid boy would come out and rip her heart out without warning. She was scared that everything bad she could ever imagine about the life he had before her would come and destroy her just when she let her guard down, even if it really was just her imagination that created it. 
   ‘What if he feels the same way?’ Asked the ghost. ‘What if he’s just as afraid that your stupid mistakes will come to bite him? What if everyone is trapped in the fear that their hearts will be trampled on, and love is the only answer? Don’t you think that giving in to the love you feel for each other, accepting that everything that came before your meeting was meant to be because without it you wouldn’t be who you are today, would fix all of this?
   ‘Isn’t love enough for you people?
   The woman laughed at the ghost’s frustration. It had a point. She’d been so wrapped up in the fear of tomorrow and the shame of yesterday that she’d forgotten to just drink in the joy of today. She was in love with the kindest, gentlest, most attractive man she’d ever met, and he was in love with her. They were happy, and young, and free, and nothing held them back from enjoying that. So why did she worry so much? 
   Well, she didn’t. Not anymore. 
   When she looked up, the sky was blue, and the rain had stopped.
   When she woke, the woman watched her lover’s face as he slept, watched his eyelids twitch and his mouth hang open, looking as peaceful as if he’d died at the happiest moment of his life. Her heart swelled. She loved this man, she was in love with him, she was sure of it. She’d never be the first to say it – he’d say it first, and she’d follow – but she knew, deep inside, that she was in love with him, and she would do anything for him. Of all of this, she was more certain than she had been of anything. When he woke, she would kiss him, and hold him, and never let him go.

   ‘I often wonder,’ the man said, as he slid his arm under his girlfriend’s head and pulled her curled-up body closer to his, ‘why nearly ...

   ‘I often wonder,’ the man said, as he slid his arm under his girlfriend’s head and pulled her curled-up body closer to his, ‘why nearly every minute of my life just feels like wasted time.’
   And, yeah, he did often wonder that; but the question was whether it actually needed to be said. The problem was that his post-coital mind would convince itself that it was wise enough to philosophise, to come up with big ideas and throw big statements around as if they were deep ideas no one had ever had before. He had the habit of believing that his trains of thought were worth spewing out, after he’d just made love. As is the case with a lot of men, the biggest loads of bollocks that had ever streamed from his mouth all followed the biggest loads that had ever streamed from his bollocks. Not that this was necessarily one of those times, it’s just worth remembering before we really get into this story.
   He continued. ‘Whenever I’m at work, I’m wishing I was somewhere else. I’m wasting the time I could be spending furthering my career on wishing my life away. That’s most of my week, nearly every week, for pretty much the rest of my life, written off.
   ‘When I’m not at work, I’m lying around, doing nothing. I’m thinking, or I’m worrying, or I’m wishing I was doing something useful. I never do what I need to do.
   ‘I know I should be cleaning the house. This house is never clean enough, and by the time one end of it is, the other end needs cleaning again. But even that would feel like a waste, when there are more important things to be getting on with.
   ‘I should be writing. I don’t write anywhere near as much as I want to. I really enjoy it, and it falls by the wayside. Although I suppose that’s partly because I just haven’t had any inspiration recently. I don’t know what to write about anymore.
   ‘Plus, there’s just no time to write, when I should be studying for my qualification. When my company folds, which it’s bound to sooner or later, how am I going to get a job anywhere else if I keep putting these exams off? I need to just get studying, accept that that’s what I need to do with my free time, even if it isn’t fun or exciting.
   ‘But god, that’s hard when there are a million things I’d rather be doing. Making stuff, watching stuff, reading stuff, exercising… Seeing you…
   ‘Do you know what I mean?’
   He stroked her arm, kissed the back of her neck as he spooned her; and she mumbled, he assumed in agreement.
   ‘Well, now that I mention you, I think that’s the real reason my time feels wasted. I don’t want to study because it doesn’t interest me. You do.
   ‘I can’t write because the only thing I want to write about is you. I construct these cheap, transparent stories in my head that are quite obviously all about us and are too soppy to put onto paper because no one would want to read them and they’d be about as entertaining as a train delay, but they’re all I can think of. The way I feel plays on repeat in my head, so it’s no surprise that it’s the only story I can come up with.
   ‘I don’t want to do anything practical like cook or clean when you’re not imminently arriving, because you’re not here to benefit from it. I’d live like a tramp, if you never came around. You’re the only reason this place has ever been Hoovered.
   ‘And as for work, work is just what passes the majority of the time between our meetings. My life has become a countdown to seeing you next, and that doesn’t depress me at all. What depresses me is when the countdown starts too high. It’s always too long until our next date, our weekend, our holiday, whatever. You’re all I ever want to see, activities with you are all I ever want to do. All the thinking I do, that’s thinking about you. All the worrying is worrying that you’re somewhere far away, forgetting about me – or worse, going off me.
   ‘I should be working to earn money to buy you things. I should be studying so I can earn even more of it. I should be cooking and cleaning so that you’ll never have to lift a finger. I should be writing to impress you, to keep you interested. I should be exercising to stay the way you like me. But I’m doing none of those things. I’m just wasting every minute of my time, wishing I was holding your hand, looking into your eyes.
   ‘…Is that creepy? Have I said too much?’
   Perhaps the bollocks comment was unfair. Maybe he just wanted to let that woman know how he felt. Maybe it would have been the most romantic thing she’d ever heard, and maybe it would have made her night.
   But as he leant over her head to look into her eyes, he realised that all that monologuing, all that heart-pouring, had just been wasted time.
   She’d fallen asleep, right at the start.
   Which was probably for the best, he realised. It was a bit creepy, after all.

