The funny man on the
television tried to persuade Coronation Street Pipkins lady to
take off her clothes and Richard stopped laughing.
They were upstairs, in his
bedroom, the funny man and the Pipkins lady. With the wife
away, there ought to have been plenty of opportunity for the kind of activity
the funny man had in mind. With his secretary. Instead, he was sweating and
trembling and not at all in control of what was happening. Even though he had
asked for it to happen.
Richard knew that much
about the situation, even then.
You knew what was
going on? Jude asked.
Richard nodded. Oh,
On the television, I
mean. You knew what they were doing?
It was only a BBC
sit com. It was hardly likely to get all explicit.
This wasnt quite
true. Richards memory of the scene was that the funny man actually had
persuaded the woman from the soap opera and the kiddies puppet series
to take her blouse off. And that had been a shock. Of course it had. That
wasnt how she presented herself to Hartley Hare of a lunchtime on ITV.
And neither was it acceptable on the cobbles of Corrie.
The real shock came when
Richard decided he had to put himself through it; he had to find the programme,
watch it, go back there. And there was YouTube, wasnt there? And
he found the moment, the exact moment, and he steeled himself. And nothing of
the kind happened. Barely a button had been undone. There had been no fleshy
unveiling. So what did that say about his head, then? And why would he want to
share it with another human being?
Richard said. I knew what he was after. I knew that.
Jude crossed her legs,
tapped the pristine, unchewed Biro against her teeth, and once again did
not glance round at the clock behind her. What else do you remember of
the room? she asked. Beyond the television?
If he had been wrong about
the sitcom scene, then he could well be wrong about the room. Richard shuffled
in the hard, plastic seat that had him thinking back to his old primary school
classroom. Back to Mrs Stone and her incomprehension at anything he might ever
have said about his home life. So he had learned to stop saying anything. Until
now. Until here. Until Jude.
It was dark,
he said. Homely. Ish. The telly and didnt it always
come back to the telly with his upbringing? was part of a wall cabinet.
And that was strange, even exotic. A wall cabinet or a bookcase designed with a
shelf precisely big enough, deep enough, to hold a telly.
television, Jude repeated. What else did you
She had books,
Richard said, the chair creaking as he redistributed his weight yet again. And
yet there was no getting away from Judes eyes. In the
And this would sound strange, he knew, but he said it all the
same. In the way we didnt.
The one he could remember
was the E-number book because, back then, everyone had the E-number book. You
couldnt turn on the television without seeing its bold cover somewhere
and hearing someone prattling about the dangers of additives.
It was weird. Weirder even
than anything else that strange night, perhaps, but hed seen that book,
and hed thought about its owner, and hed realised what that said
about its owner that she had a life and interests of her own and
hed felt even more like the intruder he was. He should not have been
there. Not that night. Not any night.
It wasnt your
responsibility, though, Richard, was it? You were brought
Yes, on that occasion. It
hadnt been his choice. Thats where they had begun.
There were photos,
too, he said.
Maybe thats why they
always chose such impersonal rooms for sessions like these, Richard thought to
himself. Knowing that he wasnt really in a position to know anything much
about sessions like these. Until today. But perhaps that was why there was so
little on the walls, apart from what he took to be damp stains around the
peeling paint. Perhaps that was why the furniture looked like it had been
brought in from the local dump. You couldnt attach it to any one owner.
You couldnt be reminded.
prompted, so very patiently.
Richards eyes came
down from the empty walls. Family photographs, he said, not adding
his thoughts about long ago smiles and arms around shoulders and sunlit days
out and things to talk about for years to come.
thats why she hadnt needed a big TV. He wished hed been given
a name for her. Another thing that felt wrong.
family? Jude prompted.
you felt guilty? Jude asked.
asked her how she knew. But she was the expert. She probably had a certificate
she could have hung up on the wall, if shed been the type who needed
a piece of paper to prove her credentials.
Should you? Jude
thought about the sweating and the trembling. There hadnt been any of
that on the way over. Oh, hed known something was up. The nineteen to the
dozen talking. The usual stories, he might have said, if only they
were usual. Hed probably heard them only three or four times in the whole
thirteen years before they had been silenced for good; before he had been
silenced from ever talking about them, too.
it have mattered if he had known what was in mind? Why they were heading out
there to some strange womans house? What he was being asked to do,
sitting there in front of her TV while the householder was otherwise
he was sure of it, as far as his memory could be sure about
right that he felt guilty about it now, all these years later? That he had been
there that night, when that night was one of many nights? When he couldnt
have done anything about it.
tapped the Biro against her perfect teeth. Backlit by the summer sun
slicing through the dusty, rusted NHS blinds, she presented a level of
distraction that Richard hadnt wanted. Although perhaps one that would
keep him honest. Because he knew the thoughts, even if she didnt.
old were you, Richard, that night? Jude asked.
was the moment hed rehearsed in the waiting room. Hed tell her the
burden hed carried all these years. The secret hed been asked to
keep, even if it hadnt remained a secret for much longer. Not when mum
found the letters and then had it out with dad that night when John Lennon
Live in New York was on the telly. That had been a final live performance,
too. Funny the things you choose to remember.
the moment when he got to say how old hed been that night. How young
hed been, too. And shed nod and shed shake her head and
shed help him exorcise it. Or whatever passed for exorcism in her strange
the moment hed tell her that hed only been seven years
funny man on the television tried to persuade Coronation Street Pipkins
lady to take her clothes off. When hed known what he was up to. When
hed stopped laughing.
knew there was only one way to get comfortable, not just in this chair, but any
It had to
was seven that night, he told Jude, before putting up his hand, forcing
himself to continue. But its really another night I need to talk
about. Because, in some strange way, he thought, it was the same night,
wasnt it? Thats why he kept coming back to that room, that night,
that boy sitting there comprehending all too much about the
noticed the blue eye shadow above the unblinking eyes. His dad, damn him, would
have noticed the blue eye shadow.
Yeah, he said. Another
night, but pretty much the same room
the lid of the Biro came off.
I was thirty seven years old, he said.