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So there I am lying in bed, at five to four this morning – and I’m casting back through the murk of time, to see if there are any hints or clues. But I can’t see any. I mean, maybe when I was drunk, but the problem with all that period is that, well, I was drunk.
It’s not impossible, I suppose, that when I finally came to a halt in that gutter in Old Compton Street, I could have died a bit then and come back to life as myself. I don’t know. I can’t remember.
The only thing I think I remember is that pompous idiot, Rose, coming up to me in the street and spouting Prospero at me in his ridiculous fake Laurence Olivier voice. But that might not have actually happened. That could have been my life flashing before my eyes. And then I came to in hospital, all tubed up, and there was Joan, coming into focus by the side of my bed.
Where was I? Oh, yes. And then, it dawned on me that there was only one way of finding out whether or not I’m immortal.
Careful not to wake Joan, I climbed out of the bed, reached for my dressing gown and tip-toed out of the bedroom, down the passage, past the bathroom - good-bye bathroom - and the lavatory - adios old bowl (Or is it au revoir?) and into the kitchen. I did not turn on the light. The London sky is never truly dark, apart from which, dawn was just around the corner. The light was sufficient unto the deed.
Automatically, I switched on the kettle. Then I climbed up onto the kitchen table and pulled the chair up after me. The glass roof of our kitchen is supported by a metal framework, possibly even cast iron. I don’t know. The point is that one of the cross-beams or struts or poles or whatever the correct term for the bloody thing is was perfectly situated just overhead.
To remove my dressing-gown cord, to effect a slip-knot, to lob it over the horizontal and secure it, and then to tie the noose, was for me the work of an instant. I had just finished tying the noose, when the kettle boiled and failed to switch itself off. Typical, I thought to myself, first the television and now this. Mechanical organisms never break down in isolation. They always do it in unison. So I had to climb down and switch the blasted thing off.
Having climbed down, I sort of automatically started making myself a cup of coffee, when I suddenly remembered this article I had been reading the other day in Eric’s “Omni”. As I recall, this article said that your circadian rhythms are underpinned by biochemical whatsits and coffee fucks this underpinning up - and does in fact slow you down if you drink it in the morning. The things that pop into your head. And then I thought, maybe I’ll have tea instead. But then I thought, what difference does it make? Well, for one thing, coffee’s a notorious laxative. And for another thing, so is being hanged. I suddenly remembered this. It’s a well-known fact. But what I didn’t know was whether it was specifically true of hanging - or did it apply to death in general. Does death, in general, make you, well, have an accident? Or is it only hanging? When I came back to life again on Westminster Bridge, had there been anything untoward in the toilet department? No there had not. Anyway, I went right off the idea of hanging myself altogether - and decided to stick my head in the oven instead.
So I got down on my hands and knees in front of the oven, switched on the gas, and stuck my head inside. But as I did this, it struck me how dangerous it was to leave the gas on like that. I mean, all I want to do is find out whether or not I’m immortal. I have no desire to blow up buildings in the process.
I turned the gas off - and finished making my cup of coffee instead. I went to the refrigerator to get the milk. I opened the massive door. The light flashed on. It caused a similar light to flash on inside my head. The refrigerator! Our brilliant huge old fridge!
I began emptying the contents onto the table underneath the noose. From the bottle of champagne Orson brought for Joan’s birthday, which for some reason no-one drank, to the pork pie which said “eat by October 9” on the wrapper. The final remains of the stew. I ate it up cold, using my fingers. The Yquem. Three eggs. Two tomatoes. A chunk of cheddar. Four cans of Coca Cola. Half a Perrier. The Flora had absolutely nothing to do with me. Joan’s the Flora man in our household. The pickled onions were Joan’s - ditto the slim-line tonic. As for the chutney, that’s made by Mrs Dennis, Joan’s old nanny, who is now retired to the country, whence she sends these dreadful preparations at regular intervals.
Then I removed the shelves and the salad boxes and all - and there it was. I picked up my coffee and, just as dawn started to break, I stepped, like Captain Oates, into the fridge.
I remember thinking, as I pulled the door to and the light snapped out: “Am I mad?” But at that particular juncture the question hardly seemed relevant, since the door had already clunked shut.
It was quite cramped. And very cold. All I had on were my pyjama bottoms and my dressing-gown, without the cord. I was wedged in there - but I found I could sip my coffee quite easily. I thought: This’ll keep me warm. Then I thought what a perfectly ridiculous thought this was to have under the circumstances. I think I became a little hysterical. I began to snigger. It then struck me that someone passing the fridge might hear this sniggering coming from inside it. So I tried to stop, which only made it worse. Then I set to worrying about whether or not I should have left some kind of a note. But then I thought: Well, anyone reading this up to yesterday would certainly get the picture. At which point it became incredibly cold and vague and stuffy in there and I became unconscious.
