Sunday 15 November
Arthur tipped the remainder of his gin and tonic over his lunch, slammed the glass down and pushed away from the table.
– I’m fed up with eating this low calorie shit. What’s the matter – don’t I pay you enough? Eh? Because I think you’ll find I do. So what happens to it? Salting it away in a little private account somewhere – ?
Richard picked up the ruined meal and took it out to the kitchen, leaving Arthur without a visible focus for his petulance. Too drunk to follow, Arthur riled back in his chair and spat a mouthful of abuse at his departing lover. Arthur would have no recall of it later. But used to it as he was, Richard found it hard to take on that particular day. He stepped into the winter damp garden, anger channelling through him. His gut churned, his fists clamped. He tilted his head back and let it out.
Richard’s anger erupts through the drizzle to a laden sky, scorching cloud as it hurtles upward, feeding off boiling vapour. Way up in the cumulus, it crosses a violent shard of frustration, jagging north from the coast. Matching energy, the two forces slew together, their fused fury blistering east northeast through the grey haze where they strike a sliver of sunlight, dithering in their path. Smashing through the gleam, they steal its radiance and sear on, their luminous passion flaring towards the Sunday city. Remarkably, their path flies between radio, mobile phone, television and other pollutant signals, avoiding commercial contamination.
Sunday 15 November
A Pub. Dubbed locally The Dog and Vomit. Or the Dog. An hour to go. Gorgeous adjusts hold-up stockings. Spazzo wheezes out of the cellar and cops an eyeful of round arse.
– Gaw – just stay like that while I –
– Shove it, Spazzo.
– Disgusting old bastard.
– I never knew you cared.
The regulars of the Dog snigger over pint glasses. They are the brethren making their responses to familiar banter, inhaling the strident incense of cleaning fluid, stale beer and male odour.
High above, some mile distant, the lure of this place is strong, stronger and now, irresistible. The bitter-bright missile homes in, makes a shallow dive, streaking across roofs and brick, tarmac and wasteland, lower and lower until… Impact. It shatters through frosted and bevelled glass; countless rays splinter in infinite directions, refracting into the squalid apse of The Dog. Dust motes swirl erratically, shot with gold. On and on and on…
Gorgeous. Nineteen. Impenetrable as her tan exterior. Unmoving in carven red top and split skirt. Taking her weight on one hip. Eyes, distant, reflective now. Other times predatory. Lips just baring white incisors. Mass of sable hair knotted at the crown, falling down her back. One pearl talon sunk in the pile of a beer mat.
Before long, out of chaos comes a slight tranquillity. It is small, tentative, not detectable, but the inclination is sure and it seeks form. Another element must be close, a catalyst to tame the disarray, bring some order. Maybe more.
Lol hunches in. Gorgeous looks up
– ‘Morning, Gorgeous. Usual.
– Afternoon. Late, entcha?
An athletic bedmate acquired by accident two Augusts ago is the one attachment Lol is unable to lose by stealth, cunning or withdrawal.
– ‘It yer again?
– Nah. GBH of the ear ‘ole.
– Sort ‘er out.
No one else would dare comment.
Lol takes his lager to a window seat, sits anchored to the glass as he studies The Racing News, lips moving slightly. Tucking a heavy tawny curl behind his ear.
Gorgeous watches Lol’s bowed figure. As she does, a gimlet of fused light darts through her half-closed lashes and pierces a pupil. She blinks, feeling a rare twist of emotion. Lol deserves better. Maybe she should do something for him, trade on it some other time. Stalks through to the kitchen.
Spazzo bottling up the lower shelf, glances up at firm breasts approaching. Watches rolling buttocks departing. A sight to fuel his lonely pleasure for some nights to come.
Lol. A child of the Dog and Vomit. Conceived in the alley behind. Born amongst Smith’s and Schweppes on the grubby floor of the stockroom. Never registered. Left waiting outside the public bar with lemonade and crisps in all weathers, his curly head just visible above the sill through frosted glass. Abandoned to its fostering charge when his mother involuntarily entered an institution. Clientele of the Dog and Vomit cherished this affront to the establishment. Men divvied in for his upkeep, women lavished drunken sentiment on him. Lol was one of their own. Sparing him the intellectual rigours of Pure Lane Primary and Murdock Comprehensive, they enrolled him in the school of life. Wandering loose in the market, travelling high up in lorry cabs, running errands for the girls at Nessie Harker’s, cheering the Addicks down the Valley.
