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Introduction to ANGEL OF TRUTH
A writer starting out often has to content with the
problem of subjectivity. By this I mean the leaking of his or
her own self-ness into what is intended to be reasonably
objective fiction. For my part, I did not surmount this
problem until I wrote REHEARSALS in the summer of 1975,
just before burying myself in a university for eight years.
Thus the first volume of the Richard Butler tetralogy, THE
FOURTH MAN, is permeated by this subjectivity – for good
or for ill. For what it's worth, I think it helps make the
younger Richard that bit more credible.
Imagine my chagrin to discover that the fourteenth
novel of the series, presented here, was also freighted with
the dumb presence of subjectivity, after thirty years of
relatively well controlled objectivity. It made writing
ANGEL OF TRUTH extremely difficult. It is a shortish
novel, a limited cast and situation, yet the step from one
sentence to the next at times seemed impossible to achieve.
One page took over two weeks to write, mainly because I
could not frame one fairly straightforward sentence. I could
not understand what was happening at that point in the novel.
It took me a good while to recognise what was actually
happening overall in the novel. Until the last pages I believed
– I'm not dissembling here – that ANGEL OF TRUTH was a
mediocre work, in fact the worst I had written. It was only
when I had finished it and could step back that I saw what
had been achieved. The subjectivity I encountered in the
novel was not my own, but that of Peter Lacey, the main
character of the novel. I know that is a lot to say, but that is
how I understand it. Peter Lacey lives in this novel. Read the
novel and see him come to a birth.
ANGEL OF TRUTH Summary
Peter Lacey has been obliged to abandon his life as
peripatetic researcher into the more obscure areas of
Utopianism. Now, he works as a temporary credit controller
in various companies in London. One day, while en route to a
routine business meeting, he and an associate from Sales pick
up a hitch-hiker and give him a five minute lift to help him on
Within a week, Peter's life is totally transformed.
ANGEL OF LOVE is about 80,000 words long.
ANGEL OF TRUTH
© Philip Matthews 2006
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
Peter cranes his neck. intent as ever. orderly motion begins again. and the road seems then to run all the way down to the Channel. ‘Yes. I think.’ Peter has gone back to studying the map in his lap. Walking seems a toil for them. modest shops. but fast. They have passed the park – caged tennis courts.’ The lights change. longboned face suddenly pretty full on. ill at ease in a potentially explosive way. horse and cart.’ She looks at Peter. scaled to narrow streets. elderly people with big plastic shopping bags. ‘To Eastbourne and…’ She’s now attentive. waking from a momentary daydream: ‘It runs along the Downs. like school-time again. ‘Do you know the way?’ Rebecca snatches a glance away from the concentrated traffic streams. Rebecca flicks perhaps-dust from the top of the steering wheel.Quarter inch maps are not much use in towns. ‘Why is it so high?’ It totters on Victorian brick. ‘You know…before going on to…’ Peter looks up to see a narrowing roadway. embarrassed. She has that caught-out expression Peter has seen before – wry. He says. ‘Hastings. At trafficlights just before the viaduct. a surfeit of sorts. He still can’t disentangle the road system towards the town centre. She says: 6 . Hastings. flashes of bright flowers (dahlias?) – next a tightish viaduct. The trains go into Eastbourne and then come out again.
’ There’s a surfeit in this too.‘Well. This is no harm. She says. left and right branchings. her long thumbs going round to jut forward and up. Rebecca reacts by re-establishing her grip on the steering wheel. “Perhaps” jars. She coughs a little cough. just that much too loudly: ‘By the way. I think we can turn down at the sea front. The name “Shoreham” is there – oh blessed relief – so for a short while he can hardly contain himself. it’s.’ Peter nods absently. the traffic starts forward on the amber light. but it looks complicated. he says “maybe” to Rebecca. staring blankly at the traffic. you know. lists of destinations and road numbers. more traffic lights coming up – cars shooting down a hill from the right out into the broadening roadway: ‘Just keep on. there is a large green road sign just a ways ahead. because Rebecca is 7 . is ready to switch out. Peter. Peter is staring at the road sign again. as though the part being played is like a too-large garment. especially on a busy day. Peter says. impatience no doubt: the prospect of the broad avenue to tear down hard to resist. unpainted nails perfectly shaped. the familiar indications there that he too. “perhaps” is one of those words that maintain distance. in case you may have wondered…’ For some reason. ‘Perhaps you should check the road signs?’ Peter grimaces. tedious. for his part.’ Actually. risking a full sideways glance despite the density on the road: ‘Horrible seeing the same places twice… Really horrible. But Rebecca smiles at him now. a very little sound – like a timid trespass.
‘The Aquarium is over there. but Peter grasps that a rightwards turn will be required. And we’ve just passed the Pavilion. the roadway swerving to the left around a large structure. ‘Turn right at the sea. Rebecca. instead he says: ‘No. a tone of command that offends because unsanctioned. once she has cleared the crossing. the jumble on the sign is hard to untangle before they are swept past. He could say “yes”. A crossing is coming up fast.’ Rebecca doesn’t even glance at him. cars settling comfortably in lines.’ The traffic lights coming up are changing from amber to red. cutting across Rebecca: ‘Go right at the end. she nods. The traffic is jostling in complicated ways in preparation for splitting at the sea’s edge. Still.’ There’s an abruptness in his voice that he usually labours hard to conceal. ‘Here?’ Peter is dumbfounded.’ Rebecca says.also being carried along. sort it out afterwards. There is 8 . lights green here too – but the main road continues on alongside a park area. ‘Hey!’ Rebecca shouts. ploughs on through the lights. Go on to the next one. then green. looking about her: ‘I remember this place. Peter raises his voice. this time by madly busy drivers in a hurry to the next set of lights. glancing at the useless map. ‘I know it seems strange…’ The next lights go amber. She says. two by two. glancing at the uninformative intersection. as though she has not heard Peter.’ She points forward.
wipes his mouth with the provided paper napkin. a plastic tray with teapot. Peter can feels its harsh surface.’ She nods. porcelain cup and saucer. as though care needed for fear of shooting off the promenade into the sea. ham sandwich (no mustard) in clear plastic container. you know. plastic spoon. hard tubular steel chair. seventy two or three. then green. ‘No! It’d be so gross!’ Lights are going amber. Daddy called it the Party Palace. Peter is imagining sitting in the now-lost-to-sight café. hand raised. I think.a café on the corner. The traffic moves decorously. walls painted an orangey beige. now she says: ‘Daddy took us to the Pavilion one summer. He has lifted a white porcelain cup to his mouth. Peter can taste the dark bitter tea. car after van after car swooping around in two lines onto the coast road. the cold smear of moisture on the surface of the poorly absorbent tissue. formica-topped table. Rebecca suddenly blurts out. Like one huge room. what a place for a party. rings on every finger. A man and a woman sit at a table by a window. over where the built-up area comes to an end and blue sky reaches on down towards the horizon. as though the whole world has been there and no one stays. the longlife milk. his companion small and chubby. and the 9 . ‘God. His companion is speaking now. the little ridge around the rim cutting the inner flesh of the upper lip. Rebecca has been humming tunelessly. old but straight-backed. Oh. The café is remarkably transparent. the man exceptionally tall. out over the sea.’ The man in the café puts the cup down.
people gathered together with no sense of crowd. ‘Only as far as Shoreham. swinging in towards the pavement.’ She shoots off into the traffic stream. mouth open. blinking rapidly as she switches her gaze from the roadway as seen through the windscreen to the rear-view mirror above her and back again repeatedly.little pack of long life milk.’ Rebecca is staring. eyes wide. Rebecca’s nudge thrusts it completely from Peter’s mind as he surfaces. She gives up the struggle. but she manages to say: ‘We’re not going far. A sort of plain landscape. Someone clambers into the back of the car. nudges the absent Peter: ‘Can you open the door behind you?’ Peter is sensing the co-presence of all humanity as a multiplication of – what? Well. Peter has a residual memory of being himself multiplied in such a way that all the other presences appear to 10 . Rebecca slows the car suddenly. something like an artificial smile on her mouth. The individual’s individuality multiplied by billions. checking the coming traffic in the side mirror. as requested to do. as though from sleep. whatever it was. and reaches back to open the door. no sense of being together. all copresent without co-consciousness (as it were). The point is this: would it be possible to get in line – as it were – with the rest of humanity who have passed through its doors? There’s a perspective possible in this.’ Sits forward in her seat. Rebecca gushes an “Hello” and the person now behind Peter replies: ‘Adversary barrow. She is reaching across behind Peter’s seat.
then a descent five. He fetches up the folder lying at his feet on the floor of the car. dark against the mellow August sun today. two. but also a sense of perspective. you know. weird. the insight is loopy. humming a piece of melody. she says. beyond bare lawns. one.’ 11 . alright. ‘We came down here so often as children.’ She points off to the right at a terrace of tall buildings. Hove. At least you know I do.him as other aspects of himself. But there are conventions…I mean as well as contracts. so that Rebecca starts and renews her concentration on the road in front of her. voice with the more usual business-like tone: ‘…not intended that way. six. We do support it. The traffic suddenly eases for some reason. Someone is blowing a car horn with evident irritation. four. The person in the back of the car picks up the sound. There is a sense of placement.’ Sure. but Peter sees something in it. Daddy loved this place. rising thirds. I mean. ‘Here. three. turns it over and writes on the back: Brighton seaside café transparency of humanity co-presence and ? one-beingness Rebecca is saying now. of something coming into view. Still. almost shouting: ‘Are you going far?’ The insight is so loopy that Peter throws his head back and laughs a short crying laugh. Peter. That other people are really parts of himself that he does not (yet) know. so Rebecca has time to look around her – to look at the sea’s flat horizon.
milk white skin. not submerged. is amending the note on the back of the folder: Brighton seaside café transparency of humanity co-presence and ? co-consciousness one-beingness all together as many Underscoring “many” induces inner tears in Peter. eyes fixed ahead to prevent further errors.She turns to look at Peter with appeal. The person in the back taps Peter on his left shoulder. men and women. He cranes his head back further – trying to see around the head rest – but sees only bright blue eyes. an inner squirming that doesn’t become evident his best response to unearned fellowship. Rebecca gasps – a sound the hitchhiker imitates at once – then swings the car sharply to the right.’ she explains to Peter. rueful smile. Peter. you are alone – utterly alone – among all the other alone people. children: but alone together. When Peter turns his head this way. He can see it so clearly. No. he hears the earlier melody hummed again: It’s uncanny how he can hear the sound of his own involuntary cry here. for his part. The hitchhiker smiles broadly. beguiling though obviously not the intention. ‘End of the prom. coming at him from the window side. a reflex operating just like that. black hair. Peter turns away. Not being a crowd. 12 . which he holds back.
not quite being alone together.The hitchhiker repeats Rebecca’s gasp perfectly. slowing the car so she can look into the rearview mirror. Peter. sunny afternoon by the seaside – but he interjects by reflex: ‘Not me. if they are willing to pay the extra. Shoreham prominent on the local signpost. then repeats it. She is charmed. Remember. Rebecca says.’ She throws him a quick glance. Peter is back in the world. though Alex will have us think so. I’m just a temp.’ Peter is going off again – long car trip.’ Peter knows from Rebecca’s face that the stranger has smiled again. a trick perhaps of the nasal passage. You’ll see what I mean. She too doesn’t know how to respond. the intimacy of the stranger having stunned him. amazing Peter once again at how well she can pull herself together. even more than that. She clears her throat with a little internal coughing. As you and Simon insist. It’s as far as we can take you. The main road is only a short distance on. this time filling it with a kind of echo. 13 . I’m afraid. ‘We’ll be in Shoreham soon.’ She flashes him one of her good smiles – the first thing about her that he ever saw (that and the line of her legs that she disposed for him) – and corrects. Rebecca. but so what – really – if they throw in a few questionables? I mean. says loudly in a brisk tone: ‘Ternehold is not so much a test case. but also affronted by the presumption. a hundred yards away after a left turn. ‘The contract is explicit. or maybe his tongue.
then he says: ‘Welcome you this land.’ Abruptly.’ she breathes. no coat. equalling his dottiness. I’m afraid. but Rebecca does not look at Peter. though it won’t seem to be to his credit – and looks left seawards at the wonderful glow there. says: ‘Common sense. indeed?’ Peter looks at Rebecca.’ She nudges him with her elbow.‘That you suggested and Simon was quick to take up. a sadness and also a stiffness that is a bulwark again pain. you know. The expression on her own face is equally uncertain. when the rear door pops open and the stranger scrambles out. balanced between mockery and outright hilarity. ‘We’ll be turning off just over there. Rebecca shouts ‘Goodbye and good luck. sudden sadness sweeping over her: ‘This is it. She keeps her eyes greedily on the soon-to-be-departing stranger in the back. though for different reasons.’ She gestures forward and to the right. Once stopped she looks back towards their passenger. catching the remains of that uncertainty in his face.’ The man in the back seems to gaggle in his throat. ‘and it is a green and pleasant land. ‘You’re a bit of a shark yourself. ‘Oh yes. He is dressed entirely in white.’ She glances into her side mirror and drifts the car into the pavement. Rebecca. her eyes are on Peter. 14 .’ Peter smirks – no better word for it. ‘Can you open the door for him?’ Peter is about to twist his left arm up and around.’ rams the gearshift forward and away they go with no further ceremony. no bag.
He knows that if he gives in he will be giving something away. the feeling coming as though from nowhere but definitely taking up abode in him. ‘God. ‘Could be an immigrant.’ She glances at Peter in challenge. Peter. but he was so good-looking. at least so it seems to Peter. He could hum it if he dared. so can’t afford the bus fare even.’ 15 . It’s not sadness he feels. Probably hitch as far as Portsmouth before seeking asylum or whatever. staring straight ahead as she pushes the car along at a good clip. Once on the bye road. Paid buttons. ‘Really? But he couldn’t speak English very well. daring him to tease. Not even a jacket. He can still hear the melody. the ridge of the Downs coming into view above a stand of trees.Rebecca is busy for the next few minutes cutting across moderate traffic and making the required turn right. very clearly. but desolation. I mean. Rebecca’s head goes down. Rebecca says musingly. Peter can hear the stranger’s melody now. rising and falling.’ What can Peter say? Exactly. then adds. Off the ferry at Newhaven. ‘Just downright beautiful. It works. Peter is smirking again. Rebecca is brisk again. keeping his face away from Rebecca’s view. The temptation is surprisingly great. I reckon he’s a waiter or something in one of the resorts.’ Peter also seems remarkably mordant: ‘Are you serious? He had no baggage. you know.’ Actually. jutting her chin forward and increasing her grip on the wheel till her thumbs go white. rising and falling.
Rebecca. testing to see if he can wind Rebecca up a little more. ‘You know. She turns to stare at Peter. Where else is down that way?’ A business building is coming into view. that would be the pits. his heart sinking. then. ‘Something else for you to do. maybe further on.’ Peter reaches and digs the folder up off the car floor again.’ Peter pauses. Ternehold Securities plc. ‘I don’t know. ‘You mean in Shoreham? God. forward to the right.’ Something has startled Rebecca. reality on its way back. Rebecca slows the car.‘Would he need to? He wouldn’t need much of a vocabulary in a pub or club. for heaven’s sake. isn’t it?’ 16 . you and your party chums should come down at the weekend and look out for him.’ Peter is finding it hard to keep the rising chortle out of his voice: ‘Well.
quickly matching Rebecca’s excitement. lavender shirt and yellow tie – has come through a swing door off to one side and is approaching the reception area with both hands extended. mellow day outside. ‘Well. and both seem to rebound at once. the receptionist rising to meet her. so she is excited by the potted plant over at the receptionist’s desk.’ The hand shake is something of a collision. His bum is remarkable flat and wide. Peter is excessively sensitive to the dullness. Even the flesh of her calves has become roseate. Peter drifts over to a window and sees below a small man – in a blue and white overall – poking about in a skip filled with discarded reams of form paper. jarring a bit with the fuchsia of her skirt. It’s soon pretty obvious that this is nothing more than a charade. Rebecca is aglow.’ and a good looking man with dark hair and a trim moustache – dark grey suit. each crouching slightly. blue skirt and jacket. Rebecca. a sort of pre-performance warm-up. A cry. dry business in here. Even the receptionist is dressed in this blue and white. well hello Jeff. flagged as vertical bands. white blouse and shoes. ‘Jeff. Inoffensive as a flag or pennant. blue and white neck scarf – like a hostess on a treadmill tour operation: nothing to excite. it is pretty awful as an interior decoration. powder blue and white. 17 . like snarl or spit to one side. She hurries over towards it. left blue.The Ternehold company has a colour scheme. Rebecca spins about at once and sets off to meet the man midway – as near as she can manage it – she calling out in turn. Rebecca sees places like this day in day out. right white. nothing to tire. as though each might do something else. hello.
then swings around to Jeff again. ‘So you’re the collector. when she beckons him over. ‘Jeff. Rebecca glances at her watch. taking a liberty. Jeff. Peter Lacey. some liberties available. on cue as though he has been counting a beat: ‘See you made good time. skin very pink about his eyes. receiver.’ Rebecca. her arm out in the direction of approaching Peter.’ Jeff thrusts out a hand. then pull back.’ Jeff finds this very amusing.’ This is an important cue. most times. ‘Peter. Rebecca tilts her head up. Peter is management now. ‘Jolly swagman.’ He looks at his watch. but also some exposure. Rebecca is grinning at Peter.Jeff says. nods. Jeff. eh. Peter?’ Peter rises to the occasion. this is Jeff Sergeant. sizing up the encounter very rapidly. his brushy moustache bristling in a snouty sort of way. who realises now that she has finally caught on to the wind-up about their hitchhiker. this is Peter. So he says. Peter doesn’t waste any time. He’s our Credit Manager. says with her more twinkling smile: ‘We call him our bagman.’ and gives 18 . Then she suddenly swings around until she has found Peter. sure. swift grip. He might be disaffected. breathing in. Peter sees that his hand collides with it. ‘Oh. Head of Security here at Ternehold. but he understands the need to play his part – if only because it makes the working day a little easier.
a dry knowing chuckle. Do you know Rebecca? Rebecca Foster? She’s with that storage company we use. ‘The traffic was surprisingly light. I mean. She is carrying some folders nestling in a habitual way in the crook of her left arm. then Peter knows that he is a part of it. If there is a problem. as though he knows what he is talking about. but Jeff and Rebecca don’t seem so sure. you know. the only one carrying paperwork. So he changes gear. See them at it over by Falmer these mornings. you know. becoming that bit more supine: ‘And this is Peter Lilly…’ ‘Lacey. This doesn’t work. and Peter knows it. Of course.’ Jeff agrees emphatically. something like a vague suspicion entering his mind: Is he one of us? Rebecca picks up on this at once. a big part.’ The swing door is swung open again to allow a middle aged woman to enter. Jeff starts – a kind of guilty jerk – and bristles up again: ‘Ah Maura. nodding while his eyes remain on Peter. it means nothing at all. and her instinct drives her – just like that when push comes to shove – to protect Peter. saying smoothly: ‘The new bypass will no doubt help. Peter turns away. Rebecca says. feeling as though he has just shouted FUCK YOU out loud. Yes. She scans the group and focuses on Peter. Jeff for his part is aware at once of her reaction. That’s not necessarily a good thing to feel. perhaps too masculinely flippant.’ 19 . Given the season. so he shifts his gaze to her.
’ she says to Peter. generosity in one. restrained by a firmer harness. nods emphatically for Jeff. ‘I’m Maura Sinclair. each finding something to look at. Thank you. They are intelligent hands. mouths ‘Jeff’ for both Rebecca and Peter. Isn’t that right. tight. 20 . I know it’s free this afternoon.‘Of course. sensitivity in the other. He knows the women are aware of his awareness. apparently. Both have small breasts. Jeff says loudly. He’s their Accounts Manager. Through the swing door and down a blue and white corridor to a long low-ceilinged room. Maura has a firm warm hand and Peter has a dead lock by nature. Rebecca says. happy to find each other. instead the walls are lined with a blond veneer. though the older woman’s are fleshier. Mary?’ The receptionist. She makes a moue: men. tasteful prints of eighteenth century rural life at intervals. ‘I deal with the accounts for Ternehold. their walnut-toned frames jarring with the excessive light in the room. ‘It’s Forrester. and look at each other. Not blue and white this time. a sudden awareness arising from the standoff between them. Maura smiles. Peter is aware of the breasts of both women. turning with a curious swish – though her clothes are not loose – to look directly at Maura. slightly wry. All three relax. actually’. ‘Perhaps we should use the Boardroom.’ The woman grimaces. invisible behind her desk. Rebecca. How do you do?’ The handshake lingers. Peter and Maura look at each other. neither seems to mind too much.
between Ternehold and Jukes. Jeff is seated directly opposite Peter. this is the particular contract we are concerned with. Is that correct. The restoration of her lightly perfumed aura reminds him – with a vague start – just how familiar it is to him. She opens a green folder and picks up a set of pages stapled together in the top left-hand corner. is Peter’s first response. a tall aerial of some kind shiny in the sun. ‘All charges and payments must therefore be covered by specific conditions.Peter sees the view through the window. then coughs her little cough and says forthrightly into the room: ‘We are all aware of the reason for this meeting?’ Jeff nods abruptly. tiled roofs. his mouth tightening as though he is charging himself. Last payment was…ten days ago. knowing very well that she is making the introduction that Jeff is too pugnacious to make. There is a village discernible through trees. ‘There are no outstanding charges against this contract. glancing from Rebecca to Peter. Thus we must work to contracts in all cases. a church spire. indifferent to any planned seating arrangement. His gold plated watch is prominent. twisting her body a little towards Rebecca and Peter. He looks at her. and dives in with as little ceremony: ‘You should know that the services we provide are client-based. Rebecca smiles. Now. His second is to open his folder and lift out a copy 21 . hands joined on the table. closes it and opens a blue folder. towards the Downs escarpment. Maura has seated herself two places to his left. Peter?’ Serves Rebecca right for promoting me. Maura moves deliberately. so he sits where he can look out.’ She smiles at Rebecca. while Rebecca has come to sit on Peter’s right.’ She drops the sheaf of papers back into the folder.
Peter. as though only her calming gaze restrains him: ‘The contract specifies by category the nature of the items to be stored. Jeff. The third consignment we received about six months ago. Rebecca is not alarmed. to Maura: 22 .’ Jeff is heated.’ Rebecca pauses. now that Jeff has been quelled. “storage as the Company sees fit in order to provide optimal security”. a rehearsed gambit: ‘I quote from memory. That has already been made clear…’ ‘Then there are no new charges. finding it difficult to fight with a woman because it makes him too passionate. but she does hurry to say: ‘The terms of the contract are not in dispute. If Jukes decide to upgrade the level of security. looking all at once both sheepish and puzzled. Jeff reaches and grabs it. As expected.’ Jeff deflates very suddenly. turning.’ He slaps the copy statement back down on the table. ‘You can’t just dream up new terms because the economy is slipping. on what terms are you levying these surcharges?’ Rebecca replies without looking away from Jeff. you know.’ Maura is quick to intervene here. speaking rapidly. then that’s only in keeping with the terms of the contract. ‘We’ve had three consignments from you under this particular contract. The items in question do not come within the specified category. ‘Then tell us. his moustache limp on his pursed upper lip. Rebecca.statement and put it down on the table clear of the folder. towards Jeff. The first two within weeks of each other about three years ago. It was evident to our stores people that this consignment was very different to the previous ones.
then at Maura. But Rebecca says in any case.‘We have no knowledge of who your clients are. as though her fingers are sinking right into the table. She leaves the room without having looked at the sheaf of invoices in Peter’s hand. we are the sole arbiters in the categorisation of everything we store. then Maura sits back and says: ‘Perhaps we should have some refreshments. ‘Now. not Rebecca. and on that alone. Peter’s eyes follow the hand. Peter is fascinated to see how the whiteness of her unvarnished nails merges with the whiteness of her pressurised fingertips. a momentary inarticulate croak.’ Rebecca turns to Peter as she makes her point: ‘But you must pay for the appropriate storage arrangement you’ve enjoyed in the interim. ‘They tell me that we’re safe if they ever nuke London.’ She is smiling. Our clients are free to remove their goods if they disagree with us.’ Another pause. Coffee?’ Everyone nods. We base our considerations on the nature of the items entrusted to us for storage. Rebecca lifts a hand to touch the corners of her mouth. Jeff coughs dryly and asks: ‘Do you live in London?’ Peter transfers his gaze to the scene beyond the window before he realises that Jeff is addressing him. She doesn’t like Jeff. a hungry need to focus on something that comforts him. He looks at Jeff. Rebecca’s fingers are pressing into the table surface.’ Now she 23 .’ On cue. Peter lifts the set of copy invoices secured together with a paper clip. Jeff goes to speak. Nor are our contracts with you client-specific. covering for him: ‘Epsom. The air is thick.
’ Peter knows the name. but it is only a call to order from a busy man. Jeff performs the introductions: ‘This is our Finance Director. trying hard to place him. ‘Shall we wait for the coffee first?’ Mark says. Jeff says. it’s quite a beautiful place. the bluff tone more emphasised in the presence of a director divinity. Jeff?’ He replies without turning round: ‘Steyning. you know. polite rather than considerate. Mark Tarrant. FM reception is terrible. He scrutinises Tarrant. Have you been to Lewes? Or Rye? You really should visit those towns. He points behind Jeff. I think that’s true. Jeff wisely shuts up. So characteristic of the Downs. I sometimes think…’ The man who enters the room is wearing a blue suit. Peter is from their accounts and Rebecca is sales. A chill air radiates from him. then some social habit takes over: ‘Actually. ‘Actually. between him and where Maura sat. They…’ The chill air has intensified.’ Now Peter takes over. 24 . dark blue with red tie and black shoes. Mark. Rye especially. He sits in to the table beside Jeff. ‘I’ve been telling Peter and Rebecca here about our historic towns.’ He looks morose for a moment.glances at Peter. He too is making assessments. ‘What village is that. these people are from Jukes. Unchanged for a thousand years.
It’s not there for long. deliberately ignoring Rebecca. flicking through the sheets. ‘Yes. He waits until the receptionist has removed herself before speaking to Maura: ‘You’re quite sure about the terms?’ ‘It can be argued. for once immersed in the game: ‘The goods themselves. it could go on for ever or fall flat tomorrow.’ Suddenly he nods. But it is simply a matter of determination: business is purely existential. removed from himself as he speaks. Peter now shrugs. Mark says. unable to resist the challenge. even for a director – who might be thought immune to its demands.Yet the silence is a burden. He is surprised to see panic in Mark’s eyes. Maura returns. It is obvious that he knows Peter’s real standing at Jukes. ‘Through the courts? The contract does not support you. followed by the receptionist bearing a tray. He says.’ Mark places the invoices on the table. ‘Yes. ‘And you will chase for these?’ Peter bridles. What is it then?’ Peter is not sure.’ ‘But that would be actionable?’ Peter nods. but Rebecca is quick to intervene: 25 . but it is panic. speaking to Peter: ‘Are those the invoices you want paid?’ Peter gives them to him. Mark is licking his lips. yes. But you know that.’ Mark looks at Peter. though it is obvious he is very familiar with their originals.
going straight for the door. of course. Maura’s release is evident. Mark. as though seeking inspiration there. an initial intense effort to prise his mouth open.’ pointing behind him towards Steyning. Sure enough. when the fad passes. is not the point.’ Which. negotiations should be still under way. ‘They’ll get rid of it. cocking a surprisingly gentle blue eye at Peter. moving like a real shark. ‘For these mobile phones. then: ‘That new aerial there. but the movement itself is enough. and sugar. Jeff’s that bit slower. having waited until Jeff finished: ‘You like music. Peter. But Jeff is the first to speak. Peter?’ 26 .’ Turns back. I believe. however. tiny things that indicate the strength of the beverage becoming available. There is cream. Mark Tarrant takes a cursory sip from his cup – perhaps already fully tanked – then he is off. Maura lays out cups and saucers. on the understanding that busy business types need all the help they can get.‘We can hold the goods against outstanding charges. the dark stream is utterly opaque. wait and see. but someone has decided that enough has been said. no noise on the super-smooth surface. It is an awkward moment. none is offered. the liquid settling quickly into each cup as though it contains a gelling agent. less managed.’ Looks deep into his coffee cup. ‘is an absolute eyesore.’ Maura now speaks. Maura reaches and draws the tray towards her. The meeting is not over. no turbulence.
‘I thought so.’ Looks at Maura.’ Jeff speaks up again. Peter.’ The receptionist enters now. However. then. watching Jeff march – best word – towards the door. and crosses to Maura and places what is obviously a cheque on the table in front of her. that is. Maura takes the point. looking up towards a corner over by the window. ‘Wow. White bands are headbangers. ‘Albert King. maybe. Or Jimmy Reed. Maura studies the cheque. though she doesn’t seem to mind.’ ‘Blues band?’ Peter says to cover Rebecca’s indiscretion. There’s a club – along the seafront in Brighton – that hosts some very good blues bands. You should come down and hear them some weekend. looks up. goodness.’ She passes the cheque across. putting the cup down with a loud click. either. untested. He has not drunk much of the coffee. twisting her head to one side.’ Rebecca is being ignored. still immersed in some quality of Jeff’s. ‘I think you’ll find this will cover the outstanding amount. Some people just burn up. Rebecca. a weakness of sorts in this boardroom now though once perhaps an unvirtued. ‘I’ll be off. smiles cannily. rueful.Peter nods abruptly. 27 . she says to Peter in undertone as they all watch Jeff make his exit. Rebecca kicks Peter under the table. very quiet in a practiced way. you know. She puts her finger to her lips before either Rebecca or Peter can speak. Peter. ‘Need to check the gates before the day shift ends. even deflated: ‘It’s a difficult time.’ Peter knows he’s using up goodwill here.
Some change to the contract may be needed. a mighty clunk indicates that Rebecca has unlocked the car’s doors.’ Behind him. ‘There.Neither Peter nor Rebecca touch it at first. do nothing. We will contact you in the near future.’ She stares at him until he stops and returns her stare. Maura touches Peter’s elbow. I think that concludes our business for today. Out in the carpark. Very dignified.’ Rebecca nods. all of them. chary of saying anything at all now. He slowly shakes his head: ‘You know what they say: when there’s nothing to be done. 28 . but what a way to go. then Peter slides it into his otherwise empty folder. ‘They might be going to hell in a rocket.
drawn nasal a. It’s not rational. seeing the moves as in a chess game. He.’ He tries for irony. along with Alex. the sea glimpsed out towards the horizon between the buildings along the approaching main road.’ Peter is flattered and pleased. no r. remembering that he had heard of Mark Tarrant before. and Peter allows that he might be soaring up into its vast expanse. it’s more money for the company. no doubt about that. the victory of little worth. remembering the panic.’ Charles is the managing director. ‘I think he was going to pay anyway. earnestly so. all went to the same obscure public school in Surrey. but reclassifying storage means nothing to sales. finds only that smirk again.The brightness out over the Channel is like deep space. I mean face him off like that. nor has any principle been upheld or some scam operated successfully.’ She throws him a sidelong glance. the loss of restraint by an essentially weak player. Peter does. the 29 . don’t you? Yes. ‘I didn’t think you would do it. He talked it up to keep Charles happy. I know he came round to seeing it as a test case. the sales director. Peter. ‘God. What Rebecca says is: ‘You know that Alex didn’t want to do this. yet he will not be tempted: ‘He was a bit premature. getting away from it all. full of admiration. is the closest to exultant she can manage. She’s driving fast down the not-too-busy road. and half the sales force. again. hubris. the amount of money involved is not significant. the obvious response.’ Rebecca doesn’t ask Why? as she should. Yet he is pleased that it worked. Rebecca. They all pronounce the name Charles in a particular way. on the other hand. you were so cool. I mean.
’ The junction is upon them. like an electric bolt running through him. as though it comes off the top of her head. Accountants can’t just cancel invoices. the end of the working week looming and people miles away from home. yes. Peter starts mightily. It’s like contradicting yourself. the invoices exist. equally disingenuous: ‘How would I know? I’m only a temp. Peter is surprised to see a kind of panic – loss of control – in her face as she strains to look back between the headrests. Peter hadn’t noticed this before. He experiences the wrench of displacement: has she hit someone? It’s like the day might be falling apart. mighty male?’ 30 .’ Rebecca seems to force a laugh. like glass breaking suddenly. Peter cocks his head at her. ‘So what’s Simon’s game in this. Rebecca settles quickly into the new routine. so Rebecca must switch style. ‘One kind day for all. It’s within a hair’s breadth of the more vernacular Chas as it is spoken in Cork City.’ A hand drops on to Peter’s left shoulder. Rebecca pronounces it in the same way. giving up the free and easy for the more usual struggle for place in the desperate traffic. The fingers have no nails. Peter?’ This question is by an apparently preoccupied Rebecca. Rebecca literally shouts.merest l. And the traffic is mad. ‘Rebecca. The rear door behind him is opened then closed in one smooth motion. which is then strangled to a cry. ‘Oh it’s you again!’ ‘See come all ways to get him. She pulls the car over to the kerb.
catching Peter’s drift in one direction. Rebecca gives a short knowing laugh. soaring like an alto. looking a last time in the rear view mirror above her – eyes momentarily dreamy – then the car is put into gear and away they go again. wilfully ignoring other perspectives. but sounding in his body: Peter might be bombed by this. bright red. see the unconventional Finance Director through a sales person’s eyes. Rebecca. Peter says. pats him on the knee. after all?’ She is deeply embarrassed. her visible flesh flushed – her knees. Peter notes abstractly. but he has enough presence of irony to cock his head at Rebecca and ask with delicate pleasure: ‘Maybe not Shoreham. voice all at once perfect for the effort.’ He knows this needs a lot of qualifications. like a dispensation.Then he sings. Rebecca smiles broadly. though both of them are not their usual selves. as though nothing has happened: ‘You know Simon will try anything. he depends on Rebecca to make them. 31 . for some reason like a child’s – and she seems to plead with him: ‘Only as far as Brighton? Surely that’s not too far?’ Peter shrugs.
’ There is a bright chandelier alight in its foyer. A old woman in black waits for a lift. an edge of irritation appearing. I liked it. a huge commotion building in the car: ‘Sure.’ Peter feels a momentary tug. But this is your idea. both aware of the pressure of the traffic.’ Peter shrugs again. that’s the beginning of Western Road. She says: ‘See that grey stone building there? We used to stay there as children. ‘It’s worked. seeing something of the real Rebecca. You know. too much interruption for his good. A bit posh. 32 . They both turn about to look at him. It was a sort of boarding house hotel. and then turn back just as quickly. ‘Very stiff?’ Rebecca makes a moue. remembering something about the face he has just seen. Look. Mouth saying ‘Noooo!’. not heavy but everyone keen to get on. Peter. The whole family. hasn’t it?’ Rebecca is nodding abstractly. her eyes focused on a building to the left.especially the one that says categorically that chartered accountants cannot “try anything”. Just then the passenger in the back says loudly: ‘Quentin proboscis tandems it toothens. pink gums very regular: no teeth. the revulsion that impinges in a constant but by now gentle way upon her.’ But the passenger shouts emphatically: ‘Uh no no no!’ Hearing something they can readily understand startles both Peter and Rebecca. That’s Brighton.’ Both Peter and Rebecca start. ‘Maybe. ‘You mean up for it? That’s true. very regular. We’re almost there. and Rebecca says as loudly. Peter blinks. everything to the same step.
unusually open for him: ‘I don’t know.’ ‘God. not illegal immigrant sponging off her (only hours in the country). Then he remembers the café.Rebecca. 33 . open space. no. as though he could save her.’ He remembers a park of sorts. struggles to remember where they are. skin white. It’s an absurd feeling. God. His eyes are blue. surprised to find shops all around. then he remembers the all-alone togetherness. He turns so that he can look back between the headrests. will you check. drive on. an aside though not too low: ‘Must be off a boat. unexposed. is driven to ask: ‘Christ. there’s even something wrong with his mouth. He’s candid. Peter. ‘Do we turn here.’ She’s genuinely upset by something here. for his part. no nails. It’s a Victorian civic monument stuck bang in the middle of a confined crossing. He has no teeth! Rebecca stares helplessly at Peter. but the road itself is dipping down towards some complication. ‘Drive on. There are shops on either side of the road. Peter?’ Rebecca is the nearest to screaming since childhood. Peter!’ Peter snorts. baby-blue. no texture like an infant’s. can’t you speak English at all?’ Then to Peter. no red rimming at all. the white very white. Angry blasts from the cars behind bring her back to consciousness. for her part. it’s a sense that the time is short and no contact has been made. a spontaneous response. skin entirely hairless except for the dark mop on top of his head. Bloodless. The passenger has no teeth.
curving this way then that. having the lights. He begins a song. Even the passenger in the back knows this. not unkindly: ‘No. You you loving all. prayers at night. now. I Bekbek love tale. road widening. A23 straight up to London. all the cars scenting the open road. what?’ The passenger’s smile is one of unfeigned admiration. ‘He’s mad. seeing sand for some reason.’ Rebecca lets out a shriek. There are more shops now. Look. He says: ‘Take it easy.’ He’s trusting to an intimacy in his voice. Peter turns to her in alarm.Peter asks. goggle-eyed as though mesmerised. and it is like a release. knowing bloody well that it will not happen. we can let him out at the next lights.’ Peter nods for Rebecca’s sake. her skin cool but throbbing a lot more than he expected. slowly and very clearly: ‘I you love tale. grinding poverty. He says. one that he will sing all the way to London: 34 . Peter. Bekbek Bekbek all lost many times singing. The next lights come up. Peter says in a neutral tone: ‘Left here. Rebecca. An old road. the road sloping down. as though touched unexpectedly.’ Left it is. He touches her elbow. Peter thinks absently. Rebecca. Out of the way there. the park on the right. Bekbek bring we home then all song singing ever. more greenery immediately to the left now. easy to do with her but tricky nonetheless.
anguished pale face in the back window. ‘Can you leave this in my desk? The cheque? The right hand drawer. They reach Purley at seven in the evening. It’ll take about twenty minutes to walk over. Rebecca shoots off. The passenger becomes excited and wants to accompany him. slams the door. the depressing sameness of south London all around him. sure. His call answered immediately.’ 36 . He finds a phone box nearby. It’s fine now.’ She laughs her very fast laugh. anyway.’ ‘Anything you need? On the way. both grown used to the silence. Is that okay?’ ‘Yes. half of Surrey trying to get home the other way. Long day behind him. Peter gets out near Croydon. Peter makes no fuss.’ That arranged. The key’s under the terminal. slaps the roof. reaching down for the folder.’ ‘Wine. traffic beginning to ease. ‘Anne?’ ‘Pete? Where are you? I can hear traffic. ‘I’ll be better by the time you get here. That’d be nice…Pete?’ ‘What?’ ‘Hurry.’ ‘Near Beddington. neither tiring of the simple air.’ ‘No. The traffic is horrendous.’ ‘You sound a bit frazzled. if you like. all meeting up right by the M25. How does Peter feel? Not desolation. Rebecca nods. ‘Are you going back to the office?’ Peter asks. I mean. half of London struggling to get home one way.Just as well someone is singing in the car. low singing still behind them.
The domestic hour. Peter sees this without a qualm. 37 . and perhaps see more. and sits a while on the grass. airing the hot shirt. not expensive but it looks heartening. There’s peace in the sky. something perhaps earned. something good for now. He has removed his jacket and loosened his tie. He hums the song. now he holds his arms out at his sides. not the first time it has happened. Roads not too busy. Peter is looking at the peaceful sky and seeing this shadow as a kind of frame on his sight. It’s hard to catch the dissonances. blue flicker in front rooms. continues on his way. thinking that someone in the nearby houses watches him – the shadow that has plagued him resolves itself into the memory of the curious melody the hitchhiker had sung all that afternoon. It is not part of the scene. Peter stands up. but seeing it so clearly. pavements deserted. wedged into a corner of a new housing scheme. on the road from Brighton to London. He chances on a green patch. draws his jacket on. like a shadow disclosed. The important point this evening. The instant he resumes walking – vaguely selfconscious. the evening coming slowly on. is not seeing the shadow. He doesn’t know what the shadow is: it wouldn’t be shadowy if he did. A moment like this. If Peter made the effort he could see the shadow entire. anticipation and certainty. Friday evening and the whole weekend free. in any case. and Peter rises to it. It’s the northern sky he looks towards. Peter finds a Portuguese wine in an off-licence. So something comes to a halt – and something else seems to begin. blue nearby but green towards the horizon. Peter always trusts the labels. even deserved.The walk is good.
arranged in a tight terrace. The close is almost beautiful. an element 38 . It’s like coming home. the light in the hall saying it all. the dirt in the gutters. done out in dull London brick with dirty pebbledashed render on the upper floor.the curious modal slips. ladders and scaffolding poles jutting up as evidence. reducing to this instant and this state of anticipation. they are constrained. everything that is London. which happens to stand just under the only mature tree in the area. Facing the blind side of the shop is the blank wall of a builder’s yard. he hears her pulling the door to the kitchen open. It’s on already – dark under the tree. Parked cars hide the state of the roadway. On the corner there is a dilapidated convenience store. the light thrown on the ground and buildings in consequence dappled in an inviting way. straight walk in. half filled waste bins flanking the blind side extending into the close. large leaves here reflecting the light. It’s a focus. no gardens. really. The light is on in the hall of the last house. beckoning in the twilight. there blocking it to produce shadow. the burnished light like a heat source. an expansive sycamore. The entrance to the close in which Anne lives is a delight – for a lover. the pad of her slippers in the short hall. half hidden by the tree. the broken pavement flags. There are four units. even strangeness of the piece. There is only one light in the short cul-de-sac. at least. Peter sees that at once. just as when he was a child. there is a block of maisonettes. that is the world. whose open crown permits the amber light to spread in a pleasing way through the branches. however. Yet for all the mutual eagerness. Behind the shop. Anne answers at once. yet there is a familiarity that warms him despite the flatness.
face still the public mask.’ ‘Go easy on that. operatic then banal. spoons. ‘Have you eaten?’ ‘No.’ She’s very practiced in this kitchen. The way beauty stands always in the place of truth when the truth is absent. feeling her instant response to his touch. for Anne replies at once.’ She turns away.of disbelief – not doubt – always in their meetings. She brushes the fingers that touch her. Peter takes the wine from its paper bag. The curtains are halfclosed. pan from the press under the work surface. She raises her voice as she busies herself. the contours of her lean face over-shadowed by the low light. glancing at the bottle’s label. It is enough. but the deferred emotion is communicated even so. They smile. its light strong on the work surface beside the cooker. Usually are. then into Peter’s eyes for the first time: ‘I’m sure it’s perfect. an impossible feeling in the context. all the rest out in no time. ‘Food for the soul. mmh?’ It is irony. the room lit by a single fluorescent tube under the storage cabinet. reminding 39 . fork. but rapidly attenuating and grainy beyond that. Peter is aware at once of his own weariness. Pete. I think there’s some tarragon. She looks tired under the red light in the hall. like wheels still rolling under him. looks up. Anne leads him into the kitchen. But he touches her shoulder. a rapid movement that panics Peter before a sharp longing rises in him. feeling the quick muscle under the cotton shirt. offers it. I came straight here. in need of a wash: ‘Omelette? Mushrooms. Anne checks the fridge. tomatoes. her lank dark hair falling to one side.
’ It’s singing he hears. It had a tone. pulling her shoulders back. Pete. ‘Where were you?’ Peter is using her winged contraption to uncork the wine. Is that it? I mean. Like a museum or a waxworks. ‘Not really posh. ‘No. then stands upright. I hated that place. how tactful memories are to a certain kind of person. ‘Yep. I was cranky all day. Not the way you’d expect. ‘Brighton. loved it. 40 . surprised by the passion in her voice. from sales. a matter of integrity. saying: ‘The woman I was with. She licks a finger clean in order to clear a strand of hair from her left eye. sexy all at once. obviously stiff from the demands of her week’s work. when they worked together. her tongue flicking redly.’ Anne nods emphatically. Can understand that.’ Now she smiles widely. But he has just opened the wine and can get its fragrance.’ Peter stops what he is doing to look at her. even teeth.’ She stops chopping and looks directly at Peter. Pete. Anne senses his hesitation.’ Peter can’t figure this. Why had he no teeth? Looks as though he never had.’ Peter remembers something.Peter more of how she sounded at first. Went once as a child. actually it was Hove she remembered. Utterly soulless. Kind of dead. open mouth. ‘Hate that place. it was all junk. some memory prodding him. No. ‘Even the beach was all stones. Some place near there. God. He finds glasses. not Rebecca or the business rubbish. but remaining away because inappropriate.
‘Like…what is it? You’d envy their being so removed from the everyday things. I mean. enchanted. sweetie. Anne sucks her lips.’ It’s conventional enough to say: it doesn’t get in the way of their tangle of anticipations. for her part. old cock? You can pick them. You know?’ She’s nodding encouragingly at Peter. Like moving in a dream. or a film. as Anne indicates when she repeats his blessing: ‘And your good health. flashing a bright eye at him from beneath the falling wave of hair. Anne. Peter pours the wine. a widening smile on his face. ordinary life can be pretty hairy and boring. the gurgle of pouring wine unique in all creation. you’d not like how trapped they were. pleased that Peter understands. ‘Your good health. then Peter relaxes.’ 41 . ‘Told you. Things can happen. He hands Anne a glass. Pete. but things can happen. opening his head a bit more. The guys who make this stuff know what they are doing. waits for her to clean her hands and take it before raising his glass in toast. study the label.’ Peter is very pleased by this.’ The first taste. Peter just stands there. glasses in one hand. Anne is so pleased by her success in getting across to him that she leans over and touches his bristly cheek with fingers that smell of mushroom. seeing it from the outside. sniffing for its fragrance again. But. knowing it’s going to be good. rolling away the kinks and bumps. goes back to preparing his omelette. He nods in reply. other hand resting on the neck of the bottle standing on the table at his side. ‘Did it again. He says. the wine making its first delicious circuit of his body.
