“Tam! Tam! What the fuck are you doing?!!”
I opened the window wider to to get a better view of Tam taking another run towards his car. Thud! He hammered into it, full speed.
“Tam!” I shouted down again.
He looked up at me from the wet, dark tarmac: “Awright Ritchie, how you doing?”
He waved up at me from down there, a surprised smile on his face.
“Aye, fine and dandy,” he replied picking himself up, walking away from the car. He was gearing himself up for another run. I just sat there, elbows on the windowsill and watched. I’d known Tam for many years. No idea how old he was but he looked late 50s. Coming from this area though, he could have been in his 30s. Time worked fast on the features around here.
He did it again. Full speed run, right into the back of his car. Thwack! He bounced off it. Not like a rubber ball coming back off a wall, not as graceful as that. It was more like if you threw a cricket ball against a brick wall. It just hits hard and drops flat. I watched him pick himself up again, ready to have another go. He hadn’t, but I’d had enough.
“Wait there Tam! I’m coming down.”
I put my shoes and coat on and jogged down the stairs just in time to see him at the start of his next demented run up, scraping one foot on the ground, like a skinny, upright bull.
“Tam, Tam, stop!”
I ran over to him and grabbed a hold of his arm before he could unleash the energy he had been building up in that foot.
“What the fuck are you up? Are you … OK?”
He just looked at me and broke into a smile: “Told ye Ritchie, fine and dandy. I’m glad you came. You could be about to witness something remarkable. You’re witnessing an experiment in full flight.”
He started scraping his foot again, building up the kinetic energy for another bodily assault on the car.
“An experiment? What do you mean an experiment?”
The foot stopped scraping; he turned to me again, stood upright. Sighed.
“Aye, an experiment. You know, a scientific experiment. I was watching this programme on the telly last night about how the universe started and how it will end all that kind of stuff. Not usually my thing but there was one bit that really got me.”
He told me how the presenter had been explaining that matter, the stuff that stuff is made up of, doesn’t really exist - it’s all just energy. Not in the hippy sense where we are all just one energy wave and we should love each other and learn to be one. Tam was clear on that: “None of that hippy shite - this is science ma boy. Proper physics.”
According to the presenter as relayed by Tam on a grey, damp day in a neglected corner of Glasgow, every time scientists try to look for the basic building block of matter, the thing that is total substance, all they find is a nucleus surrounded by energy. When they look into that nucleus, they find another nucleus surrounded by energy. And so on and so on. No matter how deep down into particles they go, says presenter/Tam, they find the same thing - all particles are mainly energy. That was gist of it.
“So you see,” said Tam starting to assume the crouched position again, scraping that foot.
“I’m conducting an experiment to prove what the scientist fella was saying last night. Living science! If he is telling the truth, I should just be able to mix my energy with the energy of my wee Fiat Punto over there. Nothing is solid, all energy …”
And with that he was off again. It took a wee while to get some speed up but just before he rattled into the back of the car again, he was at full pelt. Smack! Right into it. No pulling back at the last minute, no hedging his bets. He hit the car with total commitment.
He was on the deck, again. I ran over to him, offered him a hand and pulled him to his feet.
“Tam, you need to stop this, you’re going to do yourself an injury. Is it not sore?” “Aye, course it is. I’ve just ran into a fucking car,” he replied. “But it’s OK, it’s not really pain. It’s just the energy that I’m made up of smacking against the energy that the motor is made of and they are bouncing off one another. It creates a friction and it’s ma brain telling me it’s sore but it can’t be. It’s just energy.”
“Look, Tam. This is all very well and I’m all for people trying new things and stuff but you’re seriously going to do yourself an injury. Look, why don’t you call it a day, do a bit more research on this and get some rest?”
He protested for a bit, had a wee swear and a mutter to himself but finally agreed to go home to fine tune his experimental approach. I watched him walk away towards his flat, hands in pocket, occasionally scraping his foot backwards, like a bull, as if still conducting his experiment in his head, finessing it as he went.
