short stories...

..that won't bore thee a short story a day helps you work less and play

Friday, March 11, 2005

french letters

i have no friends. i have no living family that i am aware of, and i have no job. you'd think that's pretty sad, i guess. and looking back, it was for a while. i had only my telly and computer to occupy my mind for the hours of the day that i didn't spend asleep or in a bath. of course, i'd go out and see things, buy stuff, look around, the usual. and people would talk to me, like shopkeepers, bus drivers, policeman. and i've been doing this for almost half of my forty eight years. it hadn't always been so. and then 1982 came and went and the life that i had lived before was over. most people remember that year for either the battle over the falklands (or the malvinas, as some might say), or the year channel 4 started. but i remember that dreadful year for reasons other than those listed. namely, my mother died, my wife had a msicarriage, then left me and i lost my job. sometimes, those reasons seem to be connected. but then, you always think that don't you? but i had my dole money to keep me going and of course, housing benefit meant i didn't have to move out of the small flat we had rented until then.
so it could have been worse. and i had some kind of perverse entertainment out of the goings on of the flat that was immediately below mine. it had once been council owned, just like mine, then thatcher made it possible for people to go private for a price. and the strange little italian man, who ran the chip shop on our high street, who lived below took adavantage of the first great property boom of the eighties and made a relative fortune and told me he was moving to be with his daughter's family on the west coast of scotland where his son-in-law had opened up a massive ice cream emporium in one of the main ports to the western islands. they were to be partners in an equally impressive venture specialising in my neighbour's expertise of chipped potato. he was somewhat apologetic about this seemingly sudden change of events, as we had been neighbours for fifteen years or more. he was always reluctant to take my money whenever i frequented his little shop. he was aware of how much, financially, i had. he was not selling the house just yet, and was renting out downstairs. the pocket of london where we lived was now becoming rather fashioanble at long last, so he was able to charge a substantial amount for the small space he had bought.
of course, people came and went. young couples, students, sometimes even families let out what must have been a terribly cramped area for four people. the occupants also varied in the amount of moise they made. the family with the angry teenage son were probably the worst. not just the arguments, it was more the music he played when his parents worked and he overlooked the small matter of his secondary education by not attending school.
then this guy from marseilles moved in. he had a typically french name, paul grosjean. he had a life. he told me once that he was a maitre'd in a rather decent restaurant in knightsbridge, whos name i can't recall. funny that, as i pirde myself on having the most fantastic memory. he had no steady girlfriend, and seemed in no hurry to get one. that didn't stop him having a constant succession of the most beautiful women attend his rather bijou flat. i never knew whether they were friends or co-workers or maybe customers. they were probably a combination of them all. and even though i lived above him rather than below, you could hear quite loudly the marathon sessions of lovemaking that occured regularly throughout the week. though i never ever went in, even from his front door on the inside of the house, the flat just smelt of sex. i didn't not get along with him, in fact to the contrary we quite liked each other. he was friendly and generous towards me, and respected my privacy, though he cared for none of his own. he would always invite me to his gatherings or dinner-parties that he was so fond of hosting, and never stopped aasking even though my answer would always be the one of polite refusal. then paul grosjean met the girl of his dreams, and the man from marseilles' boat came in. he finally found a girl who could tame him, and he conceded his bachelor days were gone.
i was quite glum for sometime about this, probably even more than i had done when my italian friend had gone up north. another tenant moved in, who was almost as reclusive as me, and the entertainment ceased. somewhat sadly, it had ended up taking up far too much of my daily thoughts and i was at a loss.
then one day, for what seemed like the first time ever, i noticed the mail had built up a lot. it was addressed to various amounts of the old tenants. mr grosjean won by a mile, although most of the mail was either junk or bank statements or unpaid utility bills or unanswered demands for council tax. but paul still had a fair percentage of personal letters, which i never opened, of course. even his junk mail was more interesting than the average fare. he ahd been a member of a fair few clubs and societies and galleries. and he obviously hadn't informed them of his return to the mother country. so one day, i replied with a rsvp to a launch of new bottled aftershave and decided to go. from that night i became somewhat addicted and this became my new hobby. i very rarely talked to people, only if they made it essentially so. and i had some kind of life back. i went to free previews of film openings, wine tastings, book launches, etc. the more i went to, the more mailing lists i got on and pretty soon, it seemed i had an invitation to look forward to most evenings. then one evening, i had booked up to go to a new restaurant that paul must have had some connection with. it was over in kennington, near the cricket ground, and i arrived as usual and signed in the guestlist. of course, i always signed as 'monsieur grosjean' or 'p. grosjean' or 'paul grosjean'. i had to be consistent. noone ever seemed to care, but, you know, just in case. it was just a sensible precaution. but that one night, about half an hour after i had arrived, i was guzzling down some splendin sparkling wine that was agreeing well with the duck pate salad i was delving into, when a rather attractive lady walked over.
'hi, i'm isabelle. your name badge, it says paul grosjean? well...'
i suddenly recognised her as one of the regular invitees of the flat downstairs. i was about to be rumbled and i knew that the life of the social scene that paul and subsequently i had lived was to be curtailed.
..there's this guy...'


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