42 . pale green seeming almost blue. But Peter wouldn’t be Peter if he didn’t wander off this broad avenue of happiness. wanting to sing. he swinging away a week’s drudgery. Peter’s cup runneth over. puts it on. then kicking in loudly as Debbie Harry begins Heart of Glass. and knowledge of oneself is distinct from the actual self. as though the alcohol is a strong light in some perennial gloom. though Peter realises it is a true thought. though he continues to dance. Can’t know anyone when alone together. As usual. but pitch perfect. finds the Blondie tape. trying to take a second drink at the same time. looking decidedly drawn. wanting to speak too. Peter knows what she is going to say. Peter goes to the kitchen door. of being alone together. ‘Is this too loud?’ Anne is already over her euphoria. eyes to generate such hunger.Anne throws her head up. Etcetera etcetera. He hears Anne singing in the kitchen. the undergrowth. It’s like she permits him to be happy. He goes into the front room. Knowledge of another presupposes knowledge of oneself. a dancer not a singer. her first high characteristically infectious. Not a happy thought. Anne comes in too soon. glass as though on a gyro. So he forgets the music blaring out beside him. and sips the wine. wanting it badly. his mind picking as always through the side ways. turns on her audio machine. thinking of a sudden of the café at the end of the road. Her eyes are huge when she looks up from the pan. He begins to dance. but only his body is responding. appearing here as a desire to drink more wine.
too: up then down. Peter smiles at her. The down is gone. showers. 43 . the night. The money helps pay the mortgage. made with milk not water so not resembling shoe leather. the song. as it were. now straight on into the evening. The omelette is good. Anne knows all the words of Rapture. dresses up and is gone till four in the morning. looking at the table set for him.’ Blondie is starting In the flesh as he sits down. leaving the wine aside – he does not drink with his meals – the habit of regular meals keeping him at it while his mind wanders and his body begins its long slow seethe. reaching for the plate warming under the grill: ‘Come on.’ Peter nods. her mouth coming down close to his ear. ‘He’s no trouble. the cup and saucer. Anne is humming the melody. lank hair as though moist. salt and pepper – which he never uses. she standing in front of the audio’s speakers. He purses his mouth and Anne obliges. Friday nights he comes in. knife and fork.‘On no. this is ready.’ She hoists the pan. chanting the words in perfect time. Peter says nothing. uncharacteristically dreamy. loving the devilment of the song. Pete. wrapped around. content to leave her to herself. his own lips itching. The most he’ll have is a cup of coffee. Anne feels she must continue. Peter hears her. the joy openly in his face. The refrain – in the flesh – comes round just as she places the omelette before him and she kisses him quickly on the ear. Peter eats quickly. her face creamy. her breath warm on his temple. She smiles. For that moment she is fully self-contained.
what is money. even though the music continues. Anne?’ 44 . theatrical. more glasses yet to come. what is sex: where is the love? Peter finds his glass. unusual for her: ‘Finance Director now. sips the by now breathed wine. the pleasure of vindication strong. Then it comes: Tarrant. loathing. Mark Tarrant is a lizard. nonetheless it is like an arrow hitting home.’ Anne’s sarcasm is forced. is he?’ She sits down at the table facing him. ‘He’s the Finance Director of a company I visited today. Anne’s eyes are the biggest he has ever seen. not important but some hidden sense that this is the right moment. its body full and fruity. It’s like something solid has come into the room. ‘I’ll tell you this. flicking out. a wonderful fury through her whole body. a play of feeling in them. ‘Did you say Mark Tarrant?’ She doesn’t wait for him to answer: ‘Where did you meet him?’ Peter is stunned. but his mind is trying to remember something. ‘Is he a crook. Peter. a tangibility that is like a relief. Peter feeling as though all the air in the room is being sucked away. fear. Peter waits until the song ends before calling out: ‘Anne! Does the name Tarrant mean anything to you? Mark Tarrant?’ Silence. Her nipples are almost fully distended. a man on hands and knees. and a cold fury. a confusion of objectives. her glass empty in her hand.following the loopy sense of what she’s singing.’ Peter sees a tongue flicking out.
But the accounts were incomplete. that’s right. It’s easy to conjecture the storage of his ill gotten gains under someone else’s name.The truth is. not the PSA. what sin really is. the fascination with police work. ‘I knew about one twenty five.’ she breathes. her eyes flaring. Alright?’ Peter nods. ‘There’s about three hundred thousand pounds missing from the TMS accounts. She is nodding very emphatically. practical: ‘This is between you and me. yes. the nearest thing to what she would regard as religion. The question has stopped Anne. it’s stronger than sex. perhaps reading him in her way. lips moist at the edges. She is nodding.’ ‘Yes. now rock steady. What is stored? No banknotes. Gold or stones. but Peter cannot place it at all: just so much noise. Pete?’ 45 . then pours for Peter and herself.’ She searches for the wine bottle. They still are. it explains priests. Anyway. office politics. she looks Peter in the eye. picking up the seriousness and its attendent dread. She asks: ‘Why did you have to see him. And of course unpaid invoices that have been under query for over two years. ‘Yessss. Edward hasn’t done much about that. right?’ Peter nods. There are records of large payments but no invoices for them. ‘Yes. of course. ‘He’s more concerned with impressing the new owners. After a drink.’ She makes a moue. Anne. Pete. You know about some of this from your time there. I’m talking about other accounts.’ Blondie is now on a very familiar track. Anne is watching Peter. gesturing for an obscure reason.
‘Sure. pointing to a possibility. She draws her free hand into a fist. Just like that. scheming with allies. That first time he loved what he saw then. There’s no need to spell it out. straightening up and sipping wine from his glass. Peter sees that it is almost dark outside. the long fingers like sticks bending in until the fist is all knuckle and bone under the reddened skin. testing her enemies and rivals.’ Lizard. the silence a palpable presence in the house. as intended.‘Overdue payment. the 46 . Peter sees Anne go absent in a way he had seen once before. So he adds: ‘He paid up. This time he sees what he did not see then: she is a congeries.’ The music has ended. What else?’ Anne is watching him the way he has seen her watch workmates during his time with Total Maintenance Services. Anne. vindication strong as a kind of recompense. no memory. You remember her. directly into Peter’s eyes: ‘Christ. Peter nods. It is a weird insight to have.’ It is off the point. He nods again. I wondered why he used Charlene to key in all his work. Anne?’ Now she does lower his eyes. Pete. ready to defend herself. don’t you? White mouth painted on her black lips?’ She looks up. So he asks: ‘What is it about Tarrant. She is an entity that will be pulled together in a moment. faintly embarrassed. A shark in a sea of sharks. not a unity. yet his love does not abate in the face of this strangeness. when Anne will return with her life and memories. no presence. For a time she has no identity. like a salvation for him. ‘Well. when he fell in love with her. he can work women.
He never did. and the rest of this tape always reminds him why he didn’t. and follows Anne. having resisted her many attempts to shove the drudge work onto him.’ What can Peter say? He goes to Anne’s collection of tapes and searches for the Brahms’ tape he had left here. The tenderness swells up in him. When he first heard this sonata. her embarrassment of course much greater than Peter’s. Peter had determined he would spent his leisure time studying Brahms in the greatest possible detail. the temp. so all he has to do is replace Blondie and press the play lever. 47 .’ She snorts. to reach out for. in his favourite place near the door. where he can rest his right elbow on the chair that stands alongside. Anne gets up and goes into the living room.fluorescent glare stronger in the kitchen. ‘She makes lots of mistakes. ‘Charlene is not stupid. only lazy. the swing of her breasts. its yellow light flattering the room’s ordinariness. momentarily stiff after a day in Rebecca’s car. ‘Charismatic means bearing grace. the better to overcome a limitation. the long line of her waist under tight blouse and trousers. Anne. He sits on the settee. Being impressed. Peter watches her.’ Peter nods. Pete. over the gas heater. Luckily the opus 78 Sonata comes first. even a Constable print over the erstwhile fireplace. grasping for that instant the fact that Anne is actually alive. The wine is still as heartening. Peter gets up. the rounded bottom of an active person. She has put on the lamp standard over by the window. someone to look up to.
‘Who wouldn’t be. no matter what that truth was: it was the truth that was loved. Anne?’ ‘What you asked me tonight. then takes Peter’s left hand in both of hers.’ ‘And you. ‘I wondered why he used Charlene. He didn’t want me to notice. the first breath of relief in her: ‘Exactly.’ Peter sees Anne on her hands and knees. That’s the truth. Anne grips his hand: ‘He’s a bastard.’ Peter nods: ‘Which you would have done?’ ‘I regularly check her work. a touch of mockery in her eyes. drinks slowly. There were others who could do better work. Pete. ‘I wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t been so… I wouldn’t be flattered by him now. He says: ‘He wanted mistakes?’ Anne is delighted. a word he hadn’t thought of for many years. ‘I was flattered. Pete. There’s a need that contains so much hatred.’ Peter allows. She sits beside him.’ She squeezes his hand. pours for Peter then for herself.’ Peter bows his head. as always. I really did.’ 48 . the sheer definition of her movement thrilling.’ The Brahms is lulling both of them.Many in one: congeries. her throat working. Anne reaches for the glass. places her glass near her left foot. a swirl of irony: thinks of truth and lie. Peter sees that you could live in anyone’s truth. Anne goes into the kitchen for the wine bottle. About him being a crook. Anne. Correct it. She turns to him.
‘How do I put this? There was nothing there. not sincere as such. the make-what-you-will honesty. And weak. self-possessed.’ Peter wants to say something. The way you are. I want to tell you this. you just do things well because your life is easier that way. seeing the expression in Anne’s eyes. that Peter finds the word he needs to describe the congeries he sees in her. the candour. very capable. Anything at all.’ It’s only now. probably good at everything you do. Anne nods. 49 . Pete. ‘No.Now it’s Peter who squeezes her hand. Pete. Any time. Hold on. Absolutely nothing. It’s like I lack something. ‘I was impressed by that. but Anne is alright: she’s merely preparing the ground for what she now wants to say. ‘So leave that for now. Exposed. He can do what he likes with Anne. wants to reassure Anne. I’m not finished. ‘To tell you the truth. rather earnest in the way intense people are when they want to convince someone of a truth. You can take or leave things. You’re capable.’ She shakes his hand. and I know why. Pete. I need to be impressed. as though she knows what he is thinking. clutching a hank of her hair with her left hand.’ She laughs her more high pitched laugh. now clenched together.’ She looks at him. isn’t that right?’ Peter nods. But that doesn’t matter to you. This is about Tarrant. I mean. But…’ She looks down at her knees. I was prepared to do anything for him. and that’s that. He seems self-contained. ‘No. ‘I know how you feel about me.
but restful and warming. He slips off his jacket and lays it across the back of the nearest chair. he hears Anne in the bathroom upstairs. the clunk of her bare heels on the chipboard flooring. smouldering against her damp-darkened hair.’ She reaches and touches Peter’s cheek. which Peter cannot stand. too. no doubt. The music is mediocre Brahms now. Later. a zip from her toes to her neck. then follows that by kissing him where she had touched him. drying them with the green towel that always hangs beside the sink. ‘Ah. He wants to take his shoes off. That done. Pete?’ Anne is wearing her long house gown. Otherwise why would he feel this way about her: so accepting of everything. ‘By then he was gone. She excuses herself and leaves the room. as he knows very well. but thinks at first that his socks are too damp after the warm day. he wants to rinse his face and hands under the tap. No. On to somewhere else.’ 50 . it took months to find out what he was really like. even if inevitable death makes all limitation nonsensical in the face of its final limit. then undoes his tie and lays it neatly across the jacket. It’s like commitment: you place a limit on yourself and accept that. But it’s not like that. ‘No.’ Pause. then a small wry smile that makes her mouth seems extraordinarily wise.‘Anyway. The red is deep. do you want to shower. lengthening pause. then he takes both shoes and socks off. what he sees in Anne is true of himself too. In the silence. Peter goes and fills a glass with tap water and drinks it down in one go.
He would sit on my back for long periods. feeling the tension radiating from her. Kept up the national average. very determined every time. She continues to look at him while she speaks. maybe more than a hour sometimes. lights the second lamp on the cabinet just beyond the settee. I haven’t seen him for about five years. I thought that was the way to do it. open to disappointment and perhaps worse. ‘I’ve never told anyone else about that. ‘He lives in New Zealand now.’ ‘No?’ Peter asks. When he was very young I got the habit of give him horse rides on my back. giving way a little: ‘Don’t worry. we kept on doing it even when he got older.’ Now she laughs more openly. God.’ Anne now turns sideways to Peter. ‘Oh. I think Brian got self-conscious. it’s this. She stops in the middle of the room and asks: ‘Pete. Pete.’ She laughs. he was a stud. Anyway. Pete. draws the curtains. not moving an inch.’ He joins her in the room. Anne hisses a rueful smile in her nose. It was too personal. a faint embarrassment now. earnest. sweetheart. ‘I must have been sixteen or seventeen before we stopped. down on my hands and knees. ‘My brother is about six years younger than me.’ 51 . and the two of us would go into this daydream. He had a gurgling kind of laughter.She goes back into the living room. he was such a jolly little boy. will you do me a favour?’ ‘Anything. The thing is. again an involuntary ejaculation. You know.’ ‘Your brother?’ Peter interjects involuntarily. Not even my ex. too. her clenched hands together under her breasts.
Anne doesn’t budge when he settles down at last. Peter straddles her gingerly. ‘I feel I want to do this with you. but that’s not really possible. He sits back towards her hips. pulling up the legs of his trousers from points just above the knees. the better to spare her the strain of his weight. and feeling Anne stiffen momentarily. or laughing at me. hefting its pendulous weight. her head going down so that her hair falls in tresses about her face.’ Peter moves forward slowly. I’m stronger than I seem.’ Anne smiles with relief and drops onto her hands and knees. deliberately appearing as though temporising: ‘Are you sure? I mean you were children then.She turns back towards him. lowering her arms down by her sides. he withdraws his hand at once.’ She glances up at him through her hair.’ How Peter feels is remarkable: how a priest of old might feel in his Temple. ‘What I want to ask you. legs more astraddle. taking much of the strain on his legs. ‘No. He bends forward slightly and clasps Anne’s left breast. 52 . something to do. sit on the middle of my back. Pete. He tries to keep as much of his weight as he can on his own legs. sharp knife in hand. It is a cursory act. is this: would you do that with me now?’ She raises her right hand to forestall him. He says. trussed up lamb on the altar before him. The first sensation is: what do I do with my hands? Peter badly wants to engage his hands and arms too. ‘Don’t worry. But don’t feel you should if you don’t want to. The word is temptation: making it his own. I don’t want you humouring me.
trying 53 . but even as he reaches he feels a curious sensation between his legs. to console her. the pathos of their bones together in such a dumb way. wait until Anne sorts through his reaction. perhaps play at horse riding or cry out some horsy encouragement. Not sexual. a line of white skin exposed. in the area enclosed by the contact of their bodies. He can feel whatever bones they are between his thighs – part of his pelvis? – grinding down into Anne’s back. something that might happen in an ossuary long after they had both died. Peter cannot shake this feeling off. He realises he’s looking down at the back of Anne’s head. more like mortality. bone to bone. It is extremely awkward. He thinks he might call this off and go and sit on the settee. how the world of things resides away to itself. that curious pathos so familiar to children. as though it was neither his nor Anne’s business. reluctant to offend her unnecessarily. not even erotic. to where her hair has parted as it divided to hang about her head. He wants to touch her now. Peter braces himself against it. a deep discomfort that promises to become a severe agony very soon. He can also feel now the pressure of the line of her vertebrae pressing into the sensitive line that runs between his thighs up towards his anus. just being there. What happens instead is that he becomes aware of the contact between his body and Anne’s. its awkwardness. gammy. going nowhere. Then he is thinking of bones again. Anne’s bones and his own bones – mortality – how his pelvis frames her spine.Peter still wants to do something. Peter thinks about this seriously. It is like the strain that can come into a tendon as a muscle tires.
and that this might discomfort her.to favour the lower part of his legs to relieve the pressure. that some element in the strain between his legs constantly escapes him. then up into his thighs. but the trembling is becoming a violent shaking. He knows he is pressing against Anne’s flanks. to apparently press inwards as best he can against the strain that hangs in the air between himself and Anne. This does not stop Peter continuing to tense his thighs. But the result is that he tenses his thighs against the strain. The sensation that follows on this is extraordinary. There is a giddiness in this that frightens Peter. his knees especially twitching uncontrollably. Then his legs begin to tremble. as though perhaps something is going beyond his control. Peter tries to resist this by bracing himself against it but his leg – right leg – is jerking uncontrollably. but he cannot stop himself trying in effect to implode his torso. first around his knees. in fact it does very little beyond being a steady sensation between his legs. It is such a wonderful feeling that Peter simply wants to stop breathing as a way of encouraging the honey sensation to spread up through his body. For one thing he feels he cannot tighten his thighs sufficiently. The result is what can be best described as a honey sensation across the flesh of his thighs and groin. 54 . He shifts against Anne’s back – she releases a loud sigh – then her gown begins to slide across her body. Peter thinks this is the result of muscular tiredness. He wants to move in some way that will give him back his sense of control. The honey sensation does not spread. It is as though pressing his lungs inwards creates a space for the honey to spread.
then Peter’s leg gives way and he slides onto the floor. stunned by the kind of wise-like expression on Anne’s face. drags himself away. his hands clenched in rising anger with himself. ‘Then my legs began to shake. jumps. slight upward curvature at the edges. the familiar tentative quality back there. his right leg trapped under his body. her features softening.There is an instant of pure panic. It was as though honey was being smeared over my body. He knows he is moaning with fright. It’s the only way he can cope with the apparent change in Anne. Anne. ‘You began to jerk. thin. his left leg still astraddle Anne’s back. bent forward. any movement at all only that it would give him back control of his legs. He’s on his knees. jerking with a manic fury. She shakes her head.’ Peter points to his groin. Even her mouth is smart.’ There is a hint of a smile: falling off a woman’s back! ‘But the sensation. ‘What are you doing. Peter wonders how much he takes for granted. a kind of super-clever glint in her narrowed eyes. Anne’s eyes frighten him now: Is this some kind of trap? ‘What happened?’ he retorts. Peter rolls. Then you fell off. Was it like that?’ ‘No.’ He is being candid. Didn’t you feel anything?’ ‘I remember Brian saying once it was like sitting at the top of a tall tree. right hand supporting his weight. Peter?’ Anne’s voice acts on Peter to pull himself together pretty smartly. She swings over until 55 .
’ ‘Did that ever happen before?’ ‘Goodness. She can only parry his question.she is sitting on the floor facing him. just the fruit of his own experience. genuine curiosity on Peter’s part.’ Now she seems bemused. But Anne says. Anne has just said what she said. He is going to say something amusing as a way of deflating what appears to be Anne’s initiative here. At least not at first. do you think. and that that was the best way to do it. could have found time ever to think through to an insight like that. ‘My back feels as though there is a hole in it. after all. join in some way. I mean. A dark hole. run ragged by her over-demanding work and chaotic life.’ She gestures helplessly. but an instinct telling her that it was an experience shared. Peter gets over this surprise fairly quickly. pulling her gown back into place.’ Peter wants to be ironic as a way to reasserting himself. a cheap debating trick. It’s numb. staring into his eyes with her more honest searching gaze: ‘What I thought was that once men and women could do that. ‘Not just sexual.’ Peter is surprised mostly that someone like Anne. Pete. she knows. ‘Why?’ This is an open question. so he should know something too: ‘Why. I mean. of what is required in order that genuine reflection be possible. ‘It just seemed a good idea. Anne appears a little dismayed by his question. I felt it was something we could do. no. It’s not a patronising thought. I mean. drawing her feet in. as though she has started something that will quickly get beyond her. Pete?’ 56 . looking down at the carpet to find some answer there.
Pete?’ For once at least. he blurts his reply: ‘But the darkness. the consolation.Good question. When he speaks.’ She looks up at him. ‘I felt you were drilling down into me. ‘God. like a rock almost. one hand raised. That’s very different to what I felt. isn’t that so strange. She is thinking hard. as though the honeyed sensation has spread throughout his whole body. then the wine bottle. Peter is left standing there. 57 .’ It’s his turn to be deflated.’ Anne nods. Anne. She reaches and pulls Peter to his feet. and then Anne’s glass. right through my spine. Pete. Not at all. He turns away and searches for his glass. Isn’t that strange? I thought there was a huge hole in my back. right into my back. I felt so strong just then. awareness of a residual weakness in his legs – especially around his knees – not helping matters. gently gnawing her lower lip. used as a woman to being not quite as good as a man. a bit despondent now. a figure standing there. He tops them up and sips the still heartening wine. a kind of wonder in her face. eyes wide. suddenly animated. Peter tries to think a reply – not necessarily an answer – when it’s as though a light flashes somewhere and he sees a kind of moorland. is overwhelming. letting the other insights come: ‘And I wasn’t afraid. and it didn’t hurt. it’s obvious that she is thinking out loud: ‘But I felt I could stand up to you.’ She frowns. ‘I’m afraid I don’t understand any of it. a smile becoming a laugh.’ Anne scrambles to her feet. Anne? You said it felt dark and numb. The warmth. not knowing what to say. When she speaks. and it didn’t hurt a bit.
She is looking decidedly dippy. her whole body bopping up and down rapidly. He sneers. The image he sees then is true: a hot muddy geyser of liquid surging up out of a (dark) hole. breathing a joyous relief: ‘You’d be the perfect companion in a perfect world. it’s what the audience brings to it. As he learns.’ * Later. at this. but a surging blood rush in his groin. good bad or indifferent. it’s not the play that counts. so that it has fallen open. feeling the most transparent he has ever felt. Peter is getting the idea now that all this shaking in his legs actually has something to do with sex.’ Anne has unzipped the gown. Pete. Even so. Anne asks: 58 . lying on the floor beside an equally transparent – so much so that in a way Peter cannot see her – Anne. Peter? Not as he fears. Even thinking this sets his knees ashiver again. She looks as though she might spring right up in the air.Anne gulps from her glass. ‘Hey. the insight remains: some kind of power or charge is causing his knees to shake. more ferocious shakes in his legs. revealing the slopes of her breasts and her pubic bush. that drives away any possibility of image-making. an expression Peter has never seen before. tucked up together in bed in a dark room. Afterwards. He thinks he really knows nothing about sex. and the image obediently becomes trite. of course. The glass at her mouth is supported by two hands. Anne. both trembling slightly. he says.
’ She exhales slowly.’ This is a step too far for Peter. what you said about a perfect world. point of equilibrium. like starting out again from this point. where all the water gathers. this is why some people find sex so important: the most important thing in their lives. who feels the quite useless longing stirring in him. Perhaps. ‘Like Lennon in Imagine.’ Anne raises her head. Anne. you and I would be perfectly content together. In fact. ‘Maybe I should tell you what I used to do. up to about two years ago I had spent nearly ten years studying utopianism.‘Pete. Before I met you. You know. what did you mean?’ The transparency has remained like a kind of innocence. obviously to look at Peter. Peter thinks. I mean. if that was possible. Peter can sense the relief in her.’ Anne stirs with the extreme pleasure she feels. He rolls onto his back. perfect societies where everyone would be content. Pete. He answers Anne without hesitation: ‘If everything else was as it should be.’ He feels her tense beside him. not a sigh though no doubt intended as one. merging below to run as is proper towards its resting place. like impotent ghosts come to haunt him. ‘Oh. ‘Studying? What do you mean? At university?’ 59 . not prison or a mental asylum. He breathes a smile in the dark: ‘No. like rain running down a window pane.
I did postgraduate research on a kind of Christian-Marxist utopianism. I had worked out a way of studying it. Dublin. all about sexual licence and regressive tyranny. as I already said.’ Now Anne has hoisted her self up so that she can lean over him. you start from the 60 . ‘But I discovered that if you studied them in what I called a “mode of failure” – in other words. on research bursaries. In different universities. I mean. the problem with Utopias is that they have always failed. no wonder I was impressed by you. She asks. a year or two here then somewhere else for the next few years. I knew there was something about you.’ Anne is not picking this up. Glasgow. or don’t you?’ She lowers herself back onto the bed. Here. tickling his still heated body.’ ‘Do you want to hear about this. Anne. You see. I should have published after four or five years of this. You know. though of course they did not call it utopian. This means that utopianism ends up being a topic in historiography. her hair trailing on his cheek and neck. So when you set out to study them you know where it will end. They thought that was bourgeois sublimation. Go on.Peter nods strongly enough for the mattress to rock slightly. only now getting to this point: ‘What kind of postgraduate research?’ Peter is thrown off course. Keele. but I couldn’t get my head around the whole subject. ‘Sorry. ‘You have a doctorate? Well. Bristol. researching utopianism. I spent the next ten years. let me tell you. ‘Mmm? A doctorate. ‘Universities.’ ‘Anyway.
as they say. Hope seemed blind and not much good in itself for getting anything done. That seems pretty banal. Anne?’ She nods beside him. What I did see was this: the fact that. So I began to follow this thread. Sure. No. I realised that I wasn’t interest in the economic or social ideas of the utopians. the idea that utopianism was in fact a religious enthusiasm. ranters. ‘Is this alright so far. seemed to be able to see something and they were trying to put it into words. 61 . the other in some kind of human collective. they were all pretty impractical. clergymen. going forward again to Owen and the other utopians I had previously studied. not a social or economic one. but what interested me was the strength of the conviction behind them. ‘I’m listening. even quite ordinary working people. hope springs eternally.fact of their failure – then what you study is not what happened. I could see both the Marxist and Christian perspective in this. I should say I didn’t.’ ‘Okay. Then you can compare the two things. what they wanted and what actually happened. Pete. These people. I was pretty excited by this and thought I had at last found the theme I wanted. in fact you don’t really discover a great deal that way. ‘Then I found a huge collection of seventeenth and eighteenth century religious tracts – mostly non-conformist – in Trinity College in Dublin that contained the most amazing utopian visions. one lying in salvation. but what the utopians wanted to happen. At least the other ideologies could give practical solutions to the human condition. It was the reason I couldn’t write anything of substance after about five years of work. Now.
So. the Shakers. this helped focus my interest on the idea that “hope springs eternally”. ‘Why? Well. or even the Quakers. so it seems. for instance. linking it with my earlier understanding that utopias always fail. about four years ago I had pretty well run out of material to study and I really had nothing of value to add to what had already been written on the subject.’ ‘A perfect shampoo?’ ‘Well. always fail. but these communities were not created for purely religious ends. but in fact it always refers to something in the observer. a shampoo. some economics. an ad refers to your idea of a shampoo. Here was an example of a promise that always fails. I asked myself. I came forward into the early twentieth century and read some very general works. not an actual shampoo you could buy in a shop.‘The trouble was. But what it did point to for me was advertising itself. ‘What to do then? Well.’ ‘Why?’ Anne suddenly interjected. what fails over and over again in the modern world and yet rises up anew each time. I mean. The work itself wasn’t up to much. but I chanced on a work by a French intellectual named Roland Barthes about signs and symbols. an ad seems to refer to a commodity. religion does play an important part in most of the better known utopian communities. Maybe serendipity. by its very nature. that must. But is there a perfect shampoo? Your idea of the perfect shampoo may already have been 62 . though I didn’t understand it for a number of years – I really didn’t know what I was looking for. A sign can only refer to another sign. How will I put it? Putting it crudely. Strangely. So. Anne. mostly histories. I spent weeks thinking about this idea. a car.
‘How do you mean. Anne. 63 .’ Peter is silent for a moment. Peter sees that the curtains have not been drawn on the bedroom window and that the amber street light illuminates elements of the sycamore tree outside. The ideal society in Thomas More’s Utopia is not the first utopia. Anne. this is as far as I got about two years ago. ten years wasted?’ ‘What I said. though what that is I couldn’t say. Then I read a passage where More says that human beings can create Utopia only with the help of angels. until Anne turns her head – he hears the abrasion of her hair on the pillow.’ Now there is a shared silence. there is something else behind this. The irony is palpable in the dark. more something like grief. It was a load of poppycock. in a sense he was right. Then I did a pretty basic thing. It was a sort of vague impulse. really taking a break from modern ideas. ‘And that was that. who is he? What did he know?’ Peter snorts again. Dull practical amber light perhaps. But. ‘Sure. not irony this time. but the fact that it has given its name to a whole movement is significant.’ ‘But just because one man said that about angels? I mean.created by advertising.’ Anne literally jumps up in the bed. So I went back and read More again. Ten years wasted. I understand that. ‘Actually. No. so that the present ad may act as no more than a reinforcement of the impact of previous ads. ‘And?’ Peter snorts.
He can by now do this in the dark – some light from outside helping – so there is no need for him to see himself in the full length mirror prominent in the bathroom beside the shower. ‘When the winter came I moved up to London. Do you want to hear?’ She presses his shoulder in assent. Then I looked for work in Bristol and as chance would have it I ended up chasing debts for a large company there. Oh wonderful consolation. Peter gets up and goes to the bathroom to have a pee. I found temping was the best way of working without that sense of being tied down. resting now on his bare shoulder. is there?’ Anne’s hand stops its search. ‘The bursary I had was due to run out in about two months. waits. Anne. When he gets back. there’s more. Anne says. now? Between you and me?’ Peter nods.good for visibility but lousy for detail and colour: for the moment it seems to bathe the tree in gold – midnight gold. But there is no utopia. walking the canals and visiting churches. I spent the time going over all the research I had done. then says: ‘Actually. sorting out notes. The problem with working fixed hours is that you don’t have a lot left over for your spare time. ‘Is there not? What about here. touching him searchingly on his temple. I gave up reading and spent the weekends down on the Somerset Levels. then his cheek: ‘What if there are angels. It’s not easy to get out of London at the 64 . Pete?’ ‘Okay. making sure they were linked up together. that’s allowable. You know.
from decade to decade. Look how they are styled and how the styling varies over time. But why make such an utterance? I mean. building or machine. the swollen lines and curves. the grilles. if you are to believe Keats. well. an utterance. A motor car is a machine for getting from A to B fairly quickly. is usually studied under the heading of aesthetics. rather than using beauty merely to hide the brute function of the artefact. But no car is simply that. taste. beautiful. who is being addressed? Who would want to hear about the human invention of the car?’ 65 . the meaning. the meaning of the function of the car. so I took to visiting the galleries and museums. You know the idea that beauty is. the car is a box on wheels. Okay. All this cultural stuff. Or. beauty and form and the like. No. Consider now that style might be like a language. Separate that from the fact of the car. In that case. style. what I realised was that the whole question of style was being looked at from the wrong perspective. To this basic structure is then added seating and protection for those who will utilise the machine. aesthetics seems to make style a kind of end in itself. ‘Let me illustrate this by means of the humble motor car. So. more accurately. what is being said? Why. I mean. But what struck me that day was what I can best call the tentative nature of style and decoration. in some sense. I was struck by an oddity. of the car. What if style is an attempt to express something in effect essential about what is being styled? That is. One Sunday while I was looking at an exhibition of dress styles covering several centuries. The standard assumption is that style helps sell cars. fashion. the fins. but look again at the actual styling.weekends. or even the truth. whatever.
To be honest. but not a word from Anne. The only other explanation I can see is that there is an impulse in us that compels us to do it. He thinks over what he has just said: God. Peter slumps. But how could angels understand that kind of language. I mean. we have gone beyond them.’ Anne prompts. not in that simple form. art – and where are the angels? ‘No. I think we have gone beyond what Thomas More and the Renaissance magi believed about angels. Anne. You see. but we have been speaking in this language for millennia – dress. the fundamental utopian impulse is in us human beings. If ever there were such beings. ‘Yes.‘Angels. sure. I don’t believe they could help us now. spittle on Anne’s lips being bubbled by her slow deep breathing. She’s asleep. What was I trying to say to her? Angels? I never thought they were important. ‘Anne?’ There is a dribbly sound. the silence complete. No. that can’t be the truth. the city itself at rest at last. feeling nonplussed. That’s an idea I played with for a long time. feeling that she has been prompted by Peter. architecture. except that they in some way used it themselves? All this makes sense. I understood More to say that we would need 66 .’ Peter regards this as a momentous disclosure. there’s a logic to it. what a mess. if they even exist. Anne.’ There is another long pause. ‘So why do we style everything we use? We obviously don’t so it simply because it is a kind of language.
presses it. god. a sweet dreamy expression on her face. a momentarily happy person. Something about angels. All our attempts fail. Wings. an unrealistic impulse perhaps but nonetheless the central force driving human action. like an attractor exerting a hidden influence on us. to create a perfect society. The car is an aid to human mobility. making a fool of her when she was receptive to him. a languid smile coming on her lips: ‘You’re my angel. There’s a pen and a piece of notepaper in a pocket of his jacket. She opens her eyes and looks at Peter.’ She catches his hand. and dress to the level of the absolute freedom that we attribute to the divine. Perhaps by now we have lost the hope of ever creating one. She turns towards him. 67 . That’s it. Yes. motion. demon or angel. Pete. It’s not just that. He gets out of bed and pads downstairs. sleep already reclaiming her. drawing us all the time towards an impossible dream. But he is also very relieved to have won through to this understanding. It’s as though she is picking up the thread of their talk.the help of a supernatural agent. architecture. only half awake. But the wings merely symbolise our belief that angels can move freely. Peter is mostly relieved that he has not been talking nonsense to Anne. He disturbs Anne as he gets back into bed. We can move only with a great deal of effort. The light from outside serves him as he writes: The utopian impulse is a reach for complete freedom. What art and design do: try to raise our mundane achievements in technology.
68 . He prefers to accompany the music. Peter prides himself on his love of Baroque music. the vulnerability. It is worth the exposure. He has already guessed why this is so – now that he has achieved the experience: he has been afraid of the blitheness that is a constituent part of sharing happiness. the fact that it was intended to be played by anybody. What is unusual. More than once has he been shushed into complete silence at a recital. is the state of being happy in the company of another. so that his impulse to join in doesn’t appear too presumptuous. It is not an altogether unusual state for him. The problem is. while preparing breakfast for Anne and himself. This morning he is trying to keep in with a particularly nice piece by Buxtehude. though. Left to himself he is quite happy. It might be relatively easy to play. so Peter’s fourth instrument is pretty cacophonous.Peter likes to join in when listening to music. Buxtehude’s sonatas switch tempo often and very suddenly. he finds: no pain could diminish his joy. that is. even jolly happy. but it is not that easy to extemporise. Peter is happy. his spirit bubbling up into song if let. Not that this matters too much. one of the trio sonatas. so what he produces by way of music can irritate others. which is why he has tended to work alone. he usually conflates the melodic and the bass lines in his vain attempts to capture the flavour of all of the music. rather than sing along. And if that is not bad enough.
Pete!’ Peter lays the tray across her thighs. her ability to laugh. she says: ‘By the way. As Peter goes to leave the room. arms up and stretched fully towards the ceiling. milk and tea. the whites intensely white. what you told me last night about studying Utopias. was that true?’ ‘Sure. Pete. do you know that?’ Again Peter smiles: ‘Best way to a woman’s heart. I liked the bit about the angels. not moving at all: ‘Do you know what. Isn’t that right?’ She nods.’ 69 .’ She points to the chest of drawers. enjoying her own laughter. her mouth broadening until lines appear down her cheeks on either side. orange. ‘Well. ‘The big secret of life. giddy. Pete. She says. ‘You are so kind.’ Now she smiles. Her eyes sparkle.’ Peter does no more than smile.’ ‘Of course.Anne opens one eye when he comes into the bedroom.’ She speaks wholeheartedly. where he finds a pyjama top. a far more intimate expression. Anne suddenly explodes into activity. this is so nice. Pete? This is the first time in my life that anyone has given me breakfast in bed. eyeing all the time the balance of liquids on the tray. ‘Everything is here.’ She laughs her bright laugh. ‘God. Her candid smile has a fey quality. indicating a fundamental detachment in her personality. asking: ‘Do you want a top? Some of that is hot. each pale green iris gleaming. shooting upright in the bed.
’ he responds lamely. Anne calls after him: ‘Who makes the trees grow? Who makes the sun shine?’ Peter goes downstairs thinking: who indeed? Still. Surely we do this ourselves. Don’t you think the angels help us all the time. even on Anne’s little transistor radio. Anne waves a hand out towards all of creation: ‘No. that’s one way of seeing it. an honest response. now eyeing the food on the tray resting in her lap. ‘Well. cereal. it’s people who muck up their lives. Anne.’ Peter gapes. Anne smiles again. ‘Oh come on. And Anne seems to be happy. Everything.’ He jokes because he is afraid she wants to believe what she is saying. The music is familiar: Scriabin. Pete.’ She tosses her head. this time an edge of delight at his surprise. he is happy. But it is orchestral music by him. He listens as he eats his breakfast. ‘Oh. which he doesn’t really care for. Yet the performance is exceptional. How do you think we got where we are?’ Peter misunderstands her. Going out the door. I mean.’ This time Peter is honestly surprised: he cannot argue with her opinion. The disc reviews. suddenly pedantic: ‘There’s no evidence they actually exist. ‘After all. Anne. yet he thinks it is nonsensical. they do. There’s no reason why everyone couldn’t be happy if they wanted to be.Peter baulks. then toast 70 . Peter instinctively glances at the clock on the cooker: ten past nine. The music on the radio has changed. Pete.
the German tradition generally. The table is cleared at once. yet the individual initiative is lacking. For the first time. as it is in modern studios. The problem is that he doesn’t 71 . rather than the usual caterwaul of wind and brass. scribbling down the disc details.’ It’s pretty clear to Peter that he must go straight into town now and buy the CD. memorising what he writes out of habit.and tea. and Peter knows that – like Scriabin’s piano music – there are depths and textures here worthy of further study. Like a smouldering fire. Afterwards. One listen. the reviewer tells him it is Alexander Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy. measured assessment – but. hectic for once. The reviewer is reviewing as Peter writes. tube and bus. so that one can only surrender to it. at which hands could be warm without scorching. Peter debating whether to go to his flat first or take a train straight into Victoria. Peter gets paper and pen from his jacket. just as Peter has finished his scribble and is resurfacing: ‘…the Ecstasy of Scriabin is unexplained. perhaps good bureaucratic performance. Peter immediately imagines hundreds of others grabbing their wallets and setting off by car. knowing he cannot always decipher his own writing. you know. train. The performance was recorded in a wood lined studio: there is the resonance. which is at once muted – not killed. performed by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under Evgeny Mravinsky. unlike the music of Wagner and Mahler. Wanting something badly. he can hear the individual instruments. and recorded by Moscow Radio in 1958. all as intent as him on getting what it is he wants. and so on – then he says. At which souls could be warmed. Soviet art.
But just between you and me. dark and pale blue stripes.’ Anne nods once. that is – that we reclassified to a higher security rating. really. We had some storage from his company – his new employer.know how much money he has on him.’ ‘But how did Tarrant get involved in that?’ ‘I suppose he was the one who held back payment. but this is resolved when he finds his ATM card in his jacket. On his way to shower. ‘Okay. narrow cheekbones prominent. Which meant they had to pay more for the storage. Peter skips from the room the instant she does so. Her face is set. promise?’ Anne nods. It doesn’t suit him at all. eyes very measured: ‘You asked me if he was a crook. so sales and I went down to see them. looking out the window at the sycamore tree – a variegation of sunlight and shadow being played across its branches – reclining against the headboard. he sees himself in the blue dressing gown left behind by Anne’s ex. he looks in and tells Anne what he is going to do. Pete?’ Peter is on his way back out the door. something overly defined 72 . lips more pursed. lips pursed. even severe. ‘Business. He genuinely doesn’t know what she is talking about: ‘What?’ Anne turns to look at him. They were reluctant to pay. She seems to be day dreaming. Why?’ Peter catches on and turns back into the room. She says without moving otherwise: ‘What was it about Tarrant. some kind of heavy concentration taking over. In the bathroom. So straight into town it is.
’ Anne is now kneeling on the bed.’ Peter holds his hands up before her. It’s like he has revealed his secret. perhaps commitment creating a new boundary in him. it was fairly obvious. the newness being interpreted as exposure. Back in the bedroom to dress and Anne asks. He showers with the feeling that two forces cross in him. Pete?’ Only when he has dressed fully does Peter answer.there. palms out: ‘Forget it.’ Anne pushes herself upright in the bed. continuing her inquisition: ‘But why did that lead you to ask me if he was a crook. ‘I think this lot of storage belongs to him. We don’t have the right. mottled where the stubble darkens his skin. leaning towards him: 73 . If possession of a woman’s love means risk to the woman. even insecurity. Peter says quickly: ‘Don’t jump to conclusions. a sudden discomfort. then possession of a man’s secret must mean a similar risk to the man. But there’s not a lot that can be done as things stand. But he knows it is not that simple. Anne. as though he has unwittingly stepped into a war zone. his face pasty. can’t you.’ Anne’s eyes widen. Find out what’s in it. I mean. The sight of himself in the blue dressing gown is telling him something unpleasant: not so much out of his depth as becoming a sitting target. her voice rising too: ‘You can have it examined. That’s simply not on. Anne. He thinks of vulnerability here.
an equally sudden loss of animation in her. He says. a personal rage coming through: ‘But what if he takes it away from you? He could hide it somewhere else. her face calming but the glare remaining in her eyes. uncertain in a profoundly existential way. at the head of the stairs. the only way he knows of curbing her. He keeps on moving until he is out on the tiny landing. That’s the only way to do it. the private woman full of self-doubt. a wasted effort even after all her striving. her whole life potentially worthless. a suddenly brutal gesture. sweetheart. Then he returns to the bedroom.’ When she focuses on him. he continues: ‘You must get evidence of theft in any case. ‘Anne. Anne relents.’ He sweeps his right hand abruptly in the space between them.’ He turns away towards the door. hoping that she has caught on to herself by now.‘But if he stole from us…’ Peter shakes his head slowly: ‘Get your proof and take it to the police. gently so not as to intrude on her despair: ‘Don’t take it personally. seeing this reality of her.’ Peter was on his way through the door while Anne says this. We can talk about this again. that sense of never really starting.’ 74 . He surveys her coolly. but until you can show a definite connection between the money missing in TMS’s accounts and Tarrant there would be nothing you could do. Anne.’ She is suddenly shrill. seeing also the equivalent in himself. then turns back again: ‘I have to go now. The Crown Jewels could be in those cases. Peter sees the other person that Anne is. no foothold available. no leverage.
’ ‘Sure. an intent.’ Anne is shaking her head now. Why do you think the PSA held you in contempt. she aware that she is fully exposed to him and that he is not taking advantage of that: ‘Either way. Tarrant could screw them because they were too busy trying to hide their own ill-gotten gains. You know better than I do that it was just as big a crook. Pete? Will you always just go from place to place?’ He is not aware that he is drawing Anne’s arms back from around his neck: ‘Why not?’ 75 .’ ‘Six months is more than enough in these places. but her voice is intimate. I’m in charge of accounts. admiration even: ‘Is that why John wanted you to stay?’ ‘Because the PSA trusted me? Yes.Anne doesn’t look at him. I think so.’ ‘But you wouldn’t. ‘Whatever will become of you.’ Anne looks at him. At least they made sure their contracts were fulfilled. a completely different expression in her eyes. as though she could penetrate him with her eyes and discover this new thing about him for herself: ‘You knew about that?’ Peter nods. glad to see her coming back: ‘Sure. but you’re not responsible for the way PMS was run. more than quizzical.’ Anne gets up from the bed and puts her arms around Peter’s neck. burning stare. Pete. The crooked contracts where no maintenance work was actually carried out.
laden with bags of shopping. A long train coming up from Brighton takes him into Victoria. This amuses him no end. as though he has gained some advantage over himself.Fifteen minutes of brisk walking gets Peter to Croydon railway station. though Peter had not time to see it this morning. After all. The after-image contains two components. It is crowded. (It can be seen from the railway bridge. Monday and Thursday. Then he sees old people on a Brighton street struggling along with their own shopping. The atmosphere affects Peter. down towards the common.) The second element is an image of himself walking up the High Street. even weird. He is surprised to find the train hurtling past Balham station. This memory comes as a shock. and now he can think of nothing better than the mundane task of shopping. This would be true on two evenings in the week. having glimpsed of a sudden the area in which he lives. If he had not grown used to the practice of watching all his thoughts – a habit developed through his years of research – Peter might well not have noticed the fleeting image that arises in him just after he has had his glimpse of the Balham High Street. a sympathetic mockery of his own daftness. Of course. it is a day out for him too. He smiles to himself. if only because he guesses it is serving merely as a 76 . where his flat is situated. it shouldn’t mean very much: yet Peter does see something. It is a strange. everyone on the way to London for the day and so in a very jolly mood. happy lover on his way to buy really interesting music. The first is the supermarket in Balham where he buys most of his food. He is quick enough to snatch a glance down the High Street. Peter is standing in a crowded carriage. experience.
having damned part of the human race. all in very good humour indeed. left to trudge towards a kind of emptiness. Someone shouts with gay irony: ‘Welcome to London!’ 77 . Peter braces himself. Actually. None of this is true. balancing himself instinctively against both the swaying of the speeding carriage – now sweeping around towards Clapham Junction – and the dread he feels is coming. It’s just where we all are. Peter realises. As though Peter himself has been abandoned. an involuntary breaking of trust. It is every person in the carriage. Why? Because Peter knows who the betrayer is. Here there is existential despair and Peter can view it with detachment. The mood then is one of betrayal. boys and girls. He looks around the carriage: men and women. Now the tough bit. left to trudge towards his own kind of emptiness too. There is no betrayal. the squeal of its brakes magnified within the confines of Victoria Station.prelude. Goodness. very chatty with a lot of laughter. It is Peter himself. The train draws to a shuddering halt. It is as though those old people in the Brighton street have been abandoned. seeing withdrawal as an act of treachery. Peter is disgusted. It is each old person on the Brighton street. a dart of feeling there before he can censor it. but Peter feels very well after this bout of introspection. That was the easy part. no betrayers. Peter is remarkably cool towards this disclosure.
isn’t this a day out along with everyone else in the heart of the city? 78 . but the miraculous event only occurs when. He sets off up the platform amidst the swarming arrivals. Yes. of aloneness in the minor key. somewhat abstractly: I shouldn’t travel. I shouldn’t go on journeys anywhere.Peter smiles to himself. Isn’t he happy. He wonders why he is thinking such an off-thought. having waited his turn among boisterous passengers. as it were. Instantly. He is thinking. and it is as though he has never thought of nowhere-land. he places a foot on the platform ground: the whole existential meditation evaporates at once. Now Peter does feel a lot better. his single ticket firmly in hand for the collector. Welcome to nowhere. No.
