Lying to God

Chapter 1


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©Ian Gosling 2011


When he was a boy, nobody believed him. Perhaps they might have if she’d beaten him; then they could have seen the scars. But the abuse was never physical. The torture she administered left no outward signs, though the pain was real. The damage she inflicted is visible only to the mind’s eye; the wounds that never heal. Still festering, exuding their pus; a foul poison simmering and seething inside his head like a witch’s brew.

The boy is now a man, and has at last found people who believe him.

Keith believes him; though they don’t talk about it much. They don’t need to. Keith has endured similar pain. Keith understands.

Sandi believes him. They talk about it all the time. Sandi senses his pain, and says she wants to understand. He knows she never will.

He’s been telling Sandi about her for days, weeks, months. There are days when he talks of nothing else. The cauldron is always simmering, but sometimes it boils, and when the pressure becomes too much to bear the whole malodorous mess erupts. Then he rants and he raves, and his words loose their shape and all come out sounding the same and it makes no sense at all; and he wonders if it ever will.

There are nights when he wakes, trembling and crying, and seeks comfort in her arms. And Sandi holds him to her breast while he weeps like a lost child. Like a motherless child, only recently orphaned.

The worst times are when he doesn’t talk to Sandi at all; when he just sits and stares with his eyes wide open. Stares right through her. And when she stares back and tries to look into the tangled mess of his mind, he turns away. Those are the times when he wonders why, and what on earth is she still doing there?

 He’s been counting down the days and becoming increasingly restless as the confrontation has drawn closer, his moods swinging wildly. One moment he’s ready to take on the world, and he wonders if he really needs her at all. The next he’s running for cover, and she shows him just how much he does.

She’s been sitting with him all night, holding his hand, stroking his head; soothing him as the blood vessels in his neck, pumped up with a cocktail of anger and adrenalin, pulse alarmingly. When he wavers, she does the talking. Her voice calm and reassuring, talking him up and urging him to shake off the black shroud of depression before it smothers him.

Though he hasn’t slept, he feels renewed, and tells her, ‘I’m ok. I’m ready now.’

He knows she won’t try to stop him. They both know that nothing will be right between them until this is over. He nods impatiently as she reminds him of what he has to do, ‘Take control and don’t let her get inside your head. Stick to what we agreed and it will be all right. Just go straight there and get it over with.’

She waves from the top of the stair as he opens the door, and again from the window as he crosses the street; breaking his step to take a backward glance. Picking up his pace, he quickly reaches the corner.

Go straight there – where else would I go?

Get it over with – too right I will. The bitch is history!

Go straight there and get it over with – Oh yes, bring it on!

If only it were that simple.

By the next corner he is already having doubts.

Should have – could have – waited.

An old friend is calling him; offering reassurance. At first he resists. Ignoring the lure of The Free Press and hurrying past The Cricketers, he walks purposefully towards the bus station. He weakens, and drags his feet as he approaches The Elm Tree.

Should have – could have – waited

Maybe, he had this in mind all along. He could easily have gone another way; taken a route that avoided temptation. Shaking it off, he carries on.

But, now the open doors of the Clarendon Arms are beckoning, and old Jack Daniels, his warm and persuasive friend, isn’t going to let him get away that easily – What the hell? Just one won’t do any harm.

‘The usual?’ the barman asks, though he’s already opened the bottle of bourbon and starts to pour, without waiting for a reply. He reaches beneath the counter, where he keeps a small supply of the iconic green-glass bottles that contain six-and-a-half fluid ounces of ‘the real thing’– for his more discerning regulars; everyone else gets Coke from the fountain on the bar.

He shakes his head, ‘Not today, I’ll have it straight.’ He picks up the glass and tosses it back. The double-shot disappears in seconds; the unadulterated spirit sears his throat, ‘Aaagh… that’s better.’

Inevitably, he stays too long in the company of his two-faced friend and just one becomes two, and then several more.

Not for Dutch courage, or at least that’s what the voice inside his head is telling him. This is a wilful challenge to her. It will add to the drama. She abhors alcohol. It is the only vice from which she abstains. He imagines her backing away in disgust, as his whiskey sodden breath assaults her senses. And that is as good a reason as any to have another.

