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He often wondered if we were all characters in one of God's dreams.
The first thing he discerned when he regained consciousness was a woman in white. This angel was calling him by his first name, Tom, although they had never been introduced.
'Are you a nun?' he said.
'No, I'm Jasmine. I'm a nurse. Come on, Tom, I've got to wake you up. I've got to put this other pillow under your head. And lift the top part of your bed. Like this ...' She manipulated with her foot a lever of the hospital bed so that he was slightly raised. 'Otherwise,' she said, 'you might feel groggy.' She stuck a thermometer in his mouth before he had time to speak, and took his wrist in her hand, looking at her watch. He saw by her watch that it was twenty past twelve. The sun was visible behind the curtains, so it must have been daytime.
He dozed off while she was still counting his pulse. When he woke half an hour later as it seemed, it was dark, it was ten-forty at night as he learned from the new nurse, the night nurse, name of Edna so she told him. So does our trade direct our perceptions and our dreams he thought: Tom was a film director. Cut into the scene of the morning with the scene of the evening. The same nurse, but was it the same? Anyway it was Edna and the same scene.
'Where's the doctor?' Tom said.
'He looked in this afternoon. Were you awake?'
'Perhaps.' Tom wasn't sure. He thought he might remember a doctor's face looming over him.
Edna let his bed down by manipulating the lever. There was a drip inserted in his foot that he had been aware of since he woke but hadn't been able to remark on. Edna was nearly black of skin. 'Where do you come from, Edna?' 'Ghana,' she said, or was he mixing her up with someone else? When he woke it was the daylight of early morning.
Enter a lady in white, this time with a head-veil. 'You are one of the nuns?' She was. She was Sister Felicitas come to take a sample of his blood.
'They took my blood already,' he said.
'That was your urine.'
'What are you going to do with my blood?'
'Drink it,' she said.
'What time is it?'
'How can you be so larky so early in the morning?'
'It's late. We rise at five.'
'Was that you singing? I heard singing.'
'That was us in the chapel.'
She was gone in a whisk of white. In came his breakfast tray, supporting it seemed, dusky Edna.
'Do you call this breakfast?'
'First you get liquid, then soft, then solid.'
She poured out some milky tea. He opened his eyes. The tray had disappeared.
He was now thinking of the plans he had made, the vow he had taken, before his operation. He intended to keep it.
Two women came in with a mop and pail. One dusted while the other slopped the floor of that room in the international hospital. Now two nurses came to make his bed. They got him up. They helped him through to the bathroom. They shaved him with expert hands. Oh go on shaving, it's nice. But then they unplugged the razor. Someone had put an enormous bunch of flowers on the far table, a mixture of roses, lilies and asters, most remarkable and expensive.
The surgeon: You're going to be all right.
What did he mean, I'm going to be all right? So earnest. I never thought I wasn't.
Beside his bed a table on wheels, moveable to any convenient angle. On the table was a telephone. Good, I will wait till I feel a bit stronger, after the liquids and the soft.
'When will I be on solids, Edna?'
'I'm not Edna, I'm Greta. You have solids tomorrow.'
'Greta, where do you come from?'
He felt like a casting director. Greta is absolutely built for the part. But which part?
The telephone rang.
The difficulty of his turning to lift the receiver was solved by Greta who wheeled the table to an angle where the phone was close to hand.
'Yes?' His voice croaked.
'Is that you, Tom? Tom, is that you?'
'I suppose so. I'll be on solids tomorrow.' He was actually wider awake than he wanted anyone to know.
'I suppose I can come and visit this afternoon?'
Claire, Tom's wife, arrived in the afternoon. He hadn't yet told her the plans he had made. She would be intrigued by them but not anxious. That was one advantage of having a very rich wife. You could make plans without her worrying immediately how it was going to affect her budget. Tom once had a wife who referred back every action, every thought of his, to her budget. She was much happier divorced with a well-paid job of her own.
He had a belly-ache. Came Sister Benedict with her injection.
Tom! ... Tom!
Claire was by his bed, smiling, holding his hand. 'You're going to be all right,' she said.
Nobody had said he wasn't.
He said, 'I want to see Fortescue-Brown.' That was his lawyer, full of fuss and business, never letting you get a word in. I only keep him, thought Tom, because I am too genuinely busy to change.
'Fortescue-Brown!' said Claire.
'Yes, Fortescue-Brown,' he said.
'At a moment like this you want to see Fortescue-Brown?'
'That's right,' he said.
She pulled up a chair and sat close to his bed, pushing the wheeled table out of the way. When he looked again only the chair was there and a nurse was coming in with a tray of filthy supper.
'What is your name?'
'Well, Ruth, I can't eat that white soup.'
'What would you like to eat? I'll ask for something else.'
'I am straining every muscle in my imagination to think of something else. Forget it.'
