Gerald Grant’s Story

10 02 2012

‘So, what d’you prefer to drink?’ inquires Gerald as we’re taking seats at the table in the dark corner of the café.

The pub is surprisingly empty for a Saturday evening: there’re only two more visitors apart from us, both male, sitting at the counter with their beers, watching a football match. Manchester versus Liverpool. Sleepy bartender polishes a glass, deep in his own thoughts: what a more boring and typical thing a bartender could do in this world?

‘A kilkenny please.’ I say.

Gerald nods and goes to make an order. He looks pretty much different from what I got used to see in the office – no relaxed self-confidence and restrained “I-keep-smiling-as-long-as-you-keep-the-distance” friendliness. I swear he feels confused and clumsy with me: something I can understand quite well, too. The social distance between us is just enormous: me, a fresh office plankton, still silently rejoicing about a great luck to have got this secretary´s job,  and Gerald, an acknowledged super-star of the journalistics, a photo-reporter for his own articles as well. It wouldn´t be a slightest exaggeration to say he has visited, described and shown in photos all the hotspots of politics of the last 5-10 years. I can think of his earlier photos of Yugoslavia at war. I was about 10 years old when they were published, and I am not sure if these were not my first account of a bigger world outisde of my playroom back then. They stroke my childish psyche like a thunder back then. I also remember on the first time I saw Gerald Grant in person, a firebolt across the editorial rooms (dreamy gazes of our girls included), it was a bit of this professional bliss: jeez, am I that good to be allowed to work fpr the same newspaper?

One may easily imagine my blunt astonishment when he, Gerald Grant, not less, has offered me a drink tonight. I never thought he knew my name. I would have sworn celebrities of this rang never notice the names and faces of people administering their mail or proof-reading their commas back to the grammatical norm. No false modesty, I think I am doing my job well, but hell…

In contrast to those dreamy girls mentioned, surprisingly, not a slightest glimpse of romance occured to me: equally well could I wait for romance from Her Majesty the Queen, whose picture hanged on the nearest wall of the pub. I would suspect sometimes people just want to talk and so they pick up someone able to listen to them. For tonight, I am all ears.

I turned professional with listening and understanding people. Living all alone, in a new country with absolutely no social contacts but the landlady’s cat and the two books you’ve managed to cram into 20kg limit weight package can make one quite a poor speaker – and a good listener. For me these books are “The Little Prince” and “Eleven minutes”, so apart from feeding the cat, a nasty moody beast, I spend my evenings reading either about the fox and the rose, or about the prostitute named Mary. Working overtime is, respectively, no problem for me and, as long as I am paid for that, I am always there. But Gerald, that should be a different story. Seeing him staying overtime yet again for the fourth evening in a raw loosened my tongue and subordination feeling, and, „The Horror! The Horror!“ I asked him why on earth he wasn´t heading home? Was there no… I don´t know, oversized blond chick, her lips and breasts blown up on the brain expense? Was there no true English wife, two beautiful fair-haired boys, a dog and a lawn to run to? No boyfriend? Grant gave me a long thoughtful look most of our office girls would die for and then all of a sudden I was invited for a drink.

Gerald comes back with two beers. He positions himself at the darkest corner  of the tableso that no one but me can see his face – and even I am not able to distinguish his facial expressions. Then he lights up a cigarette, his fingers tremble a little – or it only seems so.

‘You won’t have problems because of being here with me, will you?’ – He asks after a small pause.

‘Hopefully the cat I live with is not too jealous and will let me into the flat after such an unfaithfulness from my side.’

‘You don’t have anyone?’

‘Nope. And my family is pretty far away now.’

‘I see.’ He sighs thoughtfully. ‘Almost like with me.’

‘D’you have a wife living 2500 miles away?’

‘No, she’s kind of farther for the last few years.’

The silence hangs in the air. It feels like he wants to go on speaking about his wife but something keeps him from doing that.

‘Want to tell me about it?’ I ask politely.

‘Are you sure you want to hear a melodrama?’ Gerald’s voice sounds cynically impatient for someone, who was about to speak about his family. I nodded – why not? ‘I order some whiskey for myself then, ok? Want some too?’

