Fiction: Closure Inc.
By Jake Kendall
There’s no way this is a bad idea.
The exterior door buzzes. Rob pushes it open. Flat eight, third floor. He walks a grand staircase that tells him that these are expensive flats. Rent could be double what they… what he, is paying. Three thousand a month at least, plus bills and council tax – perhaps more. Rob has genuinely no idea how anyone can afford that.
Rob corrects himself. Tonight, Rob is not Rob; Rob is Brian. Brian is bringing flowers and wine to his girlfriend Kat, 33, in Greenwich, for their date this Saturday night.
He ascends the first flight of stairs and recalls that when he was twenty-three, the other Brian wore hoodies and jeans. That was certainly easy enough to replicate. Kat had also stipulated that young Brian also wore Zara Man cologne – a cheap and simple acquisition. As they had exchanged emails, Rob had asked what had happened to Brian, expecting to hear that he had left Kat, or perhaps even passed away.
Oh no, Kat had replied, nothing like that. Brian’s still here, he’s just on a stag weekend.
Sorry, it’s not my business, Rob had said, and certainly not trying to dissuade my first potential client – but why do you want me if Brian’s still here?
He walks the second flight of stairs.
Kat’s reply had taken half a day to write.
What I want is a night like it was in the beginning. Do you understand? When life was fun. Before everything seemed to become such a chore. Before you let the world grind you down and take your positivity away. Before you started moaning – constantly – about work and trains and rent and money. When we used to talk and appreciate each other, and not just spend all night scrolling on our phones. Before you became a dull, angry, closet alcoholic, Brian.
Rob had understood these words all too well. I’ll see you on Saturday. Eight o’clock. I’ll bring wine, he replied. Rob signed off Brian and put an X at the end. Within two minutes he had a smiley face in his inbox from Kat. The rest had been logistical.
He walks the corridor until he reaches the door to flat eight.
He knocks. There is no answer. He checks his phone to confirm the address. Still nothing. Brian stands long enough to lose a little confidence. He finds himself slipping back into Rob. The flowers he holds suddenly begin to look a little stupid.
Maybe she has reconsidered.
Maybe he should just leave.
The door to flat eight creeks open. A woman peeks out. Kat. She looks nervous, she looks dressed up, she looks posh, she looks… good. She says something too quiet to hear. Her body language is full of tension, enough for Brian to suspect she may dart back inside and immediately lock the door. That will not do – not for his first booking – he must take charge; he must put her at ease.
“Kat,” he says, his voice effortlessly warm, thank god, “I’ve been looking forward to this all week. I can’t tell you.” Brian tentatively raises the flowers to the door. The woman looks at them suspiciously.
“Lilies,” she says after a moment’s contemplation, “the death flower.” Brian lingers, uncertain. “You always get flowers wrong Brian, though the thought’s sweet. Come on in.”
Kat takes the lilies and opens the door fully. Brian steps inside and kicks off his shoes. Kat moves into the kitchen to put the flowers in a vase. In the hallway, Brian sees photographs of the real Brian. At the same age, they looked somewhat similar: though he is shorter by a couple of inches, has curlier hair, a stockier chest and thicker arm muscles. Kat is in these photographs too, looking a lot younger, and a lot happier too.
Her kitchen smells of cooking, of garlic and meat, of something strange and herby.
“Food smells great Kat!” Brian says it breezily, like nothing is abnormal. “I brought wine as requested.” He has – two bottles of twelve-pound Sauvignon; for his first client, nothing is too good. “Shall I pour you a glass?”
“Yes!” Kat replies, a little too eagerly. She recovers, reaching for steady ground, explaining what she is cooking: rabbit with fennel and lemon, sautéed potatoes, and chard. “Do you remember?” He doesn’t, of course. Kat does not leave a moment for a reply. “Our first-ever home-cooked dinner together, parents away, just you and me. A beautiful weekend in the country.” Brian passes her a glass of wine as she cooks. Kat takes a drink and ruminates. “We like to have our traditions, you and me, our playlists, our films... we tell old stories and jokes… Our past, forever enshrined, forever re-enacted, as if retracing happy footsteps could somehow bring back the feeling.”
