A saga of everyday life in the Big L and a wry look at contemporary culture
‘It’s insane, that’s what it is?’ Christoph flapped the document he held in his hand. ‘You can’t be serious. This is Armageddon!’
Mary gave him a dry smile. I know he worries when I do this. He suspects I know something he doesn’t. Yes, Christoph I knew you wouldn’t like the idea. ‘Midsummer madness.’ Past the wit of man.
‘Excuse me, PM?’
‘This will flush out our traitors. The bastards, as John called them. You know, the Remoaners ranting on about how we shouldn’t leave the EU. Can’t they see it’s over. We’re leaving. That document will have them running.’ Unasked, she recalled lines from her English class.
“Lovers and madmen have such seething brains / Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend / More than cool reason ever comprehends. / The lunatic, the lover, and the poet / Are of imagination all compact:”
‘But PM, we don’t need this. They buckled in the end.’ He tapped the document with his fingers. It worries you doesn’t it, that the great Remain Rebellion turned into a damp squid? Your battalions proved brittle. Your army a mere shadow. And crumpled even with your schemes, eh?
‘No thanks to you Christoph. Your “resignation”’, she emphasised the word to remind him of his recent notice “incident”, ‘just fed their ravenous appetites.’ Putting me on the spot like that. Where’s your loyalty? No. You’re one of the bastards. Your card is marked, Christoph, as you must know. Just you wait! Unasked, more of the play sprang into her mind.
“Now the hungry lion roars, / And the wolf behowls the moon; / Whilst the heavy ploughman snores, / All with weary task fordone.”
‘I’m sorry, PM, but I have my views, as you well knew when you appointed me. We really must have a deal when we leave. Think of the disruption if we’ve nothing. I think I can deliver a deal that will please Parliament.’ Smug bastard. You think if you flatter me this way your position is safe, don’t you? But I’ve got you in my sights. Just you wait…
“Now the wasted brands do glow, / Whilst the screech-owl, screeching loud, / Puts the wretch that lies in woe / In remembrance of a shroud.”
She pointed at the document in his hand. ‘Do you know I’m spending more time working with backbenchers than on how to manage that bastard Bernard.’ Yes, the enemy is easy to deal with. Well, the bastards will see what I can do. Just wait. I, Mary Pyle, the grammar school girl, controls the reins of power. Just let them tremble. What did the Bard say? Oh yes!
“O, when she’s angry, she is keen and shrewd! / She was a vixen when she went to school; / And though she be but little, she is fierce.”
‘PM, we’ve got the bill through the Commons and we haven’t had to make too many damaging concessions.’
‘Yes, I know; when it came to it, they blinked.’ She waved her finger at him in a good imitation of a mother ticking off a child. ‘We should be presenting a united front to the EU, not squabbling between ourselves. It gives Bernard and his ilk reasons to stall and delay and try and extract concessions. Now they’re muttering about a deal less exit. He plays us like a fiddle. Each time he does there’s an outcry from the Remoaners that we must make compromises. I’ve had enough. It’s time to show him and his ilk that proud Britannia can’t be pushed around.’
Christoph stepped back at her onslaught. ‘PM, we can’t just walk away.’
‘That would show that arrogant froggie we’re serious.’ Of course, Bernard’s just a froggie Puck. What did Puck do? Ah, yes.
“Up and down, up and down / I will lead them up and down / I am feared in field in town / Goblin, lead them up and down”
That’s it! Bernard sends us off on some fool’s errand where we tear ourselves apart.
“How now, spirit, whither wander you?”
‘PM, we must be realistic as to what we can expect. Too much is at stake.’
She wagged her finger at him. ‘This Galileo business is the last straw. We’ve invested a billion in that project and now…’ she spluttered, ‘…and now they plan to cut us out.’ She sat down on the sofa. Her eyes strayed to the portrait of Margaret Thatcher. What do I have to do with this creep? Keep him in the cabinet or throw him out onto the backbenches where he can cause trouble?
‘PM, please, be reasonable.’
She rounded on him. ‘I am reasonable. It’s those fanatics in Brussels and on our own side who are being unreasonable.’
‘Everyone will turn on you once the Brexitgeddon hits in March next year. Mark my words.’ He waved towards the invisible outside. ‘They’ll be marching to Downing Street demanding your head.’
‘Ah, bien sûr, après moi le déluge, eh?’
‘PM, I don’t want to see you crucified.’ Ha, ha, ha. You’d like nothing better, so you could throw your hat into the ring as the “reasonable” candidate to replace me. I know what you’re up to.
“Such tricks hath strong imagination, / That if it would but apprehend some joy, / It comprehends some bringer of that joy; / Or in the night, imagining some fear, / How easy is a bush supposed a bear!”
‘What have the Russians got to do with this? Have you uncovered something about the Referendum?’
‘No, on that GCHQ have found nothing. I was thinking of how easily people are frightened.’
‘Brexit holds many threats. It could be catastrophic.’
