Thursday, November 25, 2004

Day 24

I had a cursory look round for the book after Gareth had departed in the wake of his unsettling bombshell, but to no avail. I thought it had been my room somewhere, but even though I looked in most of the obvious places (under the bed, bookshelf, windowsill, under the pillow) it didn’t turn up. I wasn’t too perturbed, it probably would surface eventually. The only snag was that Gareth knew where I lived now and he’d kept going on about how he’d come back when I found it and get rid of it for me. How he hoped to do that I didn’t know, if, as he insisted, you had to pass it on to a person for the bad luck to end. Personally, I thought he was a bit tapped in the head, how could a book cause luck, good or bad? True, I’d had a run of good fortune since gaining the book, but I really didn’t see how it had worked. Gareth had seemed genuinely spooked, but then again he could just have been an unlucky person anyway and being in possession of a ‘cursed’ book might have just fed his paranoia. Plus, it surely wasn’t the only copy of Be Lucky! in circulation, so were there hundreds of people experiencing equal amounts of good and bad luck all over Britain? Whatever the explanation, I had more pressing matters to think about.

Marlene’s condition remained unchanged for the next two days, but I received some better news on Wednesday, which also coincided with her father arriving. He rang me from the airport, and I told him that he might as well come to the house first of all. He arrived by taxi half an hour later.

Fifteen years had thinned his hair, and added a little weight to his frame, but his complexion spoke of near constant sunshine, even if he looked a little grey round the eyes, which I took to be a symptom of his convalescence from the heart attack. He offered a firm handshake and I showed him into the living room. He took an appraising look around the place, no doubt he could have fitted our humble abode into his condo several times over but he didn’t show or say it. I offered him coffee, but he asked for tea, saying that it was one of the few things he missed about England, a decent cuppa. The other thing he missed wasn’t in the house though, and Marlene obviously dominated our conversation. I didn’t mention about her recent departure, waiting to see if he brought it up, if Marlene had e-mailed him about it.
“Actually, she hasn’t been in contact for a couple of weeks. Do you know if anything was troubling her? Normally, she e-mails me twice a week at least,” he said after about five minutes.
“Not that I know of, I think she had been busy at work and with her college course.” That sounded a bit lame, Marlene would have made sure she contacted her dad normally, and nothing got in the way of that, least of all her job. We chatted about the accident for a while, I didn’t have much to add, and I was aware that he was watching me quite intently. I wondered if he knew I was holding something back and tried to change the subject, talking about visiting hours and the hospital in an effort to focus his mind on Marlene’s current whereabouts. He took the hint, asking how far the hospital was. I told him that I didn’t have any transport but offered to call a taxi, and also asked if he wanted to stay at the house, explaining about mum and where Shuggsy was. He politely declined, saying that he didn’t want to be under my feet, and said that he’d get a hotel room, asking if there were any hotels I could recommend. The town wasn’t overly blessed with reasonable places to stay, but a Travelodge had opened recently fairly near the Infirmary and I rang to secure a room. It might not have been what he was used to, but I knew they had Travelodges in the USA because Marlene had brought home a Sleepy Bear that was the chain’s mascot when she had visited him a few years back.
“How many nights?” I asked, putting the receptionist on hold.
“Say five nights for now. I can always add more if I need to.” I made the arrangements, then rang for a taxi. I asked if it was OK to share the cab, being aware that he might have wanted to see Marlene alone. He said it was fine, I said that I’d wait outside the room for as long as he wanted alone with her. It was an awkward situation and for some reason I had the feeling that he wasn’t sure about me. I’m sure Marlene must have told him the what our relationship was, unless she was making more of it than there was. I guessed that he was wondering why she hadn’t been in contact, and why I was being a little vague and evasive about his questions. When he had left England we had just done our A levels and Marlene was considering which university to attend and we as far as he knew we were school friends, I suppose our relationship had changed quite a lot over the intervening years.
As we were in the taxi after leaving the Travelodge, where Mr Bradley had checked in leaving the meter running in five minutes flat, my mobile buzzed insistently in my pocket. It was the friendly nurse from the hospital, and her voice was tremulous, but with happiness.
“Marlene’s regained consciousness!” she said, bless her, you’d think she knew her, but I guess she did having spent half a week looking after her.
“That’s fantastic news!” I said, Marlene’s dad looking at me inquisitively. I gave him a thumbs up. “We’re on our way round now, actually. I’ve got Marlene’s father with me.”
“That’s nice, he’ll be relieved I guess.”
“Yes, I’ll tell him now and we’ll be there in about ten minutes,” I said, peering out of the rain streaked window at the passing buildings to estimate a time of arrival. I filled Mr Bradley in on the news and he almost whooped with joy. His face visibly lifted and I thought for a moment he was going to high five me.

When we reached the hospital, I hurried to the ICU, Marlene’s father keeping pace. When we got to her room, I looked in through the window and saw that the friendly nurse was right, as Marlene was sitting plumped up, her eyes half open. I motioned to the nurse, who I should call Caitlin, because I did know her name and she came out to see us. I introduced Mr Bradley to her.
“It’s Mike,” he said, shaking her hand. Funny, I’d never known his christian name, in all the years I’d known Marlene. Caitlin said that we could go in but wouldn’t be able to stay long as she was still very fragile. Mike virtually ran in there, but I hung back, letting him enjoy their reunion. Her face lit up when she saw him and he hugged her as best he could with all the wires and tubes coming out of her. I took a walk down the corridor and left them to it, I felt a bit voyeur like watching them.

With the cloud of uncertainty over Marlene at least temporarily gone, I prepared for my audition at the BBC in a more positive mood. Astrid came round on Thursday lunchtime, ostensibly to give me some moral support, but also, I suspected to make sure I didn’t back out at the last minute and also to make sure I was dressed properly. Although I’d been well presented when I’d been on dates with her so far, she’d seen some of my fashion horrors in the past in photographs that were lying around the house and warned me that I wasn’t going to appear on camera looking like a student shoegazer, as she put it. Natalie had e-mailed me a brief outline of what the programme makers were after during the week, to enable me to tailor my piece. I’d written a brief script for myself, in between worrying about, and visiting Marlene, which I’d tried to commit to memory as best as I could to stop myself sounding stilted. I’d finally settled on the DVD’s of This Is Spinal Tap and Goodfellas, not particularly because they were my absolutely favourite films, if I’d gone on that criteria it would have been Dark Star and Star Wars, but because there were more extras to talk about on my selections. Spinal Tap especially was crammed with extra goodies, being a real delight for fans of the film, with promotional videos, background material and spoof TV commercials amongst other treats, in addition to the usual director and cast commentaries and over an hour of never seen before material. I probably could’ve filled my allotted fifteen minutes with that alone but had written what I thought was a good overview of the Scorsese classic as well. Two costume changes and an overhaul of my hair later, Astrid pronounced me fit to be seen by the public, or at least the producers of the show. We had a couple of hours to kill before we needed to set off, so I went through my script with my audience of one. You might be thinking, didn’t he have an appointment with the Initial Care counsellor, if you’ve been paying attention that is, and yes you’d have been right. But I cancelled it, or at least postponed it for now. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind and thought that I’d become sidetracked with Marlene’s accident and moving out and mum’s health. Alright, excuses, excuses, but I wanted to be clear what I wanted to get out of the sessions before I committed to them. And besides, when Astrid announced she was taking the afternoon off to be with me, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that I was seeing a counsellor because I thought I was losing my mind, it would’ve given anyone second thoughts, let alone someone I’d only just started going out with.

Word Count: 1,734


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