I opened my eyes, but it took me a while to work out where I was; everything seemed different, because it was. I was lying in bed and Gillian Ambrose was lying beside me whinnying like a horse down her long nose. My throat was closed, my eyes glued together and my stomach felt as if it was ready to give birth. The question my old science teacher, Mr Manley used to ask, sprung to mind: solid, liquid or gas? I slid out of bed without finding out, holding my mouth as if that put a lid on the problem and, with my other hand, tried to disentangle my tangled denims, that had somehow, inextricably, tied themselves into a Gordian knot overnight, which would have baffled even Alexander the Great. I felt sure that Mr Manley’s need for empirical evidence was going to appear behind me and resolve such matters.
‘Where are you going?’ said Gillian opening her eyes and sitting up.
I’d no time to answer, just made a dash to the door and hoped that the upstairs toilet was free, or my denims were as cotton absorbent as a weekend nappy, or maybe both.
James Munn was coming down the stairs, with some folders. ‘Morning,’ he said, stopping and leaning against the banister as the necessary preparation for a long chat.
I rushed by him, ignoring his weasely offer of a smile. I couldn’t have said anything, or explained in any case, because if I opened my mouth I was sure that shit would just start pouring out. My career flashed past me. I’d read about different people’s ideas of heaven; a guy with a beard, and a tablet of stone, waiting for them on the other side with Pearly Gates, but that was nothing compared to seeing the upstairs toilet door standing ajar. I never even had time to check if my crinkly knickers had flooded the pan the night before. My denims hit the ground faster than a paedophile pulling out lollipops.
An extractor fan ticked lazily like a clock on the wall. I scanned the walls looking for a window that I could open to let out the smell of two dead men rotting and rolling below me in the lavvy -pan. But there was none. Whoever had built the castle turret hadn’t thought of putting toilet windows in it. I washed my hands in the basin and unbolted the door, before someone discovered that it was me that had been abusing their facilities.
James Munn hadn’t waited for me. He was probably going to work, even though it was a Sunday and he didn’t have to and there was nothing for him to do anyway. I ambled down the stairs, with the tune of some song that I couldn’t get past the opening bars of, playing in my head. I pushed the door open, trying to be stealthy and quiet and all the other things I wasn’t good at. But it didn’t matter. Gillian was sitting bolt upright in bed smoking.
‘That’s you wakened me now. I’ll never get back to sleep. What am I going to do with myself now. It’s still too early to get up. And I’ll need to go to the toilet now.’
‘It’s not my fault,’ I said, hopping from hotfoot to foot, to take off my denims.
I was going to add that it probably didn’t help that she smoked so much. Even smoked when she was sleeping. That we were nurses and should know that smoking was a stimulant that was connected to something, that was connected to something else, that connected to something else. But it was all too much bother thinking about it. And the hangdog look of misery on her face suggested that I shouldn’t go in that general direction.
‘Jesus,’ she said, breathing smoke. ‘Now you’ve got a hard on.’
I couldn’t really deny it. The evidence was pointing in her direction. But as a mitigating plea I would have suggested that it was her fault for having tits. Instead, I kept quiet and sneaked into bed beside her, cuddling up to her bony legs, and moving my hands up and down her naked body, in what for me was a frenzy of anticipation, but was for her an interruption to her finishing a fag.
I don’t know who fell asleep first: her or me. But I knew where I was. I felt her pushing up the bed and smelled the fag smoke even before I opened my eyes.
‘What time’s it?’ I asked.
‘Ten past nine,’ she said, nudging the clock on the small cabinet beside her bed to show me the luminescence hands.
‘God I’ll never be able to sneak into the house now. And I’ve missed nine o’clock mass,’ I said.
‘You don’t believe in all that rubbish? Do you?’ She said, crinkling her eyes up and shaking her head.
‘Yes,’ I said, pulling the fag out of her mouth and taking a puff. ‘No. Well, I’m not bothered,’ I added, lying back on the pillows, taking another puff. ‘I need to go anyway. Mum will be wondering where I’ve been. And if I hurry I can make 12 o’clock mass.’
‘You don’t need to go to mass, do you?’ she said, scoffing, like an unbeliever that had discovered I didn’t speak the local language of Urdu.
‘No, not really,’ I said, my face brightening into a beamer, ‘ but if I don’t go my dad goes mental.’
‘Fuck sake,’ she said, stubbing out her fag. ‘I was hoping that we could spend a bit of time together today.’ She looked out of the window, her hair falling down over her face.
‘I’d love to,’ I said, scrambling from the bed, ‘but I’ve really got to get down the road. They’ll be wondering where I am’. I couldn’t see my denims. A thought flashed through my head that she’d hidden them, but I was just being silly, they were lying underneath the bed, just out of sight. ‘Mum’ll have the air and sea rescue out looking for me.’
‘What about that?’ Gillian said, as I sat on the bed to put my denims on.
She grabbed playfully at my hard on. And I was lost to mum. Lost to dad. And lost to the church.