Books: Brrm! Brrm! — Chapter 7 |
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His twin passions for Jane Austen and danger having led him to the point where he craved a bit less of both, Suzuki instituted a new policy of being hard for her to find. It was meant to be temporary, while he regrouped. Very soon, however, he discovered the magnitude of the imbroglio in which he had become involved. In the days when he had been willing her to turn up, she never did. Now that he was praying for a respite, she was omnipresent. Sometimes she appeared in the bookshop so suddenly that he barely had time to dart into the back room. Keiko and Mitsuko covered for him. They told her that he had gone to the embassy, to Tokyo, to the moon. At the end of the day he left by the back door, stepped across the alley and into the kitchen of the Namida restaurant, from whose front door he emerged shortly afterward, wearing dark glasses and reading The Grapes of Wrath. In some ways, since she was never off his mind for a moment, this was the most intense phase of their relationship. The pattern of his life was altered away from solitude. Safety lay in crowds. He spent more evenings than usual eating and drinking with the Japanese men of his own age group. Several of them were in banking and finance. They talked grimly about an imminent collapse of the stock market. They advised him to turn his savings into cash. He laughed bitterly. Exercising temperance, drinking only one beer to their three, he still took a lot on hoard. Even in autumn it is always hot in those little Japanese restaurants that you can find on the side of Ludgate Hill between St Paul’s and the river. Suzuki would arrive home on the last train to find his landlady complaining about numerous phone calls from the girl with the bad language.

With a heartbreaking expenditure of money and energy he arranged for a personal telephone to be installed in his room. To deal with the telephone engineers was like coping with Jane in the days when she had been hard to find. They never arrived when they said they would and always did when they said they wouldn’t. By the time the telephone and its attendant answering machine were installed and functioning, he had missed hours of work and seen far too much of Mrs Thelwell. She had become possessive. One Saturday night he returned from a cultural event to find her sitting on his bed looking at a copy of Bon Comic. The cultural event had taken place at the National Theatre. It had been a play by a young British playwright about the decline of Britain. Suzuki had understood quite a lot of it, although when reading the programme during the first interval he had found it hard to credit that a young playwright could have been born so long ago. Perhaps irony was being employed. With these people it was often had to tell. He could tell Mrs Thelwell was being ironic, but not from her voice.

‘We can’t be having this sort of thing, can we Mr Suzy? Look what he’s doing to her there. Just look at it. Don’t tell me what she’s saying. That’s her screaming, isn’t it, these words here? You people arc sick. Sick. Sick.’

It was her eyes that told him she was employing irony. They shone. She was more dressed than usual. Undressing her was a task, but he could see no way out of it. The smell of butter was strong. She said she wanted everything in the comic. Since the classified advertisements in the back featured every kind of vibrating device and artificial organ, it was obvious that she was being ironic again. She laughed quite a lot, when not sobbing. Clearly microbes and viruses were regarded as no serious threat. At one point the telephone rang. Without stopping what she was doing, or rather what was being done to her, she snatched up the receiver before the answering machine had time to click into action.

‘Piss off, you bitch. He’s busy.’

He was, too. He had never been busier. A new phase of his life began, in which he would come home after a hard day’s work to find his labours had only commenced. Eventually he persuaded Mrs Thelwell not to wait in his room and throw scenes if he was late. But he could persuade her to this degree of forbearance only by promising that he would check in to her own quarters when he got home, no matter at what hour. He took to spending as much time with Rochester-san as Rochester-san wanted, instead of keeping to a strict schedule as of old. They drank Rochester-san’s excellent brandy by the quart. When Rochester-san made his usual lunge, Suzuki still dodged, but slowly enough to let Rochester-san live in hope that next time might be the time. If Suzuki stayed late enough, Rochester-san would send him home in a charge-account cab for which Suzuki did not have to pay. It was never wise, though, even at two o’clock in the morning, to omit tapping on Mrs Thelwell’s door.

Suzuki entered an epoch of perpetual sleepiness. At the gymnasium he moved like a shadow. ‘Wotcher, Akira. What’s happened to your endurance? Been getting into one of our women? Brrm brrm.’ It was Lionel, shouting under the shower. Suzuki, rinsing his head free of shampoo froth, smiled with his eyes closed. ‘Bringer along to my flatwarming,’ Lionel insisted as they dressed.

‘Flatwarming? Yes. Excuse me. Could you say that once again slowly?’

‘Housewarming. Friday week. New flat in Jamaica Dock. You can practically walk there from here. Unbelievable. So high up you can see Berlin nearly. I’ll wry downer details, rye?’

