Tuesday. 10:45 p.m. I’m back home: I’ve switched the central heating on and the radiators are groaning into life. I’ve just opened a beer and I’m smoking a spliff. I’m standing in the spare room and I’m holding the dressing gown that Carol was wearing on Sunday morning: it’s smells of Carol. Now how pathetic is this? A little under twenty four hours ago I was getting ready to have sex with Carol and now all I can do is scamper after her smell like a dog sniffing at a lamppost. And I’m jealous: not of Jez or Brian or whoever else is likely to find himself lying in Carol’s arms tonight or tomorrow night or the night after that, but jealous of myself, of the person who sat in the pub with Carol’s scabby mates last night totally oblivious to what she had in store for him later on. And I’m wishing I was like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, condemned to wake up every morning in that shitty little caravan in Brixham, doomed to spend the rest of my nights on Steve and Flynn’s grubby mattress with only Carol’s naked body for company.
I trudge downstairs, past the flickering answering machine in the corridor, its digital display telling me that I have five messages in all, another two have been added since I called to collect them on Monday morning. But I can’t be bothered to listen to them now. I’m too tired, too weary. I’m too busy smelling what remains of Carol’s scent before it’s gone forever.
Wednesday morning. 8.15 a.m.: The alarm wakes me up and I drag myself from my bed. Marie could arrive home at any moment. This is what I have to do before she gets here.
1. Clean the house:
Even though I gave the place a good going over on Sunday morning while Carol was busy following me around trying to persuade me to go and see my father, I’m still not sure that I’ve left every stone unturned. I go through each room methodically: Our bedroom: (mine and Marie’s) I straighten the duvet and check for any signs of Carol – there are none. The spare bedroom: I put the books that Carol has been reading back on their shelves; I check under the bed and find an ash tray filled with roll-up stubs, I empty it into the rubbish bin downstairs and wipe it out with a cloth. The Kitchen: I go down on my knees and check for any stray food left by Ralph: there is none. I put Carol’s dressing gown into the washing machine, taking one last sniff at it before I do so. The living room: I find another ashtray containing a collection of my own and Carol’s cigarette stubs – this meets the same fate as its cousin. I rearrange my CD collection, I check for any stray dog hairs. The bathroom: I examine Marie’s shampoo bottle one last time, I put toothbrushes back where they are supposed to go, I fold up towels and hang them on rails and then decide to rough them up a little: Marie is sure to smell a rat if she comes back to find the whole house in such pristine condition. Or maybe she’ll be pleased that I’ve put so much effort into her welcome home party.
2. The answering machine:
I play my messages: the first, as has already been discussed, is from Marie, the second is from BT, the third is from Louise, the fourth goes something like this:
Message four: John… it’s me… sob… I’m so sorry about what happened… he didn’t mean to shout at you like that… he was just shocked to see you after all this time… he wants to see you… really he does… he wants to talk to you… he’s very weak… Please call me back, I know it’s wrong to…
The message abruptly cuts off at this point, a defect that I’ve noticed before with this make of answering machine. Either that or like me it has had enough of my mother’s incessant bleatings.
Message five: John it’s Marie… I’m getting really worried about you… I tried your mobile several times today but it’s switched off as usual… like I said earlier, I’ll be home around mid-day on Wednesday – please call me as soon as you get this message.
Naturally, I do not call Marie as soon as I get this message. Because according to the story I’m going to be telling her when she arrives back here, I’ll only have just got back to the house myself. And as for my mobile being switched off as usual, well that’s nothing to do with me, whoever stole it or found it on Friday or Saturday or whenever is now solely responsible for its actions. I press the erase button and wipe my messages clean.
I call Louise at work:
– Hi, Louise… it’s me… John.
– Oh, hi… how are you?
– Not bad… you?
– Oh… fine thanks.
– How can I help you?
– Listen… huh… do you want to meet up?
– Hmmm… that would be very nice.
– Listen… I’m a bit busy for the next few days but what about Thursday or Friday or something? I could meet you after work if you like…”
– Hmmm… yes… that would be very interesting.
– Louise, I take it that you’re talking like a Dalek because someone’s sitting close to you.
– Yes that’s right – I’m sure that I could fit you in.
– Just say yes or no then… Thursday or Friday?
– Hmmm… yes. I think the latter would be better.
– Yes… that’ll be fine.
– Seven-o’clock? Say the Ship… we could meet up there and then go somewhere more quiet.
– Yes. That’s a good idea.
– Seven o’clock in the Ship then.
– Yes. Excellent.
– Louise… is someone sitting at my desk?
– Mmm… yes… I think so…
– Who is it?
– Oh… yes… I think it will be better if we leave it for another time…
– So you can’t talk then…
– Yes… that’s right… excellent.
– Okay. I’ll leave you to it then… Seven o’clock in the Ship, then?
– Good… I’ll look forward to it.
– Bye, then.
– Okay… bye-bye… talk to you later….
4/ My money:
I call Mary Bridges from personnel at work:
– Mary, it’s John Price.
– Oh… John…hi… how are you? …I’ve been waiting for you to call…
– I’m okay.
– That’s good.
– Let’s talk money, Mary.
– Oh… yes…um… fine… Do you want to do it now or would you rather meet for lunch or something?
– Now would be fine.
– Oh…okay… just let me get your file…
– Right here we are: Yes… right… hmm… let’s see…
– How much, Mary?