'You have to keep your strength up,' said Ruth. She had a tiny waist and an enormous backside. He couldn't keep his eyes off it. She was about thirty with straw- coloured hair drawn back, and a pale face. She would have cast well as a German spy in those old days of yore. She disappeared and to his amazement came back with an egg en cocotte which he consumed absentmindedly.
'Are you expecting any visitor this evening?' Ruth had come to take away the tray. By her watch it was half past six.
'My daughter, Marigold, an unfrocked priest of a woman.'
Marigold was suddenly there.
'Well, Pa, I hear you're going to be all right,' said she, with her turned-down smile, skinnily slithering into a chair and arranging her coat over her flat chest. She should never have married. No wonder her husband James had decided to write travel books.
'How's James?' Tom said.
'So far as I know he's in Polynesia.'
'I said how, not where.'
'Don't wear yourself out,' she said, 'with too much conversation. I bought you some grapes.' She said 'bought' not 'brought'. She dumped a plastic bag on the side table. 'This is a wonderful clinic,' she said. 'I suppose it costs a fortune. Of course nothing should be spared in a case like yours.'
You must not imagine Marigold was particularly deprived.
In the morning Tom rang Fortescue-Brown and made an appointment for him to come to the clinic at three in the afternoon.
Love and economics, Tom mused. 'I have always,' he thought, 'considered them as opposites. Why do they continually bump into each other as if they were allied topics? Is it possible that what I call love isn't love?'
He was touched that lovely Cora his daughter by his first wife had flown into London to see him. She had obtained leave for the occasion from whatever she was doing in Lyons for Channel Four. Her first words were 'Pa, you're going to be all right.' She went on to say how her husband, Johnny, had been declared redundant at his job, an administrator in Parsimmons & Gould the paint people. She continued that she had managed to get a cheap bucket-shop flight to see him. 'And what,' thought he, 'has Johnny's redundancy got to do with me, my broken ribs and thigh? And her cheap flight? Did she come for love or what?
'And I am glad,' he continued in his mind, 'that Johnny has been made redundant. I am glad with the gladness of the lover of truth: the man has always been superfluous.'
He said, 'Marigold has been here.'
'I know,' said Cora.
'She brought me some grapes,' Tom put in experimentally.
'I know,' said Cora. 'Don't you want to watch the news?'
There was a television in the corner, stuck up on the wall, and a controller by the side table. Tom switched it on. A Nigerian politician being interviewed – 'Democracy,' he said, 'is not a one-man cup of tea.' Tom switched off.
Are you in pain?' said Fortescue-Brown.
'Yes, indeed, Mr. Brown, I am.'
'Now, Tom,' said he, 'reflect. You are getting angry again. Angry and arrogant. There was no need, no need at all, for you to go up on that crane. An ordinary dolly is perfectly all right for directing a motion picture these days. But no, you have to be different, you have to be right up there beside the photographer, squeezed in, and without a seat-belt. You have to be God.'
'Are you suggesting that God wears a seat-belt?'
'Nothing, nothing would surprise me after being your lawyer for twenty years. When do you get out of this penitentiary?'
'Next week, but I have to take two nurses home with me.'
'One for day and one for night. Is it your money or mine?'
'I told you to take out an insurance.'
'Well I didn't. Find some money. Scratch around.'
He was no sooner out of the door than Tom chucked a tumbler full of water at the door, so that Fortescue-Brown could hear it. Broken glass and water all over the place. There was something else he had wanted to say to the lawyer, but never mind. There was a vow. But what vow?
As the cleaners mopped it up Tom smiled sweetly at them. 'It just flew out of my hand as I sat up.'
'Don't try to sit up, Mr. Richards. Just ring the bell.'
Tom lay thinking ... Yes, I did feel like God up on that crane. It was wonderful to shout orders through the amplifier and like God watch the team down there group and re-group as bidden. Especially those two top stars and the upstart minor stars, with far too much money, thinking they could direct the film better themselves. There was none of the 'Just a minute, may I suggest ...' that held up my work constantly on the floor. Right up there I was beyond and above pausing a minute and listening to their suggestions. What do they think a film set is? A democracy, or something? I simply don't regret that crane for a moment. All I want to know is who fouled us up. Who made the wheels hiccup on the tangle of wires, so that I was thrown clean off, crash. Twelve ribs and a broken hip, and lucky, very lucky, to be alive.CHAPTER 2
As Tom Richards was carried upstairs at home he made the stretcher-bearers stop for a minute. Up came voices from down below. 'Five, that makes five of us in the family.' 'Yes, when you look at it that way –'
'Yes it's a record, no doubt. Like those families who lost all their sons in the war, five men, seven men, and death duties payable on all estates.'
