Stanley Klepp deceased (7)
By Simon Barget
Parkash was smiling broadly by front door as Kaminski pulled up in his X-Reg 306. Ok to leave the car in the fourth space, three were already taken; breathless, lolloping down the path, arms flailing, all gawky. Yes, they’re meant for visitors.
I couldn’t get through to you Parkash enthused, clutching him on the right arm as if long-standing friends; then avuncular thunk on shoulder, he’d left a few messages – actually he’d left six -- he hoped he hadn’t got the wrong number; but Kaminski confirmed he’d got them all, coyly apologetic for not having got back to him, chin tucked in to his chest, then shooting his glance back up somewhere over by the weeping willows shadowing the right-hand fence, evasive eye-contact, perpetually grimacing, shuffling; hands wedged in anorak pockets rustling something or other, receipt or tissue perhaps, or the vestigial crumbs of a cereal bar gathered in the crevasse of the pleat -- actually he was twiddling the pincer bead of the funeral skullcap between thumb and forefinger -- then shifting weight from one foot to other, back and forth…he’d been in Scotland over the weekend, and there was, he declared, dodgy mobile phone service in most areas anyway; so that if he had intended to call, he’d have been excused by this general circumstance even though the general might not have applied specifically in those areas he’d been to, further exposing the possibility that he might well have retrieved the messages in the very place he claimed communication wasn’t possible. Parkash was impervious even if he did pick up on the brazen lies, he just asked him: was it for a break; yes, he’d set out on Thursday night because he fancied a night-time drive, Friday off work.
Into the narrow entrance hall cum lobby they passed, whereupon Kaminski scouted around with ardent, hawkish curiosity; two radiators on each side wall close enough to each other to transmit warmth back and forth in some curious phenomenon of perpetual radiation-osmosis; and ringlets of gangrenous discoloration where the pipes met the cyan carpet, as expected with a bright colour, almost mauve. On the wall, off-white wallpaper, lugubrious; that morbid, geriatric lilac, bearing a symmetrical overprint of an indistinguishable floral matrix -- they might have been orchids – and up to Parkash’s door, deep golden-brown varnish, adorned with shiny brass horseshoe-shaped knocker with matching gleaming gold carpet grip, no mat or anything to wipe your feet and nothing else at all in the space, very tidy, spartan, bare. Dog barking from the other flat, could probably sniff out the foreign object. Don’t mind him said Parkash, he’ll settle down.
He had brought mud in and left grubby marks and Parkash had noticed and he not, and Parkash had not said anything at all despite his righteous irritation.
Haven’t been here for a while, Kaminski murmured, not much changed, when was it, probably when my father moved in, Parkash took a step inside, door was on the latch, assuming Kaminski would follow, he didn’t, Parkash beckoned him: ‘come on in’ with a lilting sub-continental flourish but Kaminski was hanging back cloyingly by the burly wooden banister, back up against the staircase, just waiting, didn’t want to go in evidently. So Parkash turned and with overcooked concern: did he want a cup of tea then; no, if it was ok he’d like to go straight up first, a quizzical almost forlorn look from Parkash, not expecting the refusal, well he had to get the key anyway, so he’d have to bear with him for one second; and while they walked up the stairs, Parkash supported himself using the gradated banister making sure of his heavy hips, ponderous gait, Kaminski, crane-legged looked around, long anorak curling around his own. Then on the next landing, Parkash cleared his throat and, set him within sight of his big garnet eyes: so what I wanted was to make sure that you did get the Coroner’s report from Mr Freeman in the end? Dark pall comes over Kaminski’s face; knew he’d ask and it disturbs him, eyes fire up, his are opalescent, indistinguishable colour: Says nothing for a good few seconds, just staring, then: yes I know, the post-mortem, hadn’t forgotten, but to be honest with you, I’m not interested, we know he’s dead, what’s the point of a report, does it make any difference. How do they know when they weren’t there anyway, officious people, who knows what happened? So what if I find out, he didn’t want to save himself. Parkash said: well I would have liked to have found out, but it’s up to you. We could ask Dad. Gestures theatrically to the heavens. Dad, you there, how did you die? Give him a few seconds. Look, of course that’s true, Parkash says, but they can infer things from things in the body; we thought you’d want to know to give you some peace of mind. If you don’t mind me saying, it is still a bit unexplained. Why didn’t your father call me or the doctor? Did he just let himself die without fear? Perhaps he had a deathwish, maybe he’s stubborn, I don’t know, does it matter?
