The eagerly awaited abridged version of Love Straddle is out now (released August 2019). Short of Love is an extraordinary satirical novel of love and angst.
It is July 2006.
As they climbed away from Calgary, a gong sounded to unfasten seat belts. Tom reclined in first class. He had a mental technique for enjoying travel in planes: he imagined he was a pupating insect, like a silkworm in its cocoon, in suspended animation. He had all he needed to be comfortable: adjustable seats, footrests, air vents, lights, video, audio and a button to summon a flight attendant. He could metamorphose and emerge ready for different conditions at his destination.
Cocooned, he could reflect and update his understanding of past events that had caused him to make this journey. If he had known earlier what he knew now, he would have sought closure many years ago.
Here is the story of the relationships and events causing him to make this journey, including feelings he should have anticipated, but had ignored until they were problems.
They had started at Boston, USA, many years earlier.
ASK NO QUESTIONS
Tom and Steve were waiting for the girls at reception in the Department of Applied Psychology, Boston University. It was the summer of ’66 and the boys had come to visit the girls at their vacation jobs, after completing their own vacation employment in Montreal. They were all students at Liverpool University of Technology, UK.
Tom, in T-shirt and blue jeans, sat with his long legs crossed, looking at a brochure. His face had the open, dark looks of the actor Alan Bates. Steve was holding up a battery record player with a Bob Marley song, as his body reggaed jerkily around the reception area. His face was Nordic, with white skin, high cheekbones and a blond forelock spilling down his forehead. He wore a colourful tropical beach shirt with a cravat at his throat, his short legs in turned-up jeans. When the song finished, he sat down and looked archly down his aquiline hooked nose at Tom.
‘Where is your woman, man?’ His accent was singsong Jamaican.
Tom looked at his watch. Maybe the girls’ jobs had fallen through.
‘They are six minutes late. Vicki wrote that they would be here.’
Tom was not used to girls keeping him waiting. By now even his idol, Dr Spock, would be growing impatient.
After five minutes, two girls breezed in, wearing white lab coats.
‘Tom!’ Vicki said, smiling broadly. ‘It’s great to see you.’
‘Hello, Vicki. It’s terrific to see you too. Are you selling ice creams?’
They laughed and hugged. Her clean smell and the firmness of her body were reassuring. Steve hugged petite Angela. The two had started going together only recently.
‘I hear you did well in your exams, Tom,’ said Vicki. ‘Congratulations. You must be pleased with how you went in second year.’
‘I didn’t get everything I wanted,’ he said with a grimace.
‘Could you have wanted too much?’ she replied, reproving.
Chastised, he looked away without answering. They chatted about jobs and travelling.
‘Come and see our lab,’ Vicki said. ‘We’ll show you around the campus later. Bring your stuff.’
They hoisted their packs and followed along corridors to a laboratory, where she introduced them to the supervisor, Brad, in a white coat, with a shock of unruly hair.
‘Pleased to meet you — I’m Brad McCarthy.’
‘Welcome to the Lie Detection Laboratory. Vicki and Angela have asked me to demonstrate what we do here. Can we show you by testing you?’
‘Did you say ‘lie detection’?’ asked Tom, puzzled. ‘What kind of lies?’
Brad shrugged. ‘Deception. We investigate methods of interrogating suspects for the FBI and CIA.’
‘Crikey. I don’t do lies.’ Tom turned to Vicki. ‘Am I a suspect or something?’
She shook her head. ‘No, Tom. It’s just a bit of fun.’
They went into a room with chart recorders and headphones, with a window overlooking a room with a chair like a dentist’s.
He regarded lying as low behaviour. As a student engineer, he valued true knowledge acquired by honest methods. A lie detector was not a threat and even an asset.
The psychologist continued: ‘We will measure your word association responses. When a suspect hears a certain word, for example, the word ‘gun’, it could connect him with a crime and he may become anxious. His anxiety triggers adrenalin and his heart will beat faster, causing him to sweat more, allowing current to conduct between two electrodes touching his skin. A pen jiggles and draws a squiggle on a rotating chart, called a polygraph. The bigger the lie, the bigger the squiggle. If he has denied having a gun, a squiggle could be evidence of a lie. Other records of heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate and muscular reflexes can also indicate lying.
‘Today we will only have a brief informal test to show how a lie detector works.’
‘Is it to interrogate Soviet spies?’ Steve asked.
‘No comment,’ said Brad with a smile.
‘How accurate is it?’ asked Tom.
‘Detection of lies is not completely reliable. For example, a psychopath may be so inured to the facts of a murder that when he is asked about them he does not break out into a tell-tale sweat. On the other hand, a person can be fearful and sweat when he or she is innocent. Lie detector evidence does not have much weight in courts of law these days. It is seldom used to convict anyone but it can be used to extract a confession.’
Tom turned to Vicki. ‘I confess: I never lie to you!’
She laughed. ‘I know that, Tom.’
‘Then why do you want to test me?’
‘Our project is to compare a person’s true feelings with what they actually say.’
‘What if I say I want one thing but prefer something else? Am I lying?’
Vicki looked at him and smiled, as if she knew something he didn’t.
‘Each situation is different,’ she said. ‘We want to test your feelings in familiar situations. Will you give it a go, Steve?’
‘Go on the lie detector? Sorry but no thank you. Tom will do it — he doesn’t mind telling lies.’
‘Get fucked, Steve.’
‘Steve doesn’t want Angela to find out about Margot, his bit on the side,’ Tom thought.
‘What about you, Tom?’
Tom was infatuated with Vicki but they were not yet a couple. He thought she might be more amenable when she was sure he was besotted with her. He had always dealt with Vicki openly and if he refused she would construe that he was hiding something.
‘Okay, I’ll do it,’ he said. ‘My life is an open book.’
‘A mystery book,’ said Steve.
‘We’ll soon see,’ said Vicki with a smile.
‘You already know all about me, Vicki.’
Vicki and Tom had lived in adjoining halls of residence for six months and had talked almost every day.
‘The test is to find out your true feelings,’ she said. ‘It will be fun.’
Tom was reassured and hoped that Vicki would realise that his affection for her was genuine and she would bond with him.
‘I’m ready,’ he said.