Brian does not reply. He tops up their glasses. She asks him to lay out plates and a water jug at the dining table. Brian takes the things through and takes the time to snoop around. There are Marvel superhero films on the DVD shelf; a Fred Perry polo slung over the chair; a PS4; just a few books on the bookshelf, including A Game of Thrones, and A Will to Win, the Alex Ferguson Story. Brian is Brian’s kind of basic.
Kat plates the food. As Brian re-enters the kitchen, she turns to him with real urgency.
“Do you remember that playlist you made us? The songs for our first dates? Well, I think I remembered all of them. Alexa – play Date Night Playlist.”
Kat takes the food through to the sounds of Nina Simone’s My Baby Just Cares for Me.
Brian knows how to play dinner: listen, don’t talk, ensure the wine glasses are always full. He asks Kat about her day. She seems glad to talk at length about office politics. The rabbit is nice. This Brian has never eaten fennel before either. The wine eventually takes effect on Kat, her speech is quickening and slurring slightly, her pupils dilating. Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl starts on the playlist. Kat squeals with delight and claps her hands. Leaving the last of her dinner, she rushes to her feet.
“We always danced to this one. Stand up, I want to show you how.” She takes his hand, and they dance. Kat directs his feet in a light rhythmic shuffle. Now and again, she lifts their hands high above them so that she can twirl underneath. Kat sings along. Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-te-da. The second chorus around, Brian sings too. He begins to move independently, raising her hand of his own accord. Kat twirls and laughs. There are tears in her eyes. She is drunk now. She puts a hand on his hips and steps close. She shuffles them across their makeshift dance floor. She loses her footing and stumbles deep into his chest.
Instead of recoiling immediately she stays there wrapping her arms around for a hug. When she pulls back, she looks at Brian and the intimacy feels real. He feels he could kiss her.
He thinks she wants him to.
He doesn’t kiss her.
“Alexa, stop.” Kat says, breaking the contact. “I want to show you something.” Brian takes the wine from the table and follows her from the sofa. She is fumbling with a DVD case. “Your mum gave me these old VHS tapes. I had them converted. I’m going to give you them on your birthday Brian. But I want you to see…” The screen shows home videos. A Christmas. Two girls and a boy. The nineties. Curly hair and crap clothes. “That’s you,” Kat says, pointing to the boy.
Brian watches the children unwrap their presents. One of the girls has more than the other. The girl with fewer presents starts crying. The boy hugs her. He says, you can have one of my presents, stop crying, it’s Chris-mas.
“You were such a sweet boy,” Kat says. “Almost every scene you do something adorable, something caring. I watch this all and I think, whatever happened to that sweet boy? I think I knew him once... How did he develop into something so… angry, so resentful of life, so uncaring? Was it me?” She looks upset. Brian puts his hand up to her shoulder to comfort her. Kat bats it away. “No,” she says softly, “I want to just watch you for a bit. Put your head in my lap. I’ll stroke your hair and think about that sweet, sweet boy.”
Brain does as he is instructed. He watches footage of the young boy offering hugs to his mother, trying to put a jumper around a shivering dog, giggling as it licks him. Kat narrates each scene, her hands running lightly through his hair.
“Such a sweet boy,” she says to herself. “Nice boy.”
Brian cannot move. Out of the corner of his eye, he watches the clock. 21.48. He has been here for fifty minutes.
“Sweet boy.” Kat’s voice is breaking.
22.05. She is crying uncontrollably now. “Nice boy.” “Sweet boy,” she repeats at intervals.
22.38. The videos finally end. Kat blows her nose hard, getting it all out. She pats Brian on the head. He can sit up now. Kat dabs the last tears from her face.
“We loved each other you know,” Kat says mournfully. “Truly. And that... that’s what breaks my heart. I’ve spent eleven years watching this bright, warm, man becoming... bitter and timid. He’s fallen out of love with everything, including himself.”