‘Now you’re talking like a Remoaner. Of course, there are going to be difficulties. You don’t “exit” a forty-year marriage without some broken crockery. It’s unreasonable fearmongers who peddle doom that are the enemy.’ Like Gualtieri during the Falklands Campaign. Her eyes strayed to Maggie’s portrait. And then she recalled more of the lines she had to learn for her A Levels.
“Methinks, mistress, you should have little reason / for that: and yet, to say the truth, reason and / love keep little company together now-a-days; the / more the pity that some honest neighbours will not / make them friends.”
‘PM, I fully support your approach to Brexit, as you know.’ He put the document down on her desk. ‘But there are limits.’
‘Are you thinking of resigning again?’ At some point I’ll tire of this game and then you’ll be surprised when I accept your desire to step down.
“Puppet? why so? ay, that way goes the game. / Now I perceive that she hath made compare / Between our statures; she hath urged her height; / And with her personage, her tall personage, / Her height, forsooth, she hath prevail’d with him.”
There came a knock on the door.
Andrew entered. ‘PM, did you call for me?’
‘Indeed.’ She picked up the document that Christoph had put down and passed it to him. ‘I want you to circulate this to the cabinet and put it on the agenda for the next meeting as the first item.’
Christoph jumped out of his seat. ‘PM don’t!’ He grabbed the document off Andrew. ‘What are you thinking?’ That it’s time to “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war” and then we’ll see how the enemy responds to the whiff of grapeshot.
‘It’s midsummer madness.’
* * *
Andrew sauntered into the waiting room. He spotted Tim sitting on one of the chairs there. ‘Well, I’m here.’ Reluctantly. But I guess you know that. He then gestured enquiringly at the grey walls and worn linoleum floor. ‘This is a pretty grim place.’
Tim shrugged his shoulders. ‘Could be worse.’ Yeah, I suppose so, it could be Holloway.
‘You know, I nearly decided not to come.’ It’s only because I’m your friend, you understand, don’t you? You’re asking a lot. He stroked the place where Jill had stabbed him.
Tim got to his feet and came over and slapped him on the back. ‘Thanks for coming, you’re a good friend.’ Yeah, one who was bonking your sister up to a few weeks ago. Now she’s being prosecuted for stabbing me. Should I be here? I don’t know. Maybe she’ll get off because I’m compromising any trial. Shit. I should go.
‘Tim, I’m not sure I should be doing this.’
‘Listen, Jill’s in a bad way. I’m really worried. Since you broke up with her and that unfortunate incident…’ why don’t you call it what it is? A stabbing. ‘…she’s really gone to pieces. You can’t believe how relieved I am that you’ve come. She really seemed to brighten up when she knew you were on your way.’
‘You told her?’ She knows I’m coming? Hold on a minute. If what you say is true, I guess you had to tell her. Maybe she doesn’t want to see me. See what she’s done.
‘Aiden, you’ve no idea, do you?’
‘Tim, the last time…’ The last time. Oh s**t. I can’t go around holding a stupid grudge. We both screwed up.
‘Come on, before you change your mind.’ I said I’d come; I’ll see it through. But don’t expect too much. Tim manoeuvred him towards the security doors. The attendant opened it for them and let them through. ‘She’ll be in the drawing room. You won’t be alone. Besides, she won’t have a knife.’ Well, that’s reassuring. You certainly have a way with words.
The room had the same grey walls and lino floor. It was equipped with somewhat battered sofas and armchairs. A couple of bearded men who looked as if they had just been brought off the street were in one corner reading. Jill had taken a seat by the window and was looking outside.
She jumped up. ‘Tim…’ She then turned and came over to Andrew. She rubbed his arm where she had stabbed it. ‘It’s you.’ Yes. You should know who I am. Lovers, remember?
‘Hello, Jill, you’re looking good.’ You look dreadful. What is it? He pulled his arm away.
‘Shall we sit down?’ Do we have to?
‘What are you reading, sis?’ He picked up the magazine that was on the floor beside him. ‘Hello!’ He tossed it away. ‘I’ll get you something better.’ He rose to his feet.
‘Where’re you going?’ Shit, Tim, you can’t leave me with her on my own.
Tim gestured to shut him up. ‘It won’t take long.’ He gave Jill a quick kiss. He made for the door.
‘I’m glad you came.’ Are you? Or are you just saying that now I’m here?
‘You look good, really good.’ What am I saying? You look like the other tramps here.
‘Don’t bulls**t me. I looked in the mirror this morning; I don’t look anything other than s**t.’ Well, at least you haven’t lost your directness.
He looked at the door where her brother had gone. ‘Tim’s a good brother.’ But a lousy friend leaving me alone like this. What am I supposed to do?
‘He looks out for me.’ She started scratching at her wrist with her nails. What are you doing?
‘Tim thought you’d be pleased to see me.’ She scraped even harder. The tips of her fingers were red. You’re making yourself bleed! Stop!
‘Don’t do that.’ She removed her hand from her arm. He turned it over, so he could see what she had done. You’ve scratched yourself until you’re bloody.
She stuck her bloody fingers in her mouth. Eh?
He watched her suck them. Are you doing this to gross me out?
Eventually, she took them out. ‘Did Tim tell you, then?’ No.
