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Depressed (and you think you’ve got problems?) a new short story by Tom Conrad.

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Just a wee post to let you all know my new short story is out and available now. Here’s the gist and opening chapter:

Arch Fry is not depressed; his life is just shit!

Arch, an altogether confused and angry young man, finds himself sat in “group therapy” when the arrival of the beautifully mysterious Amber Jones threatens to change everything!

Depressed: Who is, who isn’t, and what’s either question got to do with tatty knickers and milk? Find out all the answers in this offbeat tale that at times is more schizophrenic than a pill-popping blubber mouth called Ruth.

1

Depression

I am not depressed; my life is just shit. As a consequence of my not being depressed, I am not like them. You need to know this from the very off. You need to know I, Arch Fry, will not allow myself to be neatly pigeonholed, erroneously labelled or closed off in some tidy little box – one to be shelved away and conveniently forgotten about.

No, I am not depressed: NOT. DEPRESSED.

You see, I’m just not stuck in some deep unassailable chasm like all the rest, like all these other poor fuckers who’ve so readily accepted that noose of a word.

‘Oh Ruth, perhaps you could tell us why you’re so upset tonight?’

‘Well Janet… I’m… I’m going to a wedding next weekend and I realised today I have absolutely nothing to wear.’

‘Oh really, Ruth, nothing at all?’

‘No, not one single thing.’

‘Hm, there must be something? Perhaps a dress that’s fallen down at the back of the wardrobe?’

‘No, Janet, there really isn’t and… and I really looked, but there’s simply nothing; not a single stitch to wear!’

I’m sat here listening to Ruth cry her heart out, and yet crying isn’t quite right. Ruth is sobbing uncontrollably. In fact watching Ruth sob away is quite a spectacle: a six-foot hunched woman who sports a bulbous broken-looking nose (a sizable conk that wouldn’t appear out-of-place on a professional boxer). Actually, I reluctantly watch her big, fat and silent tears stream down her mottled cheeks; tears almost as big and fat as her plump limbs. Of course, her life is shit too, but there’s no denying on top of her totally fucked-up existence, Ruth has allowed herself to become pigeonholed, labelled and marginalised; to forever more play out the role of a pill popping blubber mouth.

 ‘Everything I have is so old and tatty and… and I realised all my knickers are so completely wrong too. There I was going through all my drawers, and it all felt… it all felt too much!’

‘Oh, Ruth, you really must try not worry so much about knickers.’

I almost laugh at the mention of knickers, and yet I hold it in, remaining distant, always detached.

The “knicker” reply was Janet, though. She’s the counsellor and leader of this mental menagerie: another middle-aged, lower-middle-class woman currently wearing her “I understand” face.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck! I hate that face, that smarmy look of hers. I hate it because I know the subtext, how it smacks of Janet both appreciating Ruth is upset, but also she is a bit silly and daft to feel this way, you know, over something so damn trivial as twisting or tatty knickers. In fact, it’s a near permanent expression which Janet adopts when talking to Ruth, or any of us mentals. A mix somewhere between smug and patronising as she placates us with her wholesome superiority.

‘Well, I’ve decided to throw away all the knickers I hate in an act of rebellion. It’s a product of my waste not want not upbringing.’

‘I think that’s something positive, Ruth.’

‘If I hate them, they’re going,’ Ruth declares with a sense of desperate purpose. ‘Maybe someone will have use of my knickers?’

Janet frowns, ‘well I’m not sure about that, Ruth, but certainly making changes is a good thing,’ Janet adds, and for good measure there’s that face again.

The thing is, I for one know Janet loves all this: EVERY FUCKING MINUTE! There she sits amongst us diagnosed ‘crazies’, always so safe in the knowledge that we are all here because we have to be and she, smug foie-gras eating cunt, is here as the sole representative of assumed normalcy.

I screw my hands into fists and have to tell myself to calm right down: calm down, Archie boy… just breathe, never forget to breathe!

‘I went through my wardrobe and I wanted to cry. I… I just want to go to this wedding and look like I’ve made a real effort.’

‘Perhaps a simple dress would be enough, Ruth?’

‘I only have tee-shirts and nothing else.’

‘Well as the poet Shelley once said if you feel depressed put on a fresh shirt.’