So east it is along Victoria Street. Buildings have lines running across and up-down. the Victoria Line. A tube will take him to Oxford Circus. doors. and he knows his way from there. south. The area is congested. a push in the back on a tube train. narrow streets jammed with traffic going off in different directions. take the air and see the sights. He can do that. He can get from Clapham South tube station to most places in the City or West End by dint of getting off at the appropriate station and walking a few yards. yet each building. and therefore which way in east. west. He will walk. place of crisis. for the first time this morning. different styles. a life’s work.Peter is not too familiar with London. site of achievement. a long street. a Victorian museum. Fine. otherwise anonymous. wide narrow impressive functional. each business place is of significance to others. but once outside the station and he cannot see which way to go. Charing Cross is east. pedestrians. 79 . business fronts. easily: see the throng pressing down towards the station. at elections. the kind of news headlines they need. all of which impinges on him indirectly. He sees buildings. but cannot see a road that might lead there. not the more familiar Northern Line. Victoria Station is another matter. Not knowing where he is keeps him engaged with his surroundings. There are windows. Shop fronts. He knows Oxford Street is north. heavy slow-moving traffic. All anonymous for him. one large store. But Peter has at least a rudimentary sense of London. He has noticed. But no. roofedover bus terminus. even the cathedral – back from the thoroughfare itself – looking like a museum. so that he can guess which way is north. motor vehicles. a kindness another time. that the sun is shining today too.
so he is momentarily thrown out. then Charing Cross. once he turns the corner he can see a wide thoroughfare running north. How all-together they are. But what strikes him this time is that people are not alone together. like being surrounded by fifty sixty miles of concrete in all directions.Entering Parliament Square puts an end to this line of thought. guards and gapers. and children. so he crosses the Square to the northeast. From Charing Cross on it won’t be so bad. almost deserted as he passed. not at all sure how he gets from here to there. but this one – Whitehall – is so vacant. men. It’s this going in and coming out that strikes Peter. women. yet few know each other. Peter instinctively crosses to the east side. The people entering and exiting the souvenir shop are not alone by any means. God. an uncontrollable revulsion for the other side. Peter sees the land’s end café in Brighton. Peter slouches up Whitehall. with its faceless buildings and gates. only brightening up when he recognises the National Gallery. There’s a souvenir shop on the corner of Charing Cross. union jack pennants and the like outside. a steady stream of visitors going in and coming out. A parade of preoccupied individuals. the streets so far have been plain. if only because he can doze through that part of his walk. He knows it will be north. even dreary. Sure enough. and remembers his vision of all being alone together. Nearly there. One or two may 80 . that’s how he is experiencing the urban environment raw. postcards in racks. Peter expected Trafalgar Square. young and old. even though less sunny. Peter feels he is escaping something. So Peter supposes – but there is a shock in store.
Groups coexist intermittently – etcetera etcetera. But what? Why. But. instead he feels rampant. like a hectoring bore talking ceaselessly in his ear. Is it Anne? Because of her? Peter’s knees tremble. but most of the people he sees before him are part of family or friendship groups. A goat. not out towards strangers. And a congeries of groups has not the significance of a congeries of individuals. Peter is being told in so many words. He’s just passing Foyle’s. but in reverse. He pictures his knees as though bent. concentrating on the traffic. crossing towards St Martins Place. Normally this would not be difficult to do. am I like this? As though I’m going too fast. like a magnet. The roadway is narrow.be. Peter employs his old trick to stop the babble of thought. Peter tries to interest himself in the bookshops on Charing Cross Road. orientated in towards the group. Etcetera etcetera. Not individuals. but this morning is different: the babble in his head is threatening to overwhelm him. Peter knows he should feel shocked by this image. for that matter. out of 81 . impatience and caution nicely balanced in the drivers. He is about to decide to duck in there for a while. Orientation. Like spokes of a wheel. when instead he turns abruptly into the little side street that runs between the two buildings the bookshop occupies. It’s orientation that you should concern yourself with. like the hind legs of an animal. Peter passes on. but groups. Orientation. Like iron in a magnet. he wonders. vehicles close packed in two tidy lines. Peter stands looking in a window: atlases and books about geography.
even a twinkle in his toes. but still there are long rows of disks to be searched. a contralto singing Puccini. he thinks. already too much 82 . Nonetheless. deflected away from its true path. that of buying an interesting CD. like grieving for something lost.control. He returns to Charing Cross Road and heads on up towards Oxford Street. to no avail. easing executive stress. serious rest and recuperation under way here. Peter sighs. It was reviewed on Radio Three this morning. As though something in me is being bent back. and asks: ‘I’m looking for a disk of music recorded by the Leningrad Phil. all telling him that it’s too late.’ Peter hesitates. He cannot remember what else is on the disk. So he goes to the nearest assistant. The music store is mad with frantic teenagers. congested traffic at each street crossing – all those Soho streets – and Peter pressing ahead trying to keep to one idea. as he passes through to the Classics department at the rear of the shop. too late. the things I think of. Quiet in here. There are the fleeting murmurs. sorting through piles of disks. like birds twittering in the trees somewhere. So there’s the long struggle against the crowds on Oxford Street. God. like inmates on day release. under Mravinsky. boys and girls already in Saturday night mood. The buzz certainly buoys Peter up. The Puccini is good. an excitement here too. then loses all patience. the dance music literally hopping of the walls. Duped. a subtle weaving that soon drives away the youthful clamour of dance. And at the same time he is immensely sad. no Mravinsky. He checks under performers: no Leningrad Phil. he realises. Peter checks under Scriabin. Like I am being fooled.
to the tube station there. Short queue to pay and then Peter has his disk. Peter has this thought. smiles: ‘There you go. something by Rimsky-Korsakov. Saturday day-out over. ‘Scriabin?’ The assistant looks at the back of the disk he happens to be holding. but because he has thought through this curious phenomenon before – at Keele 83 . as though the former is some grubby little agent serving the King.’ Peter stammers his thanks. Le Poème de l’extase. But it is the disk he wanted: Scriabin. Sudden deflation. something over-extended finally falling to earth again. yes. everyone opening their purchases as though they are gifts someone else paid for. looking up from reading the liner notes momentarily at the Victoria Station stop. but then adds helpfully. Yet that’s no problem. He takes the Victoria Line without a murmur. takes the Victoria Line to Kennington. This is because it’s always Christmas time travelling out from London on Saturdays. where he changes for the more familiar Northern Line to Clapham South.information for the assistant to digest. Peter heads up to Oxford Circus. The assistant hands him the disk. surprised. That’s the one. asks: ‘Poem of Ecstasy?’ ‘Why.’ Peter responds. Peter never decides on a purchase that quickly. Very strange that: the separation of purchaser and consumer in the one person. feeling the result of the late night last night. looking at the disk – heavily carbuncled art object on the cover – both stunned and a little cagey. also Debussy and Ravel. Scriabin. Op 54.
University: a paper entitled Automation and Freedom:
Overcoming Terror, read to sociologists and social
psychologists but never printed (as usual) – he abandons it in
favour of what he is reading about the tyrannical Mravinsky
and how he drove the Leningrad Phil to produce such
superlative music. He considers how performance can be
forced, even in the matter of art. His instinctive response to
this thought is to question the value of such art.
Peter gets off when the train reaches Clapham South.
He doesn’t check to see if it the right station. He just knows
he is there. (The fact is that the previous station, Clapham
Common, has a particular atmosphere that tells him where he
The first thing you see is the expanse of the common,
its parkland and copses, walkways with people walking. Not
rural, of course, but not overwhelmingly urban either. Peter
takes a deep breath, as he always does, perhaps the extra
oxygen in the air, perhaps an unacknowledged dislike of
It’s the mechanical nature of performance that
concerns him. Having been taught to play the piano as a child
has left him with a deep ambiguity about music, the contrast
between its supreme expressive power and the mind numbing
boredom of actually making that music. Why we practically
worship performers and pay them so much. Why otherwise
sane men and women queue up to spend the best years of
their lives learning how to make music in such a fashion.
Along Nightingale Lane – along the edge of the
common – then into Alderbrook Road, and Peter is running
memories of a succession of performers he has enjoyed,
piano, violin, organ, whole orchestras labouring over
enormous Romantic symphonies. Revelling in the beauty and
inspiration of the music, small armies of cultured men and
women labouring like coolies to provide him with the source
of his momentary elevation above reality.
And what makes this possible?
God, but Peter is relieved. He stops on the footpath
halfway down the road in order to marvel. The bloody line of
thought held together!
It doesn’t always happen. Most times his mind
meanders on till he gets tired of the prattle and inwardly
shouts: Etcetera etcetera. Actually, Peter is not aware that the
abiding curse of his mode of thinking – commented upon by
teachers and academic colleagues over the years – his
tendency to argue by ellipsis and depend in part for effect on
the drama of the implicit, has been at work again, this time
with fortunate results.
The sight of the severely trimmed privet hedge
announces Peter’s destination. He grew up in a village suburb
of severely trimmed privet hedges, and never knew that the
privet flowered – and that the scent of the flower was so
pleasant – until he was already in his late teens. Now he
always sniffs for that fragrance as he passes this hedge, even
though there can be no flowers.
He sniffs now, thinking: art as order will always
‘Finding ever looking man of joy. Heart is seized and
What appears to be a clown is rising up from the other
side of the bush, milk white skin, a shock of dark hair like a
primitive head-dress. The clown bursts into song:
Peter’s heart is crossways in him: he knows the song
but cannot remember where he heard it. There is like a
density – of some grainy material, like compacted golden
sand – between him and the time and place of that
But he has by now turned in the gate to the house and
the clown is approaching him across the narrow front garden,
barefooted on the stony dry soil, one hand raised in greeting,
head up as he sings out.
Peter reacts badly, way too abrupt, not so much fear of
the weird man but a sense of contamination very strong in
‘Is mine riches allowed frantic hate, my scone?’
The lack of teeth finally reminds Peter, seeing frantic
as though written in the air between, the face peering back at
him from the rapidly departing car the previous evening.
Peter raises his right hand, half in greeting, half in restraint,
saying, slightly too loudly in case he is not understood:
‘Have you been here long?’
It is wonderful to see how the clown is transformed at
once into something more significant: how the skin of the
stranger lights up as though from within – yet remaining pure
white – how his hands unfold so gracefully towards Peter, as
though drawing him into a kind of symbolic embrace.
‘Where fore we wend wonder ever strained away, good
Peter is nodding, turning away and searching for his
keys awhile. He is concluding that the strange man is an
immigrant, most likely recent and almost certainly illegal.
Poverty, torture, the aberrant pressures of demented political
or religious systems could all account for his peculiarities.
The stranger halts in the porch, head straining forward,
when Peter goes ahead into the hall. So he turns and waves
him in, but he does not move until Peter makes the effort of
actually telling him to come in – then he runs back into the
garden and reappears bearing what looks like a large white
plastic bag and other bits and strips of white plastic. Peter
goes ahead and unlocks the door to his flat once he is sure the
stranger is following him.
It feels as though Peter has not been away from his flat
for very long – though it is by now thirty hours since he had
left it to go to work on Friday morning. It also feels as though
he has never been there before. Perhaps it is the presence of
the stranger, but Peter can see no evidence of his residence
there. His books and papers are in storage in Bristol, there are
no pictures, no furnishings of his in the place. There is a
newish audio system against the wall by the fireplace, a
dozen or so CDs on a small shelf above, but they could
belong to anyone.
He turns and asks the stranger, ‘Have you eaten?’ He
goes on across to the kitchen.
‘Combing all hair is too tried for mentality,
Peter nods, turning in the doorway to the kitchen to see
the stranger dart across towards the bedroom, at the front of
the house. Peter assumes he must be tired after waiting for
him for so long. He calls:
‘It’s a double bed, if you like, but there’s a sleeping
bag under the bed, if you prefer.’
Peter is a bit nonplussed. There’s a lag in him between
his plans for the day and the disruption caused by the
appearance of yesterday’s hitchhiker again. He puts the
newly bought disk on the armchair in front of the audio
system. Then, without giving any thought to it, he undresses
and goes into the bathroom to bathe. He doesn’t realise it, but
Peter always bathes and changes after any excursion into
London, whether to work or play.
London is dirty, contaminating.
then. tentative music cannot hold his attention for long. always the inclination to withdraw. now sitting quite still for the first time that day. and when the cloudy music ends – as it is about to do – then these thoughts will likewise end. which permits Peter. It is Asiatic Rimsky-Korsakov. comes a reactive urge for closure. The first thing he realises is that he has told her all about his erstwhile interest in utopianism. Suite from the Opera. With exposure. It’s like he was born with that feeling. The feathery. but he realises at once that it is not at all new. then going on a fairly graphic depiction of the plot of the opera. The feeling of exposure seems new. Peter reads that it is The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronia. doors.It’s only as the first track on the CD begins – Debussy’s Nuages – that Peter really feels the aftermath of the night with Anne. Peter sees. treated as a waste product much like the afterbirth. as though birth into this world was a kind of unpeeling. retreat. to be consumed one way or another. Peter does not etcetera this line of thought. that is the noise made by the instruments. eyes. he has the cop to know that cloudy music can lead to cloudy thoughts. there is Rimsky-Korsakov’s piece. windows. where the city of Kitezh is saved by the 89 . Next. a fruit stripped of its protective skin and now liable to waste and evaporation. closing coats. there is always that frantic drawing-to. Still. But such closure is ultimately impossible: the first loss is that of the protective skin itself. He grimaces with a sudden stab of embarrassment. is to be enjoyed for these last few minutes. to remember some of the details of the night. the music itself. Nonetheless. back-off. opening with a haunting Overture in favour of solitude.
which describes the death of the heroine and the entry of the lovers into the now invisible City. Peter does listen to all this. is a return to the more lyrical music of the overture. there is none. The stranger remains in the doorway. as though to find there some manifestation that has effected the stranger so. very high pitched: ‘Gosh wonks wurdycraft tomlinson. Do you know it?’ The stranger shivers at Peter’s words and says in a sing-song voice. no more than a stack of black metal boxes. ‘It about the hidden City of Kitezh. Russian. However. a kind of gyration of the hips. Of course.’ The stranger moves then. struck dumb with awe and joy. Peter hears a gasp behind him. Peter glances by reflex at the audio equipment. the conviction of the Russian players giving the laboured music a compulsive quality.Mother of God from attack by the Mongols. the last section. Slowly. almost naked. drawing his shoulders back at the same time. The stranger is standing in the door to the bedroom. The movement draws Peter’s attention to the stranger’s body. mouth hanging open. for all the world like a dead man risen. nail-less hands raised and extended. the music rises in a circulating motion towards the climatic entry. a look of awe and something like dawning joy on his face. Vever ant brockin. The bell ringing ceases and the music begins another round of rising tension as it prepares for a second go at the climax. never having heard if before. He notices immediately that the stranger is wearing only what appears to 90 . where the beautiful timbre and colour of the orchestra comes into its own. when suddenly a bell begins to ring out. obviously the great bell of the City.
the nearest one a matter of inches from where Peter sits at meals. The stranger goes rigid again. a solid nutritious diet that can be sustained almost anywhere. So Peter judges that it is time for lunch. ‘Want something to eat?’ then goes out to the kitchen. as though in greeting. and Peter realises with a sinking heart that this is going to stretch out before him for seventeen tedious minutes. Breakfast. but that wouldn’t do: the disk must be played out in its entirety the first time. it has been converted into a peculiar eating area. so mostly the atmosphere is al fresco and very nice at that. Peter is a cheese and bread man. Of course. Now the music is rising again towards the climax. a feeling in him also of accessing joy. Being in London. But the stranger’s chest is also flat. The next track is Ravel’s Bolero. is like eating in public. and also that his groin in remarkable flat. He calls over the music. though this might well have been inadvertent. the aural space being cleared for the tolling of the bell again. slamming the door behind him. he could click on to the next track.be a pair of tight drawers. he has access 91 . but it is summertime. made of very shiny white plastic. especially. and he feels an equal entrancement as he too enters the holy City tucked away where no harm can come to it or its inhabitants. very flat and bony. Then the music is ended. The garden contains a number of rose bushes of different kinds. The stranger darts away back into the bedroom. But definitely no genital bag in evidence. And this time. Like a woman’s. glassed on all sides and on its sloping top. a diet that has grown out of his nomadic life. Once a conservatory built of wood and glass. the bell works on Peter too. his hands rising further.
The Ravel inside is working it’s way stolidly towards its climax. He wouldn’t let himself be fooled by feel-good. vaguely morose now. The tea is ready. as though he suffers a distraction from a deep inchoate meditation. petals sparkling in the sunlight. an early ripe Comice already cored. Then. except that life comes to resemble the effort of trudging through waist-high water. red and yellow roses nodding in the light wind. chunks of fresh roll spread thickly with cheese. which seems to him best suited to the sometimes bovine flavour of the cheese. And so it is today. partly resistance to the sexual mechanics of the music: thinking how much effort is 92 . Little else. What happens? Nothing much. which he eats invariably with ripe pear. Comice if available. His mind plods. He concentrates on eating – ripe fruit and a soft cheese require some care – which saves him from having to hear the by now rampaging music. still some minutes off. Peter is invaded – for the first time in two years – by the old weltschmerz.to a particularly tasty camembert. Peter doesn’t usually maintain his morale much above what is necessary for the relatively smooth functioning of his life. like stage scenery being torn down during a play to reveal the bare walls and boards that actually contain the actors and their drama. He is gazing idly into the garden. by artificial highs. Some irritability is possible if he is disturbed beyond the norm. so Peter makes it back in front of the speakers with a minute to spare. quite suddenly. into believing that life is in some hidden sense worth living. Yet the sudden plummet in even his basic sense of well-being is always a shock. Peter only awaits the drawing of the tea.
Then – at last – the Ravel ends and after a very pregnant pause the Poem of Ecstasy begins. He can only say in explanation: ‘What’s the matter? It’s Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy. Scriabin beams the harmonic heat away towards the further reaches of his aural landscape. An echo of Debussy. plate in his lap. Where consonance warmed the cockles of the Baroque heart.’ But the stranger is inconsolable. both composers facing a similar problem – how to escape the conveyor belt of chromatic harmony. his present lunch an example. this sense of meander. mouth wide open as he bawls is a curiously mournful singsong voice. Always.needed to say even obvious things. palms flat against the sides of his head. Peter realises upon hearing the opening phrases. and that this heat engenders a kind of dread. still trying to hear the music – train of thought quite lost – a growing unease at the sight of the stricken stranger. But there is also his own habit of making the simple complex. His crying is getting uncomfortable loud. But it is obvious that for Scriabin harmony is a form of heat. using flat-toned brass to achieve this… Someone is crying. tears pouring from his eyes. familiar since the time of Bach. mug of tea on the armrest of his chair. as though designed to drown out some awful cacophony with one greater. mucus from his nostrils. Peter is being driven to distraction. a kind of fine foam like a thread around his lips. The stranger stands in the bedroom doorway again. Peter cannot move. He sees again the flat groin and at once he is stabbed by a deep pity. thinking that they 93 .
He cannot touch that white flesh – still weirdly uncoloured despite the passion of the stranger’s distress – for fear of inducing shock in him (the stranger. which leads him immediately to think that perhaps the stranger had in fact been singing along with the Poem of Ecstasy. He has a vision of utter devastation. The silence is momentarily uncanny: Peter can still hear the bell tolling in Scriabin’s piece and sees.even cut the poor man’s balls off.’ the stranger says with evident satisfaction. holding his right hand forward in preparation to touching: ‘It’s only some modern music. where he sits at the table and eats slowly. ‘Gar canging ot dunate. studying closely the various rose blossoms. Peter collects the remains of his lunch and takes it out into the kitchen. edges around the mug and approaches the stranger. He turns and hurries over to switch the music off – just as a bell begins to ring as the climax of this particular sexual ecstasy is reached. mind deliberately empty. He puts the plate on the floor by his feet.’ The stranger’s eyes have a vibration of pain in them that Peter has never seen before. but no doubt also himself). At once the stranger stops howling. without any apparent relevance. 94 . Weird. He says. something like a corpse swinging on a gibbet – a dark bundle surely drawn from childhood television. bonnich. But Peter can still hear the stranger’s unearthly howl. looking more pleased with himself that Peter had previously seen. It means no harm. a man left utterly denuded and vulnerable by systematic cruel mistreatment.
no nails. afraid now of disturbing the unfortunate man’s respite. Peter feels tenderness. He is utterly still. And language: not being able to communicate this condition. Transparent? Peter asks himself. no balls. the strong becoming weak. Then. He again wants to touch the so-white skin. the fearless becoming fearful. yet persisting in peace and trust. suffering. trembling. He sees peace and trust. and feel something of what it would be like to be so denuded. no teeth.see the stricken face. He nods. unresisting. the wind coming to whoosh through an empty place. the rather harsh thought intrudes – as though it has waited for this opportunity: What is she afraid of? 95 . composing himself on his back. sees something like a storm brewing. like watching your child sleep. and yet something persisting through all this. but as before cannot being himself to do it. The stranger is huddled in his little plastic bag tent – set up between the wardrobe and the corner of the room towards the outside of the house. not complain or explain. Peter suddenly gets up from the table and passes through into the bedroom. It is like being transparent. afraid. seeing not bravery or stoicism but irrelevance and indifference: seeing that which is not pain becoming pain. drifting now towards a loss of consciousness. at peace and safe. So Peter goes and lies out on the bed. sudden insight: like being unable to protect oneself and so having everything pass in and pass out uncontrollably. arms by his side – as has long been his habit.
The plan is to visit the Dulwich Gallery again. he knows he already knows the answer. day of rest and diversion. a good time for extended reflection. Most artwork down to Renaissance did not disguise the fact that the image is bounded. to spend more time mulling over the fine Dutch landscapes on display there. where a black is settling down to his day of entertainment. but hasn’t yet been able to figure out what it is.It’s getting towards noon and time for Peter to decide what to do with this particular Sunday. even figures. Peter has been struck by something about them. again. It is not by any means a big garden. At present he is looking out at the garden. having just finished his breakfast. facades. even if the boundary – the edge of the painting – truncates elements of the image. roadways. the end section covered by a climbing rose still sporting the last of its pink flowers. To the right the wall is surmounted by a tall wooden screen erected by the couple next door to mark their exclusion zone. the uncut grass waving. The difference: Peter gets up from the table and goes out into the garden. When Peter asks the question. but cannot bring it to mind. 96 . The only presence for the moment is the soft thump of music from the house directly across. of all things. smokey beige brick walls. usually by bounding foliage. Why the difference? The morning is bright. about how the frame of the landscape image is disguised. The roses are nodding. He keeps thinking about curtains. the windows of the houses beyond all uniformly blank. and the air from the garden is less tainted than usual – being Sunday.
hard to tell. obviously not happy with the cultural competition. The kitchen is quickly cleaned. Bathe and shave are done by habit. This has been going on for a few weeks now. The best he can do for the moment is ask the question: How is a landscape derived from place? After that there is only cleaning up and preparation for the day. quite suddenly. brown leather boots. marks of the outdoors man. meaning little harm to anyone. He could be dead. This morning the crisis is reached. holding it seems the exact same position – foetal though the space in his plastic tent is pretty confined – as the previous evening. no more. Dressing is also simple. choice of red or green. Back to the kitchen then. with red chosen for today. a bachelor’s economy of use means few dishes and little mess. time for coffee. deeply disciplined. And as usual the black across the way has raised the volume of his music. last minute preparations for the day out.Peter is now in a landscape. fawn moleskins. when the babble next store ceases and the lady of the house shouts out in her doughty voice: 97 . But a jolly crowd. Next door’s weekly lunch meet is under way. to know one is close to an understanding and yet not able to win through to it. the volume on either side steadily rising one against the other. middle-aged solicitors and the like making a virtue of a debilitating hedonism. wine-red to be exact. as though striving to keep ahead of the city’s destructive pressures. walking through a landscape. north south east west and up all the way to the sky. It is tantalising. so little sense of labour. But where is the landscape? All that can be seen is space or place extending in all directions. The stranger is still abed.
First there is a whoop or two. on this particular sunny Sunday morning – with cultural uplift in the offing – the pain arising from the trivial drama just enacted outside seems a pointless sort of experience. almost as though they believed themselves to be alone together again. seeing there a reach for something that. more inducive of a petty hopelessness than spiritual insight. Not so. Instantly. on the principle that one should never give the game away – then the whole tenor of the conversational flow is stepped up. but only for a moment. once achieved. yes. Peter turns away. the group of brunchers. that these middle-aged middleclass chums can hold their Sunday morning get-together as they always have? And yet the pain is there now. Taking on another’s pain has to be the least profitable habit imaginable. 98 . Even so. Peter would tell you: his studies tell him that truth will always be found in pain.‘SHUT UP THAT FUCKING MUSIC!’ It works. And yet pain is a product of that engagement – on both sides. What is achieved? A restoration perhaps of a state of affairs. Peter follows this series of events. How the black must feel is of absolutely no significance. is taken completely for granted. And how they. seeing his weltschmerz in danger of becoming something decidedly worse. a few cheers – though each expression of triumph is at once received with a momentary admonishing silence. feel does not signify either. Conversation resumes. Well. as though nothing has happened. It’s as though the morning group next door – now engaged in reconnecting the gin flow from the previous evening – is slow to react.
Some thing is being explained in a direct way – though Peter hasn’t a clue what is being explained – as though some kind of respect exists between the stranger and Peter. feeling lame because his spirits are low. looking at the white plastic tent enshrouding the stranger. as though the stranger can operate within him in some direct fashion: ‘Did you rest well?’ The stranger seems to uncoil from his tent – Peter retreating as required – rising up to his feet in one smooth flow. The desire to touch one of the white pulpy hands is very powerful. Peter is musing. Peter is actually reaching. He lays his hands out in front of him. even while he notices that there are no lines at all in the stranger’s palms. Peter can only say in reply. Man’s inhumanity. feeling also something like a dart of light within. But if we are free agents. Peter sees one bright blue eye regarding him. Gar bwell pugt. sipping dark coffee. Peter finds himself in the bedroom. a tension in his right arm. going from long-time supine to erect in seconds without any apparent discomfort.’ The stranger is smiling! Admittedly like a rictus of gums and elastic rather than pliable lips. not running away but more like moving out of range.Turning away has its own momentum. bonnich. then no limits can be placed and moral judgements must always be relative to rules that attempt to limit that freedom.’ Peter is moved by the obvious frankness of the man. Worse here to contemplate. palms up: ‘Hilften forten unti trokkint. ‘Gar hiffin? Manching gord. if permitted. twinkling even there in the subdued light of the stranger’s shelter. 99 .
collt bushkin. and turns – as out of habit – towards his refuge. but Peter reaches and grasps the stranger’s left hand. but he cannot explain the lack of lines in the palms before him. soft plastic with padding beneath. even no gonads. ‘No. just 100 . while he has already allowed him to share some part of his life. bright expression dying.’ Peter withdraws as slowly as he can. when Peter withdraws his hand. this hidden quality in him. the flesh was cold to begin with. It’s an impulse. warming quickly until getting hot. The stranger stops. the stranger relaxes his reaching out. Peter thinks now that many people would find stranger repulsive. not revulsion – because he has thought of revulsion – but out of a sense of discretion.’ It is Peter commanding. too bare – stripped – in a way that would induce a vague insecurity: how people feel about poverty. It is this turning back that decides Peter: he can’t be let just hide away like that. He can explain no teeth. implying a desperation in him. but then it warms under his fingers. At the same time. The stranger seems pathetically trusting. for instance. his capacity to determine others. As Peter moves away. At least. the white tent. Yet what is he to do? He cannot bear to cause the unfortunate man any hurt. elastic in the way Peter remembers a cousin’s doll had been. The look on the stranger’s face can only be called ecstatic. so damaged that the need for attention is pathological by now. no nails. ‘Gothingdon!’ Nodding emphatically: ‘Burted domp. he is wondering to himself – afraid to utter these words out loud – Who are you? The stranger’s flesh is cold.Now this is a weirdness too far for Peter.
frozen. tall. “Peter. immersed in its sunny utopian world. Then it is like a sound coming from a distant place.like that. more like a father calling. true. something relenting within him: Claude. benign. Aesthetics on one side: beautification. post-card landscapes. Not merely beautiful. glorious. as landscapes and modern portraits are. Peter explaining about boundaries.” Like a mother calling. The room Turner required as an act of homage. Peter?’ His name spoken by the stranger has a remarkable effect. perhaps. Most of all. but not made beautiful. desire for the perfect. He can see the small room with its tall frames prominent. yet arrayed. so all is still and one. illustrations – the Hart in the Thicket. Peter sees himself and the stranger standing before other images. ‘Habte onk. For a start it is like an echo of himself speaking his own name. On the other? Medieval art: sacred image. self-belief. 101 . Peter thinks with strong relief. And in this sense of making perfect. the root of pride. strange resonance. perhaps beautiful as of origin. Peter sees the stranger with him in the Dulwich Gallery. unusual echoes. That’s is. this utterance of his name charms Peter utterly. disposed. willing to allow the humiliating comparison with the master. for instance – a Book of Days. in fact: a forgotten sense of establishment from childhood. He sees himself and the stranger before The Mill. together studying the pretty. discussing the contrasting of – what? – aesthetics… Ha! Peter almost had it that time.
stark white skin. The stranger cannot be seen wearing those plastic clothes of his. Is this possible? He has heard that it is almost impossible to obliterate finger prints. paisley pattern in gold. the stroke of genius. The shirt is too big in the shoulders. what look like little black plastic bags that seem to attach themselves clingingly to his feet. place deserted – it being Sunday – Peter walking that little way in front. brighter than the one he is wearing. so how can a whole hand print be removed? Why in any case do it? So his lifeline cannot be read. but it does the trick.Peter checks himself. So. Peter is thinking of torture again. gummy. He signals the stranger to attract his attention. The stranger is willing to wear them. then goes to the wardrobe. then a pair of stone-coloured slacks. Foppish now. they are off. Ah. Only trouble. this time ripping the skin off a man’s palms so that no lines remain. lighter fabric too. He roots down into a drawer and finds an old cravat. Understandable. Up Alderbrook Road in the noonday sun. if only because they are too big and wide. Peter knows the stranger will not be taken seriously. the pants hanging in the seat. concerned both to lead the stranger and to protect him if required. shock of black hair. submissive to Peter but otherwise indifferent to what he now wears. Peter is aghast at what the stranger proposes wearing. a red shirt. First. The truth is he looks even weirder then previously. he cannot get him to wear a pair of his shoes. Peter has it. like some ghastly rubber man. his destiny? 102 .
as though he has just had an extensive layer of his skin removed in this way. Jesus! Peter is staggered by the shiver that run up his body. What is it? Agony? What’s in a word? Why not call it lollipop or something inane while you’re about it? Peter finds they are up on Nightingale Lane now and that he is looking out into the common. wafting towards them from the common. He thinks forcing his opened hands down on to a red hot metal surface. They are still walking in this staggered line under the noonday sun. say a commercial cooking plate. We truly do to others what has been done to us. ‘Gar hantin. Where else could the motivation be found for such energetic activities? Peter turns spontaneously to the stranger and places his arm across his shoulders and squeezes them tightly. not on this scale. This isn’t pain. something so gentle in the atmosphere that you would be strongly tempted to go and sit under a tree for the afternoon and doze. he is thinking. hazy air among the trees. at the familiar parkland. holding his arms straight out. pleasantly warm.This is obviously an absurd line of speculation. Yet Peter finds that he is wondering how they removed the stranger’s palms. bonnich? Kumbert?’ Peter shakes his head slowly in sympathy: 103 . Pity. forcefully twisting his hands to the right orientation. Why would they do it? I mean. gentle eddying air along the road. why take the trouble to inflict such savage torture on another person? You would do it only if you already contained in some way an equal or greater pain. Peter smiles grimly to himself for catching on too late. Who would do it? Large strong men grappling with the screaming youth.
And it is just like that. peace on Sunday. 104 . But he does say. sunny day.’ The stranger – Kharib – is well pleased by Peter’s effort. ‘Kharib. occupants perhaps taking time to appreciate the scenery. The stranger – Kharib – is even more delighted this time. Peter knows by the stranger’s expression that this word is his name. a commonplace disposition that will soon in the future come to seem quaint. The stranger seems very uncertain.’ He points to the stranger. dappled trees on the common.‘You poor unfortunate…’ Overcome to an extent – limited by amazement at his own display of emotion – he finds he cannot find the right word to describe the stranger. Peter.’ He points to himself: ‘Peter. Victorian redbrick residences. is very pleased. He says earnestly: ‘I don’t even know your name. pedestrians going their ways. even nostalgic. not frightened by Peter’s intensity. day out. no work. mouth open as though he himself will utter the name. He now turns to face him.’ Peter tries again. more unsure of the protocol being followed. laying a hand on either shoulder. Even the cars seem just to cruise. hesitantly: ‘Gar fot…’ The next word involves a throat-tearing guttural sound remarkable even by the standards of the stranger’s usual speech. all his emotion quite evaporated. also. Peter tries his best to be faithful to the stranger’s pronunciation: ‘Kharib. for he smiles that disturbingly rubberoid smile and nods with a naïve complacency.
Kharib. A walk to the National Gallery. leafy – as they say – Sunday like a harbinger of real mortality. Peter is intent at first on getting Kharib up to a decent speed and then with keeping him at it. Peter thinks. familiar territory to Peter. a bus presenting itself within minutes. They are going somewhere. allowing him to retire again into the consoling insouciance of all London officials. He takes Kharib by the elbow – again that disquiet at touching the rubbery flesh. down through Stockwell and Kennington. No. no rational persuasion to be exercised. perhaps rolling himself into a ball on the grass beside the pathway. Peter with a particularly vivid image of The Mill at that moment. take their attention away from the effort 105 . the bones within much lighter than would be expected – and sets him to walking down along the common. It’s not difficult. Kharib doesn’t like the bus either. but Peter can feel that Kharib if let will drift away into a daydream. Claude decides it. Kharib is not going down the escalator. draws back in consternation at the prospect of descending even a few yards into the solid earth. Speaking would ordinarily help in a situation like this. Peter hears a train swoosh into the station below. He pictures walking to Dulwich. Okay. Peter shouts in exasperation: ‘But you travelled in our bloody car the other day!’ The bus driver begins by taking all this up wrongly – super-white skinned foreigner baulking at dark skinned driver – but Peter’s shout reassures him. The bus stop is nearby. and they both feel the gust of hot air. like the exhalation of a serpent fed on lubricants and electricity. so we go by bus. quiet roads. even if they have to walk.But at the Tube station the stranger. There is no argument here. Now Peter figures walking.
shallow but kept clean of weed and scum. but what strikes him immediately is the fact that the stranger is speaking a different language. He says only. Cruzzo. Here Kharib veers away suddenly and runs with a strange bouncing lope over to its edge. then he slowly repeats the mime. then drawing them apart again. betraying in this way his utter lack of confidence in the peculiar stranger. Kharib nods. Cuzzo grontia. So they walk together. not far from the Clapham Common tube station. saying this time: ‘Cha beltante hortenzzi. There is a significant event during this walk. It’s obvious that the mood emanating from Kharib is far stronger than anything resident in Peter at the moment. drawing them together. bonchin. but Peter feels a deep reluctance to talk.until such time as their bodies settle into the rhythm of walking smartly. ‘Bin chiarro gurro. Peter of course charges off in pursuit.’ Peter of course doesn’t understand a word of this. It occurs at the far end of the common. one drawing the other forward along the path.’ Then he begins an elaborate mime with his hands. beltanta prezchio. of work well done simmering nicely now. He bends and touches the water with one hand – the right – and then slowly and deliberately touches the stony 106 . guntrenti volyanta. one drawing the other deeper into some nameless reverie. The path runs by a pond. a little crestfallen. Of course. He checks to see if Peter is following him. Peter shakes his head slowly. But Kharib waits for Peter to catch him up: then he begins a long involved demonstration. antala gotryuni. an air of ripeness everywhere. but then brightens again. rolling the joined hands from the vertical to the horizontal. it is not a bit unpleasant: hazy lazy Sunday afternoon in August. cruzzi.
he makes an effort.’ Then he withdraws his hand from earth and water and brings them together. Peter sees watchful men interrogating Kharib. No. then he quite dramatically pulls them apart. Perhaps a man filled with frightful secrets from some eastern despotism. Peter.pathway with his left. saying with a shout: ‘Avanchighini!’ So sudden a movement that Peter gets a real fright. no hesitation. no wonky accent. Sure.’ Kharib has spoken perfect English. waits while they are contemplated by the bemused Peter. seeing Kharib tortured for no innocent reason after all. not that. I should take him to the nearest police station. then some kind of esoteric operation. beltantia. saying simply: ‘Chia cortumti. drawing his head back. He looks up at Peter all the time. he is used to decoding events for their significance. experts in his language and milieu. Is he telling me about a new weapon? Peter is thinking. Peter finds he is being looked at with something approaching compassion.’ He holds his joined hands up before Peter’s eyes. then they are flung apart. knowing the correct questions to ask…and – bearing in mind the methods used previously on him – how to ask them. after all. He sees earth and water brought together. palm to palm. He sees earth and water – who wouldn’t? – but not much more. chioti bagtrini. as though he is a child groping for an understanding forever 107 . saying: ‘Idirti cosumptia. It would never do… ‘No.
The pressure is such 108 . not even the compassion and the regard it demonstrates. he could have taken it in his stride.’ He shrugs. fingers intertwined signifying love or mere conjoinment. ‘Bekbek durtinch. Amative. hitchhiker with signs of some serious mistreatment. headlines in a paper. a protective screen coming down. si?’ Kharib has brought his two hands together again. there is something too much in the experience. Jesus! Peter is struggling now. memory that Bekbek may mean Rebecca. just here and now. saying: ‘Gar fort ideochini socchurti. so hands joined. It’s not that the stranger is different – he is – it’s simply that he is here present to Peter. amative making some sense. He can recognise that Kharib is speaking a babble of languages. congress. Had he read about him on the news. but this time his fingers enfold each other. not out of indifference – though it could be interpreted thus – but as though he himself shares some of Peter’s bewilderment and loss. who doesn’t seems to be deprived or psychologically damaged in any way. as it were. so that his hands remained joined.beyond him. gar fut henchin. tightly joined. Kharib gestures with a supreme delicacy. who lives in a plastic bag. But in the flesh. even a young couple coming towards him wrapped in a shared reverie – that’s not quite panic (as Peter understands it). It’s that old feeling of some fabric being rent. No. It is this business of this stranger. more like a delight infected with hysteria. Something is rising in Peter – a sunny Sunday afternoon on Clapham Common. Not the message. bonchin. Peter has all this in a flash: but there is something else here.
It was easily the worst thing you could think of. Peter knows that even without knowing what it was. bending towards Peter. when? Buying that CD yesterday: I was asleep then. Not a happy view on his recent past. finally accepting that he cannot communicate with Peter after all. he sees himself falling off Anne’s back.’ He is very earnest. I’ve been asleep since. a very human anxiety in his voice: 109 . He sees himself putting his hand out for the disk. I’m not awake. asleep all day long. So it would seem. he realises.that Peter is forced to blurt out the question he now understands has been lodged somewhere in his throat for a long time: ‘Who are you?’ Kharib has the expression of a bright and attentive bird. though Peter himself is finding that he has a different perspective on it. Kharib says. Saw something. ‘Vancumt.’ He lowers his head. he repeats blankly. head as though throbbing. sleep-walking through the aisles to where he paid for it. When did I fall asleep? By way of an answer. Then? Yes. obviously aware of Peter’s distress. knowing at the same time that he actually had seen something and that he will not remember what it was. flesh totally white despite the sun and warmth: ‘Tecum anto. This memory really staggers Peter. He raises his right hand. Because I saw something as I fell over. bonchin. not ever. sleep-walking to the Tube station. falling and falling. eyes darting rapidly to different parts of Peter’s face.
like old waste pipes. on up to Hanham on the height above the river. going through Elephant and Castle instead of.’ He touches Peter’s brow with the gentlest touch. something smoothly liquid running from somewhere in his chest. turning him in the right direction. as he discovers when he consults a London Transport map at a bus stop. The problem was. all golden. dappled sunlight on his limbs. Peter cries. Peter is remembering a walk one Sunday soon after his arrival in Bristol. A small tea house. 110 . then a pedestrian way down among trees – an old railway cutting – until suddenly he debouched onto a meadow on the banks of the River Avon.‘Tarkum boshtik. and then try down this way. a veritable caress.’ It takes time to reach the National Gallery. he could never find that spot again. through Vauxhall. then on another Sunday another way. Crying? Peter opens his eyes – he is not crying. He sometimes retraced his steps out through St Phillips Marsh. saying smartly in his commanding way. He followed this road. Instead he is at once determined. The pavements are worse in a way: badly paved and deserted. like honey. just like that. Peter suspects they have taken the long way in. The roads feel used up. confounded by the gift of momentary peace. a small pleasure craft gliding down with the slow current. ‘Get a move on. taking the stranger’s elbow. groups picnicking on the grass. He sat on the grass in a stupor. an afterthought like an act of charity or legal obligation. worn smooth by maximum use. No cars. So what? The walk confirms Peter’s belief that London is not a good place to walk in. a soft easy flow of tears. bonchin? Merra merra.
So anyway. magchi?’ The voice is so familiar to Peter. She is bent over Kharib. was it? – Third Secretary now. but then a voice strikes up somewhere behind him. if it isn’t Tobias! I thought you were out in – Bahrain. but relaxes when he espies the tray holding glasses of clear water. The woman has fair hair. the mellow peace riverside.Could never find it again. knowing very well that he has never seen the stranger actually eat. tomatoes and greens. more ready for lunch than high art. but gathers up a glass of water for him and his usual frugal ham sandwich for himself. together with a sachet of mustard. here they are in the narrow foyer of the National Gallery. He must now wait in line for tea. like a lost paradise. The queue is slow. talking loudly because no one listens: ‘Well.’ ‘Gar habint gorum. the guttural sounds modulated to a surprisingly flat tone – like lights reflecting from nickel or zinc. too close for decency’s sake. off-duty bourgeoisie in a stupor. isn’t it? Joanna was telling me only last week that she had heard that your promotion had come through. that’s right. very strong gestures. and she is saying at full bellow into his face: 111 . They find the restaurant. so he sends Kharib off to a nearby vacant table to wait. Peter is treating and offers Kharib anything on the menu. thick stumpy body. Kharib shows alarm at the sight of these bowls of beans and sprouts. a braying kind of woman’s voice. at least Peter is. haunted by the calm of the picnickers. Peter shrugs. hotfooted. and Peter himself feels the seductive pull of this justified maunder.
Peter hurries over. Peter hurries. bent forward in intimate conversation. palms out. yes. potentially by the hundred in the Gallery itself. almost casually: 112 . He can see the police called.‘Ah. whether warding off the woman’s vehemence or trying to demonstrate his good health is not clear. How is that?’ The woman has pulled back. Kharib leans forward. coughing to alert them both. and lands his tray on the table as near to between them as he can manage. his hands raised. ety?’ Kharib is the most agitated Peter has even seen. The woman lets a shriek: ‘Oh my god. He turns as soon as he can. immigration officials. baring those empty gums of his. before him. that naïve earnest expression on his face. bright eyes unblinking: ‘Kittich! Borra goof kophic!’ Kharib might be excited too. her eyes glued to his mouth. sees the woman now seated beside Kharib. How does it go? Gëzohem që ju njov. aware that this is the first time the stranger has been out in public. but it has a different source. I remember. suddenly impatient. Kharib glances over at Peter and says. He is seeing his own puzzled and distressed reactions to Kharib multiplied by the dozen in this restaurant. what happened to your face?’ ‘Kittichint? Korra gothin gothomg. as it were. a sign of impending hilarity. Time now for Peter to receive his little pot of tea and pay up. He has drawn back suddenly. an unintelligible Kharib incarcerated again in some hell-hole confinement. At his back. the woman is saying something is a hoarse bellow.
staring at Peter as if to drive him away by the force of her stare alone. sandran. but nonetheless she does manage to say. balling his hands as they lie on the table-top. Perhaps you are a relative. spoon and knife. you know. You know’ – glancing in a conciliatory way at Peter. cup and saucer. plate with sandwich and mustard sachet. we all have them.’ 113 . you know. does it? Kharib helps make matters worse. not ever going to say what it is in her to say. Peter does his smirk – the unpalatable expression for once at least serving some positive purpose – saying: ‘You shouldn’t encourage them.‘Forkin two-some. hostile in her own defence: ‘And I’m not sure this is the time and place for daytrips for…’ she stumbles here. dignity restored very quickly. finally the glass of water for Kharib. teapot.’ It’s not clear who he is addressing – which is the plan – so the woman at once says. a problem with words in part but also a problem with concepts: can one say “idiot”. who might well be doing good by taking the unfortunate creature out for the day – ‘and keep them hidden away in homes. nail-less fingers only too evident now: ‘And begoing allwhiles today. I mean. and she looks at Kharib’s hands with tight lips. courageous at the very end: ‘You are so like Tobias Hunt. plenty pretty some day?’ The woman for her part over-reacts to his presence. It’s simply amazing. then at his mouth.’ Peter is make a huge show of laying out his lunch things. The woman has stepped back from the table. “cretin”? “Mentally handicapped” doesn’t mean very much.
Kharib drinks this with evident enjoyment. first spreading the yellow mustard paste over the somewhat shiny ham. unconscious of the pickled taste of the meat.’ He starts into his own sandwich. the gummy blandness of the bread. Kharib for his part is making his hideous smile – lips draw into a kind of rectangle. red gums exposed. the hunger for the consolation of Claude’s utopian visions suddenly very great. Goodness. but eating nonetheless with good appetite. Peter is now thinking of Claude again. the dead oiliness of 114 . excitement rising through realisation of the proximity of the great paintings – only a few steps away – that they will be contemplating in just a few moments. out for the day and treating himself. The woman takes this gesture very well and turns away and marches out of view.Peter inclines his head towards her in a deliberately mute response. but it is more than he can bear. The water turns bright red. He pushes the glass of water in front of Kharib and barks: ‘Drink. as though some deformity in his mouth renders drinking imperfect. He eats quickly. Kharib meanwhile takes out a small vial from some pocket or other and sprinkle what seems to be glittery dust into the water in the glass. slurping at times. an almost sensual hunger though sited somewhere in the region of his heart rather than his belly. Peter hasn’t much time for nonsense now. skin about his mouth puckered like soft plastic – staring around the room as though to invite someone else to come and try him. bubbles breaking on the surface.
the mustard, and as soon as he sees that Kharib has drunk his
blood-like concoction, jumps to his feet and sets off.
