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All right. I’m convinced. I’m immortal.
And I’ll tell you this for nothing, dear diary: if you’re feeling suicidal, immortality sucks.
So now what? Where does that leave me?
Apart from the fact that we both died and came back to life again as ourselves on the third day, are there any other similarities between Jesus Christ of Nazareth and Ralph Conway of Cricklewood? Are there? Are there, my eye! A bowl of spaghetti is more messianic than me …. than I. Do I love mankind? No, I do not. Do I want to save it? No, I do not. Do I wish I was dead? Yes I bloody do. Now hold on a minute there, Ralph. Don’t get hysterical. Let’s take this nice and easy. What’s happened exactly?
What’s happened? I’ll tell you what’s happened. I’ll tell you exactly what’s happened. What’s happened is that I’ve died and come back to life as myself again, AGAIN!
We’re moving! I’m on a train, going to Brighton.
Sunday? I’ll tell you what happened to Sunday. On Sunday, I was dead. It was Remembrance Sunday too. Remembrance Sunday always reminds me of Remembrance Sunday at school. We used to have this outdoor service round the Norman staircase, and the Archbishop would come, looking windswept - and it would always snow during the service. When I was at school, it would always snow without fail during the service on Remembrance Sunday.
At first I did not know what was going on.
I seemed to be lying face down on the carpet, between the settee and the coffee table.
I could hear the sound of knocking. Then the ringing of a bell. It dawned on me that there was someone at the door.
As per one in a dream, I went to the door and opened it ..... and there was Alison, standing on the mat. I sensed at once that her mood was not friendly.
“Where’ve you been?” she demanded. “You promised you’d be here, when I got back.”
“I am here,” I said.
“You weren’t here, when I got back at ten o’clock this morning.”
She pushed past me.
“What day is it?” I wondered.
“What do you mean, what day is it? It’s Monday. What day do you think it is?”
“I don’t know. Are you sure it’s Monday?”
“Of course I’m bloody sure,” yelled Alison.
“What time is it?
“It’s bloody four o’clock in the poxy afternoon!”
So, it was Monday. I was alive - and it was Monday.
Alison scanned the room with a beady eye.
“What’ve you been up to in here?”
She crossed to the coffee table and plucked the empty valium bottle from the debris there.
“Are these mine?” She inspected the bottle. “They are mine.” She upturned it. “It’s empty.”
I wasn’t quite sure what to say.
“I had a job to do today. I needed these.”
“Sorry,” I said, lamely.
Poor old Alison, unable to cope with the rigours of her chosen profession without pharmaceutical support.
“This bottle was practic’ly full. What’ve you done with them?”
She glared at me. I shrugged, uncertain as to how I should respond.
“Don’t tell me you’ve taken the whole sodding bottle.”
“I’ll get you some more,” I offered.
“You actually swallowed all them pills?”
“Yes,” I confessed.
“Bollocks,” she said. “I don’t believe you.”
“Why would I lie?”
“Why aren’t you dead?”
“Aha,” I said.
“Aha? What’s that supposed to mean?”
I blinked my eyes and cleared my throat: “Well, you see, that’s the whole thing. I was.”
“Dead. But then, you see, I came back to life again – as myself.”
I gave her a somewhat sheepish smile.
She folded her arms and gave me a flinty look and then produced the following speech:
“I’m disappointed in you, Ralph. I am. I really thought you were something a little bit special. I did. But you know what you are? What you are is a total fucking tosser. And you know what you can do? You can piss off. Piss right off back to where you come from. And don’t come back.”
Then she gave me a quivering finger. Nail a nasty weapon. Long. Blood red. Vicious.
It wasn’t quite the Mary Magdalen sort of response I had been hoping for.
I shrugged, stepped up to the coffee table, picked up this book and went to the front door
Good point. Her keys were in my pocket. I handed them over and departed.
The air in the street hit me. It’s been another icy sky-blue day. As I staggered home, the evening came along and swallowed it up.
I stood in the street outside our big white house. There were lights on in the basement in Orson’s flat. His car was parked nose to nose with Joan’s in the street. I crept up the stone steps and let myself into the building. I stepped across the hall, without recourse to the time-switch light. I felt for our key-hole in the dark, crouched and applied my eye to it. As far as I could see and hear, there was no-one in. I inserted my key and then I was in the kitchen. In the dark, Alison’s block towered against the sky.
More than anything then, I wanted a bath. No hot water. If the heating engineers did come, they didn’t do anything. It was damp and freezing in there. I could have gone downstairs and used Orson’s - but I did not want to speak to him, and I did not want to speak to Joan, who was missing, presumed downstairs with him. Unless she was ....
“Joan?” Pause. “Joan?”
I went through to the bedroom, treading lightly. I did not want them to hear me moving about on their ceiling. No, she wasn’t in the bedroom.
I switched on the kettle and located the hot water bottle, which was half under the bed. While I waited, shivering, for the kettle to boil, a cockroach crawled out from underneath an unwashed plate, nonchalantly crossed the kitchen counter and inserted itself into a crack in the splashback. I shuddered.
Glancing up, I saw a new moon in the sky. Must have been hitherto hidden by a cloud. It’s one of those skies tonight. You can’t tell where the clouds end and the sky begins.
I reached, somewhat self-consciously, into my pocket for a coin to turn. When you see the new moon, you turn a coin in your pocket and make a wish, or so my Mother always told me.
“Go on, Ralphie, make a wish,” I heard her say.
“I wish ..... I wish ..... I wish .....”
Well, I couldn’t think what to wish.
The kettle boiled.
I wished: “I wish I knew what to do about all this.”
I turned the coin in my pocket, and filled the hot water bottle, which I carried through to the bedroom. I climbed into the bed, got under the blankets. Joan hates duvets. It was cold and damp in the bed. I hugged the bottle, and rubbed my stockinged feet back and forth on the sheets. The friction produced a pittance of heat.
What the fuck was I doing here – shivering in this dump?
I considered the cockroach.
It seemed unlikely to me that that cockroach was a lone operator. It seemed highly probable to me that that cockroach had friends. In Fat Freddy’s Cat, the cockroaches operate like an army. There are thousands and thousands of them. The one I saw was probably a scout, who was doubtless even now reporting back to base. Cockroaches like heat, don’t they? And protein. In this godforsaken Siberian waste, which used to be my home, it dawned on me that I was the only source of either of these two commodities.
I had to get out
But where could I go?
I could go and stay at my club. Only thing is, I don’t belong to one.
I suppose I could always crash at the Epsteins. What, and be lectured at by Chloe? No, thank you.
Orson was out. I mean, he was in, but out of the question.
I’d blotted my copy-book irrevocably, I reckoned, at Alison’s. That quivering finger of hers had a definite air of finality about it.
I tried to think of someone else in London on whom I could descend out of the blue. Nobody came to mind. Ten years ago, everybody slept on everybody else’s floor, dropped in and out at all hours of the day and night. These days you have to make an appointment.
“You could always go and stay with the ‘rents,” I suggested to myself.
“You must be joking,” I replied.
But then I thought: Why not? After all, there is still that mystery surrounding your birth, which more than ever now needs clearing up. So if you go, you will be doing something constructive.