by PS Brooks
Summer landed on my doormat this morning. Old postcard of the M40 heading for Oxford, before it opened. Friend Richard. He knew no dreaming spires or misty meadows would drag me away from my sad London basement, but maybe a road, an open road…
‘Here comes the sun. Get outside, man! Why don’t you come up for a bit? You can help us finish the set, take in the opening, then party. Arabella sends kisses xx R.’
I’d planned to spend the weekend in bed, licking the wounds from another lost love. By the time I’d finished breakfast, this seemed like a better idea.
An impatient taxi waited in the street. As I drew up behind, the front door of their house flew open and four of them skipped down the pathway, making a lot of noise. Richard spotted my car and came over. I lowered the window.
“Thought I’d accept your invitation.”
“Why didn’t you let us know?”
“No phone. No time.”
“We’re off to the Friday Film Club. ‘Red River’. Coming?”
“Seen it. Anyway, I’m whacked.”
“Here. Have my keys. Food in the fridge. Bikes in the back yard. Help yourself.”
“Why not. Town is downhill all the way.”
“I just wanna crash.”
“You’re on the top floor, next to the bathroom. The one with the teddy on the bed.”
“Arabella's idea. I told you. She likes you. Probably wants to swap with it later.”
“That’s nice. I hope she can wait till the morning.”
“If you’re in the mood, there’s a latenight bar called 'The Dog and Duck' in a back street behind the Playhouse. Just make sure you get there before 10-30.”
“It’s ten now.”
“Well make your mind up quick."
After installing myself in the teddy-bear room, I scrubbed up perked up and decided to leap on a bike. I had an A–Z and a copy of ‘Sons and Lovers’ in my pockets.
‘The Dog and Duck’ greeted me with heavy-duty bouncer, crowded lobby and po-faced landlord. After squeezing through that lot, everything was fine. I ordered a beer and headed for an empty corner-table. ‘Sons and Lovers’ came out and I pretended to read, all the while casting glances round the room. My eyes landed on a woman, mid-forties maybe, perched on a stool at the end of the bar. I recognised her.
She was wearing all white: cotton dress, chiffon scarf, straw hat and sunglasses. Obviously drunk, she was entertaining the other barflies with theatrical tales. I stared, trying to remember her name. Fragments of her films came back. I could picture her in them, oh-so English little numbers that took off in the States. She caught my stare and returned it. I swallowed hard and let my eyes stay fixed on hers. Next thing, she picked up her bottle and glass, slipped off the barstool and wobbled over in my direction.
“What are you reading?”
I raised the book to show her the cover.
“Good choice. You look rather Lawrentian.”
“Yes! I mean… collarless shirt, silk scarf, waistcoat. And that stupid cap. Take it off.”
“You look rather famous. Even with that floppy hat and the shades. What you doing wearing sunglasses at night? Take them off.”
She laughed and complied.
For the next hour or so, I struggled to hitch a ride on her short-wavelength bi-polar ways. One minute she was slithering down the bench-seat and taking a slo-mo puff on her cigarette with her eyes half-closed; the next she was sat bolt upright, flicking her hair back with her fingers, talking nonstop and flirting outrageously.
She knew what she was doing though and I – twenty years younger - certainly didn’t. When she asked me to take her home, I hesitated. All I could think about was the fucking bike.
“Sure. But I need to get my car.” Like it was in a multi-storey or something. “I’ll pick you up in ten minutes.”
“Bet you don’t come back.”
“Bet you’re not here when I do.”
I raced uphill, swapped conveyances and returned in twenty. She was still there, slumped in the corner, fending off a fan. When she saw me, she held out a floppy hand and let me do the rest.
Her apartment was an elegant first-floor in a Victorian mansion block, the air sickly-sweet with the scent of longiflorum lilies.
“It’s not mine. I’m here doing rep. Do you want something to eat? I’m famished.”
I declined and watched her fish from the freezer a Birds’ Eye Cod-in-Parsley-Sauce. It was perfectly square. How can fish be SQUARE? She threw some tinned French beans in a pan with the boil-in-the-bag fish and then ate the lot while I went off the boil. Without a word, she disappeared, returning minutes later in a satiny nightgown.
She curled a little finger at me and I followed her to the bedroom. Once under the covers, we rolled around a bit, until I found myself in place. By now she was heading for oblivion and passed out with a prolonged outbreath of boiled cod, Bordeaux Blanc and Balkan Sobranies.
I went to extricate myself but she wrapped her arms round my back and clamped my ankles with hers. Duty called. I thought of the grandchildren-to-come. ‘Gather round kids while I tell you a story, of the time I made love to a famous film star…’ Maybe not. At least she relaxed her grip.
On my way out, I looked around the sitting room. A swollen purse, photos galore and trinkets beckoned from the sideboard. But I wanted to leave her something of mine, not take something of hers. I snapped off a lily, tucked it inside my cap and left them on the table.
Back at the house, the four were lying around smoking dope and going on about auteur theory, camera angles and dénouements.
“So. Where’d you go? What you been up to?”
“You'll never believe this…”
© PS Brooks, 2013