I didn’t see Tam for the next few days which was unusual. He was one of the guys in the area you would see regularly - in the pub, coming out of the local shop, in the bookies, chatting to a mate on a corner. He was like so many around here - older, unhealthy, surplus to modern requirements. I would look at these old boys and wonder what they were like when they were younger. I wondered if they had ever thought of a life beyond here, beyond Glasgow. Or had they been born into a well-worn groove, established by their fathers and their fathers before them. Work a lifetime, be thankful for it and when you are done, kill the time while it killed you.
Tam fitted the groove well. He’d been here since I arrived about 12 years ago. It’s a long story and I don’t have the time or the patience to tell it just now but I had to start a new life, a cheaper life and this place wasn’t as bad as some others. It would do for a while. 12 years and counting.
So, Tam. He was just one of the old boys you’d see out and about, nothing special about him at all. Nice enough, usually quiet, didn’t seem to have a wife or family, close friends. Just a face on the streets. Ten a penny around here.
Since his wee bout of experimenting, and his absence, I had been a worried. I thought maybe he had been taken into care or that he had really done himself some damage. But he reappeared as suddenly as he had disappeared. I was walking to the shops one day, down past the park, when I saw someone taking a runner into the wrought iron fence that circled the park. I knew it was Tam. I ran over.
“Fuck’s sake Tam! You at it again?”
Fresh from ramming himself into the fence, Tam turned and looked at me, red-faced, determined looking.
“Ritchie. I took your advice. I’ve been researching this stuff. It’s all very interesting but it wasn’t getting me anywhere so I started to do my own thinking. You know, a wee bit of experimental thought, let the mind run, see where it takes you. Stop listening to others for a change, think for myself.
“I read and re-read all the theories about this matter thing and do ye know what? These scientist fellas are just repeating each other. None of them has an original thought in their head. All they’re doing is piggy-backing on someone else’s hard work. Just following the crowd, saying and doing the same things.
“So I thought to myself, - here, Tam, why don’t you give some of this experimenting a go? Have a good old think about it and see where that takes you?”
“And it brought you here, smashing yourself into a fence?”
“Don’t pretend you’re not intelligent boy,” Tam replied. “You’ve got brains, I can see that much. So engage a couple of those braincells and ask yourself, what am I doing here?”
I didn’t say it to him but as far as I could see, Tam was here because he’d lost it. He’d had enough and had decided to go for a particularly painful and protracted way out. Turning himself into a fleshy battering ram, looking for a way through it all.
“Honestly, Tam, I haven’t got the faintest clue beyond the fact that you’re experimenting again.”
“That’s exactly right!” he replied triumphantly. “I’m experimenting and today, I intend to break new ground because I, Tam Beattie, have figured out all by myself how to sort this whole matter and energy issue. It’s a matter of proportion. With the car, the proportions were all wrong. Too little energy trying to join up with too much energy. The resistance was obviously too strong.
“But this,” he said, pointing towards the fence, “will be different.”
And with that, he turned his back on the fence, took several big steps, stopped and spun round to face it again.
“Tam, no. Don’t do it …”
As I reached to grab his jacket, he was off, building up speed as he had with the car experiment until finally he was a full speed. And then BAM!, full faced into the fence. He remained upright, briefly, before he crumpled to the ground. I ran up to him and crouched beside him, touching his shoulder.
“Tam, Tam. You OK?”
He didn’t look up. Just mumbled an irritated “Aye!” before he picked himself up off the ground, again. As I helped him up, he looked at me. He looked a wee bit ashamed, like a dog that has been caught eating something it shouldn’t. But the determination was still there too.
“I don’t understand it, just don’t understand it,” he finally said, once again upright. “It should work. The car, it’s made up of too much energy, there’s too much of it for the energy of my body to merge properly. That’s why I kept bouncing off it. But with the fence, there’s not that ‘much’ of it. I should be able to go right through it. The speed and the balance of energy should see me sail right through! I just don’t understand it …”
I managed to get Tam back to his flat, persuading him that his experiment needed a bit more thought, more research. He agreed, on the face of it. Then he turned to me, grabbed my arm.
