Big Man (Part 2)
He started by asking a lady who ‘Linda’ was. Her mother, came the answer. And why was it that Linda’s presence was causing him to feel a harshness in his throat? Linda had died of throat cancer. And why was the number ‘five’ so special? Oh, Linda had been from a family of five was why.
Once a few more details were established, Charlie told her that Linda wanted her to start standing up for herself more. ‘That make sense, hun?’
The woman nodded, and that was that.
For a while after, he closed his eyes and stood still. Like with most of his affectations, it was hard to tell if this was to create suspense or just to give him time to figure out his next move.
His eyes opened.
He walked slowly towards the front row. ‘You,’ he said.
A young woman – eighteen or nineteen – deep-fried in embarrassment.
‘Yes, you love.’
She shifted awkwardly in her seat.
‘It’s alright, I don’t bite.’
He proceeded to tell her that he could see a young man behind her. She looked round, and he quipped, ‘No. I can see him. Not you. That’s why it’s me up here being the psychic and you down there being the audience.’ The young man, he said, well, he wasn’t really a young man at all, he was more a boy, and he was … he was hanging. The young woman buried her face in her hands. Charlie offered to stop, if it was too much to go on from there. But the young woman invited him back in, and so he told her about the boy – her brother, it turned out – and his suicide.
And so it went like that.
For about half an hour he scored hit after hit.
An elderly uncle who had been crushed by a garden fence just three days ago.
An older sister who’d succumbed to a drug addiction.
A miserly father-in-law who’d fled to live on a canal boat that sunk while he slept.
A chihuahua that had been eaten by a German shepherd on a Sunday morning walk.
All the while Angela’s every movement seemed to say, ‘See? Told you.’
But as the night wore on, the chinks started to show.
For twenty minutes he became obsessed with the image of some grandmother’s ring. It lived in her bedside cabinet, he told a bemused woman just three rows in front of Angela and I.
Was she sure, though? Because he was definitely seeing this old engraved ring, and it was definitely important.
‘Sorry, I just can’t think.’
When it ultimately led nowhere, there was no admission of fault on the psychic’s part; no, it was the woman’s fault for not remembering, and what she should do – rather than feeling dissatisfied with her reading – was go home and call up her grandfather, because he might know about the ring.
‘Think you can do that for me, hun?’
It surprised me, to be honest, that he focused for so long on the ring given that most of the time, when he threw out some vagary and it failed to get anything back, he would just gloss over it as if it had never happened, and instead spotlight and twist and cherish every tiny detail he did get back so that even the most successful readings seemed to produce a kind of mulch made up of a few of his own details but mostly details which the sitter had supplied.
If I muttered objections or issued even the tiniest sigh of despair, Angela would come in quick and curt: ‘He just said a man was crushed by a fence. Another man’s boat sank. Honestly, Douglas. Just try and explain it.’
And soon, she would be asking me to explain a great deal more.
When Charlie came out after the interval, he stood on stage, completely still, eyes closed, for a full minute before he deigned to utter a single word.
The silence that the audience afforded this little charade made me feel slightly embarrassed for them.
When he opened his eyes, he surveyed the horizon of dimly lit audience members, then fixed his sights on the man – the plumber – sitting to our right.
Here we go, I thought.
'This chap here,’ Charlie said, ‘who's he?'
I heard the man’s seat creak.
I sensed the audience looking in our general direction.
‘Name’s Darren,’ the man said.
‘No, not you. Him.’
‘Oh,’ Darren said.
‘You see, ladies. You work with the men for five seconds and they mess the whole thing up.’
I felt blood go to my face, and wondered if anyone could tell.
‘Anyway, “Name’s Darren”, who’s your mate.’
Darren shook his head. ‘Oh he ain’t me mate. I've just come with me missus.'
Charlie pulled a teacher’s disappointed face. ‘See. The men can’t even get along.’ He threw his hands up. ‘What can you do?’
Then he turned his eyes on me.
He seemed to smell my discomfort. 'Excuse my French, mate,' he said, 'but you don't half look bloody bored.'
There were a few sniggers.
I could hear Angela silently agreeing with his assessment.
I shifted in my seat.
'Sorry,' I said, then coughed, surprised to hear my own voice become the only sound in the theatre, 'that's just my default face. Nothing personal.'
‘Ay?’ he said. ‘‘Whad’you say?’
I repeated myself.
He looked confused again. ‘Is it just me?’ he said to the audience. They laughed. ‘You gotta help me out here, fella. Enunciate and all that.’
I rolled my eyes without meaning to. Bit my lip. ‘This is just my default face. Nothing personal.’
‘Right,’ he said. 'You been dragged along, fella?'
'Well,' I said.
'Perhaps I should ask her instead, ay?' He turned to Angela. 'You dragged him along, love?'
Angela didn't hesitate now that it was her chance to shine: 'Kicking and screaming.'
That elicited a few laughs, and in my peripheral vision I could sense Angela looking pleased with herself.
