George and Spider Part Eleven - The Final Plans
By Jane Hyphen
The busiest time of George's week by far was a Friday evening during the hours before Maxene returned home from work. Being rather a fastidious creature, George had a sort of obsession regarding everything in the flat being neat and tidy for the weekend.
He set about cleaning out the bird cages, letting the inhabitants fly about the place as he rinsed the steel bars in the bath and replaced the liners and food. Then he moved onto the cleaning the bathroom, scrubbing meniacally at soap scum and toothpaste smears, then general dusting, vacuuming, folding laundry and putting it away. Then deftly getting the birds back into their cages and removing any droppings with baby wipes. Finally he hung Crystal's bed out of the window and gave it a good whack with the back of a frying pan before giving her a rub down with a chamois leather to make her shine. He was a perfectionist and on Friday evenings was given to exhausting himself in a frenzy of shrew-like activity. The frenzy ended with a shower before he sat on the sofa and waited for Max to return. However he was unable to relax completely and constantly got up to re-arrange magazines and plump cushions.
By the time she came home the place was sparkling but she never noticed; Maxene didn't notice tidiness, she didn't notice mess. She dropped her handbag and collapsed onto the sofa, swinging her legs up over the arm.
'I haven't sat down all day,' she said, groaning with relief as some of the pooled blood left her lower ankles and was pumped up into the upper part of her body.
George bent over her and unzipped, then removed her long boots and set about making her a cup of tea. 'Spider's coming over in a bit,' he said.
'Oh - good, I like Spider.'
'He's alright isn't he, our Spider?'
'I tell you what George, it's a good job I didn't see your dad on the way in.'
'Oh no. Has something happened?'
'Mmmmm, something and nothing.'
'One of my cousins stopped by the shop today to get a gold chain. He was with some mates, they rang the buzzer and your dad, or your brother or somebody took one look at them and wouldn't release the door.'
'Oh no. Is the car still there? I'll bloody kill him!' George rushed over to the window to look down at the street. The blue Jaguar had gone.
'Don't worry about it George. I just thought it would be nice to, you know, send some business his way, connect our two families-'
'Yeah Max, that IS nice, thank you.'
'Well it didn't happen did it. There was plenty of other shops only willing to have their business. I'll have to explain to my aunt though, to apologise or something. I don't know, I don't know what to say.'
'Just say my dad's a racist bastard. I'll get your cousin a chain, I could go down now and fetch one for him-'
'Forget it George. I'll speak to your dad. Just forget it, I won't let it ruin my weekend. It's just embarrassing for me that's all.'
George sat on the edge of the sofa and twisted his torso to hug her. 'I'm so sorry Max.'
Maxene held him tightly for a few seconds then pushed him away and got up, hobbling slightly on flat feet she went up to the bird cages and made a little tutting sound to them, pushing out her lips and blinking hard. The birds were feeling fresh and rejuvenated in their clean surroundings and they tweeted and hopped from perch to perch. 'Oh I almost forgot George, I saw your brother in town at lunchtime - not Francis,' she said awkwardly.
George ignored her for a moment, then said dryly, 'Oh - that's nice for you.'
'He had loads of shopping bags. Did he get that audition or what?'
George shrugged and sniffed hard. 'Dunno,' he said.
He was saved by the buzzer, Spider had arrived. He'd been waiting out on the pavement for ten minutes, staring up at the light coming through the brown curtains upstairs and feeling overwhelmed with nerves about speaking to Maxene.
George released the lock and he slowly climbed the stairs, trying to take deep breaths to steady his jitters. He had given himself a little pep talk and was feeling determined to be sociable and friendly, like normal people.
'Hhhhhello Maxene,' he said rather fast, clasping his small white hands together to stop them from shaking.
She knew all about his crushing shyness from George and was touched by his efforts. Resisting the urge to squeeze him in her arms, she smiled like a mother and said, 'Spider! So good to see you.'
Crystal had sprung up from her bed and was spinning in circles around Spider's legs. He was relieved to see the animal and got down on his knees to ruffle the loose fur around her neck. She "smiled" at him, showing her pink gums all scalloped along the edges and dotted with black.
