Seven minutes. Longer when he put it on before. If there was anything
to worry about he would have kept it secret. But either way, even if
he did put it on himself in the first place, he allowed himself the
time to do it. Made the time to do it. Put the time aside to do it. He
wanted those initials, that inscription, that memory, against his
skin. I am going to ask him what the "S.L" stands for. If I know her
name maybe I'll feel less upset. I will ask him later. I'll seduce him
and then ask him: he is always more open after sex.
The smell is faint but it is there. The smell of gas.
I want to tell Ivan about the gas but I know what he'll do. He'll give
me a soft sympathetic smile and take me by the shoulders and walk me
to the place where the gas meter used to be by the front door; its
shape still a dust shadow showing through the white paint. He'll guide
me down the passageway and lead me in turn to the bedroom, the
treatment room, the bathroom, the living room, the kitchen; there are
no gas appliances in any of them. Hell tap the toe of his foot
against the floor at the points where once gas pipes were hidden
I will be made to remember. I watched him remove all the gas pipes. I
watched him roll back carpets, rugs and layers of lino. I watched him
lift the floorboards. The copper gas pipes were there, oxidized and
bright green against the hollow dark and the dust. He cut them out in
sections with a small bright saw. He was methodical, laying the cut
sections neatly in a blue canvas bag ready to take out. They made
clean religious ceremonial-like sounds as they knocked against each
other. I wanted to kneel down and line the pipes up so that at least
one end of them would be flush. I wanted to ask him if he wouldn't
mind cutting the sections to equal length.
Other men had come and taken out the radiators, the boiler, the gas
cooker; other men had come and installed the new electric boiler,
cooker and storage heaters. Ivan had come to remove the pipes. I
followed him from room to room and leant in the doorways watching him.
He pushed up an imaginary sleeve before any new exertion. I liked
watching the muscles working in his arms and back as he sawed. I made
him cups of tea. He said he never drank coffee. "Neither do I," I
said. That was our first shared smile. I liked the fact that he took
no sugar in his tea.
The last room he did was the bedroom. As he put the cut pipes into the
bag I knelt down and straightened them so one set of ends would be
flush. He carried on without saying a word. He passed no puzzled look.
He didn't even give me a sarcastic smile. After he had finished
cutting all the pipes and I had finished straightening them he asked
me my name. "Stella," he repeated after me. He stayed that night.
Ivan saw me sniffing the air; the give-away little bobs of my head.
George follows us from room to room, weaving between our legs. If I
had worn the red shoes maybe I wouldn't have smelt the gas.
He is late for work. I watch him as he puts on his jacket. The
jacket is blue, municipal-looking, the logo of the company he works
for in blue and red stitching on the front pocket, with a larger
version emblazoned across the back. The synthetic material makes
crinkling and rustling sounds as he puts his arms into the sleeves.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...