Lol’s genius for survival is legend around Pure Lane Market. Makes a living at this and that. Deals in cash. Never feels the need to vote. Shorter than average but solid and fit. His hooded blue eyes once pulled endless willing girls. They ran their hands over his smooth body and tousled his already turbulent hair. But they never touched him. And they never stayed long. Until now. He endures her, the Current. After all, he spent years of patient exclusion. And violence is a familiar mate. The Current is a substitute for normality. They live in one of the flats built on the site of the old tannery. For now. No-one knows all of Lol. No-one suspects the power stored in his psyche, his psychoses, his potential. A human battery, Lol. Toxic if ruptured.
– ‘Appy Birfdee.
Lol looks up from his paper. Not sure when his birthday is, he celebrates it whenever he or anyone else feels like it. A movable feast. Gorgeous drops a plate in front of him, on it a pasty, hot from the microwave, still in cellophane. She is already on her way back to the bar. Gorgeous doesn’t have conversations. Sometimes exchanges words. Lol’s mouth shifts. Gorgeous? He slides his eyes back to the page.
She serves two pints of Tannery Special, a light and bitter and a Guinness to the brethren, takes for an orange juice for herself, puts it in a jar by the till. Spazzo has a never-ending half of mild under the counter.
– ‘Ere’s a joke for yer, Gorgeous.
– ‘Eard it.
– There’s these three young nurses an’ they’re a bit starved o’ sex, like.
– ‘Eard it.
– So this bloke on Men’s Surgical dies wiv a whoppin’ great ‘ard on –
– They all ‘ave it off wiv ‘im and one’s got ‘er period an ‘e opens ‘is eyes an’ she says “‘ow come you’re alive?” an’ e’ says “‘ardly surprisin’ after a transfusion like that”.
– You ‘eard it.
– Good ‘un, init? “’Ardly surprisin’ after a transfusion like that!” Caw!
It is a favourite parable of the brethren. They signify their fondness with the usual ritual, little nasal sounds and tapping their glasses on the bar.
– Left yer sensa yoomer in Clapham, Gorgeous?
Spazzo, laughs himself into a coughing fit.
Lol approaches for his second lager. She is at the pump. Pulls it well. Doesn’t like getting her hands wet. Rests the brimming glass on the brass grille. He drops a note by his used glass. The change is for her. Tradition with Lol. Whenever he feels like paying. Whoever serves. She doesn’t touch the money until he returns to his seat. She doesn’t remove the empty glass. Spazzo will go punter-side to clear dirties, indulge in a needle-thin roll-up, commune with the brethren. Then come back and wash up. Never too busy on a Sunday. And Gorgeous is in charge.
On the plate slump a grey carcass of pastry and a few lumps of gristle next to a ball of charred cellophane. Lol is scanning the same page third time over. Hides the fact that he’s thinking. Gorgeous. Who’d have thought? Not his type. Still, wouldn’t kick her out of bed. Wouldn’t dare. As if. Not with Godzilla at home.
Gathering points of brilliance swirl from glass to cellophane, conjure glistening snakes of hair to coil at his crown.
Lol runs fingernails across his bristling scalp. Enticed by exotic possibilities, a vague but familiar notion approaches that area of Lol’s mind designated for creativity. Provokes a feeling Lol hasn’t known before.
The sensation powers Lol, swells through his gut and loins, connecting temporal and visceral. All Lol knows is a massive surge of desire. Tries to hold it in but it’s too big to contain.
He pushes away from the table, making his glass topple. Slings out. Ten pairs of eyes look from his departing figure to the pool of glistening lager and back again as the doors clatter. It is 2.51.
