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THE ANGEL

VIEWS: 56 PAGES: 145

									Introduction to ANGEL OF TRUTH

A writer starting out often has to content with the problem of subjectivity. By this I
mean the leaking of his or her own self-ness into what is intended to be reasonably
objective fiction. For my part, I did not surmount this problem until I wrote
REHEARSALS in the summer of 1975, just before burying myself in a university for
eight years. Thus the first volume of the Richard Butler tetralogy, THE FOURTH
MAN, is permeated by this subjectivity – for good or for ill. For what it's worth, I
think it helps make the younger Richard that bit more credible.

Imagine my chagrin to discover that the fourteenth novel of the series, presented here,
was also freighted with the dumb presence of subjectivity, after thirty years of
relatively well controlled objectivity. It made writing ANGEL OF TRUTH extremely
difficult. It is a shortish novel, a limited cast and situation, yet the step from one
sentence to the next at times seemed impossible to achieve. One page took over two
weeks to write, mainly because I could not frame one fairly straightforward sentence.
I could not understand what was happening at that point in the novel.

It took me a good while to recognise what was actually happening overall in the
novel. Until the last pages I believed - I'm not dissembling here - that ANGEL OF
TRUTH was a mediocre work, in fact the worst I had written. It was only when I had
finished it and could step back that I saw what had been achieved. The subjectivity I
encountered in the novel was not my own, but that of Peter Lacey, the main character
of the novel. I know that is a lot to say, but that is how I understand it. Peter Lacey
lives in this novel. Read the novel and see him come to a birth.



ANGEL OF TRUTH Summary

Peter Lacey has been obliged to abandon his life as peripatetic researcher into the
more obscure areas of Utopianism. Now, he works as a temporary credit controller in
various companies in London. One day, while en route to a routine business meeting,
he and an associate from Sales pick up a hitch-hiker and give him a five minute lift to
help him on his way.

Within a week, Peter's life is totally transformed.

ANGEL OF LOVE is about 80,000 words long.




                                                                                     2
ANGEL OF TRUTH




  Philip Matthews




                    3
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
                                   T.S. Eliot




                                                4
         Quarter inch maps are not much use in towns. They have passed the park –
caged tennis courts, flashes of bright flowers (dahlias?) – next a tightish viaduct, and
the road seems then to run all the way down to the Channel. At traffic-lights just
before the viaduct, Peter cranes his neck,
         „Why is it so high?‟ It totters on Victorian brick, scaled to narrow streets,
horse and cart.
         Rebecca flicks perhaps-dust from the top of the steering wheel, a surfeit of
sorts, waking from a momentary daydream:
         „It runs along the Downs.‟ She looks at Peter, long-boned face suddenly pretty
full on. „To Eastbourne and…‟ She‟s now attentive, like school-time again. „Hastings,
I think.‟
         The lights change, orderly motion begins again, but fast, intent as ever.
         „Yes, Hastings. The trains go into Eastbourne and then come out again.‟
         Peter has gone back to studying the map in his lap. He still can‟t disentangle
the road system towards the town centre.
         „You know…before going on to…‟
         Peter looks up to see a narrowing roadway, modest shops, elderly people with
big plastic shopping bags. Walking seems a toil for them. He says,
         „Do you know the way?‟
         Rebecca snatches a glance away from the concentrated traffic streams. She has
that caught-out expression Peter has seen before – wry, embarrassed, ill at ease in a
potentially explosive way. She says:
         „Well, it‟s, you know, tedious.‟ Peter nods absently, staring blankly at the
traffic, the familiar indications there that he too, for his part, is ready to switch out.
„Perhaps you should check the road signs?‟
         Peter grimaces. “Perhaps” jars; he says “maybe” to Rebecca; “perhaps” is one
of those words that maintain distance. But Rebecca smiles at him now, risking a full
sideways glance despite the density on the road:
         „Horrible seeing the same places twice… Really horrible.‟
         There‟s a surfeit in this too, as though the part being played is like a too-large
garment. Peter says, more traffic lights coming up – cars shooting down a hill from
the right out into the broadening roadway:
         „Just keep on. I think we can turn down at the sea front.‟
         Actually, there is a large green road sign just a ways ahead, but it looks
complicated, left and right branchings, lists of destinations and road numbers.
         Rebecca reacts by re-establishing her grip on the steering wheel, her long
thumbs going round to jut forward and up, unpainted nails perfectly shaped. She
coughs a little cough, a very little sound – like a timid trespass. She says, just that
much too loudly:
         „By the way, Peter, in case you may have wondered…‟
         For some reason, the traffic starts forward on the amber light, impatience no
doubt: the prospect of the broad avenue to tear down hard to resist, especially on a
busy day. Peter is staring at the road sign again. The name “Shoreham” is there – oh
blessed relief – so for a short while he can hardly contain himself. This is no harm,
because Rebecca is also being carried along, this time by madly busy drivers in a
hurry to the next set of lights.
         Still, the jumble on the sign is hard to untangle before they are swept past, but
Peter grasps that a rightwards turn will be required.
         „Turn right at the sea.‟
         Rebecca says, as though she has not heard Peter, „I know it seems strange…‟


                                                                                         5
          The next lights go amber, then green, the roadway swerving to the left around
a large structure. Peter raises his voice, cutting across Rebecca:
          „Go right at the end, Rebecca.‟
          There‟s an abruptness in his voice that he usually labours hard to conceal, a
tone of command that offends because unsanctioned.
          „Hey!‟ Rebecca shouts. The traffic is jostling in complicated ways in
preparation for splitting at the sea‟s edge. A crossing is coming up fast, lights green
here too – but the main road continues on alongside a park area.
          „Here?‟
          Peter is dumbfounded, glancing at the useless map, glancing at the
uninformative intersection. He could say “yes”, sort it out afterwards; instead he says:
          „No. Go on to the next one.‟
          Rebecca doesn‟t even glance at him; she nods, ploughs on through the lights.
She says, once she has cleared the crossing, looking about her:
          „I remember this place.‟ She points forward, „The Aquarium is over there. And
we‟ve just passed the Pavilion.‟
          The traffic lights coming up are changing from amber to red, cars settling
comfortably in lines, two by two. There is a café on the corner, over where the built-
up area comes to an end and blue sky reaches on down towards the horizon, out over
the sea. A man and a woman sit at a table by a window, the man exceptionally tall,
old but straight-backed, his companion small and chubby. He has lifted a white
porcelain cup to his mouth. Peter can taste the dark bitter tea, the long-life milk, the
little ridge around the rim cutting the inner flesh of the lower lip.
          Rebecca has been humming tunelessly, now she says:
          „Daddy took us to the Pavilion one summer, seventy two or three, I think. Like
one huge room, you know. Daddy called it the Party Palace.‟ She nods. „God, what a
place for a party.‟
          The man in the café puts the cup down, wipes his mouth with the provided
paper napkin. Peter can feels its harsh surface, the cold smear of moisture on the
surface of the poorly absorbent tissue. His companion is speaking now, hand raised,
rings on every finger.
          The café is remarkably transparent, walls painted an orangey beige, as though
the whole world has been there and no one stays.
          Rebecca suddenly blurts out,
          „No! It‟d be so gross!‟
          Lights are going amber, then green. The traffic moves decorously, car after
van after car swooping around in two lines onto the coast road, as though care needed
for fear of shooting off the promenade into the sea.
          Peter is imagining sitting in the now-lost-to-sight café, formica-topped table,
hard tubular steel chair, a plastic tray with teapot, porcelain cup and saucer, plastic
spoon, ham sandwich (no mustard) in clear plastic container. Oh, and the little pack of
long life milk. The point is this: would it be possible to get in line – as it were – with
the rest of humanity who have passed through its doors? There‟s a perspective
possible in this. A sort of plain landscape, people gathered together with no sense of
crowd, no sense of being together. The individual‟s individuality multiplied by
billions, all co-present without co-consciousness (as it were).
          Rebecca slows the car suddenly, swinging in towards the pavement. She is
reaching across behind Peter‟s seat, eyes wide, something like an artificial smile on
her mouth. She gives up the struggle, nudges the absent Peter:
          „Can you open the door behind you?‟


                                                                                        6
        Peter is sensing the co-presence of all humanity as a multiplication of – what?
Well, whatever it was, Rebecca‟s nudge thrusts it completely from Peter‟s mind as he
surfaces, as though from sleep, and reaches back to open the door, as requested to do.
        Someone clambers into the back of the car. Rebecca gushes an “Hello” and the
person now behind Peter replies:
        „Adversary barrow.‟
        Rebecca is staring, but she manages to say:
        „We‟re not going far.‟ Sits forward in her seat, checking the coming traffic in
the side mirror, „Only as far as Shoreham.‟
        She shoots off into the traffic stream, mouth open, blinking rapidly as she
switches her gaze from the roadway as seen through the windscreen to the rear-view
mirror above her and back again repeatedly.
        Peter has a residual memory of being himself multiplied in such a way that all
the other presences appear to him as other aspects of himself. That other people are
really parts of himself that he does not (yet) know.
        Someone is blowing a car horn with evident irritation, so that Rebecca starts
and renews her concentration on the road in front of her. Still, she says, almost
shouting:
        „Are you going far?‟
         The insight is so loopy that Peter throws his head back and laughs a short
crying laugh. The person in the back of the car picks up the sound, humming a piece
of melody, rising thirds, one, two, three, four, then a descent five, six.
        The traffic suddenly eases for some reason, so Rebecca has time to look
around her – to look at the sea‟s flat horizon, dark against the mellow August sun
today.
        „We came down here so often as children, Peter. Daddy loved this place.‟ She
points off to the right at a terrace of tall buildings, beyond bare lawns. „Here. Hove, I
mean.‟
        Sure, the insight is loopy, weird, but Peter sees something in it. There is a
sense of placement, alright, but also a sense of perspective, of something coming into
view. He fetches up the folder lying at his feet on the floor of the car, turns it over and
writes on the back:
                             Brighton seaside café
                             transparency of humanity
                             co-presence and ?
                             one-beingness
        Rebecca is saying now, voice with the more usual business-like tone: „…not
intended that way. We do support it, you know. At least you know I do. But there are
conventions…I mean as well as contracts.‟
        She turns to look at Peter with appeal. Peter, for his part, is amending the note
on the back of the folder:
                            Brighton seaside café
                            transparency of humanity
                            co-presence and ? co-consciousness
                            one-beingness all together as many
Underscoring “many” induces inner tears in Peter, which he holds back, a reflex
operating just like that. He can see it so clearly. Not being a crowd, not submerged.
No, you are alone – utterly alone – among all the other alone people, men and women,
children: but alone together.


                                                                                         7
      The person in the back taps Peter on his left shoulder, coming at him from the
window side. When Peter turns his head this way, he hears the earlier melody
hummed again:




It‟s uncanny how he can hear the sound of his own involuntary cry here. He cranes his
head back further – trying to see around the head rest – but sees only bright blue eyes,
milk white skin, black hair. The hitchhiker smiles broadly, beguiling though
obviously not the intention.
         Peter turns away, an inner squirming that doesn‟t become evident his best
response to unearned fellowship. Rebecca gasps – a sound the hitchhiker imitates at
once – then swings the car sharply to the right.
         „End of the prom,‟ she explains to Peter, rueful smile, eyes fixed ahead to
prevent further errors.
         The hitchhiker repeats Rebecca‟s gasp perfectly, then repeats it, this time
filling it with a kind of echo, a trick perhaps of the nasal passage, or maybe his
tongue.
         The main road is only a short distance on, Shoreham prominent on the local
signpost, a hundred yards away after a left turn. Peter is back in the world, the
intimacy of the stranger having stunned him, not quite being alone together. Rebecca
says, slowing the car so she can look into the rear-view mirror,
         „We‟ll be in Shoreham soon. It‟s as far as we can take you, I‟m afraid.‟
         Peter knows from Rebecca‟s face that the stranger has smiled again. She too
doesn‟t know how to respond. She is charmed, even more than that, but also affronted
by the presumption. She clears her throat with a little internal coughing, says loudly in
a brisk tone:
         „Ternehold is not so much a test case, Peter, though Alex will have us think so.
You‟ll see what I mean.‟ She throws him a quick glance, amazing Peter once again at
how well she can pull herself together. „The contract is explicit, but so what – really –
if they throw in a few questionables? I mean, if they are willing to pay the extra. As
you and Simon insist.‟
         Peter is going off again – long car trip, sunny afternoon by the seaside – but he
interjects by reflex:
         „Not me, Rebecca. Remember, I‟m just a temp.‟
         She flashes him one of her good smiles – the first thing about her that he ever
saw (that and the line of her legs that she disposed for him) – and corrects,
         „That you suggested and Simon was quick to take up.‟ She nudges him with
her elbow. „You‟re a bit of a shark yourself, you know.‟
         Peter smirks – no better word for it, though it won‟t seem to be to his credit –
and looks left seawards at the wonderful glow there, says:
         „Common sense, Rebecca.‟
         She glances into her side mirror and drifts the car into the pavement. Once
stopped she looks back towards their passenger, sudden sadness sweeping over her:
         „This is it, I‟m afraid.‟ She gestures forward and to the right. „We‟ll be turning
off just over there.‟
         The man in the back seems to gaggle in his throat, then he says:



                                                                                         8
         „Welcome you this land, indeed?‟
         Peter looks at Rebecca, balanced between mockery and outright hilarity, but
Rebecca does not look at Peter. She keeps her eyes greedily on the soon-to-be-
departing stranger in the back. „Oh yes,‟ she breathes, equalling his dottiness, „and it
is a green and pleasant land.‟
         Abruptly, her eyes are on Peter, catching the remains of that uncertainty in his
face. The expression on her own face is equally uncertain, though for different
reasons, a sadness and also a stiffness that is a bulwark again pain.
         „Can you open the door for him?‟
         Peter is about to twist his left arm up and around, when the rear door pops
open and the stranger scrambles out. He is dressed entirely in white, no bag, no coat.
Rebecca shouts „Goodbye and good luck,‟ rams the gearshift forward and away they
go with no further ceremony.
         Rebecca is busy for the next few minutes cutting across moderate traffic and
making the required turn right. Peter can hear the stranger‟s melody now, very clearly,
rising and falling, rising and falling. It‟s not sadness he feels, but desolation, the
feeling coming as though from nowhere but definitely taking up abode in him.
         Once on the bye road, Rebecca says musingly, „God, but he was so good-
looking.‟ She glances at Peter in challenge, daring him to tease, then adds, „Just
downright beautiful.‟
         What can Peter say? Exactly. He can still hear the melody. He could hum it if
he dared. The temptation is surprisingly great; at least so it seems to Peter. He knows
that if he gives in he will be giving something away.
         Rebecca is brisk again, staring straight ahead as she pushes the car along at a
good clip, the ridge of the Downs coming into view above a stand of trees.
         „Could be an immigrant, you know. Off the ferry at Newhaven, I mean.
Probably hitch as far as Portsmouth before seeking asylum or whatever.‟
         Peter also seems remarkably mordant:
         „Are you serious? He had no baggage. Not even a jacket. I reckon he‟s a
waiter or something in one of the resorts. Paid buttons, so can‟t afford the bus fare
even.‟
         Actually, Peter is smirking again, keeping his face away from Rebecca‟s view.
         It works. Rebecca‟s head goes down, jutting her chin forward and increasing
her grip on the wheel till her thumbs go white.
         „Really? But he couldn‟t speak English very well, Peter.‟
         „Would he need to? He wouldn‟t need much of a vocabulary in a pub or club.‟
Peter pauses, testing to see if he can wind Rebecca up a little more. „You know, you
and your party chums should come down at the weekend and look out for him.‟
         Something has startled Rebecca. She turns to stare at Peter.
         „You mean in Shoreham? God, that would be the pits.‟
         Peter is finding it hard to keep the rising chortle out of his voice:
         „Well, maybe further on, Rebecca. Where else is down that way?‟
         A business building is coming into view, forward to the right. Ternehold
Securities plc. Rebecca slows the car.
         „I don‟t know, for heaven‟s sake.‟
         Peter reaches and digs the folder up off the car floor again, his heart sinking,
reality on its way back.
         „Something else for you to do, then, isn‟t it?‟

                                *


                                                                                       9
        The Ternehold company has a colour scheme, powder blue and white, flagged
as vertical bands, left blue, right white. Inoffensive as a flag or pennant, it is pretty
awful as an interior decoration. Even the receptionist is dressed in this blue and white,
blue skirt and jacket, white blouse and shoes, blue and white neck scarf – like a
hostess on a treadmill tour operation: nothing to excite, nothing to tire.
        Peter is excessively sensitive to the dullness, mellow day outside, dry business
in here. Rebecca sees places like this day in day out, so she is excited by the potted
plant over at the receptionist‟s desk. She hurries over towards it, the receptionist
rising to meet her, quickly matching Rebecca‟s excitement. It‟s soon pretty obvious
that this is nothing more than a charade, a sort of pre-performance warm-up. Peter
drifts over to a window and sees below a small man – in a blue and white overall –
poking about in a skip filled with discarded reams of form paper. His bum is
remarkable flat and wide.
        A cry, „Well, hello, Rebecca,‟ and a good looking man with dark hair and a
trim moustache – dark grey suit, lavender shirt and yellow tie – has come through a
swing door off to one side and is approaching the reception area with both hands
extended.
        Rebecca spins about at once and sets off to meet the man midway – as near as
she can manage it – she calling out in turn, „Jeff, well hello Jeff.‟
        The hand shake is something of a collision, and both seem to rebound at once,
each crouching slightly, as though each might do something else, like snarl or spit to
one side.
        Rebecca is aglow. Even the flesh of her calves has become roseate, jarring a
bit with the fuchsia of her skirt.
        Jeff says, on cue as though he has been counting a beat:
        „See you made good time.‟ He looks at his watch.
        Rebecca glances at her watch, nods. Then she suddenly swings around until
she has found Peter, when she beckons him over. Peter doesn‟t waste any time. He
might be disaffected, but he understands the need to play his part – if only because it
makes the working day a little easier.
        Rebecca tilts her head up, breathing in, then swings around to Jeff again, her
arm out in the direction of approaching Peter.
        „Jeff, this is Peter, Peter Lacey. He‟s our Credit Manager.‟
        This is an important cue. Peter is management now, some liberties available,
but also some exposure.
        „Peter, this is Jeff Sergeant, Head of Security here at Ternehold.‟
        Jeff thrusts out a hand. Peter sees that his hand collides with it, swift grip, then
pull back.
        „So you‟re the collector, eh, Peter?‟
        Peter rises to the occasion. „Oh, receiver, most times, Jeff.‟
        Rebecca, sizing up the encounter very rapidly, says with her more twinkling
smile:
        „We call him our bagman, Jeff.‟
        Jeff finds this very amusing, his brushy moustache bristling in a snouty sort of
way, skin very pink about his eyes. Rebecca is grinning at Peter, who realises now
that she has finally caught on to the wind-up about their hitchhiker. So he says, taking
a liberty, „Jolly swagman, sure,‟ and gives a dry knowing chuckle, as though he
knows what he is talking about.
        Of course, it means nothing at all, but Jeff and Rebecca don‟t seem so sure.
Peter turns away, feeling as though he has just shouted FUCK YOU out loud. That‟s


                                                                                         10
not necessarily a good thing to feel, and Peter knows it. If there is a problem, then
Peter knows that he is a part of it, a big part.
        Rebecca says, „The traffic was surprisingly light, you know. Given the season,
I mean.‟
        Jeff agrees emphatically, nodding while his eyes remain on Peter, something
like a vague suspicion entering his mind: Is he one of us?
        Rebecca picks up on this at once, and her instinct drives her – just like that
when push comes to shove – to protect Peter. Jeff for his part is aware at once of her
reaction, so he shifts his gaze to her, saying smoothly:
        „The new bypass will no doubt help. See them at it over by Falmer these
mornings, you know.‟
        The swing door is swung open again to allow a middle aged woman to enter.
She is carrying some folders nestling in a habitual way in the crook of her left arm.
She scans the group and focuses on Peter, the only one carrying paperwork.
        Jeff starts – a kind of guilty jerk – and bristles up again:
        „Ah Maura. Yes. Do you know Rebecca? Rebecca Foster? She‟s with that
storage company we use.
        This doesn‟t work, perhaps too masculinely flippant. So he changes gear,
becoming that bit more supine:
        „And this is Peter Lilly…‟
        „Lacey.‟
        „Of course. Thank you, Rebecca. He‟s their Accounts Manager, apparently.‟
        The woman grimaces. „I‟m Maura Sinclair,‟ she says to Peter. „I deal with the
accounts for Ternehold. How do you do?‟
        The handshake lingers. Maura has a firm warm hand and Peter has a dead lock
by nature. They are intelligent hands, happy to find each other. Peter and Maura look
at each other, and look at each other, each finding something to look at, generosity in
one, sensitivity in the other.
        Jeff says loudly, „Perhaps we should use the Boardroom. I know it‟s free this
afternoon. Isn‟t that right, Mary?‟
        The receptionist, invisible behind her desk, nods emphatically for Jeff.
        Rebecca says, turning with a curious swish – though her clothes are not loose
– to look directly at Maura, „It‟s Forrester, actually‟. She makes a moue: men.
        Peter is aware of the breasts of both women, a sudden awareness arising from
the standoff between them. Both have small breasts, though the older woman‟s are
fleshier, restrained by a firmer harness. He knows the women are aware of his
awareness; neither seems to mind too much.
        Maura smiles, tight, slightly wry, mouths „Jeff‟ for both Rebecca and Peter.
All three relax.
        Through the swing door and down a blue and white corridor to a long low-
ceilinged room. Not blue and white this time, instead the walls are lined with a blond
veneer, tasteful prints of eighteenth century rural life at intervals, their walnut-toned
frames jarring with the excessive light in the room.
        Peter sees the view through the window, towards the Downs escarpment, so he
sits where he can look out, indifferent to any planned seating arrangement. There is a
village discernible through trees, tiled roofs, a church spire, a tall aerial of some kind
shiny in the sun.
        Jeff is seated directly opposite Peter, hands joined on the table. His gold plated
watch is prominent. Maura has seated herself two places to his left, while Rebecca has
come to sit on Peter‟s right. The restoration of her lightly perfumed aura reminds him


                                                                                       11
– with a vague start – just how familiar it is to him. He looks at her. Rebecca smiles,
then coughs her little cough and says forthrightly into the room:
        „We are all aware of the reason for this meeting?‟
        Jeff nods abruptly, glancing from Rebecca to Peter, his mouth tightening as
though he is charging himself.
        Maura moves deliberately, twisting her body a little towards Rebecca and
Peter, and dives in with as little ceremony: „You should know that the services we
provide are client-based. Thus we must work to contracts in all cases.‟ She smiles at
Rebecca, knowing very well that she is making the introduction that Jeff is too
pugnacious to make. She opens a green folder and picks up a set of pages stapled
together in the top left-hand corner. „All charges and payments must therefore be
covered by specific conditions. Now, this is the particular contract we are concerned
with, between Ternehold and Jukes.‟ She drops the sheaf of papers back into the
folder, closes it and opens a blue folder. „There are no outstanding charges against this
contract. Last payment was…ten days ago. Is that correct, Peter?‟
        Serves Rebecca right for promoting me, is Peter‟s first response. His second is
to open his folder and lift out a copy statement and put it down on the table clear of
the folder, towards Jeff. As expected, Jeff reaches and grabs it, speaking rapidly, a
rehearsed gambit:
        „I quote from memory, Peter, “storage as the Company sees fit in order to
provide optimal security”. If Jukes decide to upgrade the level of security, then that‟s
only in keeping with the terms of the contract.‟
        He slaps the copy statement back down on the table.
        Rebecca is not alarmed, but she does hurry to say:
        „The terms of the contract are not in dispute, Jeff. That has already been made
clear…‟
        „Then there are no new charges.‟ Jeff is heated, finding it difficult to fight with
a woman because it makes him too passionate. „You can‟t just dream up new terms
because the economy is slipping, you know.‟
        Maura is quick to intervene here. „Then tell us, Rebecca, on what terms are
you levying these surcharges?‟
        Rebecca replies without looking away from Jeff, as though only her calming
gaze restrains him: „The contract specifies by category the nature of the items to be
stored. The items in question do not come within the specified category.‟
        Jeff deflates very suddenly, looking all at once both sheepish and puzzled, his
moustache limp on his pursed upper lip.
        „We‟ve had three consignments from you under this particular contract. The
first two within weeks of each other about three years ago. The third consignment we
received about six months ago. It was evident to our stores people that this
consignment was very different to the previous ones.‟
        Rebecca pauses, turning, now that Jeff has been quelled, to Maura:
        „We have no knowledge of who your clients are. Nor are our contracts with
you client-specific. We base our considerations on the nature of the items entrusted to
us for storage, and on that alone.‟ Another pause. Rebecca‟s fingers are pressing into
the table surface. Peter is fascinated to see how the whiteness of her unvarnished nails
merges with the whiteness of her pressurised fingertips, as though her fingers are
sinking right into the table. „Now, we are the sole arbiters in the categorisation of
everything we store. Our clients are free to remove their goods if they disagree with
us.‟
        Rebecca turns to Peter as she makes her point:


                                                                                        12
         „But you must pay for the appropriate storage arrangement you‟ve enjoyed in
the interim.‟
         On cue, Peter lifts the set of copy invoices secured together with a paper clip.
He looks at Jeff, then at Maura.
         Jeff goes to speak, a momentary inarticulate croak, then Maura sits back and
says:
         „Perhaps we should have some refreshments. Coffee?‟
         Everyone nods. She leaves the room without having looked at the sheaf of
invoices in Peter‟s hand.
         The air is thick. Rebecca lifts a hand to touch the corners of her mouth. Peter‟s
eyes follow the hand, a hungry need to focus on something that comforts him.
         Jeff coughs dryly and asks:
         „Do you live in London?‟
         Peter transfers his gaze to the scene beyond the window before he realises that
Jeff is addressing him, not Rebecca. But Rebecca says in any case, covering for him:
         „Epsom.‟ She is smiling. She doesn‟t like Jeff. „They tell me that we‟re safe if
they ever nuke London.‟ Now she glances at Peter. „Actually, I think that‟s true. FM
reception is terrible.‟
         Now Peter takes over. He points behind Jeff.
         „What village is that, Jeff?‟
         He replies without turning round:
         „Steyning.‟ He looks morose for a moment, then some social habit takes over:
„Actually, it‟s quite a beautiful place, you know. So characteristic of the Downs. Have
you been to Lewes? Or Rye? You really should visit those towns. Rye especially.
Unchanged for a thousand years. I sometimes think…‟
         The man who enters the room is wearing a blue suit, dark blue with red tie and
black shoes. He sits in to the table beside Jeff, between him and where Maura sat. A
chill air radiates from him, but it is only a call to order from a busy man.
         Jeff performs the introductions:
         „This is our Finance Director, Mark Tarrant. Mark, these people are from
Jukes. Peter is from their accounts and Rebecca is sales.‟
         Peter knows the name. He scrutinises Tarrant, trying hard to place him.
         „Shall we wait for the coffee first?‟ Mark says, polite rather than considerate.
He too is making assessments.
         Jeff says, the bluff tone more emphasised in the presence of a director divinity,
         „I‟ve been telling Peter and Rebecca here about our historic towns. They…‟
         The chill air has intensified. Jeff wisely shuts up.
         Yet the silence is a burden, even for a director – who might be thought
immune to its demands. Mark says, speaking to Peter:
         „Are those the invoices you want paid?‟
         Peter gives them to him.
         Maura returns, followed by the receptionist bearing a tray. Mark is licking his
lips, flicking through the sheets, though it is obvious he is very familiar with their
originals. He waits until the receptionist has removed herself before speaking to
Maura:
         „You‟re quite sure about the terms?‟
         „It can be argued, yes.‟
         Mark looks at Peter, deliberately ignoring Rebecca. It is obvious that he knows
Peter‟s real standing at Jukes.
         „And you will chase for these?‟


                                                                                       13
         Peter bridles, unable to resist the challenge. But it is simply a matter of
determination: business is purely existential, it could go on for ever or fall flat
tomorrow.
         „Yes.‟
         Mark places the invoices on the table.
         „Through the courts? The contract does not support you.‟ Suddenly he nods.
„Yes. But you know that. What is it then?‟
         Peter is not sure. He says, removed from himself as he speaks, for once
immersed in the game:
         „The goods themselves.‟
         „But that would be actionable?‟
         Peter nods.
         He is surprised to see panic in Mark‟s eyes. It‟s not there for long, but it is
panic.
         Peter now shrugs, but Rebecca is quick to intervene:
         „We can hold the goods against outstanding charges, Mark.‟
         Which, of course, is not the point.
         Maura reaches and draws the tray towards her, no noise on the super-smooth
surface, but the movement itself is enough.
         It is an awkward moment. The meeting is not over, negotiations should be still
under way, but someone has decided that enough has been said. Maura lays out cups
and saucers, tiny things that indicate the strength of the beverage becoming available.
Sure enough, the dark stream is utterly opaque, the liquid settling quickly into each
cup as though it contains a gelling agent. There is cream, and sugar; none is offered,
however, on the understanding that busy business types need all the help they can get.
         Mark Tarrant takes a cursory sip from his cup – perhaps already fully tanked –
then he is off, moving like a real shark, no turbulence, going straight for the door.
         Maura‟s release is evident; Jeff‟s that bit slower, less managed. But Jeff is the
first to speak, an initial intense effort to prise his mouth open, then:
         „That new aerial there, Peter,‟ pointing behind him towards Steyning, „is an
absolute eyesore.‟ Turns back, cocking a surprisingly gentle blue eye at Peter, „For
these mobile phones, I believe.‟ Looks deep into his coffee cup, as though seeking
inspiration there. „They‟ll get rid of it, wait and see, when the fad passes.‟
         Maura now speaks, having waited until Jeff finished:
         „You like music, Peter?‟
         Peter nods abruptly, still immersed in some quality of Jeff‟s, a weakness of
sorts in this boardroom now though once perhaps an unvirtued, that is, untested,
goodness.
         „I thought so. There‟s a club – along the seafront in Brighton – that hosts some
very good blues bands. You should come down and hear them some weekend.‟
         Jeff speaks up again, putting the cup down with a loud click. He has not drunk
much of the coffee, either. „I‟ll be off, then.‟ Looks at Maura, „Need to check the
gates before the day shift ends.‟
         Rebecca is being ignored, though she doesn‟t seem to mind. However, she
says to Peter in undertone as they all watch Jeff make his exit, „Wow.‟
         „Blues band?‟ Peter says to cover Rebecca‟s indiscretion, watching Jeff march
– best word – towards the door. „Albert King, maybe. Or Jimmy Reed. White bands
are headbangers.‟ Peter knows he‟s using up goodwill here.
         Maura takes the point, twisting her head to one side, rueful, even deflated:
         „It‟s a difficult time, Peter. Some people just burn up, you know.‟


                                                                                       14
         The receptionist enters now, very quiet in a practiced way, and crosses to
Maura and places what is obviously a cheque on the table in front of her.
         Rebecca kicks Peter under the table.
         Maura studies the cheque, looks up, smiles cannily. She puts her finger to her
lips before either Rebecca or Peter can speak, looking up towards a corner over by the
window.
         „I think you‟ll find this will cover the outstanding amount, Peter, Rebecca.‟
She passes the cheque across. Neither Peter nor Rebecca touch it at first, then Peter
slides it into his otherwise empty folder. Very dignified.
         „There. I think that concludes our business for today. We will contact you in
the near future. Some change to the contract may be needed.‟
         Rebecca nods, chary of saying anything at all now.
         Out in the carpark, Maura touches Peter‟s elbow.
         „They might be going to hell in a rocket, but what a way to go.‟
         She stares at him until he stops and returns her stare. He slowly shakes his
head:
         „You know what they say: when there‟s nothing to be done, do nothing.‟
         Behind him, a mighty clunk indicates that Rebecca has unlocked the car‟s
doors, all of them.




                                                                                    15
        The brightness out over the Channel is like deep space, and Peter allows that
he might be soaring up into its vast expanse, getting away from it all, again. Rebecca,
on the other hand, is the closest to exultant she can manage. It‟s not rational, the
amount of money involved is not significant, nor has any principle been upheld or
some scam operated successfully. She‟s driving fast down the not-too-busy road, the
sea glimpsed out towards the horizon between the buildings along the approaching
main road.
        „God, you were so cool, Peter.‟ She throws him a sidelong glance, full of
admiration, earnestly so. „I didn‟t think you would do it, I mean face him off like
that.‟
        Peter is flattered and pleased, no doubt about that, yet he will not be tempted:
„He was a bit premature.‟ He tries for irony, finds only that smirk again. Yet he is
pleased that it worked, seeing the moves as in a chess game, the loss of restraint by an
essentially weak player, the obvious response, hubris, the victory of little worth. „I
think he was going to pay anyway.‟
        Rebecca doesn‟t ask Why? as she should. Peter does, remembering the panic,
remembering that he had heard of Mark Tarrant before. What Rebecca says is:
        „You know that Alex didn‟t want to do this, don‟t you? Yes, I know he came
round to seeing it as a test case, but reclassifying storage means nothing to sales. He
talked it up to keep Charles happy. I mean, it‟s more money for the company.‟
        Charles is the managing director. He, along with Alex, the sales director, and
half the sales force, all went to the same obscure public school in Surrey. They all
pronounce the name Charles in a particular way, drawn nasal a, no r, the merest l. It‟s
within a hair‟s breadth of the more vernacular Chas as it is spoken in Cork City.
        Rebecca pronounces it in the same way. Peter hadn‟t noticed this before.
        „Rebecca, the invoices exist. Accountants can‟t just cancel invoices. It‟s like
contradicting yourself.‟
        The junction is upon them, so Rebecca must switch style, giving up the free
and easy for the more usual struggle for place in the desperate traffic. And the traffic
is mad, the end of the working week looming and people miles away from home.
Rebecca settles quickly into the new routine.
        „So what‟s Simon‟s game in this, Peter?‟
        This question is by an apparently preoccupied Rebecca, as though it comes off
the top of her head.
        Peter cocks his head at her, equally disingenuous:
        „How would I know? I‟m only a temp.‟
        Rebecca seems to force a laugh, which is then strangled to a cry. She pulls the
car over to the kerb. Peter is surprised to see a kind of panic – loss of control – in her
face as she strains to look back between the headrests. He experiences the wrench of
displacement: has she hit someone? It‟s like the day might be falling apart, like glass
breaking suddenly.
        The rear door behind him is opened then closed in one smooth motion.
Rebecca literally shouts,
        „Oh it‟s you again!‟
        „See come all ways to get him.‟
        A hand drops on to Peter‟s left shoulder. The fingers have no nails. Peter starts
mightily, like an electric bolt running through him.
        „One kind day for all, yes, mighty male?‟
        Then he sings, voice all at once perfect for the effort, soaring like an alto, but
sounding in his body:


                                                                                       16
         Peter might be bombed by this, but he has enough presence of irony to cock
his head at Rebecca and ask with delicate pleasure:
         „Maybe not Shoreham, after all?‟
         She is deeply embarrassed, her visible flesh flushed – her knees, Peter notes
abstractly, bright red, for some reason like a child‟s – and she seems to plead with
him:
         „Only as far as Brighton? Surely that‟s not too far?‟
         Peter shrugs, like a dispensation, though both of them are not their usual
selves. Rebecca smiles broadly, pats him on the knee, looking a last time in the rear
view mirror above her – eyes momentarily dreamy – then the car is put into gear and
away they go again.
         Peter says, as though nothing has happened:
         „You know Simon will try anything, Rebecca.‟ He knows this needs a lot of
qualifications; he depends on Rebecca to make them, see the unconventional Finance
Director through a sales person‟s eyes.
         Rebecca gives a short knowing laugh, catching Peter‟s drift in one direction,
wilfully ignoring other perspectives, especially the one that says categorically that
chartered accountants cannot “try anything”. „You mean up for it? That‟s true. But
this is your idea, Peter.‟
         Peter shrugs again. „It‟s worked, hasn‟t it?‟
         Rebecca is nodding abstractly, her eyes focused on a building to the left. She
says:
         „See that grey stone building there? We used to stay there as children. The
whole family. It was a sort of boarding house hotel. A bit posh.‟ There is a bright
chandelier alight in its foyer. A old woman in black waits for a lift.
         „Very stiff?‟
         Rebecca makes a moue. „Maybe. I liked it. You know, very regular,
everything to the same step.‟
         Peter feels a momentary tug, seeing something of the real Rebecca, the
revulsion that impinges in a constant but by now gentle way upon her. Just then the
passenger in the back says loudly:
         „Quentin proboscis tandems it toothens.‟
         Both Peter and Rebecca start, and Rebecca says as loudly, a huge commotion
building in the car:
         „Sure. We‟re almost there. Look, that‟s the beginning of Western Road. That‟s
Brighton.‟
         But the passenger shouts emphatically: „Uh no no no!‟
         Hearing something they can readily understand startles both Peter and
Rebecca. They both turn about to look at him, and then turn back just as quickly, both


                                                                                    17
aware of the pressure of the traffic, not heavy but everyone keen to get on. Peter
blinks, an edge of irritation appearing, too much interruption for his good,
remembering something about the face he has just seen. Mouth saying „Noooo!‟, pink
gums very regular: no teeth.
        Rebecca, for her part, is driven to ask:
        „Christ, can‟t you speak English at all?‟ Then to Peter, an aside though not too
low: „Must be off a boat.‟ She‟s genuinely upset by something here, not illegal
immigrant sponging off her (only hours in the country); no, it‟s a sense that the time is
short and no contact has been made. It‟s an absurd feeling. God, there‟s even
something wrong with his mouth.
        He has no teeth!
        Rebecca stares helplessly at Peter, as though he could save her. Angry blasts
from the cars behind bring her back to consciousness. There are shops on either side
of the road, but the road itself is dipping down towards some complication. It‟s a
Victorian civic monument stuck bang in the middle of a confined crossing.
        „Do we turn here, Peter?‟ Rebecca is the nearest to screaming since childhood.
        Peter, for his part, surprised to find shops all around, struggles to remember
where they are. He‟s candid, a spontaneous response, unusually open for him:
        „I don‟t know.‟
        „God, will you check, Peter!‟
        Peter snorts, „Drive on, drive on.‟ He remembers a park of sorts, open space.
Then he remembers the café, then he remembers the all-alone togetherness. He turns
so that he can look back between the headrests.
        The passenger has no teeth, no nails, skin entirely hairless except for the dark
mop on top of his head, skin white, unexposed, no texture like an infant‟s. His eyes
are blue, baby-blue, the white very white, no red rimming at all. Bloodless.
        Peter asks, not unkindly:
        „No, what?‟
        The passenger‟s smile is one of unfeigned admiration, goggle-eyed as though
mesmerised. He says, slowly and very clearly:
        „I you love tale. I Bekbek love tale. You you loving all. Bekbek Bekbek all lost
many times singing. Bekbek bring we home then all song singing ever.‟
        Rebecca lets out a shriek, as though touched unexpectedly. Peter turns to her
in alarm.
        There are more shops now, the road sloping down, curving this way then that.
An old road, Peter thinks absently, seeing sand for some reason, grinding poverty,
prayers at night.
        „He‟s mad, Peter. Look, we can let him out at the next lights.‟
        Peter nods for Rebecca‟s sake, knowing bloody well that it will not happen.
He says:
        „Take it easy, Rebecca.‟ He‟s trusting to an intimacy in his voice, easy to do
with her but tricky nonetheless. He touches her elbow, her skin cool but throbbing a
lot more than he expected.
        The next lights come up, road widening, the park on the right, more greenery
immediately to the left now. Peter says in a neutral tone:
        „Left here, now, Rebecca.‟
        Left it is, having the lights, and it is like a release, all the cars scenting the
open road, A23 straight up to London. Out of the way there.
        Even the passenger in the back knows this. He begins a song, one that he will
sing all the way to London:


                                                                                       18
19
         Just as well someone is singing in the car. The traffic is horrendous, half of
London struggling to get home one way, half of Surrey trying to get home the other
way, all meeting up right by the M25. They reach Purley at seven in the evening,
traffic beginning to ease.
         „Are you going back to the office?‟ Peter asks, reaching down for the folder.
Rebecca nods, both grown used to the silence, low singing still behind them, neither
tiring of the simple air.
         „Can you leave this in my desk? The cheque? The right hand drawer. The
key‟s under the terminal.‟
         That arranged, Peter gets out near Croydon. The passenger becomes excited
and wants to accompany him. Peter makes no fuss, slams the door, slaps the roof.
Rebecca shoots off, anguished pale face in the back window.
         How does Peter feel? Not desolation, anyway. Long day behind him, the
depressing sameness of south London all around him. He finds a phone box nearby.
His call answered immediately.
         „Anne?‟
         „Pete? Where are you? I can hear traffic.‟
         „Near Beddington. It‟ll take about twenty minutes to walk over. Is that okay?‟
         „Yes, sure.‟
         „You sound a bit frazzled.‟
         „No. It‟s fine now.‟ She laughs her very fast laugh. „I‟ll be better by the time
you get here.‟
         „Anything you need? On the way, I mean.‟
         „Wine, if you like. That‟d be nice…Pete?‟
         „What?‟
         „Hurry.‟
         The walk is good. Roads not too busy, pavements deserted, the evening
coming slowly on. The domestic hour, blue flicker in front rooms, Friday evening and
the whole weekend free. Peter finds a Portuguese wine in an off-licence, not
expensive but it looks heartening. Peter always trusts the labels.
         He chances on a green patch, wedged into a corner of a new housing scheme,
and sits a while on the grass. He has removed his jacket and loosened his tie, now he
holds his arms out at his sides, airing the hot shirt. It‟s the northern sky he looks
towards, blue nearby but green towards the horizon. There‟s peace in the sky, and
Peter rises to it. A moment like this, anticipation and certainty, something good for
now, something perhaps earned, even deserved.
         So something comes to a halt – and something else seems to begin, like a
shadow disclosed. Peter sees this without a qualm, not the first time it has happened.
He doesn‟t know what the shadow is: it wouldn‟t be shadowy if he did. The important
point this evening, in any case, is not seeing the shadow, but seeing it so clearly. Peter
is looking at the peaceful sky and seeing this shadow as a kind of frame on his sight.
It is not part of the scene. If Peter made the effort he could see the shadow entire, and
perhaps see more.
         Peter stands up, draws his jacket on, continues on his way.
         The instant he resumes walking – vaguely self-conscious, thinking that
someone in the nearby houses watches him – the shadow that has plagued him
resolves itself into the memory of the curious melody the hitchhiker had sung all that
afternoon, on the road from Brighton to London. He hums the song. It‟s hard to catch
the dissonances, the curious modal slips, yet there is a familiarity that warms him
despite the flatness, even strangeness of the piece.


                                                                                       20
        The entrance to the close in which Anne lives is a delight – for a lover, at
least. On the corner there is a dilapidated convenience store, half filled waste bins
flanking the blind side extending into the close. There is only one light in the short
cul-de-sac, which happens to stand just under the only mature tree in the area, an
expansive sycamore. It‟s on already – dark under the tree, whose open crown permits
the amber light to spread in a pleasing way through the branches, large leaves here
reflecting the light, there blocking it to produce shadow, the light thrown on the
ground and buildings in consequence dappled in an inviting way. Facing the blind
side of the shop is the blank wall of a builder‟s yard, ladders and scaffolding poles
jutting up as evidence. Behind the shop, however, half hidden by the tree, there is a
block of maisonettes, done out in dull London brick with dirty pebble-dashed render
on the upper floor. There are four units, arranged in a tight terrace, straight walk in, no
gardens. Parked cars hide the state of the roadway, the dirt in the gutters, the broken
pavement flags.
        The light is on in the hall of the last house. Peter sees that at once. The close is
almost beautiful, beckoning in the twilight, the burnished light like a heat source. It‟s
a focus, really, everything that is London, that is the world, reducing to this instant
and this state of anticipation.
        It‟s like coming home, just as when he was a child, the light in the hall saying
it all.
        Anne answers at once, he hears her pulling the door to the kitchen open, the
pad of her slippers in the short hall. Yet for all the mutual eagerness, they are
constrained, an element of disbelief – not doubt – always in their meetings. She looks
tired under the red light in the hall, the contours of her lean face over-shadowed by
the low light. Peter is aware at once of his own weariness, like wheels still rolling
under him, face still the public mask.
        But he touches her shoulder, feeling the quick muscle under the cotton shirt,
feeling her instant response to his touch. She brushes the fingers that touch her. They
smile.
        It is enough.
        Anne leads him into the kitchen. The curtains are half-closed, the room lit by a
single fluorescent tube under the storage cabinet, its light strong on the work surface
beside the cooker, but rapidly attenuating and grainy beyond that. Peter takes the wine
from its paper bag, offers it.
        „Food for the soul, mmh?‟
        It is irony, but the deferred emotion is communicated even so, for Anne replies
at once, glancing at the bottle‟s label, then into Peter‟s eyes for the first time:
        „I‟m sure it‟s perfect, Pete. Usually are.‟ She turns away, a rapid movement
that panics Peter before a sharp longing rises in him, an impossible feeling in the
context, operatic then banal. The way beauty stands always in the place of truth when
the truth is absent. „Have you eaten?‟
        „No. I came straight here.
        Anne checks the fridge, looks up, her lank dark hair falling to one side, in need
of a wash: „Omelette? Mushrooms, tomatoes. I think there‟s some tarragon.‟
        „Go easy on that.‟
        She‟s very practiced in this kitchen, pan from the press under the work
surface, spoons, fork, all the rest out in no time. She raises her voice as she busies
herself, reminding Peter more of how she sounded at first, when they worked
together. „Where were you?‟
        Peter is using her winged contraption to uncork the wine.