He doesn’t really know what he is saying. But it’s all about her.

The barman listens and urges him on, ‘What a cow. Mine was the same. You’ve got to sort her out her who’s boss. Do you want another one?’

‘Why not? Same again, cheers mate’

Should have – could have – waited.


His old friend Jack has betrayed him; again. He doesn’t feel drunk just a bit unsteady on his feet – but the barman won’t serve him any more.

‘You all right, mate?’ Someone offers a steadying hand, ‘Take it easy.’

Brushing the hand aside, ‘I’sor’ight, I’ll be ok… jus’ need some air.’

Staggering, he struggles through the double doors.

Grabbing at the arm of a stranger, he slurs some incoherent words of apology, then tripping on the step, falling headlong; spread-eagled on the pavement.

Scraping his face off the slabs, he sits on the kerb and shrugs off the comments of the passers-by, ‘What are you looking at?’

Picks himself up, dusts himself down and shuffles towards Drummer Street – Arseholes, what do they know?

Seeking salvation from the bus-station kiosk, he grunts at the spiky-haired youth behind the counter, ‘Coffee, black, three sugars, no lid.’

‘Sorry mate. Gotta put a top on, ’elf an’ safety.’

Mutters and mumbles, as he throws a handful of change across the counter. Takes a couple of sips as he walks towards a bench – can’t drink through this poxy’hole. ‘Fuck it!’

Fingernails clawing at the rim, trying to prise it off, ‘Bloody stupid lid!’ Suddenly the flimsy plastic cover surrenders. Too suddenly, and he knows it’s going to spill and he knows it’s too late to stop it.

Feels something warm and wet, looking down at the muddy-brown trail soaking into his new T-shirt, ‘Fuck… Fuck… Fuck it!’ He shouts, at no one and everyone.

Sitting on the bench, spilling more coffee than he drinks; struggling to keep his eyes open.

As his eyes close, his voice fades to a mumble. The coffee is all but gone, his confidence too, and when he wakes only the dregs will remain.

Should have – could have – waited.


Should have – could have – waited

Stumbling – trips up the step and falls into the bus.

Mumbling – ‘Um, err… Tr… Trum… Trumpington… err, um… single… no, err... return.’

Fumbling – coins spill from his pocket and cascade onto the platform.

‘I’sokay, ’sno problem… look… go’so’more money, here’s a tenner.’

The bus driver brushes aside the banknote, ‘Can’t change that. Exact fare only.’

‘C’mon you bastard… j… j… jus’ gimme a fuckin’ ticket.’

‘Exact fare only. Now get off my bus before I call the police.’

‘Fuck you. I’ll walk.’

Should have – could have – waited.

It’s only two miles. It seems a lot more, and every step offers a choice; carry on or turn back. And every decision is the same – Too late; can’t run away now.

Approaching the wooden gates; hanging askew on broken hinges – Almost there.

Imagining the house; hidden behind the thick hedge – Is it really three years?

Walking up the driveway; sees the house – Looks the same.

But being here isn’t what he expected – Feels strange.

Should have – could have – waited.


Feeling agitated; no longer excited, but nervy and apprehensive like a trespasser skulking furtively in the cover of the shadows.

The sound of the gravel crunching under foot echoes through the trees, crackling like gunshots. There was a time when the dogs’ ears would have pricked up at the slightest sound. Bruno and Jasper would have raised the alarm and seen off any intruder, before they got within sight of the front door. But there’ve been no dogs here for years. Only he can hear the sounds of his footsteps; amplified by his growing anxiety – Why am I feeling like this? Why should I feel… guilty?

His lips twist and quiver – What’s she done to my garden?

Trying to keep his mind focused on his mission, but can’t ignore the neglect that surrounds him. Taught by his father, he has tended this garden since he was a small boy, barely big enough to wield the tools. And now – Where did all these weeds come from?

Dandelions, docks, and thistles are growing through the gravel. They always did, but he would pluck out the tiny seedlings before they took hold. These invaders are deep rooted and triumphant. In the sunnier parts of the dishevelled borders, the summer’s growth of herbaceous perennials heroically scrambles thorough the withered stems of several previous summers; somehow managing to defy even the choking ligatures of bindweed. In the darker places, starved of nutrients and light, the battle against the advancing armies of nettles has been lost.

