Chapters 4, 5 & 6

  - the first fifty pages in three parts - 

chapters 4, 5 & 6



I stayed in the café for almost thirty minutes after E left while I regained my composure and steadied myself enough to bury my head firmly in the sand and call Hutch. I opened the conversation with the words, ‘Hutch, I’m homeless.’

He understood the implications of this immediately and so we arranged to meet up and pass the evening together at a lounge bar called Chime which from the outside was identifiable only by the three horizontal white lines painted on its main door, a place we now considered our second home thanks to a combination of their uncommon opening hours and their enthusiastic grasp of our language. We stayed until I noticed the huge steel clock behind the bar tick over to three a.m.

‘Come on, it’s time to go,’ I told Hutch, taking control of our situation. I pulled him sharply by the shoulders but couldn’t get him to loosen his grip on the bar, so I chose to abandon him and instead look after number one.

It had been a suitably eventful night, exactly what I had needed after the madness of the late afternoon. I remember familiar people sitting at the circular bar reading aloud from sheets of paper with my writing on them while I was too far gone to feel ashamed or even wonder where they had gotten them from. Click, the owner of Chime for as long as we’d been coming here, had been one of them. A woman I recognised from a TV show was there and I was quick off the mark to make a connection with her. There was a Ukrainian man who didn’t understand me and who grabbed my arms at least twice as I tried to bedazzle him with my late-night wit and logic. Stepek may have appeared briefly and complained openly about the smell of other people, or I could have dreamt that part. At one-point Hutch, while taking a swallow from his bottle, touched a girl’s breast much too deliberately with his elbow causing major problems for both of us.

Later, in a fast taxi going firmly into an uphill bend I found myself squashed between the Ukrainian’s sister, who had passed out and was holding onto my hand, and the TV woman who’s shoulder I believe my head was resting upon. While I reflected on the craziness of the day just gone and tried to rationalise my current actions, the city simply buzzed past, no doubt blissfully unaware of its influence upon us all, silently suggesting that none of this really mattered anyway.


*   *   *


In the early afternoon I waited for Hutch outside his apartment, crouched on the pavement and wearing sunglasses despite the heavy cloud coverage, my arms wrapped tightly around my body. Like a pantomime horse we held on to each other and struggled down the street to the fake diner two blocks from Hutch’s place, all prepared to reward ourselves with a victory breakfast of sorts.

‘I’ve surely felt better,’ Hutch grumbled as we collapsed into a booth at the back of the room. ‘I wish I had eaten some food last night, Jonas. My stomach feels like a dirty fish tank. Don’t talk to me today man. I’m miserable.’ He closed his eyes and folded his hands on his lap, his breathing shallow. ‘No, on second thoughts I can’t eat anything yet,’ he said, bursting into a semblance of life once again. ‘I’m just ordering coffee.’

I opened a menu but let it slide out of my hands and onto the tabletop the second I saw the names and descriptions of the various plates. ‘I’m joining you,’ I told him. ‘Food’s not going to help. Coffee it is,’ I said, flagging the waitress down.

On any normal day, the food in here would have been perfect for us. Our digestive systems had still not fully adjusted to the complexities of beginning a new life in a foreign country, and therefore eating in this approximate representation of a diner from back home had always been viewed by us as both a pleasure and a necessity.

‘How did your night end?’ I asked him once we had been supplied with our rather weak looking beverages.

‘I have no idea. I was standing at the bar talking to Click about the lighting in there, I think, and then the next thing I can remember was Rachel shoving me out of the bed because I was snoring. Honestly, I can’t cope with blackouts. Anything could have happened to me. You?’

‘Similar,’ I lied, hoping to make him feel less ashamed. ‘Except I woke up on the floor of someone’s hallway. I found the bathroom, washed, flossed, rinsed, left.’ I gave a shrug. ‘Then I came to get you and here we are. New day. New life I guess.’

‘Hardly a new life yet,’ he said. ‘I mean, you’re going to go and see E right? Sort this all out?’