                                                                                         21
        „Brighton. Some place near there.‟
        It‟s singing he hears, not Rebecca or the business rubbish. Why had he no
teeth? Looks as though he never had.
        „Hate that place, Pete.‟
        Peter stops what he is doing to look at her, surprised by the passion in her
voice.
        „No. Went once as a child. Utterly soulless. Is that it? I mean, it was all junk.‟
Now she smiles widely, sexy all at once, open mouth, even teeth, her tongue flicking
redly. „Even the beach was all stones. God, I hated that place. I was cranky all day.‟
        Peter remembers something. But he has just opened the wine and can get its
fragrance. He finds glasses, saying:
        „The woman I was with, from sales, loved it. No, actually it was Hove she
remembered.‟
        Anne nods emphatically. „Yep. Can understand that. It had a tone.‟ She stops
chopping and looks directly at Peter. „Not really posh. Not the way you‟d expect,
Pete. Kind of dead. Like a museum or a waxworks.‟
        Peter can‟t figure this, some memory prodding him, but remaining away
because inappropriate, how tactful memories are to a certain kind of person, a matter
of integrity.
        Anne senses his hesitation. She licks a finger clean in order to clear a strand of
hair from her left eye, then stands upright, pulling her shoulders back, obviously stiff
from the demands of her week‟s work.
        „Like…what is it? You‟d envy their being so removed from the everyday
things. Like moving in a dream, or a film. But, seeing it from the outside, you‟d not
like how trapped they were. I mean, ordinary life can be pretty hairy and boring, but
things can happen. You know?‟
        She‟s nodding encouragingly at Peter. He nods in reply, a widening smile on
his face. Things can happen.
        Anne is so pleased by her success in getting across to him that she leans over
and touches his bristly cheek with fingers that smell of mushroom. Peter just stands
there, enchanted, glasses in one hand, other hand resting on the neck of the bottle
standing on the table at his side. Anne, for her part, pleased that Peter understands,
goes back to preparing his omelette.
        Peter pours the wine, sniffing for its fragrance again, the gurgle of pouring
wine unique in all creation. He hands Anne a glass, waits for her to clean her hands
and take it before raising his glass in toast. He says, „Your good health.‟ It‟s
conventional enough to say: it doesn‟t get in the way of their tangle of anticipations,
as Anne indicates when she repeats his blessing:
        „And your good health, Pete.‟
        The first taste, then Peter relaxes, knowing it‟s going to be good. Anne sucks
her lips, flashing a bright eye at him from beneath the falling wave of hair.
        „Did it again, old cock? You can pick them.‟
        Peter is very pleased by this, the wine making its first delicious circuit of his
body, rolling away the kinks and bumps, opening his head a bit more.
        „Told you, sweetie, study the label. The guys who make this stuff know what
they are doing.‟
        Anne throws her head up, trying to take a second drink at the same time,
wanting to speak too. Peter knows what she is going to say. He goes into the front
room, turns on her audio machine, finds the Blondie tape, puts it on. As usual, Anne



                                                                                       22
comes in too soon, but pitch perfect, then kicking in loudly as Debbie Harry begins
Heart of Glass.
         Peter‟s cup runneth over. He begins to dance, glass as though on a gyro, he
swinging away a week‟s drudgery, wanting to sing, wanting it badly, but only his
body is responding, a dancer not a singer. He hears Anne singing in the kitchen, her
first high characteristically infectious. It‟s like she permits him to be happy.
         But Peter wouldn‟t be Peter if he didn‟t wander off this broad avenue of
happiness, his mind picking as always through the side ways, the undergrowth,
appearing here as a desire to drink more wine, as though the alcohol is a strong light
in some perennial gloom. So he forgets the music blaring out beside him, though he
continues to dance, and sips the wine, thinking of a sudden of the café at the end of
the road, of being alone together.
         Can‟t know anyone when alone together. Not a happy thought, though Peter
realises it is a true thought. Knowledge of another presupposes knowledge of oneself,
and knowledge of oneself is distinct from the actual self. Etcetera etcetera.
         Peter goes to the kitchen door.
         „Is this too loud?‟
         Anne is already over her euphoria, looking decidedly drawn. Her eyes are
huge when she looks up from the pan, pale green seeming almost blue, eyes to
generate such hunger.
         „On no. Friday nights he comes in, showers, dresses up and is gone till four in
the morning. The most he‟ll have is a cup of coffee.‟
         Peter nods, looking at the table set for him, the cup and saucer, knife and fork,
salt and pepper – which he never uses.
         Anne feels she must continue, „He‟s no trouble, Pete. The money helps pay the
mortgage.‟ She hoists the pan, reaching for the plate warming under the grill: „Come
on, this is ready.‟
         Blondie is starting In the flesh as he sits down. Anne is humming the melody,
her mouth coming down close to his ear. For that moment she is fully self-contained,
wrapped around, as it were, the song. The refrain – in the flesh – comes round just as
she places the omelette before him and she kisses him quickly on the ear, her breath
warm on his temple.
         The down is gone, too: up then down, now straight on into the evening, the
night. Peter smiles at her, the joy openly in his face, his own lips itching. He purses
his mouth and Anne obliges.
         She smiles, uncharacteristically dreamy, her face creamy, lank hair as though
moist. Peter says nothing, content to leave her to herself.
         The omelette is good, made with milk not water so not resembling shoe
leather. Peter eats quickly, leaving the wine aside – he does not drink with his meals –
the habit of regular meals keeping him at it while his mind wanders and his body
begins its long slow seethe.
         Anne knows all the words of Rapture, she standing in front of the audio‟s
speakers, chanting the words in perfect time, loving the devilment of the song. Peter
hears her, following the loopy sense of what she‟s singing, but his mind is trying to
remember something, not important but some hidden sense that this is the right
moment.
         Then it comes: Tarrant.
         Peter waits until the song ends before calling out:
         „Anne! Does the name Tarrant mean anything to you? Mark Tarrant?‟



                                                                                       23
        Silence, even though the music continues, Peter feeling as though all the air in
the room is being sucked away.
        Anne‟s eyes are the biggest he has ever seen, a play of feeling in them, fear,
loathing, and a cold fury. Her nipples are almost fully distended.
        „Did you say Mark Tarrant?‟ She doesn‟t wait for him to answer: „Where did
you meet him?‟
        Peter is stunned, nonetheless it is like an arrow hitting home, the pleasure of
vindication strong.
        „He‟s the Finance Director of a company I visited today.‟
        Anne‟s sarcasm is forced, theatrical, unusual for her:
        „Finance Director now, is he?‟ She sits down at the table facing him, her glass
empty in her hand, a wonderful fury through her whole body. „I‟ll tell you this, Peter,
Mark Tarrant is a lizard.‟
        Peter sees a tongue flicking out, flicking out, a man on hands and knees, a
confusion of objectives, what is money, what is sex: where is the love?
        Peter finds his glass, sips the by now breathed wine, its body full and fruity,
more glasses yet to come. It‟s like something solid has come into the room, a
tangibility that is like a relief.
        „Is he a crook, Anne?‟
        The truth is, it‟s stronger than sex; it explains priests, the fascination with
police work, what sin really is.
        The question has stopped Anne. She is nodding, picking up the seriousness
and its attendent dread, the nearest thing to what she would regard as religion. She is
nodding very emphatically, her eyes flaring, lips moist at the edges.
        „Yessss,‟ she breathes. „Yes, of course.‟
        She searches for the wine bottle, then pours for Peter and herself. After a
drink, she looks Peter in the eye, now rock steady, practical:
        „This is between you and me, Pete. Alright?‟
        Peter nods.
        „There‟s about three hundred thousand pounds missing from the TMS
accounts. You know about some of this from your time there, right?‟
        Peter nods. „I knew about one twenty five. But the accounts were incomplete,
Anne.‟
        „Yes, that‟s right. They still are. Edward hasn‟t done much about that.‟ She
makes a moue, gesturing for an obscure reason, office politics. „He‟s more concerned
with impressing the new owners. Anyway. I‟m talking about other accounts, not the
PSA. There are records of large payments but no invoices for them. And of course
unpaid invoices that have been under query for over two years.‟
        Blondie is now on a very familiar track, but Peter cannot place it at all: just so
much noise. It‟s easy to conjecture the storage of his ill gotten gains under someone
else‟s name. What is stored? No banknotes. Gold or stones, yes. Anne is watching
Peter, perhaps reading him in her way. She asks:
        „Why did you have to see him, Pete?‟
        „Overdue payment. What else?‟
        Anne is watching him the way he has seen her watch workmates during his
time with Total Maintenance Services. A shark in a sea of sharks, ready to defend
herself, scheming with allies, testing her enemies and rivals. So he adds:
        „He paid up, Anne. Just like that.‟
        It is off the point, as intended. Peter sees Anne go absent in a way he had seen
once before, when he fell in love with her. For a time she has no identity, no memory,


                                                                                       24
no presence. That first time he loved what he saw then, like a salvation for him,
pointing to a possibility. This time he sees what he did not see then: she is a
congeries, not a unity. She is an entity that will be pulled together in a moment, when
Anne will return with her life and memories. It is a weird insight to have; yet his love
does not abate in the face of this strangeness.
         So he asks: „What is it about Tarrant, Anne?‟
         Now she does lower his eyes. She draws her free hand into a fist, the long
fingers like sticks bending in until the fist is all knuckle and bone under the reddened
skin.
         „Well, I wondered why he used Charlene to key in all his work. You
remember her, don‟t you? White mouth painted on her black lips?‟ She looks up,
directly into Peter‟s eyes: „Christ, Pete, he can work women.‟
         Lizard.
         Peter nods, faintly embarrassed, vindication strong as a kind of recompense.
He nods again, straightening up and sipping wine from his glass.
         „Sure. There‟s no need to spell it out.‟
         The music has ended, the silence a palpable presence in the house. Peter sees
that it is almost dark outside, the fluorescent glare stronger in the kitchen. Anne gets
up and goes into the living room. Peter watches her, the swing of her breasts, the long
line of her waist under tight blouse and trousers, the rounded bottom of an active
person. The tenderness swells up in him, grasping for that instant the fact that Anne is
actually alive.
         Being impressed, someone to look up to, to reach out for, the better to
overcome a limitation.
         Peter gets up, momentarily stiff after a day in Rebecca‟s car, and follows
Anne. She has put on the lamp standard over by the window, its yellow light flattering
the room‟s ordinariness, even a Constable print over the erstwhile fireplace, over the
gas heater.
         „Charismatic means bearing grace, Anne.‟
         She snorts, her embarrassment of course much greater than Peter‟s.
         „Charlene is not stupid, only lazy.‟ Peter nods, having resisted her many
attempts to shove the drudge work onto him, the temp. „She makes lots of mistakes,
Pete.‟
         What can Peter say? He goes to Anne‟s collection of tapes and searches for the
Brahms‟ tape he gave her as a present. Luckily the opus 78 Sonata comes first, so all
he has to do is replace Blondie and press the play lever. When he first heard this
sonata, Peter had determined he would spent his leisure time studying Brahms in the
greatest possible detail. He never did, and the rest of this tape always reminds him
why he didn‟t.
         He sits on the settee, in his favourite place near the door, where he can rest his
right elbow on the chair that stands alongside. The wine is still as heartening.
         Many in one: congeries, a word he hadn‟t thought of for many years.
         Anne goes into the kitchen for the wine bottle, pours for Peter then for herself.
She sits beside him, places her glass near her left foot, then takes Peter‟s left hand in
both of hers.
         „I wondered why he used Charlene, Pete, I really did. There were others who
could do better work.‟
         Peter sees Anne on her hands and knees. There‟s a need that contains so much
hatred. He says:
         „He wanted mistakes?‟


                                                                                        25
        Anne is delighted, the first breath of relief in her:
        „Exactly.‟
        „And you, Anne?‟
        „What you asked me tonight. About him being a crook. He didn‟t want me to
notice.‟
        Peter nods: „Which you would have done?‟
        „I regularly check her work. Correct it.‟ She squeezes his hand, the sheer
definition of her movement thrilling, as always. „I was flattered, Pete. That‟s the
truth.‟
        The Brahms is lulling both of them.
        Anne reaches for the glass, drinks slowly, her throat working. Peter sees that
you could live in anyone‟s truth, no matter what that truth was: it was the truth that
was loved.
        „Who wouldn‟t be, Anne,‟ Peter allows.
        She turns to him, a touch of mockery in her eyes.
        „I wouldn‟t have been if I hadn‟t been so… I wouldn‟t be flattered by him
now.‟
        Peter bows his head, a swirl of irony: thinks of truth and lie.
        Anne grips his hand: „He‟s a bastard.‟
        Now it‟s Peter who squeezes her hand, but Anne is alright: she‟s merely
preparing the ground for what she now wants to say.
        „No. The way you are, Pete. You‟re capable, very capable, probably good at
everything you do. But that doesn‟t matter to you. I mean, you just do things well
because your life is easier that way. You can take or leave things, and that‟s that.‟
        Peter wants to say something, wants to reassure Anne.
        „No. Hold on. I‟m not finished.‟ She looks at him, not sincere as such, rather
earnest in the way intense people are when they want to convince someone of a truth.
„I know how you feel about me, and I know why.‟ She shakes his hand. „So leave that
for now. This is about Tarrant. I want to tell you this. He seems self-contained, self-
possessed, isn‟t that right?‟
        Peter nods. And weak.
        „I was impressed by that, Pete. I need to be impressed. It‟s like I lack
something. But…‟ She looks down at her knees, now clenched together. „How do I
put this? There was nothing there. Absolutely nothing.‟ She laughs her more high
pitched laugh, clutching a hank of her hair with her left hand. „To tell you the truth,
Pete, I was prepared to do anything for him. Any time.‟
        It‟s only now, seeing the expression in Anne‟s eyes, the candour, the make-
what-you-will honesty, that Peter finds the word he needs to describe the congeries he
sees in her.
        Exposed.
        He can do what he likes with Anne. Anything at all.
        Anne nods, as though she knows what he is thinking.
        „Anyway, it took months to find out what he was really like.‟ Pause,
lengthening pause, then a small wry smile that makes her mouth seems extraordinarily
wise. „By then he was gone. On to somewhere else, no doubt.‟
        She reaches and touches Peter‟s cheek, then follows that by kissing him where
she had touched him. She excuses herself and leaves the room.
        The music is mediocre Brahms now, which Peter cannot stand. In the silence,
he hears Anne in the bathroom upstairs, the clunk of her bare heels on the chipboard
flooring. Peter goes and fills a glass with tap water and drinks it down in one go. He


                                                                                    26
slips off his jacket and lays it across the back of the nearest chair, then undoes his tie
and lays it neatly across the jacket. He wants to take his shoes off, too, but thinks at
first that his socks are too damp after the warm day, then he takes both shoes and
socks off. That done, he wants to rinse his face and hands under the tap, drying them
with the green towel that always hangs beside the sink.
         It‟s like commitment: you place a limit on yourself and accept that, even if
inevitable death makes all limitation nonsensical in the face of its final limit. But it‟s
not like that, as he knows very well. No, what he sees in Anne is true of himself too.
Otherwise why would he feel this way about her: so accepting of everything.
         „Ah, do you want to shower, Pete?‟
         Anne is wearing her long house gown, a zip from her toes to her neck. The red
is deep, smouldering against her damp-darkened hair, but restful and warming.
         „No. Later.‟
         She goes back into the living room, draws the curtains, lights the second lamp
on the cabinet just beyond the settee. She stops in the middle of the room and asks:
         „Pete, will you do me a favour?‟
         „Anything, sweetheart.‟ He joins her in the room, feeling the tension radiating
from her.
         She continues to look at him while she speaks, earnest, open to disappointment
and perhaps worse.
         „My brother is about six years younger than me.‟
         „Your brother?‟ Peter interjects involuntarily.
         „He lives in New Zealand now. I haven‟t seen him for about five years.
Anyway, it‟s this. When he was very young I got the habit of give him horse rides on
my back. You know, down on my hands and knees. God, he was such a jolly little
boy, Pete. He had a gurgling kind of laughter. The thing is, we kept on doing it even
when he got older. He would sit on my back for long periods, maybe more than a hour
sometimes, and the two of us would go into this daydream, not moving an inch.‟ She
laughs, a faint embarrassment now. „I must have been sixteen or seventeen before we
stopped. I think Brian got self-conscious.‟
         Anne now turns sideways to Peter, her clenched hands together under her
breasts. „I‟ve never told anyone else about that, Pete. It was too personal. Not even
my ex.‟
         „No?‟ Peter asks, again an involuntary ejaculation.
         Anne hisses a rueful smile in her nose.
         „Oh, he was a stud. Kept up the national average, very determined every time.‟
Now she laughs more openly, giving way a little: „Don‟t worry, I thought that was the
way to do it, too.‟
         She turns back towards him, legs more astraddle, lowering her arms down by
her sides.
         „What I want to ask you, Pete, is this: would you do that with me now?‟ She
raises her right hand to forestall him. „I feel I want to do this with you. But don‟t feel
you should if you don‟t want to. I don‟t want you humouring me, or laughing at me.‟
         How Peter feels is remarkable: how a priest of old might feel in his Temple,
sharp knife in hand, trussed up lamb on the altar before him. The word is temptation:
making it his own.
         He says, deliberately appearing as though temporising: „Are you sure? I mean
you were children then.‟
         Anne smiles with relief and drops onto her hands and knees, her head going
down so that her hair falls in tresses about her face. Peter straddles her gingerly,


                                                                                       27
pulling up the legs of his trousers from points just above the knees. He sits back
towards her hips, the better to spare her the strain of his weight.
         „No, sit on the middle of my back.‟ She glances up at him through her hair.
„Don‟t worry, I‟m stronger than I seem.‟
         Peter moves forward slowly, taking much of the strain on his legs. Anne
doesn‟t budge when he settles down at last. He tries to keep as much of his weight as
he can on his own legs, but that‟s not really possible. The first sensation is: what do I
do with my hands? Peter badly wants to engage his hands and arms too. He bends
forward slightly and clasps Anne‟s left breast, hefting its pendulous weight. It is a
cursory act, something to do, and feeling Anne stiffen momentarily, he withdraws his
hand at once.
         Peter still wants to do something, perhaps play at horse riding or cry out some
horsy encouragement. What happens instead is that he becomes aware of the contact
between his body and Anne‟s, its awkwardness. He can feel whatever bones they are
between his thighs – part of his pelvis? – grinding down into Anne‟s back. He can
also feel now the pressure of the line of her vertebrae pressing into the sensitive line
that runs between his thighs up towards his anus. Not sexual, not even erotic, more
like mortality, bone to bone, as though it was neither his nor Anne‟s business,
something that might happen in an ossuary long after they had both died.
         It is extremely awkward, gammy. He thinks he might call this off and go and
sit on the settee, wait until Anne sorts through his reaction. Peter thinks about this
seriously, reluctant to offend her unnecessarily.
         Then he is thinking of bones again, Anne‟s bones and his own bones –
mortality – how his pelvis frames her spine, the pathos of their bones together in such
a dumb way. Peter cannot shake this feeling off, that curious pathos so familiar to
children, how the world of things resides away to itself, going nowhere, just being
there.
         He realises he‟s looking down at the back of Anne‟s head, to where her hair
has parted as it divided to hang about her head, a line of white skin exposed. He wants
to touch her now, to console her, but even as he reaches he feels a curious sensation
between his legs, in the area enclosed by the contact of their bodies.
         It is like the strain that can come into a tendon as a muscle tires, a deep
discomfort that promises to become a severe agony very soon. Peter braces himself
against it, trying to favour the lower part of his legs to relieve the pressure. But the
result is that he tenses his thighs against the strain.
         The sensation that follows on this is extraordinary. For one thing he feels he
cannot tighten his thighs sufficiently, that some element in the strain between his legs
constantly escapes him. The result is what can be best described as a honey sensation
across the flesh of his thighs and groin. It is such a wonderful feeling that Peter
simply wants to stop breathing as a way of encouraging the honey sensation to spread
up through his body. It is as though pressing his lungs inwards creates a space for the
honey to spread.
         The honey sensation does not spread, in fact it does very little beyond being a
steady sensation between his legs. This does not stop Peter continuing to tense his
thighs, to apparently press inwards as best he can against the strain that hangs in the
air between himself and Anne. He knows he is pressing against Anne‟s flanks, and
that this might discomfort her, but he cannot stop himself trying in effect to implode
his torso.
         Then his legs begin to tremble, first around his knees, then up into his thighs.
Peter thinks this is the result of muscular tiredness, but the trembling is becoming a


                                                                                      28
violent shaking, his knees especially twitching uncontrollably. There is a giddiness in
this that frightens Peter, as though perhaps something is going beyond his control. He
wants to move in some way that will give him back his sense of control. He shifts
against Anne‟s back – she releases a loud sigh – then her gown begins to slide across
her body. Peter tries to resist this by bracing himself against it but his leg – right leg –
is jerking uncontrollably.
         There is an instant of pure panic, then Peter‟s leg gives way and he slides onto
the floor, his right leg trapped under his body, his left leg still astraddle Anne‟s back,
jerking with a manic fury.
         Peter rolls, jumps, drags himself away, any movement at all only that it would
give him back control of his legs. He knows he is moaning with fright, his hands
clenched in rising anger with himself.
         „What are you doing, Peter?‟
         Anne‟s voice acts on Peter to pull himself together pretty smartly. He‟s on his
knees, bent forward, right hand supporting his weight. Anne‟s eyes frighten him now:
Is this some kind of trap?
         „What happened?‟ he retorts, stunned by the kind of wise-like expression on
Anne‟s face, a kind of super-clever glint in her narrowed eyes. Even her mouth is
smart, thin, slight upward curvature at the edges. Peter wonders how much he takes
for granted.
         „You began to jerk. Then you fell off.‟ There is a hint of a smile: falling off a
woman‟s back!
         „But the sensation, Anne. Didn‟t you feel anything?‟
         „I remember Brian saying once it was like sitting at the top of a tall tree. Was
it like that?‟
         „No. It was as though honey was being smeared over my body.‟ Peter points to
his groin. „Then my legs began to shake.‟
         He is being candid. It‟s the only way he can cope with the apparent change in
Anne.
         She shakes her head, her features softening, the familiar tentative quality back
there. She swings over until she is sitting on the floor facing him, pulling her gown
back into place, drawing her feet in.
         „My back feels as though there is a hole in it. A dark hole. It‟s numb.‟
         „Did that ever happen before?‟
         „Goodness, no.‟ Now she seems bemused, looking down at the carpet to find
some answer there. „It just seemed a good idea, Pete. I mean, I felt it was something
we could do, and that that was the best way to do it.‟
         Peter wants to be ironic as a way to reasserting himself. He is going to say
something amusing as a way of deflating what appears to be Anne‟s initiative here.
But Anne says, staring into his eyes with her more honest searching gaze:
         „What I thought was that once men and women could do that. I mean, join in
some way.‟ She gestures helplessly. „Not just sexual. At least not at first, I mean.‟
         Peter is surprised mostly that someone like Anne, run ragged by her over-
demanding work and chaotic life, could have found time ever to think through to an
insight like that. It‟s not a patronising thought, just the fruit of his own experience, of
what is required in order that genuine reflection be possible. Peter gets over this
surprise fairly quickly; after all, Anne has just said what she said.
         „Why?‟ This is an open question, genuine curiosity on Peter‟s part.
         Anne appears a little dismayed by his question, as though she has started
something that will quickly get beyond her. She can only parry his question, a cheap


                                                                                         29
debating trick, she knows, but an instinct telling her that it was an experience shared,
so he should know something too:
        „Why, do you think, Pete?‟
        Good question. Peter tries to think a reply – not necessarily an answer – when
it‟s as though a light flashes somewhere and he sees a kind of moorland, a figure
standing there, one hand raised. The warmth, the consolation, is overwhelming, as
though the honeyed sensation has spread throughout his whole body. When he speaks,
he blurts his reply:
        „But the darkness, Anne? You said it felt dark and numb. That‟s very different
to what I felt.‟
        Anne nods, a bit despondent now, used as a woman to being not quite as good
as a man. She is thinking hard, gently gnawing her lower lip. When she speaks, it‟s
obvious that she is thinking out loud:
        „But I felt I could stand up to you, Pete. I felt so strong just then, like a rock
almost.‟ She looks up at him, a kind of wonder in her face. „I felt you were drilling
down into me, right into my back, and it didn‟t hurt.‟ She frowns, letting the other
insights come: „And I wasn‟t afraid. Not at all. Isn‟t that strange? I thought there was
a huge hole in my back, right through my spine, and it didn‟t hurt a bit.‟
        Anne scrambles to her feet, suddenly animated, a smile becoming a laugh. She
reaches and pulls Peter to his feet.
        „God, isn‟t that so strange, Pete?‟
        For once at least, Peter is left standing there, eyes wide, not knowing what to
say.
        „I‟m afraid I don‟t understand any of it, Anne.‟
        It‟s his turn to be deflated, awareness of a residual weakness in his legs –
especially around his knees – not helping matters. He turns away and searches for his
glass, then the wine bottle, and then Anne‟s glass. He tops them up and sips the still
heartening wine.
        Anne gulps from her glass, her whole body bopping up and down rapidly. She
looks as though she might spring right up in the air.
        Peter is getting the idea now that all this shaking in his legs actually has
something to do with sex. Even thinking this sets his knees ashiver again. He thinks
he really knows nothing about sex. The image he sees then is true: a hot muddy
geyser of liquid surging up out of a (dark) hole. He sneers, of course, at this, and the
image obediently becomes trite. Even so, the insight remains: some kind of power or
charge is causing his knees to shake.
        „Hey, Pete.‟
        Anne has unzipped the gown, so that it has fallen open, revealing the slopes of
her breasts and her pubic bush. She is looking decidedly dippy, an expression Peter
has never seen before. The glass at her mouth is supported by two hands, both
trembling slightly.
        Peter? Not as he fears, more ferocious shakes in his legs, but a surging blood
rush in his groin, that drives away any possibility of image-making, good bad or
indifferent.
        As he learns, it‟s not the play that counts, it‟s what the audience brings to it.
        Afterwards, feeling the most transparent he has ever felt, lying on the floor
beside an equally transparent – so much so that in a way Peter cannot see her – Anne,
he says, breathing a joyous relief:
        „You‟d be the perfect companion in a perfect world, Anne.‟
                                      *



                                                                                       30
        Later, tucked up together in bed in a dark room, Anne asks:
        „Pete, what you said about a perfect world, what did you mean?‟
        The transparency has remained like a kind of innocence, like starting out again
from this point. Perhaps, Peter thinks, this is why some people find sex so important:
the most important thing in their lives. He answers Anne without hesitation:
        „If everything else was as it should be, you and I would be perfectly content
together.‟
        Anne stirs with the extreme pleasure she feels. Peter can sense the relief in her,
like rain running down a window pane, merging below to run as is proper towards its
resting place, point of equilibrium, where all the water gathers.
        „Oh, Pete, if that was possible.‟ She exhales slowly, not a sigh though no
doubt intended as one. „Like Lennon in Imagine.‟
        This is a step too far for Peter, who feels the quite useless longing stirring in
him, like impotent ghosts come to haunt him.
        He rolls onto his back.
        „Maybe I should tell you what I used to do, Anne. Before I met you, I mean.‟
        He feels her tense beside him. He breathes a smile in the dark:
        „No, not prison or a mental asylum. In fact, up to about two years ago I had
spent nearly ten years studying utopianism. You know, perfect societies where
everyone would be content.‟
        Anne raises her head, obviously to look at Peter.
        „Studying? What do you mean? At university?‟
        Peter nods strongly enough for the mattress to rock slightly.
        „Universities. Here, let me tell you. I did postgraduate research on a kind of
Christian-Marxist utopianism, though of course they did not call it utopian. They
thought that was bourgeois sublimation, all about sexual licence and regressive
tyranny.‟
        Anne is not picking this up. She asks, only now getting to this point:
        „What kind of postgraduate research?‟
        Peter is thrown off course. „Mmm? A doctorate.‟
        Now Anne has hoisted her self up so that she can lean over him, her hair
trailing on his cheek and neck, tickling his still heated body.
        „You have a doctorate? Well, no wonder I was impressed by you. I knew there
was something about you.‟
        „Do you want to hear about this, Anne, or don‟t you?‟
        She lowers herself back onto the bed.
        „Sorry. Go on.‟
        „Anyway, I spent the next ten years, as I already said, researching utopianism.
In different universities, Keele, Bristol, Dublin, Glasgow, on research bursaries. You
know, a year or two here then somewhere else for the next few years. I should have
published after four or five years of this, but I couldn‟t get my head around the whole
subject. I mean, I had worked out a way of studying it. You see, the problem with
Utopias is that they have always failed. So when you set out to study them you know
where it will end. This means that utopianism ends up being a topic in historiography.
        „But I discovered that if you studied them in what I called a “mode of failure”
– in other words, you start from the fact of their failure – then what you study is not
what happened, but what the utopians wanted to happen. Then you can compare the
two things, what they wanted and what actually happened.
        „Is this alright so far, Anne?‟
        She nods beside him. „I‟m listening, Pete.‟


                                                                                       31
         „Okay. Now, in fact you don‟t really discover a great deal that way. No, I
should say I didn‟t. I realised that I wasn‟t interest in the economic or social ideas of
the utopians. What I did see was this: the fact that, as they say, hope springs eternally.
That seems pretty banal. It was the reason I couldn‟t write anything of substance after
about five years of work. I could see both the Marxist and Christian perspective in
this. Hope seemed blind and not much good in itself for getting anything done. At
least the other ideologies could give practical solutions to the human condition, one
lying in salvation, the other in some kind of human collective.
         „Then I found a huge collection of seventeenth and eighteenth century
religious tracts – mostly non-conformist – in Trinity College in Dublin that contained
the most amazing utopian visions. Sure, they were all pretty impractical, but what
interested me was the strength of the conviction behind them. These people,
clergymen, ranters, even quite ordinary working people, seemed to be able to see
something and they were trying to put it into words. I was pretty excited by this and
thought I had at last found the theme I wanted, the idea that utopianism was in fact a
religious enthusiasm, not a social or economic one. So I began to follow this thread,
going forward again to Owen and the other utopians I had previously studied.
         „The trouble was, Anne, though I didn‟t understand it for a number of years – I
really didn‟t know what I was looking for. I mean, religion does play an important
part in most of the better known utopian communities, the Shakers, for instance, or
even the Quakers, but these communities were not created for purely religious ends.
So, about four years ago I had pretty well run out of material to study and I really had
nothing of value to add to what had already been written on the subject.
         „What to do then? Well, I came forward into the early twentieth century and
read some very general works, mostly histories, some economics. Strangely, this
helped focus my interest on the idea that “hope springs eternally”. I spent weeks
thinking about this idea, linking it with my earlier understanding that utopias always
fail. So, I asked myself, what fails over and over again in the modern world and yet
rises up anew each time. Maybe serendipity, but I chanced on a work by a French
intellectual named Roland Barthes about signs and symbols. The work itself wasn‟t
up to much. A sign can only refer to another sign. But what it did point to for me was
advertising itself. Here was an example of a promise that always fails, that must, by
its very nature, always fail.‟
         „Why?‟ Anne suddenly interjected.
         „Why? Well, an ad seems to refer to a commodity, a car, a shampoo, but in
fact it always refers to something in the observer. How will I put it? Putting it crudely,
an ad refers to your idea of a shampoo, not an actual shampoo you could buy in a
shop.‟
         „A perfect shampoo?‟
         „Well, so it seems. But is there a perfect shampoo? Your idea of the perfect
shampoo may already have been created by advertising, so that the present ad may act
as no more than a reinforcement of the impact of previous ads. No, Anne, there is
something else behind this, though what that is I couldn‟t say.
         „Actually, this is as far as I got about two years ago. Then I did a pretty basic
thing. The ideal society in Thomas More‟s Utopia is not the first utopia, but the fact
that it has given its name to a whole movement is significant. So I went back and read
More again. It was a sort of vague impulse, really taking a break from modern ideas.
Then I read a passage where More says that human beings can create Utopia only
with the help of angels.‟



                                                                                       32
        Peter is silent for a moment, until Anne turns her head – he hears the abrasion
of her hair on the pillow.
        „And?‟
        Peter snorts. The irony is palpable in the dark.
        „And that was that. Ten years wasted.‟
        Anne literally jumps up in the bed.
        „How do you mean, ten years wasted?‟
        „What I said. It was a load of poppycock.‟
        „But just because one man said that about angels? I mean, who is he? What did
he know?‟
        Peter snorts again, not irony this time, more something like grief.
        „Sure, I understand that. But, Anne, in a sense he was right.‟
        Now there is a shared silence. Peter sees that the curtains have not been drawn
on the bedroom window and that the amber street light illuminates elements of the
sycamore tree outside. Dull practical amber light perhaps, good for visibility but lousy
for detail and colour: for the moment it seems to bathe the tree in gold – midnight
gold.
        Oh wonderful consolation.
        Peter gets up and goes to the bathroom to have a pee. He can by now do this in
the dark – some light from outside helping – so there is no need for him to see himself
in the full length mirror prominent in the bathroom beside the shower.
        When he gets back, Anne says, touching him searchingly on his temple, then
his cheek:
        „What if there are angels, Pete?‟
        „Okay, that‟s allowable. But there is no utopia, is there?‟
        Anne‟s hand stops its search, resting now on his bare shoulder.
        „Is there not? What about here, now? Between you and me?‟
        Peter nods, waits, then says:
        „Actually, there‟s more, Anne. Do you want to hear?‟
        She presses his shoulder in assent.
        „The bursary I had was due to run out in about two months. I spent the time
going over all the research I had done. You know, sorting out notes, making sure they
were linked up together. Then I looked for work in Bristol and as chance would have
it I ended up chasing debts for a large company there. The problem with working
fixed hours is that you don‟t have a lot left over for your spare time. I gave up reading
and spent the weekends down on the Somerset Levels, walking the canals and visiting
churches.
        „When the winter came I moved up to London. I found temping was the best
way of working without that sense of being tied down. It‟s not easy to get out of
London at the weekends, so I took to visiting the galleries and museums. One Sunday
while I was looking at an exhibition of dress styles covering several centuries, I was
struck by an oddity. All this cultural stuff, style, fashion, taste, whatever, is usually
studied under the heading of aesthetics, beauty and form and the like. But what struck
me that day was what I can best call the tentative nature of style and decoration. I
mean, aesthetics seems to make style a kind of end in itself. You know the idea that
beauty is, well, beautiful, or even the truth, if you are to believe Keats. No, what I
realised was that the whole question of style was being looked at from the wrong
perspective. What if style is an attempt to express something in effect essential about
what is being styled? That is, rather than using beauty merely to hide the brute
function of the artefact, building or machine.


                                                                                      33
        „Let me illustrate this by means of the humble motor car. A motor car is a
machine for getting from A to B fairly quickly. To this basic structure is then added
seating and protection for those who will utilise the machine. So, the car is a box on
wheels. But no car is simply that. Look how they are styled and how the styling varies
over time, from decade to decade. The standard assumption is that style helps sell
cars. Okay, but look again at the actual styling, the fins, the grilles, the swollen lines
and curves. Separate that from the fact of the car. Consider now that style might be
like a language, an utterance. In that case, what is being said? Why, the meaning, in
some sense, of the car. Or, more accurately, the meaning of the function of the car.
But why make such an utterance? I mean, who is being addressed? Who would want
to hear about the human invention of the car?‟
        „Angels,‟ Anne prompts, feeling that she has been prompted by Peter.
        „Yes. That‟s an idea I played with for a long time. But how could angels
understand that kind of language, except that they in some way used it themselves? All
this makes sense, there‟s a logic to it, sure, but we have been speaking in this
language for millennia – dress, architecture, art – and where are the angels?
        „No, that can‟t be the truth, Anne. I mean, not in that simple form. To be
honest, I think we have gone beyond what Thomas More and the Renaissance magi
believed about angels. If ever there were such beings, we have gone beyond them. I
don‟t believe they could help us now.‟
        There is another long pause, the silence complete, the city itself at rest at last.
        „So why do we style everything we use? We obviously don‟t so it simply
because it is a kind of language. The only other explanation I can see is that there is
an impulse in us that compels us to do it. You see, Anne, the fundamental utopian
impulse is in us human beings.‟
        Peter regards this as a momentous disclosure, but not a word from Anne.
        „Anne?‟
        There is a dribbly sound, spittle on Anne‟s lips being bubbled by her slow
deep breathing.
        She‟s asleep. Peter slumps, feeling nonplussed. He thinks over what he has
just said:
        God, what a mess.
        What was I trying to say to her?
        Angels? I never thought they were important, if they even exist. No, I
understood More to say that we would need the help of a supernatural agent, god,
demon or angel, to create a perfect society. All our attempts fail. Perhaps by now we
have lost the hope of ever creating one.
        It‟s not just that. Something about angels.
        Wings. Yes, motion. The car is an aid to human mobility. But the wings
merely symbolise our belief that angels can move freely. We can move only with a
great deal of effort.
        That‟s it. What art and design do: try to raise our mundane achievements in
technology, architecture, and dress to the level of the absolute freedom that we
attribute to the divine.
        Peter is mostly relieved that he has not been talking nonsense to Anne, making
a fool of her when she was receptive to him. But he is also very relieved to have won
through to this understanding.
        He gets out of bed and pads downstairs. There‟s a pen and a piece of
notepaper in a pocket of his jacket. The light from outside serves him as he writes:



                                                                                        34
                The utopian impulse is a reach for complete freedom, an
                unrealistic impulse perhaps but nonetheless the central
                force driving human action, like an attractor exerting a
                hidden influence on us, drawing us all the time towards an
                impossible dream.

       He disturbs Anne as he gets back into bed. She turns towards him, only half
awake, a sweet dreamy expression on her face, a momentarily happy person. She
opens her eyes and looks at Peter, a languid smile coming on her lips:
       „You‟re my angel, Pete.‟ She catches his hand, presses it, sleep already
reclaiming her.
       It‟s as though she is picking up the thread of their talk.




                                                                               35
         Peter likes to join in when listening to music. He prefers to accompany the
music, rather than sing along, that is. The problem is, he usually conflates the melodic
and the bass lines in his vain attempts to capture the flavour of all of the music, so
what he produces by way of music can irritate others. More than once has he been
shushed into complete silence at a recital.
         This morning he is trying to keep in with a particularly nice piece by
Buxtehude, one of the trio sonatas, while preparing breakfast for Anne and himself.
Peter prides himself on his love of Baroque music, the fact that it was intended to be
played by anybody, so that his impulse to join in doesn‟t appear too presumptuous. It
might be relatively easy to play, but it is not that easy to extemporise. And if that is
not bad enough, Buxtehude‟s sonatas switch tempo often and very suddenly, so
Peter‟s fourth instrument is pretty cacophonous.
         Not that this matters too much. Peter is happy, even jolly happy, his spirit
bubbling up into song if let. It is not an altogether unusual state for him. Left to
himself he is quite happy, which is why he has tended to work alone. What is unusual,
though, is the state of being happy in the company of another. He has already guessed
why this is so – now that he has achieved the experience: he has been afraid of the
blitheness that is a constituent part of sharing happiness, the vulnerability. It is worth
the exposure, he finds: no pain could diminish his joy.
         Anne opens one eye when he comes into the bedroom. Her candid smile has a
fey quality, indicating a fundamental detachment in her personality. She says, not
moving at all:
         „Do you know what, Pete? This is the first time in my life that anyone has
given me breakfast in bed.‟
         Peter does no more than smile, eyeing all the time the balance of liquids on the
tray, orange, milk and tea.
         Anne suddenly explodes into activity, shooting upright in the bed, arms up and
stretched fully towards the ceiling.
         „God, this is so nice, Pete!‟
         Peter lays the tray across her thighs, asking: „Do you want a top? Some of that
is hot.‟
         She points to the chest of drawers, where he finds a pyjama top.
         „Everything is here, Pete.‟
         „Of course.‟
         She speaks wholeheartedly, „You are so kind, do you know that?‟
         Again Peter smiles: „Best way to a woman‟s heart. Isn‟t that right?‟
         She nods. „The big secret of life.‟ She laughs her bright laugh, giddy, enjoying
her own laughter, her ability to laugh.
         As Peter goes to leave the room, she says:
         „By the way, Pete, what you told me last night about studying Utopias, was
that true?‟
         „Sure.‟
         Now she smiles, a far more intimate expression, her mouth broadening until
lines appear down her cheeks on either side. Her eyes sparkle, the whites intensely
white, each pale green iris gleaming.
         „Well, I liked the bit about the angels.‟
         Peter baulks, suddenly pedantic: „There‟s no evidence they actually exist,
Anne.‟
         She tosses her head, now eyeing the food on the tray resting in her lap. „Oh,
they do, Pete. How do you think we got where we are?‟


                                                                                       36
         Peter misunderstands her. „Oh come on, Anne. Surely we do this ourselves.‟
He jokes because he is afraid she wants to believe what she is saying.
         Anne waves a hand out towards all of creation: „No. Everything, I mean.
Don‟t you think the angels help us all the time.‟
         Peter gapes, an honest response. Anne smiles again, this time an edge of
delight at his surprise.
         „After all, Pete, it‟s people who muck up their lives. There‟s no reason why
everyone couldn‟t be happy if they wanted to be.‟
         This time Peter is honestly surprised: he cannot argue with her opinion, yet he
thinks it is nonsensical.
         „Well, that‟s one way of seeing it,‟ he responds lamely.
         Going out the door, Anne calls after him:
         „Who makes the trees grow? Who makes the sun shine?‟
         Peter goes downstairs thinking: who indeed? Still, he is happy. And Anne
seems to be happy.
         The music on the radio has changed. Peter instinctively glances at the clock on
the cooker: ten past nine. The disc reviews.
         The music is familiar: Scriabin. But it is orchestral music by him, which he
doesn‟t really care for. Yet the performance is exceptional, even on Anne‟s little
transistor radio. He listens as he eats his breakfast, cereal, then toast and tea. For the
first time, he can hear the individual instruments, rather than the usual caterwaul of
wind and brass. The performance was recorded in a wood lined studio: there is the
resonance, which is at once muted – not killed, as it is in modern studios. Like a
smouldering fire, at which hands could be warm without scorching. At which souls
could be warmed.
         One listen, and Peter knows that – like Scriabin‟s piano music – there are
depths and textures here worthy of further study.
         Afterwards, the reviewer tells him it is Alexander Scriabin‟s Poem of Ecstasy,
performed by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under Evgeny Mravinsky, and
recorded by Moscow Radio in 1958. Peter gets paper and pen from his jacket, hectic
for once, scribbling down the disc details, memorising what he writes out of habit,
knowing he cannot always decipher his own writing. The reviewer is reviewing as
Peter writes, measured assessment – but, you know, Soviet art, perhaps good
bureaucratic performance, yet the individual initiative is lacking, and so on – then he
says, just as Peter has finished his scribble and is resurfacing:
         „…the Ecstasy of Scriabin is unexplained, unlike the music of Wagner and
Mahler, the German tradition generally, so that one can only surrender to it.‟
         It‟s pretty clear to Peter that he must go straight into town now and buy the
CD. Wanting something badly, Peter immediately imagines hundreds of others
grabbing their wallets and setting off by car, train, tube and bus, all as intent as him on
getting what it is he wants. The table is cleared at once, Peter debating whether to go
to his flat first or take a train straight into Victoria. The problem is that he doesn‟t
know how much money he has on him, but this is resolved when he finds his ATM
card in his jacket.
         So straight into town it is. On his way to shower, he looks in and tells Anne
what he is going to do. She seems to be day dreaming, looking out the window at the
sycamore tree – a variegation of sunlight and shadow being played across its branches
– reclining against the headboard. Her face is set, even severe, narrow cheekbones
prominent, lips pursed. She says without moving otherwise:
         „What was it about Tarrant, Pete?‟


                                                                                        37
         Peter is on his way back out the door. He genuinely doesn‟t know what she is
talking about:
         „What?‟
         Anne turns to look at him, eyes very measured:
         „You asked me if he was a crook. Why?‟
         Peter catches on and turns back into the room.
         „Business, really. But just between you and me, promise?‟
         Anne nods, lips more pursed, some kind of heavy concentration taking over.
         „Okay. We had some storage from his company – his new employer, that is –
that we reclassified to a higher security rating. Which meant they had to pay more for
the storage. They were reluctant to pay, so sales and I went down to see them.‟
         „But how did Tarrant get involved in that?‟
         „I suppose he was the one who held back payment.‟
         Anne nods once. Peter skips from the room the instant she does so. In the
bathroom, he sees himself in the blue dressing gown left behind by Anne‟s ex. It
doesn‟t suit him at all, dark and pale blue stripes, something overly defined there, his
face pasty, mottled where the stubble darkens his skin.
         He showers with the feeling that two forces cross in him, a sudden discomfort,
even insecurity, as though he has unwittingly stepped into a war zone. The sight of
himself in the blue dressing gown is telling him something unpleasant: not so much
out of his depth as becoming a sitting target.
         He thinks of vulnerability here, perhaps commitment creating a new boundary
in him, the newness being interpreted as exposure. But he knows it is not that simple.
It‟s like he has revealed his secret. If possession of a woman‟s love means risk to the
woman, then possession of a man‟s secret must mean a similar risk to the man.
         Back in the bedroom to dress and Anne asks, continuing her inquisition:
         „But why did that lead you to ask me if he was a crook, Pete?‟
         Only when he has dressed fully does Peter answer.
         „I think this lot of storage belongs to him.‟
         Anne‟s eyes widen. Peter says quickly:
         „Don‟t jump to conclusions, Anne. I mean, it was fairly obvious. But there‟s
not a lot that can be done as things stand.‟
         Anne pushes herself upright in the bed, her voice rising too:
         „You can have it examined, can‟t you. Find out what‟s in it.‟
         Peter holds his hands up before her, palms out:
         „Forget it, Anne. That‟s simply not on. We don‟t have the right.‟
         Anne is now kneeling on the bed, leaning towards him:
         „But if he stole from us…‟
         Peter shakes his head slowly:
         „Get your proof and take it to the police. That‟s the only way to do it.‟ He
turns away towards the door, then turns back again: „I have to go now, Anne. We can
talk about this again.‟
         She is suddenly shrill, a personal rage coming through: „But what if he takes it
away from you? He could hide it somewhere else.‟
         Peter was on his way through the door while Anne says this. He keeps on
moving until he is out on the tiny landing, at the head of the stairs. Then he returns to
the bedroom, hoping that she has caught on to herself by now.
         „Anne.‟ When she focuses on him, her face calming but the glare remaining in
her eyes, he continues: „You must get evidence of theft in any case. The Crown
Jewels could be in those cases, but until you can show a definite connection between


                                                                                      38
the money missing in TMS‟s accounts and Tarrant there would be nothing you could
do.‟ He sweeps his right hand abruptly in the space between them, a suddenly brutal
gesture, the only way he knows of curbing her.
        Anne relents, an equally sudden loss of animation in her. Peter sees the other
person that Anne is, the private woman full of self-doubt, uncertain in a profoundly
existential way, her whole life potentially worthless, a wasted effort even after all her
striving.
        He surveys her coolly, seeing this reality of her, seeing also the equivalent in
himself, that sense of never really starting, no foothold available, no leverage. He
says, gently so not as to intrude on her despair:
        „Don‟t take it personally, sweetheart.‟
        Anne doesn‟t look at him, but her voice is intimate, she aware that she is fully
exposed to him and that he is not taking advantage of that:
        „Either way, Pete. I‟m in charge of accounts.‟
        „Sure, but you‟re not responsible for the way PMS was run. You know better
than I do that it was just as big a crook. Tarrant could screw them because they were
too busy trying to hide their own ill-gotten gains.‟
        Anne looks at him, an intent, burning stare, more than quizzical, as though she
could penetrate him with her eyes and discover this new thing about him for herself:
        „You knew about that?‟
        Peter nods, glad to see her coming back: „Sure. The crooked contracts where
no maintenance work was actually carried out. Why do you think the PSA held you in
contempt. At least they made sure their contracts were fulfilled.‟
        Anne is shaking her head now, a completely different expression in her eyes,
admiration even:
        „Is that why John wanted you to stay?‟
        „Because the PSA trusted me? Yes, I think so.‟
        „But you wouldn‟t.‟
        „Six months is more than enough in these places.‟
        Anne gets up from the bed and puts her arms around Peter‟s neck.
        „Whatever will become of you, Pete? Will you always just go from place to
place?‟
        He is not aware that he is drawing Anne‟s arms back from around his neck:
        „Why not?‟




                                                                                      39
         Fifteen minutes of brisk walking gets Peter to Croydon railway station. A long
train coming up from Brighton takes him into Victoria. It is crowded, everyone on the
way to London for the day and so in a very jolly mood. The atmosphere affects Peter.
After all, it is a day out for him too, happy lover on his way to buy really interesting
music.
         He is surprised to find the train hurtling past Balham station. He is quick
enough to snatch a glance down the High Street, down towards the common, where
his flat is situated. This amuses him no end, as though he has gained some advantage
over himself. Of course, it shouldn‟t mean very much: yet Peter does see something.
If he had not grown used to the practice of watching all his thoughts – a habit
developed through his years of research – Peter might well not have noticed the
fleeting image that arises in him just after he has had his glimpse of the Balham High
Street.
         The after-image contains two components. The first is the supermarket in
Balham where he buys most of his food. (It can be seen from the railway bridge,
though Peter had not time to see it this morning.) The second element is an image of
himself walking up the High Street, laden with bags of shopping. This would be true
on two evenings in the week, Monday and Thursday.
         It is a strange, even weird, experience. Peter is standing in a crowded carriage,
having glimpsed of a sudden the area in which he lives, and now he can think of
nothing better than the mundane task of shopping. He smiles to himself, a sympathetic
mockery of his own daftness,
         Then he sees old people on a Brighton street struggling along with their own
shopping. This memory comes as a shock, if only because he guesses it is serving
merely as a prelude. Peter braces himself, balancing himself instinctively against both
the swaying of the speeding carriage – now sweeping around towards Clapham
Junction – and the dread he feels is coming.
         The mood then is one of betrayal. Peter is disgusted, a dart of feeling there
before he can censor it, seeing withdrawal as an act of treachery, an involuntary
breaking of trust.
         It is as though those old people in the Brighton street have been abandoned,
left to trudge towards a kind of emptiness. As though Peter himself has been
abandoned, left to trudge towards his own kind of emptiness too.
         Actually, Peter is remarkably cool towards this disclosure. Here there is
existential despair and Peter can view it with detachment.
         Why?
         Because Peter knows who the betrayer is. It is Peter himself. It is each old
person on the Brighton street. He looks around the carriage: men and women, boys
and girls, all in very good humour indeed, very chatty with a lot of laughter.
         It is every person in the carriage.
         Goodness, but Peter feels very well after this bout of introspection, having
damned part of the human race.
         That was the easy part. Now the tough bit.
         None of this is true, Peter realises. There is no betrayal, no betrayers.
         It‟s just where we all are.
         The train draws to a shuddering halt, the squeal of its brakes magnified within
the confines of Victoria Station. Someone shouts with gay irony:
         „Welcome to London!‟
         Peter smiles to himself. Welcome to nowhere.



                                                                                       40
        Now Peter does feel a lot better. Yes, but the miraculous event only occurs
when, having waited his turn among boisterous passengers, he places a foot on the
platform ground: the whole existential meditation evaporates at once. Instantly. He
sets off up the platform amidst the swarming arrivals, his single ticket firmly in hand
for the collector, and it is as though he has never thought of nowhere-land, of
aloneness in the minor key, as it were. No. He is thinking, somewhat abstractly:
        I shouldn‟t travel. I shouldn‟t go on journeys anywhere.
        He wonders why he is thinking such an off-thought. Isn‟t he happy, isn‟t this a
day out along with everyone else in the heart of the city?