And the lawn; always immaculate – broad emerald-green stripes manicured by the razor-sharp blades and heavy roller of the ancient ride-on Atco; piles of clippings collected in its capacious grass-box, then carefully emptied onto the compost heap – now looks more like a rough cut field, scalped by the slashing knives of a jobbing gardener’s rotary mower; the clippings left to rot where they lie.

She knows how much he loves the garden – Does she really hate me that much?

His heart quickens as he climbs the wide stone steps at the front of the house and stands under the ornate portico. He rubs his hands over the columns, looks up and admires the carved stonework. His forebears spared no expense in employing skilled artisans to decorate the house, and the elaborate entrance is merely an appetiser for the architectural feast waiting inside. This is what he has come back for.

He grew up in this house, although he can’t remember when he last thought of it as home. Maybe once, but that was years ago, before she drove his father away.

Now he feels like a stranger and, that feeling was not unexpected. He was always a stranger in this house. She never wanted him. He was – as she never tired of reminding him – an ‘accident’. Every day of his life, he has borne the burden of her resentment and he hates her for that.

Sometimes in his darkest moments he hates his father too, for leaving him alone with her.

When he was eight or nine years old, about a year after his father left, he started to write about her. He wrote stories and poems in the pages of his school books. He wrote in his English book, in his Maths book, in his History book, in every book, and in any book – he just wanted them to know. He just wanted someone… anyone to take notice and take him away from her.

His teacher told the headmaster. The headmaster called his mother to the school, and suggested she should take him to see a psychologist – “The school just doesn’t have the resources to deal with problems like this…”

It was official – he was a problem.

She didn’t need resources to deal with the problem. She locked him away – down there – without his books, no pens, pencils or paper, and nothing to eat, and nothing to do except cry. He was down there for four days. Then, she sent him back to school with a note, “… sickness and diarrhoea”. He wasn’t really ill of course, though he couldn’t tell them that. He was too frightened, but he never wrote anything about her in his schoolbooks again.

Problem solved?

No; not at all.

Sometimes when he was down there, she left the light on so he could read. She never let him have paper when he was down there, and the only book she allowed him was The Bible, and he would never have dared to deface that. So he wrote on the walls instead, using ballpoint pens, pencils, crayons, marker pens, whatever he could smuggle down there without her knowing. She never went down there, so it was always his secret.

One day he when he was down there, he found a rusty old six-inch nail.  He hid it under his shirt and took it back to his room, where it is probably still hiding on the ledge above the door. Sometimes he would hold it in his hand, scribing circles in the air as he imagined gouging out her eyes. Or he’d imagine she was a vampire, screaming as he drove the metal spike through her heart, before he watched her shrivel to dust.

He remembers his twelfth birthday.

He returned home from school, did his jobs for the day, sat down at the kitchen table at precisely five o’clock, ate his tea and then did his homework. She didn’t make him go down there; she never punished him on his birthday. On his birthday he got to spend an extra hour or two in his bedroom.

After she had bolted the door, he used the nail to scratch a poem on the bedroom wall. He could have used a pen or pencil; it would have easier. But the slow process of precisely gouging the letters deep into the plaster was altogether more satisfying. He wanted it to be neat ­with no mistakes, and with only the moonlight for illumination – after his father left, he had only once dared to switch on the light after she locked the door and that had cost him a whole day down there – it took him several nights, and it had hurt. He still has the scar where the nail cut into his palm. Whenever he looks at the scar, he remembers what he wrote on the wall.

I’m an orphan

It’s not my fault

SHE made me like this

SHE made me an orphan

SHE don’t need to be dead for that

Dad is never here and it’s HER fault

He ran away from HER

SHE is supposed to be here

Not just HER body

But in HER head

SHE is always here but SHE is never here

SHE is meant to love me but SHE don’t

SHE wouldn’t lock me down there if she did

SHE hates me but I don’t care

I’m meant to love HER but I don’t

I hate HER

SHE should be DEAD

One day I’ll be bigger than HER and then


It won’t make no difference when SHE’s dead

I’m an orphan already 

She never knew it was there, hidden behind a poster, and though he knew she would never read it, it made him feel better. At the time it felt like the ultimate act of defiance.