‘I’m not sure. I was thinking of just waiting until it all blows over.’

He stared at me and then laughed out loud. ‘Blows over! What a strategy!’

I shook my head, regretting having said that.

‘Did Stepek appear at Chime last night?’ Hutch asked suddenly. ‘I have very vague memories of arguing with him and having his pointed nose poking against my face.’

‘I’ve been wondering that myself,’ I replied. ‘I can’t think straight. I should never have gone down the drinking route last night after the afternoon I’d had.’

‘Oooh, “a man comes around now!”’ he said, wiggling his fingers either side of his head, laughing at me.

‘Shurrup Kenneth! How the hell would you feel if Rachel said that to you?’

‘Oh geez-o, I dunno,’ he replied, looking deadly serious again. ‘I guess I’d step in front of a train too.’

‘Hutch, come on,’ I said, shaking my head at him. He knew how inappropriate that was.

‘Jump out of a window then? Is that a better way? No, really. I couldn’t take that. What was she thinking? It’s beyond harsh.’ He took a large slurp of coffee and swallowed hard, grimacing. ‘It’s just not on, old boy! Is it?’ he spluttered in an exaggerated British military tone, laughing and then coughing.

‘This is no joke Hutch,’ I told him. ‘I’m completely lost here.’

‘So, what’s the plan then?’ he asked.

‘Just stay at Norf’s I guess until this, you know…’

‘Blows over,’ he said.

‘When is Norf coming back anyway?’ I asked him after a few minutes of silence. ‘I may need to stay in that apartment of his for quite some time.’

‘No idea. I haven’t heard from him since he asked us to keep an eye on the place.’

‘Well, I’m sure he won’t mind me being there,’ I said. We shrugged simultaneously.

Knowing that Norf owned a property over here in Paris was the seed that grew into the idea to come and live over here in the first place, an idea originally thought up and enthused over by Julie Anderson, the realist idealist and lynchpin of our small group who had by then become, to my horror, Stepek’s better half. By the time we emigrated en masse however, all the way from the Windy City to this City of Light, all thoughts of using Norf’s place had been forgotten until one day when he contacted Hutch and asked us to look after the place for him, “for a couple of weeks.” That had been about three months ago. Neither of us had heard from him since, thankfully.

I watched as Hutch took an enormous slug of coffee, his eyes widening as some of the liquid exited the mug at each corner of his mouth and ran down his chin and neck. From the front of the room I heard the older of the two waitresses yell through the hatch into the kitchen, ‘Hey Charlie! My pen broke, can I go home now?’ followed by a burst of cackling laughter. I felt momentarily homesick.

‘I need more coffee,’ I said once the laughter had subsided. I turned around and waved my empty mug pathetically at the other waitress until she got the message and came sloping over with a fresh pot, pouring me a much-needed refill. Just as she was turning to leave Hutch began bouncing on his seat, pointing violently into his almost empty mug causing me to forget everything and burst out laughing once again.

‘I warned you last time not to bring the monkey back here,’ the waitress scolded me as she filled his mug, finally escaping our pull and returning to her other customers.

‘God, I’m in love with her,’ Hutch blurted out pointlessly.

‘Can you imagine Rachel saying such things to you?’ I asked him, reflecting once again on my conversation with E. ‘Nonsense. Insulting, disrespectful nonsense.’

He shrugged once more before suddenly blurting out, ‘Oh shit, that reminds me!’ Hutch said, digging around in his pockets before finally pulling out his phone and pointing it at me. ‘Say ‘cheese’,’ he said, his face completely serious.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Gathering evidence for my trial,’ he muttered, looking down and frowning at the photo he’d just taken of me. ‘Rachel will never believe I was with you twice in two days. This picture of you is going to be Exhibit A.’

‘Understood. But if she doesn’t think you are here with me now then what does she think you are doing?’

‘I don't know. Looking for a job?’

‘Well let’s get the waitress to take one of the two of us together. You could have taken that photo of me at any time.’

