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WHO COULD BLAME HIM

A short story by John Exell


"I see you suffer from Schizophrenia", said the Social Security doctor across the desk, reading the letter from Tom's doctor. "You seem quite well at the moment, but we can't risk sending you back to work, not with the pressure of modern jobs. Maybe part-time gardening or something like that, definitely not your old career, far too much pressure. But I see you enjoy writing. Keep that up, that is good therapy. "Well", he finished, "I think we'll keep you on the sick until further notice, which probably means for the rest of your life. You're allowed to work ten hours a week and earn 60 therapeutic earnings before deductions".

Tom left the surgery smiling. Living with his mother, his wants were very small. He didn't drink, he received a small pension from his old job, because of his illness he had a free bus pass, free classes and now invalidity benefit, probably for the rest of his life. His one luxury was smoking. "It gives me that edge," he said. Gone were that meaningless hunt for that non-existent job, the lies he had to tell about his illness and past hospitalisation at interviews and the like. Now he could devote all his time to what he really wanted to do, writing.

He sat on his bed that night repeating the magic words Schizophrenia and therapy to himself. He really didn't have to lie any more. After all, all writers were a bit mad, the ones he liked in any case, the good ones. His illness was par for the course, it gave him street cred, it also gave him material to write about. "Schizophrenia, therapy" he repeated to himself. He even tried "Theraphenia, Schizapy". The first sounded like one of the drugs he was on, the other sounded like a child's sweet. What was the difference he wondered to himself. He repeated the words over and over to himself like a meditation mantra, and soon fell asleep.

The feel good factor came early to Tom. He had had some limited success with his writing, earning twenty or thirty pounds here and there, but he was happy. He was doing exactly what he wanted to do. He didn't want for anything. People used to ask him why not look for work again. He smiled, mentioned his Schizophrenia, jokingly said that he wasn't a well man, said that work was in short supply and should be for those who want it or need it. Every now and again, the press was full of a story about a Schizophrenic who had committed mass murder, or something equally as hideous. They only made Tom feel more secure.

Then it finally happened. The big day. He won 5,000 in a prestigious short story competition. Of course he had to inform the Social Security. A week later he received a letter from them, asking him to go their offices. At the appointed time, Tom sat opposite the official. "I see from your letter that you've won 5,000. Of course we'll have to make some deductions". Tom nodded in approval. "Can you tell me when you wrote the story?", continued the civil servant. Tom scratched his head. "I don't keep a record of my writing," he said, "but I think I wrote it in the middle of last August". "Can you be more precise" replied the official, "and how long did it take you". "About a week, exactly a week," smiled Tom, wanting to get out of there, "seven days exactly, week starting..." he consulted the calendar, "15th August". "Thank you" said the official, and wrote it down. "Now how many hours did it take, we can only let you work ten hours a week". Tom was stumped. "I have no idea how long it took. When I get a good idea, I get in front of my computer and just go manic. It was a lot more than ten hours I'm afraid". The civil servant peered at Tom over her glasses. "If you're well enough to work more than ten hours a week, you're well enough to work". Tom didn't like the way the conversation was going. It was time to pull out his secret weapon and repeat the magic words; "But I'm Schizophrenic, and writing is my therapy. I don't know what I would do if I couldn't write".

The words had the desired effect. The civil servant, like all civil servants, liked to put everything, labelled, into boxes. Tom fitted every box and none of them all at the same time. Her left hand went up to her right ear, while her other hand went up to her nose, then her arms fully crossed and clutched her opposite shoulders. In this position she gently rocked to and fro. As Tom gazed at her, he swore she literally shrunk before his eyes. He wondered who the mad one was, but decided to keep quiet. Then his pity got the better of him. "I could refer the matter to my doctor, get him to write you a letter", he ventured. The civil servant breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed once again. "Yes, that's a good idea" she said, glad to be let off the hook.

And that's what happened. Tom got his doctor to write to the Social Security, of course mentioning several times the magic words therapy and Schizophrenia and Tom soon received a reply. They would stop him a week's money and that he should inform them if his circumstances change. Underneath the neatly typed letter were the words, "Good luck with the writing", written in pencil. "They're human after all," he said.

After that Tom never looked back. The prestigious competition win brought Tom fame and later his fortune. He was soon able to say goodbye to the Social Security for ever. Soon his first novel was published, based on, of course, his escapades with the Social Security, and he went from strength to strength. He died a very happy and fulfilled man. "But completely mad", added his doctors. "A highly talented eccentric genius", said his friends. But he who knew him best said, "Yes, all of those, but also an intelligent cunning opportunist, but who could blame him, who could really blame him".