Smack – Chapter 25

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Sunday morning 9.15 a.m.: Carol wakes me up with a cup of tea; once more she is wearing one of Marie’s dressing gowns and for a split second I’m tricked into believing that it is Marie herself standing at my bedside. “Come on, John,” she says breezily. “Time to get up – you have a long day ahead of you.”
“Go back to bed…” I mumble, half-asleep.
“Come on… wake up…” she continues. “Time to get dressed.”
I close my eyes and turn away from Carol but before I can react the duvet is being tugged away from me. “Cut it out…” I say angrily holding on to it for all I am worth, suddenly aware that I am naked beneath the covers.
Carol is laughing: “Up… Up… Up…” she demands.
“Just let go will you…”
“Come on… wakey wakey,” says Carol, refusing to release her grip on the duvet.
“Okay then,” I announce obstinately, pulling my hands away. “Do what you want.”
Carol calls my bluff: in an instant the duvet is swept away from my bed, revealing my naked, white, lardy body.
Now I’m jumping up like I’ve just had an electric shock, covering my genitals and trying to hide my stomach. Carol erupts in a fit of giggles and leaves the room, dragging the duvet behind her: “Better get dressed…” she shouts as she exits.
We take breakfast: Carol is still laughing when I angrily tell her to grow up. “You should have seen your face!” she says.
I am not happy: “How would you like it if I did that to you?” I ask.
“Promises, promises!” she winks.
For the next couple of hours we play a kind of game: Carol pretends that I am going to get into my car and drive to Devon, and I pretend that I am not. I tell her that she really ought to think about getting going so that I can start cleaning up the house and she tells me that she’s not moving and that I’d better get used to the idea. I clean the house: I get out the vacuum cleaner and make a start on Ralph’s discarded fur but Carol just sits on the sofa smiling at me, occasionally shaking her head playfully when I look at her, pursing her lips. I move into the kitchen and start the washing up and Carol follows me, still mocking me with her eyes. I go into the bathroom and put things back the way that they were before Carol moved in: I find Marie’s green shampoo and top it up with water and shake the bottle a little. I go into the spare bedroom and begin rearranging the sheets but Carol jumps on to the bed and picks up a book she has been reading. “By the way,” she asks. “How are you getting on with Time’s Arrow?”
“You what?” I reply.
“You know…” she continues. “You told me in that café last week that you were reading it – how are you getting on… are you enjoying it?”
I ignore her and begin folding up some of the loose clothing she has left scattered about the room.
“Because… you know… it’s funny… I had a little look around here the other day… and you know what? I couldn’t find it anywhere…”
“Well at least I don’t think that Tess of the D’Urbervilles was written by Jane Austen,” I say.
“Sorry?”
“You told me that day in the café that you’d just read Tess of the D’Urbervilles and it was written by Jane Austen.
“Did I?” she says.
“Yes.”
“Oh… touché”
It continues: by mid-day the joke is beginning to wear a little thin; I’m starting to lose my temper but Carol shows no sign of letting up. I plead with her, I yell at her, I tell her how ungrateful she is after all I’ve done for her, I advise her that she is wasting her time, but still she refuses to leave. Then, as the afternoon approaches, I begin to realise that I may have a little bit of a problem on my hands. Carol has me exactly where she wants me: if she really is prepared to go as far as she claims she is there is nothing I can do about it. I offer her money, I shout some more, I appeal to her finer instincts. Still she will not budge. Then I have an idea: I decide that the only way out of this is to play along with her. What I’ll do is tell her that I’ve changed my mind after all and that I’m finally ready to come up with the ransom money; that I will indeed pay my ailing father a visit. Then I’ll drive us into the middle of nowhere and dump her. I realise, however, if my fiendish plan is going to work I’m going to have to play my hand very, very carefully.
I’m standing in the living room of my now sparkling house. All in all, I think I’ve done a pretty good job: I’m reasonably confident that Marie will not be able to spot the difference when she returns, and that’s how I’d like to keep it. Carol is sitting on the sofa when I begin speaking.
“Okay. You win,” I say with grim resignation. “Get your stuff together… let’s do it…”
Carol looks at me warily, weighing things up in her head.
“Look… you’ve got your own way… just get a fucking move on or I’ll change my mind!” I say.
For a moment it looks as though Carol isn’t going to take the bait, then a smile comes to her lips and she says warmly: “Oh John… I knew you’d see sense… you won’t regret this you know…”
“So you say,” I frown, trying to look as angry and depressed and brow-beaten as possible.
