CHAPTER EIGHT

 

'What a sleep!' thought Michael, emerging from the nocturnal depths of image-bloated subconsciousness. 'Did I dream all those dreams or do I imagine I did? There were horsemen, I remember. Yes, horsemen wearing top hats and riding through a deserted town. But then everything goes blank. I don't even know what they were doing there or where they were going. They disappeared too quickly. Then there was that woman, probably Julie, my usual temptress, scheming in the background. But I think that was another dream, possibly the one before, because she certainly didn't have anything to do with top hats and horses! Anyway, she didn't run away from me as on previous occasions, though I have no clear recollection, at present, of exactly what she did do.

'We must have had sex anyway, because I can distinctly recall being shown a pair of black suspenders before her flesh well-nigh smothered me. At least that's how it appears now, though I don't dream sex all that often, alas, and I can't will myself to either, because dreams have a life of their own and only show one what they want to, irrespective of one's personal wishes. Since I haven't so much as kissed a woman in over five years, my dreams tend to be a bit unromantic, if not downright dismissive of women generally!

'Perhaps I ought to return to Ireland, even though, not having brought myself over here, I don't remember anything about it, profess disbelief in Christianity, speak with a suburban Surrey accent, and intend to work as a free-thinking author? I don't seem to have much romance living in London anyway, though I've known one or two nice girls in the past. If only I knew someone nice at present, it might help a bit. But apart from Gerald Matthews, whom I've no real interest in, and a couple of old friends in Redhill, whom I ceased to have regular contacts with quite some time ago, there aren't any people to speak of really. In fact, it's almost as though I was an Englishman until, being obliged to move from Surrey to London several years ago, I got lost in the crowd somewhere and became just another man with an Irish name in London, meaning a sort of outsider. Yet, to be honest, I've always felt myself to be an outsider anyway, even as a child in Aldershot, and particularly as far as love is concerned. I even used to have dreams in which everyone went out of a building through one door and I alone went out of it through another.'

Desiring to break away from these troublesome thoughts, Michael Savage turned over in his bed and began listening to the continuous clumping of high heels across the floor of the room above. It was both annoying and puzzling to him that the tenant there couldn't arrange to wear something quieter indoors, like a pair of slippers or sneakers, instead of always making so much damn noise. Such an arrangement would doubtless have been more considerate of her, and would have prevented Michael from assuming that she did it just to annoy him, since he had never taken any real sexual interest in her. Yes, there were always women who turned spiteful or vindictive when they realized that you had no romantic designs on them, probably because the ultimate decision as to with whom one had sex for whatever purposes was fundamentally a female's affair which didn't warrant male objections!

However, before long, Michael's thoughts began to get the better of him again and, after a further dose of resentful subjectivity centred on personal truth, they shifted up a gear, so to speak, to a more objective realm of mental inquiry.

'You stare manifestations of truth in the face when you realize that, against their innermost desires, many young people are obliged to sleep on their own every night; that evil is as ubiquitous as good and that, in theological terms, the God who apparently made you also made the people, animals, insects, etc. which regularly torment you; that before He made man His speciality was reptiles, including dinosaurs; that a priest who involves himself in politics is betraying the cause of religion to the same extent as a politician involved in religion betrays his political responsibilities; that inequality between people is not a social anomaly but a fact of life; that many people pass through life without ever having experienced genuine love or friendship; that the subconscious mind plays a greater role in determining consciousness than might at first appear. Indeed, now that I come to think of it, some author I was reading recently was of the opinion that we haven't got a subconscious, that the subconscious is basically just a myth, and consequently something to which we oughtn't to attach any great importance. As if a person thinking "1066, Battle of Hastings, defeat of King Harold by William the Conqueror" was simply pulling such factual thoughts out of thin air instead of drawing on his psychically submerged, and hence subconscious, internal memory bank! Now is that the truth? Is that the kind of enlightenment people are daily surfeiting themselves with, lacerating what remains of their intellectual integrity? Jesus! I wish I hadn't ... there I go again - Jesus! By Christ! God Almighty! Bloody Hell! My God! Damn it! Holy Smoke! Good God! Heaven Forbid! - invoking the usual kinds of religiously inspired exclamations the modern "rationalist" dredges up from the depths of his subconscious to torment himself with, to remind himself that, no matter how rational he may imagine himself to be, he's still the inheritor of several generations of transmitted psychological attitudes, and therefore very much a product of traditional religious belief!