“Love is part-nostalgia,” replies Brian.
“You need to set me free Brian,” Kat replies, crying once again. “Tell me it’s done between us. That it’s okay to leave. That you won’t implode and just drink yourself to death.”
Brian nods, aware he had reached his first ethical Rubicon. Why had Kat put him in this position? She now expected him to talk on behalf of another man, another man, who is not his client, however…
“Kat. Please, you have always been free. Always. What’s been between us will always be special, but love… love is many things. Sometimes, love means being strong enough to say goodbye.”
Kat stares through the drink. “Thank you,” she says at last. There is nothing more to say tonight, the silence is deep. “I suppose you should leave now,” she concludes softly.
“And how was it for you?” Brian asks, Rob once more as he puts on his shoes.
“It was… a little unorthodox. But I needed it. Really. Thank you.”
“Can I ask you to leave a review? You’re my first.”
“Of course, of course – link me up. You did well.” Kat opens the door to let him out. Rob coughs awkwardly to remind her of her other dues. Kat nods and heads to the kitchen. When she returns, it is to place money in Rob’s hands.
Does my face remind you of anyone? Perhaps a best friend who moved abroad? The ex that broke your heart? The brother you lost to cancer? I can be all these things and much, much, more. Simply email me with names, details, and anything else you require, and I will happily give you the night you deserve, but never got to share. Closure can be yours for just £250.
Rob’s friend Charlotte read the advert three times over.
“Wow, Rob. Just wow.”
“I know right? Problems solved.”
“No Rob. I meant, wow – I never knew you were this much of an arsehole.”
Rob snatched his phone back, annoyed by his friend’s response.
“This was your idea too you know.”
Charlotte did not know.
“That day when you came round to the flat, after… the day after she left. Remember? You brought beers round mine. We were sat on the festival chairs I pulled out the cupboard because she took the futon with her. You took in the place and said...”
“...Yeah... this is pretty… depressing.”
Charlotte’s assessment wasn’t wrong either: Rob had a TV and PlayStation; clothes stuffed into bulging bin bags; he’d been drinking tea from a cereal bowl; his carpet imprinted where shared furniture once was, its corners grey with dust, cobwebs and dead insects.
“Heard from her?” asked Charlotte.
“She left a note. She said she needed space. Blocked me afterwards, from everything.”
“Shit. How you feeling?”
“Don’t know yet. Weird. Definitely weird.”
Charlotte tossed a tin of beer to Rob.
“It’s not that I even blame her,” he mused, popping the can. “It wasn’t the same, it was getting old. Still – she just left, took the day off work, had her parents drive up, left a note. Where’s the conversation? The second chance? The closure?”
“Did you want a second chance? I mean, you’re still young, the world is wide open. If you think life was stagnating, think of it this way – every new relationship is a chance for you to grow. To develop, to learn new things about yourself.”
“She didn’t leave rent. Apologised about that in the note, but how can I pay rent on remorse? I got, like, three weeks to make up eight-hundred fifty, plus bills, council tax… basically a grand produced from nowhere. How the fuck do I do that? I don’t want to leave London, back to the sticks with mum and dad.”
“No money anywhere in the family?” Charlotte asked.
“Shit I don’t know then mate, if I had anything to give you… But this is London, you know, a city overflowing with money. A grand! That’s, like, an hour’s wage to some people.”
“What are you saying? I should mug a banker?”
“No, just... there are always opportunities if you can spot them. If you’re smart, if you work hard, I bet you can do it. Come on, think about it – everyone has something that is theirs, a niche, a skill, a voice. What makes you unique? What can you offer the world that no one else can?”
They talked for hours until it got late. Charlotte left with a hug and a promise to support him throughout this time.
Alone, Rob made his way to the bedroom. He was not sleeping easily and so he sat awhile, staring at his life: Superhero films, an old Breaking Bad poster, a Manchester United home kit, an empty bottle of Jack Daniels on the side. Charlotte’s question churned itself round in Rob’s mind. What did he have to offer another girl? The world writ large? What was uniquely his? Absolutely nothing.