        Peter is not too familiar with London. He can get from Clapham South tube
station to most places in the City or West End by dint of getting off at the appropriate
station and walking a few yards. Victoria Station is another matter. A tube will take
him to Oxford Circus, the Victoria Line, not the more familiar Northern Line. He can
do that, easily: see the throng pressing down towards the station.
        But no. He has noticed, for the first time this morning, that the sun is shining
today too. He will walk, take the air and see the sights. Fine, but once outside the
station and he cannot see which way to go. The area is congested, roofed-over bus
terminus, narrow streets jammed with traffic going off in different directions. But
Peter has at least a rudimentary sense of London, so that he can guess which way is
north, and therefore which way in east, south, west.
        He knows Oxford Street is north, but cannot see a road that might lead there.
Charing Cross is east, and he knows his way from there. So east it is along Victoria
Street, a long street, heavy slow-moving traffic, one large store, otherwise
anonymous, even the cathedral – back from the thoroughfare itself – looking like a
museum, a Victorian museum.
        Not knowing where he is keeps him engaged with his surroundings. He sees
buildings, motor vehicles, pedestrians. Buildings have lines running across and up-
down. There are windows, doors, different styles, wide narrow impressive functional.
Shop fronts, business fronts. All anonymous for him, yet each building, each business
place is of significance to others, a life‟s work, place of crisis, site of achievement, all
of which impinges on him indirectly, at elections, a push in the back on a tube train, a
kindness another time, the kind of news headlines they need.
        Entering Parliament Square puts an end to this line of thought. Peter expected
Trafalgar Square, then Charing Cross, so he is momentarily thrown out, not at all sure
how he gets from here to there. He knows it will be north, so he crosses the Square to
the northeast. Sure enough, once he turns the corner he can see a wide thoroughfare
running north. God, the streets so far have been plain, even dreary, but this one –
Whitehall – is so vacant. Peter instinctively crosses to the east side, even though less
sunny, an uncontrollable revulsion for the other side, with its faceless buildings and
gates, guards and gapers.
        Peter slouches up Whitehall, only brightening up when he recognises the
National Gallery. Nearly there. Peter feels he is escaping something; that‟s how he is
experiencing the urban environment raw, like being surrounded by fifty sixty miles of
concrete in all directions. From Charing Cross on it won‟t be so bad, if only because
he can doze through that part of his walk.
        So Peter supposes – but there is a shock in store. There‟s a souvenir shop on
the corner of Charing Cross, postcards in racks, union jack pennants and the like
outside, a steady stream of visitors going in and coming out. It‟s this going in and



                                                                                         41
coming out that strikes Peter. A parade of preoccupied individuals, men, women, and
children, young and old. How all-together they are, yet few know each other.
         Peter sees the land‟s end café in Brighton, almost deserted as he passed, and
remembers his vision of all being alone together. But what strikes him this time is that
people are not alone together. The people entering and exiting the souvenir shop are
not alone by any means. One or two may be, but most of the people he sees before
him are part of family or friendship groups.
         Peter passes on, crossing towards St Martins Place, concentrating on the
traffic. The roadway is narrow, vehicles close packed in two tidy lines, impatience
and caution nicely balanced in the drivers.
         And a congeries of groups has not the significance of a congeries of
individuals. Groups coexist intermittently – etcetera etcetera. Peter employs his old
trick to stop the babble of thought.
         Like spokes of a wheel, orientated in towards the group, not out towards
strangers. Etcetera etcetera.
         Peter tries to interest himself in the bookshops on Charing Cross Road.
Normally this would not be difficult to do, but this morning is different: the babble in
his head is threatening to overwhelm him, like a hectoring bore talking ceaselessly in
his ear.
         Orientation. It‟s orientation that you should concern yourself with, Peter is
being told in so many words. He‟s just passing Foyle‟s. He is about to decide to duck
in there for a while, when instead he turns abruptly into the little side street that runs
between the two buildings the bookshop occupies.
         Orientation. Like iron in a magnet; like a magnet, for that matter. Peter stands
looking in a window: atlases and books about geography. Not individuals, but groups.
But. But what?
         Why, he wonders, am I like this? As though I‟m going too fast. Is it Anne?
Because of her? Peter‟s knees tremble. He pictures his knees as though bent, but in
reverse, like the hind legs of an animal. A goat. Peter knows he should feel shocked
by this image, instead he feels rampant, out of control. And at the same time he is
immensely sad, like grieving for something lost. Like I am being fooled, he realises.
Duped. As though something in me is being bent back, deflected away from its true
path.
         Peter sighs, then loses all patience. He returns to Charing Cross Road and
heads on up towards Oxford Street. God, he thinks, the things I think of.
         So there‟s the long struggle against the crowds on Oxford Street, congested
traffic at each street crossing – all those Soho streets – and Peter pressing ahead trying
to keep to one idea, that of buying an interesting CD. There are the fleeting murmurs,
like birds twittering in the trees somewhere, all telling him that it‟s too late, too late.
         The music store is mad with frantic teenagers, like inmates on day release, the
dance music literally hopping of the walls, boys and girls already in Saturday night
mood. The buzz certainly buoys Peter up, even a twinkle in his toes, as he passes
through to the Classics department at the rear of the shop. Quiet in here, serious rest
and recuperation under way here, easing executive stress. Nonetheless, an excitement
here too, a contralto singing Puccini, a subtle weaving that soon drives away the
youthful clamour of dance.
         The Puccini is good, but still there are long rows of disks to be searched. Peter
checks under Scriabin, to no avail. He cannot remember what else is on the disk. He
checks under performers: no Leningrad Phil, no Mravinsky. So he goes to the nearest
assistant, sorting through piles of disks, and asks:


                                                                                        42
         „I‟m looking for a disk of music recorded by the Leningrad Phil, under
Mravinsky. It was reviewed on Radio Three this morning.‟ Peter hesitates, already too
much information for the assistant to digest, but then adds helpfully, „Scriabin?‟
         The assistant looks at the back of the disk he happens to be holding, asks:
         „Poem of Ecstasy?‟
         „Why, yes,‟ Peter responds, surprised.
         The assistant hands him the disk, smiles: „There you go.‟
         Peter stammers his thanks, looking at the disk – heavily carbuncled art object
on the cover – both stunned and a little cagey. Peter never decides on a purchase that
quickly.
         But it is the disk he wanted: Scriabin, also Debussy and Ravel, something by
Rimsky-Korsakov. Scriabin, Le Poème de l‟extase, Op 54. That‟s the one.
         Short queue to pay and then Peter has his disk. Saturday day-out over. Sudden
deflation, feeling the result of the late night last night, something over-extended
finally falling to earth again.
         Yet that‟s no problem. Peter heads up to Oxford Circus, to the tube station
there, takes the Victoria Line to Kennington, where he changes for the more familiar
Northern Line to Clapham South. He takes the Victoria Line without a murmur,
looking up from reading the liner notes momentarily at the Victoria Station stop. This
is because it‟s always Christmas time travelling out from London on Saturdays,
everyone opening their purchases as though they are gifts someone else paid for. Very
strange that: the separation of purchaser and consumer in the one person, as though
the former is some grubby little agent serving the King.
         Peter has this thought, but because he has thought through this curious
phenomenon before – at Keele University: a paper entitled Automation and Freedom:
Overcoming Terror, read to sociologists and social psychologists but never printed (as
usual) – he abandons it in favour of what he is reading about the tyrannical Mravinsky
and how he drove the Leningrad Phil to produce such superlative music. He considers
how performance can be forced, even in the matter of art. His instinctive response to
this thought is to question the value of such art.
         Peter gets off when the train reaches Clapham South. He doesn‟t check to see
if it the right station. He just knows he is there. (The fact is that the previous station,
Clapham Common, has a particular atmosphere that tells him where he is.)
         The first thing you see is the expanse of the common, its parkland and copses,
walkways with people walking. Not rural, of course, but not overwhelmingly urban
either. Peter takes a deep breath, as he always does, perhaps the extra oxygen in the
air, perhaps an unacknowledged dislike of being underground.
         It‟s the mechanical nature of performance that concerns him. Having been
taught to play the piano as a child has left him with a deep ambiguity about music, the
contrast between its supreme expressive power and the mind numbing boredom of
actually making that music. Why we practically worship performers and pay them so
much. Why otherwise sane men and women queue up to spend the best years of their
lives learning how to make music in such a fashion.
         Along Nightingale Lane – along the edge of the common – then into
Alderbrook Road, and Peter is running memories of a succession of performers he has
enjoyed, piano, violin, organ, whole orchestras labouring over enormous Romantic
symphonies. Revelling in the beauty and inspiration of the music, small armies of
cultured men and women labouring like coolies to provide him with the source of his
momentary elevation above reality.
         And what makes this possible?


                                                                                        43
         Money.
         God, but Peter is relieved. He stops on the footpath halfway down the road in
order to marvel. The bloody line of thought held together!
         It doesn‟t always happen. Most times his mind meanders on till he gets tired of
the prattle and inwardly shouts: Etcetera etcetera. Actually, Peter is not aware that the
abiding curse of his mode of thinking – commented upon by teachers and academic
colleagues over the years – his tendency to argue by ellipsis and depend in part for
effect on the drama of the implicit, has been at work again, this time with fortunate
results.
         The sight of the severely trimmed privet hedge announces Peter‟s destination.
He grew up in a village suburb of severely trimmed privet hedges, and never knew
that the privet flowered – and that the scent of the flower was so pleasant – until he
was already in his late teens. Now he always sniffs for that fragrance as he passes this
hedge, even though there can be no flowers.
         He sniffs now, thinking: art as order will always demand sacrifice.
         „Finding ever looking man of joy. Heart is seized and long.‟
         What appears to be a clown is rising up from the other side of the bush, milk
white skin, a shock of dark hair like a primitive head-dress. The clown bursts into
song:




        Peter‟s heart is crossways in him: he knows the song but cannot remember
where he heard it. There is like a density – of some grainy material, like compacted
golden sand – between him and the time and place of that experience.
        But he has by now turned in the gate to the house and the clown is
approaching him across the narrow front garden, barefooted on the stony dry soil, one
hand raised in greeting, head up as he sings out.
        Peter reacts badly, way too abrupt, not so much fear of the weird man but a
sense of contamination very strong in him.
        „Is mine riches allowed frantic hate, my scone?‟
        The lack of teeth finally reminds Peter, seeing frantic as though written in the
air between, the face peering back at him from the rapidly departing car the previous
evening. Peter raises his right hand, half in greeting, half in restraint, saying, slightly
too loudly in case he is not understood:
        „Have you been here long?‟
        It is wonderful to see how the clown is transformed at once into something
more significant: how the skin of the stranger lights up as though from within – yet
remaining pure white – how his hands unfold so gracefully towards Peter, as though
drawing him into a kind of symbolic embrace.


                                                                                        44
         „Where fore we wend wonder ever strained away, good fur.‟
         Peter is nodding, turning away and searching for his keys awhile. He is
concluding that the strange man is an immigrant, most likely recent and almost
certainly illegal. Poverty, torture, the aberrant pressures of demented political or
religious systems could all account for his peculiarities.
         The stranger halts in the porch, head straining forward, when Peter goes ahead
into the hall. So he turns and waves him in, but he does not move until Peter makes
the effort of actually telling him to come in – then he runs back into the garden and
reappears bearing what looks like a large white plastic bag and other bits and strips of
white plastic. Peter goes ahead and unlocks the door to his flat once he is sure the
stranger is following him.
         It feels as though Peter has not been away from his flat for very long – though
it is by now thirty hours since he had left it to go to work on Friday morning. It also
feels as though he has never been there before. Perhaps it is the presence of the
stranger, but Peter can see no evidence of his residence there. His books and papers
are in storage in Bristol, there are no pictures, no furnishings of his in the place. There
is a newish audio system against the wall by the fireplace, a dozen or so CDs on a
small shelf above, but they could belong to anyone.
         He turns and asks the stranger, „Have you eaten?‟ He goes on across to the
kitchen.
         „Combing all hair is too tried for mentality, grovening.‟
         Peter nods, turning in the doorway to the kitchen to see the stranger dart across
towards the bedroom, at the front of the house. Peter assumes he must be tired after
waiting for him for so long. He calls:
         „It‟s a double bed, if you like, but there‟s a sleeping bag under the bed, if you
prefer.‟
         Peter is a bit nonplussed. There‟s a lag in him between his plans for the day
and the disruption caused by the appearance of yesterday‟s hitchhiker again. He puts
the newly bought disk on the armchair in front of the audio system. Then, without
giving any thought to it, he undresses and goes into the bathroom to bathe. He doesn‟t
realise it, but Peter always bathes and changes after any excursion into London,
whether to work or play.
         London is dirty, contaminating.




                                                                                        45
         It‟s only as the first track on the CD begins – Debussy‟s Nuages – that Peter
really feels the aftermath of the night with Anne. The feathery, tentative music cannot
hold his attention for long, which permits Peter, now sitting quite still for the first
time that day, to remember some of the details of the night. The first thing he realises
is that he has told her all about his erstwhile interest in utopianism. He grimaces with
a sudden stab of embarrassment. The feeling of exposure seems new, but he realises at
once that it is not at all new. It‟s like he was born with that feeling, as though birth
into this world was a kind of unpeeling, a fruit stripped of its protective skin and now
liable to waste and evaporation, to be consumed one way or another.
         With exposure, Peter sees, comes a reactive urge for closure. But such closure
is ultimately impossible: the first loss is that of the protective skin itself, treated as a
waste product much like the afterbirth. Nonetheless, there is always that frantic
drawing-to, closing coats, doors, windows, eyes; always the inclination to withdraw,
retreat, back-off.
         Peter does not etcetera this line of thought, he has the cop to know that cloudy
music can lead to cloudy thoughts, and when the cloudy music ends – as it is about to
do – then these thoughts will likewise end. Still, the music itself, that is the noise
made by the instruments, is to be enjoyed for these last few minutes.
         Next, then, there is Rimsky-Korsakov‟s piece. Peter reads that it is The Legend
of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronia. Suite from the Opera. It is
Asiatic Rimsky-Korsakov, opening with a haunting Overture in favour of solitude,
then going on a fairly graphic depiction of the plot of the opera, where the city of
Kitezh is saved by the Mother of God from attack by the Mongols. Peter does listen to
all this, never having heard if before, the conviction of the Russian players giving the
laboured music a compulsive quality. However, the last section, which describes the
death of the heroine and the entry of the lovers into the now invisible City, is a return
to the more lyrical music of the overture, where the beautiful timbre and colour of the
orchestra comes into its own. Slowly, the music rises in a circulating motion towards
the climatic entry, when suddenly a bell begins to ring out, obviously the great bell of
the City.
         Peter hears a gasp behind him. The stranger is standing in the door to the
bedroom, almost naked, a look of awe and something like dawning joy on his face.
Peter glances by reflex at the audio equipment, no more than a stack of black metal
boxes, as though to find there some manifestation that has effected the stranger so. Of
course, there is none.
         The bell ringing ceases and the music begins another round of rising tension as
it prepares for a second go at the climax. The stranger remains in the doorway, struck
dumb with awe and joy, mouth hanging open, nail-less hands raised and extended, for
all the world like a dead man risen.
         „It about the hidden City of Kitezh. Russian. Do you know it?‟
         The stranger shivers at Peter‟s words and says in a sing-song voice, very high
pitched:
         „Gosh wonks wurdycraft tomlinson. Vever ant brockin.‟
         The stranger moves then, a kind of gyration of the hips, drawing his shoulders
back at the same time. The movement draws Peter‟s attention to the stranger‟s body.
He notices immediately that the stranger is wearing only what appears to be a pair of
tight drawers, made of very shiny white plastic, and also that his groin in remarkable
flat.
         Like a woman‟s. But the stranger‟s chest is also flat, very flat and bony. But
definitely no genital bag in evidence.


                                                                                         46
         Now the music is rising again towards the climax, the aural space being
cleared for the tolling of the bell again. The stranger goes rigid again, his hands rising
further, as though in greeting. And this time, the bell works on Peter too, a feeling in
him also of accessing joy, and he feels an equal entrancement as he too enters the holy
City tucked away where no harm can come to it or its inhabitants.
         Then the music is ended. The stranger darts away back into the bedroom,
slamming the door behind him, though this might well have been inadvertent.
         The next track is Ravel‟s Bolero, and Peter realises with a sinking heart that
this is going to stretch out before him for seventeen tedious minutes. Of course, he
could click on to the next track, but that wouldn‟t do: the disk must be played out in
its entirety the first time.
         So Peter judges that it is time for lunch. He calls over the music, „Want
something to eat?‟ then goes out to the kitchen. Once a conservatory built of wood
and glass, it has been converted into a peculiar eating area, glassed on all sides and on
its sloping top. Breakfast, especially, is like eating in public, but it is summertime, so
mostly the atmosphere is al fresco and very nice at that. The garden contains a number
of rose bushes of different kind, the nearest one a matter of inches from where Peter
sits at meals.
         Peter is a cheese and bread man, a diet that has grown out of his nomadic life,
a solid nutritious diet that can be sustained almost anywhere. Being in London, he has
access to a particularly tasty camembert, which he eats invariably with ripe pear,
Comice if available, which seems to him best suited to the sometimes bovine flavour
of the cheese. And so it is today, chunks of fresh roll spread thickly with cheese, an
early ripe Comice already cored. Peter only awaits the drawing of the tea.
         He is gazing idly into the garden, red and yellow roses nodding in the light
wind, petals sparkling in the sunlight. The Ravel inside is working it‟s way stolidly
towards its climax, still some minutes off. Then, quite suddenly, Peter is invaded – for
the first time in two years – by the old weltschmerz.
         Peter doesn‟t usually maintain his morale much above what is necessary for
the relatively smooth functioning of his life. He wouldn‟t let himself be fooled by
feel-good, by artificial highs, into believing that life is in some hidden sense worth
living. Yet the sudden plummet in even his basic sense of well-being is always a
shock, like stage scenery being torn down during a play to reveal the bare walls and
boards that actually contain the actors and their drama.
         What happens? Nothing much, except that life comes to resemble the effort of
trudging through waist-high water. Little else. Some irritability is possible if he is
disturbed beyond the norm, as though he suffers a distraction from a deep inchoate
meditation.
         The tea is ready, so Peter makes it back in front of the speakers with a minute
to spare. He concentrates on eating – ripe fruit and a soft cheese require some care –
which saves him from having to hear the by now rampaging music. His mind plods,
vaguely morose now, partly resistance to the sexual mechanics of the music: thinking
how much effort is needed to say even obvious things. But there is also his own habit
of making the simple complex, his present lunch an example.
         Then – at last – the Ravel ends and after a very pregnant pause the Poem of
Ecstasy begins.
         Always, Peter realises upon hearing the opening phrases, this sense of
meander. An echo of Debussy, both composers facing a similar problem – how to
escape the conveyor belt of chromatic harmony, familiar since the time of Bach. But it
is obvious that for Scriabin harmony is a form of heat, and that this heat engenders a


                                                                                       47
kind of dread. Where consonance warmed the cockles of the Baroque heart, Scriabin
beams the harmonic heat away towards the further reaches of his aural landscape,
using flat-toned brass to achieve this…
        Someone is crying. The stranger stands in the bedroom doorway again, palms
flat against the sides of his head, mouth wide open as he bawls is a curiously
mournful singsong voice.
        Peter cannot move, plate in his lap, mug of tea on the armrest of his chair. He
can only say in explanation: „What‟s the matter? It‟s Scriabin‟s Poem of Ecstasy.‟
        But the stranger is inconsolable, tears pouring from his eyes, mucus from his
nostrils, a kind of fine foam like a thread around his lips. His crying is getting
uncomfortable loud, as though designed to drown out some awful cacophony with one
greater.
        Peter is being driven to distraction, still trying to hear the music – train of
thought quite lost – a growing unease at the sight of the stricken stranger. He sees
again the flat groin and at once he is stabbed by a deep pity, thinking that they even
cut the poor man‟s balls off. He has a vision of utter devastation, a man left utterly
denuded and vulnerable by systematic cruel mistreatment.
        He puts the plate on the floor by his feet, edges around the mug and
approaches the stranger. He says, holding his right hand forward in preparation to
touching:
        „It‟s only some modern music. It means no harm.‟
        The stranger‟s eyes have a vibration of pain in them that Peter has never seen
before. He cannot touch that white flesh – still weirdly uncoloured despite the passion
of the stranger‟s distress – for fear of inducing shock in him (the stranger, but no
doubt also himself).
        He turns and hurries over to switch the music off – just as a bell begins to ring
as the climax of this particular sexual ecstasy is reached.
        At once the stranger stops howling. The silence is momentarily uncanny: Peter
can still hear the bell tolling in Scriabin‟s piece and sees, without any apparent
relevance, something like a corpse swinging on a gibbet – a dark bundle surely drawn
from childhood television.
        „Gar canging ot dunate, bonnich,‟ the stranger says with evident satisfaction,
looking more pleased with himself that Peter had previously seen, which leads him
immediately to think that perhaps the stranger had in fact been singing along with the
Poem of Ecstasy.
        Weird.
        Peter collects the remains of his lunch and takes it out into the kitchen, where
he sits at the table and eats slowly, studying closely the various rose blossoms, mind
deliberately empty. But Peter can still hear the stranger‟s unearthly howl, see the
stricken face, and feel something of what it would be like to be so denuded, no teeth,
no nails, no balls.
        It is like being transparent.
        Transparent? Peter asks himself. He nods, sudden insight: like being unable to
protect oneself and so having everything pass in and pass out uncontrollably. And
language: not being able to communicate this condition, not complain or explain.
        Peter suddenly gets up from the table and passes through into the bedroom.
The stranger is huddled in his little plastic bag tent – set up between the wardrobe and
the corner of the room towards the outside of the house. He is utterly still.




                                                                                      48
        Peter feels tenderness, like watching your child sleep, at peace and safe. He
again wants to touch the so-white skin, but as before cannot being himself to do it,
afraid now of disturbing the unfortunate man‟s respite.
        So Peter goes and lies out on the bed, composing himself on his back, arms by
his side – as has long been his habit. He sees peace and trust, sees something like a
storm brewing, the wind coming to whoosh through an empty place, seeing not
bravery or stoicism but irrelevance and indifference: seeing that which is not pain
becoming pain, unresisting, the fearless becoming fearful, the strong becoming weak,
and yet something persisting through all this, suffering, afraid, trembling, yet
persisting in peace and trust.
        Then, drifting now towards a loss of consciousness, the rather harsh thought
intrudes – as though it has waited for this opportunity:
        What is she afraid of?




                                                                                  49
         It‟s getting towards noon and time for Peter to decide what to do with this
particular Sunday, day of rest and diversion. The plan is to visit the Dulwich Gallery
again, to spend more time mulling over the fine Dutch landscapes on display there.
Peter has been struck by something about them, but hasn‟t yet been able to figure out
what it is. He keeps thinking about curtains, of all things, about how the frame of the
landscape image is disguised, usually by bounding foliage. Most artwork down to
Renaissance did not disguise the fact that the image is bounded, even if the boundary
– the edge of the painting – truncates elements of the image, facades, roadways, even
figures.
         Why the difference?
         The morning is bright, again, and the air from the garden is less tainted than
usual – being Sunday. When Peter asks the question, he knows he already knows the
answer, but cannot bring it to mind. At present he is looking out at the garden, having
just finished his breakfast, a good time for extended reflection. The roses are nodding,
the uncut grass waving, the windows of the houses beyond all uniformly blank. The
only presence for the moment is the soft thump of music from the house directly
across, where a black is settling down to his day of entertainment.
         The difference: Peter gets up from the table and goes out into the garden. It is
not by any means a big garden, smokey beige brick walls, the end section covered by
a climbing rose still sporting the last of its pink flowers. To the right the wall is
surmounted by a tall wooden screen erected by the couple next door to mark their
exclusion zone.
         Peter is now in a landscape, walking through a landscape. But where is the
landscape? All that can be seen is space or place extending in all directions, north
south east west and up all the way to the sky. It is tantalising, to know one is close to
an understanding and yet not able to win through to it. The best he can do for the
moment is ask the question: How is a landscape derived from place?
         After that there is only cleaning up and preparation for the day. The kitchen is
quickly cleaned, a bachelor‟s economy of use means few dishes and little mess. Bathe
and shave are done by habit, so little sense of labour. Dressing is also simple, choice
of red or green, no more, with red chosen for today, wine-red to be exact, fawn
moleskins, brown leather boots, marks of the outdoors man.
         The stranger is still abed, holding it seems the exact same position – foetal
though the space in his plastic tent is pretty confined – as the previous evening. He
could be dead, hard to tell.
         Back to the kitchen then, time for coffee, last minute preparations for the day
out. Next door‟s weekly lunch meet is under way, middle-aged solicitors and the like
making a virtue of a debilitating hedonism, as though striving to keep ahead of the
city‟s destructive pressures. But a jolly crowd, deeply disciplined, meaning little harm
to anyone. And as usual the black across the way has raised the volume of his music,
obviously not happy with the cultural competition. This has been going on for a few
weeks now, the volume on either side steadily rising one against the other.
         This morning the crisis is reached, quite suddenly, when the babble next store
ceases and the lady of the house shouts out in her doughty voice:
         „SHUT UP THAT FUCKING MUSIC!‟
         It works. Instantly.
         Conversation resumes, as though nothing has happened. Well, yes, but only
for a moment. It‟s as though the morning group next door – now engaged in
reconnecting the gin flow from the previous evening – is slow to react. First there is a
whoop or two, a few cheers – though each expression of triumph is at once received


                                                                                      50
with a momentary admonishing silence, on the principle that one should never give
the game away – then the whole tenor of the conversational flow is stepped up, almost
as though they believed themselves to be alone together again.
         Peter follows this series of events, seeing there a reach for something that,
once achieved, is taken completely for granted. How the black must feel is of
absolutely no significance. And how they, the group of brunchers, feel does not
signify either. And yet pain is a product of that engagement – on both sides. What is
achieved? A restoration perhaps of a state of affairs, that these middle-aged middle-
class chums can hold their Sunday morning get-together as they always have? And
yet the pain is there now.
         Peter turns away, seeing his weltschmerz in danger of becoming something
decidedly worse. Taking on another‟s pain has to be the least profitable habit
imaginable. Not so, Peter would tell you: his studies tell him that truth will always be
found in pain. Even so, on this particular sunny Sunday morning – with cultural uplift
in the offing – the pain arising from the trivial drama just enacted outside seems a
pointless sort of experience, more inducive of a petty hopelessness than spiritual
insight.
         Turning away has its own momentum, not running away but more like moving
out of range. Peter finds himself in the bedroom, sipping dark coffee, looking at the
white plastic tent enshrouding the stranger. Worse here to contemplate, if permitted.
Man‟s inhumanity. But if we are free agents, Peter is musing, then no limits can be
placed and moral judgements must always be relative to rules that attempt to limit that
freedom.
         Peter sees one bright blue eye regarding him, twinkling even there in the
subdued light of the stranger‟s shelter.
         „Gar hiffin? Manching gord, bonnich.‟
         The stranger is smiling! Admittedly like a rictus of gums and elastic rather
than pliable lips. Peter can only say in reply, feeling lame because his spirits are low,
feeling also something like a dart of light within, as though the stranger can operate
within him in some direct fashion:
         „Did you rest well?‟
         The stranger seems to uncoil from his tent – Peter retreating as required –
rising up to his feet in one smooth flow, going from long-time supine to erect in
seconds without any apparent discomfort. He lays his hands out in front of him, palms
up:
         „Hilften forten unti trokkint. Gar bwell pugt.‟
         Peter is moved by the obvious frankness of the man. Some thing is being
explained in a direct way – though Peter hasn‟t a clue what is being explained – as
though some kind of respect exists between the stranger and Peter. The desire to touch
one of the white pulpy hands is very powerful. Peter is actually reaching, a tension in
his right arm, even while he notices that there are no lines at all in the stranger‟s
palms.
         Now this is a weirdness too far for Peter. He can explain no teeth, no nails,
even no gonads, but he cannot explain the lack of lines in the palms before him.
         It‟s an impulse, but Peter reaches and grasps the stranger‟s left hand. At the
same time, he is wondering to himself – afraid to utter these words out loud – Who
are you?
         The stranger‟s flesh is cold, elastic in the way Peter remembers a cousin‟s doll
had been, soft plastic with padding beneath. At least, the flesh was cold to begin with,



                                                                                      51
but then it warms under his fingers, warming quickly until getting hot, when Peter
withdraws his hand.
        The look on the stranger‟s face can only be called ecstatic. Peter thinks now
that many people would find stranger repulsive, too bare – stripped – in a way that
would induce a vague insecurity: how people feel about poverty, for instance.
        „Gothingdon!‟ Nodding emphatically: „Burted domp, collt bushkin.‟
        Peter withdraws as slowly as he can, not revulsion – because he has thought of
revulsion – but out of a sense of discretion. The stranger seems pathetically trusting,
implying a desperation in him, so damaged that the need for attention is pathological
by now. Yet what is he to do? He cannot bear to cause the unfortunate man any hurt,
while he has already allowed him to share some part of his life.
        As Peter moves away, the stranger relaxes his reaching out, bright expression
dying, and turns – as out of habit – towards his refuge, the white tent. It is this turning
back that decides Peter: he can‟t be let just hide away like that.
        „No.‟ It is Peter commanding, this hidden quality in him, his capacity to
determine others. The stranger stops, just like that, frozen. Peter sees the stranger with
him in the Dulwich Gallery, together studying the pretty, post-card landscapes. Peter
explaining about boundaries, discussing the contrasting of – what? – aesthetics…
        Ha! Peter almost had it that time. Aesthetics on one side: beautification. On the
other? Medieval art: sacred image, illustrations – the Hart in the Thicket, for instance
– a Book of Days. Not merely beautiful; perhaps beautiful as of origin, but not made
beautiful, as landscapes and modern portraits are.
        „Habte onk, Peter?‟
        His name spoken by the stranger has a remarkable effect. For a start it is like
an echo of himself speaking his own name. Then it is like a sound coming from a
distant place, strange resonance, unusual echoes. Most of all, this utterance of his
name charms Peter utterly.
        “Peter.”
        Like a mother calling, perhaps; more like a father calling, in fact: a forgotten
sense of establishment from childhood, the root of pride, self-belief, desire for the
perfect. And in this sense of making perfect, so all is still and one, yet arrayed,
disposed, true, Peter sees himself and the stranger standing before other images, tall,
glorious, benign.
        That‟s is, Peter thinks with strong relief, something relenting within him:
        Claude.
        He can see the small room with its tall frames prominent. The room Turner
required as an act of homage, willing to allow the humiliating comparison with the
master. He sees himself and the stranger before The Mill, immersed in its sunny
utopian world.
        Peter checks himself. The stranger cannot be seen wearing those plastic
clothes of his. He signals the stranger to attract his attention, then goes to the
wardrobe. First, a red shirt, brighter than the one he is wearing, lighter fabric too, then
a pair of stone-coloured slacks. The stranger is willing to wear them, submissive to
Peter but otherwise indifferent to what he now wears.
        The truth is he looks even weirder then previously, stark white skin, shock of
black hair, gummy, like some ghastly rubber man. The shirt is too big in the
shoulders, the pants hanging in the seat. Ah. Peter has it, the stroke of genius. He
roots down into a drawer and finds an old cravat, paisley pattern in gold, but it does
the trick. Foppish now, Peter knows the stranger will not be taken seriously.



                                                                                        52
       Only trouble, he cannot get him to wear a pair of his shoes. Understandable, if
only because they are too big and wide. Peter is aghast at what the stranger proposes
wearing, what look like little black plastic bags that seem to attach themselves
clingingly to his feet.

        So, they are off. Up Alderbrook Road in the noonday sun, place deserted – it
being Sunday – Peter walking that little way in front, concerned both to lead the
stranger and to protect him if required.
        Peter is thinking of torture again, this time ripping the skin off a man‟s palms
so that no lines remain. Is this possible? He has heard that it is almost impossible to
obliterate finger prints, so how can a whole hand print be removed? Why in any case
do it? So his lifeline cannot be read, his destiny?
        This is obviously an absurd line of speculation. Peter smiles grimly to himself
for catching on too late. They are still walking in this staggered line under the
noonday sun, pleasantly warm, gentle eddying air along the road, wafting towards
them from the common. Yet Peter finds that he is wondering how they removed the
stranger‟s palms. He thinks forcing his opened hands down on to a red hot metal
surface, say a commercial cooking plate.
        Jesus! Peter is staggered by the shiver that run up his body, as though he has
just had an extensive layer of his skin removed in this way. This isn‟t pain, he is
thinking, not on this scale. What is it? Agony? What‟s in a word? Why not call it
lollipop or something inane while you‟re about it?
        Peter finds they are up on Nightingale Lane now and that he is looking out
into the common, at the familiar parkland, hazy air among the trees, something so
gentle in the atmosphere that you would be strongly tempted to go and sit under a tree
for the afternoon and doze.
        Who would do it? Large strong men grappling with the screaming youth,
holding his arms straight out, forcefully twisting his hands to the right orientation.
Why would they do it? I mean, why take the trouble to inflict such savage torture on
another person?
        You would do it only if you already contained in some way an equal or greater
pain. We truly do to others what has been done to us. Where else could the motivation
be found for such energetic activities?
        Peter turns spontaneously to the stranger and places his arm across his
shoulders and squeezes them tightly. Pity.
        „Gar hantin, bonnich? Kumbert?‟
        Peter shakes his head slowly in sympathy:
        „You poor unfortunate…‟ Overcome to an extent – limited by amazement at
his own display of emotion – he finds he cannot find the right word to describe the
stranger. He now turns to face him, laying a hand on either shoulder. He says
earnestly:
        „I don‟t even know your name.‟ He points to himself: „Peter.‟ He points to the
stranger, mouth open as though he himself will utter the name.
        The stranger seems very uncertain, not frightened by Peter‟s intensity, more
unsure of the protocol being followed. But he does say, hesitantly:
        „Gar fot…‟ The next word involves a throat-tearing guttural sound remarkable
even by the standards of the stranger‟s usual speech.
        Peter knows by the stranger‟s expression that this word is his name. Peter tries
his best to be faithful to the stranger‟s pronunciation:
        „Kharib.‟


                                                                                     53
         The stranger – Kharib – is well pleased by Peter‟s effort, for he smiles that
disturbingly rubberoid smile and nods with a naïve complacency.
         „Kharib,‟ Peter tries again.
         The stranger – Kharib – is even more delighted this time.
         Peter, also, is very pleased, all his emotion quite evaporated. And it is just like
that, peace on Sunday, sunny day, day out, no work. Even the cars seem just to cruise,
occupants perhaps taking time to appreciate the scenery, dappled trees on the
common, Victorian redbrick residences, pedestrians going their ways, a commonplace
disposition that will soon in the future come to seem quaint, even nostalgic.
         But at the Tube station the stranger, Kharib, draws back in consternation at the
prospect of descending even a few yards into the solid earth. There is no argument
here, no rational persuasion to be exercised, Kharib is not going down the escalator.
Peter hears a train swoosh into the station below, and they both feel the gust of hot air,
like the exhalation of a serpent fed on lubricants and electricity.
         Okay, Peter thinks, so we go by bus. The bus stop is nearby, a bus presenting
itself within minutes. No. Kharib doesn‟t like the bus either. Peter shouts in
exasperation:
         „But you travelled in our bloody car the other day!‟
         The bus driver begins by taking all this up wrongly – super-white skinned
foreigner baulking at dark skinned driver – but Peter‟s shout reassures him, allowing
him to retire again into the consoling insouciance of all London officials.
         Now Peter figures walking. They are going somewhere, even if they have to
walk. He pictures walking to Dulwich, quiet roads, leafy – as they say – Sunday like a
harbinger of real mortality. A walk to the National Gallery, down through Stockwell
and Kennington, familiar territory to Peter. Claude decides it, Peter with a particularly
vivid image of The Mill at that moment.
         He takes Kharib by the elbow – again that disquiet at touching the rubbery
flesh, the bones within much lighter than would be expected – and sets him to walking
down along the common. Peter is intent at first on getting Kharib up to a decent speed
and then with keeping him at it. It‟s not difficult, but Peter can feel that Kharib if let
will drift away into a daydream, perhaps rolling himself into a ball on the grass beside
the pathway. Speaking would ordinarily help in a situation like this, take their
attention away from the effort until such time as their bodies settle into the rhythm of
walking smartly, but Peter feels a deep reluctance to talk. It‟s obvious that the mood
emanating from Kharib is far stronger than anything resident in Peter at the moment.
         So they walk together, one drawing the other forward along the path, one
drawing the other deeper into some nameless reverie. Of course, it is not a bit
unpleasant: hazy lazy Sunday afternoon in August, an air of ripeness everywhere, of
work well done simmering nicely now.
         There is a significant event during this walk. It occurs at the far end of the
common, not far from the Clapham Common tube station. The path runs by a pond,
shallow but kept clean of weed and scum. Here Kharib veers away suddenly and runs
with a strange bouncing lope over to its edge. Peter of course charges off in pursuit,
betraying in this way his utter lack of confidence in the peculiar stranger. But Kharib
waits for Peter to catch him up: then he begins a long involved demonstration. He
says only, „Bin chiarro gurro, bonchin. Cuzzo grontia, beltanta prezchio.‟ Then he
begins an elaborate mime with his hands, drawing them together, rolling the joined
hands from the vertical to the horizontal, then drawing them apart again. He checks
to see if Peter is following him, then he slowly repeats the mime, saying this time:
„Cha beltante hortenzzi, guntrenti volyanta. Cruzzo, cruzzi, antala gotryuni.‟


                                                                                         54
         Peter of course doesn‟t understand a word of this, but what strikes him
immediately is the fact that the stranger is speaking a different language. Peter shakes
his head slowly.
         Kharib nods, a little crestfallen, but then brightens again. He bends and
touches the water with one hand – the right – and then slowly and deliberately touches
the stony pathway with his left. He looks up at Peter all the time, saying simply:
         „Chia cortumti, chioti bagtrini.‟
         Then he withdraws his hand from earth and water and brings them together,
palm to palm, saying:
         „Idirti cosumptia, beltantia.‟
         He holds his joined hands up before Peter‟s eyes, waits while they are
contemplated by the bemused Peter, then he quite dramatically pulls them apart,
saying with a shout:
         „Avanchighini!‟
         So sudden a movement that Peter gets a real fright, drawing his head back. He
sees earth and water – who wouldn‟t? – but not much more. Sure, he makes an effort;
after all, he is used to decoding events for their significance. He sees earth and water
brought together, then some kind of esoteric operation, then they are flung apart.
         Is he telling me about a new weapon? Peter is thinking, seeing Kharib tortured
for no innocent reason after all. Perhaps a man filled with frightful secrets from some
eastern despotism.
         I should take him to the nearest police station.
         Peter sees watchful men interrogating Kharib, experts in his language and
milieu, knowing the correct questions to ask…and – bearing in mind the methods
used previously on him – how to ask them.
         No. It would never do…
         „No, Peter, not that.‟ Kharib has spoken perfect English, no wonky accent, no
hesitation. Peter finds he is being looked at with something approaching compassion,
as though he is a child groping for an understanding forever beyond him. Kharib
gestures with a supreme delicacy, saying:
         „Gar fort ideochini socchurti, bonchin.‟
         He shrugs, not out of indifference – though it could be interpreted thus – but as
though he himself shares some of Peter‟s bewilderment and loss.
         „Bekbek durtinch, gar fut henchin. Amative, si?‟ Kharib has brought his two
hands together again, but this time his fingers enfold each other, so that his hands
remained joined, tightly joined.
         Jesus! Peter is struggling now. He can recognise that Kharib is speaking a
babble of languages, amative making some sense, memory that Bekbek may mean
Rebecca, so hands joined, fingers intertwined signifying love or mere conjoinment,
congress. Peter has all this in a flash: but there is something else here. Not the
message, as it were, not even the compassion and the regard it demonstrates. No. It is
this business of this stranger, hitchhiker with signs of some serious mistreatment, who
lives in a plastic bag, who doesn‟t seems to be deprived or psychologically damaged
in any way. Something is rising in Peter – a sunny Sunday afternoon on Clapham
Common, even a young couple coming towards him wrapped in a shared reverie –
that‟s not quite panic (as Peter understands it), more like a delight infected with
hysteria. It‟s that old feeling of some fabric being rent, a protective screen coming
down.
         It‟s not that the stranger is different – he is – it‟s simply that he is here present
to Peter. Had he read about him on the news, headlines in a paper, he could have


                                                                                           55
taken it in his stride. But in the flesh, just here and now, there is something too much
in the experience. The pressure is such that Peter is forced to blurt out the question he
now understands has been lodged somewhere in his throat for a long time:
        „Who are you?‟
        Kharib has the expression of a bright and attentive bird, head as though
throbbing, eyes darting rapidly to different parts of Peter‟s face. He raises his right
hand, flesh totally white despite the sun and warmth:
        „Tecum anto, bonchin.‟ He is very earnest, obviously aware of Peter‟s distress.
„Vancumt.‟
        He lowers his head, finally accepting that he cannot communicate with Peter
after all. So it would seem, though Peter himself is finding that he has a different
perspective on it. I‟m not awake, he realises. I‟ve been asleep since, when? Buying
that CD yesterday: I was asleep then. He sees himself putting his hand out for the
disk, sleep-walking through the aisles to where he paid for it, sleep-walking to the
Tube station, asleep all day long.
        Not a happy view on his recent past.
        When did I fall asleep? By way of an answer, he sees himself falling off
Anne‟s back, falling and falling.
        Then?
        Yes. Because I saw something as I fell over.
        This memory really staggers Peter. Saw something, he repeats blankly,
knowing at the same time that he actually had seen something and that he will not
remember what it was, not ever.
        It was easily the worst thing you could think of. Peter knows that even without
knowing what it was.
        Kharib says, bending towards Peter, a very human anxiety in his voice:
        „Tarkum boshtik, bonchin? Merra merra.‟ He touches Peter‟s brow with the
gentlest touch, a veritable caress.
        Peter cries, just like that, a soft easy flow of tears, something smoothly liquid
running from somewhere in his chest, like honey, all golden. Crying? Peter opens his
eyes – he is not crying. Instead he is at once determined, taking the stranger‟s elbow,
turning him in the right direction, saying smartly in his commanding way,
        „Get a move on.‟

        It takes time to reach the National Gallery. Peter suspects they have taken the
long way in, going through Elephant and Castle instead of, as he discovers when he
consults a London Transport map at a bus stop, through Vauxhall. So what? The walk
confirms Peter‟s belief that London is not a good place to walk in. The roads feel used
up, like old waste pipes, worn smooth by maximum use. The pavements are worse in
a way: badly paved and deserted, an afterthought like an act of charity or legal
obligation.
        Peter is remembering a walk one Sunday soon after his arrival in Bristol. He
followed this road, then a pedestrian way down among trees – an old railway cutting –
until suddenly he debouched onto a meadow on the banks of the River Avon. No cars.
A small tea house, groups picnicking on the grass, a small pleasure craft gliding down
with the slow current. He sat on the grass in a stupor, dappled sunlight on his limbs,
confounded by the gift of momentary peace.
        The problem was, he could never find that spot again. He sometimes retraced
his steps out through St Phillips Marsh, on up to Hanham on the height above the
river, and then try down this way, then on another Sunday another way. Could never


                                                                                      56
find it again, like a lost paradise, haunted by the calm of the picnickers, the mellow
peace riverside.
         So anyway, here they are in the narrow foyer of the National Gallery,
hotfooted, more ready for lunch than high art, at least Peter is. They find the
restaurant. Peter is treating and offers Kharib anything on the menu. Kharib shows
alarm at the sight of these bowls of beans and sprouts, tomatoes and greens, but
relaxes when he espies the tray holding glasses of clear water. Peter shrugs, knowing
very well that he has never seen the stranger actually eat, but gathers up a glass of
water for him and his usual frugal ham sandwich for himself, together with a sachet of
mustard. He must now wait in line for tea, so he sends Kharib off to a nearby vacant
table to wait.
         The queue is slow, off-duty bourgeoisie in a stupor, and Peter himself feels the
seductive pull of this justified maunder, but then a voice strikes up somewhere behind
him, a braying kind of woman‟s voice, talking loudly because no one listens:
         „Well, if it isn‟t Tobias! I thought you were out in – Bahrain, was it? – Third
Secretary now, that‟s right, isn‟t it? Joanna was telling me only last week that she had
heard that your promotion had come through.‟
         „Gar habint gorum, magchi?‟
         The voice is so familiar to Peter, the guttural sounds modulated to a
surprisingly flat tone – like lights reflecting from nickel or zinc.
         The woman has fair hair, thick stumpy body, very strong gestures. She is bent
over Kharib, too close for decency‟s sake, and she is saying at full bellow into his
face:
         „Ah, yes. I remember. How does it go? Gëzohem që ju njov. How is that?‟
         The woman has pulled back, a sign of impending hilarity. Kharib leans
forward, that naïve earnest expression on his face, bright eyes unblinking:
         „Kittich! Borra goof kophic!‟
         Kharib might be excited too, but it has a different source. He has drawn back
suddenly, baring those empty gums of his. The woman lets a shriek:
         „Oh my god, what happened to your face?‟
         „Kittichint? Korra gothin gothomg, ety?‟ Kharib is the most agitated Peter has
even seen, his hands raised, palms out, before him, whether warding off the woman‟s
vehemence or trying to demonstrate his good health is not clear.
         Time now for Peter to receive his little pot of tea and pay up. At his back, the
woman is saying something is a hoarse bellow. Peter hurries, suddenly impatient,
aware that this is the first time the stranger has been out in public, as it were. He is
seeing his own puzzled and distressed reactions to Kharib multiplied by the dozen in
this restaurant, potentially by the hundred in the Gallery itself.
         He can see the police called, immigration officials, an unintelligible Kharib
incarcerated again in some hell-hole confinement.
         He turns as soon as he can, sees the woman now seated beside Kharib, bent
forward in intimate conversation, her eyes glued to his mouth. Peter hurries over,
coughing to alert them both, and lands his tray on the table as near to between them as
he can manage.
         Kharib glances over at Peter and says, almost casually:
         „Forkin two-some, plenty pretty some day?‟
         The woman for her part over-reacts to his presence, staring at Peter as if to
drive him away by the force of her stare alone. Peter does his smirk – the unpalatable
expression for once at least serving some positive purpose – saying:
         „You shouldn‟t encourage them, you know.‟


                                                                                      57
        It‟s not clear who he is addressing – which is the plan – so the woman at once
says, hostile in her own defence:
        „And I‟m not sure this is the time and place for daytrips for…‟ she stumbles
here, not ever going to say what it is in her to say, a problem with words in part but
also a problem with concepts: can one say “idiot”, “cretin”? “Mentally handicapped”
doesn‟t mean very much, does it?
        Kharib helps make matters worse, balling his hands as they lie on the table-
top, nail-less fingers only too evident now:
        „And begoing allwhiles today, sandran.‟
        Peter is make a huge show of laying out his lunch things, teapot, cup and
saucer, plate with sandwich and mustard sachet, spoon and knife, finally the glass of
water for Kharib.
        The woman has stepped back from the table, dignity restored very quickly,
and she looks at Kharib‟s hands with tight lips, then at his mouth, but nonetheless she
does manage to say, courageous at the very end:
        „You are so like Tobias Hunt, you know. It‟s simply amazing. Perhaps you are
a relative. I mean, we all have them. You know‟ – glancing in a conciliatory way at
Peter, who might well be doing good by taking the unfortunate creature out for the
day – „and keep them hidden away in homes.‟
        Peter inclines his head towards her in a deliberately mute response. The
woman takes this gesture very well and turns away and marches out of view. Kharib
for his part is making his hideous smile – lips draw into a kind of rectangle, red gums
exposed, skin about his mouth puckered like soft plastic – staring around the room as
though to invite someone else to come and try him.
        Peter hasn‟t much time for nonsense now. He pushes the glass of water in
front of Kharib and barks:
        „Drink.‟
        He starts into his own sandwich, first spreading the yellow mustard paste over
the somewhat shiny ham, but eating nonetheless with good appetite, out for the day
and treating himself.
        Kharib meanwhile takes out a small vial from some pocket or other and
sprinkle what seems to be glittery dust into the water in the glass. The water turns
bright red, bubbles breaking on the surface.
        Kharib drinks this with evident enjoyment, slurping at times, as though some
deformity in his mouth renders drinking imperfect.
        Peter is now thinking of Claude again, excitement rising through realisation of
the proximity of the great paintings – only a few steps away – that they will be
contemplating in just a few moments.
        Goodness, but it is more than he can bear, the hunger for the consolation of
Claude‟s utopian visions suddenly very great, an almost sensual hunger though sited
somewhere in the region of his heart rather than his belly.
        He eats quickly, unconscious of the pickled taste of the meat, the gummy
blandness of the bread, the dead oiliness of the mustard, and as soon as he sees that
Kharib has drunk his blood-like concoction, jumps to his feet and sets off.
        Oh, it is too much, of course it is. Here is this small room, each wall of which
is dominated by a huge painting, two by Turner and two by Claude himself. Peter
spins about in the room, as he always does, trying to take it all in at once. He can‟t
remember what it was like the first time, on a visit to the city about ten years ago,
ignorant of Claude and his Mill. But he knows it was more a matter of remembering
the event afterwards, a flashback perhaps – the expanse of water, river or lake?