'Goodness me, haven't we learnt better by now? Or is it that we're simply decadent and don't take ourselves seriously enough these days? That we're too often conscious of living a lie which we can't do anything about, which only psychologically cripples and humiliates us, transforming our thoughts into inarticulate bubbles that well-up, like pieces of flotsam, to wash against the shores of our consciousness where, confronted by twentieth-century life, they burst and fester? Well, what would be the point of writing a serious thesis on behalf of those who find conventional religion an embarrassment if nobody could learn anything from it? Or if it could be discarded as a source of idiotic self-deception, a blatant example of free thought which, coming from a contemporary intellectual, is all very well in its place, but nothing to be taken too seriously because it takes all types to make a world and, besides, someone else is bound to come-up with an alternative view before long, so what matter? Reminds me of that dubious notion we have concerning sunset and sunrise, the going down and coming up of the Sun, as though the Earth stayed perfectly still while the bloody Sun danced around it! Seems more accurate to think in terms of, say, "earthrise" and "earthset"; though I doubt that a majority of people could be re-educated on that score overnight! After all, delusions, deceptions, illogicalities, absurdities, etc., are pretty much an integral part of the crazy world we inhabit.'

Having thought which, Michael stretched out his hand to pick up the battered old alarm clock which had lain face-down by the side of his bed all night and, noting the time, dropped it back down on the floor, before continuing: 'It's 8.00am, so I've been awake nearly half-an-hour. Half-an-hour too long, since I resent waking up when what I was dreaming promised to enthral me. Usually end up either thinking or fantasizing too much. Then, in the latter event, getting up with a hard-on and not being able to use it because there's no woman around is a pretty frustrating experience. A regular affair in my life, though. Like what I was thinking the day before yesterday about bumping into old acquaintances in the street, particularly those females who were potential girlfriends, and being asked how you're doing, etc., and, to minimize embarrassment, you reply "fine", considering they probably don't really give a toss about you anyway and, having had the misfortune to bump into you, are only too eager to get away again, to escape from the unpleasant connotations or feelings you awake in them in consequence of the recollection that they were already happily attached to some other male when you'd had the nerve or audacity to proposition them in the first place, and therefore had no real alternative but to reject you, while you're simultaneously annoyed with yourself for allowing them to get away with a lie from your mouth, even though you're well aware that it probably wouldn't have served your purpose to let them know how you're really doing, in view of the largely paradoxical nature of modern life, with its social hostilities, fears, suspicions, prejudices, and hypocrisies lurking dangerously close to the fragile surface of its ostensibly promiscuous standards.

'Indeed, the notion of a promiscuous society seems to me more like a myth than a reality, something that has no real applicability to the world a majority of people are accustomed to living in these days. Unless, however, my upbringing was so strict that I now suffer from the delusion of taking what I project of myself into the world for the world itself? Anyway, you'd expect certain persons and categories of people to be promiscuous in any age, regardless of the prevailing Zeitgeist. Take students, for example. These days it appears that, having plenty of time on their hands and a fair number of attractive members of the opposite sex to choose from, most of them can usually have their sexual desires satisfied more easily, not to say frequently, than other people. For college should be an ideal mating-ground, especially when there's a fairly even distribution of the sexes there.

'That student upstairs, for instance: no sex starvation in her life! She certainly knows what's good for her, if the noise I'm put through every night is any indication! She should get an honours degree if she stays the course and doesn't lose her current lover in the meantime. Though I don't think there's much chance of that happening. Why, she's too accommodating! Keeps him satisfied. A morale booster, if ever there was one!'

For a moment he had to smile, in spite of the relatively cynical nature of his thoughts, which were all-too-symptomatic of his self-image as an outsider, a man who had no real choice but to live on his own in view of the absence of alternative solutions.