Should have – could have – done it before


Should have – could have – done it before

He knows that was never possible. But today on his twenty-first birthday, the time has come. The house is his at last. His inheritance from the father he hardly knew. Soon, she will be the outsider; the stranger not welcome at his door.

Trembling with excitement, he takes another deep breath and a firm grip on the bell-pull. It is over two years since they last exchanged words and he expects their meeting to be brief; he will allow no room for her arguments.

Ringing the bell a second time; waits – a moment seems like hours. No reply.   Pulls again, shouting, ‘I know you’re in there.’

Pressing his face against the door.    He can’t see any movement – the small, richly coloured panes of antique glass are translucent, but not transparent – only the dark, silent shapes of the hall furniture. Large, imposing pieces, handed down the generations; all catalogued in his memory. The reception hall is a dark and dingy place when the sun is at the back of the house. It hasn’t always been. Originally, the room was illuminated from above by a large roof lantern. His grandfather had it covered over during the war and it was forgotten; he will restore it one day.

Suddenly, all the colours of the rainbow are dancing on his face. The rays of the low evening sun are streaming through an open door, flooding the hall with soft amber light, and backlighting the shadowy figure standing in the kitchen doorway. The shadow moves towards him, calling out in a strident tone, ‘Go away, boy. I don’t want to see you.’

‘It’s no use playing games, Mother. I’m not leaving. You’ll have to open the door sometime.’

He’s resolved to be fair to her, fairer than she deserves; fairer than she has ever been to him. Although he doesn’t have to, he is going to allow her a few more weeks. That’s fair, considering she’s had years to prepare. But fair isn’t something she understands and now she’s laughing at him; not in jest, but in derision. The cackling shadow shimmers behind the leaded lights, like a multi-coloured ghost, as it moves towards the back of the house. Then she’s gone, and the light is shut out as the kitchen door slams.

The voices are clamouring, demanding action – Fool, did you think it would be that easy? What are you going to do now? Give up? Let her win, again? Do something.  Quick, go to the back of the house, the side door is never locked.

Now inside the small lean-to outbuilding, he’s standing opposite the kitchen door. He moves towards it, footsteps clicking on the uneven, quarry-tiled floor. He’s too late. The key is already turning in the old-fashioned lock. The rusty levers haven’t seen a drop of oil for years and groan as they force the bolt, grating, into its keeper. Denied entry, he leans back against the door and marshals his thoughts.

The old scullery has changed little since his great-great-grandfather built the house. He can hear a familiar, slow, steady and strangely reassuring sound …plip-plop, plip-plip-plop… the original cold water supply still runs through Victorian lead piping to the ancient brass tap over the deep Belfast sink …plip-plop, plip-plip-plop… it’s been dripping for as long as he can remember. Fixing it is on his list of jobs.

It’s a long list. He has big plans for the house, although he has no idea how long it will take or what it will cost. There’s a little money left from his father’s estate, but nowhere near enough to finance even the essential improvements and repairs. When he gets a job, he’ll take out a mortgage to pay for the major repairs, but in the meantime, there’s plenty he can do.

Fortunately, his forebears’ improvements were always practical rather than aesthetic, and the house still possesses a wealth of original architectural features: fireplaces, cornices, doors, ironmongery, window sashes, and shutters. Restoring these treasures will require only the careful removal of a century’s accumulation of layers of paint, ingrained with dirt and dust. It will be hard work, but it will be a labour of love, and he’ll start as soon as he can – as soon as she is gone.

But she’s still here, and making him angry.

Fists hammering on the door, he sees her shadow moving behind the glass.

He’s shouting at her, ‘Open the door, you evil witch.’

Thumping on the door, ‘Come on’ he rasps, ‘open it now or I’ll...’ his words tail off, sticking in his throat as the shadow moves closer.

Her hand is reaching out towards the lock; then a click as the key starts to turn. The levers are groaning, the bolt grates, and then the handle turns and the hinges creak, the high-pitched noise offends his ears; jangling his already ragged nerves.

