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Authors: Wendy Perriam

Fifty-Minute Hour

BOOK: Fifty-Minute Hour
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Contents
Wendy Perriam
Fifty-Minute Hour
Wendy Perriam

Wendy Perriam has been writing since the age of five, completing her first ‘novel' at eleven. Expelled from boarding school for heresy and told she was in Satan's power, she escaped to Oxford, where she read History and also trod the boards. After a variety of offbeat jobs, ranging from artist's model to carnation-disbudder, she now divides her time between teaching and writing. Having begun by writing poetry, she went on to publish 16 novels and 7 short-story collections, acclaimed for their power to disturb, divert and shock. She has also written extensively for newspapers and magazines, and was a regular contributor to radio programmes such as
Stop the Week
and
Fourth Column
.

Perriam feels that her many conflicting life experiences – strict convent-school discipline and swinging-sixties wildness, marriage and divorce, infertility and motherhood, 9-to-5 conformity and periodic Bedlam – have helped shape her as a writer. ‘Writing allows for shadow-selves. I'm both the staid conformist matron and the slag; the well-organised author toiling at her desk and the madwoman shrieking in a straitjacket.'

Dedication

For God the Father Almighty
(Clapham Common Branch)

Sigmund Freud:
Analysis Terminable and Interminable
(1937)

Who, if I cried, would hear me among the angelic
orders? And even if one of them suddenly
pressed me against his heart, I should fade in the strength of his
stronger existence. For Beauty's nothing
but beginning of Terror we're still just able to bear,
and why we adore it so is because it serenely
disdains to destroy us. Each single angel is terrible.
And so I keep down my heart, and swallow the call-note
of depth-dark sobbing. Alas, who is there
we can make use of? Not angels, not men;
and already the knowing brutes are aware that we don't feel very

securely at home
without our interpreted world.

Rainer Maria Rilke:
Duino Elegies
(1912–22)

Chapter One

‘Hallo. This is 246 2321. John-Paul is not available at present, but if you leave your name, address, phone number and a short message, after you hear the tone, he will get back to you as soon as possible.'

Liar.

‘Hallo. This is 246 2321. John-Paul is not available at present, but if …'

Not available. That means sleeping, shirking, eating Garibaldi biscuits. I buy them now myself.

‘He will get back to you as soon as possible.'

He used to say not ‘he', but ‘I' and even ‘we'. Royal we. He never phones me back. I rarely leave a message, though I think he knows it's me. I have a special way of breathing, of putting down the phone.

‘John-Paul is not …'

I like to hear his name, especially when he says it. His voice is rich and dark, like those jams they sell in tiny pots at twice the price of normal jars, then call ‘preserves', to justify the cost. John-Paul is ‘preserved'. Old, but not admitting it. I think he wears a toupee. His hair (or hairpiece?) is very dark and straight. I often want to tug it, to see if it comes off, but his first rule says ‘No touching', and the rules are very strict. He'd never touch me, ever, not even if I'd just been mugged or gangbanged, or crawled out of the wreckage of a near-fatal bloody car-crash – no arm around my shoulder, or brief squeeze of my hand. I've been wild to touch him all these last six months; dreamt about it, fantasised, embraced him in my mind, even heard his heartbeat thumping into mine, though in cold and cramping fact I've not so much as brushed against his jacket-sleeve, or jogged elbows when I'm going in and out. You can die from lack of touch. John-Paul, John-Paul, John-Paul, John-Paul.

I chose him for his name – half Mayfair hairdresser and half Vatican incumbent. It was difficult to choose. There were hundreds on display, all with blurbs and selling-points, strings of letters after names, countries where they'd studied, universities which had granted them degrees; perversions, specialities, suicides, successes. He had the shortest blurb, the simplest name, and was by far the smallest there. He's not a dwarf, but near it. He thinks he's tall, but most men do, regardless of the facts. Just last year, a leading diet foods company in Welwyn Garden City commissioned a new survey on body-image. Seventy-seven per cent of women of normal weight described themselves as worryingly obese; eighty-seven per cent of men below five foot six regarded themselves as ‘average', if not tall. Which makes me somewhere near a giant. I'm five foot ten in flatties, which I never wear, in fact. Tall girls in flat shoes seem to be apologising. I suppose I should say sorry all the time. I'm loud, large, dark, big-boned, and was twenty-six last birthday, and any woman worth the name should be small, slim, fair, demure and under twenty-five.