'Oh, we're better off than the war-bereaved.' That was his wife's voice. 'Redundancy is not killed in action.' 'It can feel like it,' said Tom's brother. That was how he found out that since his fall two men and two women of his family had been made redundant besides Johnny, Cora's husband. Incidentally, as he found out later, another relative, a woman personnel manager, had herself made redundant twenty-eight men in her office.
Tom confided in his day nurse, Julia: 'I fall in love easily and often. When I am overwhelmed with love I am in a state of complete enchantment, forgetting all the previous times I have fallen into raptures over a woman. At such times it doesn't matter who my wife is, what she knows, what she thinks. Nothing matters but the woman of my current obsession, of my dreams.'
It was four in the afternoon. Julia was preparing to go home. The night nurse came on at eight.
'And who is the lucky girl of the moment?' said Julia.
'No one. With a damaged spine and a broken leg and my ribs all in pieces, I may never love again.'
'With all those glamorous film stars in your life?' said Julia. 'I wouldn't believe it.' She took away his tea tray.
'I may never direct another film. Do you think anybody would put their money into a redundant director?'
'Personality is everything,' said Julia.
'I suppose you've got a husband,' said Tom.
'Yes, and three children.'
'Three lovely children.'
'I didn't say lovely.'
'You're the only young mother I've met who hasn't. What does your husband do?'
'He's second mechanic in a garage.'
'Is his job safe?'
'Oh, I think so. He's very well thought of.'
Her uniform was mauve, faintly striped with white. Her hair was blonde with darkened roots. Her figure was good, not too thin, it looked as if it had had three children. Her eyes were light blue. She was nothing special. For that, he liked her. He liked her in the way he had taken to that girl in France who was making hamburgers and sandwiches on a camping site, and who had struck his imagination so that he had kept her in his thoughts for weeks. He drafted a film script about her. He called her Jeanne. He got a screen-writer to do a first screenplay. He raised the money. He was directing the film when he fell. All of which had started with the sight of a nondescript sort of girl in a pink overall on a summer campsite in the Haute Savoie, making up sandwich packs for the campers and frying hamburgers for them on a rigged-up spirit stove, in a space so small that only the French could have contrived to cook in it. Tom had no further interest at all in the girl, except that glimpse. She would never know she had inspired a film, first in the hands of one and now in the hands of another director.
Julia had gone home. Tom was left brooding on the film in the hands of another director, so working himself up. He now recalled the plans he had made and the vow he had taken before he underwent the operation that followed his fall. The plans, the vow, were absurd. He had made them in a state of shock. No wonder he hadn't been able to recall what they were when he saw Fortescue-Brown. The plans were to trace the hamburger girl on the campsite, with the aid of Fortescue-Brown, and give her anonymously, just make her a gratuitous gift of, an enormous fortune. He would have to acquire a fortune speedily with the aid of Fortescue-Brown, probably by murdering his wife Claire in some undetectable way, and inheriting her money.
Tom was aghast. The film script, which conveyed an element of this scenario, was one thing; real life another. The main development of Tom's scheme was of course the murder. In the actual film the girl's benefactor had been rich already.
Did I really make such a vow, such plans, there in the nuns' hospital? Tom wondered. I must, he thought, have been very much under shock, very drugged. He thought guiltily of Claire, his nice kind wife. What would Fortescue-Brown have thought if he had elaborated the plan? He would have thought Tom mad. But of course the film was non-realistic, so full of images of that old man in the years following that gesture in defiance of his natural fears – trying to trace the young girl again for love, all for love –
The door opened. Claire, in skin-tight blue jeans, a shirt and two strings of pearls came in, followed by Johnny Carr, his son-in-law, who had just been made redundant by the paint firm.
Claire said, 'Johnny's come to see you, Tom. He won't stay long.'
Tom said, 'If you think I am a stone that you shouldn't leave unturned, you are wasting your time.'
'Tom,' he said, 'all that matters is how are you feeling?'
His visit to Tom was indeed by way of a probe, and Johnny Carr was furious to be confronted with so indelicate a truth. He might have known that Cora's father was unlikely to be mellowed by suffering. And anyway, Claire had urged the visit far too soon: 'He could certainly help you, Johnny. He knows so many people.'
As it was, Tom said, 'Redundancy comes to this: Nobody fires a man if he is exceptionally good, unless the whole outfit closes down. Your paint concern going out of business?'
'No, just restructuring. But forget it, Tom –'
Johnny had put on his best business suit, which he intended to keep in first-class condition for interviews. After visiting Tom he went home, took off the special suit, and put on his clothes.
'How's Pa?' said Cora.
'He seems to be all right.'
'All right!' said Cora, who was fond of her father. 'What do you mean, all right, when he has broken bones all over his body. Sixty-three and nurses day and night. Poor Pa, he's lucky to be alive. He works so hard, he puts everything he's got into films. He lives films. How can he be all right?'
Excerpted from Reality and Dreams by Muriel Spark. Copyright © 1996 Copyright Administration Limited. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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