Monday afternoon: Our semi-conscious snogging session is not discussed but nevertheless something has changed between us. Carol is a little more formal than I’ve become accustomed to, a little more polite, a little less connected. For my part, I am rather more jolly than usual: brighter, sparkier, more pleasant and unassuming than I usually am. Underneath this façade, however, I’ve spent the day fending off a busy, well-ordered queue of panic attacks.
It was after the three of us left the caravan this morning and found a tea shop in the centre of Brixham that it really hit me for the first time that I no longer had a job. When I passed my credit card over to pay for breakfast I found myself suddenly concerned about money and the impact that the lack of it would have on my life now that I didn’t have a regular monthly pay cheque coming in. And it wasn’t just the money that was bothering me.
Off the top of my head I can think of more than one or two people who would find it unfeasibly amusing if I were to give them a run-down on all that has happened to me over the past fortnight. To me, though, I find it all so unfair: not unfair because I’ve just lost my job or because my father’s about to die or because my girlfriend has run off to her mother’s or anything like that – these are, after all, the sorts of things that we all have to deal with at some point in our lives – but unfair because everything’s happened so fast that I have been unable to give any of these issues the attention that they truly deserve.
My second panic attack came a little after breakfast while Carol and I were doing ten minutes of sight-seeing before returning to the car and pointing it in the direction of our next port of call. It was after Carol had gone off to post a letter or something that I took the opportunity to check my messages at home on my mobile. There were three in all: the first was from Marie, who told me in a surprisingly sympathetic tone of voice that it was Sunday afternoon and that she had decided to come home on Wednesday (not yesterday or today as I had assumed, which is quite a relief, actually) and that she was calling because she thought that we ought to have a chat before then and that even though she thought it would be a waste of time she’d try me on my mobile. The second call was from BT, who informed me that for twenty quid a month or whatever I could reduce my monthly phone bill by 45%. The third was from Louise, who apparently does have my home number after all. Like Marie, she also suggested that we ought to have a chat sometime and left me her home number. It was at this point that the second panic attack set in: all of a sudden my mind was full of crazy paranoid visions of the future – in the blink of an eye I’d gone from an image of a bitchy Louise confronting Marie and gleefully spilling the beans about what we’d recently been up to between the sheets, to an image of a bloated, heavily-pregnant Louise appearing on my doorstep demanding maintenance and asking me what I’d like to call the baby (we’ll name it after one of Louise’s distant ancestors, shall we: Lucy). Can you imagine the full horror if I was to discover that Louise was pregnant with my child? This second panic attack was not exactly helped when I then checked for any messages left on my mobile only to find another one from Marie, apparently made a little after Carol had accidentally answered her call in the car yesterday afternoon. This one was decidedly less friendly than the earlier one: it told me to call her back straight away because she hasn’t got a fucking clue what’s going on.
After this came the father-and-mother panic attack; the what-must-Carol-be-thinking-about-what-I-did-to-her-this-morning panic attack; the, oh-god-where-did-I-park-my-car panic attack; and, finally, the stop-having-panic-attacks-and-grow-up panic attack. Then, by around mid-day, my thought processes finally began to settle down a little; and, with Carol jabbering on politely about this and that, I made a few decisions:
Firstly: The mobile phone. How am I going to explain to Marie why a woman’s voice answered my mobile phone when she called me on Sunday afternoon? Solution: That’s quite an easy one, actually – I’m going to tell her that I’ve lost my phone… I’ve left it in the pub or it’s been stolen or something like. Nothing too unbelievable about that one.