I don't know John-Paul's age. I know nothing much about him, not even the colour of his eyes. He wears dark glasses all the time. It may be affectation, or chronic conjunctivitis, or a need to get attention, stand out from the crowd. Does he sleep in them, I wonder? I imagine him at night, taking off the glasses, removing his dark suit, the silk tie with its tiepin (a pearl one – probably real), the old-fashioned stiff white shirt. Nothing ever creases on John-Paul. His shoes look always pristine, never scuffed or stained. I dreamed about his shoes once. I was crouching at the bottom of his wardrobe, surrounded by a thousand pairs of shiny black size sevens. I was smaller than the shoes, and very flat and thin. Perhaps a sort of shoehorn. ‘Phallic,' John-Paul commented, lighting up a Chesterfield, which itself was surely phallic, then droning on about the ‘obvious connotations' of the word horn, and the fact it went ‘inside' a shoe. He finds it very difficult to stay away from phalluses. I dreamed about dead mice once, and he said they were limp pricks.

I remove my lemon Chewit, dial his number – seventh time.

‘If you leave your name, address, phone number and a short message …'

I leave someone else's name and an extremely lengthy message, which the answerphone cuts off. It's fairly safe if I give my name as Mary. He specialises in Marys – nice quiet unassuming girls who have problems with religion, and still live with their parents, and are sweetly fair and small. I meet them on the stairs. They always smile and lower their blue eyes. I glare, and keep on glaring.

I put the phone down, count the minutes till ten past two on Monday. Three thousand, one hundred and sixty-four. Weekends are just lost time. My week starts on Monday, when I see him; stops on Friday, when I don't. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, are all living breathing days, not golden, but alive. Friday dies and shrivels. Saturday is putrefied. Sunday tugs the rotting flesh from bones. Monday resurrects again. The whole world hates a Monday: black Monday, back-to-work-day, end of the weekend. Not I. I bless them, hail them, pant and groan and thirst for them. Even winter Mondays, with snow above and slush beneath, and hold-ups on the tube, I'm singing psalms and swinging thuribles.

It's half past nine on Saturday, so things are very bad – not winter, but October, which is worse. Summer's over, the snow and slush to come. Poets love the autumn, but they lie. Words like ‘mellow fruitfulness' are simply syllables. Things are actually rusting, breaking down. Grazes scar the countryside, scabs form over ponds. Farmers burn dry stubble, gardeners burn old leaves. You can smell the whole world scorching, even in the towns. The bones begin to show beneath the flesh – bones of trees, of leaves.

I haven't got a garden, though my bedsit's called a garden flat, which really means a basement looking out on dustbins and a dreary square of concrete. The windows are all barred. So are John-Paul's windows. I like to think we have some small things in common. I tried to make a list once, though I didn't get that far: dark straight hair; heavy brows, which look better on a man; long nails; long slim fingers (his are stained with nicotine); Garibaldi biscuits and the bars.

I fetch my purse and shopping bag and set off for the butcher's. I haven't got a car. John-Paul drives a hearse. It may be affectation, like the glasses, or something more symbolic to do with Thanatos. Or perhaps his father was an undertaker and he was left it in the will. You can drive a hearse extremely fast if you're not carrying a corpse. John-Paul speeds. I dawdle; kill off fourteen minutes. Three thousand, one hundred and forty-four to bear.

I live on a main road in what politicians call the Inner City, which means poverty and problems, but also Yuppies sniffing around. There seems to be a natural cycle with most areas of London splendour, slow decay, downright squalor, then back to almost splendour. My own patch is still decayed, though a hundred years ago, or less, it was stately-smug and fashionable, and there are still relics of that grandeur left: a self-important town hall and assembly rooms, its Corinthian pilasters flaking like dry skin; half a naked lady still clutching half her drapery with one dock-fingered hand; a granite clock-tower erected to the memory of one Albert Henry Basing, now spidered with graffiti and stained by drools of urine, mainly dogs'. The clock has stopped. It's always half past twelve. John-Paul's clocks never stop. They go faster than any clock I know. Or slower.

BOOK: Fifty-Minute Hour
13.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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