                                                                                     58
bisected by the falls, or the glowing hills in the distance – a kind of shock of
recognition, like one utopian showing another how possible are impossible dreams.
        Now the painting dominates the room, Peter stepping towards it as though
going through a door. And it is literally like that, for Peter the landwalker finds it
natural to imagine himself walking through that landscape, down through the sunny
meadow towards the picnicking group, and maybe afterwards on across the stream
and around by the mill and then out into the huge vista, following the water‟s edge as
the sun‟s shadows lengthened and evening came on. He can hear the water lapping on
the shore, birdsong near and far, light wind soughing in the seed-heavy grass.
        He says, louder than he intended – to compensate for the fact that Kharib will
not understand him: „You must see that it is possible to imagine a better place, despite
everything.‟
        It‟s strange how intense this image is for Peter, who is normally so
phlegmatic, able to accept even large disasters with little more than a nod. The secret
here is that once, years ago while researching at Trinity College in Dublin, he had
experienced a moment such as we can witness here in Claude‟s The Mill – actually
entitled Landscape with the Marriage of Isaac and Rebekah – in the flesh. He had
been traversing the Wicklow Mountains, south of Dublin, from east to west, and
towards evening had come out onto the last of a line of hill tops, above the
Blessington Reservoir, just in time to witness what by any standards must have been a
sublime sunset. Peter, of course, was stunned and had burst out crying. He is not
given to creative writing of any kind, but the experience resulted in a short poem,
which came to him whole and entire while tears still streamed from his eyes and he
gulped madly for air.
        This is the poem:

                      There is a cleft where an angel,
                      Of golden wings and spread hands,
                      Said of this inglorious world:
                      “This is a place of pain and sorrow.”

                      But I looked beyond him and saw
                      Far plains to Shannon, and a lake
                      Bathed in such gold that my heart
                      Was forlorn and I wished night and sleep.

        Peter has forgotten most of this, only the feeling – the mixture of pure elation
and deep sadness – the sense of something finally eluding him because of some
failure of his own being, abides.
        Today, however, he is addressing Kharib while gazing on the dancing figures
who occupy the middle foreground, a touch of envy as they dance among the
sunbeams glancing through the trees nearby. Kharib is not responding, so Peter tears
himself away from the beautiful image to find him staring at the Gallery guard, who
stands – as he always does – inconspicuously over by the door, out of line of sight of
any of the pictures.
        The guard is looking at Kharib, with no more than a vague curiosity as to why
he – a modest ex-seaman, as Peter knows from a previous conversation with him –
should be the focus of attention.
        Peter barks as gutturally as he can, in order to add emphasis: „Kharib!‟
        Kharib does look around immediately, an expression of puzzlement on his
face, as though he wonders where he is and why he is there.


                                                                                     59
        Peter indicates the painting at his back. Kharib looks in that direction and then
back to Peter, his puzzlement increasing. Peter shifts to a fury that astounds him: he
had no inkling that such strong feeling lurked within himself:
        „Look at the bloody painting, will you.‟
        Kharib is not frightened by Peter‟s anger – though this is Peter‟s immediate
reaction to his own temper, aware that he has done the worst possible thing here – but
he is genuinely concerned by some aspect of it. Kharib reaches forward his white nail-
less hands towards Peter, and says in an almost croon:
        „Pershapt, bonnich, churty cong?‟
        Peter is not lulled by this show of concern, he is incensed further. He points at
the other Claude – The Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba – and asks, his tone of
voice shifted at the last instant from an enraged shout to a plaintive wail:
        „Can‟t you see that one, then?‟
        Kharib is earnest, understanding this much: that he must take Peter seriously.
He turns and stares in the direction indicated by Peter‟s pointing finger. Then he looks
at Peter himself. Peter points in succession at the two Turners. Kharib‟s face remains
blank.
        Peter is consternated, seeing how deeply a man can be damaged so that the
consolation of beauty, at least, is unavailable. He asks with a real anguish:
        „Nothing at all?‟
        Kharib hears the pain. A large tear appears in each of his eyes.

         Later, in the evening, Peter decides that because Kharib can respond to music
– if not to art – to play again the Rimsky-Korsakov‟s The Legend of the Invisible City
of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronia. He is both pleased and relieved when he hears
Kharib come from his plastic nest in the bedroom to listen. But then Kharib begins
that horrible caterwauling. Peter jumps up, distraught lest he has upset the stranger
even further, thus driving him back perhaps into terrible memories of his
mistreatment.
         But Kharib‟s face is earnest, and it becomes apparent that Kharib is actually
singing against the music, sweet as it is. It does take Peter a further five minutes to
realise that the other doesn‟t want to hear this music.
         He changes tracks on the CD: it is still a raucous wail, but Peter begins to
discern something of how it fits in with Scriabin‟s Poem of Ecstasy. The
correspondences are remote and extremely strange, even weird at times, but they are
nonetheless there.
         Peter comes to believe that he may not really understand music.




                                                                                      60
        No alarm needed. Peter opens his eyes at a quarter to seven precisely. As
always, there is a vague surprise, as though finding himself alive – as such – is
something he had not expected. Next, he must discover who he is and then what he is
doing. Identity is as always a kind of process of blanking, a disturbing series of self-
references that seeks responsibility for his existence elsewhere. Of course, the name
comes pretty soon, and he as always will rest content with that: Peter Lacey. Now for
the next stage. He thinks it is strange to be a temporary credit controller with some
company in London, strange in the sense that he cannot see how continuity can be
maintained in such a contingency as working intermittently for some relatively
unknown group of people. How, for instance, could he remember this fact after so
many hours since last Friday? Especially…
        He remembers the stranger.
        Peter sits up in the bed. The plastic cocoon is over by the wardrobe. A feeling
jumps in him like a hope, like trepidation: like definitely wanting something only to
doubt it when gained. There is an impulse in this that gets Peter out of bed. The
stranger is wrapped up in his cocoon, arms and legs drawn into his body in a
particular way, head also jutting forward and down in a particular way, so that he
resembles some kind of limbless creature. There is a formal element in this that
intrigues Peter: how abuse can cause distortions out of the normal and yet some kind
of formal identity is retained.
        Peter is thinking these thoughts as he discovers that he is drying himself down
after his bath. It can be like this in the morning, longs trains of thought while he
attends to habituated preparations for the day.
        And again, having noted that he is drying himself, he thinks now about the fact
of form, how shape always ensues after change. What? Is that true? Inertia. Settling
down. Like dying.
        Peter is shaving. A recently acquired habit, still an element of uncertainty in
his method to bring the activity to consciousness. Had a beard until a year ago, when
he realised that the grey strands were becoming prominent enough to signify.
        He dresses, grey slacks, blue shirt, one of the gaudier ties he has bought in the
last few months, slashes of bright purples and reds, in-your-face yellows blobs lurking
everywhere. Last thing is to check on the stranger – Kharib – again. Always he sleeps
when not in Peter‟s company. Like recharging, or maybe nothing else of interest.
        Vaguely flattering, vaguely eerie. As though he is here only for me. Thinking
this, Peter can only conclude that something shared or something owed is the reason.
        Peter finds he is just about finishing his cereal, an uninteresting course which
he nonetheless feels obliged to consume. It might be good for him. There is bread and
cheese now, tea already brewing on the gas cooker. The morning is bright in the
garden, he notices, the roses nodding under the always distant London sky.
        There is nothing else. Peter is surprised by this insight. Such as? he asks
himself, a habit of his. Compared with this stranger – this Kharib, nail-less and
toothless wraith, who drinks red liquid and sleeps most of the time – everything else
you cling to is like so much chaff. Chaff? What a quaint word. Blown in the wind;
thin raiment over something.
        Agitation brings Peter back to his breakfast, which he discovers to his
disappointment is almost complete, only crumbs on his plate, lukewarm tea in his cup.
He goes and cleans his teeth. The jacket he‟ll wear has a story: Peter rehearses it, as
he always does, as though a talisman lurks somewhere in this, story, event, coat.
        In the company where he works in Bristol there had been a messenger –
lowest of the lowest in the commercial hierarchy – of Polish-Somerset extraction,


                                                                                      61
who despised his workmates as a way of forestalling their contempt for him. Peter
gets to know him, an effort on Peter‟s part, partly out of pity for the man‟s
vulnerability and limitation, partly no doubt through shared disaffection. It is
remarkable how great was the effect of Peter‟s friendship on this man. He was a loner
by nature, working alone and, when he could, hunting alone.
         This was perhaps the most intriguing feature of their relationship: Peter who
constantly walked through nature as an aid to his endless ruminations, and this
huntsman who stalked through marshes along the Severn with the intention of killing
what he could find. The attraction was like a device of rhetoric: Peter feeling that his
thoughts had an issue of a kind with the hunter‟s killing of innocent beasts and birds.
The hunter? Peter was like a mirror for him. He tells Peter everything about himself:
his parentage, his wife and family, his work, his sport. Peter sees how this man passes
through his full and quite ordinary life like a ghost, intensely experiencing his life but
nonetheless radically estranged from it.
         Anyway, towards the end of Peter‟s stay with that company, the hunter comes
to him one day carrying a large shoulder bag. He takes from it a green tweed shooting
jacket, clean but with the rounded quality of a much worn coat. He explains that he
recently quit smoking and as a consequence put on so much weight that the jacket no
longer fits him.
         Would Peter like to take the jacket?
         Peter? Abashed at first. Flattered to be thought worthy of such a gift.
Affronted that he should be thought to be in need of an old jacket.
         Peter takes the jacket with the best grace he can muster, hangs it in a corner of
the wardrobe, forgets about it.
         Then in London: what to wear? Run out and buy a suit, perhaps? Wool slacks,
yes. Comfortable cotton shirts, gaudy ties. But no jacket. Then the first morning of his
first temporary assignment: he dresses blue green slacks, pale blue shirt, gaudy gold-
silver tie. Jacket? Peter takes out the shooting jacket and dons it. He hides the long
flap of the cartridge pocket in the pocket itself, flexes his shoulders to settle the jacket
down. It a bit wide in the shoulder, adding an unexpected edge.
         Peter the hunter. What does it signify? Peter doesn‟t know. But it does the
trick. No one in London can touch him.

        Actually, Peter is walking past the pond on Clapham Common, down near the
Clapham Common tube station – where Kharib suddenly launched into his
unintelligible discourse on earth and water – one worker on his way to work among
many. He can see the white faced figure in the absurd clothes gesticulating, as though
earth could turn to water or water to earth – just like that. It doesn‟t make much sense.
        Then it‟s across onto the Clapham Road, traffic lights, a lot of buses this
morning in a line, faces peering out. The usual stop-go of the traffic, a jostle of cars
and buses, a huge anxiety hardly noticeable because so habituated.
        Now Peter remembers the conversation with Charles Rippon, the MD, in the
lift one morning. Blah-blah sort of day, muggy feeling, probably middle of the week.
They are in the lift together, going up to the executive floor, which is at the top of the
building. Charles is staff-friendly, interested in the general welfare. He remarks to
Peter how bad the traffic was that morning, how it is getting worse. Peter asks how
longs it takes to get in. Two hours. It‟s pretty clear that Peter is a bit stunned by this:
asked, he volunteers that it takes him about twenty minutes, across the Common.
What Common? Clapham Common: Peter explains that he walks. Charles stares at
Peter.


                                                                                         62
         Time to cross the Clapham Road. As luck will have it this morning, the traffic
is at a complete standstill, so Peter can skip between cars and buses to the other side.
Then it‟s off into Landor Road, quieter, much quieter.
         The conversation with Charles Rippon occurred about three weeks ago. Peter
often thinks of it, still trying to decipher the meaning of Charles‟s stare. It was
incredulity. Two hours driving puts Simon outside London; perhaps he has never
lived in the city. It was unfeigned incredulity. About something like the distance
between one‟s personal life and one‟s working life. It takes Charles two hours of
agitated commuting to cross that gap. He is stunned that Peter can do so by means of a
twenty minute walk in the park.
         This is what Peter is thinking about today: the distance between personal
phantasy and social reality. It‟s like a bridge whose ends are lost in mist, when you
are at one end the other seems unreal. It‟s an innocent enough thought, but the idea of
“unreality” involved here, connotations of separation, disconnection, does frighten
him momentarily.
         Then there is the entrance to his place of work, JUKES PLC prominently
displayed by the gate on a large brass plate. The security guard in his hutch nods to
Peter, sergeant stripes brightly flashed on his sleeve. It‟s impossible to tell what kind
of business is undertaken within these stout walls, the great cubical space rising
featureless before him for six stories, painted a kind of off-blue grey, the odd little
window here and there heavily barred. A multitude of CCTV cameras too, snouts
pointing in all directions, little lights blinking on each.
         Inside the modest entrance a guard – a lowly private judging by the want of
flash – sits behind a counter, meaty hands joined before him. He nods to Peter, semi-
official, recognition but no name for a temp. The lift is empty this Monday morning,
though he is, as always, exactly on time. The moment of hell approaches now, a kind
of stage-fright no doubt, out of the lift and down the short corridor towards the
Accounts office, hearing already the chatter of Margarita, the slower, heavier cockney
tones of Ruth from her pedestal at the back of the room, from where she can see
everything. It‟s never an easy passage, down this corridor from lift to office, a
growing sense of dread: perhaps this time they will see him for what he is.
         Of course, that never happens, does it? Peter steps through the door, enters
into the midst of events under way. There‟s John Widgett (“widget with an tee”) at his
computer, seated just inside the door to the left, who looks up at once and cries out his
cheery good-morning. Peter is now half way across the office, within striking distance
of his own desk, nodding with a forced smile John‟s greeting, when Margarita finally
realises he is present. She lets out a squawk, her attempt at what she thinks is English
jolliness, and sets out at a flat toddle in Peter‟s direction. Her English is very good, if
heavily accented, and she knows the right words to use – having read the correct
novels. For Peter, she is the real test of his identity in this office. The others are much
like himself, with donned persona suitable for a busy routinised office. As an outsider,
from the Canary Islands, keen to marry into English society at the highest possible
level, Margarita has a vital stake in working out the realities of her adopted society.
         What makes this a genuine test of Peter‟s cover is that Margarita regards him
as a potential husband. At the moment – for the last two weeks or so – she is trying to
work just who Peter is. From one perspective – eccentrically dressed, formal air, good
speech, not a real worker – she thinks he might be the faintly degenerate scion of a
noble line with a family fortune awaiting her in the background. From another – badly
dressed with second-hand clothes, affected accent and a social climber‟s pedantry –



                                                                                        63
he might be just another drifter, part of the detritus of a society radically reordered
over the last two hundred years, who would make her pregnant and then abandon her.
         This is how Margarita thinks, a wonderful self-love shining out at all times
through the insistence and posturing. Anyway, Peter gains the sanctuary of his desk.
He removed his jacket and lays it across the back of the chair, turns the cuffs of his
shirt back. He would like to loosen the tie, but he knows that among well-yoked men
he too must appear securely yoked.
         There. He‟s made it. Monday under way, the week under way. Now it is time
for tea. Yes, Peter‟s only about twenty five minutes out from his flat, about thirty
minutes since his last sup of tea. But that‟s not the point. Your morale takes a hit
coming into the workplace, alienation, surrender, end of personal phantasy. Some use
coffee to climb out again; Peter uses tea.
         Simon Drew pops his head out of his office to have a quick word with John
Widgett, who sits by his door like a guardian of sorts, a trusted servant more likely.
This reminds Peter, who opens the right hand drawer of his desk and finds the folder
containing the Ternehold cheque, put there as promised by Rebecca. Simon glances
over even as Peter springs to his feet, steeling himself for another encounter with
Margarita, whose desk is beside their little kitchen.
         Simon calls: „Will you come in, Peter… When you‟re ready,‟ indicating with a
tilt of his head the sacred ritual of the first cup of tea.
         Luckily, Margarita is off talking to Debby, who keys all the figures into the
computer. Peter can take his time, get his breath, ease his mind into the work routine,
much as he would ease his naked body into freezing water. Right, tea. It‟s Kenya, old
bushes, so lots of tannin. Teabags, too. So a quick dunk, enough caffeine and tea
goodness, not too much acid.
         Peter detours to his desk for the folder, the prize – if such it is.
         Simon sits square to his PC, as always. The mainframe holds the accounts
proper, administered by John Widgett. Simon‟s shiny new 286 – 12 inch colour
monitor, no less – holds reports (dutifully prepared by John at regular intervals),
abstracts, the all-important balances. Actually, Simon is indifferent to computers,
viewing them as machines his staff service to keep him in his job. But the PC, that is
different: there are only three in the company, one with Charles‟ personal assistant,
the second with Peter and the third – as might be expected – with the Computer
Services Manager.
         So, it‟s a matter of prestige.
         Peter takes the seat that gives him a view of the door, the one that John would
take if he got here first – except that he hasn‟t been called in yet. Simon has his own
tea, and he is in the process of taking a long sup, light blue eyes sparkling in Peter‟s
direction. Peter sits and takes his first mouthful of his tea.
         That‟s good. Both men brighten perceptively. Simon, especially – having a
tendency to an ironically smart jolliness – allowing a big smile of anticipation.
         „So, Peter, how did it go?‟
         Peter‟s smirk is acceptable here, irony being the presiding genius where
mediocrity really is the ruler. He places his mug on the edge of Simon‟s desk, opens
the folder and sweeps up the cheque. In reality, he knows that the amount is piddling,
and he knows that Simon thinks so too.
         Simon reads the amount, nodding.
         „No problem?‟
         Peter glances down, thus betraying that information will be withheld,



                                                                                     64
         „A bit of fencing. Their security manager.‟ Peter makes a moue, signalling his
disappointment with this. But now he prepares to doctor his account of the meeting.
„Rebecca sorted him out.‟
         Simon smiles broadly, liking Rebecca, if only because she is helpful to
Accounts, but Peter thinks also because they are two of a kind: decent intelligent
people useful to modern business.
         Peter continues, „The Accounts Manager, Maura Sinclair?‟ Simon nods. „She
seemed ready to force the issue.‟ Peter shrugs. „We have possession.‟
         Simon nods more deeply, then asks:
         „And Tarrant?‟
         Peter starts, genuinely caught out, but recovering quickly, not trying to hide
this process from Simon – knowing that the Finance Director values both his candour
and his ability to recover himself quickly. Peter nods.
         „Popped in during the coffee break. Cheque delivered five minutes later.‟
         Simon is nodding, biting his lower lip, staring – obviously out of habit – at the
monitor screen before him.
         „Have you seen this storage, Peter?‟
         „Nope.‟
         Simon goes to the door, calls John in. He says, returning to his chair on the
other side of the desk: „Tarrant‟s a curious chap.‟ Seated, Simon seems to notice
something on the monitor screen that takes up all his attention.
         John comes in, tall in his dark suit, and takes the chair nearest the door. He
does this without comment or obvious displeasure: he seems able to accept the
principle of first come, first choice in the matter of seating, even though his rival is
only a temp just passing through.
         Simon nods at John.
         „You remember Tarrant, John? Mark Tarrant. It was Inchings, that contracting
outfit in Greenwich?‟
         John agrees to remember immediately, though it is obvious to both Peter and
Simon that he doesn‟t. John adds, with his forced laugh, talking too loudly as usual,
given the intimate setting:
         „Was that the weaselly ganger we had to do the shelving?‟
         Peter switches out immediately, a habit he has when matters not of interest
come up. Simon, of course, has to deal with this.
         „No, John. The accountant. Sharp. You had a fight with him over some
invoice. About a payment. Five or six years ago?‟
         John looks at the floor. Simon nods patiently: if the computer doesn‟t
remember, then John won‟t remember. It‟s a simple as that, John a family man first
and foremost, paid a salary to do a job.
         Simon shakes his head: no matter. To Peter he says, speaking his name first to
draw his attention back,
         „Peter. Best I can remember now, Tarrant claimed to have made the payment.
He could produce some evidence for that, but we had no trace of it. He claimed an
error in our system, that the payment had been misapplied.‟
         Peter is studying John, watching how some memory plays across his face.
Monday morning, away from the bosom of his family, good-looking wife and two
perfectly average children, one boy, one girl – group photo prominent on his desk.
Nonetheless, he can ask, speaking from the corner of his mouth:
         „It was sorted out, though?‟



                                                                                       65
        John starts into life, adding with an abstract vehemence, as though reading
from a script:
        „No. We had to write it off.‟
        „Tarrant left Inchings during this dispute. It was a piddling matter really,
couple of hundred pounds,‟ Simon adds, as though vying for Peter‟s attention – which
may well be true, given that Simon and John usually only have each other for
company.
        Peter, of course, waits, hearing about incompetent clerks again in association
with Tarrant. But he does ask, to draw them out:
        „So you had it in for him?‟
        Past-tense is deliberate here: like it is over and done with now.
        It is John who bridles, but it is Simon who speaks:
        „Well, the incident showed up some faults in our own system.‟
        Peter looks at John again: a man who had been rudely awakened from his
complacent dream. Simon is drinking his tea. Peter follows suit. John is looking at his
hands resting on his knees, the right thumb twitching: how much the pursuit of an
extreme indicates the opposite. How love always implies rejection, wealth implying
impoverishment; conviction, a loss of faith; success, a lack of worth.
        Peter notices with some surprise that he has drunk his tea. He gets up and
takes the mug to the kitchen, rinses and dries it in accordance with proper office
practice. He has remained in his daydream, too quick an immersion in office politics
to blame. He sets off down the corridor towards the toilets, no need to use it but
wanting to walk for a while – much as he has always done when in a reflective mood.
        This is the corridor that leads also to the lift. It runs alongside a roof garden,
set out with hardy bushes and a few windswept flowering plants. He can see through
the full length glass walls into Alex Forbes‟– the Sales Director – office, which is
situated in effect in the middle of the garden. Alex is tall, burly, with a mildly
menacing air suitable for an inspirer of a sales team.
        Peter remembers an incident during early July – he was not long with Jukes.
Alex‟s car had been involved in a slight collision with a motorbike on Nightingale
Lane and he had just finished swapping details with the bike‟s owner. Peter had
engaged in some blah-blah with him, thinking it best to be friendly. Unlike the office
Alex, the version Peter met that evening had been remarkably diffident and
forthcoming. The only noteworthy feature had been the deep ambiguity of this
openness: it was simultaneously the vulnerability of an extremely lonely man and a
moment of indecision in a very violent man.
        End of the corridor, lifts around to the right, toilets facing. Peter could walk on
past the lifts and either go on into the unknown territory of Stores – where the storage
areas on the floors below are administered – or turn right again and go along the
garden on that side towards Sales and then back by the offices of the other Directors.
        He could also get into a lift and go walking through the streets of London.
        But walking where?
        Peter decides he needs to pee. The place is empty. Hard to know what to do if
a complete stranger was here, peeing into one of the urinals. What to say? In a cubicle
one morning, Peter overheard two men meet: the conversation had been unhesitant
and even animated, though only so much chat.
        Now what? A week‟s work ahead, coming towards the end of the month. Push
to round up the last payments due and prepare the statements. God, it was so mind-
numbingly boring.



                                                                                        66
         Anyway, go back to the desk. Turn on the terminal. Do something. So back
via the corridor towards Accounts, along the other side of the square bounding the
roof-garden. Alex sits upright at his desk, watching Peter walk along the corridor,
with all the interest that a caged baboon might have in a stray visitor. His PA –
Clarinda – sits at her desk, just outside his door, hunched over in full view of the
world, the sun and God.
         The Accounts office again. Ruth sits upright at the back of the office.
Superannuated in effect, a survivor of the old book-entry days, her desk adorned with
a motorised pencil sharpener and a row of ultra sharp pencils. Like a reserve army for
the day when the computer fails or goes out of fashion.
         She is barking at Margarita, telling her for the millionth time how the filing
ought to be done. Margarita looks as though she – too – has been woken from a better
reality.
         John calls: „Simon wants to see you, Peter.‟
         Torpor is banished, the vague dread that attends on business life taking its
place: something gone wrong.
         It‟s only debtor days. When Peter arrived at Jukes, the debtor days was 47 –
that is, the average times it takes to receive a payment for an invoice. It is now 38.
Not bad.
         Simon and Peter are still comfortably ensconced in the latter‟s office – the
Finance Director‟s office. It‟s too early for eleven o‟clock coffee and biscuit, so both
must content themselves with memories of the tea they had about thirty or forty
minutes ago.
         Peter fences first with the sixty-day contracts. Simon nods to this, a good
enough point to start with. Special contracts for the storage of drill cores from the
North Sea oilfields. Specialised storage, long term, lucrative though the money slow
in coming. Simon dodges about a bit, pointing the finger at Sales: hard on the little
people but tending to bend over for the big boys.
         That puts in maybe thirty minutes, Simon fingering his mouse, watching its
trails on the monitor in full colour. Peter is sizing up the company pictures on the
walls, the obligatory certificates and diplomas of the school teacher turned fully
fledged accountant. He thinks of his own at the bottom of a suitcase somewhere in
Bristol.
         Then it‟s time for coffee.
         After they have procured their rations, Peter moves on to the real meat. It‟s not
difficult to show that the sixty-day contracts only account for two, at most three, of
the excessive debtor days. The real source lies in all the little storage contracts Jukes
has with solicitors and accountants, mostly records of bankruptcies and disputed
estates.
         Simon nods. These people know the law concerning debt, the cost of
recovering debt, the trouble involved. They can calculate to a nicety just how much
they can get away with. Nodding again, Simon now rubs his stubbly beard, which he
very rarely does. Designed to cover his emerging wattle, which only underlines his
rather short chin, Simon takes great pains not to draw his attention to the beard and so
to the reason for its existence. Actually, the first thing any one notices about him is
the bristly beard and so the flabby wattle.
         Simon says: „Most of these accounts go back years, Peter.‟ This doesn‟t
amount to much of an observation: the debts are mostly only about six months to a
year old.



                                                                                       67
        „I could design a chase letter specific to the problem.‟ Peter cocks his head in
an attempt to elicit a response at this early stage. He is volunteering to do this in order
to have something new – a novelty, that is – to do, not because he wants to take on
more work. Simon nods, left hand back to resting on the desktop, away from his face.
He says nothing.
        „We‟ll have to threaten legal action. Small Claims.‟ Peter does not want to go
further than this; he knows nothing about pressing such claims and doesn‟t
particularly want to learn, either.
        Now Simon is definitely uncomfortable with this idea of taking legal action.
Peter can‟t resist pressing the matter: he doesn‟t actually intend going to the trouble of
suing anyone for debt, but he does want to keep an edge of initiative, to prevent either
Simon or John catching on to how little work he actually does.
        „Last place, out in New Malden – a sister company of yours – they used the
law pretty extensively. Even had a chap specially employed to do it.‟
        Simon seems not to believe this. So Peter adds:
        „Agency staff in the building trade.‟
        „Oh,‟ Simon says, glancing at Peter momentarily, understanding – perhaps. He
seems to think for a moment, then nods: „Okay. Let me see the letter first, though.‟
        „Sure.‟

        There‟s up to three weeks‟ work, no, more if a series of letters can be set up,
each more specific in its threat. Peter has three more months in Jukes – until Judy,
their resident Credit Controller, comes back from maternity leave. He plans to piss
about with these letters for a least half of that time. With any luck there will be no
time to assess their effectiveness.

        Then, inevitably – if a long time coming – it is lunch time. Lunch is special at
Jukes. One of the first acts of Charles Rippon on becoming MD was to hire a
professional cook to prepare nutritious and healthy midday meals for the office staff.
There is a large modern kitchen and a spacious dining room, where the staff eat
together, directors, managers and office personnel, six to a circular table, equal access
to all the delicacies on offer. Of course, staff tend to group: departments, rank.
Computer staff sit with computer staff, accounts with accounts, and the like. Directors
sit together; allows them to gossip informally for an hour of so each day. Managers
have a problem, it seems. There are not many of them – accounts, sales and stores are
run by directors. So they tend to sit with their staff (and glance enviously at the
directors‟ table).
        Peter is slightly late today in getting to the dining room – miscalculated the
length of a chase call. Still, John has a place for him, along with Ruth and Debby. It is
Debby who is doing the talking, telling John of some domestic problem. Ruth is
definitely not listening – unmarried, she has no domestic problems – nor, it seems, is
John, wrapped still in his morning-long sulk.
        It so happens that Peter‟s chair abuts Rebecca‟s, seated amongst Sales at the
table behind him. She is talking, speaking confidentially to someone at her side. If
Peter didn‟t listen he would not hear; because it is Rebecca, he does listen:
        „…cows. Well, I thought nine wouldn‟t be too early. I mean, he said Saturday
night, and you know that can be anything up to four Sunday morning. I went straight
down. A party. I got some gear – Sebby, you know – drove down cold sober. You
wouldn‟t believe what it was like. A bloody race meeting or something. Millions of
cars, people all over the place. Looked like a thousand parties all going at once. Wow,


                                                                                        68
Julie, I tell you, you‟ve never seen the like. At least not since that Moroccan holiday,
anyway. There were hundreds of boats, and a party going on in most of them.‟
         There is a longish silence, John saying to Debby:
         „It‟s like you should always be on your guard, Debby. Pull yourself together.‟
         Then from Rebecca:
         „No. Of course, do you think I could? I searched the whole place, the whole
fucking harbour. Couldn‟t find his boat. It was supposed to be painted red. Called the
Cock‟s Pit.‟
         „Cockpit?‟
         „Oh, something like that. But I swear he said Cock‟s Pit, or Cock Spit. I mean,
I couldn‟t even find a boat called the Cockpit.‟
         Someone is laughing a mirthless laugh, deliberately overdone. Peter hears
Rebecca‟s sharp intake of breath. Rebecca‟s confidante hisses, arch but meaning it:
         „Go away, Phillip.‟
         Phillip Berkeley, the Sales department‟s prize prick, though it‟s as much a
show-off style as an index of distress.
         Debby is speaking, low voice, but to Peter‟s over-attuned ears it seems louder:
         „He‟s at it day and night. Never lets up. He even shouts at me from the
bathroom. Rant, rant, rant, on and on. Honestly, if…‟
         Time for dessert. Fresh fruit only, which suits Peter very well. He has a sweet
apple with a little Stilton, gravitating through some atavistic appetite to this
combination of fruit and dairy-fat.
         Debby‟s skin is terrible. Scaly and inflamed. John thinks she is a masochist,
and he treats her as such, extracting every last ounce of work from her when required.
         If Peter could sit elsewhere, he would. He can‟t, but Rebecca saves him this
lunch time by turning around in her seat as he approaches and giving him her special
smile, the one she knows works on him. Peter‟s feeling is one of relief. Rebecca might
be desperate in her need to marry well, but the toil involved seems not to affect her
too deeply.
         Peter smiles in return, looking closely into Rebecca‟s eyes: a huge enjoyment
always for him. But he wants to ask her about cock spit, to see how seriously she had
taken that joke at her expense. He says, the best he can do:
         „A new one, was he?‟
         Rebecca‟s features stutter only a fraction, easily converting into a nose
wrinkle:
         „Not you too, Peter. Anyway, before or after, it‟s much the same.‟
         In a flash, Peter sees Rebecca having sex: the loveliness of her body is almost
unbearable, the pathos of her inability to connect is about the same, to him anyway.
He sits down again. They turn their chairs so that they sit shoulder to shoulder, faces
turning towards each other. Peter sees Rebecca in profile when he speaks to her; looks
away when she speaks to him.
         They often talk like this, side by side rather than face to face.
         Peter decides to eat the apple whole, in his hand. He asks:
         „What happened afterwards? On Friday, I mean. When I left you with
Kharib?‟ Rebecca looks puzzled, so Peter adds: „Our hitchhiker?‟
         It‟s like a bolt up through Rebecca:
         „How do you know his name?‟
         „He was camped on my doorstep on Saturday morning. Did you drop him off
there?‟



                                                                                     69
        Rebecca‟s lips draw back from her teeth when she is genuinely excited. Peter
has only seen this a few times before.
        „No. Oh no, Peter. He created such a racket that I had to stop the car and let
him out.‟ It is like some force is invading her, filling her. „You mean, he made his
way to your flat in Balham? But how did he know where you lived?‟
        Peter looks towards the ground, seeing his slightly scuffed shoes side by side
on the red carpet. It is like something is draining from him, leaving an eerie dread in
its place.
        „I don‟t know. I assumed you dropped him off. At his insistence, I mean.‟
        Peter looks up at Rebecca, conscious that some appeal is in his face. Rebecca
seems not to be aware of this. Her eyes show a strain, as though she too must absorb
some new knowledge, new possibilities. She is staring fully into Peter‟s eyes with an
honest amazement.
        A chair collides with a table nearby. Ruth says sorry in a hoarse voice,
annoyed that she has made a boo-boo. Neither Peter or Rebecca looks up, but both
feel the atmosphere warm as she moves away. She‟s going into Margie – who holds
an undefined senior position in Sales, with an office of her own – and then they both
will go out to a local pub for a drink and a smoke. They have done this for many
years, back when Margie sat at the desk Rebecca now occupies, back even further
when Jukes was still in the City, a cosy set up on Clifton Street.
        The distraction has eased both Peter and Rebecca. Peter feels the unreality
about him still, but it is as though he can see it better. It should be deeply disturbing
that Kharib and his antics seems more real to him than all the little miseries of his for-
now business life. Rebecca? She is loyal to Margie, an important buffer zone for her,
something Peter is not aware of and probably couldn‟t appreciate.
        Peter doesn‟t know what it is like to be caught, trapped, stuck.
        He says, looking down at his shoes again: „It‟s hard to know what to do.‟
        Rebecca hasn‟t a clue what he is talking about, staring at him, at his
vulnerability, his profound self-absorption.
        „About what, Peter?‟ She hopes he hasn‟t reached the confessional stage: she
can‟t stand that sort of thing in a man, especially when there‟s nothing else to keep
them together.
        He glances at her, looking at her mouth, then down towards her lap, where her
left hand lies curled. He likes looking at her nails: unpainted, beautifully shaped.
        „Oh, yes, Kharib, our stranger. He spends all his time asleep in his plastic tent
in a corner of the bedroom.‟
        Rebecca is relieved. She says, pointlessly, marking some kind of shift inside
herself: „Oh.‟
        „Look, for what it‟s worth, I‟ve got to know him a bit. Looks like he had a
really bad time somewhere. And I mean bad. I think he is severely damaged in
himself, you know, psychologically.‟
        Rebecca looks at Peter talking, seeing something of what he says, certainly not
liking the word “damaged”. It implies something irreversible.
        „I think it would be best if he got proper help. Someone who could understand
him and find out more about him.‟ Now Peter looks up at Rebecca, and finds her
staring at him. He looks into her eyes, even so.
        „I think he should approach the welfare people.‟ He raises a hand between
them – an indication of how vividly Kharib has affected him. „No, not the
Immigration Service or anything like that. They might lock him up again.‟



                                                                                       70
        Rebecca‟s face changes, the cool quality usually there being replaced by a
strident expression. A face not used to expressing emotion.
        „You mean he was tortured?‟
        Peter nods.
        Rebecca brings her right hand up towards her face, then seems to changed her
mind. She touched Peter‟s shoulder with the most delicate of touches.
        „God, Peter, that‟s terrible. Whyever did they do that?‟
        Peter wants to shrug his shoulders, but cannot. Instead, he clamps his lips
together. He shakes his head: I don‟t know.
        He decides he will eat the block of stilton with his fingers, too. Very tasty that
way.

        A letter for him on the dinky little table in the hall. OTAGO is prominent in
the top left corner, a bright New Zealand stamp in the right hand corner. Peter can‟t
remember why he would receive correspondence from New Zealand. Much of his
academic correspondence has died away by now, subjects exhausted, queries
satisfied. Peter is not very good at maintaining contacts when there‟s nothing more to
say.
        He finds Kharib curled up in his white plastic tent, as always. There‟s
something innocent about him this evening, mop of black hair surmounting that white
white skin, a thumb pushed into his mouth. Peter doesn‟t know much about the
strange man, but the rush of affection is unmistakeable.
        First thing to do this evening is prepare the note that Kharib will take with him
to the DSS office in Balham on the following day. Peter decides it is best typed:
officials are unfailingly impressed by typewritten material from lay people.
        So, out comes the old portable typewriter, not used for well over a year now.

       My name is Kharib.
       I do not speak English.
       I recently arrived in England.
       This is my first contact with the authorities here.
       I wish to speak to someone who can help me settle in this country.
       I am in need of welfare support.

       I am at present staying with
       Dr Peter Lacey
       28 Alderbrook Road
       Balham
       SW12

        Peter knows that officialdom is also impressed by academic titles, and that this
will help them treat Kharib and his situation with respect. Actually, Peter doesn‟t
think much will happen. They will want to send Kharib off to the Immigration
Service, and they will lock him up.
        Is this rational? Sure, Peter, agrees that the IS will be a fount of goodwill and
rationality. But he also fears that they will lock him up until – at least – they find out
who he really is and where he is from.
        „Khim bein bonnich?‟
        Kharib stands in the door of the bedroom, white plastic drawers, loose shirt.
He seems slightly bent over, the pallor as always, eyes vivid.



                                                                                       71
        Peter thinks involuntarily that he is dying, a sense that something is draining
out of him. He says, emotion rising quite strongly in a sudden rush:
        „You need help, Kharib. I just can‟t do very much for you.‟
        Does Kharib understand? He is nodding, his hands coming to join at his chest.
        „Khattum bei. Gloach yirt. Fronghy app.‟
        Now he raises his joined hands to his forehead, pressing his thumbs in against
the flesh there.
        „Karmatum. Karmatum. Beïd beïd.‟
        Now he smiles one of his weird rictus smiles, creases running out from the
sides of his mouth towards his ears.
        Peter doesn‟t know what Kharib is doing, but the nett effect for him is a
glowing feeling of what could be best called consolation. It‟s not that he feels any the
less the worry, the pity; it seems for now overlaid with a patina of something like
truth. Like a context: suffering and pity an object and its shadow in another world,
having a place there and a meaning.
        It doesn‟t seem like much – what world, for instance? – but it works. Peter
raises his right hand in acknowledgement and goes into the kitchen to prepare an
evening snack for himself.

        Music later. Kharib wants Scriabin again but Peter gives him an assortment of
musics. Chopin causes tremors; Beethoven, agitation. The Rolling Stones get a
momentary response – one long wail – then Kharib seems utterly to lose interest, as
though he will drop on the floor asleep. Cream is worse, it seems, hitting Kharib like
a shock, inducing something like desperation. Peter doesn‟t have a lot of music at this
stage – only now in a position to replace vinyl with digital media – so it looks as
though it will be Scriabin, again. More of that weird wailing. One disc only
remaining, not tried, rough-recorded 1940s blues. Peter is not yet familiar with it.
        This time it‟s like Kharib has received a jolt of a different kind. He stares at
the speakers, eyes swivelling from speaker to speaker, an expression on his face of
recognition, as though he sees someone or something he knows. The music is not raw,
not wild, but the singer – Son House – is, his voice straining at some awful restriction.
        Kharib is speaking rapidly, speaking to the speakers, voice low. It is only
when the first track ends that Peter can hear the flow, indecipherable at that pace, a
patient flow as of explanation, of description, as though Son House is being told of
some event that might interest him.
        Of course, Son House is not mollified, singing up on the driving syncopation,
a near-ungovernable violence let off the leash for the moment. The thing is, Kharib
does not move, he just talks on and on in that earnest tone, hands gesturing from time
to time. For Peter, though, there is something in this exchange that is unnerving. It‟s
as though the singer and Kharib are generating a middle ground between a fearsome
anger and a patient forbearance that is at once obvious and unreasonable: submission
to unbearable pain. Peter can see that Kharib achieves this middle ground by
addressing, not the singer himself, but his guitar, depending for effect on that which
as it were keeps the singer from going off the rails.
        It cannot work, of course. A recording fifty years old, the singer himself now
dead. But something does work. By the time Son House has got on to his signature
Preachin‟ the Blues, Peter thinks he is beginning to understand something. Well,
that‟s what Peter tells himself. But what he understands is not clear.




                                                                                      72
         It never becomes clear. Kharib suddenly sweeps his hands up towards his face,
falls silent: point made. He turns and walks back into the bedroom, obviously back
into his sack, back to sleep or whatever.

         This leaves Peter in a precarious position. He is understanding something, but
it‟s like spread out everywhere, tenuous, only the merest gauze to touch, as it were.
Peter remembers college evenings with hash, when he wondered how he would face
the world on the morrow, how he could ever get from where he is at this moment back
to where he ought to be the next morning, if he wants to appear normal.
         It‟s like that just now. It‟s worse, in fact: Peter doesn‟t want to get from here
to there, to – whisper it – Jukes.




                                                                                       73
        First thing next morning and John tells Peter that Simon wants to see him.
God, but Simon is cheery, a wonderful naïve cheeriness, like a boy discovering sweets
where food only might be expected. He wants details of an account, statement, copy
invoices, everything.
        Peter dutifully gathers the required paperwork.
        It seems this particular law firm – down in Wiltshire – is about to be sued by
another company for debt connected with some property speculations. Simon wants to
get in on the act. Simon wants Peter to write a tight letter threatening legal action if
the outstanding account is not cleared at once.
        Peter checks the statement: £210.23 outstanding.
        „How much are they being sued for?‟
        „Million and a half.‟

         Phone call about eleven: Anne arranging lunch, this time in a newish place on
the Walworth Road. She sounds very high today, end of the month coming. Still, it
helps Peter get through the morning, anticipation, though anticipating nothing.
         She‟s waiting outside Kennington Tube Station – around the corner from her
office. She is looking across the road at an elderly couple dragging each other, it
seems, along the pavement there, heavy traffic whizzing by in both directions.
         She is tilted forward and sideways away from him, as though momentarily
distracted from watching out for him. The dress can‟t be silk, not Anne‟s material; an
artificial look-alike – Peter doesn‟t know its name – bright red with what seem like
orange or ochre flowers, large petals, deep green leaves. The dress is like a canopy,
lovely in itself, of course, but nothing really compared with the vitality it covers. Peter
can only see the swell of her right breast, the curve of her flank, then the slender calf
with its long firm musculature, and then the curve to her ankle and the long feet in the
court shoes she loves.
         It‟s not desire, not even love. It‟s like the living thing itself. It‟s like seeing
Anne on the street like this tells Peter that there is life after all, that he and everything
else is alive.
         Then she becomes aware of his presence. She turns abruptly, hand coming up
to wave. He sees the dark hollows of her eyes, the drawn face, the bright lipstick
intended to mask this. But he goes forward and moves around her to the rear. His right
arm comes up, his hand opening and flattening. His hand flat on her stomach feels the
tremor of the flash there, but his arm begins to bend as he passes behind her, coming
in against her divine waist, rubbing up and down along the delicious curvature. Then
his upper arm touches down against her back, the absolute steadiness of her spine.
And he feels all the time, as a back drop to these deep pleasures, how she too is
moving now in relation to him: first turning towards to the right, her whole body
bending in that direction, the swish of her buttock against his thigh. Then she turns the
other way, to meet him as he comes round, and the coordination of their bodies is
remarkable – though they expect no less – how her buttocks turn against his hip and
then his groin, his hand flat on her stomach still, the embrace of his arm tightening
and tightening, drawing her in until he feels the compaction of her breasts against his
chest.
         Peter is utterly entranced: yet he sees a young man going towards the station
entrance staring at the gyrations of Anne‟s body, mouth hanging open, surprise, then
loss in his face.
         That‟s what love is like: together alone; alone together.



                                                                                          74
         They walk side streets together, Peter holding Anne‟s elbow, she leading, he
only aware by the way of house fronts, the green of trees, the close warmth of the city.
The restaurant is the same, so many surfaces of different colours, a jostle of people
like themselves lunching. And the food, raw and half-raw, Peter aware only of the
unpleasant slick of different dressings, two three, perhaps even more, on his plate.
         They talk, Anne chattering at times, Peter staring then into her eyes, extreme
tiredness there, fine lines in the flesh around them. Then there is a pause, and Anne
says:
         „My exe is getting married again.‟
         Peter nods, out of consideration for Anne, uninterested for himself.
         „He wants to buy another house.‟
         Peter nods again, except he wonders at “another”: first intimation that Anne is
broaching a problem, perhaps serious, given the circumstances under which she has
chosen to reveal it to him. He stops eating, puts the fork down.
         Anne nods now, confirming his suspicion.
         „The mortgage people say I can‟t afford the mortgage on the house.‟
         The fright in her eyes is intense rather than dismaying: as though Anne keeps
it bottled up somewhere away from her feelings.
         „He had to tell them when he applied for the mortgage. Then they wrote to
me.‟
         Peter comes up sharp now, unsure of the nature of his own response. Is it
anger; is it dismay? „How long have you known about this?‟
         Anne cocks her head to one side, studying Peter in turn. Her eyes are very
sharp now as she appraises him.
         Peter sees he is being tested. He doesn‟t care. He will have his own part in
this, for good or ill.
         „They rang me yesterday morning. I wanted a day – and a night – to think
about it.‟
         This gives Peter a cue: „What will you do about it?‟
         „I‟ll ask John for a raise.‟
         Peter nods, not depending on that: „Will you explain the circumstances to
him?‟
         Anne nods, but remains silent. Peter also unsure of the wisdom of this. He
doesn‟t know how to evaluate it: whether personal appeal has value in a working
situation, no matter how useful an employee you are. In fact, he suspects, it could
make matters worse: no one likes emotional blackmail.
         Peter resumes eating and indicates that Anne should too. He can see Anne
very clearly now. In her thirties, worn out through stress and overwork, in a
permanent state of excitation; perhaps even addicted to the adrenaline. But there is no
denying the buzz that runs through her even so. The skin of her face has lines at the
eyes and mouth, a slight sag already in her cheeks, but there is nonetheless a glow on
that flesh. As for her mouth, it has the mobility that can only be found in women like
her: a life in her mouth that constantly draws Peter.
         „Re-mortgage?‟ It is a question: Peter knows nothing about these matters.
         Anne goes down seriously on this – grateful perhaps in part that Peter is
engaging with her here. Obviously, she has allowed for the possibility that he might
not want involvement in anything so banal.
         „It would involve change of title. A resale.‟
         „And?‟



                                                                                     75
        „I can claim title once the house is paid for. That‟s been agreed. Now, Jim has
a shared legal responsibility, so my title is not absolute.‟ She titters – a genuine titter:
„At least as far as I understand it.‟
        Peter nods. Anne may have tittered – like a letting go – but she is at once back
in control:
        „But the mortgage people are telling me the house must be sold to pay off the
balance of the mortgage.‟
        Again, Anne has her feelings in harness: yet there is a kind of terror in her
eyes, a definite fear that everything she has striven for is being undone. Even so, it is
difficult for Peter to lock into this in a meaningful way, mainly because he sees
nothing wrong with living hand-to-mouth.
        „How much do you owe, Anne?‟ Peter asks because that seems the question to
ask.
        „About fifteen or sixteen thousand.‟
        Now Peter‟s head goes down. More money than he has. More money that he
can get. Now Peter slumps inside himself, more because he cannot help Anne – and
remove this blot on their bliss – than because of the pain it is causing her. When he
looks up again, he sees Anne watching him with expectation. He shrugs slightly.
        „Well, see what John says, Anne. He might come across.‟
        Anne leans across the table, over the remains of their now-forgotten lunch:
        „I don‟t want to lose the house, Peter. I put a lot into getting it.‟
        Peter wilts a bit under this pressure, feeling at last Anne‟s loss.

         Out on the street again, Peter takes Anne‟s elbow as before, but finds it
inappropriate to enjoy the pleasure the contact brings him. They walk the road side by
side, their passion deflected, rising metaphorically like steam behind them, wasted, an
sterile offered to the vicissitudes of – what? Modern life? Their own subordination to
the facts of modern life?
         They could have kissed and cuddled, talked the dotty talk of the besotted.
They could have been happy now and let the future be taken care of when it was
possible to do so.
         Yet Peter does thinks it inappropriate to do this. It would seem callous, lacking
consideration for Anne‟s situation. And Anne seems grateful for this consideration,
smiling a consoling smile for Peter, squeezing his hand in against her flank, just
below her breast.

