Broken Brain

Broken Brain

A Story by Andrew John

Mental health


(A middle-aged man with a damaged brain - and some good friends - finds himself coping with a head problem. Does he dance on broken glass? Has his life become dull and grey? Will he survive that unsound brain?)



A man called Mark has something wrong with his brain. Nothing to do being bisexual, which he's known about for years - and so did his wife Pauline - but, eventually, this sixty-year-old will find out about whatever's wrong with that brain. There will be an operation. But not for a while. His behaviour has been seen as strange: first by Pauline, then by his Welsh boyfriend, Matthew, who is expected to become husband at a register office. If Mark survives.


Pauline hadn't seemed OK to him - after nearly thirty years of marriage. But was it a fault with his brain, or some fault with Pauline? Or could it have been a shared fracture in their relationship? He probably won't know. But he can admire Pauline, as he sees her dating a guy her own age: about fifty-five. He's pleased for her. Mark and Pauline have been apart for nearly two years now. He's also pleased with Matthew, his - well, fiancé.


As for that operation, it's something that Mark, as we say, doesn't know about yet. But it will come. Does he suspect that something of that nature will have to happen?


Mark is fairly fortunate in having a pair of longstanding friendships, in addition to his relationship with Matthew: one guy, Charlie, is about five years older than Mark; James is two or three years younger. And Mark himself, as we've seen, is sixty. They've known one another for about twenty-five years. They all live in different parts of this country village - dotted here and there, but close enough to get to each other's house by car or on a bike, in James's case, or on foot. They even like some of the poetry Mark's written now and then. Oh, they've been known to make fun of it, but do really like it. Having poetry is good, Mark's told himself, and it's good to have friendships, too.


Charlie is as straight as a die, but gets on so well with gay guys. Not getting on so well with his wife. They have what you might call moments: happy ones and angry ones. But Sylvia is rather attractive for her age. There have even been moments when Mark has fancied her. Not that he dares to tell Charlie that: it would seem, well, improper.


James is just the opposite to Charlie: gay as they come. Not of the camp variety - although Mark, Charlie and James himself have no problem with that type. In fact, it's always healthy to see people of different persuasions and behaviours. That's what life is about.


Charlie is a Yorkshireman; the other two guys, Mark and James, are, well, southern with what you might call straight accents - OK, no accent at all, really. And they all live in the South of England.


Then there's fiancé Matthew. He has lived in England for so long, but loves to use his Welsh accent - and he overdoes it at times when talking to Mark. Bit of a showman.


Mark is a journalist - well, was. He was writing for money, of course, something that poetry will never bring to him. He was working on the Gazette. A weekly paper. Seems boring to most people. They would want to work on dailies.


He's known for some time - although he can't guess exactly how long - that he has had a strange sort of illness. He couldn't really describe it to his employers. It was just “strange”. His employers were sympathetic. He got an early retirement. He's not on as much money, now, as he was, but getting by OK. No idea, though, what is wrong with him. He's been told by his friends that he ought to visit a specialist, but Mark's known that he never will. Well, not yet. One day, he may find he's going to have to.


He's always thought it strange that two guys called Matthew and Mark live together: Matthew, Mark. Pity the other two aren't called Luke and John. That would be funny, given that none of the four has beliefs. But they'd have the four names of the first books of the New Testament.


But why does Mark often think about such stuff? Useless thoughts such as these have, at times, come into his mind. Other crazy nonsense, too. It's as though his brain were doing things it shouldn't. Has something very dramatic happened in that department?


“I do feel a bit weird,” he tells Matthew one evening as they sip some vino and chew on some cheddar. Yes, he'd tell him a little now and then, but not much. He hasn't wanted Matthew to worry. Still doesn't.


“Oh, you don't seem that bad,” says Matthew with his slightly exaggerated Welsh accent. “I'll keep my eye on you, boy.”


“And do you have to keep calling me 'boy'?” Mark asks this husband-to-be.


“Oh, come on! Boy! I know you like it.”


The following day Mark has an accident. Nothing too serious. Just a fall. He couldn't tell why. It was a good job he was walking along a lane - as he often does, up the lane, down the lane - and has fallen onto the grass verge. He lifts his head, wonders how long he's been lying there, looks at his watch, realises it's been five or ten minutes. Not the first time this has happened, he tells himself, but I haven't been down for this long before. And he knows he mustn't tell Matthew. No more than he's told him so far. He'd worry too much. Yes, he would worry - in that accent that Mark loves, but doesn't tell Matthew!


