Thursday, 20 November 2014

November: The Twentieth

Our daily adventure continues right here with The Twentieth instalment of November: Ralph Conway's Immortal Diary. If this is your first day with us, I'd recommend you click here for links to the preface and previous instalments.
The content appears here on The Literary Word courtesy of Table 13 Ltd


I don’t know. I really don’t. I mean - I really don’t know. I was awake most of last night, planning what I would say to Joan this morning. And what I decided, in the end, was that I would offer her a 100% down-the-line commitment to producing an offspring. I was prepared to give this commitment in writing, if necessary. But I would not even discuss the question of marriage until such time as Joan had resumed normal eating. This seemed like a fantastically fair deal. It would allow both parties to emerge from the conflict with honour and all that intact.
Breakfast was Bedlam this morning. Coco started screaming from her high-chair. Naked rampant ego demanding attention. She threw her toast on the floor. Mavis picked it up. Coco threw it to the ground again. Mavis picked it up again. Coco threw it yet again, this time at Dylan. Which inspired Dylan to pick up his toast and throw it at Coco. It hit her in the eye.
Then her screaming changed frequency. Chloe leapt for her, picked her up and cuddled her - at the same time as Eric whacked Dylan across the top of the head with a rolled up copy of Screen International.
There was a long pause, while I watched him, Dylan, deciding whether or not he was going to cry, then he let rip. He ran to Mavis, who put her arms around him protectively.
“What did you do that for?” Chloe asked in disbelief.
“He threw the toast,” said Eric, defiantly.
“So what?” said Chloe. “You don’t hit people for throwing toast.”
“Look, hang on a minute here,” said Eric, “you’re supposed to back me up.”
“I’m not supposed to do anything,” Chloe roared.
I could see that Eric was absolutely furious, but he was attempting to play it cool. He kind of smiled at me out of the side of his face, stood up and dropped his napkin nonchalantly onto his plate. Then he pointed a finger at Dylan and said:
“If you turn out fucked up, kiddo, don’t blame me.”
Eric stalked away from the table toward his office, seized the handle of his door, opened it. He’s going to slam it, I thought. But he took control of himself, turned and said to me:
“You know that whole new dimension of love we were talking about. There’s an addendum. You’ll also discover a whole new dimension of HATE!”
Then he slammed the door. 
At this point, I judged it wise to make a hasty exit. I had been planning to ask if I could borrow one of their cars - but this was not the moment. On the train, I thought: “You have just escaped from a graphic illustration of the utter ghastliness of parenthood - and where are you going? You are going to instigate proceedings designed to make a parent of yourself. You are a lunatic. You shouldn’t be allowed out - except perhaps to see a shrink. You should be locked away in a loony bin. You are free. Free! And you are going to give yourself up into bondage. You are free to do ....”
At this point I seemed to run out of steam, and I found myself replying to myself:
“Free to do what?”
“Well .....”
“What is there to do except have children?”
Then I thought: Let’s be sensible about this. Let’s be rational. And above all, let’s be positive. You’ve made a decision and it’s settled. There’s nothing you can do about it.
There’s no law against changing your mind.
Despite all this mental pussy-footing, I found myself walking up our road. It had been a beautiful morning, yet again, when I left Chiswick, but the sky was grey and shivery as I turned in through our gate. I went down the side and rang Orson’s bell. Orson came to the door. Absurdly, I was nervous as hell, clutching the croissants I had acquired en route. The thought flashed through my mind that it wouldn’t worry me in the least if I never saw Joan, Orson, this house, or anybody, ever again. I could just leave London, leave the country altogether, and not come back till they’re all dead and buried.
I had been expecting to enter a house full of terminal doom and gloom - but Orson was in an extremely bouncy frame of mind. He waltzed into the living-room and I followed him. I use the word waltz advisedly. The whole place was whirling to the sound of some ridiculously cheerful confection by Strauss.
Orson returned to the chair at the table in the window, where he had patently been sitting prior to my arrival. A half-smoked cigarette smoked in the ashtray. A half-drunk cup of coffee steamed beside it. Orson picked up the cigarette, puffed at it and looked at the sheet of paper in the type-writer on the table in front of him. It was half-covered with typing.
“Where’s Joan?” I asked. “In the spare room?”
“Yeah,” said Orson - as the waltz that had been playing came to an end and the bloody Blue Danube commenced. Orson started conducting it with his cigarette. I walked out of the room.
