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Parmesan Elephants

Parmesan Elephants - Chapter Two
Mark Cunliffe

Jodie grew momentarily tired of this teasing of Miles and patted the space next to her on the sofa.

'Come and sit next to me Abbie sweetie'. Dutifully Abbie got up from her chair near Miles and moved over to Jodie, a look of checkmate crossed over Jodie’s face directed at her husband. In turn Miles reached up for the stereo, turning its volume louder, it was his ironic sense of humour to highlight the song Kate Bush was singing, ‘Be Kind To My Mistakes’

'Your mine
And I’m yours
We’ll find all were meant to find
In your life
In my life
There are secrets too dark
To let out
To let go of
To get over'

Kate sang meaningfully out from the speakers and into the room where it meant the most, an apposite song for this situation. Miles laughed a little too himself, but enough to make Jodie aware and proceeded to attempt to quench his almighty thirst with yet another glass of wine.

Jodie refused to rise to the bait and turned excitedly to her guest with the notes, 'Abs? This has got real talent!' She informed with a genuine looking smile that placated Abbie, 'And I see you’ve quoted me from my book, ‘The Marx Sisters’ I’m sure you’ll pass on flattery alone!' She laughed.
'Seriously though really?' asked Abbie eyes aglow, 'Thank you, that book was my bible! I really admire you Jodie ever since I first read your stuff in school, I became a real convert from that moment. In all honesty I must have been a Jodie Moore bore, I was so angsty back then' she admitted with a laugh ' You are the reason I applied to study at Lowlands I’m so glad I got accepted here and that I got on your course' This had to be the best moment of her life, she thought to herself and she could hardly contain it, but she had to get a grip she warned herself, remember I have got to impress them to be one of them.
'Aw so sweet!' purred Jodie, 'Now tell me,' she said getting more formal and sitting upright, 'How are you finding class?'
'Oh it’s fine, well more than fine it’s great!' Abbie said cheerfully, 'I mean the other students are nice, my friend Natalie-'
'That’s the older one isn’t it? The former sewing machinist?' Jodie enquired.
'That’s right' Abbie confirmed with a nod and a sip of her wine, 'Well we both think the lessons are great fun and informative and I’m sure everyone else does too. Natalie says it’s like a new lease of life for her' she added pleased that her new friend was getting just as much out of it.
'And so it should be' Jodie replied, 'She after all has a good brain from what I have seen and like most people deserves the chance to better herself. Remember Abbie we can be whatever we want to be' she said, somewhat on a soapbox, 'We can wear whatever mask we want, so long as it fits' she concluded with a slight smile that Abbie could not trace.

'Hmm yes' Abbie replied, 'Well she loves class too. In fact everyone we speak too so far says what a great teacher you are, and although its early days we are all getting on, well except for that Neanderthal Duane Smallwood' She moaned and pulled a face. Duane being a student Abbie’s age who seemed to think it his mission in University life to be a sceptical and unappealing as possible.

Jodie began to laugh, 'Ah yes Duane,' she remarked fondly, 'That my dear is just an act he puts on trust me, I’ve seen that type before, they want an argument or debate about anything. It’s his mask if you like, he’ll eventually show his true colours' She reassured, 'I’m sure you’ll find a lot to like in the end. Ha! I’ve even seen, such polar opposites of male and female such as you two get it together, so to speak, before now' She added searchingly. Abbie pulled a face.
'Yuk! No thanks! I’m here to study not for boys.' She reassured with sarcasm at the term ‘boys’ that suggested she had no time for poseurs like Duane. 'Little boys like Duane with his acts are not for me' she said confirming her stance.
'Good for you' said Jodie with an approving nod. Maybe things were looking up if Abbie wasn’t keen on boys?
'Yes I think so too' said Abbie taking more wine, 'I mean I’m here to learn, and that’s a big part of one’s life don’t you think? I mean that is even why I’m here now. Thanks again by the way, I mean allowing me to see you, intruding on your privacy like this?'
'Think nothing of it,' Jodie smiled putting the notes down. She turned to Abbie a new expression on her face, which Abbie wasn’t sure what to make of. ' I always have time for people I like' She whispered, stroking Abbie’s shoulder.