Mark does worry, though, that one day he might do something stupid. Tramp about in his stocking feet, maybe, drop a glass, walk on it, possibly cut his toes. Odd thoughts, these: odd thoughts. One of these days might well come, he's told himself, but has tried to put it to the back of his mind. At least, if he found himself doing anything stupid, Matthew would be there to help. But he doesn't want Matthew to worry - not just yet. He doesn't want Matthew to read his mind, see a strange floundering, a dancing brain. The time would come: perhaps a telling minute, a weird minute, sixty seconds, tick-tick-tock.


James and Charlie are at his home one afternoon. Matthew is out at work - he does something boring in an office. Well, it seems very boring, and Mark occasionally takes the mickey.


“Still got your nose stuck in paper?” he would ask.


“Better than trying to write poetry,” Matthew once replied. Then gave a chuckle.


And here are James and Charlie, asking again about Mark's poetry - and his state of mind. Mark does write a lot - well, has done, but it seems to have disappeared. Why did he once do something he loved doing, and has now - largely - stopped? He has about a hundred and sixty poems shared by three websites online. There had been a new poem each week at least, sometimes every few days.


He looks around the room he's in: “such dusty mats of coconut, and hats”. Oh, yes, nice line from one of his older poems.


But - well, he seems to find it boring now. His life had been a shining thing, but now has dimmed, like a dull, dull coin.


“You do seem a bit weird, our lad,” says his older pal, Charlie, wth that Yorkshire accent. “Is there somethin' wrong with you?”


“What?” Mark asks, though quite unconvincingly. “Of course not.”


“Well it seems a bit queer to me,” says James. “Sorry! I mean, weird.”


“You taking the piss, Jamie Boy?” says Charlie.


Oh, yes, Mark's been so pleased to have friendships like these. No touching or petting, very little affectionate smiling - just spending quite a bit of time together. “And clinks announce the hour for drinks”. Oh, yes, another of his poetry lines. It's from one called “Conservatory”.


This trio would often have tea or coffee or - of course - beer or spirit. This would be in the conservatory, here. Good old pal-ship that's to be found among so many male pals. A few more words come to his mouth: “Ah, so it is so: / There is nothing more to say. / This makes me happy.” Hmm, more lines drifting into his mind. Those three lines are from one of his three-line ditties with five, seven, then five syllables. He'd called this one, simply, “Completion”. And it says there’s nothing more to say. Great fun. Or was. He's not quite as interested now. Doesn't care one way or the other.


“What about that bit of Welsh?” asks James. “You ever read it to Matthew? Thought a Welshman would like a bit of Welsh.”


“Oh, that one,” says Mark. “Er, I've forgotten what I called it.”


“You called it 'Welsh Chapel Speaks of God within her Shadows',” said James.


“Oh, that one. Yes, there were two lines of Welsh. Titles of hymns, I think: 'Marchog, Jesu, yn llwyddiannus', and 'O! Iesu mawr, rho d’anian bur'. I think I got that right. It says something about 'Voices rich and raised and resonant'. Was great fun, that poem. Matthew ought to be here, listening to an Englishman trying to do a bit of Welsh.”


But it's fun that's gone, Mark thinks to himself. However, he still won't tell anyone. Wouldn't tell either one of his two friends or Matthew, his - he hoped - husband-to-be.


Soon, tipples have been consumed in that conservatory, and off they go. Mark knows Matthew will be back from work in a couple of hours.


But Mark wakes suddenly. Wakes? Yes, he has sat back in his easy chair and, it seems, dropped off. Two hours?


“You seem to have had a nap!”


It was Matthew's voice. He walked into the living room with two cups of something. Yes, tea. They seem to have remained in that habit of coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon.


“Er, seem to've been on the nod,” says Mark. “Just had a drink with James and Charlie.”


“But I've just seen James in the lane as I drove past his place. Says they left here two hours ago. You sure you OK, boy?”


“Look, I'm OK, OK?” Mark bellowed. “I'm OK!”


Oh, dear. Why has he suddenly raised his voice. And why has he suddenly got up from the chair and marched off to his bedroom?


“Mark!” Matthew shouts, but decides to leave his fiancé alone for a while, before going upstairs and trying to comfort him. That's happened a few times recently, but does Mark remember these occasions? Matthew asks himself, silently. Mark seems to get back to normal - for a few days before having another of his funny little tantrums.


So Matthew suspects there's something very funny about Mark's brain. He keeps insisting that Mark consult a, well, a consultant, but doesn't wish to pile the pressure onto his partner. Just hopes Mark's brain will change, improve, get back to normal.


The following day a surprise meeting happens at Mark's and Matthew's house. Yes they both think of it as Matthew's, too, even though Mark is the owner. Here now are Charlie, James and Matthew. The fourth - though he didn't expect this to happen - is Mark. He's looking around him, at each face - each face looking rather serious.


“What the hell's wrong with you lot?” he asks, with part laughter, part anger. “Anybody'd think there was something wrong with me.”


