The ticking of the clock hauls me back into consciousness. The curtains are closed but through half-cocked eyes I can see that it’s still dark outside. I lie in the silence for a few moments, calmed by the rhythm of Marie’s breathing; my tongue is a stretch of loose gravel, my head is filled with sand. It feels like I have been asleep for a thousand years. And then, all at once – in a random, non-specific order that sends my senses pirouetting through the air in a vertiginous whirl – the facts begin to emerge in the half light, and I realise that now would be as good a time as any to consider suicide. First of all, we – me and Marie, that is – don’t have an alarm clock in our bedroom that ticks – ours is electric; thirdly, those aren’t our curtains hanging up there above the bedroom window that clearly isn’t our bedroom window; and secondly, this isn’t Marie lying here beside me.
I can tell that the person lying with her back to me isn’t Marie because, for one thing, she hasn’t got the same colour hair as Marie: Marie’s hair is black, whilst this person has mousey blonde hair; this person also smells differently to Marie; her body temperature is somehow not the same; this person does not even seem to breathe in the same way that Marie does. Everything is different: the bed is different, the cracks on the ceiling are different, the pictures on the walls are different. I’ve slipped into the Twilight Zone. I can hear the pulse of my blood throbbing in my temples, I can feel the heat rise from my face in waves: I’m lying naked in bed, thigh to thigh with a woman who isn’t Marie.
I close my eyes for a few seconds and try to make sense of things. I’m trembling yet my body is rigid, I’m hoping against all hope that this is all just a dream: I’ll wake up in an hour or so and I’ll be back in our bedroom with Marie lying beside me, her hair will be short and black, not mousey-blonde and long. Then, as if to illustrate the abject futility of such an ambition, I feel the person beside me suddenly begin to stir. She mumbles something in a voice that is deeper than Marie’s and slowly rolls over and clasps her arms around my chest contentedly. I close my eyes once again and try not to move as I feel a finger gently scrape the thatch of hair on my stomach. The other person’s head is now resting on my shoulder, I can feel her sleepy eyes creeping along the outline of my face. I wait a minute… an hour… a week… a year… and then turn to examine the other person.
“Hello… you,” drawls Louise dreamily.
Louise moves her lips – her Neanderthal lips – closer to mine. She’s going to kiss me. She’s actually going to kiss me.
Louise kisses me: her breath smells of something old and soiled and unrecognisable, her lips are fuller than Marie’s and have the consistency of unleavened dough. Louise is naked, too: I can feel her heavy breasts drilling into my side, I can feel her smooth, hairless legs wrapping themselves around my own. From all the available evidence it would seem apparent that that little rift of ours is now well and truly healed.
Friday, 11.36 a.m.: I’m in a taxi being driven from Louise’s house in Mill Hill to our house in Islington. I had intended to use this opportunity to try to do a little reassessing, not to mention a little rewriting, of recent history. The taxi driver, a Turkish guy about the same age as me who is apparently part of this conspiracy, is, naturally enough, having none of it.
He was watching with undisguised curiosity in the street a few moments ago as I exited the scene of the crime: me in my crumpled suit, with my bloodshot eyes and hair sticking out at all angles, Louise in a flowing negligee type number, her Neanderthal head balanced precariously on top of this flowing fountain of white lace and ribbon. From his position behind the wheel of his clapped out Escort, the taxi driver had looked on with interest as I air-kissed Louise goodbye and muttered something about seeing her again soon. Judging by the look on his face, it was clear that he knew exactly what had been going on. Instead of motioning towards the back of the car, the taxi driver had opened the passenger door and beckoned for me to step in beside him, which, of course, was something I really wanted to be doing.
Just under an hour ago I’d been having sex with Louise, apparently not, I am fearfully compelled to conclude, for the first time. I didn’t actually want to have sex with Louise, I’m sure you’ll believe me when I tell you this, it’s just that when you’re lying naked in bed with a woman who is forcefully giving every indication that she wants to continue where she left off the night before, it’s difficult – not to mention bad manners – to resist complying with such a person’s wishes. So we had sex: first-thing-in-the-morning-sex; sleep-still-in-you-eyes-sex; mashing-together-of-teeth-sex. It goes without saying that the sex would undoubtedly have been more fulfilling and enjoyable had Louise not been present; I had sex with Louise and her Neanderthal head simply because there was no way that I could avoid it. Despite the noises I made during the course of our activities, the experience had nothing to do with pleasure. My every movement was laced with fear and anxiety and dread as to what form of retribution Louise might exact if I refused to have sex with her.
As we took off in the taxi, the driver may have been able to smell a little of that fear and anxiety and dread on me. He can also smell, I am pretty sure, Louise’s womanly odour wafting from my dehydrated body. He leaves it until we have cleared the street before he speaks:
“Hey…” he winks at me, knowingly. “That is your girlfriend?”
No, it isn’t my girlfriend. And no I don’t want to sit in the front of a mini-cab being cross-examined by the leering face of a Turkish taxi driver who clearly sees me as some kind of kindred spirit. And yes, if I didn’t want to go home so badly I’d tell the jerk to go fuck himself, in doing so risking being thrown out of the car and possible fisticuffs with the jerk in question. Instead, I tell him no, she’s just a friend.
“She’s a very good friend?” The driver’s second statement is either rhetorical or a question, I can’t really be sure.
No. she’s not a very good friend. In actual fact I can’t stand the silly bitch and I only slept with her because I was very, very, very… very to the power of 200 drunk. So drunk that I didn’t know who I was, what my age happened to be, and whether my gender was actually male or female.
“Yeah… she’s a good friend.”
“She has a good body?”
Another ambiguous, not to mention downright impertinent, question – who is this idiot? Yes I know she has a good body, to my profound self-disgust I’m graphically aware of this fact. But this isn’t the point – how does he know that Louise has a good body? Has he been lured into her boudoir, too? And once again, what the fuck’s it got to do with him anyway?
“I beg your pardon?” I say indignantly.
The taxi driver looks at me, a little confused: “I say: is she with anybody? …She has a husband?”
Now I’m suddenly laughing. I laugh even more when the driver tells me that he often gives the ‘pretty lady’ a lift in his cab. He’s got a crush on her. Him and Dave from accounts – they both have a crush on her. I want to be one of the chief seconds when they meet up at dawn for a duel, maybe a pistol loader or sword sharpener or something.
I’m creeping into the house hoping that Carol is either asleep or has flown the coop at last. Naturally, she has done neither of these things: I find her lying on the sofa watching Kilroy or some programme like that with a cup of coffee by her side. I’m wearing the suit that I went out in last night; like me, its appearance seems to suggest that it has recently come under prolonged enemy fire. Carol smiles when she sees me enter the living room and then tuts. “Who’s been a naughty boy, then?” she asks.
Yes. It seems to me that Carol’s absolutely entitled to ask that question, and even though she’s not Marie and even though she’s only been staying with me for three days I feel I have a little explaining to do; not least of all to myself. Yes, how indeed does one end up sleeping with Louise? What, precisely, are the processes involved in this grisly operation?