The Experiment

The experiment took all day.
I arrived early.
I had agreed I would film it.

I brought the old video camera.
The girls would think they were on a
reality TV show.

I asked Mr. Perry where he came from
He spoke with an accent.

Bogotá,’ he said. ‘Colombia.’
There were a couple of things to move
in the garden.

Mr. Perry had already gone to a lot of trouble.
He’d hired tables and chairs,
tarpaulins and stands.

My sister arrived with three or four other girls
and one boy.
They took their places at the table.

I filmed them.
The girls were very excited.
They all wanted to look after Mr. Perry.

Some of their excitement rubbed off on the boy.
Do you know he was in the service, as well?’
He asked.

Yes,’ I said.
He’d fought against the Allies.
I told the boy this.

Wow!’ He said. ‘Imagine him
fighting against the English

Mr. Perry was very particular.
I thought his tests were a bit harsh

but the girls didn’t seem to mind
being humiliated.

He wore a woollen jerkin
over a pale cotton shirt.
He had grey hair.

He was quite photogenic.
But even he turned to me once

and said, ‘Don’t point that thing at me!’
Then he went inside.

I heard raised voices,
Mr. Perry’s and his wife’s.
We never saw his wife.

Mr. Perry brought out the lunch himself.
He put it on the trestle table he’d hired.
He had made it, he said.

The girls stuffed themselves
and giggled in little groups

about how handsome he was
and a ‘good look.’

Mr. Perry watched them.
He looked disgusted at the way they ate
the fairy cakes.

The girls were not embarrassed.
They licked their creamy fingers.

It started to rain.
I had to help Mr. Perry put up the tarps.

The girls thought even this was great fun.
They played in the wet.

The boy sat sadly off to one side
on the swing.

I talked to Mr. Perry.
Earlier he’d shown me some old events’ fliers
for clubs and parties.

I said how you didn’t see anything like that
these days.
You didn’t see those kinds of designs any more.

The afternoon resumed with more tests and games.
The girls were having to use the bathroom frequently.
Mr. Perry went in to check it.

He stormed upstairs to his wife.
Again there was shouting from inside.
I stood next to the window.

His wife shouted that she would be damned
if she was going to clean up the mess
made by those little so-and-sos.

Mr. Perry marched out to confront
the perpetrators.

The girls went quiet,
although they were each eager
to point the finger.

Before they had a chance,
Mr. Perry announced that one of them

would have to clean the toilet
and that this would be a test.

The girls milled around,
like farmyard animals.

The boy went to put up his hand.
I held it down.

My sister was standing further away.
I couldn’t have stopped her.

There were sounds of relief from the girls,
and even a titter or two as Mr. Perry fetched
a sponge and a bar of soap for my sister

to clean up the foul mess they’d made
of his facilities, facilities
he’d been generous enough to provide.

I watched my sister walk away to her fate.
She’d got some rubber gloves from somewhere.

The thought occurred to me
that this was what it would be like
to watch her walk away for the last time.

I realised I didn’t want her talking part
in the experiment.

The other girls had taken advantage of her
and soon it would be the boy’s turn.

Mr. Perry was, anyway, too furious
about the state of his precious facilities
to continue.

In the meantime the sun had come out.
The girls reluctantly
gathered their things and left.

They held their wet clothes in front of them.
They looked disappointed.

The boy offered to help pack up the equipment.
I said no.
Bye,’ he said, but Mr. Perry didn’t answer.

He had descended into a black mood.
Now he was worried about the state of his lamps.

He went off again, inside,
probably to shout at his wife
and I put the lamps back where they should be

and folded the tarps and demounted the stands.
I was waiting for my sister.

When she finally reappeared
I was putting the camera
into its case.

Mr. Perry came out at the same time.
He looked around the garden,
judging my work.

OK,’ he said. ‘See you

My sister and I wandered forlornly up the hill,
away from Mr. Perry’s,
with its perfectly clipped hedges.

I don’t want you going
back tomorrow
I said.