Secondly: The trip to Devon. How am I going to explain to Marie the motives behind my sudden unexpected change of heart a propos my father? Again another fairly self-evident one: all I need to say is that Marie was right all along – that she was perfectly justified in endeavouring to convince me to see my father before he died and that, furthermore, she was also correct to run off for a week so that I’d have the time and space in which to reach this conclusion. It goes without saying, of course, that this response is far more preferable to offering the real reason, which was that a beautiful squatter with a nose ring and a tatty dog – who I let stay in the house during Marie’s absence – mock-blackmailed me into doing it. My way, Marie gets to think she convinced me to do the right thing by sheer force of will, which is bound to make her feel pleased with herself and help to heal a few open wounds. This approach has the added bonus of giving me a little ammunition in the event of a future border skirmish, during which I’ll be able to point out how wrong Marie was about my going to visit my father, and that she really ought to get it into her head that she isn’t always right about everything.
Thirdly: Work. This one’s connected with the money panic attack that I had earlier on. Now that the dust is beginning to settle a little it’s gradually dawning on me that I’m going to be owed a rather large sum of money by Gravity. What is it for fifteen years employment? It’s at least a month’s pay for every year, which means that I’m due a cheque for at least 30k. This softens the blow somewhat. As soon as I get home I’m going to call Mary Bridges from personnel and read her the riot act. If I play my cards right I could end up with a lot more than the figure I’ve just mentioned.
Number four: Louise: I could be misreading the signs but I rather got the impression as I was leaving Louise’s house the other morning that she was viewing our boozed up fucking session as the start of something big. It was almost as if she was thinking that she had been granted access to my trousers because there’d been this insatiable, overwhelming attraction burning away inside us all these months. I’m sure she’s expecting dinners and flowers and trips to the cinema and all the rest that goes with it. I’ll have to be careful with this one: too brutal an ending and there’s no telling what she’ll do to exact her revenge. One thing’s for sure – I don’t want her ringing up Marie out of the blue and informing her that we’ve suddenly fallen passionately in love with one another. For this reason I’m going to do what that old Stranglers song advises one to do: I’m going to let her down easy. I’m going to take her for a drink or whatever and try to use good old fashioned body language to let her know the way that my loins are thinking. Instead of dumping her, I’m going to keep a discreet distance and let her get tired of me, I want whatever interest she has in me to quickly dwindle away to nothing. There is, of course, still the minor problem of her leaving that message on my answering machine. Which means that I’ve got to get back and erase it before Marie returns on Wednesday, something which I fully intend to do.
Number five: Carol: Carol is now out of the house, so she’s no longer a problem. What I’m going to do is drive her to her friend’s place in Dartmouth, wave goodbye to her and Ralph, and then turn the car in the opposite direction and head off home. If I’m lucky I’ll be back by early evening; and from that point on I intend to keep my relationship with Carol strictly confined to the undersides of cash dispensers.
Number six: My father: He can fuck off and die.
Were fifteen miles away from Dartmouth. It’s 12.10 p.m. and Carol is puckering her lips at me like Marilyn Monroe in the poster for The Seven Year Itch. Carol is endeavouring to get her own way again, her earlier politeness has evaporated away to nothing, as has my uncharacteristic unassumingness.
“You can ask me as much as you like, Carol, but my answer will stay the same… as soon as I’ve dropped you off I’m heading back to London.”
Actually, the pendulum’s swinging back the other way once more: because now I’m going over the events of this morning again and I’m trying to work out in my mind just what exactly Carol’s game is. A few moments ago Carol repeated yesterday’s offer: she asked me again if I’d like to spend a few days in Dartmouth with her and her buddies. At first I thought she was still being polite and I told her no thanks, but it was too late: already her words had managed to bring a whole new perspective to our earlier moment of bleary-eyed intimacy. Up until then I’d been thinking that our snog this morning had been nothing more than the behaviour of two half-asleep people reacting purely on instinct upon waking up in a strange place to find themselves lying next to someone else of the opposite sex. Now I’m not so sure: I’m not so sure because if Carol is really so appalled by what occurred this morning surely she wouldn’t be asking me what she’s me asking now?
“I’ll tell Marie…”
“I’ll tell Marie that you let me and Ralph stay in your pl…”
“…Shut up Carol.”