        It doesn‟t take Peter long to find a possible way through the problem. The
surprising feature of this solution – one Peter is aware of from the start – is that the
prospect of thievery has little or no effect on him. He remembers the frisson when he
realised that Tarrant was stealing from his employers. He gives time to dwell on that
experience – the chill of fright that had shook him – coming quickly to see it in terms
of T.S. Eliot‟s question: “Do I dare disturb the universe?”
        Theft is like that.
        Asked the question, Peter answers:
        „Yes.‟
        It‟s a big step for him, erstwhile utopianist, who had desired above all to bring
everyone together in one cosmic conglomeration. Well, shows you what love can do.
What is more remarkable here is that Peter himself does not agree with the solution.
He thinks Anne should dump the burden of the house – and the burden of her
thankless work.


                                                                                         76
         Peter can‟t find Rebecca anywhere. Sales won‟t tell him anything, of course,
so he doesn‟t ask them. So he goes to Stores himself, moving tentatively along a
narrow corridor until he finds Rebecca‟s friend Julie behind her desk.
         „Any idea where Rebecca is?‟ he asks by way of introduction.
         There is a smirk playing across Julie‟s mouth as she answers – Peter sees that
he and Rebecca are regarded as some kind of number.
         „Afraid not. Isn‟t she in her office?‟
         Peter leans forward. Julie is by many standards a good looking woman, late
twenties, large bosom discreetly on display. He makes a large and obvious moue:
         „She was to show me some storage down below. There‟s a query on it. I would
like to see it for myself, today if possible. Can I do that?‟
         Julie doesn‟t hesitate, keying up the appropriate page on her terminal. Peter
has the details with him. She gives him a printout of the necessary information, floor
number, bay number; even rings down to the security supervisor for him.
         Peter treats it as a routine, knowing after this first time it will be much easier.
The lift takes him to the fourth floor. There‟s a small office just across from the lift, a
well dressed black man standing, talking on a phone. He sees Peter immediately,
recognises him, adjusts his manner swiftly. Just like that. Ends his call. Comes out
and asks:
         „You‟re from Accounts? Peter Lacey?‟
         Peter nods. „And you‟re Barry Thomas.‟
         He takes the printout from Peter and leads him down among rows of wire
cages. Most contain jumbles of boxes, filing cabinets. One contains a giant stuffed
elephant, badly battered, what looks like horse hair bulging out from a tear on a
foreleg.
         „Worth a fortune,‟ Barry tells him. Having Peter‟s attention, he sweeps his
arm, „Most of this stuff is company records. Bankruptcies, you know.‟ Already his
accent has shifted, less cockney and more an imitation of Peter‟s own academic
precision. „Stuff here for years.‟
         Now they reach a sealed off area, heavier wire mesh, what looks like sensor
wiring crisscrossing it. Another office, this time a thin white man in tee-shirt and
denims, morose expression on his face.
         Barry calls, „This is Peter from Accounts, Harvey. Here.‟ Gives him the
printout. „Let him through.‟
         Harvey glances at the printout, then double-takes and reads it again.
         „Yep,‟ Barry says, and obviously enough said.
         Harvey looks at Peter with a more lively interest this time.
         „The Crown Jewels,‟ he says with a grin. It‟s enigmatic, and probably
indiscreet. Barry breathes a laugh of sorts at his side. Peter realises they are trying to
force an intimacy on him.
         „Doubt it,‟ Peter is gnomic. He also realises that these two men already have a
good idea what is contained in the boxes. The two men wait, trying to draw more
from him. So Peter turns and walks towards the open gate in the cage, his eyes already
focused on the three smallish wooden crates sitting side by side in the almost exact
centre. Only one other item of storage there: a large old sea trunk, faded blue linen
covering, heavy brass banding to reinforce it. This is kept away in a corner furthest
from the gate.
         The three of them stand in a semi-circle around the three crates. New wood,
white deal, a small label stapled to the top of each one.


                                                                                         77
         Peter waits.
         Harvey gives way first, having most to tell. He raps the leftmost crate with his
knuckles. Hollow thump. As though the crate is empty, though the sound has a weight
that belies this. Harvey raps the crate again, this a little to the right of where he rapped
previously. Flat dunk. As though the crate is solid. Really solid.
         Harvey looks up at Peter, big smile on his face. Doing his party trick, long
anticipated, finally the moment has arrived. But Barry spoils it all for him:
         „There‟s another crate inside.‟
         Harvey interjects, desperate to get the news across:
         „It‟s reinforced, you see.‟ He licks his lips, triumph tempered by annoyance.
„A tight fit.‟ He raps elsewhere here and there on the crate: thumps and dunks.
         Peter experiences a new frisson, this time one of pure fear. Catching your prey
out in the open is one thing, cornering him in his lair is another. Peter wonders at the
thought, never intending anything so dramatic as a hunt. He asks Harvey, the one
most likely to tell him:
         „Why would they do that?‟
         Again Barry gets in first, his head up so his dark skin flashes in the fluorescent
light, his polyester red tie brash:
         „A repackage, Peter.‟ Harvey‟s mouth is open, his tongue flapping between his
teeth. It‟s like he is the ventriloquist. „On behalf of another client, most likely.‟
         Peter addresses Harvey directly again: „Why?‟
         Instead of speaking, Harvey stoops and pushes the crate. It moves slightly,
wood grating on the bare concrete floor. „Metal. That‟s the only explanation.‟
         Peter must fight hard to stop himself nodding. He echoes:
         „Metal?‟
         Barry goes to speak, but this time Harvey raises his hand to stop him.
         „Gold bar. That what‟s in these boxes.‟
         Peter sees that Barry nods slightly. Again Peter echoes:
         „Gold bar?‟
         „Sure. Not worth your while buying silver. No margins. And it‟s not coin.
There‟s no shift when you move them.‟
         Peter now looks directly at Barry. It‟s obvious that Harvey – at least – has
spent a lot of time studying the crates.
         Barry nods: „Harvey reckons about three millions‟ worth.‟
         Peter looks at Harvey now, stunned.
         „How can you be so sure?‟
         Harvey suddenly looks extremely alert:
         „Do it by weight and bulk. An ounce masses to about fifteen hundred cubic
mill. So anything between two and three quarters and three and a half million.‟
         Even Barry is impressed by what Harvey has said. Now the shock hits Peter.
His palms are very sweaty and he wants to scratch his bottom, where the hair is
tickling the now damp skin. It‟s the scale he can‟t get hold of. All he can say is:
         „Jesus.‟
         He must move. He steps back, turning to leave the cage. Peter would run if he
could, in a complete funk. He wonders how a yo-yo like Tarrant could swing this.
Making the thefts, buying gold in dribs and drabs, storing it until there was enough to
make a new crateful.
         Behind him, Harvey is saying to Barry, most likely answering a question:
         „Buy it abroad, bring it in by courier.‟ A pause. „Worth it if you got the money
cheap. Discount about twenty percent.‟


                                                                                         78
        Peter keeps walking until he sees the lift door. He presses the call button, gets
in when the lift arrives, presses ground, goes for a walk through Stockwell, seeing
nothing at all, but finding the world he lives in an extremely dense place, plenty to do
if you really have need.
        Deceit must be the true creator of reality. This is what Peter concludes after
thirty minutes‟ hard walking.

        Back in the office, Peter composes the tight letter that Simon wants sent to the
solicitor down in Wiltshire, the one that owes Jukes £210.23 and someone else a
million and a half. Simon likes the letter, remarks that it‟s good to have someone
literate around. This leads on to some reminiscences about college days, on the
generality of the teachers‟ training course, how one ends up knowing a bit about
everything – nothing much, that is. Accountancy, of course, was different. Screwed
him until he knew what they wanted him to know, about money, about handling
money.
        There‟s not much Peter can add to this. There never is.

        It‟s not till he is opening the door to his flat that Peter remembers that Kharib
was supposed to present himself to the authorities for the first time that day. The
memory hits him with some force.
        The flat is empty. The plastic sack is gone from the bedroom. The note Peter
wrote for Kharib, to introduce him to the welfare people, is lying on the other easy
chair, over by the wall facing the door to the hall, a chair Peter never uses. It is
creased in the lower right corner, as would happen if grasped by someone, by Kharib,
for instance.
        Peter sits in his kitchen looking out into the garden, looking at the swaying
roses but not aware that he is doing so. It‟s pretty obvious that Kharib went to the
welfare office, that he was brought back here to collect his belongings – and then
taken away somewhere.
        Peter lowers his head. So great a shock already today – preparing to disturb
the universe for the sake of love – and even so tears flow quietly from his eyes,
dropping onto his wool trousers.
        Taken away somewhere.
        The sense of loss is insupportable, the tears merely a sign for what is draining
out of him. It‟s worse than death: it‟s personal. Peter feels part of himself dissolve
away. Like if there is a soul, and it could melt through sheer – what? Make up a word:
vacuation. It means vacating, voiding, an emptiness appearing where something once
was. It‟s like when the thief cuts off your finger to get the ring, cuts off your head to
get the necklace – no time to fiddle with clasps and not wanting to break the valuable
chain.
        Something like all of that.
        Late August. The sky turning green into the dusk. Light wind from the east, up
the river from the estuary. The roses vivid in the ebbing light. The black man across
the way playing House, hurray music to fill the void.
        Peter can‟t cry anymore, wrung out and sore. But the tears still drip drip from
his eyes.
        What a way to go.




                                                                                      79
         The morning is bright, again. So many bright days of late summer, the best
time, rich with ripeness. The burnished sun this morning on the common, on the trees
and grass, the water in the pond scintillating. London at its best, an August city, city
of accomplishment, ripe.
         Still, Peter enjoys the walk this morning, thinking of little, except perhaps that
an image plays in his mind. He‟s high on a mountain, air crystal clear, cloudless,
mellow sun – like this morning – and he can see in all directions out over an island.
The detail is indistinct – he is too high – only a texture like tweed of a wooded terrain.
         It‟s a pleasant image, a lot of relief there, like something earned. Something
like that in pain: how the endurance merits a reward, though it‟s probably more like
gaining admittance, albeit temporary, to a better reality.
         This thought is even better, except on its tail comes a deeper insight: he has
had memories like this before. Years now since the last time, some deep crisis just
after graduation that he rarely has reason to think about. Then he knows what he is
looking at.
         (Peter crossing near the lights outside Clapham Common Tube Station, heavy
traffic just now, but a hop skip and jump does it.)
         He‟s looking out over his life. This is how he always sees it, as though viewed
from the top of a high mountain he has just climbed. Thinking back over his life, he
remembers first – as always – the moment, he was about thirteen going on fourteen,
puberty, his father first addressed him as a – well – companion. He has just explained,
in so many words, how he and his mother had decided to have a child because they
were comfortably settled and could afford to provide for it.
         This was meant to explain everything, and it did. And it still explains it, Peter
realises, no matter what is happening in his life now. His parents had been like very
considerate friends to him, each with his or her own life, but co-existing amicably,
with affection and sometimes humour. His father, now retired, was a design engineer
in the aviation industry around Bristol, with a hobby interest in acoustics. His mother
still teaches modern history in a prominent grammar school in Gloucester. Peter had
attended the same school, travelling back and forth in the earlier years with her. His
mother‟s hobby is gardening, maintaining the large and varied garden that surrounds
their home, with a particular interest in breeding a salmon tinted strain of floribunda.
So far she has produced two new varieties, one in fact a minor show success, the
Harescombe Belle. Peter can see her among the tall blooms, a short sturdy woman not
much taller than the swaying heads, intent in a way that always satisfied him to see.
         And Peter? They lived in a small close of similar houses, each embedded in its
garden. From these houses Peter gained four childhood friends, brothers Paul and
Mark, and brother and sister, Jonathan and Miranda. The age range was only two and
half years – actually one of the first matters the group of friends settled amongst
themselves. They did everything together up to puberty. Their games followed the
seasons, mostly boy-games, but they all learned how to skip after Miranda brought the
skill back from her school in Stroud.
         At puberty the group simply fell apart, and though Peter suffered an agonising
infatuation with Miranda, she went off and settled in Australia with a man she met at
university.
         (Peter crossing the Clapham Road finds himself trapped in the middle between
two streams of very agitated traffic. It breaks the spell of his reminiscence, until he
can shoot across and enter the much quieter Landor Road.)
         Infatuation. Remarkable how all-engulfing it was. Peter never clearly saw
Miranda after puberty. The back of her head one day on her way from the family car


                                                                                        80
to the family home. Another day a flash of her face in an upstairs window as he
passed. He walked the close more times than was sensible, up and down on some
spurious pretext in the hope of seeing her, of her seeing him and falling in love with
him. No one went to church anymore, so no possibility of meeting in that time-
honoured way. No parties. Not even a disaster to bring the residents of the close
together in fear or hope.
       Yet he thought of Miranda night and day, her name interjected through all his
school studies, some vague image of her – or perhaps of some archetypal woman –
going before him as though lighting the way through the mysteries of his teenage
years.

        Peter is standing at the gate to Jukes. The security guard in his glass cage is
staring quizzically at him, a hint of smile, whether indulgent or contemptuous is not
clear. How often Peter has awoken from a reverie to find himself in this position, with
this guard or his shift-mate watching him with the same hint of a smile.
        Thank goodness the offices are at the top of the building. Peter needs all that
time in order to get into gear for the day.

        Morning tea with Simon and John in Simon‟s office, door closed on the ratty
atmosphere in the Accounts office, has become something of a custom. They must, of
course, talk about something practical. This morning John has brought up the question
of credit terms, to do especially with two of their clients.
        Peter is comfortable enough with one of them, an accountancy partnership in
Slough with only a box or two in store with them. It seems that the accountants have
asked for credit terms to be set. Simon is happy to oblige, which means that Peter
must set them. The second case is more dubious. A small client – what seems no more
than a holding company – has taken space for quite an amount of extra storage, so that
rental charges will increase several times over. John has a story of a company, years
ago, who managed to dump a large volume of toxic waste on them by these means.
        Anyway, the conversations turns to the whole business of credit and credit
rating. Dun and Bradstreet is mentioned, both Simon and John deferring to Peter, who
worked with the credit company for a few months late in the previous year. It is an
awkward conversation. Both Simon and John believe that Peter knows an awful lot
about credit and so is an expert in the matter of setting credit terms. Peter knows he
isn‟t, having only memories of the heat from the dozen or so terminals in the small
office, perpetual phone calls, long boozy evenings paid for by the company, intensely
boring.
        Then John is called away to the phone. There is silence, Simon as little
interested in the mechanics of credit as Peter is. They drink their cooling tea in this
blessed silence, a tangible relief in the room. Simon raises his right hand into Peter‟s
view. There is a red weal running down the side of the palm. Peter starts at the sight.
Simon says, in explanation:
        „Iron.‟
        „Hnnm,‟ Peter says, saying something while not knowing what to say.
        Simon elaborates, „Ironing shirts. Rested my hand too close to the damned
thing. On the ironing board.‟
        Peter winces, a genuine sensation. „Rub butter on it. Cheese works too, even
milk.‟




                                                                                     81
        Simon nods, studying the weal closely. „It‟s not too bad now. Hell last night
though.‟ Shakes his hand vigorously. „You‟d think I‟d know better, wouldn‟t you?
Been ironing for years.‟ Pause. „You?‟
        Peter thinks for a few seconds, decides that frankness is best.
        „Only in the last year or two.‟ Indicates the room they sit in. „Working in these
places.‟
        John re-enters the office, seemingly on tip-toe – which says something about
the atmosphere he encounters.
        „Shirts have to be done,‟ Simon says. „Dry clean the rest.‟
        Peter nods, finishes his tea.
        John remains standing by the door, staring at the two men seated around the
desk. Simon seems to resent his presence, glancing in a timid way in his direction.
Then he shrugs slightly, as though accepting the need to reassume his role as Finance
Director of Jukes, plc.
        Peter thinks this is a good moment to slope off, tea finished, before this dry
stuff about credit terms starts up again. Simon says, „Hang about,‟ in order to detain
him. He roots around on his desk, finds a chit of paper, makes sure that it is what he‟s
looking for, hands it over to Peter.
        „Lodge that with today‟s receipts, Peter, will you.‟


        Peter studies the cheque as though he will find new secrets there. It serves to
transfer £3,000,000 from a sister company in the group to Jukes. Not the first time, no
doubt not the last time. It will disappear again in two or three days time. Is it the same
money going around from company to company in the group? Peter doesn‟t know.
Peter doesn‟t care either.
        Nonetheless, it is spooky that Tarrant‟s loot downstairs is worth almost the
same amount.
        At least, the girl in the bank will have her periodical frisson when she sees the
cheque. It seems always to fill her mouth with a bubbly saliva.

        And it happened as Peter expected. A carnal excitement, bright eyes, her voice
suddenly cluttered by saliva. Peter likes this experience, a once-in-a-while experience,
a kindly sympathy for the young girl, fresh creamy skin with a comfortable bosom, a
ready smile always for him.
        John Widgett waits for him outside the bank, staring fixedly at a couple of
bizarrely dressed young blacks going into the Tube Station next door. It‟s warm
today, but John has a short windcheater-type jacket over his suit, coloured a deep dull
blue that does nothing for the grey-black of the suiting. They are on their way to a
local pub, responding to an invitation from a member of the Computer Department to
help celebrate the birth of a son.
        Peter doesn‟t much like walking with John. There is a difference in height, but
worse is the strain between them. John is more earnest when alone with Peter, away
from the presence of his boss, so his conversation is even duller than in the office. Yet
Peter cannot walk the short distance with him to the pub without making some
comment, in this case remarking – apropos an extremely beautiful woman of mixed
blood, white, black, oriental, waiting at the entrance to the Tube Station,
        „How well suited people are to their clothes, John, eh?‟
        John does not look towards the inspiration of this observation. But he does
reply, and when he does, Peter hears again the curious echo that enters John‟s voice


                                                                                       82
when he is outside the office. It‟s as though the words are too small for his mouth, so
that the upper reaches of his palate merely echo in hollow accompaniment – John too
small for himself, a tiny manikin trapped within the bland diligent accounts manager.
        „You wouldn‟t want to make too much of that, Pete. After all, most of our
clothes come from chain stores. Made by the million by people who probably don‟t
even know what we look like.‟
        Spoken in a rote way, as though memorised from the television or radio, but it
is enough to get them to the entrance to the pub without much strain between them.
        Jukes have secured some tables in the lounge over to the left. A boom-boom
pub at night – lots of video screens, very loud music – it has the somewhat flat quality
you get daytime with nightbirds. This lounge, perhaps because it has no bar of its
own, is rarely crowded at lunchtime, so suitable for office celebrations.
        It‟s Margarita who sees them first, one instant sitting like a dumpling with a
cherry red drink in front of her at the Accounts table, next instant jumping up and
waving vigorously at Peter. (She ignores John – as a married-man – outside the office;
in the office she fawns on him as her superior.) She squeals loudly enough to stop
most of the conversation at the Jukes tables:
        „Peter, oh Peter.‟ Waving urgently, her whole body shaking. „Here, here.
Come here, Peter. I have kept a seat for you.‟
        Low ripple of sardonic laughter: rather you than me, mate. Peter can suffer
silently; in any case, it doesn‟t matter very much. Margarita is smoothing the seat of
the chair for him, much as you would settle a chicken before slitting its throat. Yet it
is Simon Drew – seated on the other side of Margarita – who gets the ball rolling, as it
were, to bring Peter into the mood of the gathering, where as always there is that
slight edge as though a prison escape has succeeded and utter freedom beckons.
        „Welcome to the bullring, Peter.‟
        What is unusual about Simon is that he likes to sit in the pub at lunchtime with
his staff. No other director of Jukes would dream of doing that. Of course, it is a
judgement on him – that will probably be meted out someday.
        But the problem with his little sally is that Peter hasn‟t had a drink yet. That‟s
soon remedied: a programmer introducing himself as Damien buying him a glass of
cider, the most he will permit himself in these circumstances.
        It is John – perhaps moved by a generalised sympathy, for both Peter and
Simon – who replies, his tone slipping – as it can do at lunchtime in the pub – towards
the south-east London cockney he grew up with, an element of downplayed wit
appearing:
        „Nose-ring, more like, if you ask me.‟
        This remark is missed by Peter and Simon, but Debby – sitting opposite
Margarita and hunched before what looks like a green liqueur in a tiny glass – raises
her head abruptly to look fixedly at John, her mottled skin coming more clearly into
the light, the worst effected areas along the jaw line especially unsettling to see. It‟s
hard to judge the nature of her response, whether she is annoyed by what John has
said or simply distracted momentarily. But she does turn to Patty, the fourth accounts
clerk – whose work is a complete mystery to Peter, though it seems the most
complicated, leading to frequent deep discussions with John. She is by far the plainest
woman in the office, and yet the only one who attracts the attention of men. Thin and
shanky, with dead hair, several failed marriages, and an expression of utter loss – as
though she has tried every way to live with herself and all have failed her.




                                                                                       83
        Patty shrugs, as much as to say, So what? Debby looks down again at the table
before her. It‟s Margarita who responds directly, her voice very shrill – though
everyone is by now so used to it that they hardly notice it:
        „I make with a beautiful English genteel-man. That‟s what they all say in Las
Rosas. They know my destiny. It is written for me. You‟ll see.‟
        Peter has by now drunk some of the cider. A man used to drinking alone; used
to using alcohol to see outside – as it were – his life experience from time to time, he
is aware of just how quickly it works in the human body. Today it flashes on him as
quickly as he expects and puts him outside one particular thought. Not the thought he
would want to dwell on: he sees Kharib already mad in a holding cell in some isolated
part of the Home Counties. He can‟t stop this thought in time: he sees the collapse of
what is left of his friend‟s reason, shouting gibberish as his worst nightmare resumes.
Then drugged into a stupor, incommunicado until they find out where he is to be sent,
the hellhole he fled from.
        Melodramatic, sure. Grotesque, even a touch of frenzy. And sitting in a pub
lunch-time in Stockwell, London, quiet office drink among colleagues. Well, he has
kept it firmly in the background all morning while doing his office thing, calm and
rational though somewhat quieter than usual. Now, he takes up the glass again, the
sharp tang of apples in his nose, sipping the drink to have something to do. He stares
near-sightedly at the pale gold liquid, letting something flow out through his staring
eyes, seeing torture and mistreatment, feeling for an instant something of the springs
of cruelty – how goodness also is born of this world from sources as inchoate as those
that bear evil. It‟s like falling down, realising that one can stumble and fall, a fear ever
afterwards of falling again.
        „Peter.‟
        Strange that as he sees so clearly into the fact of falling, of there being no
foundation after all, that he should look up into Rebecca‟s face, bent down to him and
slightly above. He has a sense of the clearness of her face, of cleanness – though not
of purity – seeing there as though in a mirror that what he feels shows already in his
own face. He pulls back a bit – momentary shock – and Rebecca also draws back, a
smile of irony – unusual for her this and of which she might well be unconscious –
and he sees in the play of her features that look she had after they had re-encountered
Kharib for the second time, on their way back to London. He can see clearly how
delight and relief had sprung into her face, a charge that made her uncharacteristically
vibrant – and then how that light had left her and in its place had come this other
expression, the one he sees now: a kind of loss, as of faith, not just of hope, but of
faith.
        Peter says, „Rebecca.‟ A note of embarrassment in his voice. But then this
lunch-time‟s host comes by and asks Rebecca what she would like to drink – to
celebrate the birth of his son – so that she withdraws from him.
        „…of course. But you cannot possibly make decent money without some kind
of scam or other. That goes…‟
        That‟s Simon speaking, Peter realises, looking then and seeing Simon‟s soft
mobile mouth, wetted by the lager he is drinking, moving rapidly. And then he sees
Rebecca again, standing to one side of him, loose fashionable slacks hiding the
modest curve of her thigh – he does think this – and then he sees again the fact of loss
of faith. That moment enacted millions of times in the last three or four hundred
years. The sudden death of belief in God, in divinity, in the Guarantee, as it were.
Peter sees the desperation of theology, the scramble of philosophy, the bulwark of
science, the consolation of property.


                                                                                         84
       He drains what‟s left in the glass in one go, a beautiful appley gaseousness
shooting up into his head. The alcohol rushed forward like a tidal wave. He is at once
momentarily drunk. He says to Simon, apropos of nothing:
       „It‟s like Shakespeare said, you know, morality makes hypocrites of us all.‟
       Peter stands up. How relieved he is. He has wanted to say that to someone for
years. It‟s John who responds most immediately – surprising Peter – his mouth
opening and twisting sideways to the left. He should speak, but he doesn‟t, his hands
instead clutching his beer glass, clutching and clutching as though seeking a more
comfortable hold.
       Simon is laughing, a flatness in his eyes, not liking this time being upstaged in
such an unexpected way. He had not expected Peter, doctorate and all that, to behave
so rudely.
       The woman are dulled, even Margarita for once sitting like a passive English
woman while their menfolk made fools of themselves. Only Rebecca is laughing, but
then she is responding to a joke told by Johno, the computer department‟s star
performer, charismatic and Irish with a licence to be the company‟s clown.
       „He said everything, didn‟t he?‟ John Widgett speaking from the corner of his
mouth, the best he can do in the circumstances, but at least managing to say
something – when no one else would. His voice is toneless, even though it is obvious
John is feeling respect, even admiration – picked up at school – for William
Shakespeare.

         Just past three o‟clock. Peter is fortified by a cup of strong coffee coaxed from
Helen, the cook, in the dining room. Instinct tells him that this is the correct time to
ring.
         „Maura? Maura Sinclair?‟
         „Yes, that‟s right.‟
         „Peter Lacey.‟
         „Ah, Peter. How are you, Peter?‟
         „I‟m well, Maura. I take it you are well, too?‟
         „Yes, I am.‟
         „I tell you what it is. You mentioned blues Saturday nights in Brighton.‟
         „Hhhh, yes. I thought it would interest you, you know, Peter. I promise you
it‟s a pretty good scene here.‟
         „Well, I thought I might come down next Saturday… You say it‟s on the
seafront somewhere.‟
         „Oh yes. Look, better we meet somewhere beforehand. The Bristol is just the
place, not too clamorous early in the evening. It‟s down towards Kemp Town. Lots of
parking down there. Perfectly safe.‟
         „Oh, I plan to come down by train, Maura.‟
         „By train? Yes. Probably a good idea… Well, look, there‟s a train from
Victoria that gets in about eightish. I can meet you off that, Peter. It‟s only a ten
minute walk from there. And you won‟t have to worry about driving back afterwards.
Always tricky, you know. Pretty obvious. For the police, I mean.‟
         „That‟s suits very well, Maura. I‟ll look forward to it. I‟ll bring my jive boots.‟
         Laugh. A pause, then:
         „That payment was okay then?‟
         „The which? Oh sure, no problem… Except, well, between you and me,
Maura, the delay over paying attracted some attention. You know how it is.‟
         „Attention? How do you mean, Peter? The cheque was okay, wasn‟t it?‟


                                                                                         85
         „Oh no, not that. The storage. The three crates, I mean. Management
wondering what the difficulty was. You know, why was the security upgraded, that
sort of thing.‟
         „Ahh, yes, I understand now, Peter.
         „Well, it seems as though certain kinds of storage have to be reported. To do
with contraband and drugs. That sort of thing. I mean, it‟s out of sight and out of mind
here.‟
         „You mean storing drugs?‟
         „Apparently. If the police are searching for them. Money too.‟
         „Money too?‟
         „Anyway, I shouldn‟t worry. The account is clear now… Look, Maura, I‟ll see
you Saturday. Look forward to that.‟
         „Oh yes. I‟m glad you‟ve decided to come. You won‟t regret it, Peter.‟
         Laugh: „Oh I daresay. See you, Maura.‟
         „Byeee.‟

         What is it with the flat this evening? Peter feels he is just walking through it,
all the time coming in the front door and passing through out into the garden. He feels
as though he is doing it repeatedly. Yet he stands perfectly still in his little kitchen
looking out into the garden, at the roses. It‟s like he is lost in a trance, a dream-state
where he is all the time walking away to somewhere else. He has no sense of where
he is going in his imagination, only that he is going.
         And the strange thing is, though he is standing there like that, staring at the
flowers in the way he often does, he discovers after a while that he has nonetheless
prepared his evening meal, of – you guessed it – bread and cheese, though
accompanied this evening by sweet red grapes, not his more usual pear.
         Peter eats standing up. Not something he would do in normal circumstances,
too rough and ready for his habits of life. Not easy to do, either, crumbs and droplets
of grape juice have further to fall and so less certain of where they will end up. A
large tissue is to hand – as ever – yet the table top is becoming spattered, no doubt the
floor around his feet as well (not to mention his clothes).
         Then he is finished eating and has tidied the dishes away onto the draining
board by the sink. He hovers for a while, feeling the pull of the walking through while
yet he knows he wishes to do something else. He turns, then turns again, until he faces
towards the door to the living room. Ah, Peter remembers what it is he wants to do.
         In the living room he turns on the audio system, searches for the Leningrad
Phil disc, then finds that it is in the CD player. He cycles through the contents of the
disc to the Poem of Ecstasy, sets it to play. He sits in the chair facing the speakers,
composes himself. When the music starts his tears start again too. It can‟t be helped.
Peter is surprised even so. He doesn‟t feel any strong emotion, no sadness, bitterness,
remorse, grief. Yet tears flow from his eyes and down his cheek, leaving an
uncomfortable itchiness on his skin even as some place in his chest warms.
         It is like companionship, a presence being beside him on his left, abiding like a
tenuous shadow. He can even hear the curious singing, off-key, strident at times, but
always saying something.
         It‟s a though Kharib is in the room with him.

       The music ends. The last track on the disc, so silence ensues, broken only by
the muffled thump of his neighbour‟s offering across the back gardens. The impulse
to walk through is still with him, but not nearly as strong as previously. There is a tug,


                                                                                       86
it‟s in his feet most of all, while at the same time he is aware of an obscure reluctance
to give way to its influence again.
         Then Peter – being Peter – must enquire of the impulse: to what end? He gets
an answer – the fact that Peter gets answers to questions like this has never surprised
him, though many would say that it should. The answer is simple: Peter wants to walk
on through the flat to get to something that is part of himself. Now, this answer does
surprise him; it surprises him a great deal.
         What part of himself?
         Answer comes immediately: the other part.
         What other part?
         Answer again comes immediately: the part you don‟t know.
         Peter walks through into the kitchen, stands looking out into the garden. He
asks himself, his academic training breaking through all the bemusement: how can
one know something that one doesn‟t know? Realising that he is once again staring
out into the garden, Peter moves in reaction and casts his eyes about the kitchen.
         He sees the letter on the first shelf of the dresser over to his right at the party
wall. OTAGO is prominent in the top left corner, a bright New Zealand stamp in the
right hand corner, a vivid red image. Otago is the University of Otago. It is in New
Zealand. This is a leap too far for Peter in his present condition. He drops the letter
back onto the shelf.
         It is a quarter to ten, still bright, still wonderfully clear. Peter decides to go to
bed. Not despair. Just go to bed, lie out, then sleep.
         The world is too big, time is too long, way too long.

        Peter sleeps, then he is awake. It is twenty past three, middle of the night. He
has slept but feels he has not slept, a weariness like a staleness in his head. Yet all is
very quiet, so a good time to tell one‟s thoughts. Peter knows some of the problem:
this temping trick is coming to an end, end of patience, end of just doing the day-in
day-out thing. He knows what the envelope –from Otago that is a university in New
Zealand – contains. He‟ll be able to continue his research, this time somewhere in the
southern hemisphere near NZ.
        Peter rolls over onto his back, opens his eyes. The room is in almost total
darkness, only very dim light seeping in from the street outside.
        What research?
        Peter acknowledges that this is a good question. He pictures himself
researching all alone together in a busy university department, the affect of a possibly
corrosive individualist philosophy on people professionally committed to
communality, seeing all the old themes of angst and alienation rearing their head
again, despite the rightward adjustment to a more corporatist view of human
collectivity.
        Peter smiles in the dark at this interpretation, knowing very well it would
never play like that. How would it play? As Romantic melancholy, not alienation: the
individual before socialisation, not after. The individual always in the process of
entering into relationship with other individuals like him; always only entering into
relationship because each individual remains permanently unknowable, so always
only coming into view.
        Peter smiles at this interpretation, too, then stops smiling. The description
reminds him of something. He traces back through his years of research. He finds the
answer in all those tracts he had studied in Dublin.



                                                                                           87
        How man relates to God: always getting to know God, day after day, night
after night. Each time He appears in glorious visions, sometimes the same, sometimes
different. Peter suddenly sees people out on a street, eyes alight with visions, looking
at each other. Not seventeenth century Dublin; London in 1991. People on the tube
looking at each other. A man looking at his wife of twenty years, his children, his
enemy, his eyes on fire.
        Peter falls asleep.




                                                                                     88
         So they gather as usual in Simon‟s office, Peter, John and Simon, to drink
their morning tea. Simon and Peter wait as usual for John to select the topic for
discussion. Unfortunately, it‟s debtor days again. John is concerned that they cannot
get the figure below thirty five. Simon and Peter let John speak, crossing glances that
convey guarded amusement.
         It‟s now that Peter feels the first twinge in his gut. High up, just under his rib
cage, he thinks it might be indigestion. The camembert he‟s fond of can sometimes be
pretty rich, leaving his stomach a bit high for a few hours. This twinge is different,
Peter knows at once. Yes, there is a gassiness, but he feels his morale sag, a
debilitation setting in.
         John pauses his monologue, no doubt expecting contributions from the other
two, but Simon says, looking at Peter with intent eyes that are more than a little timid:
         „So you think we don‟t need morality?‟
         John twitches, his right foot shooting out. Peter is still feeling the effects of
that first twinge, wondering what it was and – more important – what was its cause.
Still, he can come up with an answer pretty quickly, not glib: it‟s something he has
long considered.
         „If we didn‟t, Simon, we wouldn‟t have one.‟
         Simon is fazed by this answer, his head going back. Peter quickly checks his
tone of voice: it wasn‟t curt. Now John speaks:
         „Leave off, Simon. Pete was only quoting from Shakespeare.‟
         Simon looks quickly at John, startled by him too. He looks for and then
clutches the little black mouse on his desk. He twiddles it nervously. Now Peter does
feel like barking at him.
         „It‟s not like something Shakespeare would say, John.‟
         Peter can‟t repress his smile, thinking: Good man, Simon. But John persists:
         „But Peter ought to know. I mean, he‟s been to university.‟
         Simon‟s glance at Peter is furtive. There is no pain in his gut now, but Peter
feels something draining from him nonetheless, like a vacuum coming into being in
his stomach.
         „Perhaps, John. But it‟s not Shakespeare.‟ Simon looks keenly at Peter, as
though afraid of what he is discovering – that they have some kind of troublemaker in
their midst. „It‟s too – how to put it, Peter – too ideological?‟
         Peter smirks. Then there is the second twinge. Not as bad as the first, but it
causes his head to flush. Very unpleasant, like all the veins in his head suddenly too
tight: there is a squishing sensation right across under his skull. Well, it‟s hard to take
seriously; that is, just like that. So he sits it out. But when that curious piece of
awfulness recedes, he finds that burning gaseous substances are working their way
down his pipes towards his bowel.
         Time to get out. He makes it in time into a cubicle, trousers down and on the
pot before the messy explosion. The emptiness that had been in his stomach is now
spreading through his whole body. Even his fingers and toes feel numb, almost solid.
         Is this death? If it is, then Peter is more bemused by its approach than – say –
frightened or regretful. He had always thought that regret would be the strongest
emotion in the face of death. Instead, it is bemusement, like not knowing what is
happening, simply not comprehending.
         There are more gripes while Peter sits on the pot contemplating his
bemusement, their force lessening each time. Then there is quiet, complete quiet. His
body is utterly empty, but it is also at peace. Clear as a bell.



                                                                                        89
        Ten past eleven precisely by the clock on his terminal and Anne rings Peter.
        „He has to sell the house, Pete. I mean, he‟s going to do it next week!‟
        Peter needs to come up to speed. He does so, unthinkingly, responding just
like that, exact balance of placation and edge:
        „Hold on, Anne. One thing at a time.‟ There‟s an obvious pause,
demonstrating something about their relationship that no words could convey. „Did
you speak to John? You know, about a rise.‟
        He hears Anne take time to breath deeply. „He just can‟t make up the
difference. You know, what I would need to satisfy the mortgage people. No. He went
over the figures with me, so I believe him.‟ Anne makes a sound, a choky sound,
either excitation still active in her despite her control or just a burst of sadness or fear.
„Pete, I just can‟t afford the place.‟
        Peter feels the dart of fear himself – not a good sensation when your gut is
already very tender. „But what about the lodger?‟
        It‟s Anne‟s turn to calm things. Her voice is suddenly surprisingly rich, more
like her singing voice. „It wouldn‟t be counted. The mortgage people think long term.
You know, twenty or thirty years.‟
        Peter must now fight a massive jolt in his gut. He crouches forward, pressing
his elbows down onto the desk. The discomfort is very great, a racking pain from
under his heart down into his groin. Yet, the tensing helps, a remarkably comforting
sensation up his spine, like a warm honeyed fluid running as a counter-measure.
        Anne is frightened by the silence, fearing that Peter is thinking the worst.
        „Pete? Pete, are you still there?‟
        His voice is flattened by the discomfort: „No. It‟s alright, Anne. My stomach is
upset this morning. Could be food poisoning.‟
        Anne catches her breath, „What is it? Are you taking something? Go out to a
chemist shop and get them to give you something, Pete.‟
        „No, no. It‟s not that bad, sweetheart. Just a gripe, that‟s all. Now. Look,
Anne. Have you worked out how much you need?‟
        „Yes. But I‟ve just told you, Pete, I can‟t get much more than I have. And
there‟s no point trying anywhere else. If anything, I‟m probably getting about the
average rate as it is.‟
        „No, no, Anne. You misunderstand me. I mean, what is the outstanding debt
on the house? As it is now.‟
        „Hang on.‟ He can hear Anne scrabbling around on her desk.
        „No, Anne. Just a rough figure. To the nearest thousand, I mean.‟
        „Oh. Yes. About oh nearly thirty thousand.‟
        „Thirty,‟ Peter repeats. He makes himself sound very practical. „Okay, then.
Well, Anne, just get your ex to hold off for a while, will you.‟
        „But why, Pete? Where am I going to get that sort of money?‟
        „Anne, please. Just do that, will you. Ask him not to close the mortgage for a
week or so.‟
        A long pause. Anne‟s voice is small, not hope – as might be expected – but a
kind of uncertainty, as though something altogether strange is about to happen.
        „You don‟t have that kind of money, Peter, do you? Besides, how could I ever
pay you back?‟
        „Hold on, Anne. It‟s not that. Just get him to hold off. Just do that, will you?‟
        A huge sigh from Anne. It gives Peter a lot of comfort, even happiness.
        „Yes. I‟ll do that, Pete. I don‟t want false hopes, mind, do you hear me?‟


                                                                                          90
        „No, no. It‟s just that there‟s an outside possibility. It might take a few days
yet. Just wait, will you.
        He knows Anne is nodding – maybe he can hear the low swish of her hair.
        „I will, Pete. I‟ll ring him now. Thanks. I mean, thanks for your support. It‟s
really a big mess.‟
        „Oh, you‟ll survive it, Anne. One way or the other. Anyway, can I come
tomorrow evening?‟
        „Yes, do. Come early, we can have the whole evening together.‟
        „Yes, I‟d like that. I‟ll come straight out from here.‟
        They simultaneously kiss-kiss over the phone.

        Lunch time. Peter thinks he will try to eat something. Poached sole, a light
cheesy sauce, small potatoes boiled in their skins, broccoli. It‟s the main meal of the
day for him; it‟s free, compensation for coming here at all. The table seems crowded
today, so he needs find a chair elsewhere and squeeze in. A sign of how part of the
team he is, Peter doesn‟t think to sit elsewhere, like with Sales or Computers.
        Patty, who never speaks, in the dining room nor in the office either, is saying
to John in a surprisingly affected voice – surprising, when Peter thinks about it,
because the woman has pretty well nothing to flaunt:
        „Trust him to speak like that about him. If I had my way, John, I would report
it.‟
        John‟s head is bent forward. It seems at first that he is trying to see into Patty‟s
cleavage – very wrinkled in its exposed parts – but in fact he is trying to concentrate
on what she is saying. He is her boss too, and so must keep her sweet too.
        „Well, Patty, who would you report him to? I can‟t see John Taylor doing
anything.‟
        Patty shakes her head in a sharp way, so much so that her eyes seem to
shudder in her head.
        „Oh him! There really must be some way of dealing with that, John.‟
        Simon suddenly laughs out. Johno looks up, wide smile, not happy just elated.
Peter is finding the fish very palatable, the vegetable less so (as usual – broccoli must
be the sourest table vegetable on the market, worse even that the sprout). Simon says
to Johno,
        „You must tell Peter that joke. It‟ll cheer him up.‟
        So Johno tells the joke:
        „There was this group of Irishmen who drank together in a pub in Camden
Town. One day they decided they would take a day trip to Brighton. They hire a bus
for the occasion. When everyone else in the pub hears about the excursion, they want
to come too. So they all pile into the bus, which quickly becomes very crowded.
Never mind. They set off in good spirits, singing songs and drinking bottled beer.
        „On the way, they are stopped at some traffic lights on the Streatham High
Road. One of the boys standing in the back of the bus notices that there is an empty
bus in the traffic queue behind them. He shouts out: “Quick, lads, there an empty bus
behind. Let‟s change to that one.”
        „So they all scramble off the crowded bus and manage to run back and get on
the empty bus before the lights change.‟
        Simon is near wetting himself all over again. Peter is checking his gut: will it
or will it not? Simon says, feeling he should explain to Peter:
        „It‟s the logic, don‟t you see?‟



                                                                                         91
         Johno still looks elated – very handsomely does it suit him too – but an
element of appraisal is entering. Peter notices that. Johno might well be the ringmaster
here, not clown. He says, jibed by the word logic:
         „Happens every day, doesn‟t it?‟
         Simon scowls, not sure where Peter is coming from, while Johno lets out a
shout of glee. The racket gets Margarita going, so she has to shout boisterously, at the
same time rubbing away the debris of a dessert that lingers at the corners of her
mouth:
         „I think they were very right, Johno‟ – (Johno is not married, either) – „I hate
the crowded buses…‟
         Peter cuts across her pretty brutally:
         „My turn now. There‟s this English couple making love. The man is humping
away manfully in perfect silence. Then he suddenly stops. He asks his partner: “Are
you alright, darling?” The woman stirs herself: “Why, yes, darling. Why do you ask?”
“You moved.”‟
         Momentary silence, even Margarita looks a bit dumbfounded, mouth pursed as
though sucking a lemon. Then Johno‟s face widens into a wicked joyous grin. Simon
says, a faltering tone of embarrassment,
         „I think I heard that one before, Peter, you know.‟
         Debby says, not too quietly, to Patty:
         „Soft bed.‟
         Patty‟s expression is louche, a real dirty smile rarely seen in Jukes.
         „I come from Kerry,‟ Johno begins, leaning across the table to Peter, his eyes
very radiant. „And Kerrymen are the butt of Irish jokes. So here. There was this old
Kerry fisherman lying dying on his bed. He calls his two strapping sons in and tells
them he wants to be buried at sea. The two of them drowned trying.‟
         Peter first smirks, then he laughs out. At the same time, his stomach reacts to
the food he is eating, a massive spasm down deep into his guts. But he continues
laughing anyway. Johno is delighted by Peter‟s response, reaching his hand over to
take his opposing hand.
         Simon looks very miffed now, left out of the hilarity that is drawing the
attention of the whole room.
         When they have subsided, Peter says, „Not as good as the first one. Trades on
a literalism.‟
         Johno nods. John Widgett, who has been busy eating up to now, observes:
         „It reminds me of the Scottish jokes we used to tell. About stupidity, really.‟
         Simon hastens to add his bit: „More like a fear of making a mistake, you
know.‟
         Peter feels really debilitated by the spasm, a horrible foamy sweat on his brow.
He has finished the fish and most of the potatoes. Enough, perhaps, but he wants
cheese, even so. Then he‟ll have tea today. Coffee would make him very tetchy.

        The tea does help, giving him a distance on the disruption to his erstwhile rock
solid digestion. He can sit at his desk and function as usual, busy doing very little, like
many at Jukes in the afternoon. He knows he has not fully recovered; there is a
negative feeling in his gut, like something withdrawn or holding back. But he is
beginning to suspect that he has not got food poisoning.
        Then, about three – when afternoon coffee would be welcomed – the bottom
seems to fall out of his whole digestive system. It happens suddenly, one moment that



                                                                                        92
faint tenderness then a blast of hot fire and gas is rumbling down his pipes. Off like a
shot then, on the pot again, serious spasms, a strong binding pain just under his navel.
        Definitely not food poisoning. Only gas being expelled in long rippling farts,
odour not as bad as might be expected. Something else. Peter fixes himself
afterwards, a worry beginning to haunt him: if not poisoning, then what?

         Rebecca happens to be standing not far from the toilets, by the glass wall
facing into the rooftop garden, but in the shadow – Peter notices at once – of her boss,
who sits tall and unbending at his desk, back to them. She is smiling, and Peter knows
at once that this is Rebecca‟s other smile, the one that indicates armoured for action.
         „Peter.‟
         „Rebecca.‟
         „Peter, I spoke to my sister last night.‟ Pause, another smile. „She told me that
Shakespeare never said that, what you quoted about hypocrisy and morality. Did you
make that up?‟
         Peter must press against his sacral plexus, if only to contact that negativity that
lurks there, thinking: Is it cancer? Is it an ulcer?
         „Does your sister know Shakespeare that well?‟
         Rebecca cocks her head at him. Peter only now realises that Rebecca‟s attitude
to him is different to anything he has experienced before with her.
         „She has this computer program. It has all the great works of English
Literature on it.‟ She indicates with globe forming gestures what this signifies. „You
just type in a word or phrase and it can search hundreds of works for references. Does
it in a few seconds, too.‟
         Peter nods. „So you got your sister to check through all of Shakespeare?‟
         Rebecca nods, a curious guarded quality evident in her eyes.
         „How does your sister come to have something like that? She‟s not reading all
that stuff on a computer, is she?‟
         Rebecca starts, relaxing: „Oh no. Well, not all of it, of course. I‟d say some of
would be pretty dull. No, she‟s a professional writer and she needs something like that
to help her.‟
         „A writer? What kind of writer is she?‟
         Rebecca betrays embarrassment. Peter wonders at her embarrassment: he has
never seen Rebecca so off-guard before.
         „Women‟s novels. But they‟re very good. You know, sincere.‟
         Peter lowers his head, not wanting to see Rebecca like this.
         „I‟m surprised you made a mistake like that, Peter.‟ Peter‟s head shoots up. „I
mean, someone with a doctorate would have a better memory for quotations surely.‟
         Peter presses the flesh about his navel this time. There is no gas. He moves
away to go back to his desk. Rebecca accompanies him.
         „She said that Shakespeare uses hypocrisy to mean sexual deceit, to mislead a
woman by pretending to love her. It‟s in Love‟s Labour Lost, and she mentioned other
plays.‟
         Peter nods, and nods. At the door to Accounts, he says:
         „Ask your sister to check how many times Shakespeare refers to morality.‟

       It takes almost an hour to get an answer. Rebecca brings it in person.
       „Once.‟ Even Rebecca shakes her head at this. She consults a piece of paper in
her hand. „In Measure for Measure he wrote, and I quote “I had as lief have the
foppery of freedom as the morality of imprisonment.” And that‟s all.‟


                                                                                         93
        Peter is staring at Rebecca. She‟s like a child, how she might have been once
at school, junior or middle school. Obedient, willing to please, to learn; a diligence
ultimately futile though well intentioned. But Peter is thinking something else,
thinking and thinking but it won‟t show. He says, apropos of nothing:
        „What does your sister think of that?‟
        „Oh, she didn‟t say. She was very busy.‟
        Peter nods. John calls across the office from his desk over by the door:
        „About your sister‟s books, Rebecca. My wife found one of them. Gloria
Baker, isn‟t that right?‟
        Peter gets another stab from his gut demon at this time, gases rapidly
expanding from his stomach down towards his bowel. Rebecca is turning away –
catching just a glimpse of the rictus of pain then appearing on his face – to answer
John.
        „Which one, John? I think she has two or three in print at the moment.‟
        John looks down at his desk, then at the screen of his computer. Peter is out of
his seat, heading towards the toilets again.
        „I don‟t know. A pinky cover, if I remember rightly. But my wife said she
enjoyed it very much. She thought your sister was a very good writer. You know, that
she takes a lot of trouble telling the story.‟
        Peter hears this all the way down the corridor, then hears Rebecca answer but
not able any longer to make out the words. The gas is noisy, his rectum hot, but still
no strong odour, thank goodness. Peter sits on, worrying for his health, fearing a
major breakdown in progress, his trousers down around his ankles.
        The worrying gets him nowhere, of course, except forcing him to rest for the
duration of the relief from discomfort. Then he fixes his clothes, washes up and feel
ready to face the world again.
        Rebecca awaits in the same place as before, Alex still on duty, back straight,
towering head. She says:
        „Are you alright, Peter?‟
        He does a grimace, a gesture for sympathy while also indicating a faint
disavowal. „My gut,‟ he volunteers.
        „Looks pretty bad. I mean, you look all washed out.‟ She touches his cheek.
„And a bit feverish?‟ She takes a deliberate breath. „Have you had some kind of
shock?‟
        Peter feels a shock now, like recognition. He‟s more than a little stunned: that
this could happen as a consequence. Rebecca is nodding.
        „And it‟s never happened before?‟
        Peter shakes his head.
        „God, lucky thing.‟ She gives him a tight smile, not a blameless smile, though
not entirely begrudging either. „Anyway, wait here. I‟ll get you something.‟
        She goes on around the corridor – Peter can see her through the glass, figure
slightly elongated – and Alex turns his head to watch her pass. Then she reappears,
moving very steadily back towards him, Alex again following her. She shows Peter
the small medicinal type box, then extracts a sweetie tablet. Peter pops it into his
mouth.
        „Suck it. Don‟t chew. It‟ll ease the pain in your stomach.‟
        She stands watching Peter suck, and Alex has turned around so he can watch
both of them just standing there.
        „Feel better now?‟



                                                                                     94
          Of course, Peter notices no immediate change in himself, too soon after the
last crisis. He nods in any case, „Sure. Thanks for your help.‟
         Rebecca gives him one of her better smiles – actually, one of her best, the
slightly fawning one – and offers him the little medicinal box. Peter is set to refuse
this offer, not being used to taking pills of any kind. Rebecca insists:
         „You‟re going to need these for a day or two yet.‟
         Peter takes the box. It‟s very light. He is basking in Rebecca‟s glowing
attention. Then the thought that eluded him earlier suddenly appears. He frowns:
         „How do you know I have a doctorate?‟
         Rebecca is startled. Peter is reacting to the question himself, a kind of
senseless suspicion – really paranoid – rising in him like a name for part of what he is
suffering.
         Rebecca does say, „I, I…‟ and then falls silent, the familiar expression of
emptiness taking her over.
         „Only Simon knows, and I know he wouldn‟t tell you. So how did you find
out?‟
         The expression in Rebecca‟s face is turning into a very real pain. „I can‟t
remember, Peter. Is it so important?‟ She pauses and then sets out on another tack –
even as Peter knows that this is a diversion: „Look, the whole thing about the
quotation is not important. I was just curious. It didn‟t sound like something
Shakespeare would say. You know, it‟s too political.‟
         The suspicion in Peter is rapidly becoming, in a horrible inevitable way – so
that Peter won‟t easily escape from its obsessive force, should it prove to be mistaken
– a conviction: Rebecca had something to do with Kharib‟s disappearance. He wants
to say something to her. But he wants it to be reasonable, something they can both get
around one way or the other, so they can remain friends afterwards. But he cannot say
anything reasonable: it‟s in him to shout at her, to demand an immediate confession,
to force it from her by strength of character.
         Peter just cannot do that to Rebecca. He turns away, goes to the lift, goes
down to the street and then walks up across the Common to his flat. The sweetie
tablet works. There‟s a queasy calm in his stomach; there‟s a queasy calm throughout
his whole being.
         He steadies himself for the next demon dart.

