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Parmesan Elephants

Parmesan Elephants - Chapter Three
Mark Cunliffe

Abbie’s head began to spin at all this information and although the explanations were aimed at her, the conversation did not seem for her benefit at all, rather for the benefit of their sparring.

It was as if she no longer mattered, she was an audience sat out in the stalls only. She had to get a grip back in, and so she carried on with the narrative played out for her.
'Hang on a minute, you mean you were threatened?' she asked incredulously, clinging back onto the safety net of the tortured genius aspect of Miles, it was one thing, one image of him she could understand and be forgiving towards.
'Ah don’t be sympathetic! Why does my husband elicit sympathy from young girls? I ask you, all he ever wants me to do is vomit' Jodie grumbled.
'You can’t mean that?' Abbie said. It was almost more a command than a question. She can’t mean that? This wasn’t right, it didn’t fit. The picture in her head was breaking up.
'I can!' Jodie said having none of it, 'Hey come on I’m a feminist' she spelled out, 'All men are bastards'
'Well I can understand certain ideological views that make women feel-' Abbie began but was cut off by Jodie.
'Miles? Be a good boy and fetch some more drinkies. This is a dead one' she said motioning to the bottle.
'Yes of course dear' said Miles, glad that he had a reprieve and a chance to leave the room. Jodie stepped up from the sofa and began to change the CD. After some short contemplation she fed in Joni Mitchell and made to return back to her seat.

Abbie’s ears pricked up, 'Ah I love Joni' she purred with happiness, this was more like it.
'Yes I thought you would' Jodie replied softly, it was nice to hear her speak like this after the goading of Miles previously. 'I love Joni too' she said and patted Abbie’s hair. Startled, Abbie shifted up from the sofa,
'Erm, could I use the bathroom?' She needed an escape she wasn’t sure where this was going.
'Yes of course its up past the kitchen, second door on the right down the hall' Jodie explained.

Abbie walked out of the room smoothing down her denim skirt as she went. On entering the kitchen she saw Miles, with his head under the cold-water tap at the sink.
'Are you ok?' Abbie asked.
Miles mumbled something incoherently into the plughole in response before arching himself upright, thrusting his head back and letting the water from his mop of hair splash out across the kitchen. Abbie had to step back to avoid getting soaked. It sprayed out everywhere, not that Miles noticed.
'Ah!' he let out, sounding refreshed. 'I’m fine, fine and dandy… Absolutely great… Brilliant… Fine!' He said looking around the room.
'Is she playing Jonie Mitchell?' He enquired, ear cocked to the doorway. Abbie began to say something in affirmation but was hushed by Miles raising a hand and grimacing at his wife’s choice. 'I much prefer Dylan and she knows it!' he confirmed hurt, almost to himself, before clicking his fingers as if the reason for Jodie’s choice had just tapped his cerebral cortex to come in.

Abbie was about to excuse herself from the company of this academic and his hazy thoughts when suddenly he lunged towards her and placed a damp hand on her shoulder.
'Are you…' he hesitated for a moment and then with a flash of a boyish smile continued. 'Are you a lesbian?'
Abbie attempted to open her mouth but was immediately forced into inactivity by a tsunami of information from Miles.
'I tried being gay once, at Cambridge, first term. I think. Lasted all of five minutes' his eyes wandered round the room as he gathered these obscure and inappropriate recollections before settling on Abbie once more to conclude,
'Not for me, far too cheerful and so unhygienic!' He shuddered at the thought.

Abbie stared at her host amazed at the things, and the speed of it, that were coming from his mouth. The wealth of unwarranted information started to make her giggle. 'Why on earth do you ask that?' she said through the laughter.
'Well, I think my wife is banking on it', He revealed matter of factly and then added under his breath, 'and if I’m a good boy maybe I’ll be wanking on it!' He stared at Abbie’s now incredulous features and resumed his loud speech patterns with little regard to the revelations. 'You see the bitch likes to dabble. Mind I was rather hoping you were not, lesbian that is, and that you’d much rather go for the tall, trendy academic type who happened to be a famous Irish writer of some repute' he said grandly, adding 'with nine inches y’know' smirking.

Abbie found herself moving from humour to horror at Miles’ outburst. What had she let herself in for? These people she had held in such high esteem were turning into monsters before her very eyes! She felt the need to escape and remembered she was on her way to the toilet; she quickly began to excuse herself. 'Erm…excuse me, I need to use your bathroom. That’s what I-I came in here for'

Miles moved his shabby frame to one side and allowed her to pass. Startled she almost began to run to the toilet and its enclosed safety. Was this the Miles Conlon and Jodie Moore she had adulated? Was this how she expected the night to go, with alleged terrorism and adulterous and even gay sex rearing its heads? It most certainly was not, especially as she seemed to figure strongly in the sex!
Miles watched her hurried exit before picking up two bottles of wine and returning to the living room and his wife.

Jodie was standing in the centre of the room, with hands on hips. She had heard every word.
'Dabble?' She spat in mock disgust. 'Dabble? You make it sound like a game of tiddly-winks!' She said accusingly before moving closer to Miles.
'And we all know the only tiddly wink I play with sweetheart is yours' She said, taking one of the bottles from him and touching it with suggestive phallic symbolism. 'Nine inches?' she snorted. Slowly they moved even closer to each other to the point where almost nothing but air was between them. Miles looked down on Jodie, Jodie looked up to Miles. For a moment it looked like they were about to kiss, or depending on mood, kill. But no this defiantly tended to err on the romantic, the arguments serving their natural chemistry.

