Whilst studying Psychology at Cardiff University in the early 1990s, my research group were given the assignment title “Power Currupts”. The following is my interpretation of that statement in story form. This is the first time I’ve shared it and I’d love to receive your comments.
She entered the room tentatively, nervously; one might even say excitedly. Her movements cautious and self-studied. No-one paid any particular attention to the strange girl in the blue shawl, no-one that was except Peterson. He stood inside the large archway to the kitchen where she passed him with a visible flinch of panic at his observation. He smiled inwardly at the thought.
Ralph Peterson took pleasure from evoking fear in others. Fear gave him power – power brought him control. He was greedy for it, and it too sought him out, as a flame seeks out oxygen. The great problem however, in the union of the two, lay in the destructiveness that the flame of his greed had inflicted upon his soul. For, just as a flame sucks out the oxygen from which it bellows, so does greed suck out the very essence of a compassionate soul.
And so it was with Ralph Peterson. A combination of events had induced life to present him with a choice of pathways, one of which was to become Associate Editor of The Daily Chronicle, the largest national newspaper in the Country.
The taking of this particular pathway had led him into unscrupulous forms of capital gain, at the expense of those he had once, in warmer times, loved and cherished. His trips away; his secret meetings with women who could get him the right information for the right price and who knew how to use their bodies to do so had all taken their toll at the entrace of a dark tunnel from which there was no turning back.
The pressure of climbing his ladder of media limelight had meant his inevitable drift from the love of one family to the power and temporary motivation that was granted to him by another. A chemical family whose support was dependent upon Peterson’s input of money, self-pride and all hope of redemption.
The output, however, brought great financial gain to Peterson. Within a year of becoming assistant editor, he had moved out of his two bedroomed apartment in North London and into a high walled retreat in Kensington, courtesy of the Company’s satisfaction with the contribution he had made to the papers success.
A few hundred k’s pressed in the right palms and several months after moving, ‘hey presto’ it was announced that Peterson was taking over the reins as Editor of the Chronicle. It came as no surprise to those who knew Peterson and the type of man he had become. He had, in essence, sold his soul to the presses, print and bureaucracy of the system, and in return had been granted Power.
Power to Peterson was the most valuable commodity one could possess, for without it, he believed, nothing was possible. Power, true power, a shining light through to the very essence of what guided the country’s choices in everything that makes a society governable, was suddenly granted to Peterson, with all the black humour of him having opened the lid to Pandora’s Box.
The difference with Peterson’s exposure to ‘all the evils of the world’ is that, unlike Pandora, ‘the evils of the world’ and Peterson had been buddies for some time.
Now standing in the kitchen doorway of his assistant editor’s penthouse apartment, watching the girl in the blue shawl shimmy around as though the floor were about to swallow her up, Peterson suddenly felt curious.
She seemed strangely out of place amongst the others at the party. Her clothes hung oddly on her thin body. The glimpses of skin that were now and again seen through the gap between the shawl and her throat seemed unnaturally pale.
And nobody seemed to acknowledge her presence.
Peterson clung to this last observation as a gust of cold evening air swept through the apartment and sent a shiver down his unsuspecting spine. Why did no-one show an awareness of this stranger in the blue shawl? Surely she must know someone here. She seemed distinctly uncomfortable with her surroundings he noted and had clearly not been here before, unless under extremely unfavorable circumstances – but then, why come back?
The thoughts buzzed around in his head like a frenzied hive of angry bees waiting to escape and suck the nectar they felt so drawn towards. Yet why was he so concerned?
“No!” He corrected himself inwardly. Not concerned, merely puzzled.
Somehow the presence of this stranger was a missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle of this particular party. Everyone after all had their place, their associations here, but not her.
She had left the kitchen now and was not in view. Peterson felt a sudden urge to seek her out, but then a more logical idea struck him. “Why not ask someone who the hell she is?” he rasped aloud. He approached Larry Richard’s, the host of the evening and owner of the apartment in which they stood. Larry was a similarly ambitious and somewhat aggressive character, who Peterson had employed because of his sheer drive and determination. However, Larry knew all too wel
l that Ralph Peterson was a formidable man who could quash his dreams with a mere flick of the wrist if the whim took him, and Larry needed to keep his bread buttered. He smiled sicophantically at his Fleet Street superior, his voice light with alcohol and merriment as he muttered. “Can I get you anything Ralph?”