        Rebecca was right about the benefit of the tablet. There‟s a big gripe soon
after he gets into the flat, a gas surge, but less of the angry pain. Alone in the flat, he
lets the farts rip out. It‟s good to do this: at least it is some kind of gesture, be it of
anger, frustration, sheer pain. He feels he holds a set of scales somewhere in his
being. On one pan there is poor broken Kharib in a holding cell somewhere. On the
other pan there is Rebecca, dressed for this vision in red and blue, gentle line of her
hips, calm proportion of her breasts, pretty face: liking him as he likes her.
        He has the scales in perfect balance, so he has the pain in balance. If he thinks
about one, either Kharib or Rebecca, then the scales tilts and the pain starts up. Tilted
either way there is pain. A pain for which there is no sweetie tablet.
        He drinks a glass of warm water. A while later he drinks another glass of
warm water. He cannot cry, cannot speak. He stands looking out into the garden, out
into the garden, out into the garden.
        He will never move again. Never.




                                                                                        95
         Then a bell rings and Peter jumps out of his skin. It‟s only when the bell rings
a second time that he realises that it is the front door bell to his flat. He has never
heard it before, not having had any visitors until now.
         It‟s Rebecca. Chastened Rebecca. Very worried Rebecca. No smile, just her
face plain with seriousness. She holds up his jacket.
         „I brought you this, Peter. I told John we were off to a meeting with a client.‟
         For once, Peter is strongly tempted give into the impulse to put his arms
around her and hold her tightly to him. He steps back to let her in and then follows her
down the hall into his flat.
         Peter is glad to be reasonable: „Simon?‟
         Rebecca makes a mock-grim face. „Oh, he has Charles and John Taylor in
with him, behind closed doors.‟
         Peter cocks his head, meaning: so?
         Rebecca is looking around the anonymous room, then staring into the partially
visible bedroom. She knows her way around.
         „They get him to turn tricks for them. For the group. You know. Accounting
tricks.‟
         Peter nods, seeing Simon more clearly now than he had ever before.
         He asks Rebecca if she would like some tea. She smiles for the first time, a
testing smile, asks:
         „May I sit down?‟
         Peter has put the kettle on. He spreads his hands. „Wherever you like.‟
         She joins him in the little kitchen, looking up at the glass roof, at the glass wall
that reveals the garden.
         „Did you know our hitchhiker was a woman?‟
         There‟s not much room for Peter to react physically – like throw his arms out,
smote his brow, run around in circles. He could well have done any of these things.
Instead, confined close to Rebecca – so close that he gets her familiar fragrance, sees
that there is a dew of perspiration on the temple closest to him, little beads on the
short fine hairs there – he can only gape and echo:
         „A woman?‟
         It just doesn‟t register. Mainly because Peter simply does not believe her.
         The kettle boils. Peter makes tea for both of them.
         „Would you like something to eat?‟
         „Not at the moment, thank you.‟
         „The tea will take a few moments. Do you want to sit out here?‟
         Rebecca sits in the chair at the table. Peter brings out a second chair from the
living room and places it at the door to the garden, at the short side of the table there.
He finds he can‟t take his eyes off Rebecca. It‟s as though she is now full of
information for him, to be read on every surface of her skin, in every crease and fold,
in all her dimensions. There‟s information even in her clothes: the business blouse
with the padded shoulders, cut to show both the swell of her breasts and the long
curves of her slender waist. Only the red wool skirt seems less than forthcoming, but
Peter can hear the words about thighs and the steeper curves, about the areas where
instinct presides, where one is drawn as down a long dark path.
         „What happened?‟
         Rebecca lays her arms flat on the table, two hands spread open. She‟s saying:
no secrets. Peter believes her. She takes a really deep breath.
         „Well, for a start, Peter, I couldn‟t help myself. When I first saw him – I mean
her, but I thought she was a man then – I thought he was the most beautiful being I


                                                                                          96
had ever seen. I know you can smile. No teeth, no nails, weirdly white skin. But there
was something about him. I knew I would die for him. Gladly.‟
        She looks over at Peter. „I‟m sorry I have to say this to you, Peter. But I am
going to tell you the truth.‟ A pause to allow that avowal to sink in, Peter looking at
Rebecca looking at him. „Anyway. When you left on Friday – near Croydon,
remember? – he set up such a racket that I had to let him out too. I didn‟t want to. I
was going to invite him stay with me. I thought that was that then. I mean, I let him
out in the middle of nowhere. But when you told me on Monday that he had ended up
here, I couldn‟t believe it.‟ Another pause. „Is there tea?‟
        Peter pours tea. There is a packet of biscuits.
        „Thanks. I need this now. So. The temptation was too great. I came here on
Tuesday. She – he – was delighted to see me. And of course I thought this signified,
you know, that he rather fancied me too. That‟s when I saw your note for the welfare
people. It was signed Doctor Peter Lacey. I persuaded him to come to my place in
Epsom. I was a bit disingenuous about it. I admit that. But the temptation, Peter. I
mean he was wearing practically nothing. So I got him to gather up all his effects, and
off we went.‟
        Rebecca pauses to drink tea. She takes a biscuit, nibbles at the chocolate side,
then drinks more tea. Peter drinks tea too, but that triggers some gas, so that he must
get up and walk into the living room. He walks around and around for a while until
the gas works its way down. From the far side of the room he asks:
        „Did you harm him, Rebecca?‟
        He‟s not threatening in any way. If anything, he is almost completely helpless.
He realises that he should have asked her if she caused him any suffering, but he
knows he doesn‟t want to hear her answer to that question.
        Rebecca sighs a loud sigh. „No, Peter, I didn‟t harm him in any way. Why
would I do that? Look, come back and let me tell you while I can see you. It‟s a bit
hard now.‟
        Peter goes out to the kitchen and sits in the chair by the door again. His gut is
surprisingly quiet, given the momentousness of the occasion.
        „Perhaps I should have been more circumspect. I normally would be, you
know. Passive, as you probably know. But it was like a hunger, Peter, something I
never felt before.‟ Rebecca bends her head forward, so that her fair hair falls forward
to hide her face. „It was a giving in, for good or ill. A commitment.‟ She looks
sideways at Peter, peering through the strands of hair. „If it had worked out, I mean.
But. And but, always but. He, she, responded enthusiastically. Like love at first sight,
I thought then. She spoke to me, but of course I didn‟t understand. I just took my
clothes off. With anyone else that might have given the game away, but not her. I
couldn‟t keep my hands still.‟ A pause. „Then I discovered that she was a woman.‟
        Peter nods at this point, so that Rebecca asks: „You knew?‟
        Peter shakes his head, hedging: „I thought he had been tortured, perhaps
castrated.‟
        Rebecca laughs uncharateristically, a forced laugh showing how wound up she
is now, the difficulty she has handling the strong feelings.
        „Tortured? What torture? Wherever did you get that idea from, Peter?‟
        Peter bows his head, restraining his own anger now. Perhaps he is only
masking his apparently ridiculous belief that Kharib had been mistreated, but the
anger nonetheless is genuine. „How else would you explain the loss of nails and
teeth?‟



                                                                                      97
          Rebecca now lowers her head again. Good question. She pats the table with
the palms of both hands, like a calling to order.
          „That may be so, Peter. But she wasn‟t castrated, if that is what you think. She
had a vagina like any woman.‟ She pauses again to take a deep breath. Her hands are
quivering. It‟s obvious that she wants to ball them. „The only thing is, Peter, that her
clitoris was remarkable long.‟ She straightens up, drawing her hair back from her
face, and looks Peter in the eye. „It was like a red chilli pepper. You know? Thickish
at one hand, curved – even a bit twisted – and running to a narrow point at the other
end. Bright red.‟ Rebecca shudders. „Over three inches long. It was revolting for some
reason. You know, raw, like something a dog in heat might have. A ram, an animal
like that.‟
          Now she buries her head in her open hands. She is shaking. Peter thinks she
might be crying. He places his right hand on her shoulder, presses momentarily, says:
          „Fine, Rebecca. But what happened?‟ He pauses, not wanting to ask the next
question, but he speaks it anyway: „Where is he now?‟
          Rebecca shakes her head furiously.
          „Don‟t badger me, Peter. I‟m trying to tell you.‟ For the first time, Peter sees a
vehemence in Rebecca. It‟s a last defence, indicating the point beyond which she will
retreat into a nameless subjectivity. „Look. I thought it was passion. You might laugh
at that, Peter, but for the first time in my life I felt something like release in a
relationship. You know, where I could let go and be myself – whatever or whoever
that it.‟
          Peter nods. His initial disappointment now becomes an acknowledgement that
the weakness he has witnessed in Rebecca is not at all unusual. Most of us, he sees,
don‟t betray that limit because we make sure we are never driven that far.
          „So what happened then?‟ His tone is gentle, inclusive.
          „I panicked. That‟s all. I was revolted, as I said, by what I saw. Perhaps it was
too raw.‟ Rebecca stops, draws her right hand across her brow. She sighs a big sigh.
„No. That‟s not it. I was terrified.‟ She stops again, looks at Peter. „You don‟t believe
she was a woman, sure you don‟t?‟
          Peter shakes his head. „I think I could tell, Rebecca.‟
          She nods. „Yes. And thinking now – you know, after talking about it with you
– I think you might be right. There was more masculinity than femininity.‟
          Peter feels something like relief, but a also a renewal of the by now familiar
anguish. It‟s like Kharib has come back to him.
          „So why were you terrified?‟
          Rebecca raises both of her hands, palms up, like a gesture of giving. „I know
what it‟s like to be open to different men. You know, for sex. Each has a different –
well, aura, let‟s say – but there is a fundamental familiarity about them all anyway.
Kharib wasn‟t like that. He was very strange, Peter. Just utterly different from any
other man I‟ve known.‟
          „He was from another place.‟
          „Yes. But I‟ve known quite a lot of different men, Peter.‟
          Peter nods, something fading in him, something very general that effects his
relationship even with Kharib, as though there is an ultimate mundanity even to the
most intense love attachment.
          „He was different, believe me. And it frightened me. I felt that if I got involved
with him – really involved, as I wanted to be – then I would become very different
too. I don‟t think I would have known myself. That‟s what frightened me.‟



                                                                                         98
        Peter nods. He stands up, looking around the little kitchen and out into the
garden. The roses still nod, the yellow evening sun glancing off the flowers.
        „Would you like to eat something? There‟s bread and cheese, and some fruit.‟
        Rebecca nods. „He just gathered up his things and walked out of the
apartment. He didn‟t say anything to me.‟
        „You did upset him?‟
        „Peter! I was like a gibbering idiot, standing naked in the middle of my
bedroom. He upset me!‟
        Peter bows his head. He doesn‟t want to see it from Rebecca‟s side. He fills
the kettle, switches it on, gets food from the fridge.
        „I thought he would have come back here, Peter.‟
        „From Epsom?‟
        „Well, he found his way from Croydon, didn‟t he?‟
        Again Peter has to nod. He fends off the realisation that Kharib has actually
left, gone away, gone away for good. Fine – Peter can manage this while he busies
himself with preparing their snack – but the gut demon is back with such force that
not even Rebecca‟s sweeties seem to help. Gas swells his stomach, coming seemingly
from nowhere.
        He drops everything and runs to the bathroom. He stands at the handbasin,
looking at himself in the mirror there. The gas rips out. Some heat in his anus, no
odour: bowel empty. Who looks at him in the mirror – Peter hardly knows. Eyes as
though peering in a mist, mouth turned down, very uncharacteristic.
        Sadness. That‟s the word for it. Regret, something lost before he even knew he
had found it.
        What was lost? What was it?

        Rebecca has laid the table, laid out the bread, cheese and grapes. Even the tea
is made, drawing quietly on the cooker.
        „You really liked him, Peter, didn‟t you?‟
        Peter can only nod. To start crying would be to enter some unknown territory
with Rebecca. Yet the tears well up even so.
        „Are you gay?‟
        Peter shakes his head. He blows his nose fiercely into a tissue, as though this
might force the tears into abatement. It works.
        „No, Rebecca. It wasn‟t a sex thing. Believe me.‟ He says this not because he
wants to convince her that he is not homosexual, but in order to get her to concentrate
on what he is telling her. „It has no name. There was something in me – something
extra – when I was with him. Look, I could be angry with him because we couldn‟t
really communicate. I used to shout at him in frustration.‟ Tears again. „Didn‟t you
see that in him? A kind of good patience? I believed he had been seriously mistreated
wherever he came from. Tortured and abused. Nails and teeth ripped out, gonads cut
off. Perhaps locked away in some hell hole for years. Look, since he disappeared from
here, I have been convinced that he was being held in some confinement cell.‟ He
blows his nose again. Tears abate, at least for now. „The point is, Rebecca, despite all
this horrible treatment he remained a true person. He was kind and gentle. He was
extraordinarily empathetic, did you find that?‟
        Rebecca is staring at Peter, obviously never having seen a man so upset
before. She starts, blinking rapidly, asks:
        „Find what?‟
        „The he was acutely sensitive to your feelings?‟


                                                                                     99
         She frowns and twists her mouth, as though caught out.
         „I think I may have been too hot for him to notice that. I mean, I didn‟t spend
as much time as you did with him.‟
         Peter nods, deflating a bit. The tears are not coming back. His gut seems quiet.
Out of habit, he reaches for the teapot, pours tea for the two of them. He invites
Rebecca to sit at the table, to help herself.
         They eat in silence for a while.
         „I marvel at how much you liked him, Peter. I mean we only picked him up
less than a week ago.‟ Rebecca thinks, calculating. „And he has been gone for half
that time.‟
         Peter should feel like a complete idiot. Or admit to a neurosis, or even worse,
perhaps an obsession. But he doesn‟t. He looks at Rebecca, sitting in profile just there,
a couple of feet away. There‟s a distance between them, at least from his perspective,
that he simply could not explain to her. He says:
         „You know what Blake said, about seeing eternity in a grain of sand?‟
         „Blake? You mean the painter?‟
         Peter nods. Rebecca is eating with some appetite, bread, cheese and fruit
disappearing into her mouth in quick succession.
         „Oh, I remember,‟ she says once she has swallowed what is presently in her
mouth. „He wrote poetry too. Anyway, what of it?‟
         Peter is slowing himself down, down and down, until he is simply sitting at a
table with Rebecca.
         „Well, Kharib was a bit like that. Do you remember your first reaction to
him?‟ Peter raises his hand to forestall her response. „No. You saw him before I did. I
remember seeing you light up in a remarkable way.‟
         Rebecca stops chewing. She looks out the window. She nods slowly. Then she
looks at Peter.
         „I‟ve fallen for so many men, Peter. You wouldn‟t believe it. I just pick myself
up and go on.‟ Suddenly she looks very sad. Her face seems much older, not lined or
drawn or anything like that. Just very weary, eyes empty: like there never was
anything to begin with, so if nothing gained then nothing lost either. „You‟re lucky, if
this is your first time. Very lucky, believe me.‟
         Peter stares at her. „But it need only happen once, Rebecca.‟
         Now she looks frightened. „No, don‟t put it like that, Peter. That‟s just too
much.‟
         Peter nods, lowers his head in order to relent. But Rebecca presses on, even
so:
         „If I thought that, Peter, I would kill myself. I really would.‟ She reaches and
clutches his wrist. „If I let myself believe that I‟ve just ruined the once-in-a-lifetime
chance at real love, I don‟t know what I‟d do with myself.‟
         „Actually, Rebecca, you might not have been able to do otherwise, no matter
what you believed.‟
         Rebecca is scandalised by this. „What do you mean to say, Peter? That I would
have behaved like a scrubber anyway?‟
         It‟s now Peter‟s turn to be shocked. He puts his left hand over the hand that
clutches his other wrist.
         „What else could you do? It‟s the only way we know.‟
         Rebecca is staring very hard at Peter, taking in what he is saying, not sure
though whether he is spoofing her or trying to be sincere.



                                                                                     100
        „Look how I handled it. I came to believe he was the most unfortunate man in
the world and so the most deserving of pity. That‟s the only way I could respond to
him.‟
        Rebecca is mollified by the fact that Peter has implicated himself too. She
stands up from the table, smoothes down her clothes out of habit.
        „I understand now.‟
        She goes into the living room, looks about, then she crosses to the bedroom.
Inside, she stands looking at the corner where Kharib had kept his plastic tent. Peter
follows her in about a minute later, the delay because he is reluctant to share some
element of his experience of Kharib in that room. The room suddenly feels very
crowded, though in fact it is not.
        „If I said I loved him, Peter, I think that wouldn‟t be right. It seems to me now
– after what we have said – that though something like love comes all at once, it takes
a lifetime to let – well – grow.‟ She turns to see Peter nodding, his normally good-
looking face suffused with something like a silvery glow. The glow makes his looks
seem to her to be immature, a mere potentiality.
        Peter, as though mesmerised, echoes, „Grow?‟ Being in the bedroom where
Kharib had huddled for so long has a powerful effect on him. „Perhaps. But, Rebecca,
you seem to be thinking in terms of marrying him. You know, a life-long
commitment.‟
        „What else is there?‟
        Peter leaves the room and returns to the living room. Out of habit he switches
on the audio system. The CD in the player begins. It‟s the Leningrad disc again, the
music Debussy‟s nocturne, Clouds. Rebecca follows him, glaring at him for not
answering her. Peter shrugs, asks while looking away from her:
        „Have you never had a satisfactory relationship, Rebecca? You know, where
you both work through it to the end. It might take a week or a month, or it might take
years.‟
        Rebecca is frowning, a curiously insubstantial gesture – given her even
features – that makes her seem frivolous. She doesn‟t help matters by throwing her
hands up in what is an obviously a masking reaction. She says lamely:
        „Oh, you know.‟
        Peter is moved by her sudden vulnerability. Then the enchantment of the
music works on him. He says, speaking out of a reaction in himself while much of his
attention is focused on the atmospheric music, the rich tones of the orchestra.
        „You should make people take you more seriously.‟
        Rebecca reacts one way – scandalised again – then she reacts another way: a
kind of defeat, a kind of resignation.
        Rimsky-Korsakov‟s music begins now. Peter is instantly transported, so much
so that he sees Rebecca and her pained reactions as from a great distance. He says,
indifferent to how irrelevant what he says might be to her:
        „Kharib loved this piece. Listen.‟
        Rebecca goes still instantly, arms by her sides, head down. It‟s clear that she
has merely obeyed Peter when, during the less engaging battle section, she says
without moving her head:
        „You take me seriously.‟
        Peter‟s expression, which Rebecca cannot see, is wry. But Rebecca must have
sensed something, because she looks up at him and catches the expression on his face.
        „But you don‟t love me, do you?‟
        Peter sighs. He nods. „In another world, another time, Rebecca.‟


                                                                                     101
         Rebecca nods at once, saying simply, „Yes.‟
         The last section begins now, the death of the maiden and her entry into the
Invisible City. Now Rebecca listens; Peter can see the pulsation in the most
expressive part of her – her breasts. He says:
         „It‟s about Russia under the Mongols. This maiden is killed and afterwards she
enters the secret city of Kitezh, the refuge of the Russians. You‟ll hear its bell in few
moments. Wait.‟
         They both wait. The music rises for the first climax. Peter‟s hands move in a
wave-like motion, seeing the delight in Kharib‟s face. The bell rings out, that
curiously flat tone of the Russian bell. Rebecca‟s skin flushes all over. The second
climax and the bell rings out again, relief, joy. Rebecca‟s skin flushes again, her
nipples engorging slowly. A shiver runs down Peter‟s back, right down his legs to his
feet.
         The opening bars of the Bolero breaks the spell pretty quickly for Peter. He
leaps to shut off the music. It‟s awkward then – Peter looking away out of the room
towards the garden, so that he does not have to face Rebecca. But she says, a reaching
quality in her voice, as though she has put her own developed self-centredness aside
for this moment, so that a younger person appears:
         „He did believe we loved each other, didn‟t he?‟
         Peter draws a breath: the truth of this insight is like a disappointment to him –
a response that surprises him. But he is honest with her:
         „Yes. I think so.‟ He wants to add “but”. But what?
         Before he can think through to this, Rebecca asks him another question:
         „Who was he, Peter?‟
         He turns now to face her. She is standing unmoved, but holding the elbow of
her left arm in the palm of her other hand, as though nursing it. Her aloneness seems
vivid, an utterly inaccessible aloneness. Peter is frightened by this vision: it acts to
indicate his own aloneness.
         The understanding that he will never be able to escape that fact of being alone
terrifies him. It threatens to engulf him, while yet he knows it could never do so. No
matter what he does, which way he turns to escape it, he will always be aware of it.
         „I don‟t know, Rebecca. I honestly don‟t know.‟
         Rebecca‟s face is very stark, making her seem plain: how her ancestors may
have looked in whatever impoverished village they had worked their way out of. In a
flash, Peter sees the process of the last five hundred years that he has been studying at
such length: from a child-like dependence on spiritual guidance through growing self-
consciousness to a moment like this, when the utter isolation of the individual is
recognised.
         He says: „I don‟t think he really understood us. I mean, what we have
become.‟
         All he wants to do now is sit in a chair and think into this fact of isolation.
What else is there to do?
         Rebecca has to find her own way out, to the street, to her car, back to her life.




                                                                                      102
         Morning tea as usual, Simon, John and Peter sitting around Simon‟s desk.
They are discussing John‟s new car. Peter has to be told the story: how the directors
of Jukes decide that John should be rewarded for his dedication and hard work for the
company. They propose buying him a car. They ask him to choose from among the
usual inflated middle management ranges. John however has a better idea. He goes to
an old friend of his father and gets a good deal on the latest top end Rover. So, he
proposes to the Jukes‟ directors that they give him the money in lieu. He adds a
thousand or so. The following week he spins into the heavily protected Jukes carpark
in his new car, parks it as close to the director‟s slots – actually in the slot reserved for
the Finance Director, Simon having no car – as he can manage. Grins smugly for a
month afterwards. Grudging respect for such a good trick, though some of the
directors are a bit scandalised.
         Peter allows that it is a great story, which pleases both John and Simon. Of
course, there‟s not much more that can be said about cars: neither Simon nor Peter
drives, Simon commuting by tube from Islington and Peter walking across the
common from Balham. But Peter does think of something. He asks John and Simon if
they noticed a major change in road signage during the eighties.
         „Well,‟ he begins, glad for now to chatter, „if you remember, the standard sign
at junctions in the seventies said “Keep Left”. Yes?‟ They nod, remembering that.
„Then during the eighties, after the Tories came to power, the sign was changed – to?‟
Peter pauses, to allow one of the others to answer. Both sit with open expectant faces
– like obedient children in Play School.
         There is a rat-tat on the door, Margarita barges in, head up, her eyes taking
everything in just like that. Then she stares with her more usual narrowed eyes at
Peter.
         „There is a call for you, Señor Peter.‟
         No one moves. Margarita eyeballs them once more, then withdraws.
         „Señor,‟ Simon breathes, an ambiguous smile, eyes as firmly on him as can be
managed.
         „Must be important,‟ John intones without any humour.
         Peter of course deprecates: „Usually means awkwardness. They leave it to the
girls to promise payments.‟

       It‟s Mark Tarrant. An affable, on-the-ball Mark Tarrant.
       „So, Peter, what about lunch today? I‟m in town on business and thought it
might be a good occasion to meet again.‟
       Peter is jubilant; not revealing this though. „Sure, fine. Anywhere in mind?‟
       „I thought I‟d leave that to you. You might better know a place. You know, in
your area.‟
       Without hesitation Peter proposes: „There‟s a newish place on the Walworth
Road. Can‟t remember the name. White plastic façade, red strip lighting around the
windows and doors.‟
       „Ah, the Junkers Journey. So that‟s still around. I wouldn‟t have thought it
would be your kind of place, Peter.‟
       „Well, it‟s lively, I suppose.‟
       „You could call it that. Okay then. Say one or thereabouts. Get yourself a drink
should I be delayed. It‟s my treat.‟

      About half eleven Simon rings to ask him to step into his office for a moment.
Simon is fiddling with his mouse.


                                                                                        103
        „Do you know anything about these things, Peter?‟
        Shaking his head, Peter says, „As little as possible, I‟m afraid.‟
        „I would have thought they‟d be useful for your research.‟
        „So did I. But I soon discovered that I had to do the research first before I
could learn how best to use the computer. How to organise the material, that is.‟
        Simon nods, eyes locked on the screen. „I think I‟ve bolloxed this.‟ He looks
up, wry nervous smile: „Again.‟ He twiddles the mouse. „Are you sure you don‟t
know something about these things, Peter? You seem fairly handy with that one
outside.‟ He indicates with his head the mainframe terminal on his desk out in the
general office.
        Peter goes around the desk. The screen is coloured, something of a novelty for
him still. A lot of figures in columns. „Turn it off and then turn it on again.‟ He
smirks. „That‟s what I usually do.‟
        Simon reaches around the box under the monitor, throws a switch. Peter
shakes his head. „Are you sure that‟s how you turn it off? Aren‟t you supposed to
close the software down first?‟
        Simon shrugs. „I don‟t know how to.‟
        „Maybe you should ask John.‟
        „He‟s already explained it to me three or four times.‟
        Simon presses a button on the front of the box. Nothing happens. Peter reaches
and throws the black switch that Simon had previously closed.
        „Press it again.‟ The computer starts up. „The switch at the back is for the
power. The one on the front starts the computer.‟
        Simon nods, fiddling with the mouse again.
        „I know that. But that doesn‟t explain how I turn it off.‟
        Peter goes back to the other side of the desk, where he can face Simon.
        „Is that it?‟
        Simon seems mesmerised by what‟s happening on the screen.
        „Is what? Oh, yes. That joke of yours – the one you were telling us before our
señorita interrupted us – how does it end?‟
        „Didn‟t John know? He drives every day, for heaven‟s sake.‟
        Simon looks up, „No, he didn‟t. Says he never noticed. So, what is the punch
line?‟
        „You‟re serious, aren‟t you? It wasn‟t really a joke, you know. Anyway. If you
go to practically any junction in the country, you‟ll see a sign telling you to “Yield to
the right”.‟
        Simon concentrates on this, repeating „Yield to the right.‟ Then he looks up,
eyes nervous again. „So it‟s a political joke, is it?‟ He gets up and crosses to the door,
opens it and says to John, who is sitting at his desk a few feet away:
        „Yield to the right.‟
        John looks up from his screen. „Is that what it says? Yield to the right. Good,
I‟ll check that this evening.‟
        „Well, I think I‟d trust Peter on this.‟
        John nods. „Of course. Just like to see for myself.‟
        Simon comes back into his office. He looks very settled and satisfied. Back
behind his desk, he gets a grip on his mouse. „And the other sign was “Keep left”?‟
He nods. „No, I remember that one.‟ Looks very intently at Peter. „Are you sure it‟s
not just a coincidence? I mean, perhaps the theories about traffic behaviour have
changed over the years.‟



                                                                                      104
        Peter nods, edging towards the door. „Could be. Still, a mighty coincidence,
don‟t you think?‟
        Simon nods, eyes on his screen again. Peter is at the door. Simon smiles with a
child-like sweetness.
        „Oh, it‟s working again.‟ Looks up. „That was a good idea of yours. I‟ll
remember that for the future. Thank you.‟

        Peter arrives at the Junkers Journey six minutes late. Mark Tarrant has a table
secured over by the window. It‟s right beside the one Peter and Anne had occupied a
few days ago. Tarrant waves him over, a remarkable goodwill evident. He calls out to
a nearby waiter, „Hey, Sam,‟ and points over to Peter. There‟s a glass of clear spirits,
lemon and ice on his placemat by the time he gets there, Sam in the process of
opening the tonic.
        Tarrant raises his glass, „Thought you might be in the mood. You know,
Friday: poet‟s day.‟
        Does Peter have much choice? He ponders for about a second or two, then
pours some of the tonic into the gin. It‟s obvious he knows exactly how much tonic to
add. Tarrant smiles,
        „Thought you were a gin man. Cheers, Peter.‟
        The great thing about gin for Peter is its power of levelling moods; takes away
the rocket highs, the submarine lows. Today it levels out pain of loss and the prospect
of an indeterminate gain. He raises the glass in toast, then drinks. Braced for it, Peter
is not disappointed by the rush: for the next hour he will be chilled. He will be sharp
but also just that bit short-sighted.
        So will Tarrant.
        „Just the thing,‟ Peter observes with his best smirk, consciously withholding
Tarrant‟s first name.
        Tarrant nods, understanding the situation. So he takes up his copy of the
menu:
        „Right then. What will we have, do you think?‟
        Peter studies his copy of the menu. His eyes are swimming already, the gin
boring a large hole in his head. He sees what appears to be a garden, red flowers, sees
a woman cavorting, bending over sometimes, though, as if in pain.
        „I‟d recommend the fish dish,‟ Tarrant titters as he slurs the two words. Looks
hard at Peter, who is peering at his sheet of laminated plastic. „There‟s not a lot you
can do to fish.‟
        Peter wrinkles his nose. „Thought you liked this place.‟
        Tarrant is surprisingly earnest. „Oh, it‟s fine. For business lunches, that is.‟ He
looks around, peering slightly against the strong illumination. „After a long morning.‟
        Peter won‟t look around. He has found the fish dish. Monkfish. Sauce.
Something about sauce bothers him. He reaches very carefully with his right hand for
his drink.
        Gin is so pure.
        Tarrant follows Peter‟s example and has a sup of his drink.
        Their eyes meet. Tarrant smiles, asks with a weird sense of intimacy: „What
on earth are you doing in this business, Peter?‟
        Peter starts mightily. His drink – still held in his right hand – does not slosh.
That‟s due to luck. He drinks again, then places the glass carefully on the little paper
mat provided.
        God, he would love loud music.


                                                                                       105
         „I know you have a doctorate from Cambridge. First degree from Keele.
Nearly ten years of research in – what? – six or seven major universities in the UK.‟
         Peter peers at Tarrant.
         „How do you know that?‟
         Tarrant smiles again, which makes him appear very good-looking. He puts his
drink down, repositions the cutlery in front of him.
         „The group Jukes belongs to has a recruitment agency that specialises in
accounting. Asked them for candidates for a maternity leave starting in a few months‟
time. Your CV was amongst their proposals.‟
         Peter nods. He realises his gut is not acting up, that it has been its normal
discreet self all day so far.
         „Looked forward to talking with you, you know. Not everyday one meets a
utopianist. That‟s right? Utopianist?‟ Tarrant raises his arm. The waiter, Sam, is at his
elbow almost at once.
         „Ah, Sam, the very man.‟ Tarrant titters again. „Can we have the monkfish, old
son. All the trimmings.‟ To Peter: „Health food? A salad, maybe?‟
         Peter nods. The words “sauce” comes into his head again. He says, once Sam
has pushed off to get their orders.
         „Anthropologist, I believe. At least now. I started out an historian. But…‟
Peter is surprised by a shaft of emotion. Not feeling: emotion. He is thinking that loss
is like this: a demon in its own right, liable to attack at any moment.
         He must be showing some sign of distress, for Tarrant bends forward.
         „Are you okay. You‟ve suddenly gone pale.‟
         Peter bends his head to hide his face. What he sees is so stark that it threatens
to engulf him in some way. It‟s as though he suddenly understands what wings are,
and what it would be like not to need wings.
         „No, it‟s alright, Mark.‟ The name has slipped out, against Peter‟s better
judgement. „I had a bit of a shock earlier this week.‟
         It is impossible to believe that Kharib was – is – some kind of angel. No, that
is simply impossible to believe. Peter can see himself with Rebecca the previous
evening, seeing her profound loss and knowing now that he suppressed his suspicion
that Kharib was some kind of angel on purpose. In order to exclude her.
         Nasty. Very nasty.
         Peter nods contritely.
         Tarrant is saying: „This is my fault, Peter. I should have waited to ask what
you wanted to drink. Gin can be like that, everything fine on the surface, then bang! If
you‟ve got something lurking.‟
         Peter raised his hands to ease Tarrant. „No, no. that‟s fine. That‟s okay. Just
something personal.‟ Thinking that he was a first class shit for letting her down like
that. And she had put herself out so many times for him.
         „I wanted to understand utopias.‟
         Tarrant‟s face twists in puzzlement, making him seem momentarily very
stupid or very naïve. „And do you?‟
         Peter nods. „I think so.‟
         Tarrant lays his elbows on the table, leans forward. „And what do you
understand?‟
         „Jealousy.‟
         Peter is drunk enough by now to be serious. Tarrant is also drunk enough to be
serious too. He is nodding sagely.
         „Exactly.‟


                                                                                      106
         It‟s Peter‟s turn to be puzzled. „Exactly what?‟
         „Covetousness.‟
         Peter smirks: coming from Tarrant! Then serious again:
         „God brings out the worst in us, Mark. Do you know that?‟
         Tarrant‟s brows rise at the mention of God. Sam appears with plates of food.
There‟s general bustle for a while, glasses moved, cutlery repositioned, then the plates
are lowered into place.
         First thing Peter gets is the smell of the sauce. He sees heartburn down the
way. The off-red tinge doesn‟t help either.
         „You‟re talking about religion now?‟ Tarrant‟s eyes are agog, perhaps finding
the subject pretty extreme.
         Peter scrapes as much of the junk as he can off the fish – which itself looks
very inviting. It tastes as it looks, though the corrupt tang of the sauce lingers.
         „Not really.‟ Peter looks up at Tarrant. „It‟s a complex subject, you know.
Different levels. Different interpretations.‟ Peter sighs. He could mumble on like this
for a good while, so he just shuts up.
         Tarrant seems not to mind the sauce at all, eating away through the contents of
his plate with gusto, eyes down – a man used to eating alone. Peter works away too,
enjoying the fish, spearing items from the salad bowl, circumspect with the roast
potatoes.
         When they have blunted their hunger and can give time to their gin again,
Peter observes: „You seem interested in this kind of thing. What is it, economics?‟
         Tarrant bobs his head – this and that – a rather pleasant gesture. „Oh no. Just
the idea of – well – what might be possible, I suppose.‟
         Peter narrows his eyes, not smirking but amused all the same: „You‟re a closet
romantic.‟
         „No more than most, Peter. I mean, there are very few people who don‟t want
to be happy.‟
         Peter nods. „Why didn‟t you go to university?‟
         „I wanted to make a lot of money pretty fast.‟
         Peter gapes at Tarrant‟s candour.
         „I plan on giving up work by the time I‟m thirty five.‟
         „Is that soon?‟
         „Next year.‟
         „What will you do then?‟
         Tarrant tilts his head to one side quizzically: „Do you want to know?‟ Peter
nods. „I plan on moving to some island in the South Pacific. Marry into one of the
more powerful families there.‟
         Peter must smile. „Just like that?‟
         Tarrant‟s face tightens. „Your people worked out what‟s in the crates?‟
         Peter nods. „Gold bar.‟
         Tarrant purses his mouth, giving nothing away. „How much?‟
         „Up to three and a half million.‟
         Now Tarrant‟s eyes widen. Peter cannot judge what this signifies. But he asks:
         „Will it be enough?‟
         Now Tarrant smiles: „Who says that is all there is?‟
         Peter nods. He drains the last drops from his glass, mostly ice water and lemon
juice, tasty enough even so.
         „Would you like another one, Peter. You know, Friday.‟
         „Poet‟s day? No. But thanks all the same. Alcohol blows me away.‟


                                                                                    107
         „So coffee then?‟
         „Sure.‟
         Sam comes over immediately. Coffee arrives for them in minutes.
         „How much?‟ Tarrant now asks.
         The coffee is scalded. Peter puts the cup down.
         „Thirty five.‟
         It‟s Tarrant‟s turn to gape.
         „Thirty five what?‟
         „Thousand.‟
         Tarrant is genuinely puzzled, even confused. „Is that all? You won‟t get very
far with that, you know.‟
         „It‟s not for myself, Mark.‟
         This is an even bigger shock for Tarrant. „Christ. Don‟t you want money? I
mean – though I shouldn‟t be saying this to you – this is your chance to get, you
know, some capital or whatever.‟
         Peter shakes his head. He regrets now not having taken the offer of a second
drink. He blurts: „Look, Mark, let‟s have that second drink, yes?‟
         Tarrant nods fervently, as though this is the most sensible thing Peter has said
so far.
         Sam has the gins by their right hands in about a minute. Though the coffee has
cooled somewhat, it is still very harsh on the tongue.
         Peter sips the gin, then puts in tonic. He knows now that he could spend the
afternoon here.
         „Look, Mark, I really don‟t give a damn about money. Put it this way. I was
raised in circumstances that have left me pretty secure in the world. I‟m not ashamed
of relative poverty. I don‟t feel the need to prove I am more than I actually am.‟
         Tarrant has concentrated with open mouth on what Peter says. Now he nods.
         „It‟s not that, Peter. It‟s this business of working day in day out. Look, if I
achieve what I want, I will probably be as busy and occupied as I am now. I will
probably make less money, too. But I won‟t feel I am on a treadmill until I am too old
to work.‟
         „But why the South Pacific? Most of the natives there are probably as
materialistic as anyone here.‟
         Tarrant gestures with both hands. „It‟s just somewhere else, don‟t you see? I
know there will be the cheating and robbing, deceit and so on. But for some reason I
won‟t feel trapped by it.‟
         Peter nods. „Okay, fair enough. It‟s not for me to judge.‟
         Tarrant takes a cheque book from the inside pocket of his jacket. „Thirty five
thousand. Are you sure, Peter? There is a lot. Look, I like you. I really admire how
you could say what you said about God. I mean, that you can stand back and think
about things. Now, if I can help you in some way. You know.‟
         „I believe you, Mark. But leave it at thirty five. That‟s all that‟s needed.‟
         Pen in hand, Tarrant asks: „Who‟ll I make it out to?‟
         „Leave it blank, if you will.‟
         Tarrant makes out the cheque for £35,000, signs it and hands it across the table
to Peter.
         „Now, can I take those crates out this afternoon?‟
         „Sure, why not?‟
         Tarrant takes a document from his inside pocket, and hands it across too.
         „Can you sign this, then?‟


                                                                                     108
        „I‟m only the temp, remember.‟
        Tarrant snorts, „Sure. You‟d do better at this game than I do. Just sign it for
me, will you. I‟ll take care of the rest.‟
        Peter signs where indicated.
        „Can I ask who the money is for?‟
        „A friend.‟
        „It‟s a lot of money to just give to someone.‟
        „Well, she needs it. Otherwise she‟ll lose her home.‟
        Tarrant bows his head, sort of reverent, sort of abashed. „You must like her an
awful lot, Peter.‟
        „I do.‟ Peter means this; it‟s not hard to say. Still, it‟s like something rustling
in the wind. „I really want to help her all I can.‟
        „You must love her very much.‟
        Hearing the word like that moves Peter. The feeling rises up in him and then
goes out into the world, along the road outside, up into the air, spreading out over
London. Anne is probably less that a half mile away at the moment. Yet he cannot
respond to what Tarrant has said. He can only nod.
        It‟s like Anne doesn‟t exist in the context of the word. For her to exist for the
word “love”, she must needs become something else, like a surface, an image, a sign.
        Even so, the gin is damned good.
        „Well, you were pretty game to give the money up like that, Mark.‟
        A kind of modesty in the smile creates a very different Tarrant. „I‟m not
greedy as such, Peter. I only want enough for my purpose. You can have the rest if
you want it.‟
        „But how much is enough?‟
        Tarrant is rueful. „Good question.‟
        Peter studies the cheque. Clear handwriting, better than his own. Mark Tarrant
No 3 Account. „What would you really like to do with your life?‟
        „What I hope to do. You know, be busy with people. No hypocrisy.‟
        Peter nods.
        „And you?‟
        Peter smiles, not the smirk, kind of fugitive instead. „What I have done.‟
        „Which is?‟
        Peter is surprised that he is so deadpan. „Meet an angel.‟
        Tarrant is charmed by this.
        „I reckon you‟re the romantic here, Peter.‟ He bobs his head back and forward.
A very specific gesture. A kind of submission, acknowledgement of greater virtue.
„That‟s nice to hear.‟
        Again the dregs of the glass are tasty: ice water and lemon juice.

        Peter is reasonably sober by half three, though a headache threatening. At least
no heartburn – or other gut problem – yet. He dials Rebecca‟s number. The hateful
Phillip answers. Peter asks for Rebecca. He knows Phillip is leering, schadenfreude
his constant foil. Phillip shouts out Rebecca‟s name. Someone shouts an answer
„Marbella!‟ Someone else, a woman – most likely Margie in her cubby hole –
corrects this: „Ibiza!‟ This is greeted by a chorus of cheers – Sales already steamed up
for the coming weekend – one voice explaining: „Monster rave in Ibiza this weekend!‟
        Phillip is back on the line: „Off for the weekend, I‟m afraid, Pete old boy.‟
Sniggers. „Try again on Tuesday.‟
        Click.


                                                                                       109
        Gin aftermath is not so bad as cider aftermath, clean booze. Still, it‟s Friday,
end of week, so mixture of deflation and simple weariness. Peter gets himself across
the common. About to turn right towards Alderbrook Road, he suddenly decides to go
on up the High Road to the wine warehouse. Get a bottle of decent wine. That
decided, he sees a schedule for the next hour or so: shower, change of clothes; get one
of the more expensive chocolate gateaux in the supermarket up in Balham.
        Something to celebrate, though Anne doesn‟t know it yet. Peter smiles in
anticipation, genuinely happy that he is going to give her such a wonderful surprise.

       So, there‟s the shower, shave, change of clothes. A cup of tea to revive him,
push away the dregs of the gin effect. Standing in the kitchen waiting for the tea to
brew, he notices the letter on the shelf of the dresser, still unopened. He feels
expansive enough to open it.
                         Hello Pete,

                          I‟m enclosing the forms for the research post we discussed
                earlier this year at Keele. No changes really. It‟ll be for three years
                from October. You‟ll be based in Rabaul in New Britain, in the
                college there. Pretty good facilities.
                          Rabaul is a beautiful place, believe me. A paradise. There‟s
                a famous volcano: see the pic enclosed.
                          Let me have the completed forms ASAP.
                          Look forward to having you join us down here.

                         Penny
       The photograph shows a tropical paradise, palms along the shore, volcano
nearby, plume of smoke looming:




        Peter has never seen Anne looking so bashed. Deep shadows under her eyes,
like real bruising, but her lips have remained soft, her shoulders responsive to his
hands.
        „Rough week.‟
        Anne rocks her head, this and that, „End of month, Pete.‟ She steps back from
the door, turning in the short hall to go into the kitchen: „You don‟t look so bad
yourself, all things considered.‟
        Peter deprecates too. „Bit of a doddle, really. I‟ve got it about as tight as it can
get. Just stay on it for the duration, that‟s all.‟
        Comforting aroma of a roast in the kitchen.
        „A chicken. I thought, given the holiday and that.‟ She turns a sudden
pirouette, her dynamic response to Peter‟s attentive gaze upon her. He smiles widely,


                                                                                          110
quick joy to see her of a sudden unburdened. „How would you like it? A salad or
potatoes and veg?‟
        Peter touches her shoulder again, to feel that electric charge again. He says:
        „Look, you shower and change. I‟ll fix the potatoes etcetera.‟
        Anne likes this proposal a lot. Her smile is dazzling, her long white teeth
flashing against her over-coloured skin.
        „Vegetable,‟ she begins.
        Peter raises his hands to usher her out of the room. „I‟ll look after that. Go and
pretty yourself up for the evening.‟
        It doesn‟t take long to prepare the potatoes and pop then into the oven along
with the chicken. There are carrots and a small head of York cabbage in the bottom of
the fridge. These are prepared pretty quickly too. Finally, Peter peels two small onions
and finds a place for them in the roasting dish. A custom in his family, he‟s not sure if
Anne will like it, but he‟ll let her decide.
        Next he gets the wine – a decent St Emilion – from his back pack and opens it.
Then the rich choco goes into the fridge. He finds he is whistling some ditty, the
nearest to contentment since childhood. So he goes into the living room and sorts
through Anne‟s tapes. He knows the names of some of the groups but not their music,
so he is reluctant to play them in case the mood is wrong. But he does find an old tape
of Madonna‟s early dance music. He puts that on.
        Next, the table must be laid. He does it properly, searching out the good
placemats, best glasses, condiment set, even a fat candle from the sideboard in the
living room.
        Now there is atmosphere, like a happy home, like a nest somewhere. My Blue
Heaven. His father singing along to Fats Domino. It‟s like a circle being formed,
leaving his parents‟ home and arriving in this maisonette in South London. Seeing his
father true by sharing his experiences.
        „Oh, Pete.‟ Anne is in the doorway to the kitchen, deep blue dress clinging at
her shoulders to her warm body, a look of genuine amazement on her face. „I didn‟t
know you could do this.‟ She walks through the kitchen into the living room, where
the music sounds out not too loud. „I would never have thought it of you. I mean,
you‟re such a bachelor.‟ She comes back to him, looking around, seeing the table set,
the wine, the vegetables simmering. She is still shaking her head in delighted wonder.
„This is absolutely brilliant. I mean, you do it so well.‟ Now she finally reaches him,
leans forward and presses her cheek in against his. He feel the sigh crossing his ear.
        He whispers: „Must do the gravy now, sweetheart.‟ The understatement
reveals just how moved he is by her surprise and pleasure.
        Anne steps away and spins again, arms out, the skirt of her dress flying out. It
is delight, she as though in flight, transported by joy. Peter watches her intently,
seeing how something does rise in her, a light in her face, eyes raised, mouth a near
perfect oval. He sees it peak in her: one instant buoyant, next instant deflated, almost
crushed.
        Anne looks around the kitchen, as though looking for something she has
forgotten. Peter, for his part, searches for flour, very busy doing this. Anne leaves the
kitchen, going into the living room, where Madonna still sings her dancing music.
Peter finds soya sauce. He had not expected to, prepared to make do with a pale sauce
for the chicken, at least. In minutes the gravy is prepared and can be left to cook for a
while. The chicken and potatoes are done. Peter turns off the oven, turns off the heat
under the vegetables. He goes into the living room.



