‘A History of Bad Men’ by Jake Kendall

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Peter Calloway was not the worst man in the room. However, he was easily the most annoying.

Everyone was obligated to take their therapy very fucking seriously of course. Each of them feeling the instinctive compulsion to display deep remorse, contrarian, and humility. After all, who knows what the doctors might advise the courts if they did not?

Yet no one dedicated themselves to the performance quite as sincerely as Peter fucking Calloway.

Alex hated Peter. He hated his ego; huge and ever-expanding. Like an aging star, and every bit as doomed for a terminal collapse. Sooner or later Peter dominated every group session, complete with theatrical hand gestures, and a booming voice well-used to projecting itself.

“Of course one mustn’t attribute quite all of one’s failings on the behaviour of others” Peter declared. “Of course, of course not. Agency raises us above the fauna, to the dizzying heights of responsibility. We are then, mortal gods. Yet, like the great Achilles, we are imperfect deities. We have flaws, weaknesses… and lo, it is that old friend – that vile Janus – we call agency who sniffs, and searches, preying upon our worst impulses, making foul opportunists – neigh, Hyena’s – of mankind. What is the greater tragedy? To be born imperfect, or to have imperfections thrust upon us? Would the misunderstandings around my life be plagued by accusations of sexual assault – assault, aye, assault! Those are indeed the charges, though not one claimant declined my advances…”

Peter had left his chair, his hands instinctively forming the pose of a tragic soliloquy. His rhetoric had excited his own blood a little too much, his anger and outrage eclipsing the expression of sad contemplation he had begun with.

Peter’s theatre career spanned decades. He was an actor in the eighties. An actor-director by the nineties. Eventually he was appointed artistic director of a big London theatre some ten years back. Alex knew all of this because Peter was an over-sharer of information. With a little calculation, Alex could probably deduce the consistency of the man’s stools.

Peter’s face flushed a little as he realised that once again, his chair was unable to contain his lustre.

“Where was I?” he muttered quietly as he retook his seat. “Oh yes… misunderstandings. Would they have happened if I had not endured the slings and arrows of a troubled school life? The names and insults, here comes Poofter Callowaybacks to the wall lads. Which schoolmaster is having you for supper tonight? Not to mention, I hope you die riddled with HIV, like the rest of your kind…” Peter bowed his head having arrived a suitably powerful conclusion for the day.

Young men auditioning at Calloway’s theatre were often summoned to his office for a chat. Around the London theatre world this was just one of those ‘open secrets’ that up-and-coming performers would often be expected to get their artistic director, well…

When the first few stepped forward the levy well and truly broke – over a hundred allegations of coercion and blackmail, plus numerous counts of harassment and even assault on the ones that didn’t give it up.

“We are men” interjected Tobias, the American lawyer with a pleasing notes of old New York in his voice. “We function as a sperm dispensary. This is our evolutionary purpose. That need to fuck things is our fundamental nature. These days, our nature is distasteful. We are asked to beg forgiveness on account of a sex drive that wasn’t asked for. Well, I have a dog. Truthfully, I find his need to sniff asses distasteful. What am I to do? Ask him to stop doing this?”

Tobias liked young women. Anywhere around 18-24 was best for him. Mainly though he didn’t touch them. He just masturbated. His office burned through a lot of interns; dozens of women told they would be blacklisted if they didn’t keep their mouths shut about it afterwards.

Everyone in the room has a story like these. The sneering music producer and his pop hopefuls. The Slovakian tennis player and the women-only training facility he established. The tech millionaire, well… perhaps he was ‘avenging’ years of rejections and disinterest, but in a room full of monsters Damian might just be the worst.

Damian was filmed at a private members club night, auctioning women. It wasn’t just the seediness of event itself either. Many of the women couldn’t speak English and were unaware of the extent of the sheer arrogance, the unapologetic crudeness, and the outright woman-hating present in Damian’s commentary. The video had gone viral. Alex watched it before he himself was checked in. He remembered thinking that this man was almost as if Giuseppe made a brother for Pinocchio; only this time instead of using wood, he worked exclusively with bile, misogyny, and shit.

Damian was also rich enough that he could pay every one of their fees. This wasn’t cheap either; ten thousand a week. A gilded cage for them to sit and sing their songs of victimhood and misconstructions.