The thought depressed him in the dark had. And yet, by morning, it had formed into something promising. Rob had found his niche.
Back in the café, Rob points to himself.
“Look at me. What do you see? You see a white male of average looks. Brown hair, and middling intelligence. You see a pure manifestation of the pop-culture hive-mind. You have passed maybe fifty men exactly like me today alone. I… I am Spartacus; I am Superdry; I am two brief minutes in the missionary position; I am ubiquity itself. I can offer people closure.
Charlotte is unimpressed.
“You’ll never get a client.”
“I have two hundred and fifty in a drawer at home saying otherwise. Posted the advert on Craigslist on Thursday morning, by evening I had a booking. Some posh girl wanted to recreate her early twenties and…” Rob hesitates, still unsure if ending that relationship had been the right thing last night. “...and tomorrow, we have client number two.”
Aysha, 26 from Hackney, grew up with her friend Sam. They had acted up together throughout school, had shared a hundred detentions, stole alcohol from parents and drank it on the marshes. They had used their cashier wages to buy their first weed, their first ketamine, their first speed, ecstasy, and acid.
Sam had carried on further down that rabbit-hole. By his early twenties, he was smoking crack and shooting up. He stole from his parents until they kicked him out of their home. His story ended three months ago. And ended badly. Now Aysha wanted them to get on it one last time: a beer at the Crooked Billet and on into the city, like old times. She sent Rob a photograph of Sam and asked him to keep his clothes unwashed and saturated in smoke if possible.
Sam agrees, buys some smokes, and spends his day lit. He streams mad Grime tunes in the hopes of absorbing some dialect.
Sam has never been to the Crooked Billet before. He Googles the place and learns that it is right by Clapton station. It was where he always met Aysha on paydays, the start of their mad benders in town. It is in character for him to show up – as he thinks he should say – “bombed”, he reasons. Besides which, a little alcohol in the blood will create the lucidity necessary to meet his closest companion of his whole life for the very first time.
Aysha is wearing a light-blue top and sitting out back with two pints because, U always fukkin spunge ya cunt.xxx
Sam throws himself down into the bench opposite Aysha dragging a pint along with him. He asks a cursory, this mine fam? and drinks a nanosecond later.
He sees Aysha staring at him out of the corner of his eyes. She is silent for too long for an immediate play-along. Five seconds turn into maybe thirty.
“Michael Jackson was fine last time you got your own fukkin pint.”
Rob almost-Sam almost-laughs he is so relieved.
“Jokes. My round next time innit?”
Somehow, that does the trick.
“Next time, next time. I could buy my fukkin’ flat on your next time’s Sam.”
“Yeah fam, sorry. You know if the situation changes, yer manz got yer back.”
She rolls her eyes.
“It’s been time,” Sam says softly, “how you been doing?”
“Yeah mate, not good. I’ve been you know, getting on it – drinking a lot. Shit, I mean a lot. You’ve been getting to me you know. The day they found you, the funeral... it’s been a three-month nightmare, and I can’t wake up Sam, I can’t wake up... I showed up to work late often, stinking like a fukkin pisshead. They let me go last week, said they weren’t firing me, just no more hours going… zero-hours bullshit.” She isn’t looking at him, she pours most of her pint down her throat in one motion. “Probably lose the flat next month unless something falls from the sky. Funny thing is I just don’t care either, about that, about anything. The loneliness… I keep out, going on dates, Tinder, if you can call it datin’. I wake up sometimes in hotel rooms, in people’s flats… no fukkin memories you know? This one guy…” Aysha shudders, “fukkin creep man, fukkin disgusting…”
She tails off and lifts her head to look Sam in the eyes; hers are red water. She is a half-second from a complete breakdown.
“Shit mate, I miss you” she manages to say before the grief explodes so loudly that most of the pub turns to watch them. Sam half-holds up his hand in reassurance. He doesn’t know what to say. What would Rob tell Charlotte from beyond the grave? Sam leans across the table.