'I wonder, though, whether life wouldn't be a bit harder for her if she lacked a man, if she hadn't been so much as kissed by a man in several years,' he went on, turning onto his other side. 'Indeed, she might require a little extra coaxing out-of-bed in the mornings, perhaps a little extra incentive to stir herself, because it certainly isn't a good thing to be continuously cut-off from congenial company, to be on your own every night. You get some nasty thoughts that way, some nasty feelings inside, particularly when you're all the time surrounded by neighbours whose lifestyles are so alien to your own that you have no alternative but to keep to yourself in the evenings. You could soon become neurotic if you weren't careful, swamped by incertitude and guilt, the incertitude and guilt of a man who fancies himself to be in the way, living against the grain but unable to do anything about it because he is what he is and they are just as surely what they are, and no compromise seems possible. I wonder how she would feel with no-one to visit her apart from the landlord once a month, with no-one to keep her company in the evenings, to flatter her vanity and explore her flesh. She'd probably wind-up frightened of going mad. Wind-up like Sartre's leading character Antoine Roquentin in Nausea: too conscious of the fact that she exists because she hasn't got anyone to help her be instead.

'Well, at least I have the consolation of knowing that I can sleep much better now than I did during the first year or two of my enforced exile in London. No wonder I became so hopelessly neurotic then. Too much consciousness is the ultimate torture, akin in Lawrentian parlance to being at "a perpetual funeral", bearing in mind the gravity of the matter. For you need to black out every night in order to effect a partial rejuvenation of the organism and be resurrected, as it were, the following morning. Still, I needn't get unduly intellectual at present, because it isn't particularly dignified lying here with the smelly sheets all rucked up and the quilt smeared with sweat from past abuses.... Now my temples are throbbing from the pressure of so many thoughts! Perhaps I had better fantasize instead, although it's always unnerving to fantasize in this state-of-mind, afraid of bursting a blood vessel or concussing myself. Imagine myself dying from a cerebral haemorrhage or partly concussed and crawling out into the entrance hall for some meddlesome person, like old Miss Bass in the front room, to phone for an ambulance and have me carted away on a stretcher. And what would I say to the hospital staff, assuming I wasn't dead on arrival? "I had just got my imaginary tongue between her imaginary labia when, to my utmost surprise, I experienced a mental ejaculation which knocked me out." Case of another over-idealistic paddy biting the realistic dust? Or just another victim of unrequited love? Probably better off dead than alive anyway.'

At which point Michael gave way to another smile that seemed to assail him from beyond the focal-point of his conscious mind, as though in response to an interested spectator of the principal proceedings which now, as on other occasions, were overly cerebral.

'I remember having a favourite fantasy that involved a pretty dark-haired nurse,' he resumed thinking, 'who would take my temperature in the orthodox fashion, thermometer to mouth, and then allow me to take hers by inserting the instrument into her vagina, until I was sufficiently satisfied with the ensuing reading and could thereby verify the continuation of her habitually good health. "And how many times have you been fucked, Nurse White? Thirty-five times by the age of twenty-two? But I would have thought at least five hundred!"

'Yes, how the mind functions! One minute I'm deadly serious, the next minute I'm able to joke. To be sure, it would be an incredibly weird experience writing all these thoughts down on paper without any punctuation, the way Joyce did for Molly Bloom in Ulysses, to draw attention to how the mind gets carried away with itself in a torrent of verbal excitement. That would be even weirder than ... ah! That reminds me. I mustn't forget to post that short story to Gerald today, the one I told him about in the restaurant yesterday. It will give him a surprise. He probably thought I was just bluffing him, considering I didn't really relate to him and, if the truth were known, had no real sympathy for his problems, what with him being so effeminate and all that.

'In fact, I'm more than a little relieved to have finally got away from him and, no less significantly, from that music firm, what with all the strange people who worked there! For instance, little Ernie Brock. Reading in the street every lunch time. Why-the-devil he couldn't take a walk without reading, I'll never know! He was lucky not to get pushed off the pavement and run over, the way he walked about virtually oblivious of everyone and everything except the book he happened to have his nose stuck into at the time. And while he held a book in one hand his other hand held an apple, which he would nibble at from time to time in positively Adamic fashion. In fact, it seemed to rank fairly highly in his hierarchy of daily priorities, including, in addition to sustained silence, a regular perusal of the Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, which he appeared to know back-to-front and right-to-left. Though that didn't prevent him from re-reading them or induce him to boast of his knowledge. Oh, no! He was far too knowing to fall for that crass shortcoming! An authentic Christian if ever there was one, an earnest crusader for the dissemination of Christ's message, and a classical scholar, to boot.