Just in time, Lol hits the outside as waves pound through him, off him, swell out and up from him, somehow, booming across the ether, resounding through a million, million communications, echoing back and forth, up and down, through metal, water, flesh and bone. Satellites receive and transmit or repel, solar flares enrich, matter resists, anti-matter consumes. Neurons join with a universe as Lol becomes a part of something he may never understand. All he knows is next time, he must hold back, keep more for himself.
Friday 13 Nov
The Friday before, about five. Gloria paused halfway to the fridge, returned to the living room and folded another layer of cream onto the teacake. Then she put the cream jug back in the fridge, wedging it between the Chicken Cordon Bleu and a packet of ham. Already, she could taste the pleasure that waited by her armchair. A cruel shrill curdled the delicious moment. Invoking sodomy, she hurried to the hall, bumping her plump hips on a door handle and the bookcase.
Despite the poor line, Peter’s flatness of tone, his assurance that ‘everything was all right’ told her otherwise. Yes, he would probably bring the children tomorrow. No, Anthony’s psoriasis wasn’t any better. And Catherine, apparently, didn’t want to come, but her mother always said that and she always came. Gloria started mentally restocking the fridge.
In the living room, Mr Pastry’s tongue flicked delicately around the carpet where the teacake had fallen face down.
– Pastry, you greedy little swine!
Mr Pastry turned yellow eyes on his mistress for a moment then carried on lapping up the cream.
Saturday 14 Nov
They arrived at two o’clock on Saturday afternoon. Lunch had been in preparation since early morning. It simply required heating through. All fresh, no convenience food. Peter was apologetic.
– Their mother fed them before they came.
– But didn’t you tell her I was getting lunch?
– Then why would she -?
– Why does the Reverend Mother do anything?
Peter picked at Haddock Mornay, mange tout, baby carrots and croquette potatoes, successfully avoiding anything like conversation for forty minutes, while Catherine and Anthony searched for the elusive Mr Pastry.
Plodding towards the sodden playground by the promenade, the children complained of being hungry. The local McDonald’s was uncannily close. Peter bought burgers, chips and milkshakes for both and pinched the odd chip as his offspring chewed, open-mouthed and noisily.
– Close your mouths when you’re chewing, kids.
– Don’t go on at them, Mum.
– I’m not going on. Where are your table manners, you two?
Catherine and Anthony stared slack-jawed at Gloria over their baps, airing messes of half-chewed burger, chip and ketchup.
Half an hour later, Anthony fell off a swing backwards. High pitched tears, face puffing red, male pride abandoned. No comforting. Glad of an excuse to punish anyone for his unhappiness and confusion.
Later, Catherine finally wiggled out the last of her front milk teeth and gave it to Peter to keep for the Tooth Fairy, maintaining that the going rate was nothing less than a pound these days. Gloria wrapped it in a tissue and tucked it into her handbag.
– Keep it safe ‘til we get home.
– Why do you take your handbag everywhere, Grandma?
– I might need it.
– Well – I keep all sorts of useful things in it.
– What sorts of useful things?
Gloria located a half packet of fruit pastilles.
– Like this. One each.
They both wanted the only black pastille, igniting the inevitable squabble. Peter hugged their squirming bodies to him until they calmed into peevish truce, cheeks distended by green and yellow sugar-coated sweets.
– Doesn’t that deserve a thank you?
Mumbled duties. Appeased, Grandma promised greater delights than fruit pastilles waiting back at home.
At six o’clock, the Reverend Mother rang for the children, greeting her mother-in-law brittly. Gloria’s return greeting provoked the usual litany of hardship and distress. Passing the leaden receiver to her grandson, Gloria retired to the front room, straining to hear. Anthony detailed his injury, suddenly vehement that it was his own fault. Gloria frowned, trying to fit together the missing conversation. Catherine, frantic to boast about her tooth, snatched the phone from her brother and tumbled out the news. After a short silence, she walked into the living room.
– Mummy wants to speak to Daddy.
– He’s outside the back door.
Peter on the phone. No sentence reaching maturity. Finally, he came in.
– She’s collecting their teeth.
Gloria handed him the folded tissue from her handbag.
– She’s deranged.