“It’s all a matter of scale Ritchie. This is about proportions and so far, I’ve got them wrong. But when I get them right, it’ll change everything. We’ll all see the world differently when I get my experiments right. Tam Beattie, showing all those scientists what it’s all really about. They’ve left the breadcrumb trail but they’re stuck. It’s up to me to find the way through. Create the path for others to follow.
“It’s all about perception my boy. That car and that fence, at the moment, they are barriers but soon they will be no more barriers, none that are any more trouble than the air I’m breathing. Once I’ve proved the concept, got the proportions right …”
The last time I saw Tam, he was a changed man. He looked as rough as ever, particularly with the cuts and bruises that decorated his face, but the enthusiasm flowed from him. I could feel it as he rolled up the street towards me, all legs and arms.
“I’ve got it Ritchie,” he said, short of breath. “No more smashing myself about anymore. I’ve been doing it all wrong, the wrong way about.” He grabbed my arm, to emphasise the point.
“Good Tam, good. I don’t think you could take much more of that anyway,” I said, nodding towards his bruised left eye.
“Right, so, anyway. I’ve been going about it all the wrong way. I’ve been trying to get into it but it’s the other way around,” he said. “It’s not me that’s the problem, it’s everything else. It’s no wonder I can’t get through things, that I can’t integrate with them. They’re designed to be solid, hard, sore, to not let me be part of them so there’s a natural resistance that defies the logic. You see?”
He was breathless and fidgety. He touched his stomach several times and I noticed what looked like little pinpricks on his hands.
“Em. not really Tam but humour me. I’m listening.”
“Well that’s the thing. I can’t tell you just yet. I’m in the early stages of my experiment and if I tell you what it is, you’ll think I’m mental. So no, I can’t tell you what I’m doing, but I can give you wee hint. See if you can figure it out.”
He told me that the theory of his experiments was sound but that he’d been approaching it from the wrong perspective.
“It’s not me into it, it’s it into me,” he said several times. “It’s not a big bang but little stages, one by one and patience. That’s what will see it through. Patience. And eventually, I will merge with the other energy and once I’ve done that, who knows what will happen?”
“Look Tam,” I said, “whatever it is you are doing, just please take it easy. You’ve already done enough damage to yourself. I honestly admire the effort but you’re just a man - these are big ideas you’re playing about with and you know what they say, ideas are dangerous.”
“That’s exactly it. That’s the FUCKING POINT!”
He was suddenly screaming at me. His face was contorted, angry, red and strained.
“Of all the people, the one person I thought would get it, get what I’m trying to do and you are no better than the rest. You stay here, in this shithole with all the other arses. But I’ve had enough. No more fucking bruises and cuts and picking myself up of the ground. I’ve had ENOUGH!”
I tired to apologise but he wasn’t having it. He was off and I never saw him again.
They found him in his flat, dead, about a month later. Been dead for a week. Apparently he was found in the middle of the living room floor, on his back, star-shaped. I was told that the autopsy showed he had died from some kind of poisoning, from metal. They found over a thousand pins, your standard sewing needles, that kind of thing, in his stomach, in his arms, his legs, his arse, everywhere they looked, they found pins and needles. They said it must have taken him weeks of almost constant self-pinning to get to that number and eventually his body just gave up trying to fight these alien objects. Just gave up, he gave up.
I took a detour by his flat on the way back from the funeral. His car was still there. The same one he had been throwing himself against. I looked at the back of it and could see some small dents which I assumed were created on that first day of experimentation.
I touched one of the dents feeling that cold metal against my soft flesh and for the first time I understood what it was to feel two energies interact. I got a glimpse of what Tam meant. I finally got a glimpse of Tam.