Oh, it is too much, of course it is. Here is this small
room, each wall of which is dominated by a huge painting,
two by Turner and two by Claude himself. Peter spins about
in the room, as he always does, trying to take it all in at once.
He can’t remember what it was like the first time, on a visit
to the city about ten years ago, ignorant of Claude and his
Mill. But he knows it was more a matter of remembering the
event afterwards, a flashback perhaps – the expanse of water,
river or lake? bisected by the falls, or the glowing hills in the
distance – a kind of shock of recognition, like one utopian
showing another how possible are impossible dreams.
Now the painting dominates the room, Peter stepping
towards it as though going through a door. And it is literally
like that, for Peter the landwalker finds it natural to imagine
himself walking through that landscape, down through the
sunny meadow towards the picnicking group, and maybe
afterwards on across the stream and around by the mill and
then out into the huge vista, following the water’s edge as the
sun’s shadows lengthened and evening came on. He can hear
the water lapping on the shore, birdsong near and far, light
wind soughing in the seed-heavy grass.
He says, louder than he intended – to compensate for
the fact that Kharib will not understand him: ‘You must see
that it is possible to imagine a better place, despite
It’s strange how intense this image is for Peter, who is
normally so phlegmatic, able to accept even large disasters
with little more than a nod. The secret here is that once, years
ago while researching at Trinity College in Dublin, he had
experienced a moment such as we can witness here in
Claude’s The Mill – actually entitled Landscape with the
Marriage of Isaac and Rebekah – in the flesh. He had been
traversing the Wicklow Mountains, south of Dublin, from
east to west, and towards evening had come out onto the last
of a line of hill tops, above the Blessington Reservoir, just in
time to witness what by any standards must have been a
sublime sunset. Peter, of course, was stunned and had burst
out crying. He is not given to creative writing of any kind,
but the experience resulted in a short poem, which came to
him whole and entire while tears still streamed from his eyes
and he gulped madly for air.
This is the poem:
There is a cleft where an angel,
Of golden wings and spread hands,
Said of this inglorious world:
“This is a place of pain and sorrow.”
But I looked beyond him and saw
Far plains to Shannon, and a lake
Bathed in such gold that my heart
Was forlorn and I wished night and sleep.
Peter has forgotten most of this, only the feeling – the
mixture of pure elation and deep sadness – the sense of
something finally eluding him because of some failure of his
own being, abides.
Today, however, he is addressing Kharib while gazing
on the dancing figures who occupy the middle foreground, a
touch of envy as they dance among the sunbeams glancing
through the trees nearby. Kharib is not responding, so Peter
tears himself away from the beautiful image to find him
staring at the Gallery guard, who stands – as he always does –
inconspicuously over by the door, out of line of sight of any
of the pictures.
The guard is looking at Kharib, with no more than a
vague curiosity as to why he – a modest ex-seaman, as Peter
knows from a previous conversation with him – should be the
focus of attention.
Peter barks as gutturally as he can, in order to add
Kharib does look around immediately, an expression of
puzzlement on his face, as though he wonders where he is
and why he is there.
Peter indicates the painting at his back. Kharib looks in
that direction and then back to Peter, his puzzlement
increasing. Peter shifts to a fury that astounds him: he had no
inkling that such strong feeling lurked within himself:
‘Look at the bloody painting, will you.’
Kharib is not frightened by Peter’s anger – though this
is Peter’s immediate reaction to his own temper, aware that
he has done the worst possible thing here – but he is
genuinely concerned by some aspect of it. Kharib reaches
forward his white nail-less hands towards Peter, and says in
an almost croon:
‘Pershapt, bonnich, churty cong?’
Peter is not lulled by this show of concern, he is
incensed further. He points at the other Claude – The
Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba – and asks, his tone of
voice shifted at the last instant from an enraged shout to a
‘Can’t you see that one, then?’
Kharib is earnest, understanding this much: that he
must take Peter seriously. He turns and stares in the direction
indicated by Peter’s pointing finger. Then he looks at Peter
himself. Peter points in succession at the two Turners.
Kharib’s face remains blank.
Peter is consternated, seeing how deeply a man can be
damaged so that the consolation of beauty, at least, is
unavailable. He asks with a real anguish:
‘Nothing at all?’
Kharib hears the pain. A large tear appears in each of
Later, in the evening, Peter decides that because
Kharib can respond to music – if not to art – to play again the
Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Legend of the Invisible City of
Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronia. He is both pleased and
relieved when he hears Kharib come from his plastic nest in
the bedroom to listen. But then Kharib begins that horrible
caterwauling. Peter jumps up, distraught lest he has upset the
stranger even further, thus driving him back perhaps into
terrible memories of his mistreatment.
But Kharib’s face is earnest, and it becomes apparent
that Kharib is actually singing against the music, sweet as it
is. It does take Peter a further five minutes to realise that the
other doesn’t want to hear this music.
He changes tracks on the CD: it is still a raucous wail,
but Peter begins to discern something of how it fits in with
Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy. The correspondences are remote
and extremely strange, even weird at times, but they are
Peter comes to believe that he may not really
there is a vague surprise.No alarm needed. and he as always will rest content with that: Peter Lacey. Peter sits up in the bed. A feeling jumps in him like a hope. 120 . strange in the sense that he cannot see how continuity can be maintained in such a contingency as working intermittently for some relatively unknown group of people. the name comes pretty soon. Identity is as always a kind of process of blanking. as though finding himself alive – as such – is something he had not expected. There is an impulse in this that gets Peter out of bed. As always. He thinks it is strange to be a temporary credit controller with some company in London. Of course. could he remember this fact after so many hours since last Friday? Especially… He remembers the stranger. arms and legs drawn into his body in a particular way. longs trains of thought while he attends to habituated preparations for the day. There is a formal element in this that intrigues Peter: how abuse can cause distortions out of the normal and yet some kind of formal identity is retained. How. It can be like this in the morning. Next. a disturbing series of self-references that seeks responsibility for his existence elsewhere. Now for the next stage. he must discover who he is and then what he is doing. like trepidation: like definitely wanting something only to doubt it when gained. for instance. so that he resembles some kind of limbless creature. head also jutting forward and down in a particular way. The plastic cocoon is over by the wardrobe. Peter is thinking these thoughts as he discovers that he is drying himself down after his bath. Peter opens his eyes at a quarter to seven precisely. The stranger is wrapped up in his cocoon.
one of the gaudier ties he has bought in the last few months. Peter can only conclude that something shared or something owed is the reason. still an element of uncertainty in his method to bring the activity to consciousness. an uninteresting course which he nonetheless feels obliged to consume. he notices. blue shirt. a habit of his. Like recharging. slashes of bright purples and reds. Blown in the wind. He dresses. A recently acquired habit.And again. how shape always ensues after change. 121 . Always he sleeps when not in Peter’s company. Like dying. It might be good for him. Compared with this stranger – this Kharib. Vaguely flattering. There is nothing else. the roses nodding under the always distant London sky. he thinks now about the fact of form. tea already brewing on the gas cooker. Chaff? What a quaint word. who drinks red liquid and sleeps most of the time – everything else you cling to is like so much chaff. or maybe nothing else of interest. There is bread and cheese now. Had a beard until a year ago. The morning is bright in the garden. Peter finds he is just about finishing his cereal. Thinking this. Peter is surprised by this insight. grey slacks. in-your-face yellows blobs lurking everywhere. What? Is that true? Inertia. nail-less and toothless wraith. thin raiment over something. Last thing is to check on the stranger – Kharib – again. vaguely eerie. when he realised that the grey strands were becoming prominent enough to signify. Such as? he asks himself. Peter is shaving. Settling down. having noted that he is drying himself. As though he is here only for me.
only crumbs on his plate. coat. The attraction was like a device of rhetoric: Peter feeling that his thoughts had an issue of a kind with the hunter’s killing of innocent beasts and birds.Agitation brings Peter back to his breakfast. his sport. when he could. The hunter? Peter was like a mirror for him. This was perhaps the most intriguing feature of their relationship: Peter who constantly walked through nature as an aid to his endless ruminations. Peter sees how this man passes through his full and quite ordinary life like a ghost. He was a loner by nature. an effort on Peter’s part. He tells Peter everything about himself: his parentage. hunting alone. who despised his workmates as a way of forestalling their contempt for him. partly out of pity for the man’s vulnerability and limitation. towards the end of Peter’s stay with that company. It is remarkable how great was the effect of Peter’s friendship on this man. the hunter comes to him one day carrying a large 122 . as though a talisman lurks somewhere in this. his wife and family. working alone and. Anyway. story. as he always does. In the company where he works in Bristol there had been a messenger – lowest of the lowest in the commercial hierarchy – of Polish-Somerset extraction. and this huntsman who stalked through marshes along the Severn with the intention of killing what he could find. which he discovers to his disappointment is almost complete. event. He goes and cleans his teeth. intensely experiencing his life but nonetheless radically estranged from it. The jacket he’ll wear has a story: Peter rehearses it. his work. partly no doubt through shared disaffection. lukewarm tea in his cup. Peter gets to know him.
It doesn’t make much sense. Jacket? Peter takes out the shooting jacket and dons it. Then the first morning of his first temporary assignment: he dresses blue green slacks. hangs it in a corner of the wardrobe. Peter is walking past the pond on Clapham Common. flexes his shoulders to settle the jacket down. He can see the white faced figure in the absurd clothes gesticulating. pale blue shirt. as though earth could turn to water or water to earth – just like that.shoulder bag. 123 . Then in London: what to wear? Run out and buy a suit. He hides the long flap of the cartridge pocket in the pocket itself. But it does the trick. forgets about it. perhaps? Wool slacks. No one in London can touch him. gaudy gold-silver tie. Affronted that he should be thought to be in need of an old jacket. Peter takes the jacket with the best grace he can muster. adding an unexpected edge. He takes from it a green tweed shooting jacket. It a bit wide in the shoulder. Flattered to be thought worthy of such a gift. down near the Clapham Common tube station – where Kharib suddenly launched into his unintelligible discourse on earth and water – one worker on his way to work among many. He explains that he recently quit smoking and as a consequence put on so much weight that the jacket no longer fits him. But no jacket. Actually. yes. Comfortable cotton shirts. gaudy ties. Peter the hunter. clean but with the rounded quality of a much worn coat. What does it signify? Peter doesn’t know. Would Peter like to take the jacket? Peter? Abashed at first.
He is stunned that Peter can do so by means of a twenty minute walk in the park. muggy feeling. a lot of buses this morning in a line. the traffic is at a complete standstill. Charles is staff-friendly. which is at the top of the building. faces peering out. in the lift one morning. Two hours. much quieter. About something like the distance between one’s personal life and one’s working life. probably middle of the week. a jostle of cars and buses. The conversation with Charles Rippon occurred about three weeks ago. interested in the general welfare. It takes Charles two hours of agitated commuting to cross that gap. quieter. As luck will have it this morning. he volunteers that it takes him about twenty minutes. It’s like a 124 . so Peter can skip between cars and buses to the other side. still trying to decipher the meaning of Charles’s stare. Charles stares at Peter. He remarks to Peter how bad the traffic was that morning. going up to the executive floor. Time to cross the Clapham Road. Two hours driving puts Charles outside London. Now Peter remembers the conversation with Charles Rippon. Peter often thinks of it. Blah-blah sort of day. What Common? Clapham Common: Peter explains that he walks. across the Common. It’s pretty clear that Peter is a bit stunned by this: asked. the MD. traffic lights. The usual stop-go of the traffic. This is what Peter is thinking about today: the distance between personal phantasy and social reality. Peter asks how longs it takes to get in. They are in the lift together. a huge anxiety hardly noticeable because so habituated. Then it’s off into Landor Road. It was incredulity. how it is getting worse. It was unfeigned incredulity. perhaps he has never lived in the city.Then it’s across onto the Clapham Road.
enters into the midst of events under way. There’s John Widgett (“widget with an tee”) at his computer. when you are at one end the other seems unreal. the odd little window here and there heavily barred. Inside the modest entrance a guard – a lowly private judging by the want of flash – sits behind a counter. JUKES PLC prominently displayed by the gate on a large brass plate. recognition but no name for a temp. hearing already the chatter of Margarita. A multitude of CCTV cameras too. as always. sergeant stripes brightly flashed on his sleeve. Of course. It’s never an easy passage. seated just inside the door to the left. the slower. little lights blinking on each. does it? Peter steps through the door. connotations of separation. out of the lift and down the short corridor towards the Accounts office. snouts pointing in all directions.bridge whose ends are lost in mist. who looks up at once 125 . The lift is empty this Monday morning. The security guard in his hutch nods to Peter. heavier cockney tones of Ruth from her pedestal at the back of the room. semi-official. but the idea of “unreality” involved here. the great cubical space rising featureless before him for six stories. painted a kind of off-blue grey. Then there is the entrance to his place of work. does frighten him momentarily. The moment of hell approaches now. from where she can see everything. down this corridor from lift to office. a kind of stage-fright no doubt. exactly on time. disconnection. that never happens. meaty hands joined before him. though he is. It’s impossible to tell what kind of business is undertaken within these stout walls. He nods to Peter. a growing sense of dread: perhaps this time they will see him for what he is. It’s an innocent enough thought.
From one perspective – eccentrically dressed. formal air. turns the cuffs of his shirt back. who would make her pregnant and then abandon her. What makes this a genuine test of Peter’s cover is that Margarita regards him as a potential husband. if heavily accented. Peter is now half way across the office. and sets out at a flat toddle in Peter’s direction.and cries out his cheery good-morning. This is how Margarita thinks. Anyway. From another – badly dressed with second-hand clothes. As an outsider. affected accent and a social climber’s pedantry – he might be just another drifter. part of the detritus of a society radically reordered over the last two hundred years. keen to marry into English society at the highest possible level. not a real worker – she thinks he might be the faintly degenerate scion of a noble line with a family fortune awaiting her in the background. He would like to loosen the tie. and she knows the right words to use – having read the correct novels. nodding with a forced smile John’s greeting. when Margarita finally realises he is present. with donned persona suitable for a busy routinised office. but he 126 . Peter gains the sanctuary of his desk. For Peter. Her English is very good. from the Canary Islands. within striking distance of his own desk. her attempt at what she thinks is English jolliness. Margarita has a vital stake in working out the realities of her adopted society. She lets out a squawk. He removed his jacket and lays it across the back of the chair. a wonderful self-love shining out at all times through the insistence and posturing. At the moment – for the last two weeks or so – she is trying to work just who Peter is. The others are much like himself. she is the real test of his identity in this office. good speech.
Simon’s shiny new 286 – 12 inch colour monitor. Simon calls: ‘Will you come in. Some use coffee to climb out again. not too much acid. who opens the right hand drawer of his desk and finds the folder containing the Ternehold cheque. surrender. Luckily. There. a trusted servant more likely. But that’s not the point. much as he would ease his naked body into freezing water. So a quick dunk. tea. Peter uses tea. whose desk is beside their little kitchen. as always. who sits by his door like a guardian of sorts. ease his mind into the work routine. Simon sits square to his PC. about thirty minutes since his last sup of tea. the prize – if such it is. alienation. end of personal phantasy. steeling himself for another encounter with Margarita. This reminds Peter. Your morale takes a hit coming into the workplace. Teabags. Simon Drew pops his head out of his office to have a quick word with John Widgett. Right. Peter’s only about twenty five minutes out from his flat.knows that among well-yoked men he too must appear securely yoked. Peter can take his time. The mainframe holds the accounts proper. old bushes. Now it is time for tea. enough caffeine and tea goodness. Simon glances over even as Peter springs to his feet. Peter… When you’re ready. too. the week under way. put there as promised by Rebecca. who keys all the figures into the computer.’ indicating with a tilt of his head the sacred ritual of the first cup of tea. Yes. It’s Kenya. get his breath. no less – 127 . so lots of tannin. Margarita is off talking to Debby. Peter detours to his desk for the folder. administered by John Widgett. Monday under way. He’s made it.
abstracts.’ 128 . Simon has his own tea. nodding. he knows that the amount is piddling. and he is in the process of taking a long sup. ‘Rebecca sorted him out. the second with Peter and the third – as might be expected – with the Computer Services Manager. especially – having a tendency to an ironically smart jolliness – allowing a big smile of anticipation. In reality. signalling his disappointment with this. one with Charles’ personal assistant. the all-important balances. But now he prepares to doctor his account of the meeting. ‘A bit of fencing. light blue eyes sparkling in Peter’s direction. Both men brighten perceptively.holds reports (dutifully prepared by John at regular intervals). He places his mug on the edge of Simon’s desk. that is different: there are only three in the company. Simon. Peter sits and takes his first mouthful of his tea. ‘No problem?’ Peter glances down. opens the folder and sweeps up the cheque. Simon is indifferent to computers. So.’ Peter makes a moue. Peter. Simon reads the amount. viewing them as machines his staff service to keep him in his job. But the PC. it’s a matter of prestige. thus betraying that information will be withheld. the one that John would take if he got here first – except that he hasn’t been called in yet. Their security manager. how did it go?’ Peter’s smirk is acceptable here. Actually. and he knows that Simon thinks so too. irony being the presiding genius where mediocrity really is the ruler. That’s good. ‘So. Peter takes the seat that gives him a view of the door.
’ Simon is nodding. tall in his dark suit. He does this without comment or obvious displeasure: he seems able to accept the principle of first come. Peter?’ ‘Nope. John comes in. He says.’ Simon goes to the door. ‘The Accounts Manager. It was Inchings. then asks: ‘And Tarrant?’ Peter starts. that contracting outfit in Greenwich?’ 129 . ‘Have you seen this storage. first choice in the matter of seating.Simon smiles broadly. not trying to hide this process from Simon – knowing that the Finance Director values both his candour and his ability to recover himself quickly. Peter continues. John? Mark Tarrant. but Peter thinks also because they are two of a kind: decent intelligent people useful to modern business. ‘You remember Tarrant.’ Peter shrugs. Simon nods at John. calls John in. if only because she is helpful to Accounts. biting his lower lip. ‘We have possession. staring – obviously out of habit – at the monitor screen before him.’ Seated. Maura Sinclair?’ Simon nods. Simon seems to notice something on the monitor screen that takes up all his attention. returning to his chair on the other side of the desk: ‘Tarrant’s a curious chap. Peter nods. genuinely caught out. and takes the chair nearest the door. ‘She seemed ready to force the issue. liking Rebecca. Cheque delivered five minutes later. even though his rival is only a temp just passing through. but recovering quickly.’ Simon nods more deeply. ‘Popped in during the coffee break.
one girl – group photo prominent on his desk. talking too loudly as usual. of course. Monday morning. one boy. He claimed an error in our system. speaking his name first to draw his attention back. that the payment had been misapplied. Simon nods patiently: if the computer doesn’t remember. The accountant.’ Peter is studying John. John a family man first and foremost. with his forced laugh. a habit he has when matters not of interest come up. It’s a simple as that. He could produce some evidence for that.John agrees to remember immediately. has to deal with this. ‘Peter. given the intimate setting: ‘Was that the weaselly ganger we had to do the shelving?’ Peter switches out immediately. About a payment. Best I can remember now. Simon shakes his head: no matter. To Peter he says. as though reading from a script: 130 . adding with an abstract vehemence. but we had no trace of it. though?’ John starts into life. Nonetheless. good-looking wife and two perfectly average children. Sharp. then John won’t remember. he can ask. Tarrant claimed to have made the payment. Simon. watching how some memory plays across his face. John. John adds. paid a salary to do a job. Five or six years ago?’ John looks at the floor. speaking from the corner of his mouth: ‘It was sorted out. away from the bosom of his family. You had a fight with him over some invoice. ‘No. though it is obvious to both Peter and Simon that he doesn’t.
He has remained in his daydream. It was a piddling matter really. He sets off down the corridor towards the toilets. the incident showed up some faults in our own system. the right thumb twitching: how much the pursuit of an extreme indicates the opposite.’ Peter looks at John again: a man who had been rudely awakened from his complacent dream. It is John who bridles. no need to use it but wanting to walk for a while – much as he has always done when in a reflective mood. He gets up and takes the mug to the kitchen. How love always implies rejection. But he does ask. of course. Peter. too quick an immersion in office politics to blame. waits. We had to write it off. set out with hardy bushes and a few 131 . but it is Simon who speaks: ‘Well.’ ‘Tarrant left Inchings during this dispute. Peter notices with some surprise that he has drunk his tea.‘No. rinses and dries it in accordance with proper office practice. This is the corridor that leads also to the lift. given that Simon and John usually only have each other for company. hearing about incompetent clerks again in association with Tarrant. couple of hundred pounds. to draw them out: ‘So you had it in for him?’ Past-tense is deliberate here: like it is over and done with now. a lack of worth. Peter follows suit. John is looking at his hands resting on his knees. It runs alongside a roof garden. conviction. wealth implying impoverishment.’ Simon adds. Simon is drinking his tea. a loss of faith. as though vying for Peter’s attention – which may well be true. success.
Hard to know what to do if a complete stranger was here.windswept flowering plants. Peter could walk on past the lifts and either go on into the unknown territory of Stores – where the storage areas on the floors below are administered – or turn right again and go along the garden on that side towards Sales and then back by the offices of the other Directors. But walking where? Peter decides he needs to pee. peeing into one of the urinals. The only noteworthy feature had been the deep ambiguity of this openness: it was simultaneously the vulnerability of an extremely lonely man and a moment of indecision in a very violent man. Peter remembers an incident during early July – he was not long with Jukes. though only so much chat. Unlike the office Alex. Alex’s car had been involved in a slight collision with a motorbike on Nightingale Lane and he had just finished swapping details with the bike’s owner. What to say? In a cubicle one morning. He can see through the full length glass walls into Alex Forbes’– the Sales Director – office. toilets facing. Peter overheard two men meet: the conversation had been unhesitant and even animated. Peter had engaged in some blah-blah with him. 132 . thinking it best to be friendly. burly. The place is empty. Alex is tall. which is situated in effect in the middle of the garden. the version Peter met that evening had been remarkably diffident and forthcoming. lifts around to the right. End of the corridor. He could also get into a lift and go walking through the streets of London. with a mildly menacing air suitable for an inspirer of a sales team.
so both must content 133 . her desk adorned with a motorised pencil sharpener and a row of ultra sharp pencils. it was so mind-numbingly boring. The Accounts office again.Now what? A week’s work ahead. His PA – Clarinda – sits at her desk. When Peter arrived at Jukes. just outside his door. It’s too early for eleven o’clock coffee and biscuit. Alex sits upright at his desk. hunched over in full view of the world. God. along the other side of the square bounding the roof-garden. go back to the desk. Superannuated in effect. Peter. John calls: ‘Simon wants to see you. Anyway. watching Peter walk along the corridor. telling her for the millionth time how the filing ought to be done.’ Torpor is banished. the sun and God. Simon and Peter are still comfortably ensconced in the latter’s office – the Finance Director’s office. Turn on the terminal. It is now 38. the debtor days was 47 – that is. the average times it takes to receive a payment for an invoice. the vague dread that attends on business life taking its place: something gone wrong. Ruth sits upright at the back of the office. It’s only debtor days. a survivor of the old book-entry days. So back via the corridor towards Accounts. with all the interest that a caged baboon might have in a stray visitor. Do something. Margarita looks as though she – too – has been woken from a better reality. coming towards the end of the month. Push to round up the last payments due and prepare the statements. Like a reserve army for the day when the computer fails or goes out of fashion. She is barking at Margarita. Not bad.
a good enough point to start with. Peter fences first with the sixty-day contracts. It’s not difficult to show that the sixty-day contracts only account for two. the first thing any 134 . Special contracts for the storage of drill cores from the North Sea oilfields. at most three. which only underlines his rather short chin. Then it’s time for coffee. The real source lies in all the little storage contracts Jukes has with solicitors and accountants. lucrative though the money slow in coming. Simon now rubs his stubbly beard. That puts in maybe thirty minutes. the obligatory certificates and diplomas of the school teacher turned fully fledged accountant.themselves with memories of the tea they had about thirty or forty minutes ago. After they have procured their rations. Peter moves on to the real meat. Simon takes great pains not to draw his attention to the beard and so to the reason for its existence. of the excessive debtor days. the cost of recovering debt. Simon nods to this. Peter is sizing up the company pictures on the walls. He thinks of his own at the bottom of a suitcase somewhere in Bristol. Specialised storage. Simon nods. They can calculate to a nicety just how much they can get away with. Simon fingering his mouse. These people know the law concerning debt. long term. Actually. watching its trails on the monitor in full colour. Designed to cover his emerging wattle. the trouble involved. pointing the finger at Sales: hard on the little people but tending to bend over for the big boys. Nodding again. Simon dodges about a bit. mostly records of bankruptcies and disputed estates. which he very rarely does.
then nods: ‘Okay.’ Peter cocks his head in an attempt to elicit a response at this early stage. ‘We’ll have to threaten legal action.’ ‘Sure. but he does want to keep an edge of initiative. Simon nods. He says nothing.’ This doesn’t amount to much of an observation: the debts are mostly only about six months to a year old. ‘I could design a chase letter specific to the problem. Simon says: ‘Most of these accounts go back years. he knows nothing about pressing such claims and doesn’t particularly want to learn.’ Simon seems not to believe this. Now Simon is definitely uncomfortable with this idea of taking legal action.one notices about him is the bristly beard and so the flabby wattle. away from his face. not because he wants to take on more work.’ Peter does not want to go further than this. Even had a chap specially employed to do it. He is volunteering to do this in order to have something new – a novelty. out in New Malden – a sister company of yours – they used the law pretty extensively. to prevent either Simon or John catching on to how little work he actually does. left hand back to resting on the desktop. though. Peter can’t resist pressing the matter: he doesn’t actually intend going to the trouble of suing anyone for debt.’ ‘Oh.’ Simon says. that is – to do. Peter. ‘Last place. So Peter adds: ‘Agency staff in the building trade. understanding – perhaps. He seems to think for a moment.’ 135 . Small Claims. either. glancing at Peter momentarily. Let me see the letter first.
no. Computer staff sit with computer staff. inevitably – if a long time coming – it is lunch time. wrapped still in his morning-long sulk. six to a circular table. managers and office personnel. Still. He plans to piss about with these letters for a least half of that time. equal access to all the delicacies on offer. each more specific in its threat. With any luck there will be no time to assess their effectiveness. Directors sit together. Ruth is definitely not listening – unmarried. more if a series of letters can be set up. It is Debby who is doing the talking. Then. There are not many of them – accounts. allows them to gossip informally for an hour of so each day. staff tend to group: departments. it seems. and the like. There is a large modern kitchen and a spacious dining room. seated amongst Sales at the table behind him. accounts with accounts. Peter has three more months in Jukes – until Judy. along with Ruth and Debby. where the staff eat together. comes back from maternity leave. Of course. So they tend to sit with their staff (and glance enviously at the directors’ table). directors. It so happens that Peter’s chair abuts Rebecca’s. rank. she has no domestic problems – nor. their resident Credit Controller. Lunch is special at Jukes. Peter is slightly late today in getting to the dining room – miscalculated the length of a chase call. John has a place for him. is John. Managers have a problem. sales and stores are run by directors. One of the first acts of Charles Rippon on becoming MD was to hire a professional cook to prepare nutritious and healthy midday meals for the office staff. She is talking. 136 .There’s up to three weeks’ work. telling John of some domestic problem. it seems.
’ Then from Rebecca: ‘No. John saying to Debby: ‘It’s like you should always be on your guard.’ There is a longish silence.’ Someone is laughing a mirthless laugh. do you think I could? I searched the whole place. Julie.’ Phillip Berkeley. Well. the whole fucking harbour. people all over the place. something like that. I thought nine wouldn’t be too early. It was supposed to be painted red. 137 . Rebecca’s confidante hisses. I got some gear – Sebby. I couldn’t even find a boat called the Cockpit.speaking confidentially to someone at her side. anyway. Of course. I tell you. you’ve never seen the like. Pull yourself together. Millions of cars. Looked like a thousand parties all going at once. Peter hears Rebecca’s sharp intake of breath. At least not since that Moroccan holiday. arch but meaning it: ‘Go away. deliberately overdone. Wow. and you know that can be anything up to four Sunday morning. he said Saturday night. Debby. Phillip. If Peter didn’t listen he would not hear. because it is Rebecca. he does listen: ‘…cows. I went straight down. and a party going on in most of them.’ ‘Cockpit?’ ‘Oh. I mean. though it’s as much a show-off style as an index of distress. A bloody race meeting or something. You wouldn’t believe what it was like. the Sales department’s prize prick. or Cock Spit. A party. Called the Cock’s Pit. Couldn’t find his boat. I mean. you know – drove down cold sober. But I swear he said Cock’s Pit. There were hundreds of boats.
but to Peter’s overattuned ears it seems louder: ‘He’s at it day and night. He even shouts at me from the bathroom. which suits Peter very well. rant. but the toil involved seems not to affect her too deeply. was he?’ Rebecca’s features stutter only a fraction. the pathos of her inability to connect is about the same. the one she knows works on him. Scaly and inflamed. Never lets up. Rebecca might be desperate in her need to marry well. They turn their chairs so that they sit shoulder to 138 . He has a sweet apple with a little Stilton. he would. Fresh fruit only. He sits down again. if…’ Time for dessert. Debby’s skin is terrible. rant. Peter. gravitating through some atavistic appetite to this combination of fruit and dairy-fat. looking closely into Rebecca’s eyes: a huge enjoyment always for him.’ In a flash. He says. But he wants to ask her about cock spit. Peter’s feeling is one of relief. Peter smiles in return. extracting every last ounce of work from her when required. If Peter could sit elsewhere.Debby is speaking. Honestly. Peter sees Rebecca having sex: the loveliness of her body is almost unbearable. to him anyway. Anyway. on and on. and he treats her as such. He can’t. Rant. to see how seriously she had taken that joke at her expense. but Rebecca saves him this lunch time by turning around in her seat as he approaches and giving him her special smile. the best he can do: ‘A new one. John thinks she is a masochist. low voice. easily converting into a nose wrinkle: ‘Not you too. before or after. it’s much the same.
looks away when she speaks to him. Oh no. side by side rather than face to face. At his insistence. so Peter adds: ‘Our hitchhiker?’ It’s like a bolt up through Rebecca: ‘How do you know his name?’ ‘He was camped on my doorstep on Saturday morning. Peter. Peter decides to eat the apple whole. He asks: ‘What happened afterwards? On Friday. I assumed you dropped him off. in his hand. I mean. ‘No. Did you drop him off there?’ Rebecca’s lips draw back from her teeth when she is genuinely excited. He created such a racket that I had to stop the car and let him out. Her eyes show a strain. ‘I don’t know.’ Peter looks up at Rebecca. ‘You mean. faces turning towards each other. he made his way to your flat in Balham? But how did he know where you lived?’ Peter looks towards the ground. seeing his slightly scuffed shoes side by side on the red carpet. Rebecca seems not to be aware of this. Peter has only seen this a few times before.’ It is like some force is invading her.shoulder. filling her. conscious that some appeal is in his face. I mean. They often talk like this. When I left you with Kharib?’ Rebecca looks puzzled. Peter sees Rebecca in profile when he speaks to her. leaving an eerie dread in its place. It is like something is draining from him. as though she too must absorb some new 139 .
Peter doesn’t know what it is like to be caught. ‘About what. looking down at his shoes again: ‘It’s hard to know what to do. especially when there’s nothing else to keep them together. Peter feels the unreality about him still. where her left hand lies curled. back when Margie sat at the desk Rebecca now occupies. Peter?’ She hopes he hasn’t reached the confessional stage: she can’t stand that sort of thing in a man. something Peter is not aware of and probably couldn’t appreciate. staring at him.’ Rebecca hasn’t a clue what he is talking about. She is staring fully into Peter’s eyes with an honest amazement. They have done this for many years. A chair collides with a table nearby.knowledge. a cosy set up on Clifton Street. The distraction has eased both Peter and Rebecca. 140 . He likes looking at her nails: unpainted. but both feel the atmosphere warm as she moves away. looking at her mouth. his profound self-absorption. Ruth says sorry in a hoarse voice. an important buffer zone for her. new possibilities. It should be deeply disturbing that Kharib and his antics seems more real to him than all the little miseries of his for-now business life. beautifully shaped. but it is as though he can see it better. annoyed that she has made a boo-boo. trapped. stuck. Rebecca? She is loyal to Margie. He says. Neither Peter or Rebecca looks up. back even further when Jukes was still in the City. He glances at her. with an office of her own – and then they both will go out to a local pub for a drink and a smoke. then down towards her lap. She’s going into Margie – who holds an undefined senior position in Sales. at his vulnerability.
then seems to changed her mind. Rebecca brings her right hand up towards her face.‘Oh. ‘I think it would be best if he got proper help. Instead. I think he is severely damaged in himself. ‘God. Whyever did they do that?’ Peter wants to shrug his shoulders. ‘I think he should approach the welfare people. psychologically.’ Rebecca is relieved. Peter. the cool quality usually there being replaced by a strident expression. She says. that’s terrible. ‘No. A face not used to expressing emotion. Kharib. but cannot. for what it’s worth. you know. not the Immigration Service or anything like that. certainly not liking the word “damaged”. 141 . pointlessly.’ He raises a hand between them – an indication of how vividly Kharib has affected him. He spends all his time asleep in his plastic tent in a corner of the bedroom. Looks like he had a really bad time somewhere. yes. He looks into her eyes. our stranger. And I mean bad.’ ‘Look. seeing something of what he says. and finds her staring at him. marking some kind of shift inside herself: ‘Oh. He shakes his head: I don’t know. I’ve got to know him a bit.’ Rebecca’s face changes. It implies something irreversible. he clamps his lips together. Someone who could understand him and find out more about him.’ Rebecca looks at Peter talking.’ Now Peter looks up at Rebecca. She touches Peter’s shoulder with the most delicate of touches. even so. They might lock him up again. ‘You mean he was tortured?’ Peter nods.
A letter for him on the dinky little table in the hall. Peter is not very good at maintaining contacts when there’s nothing more to say. a thumb pushed into his mouth. Peter doesn’t know much about the strange man. mop of black hair surmounting that white white skin. as always. This is my first contact with the authorities here. I recently arrived in England. There’s something innocent about him this evening. First thing to do this evening is prepare the note that Kharib will take with him to the DSS office in Balham on the following day. I wish to speak to someone who can help me settle in this country. Much of his academic correspondence has died away by now. queries satisfied. a bright New Zealand stamp in the right hand corner. not used for well over a year now. So. but the rush of affection is unmistakeable. Very tasty that way. too. I am in need of welfare support. Peter decides it is best typed: officials are unfailingly impressed by typewritten material from lay people. subjects exhausted. Peter can’t remember why he would receive correspondence from New Zealand. out comes the old portable typewriter. He finds Kharib curled up in his white plastic tent. OTAGO is prominent in the top left corner.He decides he will eat the block of stilton with his fingers. I do not speak English. 142 . My name is Kharib.
agrees that the IS will be a fount of goodwill and rationality. Is this rational? Sure. Gloach yirt. They will want to send Kharib off to the Immigration Service. and they will lock him up. He seems slightly bent over. ‘Khim bein bonnich?’ Kharib stands in the door of the bedroom. eyes vivid. ‘Karmatum. white plastic drawers. ‘Khattum bei. loose shirt. Actually. his hands coming to join at his chest. Fronghy app. a sense that something is draining out of him. Karmatum. Beïd beïd. emotion rising quite strongly in a sudden rush: ‘You need help. But he also fears that they will lock him up until – at least – they find out who he really is and where he is from. and that this will help them treat Kharib and his situation with respect. Peter thinks involuntarily that he is dying.’ Does Kharib understand? He is nodding. Kharib. the pallor as always. He says. pressing his thumbs in against the flesh there. Peter. Peter doesn’t think much will happen.’ 143 .’ Now he raises his joined hands to his forehead.I am at present staying with Dr Peter Lacey 28 Alderbrook Road Balham SW12 Peter knows that officialdom is also impressed by academic titles. I just can’t do very much for you.
Music later. Chopin causes tremors. not tried. rough-recorded 1940s blues. an expression on his face of recognition. Peter is not yet familiar with it. Cream is worse. Kharib wants Scriabin again but Peter gives him an assortment of musics. One disc only remaining. creases running out from the sides of his mouth towards his ears. it seems. for instance? – but it works. as though he sees someone or something he knows.Now he smiles one of his weird rictus smiles. the pity. it seems for now overlaid with a patina of something like truth. but the nett effect for him is a glowing feeling of what could be best called consolation. Peter doesn’t have a lot of music at this stage – only now in a position to replace vinyl with digital media – so it looks as though it will be Scriabin. The Rolling Stones get a momentary response – one long wail – then Kharib seems utterly to lose interest. He stares at the speakers. This time it’s like Kharib has received a jolt of a different kind. Peter raises his right hand in acknowledgement and goes into the kitchen to prepare an evening snack for himself. inducing something like desperation. Like a context: suffering and pity an object and its shadow in another world. hitting Kharib like a shock. More of that weird wailing. agitation. The 144 . Peter doesn’t know what Kharib is doing. eyes swivelling from speaker to speaker. as though he will drop on the floor asleep. It’s not that he feels any the less the worry. again. It doesn’t seem like much – what world. having a place there and a meaning. Beethoven.
indecipherable at that pace. Kharib suddenly sweeps his hands up towards his face. By the time Son House has got on to his signature Preachin’ the Blues. his voice straining at some awful restriction. though. of description. but his guitar. there is something in this exchange that is unnerving. he just talks on and on in that earnest tone. The thing is. It never becomes clear. not wild. He turns and walks back into the bedroom. Of course. Peter can see that Kharib achieves this middle ground by addressing. a near-ungovernable violence let off the leash for the moment. but the singer – Son House – is. that’s what Peter tells himself. For Peter. 145 . Peter thinks he is beginning to understand something. But something does work. Kharib is speaking rapidly. singing up on the driving syncopation. depending for effect on that which as it were keeps the singer from going off the rails. voice low. hands gesturing from time to time. It is only when the first track ends that Peter can hear the flow. as though Son House is being told of some event that might interest him. Well. the singer himself now dead. It cannot work. of course. It’s as though the singer and Kharib are generating a middle ground between a fearsome anger and a patient forbearance that is at once obvious and unreasonable: submission to unbearable pain. But what he understands is not clear. obviously back into his sack. A recording fifty years old. Son House is not mollified.music is not raw. not the singer himself. speaking to the speakers. falls silent: point made. a patient flow as of explanation. Kharib does not move. back to sleep or whatever.
but it’s like spread out everywhere. tenuous. how he could ever get from where he is at this moment back to where he ought to be the next morning. as it were. only the merest gauze to touch. It’s like that just now. to – whisper it – Jukes. if he wants to appear normal. Peter remembers college evenings with hash. when he wondered how he would face the world on the morrow. 146 .This leaves Peter in a precarious position. He is understanding something. in fact: Peter doesn’t want to get from here to there. It’s worse.
as though momentarily distracted from watching out for him. Simon wants Peter to write a tight letter threatening legal action if the outstanding account is not cleared at once. anticipation. Peter checks the statement: £210. copy invoices. She is tilted forward and sideways away from him. but Simon is cheery.First thing next morning and John tells Peter that Simon wants to see him. of 147 . She’s waiting outside Kennington Tube Station – around the corner from her office. He wants details of an account. heavy traffic whizzing by in both directions. it seems. deep green leaves. along the pavement there. Simon wants to get in on the act. a wonderful naïve cheeriness. Peter dutifully gathers the required paperwork. an artificial look-alike – Peter doesn’t know its name – bright red with what seem like orange or ochre flowers. She is looking across the road at an elderly couple dragging each other. large petals. this time in a newish place on the Walworth Road. She sounds very high today. statement. it helps Peter get through the morning. Still. It seems this particular law firm – down in Wiltshire – is about to be sued by another company for debt connected with some property speculations.’ Phone call about eleven: Anne arranging lunch. God. ‘How much are they being sued for?’ ‘Million and a half.23 outstanding. lovely in itself. The dress is like a canopy. The dress can’t be silk. like a boy discovering sweets where food only might be expected. everything. though anticipating nothing. end of the month coming. not Anne’s material.
She turns abruptly. And he feels all the time. the drawn face. that he and everything else is alive. His hand flat on her stomach feels the tremor of the flash there. Then his upper arm touches down against her back. hand coming up to wave. the swish of her buttock against his thigh. his hand flat on her stomach still. then the slender calf with its long firm musculature. It’s like seeing Anne on the street like this tells Peter that there is life after all. and the coordination of their bodies is remarkable – though they expect no less – how her buttocks turn against his hip and then his groin. as a back drop to these deep pleasures. Then she turns the other way. He sees the dark hollows of her eyes. his hand opening and flattening. Peter is utterly entranced: yet he sees a young man going towards the station entrance staring at the gyrations of 148 . the embrace of his arm tightening and tightening. and then the curve to her ankle and the long feet in the court shoes she loves.course. rubbing up and down along the delicious curvature. her whole body bending in that direction. the absolute steadiness of her spine. drawing her in until he feels the compaction of her breasts against his chest. the bright lipstick intended to mask this. It’s not desire. His right arm comes up. to meet him as he comes round. how she too is moving now in relation to him: first turning towards to the right. Then she becomes aware of his presence. It’s like the living thing itself. Peter can only see the swell of her right breast. the curve of her flank. but nothing really compared with the vitality it covers. not even love. but his arm begins to bend as he passes behind her. coming in against her divine waist. But he goes forward and moves around her to the rear.
perhaps serious.’ Peter nods again. That’s what love is like: together alone. puts the fork down. Peter holding Anne’s elbow. raw and halfraw. out of consideration for Anne. and Anne says: ‘My exe is getting married again. And the food. Anne nods now. Then there is a pause. the close warmth of the city. uninterested for himself. fine lines in the flesh around them. extreme tiredness there. mouth hanging open. confirming his suspicion. ‘He had to tell them when he applied for the mortgage. on his plate. he only aware by the way of house fronts. They walk side streets together.’ The fright in her eyes is intense rather than dismaying: as though Anne keeps it bottled up somewhere away from her feelings. except he wonders at “another”: first intimation that Anne is broaching a problem. then loss in his face. ‘The mortgage people say I can’t afford the mortgage on the house. perhaps even more. They talk. Peter staring then into her eyes. He stops eating.’ Peter nods. Anne chattering at times. Then they wrote to me. The restaurant is the same. surprise. Peter aware only of the unpleasant slick of different dressings. so many surfaces of different colours. a jostle of people like themselves lunching. ‘He wants to buy another house. two three. alone together. the green of trees.Anne’s body. given the circumstances under which she has chosen to reveal it to him. she leading.’ 149 .
is it dismay? ‘How long have you known about this?’ Anne cocks her head to one side. In fact. But there is no denying the buzz that runs through her even so. worn out through stress and overwork. not depending on that: ‘Will you explain the circumstances to him?’ Anne nods. but remains silent. The skin of her face has lines at the eyes and mouth. a slight sag already in her cheeks. studying Peter in turn. 150 . it has the mobility that can only be found in women like her: a life in her mouth that constantly draws Peter. but there is nonetheless a glow on that flesh. Is it anger. unsure of the nature of his own response. In her thirties. As for her mouth. Peter sees he is being tested.’ Peter nods.’ This gives Peter a cue: ‘What will you do about it?’ ‘I’ll ask John for a raise. He will have his own part in this. He doesn’t know how to evaluate it: whether personal appeal has value in a working situation. Peter resumes eating and indicates that Anne should too. perhaps even addicted to the adrenaline. no matter how useful an employee you are. ‘Re-mortgage?’ It is a question: Peter knows nothing about these matters. He can see Anne very clearly now. I wanted a day – and a night – to think about it. Her eyes are very sharp now as she appraises him. for good or ill. he suspects. Peter also unsure of the wisdom of this. it could make matters worse: no one likes emotional blackmail. He doesn’t care.Peter comes up sharp now. ‘They rang me yesterday morning. in a permanent state of excitation.
’ ‘And?’ ‘I can claim title once the house is paid for. Now Peter slumps inside himself. That’s been agreed. Anne has her feelings in harness: yet there is a kind of terror in her eyes. More money than he has. Even so. Anne?’ Peter asks because that seems the question to ask. Anne. Obviously. Anne may have tittered – like a letting go – but she is at once back in control: ‘But the mortgage people are telling me the house must be sold to pay off the balance of the mortgage. more because he cannot help Anne – and remove this blot on their bliss – than because of the pain it is causing her. A resale. a definite fear that everything she has striven for is being undone.Anne goes down seriously on this – grateful perhaps in part that Peter is engaging with her here. she has allowed for the possibility that he might not want involvement in anything so banal. mainly because he sees nothing wrong with living hand-to-mouth. he sees Anne watching him with expectation.’ Now Peter’s head goes down. it is difficult for Peter to lock into this in a meaningful way.’ She titters – a genuine titter: ‘At least as far as I understand it. He shrugs slightly. ‘How much do you owe.’ 151 . so my title is not absolute. Jim has a shared legal responsibility. see what John says. Now. When he looks up again. He might come across. ‘About fifteen or sixteen thousand.’ Again.’ Peter nods. More money that he can get. ‘It would involve change of title. ‘Well.
They walk the road side by side. just below her breast. feeling at last Anne’s loss.’ Peter wilts a bit under this pressure. I put a lot into getting it. smiling a consoling smile for Peter. wasted. rising metaphorically like steam behind them. talked the dotty talk of the besotted. The surprising feature of this solution – one Peter is aware of from the start – is that the prospect of thievery has little or no effect on him. Out on the street again. They could have been happy now and let the future be taken care of when it was possible to do so.Anne leans across the table. And Anne seems grateful for this consideration. a sterile offering to the vicissitudes of – what? Modern life? Their own subordination to the facts of modern life? They could have kissed and cuddled. He gives time to dwell on that experience – the chill of fright that had shook him – coming quickly to see it 152 . Peter takes Anne’s elbow as before. It doesn’t take Peter long to find a possible way through the problem. but finds it inappropriate to enjoy the pleasure the contact brings him. Yet Peter does thinks it inappropriate to do this. Peter. squeezing his hand in against her flank. their passion deflected. He remembers the frisson when he realised that Tarrant was stealing from his employers. lacking consideration for Anne’s situation. over the remains of their now-forgotten lunch: ‘I don’t want to lose the house. It would seem callous.
