Volume 4

Chapter 7

The room not only stank of mud, sweat and vice but of stale tobacco which lingered lowly on the carpet, around his oxfords and in his trousers, socks and dinner jacket; asprawl and dragged along the floor as they had been taken off. Litter spilled from a paper basket, which must have been knocked in the effort to get undressed.

A slither of dawn had sliced through distant Somerset twilight to strike him. The taste of the room had set in his mouth. Disgusted, he could feel the inside of his gaunt cheeks moisten, chewing and stirring his harsh tongue, exploring the bounds of his feverishly aching mind, as he had so many mornings before. His right knee throbbed; the pain of a cut he would look at later and the bruise beneath it. He remembered having fallen at some point. He did not remember getting so tight. Where had they gone before his? Who had they bumped into?
  It was a curious feeling to wake and realise that being asleep had made no difference. That life around had not changed. It was like finding one’s room having been away and noticing nothing had been touched. In that moment he felt he meant so very little or was aware he had never meant much more than that. Press-ganged into life, he held on dearly and naturally whilst his gagged mind sat aghast, uncomprehending, giving every reason why it was a nonsense. What had he done this last year? Wasted his time, dinners and drinking, always tired. There had been that one and the one before…no, stop. He felt his skin crawl. How shameful, degrading, sordid little night’s out. Of course very drunk.

  She came to mind. The taste of her sweet neck, her hand on his chest. She would not have him. Not yet it seemed. She was right about that, yes, right. But then what had she wanted? Decent girl, that was good. She was good, he could settle with her. Is that what she wanted? What did he want? Did he really want her like that? To start off when she was…or so soon afterwards. Well, she never saw him, still, he was there, on her phone, on her mind. She would have to end that, even so. More than that, was it right? To treat a girl like her, like that. For what? To end bored and enthralled, as those last days always are with a woman one has never loved. He was tired of that, it led to nothing, until more dinners came along. No, of course he wanted her. There was something there and he had the time to for it, make it last. Why not, if she was good and he was sure. What instead? What did he expect? He had not stopped himself before, he could not let slip the chance. Had last night spoilt it? She certainly had stopped it. Oh, how embarrassing. Oh, just forget about her, forget it. Stop, stop it, stop thinking!

Writhing, mortified, he summoned the strength to get up. Carefully placing his feet on the rug, he stooped to sweep the litter back along, setting the basket upright. He then ruffled his hair and swaddled himself in the rough comfort of his tasseled gown.
    With a light step into his living room, Charles struck a match and lit a candle, inhaling deeply its sweet scent. His first lecture was at ten and with no reason to resist, having slaked his thirst with a pick-me-up, he lay on his sofa and put on Ma’s cello suites. They yawned and whined crisply, soothing the jabbering silence across the empty space. The usual creaking and stamping from the student apartment upstairs was not be heard at such an hour. The tense pull and draw of strings always settled his confusion. He chased them as they steadily rose to wailing highs, from pinnacle to pinnacle and fell, tumbling, snagged by jagged drops.

Chapter 8

He could feel it was to be a tired day, as such days always are and, without bothering to turn on the light in the stairwell, he swanned along and would be five minutes late. Those dark creaking, filthy stairs which last night he had stumbled up. His hand on the bannister and his neck held high, his horse-bit loafers jangled and the fine brown leather gave off a polish which, against the blackened, rough carpeting, reflected like a puddle under moonlight. The sharp creases of his trousers flagged but remained unbroken. His linen shirt was crisply starched and white and although it promised to be unusually sunny day for February, he wore his overcoat. A grand thing he had meticulously involved himself in; it fell to his knees and wrapped across his chest, held tight by toggled horns. The collar and cuffs were of a salt and pepper astrakhan. It heightened him, held up his imperious ego.

He covered the hallway in three quick steps, past the console littered with junk letters and burnt matches–which he would toss back as he made out. The front door was warped, ill-fitting in the frame and where one of the fanlight panes was broken, the cold would seep through bitterly when he saw people out in the early hours.
    Letting the door slam as he fiddled with his 714s, he felt the fresh air nip; winter lingered in the shade.

