|The events described in this story are fictional. The author makes no assertion about the lives or characters of the real people whose names and identities she has used in the writing of this story, and makes no money from it.|
"Wasn't that bad."
"Might have been better, Noel, if the girl hadn't gone home right at the start. I dunno what her problem was, do you?"
"Dunno." Noel shrugs. "I thought she seemed a bit weird, actually, but you know. Didn't like to say anything."
"Bit. Mind you, you probably shouldn't have said that thing about Bella Emberg."
"It was a compliment! Bella Emberg was bloody brilliant. I used to love that Russ Abbot Show, made me laugh, it did. Don't look at me like that, thems was dark days..."
"Well anyway, she didn't know that, did she? She probably weren't even born yet."
Noel makes a face. "People are sort of... young these days, have you noticed?"
"Yeah... What happened to old Bella, anyway -- is she still alive?"
"Yeah, she was in Doctor Who."
"Oh..." Russell frowns to himself, then loses interest. He shifts and sighs, and watches Noel. "What are you doing, anyway?"
"I'm makin' a flick-book out of your little message pad," says Noel, and holds it up. "See? This is Jeremy Paxman..."
"Oh, yeah, it is an' all."
"...And when you get to here, he's being slowly consumed by a giant fruit-bat, and then the fruit-bat explodes here, and then... oh, then I seem to have drawn a baboon."
"Right." Russell nods.
"Why do you keep this next to your bed, anyway?" asks Noel. "It's not even near a phone. Do you get messages from God in the night?"
"Oh, just cos' -- I thought, right? What if I was to wake up and realise I'd invented something brilliant in me sleep, only to forget it while I was looking for a pen?"
"Yeah. That'd be pretty shit."
"Noel?" says Russell.
"You don't reckon that was... what we just done. What I mean is -- should we have done that, d'you think? Or not?"
"Well." Russell hesitates. "I s'pose it's just... well, we was all sort of keyed up already, wasn't we? So it was more like... it was a sort of continuation, weren't it? Of something what'd already... I mean, it's not our fault she buggered off early. Is it?"
Noel turns back to his flick-book, experimentally runs his thumb down the edges of the pages.
"So it's not like..." Russell goes on. "I suppose. Or anything."
"Russell." Noel grins.
"The baboon got eaten by Jeremy Paxman."
Russell takes the pad, laughs like a happy machine gun.
"It's only fair," says Noel. "It's the circle of life, innit?"
"So, then, right? I reckon... Oh, fuck! I'm all confused now!"
"Why are you confused?"
"'Cos! I feel all weird and, like, conflicted, don't I!"
"Ain't you feelin' all weird and conflicted, then?"
Noel looks up. "Not really. Although... you know what does make me feel a bit weird and conflicted?"
"Your curtains. One of them's pulled straight across and the other one's all bunched up at the end. It's making me feel strange."
Russell looks. "Oh yeah. Oh God, now I feel funny about that an' all. Get up and straighten it for me."
"Why do I have to do it?"
"Because you pointed it out."
Noel rolls his eyes, but obliges. He's careful not to dislodge any of his worm drawings as he moves.
"That's better," says Russell. "Now get back in. I'll get cold."
"Yeah, right," says Noel. "It's like a bloody sauna in here."
He gets back into the bed anyway, stretches out and yawns.
The curtains hang down over the window, as straight as straight could be. Nice, straight, innocent curtains. Russell glares accusingly at them.
"What's the matter," says Noel. "You still feeling conflicted?"
"Little bit, yeah."
"Well, don't worry about it, all right?"
"Yeah, 'cos... it's not like it means nothing, eh?"
Noel thinks about that. "Well... I suppose everything means something, doesn't it?"
Russell nods. "Semiotics, that."
"I mean." Noel shrugs. "I just thought it was sort of... nice."
"Signifier, signified... stuff."
"But it ain't a big deal."
"Yeah, but Noel," says Russell (although Noel hasn't said anything for a good five minutes now), "what would Julian say?"
"How should I know?" Noel says, irritably. He draws one of his worms eating Kirsty Wark.
"Are you gonna tell him, though? I mean would you normally -- in this sort of situation... I mean, if it was--"
"Russell, he's not my dad."
"I know, but--"
"...you know, or my wife, or anything. He don't own me."
"Yeah, I know that."
"...Mainly 'cos you're the wife."
Noel throws down his pen in exasperation. "Look, do you want me to suffocate you with your own duvet?"
"What is it with the whole Julian thing, anyway? You go all sort of twitchy around him. You start twittering like a canary."
"I dunno. I don't think he likes me."
"Yeah, he does."
"He narrows his eyes at me. Then he don't say nothing."
"That's just Julian. It's how he communicates."
Russell looks doubtful. "Makes me all nervous. Like he knows something..."