‘Tell me what?’
‘I’ve…I’ve…Oh s**t.’ She grappled with the button of her sleeve before rolling it up. ‘See!’ Her arm was a mass of scars. Oh! What have you done? The point where she had just been picking near her wrist had a big crimson bubble of congealing blood. What do I say? It’s awful. What did you do to yourself?
‘Was there an accident?’ Oh, come on, don’t be so stupid, she did it to herself. You saw that.
‘What do you think?’ What do I think? I think you’ve gone off your rocker. That’s why you’re here. His eyes took in the lounge. Are you accusing me of having led you to this? You stabbed me, remember, in a fit of rage.
He pointed at her arm. ‘Is that because of me?’ Tell me no. ‘What happened between us was an accident. It wasn’t your fault.’ Oh, this is just so, so crap. I really loved you Jill. No. If I’m truthful, in some way, I still do. Do you know you’re breaking my heart to see you doing this? I don’t think I can stand it. He felt himself breaking out in a sweat.
‘The doctor says I can go home in a couple of weeks.’
‘That’s good.’ You’ll feel better when you’re away from this depressing place.
One of the men giggled.
The other slapped him.
The first one got up and went out.
After a moment, the second one got up and followed the first one. Shit! Now I’m on my own with Jill. He had a vision of her attacking him with her hands, ripping at his face and chest like a demented harpy. Oh no! He felt his heart beating in his chest.
‘Will you come and see me when I’m back at the flat?’ I don’t know Jill, I really don’t know. It’s over between us, can’t you see that?
‘I’m kind of busy at the moment.’ That’s a lie and she knows it. ‘Tell you what, I’ll talk to Tim about it.’ I don’t want to be alone with you—not after what happened.
‘It won’t be immediately. I’m going home first for a while. Mum says I need to rest.’ Perhaps I should visit her there?
‘Get Tim to contact me when you’re back in London.’ I’ll find an excuse not to go. Shouldn’t be too difficult.
Tim strode in at that moment. ‘Sorry about that. Took me longer than I thought to find the shop.’ He passed over a magazine. ‘Here, this is for you.’
She took it and, flipping it over, read the title. ‘Grazia.’ She got up and went over to him and gave him a hug. ‘Thanks.’
He presented a plastic bag to them. ‘I also bought these.’ He pulled out a Mountain Dew and gave it to her. He then offered Andrew a Coke. ‘Not sure what you liked. I’ve got a Fanta if you’d prefer.’
‘Coke’s fine. Thanks.’ He pulled the ring. The liquid bubbled up. He took a quick sip. Jill had not touched hers.
‘Why the tears, sis?’ She’s crying? He could now see the drops dripping down her face.
‘You’re both being so nice; I don’t deserve it.’
‘I’m your bro, remember?’ He pulled his tab. ‘Mum sends her love.’
‘Hard to tell. He won’t talk about you.’ But she’s his daughter! He’s not cutting her off, is he?
‘I see.’ Do you?
‘The doctor said you’re being discharged on Tuesday.’
‘Mum is coming up to pick me up.’
‘I’ll be there too.’
‘What about you, Andrew?’ What? Me?
‘I’ve got be at work. The PM relies on me.’ Well, she’s been doing pretty well with Aiden, or so I hear. I don’t want to be sent back to the Home Office, so taking the day off is a non-starter.
‘It’ll be good to get away from this place.’ Jill smiled. You’re beautiful when you smile, aren’t you! ‘You will come and see me in Somerset?’ Must I?
Tim patted her affectionately. ‘Don’t you worry, sis, I’ll make sure he comes to visit.’ I haven’t said I would.
‘If I have time, I’d love to come. I really don’t know the place.’
‘Surely you’ve heard of Glastonbury?’ The festival?
‘He’s just a city boy. Aren’t you Andrew? Meeting a few cows might be good for your education.’ No thanks.
‘You live on a farm?’ Seriously?
‘Jill, how can Andrew here not know where you were brought up?’ We never talked of it, that’s why. Too busy…too busy bonking, if you should know.
‘It never came up.’
Tim shook his arm. ‘It’s about time, then, you discovered where milk comes from!’ I know where it comes from. Cows. ‘You have a real treat in store.’
‘You will come, won’t you?’ Oh, Jill! I’m not sure I’m up for this.
‘Tim and I will work something out.’ Oh, Christ, what am I letting myself in for?
A bell rang.
‘Visiting time’s over.’
‘See you Tuesday, sis.’
‘Keep well, Jill.’
‘You’ll come. You’ve promised!’ If it’s that important, I’ll come.
They left her in the lounge and headed to the waiting room.
‘Well, that went well.’ For whom? I’ve been boxed into seeing her again. I’m not sure that’s what I want. ‘She’s much better than the previous time I came last week.’
‘Tim…’ I can’t tell him I don’t want to see her again.
‘Hey, Andrew, you were stellar. Did you see how she reacted when she saw you?’ He grasped his hand. ‘Thanks for agreeing to see her again.’ It seems I’ll be seeing her again, again.
To be continued…
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.