Can I do that?’ Julie doesn’t hesitate. He thinks Anne should dump the burden of the house – and the burden of her thankless work. Sales won’t tell him anything. late twenties. He makes a large and obvious moue: ‘She was to show me some storage down below. ‘Afraid not. of course. shows you what love can do. She gives him 153 . ‘Any idea where Rebecca is?’ he asks by way of introduction. Julie is by many standards a good looking woman. large bosom discreetly on display. I would like to see it for myself.S. Peter can’t find Rebecca anywhere. Asked the question. There is a smirk playing across Julie’s mouth as she answers – Peter sees that he and Rebecca are regarded as some kind of number. so he doesn’t ask them.in terms of T. What is more remarkable here is that Peter himself does not agree with the solution. moving tentatively along a narrow corridor until he finds Rebecca’s friend Julie behind her desk. today if possible. Peter answers: ‘Yes. who had desired above all to bring everyone together in one cosmic conglomeration.’ It’s a big step for him. keying up the appropriate page on her terminal. There’s a query on it. So he goes to Stores himself. Eliot’s question: “Do I dare disturb the universe?” Theft is like that. Isn’t she in her office?’ Peter leans forward. erstwhile utopianist. Peter has the details with him. Well.
’ Already his accent has shifted. Harvey looks at Peter with a more lively interest this time. Harvey. ‘And you’re Barry Thomas. Here.’ Gives him the printout. morose expression on his face. ‘Let him through. There’s a small office just across from the lift. ‘Most of this stuff is company records.’ Harvey glances at the printout. Ends his call. this time a thin white man in tee-shirt and denims.a printout of the necessary information. you know. he sweeps his arm. Bankruptcies. Having Peter’s attention. less cockney and more an imitation of Peter’s own academic precision. Just like that. knowing after this first time it will be much easier.’ Barry says. Another office. Most contain jumbles of boxes.’ Now they reach a sealed off area. 154 . One contains a giant stuffed elephant. heavier wire mesh.’ He takes the printout from Peter and leads him down among rows of wire cages. badly battered. and obviously enough said. ‘Yep. ‘Stuff here for years. a well dressed black man standing. He sees Peter immediately. Peter treats it as a routine.’ Barry tells him. then double-takes and reads it again. what looks like sensor wiring crisscrossing it. The lift takes him to the fourth floor. recognises him. ‘Worth a fortune. what looks like horse hair bulging out from a tear on a foreleg. bay number. even rings down to the security supervisor for him. filing cabinets. ‘This is Peter from Accounts. Barry calls. floor number. talking on a phone. adjusts his manner swiftly. Comes out and asks: ‘You’re from Accounts? Peter Lacey?’ Peter nods.
white deal. Doing his party trick.’ he says with a grin. and probably indiscreet. He also realises that these two men already have a good idea what is contained in the boxes. Hollow thump. triumph tempered by annoyance. his eyes already focused on the three smallish wooden crates sitting side by side in the almost exact centre. It’s enigmatic.’ He raps elsewhere here and there on the crate: thumps and dunks. you see. trying to draw more from him. As though the crate is solid. having most to tell. This is kept away in a corner furthest from the gate. though the sound has a weight that belies this. The two men wait. this a little to the right of where he rapped previously. New wood. 155 . But Barry spoils it all for him: ‘There’s another crate inside. desperate to get the news across: ‘It’s reinforced. The three of them stand in a semi-circle around the three crates. faded blue linen covering. So Peter turns and walks towards the open gate in the cage. ‘Doubt it. ‘A tight fit. As though the crate is empty. finally the moment has arrived. heavy brass banding to reinforce it. He raps the leftmost crate with his knuckles. Harvey raps the crate again.’ Harvey interjects. a small label stapled to the top of each one. Harvey looks up at Peter. Only one other item of storage there: a large old sea trunk.’ Peter is gnomic.‘The Crown Jewels. Peter waits. Really solid. big smile on his face. long anticipated. Peter realises they are trying to force an intimacy on him. Harvey gives way first.’ He licks his lips. Barry breathes a laugh of sorts at his side. Flat dunk.
And it’s not coin. his polyester red tie brash: ‘A repackage. ‘On behalf of another client.’ Harvey’s mouth is open. Peter. It moves slightly. There’s no shift when you move them. It’s like he is the ventriloquist. No margins. Barry nods: ‘Harvey reckons about three millions’ worth. It’s obvious that Harvey – at least – has spent a lot of time studying the crates. cornering him in his lair is another.’ Peter must fight hard to stop himself nodding. ‘How can you be so sure?’ 156 . never intending anything so dramatic as a hunt. his head up so his dark skin flashes in the fluorescent light. this time one of pure fear. Catching your prey out in the open is one thing. He asks Harvey. That what’s in these boxes. That’s the only explanation.’ Peter now looks directly at Barry. wood grating on the bare concrete floor. He echoes: ‘Metal?’ Barry goes to speak. the one most likely to tell him: ‘Why would they do that?’ Again Barry gets in first. most likely. his tongue flapping between his teeth. but this time Harvey raises his hand to stop him.’ Peter sees that Barry nods slightly.Peter experiences a new frisson. Peter wonders at the thought. Harvey stoops and pushes the crate. ‘Metal. Again Peter echoes: ‘Gold bar?’ ‘Sure.’ Peter addresses Harvey directly again: ‘Why?’ Instead of speaking. ‘Gold bar. Not worth your while buying silver.’ Peter looks at Harvey now. stunned.
‘Worth it if you got the money cheap. Peter would run if he could. goes for a walk through Stockwell. So anything between two and three quarters and three and a half million. All he can say is: ‘Jesus. storing it until there was enough to make a new crateful. An ounce masses to about fifteen hundred cubic mill. in a complete funk. the one that owes Jukes £210.Harvey suddenly looks extremely alert: ‘Do it by weight and bulk. Now the shock hits Peter. He wonders how a yo-yo like Tarrant could swing this. It’s the scale he can’t get hold of. Harvey is saying to Barry. He steps back. buying gold in dribs and drabs. seeing nothing at all. This is what Peter concludes after thirty minutes’ hard walking. where the hair is tickling the now damp skin. plenty to do if you really have need. most likely answering a question: ‘Buy it abroad.’ He must move. presses ground. Back in the office.’ Peter keeps walking until he sees the lift door. but finding the world he lives in an extremely dense place. bring it in by courier. Discount about twenty percent. His palms are very sweaty and he wants to scratch his bottom. Peter composes the tight letter that Simon wants sent to the solicitor down in Wiltshire. Making the thefts. turning to leave the cage.’ Even Barry is impressed by what Harvey has said.’ A pause. Behind him. Deceit must be the true creator of reality. He presses the call button. gets in when the lift arrives.23 and someone else a million and a 157 .
There’s not much Peter can add to this. There never is. was different. a chair Peter never uses. for instance. to introduce him to the welfare people. as would happen if grasped by someone. Peter sits in his kitchen looking out into the garden. Screwed him until he knew what they wanted him to know. looking at the swaying roses but not aware that he is doing so. The note Peter wrote for Kharib. So great a shock already today – preparing to disturb the universe for the sake of love – and even so tears flow quietly from his eyes. The plastic sack is gone from the bedroom. over by the wall facing the door to the hall. Simon likes the letter. about handling money. is lying on the other easy chair. Taken away somewhere. It’s pretty obvious that Kharib went to the welfare office. dropping onto his wool trousers. The flat is empty. Peter lowers his head. that he was brought back here to collect his belongings – and then taken away somewhere. how one ends up knowing a bit about everything – nothing much. the tears merely a sign for what is draining out of him. of course. This leads on to some reminiscences about college days. It’s not till he is opening the door to his flat that Peter remembers that Kharib was supposed to present himself to the authorities for the first time that day. remarks that it’s good to have someone literate around. The sense of loss is insupportable. on the generality of the teachers’ training course. about money. It is creased in the lower right corner. that is. It’s worse than death: 158 . by Kharib. The memory hits him with some force. Accountancy.half.
What a way to go. 159 . and it could melt through sheer – what? Make up a word: vacuation. Something like all of that. The roses vivid in the ebbing light. But the tears still drip drip from his eyes. hurray music to fill the void. voiding. an emptiness appearing where something once was. Like if there is a soul. wrung out and sore. It’s like when the thief cuts off your finger to get the ring. The black man across the way playing House. The sky turning green into the dusk. cuts off your head to get the necklace – no time to fiddle with clasps and not wanting to break the valuable chain.it’s personal. It means vacating. Peter feels part of himself dissolve away. up the river from the estuary. Late August. Peter can’t cry anymore. Light wind from the east.
Something like that in pain: how the endurance merits a reward. to a better reality. except perhaps that an image plays in his mind. in so many words. The detail is indistinct – he is too high – only a texture like tweed of a wooded terrain. So many bright days of late summer. The burnished sun this morning on the common. thinking of little. except on its tail comes a deeper insight: he has had memories like this before. an August city. This is how he always sees it. mellow sun – like this morning – and he can see in all directions out over an island. his father first addressed him as a – well – companion. like something earned. ripe. Thinking back over his life. rich with ripeness. puberty. again. Years now since the last time. air crystal clear. Then he knows what he is looking at. on the trees and grass. He has just explained. he remembers first – as always – the moment. Peter enjoys the walk this morning. the best time. 160 . as though viewed from the top of a high mountain he has just climbed. This thought is even better. London at its best. a lot of relief there. Still. city of accomplishment. how he and his mother had decided to have a child because they were comfortably settled and could afford to provide for it. albeit temporary. It’s a pleasant image. He’s high on a mountain. but a hop skip and jump does it. he was about thirteen going on fourteen. (Peter crossing near the lights outside Clapham Common Tube Station. the water in the pond scintillating.) He’s looking out over his life. though it’s probably more like gaining admittance. heavy traffic just now.The morning is bright. cloudless. some deep crisis just after graduation that he rarely has reason to think about.
but co-existing amicably. The age range was only two and half years – actually one of the first matters the group of friends settled amongst themselves. now retired. Peter had attended the same school. His parents had been like very considerate friends to him. with affection and sometimes humour. and it did. each embedded in its garden. intent in a way that always satisfied him to see. with a particular interest in breeding a salmon tinted strain of floribunda. travelling back and forth in the earlier years with her. Peter realises. At puberty the group simply fell apart. His father. Peter can see her among the tall blooms. a short sturdy woman not much taller than the swaying heads. Their games followed the seasons. one in fact a minor show success. His mother’s hobby is gardening. and though Peter suffered an agonising infatuation with Miranda. she 161 . with a hobby interest in acoustics. They did everything together up to puberty. was a design engineer in the aviation industry around Bristol. maintaining the large and varied garden that surrounds their home. So far she has produced two new varieties. mostly boy-games. And Peter? They lived in a small close of similar houses. Jonathan and Miranda. no matter what is happening in his life now. From these houses Peter gained four childhood friends. the Harescombe Belle. brothers Paul and Mark. but they all learned how to skip after Miranda brought the skill back from her school in Stroud. His mother still teaches modern history in a prominent grammar school in Gloucester. and brother and sister. each with his or her own life.This was meant to explain everything. And it still explains it.
went off and settled in Australia with a man she met at
(Peter crossing the Clapham Road finds himself
trapped in the middle between two streams of very agitated
traffic. It breaks the spell of his reminiscence, until he can
shoot across and enter the much quieter Landor Road.)
Infatuation. Remarkable how all-engulfing it was.
Peter never clearly saw Miranda after puberty. The back of
her head one day on her way from the family car to the
family home. Another day a flash of her face in an upstairs
window as he passed. He walked the close more times than
was sensible, up and down on some spurious pretext in the
hope of seeing her, of her seeing him and falling in love with
him. No one went to church anymore, so no possibility of
meeting in that time-honoured way. No parties. Not even a
disaster to bring the residents of the close together in fear or
Yet he thought of Miranda night and day, her name
interjected through all his school studies, some vague image
of her – or perhaps of some archetypal woman – going before
him as though lighting the way through the mysteries of his
Peter is standing at the gate to Jukes. The security
guard in his glass cage is staring quizzically at him, a hint of
smile, whether indulgent or contemptuous is not clear. How
often Peter has awoken from a reverie to find himself in this
position, with this guard or his shift-mate watching him with
the same hint of a smile.
Thank goodness the offices are at the top of the
building. Peter needs all that time in order to get into gear for
Morning tea with Simon and John in Simon’s office,
door closed on the ratty atmosphere in the Accounts office,
has become something of a custom. They must, of course,
talk about something practical. This morning John has
brought up the question of credit terms, to do especially with
two of their clients.
Peter is comfortable enough with one of them, an
accountancy partnership in Slough with only a box or two in
store with them. It seems that the accountants have asked for
credit terms to be set. Simon is happy to oblige, which means
that Peter must set them. The second case is more dubious. A
small client – what seems no more than a holding company –
has taken space for quite an amount of extra storage, so that
rental charges will increase several times over. John has a
story of a company, years ago, who managed to dump a large
volume of toxic waste on them by these means.
Anyway, the conversations turns to the whole business
of credit and credit rating. Dun and Bradstreet is mentioned,
both Simon and John deferring to Peter, who worked with the
credit company for a few months late in the previous year. It
is an awkward conversation. Both Simon and John believe
that Peter knows an awful lot about credit and so is an expert
in the matter of setting credit terms. Peter knows he isn’t,
having only memories of the heat from the dozen or so
terminals in the small office, perpetual phone calls, long
boozy evenings paid for by the company, intensely boring.
Then John is called away to the phone. There is
silence, Simon as little interested in the mechanics of credit
as Peter is. They drink their cooling tea in this blessed
silence, a tangible relief in the room. Simon raises his right
hand into Peter’s view. There is a red weal running down the
side of the palm. Peter starts at the sight. Simon says, in
‘Hnnm,’ Peter says, saying something while not
knowing what to say.
Simon elaborates, ‘Ironing shirts. Rested my hand too
close to the damned thing. On the ironing board.’
Peter winces, a genuine sensation. ‘Rub butter on it.
Cheese works too, even milk.’
Simon nods, studying the weal closely. ‘It’s not too
bad now. Hell last night though.’ Shakes his hand vigorously.
‘You’d think I’d know better, wouldn’t you? Been ironing for
years.’ Pause. ‘You?’
Peter thinks for a few seconds, decides that frankness
‘Only in the last year or two.’ Indicates the room they
sit in. ‘Working in these places.’
John re-enters the office, seemingly on tip-toe – which
says something about the atmosphere he encounters.
‘Shirts have to be done,’ Simon says. ‘Dry clean the
Peter nods, finishes his tea.
John remains standing by the door, staring at the two
men seated around the desk. Simon seems to resent his
presence, glancing in a timid way in his direction. Then he
shrugs slightly, as though accepting the need to reassume his
role as Finance Director of Jukes, plc.
Peter thinks this is a good moment to slope off, tea
finished, before this dry stuff about credit terms starts up
again. Simon says, ‘Hang about,’ in order to detain him. He
roots around on his desk, finds a chit of paper, makes sure
that it is what he’s looking for, hands it over to Peter.
‘Lodge that with today’s receipts, Peter, will you.’
Peter studies the cheque as though he will find new
secrets there. It serves to transfer £3,000,000 from a sister
company in the group to Jukes. Not the first time, no doubt
not the last time. It will disappear again in two or three days
time. Is it the same money going around from company to
company in the group? Peter doesn’t know. Peter doesn’t
Nonetheless, it is spooky that Tarrant’s loot downstairs
is worth almost the same amount.
At least, the girl in the bank will have her periodical
frisson when she sees the cheque. It seems always to fill her
mouth with a bubbly saliva.
And it happened as Peter expected. A carnal
excitement, bright eyes, her voice suddenly cluttered by
saliva. Peter likes this experience, a once-in-a-while
experience, a kindly sympathy for the young girl, fresh
creamy skin with a comfortable bosom, a ready smile always
John Widgett waits for him outside the bank, staring
fixedly at a couple of bizarrely dressed young blacks going
into the Tube Station next door. It’s warm today, but John has
a short windcheater-type jacket over his suit, coloured a deep
dull blue that does nothing for the grey-black of the suiting.
They are on their way to a local pub, responding to an
invitation from a member of the Computer Department to
help celebrate the birth of a son.
Peter doesn’t much like walking with John. There is a
difference in height, but worse is the strain between them.
John is more earnest when alone with Peter, away from the
presence of his boss, so his conversation is even duller than
in the office. Yet Peter cannot walk the short distance with
him to the pub without making some comment, in this case
remarking – apropos an extremely beautiful woman of mixed
blood, white, black, oriental, waiting at the entrance to the
‘How well suited people are to their clothes, John, eh?’
John does not look towards the inspiration of this
observation. But he does reply, and when he does, Peter hears
again the curious echo that enters John’s voice when he is
outside the office. It’s as though the words are too small for
his mouth, so that the upper reaches of his palate merely echo
in hollow accompaniment – John too small for himself, a tiny
manikin trapped within the bland diligent accounts manager.
‘You wouldn’t want to make too much of that, Pete.
After all, most of our clothes come from chain stores. Made
by the million by people who probably don’t even know what
we look like.’
Spoken in a rote way, as though memorised from the
television or radio, but it is enough to get them to the
entrance to the pub without much strain between them.
so suitable for office celebrations.’ Low ripple of sardonic laughter: rather you than me. here.’ Waving urgently. It’s Margarita who sees them first. much as you would settle a chicken before slitting its throat.’ What is unusual about Simon is that he likes to sit in the pub at lunchtime with his staff. where as always there is that slight edge as though a prison escape has succeeded and utter freedom beckons. to bring Peter into the mood of the gathering. A boom-boom pub at night – lots of video screens. is rarely crowded at lunchtime. ‘Here.Jukes have secured some tables in the lounge over to the left. in any case. oh Peter. next instant jumping up and waving vigorously at Peter. one instant sitting like a dumpling with a cherry red drink in front of her at the Accounts table. ‘Welcome to the bullring. Peter. it is a judgement on him – that will probably be meted out someday. I have kept a seat for you. 167 . it doesn’t matter very much.) She squeals loudly enough to stop most of the conversation at the Jukes tables: ‘Peter. This lounge. (She ignores John – as a married-man – outside the office. No other director of Jukes would dream of doing that. very loud music – it has the somewhat flat quality you get daytime with nightbirds. as it were. mate. Come here. Of course. Peter can suffer silently. in the office she fawns on him as her superior. Yet it is Simon – seated on the other side of Margarita – who gets the ball rolling. Peter. Margarita is smoothing the seat of the chair for him. perhaps because it has no bar of its own. her whole body shaking.
Thin and shanky. the most he will permit himself in these circumstances. So what? Debby looks down again at the table before her. the worst effected areas along the jaw line especially unsettling to see. But she does turn to Patty. That’s soon remedied: a programmer introducing himself as Damien buying him a glass of cider. his tone slipping – as it can do at lunchtime in the pub – towards the south-east London cockney he grew up with. whether she is annoyed by what John has said or simply distracted momentarily. more like. It’s hard to judge the nature of her response. It is John – perhaps moved by a generalised sympathy. and yet the only one who attracts the attention of men. She is by far the plainest woman in the office. as much as to say. but Debby – sitting opposite Margarita and hunched before what looks like a green liqueur in a tiny glass – raises her head abruptly to look fixedly at John. It’s Margarita who responds directly. with dead hair. and an expression of utter loss – as though she has tried every way to live with herself and all have failed her. the fourth accounts clerk – whose work is a complete mystery to Peter.’ This remark is missed by Peter and Simon. her mottled skin coming more clearly into the light. for both Peter and Simon – who replies. several failed marriages. if you ask me.But the problem with his little sally is that Peter hasn’t had a drink yet. Patty shrugs. leading to frequent deep discussions with John. though it seems the most complicated. an element of downplayed wit appearing: ‘Nose-ring. her voice very shrill – though everyone is by now so used to it that they hardly notice it: 168 .
Then drugged into a stupor. a fear ever afterwards of falling again. calm and rational though somewhat quieter than usual. used to using alcohol to see outside – as it were – his life experience from time to time. he is aware of just how quickly it works in the human body. Now. the hellhole he fled from. even a touch of frenzy. he takes up the glass again. A man used to drinking alone.‘I make with a beautiful English genteel-man. It is written for me. ‘Peter. They know my destiny. realising that one can stumble and fall. Not the thought he would want to dwell on: he sees Kharib already mad in a holding cell in some isolated part of the Home Counties. That’s what they all say in Las Rosas. You’ll see. incommunicado until they find out where he is to be sent. feeling for an instant something of the springs of cruelty – how goodness also is born of this world from sources as inchoate as those that bear evil. quiet office drink among colleagues. shouting gibberish as his worst nightmare resumes. the sharp tang of apples in his nose. he has kept it firmly in the background all morning while doing his office thing. Well. letting something flow out through his staring eyes. It’s like falling down. seeing torture and mistreatment. Grotesque. Today it flashes on him as quickly as he expects and puts him outside one particular thought.’ 169 . Melodramatic. sure. London. He stares near-sightedly at the pale gold liquid. And sitting in a pub lunch-time in Stockwell. sipping the drink to have something to do. He can’t stop this thought in time: he sees the collapse of what is left of his friend’s reason.’ Peter has by now drunk some of the cider.
bent down to him and slightly above. ‘Rebecca. standing to one side of him. looking then and seeing Simon’s soft mobile mouth. Peter says. in the Guarantee. as of faith. moving rapidly. of cleanness – though not of purity – seeing there as though in a mirror that what he feels shows already in his own face. Peter sees the desperation of theology. on their way back to London. But then this lunch-time’s host comes by and asks Rebecca what she would like to drink – to celebrate the birth of his son – so that she withdraws from him. the 170 .Strange that as he sees so clearly into the fact of falling. That goes…’ That’s Simon speaking. ‘…of course. And then he sees Rebecca again. wetted by the lager he is drinking. the one he sees now: a kind of loss. that he should look up into Rebecca’s face. He has a sense of the clearness of her face. a charge that made her uncharacteristically vibrant – and then how that light had left her and in its place had come this other expression. but of faith. a smile of irony – unusual for her this and of which she might well be unconscious – and he sees in the play of her features that look she had after they had re-encountered Kharib for the second time. That moment enacted millions of times in the last three or four hundred years. He can see clearly how delight and relief had sprung into her face. He pulls back a bit – momentary shock – and Rebecca also draws back.’ A note of embarrassment in his voice. in divinity. loose fashionable slacks hiding the modest curve of her thigh – he does think this – and then he sees again the fact of loss of faith. The sudden death of belief in God. Peter realises. not just of hope. But you cannot possibly make decent money without some kind of scam or other. of there being no foundation after all. as it were.
but he doesn’t. you know. even admiration – picked up at school – for William Shakespeare. He had not expected Peter. his hands instead clutching his beer glass. He should speak. a flatness in his eyes. He says to Simon. morality makes hypocrites of us all. ‘He said everything. apropos of nothing: ‘It’s like Shakespeare said. Simon is laughing. clutching and clutching as though seeking a more comfortable hold. not liking this time being upstaged in such an unexpected way. a beautiful appley gaseousness shooting up into his head. didn’t he?’ John Widgett speaking from the corner of his mouth. even though it is obvious John is feeling respect. the bulwark of science.scramble of philosophy. the consolation of property. doctorate and all that. charismatic and Irish with a licence to be the company’s clown. but then she is responding to a joke told by Johno.’ Peter stands up. It’s John who responds most immediately – surprising Peter – his mouth opening and twisting sideways to the left. The alcohol rushed forward like a tidal wave. Only Rebecca is laughing. the computer department’s star performer. the best he can do in the circumstances. He is at once momentarily drunk. How relieved he is. but at least managing to say something – when no one else would. He drains what’s left in the glass in one go. 171 . His voice is toneless. even Margarita for once sitting like a passive English woman while their menfolk made fools of themselves. to behave so rudely. He has wanted to say that to someone for years. The woman are dulled.
’ ‘Oh yes. Maura. Lots of parking down there.’ Laugh. The Bristol is just the place.’ ‘Oh. Peter.’ ‘I tell you what it is. Pretty obvious. Look.Just past three o’clock. you know.’ ‘Peter Lacey. Instinct tells him that this is the correct time to ring. Peter?’ ‘I’m well. Peter is fortified by a cup of strong coffee coaxed from Helen. too?’ ‘Yes. I promise you it’s a pretty good scene here. I’ll bring my jive boots. I mean. that’s right. the cook. Probably a good idea… Well. not too clamorous early in the evening. A pause.’ ‘Ah. It’s only a ten minute walk from there. It’s down towards Kemp Town. Maura. Always tricky. ‘Maura? Maura Sinclair?’ ‘Yes. I plan to come down by train. in the dining room. there’s a train from Victoria that gets in about eightish. Peter. Maura. I’ll look forward to it. I am. Perfectly safe. yes.’ ‘By train? Yes. You mentioned blues Saturday nights in Brighton. you know. I thought it would interest you. I can meet you off that. And you won’t have to worry about driving back afterwards. I thought I might come down next Saturday… You say it’s on the seafront somewhere.’ ‘Hhhh.’ ‘Well. Peter. I take it you are well. For the police. better we meet somewhere beforehand. then: ‘That payment was okay then?’ 172 . How are you. look.’ ‘That’s suits very well.
that sort of thing. I mean. I mean. all the time coming in the front door and passing through out into the garden. it seems as though certain kinds of storage have to be reported. That sort of thing.‘The which? Oh sure. it’s out of sight and out of mind here. If the police are searching for them. a dream-state where he is all the time 173 . See you. The storage. Maura. at the roses. Maura. He feels as though he is doing it repeatedly. Money too. between you and me. Yet he stands perfectly still in his little kitchen looking out into the garden. It’s like he is lost in a trance. I’m glad you’ve decided to come. no problem… Except. wasn’t it?’ ‘Oh no. Peter. the delay over paying attracted some attention. Management wondering what the difficulty was.’ ‘Attention? How do you mean.’ ‘You mean storing drugs?’ ‘Apparently. I shouldn’t worry. ‘Well. The three crates. I understand now. Peter. The account is clear now… Look. You know how it is.’ ‘Oh yes. You know. well. You won’t regret it. not that.’ ‘Byeee.’ What is it with the flat this evening? Peter feels he is just walking through it. Maura. To do with contraband and drugs.’ ‘Money too?’ ‘Anyway. I’ll see you Saturday. Look forward to that. Peter? The cheque was okay.’ ‘Ahh. why was the security upgraded.’ Laugh: ‘Oh I daresay. yes.
remorse. bitterness. Peter is surprised even so. Ah. Peter remembers what it is he wants to do. 174 . he discovers after a while that he has nonetheless prepared his evening meal. It can’t be helped. grief. too rough and ready for his habits of life. When the music starts his tears start again too. of – you guessed it – bread and cheese. leaving an uncomfortable itchiness on his skin even as some place in his chest warms. sets it to play. He hovers for a while. then turns again. He doesn’t feel any strong emotion. searches for the Leningrad Phil disc. though he is standing there like that. staring at the flowers in the way he often does. no doubt the floor around his feet as well (not to mention his clothes). not his more usual pear. until he faces towards the door to the living room. He sits in the chair facing the speakers. He cycles through the contents of the disc to the Poem of Ecstasy. only that he is going. no sadness. Not something he would do in normal circumstances. either. Yet tears flow from his eyes and down his cheek. He turns. In the living room he turns on the audio system. Peter eats standing up. feeling the pull of the walking through while yet he knows he wishes to do something else. crumbs and droplets of grape juice have further to fall and so less certain of where they will end up. Not easy to do. though accompanied this evening by sweet red grapes. He has no sense of where he is going in his imagination.walking away to somewhere else. A large tissue is to hand – as ever – yet the table top is becoming spattered. Then he is finished eating and has tidied the dishes away onto the draining board by the sink. And the strange thing is. composes himself. then finds that it is in the CD player.
The last track on the disc. abiding like a tenuous shadow. What other part? Answer again comes immediately: the part you don’t know. Peter walks through into the kitchen. There is a tug. while at the same time he is aware of an obscure reluctance to give way to its influence again. He can even hear the curious singing. broken only by the muffled thump of his neighbour’s offering across the back gardens. so silence ensues. The answer is simple: Peter wants to walk on through the flat to get to something that is part of himself. Peter moves in reaction and casts his eyes about the kitchen. strident at times. his academic training breaking through all the bemusement: how can one know something that one doesn’t know? Realising that he is once again staring out into the garden. stands looking out into the garden. He asks himself. Now. it’s in his feet most of all.It is like companionship. off-key. Then Peter – being Peter – must enquire of the impulse: to what end? He gets an answer – the fact that Peter gets answers to questions like this has never surprised him. though many would say that it should. this answer does surprise him. but always saying something. but not nearly as strong as previously. 175 . The impulse to walk through is still with him. What part of himself? Answer comes immediately: the other part. it surprises him a great deal. a presence being beside him on his left. It’s a though Kharib is in the room with him. The music ends.
end of just doing the day-in day-out thing. so a good time to tell one’s thoughts. Just go to bed. this time somewhere in the southern hemisphere near NZ. way too long. The room is in almost total darkness. He has slept but feels he has not slept. Peter knows some of the problem: this temping trick is coming to an end. He’ll be able to continue his research. The world is too big. opens his eyes. It is in New Zealand. Peter sleeps. OTAGO is prominent in the top left corner. He drops the letter back onto the shelf. still wonderfully clear.He sees the letter on the first shelf of the dresser over to his right at the party wall. lie out. the affect of a possibly corrosive individualist philosophy on people professionally committed to communality. only very dim light seeping in from the street outside. It is twenty past three. then he is awake. Not despair. It is a quarter to ten. still bright. Otago is the University of Otago. end of patience. seeing all the old themes of angst and 176 . Peter decides to go to bed. a weariness like a staleness in his head. then sleep. Yet all is very quiet. time is too long. a vivid red image. This is a leap too far for Peter in his present condition. He knows what the envelope –from Otago that is a university in New Zealand – contains. middle of the night. What research? Peter acknowledges that this is a good question. Peter rolls over onto his back. a bright New Zealand stamp in the right hand corner. He pictures himself researching all alone together in a busy university department.
always only entering into relationship because each individual remains permanently unknowable. sometimes the same. sometimes different. He traces back through his years of research. day after day. eyes alight with visions. so always only coming into view. The description reminds him of something. Peter smiles at this interpretation. his children. Each time He appears in glorious visions. his enemy. 177 . The individual always in the process of entering into relationship with other individuals like him. Peter suddenly sees people out on a street.alienation rearing their head again. then stops smiling. knowing very well it would never play like that. not after. despite the rightward adjustment to a more corporatist view of human collectivity. A man looking at his wife of twenty years. London in 1991. People on the tube looking at each other. How man relates to God: always getting to know God. looking at each other. Peter falls asleep. night after night. his eyes on fire. He finds the answer in all those tracts he had studied in Dublin. not alienation: the individual before socialisation. How would it play? As Romantic melancholy. too. Peter smiles in the dark at this interpretation. Not seventeenth century Dublin.
it’s debtor days again. he thinks it might be indigestion. just under his rib cage. Simon. High up. but he feels his morale sag. He looks for and then clutches the little black mouse on his desk. Unfortunately. a debilitation setting in. wondering what it was and – more important – what was its cause. John is concerned that they cannot get the figure below thirty five. we wouldn’t have one. crossing glances that convey guarded amusement. ‘If we didn’t. Simon and Peter wait as usual for John to select the topic for discussion. his head going back. but Simon says. startled by him too. John and Simon. 178 . there is a gassiness. Simon and Peter let John speak. Peter is still feeling the effects of that first twinge. not glib: it’s something he has long considered. Peter quickly checks his tone of voice: it wasn’t curt. his right foot shooting out.’ Simon is fazed by this answer. leaving his stomach a bit high for a few hours. to drink their morning tea. Pete was only quoting from Shakespeare. John pauses his monologue.’ Simon looks quickly at John. This twinge is different. no doubt expecting contributions from the other two. he can come up with an answer pretty quickly. It’s now that Peter feels the first twinge in his gut. Yes. Simon. Now John speaks: ‘Leave off. The camembert he’s fond of can sometimes be pretty rich.So they gather as usual in Simon’s office. Still. Peter knows at once. looking at Peter with intent eyes that are more than a little timid: ‘So you think we don’t need morality?’ John twitches. Peter.
then Peter is more bemused by its approach than – say – frightened or regretful. So he sits it out. Simon. ‘Perhaps. But it’s not Shakespeare. he finds that burning gaseous substances are working their way down his pipes towards his bowel. but it causes his head to flush.’ Simon looks keenly at Peter. Is this death? If it is. almost solid. But John persists: ‘But Peter ought to know. He had always thought that regret would be the strongest emotion in the face 179 . trousers down and on the pot before the messy explosion. Time to get out.’ Simon’s glance at Peter is furtive. thinking: Good man. Very unpleasant. There is no pain in his gut now.’ Peter can’t repress his smile.He twiddles it nervously. The emptiness that had been in his stomach is now spreading through his whole body. but Peter feels something draining from him nonetheless. that is. like all the veins in his head suddenly too tight: there is a squishing sensation right across under his skull. as though afraid of what he is discovering – that they have some kind of troublemaker in their midst. Peter – too ideological?’ Peter smirks. Even his fingers and toes feel numb. ‘It’s not like something Shakespeare would say. I mean. ‘It’s too – how to put it. John. like a vacuum coming into being in his stomach. He makes it in time into a cubicle. Then there is the second twinge. just like that. he’s been to university. it’s hard to take seriously. John. Well. Now Peter does feel like barking at him. Not as bad as the first. But when that curious piece of awfulness recedes.
There are more gripes while Peter sits on the pot contemplating his bemusement. exact balance of placation and edge: ‘Hold on. about a rise. Then there is quiet. complete quiet. I mean. either excitation still active in her despite her control or just a burst of sadness or fear. but it is also at peace. ‘Pete. a choky sound. You know. ‘He has to sell the house. Anne. their force lessening each time. like not knowing what is happening. One thing at a time.’ There’s an obvious pause. ‘It wouldn’t be 180 .’ Anne makes a sound. No. He went over the figures with me. demonstrating something about their relationship that no words could convey. he’s going to do it next week!’ Peter needs to come up to speed. His body is utterly empty. Her voice is suddenly surprisingly rich.’ Peter feels the dart of fear himself – not a good sensation when your gut is already very tender. Ten past eleven precisely by the clock on his terminal and Anne rings Peter. He does so. it is bemusement. I just can’t afford the place. responding just like that. unthinkingly. so I believe him.of death.’ He hears Anne take time to breath deeply. Clear as a bell. ‘But what about the lodger?’ It’s Anne’s turn to calm things. what I would need to satisfy the mortgage people. ‘He just can’t make up the difference. more like her singing voice. Instead. Pete. ‘Did you speak to John? You know. simply not comprehending.
Have you worked out how much you need?’ ‘Yes. Just a rough figure. It’s alright. You misunderstand me. twenty or thirty years. Look. I mean. I mean. He crouches forward. Anne. You know. The mortgage people think long term. Anne. no. I can’t get much more than I have. sweetheart.’ Peter must now fight a massive jolt in his gut. About oh nearly thirty thousand.’ 181 . Could be food poisoning. a remarkably comforting sensation up his spine. Yet. It’s not that bad.’ ‘No. a racking pain from under his heart down into his groin.counted. ‘Pete? Pete. To the nearest thousand. ‘No. fearing that Peter is thinking the worst. the tensing helps. I’m probably getting about the average rate as it is. Pete.’ ‘Oh. what is the outstanding debt on the house? As it is now. And there’s no point trying anywhere else. pressing his elbows down onto the desk. Anne. My stomach is upset this morning. are you still there?’ His voice is flattened by the discomfort: ‘No.’ Anne catches her breath. The discomfort is very great.’ ‘Hang on. Anne. Anne is frightened by the silence. no. ‘What is it? Are you taking something? Go out to a chemist shop and get them to give you something. If anything. like a warm honeyed fluid running as a counter-measure. Now.’ ‘No. that’s all. Just a gripe. Yes.’ He can hear Anne scrabbling around on her desk. Pete. But I’ve just told you.
‘Yes. It’s just that there’s an outside possibility. Pete? Where am I going to get that sort of money?’ ‘Anne. you’ll survive it. we can have the whole evening together. even happiness. It might take a few days yet. no. will you.‘Thirty. as though something altogether strange is about to happen. will you?’ A huge sigh from Anne. He makes himself sound very practical. not hope – as might be expected – but a kind of uncertainty. just get your ex to hold off for a while. Anne. He knows Anne is nodding – maybe he can hear the low swish of her hair. Well. will you. I’ll do that.’ ‘Oh. Just do that. ‘Okay.’ ‘But why. Anyway. ‘You don’t have that kind of money. Pete.’ A long pause. Ask him not to close the mortgage for a week or so. Anne. I mean. how could I ever pay you back?’ ‘Hold on. can I come tomorrow evening?’ ‘Yes. do you? Besides. It gives Peter a lot of comfort. I’d like that. 182 . It’s not that. Come early. then. Just get him to hold off. will you.’ Peter repeats. thanks for your support. Just wait. Pete.’ They simultaneously kiss-kiss over the phone. Just do that. do. One way or the other. It’s really a big mess. Thanks. Anne’s voice is small. ‘I will. please. do you hear me?’ ‘No. mind. I don’t want false hopes. I’ll ring him now. Peter.’ ‘Yes. Anne. I’ll come straight out from here.
compensation for coming here at all. John. and so must keep her sweet too. who would you report him to? I can’t see John Taylor doing anything. the vegetable less so (as usual – broccoli must be the sourest table vegetable on the market. The table seems crowded today. not happy just elated. a light cheesy sauce. ‘Well. ‘Oh him! There really must be some way of dealing with that. small potatoes boiled in their skins. Peter doesn’t think to sit elsewhere. so he needs find a chair elsewhere and squeeze in. it’s free. It’ll cheer him up. Peter is finding the fish very palatable. Poached sole. He is her boss too.Lunch time. If I had my way. broccoli.’ Patty shakes her head in a sharp way. like with Sales or Computers.’ So Johno tells the joke: 183 . John. ‘You must tell Peter that joke.’ John’s head is bent forward. It’s the main meal of the day for him. who never speaks. in the dining room nor in the office either. Johno looks up. Patty. It seems at first that he is trying to see into Patty’s cleavage – very wrinkled in its exposed parts – but in fact he is trying to concentrate on what she is saying. so much so that her eyes seem to shudder in her head. worse even than the sprout). A sign of how part of the team he is.’ Simon suddenly laughs out. when Peter thinks about it. Peter thinks he will try to eat something. Patty. is saying to John in a surprisingly affected voice – surprising. I would report it. because the woman has pretty well nothing to flaunt: ‘Trust him to speak like that about him. wide smile. Simon says to Johno.
not clown. ‘On the way. They hire a bus for the occasion. One of the boys standing in the back of the bus notices that there is an empty bus in the traffic queue behind them. don’t you see?’ Johno still looks elated – very handsomely does it suit him too – but an element of appraisal is entering. there an empty bus behind. Let’s change to that one. One day they decided they would take a day trip to Brighton. they want to come too. not sure where Peter is coming from. He shouts out: “Quick.’ Simon is near wetting himself all over again. Never mind. so she has to shout boisterously. either) – ‘I hate the crowded buses…’ 184 .‘There was this group of Irishmen who drank together in a pub in Camden Town. feeling he should explain to Peter: ‘It’s the logic.” ‘So they all scramble off the crowded bus and manage to run back and get on the empty bus before the lights change. while Johno lets out a shout of glee. Johno’ – (Johno is not married. jibed by the word logic: ‘Happens every day. The racket gets Margarita going. at the same time rubbing away the debris of a dessert that lingers at the corners of her mouth: ‘I think they were very right. When everyone else in the pub hears about the excursion. Peter is checking his gut: will it or will it not? Simon says. They set off in good spirits. Johno might well be the ringmaster here. So they all pile into the bus. He says. singing songs and drinking bottled beer. Peter notices that. they are stopped at some traffic lights on the Streatham High Road. which quickly becomes very crowded. lads. doesn’t it?’ Simon scowls.
Trades on a literalism. darling. Johno is delighted by Peter’s response. At the same time. The two of them drowned trying. a faltering tone of embarrassment. yes. Why do you ask?” “You moved. Peter says. When they have subsided. ‘I think I heard that one before. mouth pursed as though sucking a lemon. So here. a real dirty smile rarely seen in Jukes. Then Johno’s face widens into a wicked joyous grin. his stomach reacts to the food he is eating. ‘Not as good as the first one. But he continues laughing anyway. Then he suddenly stops. He calls his two strapping sons in and tells them he wants to be buried at sea. reaching his hand over to take his opposing hand. ‘I come from Kerry.”’ Momentary silence.Peter cuts across her pretty brutally: ‘My turn now. darling?” The woman stirs herself: “Why.’ Johno begins.’ Peter first smirks. Simon looks very miffed now. There’s this English couple making love. left out of the hilarity that is drawing the attention of the whole room. not too quietly. even Margarita looks a bit dumbfounded. you know. Simon says. to Patty: ‘Soft bed. ‘And Kerrymen are the butt of Irish jokes. leaning across the table to Peter. The man is humping away manfully in perfect silence. then he laughs out. his eyes very radiant.’ Patty’s expression is louche. a massive spasm down deep into his guts. He asks his partner: “Are you alright. Peter.’ 185 . There was this old Kerry fisherman lying dying on his bed.’ Debby says.
He knows he has not fully recovered. really.’ Peter feels really debilitated by the spasm. He can sit at his desk and function as usual. odour not as bad as might be expected. Something else.Johno nods. Enough. perhaps. on the pot again. observes: ‘It reminds me of the Scottish jokes we used to tell. Only gas being expelled in long rippling farts. a strong binding pain just under his navel. Then. but he wants cheese. busy doing very little. even so. The tea does help. who has been busy eating up to now. Off like a shot then. one moment that faint tenderness then a blast of hot fire and gas is rumbling down his pipes. like something withdrawn or holding back. Peter fixes himself afterwards. It happens suddenly.’ Simon hastens to add his bit: ‘More like a fear of making a mistake. He has finished the fish and most of the potatoes. But he is beginning to suspect that he has not got food poisoning. John Widgett. Coffee would make him very tetchy. serious spasms. then what? 186 . like many at Jukes in the afternoon. there is a negative feeling in his gut. you know. Definitely not food poisoning. about three – when afternoon coffee would be welcomed – the bottom seems to fall out of his whole digestive system. a worry beginning to haunt him: if not poisoning. giving him a distance on the disruption to his erstwhile rock solid digestion. a horrible foamy sweat on his brow. About stupidity. Then he’ll have tea today.
’ Pause.’ She indicates with globe forming gestures what this signifies. ‘So you got your sister to check through all of Shakespeare?’ Rebecca nods. back to them. the one that indicates armoured for action. She is smiling. Does it in a few seconds. It has all the great works of English Literature on it. another smile.’ ‘Peter.’ Peter nods. ‘She has this computer program. ‘How does your sister come to have something like that? She’s not reading all that stuff on a computer. who sits tall and unbending at his desk. ‘She told me that Shakespeare never said that. and Peter knows at once that this is Rebecca’s other smile. if only to contact that negativity that lurks there. Did you make that up?’ Peter must press against his sacral plexus. thinking: Is it cancer? Is it an ulcer? ‘Does your sister know Shakespeare that well?’ Rebecca cocks her head at him. ‘Peter. but in the shadow – Peter notices at once – of her boss.Rebecca happens to be standing not far from the toilets. I spoke to my sister last night. by the glass wall facing into the rooftop garden. is she?’ 187 . too. Peter only now realises that Rebecca’s attitude to him is different to anything he has experienced before with her.’ ‘Rebecca. ‘You just type in a word or phrase and it can search hundreds of works for references. a curious guarded quality evident in her eyes. what you quoted about hypocrisy and morality.
‘I’m surprised you made a mistake like that.’ It takes almost an hour to get an answer. Well. to mislead a woman by pretending to love her. she’s a professional writer and she needs something like that to help her. someone with a doctorate would have a better memory for quotations surely. sincere. It’s in Love’s Labour Lost. ‘Women’s novels.” And that’s all. No. Rebecca accompanies him.’ Peter presses the flesh about his navel this time. not wanting to see Rebecca like this. Peter. She consults a piece of paper in her hand. At the door to Accounts. and nods. He moves away to go back to his desk.’ Even Rebecca shakes her head at this.’ Peter lowers his head. ‘I mean. not all of it. and I quote “I had as lief have the foppery of freedom as the morality of imprisonment. of course. There is no gas. ‘She said that Shakespeare uses hypocrisy to mean sexual deceit. he says: ‘Ask your sister to check how many times Shakespeare refers to morality. I’d say some of would be pretty dull.’ ‘A writer? What kind of writer is she?’ Rebecca betrays embarrassment. You know. ‘In Measure for Measure he wrote. and she mentioned other plays.’ Peter’s head shoots up.Rebecca starts.’ Peter nods. Rebecca brings it in person. Peter wonders at her embarrassment: he has never seen Rebecca so off-guard before. relaxing: ‘Oh no. But they’re very good. ‘Once.’ 188 .
A pinky cover. heading towards the toilets again. ‘I don’t know. isn’t that right?’ Peter gets another stab from his gut demon at this time. Peter sits on.’ John looks down at his desk. thank goodness. fearing a major breakdown in progress. she didn’t say. My wife found one of them. then at the screen of his computer. his rectum hot. He says. John calls across the office from his desk over by the door: ‘About your sister’s books. Gloria Baker. willing to please. She was very busy. But Peter is thinking something else. worrying for his health.’ Peter nods. apropos of nothing: ‘What does your sister think of that?’ ‘Oh. Obedient. Peter is out of his seat. But my wife said she enjoyed it very much. that she takes a lot of trouble telling the story. his trousers down around his ankles. 189 . then hears Rebecca answer but not able any longer to make out the words. She thought your sister was a very good writer. thinking and thinking but it won’t show. You know.Peter is staring at Rebecca. John? I think she has two or three in print at the moment. to learn. gases rapidly expanding from his stomach down towards his bowel.’ Peter hears this all the way down the corridor. a diligence ultimately futile though well intentioned. Rebecca is turning away – catching just a glimpse of the rictus of pain then appearing on his face – to answer John. if I remember rightly. She’s like a child. how she might have been once at school. The gas is noisy. but still no strong odour. Rebecca. junior or middle school. ‘Which one.
and Alex has turned around so he can watch both of them just standing there. then extracts a sweetie tablet. ‘Have you had some kind of shock?’ Peter feels a shock now. except forcing him to rest for the duration of the relief from discomfort. Then she reappears. you look all washed out. a gesture for sympathy while also indicating a faint disavowal.’ She gives him a tight smile. He’s more than a little stunned: that this could happen as a consequence. It’ll ease the pain in your stomach. not a blameless smile.’ She stands watching Peter suck. moving very steadily back towards him. lucky thing. Rebecca is nodding. washes up and feel ready to face the world again. ‘Looks pretty bad. like recognition. Peter pops it into his mouth.’ She touches his cheek.’ She goes on around the corridor – Peter can see her through the glass. I mean. ‘Anyway. Then he fixes his clothes. figure slightly elongated – and Alex turns his head to watch her pass. ‘God. ‘Feel better now?’ 190 . of course. ‘And it’s never happened before?’ Peter shakes his head. Rebecca awaits in the same place as before. towering head. wait here. ‘Suck it. She shows Peter the small medicinal type box. Peter?’ He does a grimace.The worrying gets him nowhere. though not entirely begrudging either.’ he volunteers. Alex still on duty. ‘And a bit feverish?’ She takes a deliberate breath. back straight. ‘My gut. Don’t chew. I’ll get you something. She says: ‘Are you alright. Alex again following her.