I went over to the counter and tried to explain the situation to our waitress in a way that didn’t make us sound like complete morons. With a small shrug she agreed to come over and take a picture of the two of us installed at our table.

‘Honey, make sure you get the clock in!’ Hutch demanded. ‘The current time is essential.’

‘Can you get that thing to stop calling me “honey”?’ she asked me.

‘Hey Hutch, hold the newspaper up so that Rachel can see that it’s today’s front page,’ I suggested while the waitress took a couple of shots and then dropped the phone into Hutch’s impatient, outstretched hand.

‘Oh no, look at this,’ he remarked, punching the screen with a chubby index finger. ‘You’re smiling too much J. I’m going to have to tell her that I was consoling you, that you are an emotional wreck. That’s the only way I’m getting out of this unscathed. Let’s take another. Look miserable J.’

I pulled an unhappy face.

‘This is pathetic,’ the waitress observed correctly, taking the camera back. ‘I do have other people to attend to, you know?’

‘Shut up, we’re gonna tip you for your time. Take another one,’ Hutch barked at her.

‘I’m not a prostitute, you asshole!’ she snapped, throwing the phone directly at him and walking away.

‘Okay this’ll have to do then. What are you laughing at? This is no joke, Jonas. These are the lengths I have to go to in order to exist in peace.’

It went without saying that despite my relatively jovial demeanour the weight of the conversation I’d had with E the day before was just killing me. ‘A man comes around now.’ That one line that just wouldn’t leave my head. ‘What a shitty thing to say, did you really mean it?’ I quietly sang to myself. ‘Who did that one?’ I looked at Hutch for an answer, but by then he was too busy brutalising the newspaper to notice, flattening the pages like an excited kitten, so I instead tried to flag down the waitress for more coffee until she made it clear that we had outstayed our welcome and allowed my mug to remain empty.

My despair and desperate second-guessing ended soon after, however, when the door of the diner was flung open to reveal Stepek standing there, waving an arm and yelling across the room at us. ‘Wunderman! Hutch! Get out here!’

‘Oh, what the...? What does he want?’ Hutch grumbled, looking up and spinning round to look over the back of our booth. ‘How does he always know where we are?’ he hissed, looking back at me.

‘What is it?’ I shouted across the room, lifting my empty mug as I raised my voice.

‘It’s here, come and see! It’s out here!’

I could see it before I even reached the door of the diner; a gleaming yellow that looked as out of place in this environment as we all did. It was Stepek’s taxi; an ex-New York City cab he'd bought from someone back home in Chicago. There were already a couple of people taking photos, no doubt thinking it was a publicity stunt of some kind for the diner.

‘How the hell did you get that here?’ I asked. The last I’d heard Stepek was mourning the fact that it was sitting in a garage back home, decaying.

‘I had her shipped! Cost me two grand.’

‘Two grand to ship a car? Is that expensive?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘It looks shinier here than it did at home,’ I observed.

‘I had a lot of work done. Replaced that engine finally.’

I nodded, reflecting on the awful noise it used to make. 

‘It’s making me feel ill just looking at it,’ Hutch said. ‘The last time I was in that thing I was with Mose. We were loaded. He was lying passed out with his head on my lap. I kept wondering if the blue dye from his hair would rub off onto my clothes,’ he told us. ‘He was begging me to let him come and live with me and Rachel. I told him straight up - she would never allow it. I wanted to help him, but you know what it’s like. I couldn’t make her unhappy.’

‘You constantly make her unhappy,’ I reminded him.

‘I know, but none of it is premeditated. This was something else. I couldn’t deliberately, by choice I mean, make things worse.’

‘Forget this,’ Stepek interrupted. ‘Let’s just jump in and go collect the girls. I’m picking Julie up at her work when she finishes. Let’s go get Rachel and E. Call them up. They’ll love this! It’ll be like the old days back home!’

Hutch looked directly at me, searching for guidance.

‘Yeah, I think I’ll skip this part,’ I said, turning to go back inside. I went straight to the counter, paid the check and apologised for Hutch’s behaviour and then went out the back to use the bathroom.