"That's ridiculous. Like what?"
"I dunno! Like he can see through me, or--"
"Russell," says Noel. "Everyone can see through you. You're fuckin' transparent. Anyway... look, just don't worry about it."
He goes back to his worms, and Russell fidgets and agitates, folds his arms. Unfolds them again.
"But what I mean is," he says. "You're close aren't you, you and him? What if he thinks--"
"Oh for fuck's sake! Look, if you're that obsessed with Julian, why don't you go and do it with him?"
"I'm not obsessed! Anyway, it's not like we -- me and you -- it's not like we actually... done it. Is it?"
Noel looks at him, says nothing.
"Don't look at me like that. I told you, it was a continuation! It was a threesome without one of the ones, that's all! It don't count."
"All right," agrees Noel. "It don't count. But..."
"What if we did it again? For instance? Would that count?"
"Yeah. Or at some time in the foreseeable future. Say. Just hypothetically speaking."
"Yeah, that'd... that'd probably have to count," says Russell, clears his throat and looks away, scrabbling down by the side of the bed for the remote. "I'm gonna put the telly on." He finds it and music booms, sudden and dramatic, from the television.
"What about if I kissed you?" Noel is gathering his worms together, stacking them, straightening the edges. A smile hovers, ambivalent, around one side of his mouth. "D'you reckon that'd count?"
"Noel," says Russell.
"And what about if--"
"Look!" He points at the screen. "When Good Pets Go Bad."
"Oh," says Noel. "I love this!"
"I know, it's brilliant."
"I hope it's that one where the woman gets terrorised by the -- what was it, a possum or something?"
"Something like that. And they do that really rubbish reconstruction--"
"Yeah, with the shaky camera and that--"
"--And she's screaming, and goin'--"
"--'Nooooo, help meeee!'--"
"Hahahahaha! Yeah, I hope it's that one."
"It's probably not," says Noel.
It's not that one. It's the one with the rabid marmoset in a tree.
"So, Russ..." says Noel, turning onto his side.
"What if I kissed you?"
"What --" Russell stops, looks at Noel, double takes. "Why are you laughing?"
"I'm not laughing!"
"You are, you're taking the piss!"
"I'm not laughing at you. It's just funny, that's all."
"'Cos... all right, I am laughing at you. You're funny."
"I'm not! Well, I am, but not -- what?"
"You throw little hissy fits about everything, it's hilarious!"
"It is. See, even you're laughing."
He is. "I'm not!"
"Yeah, yeah, whatever..."
They fall silent again, but the silence is all full of something, like static electricity, or tiny, tiny snakes, wriggling about between the molecules in the air.
Noel says, "So, what if I--"
"Oh, for fuck's sake, Noel, why don't you just do it and find out?"
"Yeah..." He plucks at the duvet, grins, considers. "Maybe later."
"What? Nah, I was only jokin', anyway."
"You really better fucking not have been."
Russell moves fast. When he wants you to know he's there, you know it.
"All right, all right," Noel yelps, muffled, half-laughing. "I'm sorry! No, let go! Stop it, no -- stop it!"
"Well..." Russell hangs over him, waiting. Like a friendly bird of prey. Like a very tall puppy. Like a praying mantis with stupid hair. "Go on, then."
"How?" Noel tries to breathe and speak at the same time. "I can't do anything, can I, you're on all the fucking... bits of me that move."
"Oh, bloody 'ell..." Russell rolls his eyes. "If you want something doing, do it yourself."
He does it with determination, with courage, like he's diving into a swimming pool for the first time ever. His eyes are screwed up tight to keep the chlorine out. He's not alone, though, because Noel's in this thing too, his hands on the back of Russell's neck, pulling him down, pushing away again, following.
A dive, a kiss -- you either do it or you don't. There's no dabbling around the edges, no prevarication here. It counts, all right.
"That doesn't count, that was a test," Russell says, as his head falls back onto the pillow. "To see whether I liked it or not."
"Well?" says Noel. There's something ragged and sticky, spiderwebby, caught in the middle of the word. "What do you reckon, then?"
"Yeah." Russell stares at the air in the room. "Yeah, it was all right."
"D'you wanna do it again?"
"Right, but..." He turns back to Noel, looks over his shoulder at the sheets, looks him directly in the eye. "You know it is actually, definitely gonna count this time, yeah?"
Noel rolls his eyes. "Oh, look, whatever, Russell."
"Well, I just wanted to make sure, you know... that you'd be okay with that."
"I never had a problem with it in the fucking first place!" says Noel, his voice rising. "Now either just fucking well get on with it, or don't!"
"All right!" Russell is using his affronted voice. He breathes in, looks at Noel. On the telly, an iguana is well out of control. "All right," he says again. "I will."
"Jesus, thank you..."
"Call me Russell," says Russell, and dives.