In our continuing season showcasing Portsmouth’s literary talent, we present a snippet from Roz Ryszka-Onions’ latest novel When Love Dies (available here in full). After unhinged and power-hungry data broker Val posts revenge porn photos of his ex-lover, her reaction is not quite what he anticipated.
Your hands are large and competent as you drive through the yellow fields. It’s funny because now it’s as if I am seeing through your eyes, yet you don’t even know I’m here. I can get to understand you in death as I never could in life. You see in the end you drove me to it. I couldn’t live like that, never knowing what you would leak, what you would say about me next, what lurid image of me people were viewing that morning as I tried to drink my coffee or what image the trolls would taunt me with. It got so I didn’t want to leave the house, use my phone, look at my iPad or switch on my computer. My critics’ faces loomed large in front of me as my vision swam. The walls around me edging closer, collapsing in on me as people crowded round me smirking, hurling abuse and pointing. I became an overnight sensation for all the wrong reasons. Infamous you could say, only don’t the infamous have to commit a crime? I see it now, I did. I left you and all the while I thought you didn’t care.
You can’t see me. I’m sitting next to you as you drive. Older now, you seem bigger. Not fatter, simply more substantial, stronger and more sure of yourself. I go with you everywhere now, your invisible companion. Is that what you wanted? You’re driving fast, too fast, hugging the bends. Your mouth, so full, is a grim line. I can see it gives you pleasure, being in control of a powerful machine, too large for narrow country lanes, yet you manoeuvre the undulating Hampshire countryside well. You drive past the pub (I can never remember its name), and through the arch of the railway bridge. You slow your speed and cruise round the green.
We’re in Rowlands Castle, an attractive place, if it were not so spooky and dead. Life, of an obsequious nature, comes to it only at night. I’m intrigued. What business or pleasure can you possibly have here? I shift uncomfortably in the passenger seat next to you, more out of habit than actual physical sensation. Ghosts, spooks, apparitions, call us what you will, we’re physical. Except that I’m not much of an apparition as no-one can see me, not that I want them to see me. But we’re only physical in our dimension, the astral. The astral is vast and covers the earth as well as what they call heaven and much further.
I can travel wherever I want and if I didn’t feel so ground down, so worn away and fragmented, I probably would, but what they don’t tell you in life, is that there’s no magic fairy godmother over this side. No-one takes away your troubles or your feelings. Suicides are the most disenchanted and embittered beings alive. Or should I say dead? We leave behind everything we love and care about to escape the life which became a living hell, only to find there is no reprieve. We still feel the same way in death as we did when we were alive. The problem is far removed but its mark is branded on our very soul. It’s a cruel cut. One is dealt a hand and one has to play it to the bitter end.
You’re slowing to a halt outside a wacky New Age shop. That’s new here, haven’t seen it before. You don’t believe in all this weird malarkey surely? You don’t even believe in life after death. I wonder how you’d take it, if you found out I was sitting next to you. Would you be horrified or would you be secretly flattered that I want to follow you around? Don’t be flattered. If I had better options, I would take them. Truth is I feel more lost in death than I did in life. I sit waiting for you to open the door for me, as for a disconcerting moment I forget we’re not dating and I’m dead. I fly through the metal and arrive at your side just as you shut the door behind you. I walk through it and enter Aladdin’s cave. The doorbell tinkles and rather like a genie a woman, who jingles as much as the doorbell chimes, enters the room.
“Patricia, darling, how are you?” You always were a charmer. Smooth as ever, you grasp her shoulders and kiss her on both cheeks. She responds to you as all women do. She moves as if she is in her thirties but when I scrutinise her face, I see it’s more likely she is in her sixties. Her petite frame, dressed in a green smock top over black leggings, puts me in mind of an elf. Her jewellery takes a lot deciphering but when I finally come to terms with what and how much she is wearing, I realise her dress code is akin to a smoke and mirrors façade, because if she were a medium, as she is telling you that she is, she would be able to see me, or at least sense a presence.
“The Tarot session is a treat for the girls. You know a few predictions, a few giggles, maybe see their grannies, that kind of thing. They love all that.” Just the way you word that sentence tells me you haven’t changed and you think ‘all that’, as you call it, is a load of old codswallop.