After the children were in bed, Gloria brought out the drinks. No need for reports of indulgence to go back to the Reverend Mother. Peter bankrolled the Tooth Fairy and then subsided into Match of the Day. Mmm, work was fine. No, he hadn’t seen that girl again. He went outside for another cigarette in the drizzle.
– You can smoke in here, you know. I don’t mind.
– No, it’s OK.
Gloria went up to the bedroom and removed her girdle. No point in being uncomfortable at home. She was coming downstairs as Peter re-entered, shrunk with cold.
– Now tell me the truth. What’s going on?
– She’s put the CSA onto me.
Gloria breathed in sharply.
– Just drop it, Mum. I’ve had enough for one day.
– I’ll make you a bacon butty.
– No thanks.
– It’s no trouble.
– I said… I don’t want one.
On her way the toilet at two in the morning and again at four, Gloria noticed light from under the door of living room where Peter spent the night on the blow up mattress.
Sunday 15 Nov a.m. Gloria
She took him in a cup of tea and some chocolate digestives at seven. He was asleep. Book resting open. Arm flung wide next to the half-eaten bacon sandwich. It looked as though he had been trying to escape the bedclothes. She tried to see the carefree nine-year-old again. But all she saw was a frowning man in his late thirties. Catherine and Anthony quarrelled their way downstairs. Gloria filled the doorway.
– Sssh! Daddy’s asleep.
– But I want to see him! The Tooth Fairy came!
– Come and have some breakfast and tell me all about it. You can both see Daddy in a little while.
– I want to see him now!
Catherine wriggled past her and pounced on the sleeping figure.
– Look what I got from the Tooth Fairy! A two pound coin!
– I never got two pounds when I lost my teeth . . .
Anthony’s voice synchronised with soaring resentment to screaming pitch.
– It’s not fair! It’s not fair! It’s not fair!
It frightened Gloria. Peter sighed and sat up.
Despite the coins in his pocket, Anthony shed a sulky aura around his corn flakes, while his sister hid her Marmite toasties under the plate. The children left with Peter mid-morning, arguing about who should be sitting in the front. Gloria started the washing up, Mr Pastry winding silkily around her ankles.
Sunday 15 Nov mid-late a.m.
– Where were you, then? Where were you, Pastry? Where’s that hidey-hole of yours? Oh, there you are!I know they’re not very nice children. But you mustn’t be unkind, Pastry, they can’t help it. You wouldn’t be very nice if you had to live with her. Mouldy cow! Are you hungry, my pet love? Do you want some chicken? Come on, then. Come on, lovely puss. And I’ll have a nice gin and tonic to keep you company.
Mr Pastry picked out the pieces of chicken breast. Gloria sipped gin and nibbled on a few buttered Ryvitas. Snoozed a little having difficult dreams that turned into scenes of blood and mayhem, defending her son against the high priestess of malice. She woke again, noisily – feeling as though something got away. It did. Up the chimney? Through the cat flap? Or was it strong enough to pierce brick or wood or roofing tiles?
Whichever way, Gloria’s frustration and maternal rage spike through the solid damp of Dorset. Careen away on a hectic trail. Splitting drops of water vapour, scouring fumes and debris from the sky. Shrieking vengeance. On a trajectory towards her brother’s upsurge of emotion.
Gloria felt a sudden rush of comfort, almost sexual in its fulfilment. Strange. She felt confident, strong, potent. And she decided to do something about the situation. But she didn’t know what. Yet. She rang Richard.
Just about the same time that their joint angst unites.
– she’s getting worse. D’you know she collects their teeth?… Oh, I’m fine. Still putting on weight… don’t know why. It’s not what I eat. Still, Mum was like that, wasn’t she?… And how are the girls? – sorry, aren’t I awful? How’s Arthur?… oh, that’s nice… Still smoking? He won’t listen, will he? Peter still does, too. I don’t say anything ‘cos he’s got enough on his plate at the moment…
Richard put the phone down feeling the usual mix of affection, irritation, sympathy, guilt. An unbidden thought of his brother-in-law tightened a tourniquet on his usual calm. Anger dammed up against the cause of his sister’s muddled unhappiness and consequent chain of disasters. His distress summoned the girls, his intuitive, doting darlings. The click of their paws on tile distracted him. Turning, he brushed a porcelain mug from the edge of the table. Miraculously he caught it. It might wake Arthur.