Abbie stopped short, sensing a certain intimacy between them from this simple gesture. A whirl of feelings were now rushing about inside her, the main one being panic. She quickly returned to the safety of polite conversation, and the subject of Miles.
'Sean Bourke? The book you are writing is about Sean Bourke and George Blake? That must be an interesting subject for you to tackle? The petty Irish criminal and bomb maker, that is very you- '. Miles looked at her with bemusement and it appeared to her to border on anger, she quickly retrieved herself from her social mistake;
'I mean your work, what you write about,' what else could she mean she thought to herself? 'George Blake he was a Russian agent in deep cover wasn’t he? I’m afraid I don’t know all the details; I suppose that is why you are writing the book? To present details to people'

'No I just like traitors' Miles remarked cryptically before launching onto his high horse, 'And I must say that just because I’m Irish doesn’t mean I have an affinity with the people, that isn’t why I’m writing about Bourke, it is just a good story nothing more. Honestly I hate it when critics and readers try to examine what I choose to write about' he blustered on and Abbie sensed with panic that she had touched a nerve, 'Just because I wrote a book of poems called Bombing Babies, you know about the IRA bombings Warrington, Manchester et bastard cetera, doesn’t make me any more Irish, anyone could write it, an Englishman or Frenchman. There is no nationality to feeling angry about such a stupid act.' He said with some urgency. 'Anyway I haven’t been back to the old country since I came to Cambridge in the 80s' he replied; now visibly relaxing.

'Of course, I’m sorry' Abbie feebly offered. Jodie began a derisory slow clap. Miles grimaced at her, and tried to salvage the night with a different subject himself.
'That’s where we met, Jodie and I at Cambridge' He said to Abbie as he lit another cigarette. 'She was a star pupil, weren’t you Jodes?'
Jodie nodded her head, disinterestedly.
'Course I had to fight for my place being from the land of eejits and bombers. No, no it’s ok' Miles waved a reassuring hand at Abbie before she could launch into a further apology for what she now believed to be a silly near act of racism on her part.
Miles continued, 'Oh yes I had to prove I was good enough to be taken on. Not like Jodes though. Daddy went to Cambridge didn’t he? Y’see she is the real deal, daughter of the privileged academic classes' he said smugly. 'All hail the great Professor Moore, Psychologist with an alphabet after his name!' He saluted disparagingly.

'Mmm' Jodie replied after sipping her drink and setting the glass down onto the coffee table. 'Why don’t you tell Abs why you like traitors Miles? And why you don’t like being linked to the IRA and all that' she retrieved her glass and placed it to her mouth, 'Anymore' she added quietly. Miles could see this escalating and sat back despising his wife for throwing this in. 'Well I’m sure Abbie could explain for me' he said, content that if he was going down, then so was the whole night.
'Oh no I couldn’t, I mean, well you saw how wrong I got it back then' she offered vainly.
'Not at all dearie not at all, my fault for being an old grump' Miles said from behind his glass. She decided to grab the bull by the horns, she had to get this back on track, this was about making friends after all, not enemies!
'Well as I see it, if someone has Irish roots the actions of organisations such as The IRA, must be very painful. More so than those who are acted against i.e. the British or protestant people. It is almost as if it is done in their name and yet they do not have a say.' She reasoned earnestly, 'It’s like they are tarnished' she concluded and looked about her hosts to be proven right like a schoolgirl waiting for a star in her copybook. It betrayed her good intentions, her young adulthood and her argument but she had to be seen to be pleasing.

'Sort of' replied Miles abruptly and without comfort or approval. He then flicked on the TV to signal that this conversation was now at an end. The screen flickered into life to show the news;

'The Prime Minister attended talks today with Bertie Ahearne in a further attempt to negotiate peace in Ire-'

'FUCK!' Shouted Miles with force as he switched the set back off equally forcibly cutting the words dead. It seemed everyone was against him. Jodie sniggered at the timing whilst lazily stroking her brown hair. Abbie glanced between them a bemused sociable smile on her face. The silence became unbearable, and once again it became Abbie’s quest to break it and heal the social mistakes.
'That is what I mean. It must be hard for a man like Miles to live with all that.' She said in sympathy, before biting on the bullet, she had to find out why he no longer worked.
'Is that why you don’t write the poems anymore?' She asked tentatively, sensing some tortured soul belonging to Miles. She was determined to get an answer, but nothing could prepare her for what she received.

