The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets
From The Tub:
I am standing in a room that has a low ceiling and smells faintly of stale cigarette smoke and the cage of a rabbit or some other small animal – a guinea pig or a hamster, perhaps, though no such creature is visible in the surrounding greyness. I am standing in the lounge of Edwin Toseland’s parents. They don’t know I’m here. They are fast asleep in their bed, or so I’m told. When I first walked into the lounge, I trod on something soft that turned out to be a pair of tartan slippers, each one with a thin, crumpled sock inside. It is half past midnight. I am about to spend the night with Edwin Toseland, a man whom I have heard described, diplomatically, as ‘not universally liked’.
Sleeping with Edwin will no doubt turn out to be a mistake. Not because he is Edwin (although that feature of the situation is bound not to be without its drawbacks) so much as because he is – to me, at any rate – a symbol. He is almost more a symbol than a person. One should never copulate with one’s symbols. It invariably disrupts their imagery; often they come to signify something far less welcome.
So, a mistake, then. Still, if I know that in advance, perhaps I am armed. And it isn’t as if I’ve never made a mistake before. Mistakes are survivable. Mostly. And it might be comforting to do the wrong thing deliberately, rather than to try to do the right thing, only to have your attempts end in catastrophic failure. In any case, there’s no point ruminating on the matter, because the tiny, shadowy, calculating part of me that makes all the decisions without ever consulting my brain is dead set on the plan. Tonight, it tells me, I will sleep with Edwin Toseland.
From We All Say What We Want:
He knew he ought to try to improve his situation at Phelps Corcoran Cummings, but once he had tried and failed, what would he have then? Nothing. In realising this, Tom came closer than ever before to identifying the cause of his problem. For as long as he kept his wishes, his fat stack of grievances and his hatred a secret, he still had some power, power he could tell himself that he might one day choose to exercise, even though, deep down, he knew he never would. But the power was there all the same; the sheer force of his ill-will towards the company that employed him was awe-inspiring. As long as it continued to grow, Tom hoped he would continue to feel like a man who could do serious damage if he chose to. He could feel the steaming bile inside him all the time, energising him, like a hearty dose of steroids. Every time he bumped into Gillian Bate by the water machine and told her he was fine, everything was fine, he felt like David pulling back his catapult, ready to launch a hefty rock at Goliath’s head. And not launching it was the whole point, for once the rock lay on the floor at Gillian’s feet, once she’d looked down, sniggered at it and stepped over it on her way to her next meeting, it would all be over for Tom.
As he sat at his desk and fumed, he had an unusual idea, the sort of idea that, it seemed to Tom, only a person with some flair would have.
From Herod’s Valentines:
‘That’s your assignment,’ said Flora. ‘To write the three Valentine cards for me, and the envelopes, and post them.’
This, it seemed to Erica, was a good moment to clarify the issue of the work. ‘Flora, you know you said I could work with you? I’m still not sure what exactly you want me to do or how much you’d pay me. I mean, maybe you were joking…’
‘Of course I wasn’t.’ Flora looked concerned.
‘It’s just…if I’m not going to be working with you, I really need to start looking for another job. I’m pretty desperate for money…’
Flora reached into the bag that was hanging from the back of her chair and pulled out a cheque book. ‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘Yes, of course. I’ll write you a cheque for five hundred quid now, is that okay?’
‘Or more? More. A thousand. And just tell me when it runs out.’
‘Flora, don’t be ridiculous. You can’t give me a thousand pounds. I haven’t done anything!’
‘You’ve bought the cards. And you’re going to write and send them for me.’
‘But that’s not work.’ Erica felt like howling. ‘I don’t understand. You said I could work with you, but you don’t work. Sending three Valentine cards will take me about five minutes. What else do you want me to do, to earn the rest of the thousand pounds?’
Flora sighed. ‘I’m not sure yet,’ she said. ‘Things…arise, don’t they? I’m bound to need your help all the time. I like the idea that you’re on standby.’
Erica shook her head tearfully. ‘I need a proper job,’ she said. This was a disaster.
‘Would you prefer it if we said you were my secretary?’
‘I can’t even type.’
‘Have I asked you to type? Okay, then, my personal assistant – how about that?’
‘No. I don’t know…’
‘Come on, Erica, don’t be so conventional. Just because I’m not giving you letters to type doesn’t mean it’s not a proper job. If I pay you, that makes it proper enough, doesn’t it? I mean, I don’t know yet what I’ll want you to do. It could be anything – maybe one week I’ll want us to impersonate people. I might need you to help me shelter a wanted criminal. Who can predict the future?’
Erica nodded. It seemed that Flora was not teasing her; she was serious. And Erica hated the thought that she was in any way conventional.
Flora wrote a cheque for a thousand pounds, tore it out and handed it to her. ‘Now, back to work,’ she said, grinning. ‘I’ve decided what I want the cards to say: “Interested? Or just curious?” What do you think?’