He’d taken umbrage. Why would I want to know. I don’t want to know anymore about it, about death, coughing all the time, that sickly man, looking so hideous in the bed. And pitiful. It’s done now. I didn’t do it, one thing he can’t blame me for. He said: everyone’s always trying to point the finger, apportion blame aren’t they, when someone dies, even when it’s obvious it’s no one’s fault. I mean it’s not a murder is it. Parkash wondered who or what was being blamed here, but he said nothing, didn’t want to upset him further for no reason, if he didn’t want the report that was his choice, if he wanted to shirk responsibility. Well Parkash went on, nonetheless, he said again, formalities are there for a reason and one was sent to you care of me because we didn’t have your address, I have it if you want to have a look, it’s in an envelope with a copy of the death certificate.
Arrived at the front door to his own father’s flat -- so hacked up beyond belief -- carnage, a squat, chaos of wood splinters, all the black tape over the excised locks, new lock box discarded on floor, old locks resting next to it, drill still there in its box, well, he’d never have allowed it; where was the propriety, the door was almost dangling at the lock end, held to the frame only by this cross-latch padlocked into a huge shed horseshoe bolt. Parkash fiddled with the lock and padlock and key for some time, having trouble, fat fingers, eventually managed it and the door dollied open onto the left-hand wall, as the hinge had somehow lost traction. He squatted down to pick up the packaging and the old lock before he went in with a sigh. Dreary, cold, inhospitable; the atmosphere of a place of absent light and heating, unlived in, defences breached. Parkash switched on the hall light then went straight into Klepp’s bedroom to assure himself of nothing there to disturb Kaminski or at least not startle him; worst of all would have been the return of the body, next worst the hovering of the spirit, sanctimonious and judging – and he subjugated his latent fear of beholding Klepp or sensing something just a smell or seeing a hair or a sock or anything just to give a ghastly reminder of the body, dead but yet somehow still in life, haunting. But he was relieved to find nothing; the room was exactly as he’d left it, no hint of death, no pestiferous smell, predominantly neat and in good order, nothing moved or left lying about, – how could it be otherwise – but he couldn’t have been sure and it was just reassuring in that moment to find, as Kaminski peered in, that the room was decorous.
It was now about three o’ clock, and though one of those halcyon days, the sun had sunk down somewhere unseen, sending only frail dusky rays into the room. Why was it always so dark in this room? A lack of natural light because of the way the two windows were positioned perhaps. One window on the back wall just adjacent to the main window looking out to the main road. The main light was just a couple of energy–saving bulbs inside its moulded plastic cover more or less centralised on the ceiling and the circular cover two inches deep with geometric crevasse shapes cut into it to make it look less functional, like an upside-down gateau with two other sources–the free-standing lamp by the mirror, just in front of the door next to the sidetop – Parkash had turned this on – and the chrome bedside-table lamp next to the clock radio. Kaminski edged his way up to the foot of the bed, with its stately head-and-foot board whose dark wood oozed some sort of grandeur; discrete dainty feet decorated with pretty clams and shells, and a painted silver line on the headboard created a frame effect; the bedding had been replaced on the bed but neither the blue and yellow quilt nor the blue sheet had been tucked in properly under the mattress, but really aside there was very little in the room apart from the table by the rear window, i.e. the side window, and the free-standing pine mirror, and just a lot of space to walk around.
Kaminski still dithered at the threshold, Parkash looking respectful, hands by his side making himself as inconspicuous as possible then Kaminski ambled over to the built-in sideboard, faced the bed for a moment and turned round towards the window which overlooked the main road, and he looked out of it briefly, dreamily, displaying that avid momentary interest of those who have really beheld something for the first time and to whom it seems quite fresh, and it silenced him; it wasn’t only that he’d never looked out of this window, but also that the moment somehow breathed new life into the dreary urban scene, and he tapped his fingers on the sideboard upon which was Klepp’s ‘slim Jim’ comb and one of the sweaters, folded, the heavy red roll-neck with the flecks of multi-coloured fabric which poked through like little pixels, and then his little crystal coin box in which he managed to hold on to all sorts of assorted oddments: foreign currency, Egyptian Piastres, old shekels and various tokens; one for the New York subway dating back to god-knows-when and a couple of golf tees, and just bits of dust that had coalesced into spheres – what would he do with the coins here that were useable, there was a pound coin and a couple of two-pence pieces –wandered back round towards the tip of the bed where Parkash was standing, arms down by his side, attentive and wearing a faint bolstering smile, a sort of better-luck-next-time, still monitoring Kaminski’s movements if he could be of any help.