We arrive in Dartmouth: a carbon copy of the last town that we passed through; another west country clone-zone full of trees, cutesy old Victorian fisherman cottages, country pubs, boats, fish and chip shops selling kebabs and beefburgers, country bumpkins; the cheerful monotony of these picturesque vistas drains the soul. I drive through the cobbled streets and Carol directs me to Jez’ house. We park and she gets out of the car clutching her black plastic sack with Ralph galloping cheerfully behind her and I get ready to bid her farewell but she stops me in mid-sentence and tells me not to be so silly – the least she can do is get Jez to make me a cup of tea to send me on my way. I tell her no thanks again but she insists. I say okay, I will, but I won’t stay for long because, as you already know, I’ve got to get back to London.
Jez turns out to be a white male in his late twenties with blonde dreadlocks, a goatee and a mobile phone clipped to the belt around a pair of tatty combat trousers. He breaks into a smile when he sees Carol, wrapping his arms around her and hugging her. He looks me up and down suspiciously when we’re introduced, then he invites us into his bedsit, which is small and dark and dingy with no TV, a tiny kitchen area with a knackered out old fridge, a sink overflowing with unwashed cups and plates, a nylon-stringed acoustic guitar propped up against an old table, an ancient bed partially hidden by a wooden screen that divides the room into two areas.
Carol asks Jez for tea but he shrugs and tells her he hasn’t got any, which slightly relieves me. Instead, he reaches inside the fridge and pulls out a four-pack of Special Brew. He snaps one open and throws another at Carol, then without asking me if I want one, he hurls one over in my direction, too. I almost drop it. I have to say that sipping Special Brew with Swampy the animal rights activist was not really what I had in mind for this afternoon. There’s an antagonistic quality to his movements, almost as if my refusing to accept his can of beer would somehow confirm everything that he’s been thinking about this straight looking old bloke that has just turned up out of the blue with Carol. The ridiculous thing is that even though I know that Jez and I will probably never set eyes on each other again for the rest of our lives, I can’t stop myself from joining Carol and Jez on the carpet and I can’t stop myself from opening the can of beer he has given to me, and I can’t stop myself from lifting it to my lips and pretending that I’m enjoying it.
Jez moves over to the window and flicks on a tape in a battered old circa 1974 radio-cassette player. The opening bars of the Doors’ ‘The End’ start up. “This is the end… beau-ti-ful friend…” chants Jim Morrison as I glance over at Carol uncomfortably. I can’t help thinking that the singer’s maybe got it right this time. While Jim entertains us, Jez opens a drawer and pulls out a large plastic bag full of grass; for some undisclosed reason he looks over to me and nods. So I nod back, smiling a little.
Over the next half an hour I discover that Jez is unemployed (surprise, surprise); that he doesn’t want to get a job (ditto); that he doesn’t eat meat; that he earns money by busking on the streets; that Ronald MacDonald is evil and is part of a huge conspiracy to take over the world (I already knew that); that he’s been in prison twice for breaking into animal research laboratories (I almost tell him that if it’s a pet he’s after he should try a pet shop); and that the world is likely to end next April because all nine planets will be in conjunction. He’s a wealth of fascinating information is Jez.
I have a second can, this isn’t because I want to but because Jez’ desire for me to have a second can is stronger than my desire not to. While I am doing this Jez demonstrates his seasoned pro smoking status by rolling three separate joints and distributing one of them to each of us. Ralph, squatting at Jez’ bedside, gets a soup bowl full of water for his troubles and some biscuits to chew on. For people who are supposed to be so into animal rights, Carol and her illuminating associate seem curiously indifferent when it comes to treating the poor animal with anything remotely resembling compassion or respect.
By three o’clock I’ve had another two spliffs and I’m on my third can of Special Brew. I give Jez some cash so that he can go and get some more beer and I’m left alone in his squalid hovel with Carol. “What time do you plan to leave?” she smiles innocently.