I’m intrigued what girls and since when did people love ‘all that’. I must have languished in purgatory longer than I realised. Time moves by here quickly in a way it doesn’t, when one is living on the astral. Days can go past here, but it feels like a few minutes where we are. It’s not so different on the astral. We build houses, plant vegetables, trees and flowers, even eat, but it’s not the same. The sensations are thinner, less satisfactory. We are very solid to ourselves and can inflict pain, even feel pleasure to a certain extent. It’s different, that is all.
The best part of it all is we can build a house with our minds. We gather all the materials and tools we need without any of the hard labour, except that it’s a knack and a bit of a trick and takes so long to master. I live in a communal halfway house, when I want to, when I cross over, but I don’t like it there much. My family are there and I saw enough of them when they were alive. It’s solid, made of brick and has been there for centuries, maybe since the beginning of time, although I’m not sure when time began.
The furniture is heavy and made of a dark wood, mahogany maybe, I don’t know, I can’t quite place it. Things are the same but different, anything you’ve ever imagined, any monster you’ve ever conjured in your mind, exists on the astral. I’m not sure I like it there. Or rather, I should say here, as even though I’m on earth I’m still on the astral, because I’m in another dimension. I know, I know it’s complicated. I struggle with it most days. Sometimes I can’t believe I died. I wanted to, don’t get me wrong, I wanted it to end, it wasn’t a cry for help, but I can’t believe how tenuous my connection to life was.
Patricia is rattling her bones and jingling her bangles with glee as they discuss a fee. You are telling her you want to pay her directly as it’s a treat for the girls. You suggest paying half upfront and the remainder after the event. Patricia gets her diary and as luck would have it (and totally unrelated to the fact that you are offering to pay over the odds) Patricia happens to be free the evening you have in mind. You chat about the afterlife. I roll my eyes and am genuinely sorry you can’t see me, as I know you don’t believe and I’m pretty certain Patricia hasn’t got the faintest inkling what life after death is like.
“Yes, from what I’ve seen they become enlightened and free after death. It really is nothing to be afraid of. Pain melts away. Their suffering ends and they walk into the light. Only the other week I was telling a client, a lovely lady, not to worry about her mother. I told her we all know cancer’s a terrible ordeal, but she’s free of pain now and at peace, of that I’m sure.
“Of course, on the night, I’ll try to get a link and talk to anyone the girls are worried about personally, but you know, they don’t always come through. There are no guarantees in this line of work. We are but the humble emissaries of God and His Angels and some mediums forget that. They’re power hungry and concerned with the material side of life. It’s a sure way to kill the gift and that’s no lie.” Patricia looks serious and you are nodding attentively and frowning.
You glance quickly at your watch and I realise you haven’t been listening. You need to get to your next appointment and are wondering how to wrap up this meeting.
“I’ve helped many a poor soul walk in the light. I call my guide and he helps them through the tunnel and to the other side…………….” Patricia warbles on. Her description is so graphic, I feel as if I’m there. Of course I don’t, and, of course it isn’t. Sound bites, that’s all she’s rehashing. You are nodding and smiling sweetly. She hasn’t an inkling you couldn’t care less whether she’s the real thing or not. Not that I’m saying there isn’t a tunnel or white light. There is, but if I had a dollar, I’d bet it on the probability that Patricia has never seen it.
When I glided out of my body it felt as if my stomach was somersaulting with nerves and then I realised that I had left it behind and that’s the way it feels to peel away from your body. I floated aimlessly in the room and out of habit wanted to get back inside myself but I realised that my body had stopped working and was lying in a pool of blood. I stayed and waited. In the distance I could see mist and I knew that I should head over to it but I didn’t want to.
I wanted to know what happened next. I don’t know how long I sat there beside myself, literally, before they broke the door down and I heard someone screaming and a man knelt down by my side and took my pulse and said, she’s dead. There were so many people crowded into the room. I couldn’t take in their faces. I felt bewildered. If they were all so upset that I’d gone, why hadn’t someone said something to me, why hadn’t one of them come up to me and said, don’t worry about the scandal, don’t worry about what people are saying. It doesn’t matter, it’ll blow over, but they didn’t. They just stared and pointed and walked on. I’m ranting, I know, and, being unfair. Zoe wasn’t there. She was in London working. She used to phone me nearly every day, telling me not to worry, that it would blow over and that I should come and stay with her, any time, for as long as I wanted.
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