I’ll be running quite a few new modern-day Phil chapters here on the ‘process’ section of the website, particularly Phil chapters which I’ll be inserting into the earlier parts of the novel. One of the big jobs awaiting me in the editing part of this process is figuring out where to place the Phil chapters so they don’t detract from the more serious tone of the Victorian ones. So, here we are, back in the earlier part of the story, with Phil and Vic in Detective Redmond’s office.
“It’s too bad you’re not into content intuiting,” said Vic with a sniff.
“What the hell is that?”
“Well, it’s a bit late now, seeing as it’s a cultivated skill. If we’d known that you were going to get this monstrosity to read, we could’ve got you up to speed in the foresight department, but then, you did have the opportunity to attend the clairvoyance workshop and you declined. It’s no good me saying ‘I told you so’, Owens, but if you’d attended that workshop with me, you would’ve known the manuscript was coming your way and you could’ve fast-tracked through the content intuiting course in preparation.”
“You still haven’t answered my question, Vic,” returned Phil, irritated at the condescension in his colleague’s voice. “What is content intuiting?”
“Content intuiting is reading without reading,” declared Vic. “It’s an awesome skill. All you have to do is lay your hands on the book cover, close your eyes, get yourself into a meditative state and, I kid you not, the content of the pages will start floating up into your hand and straight into your psyche. It’s the ultimate form of speed reading, really. Except – you’re not reading! You’re intuiting!”
“That’s bloody hogwash, if you ask me,” Phil huffed.
“Scoff away – scoff away,” said Vic. “But it’s been a godsend in my Vicamorphosis. I’ve blown through reams of books, sometimes as many as ten in a day, just by palm reading. For instance, I read the entire – and I mean the ENTIRE – Harry Potter series in one weekend flat.”
“It’s called watching the movies, Vic. And I know you watched the movies because Saunders said you watched at least three of them with him and Irene. And if you watched the movies before you read the books, of course you were able to bloody palm read. You’d seen the movies for Christ’s sake!”
“If you don’t believe me, Owens, you can ask the members of my book club.”
“Your book club?” Phil scoffed (because Vic had urged him to ‘scoff away’).
“Yes, my book club,” said Vic indignantly. “I chair it.”
“You chair it?” Phil scoffed again (because there was no such thing as too little scoffing when it came to Vic’s outlandish theories and announcements).
“As a matter of fact, I do,” declared Vic. “We meet once a month at my flat.”
“You never told me you chaired a book club,” said Phil. “And how does one ‘chair’ a book club? Don’t you just sit around in a group, discussing what you’ve read?”
“Not at my book club, Owens. Because at my book club, the group intuits content together and then we discuss the work on the spot afterwards. My book club is one of the only clubs in England for which one doesn’t have to read the books first. So long as you have free hands and an open mind, you’re good to go. The only drawback is that, due to our hands’ free policy, we don’t allow mobile phones when we’re in session as a collective. In fact, you may not know this but it was your wife Claire who gave me the idea of hanging a plastic shoe organiser on the back of my door so people can drop their phones in the compartments as they enter. That’s what she used to do in the nursery school.”
“My wife? Claire? She knew about your club?” Phil couldn’t believe it. But then again, he could, because there’d been some problems with the communication lines between him and Claire lately; on the odd occasion, the lines had been down altogether. “And you’re telling me that her nursery school students carried mobile phones? You’ve got to be joking!”
“Where have you been, Owens?” Vic asked. “We’re in the new age of enlightenment. Of course, they carry mobiles. What are they supposed to do if the teachers misbehave? They won’t be able to press charges if they can’t contact their parents and let them know that their rights might have been violated.”
“And how are they supposed to do that if their phones are in the shoe organiser?” Phil rolled his eyes. “Zoom them over with their telekinetic powers?”
“Very funny, Owens,” Vic responded, offended. “I’m just telling you that Claire’s idea of having the book club collective slip its mobiles into the shoe organiser upon entry into my flat was ingenious.”
“No,” said Phil. “The Pinterest people were ingenious. Because Pinterest is where Claire gets all her ideas from, unless she’s getting them from the Bible of Menopause –”
“Which,” Vic interrupted, “would be the ideal book for you to palm read. Think about it, Owens – a little laying of hands on that book and you’d have Claire all figured out and you could be two steps ahead of her, avoiding a whole host of problems and misunderstandings.”
