coven :: bermuda triangle :: stroke :: discovery :: moreish
Suzanne gets heat stroke on a Sunday evening after spending the entire weekend on her raggedy old Spice Girls beach towel on the tarmac just shy of her front garden gate that feels roughly as hot as the surface of the sun. The sun in question has been glaring great golden globules of heat onto everything in its sight and quite a few things besides and is now responsible for, in no particular order:
– The scorched and withered roses in Mrs Whetherby’s flowerbed; her husband, God rest his soul would never have allowed this to happen if he were here!
–Suzanne missing the sixteen calls and twelve voicemails asking for Suzanne to please give me a call back as soon as you get this, please, Suzanne, it’s really important and if ever there was a time I wish you could stop being such a troglodyte – Just make sure you call me before you talk to anyone, ok? Anyone, Suzanne, I mean it!
– The scramble of eggs all over the tarmac just outside Suzanne’s front garden gate from kids too helpless with the heat to go find a lido.
– The twice hourly whine of the ice cream truck down this end of the street as Ice Cream Man Rob takes advantage of the heat wave and abuses the ‘twice a day maximum’ rule as set by Suzanne, Mrs Whetherby and the rest of the families on Roewick Drive.
-The agonising and humbling ambling by of Mitchell, the alcoholic busker who had devoutly busked old Temptations and Four Tops songs outside Southfields tube station on his three-and-a-half octave keyboard between ten am and seven pm every day, his head tipped to the side to rest on the shoulder of his grisly army jacket either with the force of the music or that of the rum.
-The subsequent discovery of Mitchell’s body in some brambles next to Wimbledon Park Lake, hands at ten and two above his head and clutching the two great loves of his life – body-warm Captain Morgan and his keyboard.
– Suzanne slipping into a drowsy, slipping consciousness with a pool of sweat and one (1) greenfly striving for life in her bellybutton while the sun batters on her eyelids, the tip of her nose, the apples of her cheeks and, embarrassingly, the fleshy mounds of sensitive thigh close to the border of her frilly Primark underwear because she doesn’t have a bikini and her swimming suit is a worse fate than knock-off underwear.
So when Suzanne stumbles into the cavern of her front room later that evening, burnt a violent emergency services red, and contemplating a call to the non-emergency 111 number, she manages to trick herself into thinking that the ghostly pale appearance of Claire sitting in her old chair, head lowered in penance is a trick of the sun. A breath leaves her. A laugh, a regurgitated gasp that she lost a grip on, who knows. There’s a fist full of everything that she’s been through for the past three years swinging heavily somewhere below her diaphragm: she’s bent over with the weight of it by the time Claire looks up, grave but 100% there – not at the bottom of the Thames, not burnt to ashes now indistinguishable form the dust, muck and rubbish of the abandoned waste site in a shell of a Honda civic, not chopped up and hidden in 20 of Suzanne’s favourite lovers’ spots as the police seem to think. Here, in this end terrace four-up-three-down house, in the same front room that they had watched all five seasons of The L Word over the May bank holiday weekend. Here, in the chair they had bought together five years ago at a car boot sale in Battersea with the ugliest green and brown felt flowers ever known to man which Suzanne had rallied against, only to stubbornly keep after her sister persuaded her to get rid of Claire’s things. Here, in their, her, the house.
Whiter than white, whiter than ought to be possible really, Claire reaches out a tentative hand, as though to calm a wild animal. Translucent, sickly fingernails, the kind of downy hair one grows when one is on the brink of starvation, a frankly alarming buzz cut which gave way to some very soft looking pinkish scars on her scalp. A battered Spice Girls necklace around her neck. A sugar-fevered conversation they’d had after watching Inception comes to her all of a sudden:
“If I was ever in any doubt that I was talking to the real Claire, what secret signal could we have so I know it’s you? You know, doppelganger, back from the dead, alternative dream world which could actually be the real one – the usual.”
Claire had laughed so hard that she’d spilled diet coke everywhere.
“Alright,” she had finally said. “Let’s agree – without going into too much detail so as not to compromise the security of the secret signal. I’ll wear a symbol of your second greatest love, after me of course.”
“What, you mean you’ll wear a cheque for sixty quintillion pounds?”
More laughter and a tangential conversation about what was the figure which they could hand on heart say would be too much for them to spend in one lifetime and indeed, how they would make “a ruddy good go” of it anyway.
But of course Claire would have known – 50 concerts, more appearances than she cared to admit to, silly bits of paraphernalia hidden around the house so that Claire wouldn’t throw them away, VHS, DVD and .avi copies of Spice World – The Movie.
Still, anybody could have known about that –
Claire’s bony fingers carefully flip the small globe over and on the back, so small that Suzanne has to take a traitorous step closer. In tiny sparkly pink gel pen ink:
Claire’s hand, cold and fragile on her neck, right over her pulse.
“Sorry, I couldn’t get the cash together in time – who knew quintillion was such a little known number? Okay look, it’s okay, don’t panic. But we need to talk.”