“And,” James says quickly, “we do think you know there is something going funny in your brain. Come on: admit it. You're aware that you're going a bit - well, 'funny' is the best word I can use. Yes, you can be quite funny at times, and at others - as Matthew told us two - you can seem a bit weird. And we all like you.”


“And I've been your partner now for what seems like ages,” says Matthew.


“We think,” says Charlie, “that you ought to see a doc. We know we've been suggesting it, thinking that this - whatever you've got wrong with you - might go. But it hasn't.”


James then says, “And we do have some affection for you. Yeah, even you,” he adds with a smile and pointing a finger. “Even you, you prat. And, if you don't ring the surgery and get an appointment with a quack, we'll do it for you.”


Oh dear, thinks Mark. Looks as if I've got to do this. I kind of knew it would come.


“OK,” he says. “I'll give the quack a call. Quack, quack!


Matthew hands Mark a phone, and Mark calls the surgery. After a good five entire minutes of waiting to talk to a doctor, he speaks, says he wants to come into the surgery as soon as possible. It's been sorted. It'll be the next day.


“All right, chum. Let's drop it there,” says Charlie in that Yorkshire accent. “Get that beer out of the fridge.”


The following day, Matthew takes some time off work and he accompanies Mark to their doctor, and - two days later - to the local hospital to see a specialist. Mark is put on the scanner. The day after that, a letter from the Health Department comes through their door. It tells Mark what the problem is, but assures him that it will be dealt with, and he will need to report to the hospital in two days' time.


So Mark - with Matthew accompanying him, again - reports to the hospital and is put into a two-bed ward, but only Mark's bed is taken. Matthew sits in the chair alongside him.


During the past two days Mark has been sitting alone at home, a pen floating over a piece of paper. Yes, a poem was taking some shape. Got no title for it yet, but it's there: a free-verse poem. Just five four-line verses.


In the hospital now, once a nurse has left the pair alone, Mark takes a sheet of paper from his bag.


“What you got there, boy?” Matthew asks.


“Er, I think you ought to read it,” says Mark.


“OK. Better still, read it out to me. There's nobody else here.”


“If you insist,” says Mark. “I've done this before - read stuff out to you - but not for quite a while. And never in a hospital. OK, here it is. It tells you I've got something on my brain. Er, literally.”


And Mark reads his latest piece of verse.



- - - - -


Reflected light is shimmering here,

finding me floundering in my fluff,

gazing at this shattered glass

as I dance, dance away, away.


I cut my bare toes -

sixty steps to the minute,

those sixty seconds, sixty seconds:

click-click, tick-tock, bop-bop.


Your shine dims like a dull, dull dime

in my battered brain, seeing the blood

on my toes, as they dance, prance

on the shattered shimmering glass.


A battered brain is shapeless stuff

that lets me flounder in my fluff.

The shattered brain sees shattered glass.

They'll take this tumour away.


Will humour return, humanity remain,

once I've danced, pranced

for those surgical folk in masks

who'll take knives to my brain?


- - - - -


“Mm! Nice poem, that one,” says Matthew. “I rather like that.”


“Oh, glad you do like it. I'll stick it on those websites. Once they've done this operation here, taken an actual tumour off my brain - a meningioma - and let me out. Not sure what to call it, though. The poem, that is, not this bloody brain-growth thingy I nearly referred to as a petunia, but it's called a tumour.”


“And you could call the meningioma a geranium,” Matthew adds, after a short thought. After a giggle, he says, “Hmm. What about calling that poem 'Broken Brain'?”




(Two poems mentioned here - “Conservatory and “Broken Brain” - are mine! They can be found in my poems collection on this site. But I’ve loaned them to Mark for the purposes of this story. I’ll ask him to give them back to me!)

© 2024 Andrew John

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Have made a stick-up reminder for later.. ..

Posted 3 Months Ago

A run of words that stop and go according to whim and writer. Your characters and their dialogue are as friends are and will interact. The awareness of each other's foibles and otherwise are a subtle lead up to character and personality then, recognition of Mark's mind - not saying why or what to give ideas to other readers. There is a warm friendship and an empathic touch which is, must say, a necessity when things.. ..

Sadness and happiness here. Finely worded, could be, might be fact, awareness and all. Why don't readers give more attention to stories - so much can be missed by fretting over the use of five or ten minutes instead of thirty seconds or a minute.

Posted 3 Months Ago

Andrew John

3 Months Ago

Thanks so much for your welcome comments, Emma. I have another story there called "Frederick". It te.. read more

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2 Reviews
Added on February 23, 2024
Last Updated on February 24, 2024
Tags: brain, head, damage, bisexuality


Andrew John
Andrew John

Carmarthen, Wales, United Kingdom

Live in Carmarthen, Wales more..

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