I close the door behind me, rest my back against it and close my eyes. For a few seconds there's the tiniest fear that I know has no rational foundation but I can't help thinking for a moment, that if I open my eyes and turn around I'll see her silhouetted through the dimples of the door class. The Sunday Morning sounds tiptoe through my head as I listen for clues: the beat of pigeon wings, some birds are startled from their perch, a baby cries for mother's milk, a dog barks for an early meal, the bells of some distant church summon the faithful, the blessed absence of stiletto on paving stone.
As I'm eating breakfast the mobile rings, the real one, It's Jack, "Where did you disappear to last night?" he asks.
"Oh nowhere" I consume breakfast while we converse, he knows full well what happened and who I left the night club with. He also knows I'm not going to tell him anything, I don't know why he bothers, after a few minutes of fruitless querying he gets to the point.
"You coming over?" he's not actually asking if we're going to meet up with, he's asking when am I going to turn up. I don't miss a Sunday morning at the snooker club, unless someone's died.
"Of course I am, what do think I'm going to do"
"It's just that it half ten already and there's no sign of you," he patters out with a hint of sarcasm, "must have been a busy night"
"Yeah, yeah, I'll be there, don't twist yer knickers over it" it's later than I thought but not that late, he's just being a pain. Last nights activity had taken it's toll though, must be getting old. "I may be a bit later than normal though, something’s come up."
"Don't be too late, we've got a game set up for you," then he hung up, that means there's a stranger in the club, I don't mean a literal stranger, could be someone who's familiar but it'll be someone from outside the club, not a regular. That struck me as slightly odd for a Sunday but I didn't think any further about it.
I threw the coffee into the sink, give the mug a rinse and drown a teabag as soon as the kettle boils, then toast the last of the loaf. I retrieve my laptop from the den, ready to re-familiarize myself with the details of Cassandra's biography. Once I'm comfortable again I sit at the table with my repast and take out Cassandra's letter.
It's an interesting compulsion, this desire to get the words out. I once had a vision of a man standing on the banks of the Thames at Henley, holding a bible and cursing the river at the top of his voice. No one who witnessed the event could comprehend his words, he wasn't sure he did himself. I'd been feeling a lot like that man when Cassandra came along. She was a name I pulled out of the hat, amongst others. Massada Willmot, Beatrice Clattinger were a few of her compatriots, there was even an Angus Moeketsi. Fictional allies I'd enlisted in my efforts to get something published to a wider readership, you know, something a bit further along road to kudos than lining the local cat baskets. Each of these pseudonyms were accompanied by a biography, a suitable tale of hardship, misfortune and woe, something to get the sympathy vote. Some of the trials and tribulations I'd put these hopeful authors through were quite extreme. My imagination took off and I took a some satisfaction in pushing them through ever greater bounds of misery all of which they'd overcome with their outstanding fortitude and strength of character.
As far as I know there are no Wheatfields in the phone book but it sounds a bit like Whitfield so it could be an alias consistent with Cassandra's biography. She's a migrant from Lithuania who's family were all tragically killed while at a picnic site by a swarm of hornets whose natural aggressive instincts had been aggravated by a discharge from a local chemical plant. In an unfortunate coincidence, her children and husband were all fatally allergic to insect stings. The incident had been covered up by the corrupt local officials who conspired with the callous owners of the chemical plant. I'd provided similar such culprits with all the biographies, pandering to prejudices and sentiments I identified in their intended recipients. The actions of the conspirators had driven Cassandra from her native land, that she pined for so deeply while alone, a stranger trying to make her way working as as a mushroom picker, in this foreign and often hostile land called England. Cassandra had struggled, heroically, to overcome her trauma but its legacy had left her with a morbid and paralyzing fear of the colour yellow.
The letter's from an literary agent called Carol Reid, a one man band I think, in one of those offices somewhere near Leicester Square. I've met Carol or rather people like her, in a previous era she would have chain smoked Sobraines from an ebony cigarette holder, today she probably makes do with rolling supply of double strength cappuccino from the nearest Starbucks. As I digest the letter it reads a little on the eager side, not as effusive in its complementary tone as something you'd get from a member of the vanity press but not quite the measured response I was expecting. Still, she's an agent, I think to myself, hyperbole is their trade. Then I read the final paragraph.
|During a meeting with a Publisher three months ago your submission garnered positive attention from my contact who complimented your work on it's rare insight and pointed commentary. After such positive feedback I took the liberty of submitting your work for review. You might be aware that opportunities for such a review are rare and submissions to this publisher by new authors are seldom successful. However I received notice last week that the reviewers regard your submission as suitable for publication and have provisionally offered a payment in advance of publication of £4000. This sum would of course be subject to a 14% commision payable to this office. Please let me know if this arrangement is agreeable so I can arrange to have a contract drafted for your inspection. I hope we can successfully conclude this matter promptly as the publisher has indicated they would like to conduct a meeting with yourself at your soonest convenience.|
Onomatopoeia is tricky but I think Pssshh is a suitable rendering for the sound I made when i nearly choked on the toast and the tea squirted over the screen of the laptop.