Suzuki asked if he could go alone. Actually he would have liked to take Lilian along, but didn’t know how to broach the idea. The beauty of her body had begun to preoccupy him. He wondered how this was possible at a time when he was sated with bodies. Jane’s body, because it was accompanied by Jane’s behaviour, he was now prepared to travel long distances in order to avoid. He craved her physical form. but with increasing panic. Mrs Thelwell’s body, though of questionable texture and degree of freshness, was attractively proportioned but too available. Lilian’s body maintained the pure condition of the ideal. One morning he was running on the treadmill when she arrived and prepared to run on the treadmill to the left of his. The treadmills faced a mirrored wall, so he was able to watch, as he ran. every detail of her preliminary leg-stretching exercises. Until then his eyes had been occupied with the familiar gradations of the small sweat patch forming on his light blue T-shirt. For the first three thousand metres there would be no sweat patch at all. Then a dark point of sweat would appear over the heart. By four thousand metres it would have assumed the shape of a young fighting bull’s face. Usually he ran for five thousand metres, by which time the dark sweat patch would be the shape of a teddy bear’s head. On this occasion he had already seen the fighting bull’s face begin to grow bear-like when Lilian showed up. looped her towel over the arm of her treadmill, and, before stepping on to it, went into a series of manoeuvres designed to relax the muscles and tendons of her legs. Staring fixedly into the mirror as he pounded along going nowhere, Suzuki studied the effects of tension on her long, satin-smooth inner thighs where they emerged from her apple-green silk running shorts. When Lilian stepped on to the treadmill, tapped away at the keyboard of its command system, and began running with a mile-eating gait that made Suzuki feel as short-legged as a dachshund, there was a chance to examine the effect of repetative reciprocal arm action on her exquisitely positioned breasts. Her neatly pressed pink T-shirt had no wrinkles, but a set of temporary pleats radiated downwards and diagonally from each nipple as her stride alternated. Suzuki found himself being as scientifically objective about her shirt as he was about his. It was just that the objectivity was of a different intensity. Suzuki kept running long after his teddy bear had fully formed. He kept running until his whole shirt was dark. Only when she sent him a smile through the mirror did he press the button to slow down. Don’t press the point. Don’t push your luck. Don’t push it. Don’t push. Don’t. Do not. Do. Not.

Not much later on he was alone. Lilian, her bare arms beaded sparsely with sweat drops that glistened like pearls on silk, had smiled goodbye and gone. Thinking himself unobserved. Suzuki was riffling through an elementary series of one-hand stands when he realised she was watching him from the gallery where the weight-lifting was done. She waved to him and mimed having a drink. She pointed to the clock and held up ten fingers twice. ‘Her fingers are as long as my legs,’ he thought. After a shorter version of his usual sauna he showered under cold water, thanking his ancestors that Lionel wasn’t around. This meeting was going to be awkward enough without comment from the sidelines. He dressed with ceremonial care and headed for the bar.

Lilian could not have been more gracious. She was as clearly spoken as her navy blue business suit was well cut. She had a slim black leather attaché case with gold clasps and carried a beeper. ‘The office always has to know where I am to within a few yards, day or night. Because of the different trading hours around the world. It’s quite flattering. really.’ Suzuki was impressed by her businesslike attitude. It turned out she even knew a few words of his language, from once having worked in the computer room of the Hilton hotel in Hong Kong. Now she was a stockbroker, but she didn’t, she said, believe in flash cars and all that sort of thing. What she admired in men was forbearance and circumspection.

‘You take good care of your body,’ she said.

‘You do not need to,’ he said. He didn’t risk saying ‘don‘t’. In moments of stress it tended to come out as ‘doughnut’.

‘Do you have a girlfriend here?’ she asked.

‘No.’ He said it with a lack of hesitation that surprised him.

Unfortunately she was not available to be his escort on the evening of Lionel’s party but she agreed to come out with him on some subsequent evening later in the month, or early the following month. Suzuki rather got the impression that her time, at present, was not her own. He also, most agreeably, got the impression that she regretted this. She suggested that when the time came they might have dinner and go dancing afterwards.

As he escorted her up the hill towards the fork in the road which led to her office in one direction and his bookshop in the other, he was walking on air. Otherwise he would have noticed Jane sooner. She must have been trailing them from the gymnasium. Luckily she did not attempt a confrontation. Instead she was furtive. She hid behind things. She turned away and looked at window displays of shooting sticks, umbrellas and gentlemen’s accessories. A tantrum would have been less conspicuous but undoubtedly more embarrassing. After the unsuspecting Lilian had stepped away with a well-controlled little wave, Jane was on to him like an interrogator. Suzuki, until Lilian was safely out of sight, pretended that Jane was a stranger asking him the time. It would have been more plausible if she had laughed less wildly.

‘Well, now we know. Wanker. What a wanker.’

‘Please? I don’t understand the context.’

‘Wan-KER. Can’t do it. Can’t take it. As soon as things get a little bit difficult you’re off, aren’t you? You’re off out. As far as you’re concerned, it’s not on. Too much aggro. You’re away.’

‘Please ...’ The prepositions were bouncing like hailstones on a shaved lawn. Several passers-by, arrested by the volume of her voice and her operatic range of gesture, had shown signs of stopping to listen. Luckily most of the people flowing around the unhappy couple were on their way to the office. Suzuki started to walk, doing the steering for both of them. She danced around in a semicircle from left to right and right to left, talking at a high pitch directly into his face. It was an effective means of persuasion. Ready to concede anything, he promised to call, to call by, and — he didn’t have to concede this, but found himself doing so — to take her to the warming of his friend Lionel’s new flat. Over the Bank of England passed a JAL Boeing 747, bringing another load of alert young Japanese men to this fabled land of Dunhill cigarette lighters, Burberry coats, Waterford crystal and the Changing of the Guard. They had filled in their landing cards. They were looking down in anticipation even as he looked up in despair. Suzuki envied them the simplicity of their expectations. They didn’t know what they were getting into.