“Well put it this way,” I reply. “It looks like you’ve got your lift back to London.”
“Oh… how could you think such a thing!” says Carol, genuinely offended, it seems, by my calculated assumption
A little after seven we stumble out into the cold evening with Jez leading the way. Ralph gets to stay indoors with only the radio for company. We go to a pub in the centre of town and meet up with about a dozen or so other young men and women who all look like Jez and Carol. I find a table inside and talk to one or two of these people. I am treated as a mild curiosity: they ask me what I do for a living sort of sneeringly and I say with forced pride that I am unemployed like them. This patently fails to impress them. We talk about music and they run through a long list of singers and bands that I have never heard of; I tell them about my punk rocker days, about how I saw the Sex Pistols at the Screen On The Green, about how I saw the Clash at the Hope and Anchor; and even though I did neither of these things this information patently fails to impress them, too.
Towards closing time, Carol mysteriously disappears for about twenty-minutes or so, leaving me alone with her cheerful chums. When she returns she is dragging two other down and outs behind her: “This is Steve and Flynn…” she tells me. (Flynn? What sort of a name is that for a girl?) “They say we can crash in their spare room tonight.”
We crash in Steve and Flynn’s spare room. I shan’t bore you too much with descriptions and suchlike, except to say that Steve and Flynn’s spare room makes Jez’ place seem like the Ritz. On one side of the room is a solitary easy chair that looks like it has been picked up in a January sale in a skip, in the centre of the room is a single mattress on the floor with, for some reason, a well-thumbed copy of Bridget Jones’ Diary lying beside it. The only light in the room is provided by a candle. While Carol goes off to the piss-hole that is Steve and Flynn’s bathroom and does whatever it is she has to do, I idly flick through the book, drunk and stoned,.
In the middle of this, Flynn comes into the room and asks me if everything is all right. Flynn, I’m yet to explain, is a chubby vegan from Wales with enough metal wedged into her bloated cheeks to supply the source material for a small cruise liner. I tell her yes thanks and she tells me how great Carol is and I say yes she is.
Carol returns and I leave the two women talking and head off to the bathroom, acutely aware that it has been two days since I’ve taken a shower. I strip off by the sink, grabbing an emaciated piece of soap and rubbing it under my armpits and over my balls. I’m not entirely sure why it is suddenly so important that my genitals should smell of soap.
When I get back to the room Carol and Flynn are giggling. They stop when I enter and we all have a conversation about something. Flynn’s eyes are gleaming, or is it merely all that metal confusing me? Then she shakes me by the hand and tells me she hopes I have a good night’s sleep. I look at my watch as she exits: it is 12.43 a.m.
Carol blows out the candle and suddenly the room is in darkness. Neither of us says anything but I can hear the rustle of her removing her clothing. I sit in the chair, suddenly trembling even though the room is not cold. Carol gets into bed and after a pause that really does last an eternity, whispers: “You’re not going to sleep there, are you?”
I mumble something in response. I have no idea what I say and neither, I assume, does Carol.
“Look…” she urges. “Don’t be so silly…”
I move over to the mattress, my trembling now overpowering my whole body, and climb underneath the blankets. I awkwardly lower myself alongside Carol, making sure that were are not touching, which is a difficult, if not impossible thing to be attempting on a mattress of this size. Then I say: “Goodnight, then.”
We lie together in silence. From elsewhere in the house someone is playing a record, Jeff Buckley or somebody like that. I try to listen for a while; occasionally I can hear Steve and Flynn and somebody else’s voice cutting into the music. I’ve still got all my clothes on and have no idea how much of Carol’s clothing remains intact. I start to unbuckle my jeans because I’m realising that if I don’t I’m never going to be able to sleep. “I’m just taking my trousers off,” I say, trying not to sound too guilty. Carol makes the same Homer Simpson noise that I heard her make the other day: “Doooohh…” she says.
