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I’m on the train again.
Taking up where I left off yesterday afternoon, it was my mother at the door. She came in with a pullover.
“It’s your father’s, but he never wears it.”
I could see why not. It was grim.
“Oh, thank you very much,” I said.
I’m going to give it to Eric for Christmas. Christmas! If only there was some way of avoiding it.
I was looking at my mother and I thought of something which was quite revolutionary to my way of thinking about her.
“You know, it’s very odd.” I said. “I always thought that you were the impossible one and I could never understand why Dad didn’t divorce you ....”
“Ralph!” she gasped.
“..... but the odd thing is that since I’ve been down here now, I’ve come to see that it is in fact the other way around. He’s the impossible one. How come you’ve never left him?”
She became thoughtful.
“I mean, I hope you don’t mind my asking - but have you ever thought of it?”
“Well, obviously, I’ve thought of it.”
“I did actually leave him once.”
“You didn’t? When?”
“When you were fifteen.”
“I never knew that.”
“You were at school.”
“I went to a hotel. I don’t know why I’m telling you this ..... “
“Go on. It’s interesting. Which hotel?”
“Were you .... I mean .... were you on your own?”
“I wasn’t running off with another man, if that’s what you mean.”
“There’s nothing wrong in that,” I said. “It happens all the time.”
“Well it hasn’t happened to me.”
“Never mind,” I said. “So what happened?”
“Well, obviously, I went back to him. The next day.”
We sat there in silence for a while, her remembering and me attempting to imagine that one night, sixteen years ago: my mother all alone in Brown’s Hotel.
“Why did you go back?” I asked.
“I think for the same reason that I left.”
“You’ll have to explain that.”
“I don’t think I can,” said my mother. “Where else was I to go? We all have our cross to bear. Your father’s mine.”
How’d you like that?
I joined them for supper in the flat. It was stew. My mother’s stew is almost as good as mine, which is not surprising, as I got the recipe off her in the first place. My father has not cooked anything for himself ever.
They pulled out the table in the living-room, and we ate on that.
I told them I would be coming back to London this morning and that I would let them know about the wedding. Then mum and dad had an argument about going to Australia - and dad threatened to cancel the tickets.
“I just can’t see the point in going to Australia,” said my father.
“Oh for God’s sake,” said my mother, “there isn’t any point. There isn’t any point in anything.”
She pushed back her chair, went into the bedroom and slammed the door.
I shook my head and tutted.
He shrugged and gave me an awkward smile.
“How long’s Mum been grey?” I asked.
“Oh, your mother’s been grey for years.”
“Really? How many years?”
“She went grey when you went away to school.”
“But ever since she came down here, she stopped dying it. Couldn’t see the point.”
Then my father went off to play snooker with Earp.
I cleared the table and washed up, said goodnight through the bedroom door and retreated to my room, where I put a call through to Orson.
“Joan has just been telling me about your diary,” he said.
“Is it true?”
“Is what true?”
“That you took that pill?”
“Of course not,” I said, absolutely without a moment’s hesitation. “I told you. I chucked it away.”
“Well why did you say you took it?”
“I never said that.”
“Joan says she read it in your diary.”
“If Joan goes around reading other people’s private diaries, she’s bound to get the wrong end of the stick.”
“He says he didn’t take it,” I heard Orson say, presumably to Joan.
“How is she?” I asked.
“Just about as well as you’d expect anybody to be who hasn’t eaten for eighteen days. What? Oh, sixteen days. Look, Ralph, where are you?”
“I’m not anywhere,” I said. “Goodbye, Orson.”
I hung up. I went to sleep. I stayed in my room till noon. Then I checked out and strolled up to the station and climbed onto this train, and here comes Battersea Power Station, and here I nearly am.
I walked all the way from Victoria to Eric and Chloe’s house in Chiswick. It only took me a couple of hours. I was wearing my father’s brogues. Halfway there I had to take them off and change back into my sneakers. I stopped at two McDonalds en route, in High Street Kensington, and then at the one in Hammersmith. I had a quarter pounder with cheese in each one.
Eric and Chloe were in, as was Mavis, their nanny/au pair, and the two children. Children are simply a nuisance. You can’t carry on a decent conversation when they’re around. Coco went up to bed at six, and Dylan finally retired at eight, when Eric and Chloe had to go out to dinner somewhere. I asked them if it would be alright if I stayed. Chloe was far from keen on the idea. What with her being Joan’s best and closest friend, she felt that giving me shelter would be something of a betrayal. But Eric said it would be fine with him - and I acknowledged the fact that Chloe had made an official complaint.
One person who was extremely pleased with my advent was Mavis, who has taken advantage of my presence here by going out. So here I am - baby-sitting.
Bauhaus meets Glynn Boyd Harte meets Laskys in the Epstein household. The Corbusier furniture and the arsenal of hi-fi and video equipment are all Eric. The Glynn Boyd Harte, the colour, is Chloe’s input. I am sitting here at the Corbusier table in the huge open-plan downstairs. Everything is open and well-lit. There are no dark corners in this house. I’ve just been watching a programme called Birth Reborn about this French surgeon called Michel Odent - Mike Otooth in English - who runs a maternity unit in Pithiviers in France. Pithiviers, home of the eponymous pie.
I found myself imagining Joan giving birth to our child.
The weird thing is that on the one hand I got pretty excited by the idea, but on the other hand it made me feel ill.
Do I have dynastic longings in me?
Oooh, I forgot. While I was walking here, at one point I started counting my footsteps - to pass the time. It did not take me long to reach 169. I stopped and thought about it. I started again and soon reached 169 again. I stopped counting and carried on walking, and as I walked, my mind worked its way round to this extraordinary discovery: My birthday is on June 18. And, guess what, June 18 is the 169th day of the year!
Well so what? So what! What difference does it make? Supposing I was, supposing I am, well, suppose there is something special about me. Alright, let’s go the whole hog. Suppose that, for want of a better word, I am the messiah. Well, it’s perfectly bonkers. I mean, the whole point about Christ is not who he was, but what he said and did. Had he never said all that stuff, he wouldn’t have been anybody at all, never mind who his daddy was.
Look, you, God, the big whoever-you-are - if you think you’re going to get any mileage out of me, you’ve got another thing coming. I am no messiah. All I want is a nice quiet life.
Oh dear. Oh shit. How about this for a thought?
If I have children, will they be immortal too?
Or do both parents have to be immortal? And if so, is that the clincher as far as not marrying Joan is concerned?
I am really loving this book and I can hardly wait to see what the next instalment brings. See you tomorrow!