'He apparently knew a little Greek, because it's the done thing in the clergy and he intended to become a clergyman one day. You wouldn't hear him comment on it though, not him! Wouldn't comment on accidents, either. Some over-weight fellow at the office got himself knocked down by a car on his way to work one morning and all little Ernie Brock could manage to say, when the chief clerk informed him of it, was: "Oh, I see". She never got another word out of him, not even some simple curiosity! In fact, I can't pretend that I reacted very concernedly to the news myself. But at least I endeavoured to show some interest, because things like that didn't happen very often and it provided one with a pretext for dropping work a few minutes.

'Still, Ernie might have shown some concern, even if the fellow who had to stay off work all week with severe bruising to his buttocks did happen to be a self-professed atheist! But I suppose, not being particularly accident-prone himself, it didn't really occur to him, bearing in mind the extensive nature of his perambulatory reading habits. Never in the wrong place at the right time. Too absorbed in his reading to have any time to worry about the possible consequences of being pushed off the path or failing to spot the curb. Didn't give a damn about the world, but kept himself to himself most of the time. Seemed to carry the Gospels around on his conscience, as though intuitively aware that he was constantly under strict surveillance from the Omniscient, the justification for his priestly etiquette, and therefore under binding obligation to behave in a thoroughly moral manner. That could be the reason why he often reiterated childish banalities under his breath whenever experiencing what I can only suppose to have been a premonition of anger, as though to shield his thoughts from the possibility of cursing or swearing, and thereby protect his claim to an afterlife of eternal bliss. Perhaps afraid that such sinful aberrations could leave a rather conspicuous moral stain on an otherwise exemplary record?

'It must be terribly frustrating for a person to develop that kind of neurosis, though. More frustrating, still, if you're a Catholic who goes to confession every week. You could end-up wondering whether you hadn't forgotten to mention something, whether you oughtn't to make a note of all your sins, or potential sins, as they happened in case, either by forgetting or overlooking some of them, your omissions subsequently went against you, come Judgement Day. But, then, if you failed to understand exactly what constituted a sin in the first place, as so many people ...'

Michael Savage drew a halt to his thinking at this point, since the clumping of high heels across the floor above him momentarily arrested his attention. He still couldn't prevent himself from imagining it was all done on purpose as a kind of punishment for his sexual reticence, his self-containment, his disinclination to get into conversation with the woman. Although, in another and more rational part of his mind, a little voice was telling him that, like so many of her kind, she probably suffered from an inability to remain still.

However, it didn't occur to him that she might be totally unaware of the extent of the noise she was unwittingly inflicting upon him, as he went on: 'I wonder who it was once informed me that the Church always "comes out" in times of persecution? Naturally, he wasn't lying to me, because you'd ordinarily expect people who were being persecuted to stand up for themselves, whatever their beliefs. I mean, most people would probably retaliate if provoked strongly enough, not just stand put and bless their enemies, like a bunch of cowardly masochists! He was more than likely seeking an ulterior motive to justify the Church's "coming out", to enable him to puff it up a bit with otherworldly connotations. After all, it would be too down-to-earth without the Creator's backing, that ultimate authority which men like Moses wielded so successfully not only against his Egyptian oppressors but against virtually every other godforsaken people either audacious or stupid enough to get in his way as well! Indeed, I can well remember having sat behind a row of nuns at a cinema showing Moses, or some such religious epic, in all its martial ferocity and blood lust, with people succumbing to a violent death every-other-second, especially among the Hebrews' enemies, while (to judge by their rapt attentiveness during the screening and their excited chatter in the intermission) the nuns were positively lapping it all up, taking it all for granted, never for a moment doubting that the "badies" didn't get what they deserved, that Jehovah's ruthless retribution wasn't the sine qua non for one's optical acquiescence in the slaughter, or that the "Chosen People" weren't perfectly justified in driving other peoples from their "Promised Land".

'Now, much as I'm no anti-Semite, it seems to me that there's little sense in endeavouring to argue with people like that: minimum response! They'd probably consider you mad. What would be the point in arguing, anyway? I'd only succeed in arousing their resentment. A waste of time bashing your head against such an impervious wall. You wouldn't alter it to any appreciable extent; it's been there too long. Besides, whoever heard of anyone, least of all a religious maniac, relinquishing his habitual source of consolation in the face of opposition from the first scoffer or cynic who happened to cross his path? You might as well expect people to renounce religious faith altogether, if it was that vulnerable to attack! After all, it wouldn't really be a genuine faith without some form of steadfast loyalty to the cause. Returning to what I was thinking yesterday, they'd probably have some other faith or mania instead, something that would adequately serve the purpose of an alternative delusion. Who knows the number of godforsaken beliefs or manias one could alternatively succumb to, given an opportunity to begin afresh? Even I acquiesce in a delusion which a good many people, in their inability or unwillingness to draw simple conclusions from it, would doubtless regard as an exceptionally unique species of madness!'