“Aysha… Aysha listen to me a moment.” Aysha breathes inwards, a deep stuttering breath, and puts her hand out for him to hold. He takes it and runs his thumb around affectionately. “Aysha I miss you too mate. I love you. Other friendships and relationships come and go, but we’re always, forever, me and you. Nothing can change that, understand? Nothing.”
“Nothing,” she repeats softly. “Nothing, Sam.”
“In time you’ll get better, but right now I want you to stop doing weird things, stop putting yourself in dangerous situations. And don’t worry about me anymore, my suffering is over – I have found the peace that I couldn’t find in…”
“Aysha, what’s going on? Are you OK? Who is this guy?” the questions come fast from a highly accusatory voice. Sam turns his head, a group of four girls have formed around them; God knows how long they have been standing there.
“This is fine,” Sam tells them, “Just something we arranged to do.”
They aren’t buying it.
Rob’s voice weakens a little. “See, I’m kind of an actor; I help grieving people who need…” he gets no further; the remaining beer is poured over his head by one of the girls. The others pull Aysha to her feet and gather round her as they usher her away.
Rob trudges through a pub filled with staring faces to the bathroom to towel himself dry. He lingers on his reflection. He decides there are lessons to be taken from this experience. Firstly, no more old haunts, clients will be met on neutral ground. Secondly, clients pay for their bookings up-front.
Time passes before Rob next sees Charlotte. Three weeks or more. He takes on nearly twelve bookings in that time.
He has built a website. The results are quietly incredible. Grief and loss prove such powerful motivators that even a relatively low level of traffic converts fantastically into bookings, most of whom show up and pay. Already Rob can turn clients down if he wishes.
There are drawbacks of course. He is drinking heavily as, one way or another, most bookings require it. Rob’s day job, a minor admin role at the LSE, only really requires him to show up on time and look busy most of the week. He is struggling on the first count at times, those days that he wakes up drained, hungover, and weirded-out, like the day after he met Peter, 53, from Islington.
Peter’s son didn’t speak to him anymore. Peter had spent much of his life trying to push his son into a law career, completely disregarding his son’s interest in photography. Peter had also decided he didn’t like his son’s girlfriend, that such an average woman was not good enough for his son. Peter couldn’t see how overbearing and rude he had been his whole life. When it came to it, Peter had proven too selfish for love. In the end, Peter drove his wife away too, and she’s with someone else now. Peter should have listened to who his son was and stopped trying to make him who Peter wantedhim to be. Peter wanted forgiveness. He wanted to tell his son that he was scared to die alone. Peter had wept. He needed affection. In a crowded restaurant full of on-lookers, Peter had needed to be held for a long time.
Charlotte is waiting for Rob at Starbucks. Rob waves at her. He is dehydrated and needs sparkling water. He buys two bottles and sits by her, downing the first quickly after a brief salutation.
“You know, I’ve met a few people with drinking problems, and every one of them gets through bottles of that fizzy shit.”
“So, I’m hungover,” shrugs Rob, “it’s Saturday.”
“And what were you doing last night? You weren’t with anyone I know. Not for weeks now.”
“I was with someone you don’t know.”
“This… this Closure Inc. bullshit?”
Charlotte nods and looks away, her tongue pushing out her cheek as the nod turns into a headshake. She snaps back to Rob suddenly, her expression one of pure brimstone.
“Rob, this isn’t fucking funny anymore. Are you actually psychotic?”
“I’ve made £2,750 in less than three weeks, tax-free. Rent sorted. I don’t have to leave London, aren’t you happy about that?”
“Like this? Not really – it feels wrong to me.”
“Right or wrong, it pays.”
“You sound like a prostitute.”
Rob has been paid for sex now, twice in fact. However, even that was not quite as fun as he might have hoped for, between his client’s screaming and their crying.
“...worse than a prostitute actually,” Charlotte continues, “an emotional parasite.”
“We live in a post-ethical age.”
“Funny, we might be about to enter a post-friendship age too.”