But he 191 . I was just curious. Thanks for your help. should it prove to be mistaken – a conviction: Rebecca had something to do with Kharib’s disappearance. ‘Sure. the whole thing about the quotation is not important. So how did you find out?’ The expression in Rebecca’s face is turning into a very real pain. He wants to say something to her. in a horrible inevitable way – so that Peter won’t easily escape from its obsessive force. I…’ and then falls silent. ‘Only Simon knows. ‘I can’t remember. You know. ‘I. Rebecca does say. one of her best. He is basking in Rebecca’s glowing attention. He nods in any case. the familiar expression of emptiness taking her over. Peter notices no immediate change in himself. a kind of senseless suspicion – really paranoid – rising in him like a name for part of what he is suffering. not being used to taking pills of any kind. too soon after the last crisis. Peter is set to refuse this offer. Is it so important?’ She pauses and then sets out on another tack – even as Peter knows that this is a diversion: ‘Look.’ Peter takes the box. the slightly fawning one – and offers him the little medicinal box.’ Rebecca gives him one of her better smiles – actually. Rebecca insists: ‘You’re going to need these for a day or two yet. It didn’t sound like something Shakespeare would say.’ The suspicion in Peter is rapidly becoming. and I know he wouldn’t tell you. it’s too political.Of course. Peter is reacting to the question himself. Then the thought that eluded him earlier suddenly appears. Peter. He frowns: ‘How do you know I have a doctorate?’ Rebecca is startled. It’s very light.
to force it from her by strength of character. A pain for which there is no sweetie tablet. Peter just cannot do that to Rebecca. Tilted either way there is pain. gentle line of her hips. He cannot cry. A while later he drinks another glass of warm water. he lets the farts rip out. There’s a queasy calm in his stomach. cannot speak. sheer pain. out into the garden. calm proportion of her breasts. There’s a big gripe soon after he gets into the flat. so he has the pain in balance. frustration. He will never move again. He steadies himself for the next demon dart. be it of anger. But he cannot say anything reasonable: it’s in him to shout at her. He feels he holds a set of scales somewhere in his being. something they can both get around one way or the other. a gas surge. to demand an immediate confession. but less of the angry pain. goes to the lift. On one pan there is poor broken Kharib in a holding cell somewhere. Rebecca was right about the benefit of the tablet. either Kharib or Rebecca. goes down to the street and then walks up across the Common to his flat. dressed for this vision in red and blue. On the other pan there is Rebecca. It’s good to do this: at least it is some kind of gesture. Alone in the flat. He stands looking out into the garden. there’s a queasy calm throughout his whole being. so they can remain friends afterwards. 192 . He turns away. then the scales tilts and the pain starts up.wants it to be reasonable. Never. pretty face: liking him as he likes her. He has the scales in perfect balance. The sweetie tablet works. out into the garden. If he thinks about one. He drinks a glass of warm water.
He steps back to let her in and then follows her down the hall into his flat.’ Peter nods. ‘Wherever you like. meaning: so? Rebecca is looking around the anonymous room. then staring into the partially visible bedroom. He has never heard it before. You know. Peter. She knows her way around. He spreads his hands.’ For once. ‘I brought you this. not having had any visitors until now. just her face plain with seriousness. Very worried Rebecca. Chastened Rebecca. I told John we were off to a meeting with a client.’ 193 . he has Charles and John Taylor in with him. For the group. He asks Rebecca if she would like some tea. behind closed doors. She holds up his jacket. It’s Rebecca. seeing Simon more clearly now than he had ever before. ‘Oh. Peter is strongly tempted give into the impulse to put his arms around her and hold her tightly to him. Accounting tricks. Peter is glad to be reasonable: ‘Simon?’ Rebecca makes a mock-grim face. asks: ‘May I sit down?’ Peter has put the kettle on.’ Peter cocks his head. It’s only when the bell rings a second time that he realises that it is the front door bell to his flat. She smiles for the first time. No smile. ‘They get him to turn tricks for them.Then a bell rings and Peter jumps out of his skin. a testing smile.
run around in circles. smote his brow. thank you. Mainly because Peter simply does not believe her. to be read on every surface of her skin. looking up at the glass roof.She joins him in the little kitchen. where one is drawn as down a long dark path. There’s information even in her clothes: the business blouse with the padded shoulders. Do you want to sit out here?’ Rebecca sits in the chair at the table. Only the red wool skirt seems less than forthcoming. in every crease and fold. at the short side of the table there. about the areas where instinct presides. at the glass wall that reveals the garden. Peter brings out a second chair from the living room and places it at the door to the garden. Peter makes tea for both of them. but Peter can hear the words about thighs and the steeper curves. Instead. ‘Would you like something to eat?’ ‘Not at the moment.’ ‘The tea will take a few moments. ‘Did you know our hitchhiker was a woman?’ There’s not much room for Peter to react physically – like throw his arms out. It’s as though she is now full of information for him. in all her dimensions. 194 . He could well have done any of these things. cut to show both the swell of her breasts and the long curves of her slender waist. He finds he can’t take his eyes off Rebecca. confined close to Rebecca – so close that he gets her familiar fragrance. sees that there is a dew of perspiration on the temple closest to him. The kettle boils. little beads on the short fine hairs there – he can only gape and echo: ‘A woman?’ It just doesn’t register.
When you left on Friday – near Croydon. and off we went. The temptation was too great. And of course I thought this signified. When I first saw him – I mean her. ‘Is there tea?’ Peter pours tea. No teeth.’ 195 . I was going to invite him stay with me. Gladly. but I thought she was a man then – I thought he was the most beautiful being I had ever seen. two hands spread open. It was signed Doctor Peter Lacey. Peter.’ A pause to allow that avowal to sink in.‘What happened?’ Rebecca lays her arms flat on the table. So I got him to gather up all his effects. you know. But when you told me on Monday that he had ended up here. I was a bit disingenuous about it. But the temptation. I knew I would die for him. So. Peter looking at Rebecca looking at him. I let him out in the middle of nowhere. I thought that was that then. no nails. for a start. I know you can smile. But I am going to tell you the truth. I couldn’t help myself. Peter. ‘Well. that he rather fancied me too.’ She looks over at Peter. I didn’t want to. remember? – he set up such a racket that I had to let him out too. There is a packet of biscuits. That’s when I saw your note for the welfare people. I need this now.’ Another pause. She takes a really deep breath. I admit that. But there was something about him. ‘I’m sorry I have to say this to you. I came here on Tuesday. I persuaded him to come to my place in Epsom. Peter. I couldn’t believe it. weirdly white skin. ‘Anyway. She’s saying: no secrets. ‘Thanks. She – he – was delighted to see me. I mean. I mean he was wearing practically nothing. Peter believes her.
Rebecca pauses to drink tea. ‘It was a giving in. ‘If it had worked out. I mean. He realises that he should have asked her if she caused him any suffering. She spoke to me. His gut is surprisingly quiet. he is almost completely helpless. so that her fair hair falls forward to hide her face.’ 196 . Like love at first sight.’ She looks sideways at Peter.’ A pause. something I never felt before. She takes a biscuit. Rebecca?’ He’s not threatening in any way. Peter. I just took my clothes off. you know. responded enthusiastically. Why would I do that? Look. but he knows he doesn’t want to hear her answer to that question. but not her. If anything. From the far side of the room he asks: ‘Did you harm him. ‘Perhaps I should have been more circumspect. A commitment. And but. come back and let me tell you while I can see you. for good or ill.’ Peter goes out to the kitchen and sits in the chair by the door again. I normally would be. He. He walks around and around for a while until the gas works its way down.’ Rebecca bends her head forward. but of course I didn’t understand. ‘No. Rebecca sighs a loud sigh. she. but that triggers some gas. then drinks more tea. I couldn’t keep my hands still. given the momentousness of the occasion. Peter drinks tea too. as you probably know. nibbles at the chocolate side. I didn’t harm him in any way. But. peering through the strands of hair. I thought then. so that he must get up and walk into the living room. Peter. always but. But it was like a hunger. ‘Then I discovered that she was a woman. With anyone else that might have given the game away. It’s a bit hard now. Passive.
an animal like that. ‘How else would you explain the loss of nails and teeth?’ Rebecca now lowers her head again. Bright red. perhaps castrated. so that Rebecca asks: ‘You knew?’ Peter shakes his head. raw. Peter. Good question.’ Rebecca laughs uncharateristically. and looks Peter in the eye.Peter nods at this point. like something a dog in heat might have. if that is what you think. But she wasn’t castrated. It was revolting for some reason. ‘Over three inches long. It’s obvious that she wants to ball them. restraining his own anger now. You know. Peter?’ Peter bows his head. You know? Thickish at one hand. the difficulty she has handling the strong feelings. that her clitoris was remarkable long.’ Rebecca shudders. ‘It was like a red chilli pepper. ‘That may be so.’ She straightens up.’ 197 . A ram. She pats the table with the palms of both hands. She had a vagina like any woman. hedging: ‘I thought he had been tortured. Her hands are quivering. Peter. like a calling to order. a forced laugh showing how wound up she is now.’ She pauses again to take a deep breath. ‘The only thing is. drawing her hair back from her face. curved – even a bit twisted – and running to a narrow point at the other end. ‘Tortured? What torture? Wherever did you get that idea from. but the anger nonetheless is genuine. Perhaps he is only masking his apparently ridiculous belief that Kharib had been mistreated.
Most of us. Peter. Peter. as I said.Now she buries her head in her open hands. ‘I panicked. looks at Peter. indicating the point beyond which she will retreat into a nameless subjectivity. don’t betray that limit because we make sure we are never driven that far. I’m trying to tell you. I was terrified. I was revolted. You might laugh at that. And thinking now – you know. But what happened?’ He pauses. You know. Peter thinks she might be crying. ‘Don’t badger me. I thought it was passion. after talking about it with you – I think you might be right.’ 198 . where I could let go and be myself – whatever or whoever that it. That’s not it. presses momentarily.’ She nods. but he speaks it anyway: ‘Where is he now?’ Rebecca shakes her head furiously. That’s all.’ Peter nods. It’s a last defence. His initial disappointment now becomes an acknowledgement that the weakness he has witnessed in Rebecca is not at all unusual. ‘I think I could tell.’ For the first time. ‘You don’t believe she was a woman. he sees. There was more masculinity than femininity. draws her right hand across her brow. ‘Look. but for the first time in my life I felt something like release in a relationship. She is shaking. Rebecca. inclusive. He places his right hand on her shoulder. ‘No. Peter sees a vehemence in Rebecca. not wanting to ask the next question. Rebecca. She sighs a big sigh.’ Rebecca stops. Perhaps it was too raw. by what I saw. ‘Yes.’ She stops again. sure you don’t?’ Peter shakes his head. ‘So what happened then?’ His tone is gentle. says: ‘Fine.
He was very strange. the yellow evening sun glancing off the flowers. looking around the little kitchen and out into the garden. It’s like Kharib has come back to him. palms up. believe me. I felt that if I got involved with him – really involved. But I’ve known quite a lot of different men. but also a renewal of the by now familiar anguish. Peter. ‘He was different. The roses still nod. Each has a different – well. like a gesture of giving. as I wanted to be – then I would become very different too. as though there is an ultimate mundanity even to the most intense love attachment. something fading in him. something very general that effects his relationship even with Kharib. Peter. ‘So why were you terrified?’ Rebecca raises both of her hands. He didn’t say anything to me. aura. And it frightened me. ‘Would you like to eat something? There’s bread and cheese. He stands up.’ Peter nods.’ Rebecca nods. Just utterly different from any other man I’ve known.’ ‘He was from another place. You know. Kharib wasn’t like that. I don’t think I would have known myself. That’s what frightened me.’ ‘You did upset him?’ 199 .’ ‘Yes. for sex.Peter feels something like relief. let’s say – but there is a fundamental familiarity about them all anyway.’ Peter nods. and some fruit. ‘I know what it’s like to be open to different men. ‘He just gathered up his things and walked out of the apartment.
switches it on. Eyes as though peering in a mist. looking at himself in the mirror there. drawing quietly on the cooker. Sadness. didn’t he?’ Again Peter has to nod. coming seemingly from nowhere. Peter. 200 . The gas rips out. no odour: bowel empty. standing naked in the middle of my bedroom. He drops everything and runs to the bathroom. What was lost? What was it? Rebecca has laid the table. gone away for good. very uncharacteristic. Who looks at him in the mirror – Peter hardly knows. Some heat in his anus. He doesn’t want to see it from Rebecca’s side. cheese and grapes.‘Peter! I was like a gibbering idiot. He stands at the handbasin. He fills the kettle. Fine – Peter can manage this while he busies himself with preparing their snack – but the gut demon is back with such force that not even Rebecca’s sweeties seem to help. mouth turned down. ‘I thought he would have come back here. gone away. Regret. he found his way from Croydon. To start crying would be to enter some unknown territory with Rebecca. He upset me!’ Peter bows his head. He fends off the realisation that Kharib has actually left. That’s the word for it. something lost before he even knew he had found it. didn’t you?’ Peter can only nod. Gas swells his stomach. laid out the bread. Yet the tears well up even so.’ ‘From Epsom?’ ‘Well. Even the tea is made. ‘You really liked him. Peter. gets food from the fridge.
His gut seems quiet. since he disappeared from here. I could be angry with him because we couldn’t really communicate. He blows his nose fiercely into a tissue. There was something in me – something extra – when I was with him. Perhaps locked away in some hell hole for years. I used to shout at him in frustration. He was kind and gentle. She starts. blinking rapidly. Believe me. It works.’ He says this not because he wants to convince her that he is not homosexual. I have been convinced that he was being held in some confinement cell. at least for now. ‘No. Rebecca. Nails and teeth ripped out. he reaches for the 201 . but in order to get her to concentrate on what he is telling her. ‘I think I may have been too hot for him to notice that. Look. ‘It has no name. He was extraordinarily empathetic. The tears are not coming back. I didn’t spend as much time as you did with him. ‘Didn’t you see that in him? A kind of good patience? I believed he had been seriously mistreated wherever he came from. ‘The point is. as though caught out. I mean. Tears abate.’ Peter nods. as though this might force the tears into abatement. did you find that?’ Rebecca is staring at Peter. deflating a bit. Look.’ Tears again. Out of habit.‘Are you gay?’ Peter shakes his head. Rebecca. obviously never having seen a man so upset before. Tortured and abused.’ He blows his nose again. It wasn’t a sex thing. asks: ‘Find what?’ ‘The he was acutely sensitive to your feelings?’ She frowns and twists her mouth. despite all this horrible treatment he remained a true person. gonads cut off.
She nods slowly. There’s a distance between them. She looks out the window. to help herself. Rebecca is eating with some appetite. Peter. I mean we only picked him up less than a week ago. You saw him before I did. I remember. Kharib was a bit like that. ‘No. ‘He wrote poetry too. Or admit to a neurosis. down and down. I just pick myself up and go on. He invites Rebecca to sit at the table. Peter.’ she says once she has swallowed what is presently in her mouth. calculating. that he simply could not explain to her. ‘Oh. ‘And he has been gone for half that time. what of it?’ Peter is slowing himself down. a couple of feet away. I remember seeing you light up in a remarkable way.teapot. at least from his perspective. He looks at Rebecca. Anyway. cheese and fruit disappearing into her mouth in quick succession. He says: ‘You know what Blake said.’ Rebecca stops chewing. ‘I’ve fallen for so many men. or even worse. pours tea for the two of them. sitting in profile just there. You wouldn’t believe it.’ Rebecca thinks. ‘Well. ‘I marvel at how much you liked him.’ Suddenly she 202 . bread. But he doesn’t.’ Peter should feel like a complete idiot. They eat in silence for a while. Then she looks at Peter. Do you remember your first reaction to him?’ Peter raises his hand to forestall her response. perhaps an obsession. until he is simply sitting at a table with Rebecca. about seeing eternity in a grain of sand?’ ‘Blake? You mean the painter?’ Peter nods.
if this is your first time. That’s the only way I could respond to him. so if nothing gained then nothing lost either. But Rebecca presses on.’ ‘Actually. ‘No.’ 203 . I don’t know what I’d do with myself.’ Peter stares at her. Peter? That I would have behaved like a scrubber anyway?’ It’s now Peter’s turn to be shocked. ‘You’re lucky. ‘Look how I handled it. even so: ‘If I thought that.’ She reaches and clutches his wrist. Her face seems much older. ‘What else could you do? It’s the only way we know.’ Rebecca is scandalised by this. Rebecca. Very lucky.looks very sad. ‘But it need only happen once. That’s just too much. don’t put it like that. lowers his head in order to relent. I came to believe he was the most unfortunate man in the world and so the most deserving of pity.’ Now she looks frightened. no matter what you believed. Just very weary. you might not have been able to do otherwise. Peter. Peter. I would kill myself. Rebecca. ‘What do you mean to say. not lined or drawn or anything like that. eyes empty: like there never was anything to begin with.’ Peter nods. I really would. ‘If I let myself believe that I’ve just ruined the once-in-a-lifetime chance at real love. taking in what he is saying. not sure though whether he is spoofing her or trying to be sincere. believe me.’ Rebecca is staring very hard at Peter. He puts his left hand over the hand that clutches his other wrist.
The glow makes his looks seem to her to be immature. Peter. She stands up from the table. It’s the Leningrad disc again. a mere potentiality. I think that wouldn’t be right. Peter. Clouds. she stands looking at the corner where Kharib had kept his plastic tent. echoes. Out of habit he switches on the audio system. a life-long commitment. It seems to me now – after what we have said – that though something like love comes all at once. then she crosses to the bedroom. Rebecca follows him. you seem to be thinking in terms of marrying him. looks about. ‘If I said I loved him. But. Peter shrugs. Peter follows her in about a minute later.Rebecca is mollified by the fact that Peter has implicated himself too. ‘I understand now. the delay because he is reluctant to share some element of his experience of Kharib in that room. his normally good-looking face suffused with something like a silvery glow.’ She turns to see Peter nodding. asks while looking away from her: 204 .’ ‘What else is there?’ Peter leaves the room and returns to the living room.’ She goes into the living room. ‘Perhaps. The room suddenly feels very crowded. smoothes down her clothes out of habit. glaring at him for not answering her. The CD in the player begins. Rebecca. though in fact it is not. the music Debussy’s nocturne. Inside. You know. it takes a lifetime to let – well – grow. as though mesmerised. ‘Grow?’ Being in the bedroom where Kharib had huddled for so long has a powerful effect on him.
head down.’ Rebecca reacts one way – scandalised again – then she reacts another way: a kind of defeat.’ Peter’s expression. Rebecca? You know. the rich tones of the orchestra. she says without moving her head: ‘You take me seriously. Peter is instantly transported. speaking out of a reaction in himself while much of his attention is focused on the atmospheric music. is wry. Listen. But Rebecca must have sensed something. indifferent to how irrelevant what he says might be to her: ‘Kharib loved this piece. It might take a week or a month. you know. which Rebecca cannot see. ‘You should make people take you more seriously. a curiously insubstantial gesture – given her even features – that makes her seem frivolous. Rimsky-Korsakov’s music begins now.’ Peter is moved by her sudden vulnerability. or it might take years. He says. She doesn’t help matters by throwing her hands up in what is an obviously a masking reaction. a kind of resignation. because she looks up at him and catches the expression on his face. do you?’ 205 . She says lamely: ‘Oh. where you both work through it to the end. so much so that he sees Rebecca and her pained reactions as from a great distance.‘Have you never had a satisfactory relationship. It’s clear that she has merely obeyed Peter when. arms by her sides.’ Rebecca goes still instantly. ‘But you don’t love me. He says. during the less engaging battle section. Then the enchantment of the music works on him.’ Rebecca is frowning.
I think so. This maiden is killed and afterwards she enters the secret city of Kitezh. A shiver runs down Peter’s back. right down his legs to his feet. He nods. But what? 206 . Rebecca’s skin flushes all over. joy. He leaps to shut off the music. The music rises for the first climax.’ The last section begins now. The second climax and the bell rings out again. the refuge of the Russians. so that a younger person appears: ‘He did believe we loved each other. saying simply. relief.’ He wants to add “but”. Peter’s hands move in a wave-like motion. ‘Yes. The bell rings out. didn’t he?’ Peter draws a breath: the truth of this insight is like a disappointment to him – a response that surprises him. Rebecca’s skin flushes again. But she says. Wait. a reaching quality in her voice. The opening bars of the Bolero breaks the spell pretty quickly for Peter. But he is honest with her: ‘Yes. the death of the maiden and her entry into the Invisible City. so that he does not have to face Rebecca. her nipples engorging slowly. Peter can see the pulsation in the most expressive part of her – her breasts. seeing the delight in Kharib’s face. another time. Rebecca. that curiously flat tone of the Russian bell.’ Rebecca nods at once. Now Rebecca listens. as though she has put her own developed self-centredness aside for this moment. He says: ‘It’s about Russia under the Mongols.’ They both wait.Peter sighs. You’ll hear its bell in few moments. It’s awkward then – Peter looking away out of the room towards the garden. ‘In another world.
207 . Peter sees the process of the last five hundred years that he has been studying at such length: from a child-like dependence on spiritual guidance through growing selfconsciousness to a moment like this.’ Rebecca’s face is very stark. back to her life. I mean.’ All he wants to do now is sit in a chair and think into this fact of isolation. What else is there to do? Rebecca has to find her own way out. No matter what he does. what we have become. Peter is frightened by this vision: it acts to indicate his own aloneness. he will always be aware of it.Before he can think through to this. making her seem plain: how her ancestors may have looked in whatever impoverished village they had worked their way out of. Her aloneness seems vivid. an utterly inaccessible aloneness. Peter?’ He turns now to face her. ‘I don’t know. It threatens to engulf him. I honestly don’t know. but holding the elbow of her left arm in the palm of her other hand. to her car. which way he turns to escape it. Rebecca. She is standing unmoved. when the utter isolation of the individual is recognised. while yet he knows it could never do so. to the street. He says: ‘I don’t think he really understood us. In a flash. as though nursing it. The understanding that he will never be able to escape the fact of being alone terrifies him. Rebecca asks him another question: ‘Who was he.
They ask him to choose from among the usual inflated middle management ranges. though some of the directors are a bit scandalised. 208 . there’s not much more that can be said about cars: neither Simon nor Peter drives. ‘Well. Simon commuting by tube from Islington and Peter walking across the common from Balham. He goes to an old friend of his father and gets a good deal on the latest top end Rover. So. which pleases both John and Simon. John however has a better idea. remembering that. the standard sign at junctions in the seventies said “Keep Left”. Peter allows that it is a great story. to allow one of the others to answer. Simon. He adds a thousand or so. parks it as close to the director’s slots – actually in the slot reserved for the Finance Director. Of course. Peter has to be told the story: how the directors of Jukes decide that John should be rewarded for his dedication and hard work for the company. The following week he spins into the heavily protected Jukes carpark in his new car. Both sit with open expectant faces – like obedient children in Play School. But Peter does think of something. the sign was changed – to?’ Peter pauses. ‘Then during the eighties. Yes?’ They nod. John and Peter sitting around Simon’s desk. Grins smugly for a month afterwards. glad for now to chatter. They propose buying him a car. He asks John and Simon if they noticed a major change in road signage during the eighties. ‘if you remember. after the Tories came to power. They are discussing John’s new car.’ he begins. Grudging respect for such a good trick.Morning tea as usual. he proposes to the Jukes’ directors that they give him the money in lieu. Simon having no car – as he can manage.
You know. ‘Must be important. red strip lighting around the windows and doors. head up.’ Peter is jubilant. Margarita barges in.’ John intones without any humour. Peter of course deprecates: ‘Usually means awkwardness. You might better know a place. on-the-ball Mark Tarrant. Margarita eyeballs them once more. An affable. Then she stares with her more usual narrowed eyes at Peter.’ ‘You could call it that. the Junkers Journey.’ ‘Well. White plastic façade. not revealing this though. ‘So. eyes as firmly on him as can be managed.’ 209 .’ ‘Ah. I wouldn’t have thought it would be your kind of place. Señor Peter. in your area. So that’s still around. Peter. Okay then. ‘Señor.’ No one moves. then withdraws. Can’t remember the name. what about lunch today? I’m in town on business and thought it might be a good occasion to meet again.There is a rat-tat on the door. It’s my treat. Say one or thereabouts. it’s lively.’ It’s Mark Tarrant. an ambiguous smile. ‘There is a call for you. I suppose. her eyes taking everything in just like that. Peter. Get yourself a drink should I be delayed.’ Without hesitation Peter proposes: ‘There’s a newish place on the Walworth Road. They leave it to the girls to promise payments. fine. Anywhere in mind?’ ‘I thought I’d leave that to you. ‘Sure.’ Simon breathes.
’ He twiddles the mouse. Nothing happens. How to organise the material.’ Simon presses a button on the front of the box. A lot of figures in columns.’ He indicates with his head the mainframe terminal on his desk out in the general office.’ Simon nods. something of a novelty for him still. I’m afraid. wry nervous smile: ‘Again. ‘I think I’ve bolloxed this.’ ‘He’s already explained it to me three or four times. Peter shakes his head.’ ‘I would have thought they’d be useful for your research.’ ‘So did I. ‘Are you sure that’s how you turn it off? Aren’t you supposed to close the software down first?’ Simon shrugs. Peter reaches and throws the black switch that Simon had previously closed. that is. throws a switch. ‘As little as possible.About half eleven Simon rings to ask him to step into his office for a moment.’ He looks up. ‘Turn it off and then turn it on again.’ Simon reaches around the box under the monitor. Peter goes around the desk. Peter? You seem fairly handy with that one outside.’ He smirks. ‘Do you know anything about these things. 210 . eyes locked on the screen. Simon is fiddling with his mouse. Peter?’ Shaking his head. But I soon discovered that I had to do the research first before I could learn how best to use the computer.’ ‘Maybe you should ask John. The screen is coloured. ‘That’s what I usually do. Peter says. ‘I don’t know how to. ‘Are you sure you don’t know something about these things.
’ Simon nods. He looks very settled and satisfied. But that doesn’t explain how I turn it off. ‘No. Back behind his desk.’ Simon comes back into his office. aren’t you? It wasn’t really a joke. ‘Is what? Oh. where he can face Simon. for heaven’s sake.’ The computer starts up. If you go to practically any junction in the country. what is the punch line?’ ‘You’re serious.’ Peter goes back to the other side of the desk.‘Press it again. he gets a grip on 211 . eyes nervous again. ‘I know that. repeating ‘Yield to the right. ‘So it’s a political joke. you’ll see a sign telling you to “Yield to the right”.’ John looks up from his screen.’ John nods. Good. he didn’t.’ Simon concentrates on this.’ Then he looks up.’ Simon looks up. Anyway. ‘The switch at the back is for the power. ‘Is that it?’ Simon seems mesmerised by what’s happening on the screen. is it?’ He gets up and crosses to the door. opens it and says to John. yes.’ ‘Well. That joke of yours – the one you were telling us before our señorita interrupted us – how does it end?’ ‘Didn’t John know? He drives every day. ‘Of course. So. The one on the front starts the computer. fiddling with the mouse again. I think I’d trust Peter on this. I’ll check that this evening. who is sitting at his desk a few feet away: ‘Yield to the right. Says he never noticed. ‘Is that what it says? Yield to the right. you know. Just like to see for myself.
then drinks. Cheers. Braced for it. Friday: poet’s day. takes away the rocket highs. Tarrant smiles. a mighty coincidence. It’s obvious he knows exactly how much tonic to add. it’s working again. Sam in the process of opening the tonic. Peter is at the door. ‘That was a good idea of yours. Peter is not disappointed by the rush: for the 212 . Still. I remember that one. Peter. You know. I’ll remember that for the future. ‘And the other sign was “Keep left”?’ He nods.’ Looks up. Mark Tarrant has a table secured over by the window. Today it levels out pain of loss and the prospect of an indeterminate gain. Simon smiles with a child-like sweetness.’ and points over to Peter. then pours some of the tonic into the gin.’ Peter nods. There’s a glass of clear spirits. It’s right beside the one Peter and Anne had occupied a few days ago. a remarkable goodwill evident. perhaps the theories about traffic behaviour have changed over the years. Tarrant raises his glass. ‘Are you sure it’s not just a coincidence? I mean. ‘Thought you were a gin man.’ Does Peter have much choice? He ponders for about a second or two. eyes on his screen again. Sam.his mouse. Thank you. He calls out to a nearby waiter. don’t you think?’ Simon nods. ‘Hey. ‘Could be. ‘Thought you might be in the mood. He raises the glass in toast.’ The great thing about gin for Peter is its power of levelling moods. Tarrant waves him over. the submarine lows. ‘Oh.’ Peter arrives at the Junkers Journey six minutes late. lemon and ice on his placemat by the time he gets there. edging towards the door.’ Looks very intently at Peter. ‘No.
sees a woman cavorting. peering slightly against the strong illumination. ‘Thought you liked this place. So he takes up his copy of the menu: ‘Right then. He drinks again. What will we have. ‘There’s not a lot you can do to fish. Sauce. Tarrant nods. Looks hard at Peter. ‘I’d recommend the fish dish.’ Tarrant is surprisingly earnest. That’s due to luck. bending over sometimes. For business lunches. Gin is so pure. ‘Oh. Tarrant follows Peter’s example and has a sup of his drink. that is. red flowers. it’s fine.’ Peter observes with his best smirk.’ Tarrant titters as he slurs the two words. Peter?’ Peter starts mightily. He sees what appears to be a garden. the gin boring a large hole in his head. ‘After a long morning.’ He looks around. though. asks with a weird sense of intimacy: ‘What on earth are you doing in this business.’ Peter won’t look around. who is peering at his sheet of laminated plastic. Something about sauce bothers him. He reaches very carefully with his right hand for his drink. consciously withholding Tarrant’s first name. He has found the fish dish. He will be sharp but also just that bit short-sighted. His eyes are swimming already. 213 .next hour he will be chilled. understanding the situation. So will Tarrant. His drink – still held in his right hand – does not slosh.’ Peter wrinkles his nose. as if in pain. Tarrant smiles. do you think?’ Peter studies his copy of the menu. ‘Just the thing. Their eyes meet. Monkfish.
maybe?’ Peter nods. ‘The group Jukes belongs to has a recruitment agency that specialises in accounting. He realises his gut is not acting up. The words “sauce” comes into his head again.then places the glass carefully on the little paper mat provided.’ Tarrant titters again. I started out an historian. he would love loud music. ‘Can we have the monkfish. Not everyday one meets a utopianist. 214 . Sam. ‘Ah. God. First degree from Keele. ‘How do you know that?’ Tarrant smiles again. He puts his drink down. liable to attack at any moment. old son. That’s right? Utopianist?’ Tarrant raises his arm. Sam. All the trimmings. I believe. He says. Nearly ten years of research in – what? – six or seven major universities in the UK. is at his elbow almost at once.’ Peter nods. Your CV was amongst their proposals. which makes him appear very good-looking.’ Peter peers at Tarrant. the very man. Not feeling: emotion. that it has been its normal discreet self all day so far. The waiter. you know. He is thinking that loss is like this: a demon in its own right. But…’ Peter is surprised by a shaft of emotion. Asked them for candidates for a maternity leave starting in a few months’ time. ‘Anthropologist. once Sam has pushed off to get their orders. ‘Looked forward to talking with you. At least now. repositions the cutlery in front of him.’ To Peter: ‘Health food? A salad. ‘I know you have a doctorate from Cambridge.
‘No.’ It is impossible to believe that Kharib was – is – some kind of angel. then bang! If you’ve got something lurking. it’s alright. that is simply impossible to believe. Peter can see himself with Rebecca the previous evening. You’ve suddenly gone pale. That’s okay. And she had put herself out so many times for him. for Tarrant bends forward. Gin can be like that.’ Peter bends his head to hide his face.’ Thinking that he was a first class shit for letting her down like that. no. Nasty. ‘Are you okay. against Peter’s better judgement. Peter nods contritely.’ Tarrant’s face twists in puzzlement.’ The name has slipped out. Just something personal. I should have waited to ask what you wanted to drink. and what it would be like not to need wings. Tarrant is saying: ‘This is my fault.He must be showing some sign of distress. ‘And do you?’ Peter nods. What he sees is so stark that it threatens to engulf him in some way. In order to exclude her.’ 215 . ‘No. It’s as though he suddenly understands what wings are. seeing her profound loss and knowing now that he suppressed his suspicion that Kharib was some kind of angel on purpose. ‘I had a bit of a shock earlier this week. everything fine on the surface. Mark. Peter. making him seem momentarily very stupid or very naïve. No.’ Peter raised his hands to ease Tarrant. that’s fine. Very nasty. ‘I think so. ‘I wanted to understand utopias.
Peter scrapes as much of the junk as he can off the fish – which itself looks very inviting. Different interpretations. though the corrupt tang of the sauce lingers. cutlery repositioned. First thing Peter gets is the smell of the sauce. Tarrant is also drunk enough to be serious too. Peter works away too.’ Peter looks up at Tarrant. It tastes as it looks. then the plates are lowered into place. ‘You’re talking about religion now?’ Tarrant’s eyes are agog. He is nodding sagely. ‘It’s a complex subject. There’s general bustle for a while. The off-red tinge doesn’t help either. ‘Not really. He sees heartburn down the way. eating away through the contents of his plate with gusto. enjoying the 216 .Tarrant lays his elbows on the table. ‘Exactly. Different levels.’ It’s Peter’s turn to be puzzled. Mark. so he just shuts up. you know. eyes down – a man used to eating alone.’ Peter sighs. leans forward. glasses moved. ‘And what do you understand?’ ‘Jealousy. Tarrant seems not to mind the sauce at all.’ Peter is drunk enough by now to be serious. Do you know that?’ Tarrant’s brows rise at the mention of God. ‘Exactly what?’ ‘Covetousness.’ Peter smirks: coming from Tarrant! Then serious again: ‘God brings out the worst in us. Sam appears with plates of food. perhaps finding the subject pretty extreme. He could mumble on like this for a good while.
economics?’ Tarrant bobs his head – this and that – a rather pleasant gesture. ‘I plan on moving to some island in the South Pacific. What is it. ‘Gold bar. Peter. not smirking but amused all the same: ‘You’re a closet romantic. ‘Your people worked out what’s in the crates?’ Peter nods. ‘Just like that?’ Tarrant’s face tightens. ‘I plan on giving up work by the time I’m thirty five.’ ‘What will you do then?’ Tarrant tilts his head to one side quizzically: ‘Do you want to know?’ Peter nods.fish. spearing items from the salad bowl.’ Peter gapes at Tarrant’s candour.’ Peter nods. there are very few people who don’t want to be happy. I suppose. ‘How much?’ ‘Up to three and a half million.’ ‘Is that soon?’ ‘Next year.’ ‘No more than most. ‘Why didn’t you go to university?’ ‘I wanted to make a lot of money pretty fast. giving nothing away. Marry into one of the more powerful families there.’ 217 .’ Peter narrows his eyes. ‘Oh no. When they have blunted their hunger and can give time to their gin again. Just the idea of – well – what might be possible.’ Tarrant purses his mouth. circumspect with the roast potatoes.’ Peter must smile. Peter observes: ‘You seem interested in this kind of thing. I mean.
‘How much?’ Tarrant now asks.’ Tarrant is genuinely puzzled. But thanks all the same. yes?’ 218 . You know. He blurts: ‘Look. Don’t you want money? I mean – though I shouldn’t be saying this to you – this is your chance to get. some capital or whatever. Peter. The coffee is scalded. tasty enough even so. you know.’ ‘It’s not for myself. mostly ice water and lemon juice.Now Tarrant’s eyes widen. Peter cannot judge what this signifies.’ Sam comes over immediately. ‘Thirty five what?’ ‘Thousand. you know. ‘Is that all? You won’t get very far with that. even confused. Mark.’ ‘So coffee then?’ ‘Sure. ‘Would you like another one. let’s have that second drink. He regrets now not having taken the offer of a second drink.’ It’s Tarrant’s turn to gape. He drains the last drops from his glass.’ ‘Poet’s day? No. Coffee arrives for them in minutes. But he asks: ‘Will it be enough?’ Now Tarrant smiles: ‘Who says that is all there is?’ Peter nods.’ This is an even bigger shock for Tarrant. Friday. ‘Thirty five.’ Peter shakes his head. Mark. ‘Christ. Peter puts the cup down. Alcohol blows me away.
that you can stand back 219 . I will probably be as busy and occupied as I am now. Look.’ ‘But why the South Pacific? Most of the natives there are probably as materialistic as anyone here.’ Peter nods. I like you. ‘Thirty five thousand. I’m not ashamed of relative poverty. But for some reason I won’t feel trapped by it. Now he nods. too. I really admire how you could say what you said about God. ‘Look. ‘Okay.’ Tarrant has concentrated with open mouth on what Peter says. if I achieve what I want. it is still very harsh on the tongue. Though the coffee has cooled somewhat.’ Tarrant gestures with both hands. fair enough. It’s not for me to judge. It’s this business of working day in day out.’ Tarrant takes a cheque book from the inside pocket of his jacket. I was raised in circumstances that have left me pretty secure in the world. Peter sips the gin. ‘It’s just somewhere else. Peter.Tarrant nods fervently. Look. then puts in tonic. Put it this way. ‘It’s not that. Sam has the gins by their right hands in about a minute. as though this is the most sensible thing Peter has said so far. Peter? There is a lot. I really don’t give a damn about money. I will probably make less money. deceit and so on. Mark. I mean. I don’t feel the need to prove I am more than I actually am. But I won’t feel I am on a treadmill until I am too old to work. He knows now that he could spend the afternoon here. don’t you see? I know there will be the cheating and robbing. Are you sure.
Now. ‘You must like her an awful lot. will you.’ Hearing the word like that moves Peter. it’s not hard to say. Just sign it for me. But leave it at thirty five. she needs it. remember. then?’ ‘I’m only the temp. Peter. and hands it across too.’ Tarrant bows his head.and think about things. why not?’ Tarrant takes a document from his inside pocket. up into the air.000.’ Peter means this.’ Peter signs where indicated.’ ‘I believe you. Otherwise she’ll lose her home. You’d do better at this game than I do. signs it and hands it across the table to Peter. You know.’ Tarrant snorts. ‘I really want to help her all I can.’ ‘It’s a lot of money to just give to someone. can I take those crates out this afternoon?’ ‘Sure. along the road outside.’ Pen in hand. ‘Can you sign this. That’s all that’s needed. if I can help you in some way.’ ‘You must love her very much. I’ll take care of the rest. if you will. it’s like something rustling in the wind. Still. sort of abashed.’ ‘Well. ‘Can I ask who the money is for?’ ‘A friend. Anne is probably less that a half mile away at the moment. The feeling rises up in him and then goes out into the world. ‘Now.’ ‘I do.’ Tarrant makes out the cheque for £35. 220 . Mark. spreading out over London. Tarrant asks: ‘Who’ll I make it out to?’ ‘Leave it blank. ‘Sure. sort of reverent.
’ He bobs his head back and forward. He can only nod. A kind of submission. ‘I’m not greedy as such. she must needs become something else. an image.’ ‘Which is?’ Peter is surprised that he is so deadpan. be busy with people. It’s like Anne doesn’t exist in the context of the word. You can have the rest if you want it. Even so. acknowledgement of greater virtue. Mark.’ Peter nods. a sign. not the smirk.’ 221 . No hypocrisy. Peter.Yet he cannot respond to what Tarrant has said. You know.’ ‘But how much is enough?’ Tarrant is rueful. I only want enough for my purpose. ‘That’s nice to hear. For her to exist for the word “love”. better than his own. the gin is damned good. Peter.’ Peter studies the cheque. A very specific gesture. ‘Good question. like a surface.’ Tarrant is charmed by this. ‘And you?’ Peter smiles. ‘Well. ‘What would you really like to do with your life?’ ‘What I hope to do. ‘Meet an angel.’ A kind of modesty in the smile creates a very different Tarrant. ‘I reckon you’re the romantic here. you were pretty game to give the money up like that. Mark Tarrant No 3 Account. Clear handwriting. ‘What I have done. kind of fugitive instead.
That decided. 222 . a woman – most likely Margie in her cubby hole – corrects this: ‘Ibiza!’ This is greeted by a chorus of cheers – Sales already steamed up for the coming weekend – one voice explaining: ‘Monster rave in Ibiza this weekend!’ Phillip is back on the line: ‘Off for the weekend. get one of the more expensive chocolate gateaux in the supermarket up in Balham.Again the dregs of the glass are tasty: ice water and lemon juice. Peter is reasonably sober by half three. I’m afraid. About to turn right towards Alderbrook Road. Something to celebrate. end of week. At least no heartburn – or other gut problem – yet. change of clothes. genuinely happy that he is going to give her such a wonderful surprise. Still. he sees a schedule for the next hour or so: shower. clean booze. He knows Phillip is leering. The hateful Phillip answers. Peter smiles in anticipation. Peter asks for Rebecca. He dials Rebecca’s number. it’s Friday. Gin aftermath is not so bad as cider aftermath. ‘Try again on Tuesday. Phillip shouts out Rebecca’s name. Peter gets himself across the common. he suddenly decides to go on up the High Road to the wine warehouse. schadenfreude his constant foil. so mixture of deflation and simple weariness. Someone shouts an answer ‘Marbella!’ Someone else. Pete old boy. though Anne doesn’t know it yet. though a headache threatening.’ Click. Get a bottle of decent wine.’ Sniggers.
Look forward to having you join us down here. plume of smoke looming. in the college there. You’ll be based in Rabaul in New Britain. A paradise. Let me have the completed forms ASAP. Penny The photograph shows a tropical paradise.So. No changes really. There’s a famous volcano: see the pic enclosed. Rabaul is a beautiful place. still unopened. palms along the shore. there’s the shower. he notices the letter on the shelf of the dresser. I’m enclosing the forms for the research post we discussed earlier this year at Keele. A cup of tea to revive him. Pretty good facilities. push away the dregs of the gin effect. Hello Pete. It’ll be for three years from October. shave. volcano nearby. believe me. 223 . Standing in the kitchen waiting for the tea to draw. He feels expansive enough to open it. change of clothes.
‘Vegetable. Peter raises his hands to usher her out of the room. this and that. Deep shadows under her eyes. turning in the short hall to go into the kitchen: ‘You don’t look so bad yourself. I thought. I’ll fix the potatoes etcetera. ‘A chicken. ‘End of month. ‘Bit of a doddle. There are carrots and a small head of York cabbage in the bottom of the fridge. Go and pretty yourself up for the evening. given the holiday and that. I’ve got it about as tight as it can get. really. that’s all.’ Peter deprecates too.’ she begins. Peter peels two small onions and finds a place for them in the roasting 224 .’ She steps back from the door. These are prepared pretty quickly too. ‘Rough week. but her lips have remained soft. all things considered. ‘How would you like it? A salad or potatoes and veg?’ Peter touches her shoulder again. He says: ‘Look.’ Anne likes this proposal a lot. He smiles widely. Just stay on it for the duration. her shoulders responsive to his hands. Pete.’ Comforting aroma of a roast in the kitchen. her dynamic response to Peter’s attentive gaze upon her. her long white teeth flashing against her over-coloured skin.Peter has never seen Anne looking so bashed.’ It doesn’t take long to prepare the potatoes and pop then into the oven along with the chicken. quick joy to see her of a sudden unburdened. Finally. ‘I’ll look after that. like real bruising.’ She turns a sudden pirouette.’ Anne rocks her head. to feel that electric charge again. Her smile is dazzling. you shower and change.
He knows the names of some of the groups but not their music. Next. best glasses. a look of genuine amazement on her face. It’s like a circle being formed. A custom in his family. Next he gets the wine – a decent St Emilion – from his back pack and opens it. seeing the table set. searching out the good placemats. but he’ll let her decide. like a nest somewhere.’ Now she finally reaches him. even a fat candle from the sideboard in the living room. so he is reluctant to play them in case the mood is wrong.dish. But he does find an old tape of Madonna’s early dance music. Now there is atmosphere. ‘Oh. ‘I didn’t know you could do this.’ She comes back to him. He puts that on. condiment set. ‘This is absolutely brilliant. Then the rich choco goes into the fridge. the vegetables simmering. the nearest to contentment since childhood. She is still shaking her head in delighted wonder. you do it so well. deep blue dress clinging at her shoulders to her warm body. he’s not sure if Anne will like it. His father singing along to Fats Domino. like a happy home. Pete. the wine. you’re such a bachelor. 225 . leaving his parents’ home and arriving in this maisonette in South London. I mean. where the music sounds out not too loud. Seeing his father true by sharing his experiences. leans forward and presses her cheek in against his. My Blue Heaven. So he goes into the living room and sorts through Anne’s tapes. looking around. He feel the sigh crossing his ear. He finds he is whistling some ditty. He does it properly. ‘I would never have thought it of you.’ Anne is in the doorway to the kitchen.’ She walks through the kitchen into the living room. the table must be laid. I mean.
He whispers: ‘Must do the gravy now, sweetheart.’
The understatement reveals just how moved he is by her
surprise and pleasure.
Anne steps away and spins again, arms out, the skirt of
her dress flying out. It is delight, she as though in flight,
transported by joy. Peter watches her intently, seeing how
something does rise in her, a light in her face, eyes raised,
mouth a near perfect oval. He sees it peak in her: one instant
buoyant, next instant deflated, almost crushed.