I thank and say I don’t. As he goes to the counter again I think with a slight self-irony it will be quite in a style of Stefan Zweig’s novels now: a patient and quiet author listens to a story of someone’s past and shameful passion. I’m not a big admirer of such didactic prose, so let me hope it will just be a trivial story of life and death.

Gerald comes back with a glass of whiskey. He first drinks it up, then takes a deep puff at his cigarette and finally remains silent and strained, blankly staring at the space in front of him.

‘You are free not to tell me anything, if you like.’ I say cautiously. None of the muscles of his face moves, but he says then after a short pause:

‘To tell you how the story ends so that I don’t bore you with too many details, my wife and my little son were hit by a car eight years ago. They died before the driver realized something was wrong. He was drunk like hell. I stood five meters away – wanted to find the car key before crossing the road. My wife was 28, and Tommy, my son, was 3.’

I don’t know if my looks gives out how earth-shuttered I am. It feels so, like the silly joke about the melodrama I made to myself came true just because I did say it. Silly feeling, of course. And again… You always know, we are all mortal. According to some statistics, 2 people on the Earth die every second. Reading newspaper articles about one more tsunami, revolution or terrorist attack one is never stunned, one never feels physically bad about what happened. It all happens somewhere else, in a different universe, not your universe. But when one says, so quietly and impatiently, ‘my wife and my son died, hit by a truck’, it feels absolutely different. It actually aches.

‘You know,’ he continues, without looking at me. ‘I didn’t tell it to anybody. They all seemed to know. Creak, the chief editor of the “Sun” where I worked then, met me with his fucking friendly embrace on the following morning. Told me I should not have come to the office, I should have taken a couple of days off to swallow it all. The whole office was silent when I walked in. And when I came out after talking with Creak. They only stared at me, as if they understood what it was like.’

At this point he squashes his cigarette at the ashtray with anger. Gerald’s hands shake, the sight fixed on the table-top, as if he needed something real to hold on to. It is so silent, that I can hear the ticking of his wristwatch. His mouth is twisted in scorn. He grasps the pack of cigarettes, takes one out with visible effort, lights it and inhales deeply.

‘You know, I never loved her. Christine, my wife. I mean she was alright, she was relatively smart and relatively attractive. She could even cook. She was OK in bed. A good wife, not marvelous, but a good one. ‘

Ah, there’s the rub! – So would I say, speaking Shakespearian English. The feeling of guilt for not being – to his own mind – a loving husband. Loving enough to match some expectations – his or her.

‘You wouldn’t marry her if you didn’t love her at some point, right?’ I said cautiously.

‘Not sure.’ Gerald rubbed his hand over the face. One more puff of the cigarette. ‘I used to work with her father at the very beginning of my career. He was a great man, you know. Taught me everything I know. He was a leading figure in the reportage filming. He began with the Korean War, managed to make photos of the Cultural Revolution in China, then Vietnam, the Falklands, was accredited to work in Cuba for quite a long, in Moscow and made a trip around central Russian cities, something unbelievable at that time.‘

‘We met in Afghanistan at the end of 80s and became kind of friends. Well, you know, like Johnson and Boswell, but Christine’s father also trained his admirer to do something good on his own. I believe I was devoted to him like a dog. To marry his daughter was like to be allowed to stand at the church altar with the priest. A religious rite almost.‘

‘And we did live quite good, we didn’t quarrel much, she didn’t mind living in a tiny flat, the half of which was crammed with films, reagents and so on. She waited patiently and supported me day after day as I climbed my damned ladder of success. When I traveled, she waited at home, she had no problems with her pregnancy, at least I didn’t know about any. She was always there if I needed support or comfort.’ At this phrase he waves his hands passionately, mumbles ‘Hell!’ and remains silent and immersed into his thought.

I feel more like a decoration for his catharsis at the moment, there could be any other person on my place to hear to this story, and it wouldn’t matter much. I only wonder how he managed to keep it all in him for so long.