Dr Wilkins oversaw the group therapy with infinite patience. His job was to talk to celebrities and millionaires, explaining the rudimentary principle of egotism – what you want might not be what other people want – that kind of thing. Some of them could be here for years and never understand it. Tobias for one. “This… this fashion, this, craze for consent, where does it fucking end?” he asked in one of their first sessions, marking quotation marks with his fingers as he said the word consent.

The group therapy was always a circle. A circle of trust. A circle of hell. Alex highly suspected the idea was that each of them could look at the speakers and hear their own shitty behaviour and ugly thoughts reflected back upon them. That way they can truly judge each other, truly come to hate each other. Maybe strive to become better people from that. Well, if that’s the thinking – they were half right. Alex hated and judged just about everyone here, but no one here reflected him or his thoughts.

Every predatory fuck in the room claims they made mistakes, but Alex’s misdemeanours really could’ve happened to anyone. He was here, more to save his marriage than to avoid jail. He had run one of the country’s biggest nightclubs. There was sex. There was infidelity. There were a couple of girls he maybe should’ve asked for ID. Maybe even a couple of instances in younger days when lines were blurry, and drunk girls didn’t know how to be clear about what they did or didn’t want to happen. Nothing predatory though, nothing calculated, nothing compulsive.

Not that any of that mattered to the snowflakes, the “me-tooers”, and the fucking Woke Stasi. Facebook and Twitter came for him and his club. The accusations started. Alex was forced to resign, his wife threatened to leave him and take the children with her, along with a substantial divorce settlement. The only alternative offered was an admission of sex addiction and enrolment in this bullshit clinic.

The eight-week programme here was the slightly cheaper source of humiliation at least.

The three pm coffee was being laid out at the back of the room. Today it was needed. The boost of caffeine – the hit of sugar from those little muffins they put out. Alex found his gaze drawn wistfully towards the table. There were no women on the facility; that was just common sense. The catering staff here were young men: teenagers and students. People who had never experienced things such as power, responsibility, or the temptations that come with; the imposed innocence of the nobody, the involuntary integrity of a person with fuck-all to offer.

The two boys moved with the brisk and nervous energy that close proximity to the rich and influential inspires. They barely looked at each other, let alone spoke. One of them, short and dark-haired, set cups out for the coffee. The other, tall, thin and with long blonde hair tied back in a ponytail, placed the muffins on a silver serving tray. It was a strange feeling, to envy them. Spotty virgins they might be, but at least they don’t have to listen to Peter Calloway monologue every god-damn day.

Blonde hair leaned forward, reaching towards the back of the tray for the final muffins. Alex couldn’t help notice that the boy actually had quite a nice arse, rounded, and distinctly defined against his thin and supple thighs. He tore his eyes away from it and back into the circle. Dr Wilkins hadn’t noticed Alex’s lapse in concentration – he was deeply engrossed in conversation with the South African CEO who was crying his trademark big snotty crocodile tears. Emboldened, Alex allowed his eyes to drift back.

He wasn’t pretty, the blonde boy, though neither was he ugly. He had a narrow face with thin lips, a roman nose and a weak chin with not even a suggestion of facial hair to it. Androgynous – that was the word.

Alex recalled a girl he’d known who had looked similar once upon a time. He dusted off the memory, he was fairly sure her name was Becky. She had held a house party, he was sure of that detail. Half their school year, left to celebrate unsupervised for the first time at the conclusion of their O level exams. Alex had taken a bottle of sherry he had stolen from his parents drinks cabinet.

Alex idly pictured blonde hair looking the way Becky had looked that night: her flowing maxi dress, and her hair released from the tightness of her trademark ponytail. Alex had thought she looked good outside of the school uniform, though he didn’t share the thought with his friends – they would have mocked them both relentlessly. Instead he followed Becky to the bathroom when the opportunity occurred. Waited for her on the landing and suggested they took his sherry into her bedroom. They sat on her bed, drinking fast from the bottle, getting drunk almost instantly.

He had felt flush with the drink. Confident enough to ask her if she would show him her tits. Becky had been coy at first but after some persuasion she dropped her straps. They weren’t big and she wasn’t particularly pretty either. It didn’t matter. He ripped his trousers off and begged her to get naked or suck his cock. Becky did neither but she kissed him as he masturbated.