Joan was propped up in bed. She had a dreamy expression on her face. Her eyes were closed. She was waltzing in her imagination. She said as much, when I announced my presence and she opened her eyes and saw me.
“Ralph,” she said - and gave an annoyingly tragic smile . “I was just dancing with you - “ dramatic pause “ - at our wedding.”
Can you believe it?
I shut the door, which muted the Viennese loonies somewhat. I went and sat on the edge of the bed. I kissed Joan.
“I’ve missed you,” she said.
“I’ve missed you too,” I said. Actually, when I started to say that, I thought it was going to be a lie, but by the time I’d finished saying it, I realised that it was in fact true. I really have missed the dear old boot. Let’s face it: the fact of the matter is that I love Joan. I do love her. I do. I’m sure I do. The trouble is that I’m also sure I could love anybody if I put my mind to it. So, why Joan? Well, why not?
“So?” she said.
I told her. An unconditional yes on the progeny front. And a postponement on the marriage front until such time as normal stuffing is resumed.
“No,” said Joan.
“What do you mean - No?! I’ve brought croissants,” I exclaimed.

“I want to get married.”
“For all you know, I might want to get married myself. But I’m not going to tell you till after you’ve started eating again. What could be fairer than that?”
“It’s nothing to do with fair, Ralph.”
“You’re not kidding. Well what has it got to do with then?”
“It’s got to do with you doing something that I want for a change, rather than us always doing what you want.”
She was short of breath by the end of that speech. Her eyelids fluttered, almost closed. She was obviously in a very floaty, transcendental frame of mind.
“I’ll say this for you,” I said. “You’ve got a lot of guts.”
It was perhaps not the most appropriate thing to say to a person on hunger strike - but I meant it most sincerely, folks. She smiled a little smile to show she’d heard what I said - and her eyes closed gently. I sat there and looked at her for a bit. It was very warm in the room. Too warm. I stood up and walked back into side two of Jo Strauss’s Greatest Hits. Orson was typing away in time to it. He stopped, when I walked into the room, and picked up another cigarette, which was alight in the ashtray.
“I thought you’d given up,” I said.
“So did I,” he said. “It’s this writing.”
“What is it?”
“Yet another screenplay,” said Orson, who tends to write screenplays when he is not looking for locations. To date, he has failed to persuade anyone to turn one of his screenplays into an actual film. But Orson is nothing daunted. A refusal, to Orson, goes to show the stupidity of the refuser, rather than his own incompetence.
“What’s it about?” I enquired.
“I’ll tell you when I’ve finished it.”
I filled him in on what had just transpired.
“So now what?” he wondered.
“I’m not sure.”
“Well you should be sure. She’s extremely weak.”
“Orson, believe me, I promise you, I know Joan very well. This is pure brinkmanship. As soon as she feels she’s in real danger - she’ll stop it.”
“You may be right. I don’t know. The trouble is that she may not be able to stop.”
“Hmmm,” I said. “Well, I have to go.”
“Tell me, Ralph, there’s just one thing I’d like to know.”
“What’s that?”
“If you didn’t take my suicide pill, why did you write what you did?
“Well, I don’t know. I just did.”
“What - sort of like fantasising?” prompted Orson.
“That sort of thing.”
“And the same with the girl?”
“What girl?”
“Alison Pitney. AKA Honey.”
“It’s got absolutely nothing to do with you, Orson.”
“Joan sent me up there.”
“Up where?”
“Melrose Court,” said Orson, jerking his thumb in the direction of that building.
“Oh, terrific,” I opined.
When I asked him what had happened, he told me that he had gone up there, rung the bell, and Alison had answered the door.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Where’s Ralph?” countered Orson.
“What’s it to you?” Alison wanted to know.
“He only happens to be my lover, dear,” Orson had been inspired to assert. “And I happen to know he’s here. Ralph!”
“I should’ve fuckin’ guessed,” said Alison, and then tells Orson he’s too late. “I gave that little sod his marching orders.”
“Thank you very much!” I snorted.
“It’s alright,” he said. “I didn’t tell Joan. I told her there was no-one who fitted the description resident in the building, and that you’d obviously been making the whole thing up, and isn’t it sad?”
“Very considerate of you, Orson.”
“Think nothing of it.”
“Well alright,” I said. “I’ll confess. I did take the pill.”
“You fuckhead. What did you want to do that for?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“But you should.”
