Prose Header

Certifiable Love

by Mark Dennis

Part 1 appears
in this issue.


I laid out my notes on the floor in front of the Chesterfield. There was another single armchair in front of a small television and DVD player I had purchased for watching The Sopranos series. I placed a small nest of occasional tables to the left of it, in case Taylor wanted a change of scene.

I couldn’t decide on whether to leave the boxed set out. It would be useful I thought, in case conversation was difficult: an icebreaker. I decided to leave it on top of the television. I placed the new glass ashtray on the arm of the Chesterfield, but hoped Taylor wouldn’t smoke. His choice, obviously.

I felt a growing excitement and decided I would make myself another martini. I placed my prepared questions on top of a single sheet of possible projects that I felt would fit in with some of the ideas Taylor had outlined in his course. ‘You’re the seed, I am the gardener, you will grow, just wait your turn.’ It was a lovely metaphor that Taylor always said with such gravitas, stressing each word in a slow precise way.

My first question would be on the intriguing ‘Yesterday doesn’t count’ phrase. I often felt I was caught like a fly, in a spider’s web of yesterdays. Each sticky, gossamer thread was a memory from the past that held me, tied me down, unable to explore the future.

I had other questions too. ‘Decide, Done it, Do it, Good’, seemed wrong with respect to tenses and sequence. Surely ‘Do it’ should be before ‘Done it.’ So many questions to explore and a new certificate as well to look forward to. I fixed another martini as a small celebration of my good fortune.

I heard the pinging sound of the lift. Footsteps. This must be it. I downed the martini and went through to the kitchen to make a start on two fresh ones. I left the door ajar, wanting to avoid any awkwardness. I thought it better that Taylor enter and find me casually making drinks in the kitchen.

I waited until I could hear the characteristic creak from the central floorboard. That would mean Taylor was inside; it would be perfect timing for me to enter with the drinks. I ran through my opening line, ‘Hi, Taylor. Martini?’ I had practiced variations of opening lines but settled on this as it had a simplicity that I thought would suit the start of a relaxed evening.

There was no creak. Instead I could hear what sounded like the postman fumbling with the strong spring of the front door’s letter box. The door swung back and slammed into the wall.

‘Hey! That’s taken my nail off.’

Holly was sitting in the doorway, sucking on her index finger. I saw my certificate folded in half, guillotined by the letter box.

‘What are you doing here?’ I said. I placed the martinis on the coffee table and walked over to look down the corridor for signs of Taylor. Holly looked up at me and stretched up both hands.

‘I slipped. The door was open, it swung back,’ said Holly.

‘Where’s Taylor?’ I tugged at the certificate stuck in the letterbox. It tore into two pieces. ‘You stupid... Look at my certificate!’ I screwed up the fragments and threw them down at Holly and then strode to the window, to see if Taylor was in the car.

‘Charming, thanks for nothing,’ said Holly. She struggled to her feet, smoothed down her ruffled skirt and searched her handbag. She pulled out her compact and used its small mirror to methodically check every square inch of her face.

I felt lightheaded. I suspected the gin had started to take effect. I returned to the martinis and took a large gulp. The alcohol felt cool at first, and then I felt its warmth spread through my chest.

‘Your door was open. It slammed back when I was posting ... that,’ said Holly pointing to the scrunched ball of paper I had thrown at her feet. ‘Taylor said you were keen to get it tonight.’ She laughed and hid her face behind a cupped hand. ‘You know what I mean. A new certificate.’

‘Where is Taylor?’ I said. I used a slow deliberate tone, so that she couldn’t be in any confusion about the question. I took a swig of Taylor’s martini, which kept the fire well stoked. ‘Well?’

‘In the car, outside. We’re going out to Domenicos. Thanks for helping me up,’, said Holly. She was still peering at her compact and applying a tanned brush to her cheeks. She kicked the ball of paper towards the fireplace. As she did her stiletto heel caught in a knothole of the floorboard. She stumbled and her left knee hit the floor hard. ‘Ow... ow... ow... I think I’ve busted my knee. Help me up... please.’

I laughed. Clown. Whore. Her face looked changed, sad, frightened as I approached.

‘You’ve pushed your heel through a knothole. It’s stuck. You’ll have to take it off,’ I said as I finished the martini. I decided to fix two more. As I walked towards the kitchen, I heard a sobbing sound from the hunched Holly.

‘Where you going? Come back and take my arm, please, I can’t balance like this.’

I returned with two fresh martinis and placed them down on the television, near the window, and took another look up and down the street. Holly remained on the floor like a sprinter waiting for the starter gun, her right knee bent, right foot stuck firm with her left leg stretched out behind her. She now had her mobile in her hand.