For a moment the sound of heavy footsteps in the hallway, coinciding with the cessation of clumping noises across the floor above, put a stop to his thoughts by indicating, to his great relief, that the upstairs tenant had exited her room and was rapidly proceeding towards the front door which, upon reaching, she would thoughtlessly open and, just as thoughtlessly, slam shut with a firm grip of the door handle. That done, Michael Savage could relax back into the grip of his thoughts again, without having to fear an immediate resumption of her noise.

'As for my personal delusion, which seems to have less hold on me these days than formerly, due in all probability to the slow emergence of alternative delusions of a no-less personal nature, I shall permit myself to expand on it a little more than yesterday, indicative of the degree of spiritual emancipation to which I've recently attained, insofar as I would previously have felt too constrained by the imaginary presence, as it were, of my omniscient eavesdroppers to be able to reveal myself to them in such an open fashion.

'Well, these psychic eavesdroppers may not have been Gods the Father, the Son, or the Holy Ghost, but the impression I frequently had of being listened-in to by extraneous beings undoubtedly suggests something analogous to the sphere of orthodox religion. Yet if I confess to the fact that I suffered unrequited love so intensely, for several years, that I was eventually compelled to carry an image of both the form and spirit of my beloved around in my head every day, then I'd probably be getting somewhere nearer the root of the problem. For it was during this period of intense emotional attachment to a particular woman that I experienced, in addition to neurosis, a sort of Rimbaudian derangement of the senses. I would have been utterly incapable of transferring my love to anyone else, since my devotion was so powerful that, even had I eventually succeeded in finding a viable substitute, the very fact of her inherent otherness from the woman I was in love with would ultimately have precluded me from taking her seriously. So I went solitary through the crowded streets of London, while Julie's image accompanied me where another man's woman would accompany him. In fact, she became such an integral part of me that gradually she wormed her way into my daily consciousness as a sort of witness, a person whom I had mysteriously endowed, in imagination, with an ability and/or device for penetrating my mind and listening-in to my thoughts, much the way that, say, God the Father might be perceived as doing the same by people of a more traditional, not to say institutionalized, disposition!

'But if Julie could invade my mental privacy in this fantastic fashion, then what was there, by a cumulative effect, to prevent her friends or acquaintances from doing so, too? And not only them but, by further extension of the delusion, some of my acquaintances and former friends as well - for instance, people at the office? A regular retinue of omniscient eavesdroppers who come-and-go according to the circumstances, the frame-of-mind you're in, who or what you're thinking about, how busy you are, where you are, or what you're doing, because, no matter how blatantly absurd it may seem, you do then have some kind of company, however simulated, transient, indifferent, or even hostile, to put you on an imaginary pedestal, to witness your daily joys and tribulations, failures and successes, and, last but by no means least, to induce you to objectify your thoughts. You do then have people, however attenuated, imaginary, or secretive, with whom to share your favourite rock albums, people who'll comment from afar, as it were, on what you're playing, who'll corroborate and stimulate your own opinion of a particular instrument, musician, composition, tone, tempo, arrangement, melody, harmony, or anything else notably pertinent to the album concerned. As though you had established a private audience or loyal band of followers with whom a psychic communion could be sustained by dint of whatever connections you may formerly have had with them on the planes of friendship or acquaintanceship. So maybe, in extending the delusion into the realm of sentiment, Julie wants to be near you, wants to know exactly what's going on in your little world but, because of various social commitments, attachments, or misgivings, can only satisfy these wants indirectly, discreetly, clandestinely, through the medium of a kind of telepathic communication, with or without certain of her friends or acquaintances being present while she listens-in to your thoughts.

'Yes, they speak of the insanity of love, how a man would cross the globe ten-times-over if only to be near the one person who truly pleases him; how entire armies are destroyed in the wake of his frustrated desire for sexual fulfilment; how the temples of dedication crumble to dust with the sacrifice of his beloved's lips; and how, in the throes of some tortuously unrequited passion, the poison is imbibed, the noose tightened, the bullet fired, or the water embraced. The ineluctable ferocity of love, slayer of a thousand peoples, betrayer of a million secrets, ravisher of a billion hearts, desecrater of a trillion truths!'