  At the end of the parade, the full morning sun swept away all his vain doubts, wrapping him in a golden fleece; Nature was paying tribute and although he was lowering himself to the rest of the world, he felt himself far above it. Catching a warm turtleshell glimpse of himself in the window of a stationary car, assured by the impregnable figure, he stormed on firmly.

There was no-one to snarl except the Union building. A slag heap, it dwarfed the Georgian village and, high from activity, Charles wore himself out with old, often stirred abuse. The slag heap was immovable.
    From it spewed a flock of prospective students and their parents, muttering as if anything overheard would be reported to admissions. The children, still children, looked about keenly, how were they to know what it meant to fritter university life. The parents were smartened but not quite as they would be for graduation day, ‘so very proud’ in their Sunday best, puddled trousers clinched from ill-fitted suits or ungainly heels and tatty handbags.
    In his mind they were watching him, even those who had not seen him and were not looking. His face stern and tight-lipped barely hinted at the havoc inside. He could taste the spite which fuelled his sharp glances. He was mad. Aimless, he had been aimless these past few years and at first comforted with the thought of two years left, then one; now there were but two terms. His whole being juddered, coursing with furious worry as his idled days ran out; feeling as if, in those three years, all that was good and worthwhile in him had been wasted and ignored.

Chapter 9

Sweeping up to the portico of the Victoria Rooms, he sighed

The acanthus unfurled like lapping tongues,

The Lion and the Unicorn glittered.

As the grave telamon stared embittered,

The Gloucestershire…tongue

Tongue, tongue was difficult. Lunged, that could work. Perked up a bit, at least he could still do that, he slowed to take in one last sunny blessing in a couple breaths, nodding amiably to the doorman, who, or so Charles had been told, was a freemason.

The droning garble of the lecture could be heard through the main hall. He strode across the silent divide and dived into his usual seat with impertinent disregard.
    Skulking in collar, he looked about. He knew only a few of them from sight or shared words in seminars, three or four he would count as friends, perhaps eight or so as acquaintances.
    His view was partially blocked in front by the three who always sat there too, who had met in first year on their way to that first lecture and had never moved on. A slight, small blonde girl whose thick foundation covered a sickly, pimpled complexion scarred by jarring eye-liner; a lanky boy who, with roughly cut hair and a shell suit, had a ring through the top of his left ear which had swollen at the piercing; and a giant with the hunch of a tall man used to knocking into things.
    None of them were any better than the shooting club, all trying to look the same, speak the same, listen to the same music; differenced only by their grimy affectations which was the fashion for the well-off at good universities.

Each lecture Charles felt dragged into this dreadful world. His subject in particular was for clever people who did not care to think. He disdained their keen and they bored him, those who lived merely in their privilege. Most of the time not listening, they could watch the recording later, they would shop or whore themselves online, wanting only out of life some graduate scheme, which he knew he could get if he tried. How they all scrambled so eager, single-minded towards a future he could see they would find hollow.
    Their lives concerned him, even alarmed and confused him. Sometimes he worried they had found a truth he had not. The little he talked to them, he feared more that they had not. 
    Sometimes it struck him though, that to have few friends in his faculty had left him free to find those he was so pleased to have.

The lecturer was a small, stubby senior lecturer who greatly annoyed him. He took issue with her middling career in academia based on blatant politics–a picture of the Great Leader hung outside her office. She would make unwarranted jabs, passing them off as fact, and he did all he could not to writhe in anger. Numerous times he had been tempted to stand up, point at her and undress her ill-thought out views.
    Only once, when one of the few old-school professors had exampled virtue as Beethoven’s third concerto, had Charles known there was life in the faculty, life as it should be felt.

The lecture this time was fairly technical and Charles had not picked up on anything that he might challenge. He barely heard the complications of a topic he cared little for and when the droning notes concluded, he rose quickly with that same insolence, still coated, to leave.

Chargé D'affaires - Depuis 2020