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Yesterday’s sudden drop in temperature was not the result of evil entering in, as I initially assumed. The fact of the matter was that the pilot light in the boiler had gone out, and the central heating had therefore ceased to function. I tried to relight it, but had no success. So I called Orson up from downstairs to see if he could do it. But Orson couldn’t relight the blasted thing any more than I could. Kettle, television, bulb, boiler. What next? Perhaps I’ve been overhasty in ruling out some form of invisible satanic interference after all. I called the heating engineers, who had the nerve to say they can’t come till Monday.
The thought of leaving Joan all alone in that flat in the middle of November, on hunger strike, with no television, no central heating, no hot water, and a kettle that won’t switch itself off, was almost too much even for me. But as it happened everything worked out for the best, because Orson said we should come downstairs and sleep in his spare bedroom. So Joan went downstairs with Orson - and I snuck off to Melrose Court.
We went to see Poltergeist at The Odeon in Swiss Cottage.
Alison spent most of the film with her face buried in my shoulder.
“Why do people want to make nasty films like that?” Alison wanted to know as we headed for Mr Wong’s.
“Didn’t you like it?”
“No, I did not.”
“Oh,” I said. “I thought it was quite funny.”
“That’s because you’re a bloke,” said Alison, “and blokes, as everyone knows, are weird.”
Over the spring rolls and sweet and sour pork, the subject of Alison’s mother came up. The widow Pitney, it seems, lives in Southend-on-Sea and runs some kind of boarding-house there. Alison’s off to see her in the morning.
“What does your Mum think of your, er, work?” I asked.
“Oh, she’s all for it. She’s the one who suggested it in the first place. Know what she said to me? Alison, my girl, there’s gold in them there tits.”
“This is on me,” said Alison, when the bill came. “Want my After Eight?”
Then she asked me if I would please come home with her, because the thought of being all alone in the middle of the night after watching a film like Poltergeist gave her the heebie-jeebies.
Next thing I know, I am reclining on Alison’s sofa and my ENORMOUS penis is nudging her tonsils.
I reach for a cigarette, light it and say: “I hope you don’t mind if I smoke while you eat.”
Alfred Hitchcock emerges from the kitchenette and says: “Cut.”
I blow smoke at him.
Then, dammit, I woke up.
I should have known it was a dream all along. On the one hand, my penis is not enormous. I mean, I don’t think it’s particularly small, but it’s certainly not ENORMOUS. And then I don’t smoke. And anyway, that line about smoking while you eat is from Deep Throat, which I watched one afternoon with Eric, when Chloe was off with the children, visiting her mother in Devizes. And whoever heard of Hitchcock making a porno movie?
It was fun, though, while it lasted.
I was lying under a blanket on Alison’s sofa, or settee as she calls it, on which uncomfortable item of furniture she had installed me on our return to Melrose Court.
She tucked me in. Then she reached into her handbag, which was on the coffee table, and took out a bottle of pills. Brown bottle. White label. She popped one into her mouth and swallowed it dry. It was blue - the same colour as the cake or cakes.
“No thanks,” I said.
“It’s only Valium.”
“Thanks all the same.”
“Well, good night then.”
Alison went into her bedroom and shut the door.
Awaking from my brief appearance as a porn star, I sat up, and found myself staring down into Alison’s handbag, there on the coffee table in front of me.
There was the little brown bottle with the white label. I reached into the handbag, picked out the bottle and read the label: A.Pitney. Valium. 10mg. One when required.
I gave the bottle a shake. It seemed to be more or less full. I could swallow the contents there and then. I lay back and was considering it, when Alison breezed into the room.
“Good morning,” she chirped. “Rise and shine.”
I shoved the little brown bottle under the blanket.
“What time is it?” I wondered, faking a yawn, which then turned into a real one
“It feels like the middle of the night.”
“What are you up to this weekend then?”
“Dunno,” I shrugged. “Freezing to death, probably.”
“What are you on about? Tea?”
“Oh, yes please. My bloody central heating’s on the blink.”
“Can’t you get it fixed?”
“Not till Monday.”
Alison addressed herself to producing two mugs of tea.
I reached for my jeans and slipped the brown pill bottle into a pocket and pulled them on. It was neatly done.
Alison emerged from the kitchenette, handed me a mug and said: “You can stay here if you like.”
“Really?” I responded
“I can’t think of anything more ‘orrible than a weekend without central ‘eating.”
“Well if you really don’t mind.”
“Be my guest.”
“Well, thank you very much indeed.”
“A friend in need and all that,” said Alison. “Now, you’ll want a key.”
Then she started a hunt for the spare key. The spare key did not seem to want to be found.
“Look,” said Alison, giving up, “as long as you absolutely promise to be here when I get back on Monday, you can ‘ave my key.”
As she said this, she picked up her handbag and started rummaging around in it. This rummaging went on and on and on. I can only suppose that it was last night’s pill that was still dulling her mind and preventing her from noticing that the rest of them were gone. Then again, she was looking for her keys, and Valium was probably not so much at the forefront of her mind as it was beep-beep-beeping away at the forefront of mine.
“What about your jacket?” I suggested, unable to bear the suspense any longer. It turned out to be a brilliant suggestion, as this is exactly where the keys were, in the right hand pocket. She handed them over, picked her handbag up from the bed and snapped it shut.
Then she gave me her mother’s telephone number, in case anything should go wrong, said she would call me, probably tomorrow, and to make myself at home. I just wonder if there’s going to be a tomorrow.
