Albert is extremely well prepared for his extensive round of media interviews. He has a couple of childhood anecdotes and a winning explanation as to why – as a warm, kind and attractive man – he still lives alone. All he needs to work on now is a reason to be interviewed.
Here’s what I shall tell the horses. How you hurt me. How you were pleading, then grateful, then sobbing into my hair. How you whispered to me that it was something amazing and unique, then later laughed it off as less than nothing, as the delusions of someone crazy and damaged, glancing at me with a coldness that froze every painfully familiar inch of me.
And the horses will jerk back their heads and snort their derision at all that you are. And they will understand that everything will be made to seem my fault. Because they know it is the naming of things that makes them so, that people will say I had choices at every stage: the before, the during and the after. That even now I could admit I’d been confused, that I’d made a terrible mistake. How easy. How calming.
But with their eyes the size of planets the horses will watch after me as I sweep and groom. They will walk with me across the sodden fields toward the grey, scudding clouds. And they will charge me to keep my word, to keep my word unchanged, to refuse to make good.
Because you cannot stop me telling them. You cannot stop them knowing.
I was still unpacking my paperbacks from my bin liners when the knock came on the door.
“Welcome,” he said. “Although, just to be clear, I didn’t vote for you. No, I wanted a different tenant. Nothing against you,” he added. “It was only that this other guy had a cute girlfriend and I was hoping she might come to stay from time to time. Then there’d be this scene outside the bathroom. It would involve a towel….Anyway, looking at you, I’m guessing you don’t have a cute girlfriend?”
“You are aware you don’t need to say this stuff,” I said.
He pretended to look shocked. “Really? I had no idea. Keep quiet and you end up with a blockage. I know about these things.”
We sized each other up.
“So”, I said eventually, “you always this funny?”
“Usually funnier. I’m better when I have someone interesting to work off. What about you? You pretending you’ve read all those?” he asked, gesturing towards my disheveled books.
“Not even close. I’m going to cut out the drink altogether, work hard during the days, then sit tight each evening and just read for the next two years. Read my way out of debt and acquire a brain – that’s the plan.”
“Some plan,” he said.
“I’m deadly serious.”
“Well that’s good,” he said. “I respect that.”
We both looked at the books again. There were a lot of words there.
“Beer?” he enquired.
“Finally,” I said.
You think you know someone? Think you have the full picture? Nah, you just have little dots. You join them up and say – look, an eagle! But think about those constellations at night. You actually see a big dipper up there? Me neither. Dots and hope: that’s all we have.
Albert kept two goldfish for many years. The thin one he called Laurel; the fat fantail, Hardy. One day Laurel dies. Albert finds himself studying Hardy, wondering why he carries on swimming around alone. Actually, Albert suddenly realises, what choice does he have? You swim, then eventually you stop swimming.
I never actually tell my arms and legs to move yet off they go. And breathing and blinking are clearly organised by automatic pilot. And where exactly do I fit into all this? That’s what I’d like to know. Look, my hand’s off again, reaching for another glass of wine.