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I don’t normally listen at keyholes, but I couldn’t help overhearing this conversation between Eric and Chloe this morning - in which Eric was wondering if he ought to suggest to me that I go and see a psychiatrist. Mavis was in the upstairs bathroom. I descended a flight and was about to go into theirs, when I heard Chloe say: “Who?”
To which Eric replied: “Ralph.”
I was riveted.
“If anyone needs a psychiatrist,” said Chloe, “it’s you.”
“What for?” asked Eric in a mystified tone of voice.
“For offering him a job.”
“He’ll be fine.”
“You’ve got a short memory when it suits you.”
“Anyway, he won’t take it.”
“Huh. It’s so depressing having him festering in that room.”
The idea of me going to see a psychiatrist is ridiculous. The biggest mistake I ever made was leaving this confounded book where Joan could get her prying little eyes on it. I don’t know - maybe it’s all worked out for the best. If she ever thought I entertained the notion of being immortal, she now knows I must have been disillusioned. But when she read this, I had not yet died up at Alison’s flat and really come back to life again as myself three days later. That’s still my secret, and I’m hanging onto it. I’m hanging onto it.
There’s been a good Sunday feeling in the house today. Eric has all the Sunday papers of course. Mavis took the children out, and we settled down with a forest or two of newsprint and the television. The efficiency of the Epstein central heating is such that Chloe could quite comfortably lounge about on the floor in nothing but knickers and a large T-shirt. Joan is always banging on about me fancying Chloe. I always say I don’t, which has, what’s more, been true. Or more or less true. But she was sitting there, leaning on her hand, with her left leg out and her right leg bent, and I found myself looking at the little strip of mons-hugging white cotton that was ... you know. Eric had his nose in the News of the World. Chloe was studying the Observer.
And then, what with one thing and another, I found myself considering this part of Chloe’s anatomy in more detail and the phrase, Chloe’s clitoris, just sort of popped into my mind. Chloe’s Clitoris! It sounds like one of those French films. If you enjoyed “Clare’s Knee”, you’ll love “Chloe’s Clitoris”!
And, what with one thing and another, these musings gave me a ferocious hard-on under the Sunday Times Colour Supplement, which I had let fall onto my lap. Then Chloe looked at me and saw to which part of her anatomy my eyes were glued. I think I may also have been licking my lips at the time. Our eyes met. Mine probably looked lecherous and embarrassed. Hers were annoyed. She pulled the T-shirt well down over her bum. I averted my eyes to the television, just as the Blue Danube Waltz began to emerge from it.
Twice in two days! It’s always the way. My raging erection subsided as I became sucked into the film, which was “Goodbye Mr Chips”, starring Robert Donat. And anyway, Chloe’s got herpes. Or so Joan tells me.
The tears started from the moment that Mr Chips ran down the railway platform in Vienna and proposed marriage to the girl, whom he loved, but whose address he did not know, as her train pulled out of the station. They kept on coming. They just sort of leaked out of my eyes. But the crunch came when - there’s this boy at the school called Collie, or Collis, Collie, I can’t remember which. Anyway, on his first day at the school, this Collie gets into a fight with one of the local boys. Come World War 1, Collie becomes an officer in the army. Before he goes off to the front, he comes to say goodbye to Mr Chips - and guess who his batman is. Yes, it’s that lower class lad with whom he fought on the first day of school all those years ago.
It was when Mr Chips announced to the boys in the school that this Collie had been killed going to save the life of his batman, not realising that the batman was already mortally wounded - it was this that for some inexplicable reason sparked off a veritable explosion of grief inside me, which, loth as I was to give them any grounds for the Ralph-needs-a-psychiatrist cause, I found I couldn’t contain. Whoosh! Out it all came in a great heaving sob. I buried my head in my hands and sobbed away like a good’un. At which point, the children came in with Mavis, and I beat a retreat upstairs. There’s nothing like a damn good cry. I felt limp, but purged. I heard the front doorbell ring away downstairs and wondered who it was. Shortly afterward, Eric came up and told me that Normal and Hilarious had arrived, which is what he calls his parents behind their back. Their real names are Norman and Hilary. Eric sat down on the bed.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
“Well, we all know what F.I.N.E.’s an acronym for.”
“Fucked-up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional.”
I told Eric I’d come downstairs in a minute. I splashed cold water on my face. My eyes looked a bit red. I had some Murine in my jacket. When I went to get it, I came across the letter from my bank. I sat down on the bed and opened it. It was one of those chillingly formal letters that tell you you’ve reached your limit and as of now all cheques will be bounced. It was dated the sixteenth. With any luck they’ll be bouncing the cheque for dinner in Brighton - at least I’ll be revenged on the tinned green beans.
Otherwise, the outlook is grim. Grim. I have £360 in my deposit account, and my current account is £485 overdrawn. Money. I hate, hate, hate money. Why should I have to worry about bloody money?
I went downstairs.
Mr and Mrs Epstein were very pleased to see me. Most of the discussion centred around Christmas and what Dylan wanted in the way of presents. The last thing I need at this juncture is Christmas. I’ve never known Christmas not to occur at anything other than the most inconvenient time.
There was a programme on genetic engineering, which I’d missed earlier in the week and which was being repeated. Eric recorded it and said I could watch it later. I went out for a walk. It was wet and blowy. On the walk, I imagined that instead of going back to Eric and Chloe et al, I was going back to Joan and Cosmo, and that we were married. We got married in a church with all the trimmings. I pictured Joan pregnant with our second child. Tomorrow, I’d go off to work in my company car, to my £15,000 a year job: just like any normal boring trendy middle-class person. I conjured up this vision of myself - and I liked it. Ralph the Provider.
So this is the final capitulation. This is what I’ve decided. Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I am going to propose formal marriage to Joan. Apart from anything else, what with one thing and another, marrying Joan, when you consider the alternatives, well, the word convenient springs to mind. Somehow or other, the idea of a marriage of convenience is much more acceptable to me. I mean, if a marriage is not convenient, what is the point in it?
And now I shall go and watch that programme on genetic engineering.
I'm really glad I was able to take part in this opportunity. It's rare that we are offered the chance to read a book, collectively on a blog before the book is released. I can't wait for the release date so I can pick up a copy for my bookshelf. How are you all liking it so far?