“Just one more thing,” she said. “No visitors.”
“How do you mean?”
“I don’t mind you staying, but I don’t want you entertaining.”
“There’s no chance of that,” I said.
“There better not be.”
For a moment there, I suspected that she was having second thoughts about her spontaneous generosity. Then the lift arrived with a ping.
Alison entered it.
“Ta-ra,” she said.
The doors shut and down she went.
I sat myself on Alison’s settee and finished my tea. The sky outside was bright November blue. Tom Hood wouldn’t have known what month he was in. A little wind whistled in the aluminium window frames. I sat there for quite some time. I didn’t want Alison to have forgotten something and walk back in. I didn’t want her to be about to get on the train and then to decide at the last moment that a weekend with her mother was infinitely less preferable than a weekend with me. I pulled the Valium bottle out of my pocket and emptied the contents onto the coffee table. I counted them.
Forty-seven. Three gone.
I put all the pills back in the bottle.
Then I went home to get this book.
Out into the bracing air. The leaves on the pavements lay in damp piles. It’s no fun shuffling through them any more.
I had sort of assumed that Joan would be at Orson’s. But, when I walked in, I found her sitting at the kitchen table, with the oven on in the background, reading this book, my own personal private diary!
She looked up at me without batting an eyelid. I stared back at her, while I wondered how to handle this extremely tricky situation.
“Give me that,” I said.
She pushed it over the table at me.
I was on the verge of laying into her about violating the privacy of my tuck box, when it dawned on me that I had left it on the table myself. I had forgotten to put it away in the heat, or rather cold, of trying to rekindle the boiler. I looked down and saw that she had been starting on this Tuesday, just gone. What I did not know was whether Joan had started from the beginning or from the end, as she frequently and infuriatingly does, when reading things. Or perhaps, said the blind optimist, she’d just happened to open it at Tuesday and had only just started reading it, when I came in.
I had to know.
“How much of this have you read?”
“Enough to know that you need help.”
“Oh great. Coming from you, that’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.”
“You do, Ralph.”
I looked at the oven and listened to the flames flappering away in there.
“What? What am I supposed to say?”
“Well, for a start, you could say that you’ll marry me”
Jesus, the woman is implacable.
“Alright,” I said. “ALL RIGHT! I’m sorry. I’m sorry I took so long to make up my mind. But I’ve made it up now. I’ve had enough of this. I really have. So you can come off your hunger strike, as of this moment, because this is it. I’m off. I’m leaving. I’m leaving you.”
“Does it really matter?”
“I suppose not.”
“Look, just tell me that you accept the fact that I’m leaving you and that you agree to start eating again. You’ve had a good run. You’ve lost a lot of weight. But enough is enough.”
“No? What do you mean - No?!”
“You’re wrong, Ralph. We could be really happy. I know it. If you’d just come down off your cloud and join the real world and Marry Me.”
“What are you saying, Joan? If I leave, you’ll continue not eating? Joan? Joan?”
She suddenly became exhausted. She slumped, but she nodded her head.
“That is totally out of order,” I protested. “You can’t just change your demands in the middle of everything.”
“Help me downstairs, Ralph. It’s too cold in here.”
I helped her up. We went out the back and down the rickety wooden steps into the garden. Joan stopped and looked over at Alison’s building.
“Is that where your new girlfriend lives? Up there?”
“She’s not my girlfriend,” I replied.
Orson’s back door was open. Orson was out. I took her through to the spare room, where she had in fact spent last night. It is a very nice little room, with detective stories beside the bed, into which Joan wearily subsided.
“Go on, Ralph,” she said. “Go off to your fantasy. But remember this. I am your salvation. I hold the key to your happiness.”
“You really believe that, don’t you?”
“Only because it’s true.”
“Look,” I said, “I better just go and turn the oven off.”
“You’re a rotten liar, Ralph Conway.”
The little tyke saw right through me. But I did not protest. I left the room, climbed the steps, switched off the oven, picked up this book and left by the front door. The last person I wanted to bump into right now was Orson.
I beetled back to Melrose Court.
I went into Alison’s bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. I opened the bathroom cabinet, the door of which is the mirror into which I was peering. I found the remains of a pack of Veganin in there. Ten Veganin and forty-seven vallium. That should do the trick. I looked round the flat for a suitable place to write. Minus Alison, it’s a very impersonal little flat - like a hotel. The perfect location, in fact, for the job in hand. I sat myself down at the kitchen counter.
It’s now dark. Nearly five o’clock. It was still light when I started writing this. It’s now dark. Dark. We all go into the dark, don’t we? Now, now, Ralph, there’s no need to get maudlin. In a minute I will sit myself down on Alison’s “settee” and swallow the pills. I’ve decided to leave the phone on the hook. There’s always the chance, if someone calls and gets an engaged signal, that they might come round on the off-chance, assuming Alison to be in. If the phone continues to ring, they, or Alison when she calls, will think I’m out.
A squabble of seagulls just sailed by!
Well, here goes.
If it transpires that I am merely mortal after all and that I don’t come back to life again as myself again - I leave everything I own equally to my two dear friends, Joan Henderson and Alison Pitney.
All my love,
P.S. I would like to be cremated. And I would like my ashes to be fed to the Thames, at midnight, as Big Ben chimes, from off of Westminster Bridge. R.C.
Check back tomorrow to see what happens next!