To my astonishment no one has paid any attention on us – or it only seems to me that Gerald speaks quite loudly – just because of what he’s saying? We are interrupted anyhow, the informs he closes the pub in 20 minutes.

Gerald doesn’t seem to hear it, and I only shake my head – OK, we got it – and then carefully touch Gerald’s hand.

‘Go on please.’

He shrugs his shoulders convulsively.

‘It was all to hell, that she was good, you know. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It just wasn’t enough. I don’t know if I wanted passion or if I wanted indifference and rejection. Or if I wanted a woman who would be just as strong as me, who would make a scandal because of my trips – and they were dangerous. A woman, who would make a real scandal, a great mess, who would smash dishes and say she just doesn’t want me go, that she doesn’t care if I love my work, that she doesn’t give a damn, if people live or die in my Yugoslavia or Timor, that she needs me, damn, me, not the very fact she is married to a promising journalist, to a ghost of a man, who is never at home. And when he’s at home, he works on his articles or photos. Or he reads. I wanted a wife who would be jealous if some woman would talk to me somewhere in a theater or at an exhibition. That she would be jealous about all female names in my organizer, even if these were my dentist and Tommy’s nanny.

‘I wish she would be able to do anything else but smiling, I wish she could cry from time to time, so that I could stay at home instead of running somewhere, sitting next to her, holding her and, half angry and half touched would hush her down. I wish I could hate her periods, so that she would turn into a harpy and dislike the very smell of mine. And I would be irritated, yes, irritated, but happy. I wish she would have problems with the baby and ask me for help. God, I wish I could feel she was real, she was a normal human-being with all the controversies and vices in addition to her freaking damned virtues!’

‘Xcuseme, guys, but  I ‘ave to close up.’ All of a sudden we both realize the bartender stands right at the table. ‘The bill please. Come round the other time, guys, a bit earlier, yeah?’

Gerald stares at the man like a blind, it seems he doesn’t understand, where he is and what happens and what one wants from him. I grab my rucksack, take the purse and pay the bill. It feels so, as I was caught peeping at the keyhole or just in bed with Grant. Don’t really know why am so confused. With the same expression of boredom, sleepiness and slight irritation the bartender takes the money and follows us to the door.

Cool night air brings Gerald back to earth. He excuses himself, hastily feels in his pockets, pulls out a five-pound-banknote and gives it to me with the expression of extreme confusion:

‘I’m sorry, Ann, I’m so damned restrained. You shouldn’t pay the bill, here, take it.’

‘There is no big deal, really.’

‘Nah, take it, please. I invited you, here, take it. It is already so damned late, I should pay more respect to your time, you should have been home long time ago.’

‘That’s alright, Gerald.’ I don’t like his feverish politeness, people always do stupid things in this state. ‘May I offer you a drink at my place?’

‘Ah, what?’ He stops his bustle for a moment. ‘Nah, nah, that’s fine, I, I shouldn’t better have bothered you with my rubbish, really. Am seriously sorry, Ann. There is no matter. Shall I call you a cab?’

‘Gerald, I really don’t think it’s a good idea for you to stay alone now, it’s better if you stay overnight at my place, it is not that far away and you will still have a human soul to whom you can talk.’

‘Nah, nah, I’m already fine. Are you sure you don’t want me to get a cab for you? Or I can give you a lift – I’ve left my car at the parking lot there near the office… Nah, I don’t need a company, really. I guess it’s much better if I spend some time alone now. I do need it.’

‘OK.’ I finally say. ‘Only promise me not to do anything stupid, OK? And that you’ll be at work tomorrow – or probably already today, yep?’

‚No problem.’ He waves his hand, shifts from one foot to the other in light confusion, waves again then and goes.

I walk the dark narrow streets alone: forty minutes of hard and joyless thinking. Not a single light in the houses around me, I check the watch – it’s half past midnight. Confusion, philosophy and sympathy run through my head. That is so hard to imagine one could go through such a drama… On the other hand, the drama is absolutely banal; there are thousands of such families. And who knows what relations stand behind all those thousands of victims of senseless and silly death.