'Oh for fuck’s sake are we still doing this?' he wailed, 'Have you ever been to Ireland Miss Home Counties Hmm? No? Well, I’m sorry you cannot comment' he sat and looked at what his statement had done to Abbie, who sat opposite him with her eyes wide open in distress and a growing red flush across her cheeks. He instantly regretted it; he was just falling into Jodie’s trap.
'I’m so sorry' he mumbled stubbing his cigarette out.

'Whoa it’s not often my darling husband says sorry!' Jodie laughed stubbing her smoke out too. 'Not even when he was sacked from here for screwing around!'
Abbie looked at Jodie in genuine surprise, and immediately turned to look at Miles, as if in a new light.
'Oh yes dear, my husband likes picking up airhead students and shagging them on college property!' Jodie explained with devious relish.

Abbie tried to formulate a sentence as she watched her dream couple disintegrate.
'Don’t mock airheads' Miles said in response, 'They give the best blow jobs'
'Aha very funny hubby!' Jodie batted back, 'I see Parmesan elephants are becoming extinct tonight. C’mon Miles lets go the whole hog? 'Let’s talk about why you really left Ireland and why you really can’t write about the troubles anymore'
Abbie couldn’t understand what was going on. It seemed like an argument and everything did seem to be getting out of hand, but the way they talked was not like an argument at all, it was like jokey sparring.
'I suppose we all make mistakes and well um you took him back?' she said desperately, but no one seemed to be listening. There were bigger secrets at stake.
'What my wife, the little nest of vipers is trying to say is that I was to a certain extent involved in The Cause' he said reducing Abbie to a goldfish impersonation. What were these people? This was not how she envisioned the night to go. Surely by this time they would be eating middle class food and discussing University life and she would be safe and welcome in the ranks of this ‘Literati’ collective she certainly did not expect these fireworks.

'What I mean,' Miles continued earnestly 'Is that you could not grow up in County Meath in the 70s without getting to know someone who was involved and in turn getting a little yourself, by association.' He looked towards where Jodie was sat and through gritted teeth issued a warning, 'Isn’t that right dearest diva?'
'If you say so.' She said rather unconvincingly. 'So Abbie there you have it, Miles here saw it all and bought the party T shirt, that’s why he writes or rather why he does not. Well that and the fact that those involved came a calling and asked him rather impolitely to get uninvolved' She admitted as she reached for the bottle, and not missing a beat added, 'And Miles is a good boy who did as he was told and suddenly became less prolific and interested, didn’t you dear?' She smiled sweetly at him.

Miles was not looking at his wife; he sat staring at the edge of his chair, picking at the fabric. In his mind he was back to that night. He had just finished enrolling some Open University students, all housewives with an ‘Educating Rita’ fixation, when the door of his office was opened once more. This was no housewife; this was someone from the old country, dressed in bomber jacket and jeering smile. He produced a copy of Miles’ poetry that was decidedly anti-IRA and informed him that the boys back home did not like it, that they would forget about him and his pledges to The Cause long ago, providing as of now he just shut his mouth and stop writing. If he did not there would be consequences. Miles remembered with alarming, nightmarish clarity the young man pulling a revolver out of his jacket.
‘Just as well my pen has ran out’ Miles had quipped when face to face with death. From that day on he had ceased to write, certainly no longer with any great passion.

He returned to the present, the battlefield of his living room and looked from face to face, his wife, making a show of being uninterested and the girl, open-mouthed. With a flourish he lit another cigarette and enjoyed the chance to hide behind the mask of blue fug smoke.

© Mark Cunliffe April 2006
markbc@hotmail.co.uk

Parmesan Elephants Part 3

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