She even got into it; she touched his penis – stroking it gently at first, giggling at the sight of it. Then Alex told her how hold it right and she got into it. She bit her bottom lip and began pumping until, at last…

Everyone else was standing.

The group therapy had concluded. Alex took shakily to his feet and realised the happy memory left him semi-erect. Alex shuffled past the refreshments, giving a smile and a nod to anyone who caught his eye. He left the therapy room and headed down the corridor towards the nearest bathroom.

Inside the air was cool. Alex splashed cold water across his face and counted twenty deep breaths: inhale, 1-2-3; exhale 1-2-3… He let the protestations and agitations of his pent-up sex drive ebb back into his subconscious once more. He had reached fourteen.

Just to be sure Alex counted down the final six breaths – just as Dr Wilkins had instructed – all the way to twenty.

Alex decided against the coffee after all – maybe just a cool glass of water would suffice. At the opposite end of the corridor a door swung open. Blonde Hair walked through, his caterer’s uniform swapped for denim shorts and a loose tee shirt.

Alex tried hard to ignore the vision. He kept walking. Eyes to the floor. The young man approached so closely Alex could reach out and touch him, if he wanted to.

He felt great pride, holding himself together and letting the boy pass without incident. He felt the relief coursing through him. Still, the closest thing to sex he had felt in a month was passing him by. Surely he could snatch something for later? Alex stopped, closed his eyes and…

“Did you… did you just sniff me?” The boy asked, stopping dead in his tracks.

Alex found his pace quickening. He said nothing.

“Hey. Hey don’t pretend you can’t hear me. You did, didn’t you? You sniffed at me as I passed.”

Alex found a hand grabbing his shoulder and pulling him back round with wiry and unexpected strength. Alex wanted to push back and defend himself. Instead, finding himself face-to-face, he noticed that Blonde Hair was really quite pretty after all.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Blonde Hair asked through his cute, thin-lipped mouth. Alex didn’t want to talk to that mouth, he wanted to pull it close and thrust his tongue inside. To pull the boy close and grab a hold of that pert arse. He resisted the urge and tried his best to offer friendly smile. The effort was forced and toothy he knew, but at least he couldn’t feel a blush coming on.

Blonde Hair stared hard in return. Alex saw the other man’s eyes dart downwards before the hand on his shoulder was jerked back. Alex looked down. Shit. That’s why there was no blushing; his blood was elsewhere. Blonde Hair was moving quickly away, back towards the meeting room.

Alex raced back towards the toilet. His trousers were down almost before he made inside the cubicle. Jesus that erection was massive – days’ worth of build-up. Alex thought of that mouth, of that pony tail. He thought of pulling those denim shorts down. He thought of that girl and her teenage bedroom – of reclining onto fluffy purple pillows and tasting the sherry on her breath as she kissed him and became the first female ever to touch his penis.

Alex was masturbating with such vigour that his knees nearly gave way. He planted his free hand on the wall to stabilise himself. If he closed his eyes he could recall the girls face clearly. He remembered the way she stopped giggling and bit her bottom lip. He took that as a signal that she’d finish him and that he could just relax into it now. If only he could relax here. He was almost there though. Just think of that lip-bite one more time.

“Mr Farrow?” Dr Wilkins could put on a stern voice when necessary. “Mr Farrow, are you in there?”

Alex did not reply, he let go of his penis and pulled himself back up to height.

Almost.

“Mr Farrow, I can see you in that cubical. What are you doing in there?”

“Taking a fucking shit.”

“Mr Farrow, I… I believe your feet are facing the wrong way for that.”

“Fuck off. Leave me alone.”

“I can’t do that Mr Farrow. I have just had a complaint from a staff member alleging… alleging that you smelt them while displaying clear signs of arousal. And… and sir, I can see your trousers around your ankles. I cannot go away until you come out of the toilet, sir.”

Alex sighed. He pulled his pants and trousers awkwardly over his frustrated penis and opened the door.

Dr Wilkins was accompanied by a security guard. It was a perfect moment of mutual misery – all eyes above the neckline as they ushered him out of the toilets. Mortifying enough to constitute a breakthrough: for the first time since his arrival, Alex wondered if he might just belong here after all.