I should not have let him go. People at such state can do all sorts of stupid things. What if he takes his own life? That is after all more than possible in such a situation! I shouldn’t have let him go like that…

But what can I do now? I have no idea where he lives. Probably the phone, yeah, I can find his phone number at least. Yeah, the contact data from the database I have – something good about being a secretary. But maybe I’m just taking it to close to heart? He’s a man after all, they always feel differently. And he has seen so many war conflicts, he has to know how to treat the stress, even such a deep and personal one…

I lie in my bed sleepless all night long. Not a slightest hope of falling a sleep. Thousands of thoughts. Half a dozen tries to call the bloody Grant and each time I stop myself from doing that, count till ten and go back to bed. Finally, a dim gray morning begins outside my window. The cat wakes up and as if it was a kind of her daily morning exercises starts scratching my soles and biting my toes. I yell and jump. OK, yes, I can may call him now. It’s better to look over-carrying and stupid, than to find out he’s shot himself tonight.

My hand trembles a little as I hold the receiver and count the long tones. Four, five, six, seven…

‘Christine Grant.’ Says a sleepy female voice on the other side of the line.

Taken aback, I hurriedly check the number. Right, here it goes: Gerald Grant, that’s his number.

‘Hullo?’

‘Erm, hullo, I’m really sorry I call that early, and I probably got the wrong number, erm, my database says it’s the number of Mr. Gerald Grunt.’

‘Yes, indeed. He’s sleeping though. Are you from the editorial office, right?’

‘Right.’ My puzzlement cannot be described with words.

‘Ah, he won’t come today, I guess, he’s spent the whole evening working on the material for his new article, got home really late and I believe will sleep till noon at least.’

‘The article?’

‘Well, yes, his study on how people react on strangers’ tragedies and problems, you know. The one for the Sunday number.’

‘Aha…’ I say slowly. The hurricane of thoughts and feelings in my head. I grab on the receiver as hard I can, the room is swimming before my eyes. It takes about half a minute till I can control my voice again. ‘OK then, we won’t wait for him then…’

‘Yeah, that’s senseless. He is about to send the article in the evening though. I believe he does.’

‘Ah, by the way…’ I don’t know why I still ask something. ‘Am I talking to Mrs. Grant, right?’

‘You definitely do.’ She laughs joyfully. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, the baby’s awake and wants my attention. Is there anything else I can do for you?’

‘Ah, no, no, thank you.’ I assure her quickly. ‘Well, you can give m greetings to Mr. Grant and Tommy. A great husband you have, he is always telling us so touching stories about you two.’

‘Oh yeah, I know!’ The laughter again. ‘I wish you a very good day then!’

‘Have a good day, Mrs. Grant!’

I sit there in my room, with a beasty cat, scratching my linen now as if she wants to tear it to pieces. The receiver in my hand lets out frequent and monotonous busy tone. It’s 6 AM. Really early. But still I’m afraid I will need whiskey in my coffee for breakfast.

March 31, 2011

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6 responses

2 03 2012
ladidaladida

Das war fies.

2 03 2012
lucyrenard

was, die Geschichte?)

2 03 2012
ladidaladida

Wie der Typ sich verhalten hat. 😡

2 03 2012
lucyrenard

Ich freue mich sehr, wenn („dass“ werde ich nicht schreiben) die Geschichte dich berührt hat.

2 03 2012
ladidaladida

Ich werd´ mich jetzt nicht genau darüber auslassen, wieso ich finde, dass die Geschichte (egal ob sie wirklich erlebt, basierend auf eine wirklichen Begebenheit oder erdichtet ist) gut ist; ich finde, dass würde viel von ihrem Zauber kaputt machen (bin aber gerne bereit Dir was darüber zu schreiben, wenn Du interessiert bist).

Jedoch: Ja, berührt hat mich die Geschichte, bzw. sehr zum denken angeregt. Sie hat mir sehr gefallen, also so sehr, dass ich gerne mehr von der Autorin lesen würde.

3 03 2012
lucyrenard

Gerne, gerne werde ich deine Meinung hören. Wenn es dir bequemer ist, können wir es per e-mail austauschen 🙂

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