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With Joan away in Chiswick, I had the flat to myself today. It’s been a sunny day. Clement for the time of year. I had a bath around eleven. Did the crossword - all except four clues. Had breakfast around two. Read the paper and fell asleep. When I awoke, it was dark again. I looked at my watch. It was six fifteen. I had time to organise myself and settle down in front of the television for the Big Three - namely, Crossroads, This Is Your Life and Coronation Street, which make Wednesday from six to eight the high spot of my viewing week.
Pleasurable anticipation surged through me - then I remembered that the television was broken. I tried it all the same. One never knows. Nothing. It still didn’t work. I went downstairs and knocked on Orson’s door - but Orson wasn’t in.
I came back upstairs, sat down on the sofa and looked out through our roof, past the beam with its stub of dressing-gown cord, away and up at the nearest high-rise block, which stood like a glittering tower of Babel against the sky.
I made myself some bran eggs - scrambled eggs with bran and Worcestershire sauce. Then I ate a tin of lychees. Then I had a cheese and tomato sandwich. Then I decided to go over to the tower block and throw myself off the top of it.
I put on my coat and hat. I don’t often wear this hat, as I’m nervous about it making my hair fall out. But on this particular occasion, baldness was the least of my worries.
The night air was crisp and dark. Joan’s car was parked outside, but I couldn’t be bothered to go back inside for the keys. I could see the summit of the building, which was my goal, away between our building and the one next door, through the now gaunt and indeed skeletal trees.
As I walked, In My Life began to play inside my head. It’s my favourite Beatles song. Mark fucking David Chapman. John Lennon got married. So did Mahatma Gandhi and Bob Dylan and Shelley and Byron and Agatha Christie and Sigmund Freud and William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde. Groucho Marx got married. I’m sure Thomas “Tom” Hood had a Mrs Hood - and their daughter Little Red Riding. Jesus Christ, I thought. The only person I could think of who never got married was Jesus Christ.
I came even unto the building, which turned out to be called Melrose Court. As a building, it had nothing going for it except its height. I walked into it. If I hadn’t been wearing sneakers, my footsteps would have echoed eerily on the stone floor. As far as the interior design and smell of the common parts went, this was a diabolical edifice.
As I went up to the twenty-second floor, courtesy of Otis, I began to think about the panorama which awaited me. Would I be able to see our flat? Had I or had I not left the light on down there? Ping! I stepped out of the lift, saw the door leading to the roof. It was open. I went through it, up some steps and there I was, standing on the roof - nearer to the sky than I’d been in a very long while.
It was terrific up there. I went to the parapet and peered over the edge. The wind snatched my hat and carried it off into the dark. But what a view! London spread away to the South before me. A passing astronaut might well have mistaken it for a galaxy. And there, when I moved round a bit, was our flat! I HAD left the light on in the kitchen. I thought to myself, if I die I will never have to go back there again. But if I’m immortal and survive, and revive, then I’ll ..... well, I’d think about that when the time came.
So I stepped up onto the parapet.
You know how when you’re standing beside the pool, the high board doesn’t look all that high, but when you’re actually standing up on the edge of it - you feel as though you’re perched on top of a skyscraper. You do? Well, I was perched on top of a skyscraper.
“Oi!” said a voice. “Wait!”
It was a female voice and it gave me the fright of my life. I felt myself falling forward - I stuck out an arm - I thought I was going over - she grabbed my hand and yanked me back onto the roof.
“Jesus Christ!” I exclaimed. “You nearly sent me over the edge.”
“I like that. I saved your poxy life.”
“Look .... “ I started to say.
“I should of let you jump.”
“Oh, I see. I see,” I said. “You think I was planning to jump.”
“Well wasn’t you?”
“Of course not,” I said.
“Well what are you doin’ up ‘ere then? You don’t live in this block. Do you?”
My cue. I took it.
“No, as a matter of fact, I live down there. Look.”
And I pointed out our kitchen, explaining that I often looked up here through the kitchen roof and I just wondered what it would look like from the other way around. It was a perfectly feasible explanation, which she swallowed hook, line and sinker. On reflection, I think it was by far the best thing to say, a definite case of honesty not being the best policy. Of course, it would have been truer to say: “Well the thing is I think I might be immortal and I’m testing the theory out.” But this would have caused her to think that I’m a raving lunatic, which I didn’t want her to think - because she was incredibly attractive - in a down-market sort of a way.
“Oh,” she said, “do you live down there?”
“Oh, I think that’s really sweet.”
Our faces were quite close together. There was the November sky and the wind.
“It’s funny, innit, to think that often when you was looking up ‘ere, I was probably up ‘ere, coz I like it up ‘ere. Fancy a coffee?”
In the lift, descending to the eighteenth floor, she told me that her name was Alison Pitney, and I told her that my name was Ralph Conway.
While she boiled the water in her kitchenette, I asked her what she did. I may hate people asking me what I do, but I always like to know what other people do.
“I’m a model,” she said.
“Oh yes?” I said. “Harpers? Vogue? Honey?”
“Nah,” she laughed. “Men Only. Penthouse. Club International.”
I couldn’t help it. I tried not to look at her in a different way - but I could not help it.
“Er. I’m an MW.”
“What’s an MW, when ‘e’s at ‘ome?”
“Master of Wine.”
“Sounds like fun.” .
I shrugged and wandered over to the window. Two walls of the small living-room were windows. I looked for our flat. It took some time to locate it. Then I realised that the lights were now off: which meant one of three things. Either someone had broken in and switched off the light before leaving, or the light had blown, which was more likely, or Joan had returned home, gone to bed and put the light out herself. This was what struck me as being highly probable.
“Milk and sugar?”
“Actually,” I said. “I think I better go.”
“Oh,” said Alison. She looked disappointed.
She shrugged: “Please yerself.”
As I let myself out of her flat, she was pouring my mug of instant down the sink.
Can you believe it? It WAS the fucking light bulb! I should have known - what with the TV and the kettle.
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