Mr Pastry followed Gloria into the kitchen and sat watching her prepare scrambled egg on toast. Not much of a Sunday dinner.
Richard and Gloria, normally gentle beings, have provoked the unimaginable.
Far from Lol on its transglobal journey, a tiring particle detects a familiar pattern, twists, homes in, hits target, irradiates.
It was barely ten when Pauline woke suddenly, knowing she must act.
Nearby the source in this relative world and close enough to be a match, a fellow soul is receptive. A shudder in time, a connection. It enters him, lends enough power to give his folly permission. A frisson of fear, of lust and he indulges.
A shiver of anticipation frosted his spine as Leonard caught the danger in Chris’s eyes. He gasped as the belt tightened around his ankles.
Sunday 15 Nov p.m.
Sunday night. The phone. Provoking soft, deep barking from two velvet throats.
– Quiet! Hedda – Louella – Sssh! Hello?… Darling! Just a moment – Girls! Be quiet! Sorry. Darling, how wonderful! I can’t believe it’s you! How are you? Arthur – Arthur it’s Pauline!
After a pause Arthur swayed in. Deep blue velour dressing gown, gin and tonic, Silk Cut. Hedda and Louella vied to lick his spare hand.
– Yes, yes, he still is. I’m telling her you’re still smoking. Like the bleeding towering inferno… Still on mother’s ruin, too… She’s coming over next week!
Taking a final drag, Arthur dropped the cigarette butt into the last dribble of gin and exchanged it for the receiver. Fondled Louella while Richard hooked a finger in Hedda’s collar.
– Leenie! Hello, darling. How are you?… Splendid! How did the little op. go?… And how does it look?… Well of course you’ll never look like Cher. She doesn’t have plastic surgery, just keeps a portrait of Joan Collins in the attic –
The raucous trans-Atlantic shriek made the hairs in Arthur’s ear quiver.
Richard fished out the mess of gin-soaked tobacco and put the tumbler into the dishwasher. Pouring two mineral waters he returned to Arthur, now sitting with slippered feet resting on the French farmhouse table, dressing gown revealing sturdy but shapely legs. Richard placed a glass in Arthur’s outstretched hand, reached into a turquoise velour pocket and extracted cigarettes and gold lighter, lit a cigarette and rested it on an ashtray in Arthur’s reach. Arthur sipped the water and made an elaborate reaction of distaste.
– God – he’s just poisoned me – water! Full of fish farts…
As the call ended Arthur passed the receiver back and Richard replaced it on the wall set behind.
– Daffy cow!
Arthur sighed dramatically, draping the velour over his thighs.
– ‘Course, you know why she’s coming? It’s Leonard ‘s opening in two weeks.
– You don’t think – ?
Richard rested on the table, sideways on.
– She’d marry him again without batting a false eyelash. What d’you think the face lift’s all about?
– But she does know, doesn’t she? I mean, that he’s batting for our side?
– For God’s sake, Rich, say it. Gay. Convinced herself it won’t matter – will, of course.
– D’you think she’ll want to stay for Christmas?
– Fuck knows. I’m for bed, love.
He stubbed out his cigarette and swung his legs down, stretching as he stood up. Dropping a light kiss on Richard’s bald patch, he whistled the girls and headed through the lobby, followed by the two graceful bitches.