Should have – could have – gone home

Too late now; the door is wide open and she’s facing him. ‘Or you’ll what?’ she snaps; her words sting like a whip lash. She glares at him with a stare turns him to a jelly.

Should have – could have – gone home

She is forty-three years old, and by any measure a good looking woman. Her figure has filled out slightly over the years, but only in the right places, and she dresses to enhance the curves. When she sees a man she wants, she smiles, and her eyes sparkle, conveying an unambiguous message – she knows what they want and she can give it.

The face she shows to the men who take her fancy is everything they dream of – beautiful, seductive, sensual; skin soft and unblemished, pale natural tones lifted with splashes of colour, subtle hints to highlight her high cheek bones, and darker shades to emphasise the dewy, turquoise pools above. Beneath a powdered and perfectly proportioned nose, a pouting crimson gash glistens, moistened by the flickering tip of her tongue; advertising the pleasures in store – she keeps it in the jars on her dressing table and puts it on for any man who cares to look.

But he sees her as they never do. The face she shows him is the stuff of nightmares– cruel and hard; pinched cheeks, thin, twisted snarling lips and cold piercing eyes that hurl daggers with their stare – she keeps it in the darkest corners of her mind, and puts it on only for him.

Unlike others, he can see the evil inside. This is the whore who broke his father’s heart; the witch who summoned his childhood demons and brewed the mess inside his head.

‘I, I, I’ll, I…’ he stammers.

‘Come on then,’ she begins to taunt him. ‘If it’s worth saying, let it out… don’t wet yourself.’

Should have – could have – waited.

Memories come flooding back. Across the kitchen, he can see the door leading into the hallway and beside it another door – that door, the one that leads down there. Behind that door is the steep flight of hard brick steps on which, in the darkness, it was all too easy for a small boy to lose his footing. He can see the boy now.

He’s standing outside that door; crying as his mother’s hand turns the latch above his head, crying as the entrance to the cellar opens behind him, crying as he waits for the command he knows by heart – “Down there, boy! Get down there and pray to God to forgive you for dishonouring your mother”.

The boy’s tears mix with the pool of urine on the floor, as he tries to plead for… what? Forgiveness… Mercy… Love?  She doesn’t know the meaning and the boy is never sure what to beg for. His words, all tangled up in the stammer, won’t come out; so she can’t hear him anyway and it wouldn’t make any difference if she could.

But he can hear the boy’s voice clearly as he stumbles towards the steps. It’s always there. It’s part of the chorus inside his head, and as long as he keeps the words inside his head, the boy doesn’t stammer.

Should have – could have – waited.

But he has to speak, ‘I, I, I, I’ll…’ He stammers, trying desperately to unravel the words from his tongue.

‘Oh! Shut up and come inside,’ she crows, cutting him off – as always.  She’s never given him a chance to conquer his impediment.

‘You’re pathetic. That’s always been your trouble you can’t say anything because you have nothing worth saying. Do you really think I’m afraid of you?’

Her face sours, her lips and tongue writhe, savouring the rancid venom of her own words, as she pours scorn on him. ‘Oh!  Poor little thing, look at that sad little face. Oh! Poor little boy, he’s upset. Never mind.  Do you want your Mummy? Do you want Mummy to feel sorry for you?’

‘Come to Mummy,’ her voice softens as she takes his hand, and draws him inside. ‘Come in. I’ve made some tea.’

 Then she laughs, cackling again like the witch she is, ‘Do you know how pathetic you look? Sit there and listen, I’ll tell you how it’s going to be.’

And to make her point, she smiles at him, but not as a mother should look on her son. That should be a look of love. But her smile carries no warmth, nor any pretence of tenderness. The smile she reserves for him is grotesque. Perfected through years of practice, it is brutal and designed to instil fear.

He says nothing, but feels – as he always has whenever she taunts him – frightened, diminished, inconsequent; worthless. She’s right, he is pathetic. Now he just wants to run and hide Why did I come here?