“Our generation are losers Charlotte, we get rinsed by employers, by landlords. We can barely live from pay-check to pay-check. Pensions? Rent caps? Unpaid labour? Is anyone looking out for us? Course they aren’t. You said it yourself: create opportunities, fight tooth and nail if that’s what it takes to get by.”
“I promise you this is not what I meant.” She pauses to scrutinise his arid and exhausted features. Rob stares back and defiantly opens his second bottle of sparkling water. Charlotte stands. “I can’t be a part of this actually, not even remotely.”
“You’re not,” Rob replies, “though now you mention it, Closure Inc. currently only offers John Doe to clients. Adding a Jane to the roster could potentially double our customer base.”
“I said I’d be here for you during the breakup, but I can’t right now. Close this shit down, seek help, get better. Until then, I'm sorry, you’re on your own.”
Charlotte leaves Rob sitting. He is half-tempted to run after her, and half-lost seriously contemplating the possibilities of expansion: new doppelgangers, female ones and ones of other ethnicities.
Closure Inc. is now everything. He has never felt so charged, so determined in his life. At home, at the LSE, he works on building the business, finding new clients, taking bookings. He registers the company and sets up a bank account. He ups the fee, £300 per booking, including a £50 deposit. Still, the bookings come.
He has sent Charlotte a dozen messages, how you doing’s, along with peace offerings. They remain read and un-replied. This bothers him more than anything.
He is memorising tonight’s client. She uses just her initials, LN, for now.
LN knew love once: she should’ve spent her life with this boy, but he chose to leave this world. No one else ever interested her. She cannot love again. Sex feels like infidelity, dirty and unwanted. LN is so, so, alone. She wants a whole life that never got to be. Failing that a night sleeping in each other’s arms. Tonight, his name will be Charlie, and…
“Rob, I’m afraid you and I need to have a chat,” says a voice to his right. He doesn’t acknowledge it at first. His Department Head clears her throat and repeats her statement with more force. He jumps out of his skin and recalls that heis Rob, it has been almost two weeks since he has used that name.
He is taken from the general office and into his Department Head’s. She produces a report from IT and passes it to him, saying that although initially she flagged him for his declining punctuality and attendance rate, it has come to light that he does almost no work here in the office and that… that he seems to be using LSE time and resources to run his own business. This is completely unacceptable. She is afraid they are letting him go, with immediate effect. His sign-on and staff card have been terminated, his paperwork will be posted ASAP. Please hand your keys to reception on the way out.
He has never been fired before. His colleagues stare and whisper as he clears out his desk. After five years at the LSE, no one is compelled to say goodbye. He supposes he should feel a degree of humiliation, but his soul is well-calloused by now.
Outside he throws the artefacts of those LSE years into the nearest public bin. He sits in a pub, drinking alone. When he stands, he is mildly drunk and ready to become Charlie for the evening. He reasons the firing might actually be a good thing. A final severing from his previous self.
Rob Cole had certainly been a life. It had divided its time between a job he no longer held, a relationship now over, and friends who don’t much talk to him. Rob Cole no longer exists. He is now five feet and eleven inches of blank canvas, available for hire. A mutable ghost, haunting the city of London. Opening old wounds and creating fresh ones.
He has amassed an impressive array of costumes. He can be whatever you need him to be, from suit-and-tie to jeans-and-tee. Book him with enough notice and he will grow a beard out, or have his hair cut any which way that pleases you.
If you would like to sleep with him, rest assured, he takes sexual health very seriously indeed. He always wears protection and routinely undergoes check-ups and testing. No extra charge for the ladies, though men pay double. (Or at least, best offer.)
He has become a hundred stories of regret and remorse. He absorbs the stories and tears of clients if the money is right...
Everyone has lost someone somehow. How about you? Have you lost someone close to you? Is there someone you cannot stop thinking of? Is there anything you need to say to someone or wish you had? If so, look him up. For just three hundred pounds a night, closure can finally be yours.
Jake Kendall is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh's Creative Writing MSc programme. When he is not writing short stories, he writes and researches for the Edinburgh International Culture Summit.