This story is incomplete. I worked out the problems it deals with, worked out a solution, wrote the problem...and then realised the solution wouldn't work. And couldn't think of another solution.

This is called "writing yourself into a corner". You can think of this story as being like a murder mystery with the final page missing - except the mystery isn't the identity of the murderer, it's how to prevent the murder.

...I land gently on the wet grass. It is late afternoon in a public park. Whoever I am here for, they will be here soon.

There are trees and neat rosebeds with tarmac paths cuts between them. There are benches and bins, all covered in the light drizzle. An in-between place, at an in-between time. The kind of place people come to think, or to rest and avoid thought.

A man of about fifty walks slowly on the middle of the path. He stops at a bench, seems to ponder on whether to sit, and finally does so. He's the one.

I approach and sit next to him. Of course he doesn't notice me, and he won't remember me when I'm gone. Now, how to open up a conversation with someone who can't see or hear you?

"Tell me."

"I'm going to kill my mother."

Ah, okay.

"Tell me about her."

"She's an invalid. She has a degenerative spinal condition. I've been looking after her alone for ten years. She was meant to die after one year or two. She's stolen my life. I hate her."

"I see. Do you deliberately hurt her? Physically or emotionally?"

"No. I could never do that."

"Why not?"

"She's my mother. I love her."

"And the other reason?"

"Whenever I hurt her as a child, she hurt me much worse."

"You realise she can't hurt you back anymore?"

"Yes. But I'm afraid she will."

"How does she feel about you?"

He seems to ponder for a moment, then takes a deep breath. "She doesn't want to have to rely on me, but she likes that it keeps me with her. She knows that if it wasn't for her disease I'd have left long ago. I was always her favourite."

So far, it seems a pretty standard love-hate relationship between mother and son. Except that he really does intend to kill her. If he were just fantasising it wouldn't have drawn me here. I wonder how many years of care it took to get him to this stage.

"What will happen if you kill your mother?"

"The police will work out I did it and I'll go to jail for 14 years."

That stops me for a moment. I keep forgetting I need to phrase questions more precisely.

"What would you want to happen if you kill your mother?"

"I'll be free to marry my girlfriend and have a family."

"Tell me about your girlfriend."

"She's boring and stupid."

I shouldn't, but I can't help but smile. There's little evasion in this one's mind. I find myself starting to like him a little.

"And how do you feel about her?"

"I've never loved her and now I don't even like her."

"Then why do you stay with her?"

"I wouldn't be able to find anyone else."

"Would you want to find someone else?"


"Does she love you?"

"I don't know."

"Do you care?"

"I don't know."


"So, you want to leave one life with a woman you don't want to be with, to set up a new life with another woman you don't want to be with. Is that accurate?"

There's no answer. The question reached him - it would have reached him in hurricane - but he just doesn't want to understand it. There's a block. I could break it down, given time, but there's no need. I try a different tack.

"Why do you want to start a family?"

He continues to stare at the wet ground in silence. Either there's another block, or there was something wrong with the question - some false assumption.

"Do you want to start a family?"



"Then why do you intend to start one?"

"It's what mother says she wants."

"Then why doesn't she let you start one?"

"She also wants me to stay with her and not have anyone else."

Of course. So obvious, I should have seen that one coming. But where do I go now?

"How do you intend to kill your mother?"

"With rat poison. I know where I can get pellets that look just like the painkillers she takes when her back hurts too much. She takes five or six at a time. She thinks I don't know she does it. I can make it looks like she accidentally took the wrong pills."

"Are you sure that would work?"

"Yes. No."

Again I can't help but smile. My friend here is as confused as everyone else, full of diametrically opposed opinions about the things which matter to him most. But there's no self deception, no misdirection or waffle, no meaningless qualifications - and only one question so far he dare not ask himself.

But I can't help thinking there's something wrong with what he's telling me. He can't be lying - he has to tell me the truth as he knows it, however mixed up that might be. He is as exactly as honest with me as he is with himself in his own most private thoughts. No, there's some question I'm not asking.

"Are there other family members or friends who could look after her?"

"She has no friends who care about her enough to help. My sister and father are capable, but they'd pretend to care for her and just let her rot. I couldn't let them do that, so I do it. They call me a hero because I let them off the hook."

Of course they do. But this isn't the answer.

"Do you think your mother will die soon anyway?"

"No. She's 75 but still strong. She's determined."

Well, I'm not sure determination has anything to do with it, though obviously he does. Damn, what am I missing?

"How long have you been planning to kill your mother?"

"Eight years."

Eight years. That's it. Each day he wakes up, genuinely intending to kill his mother, and each day he doesn't do it. Perhaps one day he will, but I doubt it.

He's not just trapped in a stale and empty life, he's trapped at the brink of escaping it...only to recreate it in another form, whether or not he gets caught. It's quite elegant, in its way.

Is there a way out I could give him? I can't put new ideas into his head - that's forbidden - but I can sometimes change the balance between those already there. I can...encourage him.

I could make him get rid of his girlfriend by making his boredom with her outweigh his sense of obligation to her, but I couldn't make him love her - I can't even amplify his liking for her because he doesn't have any liking for her. But I don't think she's the problem anyway.

I can push him towards actually killing his mother, or away from it. I can bring the tensions to the surface, maybe forcing him to find a solution of his own, or bury them, which might give him a kind of peace. Or drive him quietly insane.

There's no solution. I can see this man's problem better than he can, but I can't see a way out. I can't leave - and neither can he - until we find some solution, but I can't.

We're locked together, for as long as it takes. Even if that's forever.

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