All summer I’ve been trying to start Novel 2. In Norfolk I decided it was going to be about the woman who keeps going back to a place in Cornwall (Prussia Cove) in the hope of bumping into the man who dumped her. In Scotland, staying with my four male cousins, I decided to make Prussia Cove a Hebridian isle, and add my cousins in. But then in France I got all fired up about my time travel story, deciding the first part of it would be set in the Haut-Languedoc. That a child would break its neck jumping from a high rock into a river, and that its sibling would build a time machine to reverse the tragedy.
Then I got back home, and found the floor was missing,
I presumed it was Stepanov who’d taken the floor. He was meant to be replacing a few boards, and sanding and varnishing, but he’d clearly got carried away. He’d left the stairs, though, and they’re just next to the front door, so the Daves and I went up, leaving our enormous green suitcase resting on a joist. Upstairs there were things piled in towers, like in a hoarder’s house, but the floor was intact. We squeezed ourselves into my bedroom, where I tried phoning Stepanov. No answer.We flopped down onto the Rolls Royce of mattresses, which was meant to have become king size, but hadn’t grown an inch.
After a while Dave 2 said, “It’s the brigands.”
“The brigands? What, they got here before us? How did they manage that, when they’re on foot?”
We’d seen the brigands in the market in Lodeve, in the bustling main square, near the oyster stall. It was past midday, and the stall-holders were starting to pack up their wares, even though there were still long queues. A cloudy, muggy day, and the crowd somehow too raucous, desperate for the last of the bread, or to get a table outside one of the cafes.
And then those crazy bellows, “Maxi million! Maxi million!” Three voices, and a dog barking. Was it some kind of protest? About the amount of money changing hands, about the decadence of olive soap for five euros? Dave 2 had clung to me, which wasn’t like him; but the shouting people were scary. Two men and a woman, all spiky and raggedy, and their spiky, raggedy dog, going mental. It was the harshness of the shouting, and the repetition, MAXI MILLION, over and over. The crowd was drawing away from them, feeling the menace. “They’re just looking for their friend,” I said, “Their friend, Maximillian.” Dave 2 let go and nodded.
That night as he was going to bed, Dave 2 whispered, “They’re coming.”
“Who?” I’d forgotten all about them.
“The brigands. And their dog. They’ve been walking from Lodeve. They’re nearly here. They want to kill us.”
“Because they’re bad.”
“They’re not bad. They just wanted to find their friend. And they were drunk. And their dog was a bit crazy.”
“They’re bad. You know they are.”
“They’re not bad. People aren’t bad. Just angry, sometimes. Or miserable.”
“How can you SAY that! Of COURSE people are bad! Think of all the bad things they do!”
“Whatever. The brigands aren’t coming. They don’t even know us.”
“They’ve been following us. They are going to kill me with a rope.”
They never reached us, the brigands, but the idea of them ran through the rest of the holiday, and I got used to their invisible presence. So now they’d stolen our floor. Bastards.
“I’m hungry,” said Dave 1. “And thirsty.”
“Me too.” I licked my dry lips. “Come on. Let’s go to Pizza Express. Hopefully Stepanov will be here when we get back.”
“But what about the rat?” asked Dave 2. “Shouldn’t we kill it, before we go?”
Dave 2 went into his room and came back with his penknife.
“We can’t kill it with that!” I got up and searched in the towering piles for the right implement. A heavy book? A clay vase? I put my walking boots on, thinking it would be easiest to stamp on it. But outside on the pavement the rat lay very still.
“I think it’s dead already,” I whispered, tiptoeing round it in my great big boots. We went to Pizza Express. I had two large glasses of wine. On the way home the sun had set, and the Shard glittered against the purple sky.
“It’s them.” Dave 2 had stopped dead in his tracks.
“Who? Oh yeah.” Dave 1 stopped too. “They’re scanning. We need to hide.”
“What, the brigands?” They nodded, but the pavement in front of us was empty. “Where?” Dave 1 pointed up. On the Shard there were three red lights, sweeping slowly and menacingly from side to side.
As we approached the house, through the gloom, we could see Stepanov, standing outside the front door, holding a hammer. The Daves ran to him, but I slowed, trying to compose myself.
“You have a nice time? Why your mum wearing those big boots?”
“She was going to stamp on the rat, but it’s dead already.”
“The rat is not dead.” Stepanov brought the hammer down on its head. “The rat is now dead.”
“Anyway Stepanov,” asked Dave 1, “What have you done with our floor?”