Not Me, No Sirree

by Digby Beaumont


The next morning Duggie can hardly believe his luck. She is there again, sitting on the same bench as before, by the bed of sunflowers. Pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose, he walks over to her. “Hello,” he says. “Mind if I join you?”

She looks up from her book. “No,” she says and moves along to make more room.

As he sits, his heart is jumping. She is even more beautiful up close. Perfect, in fact. Her hair is redder and her skin pale against her black dress.

Yesterday he watched her from behind a tree. When she got up to leave, he followed, but outside the park gates she was nowhere to be seen. Then a screech of tyres made him turn, and he saw a black Mercedes van with smoked windows speed off down the street.

All last night he lay awake, thinking of her.

He gazes up at the cloudless sky. “Fabulous morning.” Opening his arms, he lets out a breath. “Makes you glad to be alive.” He almost sings the words.

He turns to her. “I’m not bothering you, am I?”

“No, that’s all right.”

He leans towards her, smiling. “The name’s Duggie, by the way.”

“Oh, hello.”

“May I ask yours?”

“Tanya.”

“Tanya? Oh, I love that name. Tanya. Russian, isn’t it?” A breeze stirs the hairs on the back of his neck. “What’s that you’re reading, Tanya?”

“Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse.”

He slaps his thigh. “Ha, I knew it. The classics. As soon as I saw you, I said to myself, Duggie, there is a woman of culture. So, you like that ‘stream of consciousness’ approach?”

She raises her eyebrows.

“Ha.” He points at her. “Didn’t see that one coming, did you? Didn’t think old Duggie Boy would be conversant with the jargon?”

He sits back, crossing his arms. “Tell me, which school interests you most, would you say? The modernists? Post-modernists? Realists? Dirty realists?” He sees her staring at his trainers and raises one foot off the ground. “Adidas. Brand new.” He wiggles it about, regarding it from different angles. “The very latest. Just in. You like them?”

“Very nice.”

“And you, Tanya?” He glances down at her black patent leather heels. “Jimmy Choo’s if I’m not very much mistaken? Super choice of footwear.”

She smiles. “Thank you.”

“Mm, I must say you have a wonderful smile. In fact, you know, you’re an attractive woman all round.”

She looks away.

“Yes, you have a very trim figure. You’ve really got the legs to carry a short dress.”

She leans forward, covering her knees with her hands.

“You work out, Tanya? No, I’m betting you don’t. You’re a natural.” He holds her gaze. “But you don’t see it, do you?”

“What makes you say that?”

He shrugs. “Insight? Call it what you will. I can read people. You’re a self-loather, am I right?” He nods. “I am, aren’t I? How do I know that? We’ve only just met, right?”

She glances at her watch and closes her book.

“Not leaving, are you? Listen, why don’t we go for a cup of something? My treat. I know this place. What would you like? Earl Grey? Freshly ground Arabica beans?”

She checks her watch again. She touches the glass.

“Or something stronger? Russian vodka, perhaps?” He laughs.

“No, really. Thank you all the same.”

“Maybe you’re hungry? It’s almost lunchtime. Come on, we’ll go for an early lunch. On me. You like that Kentucky Fried Chicken? The Colonel’s Secret Recipe?”

“No, thank you, Duggie. No chicken. I really should be going.”

“But we’d have a chance to talk, really get to know one another. I think you’d like me if you knew me.” He shakes his head and smiles. “This is not me. Not the real me. No sirree.”

She points at him. “This is not you?”

“God, no. It's all an act.” He lowers his voice. “I mean, tell me, Tanya. Be honest with me now. Is this the real you?”

“Is this me?”

He sighs. He puts his face in his hands. After a while, he turns to her. “Who am I kidding? Look at me. What do you see? A short, fat, bald man dressed in a fake-leather, charity shop jacket. A loser who hasn’t dated a woman in over two years.”

Tilting her head to one side, she studies his face.

“Truth is, there are times I inhabit a black pit of despair. This park is my refuge, my sanctuary.”

“Not real?” She covers her mouth with her hand.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to burden you.” He takes a crumpled tissue from his pocket and blows his nose. “You know, I feel we’ve started to make a real connection here.”

“Arsehole.”

“Sorry? What was that?”

“Arsehole. Arsehole.”

He gives a nervous laugh and peers closer. “Tanya? Are you feeling all right? You look a little... unfocused.”

Now her eyes shut tight, and her chin drops to her chest. Duggie jumps up. He touches her shoulder. “Oh, my God.” Her body feels stiff.

He hears a click and looks down. Her arm has disconnected from her torso, and he can see right into her shoulder joint: a printed circuit board with cables sprouting from it.

At that moment the black Mercedes van with smoked windows pulls up, and three uniformed men get out, each wearing headphones and a mouthpiece. One of them flashes an ID badge.

Android Replicant Research Institute, it says. Mobile Response Unit.

The man prizes Tanya's arm from Duggie's grip. “Thank you, sir. Move along now, please. We'll take over from here.”

Duggie shakes his head as he walks away. Turning, he pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose. One of the men is by the bench, cradling Tanya’s disembodied head in his arms, while disappearing into the back of the van are the black Jimmy Choo’s, on the end of the longest, most achingly perfect legs Duggie will ever see.


Copyright © 2008 by Digby Beaumont

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