I wrote this in a mad hour of inspiration last night, about the much-feared ventriloquist's dummy who sits in my living room (and at th...

I wrote this in a mad hour of inspiration last night, about the much-feared ventriloquist's dummy who sits in my living room (and at the top of this very page). If you're an illustrator who wants to draw some pictures to go with this so we can grow rich together when it hits the top of the children's book charts, let me know. Also if you're an editor who excels at removing suicidal thoughts and sexual slurs from children's stories, we might need you as well. You know my e-mail address. Cheers, laters.

Edward was by far the most unpopular toy in the shop.
He blamed it on the fact that he was hardly at the top
Of any child's list on birthdays or on Christmas Day,
And being on the highest shelf made him so far away
From any little hands that might just reach out for a touch
But little did he know these reasons didn't matter much.

For Edward wasn't good looking; he’d no appeal at all.
His bright red hair shot up in wisps and made him twice as tall,
His eyes were wide and threatening, his mouth stuck in a sneer
And no one's bought a ventriloquist's doll for years and years and years.
To cheeky children everywhere, he was the creepiest sight to see
Which was such a shame, for they didn't know how nice Edward could be.

But it wasn’t just the kids; the other toys were just the same.
They’d laugh at Edward, and make him the butt of all their games.
He sometimes felt he didn’t have a friend in all the world
And on these nights, he felt his fragile sanity unfurl.
He’d stand upon the edge of his high-up, high-up shelf
And think on how it’d be just to jump and destroy himself.
He imagined the crack of his wooden skull against the toy shop floor
And the faces of the other toys, who’d be scarred forever more.

But this one night, all these thoughts made his depression worse yet
So he climbed down before he did something he might regret.
Down and down the shelves he clambered, aiming for the ground
And amazed to see him come to play, the toys all gathered round.
‘I want to be like you guys,’ Edward said with his puppet lips,
‘I can’t be lonely anymore, so please give me some tips.’
Action Man and Barbie approached him, sporting toothy grins.
‘We’ll fix you up,’ they said, ‘like you were never an ugly thing.’

They led him away, into their lair, to give him his make-over
While GI Joe went back to doing doughnuts in his moon rover.
Hours and hours they kept him there, behind a velvet curtain
Doing what, no one could be absolutely certain.
But they told him to have faith, that they had his interests at heart
That this would be, for him, a completely brand new start.
This warmed his heart; he never knew that they could be so kind
He didn’t even know Action Man had the capacity to unwind.
And so he gave himself to them, to remake him in their image
Instead of what he was before – as unpopular as spinach.

But that’s not what they were doing – see, some people are so nasty
And just want others’ suffering to be more everlasting.
What Action Man and Barbie did was make Edward look silly
So that when the toys saw him, they’d laugh and say, ‘Oh, really!
Edward, you’re the ugliest, dumbest toy we’ve ever seen!
You must be the worst plaything that there’s ever been!’

Edward heard these words, and instantly was crushed.
This had been his last resort, and now it was enough
To make him want to pack up stuff and leave the shop forever
And aim to be shredded for woodchip, or some other endeavour.

So that’s just what he did – he marched straight for the door
His footsteps barely audible beneath the laughter roar
But a voice stopped him dead, it was a female raggy doll
Who’d shared his shelf for years, and never even made a lull.

‘Edward, please don’t go,’ she called, ‘I need you by my side,
To keep me company late at night, when the sky is black outside.
You’re the only friend I’ve had in the whole entire shop
Up on that shelf of ours, where gazes never stop.
I’d be so sad to see you go that I would not stop crying,
And unlike Muscle Man and Tits McGee, I’m not that good at lying.
I don’t think that you need to change a jot just to fit in.
In fact, I think the fact that you’re different is simply riveting.
I want to be your friend forever, stay right by your side,
Til one of us gets bought, or the moon and Earth collide.’

Edward turned and looked at her with tears in his wooden eyes
And after a while, accepted that her words were not just lies
And took her hand, and climbed with her to the very top-top shelf
For the first time in his life, feeling happy with himself.
He didn’t need to pretend to be somebody else at all;
He needn’t have felt bad about the toys that he appalled;
He just needed what we all need, of which we can never get enough:
That, my friends, is friendship, laughter, positivity and love.

    For as long as he could remember, he was able to put his emotions into a bottle, and store them on a shelf for years to come. They neve...