'You look froze mate. Did you walk?'
'Yeah, temperature's dropped out there.'
'You should've got the bus!'
'Didn't have no coins George, didn't have no coins, not even child fare. Anyway it's always colder at the bus stop than it is on the - normal pavement isn't it.'
'Come and sit down Spider, take off your jacket, make yourself at home,' said Maxene.
'Oh th thanks.' Spider sat at the very end of the sofa and Maxene held out her hand for his jacket. 'I'll keep it on thanks,' he said, holding onto it. 'It's sort of att attached to me.'
'Okay, no problem.'
Maxene went off to the kitchen area and began preparing a fry-up dinner; bacon, sausages, tomatoes, beans, mushrooms, it was their evening meal of choice and it complimented tobacco like nothing on earth. As she pressed her belly against the stove and pushed her wooden spoon around the pan she hummed something unfathomable, perhaps in an attempt to make Spider feel at ease. Crystal sat up in her bed, licked her lips, panted then plonked back down, curled up and repeated the whole routine again as if the smells from the stove were somehow poking her like a rod.
'I hope you're hungry Spider,' Maxene shouted, 'this'll be ready in just a few minutes.'
Spider was hungry, he was always hungry but he wasn't engaged with his hunger because it was so often buffered by his temperament. He blinked and looked across at George. 'I didn't know we were gonna be eating - food,' he whispered.
'It's just a fry-up mate.'
'Is he not hungry?' said Maxene, spinning round, frowning at the visitor.
'Don't worry Max. Just put him a little bit.'
'It's f fine. It's just that I d don't eat that much solid food - as such. But it does smell quite nice.'
'He's been living off cereal and milk ever since I've known him Max.'
'What!' Maxene shrieked, 'that's no diet for a man.'
'It's not his fault, his mom never cooked for him.'
Maxene frowned hard and shook her head. 'That's disgusting! What kind of mother doesn't cook for her child?'
'Bev Buffet, that's what!'
'Come and sit down, it's ready now.'
Spider got up and walked gingerly over to their little table which was sandwiched between the sofa and the kitchen area. The food did smell good to him, but it didn't look so good, everything was so shiny and somehow covered with tiny, black specs. He was deeply concerned about the texture of the tomatoes and those little yellow seeds which sat among them.
'Do you want brown ketchup?' Maxene said in a very serious voice.
Spider looked at the glass bottle, half full of sauce with little black nodules of dried matter attached like fungi around the lip. He'd walked past the factory hundreds of times, seen the chimney, smelt the sauce, he'd even smashed a bottle of it once in Spar. But he'd never tried it. 'Er - no, no thanks,' he said.
'Here, have a fag,' said George handing him one across the table, already lit.
Spider breathed out with relief. 'Thanks,'
'Oh! I didn't give you an egg did I!' said Maxene suddenly. 'George, give him one of your eggs.'
Spider raised his hand in protest. 'You're alright mate, keep it.'
'Sure? Don't you like egg Spider?' said Maxene.
Spider shook his head and appeared distressed for a few seconds, then said, 'I've never really tried one but-'
'What? Never had an egg! Crikey. I've heard it all now!'
George spoke calmly to balance the atmosphere of shock which he knew was making Spider feel self-conscious. 'Sure you don't wanna try one mate? Might change your life,' he joked.
Spider gazed at the two eggs on George's plate and shook his head. 'No - no I really don't think I'll like them. I can't th think of them as food. Bathsheba was once an egg-'
'Bathsheba?' said Maxene, laughing through a mouthful of food.
'It's his python Max.'
'Yeah, she's my biggest snake. I met a man, via The Magic Circle, not THE Magic Circle, just one of the local ones. He breeds snakes in his conservatory. I got Bathshaba off of him. He had eggs in an incubator too, in his attic, he showed them to me. Not Boa eggs, they give birth to live young, but lots of other snakes, all sorts actually. You must never turn a snake's egg.'
George and Maxene stared at Spider, for he was talking very quickly now, as if somebody had flicked a switch to fire him up.
'Why's that then?' she said.
'Won't hatch Max,' George cut in, stealing the line from Spider who now looked deflated.
