Earlier this week the Police and their treatment of stalking cases hit the national news. This extract is from the fictional novel Casual Nexus in which we see the accumulation the pressures of the main character Sal being constantly stalked.
The art school was open to the public for the two weeks of the degree show. The busiest evening had been the opening last Friday, after that there was only the odd person wandering around. Many were potential students looking at courses or former students looking at what was going on in the tower of creativity by the central ring road. Quite a few people who had known Sal from the bars where she had worked had been there for the opening night and a few of her neighbours had popped in to look around on their way back from the town over the last few days. As the second coat of the prescribed ‘Pink’ dries, she cleans the spray gun and ensures the nozzle runs clear, she decides to go and ensure her exhibition space is tidy.
In walking into the studio, come, make-shift exhibition venue she encounters an individual she is becoming weary of beyond reason. Jumping out at her, the figure, as always dressed in the anonymity of greying black, lurching forward. Head held forth, arching off the helm of his inclined shoulders. Vision led, his upper body runs from Sal’ face, down through her shoulders, around her breasts. Covering her torso, through her baggy denim-clad legs then slowly back up the same route to her face.
Sal begins to shrink into herself, everything is getting too much for her; frustrations over her artwork, ongoing arguments with Tex, the approaching one-year milestone of the attack in Maine, and now the avid attentions of her stalker. Too exhausted to explode in combustion of stress factors, emotionally she felt herself crumble from head to toe. Herself, becoming simply remnants, grain pilled into a human size knoll.
The course leader had placed himself only feet behind Sal, he had come through when he had heard a whisper about the stalker. Recognising the character instantly from the glimpse he got of him from the office window earlier in the year. On encountering the stalker he had tried to engage him in some kind of conversation, but as usual, the grey/black adorned personage was unable to vocalise any form of structured sentences. His next move had been to talk to Kelly and Claire, they confirmed he was Sal’ stalker, then he checked to see if he had been untoward in regards to them:
‘No, he’s just like that with Sal.’
replied Kelly, Claire added:
‘Yes, it’s the way he looks at her, it’s obsessive. No, he isn’t interested in anyone else, just Sal.’
Progressing, to see if any of the other girls could be of benefit. Be-Be was almost in tears with fear, running into the ground, draining down her body, a wet blanket soaking on the ground. Digressing, he had turned his head away in disgust as Kate began the rhetoric of blaming Sal:
‘Her fault…he could start following me…..things like this are always happening to her….’
As standard, there was no logic to her chain of thoughts, a stream of resentment filled consciousness following from self-obsession embedded in her thoughts. Next, he chose to wait for Sal to make an appearance to gauge how bad this situation was through his reaction to Sal.
As Sal stood there, body crumbling the course leader stepped in:
‘Sal can you come through to the office please, I have some paperwork to go through..’
She needed no further encouragement, escape from the status quo, to get away from the stalker, to remove herself from everything and everyone. Strapping her crumbling emotions together, she managed to walk through to the Office and began to answer questions over how avidly he had been following her around.
In the office, Sal sits on one of the staff swivel chairs. Although this would normally feel like a luxury to a student, her mood could not stretch to appreciating the soft upholstery of the rotary form. Head looked down, she was not fully aware of the dialogue she was expressing in response to the details being requested. Fatigue has taken over, months of weariness accumulated, the stalkers appearance was the pinnacle of all her impediments. His appearance was the devil’s version of James and the Giant Peach landing on the Empire State Building. Sal wished she was the same age as James again, that everything that was happening around her was in a book she was reading. If only she could return to her adolescence, tucked up between pure white sheets with her brother Jack safely away on camp, reading the words of Dahl and engrossed in the images of Blake.
The course leader began to probe all the information he could out of Sal, gently but confidently easing out the information compressed in her memory. He had seemed to have started following her around last summer before she had gone away to the States, but it had become more obvious when she returned and he had found her new digs. Lingering about waiting for her to set foot outside the front door most days, except Tuesdays. This appeared to be because the rubbish was collected on this day and it looked like the bin men battered him as there was a persistent void in his presence on this day. Sal talked amiably about the bin men and had stated how great they were. It amazed the course leader how many people Sal knew in this city. Most students had no idea who their refuge collectors were, Sal was on conversational terms with the crew.
Sal held back her tears as she poured out her annoyances over the stalker, his repeated appearance, ‘You again!’ rapping on her brain. After the flow of distress, she became quiet and still, almost childlike as she composed herself. A peg doll, cut short and pressed into the upholstery of the desk chair.
Sal is oblivious to what is happening around her as the plastics lecturer swerves into the office carrying several off-cuts of acrylic;
‘Who is that guy in grey wandering around?’
She inquires brashly as she enters, the Course leader whispers towards her:
‘He’s the stalker that has been following Sal around.’
Sal’ mind is occupied by a place far outside the office, the city or perhaps even the Universe. She hadn’t noticed the presence of the plastics lecturer, she had not heard the question spoken.
Sal’ head and hearing ranges returned to that of the Art School Office as the plastics lecturer slams down the sheets of perspex. White molecules of dust from the workshop shoot into the air and begin the linger before the inevitable descent:
‘Oh great, now he’s going to start following me around!’
she screeches in wretchedness. Looking towards Sal, holding her fully accountable for his presence. The resentment she felt towards this student, running through the glare she directed down towards the distressed girl. The course leader and Sal looked directly back towards her, their gut reaction of utter disgust penetrating through the stale air of the internal office space. Not only did she have to cope with the continual presence of the stalker, but Sal was also now footing the blame for his potential to stalk others. Not only was it improper to blame Sal, but it was also equally invalid. The stalker was clearly fixated with Sal, he had no eyes or thoughts towards any of the other women, she was his sole focus, his desire, his obsession.
The Plastics lecturer looked back at the two faces of anguish looking directly into the aura of self-obsession which encased her white machine coat. Her next move was to leave, neither the Course Leader or Sal were prepared to tolerate any more of the extremities of her vileness. After shutting the door and walking back along the corridor she began to rant isolated mutterings. A torrent of thought about how Sal should never have been given a place, ‘Her fault’ and ‘Me’ focussed rhetoric.
Her thoughts fell into chimes with Kate’s, ‘Me’ mutterings resonating around the studio. Her eyes inquired towards the fear-soaked form of Be-Be. Someone she could use, she began to debate returning to the office, insisted that Be-Be’s fear was due to Sal putting her in danger from the stalker, then she could try and push the vulnerability of the sheltered fool draining in front of her eyes. She remembers the anguish on the faces in the office, she decides against any more confrontation and makes her way back to the workshop.
In the Office Sal and the course, leader looked at each other. Both were speechless in regards to the levels of self-orientation paraded by the plastics lecturer through the encounter. The course leader began to think on his feet, he told Sal he would phone security to escort him off the premises. In this directing Sal to stay in the office until he had gone. His next thoughts were to see how he could stop him for following Sal around the rest of the time. The Police was an option, ‘Stalking’ had recently been made an offence, perhaps the Officers of the Law would be able to do something. Relief ran through Sal’ body, he had made her feel safe again.
It emmergies throughout the novel that Kate is employed by the Police. Her character represents self obsession, narcissism and, most promonently, victim blaming culture within the Police Force.
A second character is reveal to be working for the Police: Be-Be. She highlights how extremely weak and feeble the women the authories recruit can be through their actions. We are presented with a girl who would never be capable of doing anything to protect anyone or anything being assigned a public protection role.
The plastics lecturer highlights the failing of Higher Education Institutes to take positive actions in regards to dealing with sexual predators.
Casual Nexus is looking to be published later in 2019.