There suddenly ensued a tremendous explosion of rattling keys or, rather, of key and keyhole in head-on confrontation, as the old woman next door, having evidently exited her room, grappled with the manifold complexities of her lock, preparatory to dropping first keys and then handbag on the floor in consequence of a sum of perplexities which the lock had unmercifully brought to a head! Eventually, after gathering both belongings and composure together, Miss Bass went on to exit the house in her customary discreet fashion.

Meanwhile, Michael had turned onto his opposite side and begun to reflect back on what he had been thinking in relation to his ideal temptress, the one with the plaited hair. She had come to him in a dream, as on many previous occasions, only this time she had been friendlier towards him, even to the extent of abandoning herself to his caresses and promising to requite him. That, to be sure, was a rather novel experience in itself, one which he had no reason to suppose would ever happen again.

'So I believed, albeit tactfully, sparingly, intermittently, that Julie could penetrate my mind and thereupon secure access to my thoughts,' he continued to muse afresh, encouraged by the departure of yet another neighbour. 'I even went so far as to dupe myself into assuming that one of her friends, an impulsive young woman I had spoken to on more than a few occasions, could succeed in winning me over and subsequently disentangling me from what had gradually become a somewhat ambivalent predicament. That this friend, being no less seductive in her own fashion, could provide an amorous diversion which would somehow mitigate the hardship of my futile allegiance to Julie - something, alas, which wasn't to be underestimated by such a naive presumption! But such is life, and since nothing can be sold without a price, so I had to pay dearly, in my perverse imagination, for the imaginary presence of my beloved. And not just in a purely physical sense, but also with regard to those shameful feelings of remorse which invariably descend, like famished vultures, upon anyone who habitually disappoints his idol, who is acutely conscious of every mortal mistake he makes and who, in the manner of a mortified penitent, needs to apologize to this idol for having thought the wrong thoughts, done the wrong deeds, and generally failed to live-up to the idealistic standards he had formerly set himself. I even wrote a short poem which went:-

 

The people who listen-in to

His thoughts restrict him.

He is afraid to offend them.

Among their number might be

The woman he loves.

What if he were to think her

A ruthless whore?

 

'Yes, that's it! A kind of lyric poem, to which I later added a short prose poem of similarly paranoiac import which, if memory serves me well, ran as follows:-

The thing that would particularly make subservience to Christianity unattractive to me would be the constraint of mind attendant upon acknowledging an ostensibly omnipotent and omniscient Deity. The constraint of fearing to let slip from one's thoughts anything which, to Him, might seem improper - a tirade of self-abuse, an observance of religious doubt, a hatred of one's fellows, the formulation of lewd or violent fantasies ... in short, anything that could serve to render one guilty to such a Divine Witness, and thereby necessitate the onerous obligation of regular confession accompanied by sincere contrition. Too great a mental constraint, conceived under duress of imagining oneself being listened-in to by the Omniscient, would almost certainly lead, sooner or later, to a hypersensitivity in the matter, a fear of sinning or losing track of one's sins, and even, at a more advanced stage of the neurosis, to the possibility of a full-fledged religious psychosis and the persecutory concomitants thereof of eschatological paranoia.

 

'Yes, that was it! So even if I hadn't exactly fallen into the religious trap, I had fallen into the unrequited trap and virtually elevated the source of my distress to the status of a goddess. Even if I hadn't fallen into the traditional delusive trap, the one I had fallen into was no less exacting, encouraging though it was to know that my delusion precluded any possibility of an imminent conversion to institutionalized madness. Fortunately, however, I had no reason to split my mind into two or three parts, having absolutely no desire to play a question-and-answer game with an imaginary interlocutor. The consciousness I frequently had of imagining myself being listened-in to by a particular woman was sufficient to enable me to sustain my thought patterns, to augment them, to coerce them into supplying self-evident descriptive explanations of my varying circumstances, in order to put her in the picture, as it were, and simultaneously justify my actions.

'Thus if, during a day's clerical routine, I paused to rest awhile, it was usually because I felt mentally fatigued. Now although it would have been perfectly feasible to have thought "Jesus, I'm tired!" at such a moment, I would have thought it largely on the understanding that Julie was listening-in to me and consequently required to have the situation explained and even justified. However, since I was concerned to keep this delusion under tight control, and thus refrain from allowing it to develop into a veritable madness, I kept a fairly constant check on it and finally succeeded, after numerous frustrations and self-criticisms, in keeping it down to a tolerable level, thereby acquiring the freedom to observe my deceptions with more than a hint of ironic detachment.