The jeans come off, as do my socks. They lie uncomfortably and a little forlornly on the floor next to the mattress. I’m now wearing just a T-shirt and a pair of boxers shorts, through which the smell of my soapy balls must be clearly apparent. I turn my back away from Carol and close my eyes and try to get to sleep but my sixth sense tells me that Carol has her eyes open. I feel her move closer to me; I feel her breath on the back of my neck. She is trembling too.
We stay like this for a long time; I’m afraid to breathe, my body is paralysed. Finally Carol sighs sleepily and whispers: “I’m cold…” And before I can do anything her body is spooning mine, an arm wrapped around my belly, her hairless thighs touching the backs of my own. “It’s okay, isn’t it?” she asks softly.
Now I suddenly have an erection, which, obviously, because it wants to humiliate me, has managed to slip out of the side of my boxer shorts; the boxer shorts themselves are also in on the plot: they have wrapped themselves around my waist so that the front has now relocated itself in the crack of my arse and the back is tangled up in my pubic hair. With Carol pushing her body closer to me I reach down, slowly, casually I’m hoping, to readjust the offending garment. I slip my throbbing dick back inside and lift my bottom off the mattress so that I can attempt this tricky manoeuvre. Lord knows what Carol must be thinking I’m up to. Then, without warning, I feel a hand creep over my own so that I’m left cupping my own balls with her hand covering mine, afraid to move lest Carol should discover what I am hiding underneath.
Then Carol quietly starts to kiss the back of my neck, nibbling it gently, and I shudder involuntarily so that she pulls away from me for a moment and gently whispers: “Are you all right?” Her hand is still on top of my own.
“Ye… yes…” I whisper, my teeth beating a Rumba in time to my shaking body.
Then Carol gets back into position and is kissing my neck again and I’m suddenly thinking about this morning; maybe Carol wasn’t quite so sickened by what we did as I thought she was. And now I’m turning around to face her and wrapping both my arms tightly around her body. Carol is wearing a T-shirt and knickers and no bra. It’s dark but just about light enough to make out her features. From this proximity they are astonishingly beautiful. My nose is three or four millimetres away from her own: I have never in my whole life been so close to a woman this gorgeous.
Suddenly our lips are together: our faces are grinding away in a hot sticky mixture of saliva and teeth and steam and electricity. And I’m reaching under Carol’s T-shirt and frantically cupping her right breast in my hand, kneading it, rubbing the nipple with my thumb. And I’m grinding my crotch into hers and she’s grinding her crotch into mine, and she’s gasping and I’m gasping and she’s reaching down and getting her hand caught up in my ill-positioned boxer shorts. Yes… I really think that I might just have misjudged her this morning: there is now every possibility that the focus group will go home happy, after all.
Now she has her hand clamped around my dick and she’s easing down my tangled boxer shorts and they’re getting caught around my knees and I’m pulling apart from her for a moment and kicking them away from my ankles. And her tongue is in my mouth and she is running it along the underside of my front teeth the way Marie used to do when we first met.
I jerk myself away from Carol, suddenly haunted by a vision of Marie; suddenly aware of what I’m doing. I feel an arctic rush of guilt: it travels down my spine and finishes up at the tips of my toes. And I’m sitting up in bed, my dick in pain, panting like a dog, breathless, shuddering uncontrollably. “We can’t do this…” I groan.
Carol rolls over on to her back and looks at me. Her T-shirt is pulled up to expose the breasts I had been man-handling a few moments ago. “It looks like we are…” she smiles.
“But why…” I splutter. “What can a girl like you possibly see in a sad old fart like me?”
“Ssshhhh…” says Carol, placing a finger on her lips.
Carol pulls down on my shoulders and hauls me back on to the mattress so that I’m lying flat on my back. Then she hovers over me and hoists her T-shirt over her head. “Shut up, John…” she says, lowering her open lips on to my own.
Location:Whitehall Park,London,United Kingdom