Negative Spaces I'd been checking my e-mail when my son's lego tower had toppled. "Daddy" he'd said. "When you gonna finish lookin' your 'pooter..?" "Soon" I'd said, for the five-hundreth time, "Soon." So he’d rebuilt his tower: this time the design both higher and even less structually conventional than its predecessor. The tower teetered... Swayed... And collapsed in a rain of multi-coloured plastic bricks. Its creator began to wail. "Daaddeeee..." "Don't worry." I'd said to him. "I'll stop." I said. "I'll help you." And with that, with those eight simple, everyday syllables, my life started to unravel. It started with a tic. My off-hand would flip over palm up, and the fingers would pinch together convulsively - just for a split second. As if they were catching a fly. It didn't happen often - only if I was stressed, or tired. If I thought anything of it, it can't have been much, I don't remember worrying over it. Then there was what happened on the phone. I doodle while I talk, but I mean, hell, everybody doodles. But this was something else. When I surfaced after a fifteen-minute conversation with some insurance guy over a niggle on payments, I found my left hand had sketched a thumbnail picture of a winding, wooded road, at what looked like dawn or maybe dusk, skewed on a slight slant off to the left, with a single figure standing in silhouette almost straddling the white line. There was a well-chewed HB-soft pencil clutched between my fingers, an unfinished line still under the point. Almost as if it noticed me looking, the hand put the pencil back down on the pad. I flexed it experimentally, the wrist ached slightly. I sat down abruptly, suddenly exhausted. I picked up the sketch and squinted: it looked familliar somehow but I couldn't place it. "I'll stop." I said out of the blue. "I'll help you." It got worse from then on. The doodling. I woke up with a hangover on the sofa after a dinner party my wife threw, only to find the road scrawled all over the cushions in smudged biro. I got a strange call from my Mother on her sixtieth asking me about the little scene she'd found inside her birthday card. I could have sworn I'd dashed off 'Happy Birthday Mom xxx' just like every year before. The final straw came in the Summer. It was our custom to sleep nude when the weather got too humid to bear and that night my wife awoke to find me, still fast asleep, drawing the road on her back with her eyeliner pencil. She packed me off to a shrink after that. The same one that's just woken me up. Dr. Brunel. He's clutching a handful of papers; he looks pleased with himself: Cheshire cat grin and one-hundred watt eyes. He snaps his fingers in front of my nose again, just for good luck. "Wake up Daniel." He says, "You're awake." My hand hurts, and there's an indent on my index finger matching a groove on my thumb. What has he had me up to..? First he shows me a slightly better defined version of the sketches I've grown used to over the last few months. You can see the leaves on the trees, and that the figure is a woman: close-cropped hair, flaring like a halo about her blurred face. "You drew like a machine." Brunel says excitedly " - Like an automaton, you're the best example of automatic writing I've ever met..!" "Great, do I get a discount..?" I ask, rubbing my wrist. "And look here - I'll bet you've never seen this before. I asked you to zoom while you were under." He passes me another sheet of A4 - this one's a close up on the woman's face. Jutting out stark and harsh from the paper in charcoal hardpointing. She'd be pretty I guess, if she weren't screaming. I've done her gums well, and her teeth gleam like pearls. The tongue rears out of her mouth like a snake, I can almost hear the hissing. Brunel's been playing with me like I was some kind of organic video-recorder - the next sheet is the same full view, but dated and timed: gaps left in the crosshatching tracing digital letters and numerals. 11:sept:1989 03:11 am "That date mean anything to you Daniel..?" Brunel asks expectantly. I shake my head, "I'd have been at university I suppose." I say, "Freshman year." I hate it when Doctors use your first name. What are we... Bosom buddies..? Will he be coming to my kid's birthday party..? Will it stop him looking at me like I'm some species of bug..? Or taking my money..? A whole lotta uh-uh's queuing up to answer those questions. "So neither the date - nor the picture itself - mean anything to you..?" "I kinda remember the picture, but that's it - I mean, Jeeze - I couldn't tell you where it is, or even if I've been there." He hands me the last picture, this one printed on slick photgraphic paper, still smelling of ink: And then, suddenly, I know. Brunel's saying something about extreme stress, and pictures getting imprinted as negatives on the synapses of the brain, but it doesn't matter. I know. The trees flash by - lit strobe-light-bright by the headlights of my car. I'm ****ing off my head - laughing, punching the horn, shaking my head like a wounded bear; joke-shop eyeballs jiggling and joggling like marbles in my skull - the cat's eyes on the road blur by under the hood like fireflies weaving across the sweating tarmac. Like lines on an oscilloscope: neon-bright pixels leaking from a damaged screen. I see her far too late of course. I'm not sure I even recognize her as different from the telegraph poles flanking the road. I only brake after I feel the impact. Something flies up over the roof like a giant white bird. The car slows. My arms are wood, my neck a metal ratchet as it cranks round on my shoulders. I cannot get my hands off the wheel. I see a boneless, unmoving shape slumped on the asphalt behind me - lit up a bright bloody red by my brake lights. The car still doesn't seem to be coming to a halt. I shout through the open window: "Don't worry." "I'll stop." "I'll help you." But my foot slips off the brake and her body winks out into the murk. My eyes not leaving the mirror I flail like a child at the sea-side, my feet hunting for the right pedal to tread. The car moves further away on its tyres. The gradient of the hill slopes away. Nothing to do with me. Then I hit the gas by mistake. The car lurches and speeds up. Everything seems too hard. I can't get my hands off the wheel. Can't concentrate. Can't get my hands off the wheel. "Don't worry." "I'll stop." "I'll help you." But it's only a whisper this time. The car just won't stop. The doodling stops after that. But I start to wake up at odd times in the night with my car keys clutched in my hand - squeezing them hard enough to leave their imprint on my palm. On September the first I wake up at two in the morning - in my car. The engine idling softly, blue-grey exhaust fumes pluming out in night air. I can't seem to get my hands off the wheel. On the eleventh I drink a whole thermos of black Colombian coffee and stay up late with the kids at my side, watching old cartoons and eating hot popcorn. My wife goes to bed at one-thirty, shaking her head - even though I beg, literally plead, with her to stay up with me. It's half-past two now and the children are sound asleep on the couch, out like little lights. My eyes are gritty, eyelids drooping - I catch myself nodding. I cat- The trees flash by in a strobe-light blur; the asphalt rasps under the tyres like the low, grating yowl of a cat in pain. I hit the brakes but my foot slips off the pedal, leaving blinks of red in the mirror. The car does not slow. It's too late anyway, I'm reaching the crest of the hill. I see her framed under the trees, clear as day. But when the car hits her this time, she doesn't fly away. The hood crumples up around her hips like a Winter wave hitting a breakwater; glass spraying up like foam - and I dive through the exploding windscreen like some drunken trapeze-artist into her open arms. She pushes me down onto the blood-warm tarmac. She's a human-shaped hole in the universe - I see galaxies whirling in her breast and stars flaring in her belly. It hurts when she puts her fingers into me. "Don't worry." She says. "I'll stop." She says. "I'll help you." I think maybe I owe her this. I think maybe this makes everything right again. I thi... Approx 1500 wrds.