I had not spoken to my wife Polly for over two months. After she had attempted to take her own life, her sister Claire had moved into my apartment, apparently for an indefinite period and without offering to pay any rent. Claire introduced and enforced an undeclared law that my wife and I should never be left alone together, and whenever we all met, Polly would remain silent and Claire would do all the talking. I assumed that I had lost my wife for good. Were we ever to meet without our chaperone, we would have to learn how to talk to one another again. There was an occasion last week when I wished to rebuke my wife. She had turned on all of the taps in the apartment – because she likes the sound of running water and wishes the apartment to be always filled with the soothing gurgling of plugholes – and I wanted to try and teach her that things like water have a monetary value. I considered making a C.D. of the sound of running taps and playing it perpetually on the living room stereo. But I did not know how to bring the subject up with Claire, and when I try to talk to her about money, she becomes indifferent and unresponsive.
I was drinking all afternoon in the Southern bar, and when I finally arrived home, Claire, Polly, and a scrawny looking youth in dirty shell-suit were sitting in the kitchen. The youth looked hungry, and he kept glancing around the kitchen expectantly.
Claire smiled at me – an unnerving sight which set my head spinning like a top. “Hello Biggy!” she cried.
(It is something I have often encountered in Scotland, typically in the places where I have worked. Scottish people consider it unreasonable that they should have to learn a name as difficult as Zbigniew, with its four syllables and unruly nest of consonants. Just as Maciek becomes “Magic,” Agnieszka becomes “Agatha,” and Jacek becomes “Jack,” Zbigniew is usually tidied up into “Biggy.”)
“What do you want?” I asked suspiciously. “Money?”
“Biggy, this is Callum!” Claire beamed. The youth looked nervous and vaguely affronted.
“Has he come to fix the plumbing?” I wondered impatiently.
“He is Polly’s friend,” Claire explained, in such a way that I immediately understood that “friend” was a euphemism for lover.
“That’s nice!” I growled.
Claire looked philosophical. “Polly needs to spend time with somebody younger… Somebody more her own age. Callum is a very clever boy.”
As I stalked off towards my bedroom, I heard her insist that Callum would be sleeping in the living room.