The solicitor said the bailiffs would get her out. But the thought of today has been in his head for so long. It’s a dream he’s been living since his father died, leaving the house in trust for him. Under the terms of the trust she had a right of residence until her son’s twenty-first birthday. He’s been waiting nearly five years to laugh in her face as he turns her out.

And now, with just a few words and her poisonous glare, she cuts him down, and he feels like a helpless child again.

Should have – could have – waited


As he expected, their meeting is brief.

And very one-sided, which foolishly, he had not anticipated; though he has no reason to be surprised. It was always this way and he doesn’t know why he thought today would be different. There is no discussion, and therefore no compromise.

She talks at him, and ridicules his naivety. ‘Did you really expect to find me waiting with my bags packed?’

She tears up the letter from his solicitor and threw the pieces in his face. ‘What do I care for your threats? Two extra months … am I supposed to be grateful?’

Her voice shrills, assaulting his senses and battering him into submission. She is in total control; she always has been. They’re her rules. She rails at him, lashing him with her tongue, until she becomes bored with him and wants him gone.

Her words hiss as they escape from the twisted smile, ‘I’ll decide when, if ever, it’s time for me to leave.’

Then pungently, and smiling again – just to emphasise the point and leave nothing to doubt – she dismisses him. Spitting out the words like poison darts, ‘But you… you pathetic, useless excuse for a man… you can leave now.’

He doesn’t argue – he always knew he could never win; never has – and he’s left with less than when he arrived. Not just empty-handed. Worse – drained of all his reserves of confidence. The tank is now empty, and all that remains is the useless residue of what might have been – he feels less of a man.

Physically, he is a big, powerful man – a couple of inches over six-foot, broad shouldered, used to row at number three in the college senior eight – but she has reduced him to insignificance.  He feels smaller than he has ever done, smaller even than the boy in the cellar. He has been crushed by the pressure of their mutual hatred; crushed into non-existence.

She has extinguished him.

Should have – could have – waited


Should have – could have – waited

He spends hours just wandering the streets; going nowhere. Her words are still hanging from his face; their barbs stinging his skin.

Sandi will be expecting him to return and tell her everything has gone as planned. It should have been so easy, they had it all worked out. Every word was rehearsed. When it came to it, he said nothing. Now he is afraid to go back home, and too ashamed face her. Ashamed to tell her he lost his nerve; afraid he will lose her.

The clamour inside his head is deafening. The actors take the stage, as they have done so many times before.

The boy (pleading): Please Mummy, I’m sorry, give me a hug, I’ll be a good a boy.

Her (sneering): Poor little boy… come to Mummy. Now get down there you little brat.

The boy: Please Mummy… I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to be an orphan.

Her: Don’t talk nonsense… count yourself lucky… there are lots of little boys who don’t have a mother to look after them.

A man he used to know: Leave the boy alone. It’s not his fault.

Her: Keep out of this. He’s got to learn.

The boy: Please, don’t go Dad. Please stay!

The man: I’m sorry son. I have to go.

The boy: Why? What have I done?

The Man: Nothing. It’s not your fault. – becoming distant: I’m sorry; I just can’t live here any more. It’s not your fault.

The boy: Why can’t she go instead?

Her: Because I have to stay here and look after you. Now get down there, and pray to God to forgive you for dishonouring your mother.

Now the voices are joined by more sounds, as somewhere in the recesses of his mind his John Lennon jukebox starts playing – ‘Mother, you had me but I never had you… Father, you left me…’

And once the songs begin to play, he can’t stop them. Only the voices can do that. Sometimes he can choose between the voices or the jukebox. Sometimes they fight for his attention. Sometimes they are all silent, and then – sometimes he wishes he could turn them on. Because, when he can’t hear them, he’s afraid that he might be dead.

…one thing you can’t hide is when you’re crippled inside’

The jukebox only plays two songs. He knows there’s another track waiting to be played. It’s his favourite song, but the jukebox never let’s him select it

Shuts his eyes and all he can see is her face.

Clamps his hands over his ears, but can still hear her voice over the jukebox. Still laughing at him; still mocking him.

The jukebox falls silent, and now all he can hear are the words she left him with; shouting – “You’d better get used to it. I’m never going to leave this house”. could have – waited

©Ian Gosling 2011



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