                                                                                      111
        Anne stands in the centre of the room, tears streaming down her stricken face,
damp hair combining to make her appear as a survivor of a terrible disaster. Peter puts
his arm across her shoulder. She is perfectly still, though the tears flow steadily.
        „What is it, sweetheart?‟
        It‟s not that Peter doesn‟t know: the accumulation of work-stress, the worry
about her home, the ongoing disorder and general uncertainty in her life.
        Anne turns her head to look at him. She makes no attempt to wipe the tears
from her cheeks or to clear her nose.
        „Why are you so kind?‟
        She speaks in a dead serious tone, one Peter has never heard before from her.
He has heard other women speak like this, as though the whole universe is under
threat.
        Peter stands back from her. „Because I can be.‟
        Anne stares at him. Peter is not sure if she has heard him or comprehended
what he has said. He fills in the awkward interval by getting a tissue from the box in
the drawer of the sideboard. He gives it to her. She dries her face, blows her nose.
That done, she goes back to staring at him.
        Killing with kindness. Peter only now understands that phrase. He realises that
Anne is profoundly frightened; afraid she is being taken over. Peter says:
        „Dinner‟s ready. Come and have a glass of wine first.‟
        She moves with him when he draws her by the elbow. Peter thinks with a flat
amusement, distancing himself by means of irony: she hasn‟t seen anything yet.
        Wine is poured with some ceremony, Anne watching while she tries to recover
her better humour. Then the tasting. Anne asks:
        „How good is this supposed to be, Pete? I‟m not an expert.‟
        Peter is still amused, it shows through in his reply.
        „Do you like it? They‟re always a bit peculiar.‟
        Anne nods, then sipping the wine again.
        „No more to be said, is there?‟ Now he relents: „But, yes, it‟s pretty good for
what it cost.‟
        Anne just nods again and returns to the living room. Peter, for his part, gets on
with preparing the meal. This doesn‟t take long. Anne comes when he calls her. She
surveys the table, the quartered chicken, potatoes and vegetables in dishes, the gravy
in its boat. One candle in the centre of it all. She says, seeming subdued, but really a
bit intimidated:
        „You have so many hidden talents, Pete.‟
        „My father once told me that if I could cook I wouldn‟t be dependant on any
woman.‟
        They sit. Peter, having had a decent lunch, is not as hungry as Anne, so he lets
her serve herself first, content to drink the rest of his glass of wine. The wine tastes
good, but – coming after the lunchtime gin – the effect is somewhat flat.
        Once she has taken the edge off her hunger, Anne asks him:
        „Did your parents split up?‟
        „No. In fact, they are still happily married.‟
        „But what your father said, Pete. It sound as though he doesn‟t trust women.‟
        „Trust? No, he thinks dependency breeds resentment.‟
        „You agree with that?‟
        „Yes, I do. Don‟t you?‟
        Anne looks down at her plate. „Dad left when I was ten.‟ She looks up into
Peter‟s eyes. „I think it‟s about being used.‟


                                                                                     112
       Peter can only nod. They concentrate on eating. Then Anne says, not looking
up:
         „You don‟t see it like that, Pete, do you? I mean, why else would people have
anything to do with each other, except they want something?‟
         „Fair enough. But why should it involve exploitation? That implies that the
other person is not willing to give.‟
         Anne tosses her head to one side, her mouth twisting. It‟s an involuntary
movement that she seems unaware of making, like something deeply engrained in her
from childhood, as though she evaded a threat.
         „No. It‟s about taking, not sharing.‟
         Peter can feels Anne‟s mood sinking again.
         „Always? People can agree on sharing. They know the benefit of that. If it was
all taking, we‟d be reduced to starvation in a few years.‟
         Anne can only nod again, and nod again. Peter sees she is not convinced of
this. Well, it‟s the metaphysics: all or nothing. He corrects himself:
         „Okay. Some – maybe a lot – believe they can get what they want by stealing
from others. But not everyone does that. Do you, Anne?‟
         Peter hadn‟t meant the question to seem so pointed. He doesn‟t mean it to be
pointed. He knows he hasn‟t much to steal anyway.
         A spasm of pain crosses Anne‟s face. „It‟s not stealing, Pete. I mean, what if
the other person won‟t give. What they‟re supposed to give?‟
         This is a minefield. Peter sees Anne as though she has fragmented. What he
thought were the exuberant highlights of her being, now appear as fault lines in a
partially shattered personality. He says as gently as he can:
         „What are you talking about?‟ He should have asked “Who”, but that would be
too close to the bone.
         Tears appear in Anne‟s eyes again. She is obviously not aware of them. Peter
gets up from the table and chooses two pears from the bowl on top of the fridge. He
washes them under the cold water tap, dries them, places one in front of Anne, beside
her plate. He sits down again, takes a tentative bite from his pear. It is soft and juicy,
sweet and fragrant.
         „Mummy cried for a month after Dad left.‟ A flat statement. „But she told him
to go. She still doesn‟t know that I know that, Pete. I go to see her every weekend and
she talks of nothing else but him. One neighbour said it was as though he had
abandoned her last week.‟ Now she breaks down completely. „I don‟t understand that,
Pete. I really don‟t.‟
         Peter can finish his pear or he can go around the table and console Anne. He
finishes his pear, then he goes into the living room and puts on the tape of Brahms,
volume very low.
         He knows he does this for his own sake. The truth is – as he knows very well
by now – Peter hasn‟t a great deal of time for the complications some people have to
live with. He has his own complications, that few seem even remotely aware of. They
may not be gut-wrenching tragedies, misfortunes or stupidities, but they do determine
his life as surely as the fuck-ups do others‟.
         Back in the kitchen, Anne has recovered to the extent that she has begun to eat
her pear. Peter lays a hand on her shoulder as he passes on his way to his seat. Anne
looks directly into his eyes. Peter loves her candour, always has, loves it now. He
cocks his head to one side: And?
         „She once said he was selfish.‟
         Peter nods. „And your mother – with all respects, Anne – is not?‟


                                                                                      113
        Anne smiles a wry smile, her skin creasing in a lopsided curve under her
cheeks. Her eyes are brilliant after all the tears.
        „The tears?‟
        Anne looks around her. „This might not seem much, Pete, but this is my
home.‟
        Peter feels a dart of unease: has the ex sold the house already? The unease is
remote, not real. Peter is not used to this kind of drama.
        „Won‟t the ex hold off?‟
        Anne smiles, wan but warm again.
        „Oh, Barry will do that, Pete. They won‟t be buying for a while yet.‟
        „Then what is it?‟
        Anne gets up from the table, begins to clear it.
        „Where will I get the money? Rob a bank?‟
        Ah, Peter thinks: The Moment. He would like better circumstances, but
perhaps this is the best circumstance: lowest expectations, tears already shed. Anne
doesn‟t notice him leaving the kitchen. The cheque is folded in the inside pocket of
his jacket, lying over the nearest arm of the settee. He takes it back to the kitchen.
Anne is stacking the dishes on the draining board. Peter lays the cheque on the table,
at Anne‟s chair. He says, as though apropos of nothing:
        „About the mortgage, Anne? You said thirty thousand, didn‟t you?‟
        Anne turns to looks at him, eyes quizzical, suspecting one of his off-beat
quips. Then she sees the chit of paper on the table, knowing instantly that it is a
cheque. She asks, „Where did you get that?‟ even before she has dried her hands and
taken it up. She reads it. She reads it again. Her mouth opens and opens, eyes
widening. This is true and it cannot be true. Peter can see that she is thinking this.
        Then she sees the signature. She lets out a loud laugh, almost a shriek. She
looks up at Peter in pure amazed joy:
        „You got this out of him?‟
        She laughs so forcefully that the cheque falls from her fingers onto the floor.
Peter bends and recovers the cheque and lays it on the table again, like a prop
disturbed by the vagaries of a theatrical piece. Anne quietens fairly quickly, but
remains bubbly with mirth. She takes the cheque up again, studies it again.
        „Put it into your own account first might be best.‟
        Anne nods. „You didn‟t want him to know who it was for?‟
        Peter tilts his head side to side: „I wasn‟t sure how you would do it. You know,
take it straight to the mortgage people or put it through your own account first. I‟m
sure the debt is not exactly thirty five.‟
        Anne now has the presence of mind to admire Peter. „God, you‟re a cool
customer, Pete. How did you do it? Just ring him up and ask?‟
        Peter is very pleased to be admired by Anne. „Well, not quite. Rang their
accounts manager, said the boxes were arousing suspicions. Mark then invited me to
lunch today.‟
        „Mark?‟
        Peter shrugs. „Actually, we got on very well.‟ He feels a huge relaxation
running through him, like you would feel after a long race was run. „He expected me
to ask for more, you know. Much much more.‟
        „Why didn‟t you?‟ Peter might like Mark Tarrant but Anne obviously does
not.
        „Why? I don‟t want it. And you don‟t need more than this, do you?‟



                                                                                    114
         Anne stares at Peter: of course she could do with as much as she could get.
Peter smiles, letting the irony show. Confronted thus, Anne relents.
         „Anyway,‟ Peter adds for the sake of saying it, „looks as though he has
squirreled away a lot more than that.‟
         Now Anne‟s expression is definitely ambiguous, the hint of envy stronger.
         „Says he‟ll be off to a South Sea island next year. Marry a Polynesian princess
and live happily ever after.‟ Peter pauses, watching Anne watching him. She‟s
catching on to the envy. „Well, at least he‟s making the effort to get what he wants.‟
         It‟s hard for Anne just now, so many horizons coming into view all at once.
She places the cheque back on the table and goes and fills the kettle. Peter fills their
glasses. The bottle is still half full. The wine has improved in the last hour. And so has
Peter‟s enjoyment of it, now that he has eaten. He goes into the living room and raises
the volume on the Brahms, though he doesn‟t much like what is now playing.
         Back in the kitchen he finds Anne standing at the sink with her glass in her
hand, staring emptily at the cheque on the table, lost in some daydream. He takes up
his own glass, raises it:
         „Here‟s to the future, Anne.‟
         A throwaway toast. Anne raises her glass, still half gone in her reverie,
echoing Peter:
         „The future.‟
         The kettle boils. Anne starts awake. Peter sees how Anne is like here alone.
Drifting in her memories, perhaps more – perhaps faraway thoughts too. She asks
Peter if he wants coffee. He raises his glass and says no: it would cut across the effect
of the wine. He says then:
         „Money frightens me, Anne.‟
         She is genuinely surprised by this admission. Peter elaborates:
         „We had enough money, you see. More would have been a kind of
temptation.‟ The word surprises Peter: he had planned to say – but now he can‟t
remember what had he planned to say. The word that comes instead is “seduction”.
         Anne sips the wine, then tilts her head to one side, the rim of the glass still
between her teeth. She looks extremely comfortable and at ease. It‟s Peter‟s turn to
drift off in his thoughts, so Anne can see – should she want to see – how Peter is when
he is all alone.
         Peter has stumbled onto the equation: money = freedom. He sees boundaries
fall away, like how a fish in a huge ocean might feel, able to swim anywhere,
anytime. This fills Peter with such a lust, that for a few minutes he is seared by an
envy – a jealousy – of the likes of Mark Tarrant, people who can grasp this life as it
is. Dive in, take a chance, commit. Imagine owning millions, free to do exactly what
you want. Go here go there, buy this buy that: find out what you like and don‟t like.
Do you like sex? Art? A long evening in the tropics?
         What else? Find out who you really are. Kind, cruel, domineering, mad, sad?
         Paranoid.
         „Money is like sex, Pete.‟ Anne is smiling at him, that candour again. „People
do anything for it, no matter the risk.‟
         Peter nods abstractly: too true, too true.
         „Lasts longer, though, sweetheart.‟
         It‟s an empty retort, uttered without thought. Peter has to leave the kitchen
again. It‟s like there is a context that hinders him. Like going from one university to
another. One town to another. Like cleaning off a blackboard and starting again.



                                                                                      115
        In the darkness of the living room Peter has a fleeting image of Kharib, hands
raised, something like silence falling like rain on him.
        Peter has a catch in his throat, partly emotion suppressed during the evening,
partly an immediate response to this image of that strange being.
        Meet an angel. That‟s how I put it.
        Anne has followed him into the living room. She lowers the volume of the
stereo before speaking.
        „Peter. Thank you for what you have done. From the bottom of my heart. You
don‟t know what this means to me.‟
        Tears flow again, but happy tears of gratitude, of grace.
        Peter nods, and nods, thinking that he knows how much it means to her – why
he did what he did.
        „You‟re more than welcome, sweetheart. It‟s why I did it. When I realised how
important this house is to you. What you do to keep it.‟
        Anne is shaking her head, laughing and smiling now as well as crying.
        „You are so so kind. You really are some kind of angel.‟ She sees the
expression that shoots across Peter‟s face – like fear of exposure, like extreme English
embarrassment – and so rushes to assure him: „You just went and did that for me. I
mean, you didn‟t have to, Pete. I mean, what I feel about you, I‟d go on feeling that
anyway, no matter where I lived.‟
        Peter turns and turns in the room, Anne‟s regard like a hot flame and he on a
spit.
        „No, no,‟ he stumbles, trying to regain the balance he always works with: „You
needed it, Anne. That‟s all. I did it to make you happy.‟
        This is like a bull‟s eye, like scoring blind. Anne leaps with such force that
wine spills from her near empty glass. She says „Oh Pete‟ in a swooning voice, runs
and puts her arms around his neck, nearly throttles him.
        Peter returns the embrace, meaning well but a somewhat abstract embrace
nonetheless. It is another high, and so he expects the anti-climax to begin soon. Anne
whispers in his ear:
        „You make me happy all the time, Pete dear.‟
        The sexual charge catches Peter off-balance. Anne‟s voice has a fixed pitch:
an acted voice, speaking a part. Peter knows it is genuinely intended; even so, it
makes him awkwardly self-conscious, like inclined to defuse the gush. He draws back
so as to look at Anne.
        „Well, that‟s something, sweetheart.‟
        It comes across as a non-sequitur. Anne‟s face closes down, her eyes
wavering. Peter can now say:
        „Give yourself time to get used to this change in your situation.‟
        Anne nods, turning away, an element of exposure betrayed here. Peter laments
the failure of her candour.
        „Anne, this is your place now. That‟s all.‟
        She has gone into the kitchen by now. Peter hears the kettle heat up again. He
turns off the wretched Brahms, then sits on the settee, beside his jacket. He finishes
the wine in his glass.
        He has to adjust, too. Obligation is a two-edged sword. Peter sets out to think
about this. Then the quietness of the house seems to seep into him, emphasised when
the kettle in the kitchen switches off with a final shudder. Straining, he can hear
traffic somewhere; only intermittent sounds, though. He can hear nothing from the
house next door.


                                                                                    116
        You can hear silence if you listen for it. It‟s like looking into the dark: you see
nothing yet there is a sense of increasing depth. Peter listens to silence, hearing
nothing getting further away. He‟s listening for a sound, as you would look for a light
in the dark. He finds that he is gazing at the Constable print hanging on the chimney
breast opposite. It looks like the Haywain, fluffy clouds, friendly droopy trees, a
world soon to disappear. He thinks of Anne in this room, watching television,
listening to music, perhaps reading, the painting like an heirloom, a momento of some
authentic origin.
        „Anne, did you put up the Constable?‟
        She comes into the room, more an obedient response to his call, to judge by
her subdued expression. She looks at the print, goes up close to it.
        „It‟s Barry‟s. He forgot to take it. Probably has another copy by now. Why, do
you like it? You can have it if you want.‟
        „Oh no. I just wondered if you liked it.‟
        Shakes her head immediately. „Hardly notice it at all. Like it came with the
house.‟
        „Do you like art?‟
        She looks closely at Peter, gauging his reason for asking, checking in turn for
a pose, her distrust of them both palpable.
        „Art? You mean painting? Not particularly. I‟d rather read, Pete. If I‟ve got the
time, that is.‟
        Peter is unsettled. It‟s as though what they say merely bounces off each other.
Like talking to themselves out loud. He goes into the kitchen for the wine bottle,
pours them both another glass. Less than quarter left in the bottle now. He sits down
again. Anne sits on the floor, on the rug in front of the gas fire. The rug is a flat blue:
clashing with her deep blue dress.
        So what?
        „My mother is Irish. Did I ever tell you that, Pete?‟
        Peter shakes his head. He avoids speaking in order to encourage Anne to
continue. One of them has to re-establish contact and she probably has most to say at
the moment.
        „She took us over once, years ago. After the split with Dad. A place called
County Longford. Don‟t remember anything clearly – we were all very upset. Seemed
to rain all the time. That‟s not true, but that‟s my abiding memory of the place. Heavy
trees. Beech, I think, very tall, very straight. The branches were like insane, like mad
hair. Thick soil. Deep grass. Cattle.‟ Anne shifts, features lightening – as though she
is finding a thread here. „You wouldn‟t believe the people. You know the expression,
In your face? Like that. I thought they were all blind, or that the light was bad. It was
very green, maybe that was it. They‟d push their face right into yours, eyeball to
eyeball. You could smell their breath, see the bristle on the men‟s faces. And when
they touched you, they grabbed. You know, they‟d clutch you. Like that.‟ She shoots
out her arm, hand closing like a trap in the air. „Terrified me at first. They looked as
though they would soon as hit you. And they speak all in a rush. Like Howaya? –
How are you?‟
        Anne gets up and goes across to the stereo, searching among the cassettes.
Peter doesn‟t recognise the music. Anne goes back to the rug and sits down again.
        „Is that too loud? Good. God, the change in Mummy but. I mean, they
swarmed all over her. She had four brothers then and two sisters. Farmers and
farmers‟ wives. Awfully blunt. They‟d give out to her one minute for going away and
marrying an Englishman, then the next they would sit beside her holding her hands,


                                                                                       117
like they were charging her up. And they get upset too, wiping tears from their eyes.
Then get angry, faces all red. And these moods and tempers would sweep through
them. Like weather, you know. I‟ve just realised that. They were like a land with wind
and storms, then sunlight, then rain again. And they seemed untouched by all this –
you know, tempers, feelings. I remember one brother really upset because he thought
Kate – that‟s my mother‟s name, Catherine – had been shamed by an Englishman.
Absolutely furious, like he would get a spade or something and go over to Reading
and cut his head off. But then he went over to one of his brothers and another man, a
cousin, I think, and started to talk with them about the price cattle were getting.‟
         Anne gets up and shares the last of the wine between them. She remains
standing over Peter.
         „Why am I telling you this, Pete?‟
         Peter stares back, remains silent. He doesn‟t know why, either.
         „Yes. Paintings. Mother had a holy picture in her room. The Sacred Heart, it‟s
called. You see Christ, and he‟s pulled back his shirt to show this heart that has a
crown on top of it. Never knew what it meant. I was afraid to ask in case I became
superstitious. Actually, I did ask her once, when I was about six, and all she said was,
“Oh that.” You know, as though it had let her down. Or maybe it was some kind of
burden. But painting. What I learned in Ireland about that kind of thing‟ – swinging
her free arm back to point up at the Constable – „is that nature is about growth.
Something like that. We‟d go for walks – everyone laughed at the idea of merely
walking in the country there. You needed wellingtons and a heavy raincoat, for a start.
And everywhere there were things growing out of the damp soil. Nettles, brambles,
ferns, bushes, big trees and little trees. And grass grass everywhere. Thick heavy wet
grass. And big bullocks stumping around, muck and cowshit trailing along every path
and road. God, it was awful.‟ Now Anne smiles, at last. „But I can still see it so
clearly, Pete. I can often feel it in me. Something pushing up through me. Like that. I
feel it now, talking about it.
         „Have you ever felt that?‟
         Has he? He asks, „What music are you playing?‟ It‟s melodious and plaintive:
pleasant but sapping, no doubt as intended.
         „Simply Red. Do you like them?‟
         „I thought it was familiar. I don‟t know much eighties music.‟
         Peter should be concerned that he has just slighted Anne. He‟s not. He‟s
thinking about something that he can‟t pin down, but he does know that this is only a
response to what Anne has told him.
         He realises he is intensely jealous of Anne. He is begrudging her. How could
she make up for what he has done for her?
         „That didn‟t interest you? I thought it might. You know, the research you told
me about last week. Utopia?‟ Anne‟s eyes are so frank that they seem like a high wall
that now hides something from him.
         He drains his glass and takes it into the kitchen. Now he switches on the kettle.
He asks Anne if she wants coffee now.
         „No. Tea.‟
         Tea it is. Peter is adrift while he is busy making tea. It‟s like he‟s looking for
an anchor. His parents. Dad preoccupied but considerate, almost selfless at times.
Mother warmly brisk, everything in hand. They negotiated each other‟s selfishness.
         Peter nods, the words so intense for him that he subvocalizes them. Negotiated
each other‟s selfishness. Recognised it and took it into account.
         The relief is tremendous, at least for the moment.


                                                                                       118
       He finds the tray, gets mugs and the rest of the doings. Only now does he
remember the rich dark choco sitting cold in the fridge. He smiles with sudden glee.
       Anne‟s response is as he wished. They eat too much cake, drink too much tea,
sugar speed, caffeine high, and mellow cocoa. They listen to Blondie, Peter dancing,
Anne even singing.
       Last thing that night, on the point of falling asleep, Peter remembers the old
adage: Never try to get what you most want.
       Corollary: Never give what is most wanted.


        Peter is suddenly awake, fully conscious. He knows he has slept, though he
feels he hasn‟t. Wine, tea, chocolate.
        „You‟re awake?‟
        „You?‟
        „I haven‟t slept yet.‟
        „I can imagine.‟
        „It makes such a big difference, Pete. I can buy a car now. You know, I walk
to Croydon each morning – fifteen to twenty minutes – then train to Balham, then
tube to Kennington. Some days that can take over an hour. I could get there in fifteen
minutes by car straight down through Mitcham.‟
        There‟s nothing much Peter can say to this. He nods in the semi-dark. Anne
waits – in case he should want to speak – before continuing.
        „Pete? Tarrant won‟t stop the cheque, will he?‟
        „No, I don‟t think so. He got his boxes out of Jukes. He told me too much. No.
You‟re not to worry on that score, Anne.‟
        She laughs, the energy of her excitement boiling up in relief.
        „I still can‟t believe, it, Pete. I really can‟t believe it. You know, that you took
so much trouble for me.‟ She turns in the bed to face him: „Why did you do it, Pete?‟
Anxiety in her voice, like a loss of faith at a decisive moment.
        Peter considers before speaking, trying to find the best substitute for the
candour he cannot manage.
        „It was possible to do it, Anne.‟ And it makes life with you easier. „People are
better happy, anyway.‟
        Peter waits with a momentary trepidation. Anne does make the connection.
        „I didn‟t mean to bully you into doing it. I had no one else to talk to. I only
wanted to share it with you. To ease the burden. I was so worried when I heard first. I
mean, by today I was working out the best alternative. Rent a place. You know, make
do.‟
        Peter sighs, the feeling behind the sigh fugitive. The feeling gives him ease.
        „It was fun doing it, too. Getting the advantage of him. It‟s what he does to
others, isn‟t it?‟
        The bed rocks with Anne‟s emphatic assent to this.
        „But he wanted to give you more, Peter? How much more, do you think?‟
        Peter laughs. Anne‟s curiosity here is intense and not well hidden.
        „I‟d say ten, at least.
        „Ten what?‟
        „Ten per cent.‟
        „Of three and a half million!‟
        Peter is beginning to enjoy the tease.
        „At least that. Remember, he admitted there was more.‟


                                                                                        119
         „But that‟s about three hundred and fifty thousand pounds, Pete.‟
         Peter remains deadpan: „As I said, at least that.‟
         Now Anne reaches blindly to clutch him, grabbing his arm with both her
hands, gripping strongly:
         „And you didn‟t take it?‟
         Now Peter laughs. „I told you I didn‟t want it.‟
         „But you could have given it to others who needed it. You could have given it
to me.‟ Anne makes a joke of her last sentence, but it is evident that a deep regret has
surfaced here.
         Peter remains silent, not trusting himself to handle this. He hears Anne‟s
heavy breathing at his side, a faint warmth brushing his cheek. Then she says, again
this flat candour:
         „Anyone would have tried to get as much as they could out of him.‟ She
tightens her hold on his arm again. „Jesus, Pete, you could have got a million out of
him – even two million!‟
         Peter is looking over at the window, seeing the sulphuric light on the tree
outside. He wants to disengage his arm from Anne‟s grasp.
         „What time is it?‟
         Anne must turn in the bed to check.
         „Half three. Just after.‟
         Peter rolls away slightly, then rolls back. He can‟t resist the urge to rub the
area where Anne had grasped him, as though trying to confirm something: perhaps the
reality of what is happening.
         Peter‟s heart is sinking, a depression coming in to push away the good feelings
of that day. He had meant well: the very best for Anne.
         „I mean, Pete, it‟s what anyone would do.‟
         „No, Anne.‟ Peter is being as gentle as he can, for both their sakes. Something
is happening that he cannot believe. „You‟ve gone money-mad. Get it back into
perspective.‟
         Anne jerks upright in the bed. Peter can see her profile against the window.
She looks at the wall opposite, then she turns her head to look down at him.
Abstractly he can see how her nearside breast sways in silhouette as she moves, the
nipple distended.
         „Money mad? What the hell is that, Pete?‟ Her voice rises as she speaks, the
fury an obvious displacement.
         Peter raises his hand, knowing as he does that Anne probably cannot see it.
She is badly caught out, and it is upsetting her.
         „What the hell do you think most people do most of the time, Pete, except try to
get as much money as they can?‟ Anne is shouting by now.
         Peter finds that it is like he is withdrawing from the room, floating out of the
bed and disappearing into the wall at his back. He doesn‟t mind that this is happening.
         Tap tap. The party wall. Ann mutters „Jesus‟ and swings her legs out onto the
floor, feeling her way around the end of the bed and going into the bathroom.
         Peter recognises that he has told Anne too much. He boasted: I could have got
more. He was very gratified when Tarrant had expressed genuine surprise that he
didn‟t try to screw him for as much as he could get. Peter is stunned. Had he wanted
Tarrant to think well of him? No. He really didn‟t want the money. Peter is clear with
himself about that.




                                                                                     120
        Peter waits for about five minutes, then goes looking for Anne. She is
downstairs in the living room, sitting on the settee, face buried in her splayed hands.
Her basic unhappiness is palpable.
        „Anne?‟ Peter touches the back of her hand, a very soft touch.
        Her eyes are red – that much is evident in the dim orange light from the
window – but she isn‟t crying.
        „Look, it‟s alright. Perhaps it has been too much for you. Too many shocks.
First hearing that you might lose your home, then I turn up with the money to buy it
outright.‟
        Anne nods, miserable, then a dream-like expression on her face – as though
she has found the door to some other place. She remains like that, her eyes averted
from Peter, her expression unmoving. Then she says:
        „Did you really mean it when you said you were afraid of money? Because I
thought you were joking.‟
        Peter nods. He is ironic: „And you know why.‟
        Anne matches his irony as she nods. Her body slumps: „God, money-mad.
That says it all, Pete. I mean, it was like finding a world – a universe – where you
could have anything you wanted. I mean anything.‟ She pauses to consider the truth of
what she is saying. Her eyes are more animated now, though the flesh of their sockets
is sunken and bruised. They are very vivid. „You get this arrogance, Pete. You even
think you can be god. You know, take over everything. Like you were never going to
die.‟
        Peter nods. He straightens up, goes into the kitchen, puts the kettle on, empties
the teapot. He makes tea when the kettle boils. When he returns, he finds that Anne is
pacing the room, apparently not aware that she is naked.
        „Is money mad?‟
        Peter is aware of his own nakedness now, and that he is getting chilly.
        „No, I don‟t think so, Anne. It‟s the one thing I‟ve learned in the last few
years. Money in fact is extremely rational. People do get paid for what they do.‟
        „What about those with millions and millions?‟
        Peter shrugs. „It must hold for them too, Anne. Assume that they are being
paid for what they do. I mean, the burden or cost of what they do.‟
        Anne nods, head bent. Then she starts.
        „Are you cold?‟
        She shoots out of the room, moving very fluidly. Her feet on the stairs are
light, and just as light as she descends again, bringing dressing gowns.
        „Pete, that makes money almost moral. I mean, if it is like you say.‟
        Anne is not ironic, but Peter can‟t avoid a wry twist of his mouth. „Moral?
More like a grace, I think.‟
        Anne has puckered her mouth, obviously thinking about money and grace.
Peter pours them mugs of tea. There is still some choco, so they might as well have
that too. Anne is dubious about the cake, but first she tastes a fingertip of filling –
perhaps the tea too bitter so late at night – then she breaks off half a slice. She says,
tongue darting out to snap up stray bits of chocolate around her mouth:
        „So money is a reward, just like they all claim?‟
        Peter is less circumspect with the cake. He can afford the odd binge.
        „Not exactly. It‟s more like a compensation. It‟s meant to replace what has
been lost, you know, used up.‟
        „Lost? It is moral.‟



                                                                                     121
         The sugar high makes Peter feel attenuated. The night thoughts are very unreal
in their starkness.
         „Not if you mean some kind of justice. The image I‟d use is this: it‟s like you
mine for gold, then fill the hole with rubbish.‟
         Anne laughs, part relief, part shock. Peter is earnest in reaction – unusually so,
but he doesn‟t want to mislead Anne.
         „Money serves because money is acceptable in exchange.‟ This is a weighty
insight for Peter, but – as usual – it merely serves as a decoy for a sourer truth: „Or
maybe that is all the effort is worth.‟
         Anne looks for an instant as though she is going to understand this and then
respond, but instead that day-dream glaze appears again. She looks very surprised,
then delighted, her face lighting up in a most attractive way. She smiles at Peter then
looks around at the walls of her house. All hers now. For ever.
         This is true. This is true. No one can take this from me!
         For Peter it is as though Anne has finally decided who she is. She is a property
owner, a member of the society of property owners, a person of consequence with a
permanent and indelible presence in the world.
         Anne even looks like what she has decided she is. Just like that, a gravity
descends upon her, features settling down already into the rigidities that the
possession of property requires. She draws the dressing gown in around her legs, a
momentary shiver as she becomes aware of the cold.

        Some people pass their lives reminding themselves what their job is.
        Some are content to tally what they know.
        Many remind themselves constantly of their loved ones.
        Others remind themselves every few minutes how much they are worth.
        Others remind themselves minute by minute what they own.
        Like sheet anchors out on a wide deep ocean: keep you from drifting off into
the blue yonder.




                                                                                       122
         Much to Peter‟s chagrin, the next station – the one the train is now pulling into
– is Eastbourne. So the Hastings train does not stop at Brighton. The reaction is to try
to get off the train as quickly as possible: Eastbourne is closer than Hastings to
Brighton. Peter fumbles the stiff lock on the carriage door, misjudges the reach down
to the platform, escapes the train like a greyhound springing from the trap. It‟s not
panic, more like waking up to a problem.
         Time is three minutes after eight.
         The train leaves the station again with little fuss, going out the way it came in,
wheels clattering absently over points. Now the station is eerily quiet, cooing pigeons
high up somewhere in the iron framework, an old man going through the ticket barrier
coughing loudly. Dead atmosphere: scruffy, place of reluctant departures, weary
arrivals – a commuter station. Peter goes down to the ticket collector, shows him his
ticket, saying with deliberate jocularity:
         „Reckon I‟ve overshot the mark. Can I get a train from here back to Brighton?‟
         Saturday night, no one about, yet the young official is both sober and alert. He
checks Peter‟s ticket closely, though not touching it.
         „Sure you can, mate. Be one through from Hastings in a few minutes. Ten past
eight.‟
         Peter looks around for the clock. The collector says:
         „Five past, mate. Won‟t be long. Over there.‟ Pointing to the platform opposite
the one just served by the London train.
         Peter looks about the station – a reflex reaction to the prospect of waiting for
even five minutes in the dismal place. The collector notices this:
         „It ain‟t so bad, mate. Busy during the week. Friendly, like. You can go
outside if you want and see the station tower. Visitors like to see that.‟
         Peter can now see the station clock. Eight minutes past. He waves thanks to
the collector and goes over to the platform. The thing about tracks that bothers Peter is
their temptation, like you know where you are going. Commuters at half seven each
morning, dread day ahead but at least they know where they are. The same tracks will
bring them back here twelve hours later.
         Still, it is a pleasant evening beyond the confines of the station, roseate light
beaming in from the left, clear sky high above and in repose. Bird song somewhere, a
lot of starlings feeding along tracks over behind the platform, under some old goods
wagons.
         Then a train appears, nosing out from under the road bridge just beyond the
station, sidling around the bend, silent until it is crossing some points at the end of the
platform.
         „That‟s it, mate! That‟s the train you want to Brighton.‟ The ticket collector
shouting with his practiced official voice.
         The train is old, a fact disguised from casual observation by the bright yellow
face it sports. No one gets off. Peter works another stiff lock, gets in, finds he has to
slam the door behind him. Smell of old mould. Carriage deserted. Take a seat
anywhere.
         Silence for a minute, then another. A whistle blows and they are off to
Brighton.
         Peter thinks: At least I can say I‟ve been to Eastbourne. Wry humour, but only
serving to highlight his actual mood: long day, long evening. Nothing, really nothing
at all. Yet the wonder of this state is that it induces no anxiety or distress. The languor
is exactly that. For once the emptiness is not Wittgenstein‟s dread disease, “the loss of
problems”. Or rather, it is, but it does not feel like that.


                                                                                       123
         The train goes out the way it came in, the way Peter had earlier come in and
the way the Hastings train had gone out, too. Under the bridge, then collections of
buildings, mostly their inarticulate rears, scrub vegetation on waste land, nameless
bushes and low trees.
         God, Peter thinks absently, it‟s horrible.
         Anyway, the train clanks over some points and rejoins a more important line,
with proper nondescript banks of grass, weeds and abundant bindweed, its pretty
flowers a saving grace. There are railway stations to be stopped at, the odd door
banging somewhere along the train, then the whistle blows and off we go again. One
station asserts it is the stop for the University of Sussex. Peter can see nothing except
a busy road and tall trees. They had come to Sussex by car, Derek‟s car. From
Cambridge. Very superior they were until they were ambushed at the meeting on
gender politics. At least Vicky was ambushed, they sitting mutely in a line near the
front. Peter remembers standing on a ridge of the Downs, someone pointing towards
Shelley country off to the northwest, swaying in the cold wind, thoroughly shot on
brandy.
         It‟s strange, though, that he suddenly becomes aware that they are approaching
the viaduct over the London to Brighton road. How does he know this? He must be
taking a cue from the surroundings. Remember, he had time to study the viaduct;
perhaps he memorised some details that now jogs his memory. Then the train crosses
the viaduct, moving slowly on what must by now be a fairly rickety structure. What a
thrill! Looking down on the park they had passed, the road, the traffic lights they had
stopped at.
         Himself and Rebecca. Rebecca and Peter.
         How sad things can be. How very sad.
         Well, Peter might be alone and sad just now, but Brighton station seems to be
hosting a wild party. No one but Peter gets off his train. Meanwhile, a longer train on
another platform is disgorging hundreds of jolly young people, shrill-voiced and
wonderfully buoyant, probably riddled with xtc and speed. They have formed a
stream, about six deep, milling down the platform towards the exit, for all the world
like the Pied Piper‟s happy following.
         Peter hangs back, as though he might infect them with his gloom – though any
number of boys and girls wave to him cheerily, even inviting him to come join their
horde. No, but he hangs back, overcome with shyness now, never having been
particularly loose at any time in his life. Can he see himself knocking back a xtc
sweetie and letting go? Yes he can. It‟s an enticing picture: waving his arms above his
head for some reason, hair tossed for another, shoulder to shoulder with so many bent
so deliberately on forgetting, for a while anyway.
         End of happy vision and back to the melancholy. He asks the ticket collector –
this after the crowd had disappeared into the Queen‟s Road – what was on tonight in
Brighton. The official, this time both confiding and edgy in that cockney way,
explains that it is Saturday night:
         „Party night, guv, like. If you don‟t get it tonight then you never will, ain‟t that
right?‟
         No answer to that. So Peter asks him the way to Kemp Town. It‟s down the
hill to the left and across the gardens to the Pavilion, then to the left into St James
Street. Then on from there. And that‟s it.
         Peter is let loose on Brighton, too. Three quarters of an hour late. Does it
matter? Oh yes, it does. Oh no, it doesn‟t.



                                                                                        124
         Downhill. Low houses, a nondescript arrangement, a town grown rapidly,
driven by desperate speculation. See the imposing terraces of the resort areas down by
the sea, the little houses of the workers and servants up on the slopes. The middling
huddles of the shopkeepers and officials, such as he walks through now. It‟s so pat, as
per basic sociology, that Peter looses interest in his surroundings pretty quickly. The
only novelty is the widespread use of stucco, finished in pale ochres, sometimes
white, which is less expressive. At the bottom of the hill is the wide thoroughfare that
Peter recognises as the route to London. The gardens that divide the lanes of the
roadway are composed mostly of paving and a few hardy trees. Some blind plinths.
         What looks like an extensive street party is getting into swing. This stops Peter
in his tracks at the bottom of the hill street he has just descended. Young people, most
dressed in the singular way of art students. The tall building on the far side of the
gardens is the College of Art, now part of the Polytechnic. The party seems to be
informal. The university building is in darkness and there is little by way of party
paraphernalia in evidence. There is music, as loud as can be given – obviously – the
limitations of their sound system, which is stacked on the back of a flatbed van. Drink
comes from the adjacent pubs.
         Girls are dancing on the plinths, jolly girls with arms above their head, with
swinging hair, with lithe movements – especially swaying hips. They‟re dancing all
together, boys here and there, like for variety, but it‟s the girls you notice, like fairies,
how we want angels to be.
         Well, no one is waving to Peter this time, stuck on a far pavement with a river
of traffic to separate him off. On he goes then, not plodding, but certainly more adrift
now that he has had a glimpse of how life might be Saturday night in Brighton. Irony
on his part, yet he is very aware – as are publicists and advertisers, salespeople of all
kinds – that it is not reality that compels us, but what we glimpse inside ourselves
when faced with this or that reality.
         Peter has just witnessed Heaven. Not for the first time, no doubt not for the
last time either. It leaves him as always somewhat abashed. How could he forget? He
always forgets – no matter how often he witnesses to it – how Heaven is.
         He looks back. They‟re lost among the spreading trees now, a faint tinkle of
their music above the clamour of the traffic, the light dulled by the cloud of fumes
arising all the time. Only a weaving pennant of bright cloth – no doubt a silk scarf – is
discernible above the bundle of figures on one of the plinths.
         Peter wonders at the association, of Heaven with a student street party. He
wonders why this has happened, and wonders further why it happened previously – he
knows it happened before a number of times, even though he can remember nothing
of any of the occasions. So he asks himself this question, and what is the answer?
         Creativity. The word comes on its own like that: creativity. Like doing
something once and then forgetting all about it. About doing something and not
having to remember it. No burden of memory.
         Free of memory.
         Peter is wry: as if he didn‟t know that, too.
         Well, let‟s walk on, then. Walking on, Peter comes in a matter of moments to
the Pavilion. The famous Pavilion.
         It‟s surprisingly, well, naff. Stucco, stucco, pale Indian mud in colour. Little
pointy bits on bulbs. Peter will pass on, except that he remembers Rebecca‟s reaction
to the idea of partying there.
         „No! It‟d be so gross!‟



                                                                                        125
         God, Peter hears it so clearly. Why was the party girl so aghast at the prospect
of partying in the party-house of all party-houses?
         Peter detours to find the entrance, expecting to find illustrations of the interior
there. He‟s impressed. How everyone should live, no doubt. Is Rebecca really a
puritan? Then Peter notices something. Pavilion very neglected until restoration
started in 1982. So she may have seen the wreck, and failed to notice the
transformation when they passed last week.
         Peter is relieved to have solved that little mystery. It had played on his mind –
though not aware of this until now – thinking that Rebecca may be forcing herself to
live hedonistically in the hope of getting a rich husband.
         So, now to St James Street and on to Kemp Town and the Bristol. Over an
hour late. But getting there, getting there. St James Street follows its medieval course,
still quite narrow, ascending a gentle slope, small shops, a supermarket, most closed
and dark. Peter realises that he is mounting an outrider of the Downs as it touches the
sea. St James Street then must be named for a church hereabouts. Peter cannot see it at
the moment. It‟s like the point where the Mendip Hills in Somerset touches the sea at
Uphill, near Weston-super-Mare. The ridge is low but prominent, and on it sits a little
chapel. Peter usually ended his walks on the Levels here, crossing the M5 near
Lympsham or further south at Brent. He was not aware before now of any
significance in this. The chapel can be seen for some distance from the south and so
served as a marker.
         A curious resonance rises in Peter as he goes through these memories. It‟s not
that the custom is religious in the conventional sense. It‟s the fact that people did this
kind of thing, knowing that it served a practical purpose. Another memory: how the
point at which the Wicklow mountains in Ireland touch the sea is surmounted by a
cross. What instinct is this, to mark to encounter of mountain with sea? Peter doesn‟t
know. Then he remembers Anne‟s account of her childhood visit to Ireland. Her sense
there of nature as something that grows, that is active.
         The frisson is gentle but persistent, like weak electricity along his spine and up
into his hair. It brings Peter to a halt. Across the road is a church. He thinks: this very
spot, now.
         Does Peter expect something to happen? Good question. But no: he doesn‟t
get that far. Only that sense of now, then he is aware of the atmosphere on the street
         It‟s a street for walking, an easy air with many walkers. Peter quickly grasps
that what no doubt is called Kemp Town eccentricity is on display. But these walkers
and strollers are unselfconscious. Not even a trace of that abiding English cop out,
complacency; that curious modern form of alienation, where – as Marx put it – means
are treated as ends. Here, on the other hand, there is a sense of taking time out from
activities that have earned these people their leisure. Peter hears the word creativity
again. Act and forget, act and forget. It‟s like believing in God, isn‟t it?
         Peter reacts badly to this thought. Perhaps he is jealous, certainly he feels
excluded. A beautiful couple passing just now, perfectly at one together in a trance.
Peter sees their beauty and wholeness, but sees also the dark pressing in on all sides.
Like a threat, like a trap.
         He stops and turns to watch the couple go along the pavement down towards
Brighton. Don‟t they know they are at risk? He has an overwhelming desire to run
after them and ask:
         „Aren‟t you afraid?‟
         I mean, he rises onto his toes, on the point of launching himself in their wake.
A perfect stranger asking strangers a strange question. He will never see them again.


                                                                                        126
         It won‟t matter.
         He does it. Lurches after them, calling out, „Excuse me. Oh, excuse me.‟
         The couple look back – both together doing this. They pause, polite,
respectful.
         „Aren‟t you afraid?‟
         Peter feels like the Buddha as he blurts this out, overcome by a delicious
compassion, sharing for a moment their bliss.
         The man smiles, thinly bearded, gentle unassuming eyes. The woman smiles,
face gamine, the kind of face Peter has seen at countless college parties.
         Self-contained.
         The man smiles, smiles again. The woman smiles. They turn together and
walk on.
         They didn‟t even hear me. Peter is wry, why should they? I wasn‟t telling
them anything new.
         This little experiment has lifted Peter‟s spirits, like he‟s touched a common
base with the rest of humanity again. He walks now as part of the crowd – some
actually going his way to Kemp Town – evening strollers at ease for now with the
world. It is like a holiday; taking time out, relinquishing something for a while.
         St James Street levels out, narrows, curves, becomes some other street on a
bend. Quieter here, residential, a large church, houses small but the very prosperous
air of a desirable place to live. Then a junction can be seen ahead, shops and pubs
again. Kemp Town.
         Time for more directions. Peter asks the way to the Bristol. It‟s just down this
short street towards the sea front, the pub just to the left. Can‟t miss it.
         Nor can he: large windows, more like an hotel than the more usual parlour
pubs. Red light welcoming, heads bobbing within in highlight. Yet not nearly so
crowded as appeared from without. Obviously a refuge from Party Night. People in
small groups around tables, modest drinks, no clutter: home by ten and up by eight
tomorrow. Nothing to escape from; nothing to escape to.
         Maritime theme: The Bristol named for a nineteenth century ship. Retired
master settling down in sight of the sea. Atmosphere a bit more wicked deeper into
the place, saloon bar becoming smoking bar, pool table, noisy music. Anyway, Peter
gets himself a half of cider, walks back to the saloon end, walks a bit back towards the
bar, realises he is beginning to bounce around so he goes to the nearest window and
looks out.
         Darkening out at sea, sun setting away to the right, out over the Atlantic. Only
now does he realise: no one waiting for him here. Almost half nine – hour and a half
late, so what do you expect?
         There are small lights out on the sea – the Channel. Peter stares at one,
something to do as the cider circulates within and moves him towards the momentary
high that alcohol gives. The light is moving, slowly but steadily, going west towards
the sunset. He checks another light. This also is moving west. Then another – which is
moving east, towards the dark: towards home.
         Ships at sea. How nice, Peter thinks with a reactive irony, while he senses the
bitterness of brine. Best way to travel – slowly.
         A flash of movement reflects in the glass. A man has stood up. He pushes his
shirt down into the waist band of his trousers, sweeping his hand around his waist,
first in one direction, then in the other. His companion, a tall plain woman dressed
almost entirely in grey kashmir, raises a hand to her nose in response. Both are
talking, both seemingly unaware of what they are doing.


                                                                                     127
        Peter responds with a burn of nausea. He fears the gut-problem of earlier in
the week is returning. But no – this is something altogether different. Nausea. Like
one of those stomach churning shocks the cinema seeks to deliver: a metaphysical
punch in the belly. It‟s as though the couple had done something that, though on the
surface quite conventional, makes absolutely no sense to him. Not because the actions
were senseless, but because Peter cannot understand what they mean. And because he
cannot understand these simple conventional actions, he can understand nothing at all.
        That kind of sickness. Dread, if you like; connecting nothing with nothing, as
was once said.
        The man has sat down again. He lifts his little glass to his lips and sips. The
woman touches her glass, touches it again, then withdraws her hand and pats her lips
with it. Should Peter ask them if they are afraid? This temptation does ghost through
his mind, a dirty joke at his expense.
        Peter can understand why someone could walk in here and try to kill everyone.
        Peter puts his glass down and walks smartly out of the pub. He‟s not in flight,
more like doing something that urgently needs doing – with all the mental
concentration such urgent action requires, that is, not thinking about anything else.
The way is out across the road and down a path among tall bushes. Men are sheltering
in here, sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs. One man is on his knees in front of
another man. The path joins another path, then diverges. Peter is heading south,
towards the beach, an image of small lights on a darkening horizon as though
beckoning him, slow arrival after all not such a bad thing when panic threatens.
        The beach? The beach is all stones, not pebbly but larger, the sort of stones
that do not easily shift under one‟s feet, that remain awkward for walking on. Peter
wades over these stones – best description, stones threatening to move and not
moving. There‟s a notice faintly legible in light from the road behind, the word nudity
prominent. The stones heap towards a low ridge. Peter breasts this and is suddenly
exposed to the sea, the low susurration of water distantly on stones. There is also a
fresh presence, like a slow wind, cold but clean, bitter but purifying.
        Peter stumbles down the other side of the ridge, expecting at any moment to
step onto tidal sand – which normally happens, in his experience anyway. It doesn‟t
happen here. But that‟s no harm, because it gives him a narrative to concentrate on:
when will he encounter the sand, so that the going becomes easier? A game being
played here. If he steps onto sand, he won‟t have to worry about losing his balance on
these stones – but he will then have time to think. While he stumbles over these
stones, he doesn‟t have time to think.
        So Peter stumbles on, down towards the sea‟s edge, phosphorescent lines of
waves going up and down, breaking and coming together again. Very beautiful;
entrancing, even. Yet Peter thinks: this is the very edge of England; France and the
continent of Europe are just over the horizon. He could travel overland to Peking, to
Cape Town once there. He could walk there for the rest of his life and not necessarily
arrive anywhere.
        Walk? Oh yes: what Peter is not thinking about – like going on forever and
ever. Peter shivers, a mighty shiver, almost orgasmic. This is fact, he thinks: I will go
on forever, without stopping, without rest, without remembering.
        A sense of loss now: like stepping through a gate and knowing at once that
there is no going back. What is lost: the good old times. Existential dread, pain,
sickness, ignorance, brutality, early death – all quite miserable. All this now lost
forever: only going on now, and never stopping.



