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We returned home from Eric and Chloe’s at about one o’clock this morning. What Chloe did to that chicken, I wouldn’t do to my worst enemy. And she followed it up with a soggy pumpkin pie. Before dinner we had to traipse round Chiswick with the Epstein offspring dressed up as refugees from a nightmare. Horrible Halloween. I do not approve of trick or treating. Call me old-fashioned, but I have always understood that extortion with threats was at best anti-social and, more accurately, a crime.
Eric opened a bottle of the ‘66 Latour I sold him when I went on the wagon. I told him it still had at least five more years to go before beginning even to approach its full maturity.
“Seems pretty good to me,” said he, knocking it back.
After dinner, Eric and I watched the John Carpenter film, “Halloween”, on Eric’s video machine. Joan and Chloe persisted in talking while the film was on, so we had to banish them.
When it was over, I said: “That was extremely silly.”
Eric said: “That was extremely brilliant.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” I said.
“Are you kidding? Do you have any idea how much money this movie’s made?”
“What’s that got to do with it?”
“Oh, for God’s sake, Ralph. That’s the whole point.”
Friendship is weird. Why am I friends with Eric?
En route home, Joan asked me if I still fancied Chloe.
“I don’t fancy Chloe,” I protested. “I fancy you.”
“Huh,” said Joan.
“Huh yourself,” said I.
When we arrived back here, we went to bed, and then we were making love, and Joan was participating enthusiastically - up to the point at which penetration was on the very verge of being effected.
At which point, Joan said: “Hang on a second, Ralph. There’s something I have to tell you.”
I began to move forward regardless, but one of Joan’s hands arrested my eager member.
“I’ve had my coil removed,” she said.
“Ah,” I said and looked down into her adorable little face. My upper arm muscles, such as they are, began to quiver, as an incredible conflict immediately broke out between the storm of protest this pronouncement caused in my brain and the fever of impatience and lust which was seething away down there in Joan’s hand - which now began a certain squeezing and pulling.
“Hey, that’s not fair,” I protested.
“Come on, Ralph, there’s nothing to be scared of.”
For a moment there, I almost, almost, plunged in regardless, swept along on a strange kind of wave of excitement.
But at the very last possible moment, a little detumescent voice inside my head said: “Don’t be a fool, Ralph. Children are out of the question. You know that.”
“Get off me, you wart,” said Joan, inoffensively.
I got off her, and there we were in the dark bedroom, side by side. Moonlight was coming in through the window and illuminating the proceedings. Strange African rhythms also came in through the window, up from the adjacent Anson Hall, where whatever was going on was still going on strong. I found myself concentrating on these rhythms and wishing they would stop.
Then it struck me that Joan had not had her coil removed at all. She had been winding me up. I was sure of it. Joan is many things, but she is not the kind of person who would - I mean, she would have told me.
“Tell me,” I said, “was it that you were going to tell me that you’d had it removed and forgot and then only just remembered in time? Or were you planning not to tell me at all and couldn’t go through with it when it came to the crunch.”
“That’s what Chloe said I should do.”
“She said I should just have it removed and get on with it.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“I don’t think deception is a very good basis on which to build a human life, Ralph.”
This prim declaration wandered round the room for a bit.
“Exactly,” I said, “which leads me to deduce that the fact of the matter is you haven’t had your coil removed at all.”
“I’m telling you now, Ralph,” said Joan. “I’m going to the clinic first thing tomorrow morning. I’ve got an appointment at 9.30.”
“I see,” I said.
“Do you? Do you? I’m telling you, Ralph, I want a baby.”
With that, she turned on her side and glared at me with her back.
After a while, it occurred to me that all things being equal and the coil still being in situ, the problem of its removal could be put on hold and canoodling safely resume. I snuggled up behind Joan.
“Darling?” I whispered.
“Darling? Are you asleep?”
I started to caress her, but cold waves of hostility exuded from her every pore. I had difficulty restraining an impulse to punch her in the head. But I didn’t. I told myself that when you start punching people in the head when they are asleep, you really are on the slippery downward path. She did seem to be asleep. Then she began to snore, and I knew she really was asleep. Even when asleep, her subconscious is thinking of ways to annoy me.
Base coward that I am, I made an obscene gesture at the back of her head.
“I saw that,” she said.
I looked up and met her eyes in the dressing table mirror, against the wall beyond her side of the bed.
“You shouldn’t pretend to be asleep if you’re not,” I observed.
“I wasn’t asleep.”
“You were snoring.”
“I do not snore,” said Joan, whereupon she promptly went back to sleep and proceeded to snore.
Joan was up and dressed and eating a bowl of Sugar Puffs, when I stumbled into the kitchen in my dressing gown at nine o’clock this morning. I aimed myself at the electric kettle and set about making my morning mug of PG Tips to the sound of Joan’s determined munching. I went and sat at the table. Joan finished and pushed back the bowl. I was sipping my tea and looking at the newspaper, on the front page of which was a picture of King Juan Carlos, accompanied by Queen Sofia, greeting the Pope, yesterday, on his arrival in Madrid.
Then I said: “Hey, listen to this. John Dean is claiming that Alexander Haig was ‘Deep Throat’. I thought Robert Mullen was ‘Deep Throat’.”
“Ralph,” said Joan, “will you please pay attention?”
“I meant what I said last night.”
“I’m sure you did.”
“I’m going to the clinic now.”
“That’s alright,” I said. “We’ll work something out. After all, it’s your body. I mean, if I were you, there’s no way I’d let someone stick one of those things up me in the first place.”
“I want a baby, Ralph. I’d really like it to be yours. But there is a limit to the amount of time I can spend hanging around waiting for you to make up what you laughingly refer to as your mind.”
I tried to think up some good reply to this and failed.
“I want a baby,” Joan continued, “and I want to get married. If it’s to you, all well and good. But I have to know one way or the other.”
“But I thought we’d agreed it’s completely impractical for you, I mean us, to have children right now.”
“It may be impractical for you. It’s not impractical for me. In fact, the longer I leave it, the more impractical it gets. Which is why you’ve got till midnight tonight to make up your mind.”
“I promise you, Ralph, I am deadly serious. I’m going out now and I won’t be back till midnight - by which time you’d better have come to a decision.”
“Or what?” I wondered.
“Or else,” said Joan
When she was gone, I made myself some porridge, read the paper, knocked off the crossword, thought about having a shave but couldn’t be bothered, thought about getting dressed, but couldn’t be bothered, thought about going for a walk, but I couldn’t be bothered to get dressed, thought about shooting myself, but I don’t have a gun.
I looked in my tuck box.
When I became a Master of Wine, Joan bought me six Flying Eagle note books. Hardback. Black with red spine. Green squiggles on the inside cover – and a stamp: Flying Eagle Brand. Made in China.
I had filled five of these Flying Eagles with tasting notes by the time I had to go on the wagon.
I pulled the last one out of my tuck box, went to the kitchen table, opened it, wondered whether I could be bothered to write anything, and if so, well - what would I write?
Then I began thinking about Chloe and her stupid pumpkin pie, and Eric and his crass consumption of my fabulous wines, and Joan and her totally unreasonable ultimatum – and the next thing I know, here I am - with writer’s cramp.