page contents Skip to content

ELEGY

I am not perfect; a flaw that is frequently pointed out to me. I have made mistakes, one of which has recently cost me my career, and I fear, my marriage. Susan had seen numerous photos of me in the tabloids before. Some flattering, some not so much. But I guess seeing your husband on the front page, with his face buried between a lap-dancer’s breasts, is pretty difficult to overlook. In my defence, I have absolutely no recollection of the incident.

It occurred following the Elton John fiasco—the biggest interview of my career. As Elton had prattled on about how the death of The English Rose had led to the reworking of his classic hit Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, I couldn’t help wondering what people of the gay persuasion got up to in the bedroom. With my brain awash with homosexual erotica, the teleprompter displayed how will you follow the yellow brick road? However, what I actually asked Sir Elton John was how will you swallow the fellow’s thick load? I didn’t even understand the connotations of what I had said.

I didn’t understand why everyone was so furious with me. Kev, the boom operator, had explained it to me, providing gestures, gestures that had evoked images, images I will never be able to erase. Thus had begun my tumultuous relationship with the tabloids.

I had gone out after the show to forget the whole thing. It had involved the customary champagne and wine, the obligatory autographs, the hangers-on, the gawkers. I think it had been Stuart, the casting coordinator, who had proposed moving on to a club. I swear with my hand on heart that I had no idea about the lap-dancing.

I’m not sure when the journalist arrived. I’m not sure when I grabbed the girl. But the fact that I had no idea about the stringent no-touching policy should at least demonstrate that I did not typically frequent such establishments.

Susan was refusing to take my calls so I jumped in the Jag and coasted through the mid-afternoon traffic to her sister’s house where I knew she would be staying. Beethoven floated from the speakers, one of my favourites, Sonata Quasi Una Fantasia, or as half-wits refer to it: Moonlight Sonata. It had taken some searching to find a CD that didn’t list the terrible sobriquet. I couldn’t understand how Ludwig Rellstab had thought of moonlight over Lake Lucerne upon listening to it. I confess that I hadn’t seen Lake Lucerne, but I still maintain that the appellation is entirely misleading, conjuring up romantic images when in reality the sonata has the solemnity of a funeral march. The sonata, the Sonata Quasi Una Fantasia, usually quietened my mind, relaxed me. But today, in the car, jobless, and probably spouseless, the opening movement with its lamenting melody, the grief-stricken resolve back to C#minor, took me to dark places inside that I was not ready to face. Not yet. There was still hope. I switched the stereo off and listened instead to the low purr of the engine.

I turned into the cul-de-sac, and before I had parked, Susan’s sister was waiting in the garden for me in her pyjamas. I guess they were meant to be cute, but even the faded bunny rabbit printed on the front seemed embarrassed. I am not exaggerating when I say that Charlotte is psychotic. She hates all men, but she despises me. Susan had been resolute that her big sister was to be a bridesmaid. But Charlotte had insisted that the burgundy bridesmaid dress would clash with her freckles. But she didn’t refer to them as freckles. She called them sun kisses. I had laughed so hard that red wine shot from my nose. I’m pretty sure that the bleach—in the unmarked bottle, that I almost added to my diet coke the following day, thinking it was vodka—was not an accident.

“Now isn’t the right time.”
“I need to talk to my wife.”
“Over my dead body.”

So many responses to this threat leapt into my mind at the same time that they obstructed each other, preventing anything from escaping my mouth. I stood there gaping silently.
Her lips kind of ticked and twisted into what I supposed was a smile as if she thought my lack of a witty retort had meant she had won.
I pushed passed her and made for the door. There was a brief feeling of triumph before I felt her hand on my wrist. She tripped me. I fell, landing face-first on the grass. She jumped on my back and twisted my arm.

I struggled to shake her off, but she increased the pressure on my arm, forcing me to yield. I lay there limp and entirely at her mercy; at the mercy of a middle-aged ginger woman who smelled of cabbage. Newspaper headlines began to flash through my head.

“Say it,” she growled in my ear.
“Never.”
“Say it!” With her free hand, she began flicking the back of my ear.
“Get off!”
She tightened her hold on my arm again, and I winced.
“Alright. Alright. I’m an idiot, and Susan deserves better.”
“You’re damn right she does.” She slapped the back of my head, and her weight lifted from my back.

I pulled grass from my mouth. There were wet mud stains on my knees. One of the neighbours had ceased trimming his hedge and was leaning on a rake.

Susan appeared in the doorway. She was wearing a pale blue track suit. As she stood in the autumn sunlight, in the small garden, I was unable to move. I had seen her every day for the last fifteen years, but I could honestly not recall the last time I just looked at her. She was beautiful.

“There is nothing left to say, Martin.” She was holding a cup in one hand and a cigarette in the other. She had quit ten years ago. We both had. She took a long pull on the cigarette and exhaled the smoke through her nose. She shrugged. I suddenly regretted not preparing anything to say. I had hoped that the words would just come. But the words never just came for me. Without the teleprompter, I was lost. Even with it, I was a liability.

As I walked toward my wife my legs trembled and my mouth was dry. I moved to touch her arm, but she snatched it away, spilling a drop of coffee on the concrete step.

“Nothing happened,” I said.
“That’s not the point.”
“Then what is the point?”
“You made me feel like a fool.”
“I’m sorry.”
“I know you are Martin.”
“Come home.”
“It’s over. I went to a solicitor.”
“Gordon?”
“Yes, I went to see Gordon.”
“I bet he loved it.”
“He was very understanding.”

Gordon was a member of Susan’s book club. I loathed them all, but not because they were all pretentious snobs who knew nothing about good literature; not even because they looked down their noses at my career. I hated them because ever since I had seen Eyes Wide Shut, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that the book club was a screen—a screen for something entirely more insidious.

“You can’t divorce me,” I said.
“Why not?”
“You have no grounds.”
“Adultery?”
“Nothing happened.”
“Martin rubbing your face between another woman’s breasts is not nothing.” She didn’t actually make air quotes. Both her hands were full. But I felt their presence.
“I’ll make it up to you.”
“No Martin.”
“Just give it some time.”
“I’ve given you more time than you deserve. Goodbye Martin.”

I found a secluded table in the corner of the pub; away from the staring and pointing and idiotic questions. It wasn’t until my fourth or fifth scotch that I realised the table was situated next to the lavatories, meaning that every patron of The Kings Head public house would at some point—and probably on several occasions—have to pass me. Soon the whole pub was whispering that the guy off the telly—the one with the lap dancer—was sat in the corner. It was always that guy off the telly. They never remembered my name. They always remembered my co-host’s name though. The interminable Trisha Love: veracious, sexy, witty and unbeknownst to the world, a bloody imbecile. She thought Fredrick Nietzsche was a tennis player. She was supposed to be a springboard for my career that would propel me to a more high-brow position. The incident with the lap-dancer had shot down that dream. The way the tabloids had destroyed my reputation, I would have as much chance getting work with the BBC as Gary Glitter.

I had just decided to continue my wallowing at home when Charlotte slumped into the chair opposite me. Her hair was tied back, and she was wearing make-up. She slid a glass of whisky across the table.

“I was just leaving.”
“It’s rude to refuse a present.”

END OF EXCERPT


Disfigured Liberty

CONTINUE READING

A Psychiatric Hospital, a London bomb, an abusive father, a hedonistic rock star, bereaved parents, and a suicide bomber, come together for this literary sojourn into the grimy depths of sadness and regret.

“Vividly drawn dark stories”

“Dark and compelling”