Anne looks around the kitchen, as though looking for
something she has forgotten. Peter, for his part, searches for
flour, very busy doing this. Anne leaves the kitchen, going
into the living room, where Madonna still sings her dancing
music. Peter finds soya sauce. He had not expected to,
prepared to make do with a pale sauce for the chicken, at
least. In minutes the gravy is prepared and can be left to cook
for a while. The chicken and potatoes are done. Peter turns
off the oven, turns off the heat under the vegetables. He goes
into the living room.
Anne stands in the centre of the room, tears streaming
down her stricken face, damp hair combining to make her
appear as a survivor of a terrible disaster. Peter puts his arm
across her shoulder. She is perfectly still, though the tears
‘What is it, sweetheart?’
It’s not that Peter doesn’t know: the accumulation of
work-stress, the worry about her home, the ongoing disorder
and general uncertainty in her life.
Anne turns her head to look at him. She makes no
attempt to wipe the tears from her cheeks or to clear her nose.
‘Why are you so kind?’
She speaks in a dead serious tone, one Peter has never
heard before from her. He has heard other women speak like
this, as though the whole universe is under threat.
Peter stands back from her. ‘Because I can be.’
Anne stares at him. Peter is not sure if she has heard
him or comprehended what he has said. He fills in the
awkward interval by getting a tissue from the box in the
drawer of the sideboard. He gives it to her. She dries her face,
blows her nose. That done, she goes back to staring at him.
Killing with kindness. Peter only now understands that
phrase. He realises that Anne is profoundly frightened; afraid
she is being taken over. Peter says:
‘Dinner’s ready. Come and have a glass of wine first.’
She moves with him when he draws her by the elbow.
Peter thinks with a flat amusement, distancing himself by
means of irony: she hasn’t seen anything yet.
Wine is poured with some ceremony, Anne watching
while she tries to recover her better humour. Then the tasting.
‘How good is this supposed to be, Pete? I’m not an
Peter is still amused, it shows through in his reply.
‘Do you like it? They’re always a bit peculiar.’
Anne nods, then sipping the wine again.
‘No more to be said, is there?’ Now he relents: ‘But,
yes, it’s pretty good for what it cost.’
Anne just nods again and returns to the living room.
Peter, for his part, gets on with preparing the meal. This
doesn’t take long. Anne comes when he calls her. She
surveys the table, the quartered chicken, potatoes and
vegetables in dishes, the gravy in its boat. One candle in the
centre of it all. She says, seeming subdued, but really a bit
‘You have so many hidden talents, Pete.’
‘My father once told me that if I could cook I wouldn’t
be dependant on any woman.’
They sit. Peter, having had a decent lunch, is not as
hungry as Anne, so he lets her serve herself first, content to
drink the rest of his glass of wine. The wine tastes good, but –
coming after the lunchtime gin – the effect is somewhat flat.
Once she has taken the edge off her hunger, Anne asks
‘Did your parents split up?’
‘No. In fact, they are still happily married.’
‘But what your father said, Pete. It sound as though he
doesn’t trust women.’
‘Trust? No, he thinks dependency breeds resentment.’
‘You agree with that?’
‘Yes, I do. Don’t you?’
Anne looks down at her plate. ‘Dad left when I was
ten.’ She looks up into Peter’s eyes. ‘I think it’s about being
Peter can only nod. They concentrate on eating. Then
Anne says, not looking up:
‘You don’t see it like that, Pete, do you? I mean, why
else would people have anything to do with each other,
except they want something?’
‘Fair enough. But why should it involve exploitation?
That implies that the other person is not willing to give.’
Anne tosses her head to one side, her mouth twisting.
It’s an involuntary movement that she seems unaware of
making, like something deeply engrained in her from
childhood, as though she evaded a threat.
‘No. It’s about taking, not sharing.’
Peter can feels Anne’s mood sinking again.
‘Always? People can agree on sharing. They know the
benefit of that. If it was all taking, we’d be reduced to
starvation in a few years.’
Anne can only nod again, and nod again. Peter sees she
is not convinced of this. Well, it’s the metaphysics: all or
nothing. He corrects himself:
‘Okay. Some – maybe a lot – believe they can get what
they want by stealing from others. But not everyone does
that. Do you, Anne?’
Peter hadn’t meant the question to seem so pointed. He
doesn’t mean it to be pointed. He knows he hasn’t much to
A spasm of pain crosses Anne’s face. ‘It’s not stealing,
Pete. I mean, what if the other person won’t give. What
they’re supposed to give?’
This is a minefield. Peter sees Anne as though she has
fragmented. What he thought were the exuberant highlights
of her being, now appear as fault lines in a partially shattered
personality. He says as gently as he can:
‘What are you talking about?’ He should have asked
“Who”, but that would be too close to the bone.
Tears appear in Anne’s eyes again. She is obviously
not aware of them. Peter gets up from the table and chooses
two pears from the bowl on top of the fridge. He washes them
under the cold water tap, dries them, places one in front of
Anne, beside her plate. He sits down again, takes a tentative
bite from his pear. It is soft and juicy, sweet and fragrant.
‘Mummy cried for a month after Dad left.’ A flat
statement. ‘But she told him to go. She still doesn’t know that
I know that, Pete. I go to see her every weekend and she talks
of nothing else but him. One neighbour said it was as though
he had abandoned her last week.’ Now she breaks down
completely. ‘I don’t understand that, Pete. I really don’t.’
Peter can finish his pear or he can go around the table
and console Anne. He finishes his pear, then he goes into the
living room and puts on the tape of Brahms, volume very
He knows he does this for his own sake. The truth is –
as he knows very well by now – Peter hasn’t a great deal of
time for the complications some people have to live with. He
has his own complications, that few seem even remotely
aware of. They may not be gut-wrenching tragedies,
misfortunes or stupidities, but they do determine his life as
surely as the fuck-ups do others’.
Back in the kitchen, Anne has recovered to the extent
that she has begun to eat her pear. Peter lays a hand on her
shoulder as he passes on his way to his seat. Anne looks
directly into his eyes. Peter loves her candour, always has,
loves it now. He cocks his head to one side: And?
‘She once said he was selfish.’
Peter nods. ‘And your mother – with all respects, Anne
– is not?’
Anne smiles a wry smile, her skin creasing in a
lopsided curve under her cheeks. Her eyes are brilliant after
all the tears.
Anne looks around her. ‘This might not seem much,
Pete, but this is my home.’
Then she sees the chit of paper on the table. Her mouth opens and opens. Peter lays the cheque on the table. The cheque is folded in the inside pocket of his jacket. ‘Oh. tears already shed. She reads it again. He says. begins to clear it.Peter feels a dart of unease: has the ex sold the house already? The unease is remote. eyes widening. They won’t be buying for a while yet. He would like better circumstances. ‘Where will I get the money? Rob a bank?’ Ah. She looks up at Peter in pure amazed joy: ‘You got this out of him?’ 231 . Pete. ‘Won’t the ex hold off?’ Anne smiles. Then she sees the signature. not real. Barry will do that. didn’t you?’ Anne turns to looks at him. knowing instantly that it is a cheque. Anne doesn’t notice him leaving the kitchen. He takes it back to the kitchen. ‘Where did you get that?’ even before she has dried her hands and taken it up. wan but warm again. eyes quizzical. Peter thinks: The Moment. but perhaps this is the best circumstance: lowest expectations. She reads it. She lets out a loud laugh. Anne? You said thirty thousand. suspecting one of his off-beat quips. lying over the nearest arm of the settee. She asks. at Anne’s chair. as though apropos of nothing: ‘About the mortgage. Anne is stacking the dishes on the draining board. This is true and it cannot be true. almost a shriek. Peter can see that she is thinking this.’ ‘Then what is it?’ Anne gets up from the table. Peter is not used to this kind of drama.
Anne relents. And you don’t need more than this. do you?’ Anne stares at Peter: of course she could do with as much as she could get. not quite. Anne quietens fairly quickly.’ He feels a huge relaxation running through him. ‘Actually. like you would feel after a long race was run. like a prop disturbed by the vagaries of a theatrical piece. Pete.’ Anne now has the presence of mind to admire Peter. studies it again. Peter smiles. ‘He expected me to ask for more. Rang their accounts manager.’ Anne nods. I’m sure the debt is not exactly thirty five. letting the irony show. ‘Well. but remains bubbly with mirth. ‘Why? I don’t want it. Confronted thus. take it straight to the mortgage people or put it through your own account first. said the boxes were arousing suspicions. ‘God. Peter bends and recovers the cheque and lays it on the table again. You know. you’re a cool customer. Much much more. ‘Put it into your own account first might be best.She laughs so forcefully that the cheque falls from her fingers onto the floor. you know. 232 . She takes the cheque up again. Mark then invited me to lunch today. How did you do it? Just ring him up and ask?’ Peter is very pleased to be admired by Anne.’ ‘Mark?’ Peter shrugs. we got on very well.’ ‘Why didn’t you?’ Peter might like Mark Tarrant but Anne obviously does not. ‘You didn’t want him to know who it was for?’ Peter tilts his head side to side: ‘I wasn’t sure how you would do it.
Back in the kitchen he finds Anne standing at the sink with her glass in her hand.’ The kettle boils. He goes into the living room and raises the volume on the Brahms. Marry a Polynesian princess and live happily ever after. though he doesn’t much like what is now playing. Anne raises her glass. The bottle is still half full.’ It’s hard for Anne just now. ‘Well.’ Now Anne’s expression is definitely ambiguous. Peter sees how Anne is like here alone. perhaps more – perhaps faraway thoughts too. Drifting in her memories. ‘Says he’ll be off to a South Sea island next year.’ 233 . staring emptily at the cheque on the table. Anne starts awake. Peter fills their glasses. watching Anne watching him. still half gone in her reverie. He says then: ‘Money frightens me.’ A throwaway toast. She asks Peter if he wants coffee. ‘looks as though he has squirreled away a lot more than that. She’s catching on to the envy. lost in some daydream. the hint of envy stronger.‘Anyway. Anne. She places the cheque back on the table and goes and fills the kettle. He takes up his own glass. so many horizons coming into view all at once. raises it: ‘Here’s to the future. echoing Peter: ‘The future. And so has Peter’s enjoyment of it. at least he’s making the effort to get what he wants. now that he has eaten. He raises his glass and says no: it would cut across the effect of the wine.’ Peter adds for the sake of saying it. The wine has improved in the last hour. Anne.’ Peter pauses.
He sees boundaries fall away.’ The word surprises Peter: he had planned to say – but now he can’t remember what had he planned to say. Peter has stumbled onto the equation: money = freedom. you see. people who can grasp this life as it is. ‘Lasts longer. Anne sips the wine. Imagine owning millions. domineering. like how a fish in a huge ocean might feel. sweetheart. that for a few minutes he is seared by an envy – a jealousy – of the likes of Mark Tarrant. ‘Money is like sex. mad. uttered without thought. buy this buy that: find out what you like and don’t like. sad? Paranoid. Pete. too true. ‘People do anything for it.’ Anne is smiling at him. cruel. This fills Peter with such a lust. It’s like there is a context that hinders him. Do you like sex? Art? A long evening in the tropics? What else? Find out who you really are. Kind. Dive in. then tilts her head to one side. free to do exactly what you want. anytime. The word that comes instead is “seduction”. Like going from one university to another. no matter the risk. that candour again.She is genuinely surprised by this admission. She looks extremely comfortable and at ease. It’s Peter’s turn to drift off in his thoughts. take a chance. though. commit. able to swim anywhere.’ It’s an empty retort. One 234 . so Anne can see – should she want to see – how Peter is when he is all alone. Go here go there.’ Peter nods abstractly: too true. the rim of the glass still between her teeth. Peter elaborates: ‘We had enough money. Peter has to leave the kitchen again. More would have been a kind of temptation.
no matter where I lived. but happy tears of gratitude. ‘You are so so kind. 235 . like extreme English embarrassment – and so rushes to assure him: ‘You just went and did that for me.’ Anne is shaking her head. You don’t know what this means to me. That’s how I put it.’ Tears flow again. Anne’s regard like a hot flame and he on a spit. When I realised how important this house is to you. I’d go on feeling that anyway. you didn’t have to. sweetheart. laughing and smiling now as well as crying. What you do to keep it.town to another. what I feel about you. From the bottom of my heart. Thank you for what you have done. Meet an angel. partly an immediate response to this image of that strange being. something like silence falling like rain on him. ‘You’re more than welcome. and nods. Peter nods. hands raised. In the darkness of the living room Peter has a fleeting image of Kharib. Anne has followed him into the living room. Pete. ‘Peter. It’s why I did it. I mean. partly emotion suppressed during the evening. She lowers the volume of the stereo before speaking. You really are some kind of angel. Peter has a catch in his throat.’ Peter turns and turns in the room. I mean. Like cleaning off a blackboard and starting again. of grace.’ She sees the expression that shoots across Peter’s face – like fear of exposure. thinking that he knows how much it means to her – why he did what he did.
it makes him awkwardly self-conscious. Peter hears the kettle heat up again. That’s all. trying to regain the balance he always works with: ‘You needed it.’ Anne nods. Peter knows it is genuinely intended. Peter laments the failure of her candour. Peter can now say: ‘Give yourself time to get used to this change in your situation. sweetheart. That’s all.’ It comes across as a non-sequitur. Anne’s face closes down. Peter sets out to think about this. Then the quietness of the 236 . She says ‘Oh Pete’ in a swooning voice. and so he expects the anti-climax to begin soon. ‘Anne. I did it to make you happy. meaning well but a somewhat abstract embrace nonetheless. Obligation is a two-edged sword.‘No. speaking a part. Pete dear. He turns off the wretched Brahms. ‘Well. Peter returns the embrace. too.’ This is like a bull’s eye. Anne. beside his jacket. He draws back so as to look at Anne. Anne leaps with such force that wine spills from her near empty glass. no.’ he stumbles. then sits on the settee.’ She has gone into the kitchen by now. nearly throttles him. He finishes the wine in his glass. It is another high. that’s something. this is your place now. like inclined to defuse the gush. an element of exposure betrayed here. like scoring blind. her eyes wavering. even so.’ The sexual charge catches Peter off-balance. turning away. Anne’s voice has a fixed pitch: an acted voice. runs and puts her arms around his neck. Anne whispers in his ear: ‘You make me happy all the time. He has to adjust.
perhaps reading. Straining. the painting like an heirloom. He thinks of Anne in this room. only intermittent sounds.’ ‘Oh no. If I’ve got the time. ‘Hardly notice it at all. It’s like looking into the dark: you see nothing yet there is a sense of increasing depth. He can hear nothing from the house next door. You can hear silence if you listen for it.’ 237 . He finds that he is gazing at the Constable print hanging on the chimney breast opposite. do you like it? You can have it if you want.’ Shakes her head immediately. did you put up the Constable?’ She comes into the room. He forgot to take it. that is. he can hear traffic somewhere. friendly droopy trees. She looks at the print. goes up close to it. ‘Anne. a world soon to disappear. hearing nothing getting further away. I’d rather read.house seems to seep into him. watching television. to judge by her subdued expression. Why. It looks like the Haywain. more an obedient response to his call. gauging his reason for asking. as you would look for a light in the dark. emphasised when the kettle in the kitchen switches off with a final shudder. Probably has another copy by now.’ ‘Do you like art?’ She looks closely at Peter. a momento of some authentic origin. fluffy clouds. Pete. ‘It’s Barry’s. ‘Art? You mean painting? Not particularly. listening to music. I just wondered if you liked it. Like it came with the house. her distrust of them both palpable. He’s listening for a sound. checking in turn for a pose. though. Peter listens to silence.
And they speak all in a rush. ‘She took us over once.’ She shoots out her arm. Like talking to themselves out loud. The branches were like insane. very tall. And when they touched you. That’s not true. He sits down again. They’d push their face right into yours. The rug is a flat blue: clashing with her deep blue dress. pours them both another glass. Heavy trees. It’s as though what they say merely bounces off each other. ‘Terrified me at first. very straight. He goes into the kitchen for the wine bottle. You could smell their breath. eyeball to eyeball. In your face? Like that. A place called County Longford. Less than quarter left in the bottle now. Cattle. they’d clutch you. You know. So what? ‘My mother is Irish. I think. Deep grass. They looked as though they would soon as hit you. Like that. they grabbed. Beech. features lightening – as though she is finding a thread here. years ago. like mad hair. or that the light was bad. see the bristle on the men’s faces. Seemed to rain all the time. maybe that was it. Don’t remember anything clearly – we were all very upset. Thick soil. It was very green. hand closing like a trap in the air. After the split with Dad. Like Howaya? – How are you?’ 238 . Pete?’ Peter shakes his head. Anne sits on the floor. Did I ever tell you that.’ Anne shifts.Peter is unsettled. on the rug in front of the gas fire. He avoids speaking in order to encourage Anne to continue. ‘You wouldn’t believe the people. One of them has to re-establish contact and she probably has most to say at the moment. but that’s my abiding memory of the place. You know the expression. I thought they were all blind.
‘Yes. Then get angry. I’ve just realised that. feelings. Peter doesn’t recognise the music. They were like a land with wind and storms. then sunlight. Awfully blunt. faces all red. I think. Farmers and farmers’ wives. and he’s pulled back his shirt to show this heart that has a crown on top of it.’ Anne gets up and shares the last of the wine between them. Catherine – had been shamed by an Englishman. And they get upset too. ‘Why am I telling you this. Like weather. remains silent. they swarmed all over her. then the next they would sit beside her holding her hands. And they seemed untouched by all this – you know. She had four brothers then and two sisters. either. it’s called. wiping tears from their eyes. searching among the cassettes. like he would get a spade or something and go over to Reading and cut his head off. He doesn’t know why. She remains standing over Peter. I mean. Anne goes back to the rug and sits down again. But then he went over to one of his brothers and another man. I remember one brother really upset because he thought Kate – that’s my mother’s name. you know. I was afraid to ask in case I 239 . tempers. Paintings. the change in Mummy but. God. like they were charging her up. They’d give out to her one minute for going away and marrying an Englishman. The Sacred Heart. Absolutely furious. Never knew what it meant.Anne gets up and goes across to the stereo. then rain again. You see Christ. And these moods and tempers would sweep through them. Pete?’ Peter stares back. Mother had a holy picture in her room. ‘Is that too loud? Good. and started to talk with them about the price cattle were getting. a cousin.
‘But I can still see it so clearly. I can often feel it in me. Actually. I feel it now. Do you like them?’ ‘I thought it was familiar. What I learned in Ireland about that kind of thing’ – swinging her free arm back to point up at the Constable – ‘is that nature is about growth. muck and cowshit trailing along every path and road. He realises he is intensely jealous of Anne. “Oh that. bushes. Pete. And grass grass everywhere. He is begrudging her. brambles. Or maybe it was some kind of burden. Something pushing up through me. talking about it. big trees and little trees. at last.became superstitious. But painting. when I was about six. no doubt as intended. I did ask her once. Thick heavy wet grass. Something like that.’ Now Anne smiles. Like that. ‘Have you ever felt that?’ Has he? He asks. How could she make up for what he has done for her? 240 . He’s not. and all she said was. but he does know that this is only a response to what Anne has told him. it was awful.’ Peter should be concerned that he has just slighted Anne. ferns. as though it had let her down. And everywhere there were things growing out of the damp soil. God. And big bullocks stumping around. You needed wellingtons and a heavy raincoat.” You know. ‘Simply Red. He’s thinking about something that he can’t pin down. Nettles. ‘What music are you playing?’ It’s melodious and plaintive: pleasant but sapping. We’d go for walks – everyone laughed at the idea of merely walking in the country there. I don’t know much eighties music. for a start.
’ Tea it is. They eat too much cake. at least for the moment. Recognised it and took it into account. Last thing that night. gets mugs and the rest of the doings. Corollary: Never give what is most wanted. They negotiated each other’s selfishness. It’s like he’s looking for an anchor. They listen to Blondie. caffeine high. Utopia?’ Anne’s eyes are so frank that they seem like a high wall that now hides something from him. almost selfless at times. Tea. Peter is adrift while he is busy making tea. You know. drink too much tea. Anne’s response is as he wished. Dad preoccupied but considerate. He finds the tray. the research you told me about last week. Now he switches on the kettle. ‘No. Peter dancing. sugar speed. on the point of falling asleep. He drains his glass and takes it into the kitchen. Negotiated each other’s selfishness. He asks Anne if she wants coffee now. The relief is tremendous. Peter nods. His parents.‘That didn’t interest you? I thought it might. He smiles with sudden glee. 241 . everything in hand. the words so intense for him that he subvocalizes them. Anne even singing. Peter remembers the old adage: Never try to get what you most want. Mother warmly brisk. Only now does he remember the rich dark choco sitting cold in the fridge. and mellow cocoa.
Pete. He nods in the semi-dark. that you took so much trouble for me. Anne does make the connection.’ She laughs.’ ‘It makes such a big difference. though he feels he hasn’t.’ She turns in the bed to face him: ‘Why did you do it.Peter is suddenly awake. I can buy a car now. ‘People are better happy. Anne waits – in case he should want to speak – before continuing. will he?’ ‘No. trying to find the best substitute for the candour he cannot manage. Anne. He told me too much. it. ‘It was possible to do it. ‘I still can’t believe. ‘You’re awake?’ ‘You?’ ‘I haven’t slept yet.’ ‘I can imagine. I really can’t believe it. He knows he has slept. Peter considers before speaking.’ Peter waits with a momentary trepidation. You know. chocolate. like a loss of faith at a decisive moment. You’re not to worry on that score. Some days that can take over an hour. anyway. the energy of her excitement boiling up in relief. He got his boxes out of Jukes.’ And it makes life with you easier. fully conscious.’ There’s nothing much Peter can say to this. Wine. ‘Pete? Tarrant won’t stop the cheque. No. 242 . Pete. tea. I don’t think so. Anne. I could get there in fifteen minutes by car straight down through Mitcham. You know. Pete?’ Anxiety in her voice. I walk to Croydon each morning – fifteen to twenty minutes – then train to Balham. then tube to Kennington.
I mean. I only wanted to share it with you. the feeling behind the sigh fugitive. ‘But he wanted to give you more. at least that. I was so worried when I heard first. You could have given it to me. Peter? How much more. isn’t it?’ The bed rocks with Anne’s emphatic assent to this. ‘At least that.’ Anne makes a joke of her last sentence.‘I didn’t mean to bully you into doing it. Pete. Getting the advantage of him. ‘Ten what?’ ‘Ten per cent. To ease the burden. but it is evident that a deep regret has surfaced here.’ ‘But you could have given it to others who needed it.’ Now Anne reaches blindly to clutch him. Remember. ‘It was fun doing it. You know. ‘I’d say ten. too.’ ‘Of three and a half million!’ Peter is beginning to enjoy the tease. It’s what he does to others. grabbing his arm with both her hands. by today I was working out the best alternative. ‘I told you I didn’t want it.’ Peter remains deadpan: ‘As I said. make do. Anne’s curiosity here is intense and not well hidden. gripping strongly: ‘And you didn’t take it?’ Now Peter laughs. The feeling gives him ease. he admitted there was more. do you think?’ Peter laughs.’ Peter sighs. I had no one else to talk to. at least.’ ‘But that’s about three hundred and fifty thousand pounds. Rent a place. 243 .
‘Money mad? What the hell is that. the nipple distended. Pete. you could have got a million out of him – even two million!’ Peter is looking over at the window.Peter remains silent. a faint warmth brushing his cheek. Peter can see her profile against the window. Anne. She looks at the wall opposite.’ ‘No. ‘What time is it?’ Anne must turn in the bed to check. Then she says. then she turns her head to look down at him. again this flat candour: ‘Anyone would have tried to get as much as they could out of him. it’s what anyone would do. Get it back into perspective.’ She tightens her hold on his arm again. a depression coming in to push away the good feelings of that day.’ Peter rolls away slightly. He wants to disengage his arm from Anne’s grasp. ‘I mean. Pete?’ Her voice rises as she speaks. Something is happening that he cannot believe. not trusting himself to handle this. He can’t resist the urge to rub the area where Anne had grasped him. ‘You’ve gone money-mad. He hears Anne’s heavy breathing at his side. seeing the sulphuric light on the tree outside. Pete. 244 . the fury an obvious displacement. ‘Jesus. He had meant well: the very best for Anne. Peter’s heart is sinking. for both their sakes. Just after.’ Peter is being as gentle as he can.’ Anne jerks upright in the bed. as though trying to confirm something: perhaps the reality of what is happening. then rolls back. Abstractly he can see how her nearside breast sways in silhouette as she moves. ‘Half three.
Ann mutters ‘Jesus’ and swings her legs out onto the floor. ‘What the hell do you think most people do most of the time. He doesn’t mind that this is happening. She is badly caught out. Peter finds that it is like he is withdrawing from the room. then goes looking for Anne. He really didn’t want the money. Peter is clear with himself about that. He was very gratified when Tarrant had expressed genuine surprise that he didn’t try to screw him for as much as he could get.’ Anne nods. face buried in her splayed hands. Perhaps it has been too much for you. Peter is stunned. then a dream-like expression on her face – as though she has found the door to some other 245 . Tap tap. First hearing that you might lose your home. Peter waits for about five minutes. The party wall. Too many shocks. ‘Anne?’ Peter touches the back of her hand. Pete. Had he wanted Tarrant to think well of him? No. except try to get as much money as they can?’ Anne is shouting by now. miserable. ‘Look. then I turn up with the money to buy it outright. She is downstairs in the living room. feeling her way around the end of the bed and going into the bathroom. a very soft touch. knowing as he does that Anne probably cannot see it. and it is upsetting her. Her basic unhappiness is palpable. Her eyes are red – that much is evident in the dim orange light from the window – but she isn’t crying. He boasted: I could have got more. floating out of the bed and disappearing into the wall at his back.Peter raises his hand. Peter recognises that he has told Anne too much. sitting on the settee. it’s alright.
Assume that they are being paid for what they do. he finds that Anne is pacing the room. Pete. He is ironic: ‘And you know why. ‘Is money mad?’ Peter is aware of his own nakedness now. When he returns. He straightens up. You even think you can be god. Then she says: ‘Did you really mean it when you said you were afraid of money? Because I thought you were joking. the burden or cost of what they do.’ She pauses to consider the truth of what she is saying. ‘You get this arrogance. People do get paid for what they do. You know. That says it all. Pete. money-mad. her eyes averted from Peter. it was like finding a world – a universe – where you could have anything you wanted. though the flesh of their sockets is sunken and bruised. Her body slumps: ‘God. apparently not aware that she is naked.’ Peter nods. ‘It must hold for them too. I mean. goes into the kitchen.’ Anne matches his irony as she nods.place. It’s the one thing I’ve learned in the last few years. They are very vivid. her expression unmoving.’ Anne nods. puts the kettle on. ‘No. I mean. take over everything. Anne. Her eyes are more animated now. and that he is getting chilly. Anne. empties the teapot. Then she starts. Like you were never going to die.’ Peter nods. ‘Are you cold?’ 246 .’ ‘What about those with millions and millions?’ Peter shrugs. I don’t think so. I mean anything. head bent. She remains like that. Money in fact is extremely rational. He makes tea when the kettle boils.
then fill the hole with rubbish.’ 247 . but first she tastes a fingertip of filling – perhaps the tea too bitter so late at night – then she breaks off half a slice. Peter pours them mugs of tea. part relief. I mean. just like they all claim?’ Peter is less circumspect with the cake. The night thoughts are very unreal in their starkness. The image I’d use is this: it’s like you mine for gold. Peter is earnest in reaction – unusually so. ‘Money serves because money is acceptable in exchange. ‘Not exactly. ‘Moral? More like a grace.’ ‘Lost? It is moral. ‘Pete. if it is like you say.’ Anne laughs. and just as light as she descends again.’ Anne is not ironic. There is still some choco. He can afford the odd binge. but Peter can’t avoid a wry twist of his mouth. tongue darting out to snap up stray bits of chocolate around her mouth: ‘So money is a reward. but – as usual – it merely serves as a decoy for a sourer truth: ‘Or maybe that is all the effort is worth. that makes money almost moral. you know. Her feet on the stairs are light. It’s meant to replace what has been lost. moving very fluidly. obviously thinking about money and grace. but he doesn’t want to mislead Anne.’ Anne has puckered her mouth. I think.’ The sugar high makes Peter feel attenuated. It’s more like a compensation. Anne is dubious about the cake. so they might as well have that too. ‘Not if you mean some kind of justice. part shock.She shoots out of the room.’ This is a weighty insight for Peter. She says. used up. bringing dressing gowns.
She smiles at Peter then looks around at the walls of her house. her face lighting up in a most attractive way. Anne even looks like what she has decided she is. 248 . She draws the dressing gown in around her legs. features settling down already into the rigidities that the possession of property requires. Just like that. Others remind themselves minute by minute what they own. a momentary shiver as she becomes aware of the cold. Some are content to tally what they know. This is true. then delighted. All hers now. Others remind themselves every few minutes how much they are worth. Many remind themselves constantly of their loved ones. No one can take this from me! For Peter it is as though Anne has finally decided who she is. a member of the society of property owners. For ever. Some people pass their lives reminding themselves what their job is. She looks very surprised. but instead that day-dream glaze appears again. a gravity descends upon her. This is true. Like sheet anchors out on a wide deep ocean: keep you from drifting off into the blue yonder. She is a property owner. a person of consequence with a permanent and indelible presence in the world.Anne looks for an instant as though she is going to understand this and then respond.
The collector says: ‘Five past. escapes the train like a greyhound springing from the trap. Peter looks about the station – a reflex reaction to the prospect of waiting for even five minutes in the dismal place. Be one through from Hastings in a few minutes. Peter fumbles the stiff lock on the carriage door. saying with deliberate jocularity: ‘Reckon I’ve overshot the mark. The train leaves the station again with little fuss.’ Pointing to the platform opposite the one just served by the London train. going out the way it came in. Can I get a train from here back to Brighton?’ Saturday night.’ Peter looks around for the clock. It’s not panic. Time is three minutes after eight. place of reluctant departures. mate. yet the young official is both sober and alert. Won’t be long. Over there. Dead atmosphere: scruffy. weary returns – a commuter station. though not touching it. an old man going through the ticket barrier coughing loudly. Ten past eight. misjudges the reach down to the platform. wheels clattering absently over points. He checks Peter’s ticket closely. cooing pigeons high up somewhere in the iron framework. Peter goes down to the ticket collector. shows him his ticket.Much to Peter’s chagrin. The collector notices this: 249 . Now the station is eerily quiet. more like waking up to a problem. ‘Sure you can. no one about. mate. the next station – the one the train is now pulling into – is Eastbourne. So the Hastings train does not stop at Brighton. The reaction is to try to get off the train as quickly as possible: Eastbourne is closer than Hastings to Brighton.
‘That’s it. The thing about tracks that bothers Peter is their temptation. really nothing at all. He waves thanks to the collector and goes over to the platform. clear sky high above and in repose. Commuters at half seven each morning.‘It ain’t so bad. gets in. finds he has to slam the door behind him. You can go outside if you want and see the station tower. but only serving to highlight his actual mood: long day. it is a pleasant evening beyond the confines of the station. Carriage deserted. like you know where you are going. Friendly. A whistle blows and they are off to Brighton. Still. Then a train appears. sidling around the bend. 250 . Yet the wonder of this state is that it induces no anxiety or distress. Eight minutes past. like. Take a seat anywhere. Smell of old mould. mate. No one gets off. long evening.’ The ticket collector shouting with his practiced official voice. mate! That’s the train you want to Brighton. silent until it is crossing some points at the end of the platform. under some old goods wagons. Silence for a minute.’ Peter can now see the station clock. Bird song somewhere. Wry humour. roseate light beaming in from the left. nosing out from under the road bridge just beyond the station. a fact disguised from casual observation by the bright yellow face it sports. The same tracks will bring them back here twelve hours later. Visitors like to see that. a lot of starlings feeding along tracks over behind the platform. then another. Peter thinks: At least I can say I’ve been to Eastbourne. Busy during the week. dread day ahead but at least they know where they are. The train is old. Nothing. Peter works another stiff lock.
From Cambridge. One station asserts it is the stop for the University of Sussex. Peter can see nothing except a busy road and tall trees. God. it’s horrible. weeds and abundant bindweed. scrub vegetation on waste land. At least Vicky was ambushed. They had come to Sussex by car.The languor is exactly that. the train clanks over some points and rejoins a more important line. someone pointing towards Shelley country off to the northwest. it is. Or rather. then the whistle blows and off we go again. thoroughly shot on brandy. its pretty flowers a saving grace. For once the emptiness is not Wittgenstein’s dread disease. “the loss of problems”. Remember. the way Peter had earlier come in and the way the Hastings train had gone out. mostly their inarticulate rears. but it does not feel like that. The train goes out the way it came in. Anyway. though. nameless bushes and low trees. Very superior they were until they were ambushed at the meeting on gender politics. How does he know this? He must be taking a cue from the surroundings. Under the bridge. Then the train crosses the viaduct. the odd door banging somewhere along the train. 251 . There are railway stations to be stopped at. swaying in the cold wind. Peter remembers standing on a ridge of the Downs. too. It’s strange. then collections of buildings. that he suddenly becomes aware that they are approaching the viaduct over the London to Brighton road. Derek’s car. they sitting mutely in a line near the front. Peter thinks absently. moving slowly on what must by now be a fairly rickety structure. perhaps he memorised some details that now jogs his memory. he had time to study the viaduct. with proper nondescript banks of grass.
the traffic lights they had stopped at. They have formed a stream. explains that it is Saturday night: ‘Party night. but Brighton station seems to be hosting a wild party. The official. So Peter asks him the way to Kemp Town.What a thrill! Looking down on the park they had passed. guv. hair tossed for another. never having been particularly loose at any time in his life. Peter hangs back. shoulder to shoulder with so many bent so deliberately on forgetting. even inviting him to come join their horde. overcome with shyness now. for all the world like the Pied Piper’s happy following. shrillvoiced and wonderfully buoyant. Rebecca and Peter. Himself and Rebecca. It’s an enticing picture: waving his arms above his head for some reason. ain’t that right?’ No answer to that. this time both confiding and edgy in that cockney way. but he hangs back. Meanwhile. End of happy vision and back to the melancholy. as though he might infect them with his gloom – though any number of boys and girls wave to him cheerily. How sad things can be. milling down the platform towards the exit. a longer train on another platform is disgorging hundreds of jolly young people. Well. No. How very sad. about six deep. for a while anyway. He asks the ticket collector – this after the crowd had disappeared into the Queen’s Road – what was on tonight in Brighton. probably riddled with xtc and speed. It’s down the hill to the left and across the gardens to 252 . If you don’t get it tonight then you never will. No one but Peter gets off his train. Peter might be alone and sad just now. Can he see himself knocking back a xtc sweetie and letting go? Yes he can. the road. like.
Does it matter? Oh yes. driven by desperate speculation. What looks like an extensive street party is getting into swing. boys 253 . The party seems to be informal. This stops Peter in his tracks at the bottom of the hill street he has just descended. The tall building on the far side of the gardens is the College of Art. a nondescript arrangement. The middling huddles of the shopkeepers and officials. as loud as can be given – obviously – the limitations of their sound system.the Pavilion. The university building is in darkness and there is little by way of party paraphernalia in evidence. a town grown rapidly. The only novelty is the widespread use of stucco. The gardens that divide the lanes of the roadway are composed mostly of paving and a few hardy trees. that Peter looses interest in his surroundings pretty quickly. Downhill. sometimes white. Then on from there. as per basic sociology. Low houses. now part of the Polytechnic. And that’s it. Peter is let loose on Brighton. too. Three quarters of an hour late. which is stacked on the back of a flatbed van. it does. It’s so pat. Some blind plinths. most dressed in the singular way of art students. finished in pale ochres. There is music. jolly girls with arms above their head. which is less expressive. with lithe movements – especially swaying hips. Young people. Oh no. At the bottom of the hill is the wide thoroughfare that Peter recognises as the route to London. See the imposing terraces of the resort areas down by the sea. the little houses of the workers and servants up on the slopes. with swinging hair. Girls are dancing on the plinths. such as he walks through now. They’re dancing all together. Drink comes from the adjacent pubs. then to the left into St James Street. it doesn’t.
He wonders why this has happened. It leaves him as always somewhat abashed. 254 . On he goes then. Not for the first time. and what is the answer? Creativity. but what we glimpse inside ourselves when faced with this or that reality. stuck on a far pavement with a river of traffic to separate him off. Only a weaving pennant of bright cloth – no doubt a silk scarf – is discernible above the bundle of figures on one of the plinths. but certainly more adrift now that he has had a glimpse of how life might be Saturday night in Brighton. Free of memory. even though he can remember nothing of any of the occasions. yet he is very aware – as are publicists and advertisers. About doing something and not having to remember it. but it’s the girls you notice. a faint tinkle of their music above the clamour of the traffic. and wonders further why it happened previously – he knows it happened before a number of times. like for variety. no doubt not for the last time either. how we want angels to be. Peter has just witnessed Heaven. Peter wonders at the association. He looks back. So he asks himself this question. the light dulled by the cloud of fumes arising all the time. How could he forget? He always forgets – no matter how often he witnesses to it – how Heaven is.here and there. no one is waving to Peter this time. Irony on his part. No burden of memory. Like doing something once and then forgetting all about it. like fairies. salespeople of all kinds – that it is not reality that compels us. not plodding. The word comes on its own like that: creativity. They’re lost among the spreading trees now. Well. of Heaven with a student street party.
pale Indian mud in colour. Little pointy bits on bulbs. well. The famous Pavilion. It’s surprisingly. Well. So she may have seen the wreck. Peter comes in a matter of moments to the Pavilion. stucco. It’s like the point where the Mendip Hills in Somerset touch the sea at Uphill. naff. no doubt. Walking on. and failed to notice the transformation when they passed last week. But getting there. still quite narrow. 255 . Why was the party girl so aghast at the prospect of partying in the party-house of all party-houses? Peter detours to find the entrance. getting there. small shops. ascending a gentle slope. too. Stucco. Peter realises that he is mounting an outrider of the Downs as it touches the sea. Is Rebecca really a puritan? Then Peter notices something. ‘No! It’d be so gross!’ God. then. Over an hour late. So. Peter is relieved to have solved that little mystery. let’s walk on. most closed and dark. Peter hears it so clearly. Peter cannot see it at the moment. a supermarket. How everyone should live. He’s impressed. St James Street follows its medieval course. near Weston-super-Mare. St James Street then must be named for a church hereabouts. Pavilion very neglected until restoration started in 1982. now to St James Street and on to Kemp Town and the Bristol. expecting to find illustrations of the interior there. except that he remembers Rebecca’s reaction to the idea of partying there. It had played on his mind – though not aware of this until now – thinking that Rebecca may be forcing herself to live hedonistically in the hope of getting a rich husband.Peter is wry: as if he didn’t know that. Peter will pass on.
that is active.The ridge is low but prominent. and on it sits a little chapel. It brings Peter to a halt. on the other hand. Peter usually ended his walks on the Levels here. knowing that it served a practical purpose. The chapel can be seen for some distance from the south and so served as a marker. where – as Marx put it – means are treated as ends. there is a sense of taking time out from activities that have earned these people their leisure. an easy air with many walkers. Only that sense of now. It’s not that the custom is religious in the conventional sense. The frisson is gentle but persistent. complacency. But no: he doesn’t get that far. now. Across the road is a church. Her sense there of nature as something that grows. to mark to encounter of mountain with sea? Peter doesn’t know. He was not aware before now of any significance in this. Not even a trace of that abiding English cop out. It’s the fact that people did this kind of thing. But these walkers and strollers are unselfconscious. Peter quickly grasps that what no doubt is called Kemp Town eccentricity is on display. Then he remembers Anne’s account of her childhood visit to Ireland. crossing the M5 near Lympsham or further south at Brent. A curious resonance rises in Peter as he goes through these memories. then he is aware of the atmosphere on the street It’s a street for walking. that curious modern form of alienation. Here. Does Peter expect something to happen? Good question. Another memory: how the point at which the Wicklow mountains in Ireland touch the sea is surmounted by a cross. He thinks: this very spot. like weak electricity along his spine and up into his hair. What instinct is this. Peter 256 .
It’s like believing in God. The man smiles. overcome by a delicious compassion. excuse me. certainly he feels excluded. Lurches after them. They turn together and walk on. A perfect stranger asking strangers a strange question. ‘Aren’t you afraid?’ Peter feels like the Buddha as he blurts this out. on the point of launching himself in their wake. but sees also the dark pressing in on all sides. Perhaps he is jealous. the kind of face Peter has seen at countless college parties. polite. calling out. Act and forget. thinly bearded. sharing for a moment their bliss.hears the word creativity again. perfectly at one together in a trance.’ The couple look back – both together doing this. smiles again. He does it. respectful. The woman smiles. They pause. Oh. He will never see them again. It won’t matter. Peter sees their beauty and wholeness. isn’t it? Peter reacts badly to this thought. gentle unassuming eyes. Like a threat. act and forget. like a trap. A beautiful couple passing just now. Don’t they know they are at risk? He has an overwhelming desire to run after them and ask: ‘Aren’t you afraid?’ I mean. ‘Excuse me. The woman smiles. He stops and turns to watch the couple go along the pavement down towards Brighton. The man smiles. face gamine. he rises onto his toes. Self-contained. 257 .
walks a bit back towards the bar. becomes some other street on a bend. It is like a holiday. It’s just down this short street towards the sea front. noisy music. St James Street levels out. Red light welcoming. Peter gets himself a half of cider. Anyway. narrows. saloon bar becoming smoking bar. Atmosphere a bit more wicked deeper into the place. taking time out. Quieter here. This little experiment has lifted Peter’s spirits. Time for more directions. walks back to the saloon end. Yet not nearly so crowded as appeared from without. curves. He walks now as part of the crowd – some actually going his way to Kemp Town – evening strollers at ease for now with the world. realises he is beginning to bounce around so he goes to the nearest window and looks out. residential. Can’t miss it. pool table. People in small groups around tables. more like an hotel than the more usual parlour pubs. houses small but the very prosperous air of a desirable place to live. relinquishing something for a while. why should they? I wasn’t telling them anything new. modest drinks. Retired master settling down in sight of the sea. shops and pubs again. heads bobbing within in highlight. Obviously a refuge from Party Night. Maritime theme: The Bristol named for a nineteenth century ship. Nothing to escape from. the pub just to the left. Nor can he: large windows. no clutter: home by ten and up by eight tomorrow. Peter is wry. Peter asks the way to the Bristol. nothing to escape to.They didn’t even hear me. 258 . Kemp Town. a large church. Then a junction can be seen ahead. like he’s touched a common base with the rest of humanity again.
He fears the gutproblem of earlier in the week is returning. sun setting away to the right. Nausea. something to do as the cider circulates within and moves him towards the momentary high that alcohol gives. though on the surface quite conventional. A man has stood up. Best way to travel – slowly. Almost half nine – hour and a half late. Not because the actions were senseless. both seemingly unaware of what they are doing. so what do you expect? There are small lights out on the sea – the Channel. sweeping his hand around his waist. A flash of movement reflects in the glass. Like one of those stomach churning shocks the cinema seeks to deliver: a metaphysical punch in the belly. going west towards the sunset. He pushes his shirt down into the waist band of his trousers. makes absolutely no sense to him. Peter responds with a burn of nausea. while he senses the bitterness of brine. Only now does he realise: no one waiting for him here. slowly but steadily.Darkening out at sea. out over the Atlantic. Then another – which is moving east. His companion. but because Peter cannot understand what they mean. How nice. Both are talking. a tall plain woman dressed almost entirely in grey kashmir. The light is moving. Peter stares at one. It’s as though the couple had done something that. He checks another light. Peter thinks with a reactive irony. towards the dark: towards home. This also is moving west. then in the other. Ships at sea. first in one direction. raises a hand to her nose in response. But no – this is something altogether different. And because he cannot 259 .