   For as long as he could remember, he was able to put his emotions into a bottle, and store them on a shelf for years to come. They never went off, their effect never faded, they just sat there waiting to be revisited when he most needed them. The fact that no one else he’d ever met had the same ability didn’t bother him – in fact, when he’d just taken a sip of Satisfied Itch and his face glowed with a happy, smug relief like no other, it seemed that they were more bothered than he could ever be. He’d even had doctors study his brain, his bottles, his habits, and find nothing that brought them closer to understanding the phenomenon.

   So from a young age, he began bottling everything up. He was a hoarder, just like his dad, so before long, he had every feeling from Watching The Sunset to Being Pushed Against Car Seat By G-Force bottled, labelled, and placed on his shelf. By the time he moved into his own house, he had enough bottles to fill two rooms. In the garage were his negative emotions, and in the cellar (the much larger of the two rooms) his positive ones.

   It only took a drop to touch his lips, and the feelings in those bottles would engulf him. He’d be back in that moment, even just for a second. If anyone else tried, they’d feel nothing; and that was just the way he liked it.

   The jars and bottles and glasses he kept his feelings in were of all shapes and sizes. He tried his best to keep more of the positive ones and less of the negative, so in most cases his happier moods were in bigger bottles. Treading In Dog Waste was an exception, because a wine bottle was all he’d had to hand when it had happened; but on the whole, feelings like Soul-Crushing Disappointment and Unexpected Bump On The Head were in vials as small as urine samples, and those like Pleasantly Surprising Exam Result and Waking Up On Saturday Morning in huge jugs that would never run dry. When he was feeling down, he’d sip from Finding A Tenner In Your Pocket or Winning At Kiss Chase. When he had an insatiable desire for drink, he’d taste a little Completely Quenched Thirst. If he felt tired but he really needed a few more hours open-eye, he’d quaff Full Of Beans like there was no tomorrow.

   He didn’t know if he’d ever need Sick After Overeating At Kid’s Party or Anger At Self For Missing Train By One Minute, but he thought it was best to keep them, even if it was just a couple of shot glasses full.

   He had all these feelings he could call upon at will, bottled up in his basement, but he would give them all up if it meant having an endless supply of his favourite. His tip-top elixir of joy was kept in a beer keg, the biggest container he could find the day he’d felt it, and he revisited it more than any other emotion. It was called Receiving That Note, and it was all of the elation, the excitement, the unmitigated glee that had rushed through his veins when he’d been passed a note from that girl in class – now his wife – which read, 

I like you too. x

   He’d rushed home that day after school, his heart still racing, his cheeks still red, and he’d raided his father’s garage, throwing things this way and that, looking for an empty container big enough to hold this swelling happiness. He poured it all in, he stuck a cork in the hole, and he vowed to look after it like no other feeling he’d bottled. This was one which he never wanted to run out.

   And ever since, all through those years of marriage, he had been sipping from that keg in all the hardest times. The raging arguments, the absences where the heart had refused to grow fonder, all the times she lied or he forgot or they disconnected, he’d sneak off and drink from the keg, and suddenly he’d be back there in that classroom, thrilled that a girl so perfect had a crush on him. It was just the reminder he needed, just the refresher to bring everything into perspective. All that bickering, all those issues that shouldn’t have been issues at all, it all paled into insignificance when he was flooded with that joy. He could leave the basement instantly happy, grab hold of that perfect woman, kiss her, and tell her he loved her and that he was sorry and that nothing else mattered, and everything would be just the way it should be all over again.

   He was addicted to that feeling. He was a junky to that keg. He was sure that it was the reason that they had the world’s strongest marriage.

   So imagine his horror when, the morning after a particularly heated row, waking after his wife had already departed for work, he waded through First Orgasm Of The Morning and Receiving Too Much Change to get to his keg, and he found it to be empty. His heart fell through his stomach, and plopped on the floor. After bottling the feeling and labelling it Depression Over Missing Feeling, he panicked. What would he do when she came home? Would their argument never end now? Would they end up old and resentful, divorced and devastated? This was uncharted territory. None of his emotions compared to that one, none of them could quench his thirst like that one. There just wasn’t a bottle down here that would fix everything the way that one did. He was doomed. He felt like crying, and the only way he could stop himself was by taking a sip of All Cried Out.

   He paced the floor. He scratched his chin. He tore his hair out, and he growled at the ceiling. He feared so deeply that his marriage would be over now, that he didn’t have the power to make things right, that she would hate him forever more for no longer being able to deliver the affection she needed, just when she needed it. He was doomed, and he was just beginning to resign himself to that fact when the telephone rang.

   ‘Hello?’ he said, the sullenness in his voice thick like custard.

   ‘I love you, honey,’ his wife’s voice replied, and in that instant he learned that the power was never in that keg at all. Just like all those doctors had told him, those bottles really were empty. They contained nothing but dribble and dust, because the power really resided in his heart. It was him all along, and he realised this as that feeling of Receiving That Note came flooding back into his heart, so intense that his eyes watered and his voice quivered.

   ‘I love you too.’