Coales' Notes: Circle of deceit - Gordon Coales reports on a murder and tale-telling at the Wormwood Arts Centre

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The Independent Culture
TUESDAY: Fiona and Alan have returned from their German holiday, very full of themselves. The affair seems now to be completely upfront. I am of course in no position to complain. I am sure last Thursday's incident must have aroused suspicions. But nothing has been said yet.

Pat came in to tell me that Rowena's first 'circle' is scheduled for Friday evening. So far as that goes, I am determined to maintain a policy of non-involvement. And Fiona positively bounced in to say that 'Alan is thinking of something enormous for the residency show.' I reminded her there was the August 'Festival of Gender and Identity' to be thought about too - pleased to see her face fall slightly.

Spent the weekend and last night at Rowena's. We are developing a modus. Again feel very tired. There is a tom-cat in the garden making a revolting noise. I would like to kill it.

WEDNESDAY: Evidently it is all round the Centre now. Passing the Press Office this morning, I overheard Cathy on the phone, saying to someone 'But really, I think it's just so nice for Gordon.' I was utterly infuriated. Later I bumped into Bob, who said 'So, story-telling circle going full steam ahead, then?' He didn't actually wink, but as good as. I intensely dislike this air of innuendo. Fiona also gave me a strange little look. A very nerve-racking day.

Post-script: I have just unintentionally killed the cat. I went out and threw a brick in its direction. The noise stopped very suddenly. I had a look, and found it stone dead - direct hit. No idea whose it is. I took the thing round the corner and put it by the curb - unobserved, I think. I must definitely not mention this to Rowena.

THURSDAY: Rowena urged me to be present tomorrow. I agreed - there seemed no further need for dissimulation, and anyway I am quite intrigued - on the understanding that I was there strictly as a witness, not a participant. She thought that was probably best too. To be followed by a bite, chez moi, etc.

FRIDAY: The first circle. There were about a dozen people - not a bad turn-out, though it struck me that several had a slightly out-patient look about them. Rowena, radiating a very unnerving kind of calm, began to do her stuff. We were to imagine ourselves as the inhabitants of a small village on a remote island. The day's labour was over. We were gathered - to talk, to tell, to work through problems. She told quite a charming story about a coyote - but said that we, as beginners, should not be afraid of the truth.

That was probably the fatal word. Some very weird stuff started coming out. Radio signals picked up by dental fillings. Cars re-parking themselves at dead of night. Split personalities. Threats to the British cheese. But all fairly high-spirited.

Then a vaguely familiar man, previously silent, said: 'I have a problem.' Significant pause. 'My life is threatened by Satanists.' This only confirmed my feeling that we were simply providing open house to a subculture of fantasists. I tried to send eye-signals to Rowena, but the man continued. He had long suspected this. Now he had concrete proof. Earlier in the week his cat had been captured by the Satanists, ritually slaughtered, and left in the road. (Murmurs of horror and indignation.) He had told the police, but had been disbelieved. So he proposed that group now form itself into a search-party to track them down. He had various sacred implements in his boot for the purpose; also the cat. He did not know precisely where the Satanists lived, but he had a rough idea. And here I intervened.

I said I was sorry to put a damper on proceedings, but there were legal considerations. It was possible that the individual or individuals concerned could be identified from these remarks. We were steering close to slander, and probably conspiracy too, and as Director of the Centre I was calling a halt. The man said: 'So I am being gagged.' But they dispersed eventually, if grumpily.

Afterwards, I suggested to Rowena that perhaps she had begun too quickly, and it might be better to take stock, and postpone things now till the autumn. There was a terrible fuss. I have come home by myself.

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