Dave 2 has started sleeping in my bed, because he doesn’t want to catch ebola from his big brother. I told him to sleep in Stevanovich’s room (Stevanovich has been away for weeks) but he said it smelt weird in there.
“Dave 1 hasn’t really got ebola,” I told him. “He’s just pretending. You shouldn’t be falling for it.”
“How do you know he hasn’t got it?”
“He just hasn’t. He’s fine. He’s faking it.”
Dave 2 sighed and shook his head. “It’s just not worth the risk.”
He won’t go into their shared bedroom at all, so all his clothes are piled on my bedroom floor. When they watch TV, Dave 2 sits on the floor over by the door, which means Dave 1 gets to sprawl full length on the sofa.
I haven’t been sleeping that well, partly because of Dave 2’s football dreams, and partly because of my worries. I’m worried about what Erik the builder is doing to our house. The work is going on and on, and getting more and more expensive, and I don’t see that it will ever end. I’m also having troubled feelings about Novel 1. An illustrious publisher has pronounced it good, but “clogged”, and has suggested a meeting. Instead of hopeful excitement, I’m experiencing a kind of dread. Not dread of her critique, and suggestions for cuts. I’ve got enough distance from She’s Not There, now, to relish the prospect of unclogging it. Dread, I suppose, of the disappointment, if nothing comes of it.
My third preoccupation is my return to work. I’ve been on a career break, which is now drawing to a close. A couple of weeks ago I received an email entitled PROTECT. It was from HR, inviting me for a Familiarisation, Technical and Change Update. I cycled in, and locked my bike in exactly the same place I always used to. The entrance looked familiar enough, but inside everything was different. The marble had been hidden behind big sheets of white plywood, and there was a new, freestanding, circular reception desk, which looked a bit like a merry-go-round. There were several people standing inside the desk. I approached the one who looked like the receptionist in Monsters Inc, with huge horn-rimmed spectacles, bright red lipstick and an ample bosom, encased in a tight, many buttoned jacket. I went into a long explanation about being an employee, but not having a pass, and needing to get to Room 532 for my Familiarisation, Technical and Change Update. She listened, tapping her fingernails on the desk, until I finally ran out of things to say. Then she told me to speak to her colleague, as she wouldn’t be able to help me.
The colleague, a tiny woman whose head only just came above the desk, hadn’t been listening, so I explained all over again. She nodded, and disappeared under the desk for a while. Then she came up and told me someone would be down shortly.
I went and sat on the sofa and looked at the white plywood. Was it part of the austerity measures, getting rid of that opulent-looking marble? The plastic tube was still there, the one you needed a pass to get through. Eventually a bearded man wearing a long gown emerged from it. He was all smily and twinkly, and shook my hand, and said sorry to have kept me waiting. We went through the plastic tube together, and into the lift, which was smaller than I remembered, and packed with still, silent people. The doors closed behind us, and the lift glided upwards. It seemed to be travelling very slowly. After a while, the bearded man cleared his throat and asked me if it seemed different, after my time away. The eyes of the still, silent people swivelled to fix on me. “This lift seems – much smaller,” I said. “Has it been – downsized?”
“Hmmm. Maybe,” said the bearded man.
When I got home, Dave 2 was sitting on the doorstep, the lower half of his face swathed in toilet paper.
“Couldn’t you get in? Isn’t Erik here? Where’s Dave 1? And what’s wrong with your face?”
I unlocked the front door, and Dave 2 stood up, holding the toilet paper in place. “Don’t go in,” he said. “He’s in there. He wasn’t lying. He’s got it. And now he’s dying.”
Dave 1 was lying on the sofa watching TV, tomato ketchup daubed artfully all over his face. Out the back, Erik was smoking a cigarette. I asked him if he’d heard from Stepanov, by saying “Stepanov”, miming a phone call, and pointing at him. Erik stubbed out his cigarette and said something in Russian.
If he doesn’t come back soon, I’m getting another au pair. I need someone to look after the Daves, while I’m at work.