The gale licked at my turn-ups.
My toes curled involuntarily inside their Cartier corsets in a futile attempt to grip the shiny steel surface of the girder rather better than hardly at all. My stomach lurched and swayed rebelliously, in stark counterpoint to the solidarity displayed by the rest of my anatomy, standing rigidly pressed against the upright at my back. I still held the upper hand in my sado-masochistic tango with gravity, but the battle for my mind was in retreat.
I wanted to learn the acordian, fly a microlight and drive Italian cars at breakneck speeds through sleepy villages. But I wanted down from here more. I could still hear her laugh, a bass clarinet in an operetta by Carl Orf, eminating from a silken throat framed in a rather excessive collection of molars. That, I realised, was my downfall. No-one had twisted my arm or greased my palm. I wasn’t tired of living or, like a moth with sunglasses, tired of flying round the lightbulb. But listen to Clifton Chenier or Joe El Sonnier frisking the mother of pearl on a cajun anthem, pull up to 7000ft cloud base like Zeus on Pegasus, or power through a moonlit landscape in a three lite Alfa Romeo with a laughing, pony-tailed redhead fondling your thigh and you may just realise that there’s more to life than picking up peanuts for picking up someone else’s dirty laundry.
Most people loose the lifelong battle with gravity to the tune of six feet plus the height of the bed, but the stakes were higher in this game. About sixteen stories higher. My inner ear was telling stories too, the lights of the city swam, spun and flashed and all the alarms in my head sounded. It was like being on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise during a Klingon attack, only worse.
It looked like I could trust my balance like you could trust Insurance Companies to give accurate valuations, London Underground Nestles dispensers to pay up in chocolate or that slice of toast you just dropped to hit the sheepskin rug marmite side up. With the marmite on the toast, not on the sheepskin that is. The wind redoubled it’s efforts to make my trenchcoat flap like a Nomad’s awning in a sandstorm. It looked like things couldn’t get much worse unless Cronenburg had just bought the movie rights. My nose started to run.
My undoing was worn straight from the cleaners, and she knew it. She was my Nemesis, my Lament Configuration, my strange attractor. I had explained to her that I’d lost interest in busting my arse for salted seed kernels and achieving nothing but indifference, apathy and an addiction to polo mints. That there was no longer a place for free spirits or Private Eyes was a conclusion she’d read as “wimp city” before she shut down the play. Why? I wanted her because I couldn’t have her. Everything else in life was everyday, corrupt or on page 149 of the Argos catalogue. Idealism isn’t entirely unattractive, least not when it’s dressed up fancy and taught to dance to 808 State.
“I was once told something about you by a man in a 3 piece suit with a gold AmEx card” she had said in a complimentary tone.
”That man was an imposter” I replied, knowing full well who she referred to and remembering the trouble he got me into when he drove into the side of the Norweigan ambassador’s Volvo while I was blind drunk in the passenger seat. He handed me the keys and legged it.
“Something about heights”. She smiled again, her breath rising like steam in the drizzle, and turned quickly so as to display the long pearl necklaces she wore to good effect. She exhibited the kind of neck-snapping beauty that makes the wearing of baggy trousers essential.
Time was running out. Shock was creeping in around the edges of my consciousness like ice on a Polar explorer’s goggles. My pulse was weaker than MaxPax coffee and the blood was pooling in my swelling feet like a thermometer on a cold morning. One step street pizza.
No. I couldn’t give her the satisfaction. And besides, I wanted to have another look at her before a casket obscured the view. If I couldn’t get out of this, I needed someone who could. Rutger Hauer would drop his head, smile a little under heavy eyebrows and rush across the girder in a stoop, shoulders curved and palms spread forwards like a juggler. When I made the door, I heard him elucidate patiently, as if to a slow learning child, “Now, perhaps that’s not so hard after all”. Guess he could be right at that.
She was waiting for me, of course, in her car, a pretty dark blue Alfa, one of the last Bertone two-litre GTV coupes. Through the closing door I noticed a beautiful old Sila accordian on the rear seat, and as she crashed the syncro on first and made her gravel spun exit, a sticker in the rear window said “Microlight pilots do it with 2-strokes”.
If there is a God up there, then he had a sick sense of humor.
It was enough to make a lesser man weep. Me, I started on a fresh tube of Polos.
(with apologies to Mark Williams)