‘Told him?’ I asked Hutch when I made it outside again, knowing that the first thing he would have told Stepek when I left would have been the story about E meeting someone else.


‘What’s your opinion then?’ I asked Stepek. ‘I know you’ll have one, so let’s just hear it.’

‘About E? My professional opinion is that you should tell her about the cab, man. Immediately. That’ll cheer her up.’

‘I’ll be sure to do that. Meanwhile can you just drop me off at Norf’s? I’m going to crash there until all this...’ I was going to add ‘blows over’ but of course, as Hutch had suggested, that particular way of thinking was going to get me nowhere and would probably make things worse, which is a lesson that I thought I had learned a long time ago.


















Is living with no memory of what came before, when my recent past was surely the cause of the situation I found myself in, even possible? If I were to survive this ordeal, if I were to move forward again, then I would need to look back. That’s just how life works.


*  *  *


‘E, listen to me,’ I recall Mose saying. ‘This is important! Seriously, it’s important so try and keep a straight face will you?’

‘I’m trying! Wait! Wait. Right, okay. This is it. Serious face. Serious face. This is my serious face. Tell me.’

‘E, you’re without doubt the most beautiful, intelligent… oh come on, quit it will you? I’m deadly serious here. Stop laughing.’

‘I’m sorry! I can’t help it. Woo… this weed is something else! Just stop with this beautiful intelligent stuff! You were telling me about travelling, that’s what I want to hear about. I miss moving around. Tell me everywhere you plan to go and give me that back now please.’

‘Here. Okay, listen: I think you should leave him.’

‘Leave him?’ I laughed before drawing back on the joint.

‘Yeah, you should leave Jonas.’

The seriousness of his expression brought me instantly back to the moment. ‘Mose, tell me once again; why would I do that?’ I asked him.

We had been here before. Mose telling me that I should leave Jonas for him had become a regular part of life. Even J himself accepted it and brushed it off as a joke.

‘“Well, he’s just an excitable boy”,’ J sang at me when I eventually found the courage to bring it up.

‘It doesn’t bother you?’ I asked him, annoyed.

‘No, because I don’t blame him!’ J responded disappointingly. ‘I’d go crazy having to be in your company without being able to get my hands on you.’

‘Well you’re about to find out what that’s like,’ I’d told him, leaving him alone to go and sleep on the couch for the night, annoyed that all he could take into consideration when his closest friend was trying to threaten our relationship was that it was probably my own fault for being attractive to him.

J had of course come through soon after and whined about me having no sense of humour. I most certainly did have a sense of humour, however. I had to, because almost everything in life was a joke to them. I just used to wish, even though the pacifist in me was outraged, that he had occasionally gone a little crazy and at least pretended to be angry at Mose.












‘You see, I kept thinking about how much I spend on cabs,’ Stepek told me as he wove the bright yellow machine through the city streets, ‘and then one day I suddenly it just suddenly hit me: why don’t I just buy one?’ I had heard him recount this epiphany more times than I could be bothered trying to remember.

Hutch had waved us off as we left the diner, departing with a violent U-turn which did not seem to take the other road users into any kind of consideration. This ‘look-at-me’ manoeuvre was typical of Stepek, his arrivals and departures always framed with as much noise or commotion as he could muster.

‘You do realise,’ I told him, ‘that people use cabs because they don’t want to take their own car, yeah? I know you think this makes you special but all you’ve done is buy a car, like everyone else, except you’ve paid a lot for one that is, based on our past experiences, terrifying on long journeys.’

‘No, this makes me unique, Wunderman,’ Stepek informed me as he barely scraped through a yellow light at a busy crossroads.

‘If only everyone thought that way,’ I reflected.

‘They don’t, and I’m glad they don’t. My kind of logic isn’t obvious to your regular person on the street,’ he replied, staring right at me as he accelerated out of a bend.

‘Stepek, I think there is some kind of weird law that says you can’t just drive around in one of these if you don’t have a license or something.’

