Mary Michaels


Peacock tails, pin-cushion daisy heads, petals; holding the light in the moulded glass panels of the wide front door, distorting what’s beyond to complete illegibility.

The Russians came to visit. I spent the whole time upstairs writing an account of the contemporary art scene; it ran to several pages and when I was called down because they were going, it still wasn’t finished. Frustrated at not having managed to complete it, and sheets of A4 were fanning out in my hand. . .

Tearing the envelope, his former professor pulls out the letter, saying; ‘If you were really what you claimed, you’d have taken this and handed it over.’ A blank piece of paper. Blank, too, the face of the protagonist’s fiancée: his mother thinks that he’s marrying beneath him. She’s a giggler, the bride, she gets tiddly on one glass of champagne; the cinema audience, giggling at the dialogue, have no such excuse. They’ve been attracted by the cheapness of the seats. (Never come again to this showing, on a Wednesday — these same half dozen people were here the previous week).

She stands in a black and white dress, big chevrons, the hem dipping to a fashionable point (lengths of striped material joined on the bias). Simple to make but a stunning effect She’s sewn it herself, throwing it together from a couple of remnants which cost nothing at all (don’t ask, though, how much she spent on trimmings and notions). But everything in the room is barred and striped. He’s anxious about their being found on the floor with their arms round each other; jumps up as a maid appears at the door. Feeling a terrible stabbing in a tooth, he urges her to go and catch the train, afraid she’ll have to call somebody in the hotel, the pain is so insistent. His manager has queried his expenses anyway; the shoe shine, the laundry. Something he resents: it wasn’t his choice to spend five days a week a hundred miles from home. Although it is convenient for this affair.

The trousers have a cut that’s more 1970 than ’37 (the absence of turn-ups). And his suit — no matter what — remains spotless and pressed as if just back from the cleaners. ‘There’s something sticking to your jacketl’ he shouts to the blind acquaintance he passes, years later, in a ruined arcade; the meaning unclear till we see him walk back and unpin a metal badge from the man’s lapel (the fabric is crinkled where the stitching has tightened). This is no moment for political allegiance! The latter has no choice but to drop it or swallow it. Absent; the dark glasses accrued (in memory), sliding his fingers along the Braille script, as he read his polemic into the microphone.

Accurate; the road driven every few weeds by the exiled philosopher, curving through a wood, shadowed and misty. Now sprinkled with snow and foggy with their breath. Always, at this point in the journey, he’d say, ‘There’s a footpath and a lane — but nowhere to park’. Fearsome hairpins. You wouldn’t want to stop. All at once they come across a vehicle slewed across the carriageway, the driver slumped motionless over the wheel. From the trees emerge men in cashmere coats and trilbies. The teacher, wearing spectacles — as intellectuals do — going over to the other car, is set upon and stabbed.

Our hero sits huddled in his own leather seat, while the woman he’s made love to hammers on the window, begging him to help her. He isn’t going to move.