“How Deep Is His Loneliness” by Kathleen Winter

As far as I can recall this was the first, and the last, story that I ever read by Kathleen Winter, though my memory is not necessarily reliable. It appeared in Black Static #5 back in June of 2008.

The story’s protagonist is a Geoffrey Deveraux, but he doesn’t seem to have much going on in his life and so becomes involved with other people almost as a form of displacement activity. In particular, Geoffrey is drawn to Malcolm, the father of his friend Norm, who lives alone in a luxury apartment and watches the boy over the road through his binoculars. There’s nothing sexual in this, no subtext of paedophilia. Rather it seems that Malcolm is intensely lonely and his voyeurism provides much needed human contact.

Geoffrey also becomes interested in the boy, following him round the city after a chance meeting in the street, and as a result of that connects with the boy’s mother, Elizabeth Pye, with whom he has much in common. Only they don’t really connect, are simply ships passing in the night as the old cliche has it.

This story put me in mind of the films of David Lynch. For much of its length nothing untoward happens, and yet we sense that something is very much out of kilter with these people and the way that they conduct their lives. And then there is a moment of surreal intrusion, Malcolm erupting in a sudden fit of violence, something which may or may not have actually happened, but which serves to throw everything else into disarray, to upset the apple cart of their ‘ordered’ lives.

The menace here, as implied by the story’s title, is loneliness, almost a tangible entity woven into the strands of the narrative, something that will ‘creep behind you’, seen from the corner of an eye. There are different types of loneliness and, in Geoffrey’s words, ‘The bad loneliness comes when there is no beauty, and I am alone in the cold, in darkness, when the day is ugly, as some days are.’

To his friend Norm, Geoffrey is to be envied for his lifestyle with its lack of responsibility and commitment, but Geoffrey himself realises that he has far more in common with Malcolm, someone who made all the wrong choices, and hence his fascination with the older man. The story ends with Geoffrey’s determination to change course, but there is a bittersweet note that is almost akin to desperation, the feeling that he is afraid of loneliness in the same way that others fear the dark, and that the female companion he sets his heart on will not be valued for her own worth, but simply as a form of light to hold the dark at bay. Not love then, but need, an insatiable hunger that will devour the object of its affection.

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