Forty minutes later: we’re in my car, which is an M-Reg red Peugeot; I’m driving, of course, and we’re stuck in traffic on the Bayswater Road. Carol is in the passenger seat, Ralph is in the rear, his head resting on Carol’s black plastic sack of belongings. We’re out of the house at last. I’m wearing a short leather jacket and black jeans. I’m unshaven and heavy headed from last night. In the boot is a leather hold-all containing some underwear, some socks and a change of shirt. I’m heading towards the M4 and I’m trying to make things as believable as possible; I plan to stop the car just before we reach the motorway and hustle Carol out of it as gently as I can. It might sound cruel but I have little option: naturally I’ll give her some money and stuff and make sure that she’s all right – but what other choice do I have?
Carol is singing to herself happily and all of a sudden making plans: “Listen,” she says. “I know that this is not going to be easy for you… but when it’s all over how do you feel about spending a day or two in Dartmouth with some friends of mine?”
This is a bolt from the blue: suddenly I find myself suspicious of Carol’s motives for getting me to go and see my father. I’m remembering last night when she forced me to tell her my life story: did I mention then that I was born and raised in South Devon? I think I did. Is this really what she’s up to… has she constructed this whole charade simply because she wants a free lift? I’d have given her the money for the fare if she’d only asked. Surely she can’t be that calculating?
“What do you think?” she continues. “We could go and see your parents and then go on to visit a few friends of mine – they’ll put you up… you’ll have a good time… I know you will.”
Now she wants a free lift back to London… is there no end to this girl’s bare-faced cheek?
“Carol,” I say, trying to keep calm. “It may have escaped your notice but my girlfriend is due back tomorrow – what’s she going to say when she discovers I’ve disappeared off on holiday with a girl half my age?”
“I would have thought that’s the least of your worries. What’s she going to say when she finds out you’ve lost your job? What’s she going to say when she finds out that you’ve been to visit your father? I would have thought that inventing an excuse for a day trip to Devon would be child’s play for a natural liar like you.”
Is it really that obvious? “Okay… Okay…” I reply, buying myself some time so that we can escape the traffic and I can push the button that releases the ejector seat. “Let me just think about it for a while.”
We drive on for a few minutes without saying anything. Then Carol has another bright idea: “Listen…” she asks. “Would you mind if I use your mobile? I could call Jez and tell him that we’re on our way.”
“What makes you think I’ve got a mobile?”
Carol laughs: “Come off it – of course you’ve got a mobile.”
I fish around in my coat pocket and hand my Erikkson over to her. “Use the red button at the top to turn it on,” I tell her.
Carol makes a noise like Homer Simpson: “Doooh…” she exclaims contemptuously. “You think I’ve never used a mobile phone?”
Then something terrible happens. Something dreadfully, unbelievably, inconceivably awful happens. I’m concentrating on driving as Carol flicks on the telephone and waits while it goes through its boot-up process. Then, just as she is about to start keying in Jez’ number or whatever his or her name is, the telephone starts to ring. Before I can stop her Carol, who’s doubtless thinking that she has pushed a button accidentally or something, answers it. I’m doing about thirty-five on a roundabout with a green Renault right up my backside and I’m powerless to do anything about it as Carol realises her mistake and holds the phone to her ear and says, in that cute little voice of hers: “Hello… Hello…” All of this happens in a split second – but here is never any doubt at all in my mind who is at the other end of the line.
At the other end of the line Marie, who I will later discover has already called me at home and is trying my mobile on the off chance that I’ve got it switched on for once, hears a female voice and immediately assumes that she has misdialled. She says: “Oh… I’m sorry… I’m trying to speak to John… John Price… I must have the wrong number.”
Back in Barnes, Marie replaces the telephone receiver and then redials, taking greater care this time. In the car I’m sitting here stunned, still trying to concentrate on the traffic, yelling: “Turn it off! Turn the fucking thing off!”.
But Carol isn’t quick enough: she fumbles with the Erikkson and drops it into her lap. The phone begins to ring again and Ralph starts to bark. I swerve to the left and snatch the phone from Carol’s lap – in my blind panic pinching the skin in her right thigh between my fingers, making her scream ‘Ow!”, making the dog bark even louder. Then I’m blindly holding the phone in my left hand and prodding randomly at every button until I finally hit the right one and the phone goes dead.
The driver behind is tooting his horn at me but inside the car there is a deathly silence; even Ralph has suddenly decided that it’s probably best if he kept a low profile for the time being. I’m shaking with rage but still unable to turn my gaze away from the road. “Well that’s just fucking marvellous,” I snarl. “Thanks a fucking bunch!

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