That’s Malcolm. He has severe anger issues, or at least he had severe anger issues. Ever since they upped his medication he has lost his edge: his anger worn thin, coming out the other side as a more morose melancholy. To be honest, I preferred the damn anger. I mean, at least it was real and not so controlled, so phoney and insane.

‘I just want to look nice. Just once in my life I don’t want to be the fat girl everyone feels sorry for,’ Ruth shares, sobbing ever harder.

‘There there, Ruth, let it all out.’

Ruth takes Janet’s instruction literally as she blows her big conk of a nose on a tissue – sounding like a bull elephant in the process.

‘I’m having extreme nightmares too, which I think must be because I forgot to take my medicine on Tuesday, and my body is all of a sudden going arhahrhrarharhhar.’

‘Ruth we’ve talked about this. You MUST take your medicine!’ Janet says all of a sudden less sympathetic and altogether stern. ‘You really must make sure you take it every single day or you know what happens.’

Ruth nods meekly and blows her nose some more.

I screw my hands into fists as Ruth continues to cry: FUCK MEDICATION, FUCK YOU, JANET! You see I know Ruth isn’t crying because she is clinically depressed. Not really. No, instead she is crying because she really does have no clothes to wear, because she really is misshapen, her conk of a nose really is deformed, because… because society really can be so damn cruel and has labelled her the “fat girl” her whole damn life. Clinical depression: forget it. Ruth does not need to take their medication, Ruth needs to find a new society.

‘Nightmares aren’t always a bad sign though.’

It’s Malcolm again.

‘They’re very weird and unusual nightmares, like all about pressure and in my last one my old uncle was turning into a spider.’

‘Those with the greatest awareness have the greatest nightmares,’ Malcolm says proffering a kind of sage wisdom.

‘Who said that?’

‘The great Gandhi I think… or maybe it was Noel Edmonds?’

‘Yes, thank you, Malcolm,’ an annoyed Janet chimes in. ‘And thank you Noel Edmonds, but perhaps you could let me give the advice, after all I am paid and qualified to help you all,’ Janet says sounding altogether pompous. ‘And that is to say, with the best will in the world, I sincerely doubt Mr Gandhi or even Noel Edmonds have the appropriate certification!’ she further admonishes, and thinking herself tremendously clever for her little joke at the end.

I kick my hells as Malcolm weakly replied: ‘erm, right, of course, I was just saying…’ he says so pathetically.

‘Yes, thank you, Malcolm.’

I shake my head at Malcolm. I despair at the man, he really has lost his edge.

‘Now, Ruth, we did agree you would be keeping a log of your dreams and nightmares, yes?’

‘I did. I promise I did, but then… but then I spilt milk all over it and I got in a fuddle trying to dry it. Now it’s home on top of mum’s Aga.’

‘I see.’

‘At one point I thought it would make me cry and it just didn’t make any sense because they say don’t cry over spilt milk, but that’s utter nonsense isn’t it? I’d say of all the liquids not to cry over milk is the absolute worst…’

I notice Janet seems to be considering Ruth’s ramblings.

‘…water, don’t cry over spilt water or even tea, which isn’t an unmitigated disaster, but to clean up milk is an absolute nightmare. It goes EVERYWHERE and it pongs for days.’

Janet now shakes her head, rolling her eyes and giving into a sigh. This look suggests she should be counselling the rich and famous and not stuck in this village scout hut offering support to this small bunch of emotional derelicts.

‘But, Ruth, that isn’t the point of the phrase, is it?’

‘I don’t know. I really don’t know, Janet.’

‘When we say don’t cry over spilt milk, well, we mean you shouldn’t cry over everyday small concerns, as opposed to more…’ Janet lifts her fingers to indicate the inverted commas, “more serious matters.”

INVERTED COMMAS: MY HANDS SQUEEZE, KNUCKLES PALE WHITE, THE COLOUR OF MILK.

Further silence looms. I loudly sigh and shake my irritated bonce as Malcolm offers his thoughts once more.

‘Well quite frankly I’d rather spill a little blood than milk,’ Malcolm says with a dream-like distant look in his eyes. ‘Blood smells nice, doesn’t it?’

‘MALCOLM!’

‘Oh yes, sorry Janet.’

‘I hardly feel talking about blood is a suitable topic of discussion, especially considering your… shall we say “history?”’