There is, to my annoyance, some confusion as to the subsequent events. It’s all my fault. I forgot to check the time when I shut the fridge door - so I don’t know if Joan came into the kitchen for a glass of water mere moments after I blacked out - or whether a decent enough chunk of time had elapsed for me to have pegged it and then come back to life again as myself - again.
As it was, Joan came into the kitchen, saw the noose, the contents of the refrigerator on the table beneath it, and did not exactly put two and two together, but certainly opened the door to investigate. Air rushed in. I opened my eyes.
“Ralph,” said Joan, “what are you doing in there?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
That was quick thinking. If I’d said: “I’m testing to see whether I’m immortal or not,” she’d have begun to have serious doubts about my sanity. Joan has frequently threatened to have me committed to a loony bin - as a joke. Mind you, if anyone should be sent directly to a loony bin, and told not to pass Go, and not collect two hundred pounds, it’s Joan.
“What do you MEAN,” I attacked, pre-emptively, “by going on hunger strike? It’s outrageous. I think I might be forced to have you committed.”
“Don’t change the subject,” she said. “What are you doing in there?”
“I told you. I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know?”
“I don’t know. The last thing I remember is going to bed last night. I’m serious, Joan. I’m as astonished as you are to find myself in the fridge.”
“What about this noose?”
She pointed to the noose.
“If I did it,” I said, “I did it in my sleep. Give us a hand out of here, Stinker, I can’t quite move.”
Joan helped me out and, eventually, I managed to stand up and shiver.
“I’m going to have a bath,” I said. “I’m freezing.”
“You’re weird,” Joan remarked.
“You say that to me?” I raised an eyebrow as best I could. “I like that!”
I headed for the bathroom. I turned on the taps. The bath was bliss, in the middle of which I began to hear a rattling commotion, as of one hammering at the back door of our kitchen. Then a voice, which belonged to Orson, shouting: “No! Joan! Don’t do it! Stop!”
I astonished myself with the speed with which I was out of that bath, grabbed a towel and rushed into the kitchen. Joan saw me and laughed. She was standing on the chair, on the table, under the noose. She climbed down off the chair.
“I was only trying to get it down,” she said. “It’s disgusting.”
I let Orson in.
“God, Joan,” he blathered, “what’s going on?”
“Ralph’s been sleep-walking,” she said. “He put it up there in his sleep. I was just trying to get it down, but I can’t reach. I found him in the fridge.”
“Ralph. I saved his life.” She turned to me. “I don’t suppose you would care to consider saving mine?”
“Oh for God’s sake,” I said.
Joan exploded: “Why the bloody hell won’t you marry me!”
“I don’t see why I should. Give me a good reason.”
“Because I want you to.”
“That’s not a reason.”
“It seems like a perfectly good reason to me,” said Orson.
“Look, do you mind?” I said. “This isn’t exactly any of your business. So stay out of it.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Orson huffed. “I happen to love Joan, even if you don’t.”
“Tell me, Orson,” I sneered, “how come the only women you ever manage to fancy are either dead, married, or living with someone else?”
“I didn’t say fancy. I said love.”
I said: “I’m going to get dressed.”
Joan said: “Will someone please help me down off this table?”
I let Orson do it and retired to the bedroom, trying to wear my towel with as much dignity as I could muster.
Yet another day stretched ahead of me.
When I discovered that Chloe was due round at eleven, I decided to make myself scarce. I went to St Catherine’s House at the bottom of Kingsway to order a copy of my birth certificate. You go into this room they have there and look yourself up in a huge red book. And there I was. My mother’s name and my name. June 18.1951. But no indication of who my father is. That I won’t discover until I get the actual copy of my birth certificate. I copied the details out of the big red book onto the form you have to fill out and handed it to the girl behind the counter. I can go and pick it up on Thursday. So there, that’s a positive thing I’ve set in motion, to investigate this question of the mystery surrounding my birth.
I must say, it gave me a strange, rather pleasant, rather warm feeling, to find my name written down in that room, along with everybody else’s name in the whole of Great Britain. It sort of goes to prove that I really do actually exist in the first place. I’m on the list.
God, I’m tired. I’m feeling absolutely done in.
I came home. I let myself into the flat - which turned out to be empty. No Joan. Then I get a phone-call from Eric. Joan is going to stay the night with them. Will I be alright on my own?
“Oh sure,” I say. “I’ll be fine.”
“Goodnight, man,” says Eric.
“Yeah,” I say. “Goodnight.”
Sure I’ll be fine. I’m only sitting here, all alone, in a kitchen, with a noose swinging over my head.
I discovered why the noose was still there. I couldn’t get it down either. The best I could manage was to cut it about six inches below the beam.
Now there’s just a little stubby bit of dressing-gown cord poking down there - up above my head. It still looks pretty sinister. But it looks a whole lot less sinister than when it was a noose.
Goodnight. Goodnight. Goodnight.
Check back tomorrow for The Tenth