'So to me,' said Spider, 'eggs aren't food. They always seem more like reproduction, reproduction on a plate. Not anything a person would eat. To eat something is to end it. An egg is a beginning, not an ending.'
Maxene shut her eyes and began to shake with laughter, almost choking on her food. George got up to pour her a glass of water which she gulped down, panting as she regained composure.
After a pause she placed her hand on her chest and said, 'So, George tells me you've met a young lady.'
George pulled a hard face a kicked her under the table.
Spider cut a minute piece of bacon and placed it carefully into his mouth. 'No, not really,' he said, glancing at George.
'But Spider mate, you DO like that girl don't you, the one at The Ticking Clock, you went there to see her didn't you?'
Spider cocked his head to the side. 'I sort of like her,' he said then sighed heavily as if the thought of it was too draining to think about.
'But does SHE like YOU?' said Maxene.
Spider shrugged and put another four millimetres of bacon into his mouth.
'He's got a chance,' said George.
'I've read,' said Spider, 'that women don't notice small men, that they like men to be taller, than they are.'
'Oh I don't know about that. George isn't tall and I definitely noticed him at the queue in Mahmood's News. I noticed his bum and I wanted to touch it - and I didn't have to wait too long before I DID touch it!'
Spider frowned then blushed slightly. He looked at the dog until she looked at him and he made a subtle gesture with his head for her to come and sit next to his chair, which she did.
'Anyway,' continued Maxene, 'you can't help where your genes come from.'
'My mom was three inches taller than me,' said Spider very quickly.
Maxene looked concerned suddenly. 'Oh,' she said watching him closely. 'Has your mother died?'
Spider shook his head. 'No - I don't think so. She met a Welsh lorry driver, Barry-'
'Hasn't seen her in years,' said George.
'Well - if she never fed you, how could you grow?'
Spider felt the weight of Crystal's body leaning against his legs. Slyly he slid a length of bacon across the surface of his plate and handed it down to the dog under the table. She pressed her wet nose into his palm as if to thank him. The cage birds squawked, possibly in an attempt to expose the crime.
'Those birds are noisy George.'
'Just cleaned them out Max. I put a banana in, they're celebrating.'
'Do you want BOTH your eggs George?'
'Er, not bothered Max, you can have one of them if you're still hungry. Spider's put me off.'
Maxene whipped the egg off his plate and made it vanish. 'I've done eight clients today,' she said chewing.
George calmly watched her. She seemed to need a lot of food did Maxene, and she had no inclination to hide this fact. That was what George liked most about her, she was just totally straight forward and confident about what she wanted and needed, what she liked and didn't like. There was no messing about with her and that's just what George needed to feel secure.
'I think I want a parrot for my birthday George, they're much more intelligent than the average person you know.'
'Yeah!' said Spider, his eyes lighting up now. 'Get a parrot, do it! I've always wanted one but I haven't the space in my little maison- , er house.'
George got up and took his plate to the sink. 'You keep changing your mind Max. I thought you wanted a chameleon! I reckon Crystal would get jealous of a parrot. It might tease her. Poor Crystal!' He bent down and began to rough up the fur on the top of her head. 'You don't want a parrot calling your name do you? Telling you it's walkies when it aint!'
'An African Grey, that's what I want. You can get them second hand George.'
'Old I mean. They outlive people.'
George put his arms around Maxene's waist and kissed her on the cheek. 'What the lady wants the lady gets.'
'Are we off then?' said Spider.
'Yes, The Comet awaits. I'll just fetch my jacket.'
'You haven't eaten much Spider. Sure I can't get you anything else. I've got some cheese in the fridge.'
Spider smiled at Maxene, relieved now that he and George were leaving for the pub. 'No thanks, I'm fine. Thanks for your hospitality.'
'I was just thinking, you could get help you know, therapy and that. I mean because of your mom. It might help, my sister's doing a course, she could help you-'
'It's a bad idea Max,' said George flatly.
'Okay, I'm just trying to help George, that's all. Joyce has been doing that course hasn't she?'
Spider shook his head.' I'm fine,' he said, 'I've got snakes - and a rat.'