‘Er, no, quite right; quite right, Janet,’ Malcolm sheepishly fumbles as his corn-beef-coloured cheeks turn a deeper red purple. ‘I’m very sorry, everyone!’ he adds meekly, his balls so far sucked up into his gut, I half expect to see them popping out of his mouth.

 ‘That’s okay, Malcolm. And thank you for sharing your thoughts with the group, Ruth,’ Janet finally says ever so measurably as she now smiles inanely to herself – checking her notes on her clipboard.

I feel irked. I kick my feet and rock on my chair some more.

‘Now, Archibald, how are you this evening?’

I don’t reply.

‘Archibald?’

I sigh loudly, letting some of my hostility seep out with it.

‘Do you have anything to share with the group?’

I shrug, not even making eye contact with Janet.

‘It’d be lovely if you shared how you’re feeling tonight, Archibald?’

I shake my head but turn toward Janet, ‘I don’t feel anything. I feel fine.’

‘Please engage with the process like everyone else, Archibald.’

I sigh again, and this time I really mean it as I further snap, ‘it’s Arch,’ I say. ‘You know it’s Arch. I’ve been coming here for six months and you still don’t get my damn name right?’

‘I – I beg your pardon, young man?’

‘I said…’

‘Yes, I’m aware what you said, but please don’t swear. You may feel comfortable and at home with vulgarity, but it’s important to consider the feelings of other people apart from ourselves.’

I roll my eyes.

‘A lesson you would do well to learn…’

‘Look, Jan,’ I interrupt, ‘I’m here because I have no choice. I’m here because my life is fucked up and… and I don’t give a damn about your cunting bullshit process.’

Janet looks beyond shocked.

‘No young man, you’re here because you stole a car and tried, well, you tried to kill yourself, didn’t you?’

The room falls silent, other than the thoughts shouting in my head: CUNT! THAT CUNT!THAT UTTER CUNT!

‘Most times suicide is a cry for help, isn’t it?’ Malcolm all of a sudden suggests, framing it as a question for Janet.

‘FUCK OFF, MALCOLM!’ I burst, this time out loud.

‘I’m just saying…’

‘FUCK OFF!’ I now yell. ‘ALL OF YOU JUST FUCK RIGHT OFF!’

My anger has exploded like a frustrated grenade on the sticky-floored community hall. I couldn’t stop it going off. I feel annoyed at myself as a further uncomfortable silence looms and Janet just smiles, scribbling down notes down on her clipboard and papers.

‘I’ll be informing your counsellor of both your threatening language and your shouting this evening, Archibald,’ she says all matter of fact.

‘I don’t give a shit!’

‘I’m writing it all in my report and he will be made aware of all of it.’

Janet scribbles some more, demonstrably ticking away.

‘Just fuck right off, Jan!’ I almost spit, my face screwed up, along with my fists, and I face the floor like a petulant school boy.

‘Well group, since Archibald is behaving rather childishly, refusing to open up, perhaps you could tell us why you’re here…’ Janet begins to say, before consulting her clipboard for a name: ‘Amber is it?’

I look toward Amber for a fleeting second before returning my gaze toward my scuffed up trainers. It’s the new girl: she has a pale face, dark raven hair, slim waist and massive pushed out tits.

There’s no response from Amber.

‘Perhaps you have something to share with the group?’

No reply.

‘Amber, it’s important you share with the group and…’ Janet says but the new girl suddenly interrupts, and her voice is so soft and quiet as she speaks.

‘I was raped,’ Amber almost whispers into the room.

Of course, the ensuing silence is deafening – almost as if all the noise in the world has suddenly been muted. I mean, if my earlier tantrum was a grenade, those three words are a full-on nuclear strike.

‘Oh I’m… I’m so very sorry to hear that, Amber. Perhaps that’s something you’d prefer to discuss in private, was it your doctor who suggested you come or…’

‘I was raped,’ Amber interrupts, ignoring Janet’s sympathy and questions. ‘He raped me twice and left me crying on the floor of my kitchen.’

I stare at Amber; her eyes are full of steel as she delivers such powerful words, almost thrown down amongst us like a heavy chainmail gauntlet.

‘I know him. I know where he works. I know where he lives, and I’m going to kill him.’

The words are razor-sharp in their honesty. This is my truth. This is what I’m going to do. Fuck you if I care what you think.

>

Buy Depressed on Amazon for Kindle:

US: Depressed by Tom Conrad

UK: Depressed by Tom Conrad

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