                                                                                     128
         Peter would like a burst of tears now, to ease him. How he celebrated the
departure of Kharib, who took all the pain and suffering with him. But no tears,
definitely no tears. There‟s just this vision of going on, on and on into the dark, the
awful history of mankind behind him like a receding candle flickering in the
engulfing dark.
         „Great evening, aye mate?‟
         Peter turns a little from gazing seawards to respond warmly to the cheery
cockney passing him just now:
         „Oh brilliant, just brilliant.‟
         The man is stumping over the stones, obviously used to this gait. He raises his
hand in a comradely way:
         „Hope it lasts forever, aye?‟
         There is no irony here: even Peter feels no irony here.
         „Great if it did, sure.‟
         The man gives another wave then he is gone on, heading with head up towards
the sunset away to the west.
         And yet all the time Peter sees within this onward progress of himself into the
dark, going on and on for eternity. And definitely no irony. Peter understands that it is
like a play of levels. How a man might here castigate an adult and then humour a
child a moment later. The cosmic drama is there, a cheerful greeting with a stranger
on a lovely evening by the sea is here. All happening at the same time.
         That‟s all.
         Fine, except Peter is becoming aware of a voice within. The voice is familiar –
oh so familiar – but the tone is disturbing. As a child, Peter had never whined – never
any reason to – but the Peter-child voice within is whining now. It does not like the
dark; it does not like the disturbance it generates in him. What can Peter do? He walks
the stony beach, parallel to the rock-and-roll sea, gauging without much conscious
thought a pathway that keeps him closest to the water‟s edge yet safe from the wave
surges.
         Peter speaks to the child, reassuring him. It works; after all, the child trusts
Peter. Still, the child will whimper now and again, the reluctance profound. An
abiding sense that this foray into the dark is unnecessary. It is the child‟s sense that
what is being undertaken – now and for the future – is avoidable that comes to trouble
Peter. Because the inner-child‟s trust must be reciprocated, Peter is obliged to
seriously consider what he is being told here.
         You don‟t have to do this.
         It is a while before Peter catches on to this dialogue with himself. What child?
he wonders, bemused rather than frightened by the idea of another personality within
himself. He‟s not frightened, but he does decide that he has walked long enough on
the beach – by the sea – and that it is time he joined the party somewhere.
         Not frightened, you understand, only a feeling that something should be done
to – well – block the small sad voice. You need not go into the dark, Peter. Spoken
with such love and trust and faith.
         Peter starts up the slippery stony incline away from the sea. Already the voice
is as though behind him, saying now over and over:
         Come back, Peter. Come back, Peter.
         The feeling is one of a calm implacability, the truth that there is nothing to go
back to. A bit like jumping of a cliff and having second thoughts. Also like doing
something you really want to do, regardless of any doubts.



                                                                                      129
        Peter breasts the ridge and finds the lights of Brighton there to shine on him.
He heads straight up towards the promenade. To the cringing voice within he offers
some comfort, promising to bring no harm to the inner child-self. There is comfort:
Peter seeing the poignance of a child mollified in its limited understanding, trust here
in the place of truth.
        It turns out that there is a miniature railway running the length of the seafront,
that acts as a barrier between beach and promenade. Peter must follow the railway. He
heads west, towards the remainder of the sunset: he is going that way in any case.
Then there is a crossing, and beyond the promenade a flight of steps that will take him
up to the roadway. On the roadway, there is the question of finding the blues venue.
Will he recognise it?
        A squeal of brakes very close by.
        „You stupid blind cunt!‟
        Peter has frozen, partially turned towards the white van – an enraged red face
with wide open mouth, eyes glaring at him – before he knows what is happening. He
raises his hand to his face, to hide the quite murderous anger of the driver – feeling
even as he does, the profound sink of seriousness that has so frightened the man. He
stammers an apology, a defensive smirk appearing just when it should not.
        The driver looks as though he will get out of his van and do Peter some real
damage, the displacement caused by the fear rebalanced now by a blind hate of the
cause of all this upset.
        Peter very quickly steps back off the road, back across the footpath until he
comes up against the restraining wall. This submissive gesture is very well received.
The driver leans across his cab and rolls down the offside window.
        „You stupid bugger! I could fucking well have killed you, and where would
we be then? You watch were you‟re going in future, mate. You‟ll get yourself killed
walking around in a daze like that.‟ The driver is visibly calming by the second, not
temperamentally suited to violence of any kind. „Just stay in the pub when you‟re
drinking, mate.‟ Winds up the window again, drives off.
        This shock has set Peter back. He acts as though he has already crossed the
road and is on his way to join a blues gig, but he is actually back at the point of
reassuring this boy-voice within that everything will be fine. In the middle of this, he
knows, he almost got killed: himself and the boy personality or whatever killed. The
irony does not escape him. It doesn‟t amuse him, though.
        The reaction is intense, working its way up his back and collecting in his neck
– blocked up here as though refused entry to his head, his brain. He looks out to the
almost dark sea – dots of light as usual – but that is no help. He looks west, sees the
van receding at a steady rate, twinkling for some reason as it passes under street
lights. He now looks across the road – the road he must now cross. Strictly, Peter
doesn‟t want to bother. A pettish response, wanting to spite someone or something.
Go back down to the beach, stand all night by the water‟s edge, hear the waves come
and go, worrying the stones.
        „Are you alright there?‟
        A woman is standing on the pavement on the other side of the road. She looks
very exquisite, for some reason. She has a hand up to attract his attention. She is tall,
slender, dressed brilliantly, her hair cut to emphasise the sheer beauty of her face.
This is a new shock for Peter.
        He runs across the road, halts only when he is as close to her as he can nerve
himself to be.
        „I daresay you got an awful shock just then.‟


                                                                                      130
         Peter gasps, mouth dry just now, swallows heavily.
         A voice from above calls down:
         „Is he alright, Viv?‟
         The woman throws up her slender arm – bare its entire length, wonderfully
fleshed, the wrist satisfyingly long – and laughs in a teasing way:
         „Oh, I think he is recovering, Gert.‟
         The other is leaning over a balcony two floors up, a red-pink light playing
onto her from the room at her back. She also is tall, but a fuller body, a mass of dark
hair and dressed brightly, though more exotically. Most noticeable is the long long
silk scarf – a brilliant purple – trailing out over the balcony from her neck.
         Actually, Peter is recovering. He is no longer walking along this pavement
towards the blues club, and he no longer wants to run back down to the sea‟s edge.
No, he wants bask in this woman‟s light, just as though she was some kind of
midnight sun.
         Meanwhile, the woman is saying to him, eyes sparkling – even in the wretched
sulphurous aura of the street lighting:
         „This road is a death trap. We have been on to the council for years to upgrade
the lights and cut the speed limit. You know, one of these nights someone is going to
be run over and killed.‟
         The woman above interjects: „Every time we hear the squeal of brakes, we
expect the worse.‟ She looks directly at Peter, a remarkable intimacy now – as though
they were old friends. „Viv, the dear, runs down every time. I dread what she will find
on the road one of these days.‟
         Viv tosses her head, her laugh bright, though perhaps just that little bit too
bright. Peter looks at her with the degree of liberty the laugh permits. Velvet slacks,
tight at the hips, looser lower down. He surmises the colour is a metallic green, he can
even imagine the blue sheen across the soft nap – though of course the horrible street
light murders this. The blouse then has to be crimson, silk, loose, though the impress
of her bare nipples is possible.
         Peter can easily imagine his arm around her long slim waist: in fact the
imagining takes his breath away. But he stammers as a way of proving that his breath
has not been affected:
         „On no, I had hardly left the footpath, actually.‟
         Both Viv and Gert say „Ahh‟ simultaneously, as though his voice is something
long wished for, long expected, now finally present to them. Gert then observes:
         „Sober, too, it seems.‟
         Viv smiles a wide smile, a touch of wickedness here, tilting her head as though
in calculation.
         „Let me see. Oxbridge, certainly. Not your first university though.‟ She looks
up at Gert: „Cambridge, would you say, Gert? Postgrad.‟
         Gert considers this, then nods. „West country? Not Bristol, though.‟
         Viv raises an eyebrow – wonderfully curved, you may be sure – at Peter.
         He nods, adds: „Keele.‟
         Both Viv and Gert breath „Ahh‟ again, then Gert adds: „Wonderful place. In
the heart of the country.‟ To Viv: „Betty. You remember. Languages, wasn‟t it?‟
         Now it is Peter‟s turn to say or do something. Not an obvious fact – the two
women are not waiting expectantly for his contribution, they are still congratulating
each other on their acuity – more one of those social certainties, like knowing when to
hold a door open or share a quick smile. His first instinct is to resume his progress
towards the blues gig further down this road to the west. First, of course, he must say


                                                                                    131
something, like a note of appreciation, perhaps share a small passing irony giving
food for thought. This last item does especially interest him for a moment; he evens
thinks up a nice one: perhaps Viv should acquire some paramedical skills, like
treating shock or staunching heavy blood flows.
        What he actually does is say, in a surprisingly firm voice – given all that has
happened so far:
        „My name is Peter Lacey. I think you are a very beautiful woman.‟ His knees
begin to tremble, first from side to side, then back and forward. The latter motion
becomes so strong that it threatens to throw him to the ground.
        Viv is extremely pleased with this compliment, her face lighting up, lips
drawing back to reveal two rows of very white teeth. She says with an airy wave of a
hand:
        „Oh, it helps one get around.‟
        Gert leans down, eager it would seems to join them both:
        „Opens doors just like that.‟ She clicks her fingers, then laughs out, a merry
contralto.
        Now Viv reaches into a pocket of her slacks and produces a thin cylinder of
paper, no thicker than a pen refill, blackened at one end. She calls up to her friend,
„Could you get me the lighter, my dear.‟
        A French window is opened – Peter hears at once the bump of a kind of music
that is suddenly familiar to him – and then Gert reappears and drops down a small
disposable lighter.
        Viv lights the blackened end of the cylinder, inhales deeply while drawing in
extra air through partly compressed lips. She hands the roll to Peter, gesturing that he
should take a puff likewise. The fragrance of the hash is also at once familiar, though
it is years since he sniffed it. He draws on the joint, is stung by the harsh smoke,
wants to cough but also not to waste the smoke. He can do that, too: suppress the itch
in the back of his throat until he has drawn the smoke into his lungs. Then he coughs,
a moist awkward cough.
        Viv says: „Ah. It‟s straight gear, Peter. Sorry, I should have told you.‟
        Very pure: already the sulphur light is going gold, sounds becoming
melodious, helium entering Peter‟s heart. Viv smiles a doting smile, head sideways:
        „Such a nice man, Peter.‟
        It‟s mutual admiration, dopey but none the worse for that.
        Gert gives a little cough. Viv recollects herself, glances up and then says to
Peter:
        „Won‟t you come up and join us for a while, my dear. Have a glass of wine
and perhaps chat.‟
        A surge of longing – the idea very powerful even if the practicalities and their
implications hard to assess at the moment – assails Peter. He has an image of a
beautiful room, even luxurious, boom-boom music, good wine, two lovely women
with an interest in him. Does he have much choice?
        Peter creases his brow as a harbinger: „Actually, I‟m due to meet someone. At
a blues gig somewhere along here.‟
        Viv face registers shock, like the sudden return of another reality. Gert says
from her perch above, ejaculating the words:
        „You don‟t mean the Bunker?‟
        Viv tilts her face again as much as to say Surely not? Peter stammers this time,
completely thrown by their response:



                                                                                    132
        „I don‟t know the name of the place. I was supposed to meet up at a pub in
Kemp Town, but I was late.‟ Peter finds it a good thing to speak like this to them,
frank and open, even confessional. It has been a very long evening with much to take
in.
        Viv says: „But the Bunker is gross!‟
        Peter nods with a kind of resignation, not doubting her for an instant. „I said I
would be there.‟ He continues with a rush of words, knowing that he is gushing –
perhaps the first time in his life he allows words run freely from himself: „I don‟t care
for that kind of blues myself. It‟s more about escapism than expressing something
about life.‟
        Now Viv smiles more benignly, no doubt recognising that Peter is not used to
talking like this. She says: „Then of course you must go. If you promised, I mean.‟
        Peter nods with a weird gratitude, this woman‟s permission acting as much as
an absolution of some kind as an approval of what he feels he must do.
        „Even so, Gert and I would be very pleased if you spent a short while with us.
Wouldn‟t we, Gert?‟
        Gert sings down her agreement.
        So it‟s up the garden path, in a tall door and up some flights of stairs. Viv says
on the way, head partly turned back towards Peter, „Laurence Olivier used to visit
here, you know. It was quite a place in its time.‟
        The room. Peter has a fleeting image of what he had seen of Brighton‟s
Pavilion – seeing it as though through Rebecca‟s eyes. He understands at once
something of what it meant by sensuality, not some kind of pornographic prelude to
evacuation and ennui, but rather a kind of extension – extensiveness – as though your
being could spread out into the world in some very real sense. As though you could
become an actual part of the world and so share its supreme self-delight.
        Gert waits for him in the centre of the room, hand extended, her brown eyes
reflecting the light of the room in a remarkable enriching way. „I‟m so glad you
decided to join us, Peter.‟ Her hand is very warm, but dry nonetheless, very soft and
giving: an open invitation of a hand.
        Viv says at his back: „Now, please sit where you will, Peter. Let us make
ourselves comfortable.
        High ceiling, original mouldings on the ceiling and upper walls. Even a
chandelier, its candles-like bulbs reduced to provide a low yellow illumination. The
walls are papered cherry red with a bright yellow and green flower patterning. The
carpet is deep, a burnished umber tone criss-crossed by an amber barring of various
widths. Even the cabinet furniture seems as though smouldering. Only the large sofa
along the wall facing the huge fireplace seems cool, beige leather trimmed tan brown.
        Not a room for watching television on a weekday night; not a room for
morning coffee on Sunday. Peter turns to look closely at Viv, now standing at his
elbow, her nearside pendulant breast an inch away from his arm. She smiles a strange
smile, as though she is suffering Peter‟s shock in reverse – that what he is learning
from this room is being drawn in some physical way from her.
        There are two easy chairs – beige, like the sofa – on either side of the
fireplace. Peter heads for the one on the far side, so as not to seem either timid or
reluctant. He would prefer to sit on the floor, but thinks that might be too studenty.
Actually, he would really love to lie out on his back, arms by his side, inhale the
combined perfumes of the Viv and Gert – one of which is familiar to him – and listen
to the boom boom music.



                                                                                      133
         He sits tight at first, knowing that Viv has followed him across the room and
that Gert turned about to watch his progress. Viv says,
         „We have a very good wine. Do you like wine?‟ Peter nods, tempted to stand
again, so that he could again be close to her. She turns away at his nod, going towards
a small door over by the sofa, saying, „Oh good. It‟s Sicilian. Perhaps not to
everyone‟s taste. But Gert and I found this wonderful little vineyard up from the coast
– quite by chance.‟ She‟s gone through the door.
         Gert has sat herself on the sofa, at the end nearest him. She says:
         „A little holiday last month, Peter. You know, just a break. We had such a
wonderful time there.‟
         Viv reappears with a tray. Three glasses, big wine glasses, a part-filled bottle.
She puts the tray up on the mantleshelf above the fireplace, hands out glasses and then
fills each full of wine. Peter sniffs the wine: nice raw quality, muscular. He smiles at
Viv, then smiles again for Gert. They both smile in return.
         Peter must like women who like their wine strong.
         They all say „Your health‟ at the same time, in the same way; a shared ritual, a
shared religion of sorts.
         The wine hits the spot. Too strong for Sunday dinner, too bold for a tipple
after a day‟s work. Peter smiles again, eases himself in the chair, back that bit curved,
legs splayed before him on the smoky carpet. He takes a deep breath, only then
realising that the air in the room is heavily laced with hash. He lolls momentarily, the
degree of ease he is experiencing unfamiliar to him, then says:
         „The music? It‟s familiar, but I can‟t place it?‟
         Viv is by now seated at the other end of the sofa, sitting forward and watching
Peter with animated interest. She responds:
         „They call it drum and bass. Some call it jungle, but I don‟t like that.‟
         Peter remembers: he raises his free hand:
         „Got it. I work in Stockwell and some lunchtimes I walk around Brixton. I‟ve
heard this music coming from the black music shops there.‟
         Viv nods emphatically. „Right. And that‟s where we get our records.‟
         Peter stands up. He puts the wine glass on the mantleshelf. He turns in the
room, looking at the furnishings again.
         „Do you mind if I take my shoes off?‟
         „No. Go right ahead, Peter. We want you to be at your ease here, you know.‟
         Peter removes his shoes and places them neatly side by side over by the
fireplace. He retrieves his wine and walks into the centre of the room. He sits down on
the floor facing the sofa, drawing his feet in under his thighs. Viv and Gert
immediately slide forward from the sofa and settle on the floor too. Viv sits like Peter
with her feet under her thighs, but Gert, hampered by her long dress, is content to
stretch her legs out in front. Viv is beaming.
         „Oh, I‟m so glad you prefer the floor, Peter.‟
         There should be informality, at least, in these circumstances, if not intimacy.
Peter wants to look at Viv, who is seated facing him, her knees not more than six
inches from his. But it is as though the light is too strong, so he instead looks over at
Gert, who feet point straight up at the ceiling only a few inches away. Her skin is so
white, very soft too, deep flesh on her bare arms and round face. Her hair so dark by
way of contrast. Mouth is full, lipstick deep red – too red, really, indicating a degree
of uncertainty in her.




                                                                                      134
        Viv says, „Would you like a puff, Peter?‟ She is holding up another reefer,
lighter in her other hand. He shakes his head, waving at the air in the room, which
occasions a knowing sort of smile from Viv.
        Gert says, leaning forward as best she can in her awkward position:
        „Do you like to dance, Peter?‟
        It is at this moment – almost like a reply to Gert‟s question – that Peter‟s most
recent nemesis strikes again. Not clear at first what is happening. The walls seem to
move, moving away from him, then moving back closer and closer until it seems they
will crush him to death.
        This is not happening, of course – and Peter knows it is not happening. He
thinks that the sudden immersion in this rather dense environment – the new insights
and fluctuating states of arousal – has thrown him. He has had this experience before,
quite a number of times. Months spend quietly researching in strange libraries, then a
frantic party with old friends and Peter is bouncing vertiginously off the walls for an
hour or so.
        It is like that at first; then the darkness appears. Not that the lights go out: no,
more like something being sucked out of him, like light draining away. He feels it
about his heart especially, as though his heart once glowed and now does not. Then
his heart is lonely: all alone, just all alone, beating and beating for no reason
whatsoever.
        His nemesis: loss.
        Peter says by way of reply: „Actually, I love dancing, Gert.‟ He speaks her
name on purpose – though he has no real inclination to do so – mainly in order to
generate a warmth in her for him. It might warm his heart.
        Then Gert is on her feet, spinning heavily in the long dress: made of a kind of
skin, leather-beige with large seams and a chunky waist band. Peter scrambles up too,
rising gingerly, ready in case he loses his balance and stumbles. Gert hefts her body
towards him and he sees that she is strong, very strongly built, with large slabby
breasts and big hips. But she can dance; a pumping motion that sways her torso,
heavy breasts coming to pendulate at just the right beat.
        Good to dance just now. Peter is not an energetic dancer, most of the action
occurs within and issues mainly as a pretty smooth gyration of the hips. Gert must like
this, for she cannot take her eyes off that part of him – Peter in his flat fronted
moleskins getting into the bouncing rhythm of the drum and bass music. So we‟re
dancing. Like treading water this evening, like keeping head above water. Peter has
never known a sensation like this – his heart grown cold – and it does frighten him. Of
course, he knows this is not a real experience: his heart is pumping along evenly,
embedded as always in the warm mush of his chest.
        Viv says in a flat tone, as though they were all still sitting about on the floor:
        „Are you living in London?‟
        Peter nods, not breaking pace.
        „Cannot get used to that place. Need to go up on business pretty often. Get into
a hot bath afterwards, glass of wine, cry my eyes out for an hour. Then I‟m fine
again.‟
        Gert says:
        „Like the roads go nowhere and…‟
        The music suddenly stops. Peter stops, like an machine switched off. Gert
keeps going, her mouth pursed, as though some momentum must run down first.
        Peter says, turning in the room: „Maybe. But London seems to be good to me.
I mean…‟


                                                                                       135
        Viv has left the room. That means that Peter and Gert are alone together. Peter
turns to her again. She has stopped dancing and is standing perfectly still, arm by her
side, breathing more deeply than previously. Her breasts are quaking under the
somewhat heavy fabric. Her nipples are small. Peter points in the general area of her
body and asks:
        „What kind of material is that?‟
        Gert looks down, then runs her spread hands down the front of the dress, from
just under her breasts down to her groin. He stomach is pretty flat, given her size.
        Peter realises that what he has done is create the opportunity to touch her. He
doesn‟t want to do this; he is curious about the material. So he adds quickly, pointing
down to his trousers:
        „Some people think these are suede.‟ He realises that this is a come-on too, so
adds lamely, looking away from them both at the same time:
        „Moleskin.‟
        „Doeskin,‟ Gert tells him. „Italian. Supposed to be wild girl. You know, ready
for anything.‟
        Viv says at Peter‟s back: „And the most sedate girl in the world. Aren‟t you,
Gert dear?‟
        Viv is holding another bottle of wine in her right fist, refilling her glass. She
tops up Peter‟s over on the mantleshelf, then Gert‟s beside the sofa, bending down at
Peter‟s side.
        „Oh, it‟s for you, Viv,‟ Gert says warmly, her body at once as though melting,
a flush spreading. She says to Peter: „I so love her, you know.‟
        Viv straightens up at Peter‟s side, her left elbow grazing his right arm.
        „She‟s such a pet,‟ she tells Peter: „The most loyal friend one could ask for.‟
        Peter is looking down at Viv‟s breasts. He can‟t help it. She has the most
wonderful nipples.
        Gert says off to his side: „We‟re like two birds, Peter. You know those
seabirds that never set down on land. That‟s what we‟re like. Always flying up above
the waves.‟
        Peter looks up to see that Viv is looking at him with a kind of compassion. She
says to him: „I do not understand how any woman could let a man go near her.‟
        Peter nods at this, agreeing wholeheartedly with her, though he has never
entertained this idea before. Gert smiles broadly: „Viv would die if a man did that to
her.‟ She puts her arm around Viv‟s shoulder. She moves in close until their breasts
touch. Peter can see how Viv‟s nipple buckles under the impact, then how it indents
the doeskin – very slightly, but enough.
        He turns away and gets his glass from the mantleshelf. The wine has soured a
bit in the over-warm room. It adds to the anticlimax. He can tell himself that he
sought nothing here, hoped for nothing, yet he is hurt by the exclusion. Like being left
out in the cold, in the rain. Peter sees himself left outside, the world he is excluded
from appearing as a grey cloudy ball.
        Beyond it there is something else.
        Peter thinks: I‟m stoned. He is mildly stoned, out far enough for a new
perspective. He drinks some more wine and this time it tastes better. He suspects his
own palate is sour – he should have something to eat.
        Viv says at his back: „But you are an interesting man, Peter.‟ And Gert adds:
„That‟s different.‟
        They are back seated on the sofa, one at either end, plenty of space for him in
the middle. He goes over and sits down between them, as exactly equidistant as he


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can judge. The room looks really fine from here. A grand fireplace of an only faintly
speckled marble, large and richly framed mirror above, deep wide breast, expansive
walls either side, very well conserved moulding along the ceiling.
        No pictures.
        Viv leans towards him and asks: „Music?‟
        She is like a magnet to him. Peter leans towards her, his lips tingling, an echo
of the tingle running very clearly down into his chest. He knows that he is doting on
her and doesn‟t mind. „Whatever you wish, Viv.‟ He would liked to have called her
darling, but of course cannot while Gert is present. And just then Gert says, „I think
we should have something really nice, my dear. For the company, I mean.‟
        Viv lights up, her almost almond eyes widening. She gets up and crosses to
one of the cabinets over by the window. Only two notes have sounded by the time
Peter recognises the music, Liszt‟s Bénédiction on solitude. He has to smile. He
wouldn‟t have the nerve to do what Viv had just done: he would not have been able to
avoid the sentimentality.
        There is utter silence for the twenty minutes or so the performance takes.

         Afterwards, Peter gets up and goes and stands before the fireplace. The two
woman look up at him, perfectly still. Peter thinks it is a shame that so few dope-
heads know how good classical music is when you are stoned. Anyway, he says
without any preamble: „I met an angel last weekend.‟ Peter hadn‟t intended saying
any such thing. However, it is now said, and the two women nod to acknowledge that
they have heard him. „We were on a business trip down here. He was hitching a lift to
– is it Shoresham?‟
         „Shoreham,‟ Gert corrects almost instantly. Then she adds in a mock official
voice: „Shoreham by sea.‟
         Peter nods, glad of the jokiness: „He stayed with me for four days.‟ He stops,
feeling lame. There‟s either nothing more to say or an awful lot to say.
         Gert asks, „He? Do angels have a gender?‟
         „Well, he was a he of sorts. Rebecca – who was with me – thought he was a
woman, but according to her, he had a penis – of sorts.‟
         Gert looks over to Viv – who has sat quiet, studying Peter intently. She now
speaks:
         „Why do you believe he was an angel?‟
         Peter grimaces. Does he have to go into the utopia business, he wonders. He‟s
really not up to doing that. „Well, I didn‟t. Not until afterwards, and then it came to
me as a kind of insight.‟
         Viv nods at this: „And you miss him now?‟
         This question is like a punch in the stomach. The sensation is quite sudden and
painful. It‟s obvious to the women. Gert gets up and takes Peter by the hand. Then she
impulsively wraps him in her arms and holds him tightly. As though it is squeezed
from him, Peter cries out. Not – as you might think – some kind of suppressed grief
brought to the surface. It more a recognition of a far worse situation:
         Peter will never see Kharib again. Not ever.
         Gert now draws Peter to come and sit on the sofa between Viv and herself. It‟s
awkward this time. Peter is perched towards the edge of the seat, so it is difficult to
lean back. He wants to do this because he feels he is sagging very noticeably. He
looks at Viv:




                                                                                    137
         „He followed me to London. Stayed in my flat for four days. He had no teeth,
no nails, no body hair, no gonads. Skin unnaturally white, like soft plastic to the
touch, cool then very warm. He sang wonderfully, could touch the deepest part.‟
         Peter slumps even more, but knows he has managed to say something.
         Gert asks behind him: „Do you understand the significance?‟
         Peter turns to her: „Significance?‟
         Viv says at his back: „It doesn‟t happen every day, you know.‟
         Peter turns back to Viv, seeing as he does that Gert is going over to a low
cabinet under one of the windows. He says to Viv, words coming just like that:
         „It‟s too late. Really too late.‟
         Viv pauses, as though perhaps taken aback, then she nods. She says, in a tone
suggesting that she is changing the subject: „You cannot love an angel.‟
         Peter head goes up, his disagreement rising in him with a remarkable
vehemence. Viv lays her hand on his to calm him: „An angel is a messenger. It
conveys truth.‟
         Peter shakes his head emphatically. Viv nods to placate him, her eyes
searching his face closely. But Peter insists: „No, he was worthy of love. Do you
know his compassion? His decency?‟
         Viv raises both her hands now: „I don‟t mean to argue with you, Peter. He
showed you something of yourself.‟
         This stops Peter short. He can see what Viv means, but what he sees is so like
the weakness that would be associated with illness – a lack of defence – that he
recoils.
         Gert says from somewhere behind him, „Interesting. Now that is very
interesting.‟ She is seated on the floor, her feet drawn up under her thighs – her dress
rucked up to allow this – studying an array of brightly coloured cards laid out on the
carpet in front of her. „You shouldn‟t worry so much, Peter dear. You should rather
expect other people to be able to cope with themselves.‟
         She scrambles to her feet – very limber despite her bulk – gets pen and paper
from the cabinet. She jots down a set of names, saying: „There‟ll come a day when
you may want this interpreted.‟ Giving him the sheet, she continues: „I know it‟s a lot
of nonsense, but keep it by you anyway. For me?‟ She smiles brightly, eyes suddenly
sad, then turns away.
         Peter glances at the sheet:
                           Nine Swords
           Eight Swords    King of Cups     XIV Temperance     Three Wands
                           Eight Cups                          Four Cups
                           Ten Cups                            Ace of Swords
                           Four Swords                         XI Justice

         Viv slaps her thighs with a light sound: „Right, then, Peter dear. I think that is
about it, don‟t you?‟
         Peter stands up at once, the sheet of paper dangling in his hand. Like a step too
far: like a harmless foible suddenly revealed as a madness. He wants to go now. These
women really have the wrong idea. He says, an edge in him:
         „Look, it‟s not a matter of categories. He was – is – a spiritual being of some
sort. It was once believed that they helped us.‟
         Viv has stood up also. She stands facing him, quite close – so close that he can
get her perfume. It‟s his favourite perfume.
         „But, as you say, Peter, they can no longer help us.‟


                                                                                       138
         Peter must nod, rueful.
         Gert comes around to face him: „It‟s not as bad as that now, Peter dear.‟ She
points to the sheet in his hand. „You study that, when you get the chance. Look.‟ She
rifles through the cards she is holding. She shows him one: the three of Wands: „See,
you will travel soon, travel far. It will be like escaping from a prison.‟
         Viv adds, though she has not even looked at the array on the sheet of paper:
         „You must not always expect love to be complete.‟ She finally touches him,
her hand grasping his, a light touch, an infinity of tenderness to Peter‟s parched
sensibility: „You need to learn the value of suffering.‟

        Thoroughly dark now, not even a glimmer on the far western horizon, down
the coast and out on into the ocean. Peter thinks at once of a long road, dark road
going on forever. He knows he had this idea earlier in the evening – yes, down on the
stony beach. There is not much traffic, few pedestrians. The after-effect of getting
stoned is coming through: the old familiar twinge of combined guilt and unease he
gets after he lets go, even for a minute. Like he steps out of context, no other scenario
available.
        Has he made a fool of himself – i.e. has he given himself away?
        The two women seemed tolerably sympathetic right up to the end. Not the
sometime occurring loss of patience, then that damning tolerance that is just about
maintained up to the very moment of departure. Then the sigh of relief all round.
        Why is it not possible simply to be there, without the whole complicated flow
of judgement and reaction. Why do we always test for perfection?
        If Peter had been asked what the Bunker looked like, he would not have been
able to say. Yet he knows it – well the pub of sorts that fronts it – immediately. Just
another large house, painted white, converted here to a lounge bar type pub, with
tables and chairs in what once would have been the house‟s front garden. The
building next door is a restaurant, on the other side there is a gym of sorts (a brothel?).
        A few people sit out of doors. They may have been the clue: a lot of denim,
check shirts, a lot of hair. Inside is fairly quiet too, piped music – rumbustious country
rock music – mostly men drinking inside. There is a darkish corridor at the back, its
walls lined with posters. Peter heads this way, though seeing darkness only at the end
of the corridor.
        A barman calls out: „Nothing in there tonight, mate.‟
        Peter wheels about immediately, making a point of compliance. „Told there
was a gig,‟ he calls back. No one looks up.
        The barman comes down the bar till he is closest he can be to Peter:
„Breakdown, they said. Reckon they got stuck in somewhere on the way.‟
        Peter nods, as though he is familiar with the culture: „Happens. Pity.‟
        The barman nods: „Right. Good band. Pity Fred‟s such a maniac.‟ He turning
away now and an air of resignation, balanced with something as strong as despair –
though perhaps only alcoholic melancholy – entering the room. „Still. To be expected.
Good band, though.‟
        Peter braves a request which could give the game away – that he is some kind
of cultural tourist: „Mind if I look around anyway?‟
        The barman waves in the direction of the Bunker: „Sure. Fire away.‟
        Context is very powerful, so Peter finds it very difficult to go down that dark
corridor without a drink in his hand. That‟s the culture. He turns quickly before the
barman has moved away:



                                                                                       139
         „Can I have a pint of cider. Dry.‟ A pint? Peter is wry – somewhat stoned,
strong wine too – it‟s the culture, isn‟t it? No, comes the reply: more like needing
glasses for the small print, for the detail.
         There‟s a pint of golden apple juice before him in no time. Now he can enter
the Bunker.
         Sips the cider in the corridor. Getting dimmer round about. Yet the chamber
itself is not as dark as expected – quite a lot of light getting through down the corridor
from the not so dark bar. There are exactly two seats for the audience: wooden forms
for three or four each along the walls either side of the door. A wooden platform of
sorts, three plastic chairs on it, and three banks of electric outlets staggered in a line
along the back wall. The concrete blocks out of which the Bunker was constructed are
unplastered, but painted a deep red with heavy outdoor paint. The ceiling is painted
black, a single fluorescent light strip for illumination. The floor is raw concrete,
heavily stained with drink spillage and the juice of ground out butts. It would hold at
most about thirty people, less if anyone danced.
         Only now does Peter notice the windows, high up opposite each other to left
and right, two panes of thick frosted glass in each. A broken pane in one provides the
only ventilation.
         Peter sits on the form to the left, just in from the door. He takes a large
mouthful of the cider, remembers drinking cider in the pubs of Street and
Glastonbury, wanting to lose himself in its spirit and find the something or someone
the area intimated. It‟s like the way the blues take you down and at the same time lift
you up. Like giving something up in order to gain something else. Like stepping back
in order to focus on something.
         This could go on, but Peter can hear music. It‟s very clear and yet he knows it
is inside himself, arising from memory. The beat is so insistent that his stomach
muscles pump in time, driving a pleasant sensation down into his loins.
         It‟s Son House: Walking Blues. He can follow all the syncopation in detail, the
held notes, the wonderful interplay of harp and banjo running in the background.
               Got up this morning and put on my shoes
               „cos I knew I had the walking blues
               I said I got up this morning, I was feeling round for my shoes,
               And I said, I know that now I had the walking blues.

               The blues ain‟t nothing but the shakin chill
               If you ain‟t had them I hope you never will
               Oh the blues is a lowdown worst shakin chill
               If you ain‟t had them, boys, then I hope you never will.

               When you get work then drop me a line
               If I don‟t go crazy, honey, I‟ll lose my mind
               When you get work, I said, sit down and drop me a line
               If I don‟t go crazy then I‟ll lose my mind.

        This is fine, this is great, veritable party time: Peter pumping the beat, almost
able to make a stab at the lyrics, the whole ensemble getting it on in his head. Then he
hears Kharib talking. He hears about something like patience, about reining in for
some task that is to come.
        Peter jumps to his feet and steps into the centre of the room. The place is cold,
stony cold. He finds he is shivering, exposed skin on his arms goosepimpling. The




                                                                                      140
cider is so cold in the glass in his hand, so cold in his gut, so cold where its influence
runs in his veins.
        Then it‟s like a flash. Peter feels that – like Superman in the childhood comics
– he is bursting out of his clothes. There is some power in him that is on the point of
breaking out, that will expand out through the walls and up through the ceiling, that
will swell up into the sky, that will reach the moon, the sun, the stars. A power that
could take the universe and roll it into a ball and…
        Lasts about two seconds. Peter shakes his head, remarkably cool about the
experience. Call it impatience. The irony falls flat:
        Call it me.
        Peter goes back into the bar. It‟s warmer here, or so it seems. Mostly young
men sitting at the bar with pints before them. The barman is standing nearby. He says,
        „That riot messed it all up anyway.‟
        Peter looks quizzical.
        „Over in Victoria Gardens, I heard. Some students tried to have a rave. Police
broke it up.‟
        Peter nods now, remembering.
        „Every time they try, the police break it up. No matter where they try.‟ The
barman shrugs. „People stay away. They go where it‟s quieter.‟
        Peter has finished his drink. Time to go.

         Not maudlin. Reflective. Like something coming to an end. Like toys being
put away for good: the toy houses, toy offices, toy boys and girls, toy biz, toy sex, toy
money.
         Peter is about forty feet tall, on nodding terms with the long hill that is the
Downs over there on the right, with the sea to his left that gets deeper and deeper the
further west you go, out into the utter dark.
         He wonders if he will come back from this, be on time for work next
whenever. He can‟t believe he will – mark of a good trip.
         It‟s the sea that attracts him, getting deeper, darker, colder, the bitter brine like
a cold metal that is reforming him. Peter crosses the road to the wall overlooking the
seafront. Light glints on the tossing sea, here and there. A light on the horizon: going
away, coming home. He can find no way down, so he walks on into the west, towards
the bright lights at the entrance to the pier.
         Disposal. Peter thinks of disposal, thinking of making an arrangement. Like
there is a plan, and everyone is in it. Like everything going to plan. Peter can walk to
this line of thought: disposition like being one step ahead at each moment. Sure, Peter
thinks this, but of course in thinking this idea of disposition as the conveyor belt of
history, he also thinks of its opposite – of no plan, of going nowhere, of going at all.
         Why do anything?
         Answer? Nothing abides.
         That‟s it.
         Peter is standing on the pavement outside the entrance to the pier. There are
people here, people who seem to have nowhere else to go. A security guard is
escorting some stragglers from the pier.
         Nothing abides, Peter thinks, and yet there is discernible order. Getting up for
work in the morning. Trains running from London to Brighton for well over a
hundred years, all day, every day. Read a text two thousand years old. Rock abiding
over aeons. How many generations of sparrows? Of beetles?
         Peter nods, getting the message.


                                                                                         141
        He sees Rebecca in a flash, lovely Rebecca; her fragrance, her long waist.
        Peter is standing where Kharib stood when Rebecca first saw him, hitching a
ride. For a moment Peter loves wholly and intensely. It‟s like Kharib guaranteed
something between Rebecca and himself. But something got in the way.
        Sad. Very sad.
        A big sigh, standing outside the closing pier, drunken laughter off to the right.
To the east, towards the sunrise line.
        Peter and Rebecca should have been one. Complete for all eternity.
        Peter sheds a single tear. The relief is tremendous, overwhelming. The
gratitude, too, like clear water flowing in him.

        Peter turns away from the sea now. He is careful crossing the road, cars
coming off the London Road like stones from a sling. He manages it. Having crossed
the road, he finds himself on a sort of traffic island, around which a steady flow of
cars move. It‟s not clear where they are coming from, or where they are going. A
group of young people are sitting under some bushes, very drunk, one ranting loudly.
        The way out of here is to cross the London stream again, this time heading for
what seems like another island. Peter can gather his wits – something he has always
believed he can do regardless of how stoned he is – then it‟s a matter of running at the
first opportunity. Well, it‟s not an island. Pathways extend in both directions, both
veering sharply, both ultimately heading back the way Peter has come. Time to cross
again. This time, however, there is little or no traffic. Peter nonetheless makes a dash
for it.
        Now he has landed beside a building. It‟s like coming ashore. Peter can amuse
himself with this idea, a silly amusement, but also serving to animate – re-animate –
some part of himself. The building is a café. The café is still open. Well, why not a
supper before the train back to London?
        Peter goes in the modest little door – that sticks as it closes over, so that he
must give it an extra push. He does this in case there might be a draught on the nearest
diners. The café is familiar, though Peter is certain he has never been in it before. It‟s
the colour of the walls. A kind of rusty blond, though the blond might be the effect of
the white strip lighting.
        The café he had seen the previous week, the end-of-the-world café. Peter is
stunned, a kind of melodramatic reaction that throws him. He runs out of the café –
dragging the door behind him. He walks to the edge of the footpath – fairly wide here
– and surveys the café from the outside. He nods. He can picture his first sighting of it
so clearly, feeling again the poignancy.
        He lets out a whoop and runs back into the café, overjoyed. It‟s stoned crazy
over-joy, the sort of giving way to pleasure impossible when sober. He remembers to
push the door shut.
        The café is just the way Peter thinks it should be. Down by the windows sits a
lone old man, head bent over a cup and saucer, one hand fidgeting with the handle.
Further back, a stout middle aged woman is eating chips with her fingers. Just now
she is sucking the forefinger and thumb of her right hand, obviously after the salt and
vinegar remaining there. A young couple sit just by the door, heads bent together
across the table, talking earnestly. Behind, Peter sees another old man, this one pretty
drunk, talking to himself at an empty table.
        It is like a waiting room. Oh, Peter loves this idea. He lets it play in his
imagination. At once the end walls recede and rows of table and chairs come into
being, extending away into an infinite darkness in both directions.


                                                                                      142
         He finds his way to the counter. The woman here puts her cigarette in a metal
ashtray over by the sink. She lays her hands flat on the counter and waits, not looking
up.
         So, Peter orders a ham sandwich and a pot of tea. The woman gets a tray from
under the counter: places a cup and saucer, two packets of milk – long life milk – a
handful of sachets of sugar, a plastic spoon. The sandwich is wrapped in cellophane.
Finally, she fills a small aluminium pot with boiling water from an urn – the tea.
         Peter asks for mustard.
         Surprisingly, there is mustard. A yellow sachet is dropped onto the tray.
         Fine. Peter reaches for a side plate, for the sandwich. The woman reacts as
though to stop him, then looks up and pulls her hand away. Peter takes a plastic knife.
He takes a folded napkin, shiny and non-absorbent.
         The woman waits, head down again.
         Peter pays. Now the question: where to sit. Dead centre. The tables and chairs
are arrayed in three rows down the café, one over by the windows, one parallel to the
counter, the third between them – the middle row. The exact centre here is about
halfway between the door and the woman‟s station behind the counter, beside the till.
         Peter lays out his things. Now the question arises: which way should he face.
His instinct is to face towards the door. He sits facing the door. Cup and saucer, side
plate, plastic cutlery are laid out. Teapot in place. Peter cuts open the wrapping on the
sandwich, slits the sachet with the knife and spreads mustard. The ham is pretty shiny,
but – well – this is a café.
         Now tea is poured, little milk packet open and milk added to the tea. Time to
eat. Peter eats, drinks some tea, bites again into the sandwich. He avoids the boredom
of eating the wretched fare by letting his imagination run again. Instantly, the café is
again endless. He wonders: which way am I facing? Into the future or back into the
past. At first he believes he has no way of deciding this, then it strikes him that the
future section should be empty, because nothing has happened there yet, so that there
would be no people to inhabit it.
         From where he sits he can discern vague figures seated at the shadowy tables
that extent that way beyond the café. So that must be the past. Peter turns around and
studies the extension behind him. There should be no one there. There are many
shadowy forms at the ghostly tables.
         Peter turns back to face the table. The hairs on his neck are crawling. He
blinks and the phantasm is gone. Peter is relieved that he could rid himself of it so
quickly. Yet he misses it. He blinks, and it is back again. He studies it. This time he
notices that there is a curvature in the extension: it is curving upwards at a very
shallow rate. Which mean: if you were to walk up that way – allowing that this is
possible – you would eventually return here.
         Peter has finished the sandwich. Its staleness cloys his palate. The tea cannot
cut it. He will have this taste in his mouth until he gets back to London.
         Anyway, Peter asks himself: which way – despite the circular nature of the
phantom extension – is forward and which is backwards? He thinks he should be able
to work this out. Actually, he feels he ought to work it out.
         The answer that comes seems extremely lucid, almost obvious. Which way do
you think you are facing?
         Backward. Peter knows this, just like that. He is looking into the past.
         It‟s like a test passed. It‟s like moving onto the next part.




                                                                                     143
         The street door opens and in come three people, two men and a woman. Peter,
of course, starts with the woman. She is young, a student by her dress, an art student
by its waywardness: foxy tight red skirt, loose transparent bottle-blue blouse, long
violet silk scarf trailing the ground, light hair piled up on her head, coming apart at the
back. Bright red lipstick, milk white skin, dark mascara around her shining eyes. She
has the most beautiful slender legs that Peter has ever seen, even though she is of less
than average height.
         Peter hands are clutching, his arms are itching, his lips are throbbing, his penis
is red hot.
         She goes back to close the door, swinging her slender hips, buttocks rising and
falling in concert.
         One of the men makes a sound, like a grunt. So Peter must switch attention.
The man in front is no taller than the girl. Peter knows he thinks he is an artist. Peter
also knows now that the girl is more talented than the man: it exists in her like an
absence, a place that fills when she practices her art. Which is…which is…Peter can‟t
quite get it. Something like cartooning, some outré modern art form requiring
remarkable technical skill but with an almost un-interpretable product.
         The second man is taller, larger, round head, really beefy. Peter sees that he is
in some sense the other man‟s body; his physical presence, as it were. The artist one is
looking around the café, and Peter realises that they might be trouble for someone
here. He follows that artist‟s eyes, sees that he is looking down at the old drunk
muttering to himself at the empty table. Peter doesn‟t think this is the artist‟s style. He
knows he will need a response.
         Yet the artist starts off in that direction, walking rapidly forward in little
spurts, arms out like a child imitating an aeroplane. The big man moves smoothly in
his wake, keeping place. The girl seems to jerk away from the door and then flow
after them.
         She is like a helium balloon a child might tow behind it. Perhaps the balloon is
attached by a long length of string to the child‟s wrist or to a button hole on its coat.
Anyway, she is like a balloon: she seems not aware that she is being towed, as it were,
along, even though her pretty feet twinkle along in their shiny Indian slippers.
         The artist bends over the drunk, his mouth moving. Peter thinks at first that he
might be threatening the old lad, then he knows that is just paranoia – worst case
scenario. Actually he is singing: Peter can see the rhythmic movement of the artist‟s
mouth, then sees that the big boy is rocking his head to a beat. The girl is floating to
the rear, looking at nothing, but very pretty she is like that, almost a disembodied
image, a delicious daydream late at night.
         Now our artist taps the drunk very lightly on the crown of his head and turns
away until he is looking right down the café in the other direction, down past Peter.
So the artist saunters forth, this time some complicated undulation in his walk,
perhaps miming a butterfly among the flowers. He is singing, and Peter can hear
something of it as he passes over by the counter. It is familiar, then it‟s not familiar,
like a piece of pop he may have overheard on a radio, at a party. Then the sound stops
receding, and Peter knows he is about to torment his second victim. Actually, Peter
knows that this is a false judgement. The truth is, he doesn‟t knows what the man is
doing: perhaps he is just drunk, stoned, mad.
         That might be so, but Peter is now aware that he is next. He knows this. This
man is going to come and serenade him next. And he‟s not drunk, not sunk in apathy;
he‟ll have no excuse for not responding.



                                                                                       144
         What to do? Peter thinks: get out. The door is about twenty feet away. Stand
up and walk briskly to the door. Don‟t look back. Walk to the station. Hide
somewhere there until the next train to London.
         Instead, Peter thinks this:
         If he could get as far as he could away from all the people in the world, say to
some Robinson Crusoe island far away in the middle of an ocean, he would be no
further away from them than he is now from the man who is approaching him from
the rear. And if he were crowded into a rush hour Tube train, a man‟s gonads warm
again his right buttock, a woman‟s breasts resting on his left arm, an unpleasant
perfume wafting from the blotched neck of the big woman in front of him, he could
be no closer to that same man who is approaching him, or his big bruiser of a
companion, or to the lovely pixie he tows along absently behind him.
         It‟s like that, Peter realises. Every ego absolutely separate from every other
ego. Every ego infinitely far away and infinitely close to every other ego.
         And yet: every ego is practically identical to every other ego. Peter knows all
this, and he knows something else too: once upon an eon, before time, before creation,
all these egos coexisted together, so close together that they were all just one ego.
And if you could find the God ego – the ego that is now the Almighty God – it would
become all that the other egos are. Yet if you could reach in among these egos and
take out one – say the ego of the poor unfortunate drunk at the back of the café – it
would become that one ego that all the other egos are, and that includes the Almighty
God ego.
         And what‟s more, Peter can, if he strains his eyes somewhat – which he does –
discern away at the back of the past extension a pinprick of staggeringly brilliant
light, and he knows that this is that congeries of egos way back at the Beginning, at
the Origin, before all our troubles began.
         It is an extremely satisfying insight. It is a perfect wonder to be able to see
back to that Origin.
         Peter is so happy.
         He turns in his seat, to his left so his legs can swing out into the passageway
between the rows, and sees that the artist man has come round into this passageway in
order to approach him, his big friend right behind him, the radiant fairy even more
beautiful from close up. She is so beautiful that Peter simply aches all over to touch
her, to lay his head on her shoulder and forget everything.
         The artist is singing still, and, bit by bit as he approaches, Peter can begin to
make out the words. Now he recognises it, can hear Morrison‟s angry growl, the
threatening tones of a reject:
               „…forget the night
               live with us in forests of azure…‟
the face comes closer, green eyes bloodshot, pained with a horrible frustration. Peter
has to take his eyes from the sylph, has to pay attention at last to this stranger:
               „…out here in the perimeter there are no stars…‟
the face presses up close to his, an ambiguity there now: the face is blinding Peter to
everything else – including perhaps some painful assault:
                „…out here we is stoned…‟
The man pauses, as the song requires a pause, Morrison preparing to spring his
ultimate heresy on the Western world.
        But it is Peter who continues, perfect as to beat and pitch, the word rising
cleanly from his throat:
                „…immaculate.‟
                                                                      29 November 2006



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