Pauline always travelled with a suitcase full of mayhem and left most of it behind her. Richard cleared the ashtray and started the dishwasher, mentally preparing a schedule. Better get in a crate of cognac. Plan a few dinner parties. Check Langan’s and that new place behind Covent Garden. Book hair appointments for Arthur and himself. Get the BMW serviced. She always liked to have a few runs out to remind herself of home, although ‘home’ was a good few miles from the green vistas and cosy little village pubs that Pauline cooed over. The Duchess’ memory had undergone even more restructuring than her face. And Pauline always demanded Gloria’s company for good old girlie gossip, in reality needing a plain foil to offset her brittle glamour. As he passed through the hall, he scrawled ‘Duchess arr. Thurs 29th’ and ‘Gloria’ on the phone pad, then paused to check his body profile in the full-length mirror. Waistband straining a little. Maybe a few little exercises in the mornings, before Arthur was up. Take the girls for a couple of miles each day instead of turning them out into the garden to tire each other. No lunchtime television – therefore no glasses of wine with lunchtime television. He switched off the light and went upstairs.
Richard spooned around Arthur and Arthur stroked Richard’s fingers as they both drifted off. The girls’ soft muzzles rested on velvet floor cushions.
Sunday 15 Nov Night
The sun disappears beyond datelines, below horizons, sinking on and on until Pauline seeks slumber, with scant success. The movement has grown, weaving around leaving trails, binding close fractal cords. It is infinite as it mutates, burrowing in and seeping out. Striking chords, matching resonance, attracting opposites and like indiscriminately. The more it spreads, though, the more it finds form, guided by its origin and gathering nourishment.
Arthur sleeps. Richard is restive. Gloria fights the bedclothes. Another shocking night for Leonard, opportunity for Gorgeous, turmoil for Lol. Some are, as yet, untouched.
Leonard felt hot tears dampen the pillow by his ear as he waited alone in the darkness. Further down the bed, the sheets were wet where he’d peed himself.
Gorgeous. Head filled with sound. Feeling its power through the soles of her feet. Breathing in heat and sweat.
Lol. Staring at the large expanse of pink back. This new desire changes apathy to disgust, turns that odd integrity to ice. Gets up. Leaves. Whatever it is won’t let go. Steams off him.
Radiation off Lol reverberates around Tannery Lane, catches a wind from Norway that slews it south southwest.
Mr Pastry snored gently under the candlewick. Gloria slept, open-mouthed as the television flickered, her dressing gown still on and milky coffee by the plate of digestives on the bedside table. Suddenly, she’s awake, mind writhing with possibilities. Pastry jumped down, hackles raised in annoyance, and thumped downstairs, clattering through the catflap. Gloria reheats the coffee in the microwave, adds a slug of brandy to calm herself.
Peter. Lips parted, eyes half-closed, unblinking, watched a hard-faced woman and a ginger-haired youth with acne and an impressive erection copulate doggy style. All confined to the twenty-inch screen in the corner of his room. Sound turned down, so as not to offend the other tenants. Beer flat and warm in the cradled can.
Bread and Jam
Monday 16 Nov a.m.
Monday, nine-ish, after a feverish sleep. Going upstairs slowly, Gloria balanced a mug of tea and two slices of bread and apricot jam for herself and a handful of little biscuits on a saucer for Mr Pastry. Rearranged the puzzle of glasses, mugs and plates on the bedside table to make room. Eased back under the cover. Mr Pastry whisked his marmalade tail angrily at the disturbance and, as a punishment, refused the proffered biscuits.
– Sod you then.
She changed channels to a repeat talk show. This morning about the death penalty. Usual extremes of viewpoint aired. Voices of reason drowned by the clamour for biblical justice. Victims overlooked in the cause of human rights. Gloria was undecided. A murderer who had done fourteen years vied with the ‘nays’. He was an eloquent man, had studied for a legal qualification. In prison. This provoked outrage. Far better that he should have come out ignorant, penniless and incapable of finding work – or better still, hanged? The show’s host offered orange-tinted rehearsed expressions to camera.
The victim, continued the murderer, was the rapist of his seven-year-old sister. This threw the ‘ayes’ into a confusion of “Yes but I mean – well, you know – if you was to say… – that don’t justify what you done… – but it’s not as simple as that … – ah, yeah but you can’t talk about a specific case”.
Gloria felt a rush of adrenaline. Might not any one of them who demanded tit for tat justice have been tempted? And would they then deserve the ultimate punishment? She applauded the murderer, defiant in anarchy. Then she thought of Peter. How she would have protected and avenged him. And she thought of the Child Support Agency and Peter’s stories of how men had committed suicide.
