A Place of Gardens and Lilies, Eric Leclere

About heat and Hampstead ...

Never failed. Give London half a chance, give it a few days of heat and unbroken sunshine and, before you can say ‘walking on air’, everyone everywhere moans about the weather. Big time. In shops. In pubs. On the bus. Down the tube. On the radio. Every-fucking-where. Londoners are touchy like that. And before you know it, the hordes have grown into a brewing storm. A hot, sweaty, frowning brewing storm. One mother-ugly face. Blimey. Innit boiling, mate? Absolutely. Don’t know if I can take much more of this. You don’t say. And the old folks lucky enough to still have a few acquaintances, lucky enough to not be bedridden, nod to each other, like the old foxes they are. Hot, ain’t it, love? And slags, dogs and joy-riders begin to smell and bark. Phew! Fuck me! What a scorcher. Don’t know if… Never failed. Poor bastards.

Hampstead, North London. Top of the Hill. Top of the world. One step removed from Heaven. This was where the big lie was on show, where the streets were paved with gold. Now, the Hampstead hordes were not to be caught moaning about the weather. Not ever. No sir. When the afternoon belonged to yet another faultless day, and the air was made of crystal water, and golden threads, so-blue-so-airy-so-crisp, the Hampstead hordes could be relied upon to act like all was business as usual. Much too favoured and worldly-wise these hordes were to be stirred by a mere few gorgeous days in a row. Much too sophisticated. Rain or shine, the weather was of no significance up in Hampstead. You could always bet on that. Hampstead had its own beat, owned the Heath and Mews and Lanes and words like quaint and cottagey and twee and olde-worlde and hushed cars that glowed and floated. Hampstead was London’s place of gardens and lilies, where fawns and does disported themselves, and everything was fair. Its hordes were never going to be caught moaning about the weather. Uh-uh. Rain or shine, the present really truly always sparkled up in Hampstead. And Hampsteadites knew it. Had taken so-fair so-high a place for themselves. They had no worries about hungry leopards. Or about anyone coming up to slay them. Or about doing it before it was done to them. It wasn’t called for. The way it was, Hampstead hordes had no need to trouble themselves with such things as fear, wisdom or pre-emptive strikes. They slew crafty foxes for recreation up in Hampstead. Top of the fucking world they were. And all the slaying and fucking and doing had either been done for them already or was being done on their behalf by others in other places right then as they purred in their place of gardens and lilies. Hampstead was where the big lie was exposed, where the true reward of polite and polished ruthlessness was on show, where butterflies stunned and stung. Because Hampstead butterflies had more of everything. More tits. More ass. More leg. More lips. More eyes. More skin. More lean and mean. More tone. More colour. More hair. More shoes. And more airs. A lot more airs. Hampstead butterflies were high-maintenance and to be caught at your own risk. Hampstead butterflies were moneyed-honeyed-well-laid slags. In fact, Hampstead butterflies weren’t butterflies at all but bees in butterfly clothing. Mean and lean stinging bees. So loaded and charged they could kill. Or maybe they were princesses. Al could not really tell. Didn’t really know. This was where the hordes were made of gold. He didn’t belong there.

Swish. A couple of bees buzzed past his call-box, shamming a flutter. Never saw him. Too busy being lean and mean and honeyed and moneyed and well-laid to mind some asshole in a Levi jacket standing at a public call-box, some asshole who walked on air. Too loaded and charged even to notice they were being watched really. They didn’t even look hot. Or smell. And, come to think of it, they didn’t even buzz really. They glided. Flowed. Like molten gold. Liquid heathen idols.

This was how things were up in Hampstead High Street, where Al – for the simple reason that he had no connection with the area, and so it was safe, even if his call was traced – had decided to come to call the tick from. That’s how things were up there, on top of the hill overlooking London. And it was really nothing to find something pleasant to look at on a pavement by a Hampstead public call-box. Absolutely nothing. To those that have it shall be given. Liquid honeyed bees in streets paved with gold. And that was it. To those that have it shall be given. Life was cruel. Plain and simple.

The number Al had got from the Old Girl, given its opening digits, belonged to a mobile phone. Al fed the call-box a few coins, started dialling, and briefly there, for a moment there, a shiver ran through his body and burst into his chest. Pitapat. Just like that! Only this time, instead of burning itself out, after exploding the shiver reformed as a quiver and fastened itself to his insides. And Al sighed. Hell! The feeling was unpleasant but not all that unexpected. Something like it, something like knots in the rib cage, was always likely to occur at the time of throwing the dice. Al had expected it, reminded himself of this as the first ring filled the handset against his ear.

Calm, boy! Myrtle, bracken and rosemary! Butter me up!
Al knew of a special place. And it had a pool and a waterfall and a burro even. That’s right. Even had the fucking burro! Now, if the moneyed-honeyed-well-laid stinging princesses knew, what would they think, eh?

Six rings. He counted six rings before someone picked up at the other end. Contact! Piece of cake. It was that easy. And we had lift-off:

Al didn’t even clear his throat, even though it felt a little tight and dry:
“Hi there.”
And that’s all he said. Al had prepared for this. The idea was to rattle the other a little, keep him guessing and get him to talk, partly to make out his accent, partly to take control, have the upper hand and establish who was boss. Forewarned is forearmed, right?

It took the other just over a second to hit back, with four words:
“How are you, Alan?”

And it took Al no time at all to lose control. Even before processing what was up, and working out the feasible from the unfeasible, he did the dumbest thing, one of those things so dumb you know it’s dumb even as you are still about to do it: he spun his head to search the street, probing right, then left, then behind, and then ahead, beyond the moving traffic, hearing noise and seeing colours and sparkles and movements but unable to make precise sounds or shapes out of it all. Pitapat-pitapat! What do you know? Even while twisting his neck this way and that, he was conscious of the unlikelihood of there being anyone or anything for him to see – of his coming across anyone there watching him – but it couldn’t be helped. Like a bunny rabbit caught in headlights, he went through the motions imposed by reflex. There was something so natural about it, about him probing the street, it couldn’t be helped. Might as well have had no brain.

“How are you, Alan?” the voice in his ear said again. And then, as Al was still trying to reorder his thoughts, fighting to regain control of himself: “I’ve been waiting for your call.”

Had he now?

Copyright © Eric Leclere. All Rights Reserved
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