“ Tell me about the girl in the blue shawl” Peterson cut in with crystal clarity amongst the background droning of the party.
“The who? Sorry, I…” He looked for clues but found none in his boss’s ice-cold stare.
Peterson cut him off, irriated by his drunken blabbing. “The one who walked through here a couple of minutes ago. The one who looked like she’d seen a ghost, wearing a blue shawl”
Richard’s looked away for a moment desperately trying to place her but the steadily invading fog in his brain was too heavy. Peterson’s stare was cutting through it but not enough to see the damn blue shawl. “Hang on Sir” he was reverting to rank now “I’ll ask Genie. If anyone will know it will be her”
Richards found his wife giggling almost insanely in a corner with a group of her friends.
“Genie!” he pulled her away, then, noticing the full extent of her condition pulled on her arm harder still.
“Just lay off whatever it is you’ve had too much of, I wont permit any embarrassments tonight. Peterson’s here”.
Genie seemed to calm down a little, and looked down anxiously down at where Larry was pressing on her arm with his fingers “It’s alright Larry” she said in a little girl voice “I won’t do anything silly, I promise” she mocked lightly, then giggled as he subtly released his grip.
“Do you know a girl here wearing a blue shawl?” Larry muttered sharply “Peterson’s seen her, I think he’s interested”
Genie appeared to think for a moment “Sorry Larry darling’, blue shawls are out – no-one I know would wear one”. She began to giggle again as she stumbled her way back into the waiting group of equally intoxicated friends.
Richards walked briskly back to Peterson. “Sorry Ralph, no luck I’m afraid” He said in as light a tone as he could muster. “Genie doesn’t know her, and if Genie doesn’t know her she probably doesn’t exist”
Peterson felt another icy cold chill cut through him.
Peterson turned and went back inside the kitchen where he promptly poured himself a large scotch. He needed some ice and found the freezer eventually – it was disguised as a distressed unit that blended in with the rest of the designer ‘poverty look’ kitchen which attacked, rather than graced the apartment Peterson thought.
He glanced around distastefully, noting that,with all his designer fads, he had never lost his love of traditional ‘unfaked’ kitchens with large stoves and warm welcoming rugs on the floor. For a brief moment he thought of his mother, holding him on her knee by the kitchen stove and the thought took him so much by surprise that his glass of scotch fell to the floor and shattered into a million tiny fragments around his feet. He stood transfixed for a second or two looking at the liquid spilling out over the polished tiled floor until he felt a cold hand tap him on the shoulder.
Peterson flung himself around in shock as the touch of those icy fingers burned into his flesh beneath the fabric of his Yves Saint Laraunt shirt. No-one was there, yet there was the fainted smell of flowers; not freshly picked blooms, but dying, faded blooms, the kind immersed in stagnant water.
The image came into his mind so vividly that once again he was shocked by its intensity. He looked around the room, somehow knowing that it was she who had touched him, she who had beckoned to him with her fragrance. He followed the scent out of the kitchen and into the apartment’s hallway. It was stronger here, more intense. It led him into a dark passageway beyond the hall to the rear of the apartment where its stench was almost tangible in its potency.
There was a balcony to the rear of the apartment. It was one that was used to air laundry from time to time and lacked the aesthetic qualities and the view of the front terrace. He stepped towards it and saw her standing there beside the edge draped, shroud-like in the blue shawl.
Was he imagining things are had it changed its shade slightly in the faded light of the moons glow? From where Peterson stood it seemed to be darker, dirtier even, ragged looking. He stared at the woman’s back as she gazed over the balcony.
“What do you want from me” he cried out to her.
Her voice was thin, cold like the night air itself.
“Redemption? What the hell do you mean, is this some sort of threat? Who sent you here?”
“You sent me Ralph.” her voice was growing fainter it seemed, as if every w
ord she spoke drew her strength further from her “your greed, your corruption, they brought you success didn’t they?”
She didn’t wait for an answer. “They each have a price Ralph. You walked away from the truly good things in your life turned your back on them as if they had never existed. Demolished everything worthwhile that had been instilled within you. Now it’s time you rediscovered yourself from the other side of the mirror”.