'Well, so much for all that! Whatever happens to me in future, I think I ought to get up fairly soon because, quite apart from the lateness of the hour, my empty stomach is beginning to protest in a rather disagreeable manner. I'll tidy up my room, find something to eat, play a few tapes, take a short stroll around the neighbourhood, and just get used to the idea of leading another life, a life different from the one to which I've grown accustomed in recent years.'

Thus, with an ardent desire to enacting his intentions, Michael Savage clambered out of bed and, after briefly scrutinizing the weather, immediately set about the conquest of his various domestic duties. He spent the rest of the morning in a lighter mood in a brighter room, glad it was a warm, dry Saturday and that he didn't have to worry about going to the office today. In fact, now that he no longer had an office to go to anyway, he already felt himself to be a different person, no longer a discontented clerk but, at the very least, an incipient writer and man of destiny - someone, in short, who had just changed worlds. And, as though to underline this fact, he read and posted to Gerald Matthews the short story he had promised him, which, though still untitled, went as follows:-

 

I had just removed her brassiere and was in the preliminary stages of fondling her quite copious breasts when, to my profound consternation, the damn telephone rang. "Now who-the-devil can that be?" I asked myself as, reluctantly extricating myself from Sharla's grip, I hurried out into the hall, picked up the receiver, and straightaway heard a gruff voice asking: "Hello, is my daughter there?"

"She is indeed!" I impulsively replied.

"Ah, could I speak to her a moment?"

"Er, certainly. Just a sec." I turned towards the piano room, the door to which was still slightly ajar. "Sharla!" I called.

"Yes?"

"Your, er, father wants to speak to you."

"Oh, damn him!" she groaned, automatically putting on her vest. "What-on-earth can he want?"

It wasn't a question I could answer there and then, so I patiently held the receiver against my chest until, arriving breathlessly in the hall, she was able to take it from me and say: "Hi dad!"

Fearing that my presence beside her wouldn't help any, I ambled back into the piano room, where her bag, coat, shoes, miniskirt and underclothes lay strewn across the floor, and her perfume permeated the air with its delightfully sweet scent. Indeed, everything about her was delightfully sweet. Even the room itself, ordinarily so drab and formal, seemed to have taken on a romantic dimension which lent the furniture a mysterious poignancy, as though it had acquired the semblance of life and was now a silent witness to this evening's amorous events. Fortunately for me, however, Sharla's high intelligence permitted her the equivalent of two lessons in the space of one, so I never had to fear that her musical education would lag behind or be seriously undermined in consequence of my weekly devotions to her sexuality. In my view, she was potentially a distinction candidate, the next and final examination grade almost bound to lead her to studying piano at one of the country's principal music colleges.

"Okay," her voice came from the hall, "but I won't be late home, in any case. Yes, thanks for letting me know. Okay, bye then." She replaced the receiver with a peremptory slam and swiftly tiptoed back to where I lay, ruminating on the couch.

"Well, is anything amiss?" I tersely asked, while fixing her with a searching look.

"He wanted to know if everything's okay, she drawled, still a little under the influence of our bottle of medium-sweet wine.

"What a silly question!" I asseverated, my hands instinctively groping under her vest for the milk-laden globes which were now generously advancing towards me, compliments of Sharla's graceful return to the couch. "What did he really say?"

Her long spidery fingers crawled nimbly over my stomach and up and down my chest. "A friend of the family has invited my parents over to dinner at the last moment, so they'll be out when I get back.... Which means that my father has hidden the front-door key in one of the two small lanterns affixed to the wall either side of our front door."

"But don't you have a key of your own?" I asked, astounded.

"They still won't entrust me with one," she sighed.

"How silly!" I exclaimed. "Why, you're almost eighteen."

"And old enough to be my piano teacher's favourite pupil," she enthused.

I smiled impulsively, as much from relief as from genuine amusement. "Yes, but at least I'm a private teacher and not a schoolmaster."

"What difference does that make?" she cried.

"Less scandalous, of course."

"The hell it is!"

I had to smile in spite of my attempt at seriousness. "Look, this is a perfectly natural state-of-affairs actually. Let's just say that both of us are pupils in the art of making love."