‘Even here?’

‘I don’t know. You don’t see many around. You don’t see any around.’

I looked out the window and observed some of the impressive architecture the city had on display. ‘Mose would have dug this place,’ I said. ‘He always planned to travel.’

Stepek offered nothing but silence in response, which suited me just fine, but I knew him well enough to know that this silence was nothing but a dramatic prelude to whatever profound sentiment he was preparing to utter.

Eventually it arrived. ‘Life is a joke,’ he said. ‘And death,’ he added, looking at me and pausing for effect, ‘is a bigger joke.’

‘You know, Paul, being this close to one so wise is having a huge effect on my ability to maintain a respectable level of self-confidence,’ I informed him.

‘Well, I’m just saying. That’s all. The sun went down for Mose, and it didn’t come back up. End of story.’

‘I feel all the better for hearing it, thanks.’

‘So what exactly is all this about E then?’ he asked. ‘She’s finally found someone in her league?’

‘That appears to be the case, yes.’

‘What does that feel like? Hutch said you didn’t seem to care.’

I shook my head. ‘Let’s put it this way,’ I replied, ‘there is nothing good about it.’ There was nothing good about this discussion either. Sharing feelings with Stepek was not something I ever felt inclined to do.

‘I could give you a list of positives right now.’

‘I’m sure that I could draw up a long list as well. I just need a little more time. I don’t even know for sure what’s going on. She was a little vague about everything.’

‘Ah yeah. Deliberate vagueness. Stops people having to self-analyse too much. They don’t want to hear anyone, let alone themselves, say out loud what they have just done.’

‘I’m not sure. E is usually pretty direct.’

I momentarily considered the days ahead, sleeping alone at Norf’s place while fretting over the situation with E. The thought of standing on such a cliff-edge was making me nauseous. I sat there in the non-passenger seat of Stepek’s cab, feeling like a cut-out photograph of myself, not quite glued correctly to the surroundings and not quite the right size, either too big or too small for the background it had been pasted onto. It hadn’t yet been a full twenty-four hours since we spoke, but I felt myself missing E’s presence already.

‘Don’t you want to grab some clothes or something from your place before we head to Norf’s?’ Stepek asked. ‘We’re not that far away anyway.’

‘Err,’ was all I managed to say in response. I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of this. I could think of a few things I needed but the thought of going there was in no way appealing to me. The idea of sending Stepek up there for me was even less agreeable, and of course E had asked me not to go there, I reminded myself, so I should respect that. I should switch off my hurt and anger and not think about her. I would not spend the weeks ahead concerning myself with whatever she was doing at any point in time, and I would most certainly not be imagining her and her new man together. I was not interested in seeing him, I did not care what he looked like, and I was definitely not interested in seeing the two of them together or seeing what the home E and I started together looked like with someone else in it, or …

‘Fuck it, let’s go,’ I said.

‘I’m coming up, Wunderman. I want to see him.’

‘You’re not coming up.’

‘Yes I am! You’ll need help carrying everything.’

‘You’re not coming up Paul!’

*  *  *


Deciding whether to use my key or just knock on the door was the first conundrum. This was my home after all, but then I didn’t live here anymore, apparently. While contemplating the pros and cons of these options I found myself sliding the key into the lock as slowly and silently as possible, aware that as soon as I began to turn it the noise of the lock would alert those inside that someone was coming in. With the key fully inside I leaned against the door, putting all my weight against it. I took a deep breath and then in one well-practised move I turned the key and swung the door open smoothly and quietly.

If I am being honest I had fully imagined that I would burst in to find E and her new man in the middle of some athletic sex session on the couch right there in front of me, and then of course, the anger, shock and horror of seeing this would be enough to end my sadness and make me hate her, banishing her from my mind forever and allowing me to spend the next few months or maybe years in decadent anger at the world, doing whatever I like, using and abusing anyone that came my way.