‘Stop crying, woman,’ I said as I bent down to take the phone from her. I was caught by a pungent smell of orange blossom perfume. Close up to her face, I could see caked layers of foundation covering her pores, mascara heaped in thick rows on her eyelashes. Lips, blood red, glistening from the light of the bulb swinging above. Whore.

I stepped over her right ankle and gripped her shoe. ‘Why did you fold my certificate, Holly?’ I snapped hard and broke off the heel from the body of the shoe. ‘Did Taylor tell you to do that? I don’t think so. I’ll need another one. Is that what you were ringing about?’

‘Do you know how much those cost? Look, get me up. Please, my knee is killing me.’

I flicked open her phone and picked Taylor from the contact menu.

‘Hi, Babes, you’ve been a long time, can’t you find it?’ said Taylor.

My feeling of light-headedness intensified. He must be downstairs. He was coming after all. She must have tricked him, told him not to come. Bitch.

‘Hi, Taylor. Martini?’ In the circumstances I thought it was a good performance and was glad I had rehearsed it.

‘What, who is this? Is that you, Mr Gilmour? Where’s Holly? Why have you got her phone?’

‘Yes it’s... Chris. I’m expecting my certificate. You said you would drop it round. I have a martini for you. Capisci?’ I felt eloquent, decisive; the fire inside was now a confident ember.

‘Put me onto Holly now. No wait, I’m coming up.’ The phone went dead. He was coming; this time, he was really coming.

Holly was now standing and trying to piece together her shoe. She looked like a child with a two-piece jigsaw, not able to figure it out. I laughed. ‘Taylor is coming, he’ll see what you’ve done,’ I said.

‘Are you mad? He said you were odd, said I should come and take a look. Never said you was this kooky. I’m gonna kill him,’ said Holly.

‘He wouldn’t say that. I’m a seed, I am going to grow, he’s my gardener.’

Holly started to laugh, her face looked like a grotesque gargoyle, her lips parting like a cobra ready to spit its poison. ‘Tomorrow is the day you enjoy what you do today.’ I repeated Taylor’s mantra, getting comfort from each repetition. I wanted to drown out the words Holly was shouting. I was dizzy again. I could tell I was swaying. I reached for the martini and downed it in one, then picked up the second. I wanted to be able to give it to Taylor.

‘Hi, Taylor. Martini?’ I said as I moved over towards the sanctuary of the Chesterfield. ‘Hi, Taylor Martini... Hi, Taylor Martini.’ I felt comforted by the words. I couldn’t tell when he would be here now, time had stopped.

I couldn’t focus. A shape appeared at the door. I could hear a new voice. The room was spinning. I heard a clip-clopping sound and realised Holly was limping over towards me. That orange smell again. I felt sick. It was so overpowering I could taste it. I spat to remove it.

‘What the...? You just spat in my face. Taylor, he spat in my face. Taylor, Taylor.’ She was screaming Taylor’s name in my face. This harlot who shouldn’t even be allowed to say his name, let alone touch him, kiss him.

I staggered back and reached behind to steady myself. My hand fell onto the glass ashtray. I gripped its sides and felt its cool surface. It felt like an anchor, a point of reference in the whirling blur of the room. It felt snug in my grip. ‘Decide, done it, do it, good. Decide, do it, done it, good.’

‘Hey, Holly, back off, I don’t think he’s well.’

It was Taylor’s voice. Another anchor to focus on. He sounded annoyed with Holly.

‘He spat in my face. He’s spouting random crap, too, ever since I got here. Look at my goddamn shoe.’

My view cleared a little. There he was, standing in the doorway.

‘It’s not crap. Well, it’s the stuff I teach in the course. Decide, done it, do it, decide, good, you’ve heard all that before,’ said Taylor.

‘Decide, done it, do it, good.’ I repeated Taylor’s words. Taylor was here, he was in my flat, we were talking. Decide, do it, done it, good. Taylor’s own words in my own flat. The order mattered little now; tomorrow would be the day Taylor and I would enjoy the deeds of today. It was all so clear to me now, as if the cool glass in my hand had condensed the mist around me, clearing the hazy path that lay between Taylor and me.

Holly was still too close, shouting too loud; her lips were still too red, too venomous. I brought the glass down on her head. She buckled like a stunned pig at an abattoir. Again, the ashtray slammed into her head. Blood spurted up and over the arm of the Chesterfield, dripping like warm strawberry jam onto her face. She fell to the floor.

I heard the creak of the central floorboard. Taylor was running towards me. He knocked me backwards, his body landing on top of me, shaking my arm until the ashtray fell to the ground. He held me down, and I felt my face in the cool concavity of the leather buttons. His strong arms were pressing down on my chest, squeezing my breath out. I couldn’t speak, just a feeble whisper with my exhaling breath. ‘Decided, done it... You’re right: it’s good.’ He was in my arms at last.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dennis

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