Peter wades over these stones – best description. not thinking about anything else. that remain awkward for walking on. Dread. the low susurration of water distantly on 260 . Should Peter ask them if they are afraid? This temptation does ghost through his mind. a dirty joke at his expense. the sort of stones that do not easily shift under one’s feet. The beach? The beach is all stones. The woman touches her glass. more like doing something that urgently needs doing – with all the mental concentration such urgent action requires. sometimes alone. He’s not in flight. Peter breasts this and is suddenly exposed to the sea. Peter puts his glass down and walks smartly out of the pub. That kind of sickness. an image of small lights on a darkening horizon as though beckoning him.understand these simple conventional actions. The man has sat down again. sometimes in pairs. There’s a notice faintly legible in light from the road behind. then diverges. Men are sheltering in here. One man is on his knees in front of another man. then withdraws her hand and pats her lips with it. not pebbly but larger. if you like. Peter is heading south. Peter can understand why someone could walk in here and try to kill everyone. The way is out across the road and down a path among tall bushes. The stones heap towards a low ridge. that is. The path joins another path. as was once said. towards the beach. touches it again. the word nudity prominent. He lifts his little glass to his lips and sips. slow arrival after all not such a bad thing when panic threatens. connecting nothing with nothing. he can understand nothing at all. stones threatening to move and not moving.
phosphorescent lines of waves going up and down. expecting at any moment to step onto tidal sand – which normally happens. early death – all quite miserable. without rest. even. He could walk there for the rest of his life and not necessarily arrive anywhere. to Cape Town once there. without stopping. Peter would like a burst of tears now. brutality. because it gives him a narrative to concentrate on: when will he encounter the sand. Yet Peter thinks: this is the very edge of England. Existential dread.stones. and never stopping. without remembering. This is fact. like a slow wind. What is lost: the good old times. to ease him. ignorance. He could travel overland to Peking. cold but clean. While he stumbles over these stones. Peter stumbles down the other side of the ridge. a mighty shiver. down towards the sea’s edge. sickness. almost orgasmic. Very beautiful. in his experience anyway. bitter but purifying. Walk? Oh yes: what Peter is not thinking about – like going on forever and ever. A sense of loss now: like stepping through a gate and knowing at once that there is no going back. France and the continent of Europe are just over the horizon. pain. he won’t have to worry about losing his balance on these stones – but he will then have time to think. so that the going becomes easier? A game being played here. But that’s no harm. entrancing. There is also a fresh presence. It doesn’t happen here. If he steps onto sand. How he celebrated the departure of Kharib. breaking and coming together again. All this now lost forever: only going on now. he thinks: I will go on forever. So Peter stumbles on. who took all the pain 261 . Peter shivers. he doesn’t have time to think.
heading with head up towards the sunset away to the west. That’s all. And yet all the time Peter sees within this onward progress of himself into the dark. parallel to the rock-and-roll sea. except Peter is becoming aware of a voice within. ‘Great evening. He raises his hand in a comradely way: ‘Hope it lasts forever. sure. There’s just this vision of going on. How a man might here castigate an adult and then humour a child a moment later. Peter had never whined – never any reason to – but the Peter-child voice within is whining now. Fine.’ The man is stumping over the stones. All happening at the same time. ‘Great if it did. But no tears. it does not like the disturbance it generates in him. What can Peter do? He walks the stony beach. Peter understands that it is like a play of levels.’ The man gives another wave then he is gone on. And definitely no irony. gauging without 262 . The cosmic drama is there. on and on into the dark.and suffering with him. going on and on for eternity. the awful history of mankind behind him like a receding candle flickering in the engulfing dark. obviously used to this gait. definitely no tears. aye?’ There is no irony here: even Peter feels no irony here. a cheerful greeting with a stranger on a lovely evening by the sea is here. just brilliant. aye mate?’ Peter turns a little from gazing seawards to respond warmly to the cheery cockney passing him just now: ‘Oh brilliant. It does not like the dark. The voice is familiar – oh so familiar – but the tone is disturbing. As a child.
much conscious thought a pathway that keeps him closest to the water’s edge yet safe from the wave surges. the child will whimper now and again. only a feeling that something should be done to – well – block the small sad voice. Peter starts up the slippery stony incline away from the sea. Peter is obliged to seriously consider what he is being told here. Peter speaks to the child. Peter breasts the ridge and finds the lights of Brighton there to shine on him. Come back. You don’t have to do this. He heads straight up towards the 263 . Not frightened. It works. but he does decide that he has walked long enough on the beach – by the sea – and that it is time he joined the party somewhere. the child trusts Peter. reassuring him. It is a while before Peter catches on to this dialogue with himself. after all. Peter. regardless of any doubts. Also like doing something you really want to do. Already the voice is as though behind him. the truth that there is nothing to go back to. He’s not frightened. A bit like jumping off a cliff and having second thoughts. Spoken with such love and trust and faith. saying now over and over: Come back. What child? he wonders. you understand. You need not go into the dark. It is the child’s sense that what is being undertaken – now and for the future – is avoidable that comes to trouble Peter. The feeling is one of a calm implacability. Still. bemused rather than frightened by the idea of another personality within himself. Peter. the reluctance profound. An abiding sense that this foray into the dark is unnecessary. Because the innerchild’s trust must be reciprocated. Peter.
towards the remainder of the sunset: he is going that way in any case. The driver leans across his cab and rolls down the offside window. there is the question of finding the blues venue. trust here in the place of truth. Then there is a crossing. The driver looks as though he will get out of his van and do Peter some real damage. He stammers an apology. the profound sink of seriousness that has so frightened the man. Peter very quickly steps back off the road. to hide the quite murderous anger of the driver – feeling even as he does. Will he recognise it? A squeal of brakes very close by. He heads west. and beyond the promenade a flight of steps that will take him up to the roadway. Peter must follow the railway. He raises his hand to his face. To the cringing voice within he offers some comfort. There is comfort: Peter seeing the poignance of a child mollified in its limited understanding. ‘You stupid blind cunt!’ Peter has frozen. It turns out that there is a miniature railway running the length of the seafront. eyes glaring at him – before he knows what is happening.promenade. that acts as a barrier between beach and promenade. 264 . partially turned towards the white van – an enraged red face with wide open mouth. a defensive smirk appearing just when it should not. On the roadway. This submissive gesture is very well received. promising to bring no harm to the inner child-self. back across the footpath until he comes up against the restraining wall. the displacement caused by the fear rebalanced now by a blind hate of the cause of all this upset.
Peter doesn’t want to bother. ‘Just stay in the pub when you’re drinking. She looks very exquisite. He looks out to the almost dark sea – dots of light as usual – but that is no help. He acts as though he has already crossed the road and is on his way to join a blues gig. sees the van receding at a steady rate. wanting to spite someone or something. and where would we be then? You watch were you’re going in future. worrying the stones. for some reason. This shock has set Peter back. He looks west. he knows. though. You’ll get yourself killed walking around in a daze like that. he almost got killed: himself and the boy personality or whatever killed.‘You stupid bugger! I could fucking well have killed you. working its way up his back and collecting in his neck – blocked up here as though refused entry to his head. She has a hand up to attract his attention. her hair cut to emphasise the sheer beauty of her face. dressed brilliantly. drives off. not temperamentally suited to violence of any kind. twinkling for some reason as it passes under street lights. This is a new shock for Peter. stand all night by the water’s edge. Strictly. hear the waves come and go. his brain. but he is actually back at the point of reassuring this boyvoice within that everything will be fine. mate.’ The driver is visibly calming by the second. 265 . She is tall. ‘Are you alright there?’ A woman is standing on the pavement on the other side of the road. slender. Go back down to the beach. It doesn’t amuse him. mate.’ Winds up the window again. A pettish response. In the middle of this. The reaction is intense. The irony does not escape him. He now looks across the road – the road he must now cross.
Meanwhile. just as though she was some kind of midnight sun. eyes sparkling – even in the wretched sulphurous aura of the street lighting: ‘This road is a death trap.’ She looks directly at Peter. and he no longer wants to run back down to the sea’s edge. the wrist satisfyingly long – and laughs in a teasing way: ‘Oh. though more exotically.’ The woman above interjects: ‘Every time we hear the squeal of brakes. halts only when he is as close to her as he can nerve himself to be. mouth dry just now. He is no longer walking along this pavement towards the blues club. I think he is recovering. Actually.’ The other is leaning over a balcony two floors up. Gert. A voice from above calls down: ‘Is he alright. one of these nights someone is going to be run over and killed. We have been on to the council for years to upgrade the lights and cut the speed limit. No. Peter is recovering. but a fuller body. wonderfully fleshed. She also is tall. Viv?’ The woman throws up her slender arm – bare its entire length. we expect the worse. Most noticeable is the long long silk scarf – a brilliant purple – trailing out over the balcony from her neck.’ Peter gasps. You know. a mass of dark hair and dressed brightly. swallows heavily. a remarkable intimacy now – as though they were old 266 . ‘I daresay you got an awful shock just then. he wants bask in this woman’s light. a red-pink light playing onto her from the room at her back.He runs across the road. the woman is saying to him.
tilting her head as though in calculation. Not your first university though. Gert then observes: ‘Sober.’ Viv smiles a wide smile. Oxbridge. ‘West country? Not Bristol. He nods. runs down every time. I had hardly left the footpath. too.’ Both Viv and Gert say ‘Ahh’ simultaneously. silk. the dear. ‘Viv. as though his voice is something long wished for.friends.’ 267 . Peter can easily imagine his arm around her long slim waist: in fact the imagining takes his breath away. though. Velvet slacks.’ Viv raises an eyebrow – wonderfully curved. her laugh bright. now finally present to them. long expected. though the impress of her bare nipples is possible. he can even imagine the blue sheen across the soft nap – though of course the horrible street light murders this. I dread what she will find on the road one of these days. though perhaps just that little bit too bright. But he stammers as a way of proving that his breath has not been affected: ‘On no. tight at the hips. would you say. adds: ‘Keele. Peter looks at her with the degree of liberty the laugh permits. it seems. then nods.’ Gert considers this. Gert? Postgrad. actually. loose.’ She looks up at Gert: ‘Cambridge. a touch of wickedness here.’ Viv tosses her head. He surmises the colour is a metallic green. ‘Let me see. The blouse then has to be crimson. certainly. you may be sure – at Peter. looser lower down.
First. in a surprisingly firm voice – given all that has happened so far: ‘My name is Peter Lacey. a merry contralto. then laughs out. 268 . like treating shock or staunching heavy blood flows. Languages. wasn’t it?’ Now it is Peter’s turn to say or do something. eager it would seem to join them both: ‘Opens doors just like that. then back and forward. first from side to side. lips drawing back to reveal two rows of very white teeth. I think you are a very beautiful woman. Not an obvious fact – the two women are not waiting expectantly for his contribution. Viv is extremely pleased with this compliment.’ Gert leans down. This last item does especially interest him for a moment.’ To Viv: ‘Betty. What he actually does is say. His first instinct is to resume his progress towards the blues gig further down this road to the west. like knowing when to hold a door open or share a quick smile. of course. then Gert adds: ‘Wonderful place. You remember. they are still congratulating each other on their acuity – more one of those social certainties. he evens thinks up a nice one: perhaps Viv should acquire some paramedical skills. In the heart of the country. it helps one get around. like a note of appreciation.’ His knees begin to tremble. The latter motion becomes so strong that it threatens to throw him to the ground. her face lighting up.Both Viv and Gert breath ‘Ahh’ again.’ She clicks her fingers. perhaps share a small passing irony giving food for thought. She says with an airy wave of a hand: ‘Oh. he must say something.
Viv says: ‘Ah. sounds becoming melodious. He can do that. ‘Could you get me the lighter.’ A French window is opened – Peter hears at once the bump of a kind of music that is suddenly familiar to him – and then Gert reappears and drops down a small disposable lighter. The fragrance of the hash is also at once familiar. Gert gives a little cough. no thicker than a pen refill. my dear. Then he coughs. Peter. It’s straight gear. a moist awkward cough. wants to cough but also not to waste the smoke. too: suppress the itch in the back of his throat until he has drawn the smoke into his lungs. Viv recollects herself. Sorry. She calls up to her friend. head sideways: ‘Such a nice man.’ Very pure: already the sulphur light is going gold. helium entering Peter’s heart. Viv smiles a doting smile. Peter. gesturing that he should take a puff likewise. I should have told you. dopey but none the worse for that.’ It’s mutual admiration. glances up and then says to Peter: ‘Won’t you come up and join us for a while. Have a glass of wine and perhaps chat. is stung by the harsh smoke. blackened at one end. She hands the roll to Peter. my dear. He draws on the joint. though it is years since he sniffed it.Now Viv reaches into a pocket of her slacks and produces a thin cylinder of paper.’ A surge of longing – the idea very powerful even if the practicalities and their implications hard to assess at the 269 . Viv lights the blackened end of the cylinder. inhales deeply while drawing in extra air through partly compressed lips.
It’s more about escapism than expressing something about life. ‘I said I would be there. not doubting her for an instant.’ He continues with a rush of words. completely thrown by their response: ‘I don’t know the name of the place. If you promised. frank and open. He has an image of a beautiful room. even confessional.’ Now Viv smiles more benignly.moment – assails Peter. but I was late. Viv says: ‘But the Bunker is gross!’ Peter nods with a kind of resignation. I was supposed to meet up at a pub in Kemp Town. I’m due to meet someone. Does he have much choice? Peter creases his brow as a harbinger: ‘Actually.’ Viv face registers shock. like the sudden return of another reality. good wine. even luxurious. two lovely women with an interest in him. Gert says from her perch above. knowing that he is gushing – perhaps the first time in his life he allows words run freely from himself: ‘I don’t care for that kind of blues myself. ejaculating the words: ‘You don’t mean the Bunker?’ Viv tilts her face again as much as to say Surely not? Peter stammers this time. I mean. no doubt recognising that Peter is not used to talking like this. boom-boom music.’ Peter nods with a weird gratitude.’ Peter finds it a good thing to speak like this to them. It has been a very long evening with much to take in. She says: ‘Then of course you must go. At a blues gig somewhere along here. 270 . this woman’s permission acting as much as an absolution of some kind as an approval of what he feels he must do.
Let us make ourselves comfortable. head partly turned back towards Peter. Viv says at his back: ‘Now. please sit where you will. Peter. ‘Laurence Olivier used to visit here. Peter. very soft and giving: an open invitation of a hand.‘Even so. Gert waits for him in the centre of the room. The carpet is deep. As though you could become an actual part of the world and so share its supreme self-delight. hand extended. So it’s up the garden path. Gert?’ Gert sings down her agreement. Peter has a fleeting image of what he had seen of Brighton’s Pavilion – seeing it as though through Rebecca’s eyes. but rather a kind of extension – extensiveness – as though your being could spread out into the world in some very real sense. its candle-like bulbs reduced to provide a low yellow illumination. He understands at once something of what it meant by sensuality. but dry nonetheless. original mouldings on the ceiling and upper walls. It was quite a place in its time. not some kind of pornographic prelude to evacuation and ennui. in a tall door and up some flights of stairs. Only the large sofa 271 . you know. Gert and I would be very pleased if you spent a short while with us. a burnished umber tone criss-crossed by an amber barring of various widths. Even the cabinet furniture seems as though smouldering. Viv says on the way. The walls are papered cherry red with a bright yellow and green flower patterning. Wouldn’t we. ‘I’m so glad you decided to join us. Even a chandelier.’ Her hand is very warm. High ceiling. her brown eyes reflecting the light of the room in a remarkable enriching way.’ The room.
beige leather trimmed tan brown. Peter heads for the one on the far side. ‘Oh good. Peter. There are two easy chairs – beige. going towards a small door over by the sofa. ‘We have a very good wine. Actually. saying. but thinks that might be too studenty. so as not to seem either timid or reluctant. her nearside pendulant breast an inch away from his arm. He sits tight at first. knowing that Viv has followed him across the room and that Gert turned about to watch his progress. just a break. But Gert and I found this wonderful little vineyard up from the coast – quite by chance. he would really love to lie out on his back. so that he could again be close to her. like the sofa – on either side of the fireplace. as though she is suffering Peter’s shock in reverse – that what he is learning from this room is being drawn in some physical way from her. Gert has sat herself on the sofa. You know. She smiles a strange smile. Not a room for watching television on a weekday night. arms by his side. inhale the combined perfumes of the Viv and Gert – one of which is familiar to him – and listen to the boom boom music. Peter turns to look closely at Viv. He would prefer to sit on the floor. She turns away at his nod.along the wall facing the huge fireplace seems cool. She says: ‘A little holiday last month. now standing at his elbow. It’s Sicilian.’ 272 . We had such a wonderful time there. at the end nearest him. tempted to stand again. not a room for morning coffee on Sunday. Perhaps not to everyone’s taste. Do you like wine?’ Peter nods.’ She’s gone through the door. Viv says.
He lolls momentarily. She puts the tray up on the mantleshelf above the fireplace. They both smile in return. ‘Right. only then realising that the air in the room is heavily laced with hash. And that’s where we get our records. Peter sniffs the wine: nice raw quality. a part-filled bottle.’ Peter stands up. but I don’t like that. I work in Stockwell and some lunchtimes I walk around Brixton. a shared ritual. big wine glasses. Three glasses. in the same way. legs splayed before him on the smoky carpet.’ Viv nods emphatically. He takes a deep breath. then says: ‘The music? It’s familiar. Too strong for Sunday dinner. He puts the wine glass on the mantleshelf. sitting forward and watching Peter with animated interest. Peter smiles again. but I can’t place it?’ Viv is by now seated at the other end of the sofa. too bold for a tipple after a day’s work. 273 . They all say ‘Your health’ at the same time. I’ve heard this music coming from the black music shops there. a shared religion of sorts. back that bit curved. The wine hits the spot. muscular. looking at the furnishings again. She responds: ‘They call it drum and bass.’ Peter remembers: he raises his free hand: ‘Got it. Peter must like women who like their wine strong. the degree of ease he is experiencing unfamiliar to him. He smiles at Viv.Viv reappears with a tray. hands out glasses and then fills each full of wine. eases himself in the chair. He turns in the room. then smiles again for Gert. Some call it jungle.
at least. who feet point straight up at the ceiling only a few inches away. is content to stretch her legs out in front. if not intimacy. Not clear at first what is happening. Gert says. Viv and Gert immediately slide forward from the sofa and settle on the floor too. deep flesh on her bare arms and round face. ‘Would you like a puff. indicating a degree of uncertainty in her. in these circumstances. which occasions a knowing sort of smile from Viv. He retrieves his wine and walks into the centre of the room. He shakes his head. you know. The walls seem to move. Her hair so dark by way of contrast. Peter wants to look at Viv. really. Peter?’ It is at this moment – almost like a reply to Gert’s question – that Peter’s most recent nemesis strikes again.’ Peter removes his shoes and places them neatly side by side over by the fireplace. Viv sits like Peter with her feet under her thighs. But it is as though the light is too strong. I’m so glad you prefer the floor. ‘Oh. We want you to be at your ease here. so he instead looks over at Gert. He sits down on the floor facing the sofa. 274 . drawing his feet in under his thighs. waving at the air in the room. Her skin is so white. Viv is beaming. hampered by her long dress. her knees not more than six inches from his. Go right ahead.‘Do you mind if I take my shoes off?’ ‘No. lighter in her other hand. Mouth is full. leaning forward as best she can in her awkward position: ‘Do you like to dance.’ There should be informality. lipstick deep red – too red. who is seated facing him. very soft too. but Gert. Peter. Peter?’ She is holding up another reefer. Viv says. Peter.
very strongly built. just all alone. But she can dance. Then Gert is on her feet. It might warm his heart.’ He speaks her name on purpose – though he has no real inclination to do so – mainly in order to generate a warmth in her for him. ready in case he loses his balance and stumbles. then a frantic party with old friends and Peter is bouncing vertiginously off the walls for an hour or so. He feels it about his heart especially. Peter says by way of reply: ‘Actually. spinning heavily in the long dress: made of a kind of skin. a pumping motion that sways her torso. with large slabby breasts and big hips. as though his heart once glowed and now does not. It is like that at first. of course – and Peter knows it is not happening. Good to dance just now. then the darkness appears. more like something being sucked out of him. This is not happening. heavy breasts coming to pendulate at just the right beat. He thinks that the sudden immersion in this rather dense environment – the new insights and fluctuating states of arousal – has thrown him. I love dancing. most of the action occurs within and issues mainly as 275 . like light draining away. Then his heart is lonely: all alone. rising gingerly. Gert. beating and beating for no reason whatsoever. Months spend quietly researching in strange libraries. then moving back closer and closer until it seems they will crush him to death. Not that the lights go out: no. Gert hefts her body towards him and he sees that she is strong.moving away from him. quite a number of times. His nemesis: loss. He has had this experience before. Peter scrambles up too. leather-beige with large seams and a chunky waist band. Peter is not an energetic dancer.
a pretty smooth gyration of the hips. Peter has never known a sensation like this – his heart grown cold – and it does frighten him. Like treading water this evening. Of course. Gert keeps going. That means that Peter and Gert are alone together. as though some momentum must run down first. But London seems to be good to me. cry my eyes out for an hour. Peter turns to her again. Need to go up on business pretty often. Peter stops. Get into a hot bath afterwards. her mouth pursed. like keeping head above water. So we’re dancing. breathing more deeply than previously. embedded as always in the warm mush of his chest. as though they were all still sitting about on the floor: ‘Are you living in London?’ Peter nods. She has stopped dancing and is standing perfectly still. he knows this is not a real experience: his heart is pumping along evenly. turning in the room: ‘Maybe. Peter points in the general area of her body and asks: ‘What kind of material is that?’ 276 . ‘Cannot get used to that place. Her breasts are quaking under the somewhat heavy fabric. not breaking pace.’ Gert says: ‘Like the roads go nowhere and…’ The music suddenly stops. like an machine switched off. I mean…’ Viv has left the room. Peter says. Her nipples are small. Viv says in a flat tone. glass of wine. Then I’m fine again. for she cannot take her eyes off that part of him – Peter in his flat fronted moleskins getting into the bouncing rhythm of the drum and bass music. arm by her side. Gert must like this.
That’s what we’re like. You know.’ He realises that this is a come-on too. it’s for you. She says to Peter: ‘I so love her.’ Gert says warmly. looking away from them both at the same time: ‘Moleskin. Aren’t you. refilling her glass. Always flying up above the waves.Gert looks down. so adds lamely.’ ‘Doeskin. he is curious about the material. Supposed to be wild girl. Gert says off to his side: ‘We’re like two birds. given her size. ‘She’s such a pet. Peter realises that what he has done is create the opportunity to touch her. from just under her breasts down to her groin.’ Viv straightens up at Peter’s side. Viv. then Gert’s beside the sofa. So he adds quickly. He doesn’t want to do this. pointing down to his trousers: ‘Some people think these are suede. ‘Oh.’ Gert tells him. He can’t help it. a flush spreading. then runs her spread hands down the front of the dress.’ Viv says at Peter’s back: ‘And the most sedate girl in the world. her left elbow grazing his right arm.’ she tells Peter: ‘The most loyal friend one could ask for. ‘Italian. ready for anything. bending down at Peter’s side. Peter. She tops up Peter’s over on the mantleshelf. you know. Her stomach is pretty flat. You know those seabirds that never set down on land. She has the most wonderful nipples. Gert dear?’ Viv is holding another bottle of wine in her right fist.’ 277 .’ Peter is looking down at Viv’s breasts. her body at once as though melting.
large and richly framed mirror above. He turns away and gets his glass from the mantleshelf. Viv says at his back: ‘But you are an interesting man. 278 . in the rain. one at either end. He drinks some more wine and this time it tastes better. She moves in close until their breasts touch. yet he is hurt by the exclusion.’ She puts her arm around Viv’s shoulder. He is mildly stoned. but enough. then how it indents the doeskin – very slightly. Beyond it there is something else. Gert smiles broadly: ‘Viv would die if a man did that to her. She says to him: ‘I do not understand how any woman could let a man go near her.’ Peter nods at this. He suspects his own palate is sour – he should have something to eat. Peter sees himself left outside. It adds to the anticlimax. very well conserved moulding along the ceiling. Peter can see how Viv’s nipple buckles under the impact. hoped for nothing. Peter. out far enough for a new perspective. agreeing wholeheartedly with her.’ And Gert adds: ‘That’s different. the world he is excluded from appearing as a grey cloudy ball. Like being left out in the cold. deep wide breast. He can tell himself that he sought nothing here. plenty of space for him in the middle.’ They are back seated on the sofa. Peter thinks: I’m stoned. He goes over and sits down between them. The room looks really fine from here. though he has never entertained this idea before.Peter looks up to see that Viv is looking at him with a kind of compassion. expansive walls either side. as exactly equidistant as he can judge. The wine has soured a bit in the over-warm room. A grand fireplace of an only faintly speckled marble.
Peter thinks it is a shame that so few dope-heads know how good classical music is when you are stoned. Viv leans towards him and asks: ‘Music?’ She is like a magnet to him.No pictures. his lips tingling. and the two women nod to acknowledge that they have heard him. However. I mean.’ 279 . an echo of the tingle running very clearly down into his chest. my dear. Then she adds in a mock official voice: ‘Shoreham by sea. perfectly still. Only two notes have sounded by the time Peter recognises the music. He wouldn’t have the nerve to do what Viv had just done: he would not have been able to avoid the sentimentality. There is utter silence for the twenty minutes or so the performance takes. Peter gets up and goes and stands before the fireplace. but of course cannot while Gert is present. her almost almond eyes widening. Anyway.’ Gert corrects almost instantly.’ Viv lights up. ‘I think we should have something really nice. ‘Whatever you wish. ‘We were on a business trip down here. For the company. She gets up and crosses to one of the cabinets over by the window.’ He would liked to have called her darling. He was hitching a lift to – is it Shoresham?’ ‘Shoreham. The two woman look up at him. Liszt’s Bénédiction on solitude. He knows that he is doting on her and doesn’t mind. And just then Gert says. Afterwards.’ Peter hadn’t intended saying any such thing. Peter leans towards her. he says without any preamble: ‘I met an angel last weekend. it is now said. He has to smile. Viv.
It more a recognition of a far worse situation: Peter will never see Kharib again.’ Gert looks over to Viv – who has sat quiet. Peter cries out. The sensation is quite sudden and painful.’ He stops. Gert now draws Peter to come and sit on the sofa between Viv and herself. he wonders.Peter nods. He had no teeth. and then it came to me as a kind of insight. studying Peter intently. He’s really not up to doing that. no gonads. ‘Well. Not – as you might think – some kind of suppressed grief brought to the surface. he was a he of sorts. Rebecca – who was with me – thought he was a woman. glad of the jokiness: ‘He stayed with me for four days. He wants to do this because he feels he is sagging very noticeably. Skin unnaturally white. Not ever. but according to her. Then she impulsively wraps him in her arms and holds him tightly. Gert gets up and takes Peter by the hand. Stayed in my flat for four days.’ Viv nods at this: ‘And you miss him now?’ This question is like a punch in the stomach. Gert asks. he had a penis – of sorts. It’s awkward this time. no body hair. There’s either nothing more to say or an awful lot to say. He looks at Viv: ‘He followed me to London. It’s obvious to the women. like soft plastic to the touch. Not until afterwards. feeling lame. so it is difficult to lean back. Does he have to go into the utopia business. I didn’t. Peter is perched towards the edge of the seat. She now speaks: ‘Why do you believe he was an angel?’ Peter grimaces. cool then 280 . As though it is squeezed from him. ‘He? Do angels have a gender?’ ‘Well. no nails.
Viv nods to placate him. Gert asks behind him: ‘Do you understand the significance?’ Peter turns to her: ‘Significance?’ Viv says at his back: ‘It doesn’t happen every day. It conveys truth. Peter. as though perhaps taken aback. He can see what Viv means. Gert says from somewhere behind him.’ Peter turns back to Viv. but what he sees is so like the weakness that would be associated with illness – a lack of defence – that he recoils. he was worthy of love. She says. He says to Viv.’ Peter shakes his head emphatically. her feet drawn up under her thighs – her dress rucked up to allow 281 .’ This stops Peter short. Viv lays her hand on his to calm him: ‘An angel is a messenger. seeing as he does that Gert is going over to a low cabinet under one of the windows. Really too late. He showed you something of yourself. words coming just like that: ‘It’s too late. could touch the deepest part. ‘Interesting.’ Viv pauses. Do you know his compassion? His decency?’ Viv raises both her hands now: ‘I don’t mean to argue with you. He sang wonderfully. in a tone suggesting that she is changing the subject: ‘You cannot love an angel.’ She is seated on the floor.’ Peter slumps even more. you know. her eyes searching his face closely. but knows he has managed to say something. then she nods.’ Peter’s head goes up. Now that is very interesting. But Peter insists: ‘No.very warm. his disagreement rising in him with a remarkable vehemence.
Peter dear. as you say. Peter. ‘But. the sheet of paper dangling in his hand. He wants to go now. He was – is – a spiritual being of some sort. they can no longer help us. eyes suddenly sad. It’s his favourite perfume. Peter glances at the sheet: Eight Swords Nine Swords King of Cups Eight Cups Ten Cups Four Swords XIV Temperance Three Wands Four Cups Ace of Swords XI Justice Viv slaps her thighs with a light sound: ‘Right. saying: ‘There’ll come a day when you may want this interpreted. I think that is about it. then. She stands facing him. For me?’ She smiles brightly. These women really have the wrong idea.this – studying an array of brightly coloured cards laid out on the carpet in front of her.’ Peter must nod. an edge in him: ‘Look. she continues: ‘I know it’s a lot of nonsense. 282 . Peter dear. but keep it by you anyway. quite close – so close that he can get her perfume. It was once believed that they helped us. ‘You shouldn’t worry so much.’ She scrambles to her feet – very limber despite her bulk – gets pen and paper from the cabinet. don’t you?’ Peter stands up at once. She jots down a set of names. He says. You should rather expect other people to be able to cope with themselves. rueful. it’s not a matter of categories.’ Viv has stood up also. Like a step too far: like a harmless foible suddenly revealed as a madness.’ Giving him the sheet. then turns away.
Look. you will travel soon. when you get the chance. Like he steps out of context.’ Thoroughly dark now. It will be like escaping from a prison. an infinity of tenderness to Peter’s parched sensibility: ‘You need to learn the value of suffering. a light touch. She shows him one: the three of Wands: ‘See. He knows he had this idea earlier in the evening – yes.’ She finally touches him.Gert comes around to face him: ‘It’s not as bad as that now. Then the sigh of relief all round. ‘You study that.’ Viv adds. Peter thinks at once of a long road. Has he made a fool of himself – i. no other scenario available. travel far. down on the stony beach.’ She points to the sheet in his hand. Peter dear. though she has not even looked at the array on the sheet of paper: ‘You must not always expect love to be complete. not even a glimmer on the far western horizon. down the coast and out on into the ocean. few pedestrians. The after-effect of getting stoned is coming through: the old familiar twinge of combined guilt and unease he gets after he lets go. has he given himself away? The two women seemed tolerably sympathetic right up to the end. Why do we always test for perfection? 283 . dark road going on forever. Not the sometime occurring loss of patience. Why is it not possible simply to be there. then that damning tolerance that is just about maintained up to the very moment of departure.e. even for a minute. without the whole complicated flow of judgement and reaction. There is not much traffic.’ She rifles through the cards she is holding. her hand grasping his.
Good band. Just another large house.’ Peter braves a request which could give the game away – that he is some kind of cultural tourist: ‘Mind if I look around anyway?’ 284 . Good band. as though he is familiar with the culture: ‘Happens.’ he calls back. Yet he knows it – well the pub of sorts that fronts it – immediately. There is a darkish corridor at the back. converted here to a lounge bar type pub. ‘Told there was a gig. No one looks up. with tables and chairs in what once would have been the house’s front garden. they said. The barman comes down the bar till he is closest he can be to Peter: ‘Breakdown. Pity. a lot of hair. painted white. he would not have been able to say. balanced with something as strong as despair – though perhaps only alcoholic melancholy – entering the room. its walls lined with posters. piped music – rumbustious country rock music – mostly men drinking inside. Peter heads this way.’ Peter wheels about immediately. Inside is fairly quiet too. making a point of compliance.’ The barman nods: ‘Right. ‘Still. check shirts.’ He turning away now and an air of resignation. mate.’ Peter nods. To be expected. They may have been the clue: a lot of denim. The building next door is a restaurant. on the other side there is a gym of sorts (a brothel?). A barman calls out: ‘Nothing in there tonight. though. Reckon they got stuck in somewhere on the way. though seeing darkness only at the end of the corridor. A few people sit out of doors. Pity Fred’s such a maniac.If Peter had been asked what the Bunker looked like.
’ A pint? Peter is wry – somewhat stoned.’ Context is very powerful. comes the reply: more like needing glasses for the small print. Yet the chamber itself is not as dark as expected – quite a lot of light getting through down the corridor from the not so dark bar. strong wine too – it’s the culture. There are exactly two seats for the audience: wooden forms for three or four each along the walls either side of the door.The barman waves in the direction of the Bunker: ‘Sure. heavily stained with drink spillage and the juice of ground out butts. three plastic chairs on it. 285 . isn’t it? No. There’s a pint of golden apple juice before him in no time. but painted a deep red with heavy outdoor paint. Only now does Peter notice the windows. It would hold at most about thirty people. A wooden platform of sorts. Sips the cider in the corridor. two panes of thick frosted glass in each. That’s the culture. A broken pane in one provides the only ventilation. Now he can enter the Bunker. so Peter finds it very difficult to go down that dark corridor without a drink in his hand. The concrete blocks out of which the Bunker was constructed are unplastered. high up opposite each other to left and right. a single fluorescent light strip for illumination. He turns quickly before the barman has moved away: ‘Can I have a pint of cider. for the detail. less if anyone danced. The floor is raw concrete. Fire away. and three banks of electric outlets staggered in a line along the back wall. Dry. The ceiling is painted black. Getting dimmer round about.
then I hope you never will. I’ll lose my mind When you get work. He can follow all the syncopation in detail. This could go on. Got up this morning and put on my shoes ‘cos I knew I had the walking blues Said I got up this morning. He takes a large mouthful of the cider. It’s Son House: Walking Blues. the held notes. just in from the door. I know that now I had the walking blues.Peter sits on the form to the left. It’s like the way the blues take you down and at the same time lift you up. wanting to lose himself in its spirit and find the something or someone the area intimated. I was feeling round for my shoes. arising from memory. boys. And I said. The beat is so insistent that his stomach muscles pump in time. When you get work then drop me a line If I don’t go crazy. driving a pleasant sensation down into his loins. I said. remembers drinking cider in the pubs of Street and Glastonbury. sit down and drop me a line 286 . the wonderful interplay of harp and banjo running in the background. Like giving something up in order to gain something else. honey. The blues ain’t nothing but the shakin chill If you ain’t had them I hope you never will Oh the blues is a lowdown worst shakin chill If you ain’t had them. Like stepping back in order to focus on something. It’s very clear and yet he knows it is inside himself. but Peter can hear music.
Mostly young men sitting at the bar with pints before them. this is great. Then it’s like a flash. Some students tried to have a rave. or so it seems. about reining in for some task that is to come. exposed skin on his arms goosepimpling. He finds he is shivering. ‘That riot messed it all up anyway. so cold in his gut. The place is cold. that will reach the moon.’ Peter nods now. Peter goes back into the bar. Peter shakes his head. veritable party time: Peter pumping the beat. that will swell up into the sky. It’s warmer here. remembering. This is fine. I heard. Peter feels that – like Superman in the childhood comics – he is bursting out of his clothes. remarkably cool about the experience. He hears about something like patience. 287 .’ Peter looks quizzical. The barman is standing nearby. There is some power in him that is on the point of breaking out. The irony falls flat: Call it me. stony cold. the stars. Peter jumps to his feet and steps into the centre of the room. the sun. The cider is so cold in the glass in his hand. He says. Police broke it up. Call it impatience. A power that could take the universe and roll it into a ball and… Lasts about two seconds. Then he hears Kharib talking.If I don’t go crazy then I’ll lose my mind. so cold where its influence runs in his veins. almost able to make a stab at the lyrics. the whole ensemble getting it on in his head. that will expand out through the walls and up through the ceiling. ‘Over in Victoria Gardens.
Like something coming to an end. and everyone is in it. They go where it’s quieter. of going nowhere. coming home. toy money. colder. Like toys being put away for good: the toy houses. ‘People stay away. of going at all. Disposal.’ The barman shrugs. but of course in thinking this idea of disposition as the conveyor belt of history. Peter thinks of disposal. out into the utter dark. Light glints on the tossing sea. toy biz. He can find no way down. he also thinks of its opposite – of no plan. towards the bright lights at the entrance to the pier. Peter can walk to this line of thought: disposition like being one step ahead at each moment. be on time for work next whenever. Reflective. toy boys and girls. It’s the sea that attracts him. so he walks on into the west. with the sea to his left that gets deeper and deeper the further west you go. the police break it up.’ Peter has finished his drink. Time to go. Not maudlin. He wonders if he will come back from this. Why do anything? 288 . toy offices. here and there. Peter is about forty feet tall. He can’t believe he will – mark of a good trip. Peter thinks this. on nodding terms with the long hill that is the Downs over there on the right. Like everything going to plan. No matter where they try. Like there is a plan.‘Every time they try. darker. toy sex. the bitter brine like a cold metal that is reforming him. getting deeper. Sure. thinking of making an arrangement. A light on the horizon: going away. Peter crosses the road to the wall overlooking the seafront.
Sad. Read a text two thousand years old. That’s it. Peter sheds a single tear. like clear water flowing in him. too. He sees Rebecca in a flash. lovely Rebecca. all day. her fragrance. Peter is standing where Kharib stood when Rebecca first saw him. A big sigh. drunken laughter off to the right. Peter turns away from the sea now. Getting up for work in the morning. towards the sunrise line. standing outside the closing pier. Nothing abides. He is careful crossing the road. Complete for all eternity.Answer? Nothing abides. 289 . Very sad. Peter is standing on the pavement outside the entrance to the pier. The gratitude. Trains running from London to Brighton for well over a hundred years. To the east. and yet there is discernible order. There are people here. hitching a ride. overwhelming. But something got in the way. A security guard is escorting some stragglers from the pier. getting the message. It’s like Kharib guaranteed something between Rebecca and himself. Rock abiding over aeons. people who seem to have nowhere else to go. For a moment Peter loves wholly and intensely. cars coming off the London Road like stones from a sling. The relief is tremendous. her long waist. Peter thinks. Peter and Rebecca should have been one. How many generations of sparrows? Of beetles? Peter nods. Having crossed the road. He manages it. every day.
both veering sharply. this time heading for what seems like another island. He walks to the edge of the footpath – fairly wide here – and surveys the café from the outside. The café he had seen the previous week. Peter is stunned. or where they are going. This time. very drunk. though the blond might be the effect of the white strip lighting. The way out of here is to cross the London stream again. He does this in case there might be a draught on the nearest diners. but also serving to animate – re-animate – some part of himself. It’s not clear where they are coming from. The café is familiar. it’s not an island. a silly amusement. Well. A group of young people is sitting under some bushes. Pathways extend in both directions. one ranting loudly. The building is a café. so that he must give it an extra push. It’s like coming ashore. The café is still open. why not a supper before the train back to London? Peter goes in the modest little door – that sticks as it closes over. however. both ultimately heading back the way Peter has come. It’s the colour of the walls. though Peter is certain he has never been in it before. Now he has landed beside a building. Well. the end-ofthe-world café. He 290 . around which a steady flow of cars move. a kind of melodramatic reaction that throws him. Time to cross again. there is little or no traffic.he finds himself on a sort of traffic island. He runs out of the café – dragging the door behind him. A kind of rusty blond. Peter can gather his wits – something he has always believed he can do regardless of how stoned he is – then it’s a matter of running at the first opportunity. Peter can amuse himself with this idea. Peter nonetheless makes a dash for it.
The woman gets a tray from under the counter: places a cup and saucer. one hand fidgeting with the handle. Oh. Peter sees another old man. Behind. So. He can picture his first sighting of it so clearly. Peter asks for mustard. overjoyed. The sandwich is wrapped in cellophane. The café is just the way Peter thinks it should be. The woman here puts her cigarette in a metal ashtray over by the sink. She lays her hands flat on the counter and waits. not looking up. a stout middle aged woman is eating chips with her fingers. He lets out a whoop and runs back into the café. A young couple sit just by the door. Down by the windows sits a lone old man. head bent over a cup and saucer. feeling again the poignancy. It’s stoned crazy over-joy. 291 . Finally. talking earnestly.nods. she fills a small aluminium pot with boiling water from an urn – the tea. two packets of milk – long life milk – a handful of sachets of sugar. a plastic spoon. It is like a waiting room. the sort of giving way to pleasure impossible when sober. obviously after the salt and vinegar remaining there. heads bent together across the table. Peter loves this idea. He finds his way to the counter. Just now she is sucking the forefinger and thumb of her right hand. He lets it play in his imagination. At once the end walls recede and rows of table and chairs come into being. talking to himself at an empty table. Peter orders a ham sandwich and a pot of tea. Further back. this one pretty drunk. He remembers to push the door shut. extending away into an infinite darkness in both directions.
one over by the windows. then it strikes him that the future section should be empty. beside the till. bites again into the sandwich. Peter lays out his things. His instinct is to face towards the door. Now the question arises: which way should he face. drinks some tea. Cup and saucer. The tables and chairs are arrayed in three rows down the café. He avoids the boredom of eating the wretched fare by letting his imagination run again. Now tea is poured. Dead centre. so that there would be no people to inhabit it. Now the question: where to sit. Peter reaches for a side plate. one parallel to the counter. side plate. The ham is pretty shiny. Time to eat. then looks up and pulls her hand away. He sits facing the door. At first he believes he has no way of deciding this. the café is again endless. Peter cuts open the wrapping on the sandwich. there is mustard. A yellow sachet is dropped onto the tray.Surprisingly. little milk packet open and milk added to the tea. Teapot in place. He wonders: which way am I facing? Into the future or back into the past. Peter takes a plastic knife. 292 . The woman reacts as though to stop him. Peter pays. The woman waits. Instantly. head down again. Peter eats. but – well – this is a café. He takes a folded napkin. The exact centre here is about halfway between the door and the woman’s station behind the counter. shiny and non-absorbent. plastic cutlery are laid out. slits the sachet with the knife and spreads mustard. Fine. the third between them – the middle row. for the sandwich. because nothing has happened there yet.
of course. a student by her dress. Peter asks himself: which way – despite the circular nature of the phantom extension – is forward and which is backwards? He thinks he should be able to work this out. He is looking into the past. an art student by its waywardness: foxy tight red skirt. The answer that comes seems extremely lucid. He blinks and the phantasm is gone. It’s like moving onto the next part. Actually. Yet he misses it. loose transparent bottle293 . he feels he ought to work it out. Peter has finished the sandwich. Peter is relieved that he could rid himself of it so quickly. Peter knows this. Peter turns around and studies the extension behind him. The tea cannot cut it. Its staleness cloys his palate. There should be no one there. It’s like a test passed. This time he notices that there is a curvature in the extension: it is curving upwards at a very shallow rate. The hairs on his neck are crawling. Peter turns back to face the table. Anyway. Which mean: if you were to walk up that way – allowing that this is possible – you would eventually return here. just like that. The street door opens and in come three people. He blinks. two men and a woman. He studies it. and it is back again.From where he sits he can discern vague figures seated at the shadowy tables that extent that way beyond the café. Which way do you think you are facing? Backward. He will have this taste in his mouth until he gets back to London. So that must be the past. Peter. She is young. almost obvious. There are many shadowy forms at the ghostly tables. starts with the woman.
Peter doesn’t think this is the artist’s style. Yet the artist starts off in that direction. long violet silk scarf trailing the ground. She goes back to close the door. Peter hands are clutching. his lips are throbbing. like a grunt. as it were. walking rapidly forward in little spurts. One of the men makes a sound. arms out like a child imitating an aeroplane. even though she is of less than average height. round head. Something like cartooning. The artist one is looking around the café. his penis is red hot. 294 . a place that fills when she practices her art.blue blouse. larger. swinging her slender hips. The big man moves smoothly in his wake. He knows he will need a response. The second man is taller. sees that he is looking down at the old drunk muttering to himself at the empty table. buttocks rising and falling in concert. Peter knows he thinks he is an artist. The girl seems to jerk away from the door and then flow after them. his physical presence. He follows that artist’s eyes. some outré modern art form requiring remarkable technical skill but with an almost un-interpretable product. Which is…which is…Peter can’t quite get it. his arms are itching. milk white skin. light hair piled up on her head. She has the most beautiful slender legs that Peter has ever seen. Peter sees that he is in some sense the other man’s body. dark mascara around her shining eyes. So Peter must switch attention. Peter also knows now that the girl is more talented than the man: it exists in her like an absence. really beefy. and Peter realises that they might be trouble for someone here. Bright red lipstick. coming apart at the back. The man in front is no taller than the girl. keeping place.
That might be so. And he’s not drunk. even though her pretty feet twinkle along in their shiny Indian slippers. Perhaps the balloon is attached by a long length of string to the child’s wrist or to a button hole on its coat. Peter knows that this is a false judgement. a delicious daydream late at night. then it’s not familiar. not sunk in apathy. as it were. she is like a balloon: she seems not aware that she is being towed. Now our artist taps the drunk very lightly on the crown of his head and turns away until he is looking right down the café in the other direction. almost a disembodied image. but very pretty she is like that. like a piece of pop he may have overheard on a radio. It is familiar. stoned. The artist bends over the drunk. then sees that the big boy is rocking his head to a beat. The girl is floating to the rear. Then the sound stops receding.She is like a helium balloon a child might tow behind it. He knows this. 295 . perhaps miming a butterfly among the flowers. looking at nothing. Peter thinks at first that he might be threatening the old lad. this time some complicated undulation in his walk. at a party. he’ll have no excuse for not responding. his mouth moving. He is singing. Actually. This man is going to come and serenade him next. down past Peter. and Peter can hear something of it as he passes over by the counter. he doesn’t knows what the man is doing: perhaps he is just drunk. then he knows that is just paranoia – worst case scenario. So the artist saunters forth. Actually he is singing: Peter can see the rhythmic movement of the artist’s mouth. mad. Anyway. and Peter knows he is about to torment his second victim. but Peter is now aware that he is next. The truth is. along.
an unpleasant perfume wafting from the blotched neck of the big woman in front of him. The door is about twenty feet away. a man’s gonads warm again his right buttock. And if you could find the God ego – the ego that is now the Almighty God – it would become all that the other egos are. Hide somewhere there until the next train to London. and he knows something else too: once upon an eon. all these egos coexisted together. Every ego absolutely separate from every other ego. before time. Peter thinks this: If he could get as far as he could away from all the people in the world. And if he were crowded into a rush hour Tube train. he would be no further away from them than he is now from the man who is approaching him from the rear. Every ego infinitely far away and infinitely close to every other ego. if he strains his eyes somewhat – which he does – discern away at the back of the 296 . Peter knows all this. so close together that they were all just one ego. before creation. Stand up and walk briskly to the door. Peter realises. or to the lovely pixie he tows along absently behind him. And what’s more.What to do? Peter thinks: get out. Peter can. It’s like that. or his big bruiser of a companion. Walk to the station. Don’t look back. And yet: every ego is practically identical to every other ego. Yet if you could reach in among these egos and take out one – say the ego of the poor unfortunate drunk at the back of the café – it would become that one ego that all the other egos are. a woman’s breasts resting on his left arm. Instead. and that includes the Almighty God ego. he could be no closer to that same man who is approaching him. say to some Robinson Crusoe island far away in the middle of an ocean.
The artist is singing still. has to pay attention at last to this stranger: ‘…out here in the perimeter there are no stars…’ the face presses up close to his. to lay his head on her shoulder and forget everything. It is an extremely satisfying insight. an ambiguity there now: the face is blinding Peter to everything else – including perhaps some painful assault: ‘…out here we is stoned…’ The man pauses. the radiant fairy even more beautiful from close up. green eyes bloodshot. 297 . as the song requires a pause. It is a perfect wonder to be able to see back to that Origin. can hear Morrison’s angry growl. at the Origin. Now he recognises it. before all our troubles began. He turns in his seat. She is so beautiful that Peter simply aches all over to touch her. to his left so his legs can swing out into the passageway between the rows. bit by bit as he approaches. his big friend right behind him. and he knows that this is that congeries of egos way back at the Beginning.past extension a pinprick of staggeringly brilliant light. Peter has to take his eyes from the sylph. Peter is so happy. and sees that the artist man has come round into this passageway in order to approach him. Morrison preparing to spring his ultimate heresy on the Western world. Peter can begin to make out the words. pained with a horrible frustration. and. the threatening tones of a reject: ‘…forget the night live with us in forests of azure…’ the face comes closer.
the word rising cleanly from his throat: ‘…immaculate.But it is Peter who continues.’ 29 November 2006 298 . perfect as to beat and pitch.
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