“What difference does it make? It didn’t work.”
“Yeah,” says Orson. “Obviously.”
“I’ve gotta go,” I said.
As I was departing, Orson said: “Hey, Ralph, listen. Next time you feel like bumping yourself off - call me first.”
“OK,” I said, sheepishly, and departed.
I went upstairs and let myself into our flat. It was horribly cold, damp and foetid in there. On the mat, there was an ominous looking letter addressed to me from my bank. I put it in my pocket. I went to look in my tuck box.
I pulled out the Club International and had a look at Alison. “My pussy’s getting wet just thinking about what I’m going to say to you?” Chance would be a fine thing. Puckering up, more like. I put the magazine back in the box. There was the Envelope-envelopes-envelope. I’d forgotten all about it. The big E. with its thirty-one envelopes inside, with “envelope” written on each one. Thirty-one! 31!! And there are thirty-one years in my life, and 31 is 13 backwards and - how about this? - there are thirty-one days in ..... or are there? No there aren’t! There aren’t thirty-one days in November. Well, that’s something.
I headed back to Chiswick.
Alright - so Joan isn’t having it. It’s marriage or else. I really tried to address my mind to why the idea of getting married so depresses me. It’s so unoriginal. It’s so boring. Then I had a brilliantly original idea for a completely personal individual new type of marriage. A nice private marriage, just between Joan and me.
I popped into Smith’s and bought myself a DIY will-form. When I got back to Eric’s, I went straight to my room and filled it in. Very simple. I wrote:
“I leave ALL MY WORLDLY GOODS, everything I possess and own, to JOAN CECILY HENDERSON of Flat 1, 23 Abercorn Road, London NW2.”
Then I took it downstairs and got Chloe and Mavis to witness my signature.
When they had done this, Chloe mentioned to me that if Joan died, she would personally see to it that I got charged with her murder.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m just telling you,” she said. “Think of it as an incentive. Even if they can’t make it stick, they can make things extremely nasty for you, while they’re making up their minds. Ask Orson if you don’t believe me.”
“I’ll bear it in mind,” I said. “Can I borrow your car?”
One thing, about which Chloe is not uptight, is things like cars.
I drove back to Cricklewood.
It took a while to attract Joan’s attention. Then I said my piece:
“Joan. I’ve got an announcement to make. A proposal. I want to marry you.”
The beginnings of a joyful smile on Joan’s dear little physog soon faded when I started to explain the kind of marriage I was driving at.
“All we need to do is swap wills,” I said. “I mean, actually, when you come to think about it, that’s all a marriage is in the first place. And then, when you’re better, we can make a little formal thing out of it, if you like. We can work the details out later.”
I handed her my will. She had some difficulty holding it, and some difficulty reading it.
“It’s very sweet of you, Ralph. But I want to get married in a church.”
“In a church. I want a wedding breakfast, champagne, an antique car with a ribbon, an aisle, bridesmaids, and you in a morning coat, with a carnation and a topper.”
“That’s what you want?”
“That’s what I want.”
“I see. But, Joan, this Swapping of Wills business is a really good idea. And then, if you ever go off me, all you have to do is change it.”
My words were falling on deaf ears. I thought she’d think this idea of mine truly romantic - but she obviously thinks getting married in a church is more romantic. I can’t see anything romantic about getting married in a church. I’m NOT getting married in a blasted church!
I happen to think that the idea of God is probably one of the most brilliant ideas any human being has ever had. God is a great liberating notion. Religion is not. I belong to no religion. I pay lip-service to no religion. I kneel to no priest. One man - one God. That’s my motto. That’s my platform. One man - one God. The new franchise. For me, for someone who thinks like me, to get married in a church would be totally out of order. And Joan knows it.
Orson had popped out to buy another packet of cigarettes. I left Joan in her stubborn stupor, and found that he had abandoned his screenplay to the gaze of an unscrupulous passer-by. I sat myself down and started looking at it. I felt absolutely no compunction about doing this, seeing that Joan had brazenly read my diary and just as brazenly told Orson all about it.
Boy, am I glad I did look at it. I only managed to read a few pages before Orson returned, but that was enough. I got the gist. He hasn’t even bothered to change our fucking names.
“Look here,” I said, “I’m afraid this isn’t on.”
To which Orson replied that Joan has given him the rights to our story - which Joan subsequently confirmed.