There was the murderer, sitting slightly stooped with concentration. She saw his calmness against red-faced hypocrites, baying their inadequacy. She saw his lips moving, heard him voice his repentance, uphold the value of life. She thought of the Reverend Mother – and felt her veins begin to pulse. She could bring up the children. Give them a real home and emotional security. Let them off the Sunday charade. Teach them some of the social graces. And Peter could have some dignity. And find someone to love him.
What was she thinking?
The portable phone trilled from between the pillows making Mr Pastry bounce off the bed in annoyance. Gloria untangled it from a pillowcase, scattering his saucer of cat biscuits.
– Richard! Hello, love. What a nice surprise! Twice in two days!… yes, well, I’m still in bed. You didn’t half give Pastry a shock. His tail looks like a toilet brush!
Richard’s news was – Pauline was coming! There would be parties and theatre and dinners. Would she like to go shopping in Guildford, buy something nice to wear, maybe have a little lunch? Good! He would meet her from the train.
What a kind brother, she mused, taking his fat old sister shopping. She imagined the next day, lips curving. But the potential removal of the Reverend Mother sears across the daydreams, makes her shudder with agitation.
Small emanations of resolve skid off the quilt and permeate the bedroom carpet. Some remain, meshing with the morning air, air that lifts them up and out through the crack of open window. Free, they dance mindless towards a ragged nucleus.
When he heard a ring at the door, Leonard tried to call for help, but the gag restricted his voice to a muffled gurgle. Whoever it was went away. Surely they’d miss him, soon?
Monday 16 November
Arthur Thwaite had lunch in Shepherd’s Market with his accountant. They both had Chilli Tiger Prawns for starters, then Arthur had the grilled Sea Bass with a green salad while Vanessa had the Venison with Cumberland sauce, game chips and creamed leeks. That morning, three of Arthur’s clients had been offered parts in the new Trewstar series and Janie, one of his favourites, had signed for a stunning cameo role in a remake of ‘Pillow Talk’. AT Management was plying the wave of British popularity in the USA. There would be another trip to the States on the cards before long. So Arthur, who always enjoyed Vanessa’s company, was in celebratory mood. Late forties, dumpy and hugely camp, she was brilliant at juggling the books and sharing a bottle of Chateau Neuf. She adored Richard, too, and had spent several alcoholic weekends in Godalming. Shame about Vanessa. She deserved to have someone of her own. Never down, always a good listener. Perhaps that was the problem. Too self-effacing. OK, she was a little homely looking, but so were many of the bored superannuated hausfraus in Surrey. Still, they kept themselves stick thin on permanent diets and constant workouts. Vanessa had too busy a life to bother. But there must have been the odd evening in the Chiswick flat when she felt lonely or inadequate, because that’s what nice, middle-class, forty-something single girls usually felt. Arthur was as fond of Vanessa as he could be of a woman, and he numbered many amongst his friends. What she was telling him at the moment made him even fonder.
–… so, perhaps – maybe – a Rolls.
– A Rolls? Don’t you think that’s a bit schlocky? Besides, you know I don’t drive.
– But Richard does. AT needs to use up a little profit. Better you enjoy it than the tax man. It doesn’t have to be a Rolls. Another top of the range car – maybe a Daimler Jag?
– You’d have Richard in a peaked cap, you would.
– Ooh, Arthur – just think what fun that would be! Your own man in uniform.
– Mucky cow.
– Part of my charm. How about it?
– Well… it might be fun. Especially with the Grand Duchess coming.
Vanessa nodded at him over the rim of her wineglass. She was feeling uncomfortable today. The fuchsia suit was tighter and shorter than she remembered and the mohair was itchy. The shoes were too high and the tights too sheer for the state of her legs. She knew her face was shining, that she should have made time to wash her hair this morning – and her roots must be showing by now. But Arthur, as usual, had told her how marvellous she looked. He was a pet. What a loss to the world of women. Richard, too. Still, how lucky that they had each other. And she felt that familiar lump of affection and envy constricting her throat. Arthur was talking again.