Refraining from falling into the rabbit hole of his recent marital problems, Phil opted to get back to talking about Vic’s book club. “Right then, Cummings,” he said, “so, what books is the collective going to be palm reading at your next session?”
“Glad you asked. At our next session, we’re going to break from our multi-book tradition and tackle one book only. It’s a doozy –”
Christ – Phil hated that word and immediately blamed the Americans for it. Only the Americans could’ve come up with such a dreadful word. In fact, in a few moments time, when Vic left the office and Phil looked the word up, he’d discover it hailed from Ohio in the 1920’s. He’d be as chuffed as could be over that because he’d foreseen the terrible word’s nationality without a single clairvoyance class.
“—but it’s a book that demands to stand alone: The Kamasutra,” Vic continued.
Phil immediately spluttered out his mouthful of coffee as not to choke. “The Kamasutra?” he echoed incredulously. “The ancient, erotic picture book?”
“Well I never,” came Vic. “Isn’t that a shock? You’ve heard of it.”
“Yes, I’ve bloody heard of it,” returned Phil, insulted that Vic assumed he wouldn’t have. “I wasn’t born yesterday, you know. Everyone’s heard of that. But steady on, Cummings. That’s a picture book so why would you even need to intuit it?”
“Ahhhh,” returned Vic in an all-wise tone. “Because the great thing about intuiting content is that you also experience the feeling and, more so than with traditional reading. Because you’re moving everything into the psycho-emotional nervous system, your sensory receptors are at full attention, and all your senses are heightened. The phenomenon is virtual reality without the equipment.”
“Which means what exactly?”
Vic leant forward and brought his voice down to a sage-like whisper. “Which means, Owens, that at our next session, the collective will be having a Kamasutra séance. As soon as those mobiles are in that shoe organiser, the lights are out and the battery-operated candles going, we’ll be in a circle on the floor, performing a ‘laying-on-of-hands’ ritual on the book cover, intuiting the pictures and reveling in the effects. It promises to be one doozy of an evening –”
Christ, no: there it was again – that abhorrent Americanism.
“Just a tick,” Phil said, flinching at the word. “How could one book possibly accommodate all your hands? Isn’t one cover too small for the collective?”
“Well, it’s certainly a case of a setback turning into an opportunity,” Vic replied. “Because initially, when I called the Mistwell Library to see if it had a copy of the book on hand, the head librarian told me there was only one copy of it in the Heath and that the waiting list for it was as long as from here to London so it was going to be a four-month wait. I couldn’t believe it, Owens. The Kamasutra with a waiting list here in the Heath? I was surprised. But anyhoo –”
Je-sus, Phil thought, shuddering. He was still recovering from Vic’s use of the ‘d’ word and now Vic had to toss out yet another Americanism into the conversation, a piece of slang which, in Phil’s books, was a gazillion times worse than the last one.
“—I got my name on the list just in case I couldn’t get the book on-line – went on-line – it was sold-out ‘every-fucking-where’ so, the collective had no choice but to wait. But here’s where things got weird,” added Vic, narrowing his eyes and lowering his voice even more.
“Here, Cummings? Here is where things got weird?” Phil said, still coping with Post Americanism Stress Disorder. “Cummings. Seriously. Read my lips. Every fucking thing you do is weird. There’s no ‘here’ with the weirdness, mate. You’re living and breathing weirdness these days.”
“Enlightenment, Owens. I’m living and breathing enlightenment with pockets of weirdness within it. And by weird, I mean revelatory and by revelatory, I mean insightful moments where you come face to face with the divine choreography of things the unenlightened consider to be random.”
“Right,” said Phil with a skeptical little sniff.
“Anyhoo,” continued Vic, sending Phil into a sweat. “It all went down like this.”
“When was the last time you were in the States?” Phil interjected, feeling faint.
“Two months ago,” Vic replied. “But that’s neither here nor there. What went down at the Mistwell Library will blow your mind, Owens. Because when I eventually got the call ten days ago that the book was in, I got myself to the library, not realising it was Easter Holidays and all the children were out of school. So, there I was, lined up at the front desk with minors right-left-and-centre. And then, I kid you not, once I gave the librarian my name, she went into a back room and came out with the most ginormous hardcover book I’d ever seen. I swear to God, this thing was sooooo massive, I couldn’t even see the librarian, just her little fingers clamped around its sides. It was sooooo huge, as she heaved it onto the counter, papers went flying and parents shielded their children from the erotic image embossed on the leather cover. It – was – crazy.”
