Read Blast From the Past Online

Authors: Ben Elton

Blast From the Past (21 page)

‘I’m so sorry,’ he said again, ‘but it meant nothing, it was meaningless.’

‘What does she do?’ Nibs enquired, attempting to make her voice sound calm.

‘She works at the office. She’s with the travel department. She books cars and flights and stuff,’ he replied.

‘Fascinating,’ she said bitterly. ‘You must have so much to talk about.’

‘The point is, Nibs …’

‘Don’t call me Nibs,’ she snapped. ‘I don’t feel like being your Nibs right now.’

‘The point is …’

His voice faltered. The point was that he was in trouble. That was the only reason he’d arranged the dinner, the only reason they were having the conversation. If he hadn’t been in trouble he would never have told her about the girl, just as he hadn’t told her about any of the other girls. Unfortunately, this current girl had not taken kindly to the brevity of their affair and had decided to hit back.

‘She says she’s going to accuse me of harassing her.’

‘Oh, for Christ’s sake. Did you?’

‘Not unless taking a girl to bed a couple of times is harassment.’

Nibs bit her lip. Why had he done it? Why did he keep doing it? He thought she didn’t know about the others but she’d heard the rumours. She knew about the jokes they told at his office. She’d caught the expressions of those dumb booby women when she accompanied him to business functions. She knew what they were thinking. ‘You may be a fancy lawyer, lady, but when your husband needs satisfying he comes to me.’

‘I have plenty of enemies,’ he said. ‘If this thing gets any kind of heat under it at all it could be very bad for me at work. I could lose my job.’

‘You fool!’ Nibs snapped. ‘You damn stupid fool.’


his drink down in one.

‘Do you ever see any of the girls these days?’

‘One or two,’ Polly replied, crossing one leg over the other as she sat. She could see Jack’s eyes had been caught by the movement.

‘You should organize a reunion,’ he said, smiling. ‘You’d have a blast. Go stand in a field somewhere, paint each other’s faces, make some puppets. Eat mud sandwiches and dance to the subtle rhythms of your female cycles.’

He was teasing her now. The anger had gone.

‘Yes, and we could invite the American army along,’ Polly replied. ‘You could all drop your trousers and show us your arses. We used to love it when you did that. It was such a subtle gesture and so intellectually stimulating.’

In fact it had been the British guards who did most of the arse-showing. The Americans were mainly technical advisers, a cut above that sort of oafishness, and were anyway on their strictest best behaviour. Jack did not argue the point, though. He had always fully supported the British soldiers in their
and he would not deny them now.

‘It was a clash of cultures. We were never going to get along.’

‘Except us.’

‘Yeah,’ said Jack, trying not to stare. ‘Except us.’

They were so close. He in the easy chair, she perched on the bed. Two strides and they would be in each other’s arms. The room crackled with the suppressed tension.

‘Let’s face it,’ said Polly. ‘You can put up with anything if the sex is good enough.’

‘Oh, yeah,’ Jack replied with great enthusiasm, his voice and his wandering eyes betraying his thoughts.

Polly was torn. Should she sleep with him? She felt confident that she could if she wanted to. Of course she could. She knew what men were like, they always wanted it. Scratch a man and you find a person who fancies a fuck. Sex had to be the reason that Jack had come back. It was obvious. He felt like a little nostalgic adventure. A little blast from the past. He had been sitting in the Pentagon one night thinking, ‘I wonder what happened to her?’ and then he had thought, ‘I know. I’m a powerful man. I’ll have her traced and the next time I’m in London I’ll pop round and see if I can still fuck her.’ By rights Polly should be offended, she should throw him out. The feminist in her told her that if she screwed Jack she would be doing exactly what he wanted. Literally playing into his hands. But, then again, so what? She would be using him too. It wasn’t as if she’d been exactly sexually satiated of late. Quite
, she could really do with a little passion herself. But could she trust her emotions? After what he had meant to her, after how he had behaved? Would she suddenly find herself hopelessly in love again or would she just want to kill him? Polly could not quite decide whether in the final analysis having sex with Jack would make her happier or sadder.