– Well… um… the management have asked to let you know that they are prepared to offer a figure of… um… six thousands pounds as your termination payment…
– You what!
– Umm… yes… it was decided that…
– You are taking the piss, I hope?
– Um… well… it was decided that…
– I don’t care what was decided, Mary… you know this is a load of bollocks… I’ve already spoken to a lawyer about it… I’m due at least five times that amount…
– Um… yes… um… under normal circumstances… perhaps…
– What you talking about ‘under normal circumstances’? You’ve just fired me and you owe me money and you’re going to fucking pay up!
– Okay, John… if you’re going to get abusive I’m going to hang up…
– You do that and I’ll come and be abusive in your fucking office!
– Calm down, John… you won’t do yourself any good losing your temper…
– What do you expect me to do? You’re trying to rip me off…
– I’m not trying to do anything of the sort, John… I’m just doing my job – you know that… I’m not responsible for decisions like this…
– Well who is responsible?
– Well… management, of course…
– But you are the fucking management!
She hangs up. I call her straight back.
– Mary, don’t hang up…
– Fine… so long as you don’t start shouting…
– I won’t start shouting. Just tell me how GP intends to justify its decision to give me only six grand.
– Well I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this…
– Come to what?
– I was hoping that we wouldn’t have to bring this up…
– Bring up what?
– Well… um… we’ve had a complaint about you… a serious complaint, I’m afraid…
– But I don’t even work there any more…
– No… I mean before you left…
– I hope you’re not going to tell me that it’s got something to do with sexual harassment…
– Oh… I see… you already know …
– Yes… I already know … I already know because the whole thing is a load of crap. I’ve never sexually harassed anyone in my life… the whole thing is completely ridiculous.
– Um… yes… nevertheless we’ve had a complaint and it was thought to be in the best interests of the company if we tried to avoid any unpleasantness…
– You what? Unpleasantness! You think I’m enjoying all this do you?
– Of course not… it’s just that it was decided it would be better for you if…
– Better for me! Sacking me is better for me?
– You haven’t been sacked, John… your position has been terminated.
– What a load of fucking shit!
– Well I’m not having this, Mary… I’m going to fucking fight this… I’m going to make your fucking life a misery. You’re going to rue the day that you ever fucking tried it on with me you ugly fucking cunt!
– Have you quite finished, John?
– No I haven’t fucking finished! I haven’t even fucking started!
(Fainter) – I’ve just put the phone down on my desk John… you have a good swear to yourself and when you’re ready we’ll try and talk like sensible mature adults, shall we?
– Pick it fucking up you fucking bitch!
(A long Pause)
– Mary… pick up the phone will you?
– Mary… pick it up…
– Mary… alright… I won’t shout any more… pick it up…
– Feeling better, John?
– Not particularly…
– Ready to talk?
– Yes… okay…alright… I’m ready to talk…
– Excellent… right… to go back to what we were discussing… the company thought that it was in the best interests of all concerned if we let you go rather than proceed with any disciplinary action…
– Well I don’t agree.
– Yes… well… it was thought that in the long run it would be better for your career if…
– Look Mary… don’t try and pretend that you’re doing this for my own good…
– Um… well… whatever… it was thought that the company…
– And who am I supposed to have sexually harassed anyway?
– That’s not important at the moment, John…
– Not important! Will you fucking listen to yourself… I’ve just lost my job because somebody’s accused me of something I haven’t done!
– You’re shouting again, John…
– Do you fucking blame me?!
– Right… be quiet for a moment you little shit…
– I said be quiet… shut your big fat mouth for once in your life and listen…
– This is the situation John… before I tell you this I want you to know that this is strictly off the record… If you tell anybody else about this I’ll deny that I ever said it…
– Go on…
– As far I’m concerned you can consider yourself extremely fortunate that GP has agreed to pay you six thousand pounds. If it was up to me I’d be asking you for back payment for all the money you’ve cost the company over the years.
– I beg your pardon?
– Frankly, John, you are one of the worst people I have ever encountered in more than 25 years of working in publishing. You’re arrogant… you’re loud-mouthed… you’re juvenile… you’re lazy… you’re unbelievably stupid…you’re a liar… need I go on?
– As for the sexual harassment accusation… I’m not about to tell you the person’s name so that you can go and start shouting and swearing at her… what I will say is that even though personally I think it’s highly improbable that you’ve ever even been anywhere near this person I would be prepared to take the issue as far as I can. You want to get on to your lawyer and take us to court? Go ahead because you’ll lose, I can tell you that straight away… You want witnesses and evidence? Go ahead and try… it will cost you a lot more than six thousand pounds. By the time we’ve finished with you, you’ll never work in partworks again… nobody will be willing to touch you with a barge pole… you’ll spend the rest of your days on the streets selling the Big Issue if I have anything to do with it.
– What’s the matter, big-mouth? Don’t feel like talking any more?
– You’re a fucking bitch, Mary…
– I’ll take that as a compliment…
– You won’t get away with this…
– Oh yes we will, John… why don’t you try us – the ball’s in your court…
– Well… um… I think that concludes matters, John… if it’s any consolation to you you’ll be pleased to know that you’re not the only person whose services are shortly to become surplus to requirements at GP…
– Oh… I’m sure you’ll hear it on the grapevine sooner or later. Bye John: a cheque will be in the post to you within the next few days. Sign the disclaimer that comes with it and enjoy your money. It’s been nice talking to you.
– Fuck off Mary.