What I did not expect to experience was the pungent odour that drifted out at me, the air full of a terrible smell of decay and mould, like stale food. My perverse arousal was gone in a flash, replaced by frightening confusion. The only conclusion I could come to was that somehow in the last twenty-four hours E had moved out and a bunch of lowlife skankers and junkies had taken over the place.

The television was on, seemingly caught between channels. The screen was filled with static with vague shadowy figures moving around, action of some kind barely visible. My armchair was positioned where it always was, facing the screen. This is where I would sit to read, doze, write, reflect and only occasionally look at the old television set itself. I couldn’t see clearly from where I stood, but I had a strong impression that someone was sitting there. He had already taken my place.

‘What?’ I heard myself mumble.

I was so focused, so stunned by the claustrophobic atmosphere that I almost jumped when I realised E was standing right there before me, her hands clasped together in front of her. I looked right at her and said something awful, to which she just shook her head and looked even more disappointed in me than she had in the café.

I then said something about wanting some of my things, as she had offered. She stood back, suggesting I could enter the apartment. By now anything that was possibly being said, was lost to me. My ears were reacting as if I were under water; my eardrums felt compressed, and I could hear nothing but a dull rumble. My mouth felt loose, my jaw ached. Forming coherent words was out of the question.

In this state I drifted through to what had been known until just yesterday morning as ‘our bedroom,’ where I quickly grabbed a few items from next to what I could no longer call ‘my side of the bed’. I grabbed my small backpack and then hurriedly stuffed some clothes inside, rushing through to the bathroom to grab one or two things that I probably didn’t need to take. I took a moment to have one last look into the bedroom and instantly decided on two other items that were going to be mine. On the desk at the end of the bed I’d kept a small framed photo of E, taken soon after we met. It seemed important to me to take this and not let it become the keepsake of anyone else. The second thing I took was the quilt from the bed. It was a deep crimson red, and it was in fact one of the only items I had bought for the apartment. I had bought it originally because I’d suspected that the colour of E’s skin would contrast wonderfully with the deep red, but the thought of anyone else getting to experience this particular sight clouded out every other thought on the matter, and so I snatched it and then left the room, my bag on my back and the quilt bundled up in my arms.

E appeared to be asking me a question as I moved towards the front door, her hand movements suggesting that she was quite rightly asking about the quilt, but all I could hear now was a muffled ‘Jmmn bmmm pmmnnmm mmm nmm nmmn,’ from her as she gestured anxiously at me, protesting.

With my eyes fixed firmly on the corridor beyond and my life outside of that place, I hurried through the doorway, stumbling and almost falling as I rushed down the stairs.


*  *  *


‘Got your blankie then?’ Stepek remarked as I stuffed myself back into the passenger seat of the cab.

‘Just get me to Norf’s!’ I managed to blurt out. I could barely breathe. Trapped in the throes of an immense anxiety attack I tilted my head back and tried to take long, deep breaths.

‘So was her new man there?’

‘Norf’s please!’ I barked at him. I visualised myself as a frenzied cadaver; eyes unblinking, mouth locked open in an unnatural position.

‘No need to be rude man,’ he grumbled as he started the engine and pulled away from the side of the road. Stepek really was the last person I needed to be with at a time like this.

‘So, what’s happening? What did she say?’ Stepek asked while we sat in the gridlocked evening streets. He looked more serious now, finally grasping the reality of my mood.

‘I don’t know,’ I replied. ‘I didn’t listen. I just took this stuff.’ I looked out at the street and realised that we were now only a half-hour walk away from Norf’s. ‘I think I’m going to walk the rest of the way,’ I told him as I opened the door. ‘Thanks for the ride,’ I added as I gathered both the bag and the quilt up in my arms and tried to get out of my seat.

‘You should probably wash that,’ he suggested, turning the corners of his mouth down and nodding towards the quilt as I struggled to move.

I sat back down again and looked at him for a few seconds.

‘What?’ he asked, raising his voice with faux innocence.

‘Nothing. Nothing at all,’ I muttered, turning once again to try and exit the cab.