In her mind’s eye the good memories were gaining the ascendancy.

‘I nearly didn’t go through with it, you know,’ she said. ‘That first time. When I saw that disgusting tattoo of yours. Kill everyone and everything horribly or whatever it said.’

‘Death Or Glory,’ Jack corrected her. ‘I know you thought it was juvenile, Polly, but I’m in the army. It’s our regimental motto.’

‘I used to work for Tesco’s but I haven’t got “Great quality at prices you can afford” written across my arse.’

Jack laughed and topped up his drink. He could certainly put the booze away, but then he had always been able to do that.

‘I had a tattoo done too, you know, after you left,’ Polly said, pulling at the collar of her raincoat and nightie to reveal the blurred decoration that her parents had found so unpleasant. Jack inspected it.

‘It’s the female symbol with a penis in it,’ he said.

‘It’s not a penis, it’s a clenched fist, for Christ’s sake!’ Polly snapped. ‘Why does everybody say that? It’s so obviously a clenched fist.’

Jack leant in a little to inspect the design more closely. ‘Yeah, well, maybe.’

Except, of course, he wasn’t looking at the tattoo. By now he had shifted his gaze and was using his position of advantage to drink in Polly’s partially exposed breasts. Polly had been aware when she pulled down her clothing to show her tattoo that she was displaying rather more of her bosom than was decorous, and she knew that Jack was looking at it now. Polly was rather vain of her breasts. She thought them perhaps her best feature. They were not particularly large or anything, but they were very shapely, cheeky almost. Age had not yet wearied them; they were well capable of standing up for themselves, so to speak.

Polly could feel Jack’s breath upon her shoulder. It was hot and damp and seemed to be coming quicker now. He wasn’t exactly panting, but he wasn’t breathing easily either. Polly knew that she too was breathing more quickly and that her breasts were trembling slightly beneath Jack’s gaze. She also knew what would happen to her body next. Spontaneously, involuntarily, her nipples began to harden under the nightshirt. It always happened when she felt aroused, and Jack, of course, knew that.

Even through the clothes Polly was wearing Jack could see the process beginning and it brought back such memories. How he longed to pull apart Polly’s shirt and press his lips once again to those glorious dark pink buds.

But he didn’t. He drew away and gulped again at his drink.

‘Yeah, well, we both had some adjusting to do in those days,’ he said.

For a moment Polly did not know what he was talking about. She had lost the thread of the conversation they had been having. She readjusted her clothing, covering her shoulders, slightly confused. She knew that he had wanted to touch her, she knew that she would have let him do it too and she knew that he knew that; her body had given it away. But he hadn’t touched her. Instead he was talking again. He had retreated across the room, clearly anxious to put distance between them. He was resisting his desires. Polly wondered why.

‘Oh, yes, that’s for sure,’ Jack continued. ‘We both had to make allowances in those days.’

‘What allowances did you have to make, then?’ Polly enquired rather sharply. ‘I seem to recall that it was you who called the shots.’

‘Well, for instance I cannot say I relished discovering your organic raw cotton sanitary napkins soaking in the bathroom basin.’

The years had not blunted this point of contention. Once again the ancient row bubbled to the surface.

‘That’s because you fear menstruation!’ she retorted. ‘You’re scared of the ancient power and mystery of the vagina.’

‘No, Polly, it’s because washing your sanitary towels in the bathroom is totally gross.’

Polly still didn’t understand this point of view. She found it as offensive as he had found her hygiene arrangements.

‘What? Grosser than flushing great chunks of bleached cotton into our already filthy rivers?’

That was easy. Jack could answer that. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Much grosser.’