“Of course, obviously,” said Orson, “I’ll change the names in the final draft. But I find it easier to write it with the real names.”
“I’ll sue,” I said.
“Come on, man,” said Orson, “it’s a fantastic story.”
“I’m not having it.”
“Look,” said Orson, “you let me read your diary, and I’ll cut you in on it.”
“Out of the question.”
And it is out of the question. Though exactly what I’m going to do about it - I don’t quite know. At the moment, I can’t even think about it, because when I got back to Chiswick, Eric took me into his office and said he’d just been speaking to Orson on the telephone.
“Oh yes?”
“He told me you took that tab I gave him.”
“You gave him?”
Apparently, Orson had been banging on about how he’d rather be dead than do fifteen years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit - and the subject of suicide pills had come up. And when Orson started wondering about where he could get hold of one - Eric said he knew just the person.
“You mean, you actually procured him Instant Death?” I said, shocked and impressed. “How could you?”
“Of course I didn’t, you berk. But I thought it was safer if I gave him something he thought was a suicide pill, rather than he should get hold of the real thing from someone else.”
“You mean, it wasn’t a suicide pill?”
“Nah,” said Eric, with a chuckle, “it was a tab of acid.”
“What do you mean? LSD?”
“What did you think of it, Ralph?”
I was outraged. In the first instance, I was outraged on Orson’s behalf. Suppose there had been a miscarriage of justice, and Orson had been done for murder, sentenced to prison for fifteen years, and had taken what he thought was Instant Death, only to find - I mean, really. And in the second place, I’d been tricked. I’ve been tricked, TRICKED, into taking LSD. I thought I was dying and coming back to life again, and all I was bloody doing was tripping. It’s outrageous.
The dreadful Dave and his wife, Mandy, came for dinner. Conversation was dominated by Beaujolais Nouveau, the pros and cons, (I kept out of it) and the Circle of Gold - out of which Dave has made £8,000. And this is the guy who burns money instead of fireworks. He owns a recording studio. I must say he was very friendly. But I hate him. He’s one of these people who tries to draw you out. I don’t want to be drawn out. Fuck off, Dave.
Eight thousand quid. It’s this chain letter. The Circle of Gold. You buy it for twenty quid, send twenty quid to the person on the top of the list, cross that person’s name out and add your name to the bottom of the list. Then you make a copy of your list, so now you have two lists with your name at the bottom. All you now have to do is sell your two lists for twenty pounds each and in due course, you will move to the top of the list and receive something like £186,000 through the door. 
Chloe had attempted a cassoulet.  Joan is the cassoulet queen, and this apparently was Joan’s recipe. But Chloe just doesn’t get cooking. I don’t know how Eric puts up with it. There’s no doubt about the fact that Chloe is one of the most gorgeous girls I’ve ever clapped eyes upon, but she can’t even roast a chicken. Cassoulet is way beyond her.
Dave left most of his. Mandy is a vegetarian and just ate veggies. Eric had two helpings of everything. Does he actually like it? Or is it the dope he smokes before each course?
I never made it through to pudding. The pain in my bum was getting worse and worse. I kept on trying to find a comfortable position on the chair, first one buttock, then the next. Some invisible devil is deliberately sticking an invisible red-hot poker up my rectum and twisting it around and around and around.
In the end, I had to get down. I came up here. After a while, the pain abated somewhat. So what I’ve been doing is writing all this down. Somehow, it seems to help. It stops all these thoughts from attacking me at once.
I’ve just been downstairs to get myself some juice. They’re all hard at it down there, snorting coke, smoking dope and playing the Bumhole Game.
This, for future historians, is a very simple game, which involves thinking of a book, song, play, or whatever title - and substituting the word “Bumhole” for one of the words in the title.
“Bumhole Pacific,” said Mandy, as I was pouring my juice.
They all shrieked with laughter.
“’I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Bumhole’!” Eric gasped, in a paroxysm of mirth.
“’There’s Nothing Like a Bumhole’!” suggested Dave.
It’s quite a good game, if you’re in the mood. But right now the last part of my anatomy to which I want my attention to be drawn is my bumhole. So back up here I came - just as they were getting on to Agatha Christie Bumhole:    
The Bumhole of Roger Ackroyd. Ten Little Bumholes. Hercule Poirot’s Bumhole. The Mystery of the Blue Bumhole and, of course, that great classic, The Bumhole Cracked from Side to Side.

See you tomorrow for more..

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