“I’m surprised one of the children didn’t call us on a mobile and report you.”
“In which case, I would’ve been down here at my place of employment, telling you exactly what I’m telling you now,” Vic said without skipping a beat. “I mean I was just surprised that this holy grail of a thing had made its way around god-knows how many coffee tables in the Heath. Plus, as soon as I saw it, I knew – yep – I knew that the weirdness was occurring, that destiny was afoot. For the surface of The Kamasutra before me was con-ti-nent-al, mate. Forget being spacious enough to lay all our hands on, this doozy was vast enough to play Twister on!”
“Which I’m sure you’ll be doing,” Phil quipped.
“Only if the collective collectively agrees.”
“And if it doesn’t agree, it won’t be a collective anymore, will it?”
“Very funny, Owens. We wouldn’t call ourselves a collective if we didn’t agree on everything, would we? When I put forth the motion –”
“Oh, I see,” Phil interrupted. “Chairman talk and you’re the chairman.”
“Chairperson,” Vic corrected. “Chairsoul to be precise.”
“Seems a bit at odds with the collective mentality, don’t you think, Cummings?”
“Do I really need to break it down for you, Owens?” said Vic condescendingly. “We’re only a collective on session nights. We’re individuals at meetings, and I am the chairsoul for those meetings. And, as I was saying, when I put forth the motion that we brave The Kamasutra, the entire group was on board to intuit the illustrated teachers and, quite possibly, put the sexual wisdom into practise.”
“Right, mate,” said Phil, rolling his eyes. “So, in layman’s terms – an orgy?”
“Layperson’s terms. And no, not an orgy, but rather an intuitive experience in the sensual arts. What we’re talking about here is a transcendental event in which printed material manifests itself into reality. What we’re talking about is the eradication of the paper barrier, the symbiosis of intuitive reader and subject. What we’re talking about is the oneness of human and story; to borrow from the great French philosopher Descartes, I intuitively read therefore I am. What I’m talking about is –”
That was it – Phil had had enough.
“That may be what you’re talking about,” he interrupted. “But what I’m talking about is you using a lot of highfalutin talk to pass an orgy off as some sort of ancient spiritual experience. I intuitively read therefore I am?! I’ve never heard such nonsense in my life. I fuck therefore I need to stock up on condoms is more like it. Or to be more accurate, we, the collective fuck, therefore we better make damn sure we’ve all put our mobiles in the bloody shoe organiser, or we could have a leaked video and, quite possibly a lawsuit on our hands.”
“You know what, Owens?” Vic said, rising from his chair and flexing. “If I hadn’t evolved into my new state of consciousness, I’d take great offense at your unenlightened interpretation of my spiritual evolution. But I don’t. And I don’t because I know it’s just a matter of time before you come to see the light yourself. You’re simply not there yet. You’re still closed off. Oh, but once you start evolving, mate? Once you come into your own – wow! – you’re going to realise the dooziness of it all – you’re going to see that there’s no separation between you and the world of which you’re a part. That manuscript there?” Vic paused and cocked his head toward the stack of papers on Redmond’s desk. “That’s not just the dead girl’s story, mate. It’s your story too. The more you read it, the more you’re going to see yourself. Not only that. The more you’re going to get reacquainted with the authentic Phil Owens that’s buried in the accumulative rubble of his own life. Every story is a journey into one’s deepest, darkest self.”
“I highly doubt it, Cummings,” Phil returned, staring down at the mammoth work awaiting him. “Besides, there’s no way that a manuscript written by a twenty-two-year old posh girl on Harlow Street who clearly committed suicide could have anything to do with me.”
“Are you kidding me, Owens?” Vic rebuffed. “By the time you get to the end of it, it’ll be your story all right. The paper barrier will be down, and you’ll be looking at yourself. Perhaps you’ll even be enlightened enough to participate in the next collective.”
“Never in a million would I ever play erotic Twister with you lot.”
“Never say never,” quipped Vic.
And that was that. Vic was out the door and stretching his way through the Polaroid Room and Phil was alone, staring at Aubrey Holloway’s manuscript in the lamplight.