The mirror? you stupid bitch, what the hell are you going on about? What mirror”
“The mirror between the two paths Ralph. We all choose a path in life, they are separated only by what we assume to be reality. We can look again, at what might have been, we can change our route if we choose, no path is truly closed”
He spat out a viscous laugh but it was edged in fear. “Are you from one of those crazy religious cults? I hate your sort, you think you can solve all the worlds problems with your pathetic preaching about good and righteousness and peace…. Bullshit!”
“Look at me Ralph!”
The woman turned and, for an instant, Ralph’s heart stopped beating. This woman wore the face of his dead mother. The voice was fainter, more whispery, yet now somehow recognizable. “You thought about me earlier this evening in the kitchen didn’t you? You remembered didn’t you”
Jesus Christ, what was this shit? His mother had died three years ago for Christ sake. He wondered if someone had doped his drink. He wondered and yet, he knew that this was no hallucination.
“You remembered didn’t you Ralph?”
“You must find redemption – redemption for everything, before it’s too late”
“What do you mean?”
Ralph’s thoughts turned to his daughter, his little girl, who he hadn’t contacted, in such a long time. She must be sixteen now he thought. “I know I haven’t been there for her enough all right? I know I’ve made mistakes”
“Patty took her life tonight”
He took in the words, yet he was numb. Patty couldn’t possibly be dead, couldn’t possibly……”How, when…?” He was suddenly struck by the terrible thought of never seeing her again.
“A few minutes ago. Sleeping pills”
“Oh Jesus! What about Susan?” He hadn’t thought of his ex-wife in months he realized.
“Susan doesn’t know. Susan doesn’t know anything lately. Her mind has gone Ralph – gone with your soul”
“My soul’s gone nowhere…nowhere. Jesus Christ. This can’t be real. I feel. I feel terrible”
“Redemption Ralph. Time to look at the other side of the mirror”
Pandora Peterson unwrapped her long blue shawl and her thin grey hair beneath it shone like a beacon in the darkness of the night and the bleak balcony on which her and her son stood. The sounds of the party were no longer heard by Ralph and he felt his breathing grow more and more laboured as she approached. The shawl touched him, along with a million vaults of painful memories. He fell to the floor. Shock, pain and a terrible fear coarsed through his body and filled his mind with an uncontrollable dread.
He squeezed his eyes tight; tighter still to shut out the awful fear, the all consuming pain of the choices he had made.
“Open your eyes Ralph”
The voice was deeper now, heavier, more powerful than before. Ralph slowly opened his eyes and came face to face with himself! Another Ralph Peterson stood on the balcony’s edge where his dead mother had been just moments ago.
“Redemption” it said once more with a sad smile before it leapt off the edge with a scream so sharp it pierced the night.
Suddenly the room was filled with people and voices from the party. He saw Larry walking towards him looking strangely fierce. “Hey! What the hell are you doing in here?”
Richard’s tone was like a slap around the face,. “Larry, what the hell….”
“Oh my God!” a woman’s voice yelled. “It’s Peterson, he’s jumped”
“What?” Ralph realized he was still on the floor. He tried to get up but something was pinning him down. Hs legs were tangled in the blue
Larry approached, his face red with anger and panic. “Tell me what happened you stupid woman. Ralph said he was looking for you – the one in the blue shawl. Well… answer me”
“Woman…?” Ralph looked down at his hands, they seemed smaller, paler, more delicate. His voice had come out huskier, lighter. He felt lighter all over.
Two policeman entered the room. Ralph was aware of a buzz of excitement; statements and tears, but somehow he just couldn’t move from where he lay. Perhaps pinned down by the sheer terror of his thoughts. “It has to be a dream. Must be, must be …”
Peterson kept repeating the words aloud to himself as they took him away. He was still aware of the faint smell of flowers on his clothes and the blue shawl around him, sheltered him a little from the probing eyes of others in his path.
“What made you do it?” one policeman asked him, shrugging his shoulders at his partner as no answer came.
The other policeman spoke. “The guy was a real bastard, everyone knew it. I don’t know what he did to you lady, but If you ask me he got what he deserved”
“What’s that?” Peterson asked the policeman with as much courage as he could summon
(Image: Woman in a Shawl by Pablo Picasso)