Suddenly the moment was destroyed as Miles stepped back abruptly and proclaimed, 'Yeah well, tis not the best way to pull is it darling? When you imply that your husband is a former terrorist! Bitch!' he spat as he poured a drink.
'Ha! You whore!' Jodie retaliated, 'I heard you trying your luck too remember?'
'Luck?' Miles exclaimed putting down his drink, ' O, light of my life how wrong you are! Luck is something I have very little of…since shacking up with you toots!' He retorted.

'How can one imply you were a terrorist? For fuck’s sake Miles it’s so obvious! I can remember you coming down to Cambridge with your secret meetings and your little collecting tin.' She spat out the words as if each brought up bile. 'Sounding out the militant students with your ‘Thatcher is killing your country and mine, if you hate her then you must be on our side’ routine. Jesus Miles you even tried it on me!' Jodie’s voice rose way beyond a crescendo and she wasn’t about to let up 'Ooh she’s so right on and open minded! She must be on the side of a revolution' she mocked before her voice went sour to add, 'And she’s not bad looking either, with the luck of the Irish I might get a shag or two out of it!'
'Jodie' Miles said restraining, his face a ghostly white and no longer enjoying the sparring. His wife was now too close to the bone.
'Once you realised I was hooked on you, and Daddy, as you persist in calling him, was a rich old bastard. And wait for it, with class and contacts that you could only dream of with your pea brained hypocritical mind, you thought yeah fuck it lets use her. Six months and an abortion down the line and there we where, married and you with a lectureship and your first anthology on the way, thanks to Daddy remember? Shit, he even paid for the abortion!'

'Enough' Miles ordered but to no avail. The subject of the abortion was not something he wanted to debate about. They had both just come down from Cambridge and with Jodie’s Dad’s help, had got themselves sorted with a flat, and had publishers interested in commissions from both of them. Indeed Jodie felt at the time that her own father was being more helpful to Miles than to her. ‘You have to make a living off your own merits’ was his motto to her, and it rang in her ears for a long time as she watched him introduce the future son in law to publishers and BBC suits all eager to use him to various giddying heights of success. Then came the pregnancy. Miles was never much of a one for protection, being Irish, Catholic and essentially a lazy, randy fool. They both immediately panicked and approached Jodie’s Dad, who decreed to arrange an abortion that eventually led to tragedy, Jodie being infertile.

Jodie stopped short and shut her eyes from the present and could see her father now, hear his Scottish lilt advising her that ‘it is the wrong time to start a family, you have your whole academic life ahead of you, great works on the horizon’ as he persuaded her to terminate. The great psychologist not realising the harm he was doing to her psychologically was most ironic she thought. There was much crying that day, chiefly between Jodie and Miles. She remembered him sat on the floor outside the clinic, rooted to the spot with sheer numb, impotent emotion, hugging himself and wishing to hug her and make everything ok. Two days later they swore undying love and agreed to marry.

'Enough?' Jodie repeated snapping herself back from memory lane and into the fight arena.
'But it wasn’t enough for you was it? The great Miles Conlon up and running and bleeding every fucker dry! You bled the boys back home for funds to get to Cambridge, you bled my Dad and carried on despising him and only then, only then was it enough. That long night of the soul in the mid 90s when you looked in the mirror and realised what you were' she paused to drink, her head throbbing.
'Or rather what you were not. You were no longer collecting for the boys, they weren’t keeping in touch, maybe you could pretend it never happened and then lo and behold, you grew a fucking conscience!'

'No I grew up' Miles shot back. 'How many other long nights of the soul were there in the 90s? Everyone had them, everyone woke up to what excess and mistakes they had made in the previous decade'
'You realised that some people didn’t have the chance to grow up. The Parry children of this world couldn’t grow up, killed by some stupid bomb your dickhead friends made, because yes, they would have been your friends Miles and you know it' Jodie accused.
Miles sat down with a faraway look in his eye. 'I had found something else, another coat to wear' he said hugging the thick, long black coat to him, 'and Parmesan Elephants, a social nicety world of academia and middle classes of Volvos and share prices where skeletons were locked in closets and never spoken of in front of the kids, kids we had to teach'
'Even when the skeletons where real skeletons? When they died at your hands?' Jodie led.
'Ah Jeez Jodes, I never killed anyone!' Miles defended.
'But you knew people who did and you did nothing for years, not ‘til you woke up and got a success published, Bombing Babies. Shit, only you could come out of it with fees and royalties'
'Sure and aren’t they all doing it now huh? Straight out of the Maize and into the Mail. It’s sick' Miles said his Irish accent getting unnoticeably-to him- stronger.

'Miles even you know that Chairman Mao said that the act of revolution isn’t made by pen and paper and literature and arts-' Jodie began.
'I know, I know, it is made with guns and grenades and death' Miles concluded the paraphrase.
'So you knew that what you were doing back in the 80s before you had the epiphany, when you were collecting for the cause and writing little pieces that were pro IRA, you knew that it meant jack shit! You knew that the real difference was made with violence'
'I was a coward! A coward ok? I believed in a united Ireland, probably still do deep down. It was instilled in me, in my soul. But my brain was clever and I could write, I could choose. I didn’t want to be a fighter, so I sold them a tale with a smile and my charm, let me go, I’ll collect for you and spread the word from behind enemy lines, and they agreed. So yeah I bled them dry, just to keep my blood flowing. But blood has to reach the heart and the heart has a conscience and well' he stumbled from his speech and turned back to the drink in his hand. Gulping it in one he continued, 'well I met you, and I saw that I had a different life, with someone I love, and I do love you. It hurt to love you Jodie, still does' he said placing a hand on his heart.
'My heart told me to stay with you and forget the past, and then I learned to love this country and the nice things it offered me, the friends we made, Jesus the child we made, even before-' he spluttered, close to tears.
'Before we killed it.' Jodie said forcibly.

For once in the Conlon household, a hush descended on the room that no witty line or quip could repair.

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

Parmesan Elephants Part 4

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