– You know what, Vee? If you say so, I’ll do it. Now what shall we have?
– Well, Daimler Jags are very classy.
– I should care about ze make? Such sings are beyont me. Vot colour is all I ask?
Vanessa chuckled. Several heads turned.
– Blue, to match your eyes, of course.
– Done! We’ll let Richard choose the make. After all, he’ll be driving it.
They clinked glasses. A call when straight through to Arthur’s voicemail. His mobile phone, of course, was switched off in deference to the other patrons. Such old fashioned delicacy was his.
Monday 16 Nov
The Dog. Three-ish. Lunchtime trade has filtered out. The brethren’s change of position and dress, if any, is imperceptible.
Silhouette against the glass of the market side door. Profile tilted up. Gorgeous. Where from? Where to? Too classy to be barmaid in this dump. To be a barmaid. Been at the Dog eight months. Why? Gorgeous has her reasons. Don’t do nothing for nothing. Keep accounts – deeds done, favours owed. Get respect. Early lesson.
Stephen, the governor, appeared. Pale suit, pale tie, pale eyes, white skin. Slight. Thin. Thin nose, thin lips, sparse hair.
The brethren offered sycophantic greetings. Stephen gave a slight nod, twisted his signet ring. Gorgeous makes her way out the back. Footsteps going upstairs.
– Take over, Spazzo.
– Have a mild, if you like. Half.
Stephen disappeared. Spazzo made throaty noises and accompanying gestures to the sniggering brethren. Egged on, he made a few movements that, on a slimmer figure, might be recognised as pelvic thrusts. Too long ago for Spazzo to remember.
Upstairs, Gorgeous looks at the council flats through the brownish window. Sees someone looking down. Moves away.
Monday 16 Nov
Lol, automatic pilot almost, swinging the van round a muddy corner down in Kent. After Sunday, been around and about, doing. Expending energy, taking it in, not knowing why, not knowing it, even. Not been back to the flat. Not picking up mobile. Pulls into a farm yard. Junk yard more like. Rusting machinery of indeterminate use. Pulling up outside the back door, narrowly missing a black and white dog, coat matted with mud. Keys swing in the ignition. Banter of local radio DJ. Lol switches off. Can’t get KISS down here. Unwraps a sweet. Waits. Gorgeous. More than an idea, now.
Vague feelings of doing more, changing things congregate around him.
A face appears behind the glass in the peeling back door, then disappears. Door opens. A fat child comes out, hurries, slithering over the fouled concrete in the cold, misty day. Leans on the front of the van as she steps across a puddle of liquid faeces. Comes round to Lol’s side. Her flesh a heavy curve from chin to chest.
– Dad says come at the agreed time next time, not before. Right?
Lol nods and takes the grubby brown envelope she passes through the open window.
– Wanna sweet?
– Don’t take sweets from strangers.
– Suit yourself.
She slides small eyes to the house and back.
– All right, then.
Lol flips a toffee through the window. She catches it, unwrapping it warily, watching the back door through the van’s glass. Lol counts the notes. All there.
He starts the engine and pulls away. Child squelches away from the house towards the corrugated barn, chewing hard. Long length hoody flaps against full leggings.
Upstairs. Gorgeous has his waistband open, strong fingers inside his underpants, moulding him awake, sinking to her knees. He leans back against the door; lashless eyes glazing as she draws him into her mouth. Gorgeous appreciates how clean he keeps himself. And he never takes long. Except Sundays. Fiona doesn’t work Sundays. Nor did he until lately, until he became obsessed. But this is Monday.
He flicked the foil packet from his wallet.
Gorgeous rises. Steps out of her shoes, unhooking her skirt slings it over a chair, leans over the back, her hands on the seat. Braids hanging down over her shoulder, swinging slightly as he strains into her. Looks back through her deep gold thighs, sees his small white shins flexing, grey trousers crumpled around ankles. Very careless. Might crease. Definitely taking longer today. His light hands on her hips. Doesn’t like touching her too much. Gorgeous growls.
It stops. Gorgeous looks through the brownish window and up again at the council flats.