Kaminski bludgeoned past Parkash to the other side of the room and asked him how had his father looked when he’d walked in, and Parkash was stunned; he’d not expected to have to marshal his energies to reply truthfully but with discernment and tact, and Kaminski was not even looking at him and did not follow the question up with a prefacing remark, some prompting utterance, and Parkash couldn’t just ignore the question, so he crossed his hands behind his back and said that he had not seen a dead body before, and didn’t know what to expect, not like anything prepares you for this but truthfully, it was not gruesome, your father looked peaceful. Well that’s good, Kaminski supposed. Was there any blood, I mean on the skin, any pigment? What sort of position was he in? Just lying on his back, propped up on his pillows. That look of extreme discomfort on Parkash’s face, overcome by loss for words, craving to say something appropriate, but he just looked sheepishly at Kaminski. When had he last seen his father, and Kaminski replied: oh, I’m not sure, it was a long time ago, can’t really remember what he looked like, and Parkash said that it must be such a shock to the system; he could understand why he would want to distance himself from it, both his parents passed away within one week of each other, he said and it is not an easy time. Whereupon Kaminski blurted it all out, that had seen Sheldon Pearson, the solicitor and guess what, the will left him nothing even though his father was minted, almost £2 million in cash and £20,000 of it he gave to the woman downstairs, you’d never have known from this last Wednesday who really wasn’t interested in anything but getting the will done, he could have told him on the phone because he’d got absolutely nothing, and he really wanted to forget about the whole thing, he didn’t want to do this or see the flat when he’d been treated that badly. Well if there’s nothing else I can do, I’ll leave you to it, Parkash said, I’ll be downstairs. Kaminski, barely managed an ‘ok’.
He wandered around the flat aimlessly, pacing, picking at things, thumbing the walls, turning off plug sockets in the kitchen, scuffing the carpet with his boot heels, delaying what he had to do, eventually back into the bedroom, opened the door of the main wardrobe along the back wall, the smell first, pungent mix of fabrics and leather –built-in against the wall abutting all the way from the front wall to the left of the door to the left hand wall up until the small window, first shelf he saw shoes thrown in on plastic bags, upon plastic bags, empty box for hi-fi equipment, telephone and clock radio, an old putter, on all sorts of different shelves at different levels -- some he recognised, some he didn’t – thirty-year old canvas slippers, canvas beach hat, an umbrella holder with a putter inside, upside-down, three umbrellas, checked peaked cap and leather gloves that he can’t have ever worn, numerous ties hanging from a cheap rack affixed to the inside of the cupboard door, and all these things were a burden to him as he’d just have to get rid of them and he could hardly even place his hands on anything, plus there was a rancid mildewy smell of old things never worn or not worn for years, and he shut the cupboard door, shut it back in, back to the long sideboard which held relief for him, it was neat and clear, only a manageable digestible number of items on it, just stood for what seemed like more than a few moments, he went out into the lounge, and this was a different flat altogether, and he remembered, yes he remembered, how they’d hardly been able to fit all the furniture in there from the old house, polished walnut sideboard with a glass door, with all the ornaments and trinketry, candelabra and statuettes and little pieces of china his mother had collected, mahogany dining table and dainty, spindly chairs, immaculate with a doyly and rubber plant still on top; it was a Disney 50s reproduction of the old Klepp family home, as if Klepp had transported it in one piece from the old house; it was sacrosanct and he had only commandeered the far left corner of the room his Technics multi-system on a low table and boxes and boxes of CDs, all heavy classics, Brahms symphonies, Brückner, Karajan conducting Beethoven piano concertos, Mendelssohn, Mahler, Wagner, Dvořák, an album by the Moscow Jewish Male voice choir; there were perhaps a hundred CDs all with dotted stickers on the spine, indexed, then he went into the corridor and into the kitchen which was comparably tidy – yes all the kitchen utensils were cluttering the work surfaces but they were clean and neatly arranged and there was a set of kitchen knives just lying on a tea towel, and then he noticed that the sink was dripping so he tried to turn it off but the tap or the stopper was obviously loose as it wouldn’t close and after wandering around in the flat for about ten minutes, he really had an urge to creep out without even telling Parkash and he would tell the solicitor that he’d been and that it wouldn’t take him long just to reassure him, when he went back to the wardrobe as if he sensed that there might be something in there worth looking at, and he rummaged about; there were five or six plastic bags resting on the shoes, one had several hardback books in it, another a mass of belts, more ties another had some leather wallets, dilapidated, he felt very little going through, no connection whatsoever to him or anything until when rummaging about in one of the wallets he found a tiny piece of paper which he thought was a receipt or something; tiny little crumpled thing, worn and discoloured and then, as he took it out, completely wrong, not a receipt at all, actually a newspaper clipping, folded in quarters -- and saw it and was