Roy, in pyjamas, was sitting on the living room floor, besieged.
The phone rang. Roy ignored it. It rang again.
“Alright, alright,” said Roy. He got up, crossed the room and lifted the receiver. “Hello.”
“Roy?” A creaky, distant voice.
“How are you Azim?”
“What was that?”
“How are you, Azim?” Roy spoke more loudly, more slowly, self-consciously so in the surrounding emptiness.
“Oh. Oh, I’m very well. Not getting any younger.”
“Ha-ha, none of us are.”
“Ha-ha, very true.”
Azim was 81, dying gradually of this and that. Daphne was just a year or two behind. Roy thought of passenger jets stacked to land, circling for some undefined period of time before at last being summoned to the airstrip of death. He might be flying in such a craft himself but didn’t know it yet. Most of his body was still airborne but his prostate could be preparing to land.
“What are you up to then, Azim?”
“Well, I’m just sitting at the moment.”
“Where are you sitting?”
“Just sitting, yes.”
“By the pool?”
“What was that?”
“By. The. Pool?”
“Yes, yes, I suppose. Can’t complain.”
In a short while, Kristie came on.
“How is your dad?” Roy asked.
“Well, you know…”
Roy did. They talked in this vein for a while, language coded, voices low, Roy glad not to have to talk about himself. They said goodbye. Roy dressed, found an umbrella and walked to the corner shop. The Sunday papers blared: terror fears at Heathrow; Rio race slur on Ashley; Yvonne Fletcher killer named; thousands of doctors face sack; refugee who raped girl fights to stay in UK.
Roy bought a pint of milk.
Back in the house, back on the Pyrenees, stage 14 of the Tour was underway. There were a lot of punctures near the mountain top. Saboteurs had thrown tacks on the road. One of Wiggins’s nearest rivals – Evans, an Australian, the defending champion – was stranded for a long minute until his team mechanics came to help.
Wiggins slowed the peloton to let Evans catch up. “I thought it was the honourable thing to do,” he said at the end. “Nobody wants to benefit from somebody else’s misfortune.”
Roy fetched a bin bag from the kitchen, threw in the piles of Don’s dockets and inventories salvaged from the old house, put the bag out for collection and went upstairs. He weighed himself nude: 13 stone seven. He’d lose the seven, he vowed.
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