"But you're always teaching me," Sharla protested, clearly no easy girl to convince.

I sighed faintly and said: "Not as much as you may imagine, sweetie."

"Well, that's not the impression I get," she smilingly retorted.

"Frankly, you're a very precocious young lady who knows, as well as anybody, that the recently-perfected transition from the keyboard to the couch considerably enhances your enjoyment of these piano lessons," I averred, "particularly when you can spend part of your fees on the quiet and boast to various classmates at school of having intimate connections with a handsome music teacher nearly ten years your senior."

"I don't boast!" Sharla incredulously exclaimed. "Whoever told you that?"

"Now, now, don't blush, baby!"

"I'm not b-blushing," she stammered. "I never tell other girls anything about you."

"Ah, but they tell me," I smiled, teasing her.

"What d'you mean?" she cried. "No other girls ..."

"Alright, I was only joking," I admitted, the back of my hand caressing her cheek in a pacificatory manner. "But you do tell a few friends."

She lowered her large plum-like eyes in apparent shame. "Okay, only my closest friends," she blushingly confessed.

I smiled but said nothing as we lay motionless together on the couch, basking in the gentle warmth of each other's bodies. I ran a hand through her black, wiry hair and then ever so tenderly kissed her on the lips a few times. Eventually she responded in kind and our kissing became more intense.

"The time always goes too quickly when I come here," she at length sighed, coming-up for air.

"Indeed it does," I sympathetically agreed. "It's a pity you don't come here more often."

"Humph! I might be able to if you weren't always so busy giving piano lessons to other girls every night," she complained. "Don't you ever take an evening off?"

"I don't teach at the weekend," I obliquely replied.

"Then why can't we arrange to see each other on Saturdays or Sundays as well?" she asked a touch petulantly.

"That might be possible," I conceded.

Smiling, she drew herself up closer to my face and brought her big dark eyes directly into focus with mine, or so it appeared from the way I saw her pupils contract so rapidly. "Do you have other girls like me?" she asked with a directness that momentarily embarrassed me.

"Unfortunately not, Sharla," I confessed, in what was probably an overly frank sort of way. "The others are mostly too young, too plain, or too thin. Besides, I couldn't afford to let that many people keep a part of their piano fees as recompense, since I'm not exactly rolling in money, you know."

"But you do have a girlfriend besides me, don't you?" she asked in a tone of voice and with a facial expression which suggested she already knew the answer. So, to save myself extra complications, I gently replied in the affirmative. "And you see her at the weekends?" she went on. Again I replied in the affirmative. "Humph! That explains it," she solemnly concluded.

"Explains what, Sharla?"

"Why you won't see me then."

"Not entirely," I responded half-smilingly.

"Then what?" - She seemed on the verge of tears.

"Don't upset yourself," I gently chided her and, sliding my hands down her back and over her rump, proceeded to comfort her as best I could.

"What time is it?" she at length wanted to know, looking a trifle concerned.

"My goodness, it's nearly 8.50!" I exclaimed, glancing at the watch and scrambling to my feet. "I've another pupil at nine."

"What a drag," she drawled.

"What, having another pupil?"

"No, getting dressed!"

I smiled as, reaching for our respective clothes, the pair of us sought to cover our nakedness as quickly as possible.

That done, we briefly returned to the piano and to the Schumann piece which still stood, as though to attention, on the stand where it had been abandoned some time before. If it had presented her with a few minor problems it was mainly because her legato technique was still insufficiently pianistic, depending too much on the sustain pedal. I therefore suggested that she spend some of the following week practising scales in order to make her fingers work harder, since they were still rather too lazy and stiff for comfort (in marked contrast, I reflected, to the way they behaved on the couch). "In actual fact, it would be better if, for the time being, you ignored the pedal markings altogether," I continued, growing in confidence. "For the pedal is fast becoming a crutch, and not exactly the most helpful one either!"

Thus after a few amendments to her Schumann technique, a brief display of scales, and a couple of aural tests, I set her free, saying: "And don't be late next week!" as a final piece of advice which, however innocently intended, was bound to sound ironic to Sharla.

"Oh, don't you worry about that!" she smilingly retorted and, much to my delight, planted a firm farewell kiss on my lips before regretfully taking her leave of me.

 

LONDON 1976 (Revised 1977-2010)

 

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