unprepared as he read: “Leonard John Klepp, a bundle of joy for Stanley and Cynthia Klepp and for grandfather Nathan.” Who, initially? Leonard Klepp, this was who he’d been, why would he keep this, he never liked him, and then what looked like an old telephone number in his father’s handwriting. He was holding himself in his hand cossetting himself; it wasn’t a connection with his father but more a realisation of himself as pure and new, but it revolted him, this mawkishness and he cast it back in the wallet as if it needed to remain there, and when he went to put the wallet back in the bag and the bag back on the white laminated chipboard of the cupboard’s bottom shelf, he noticed something behind, concrete, not moveable. What was it? A block of something. He pushed it with his right hand, hard and cold, but he couldn’t see because it was on the bottom so he had to lie down. It was a safe, typical father, tiny, like a Swiss bank deposit box, his father had his own safe, with a shelf just above it where Klepp kept some more shoes, and he could just about make out that there were push buttons and an electronic display, and his first impulse was to go down and tell Parkash and ask him if they could get into the safe and then he realised well of course he could, his father was dead, who was going to stop him, it was his right, wasn’t it, but what good, as how was he going to unlock it, six digits, there was no way he was going to get the right code, so the obvious thing was a date of birth and he tried his father’s though rather pointlessly, as he’d never make it so obvious even though no intruder would know his date of birth, and nothing happened, he pulled on the lock itself, there was no handle and it wasn’t clear to him whether the mechanism had really remained closed and he wanted to check , it was painful to lie like this, his neck aching, and the next number he tried, out of vanity almost was his own date of birth 040366, nothing.
Let’s leave it, nothing in it anyway, just a pawn in Dad’s game, he’s probably enjoying this, wants me to try to open it and find a banana skin or something pointless, leg’s itching and I’m hungry, didn’t have anything to eat this morning. But he realised that he did want to open it. Hold on, what was that number on the paper in the wallet. Surely not? Scrambles into the bag again, pulls it out, the paper, the number, surely not. Plugs it in. and he was almost incredulous when there was a slow moan of the motor as the locking bolts moved away followed by an affirmatory unclick and the door sort of fell open of its own accord, hanging limply almost like how he had seen his father’s front door when he had come in just before.
Pulled open the little door open further, nothing in there, until he put his hand in pressed it down on the bottom and brushed along it, something, a piece of paper and he had to drag it out with his fingers, skirting the palm against the bottom of until the whole thing was out, and he was still lying down so he got up onto the bed and the first thing he noticed were the words ‘This Will and Testament’, one of those do-it-yourself standard forms ones you could buy in Smiths in that fancy, whirly calligraphy script, quizzically scrutinising, this must have been an old will that he’d written out himself for practice, yes it was in his father’s scrawl and he turned to the second of the two pages, there were only signatures on it, why would you need signature? nothing else, what is this thing then, -- confusion -- we already had one, so what, oh it must have been an old one, looked back at the first page again and noticed that the date of the will was 19th November, hold on, three days before it happened. When was the other one, though this was actually recent, it must have been more recent than the will that Pearson had, and then he quickly scanned what it said and he couldn’t quite believe it when he read the words: ‘I leave all my real and personal property to my son Leonard John Kaminski of 6a Creighton Road, London N1’, again this must a draft or something, he probably changed it back after we had that…it doesn’t matter, does it matter? but even the address was correct even though Kaminski had started renting a new flat only very recently. But it couldn’t have been: there must have been something wrong, some trick, take it to Parkash and show him, see what he thinks, but he had another look over it; he noticed that it said at the top “I revoke all previous Wills and Codicils”. Wait, was it complete? And he ran down to Parkash whose front door was on the latch, Kaminski knocked and he held out the document, and said that he had just found it in his father’s safe that he never knew he had, and it seemed to be a more recent will than the old one, it must have been because it was dated the 19th of November, and he showed it to Parkash in his kitchen who put on his reading glasses that were hung on one of those heavy silver chains and he said that he was no expert but it could well be valid and that he should phone the solicitor of course in any case just to tell him.
Parkash waited while Kaminski was put through almost immediately before Kaminski was expecting, and he heard a brusque Sheldon Pearson which caught him by surprise, and Parkash heard Kaminski say, yes it’s the 19th November , on the top of the document, wait, yes signed by his father and two others, Anneka Doran and Mark Doran, no I’ve no idea who they are, and Parkash was muttering Dorans from upstairs that they had sold Flat 6 but Kaminski didn’t hear. The 18th? That late. He must have changed his mind, no of course not. And then he put the phone down. He told Parkash that he was going straight there, if he didn’t mind, just to make sure it was valid, and could he close up for him.