Jake Kendall writes tragicomedy from his hometown of Oxford. His words can be found in the Cabinet of Heed, the Mechanics Institute Review, Idle Ink, Burning House Press, Coffin Bell Journal and Here Come’s Everyone. He rambles into the ether and self-promotes shamelessly on Twitter – @jakendallox

“Thanks for Asking” by Jake Kendall

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The miniature ‘n’ Perry had just drawn was a thing of beauty. The best he’d written all day. Perfectly proportioned with the line just distinct from the graceful curve that followed. A word processor could not have produced better.

No pressure of the subsequent ‘t’ then!

He laughed aloud at the thought before the invariable pang of self-doubt forced him to take a drink from his wine glass to steady his nerves. He returned to the task in hand; beginning the t, dragging his pen down a millimetre before the tiniest of flicks completed the bare shape of the letter. He finished his masterpiece, crossing it with a delicate mark worthy of Jan van Eyck.

It had taken all day to complete this opus. Holed up alone with it Perry had ignored his phone as it buzzed and vibrated steadily throughout the day. No doubt it was his friends asking if he wanted to go for a beer, asking if he was ok, or if he could do with some company. That kind of thing.

Well he didn’t, thanks for asking. Mark had made it abundantly clear that Perry had become shitty company over the last few weeks – screaming as much in Perry’s face as he stormed out their flat. Mark left on Friday, leaving Perry for forty eight hours in an empty flat with nothing but a sea of old photographs for company. That’s when the concept came to him.

Perry stepped back to admire the handiwork. In this photograph he had chosen the word ‘slag’ in the top half of Lindsey’s eyes, ‘cunt’ in the bottom.

It is exceptionally difficult to write in the whites of eyes. The space is tight on both the horizontal and vertical axis. The first dozen attempts were ill-thought out and sloppy in execution. Lindsey is a bitch, not a ‘bitc’. The failures lay ripped to shreds across the floor.

Luckily for Perry, twelve years can generate a lot of photographs. Hundreds of images of Lindsey’s face to practise on. They covered the walls of their living room and kitchen, grinning and pouting their way across Europe and the UK, beaming down from birthdays and Christmases past. She had such a cheerful face. How could she claim to have been secretly unhappy for years?

He had waved his thirtieth birthday photographs at Mark on Thursday.

‘This one is from last year. According to her, that’s about the time she first thought about breaking up. Look at her arm around me. Look at that smile. Does that look like the smile of a bored, depressed woman to you? Or perhaps instead the smile of a lying cow who would shag some alpha-prick in Marbella the first time she goes abroad with the girls, and then have the nerve to blame me for it? Well – which is it?’

‘Mate. Take the red pill, take the blue pill I don’t care which. Just take something to calm yourself the fuck down. You’re being weird and obsessive right now.’ Came Mark’s harsh and thoughtless reply.

The joke’s on you Mark, I’ll show you obsession, Perry thought as he drank the last of his third bottle of Malbec that day. He held it in his mouth and stared back at the smiling face of the girl who hurt him until a hot flash of anger compelled him to snort phlegm into his mouth. He spat deep red bile at the photograph but the gloopy concoction was too thick. It fell way short, dribbling down onto his own shirt instead.

Perry realised then how drunk he was. He tried to sit calmly on a nearby stool but missed and went crashing to the floor, where he caught his lower back sharply against the corner of the coffee table. He lay there for a while silently starring up at the ceiling processing the shock and the pain; reflecting how dangerous it was to be this wasted alone.

He heard a key enter the door and the relief and shame washed over him. Mark would be freaked out by the state of their flat for sure. But by morning perhaps Perry could get him back onside by admitting that he was taking things worse than he initially thought. Perhaps it would be a good idea to diffuse the anger by pretending to be more hurt than he was. Perhaps he should shut his eyes, play dead and feed his housemate’s concern. Yes he thought, let’s do that instead.

The door clicked open.

‘Hello? Perry?’ Came the unmistakeable sound of Lindsey’s voice from the hallway ‘I’ve tried calling you all day. Mark asked me to come round and check up on you. Gave me his key. He said you were beginning to worry him….’

 

Jake Kendall writes tragicomedy from his hometown of Oxford. His words can be found in the Cabinet of Heed, the Mechanics Institute Review, Idle Ink, Burning House Press, Coffin Bell Journal and Here Come’s Everyone. He rambles into the ether and self-promotes shamelessly on Twitter – @jakendallox