'And I'm guessing you're the other half. Married, yeah?’
'For my sins,' Angela said.
'Well it would have to be, wouldn't it, if he's got a face on like that all day. "Default" and all that.'
He bent low and took a swig of water.
'What's your name, fella?' he said.
I considered not answering. Not giving him the satisfaction.
'Douglas?' He put his hands in his pockets, nodded. 'Hi, Douglas. I'm Charlie.'
There was a ripple of laughter.
'You not a fan of all this then, Douglas? Not your sort of thing?'
I could hardly answer him honestly.
'Go on, Douglas, be frank. It's not my job to tell you what to think.'
'I've just come along to see what it's all about,' I said.
'Well that's very noble of you, Douglas. And how are you finding it so far?'
I went to speak but he interrupted –
'Actually, don't answer that. I’ll be honest, I'm scared of what you're gonna say. In fact,' he directed this at Angela, 'he is quite scary isn't he. Our Douglas.'
Charlie put a conspiratorial hand over his mouth and said, in a stage whisper, to the whole of the audience: 'Is it just me? Is he not a bit scary? Very serious, ain’t he,' he smiled an awful smile, ‘our Douglas.’
I wasn’t sure what my crime was here – but clearly he was determined to punish me for it.
'Now, Douglas, I can tell your missus is quite into all this, so - this is quite unfortunate really - but the energy that I'm sensing, I can sense it very precisely, and it's not coming from her. It's coming from you.'
I looked at him.
'Nope?' he said. He made his hand flat and passed it over his face. 'Still nothing? Still no response? Still your default face?'
I looked at him.
Perhaps to a stage psychic the sight of a bored, unimpressed, quietly sceptical man was the worst thing that could happen.
I didn’t know.
'Pff,' he said, despairing, 'I bet you're fun at parties aren't you, Douglas.'
The audience laughed again.
I put my mouth to Angela's ear and whispered, ‘He’s clearly got it in for me. Can I just go now?’
Her hissed response came back straight away: 'Stop taking yourself so seriously and just play along. He obviously likes you.'
Charlie caught our exchange. 'Something you'd like to share there, Douglas?'
I looked at him.
'Come on. I'm all ears.'
'Well you're the one who's psychic,' I said, 'surely you know what I said.'
He went quiet again. Closed his eyes.
'Douglas,' he said. 'Was that - was that a heckle?'
Whatever was going on here, it was obvious I'd lost.
'I'm not gonna lie, Douglas. You scared me a little again there. I mean, you could've gone for something a tad more original. But hey. You've still given me a bit of a fright.' He pulled a face then – a face that said Give me strength to his audience. 'I wonder how Mrs Douglas is feeling about all this.' He turned to Angela again. 'What's your name, love?'
'Right, well Angela, shall we do Doug a favour and get rid of that default face of his, yeah? Shall we change his setting? Maybe even turn him off and on again if we have to, yeah? Whatever it takes.'
'If you wouldn't mind,' Angela said.
'Would it be okay if I gave you a reading, Douglas? Do you think you could bear that?'
I looked at him. Angela kicked me.
I thought to myself, If he wants to go out of his way to expose his little game by trying it on me, why not let him?
'I think that I could bear that.'
He looked at me in mock surprise. 'Really, Douglas?'
He did a sarcastic sort of fist pump. 'Yes. I think he’s starting to like me, folks.'
Cue some more laughs.
'I knew we'd get there in the end, people. Just had to break down his walls, didn't we. Okay, now the reason I want to give Douglas a reading isn't just because I'm picking on him. I wouldn't pick on him, folks. Never.’ He paused. Made that face at his imaginary friend again. ‘No, it's because there's energy … there’s energy just ... just burning off of him. It's intense, people. It's so intense it excites me. In fact, if I were to throw him into outer space - which I think your missus would probably appreciate right about now -' again the laughter came, and I sat there like a rock out in the ocean, feeling the waves slap against me, over and over. 'I kid, Douglas. I kid.' He covered his face with his hand, as though he were hiding, and said, 'Can he see me. Have I enraged him. Is he being scary again?' He took a swig of water. 'Nah, you're alright Douglas. You're alright. Anyway, like I was saying, if I were to throw Douglas into outer space, I'd still be able to see him, because right now he's like a star. He's burning bright, is what I'm saying. Burning bright with so much energy. I've just ... I've just gotta go after it, guys.'
He kind of folded himself up again. Closed his eyes. Went quiet.
The audience were enraptured once more.
He only broke off his stillness to take a swig of water. 'It's all our banter, Douglas,' he said, 'it's making my throat go dry.'
He put the water down and started to stretch. His arms went out in the shape of a cross and he rolled his neck, cracking it, so that he looked more than ever like Jesus high up on that hill. 'It's a physical thing this, you know. You gotta limber yourself up sometimes.' He rolled his wrists and they cracked too. Then he shook his arms to show that he was ready.
'Right, Douglas. Tell me this. Who the bloody hell is Florence?'
(NEXT UP: PART 3 ...)