‘Are you seriously saying,’ said Polly, rising to the bait as she always did, ‘that you find the idea of a woman disposing of her body’s byproducts in a responsible manner using sustainable resources more gross than dumping used tampons into the water system? Grosser than the seas being clogged up with great reefs of them knitted together with old condoms? Grosser than fish feeding on toilet paper? Grosser than tap water being filtered through surgical dressings and colostomy bags?’

Jack had to admit that these questions were more difficult.

‘Uhm … maybe about as gross,’ he replied.

‘Jesus!’ Polly snapped. ‘You’re a soldier. I thought you were supposed to be used to the sight of blood.’

How could Jack explain that as far as he was concerned there was a big difference between proper blood, manly blood, the blood that flowed from a wound, and blood left lying about the bathroom by menstruating feminists. He knew that this was not necessarily a laudable point of view, but it was how he felt.

‘Look, Polly, we see things differently, OK? We always have. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is.’

Polly smiled. Jack was embarrassed, which was something she had rarely seen.

‘What is it they say?’ she said softly. ‘Opposites attract.’

And so they were back at the point at which they had been a moment before. Looking at each other, the bed beckoning. The tender tension of love in the air. Jack’s knuckles whitened on his glass. Polly wondered if it would shatter. She could see that he was struggling to control his desires. She did not know why he was struggling, but she decided that she hoped he would lose.

‘You look great, Polly,’ said Jack, his heart thumping.

‘Thanks.’ Polly met his gaze. ‘You too.’

Jack did not reply. He could not think what to say. He knew what he ought to say. He had business to get through, that was why he had come. There were things about his past which only Polly knew, which only Polly could help him with. What Jack needed to do was ask the questions he had come to ask. But what he wanted to do was to make love.

‘I’m glad you came back,’ said Polly.



Polly was frowning.

She was yawning at the bus stop. Peter’s mother knew those photographs almost as well as Peter did himself. Often when he was out she would find herself drawn to his room, where she would stand, surrounded by images of the woman whose existence had so infected her own. She knew what a terrible thing it was to be the mother of a child gone wrong, to be always looking back on life, searching for the moment when the change had come, when the damage had been done.

It seemed to Peter’s mother that her whole life had been a preparation for this current despair. Every moment of her past had been rewritten by the present. Peter’s boyhood, which had brought her such happiness, was now forever tainted by what he had become. Every smiling memory of a little boy in shorts and National Health Service glasses was the memory of a boy who had turned into a deceitful, sneaking pervert. Every innocent hour they had spent together was now revealed as an hour spent in the making of a monster. Could she have known? Could she have prevented it?
she could and yet Peter’s mother could not see how. It was true that he had never had many friends but she had thought him happy enough. After all she was lonely too and so they had always had each other. Perhaps if his father had stayed … but that swine had gone before Peter had even been born. She could scarcely even remember him herself.

Seeing Peter that night, her own son, the flesh of her womb, squatting in a filthy gutter like a rat, had torn at her heart. He was sinking back into madness, she could see that, and this time it would be deeper and more terrible than the last. Peter needed help, that was obvious, help that clearly she could not give him. She was the problem, she had made him in every sense. The help he needed lay outside their home, but to reach it Peter’s mother knew that she would have to betray her son.


hauled himself back from the erotic adventure his whole being craved. It was not the time. He had things to do. The key to his future lay in his past and it was Polly who held it.

‘Opposites may attract, Polly, but they’re still opposites,’ he said, hiding behind his drink. ‘I guess we’re lucky we didn’t last too long, huh?’

This comment, rather brutal in the circumstances, brought Polly back to earth with a jolt.

‘Oh yes, very lucky. You probably did us both a favour,’ she said bitterly. ‘When you had your final screw and then snuck off while I lay sleeping. You bastard.’

Suddenly her eyes glistened. Polly’s old enemy. Her tear ducts were responding as they always did when her emotions bubbled up. Although on this occasion some of the tears were for real. Jack was surprised to see Polly become so quickly upset, surprised to discover that the wound was still so raw, even after all the years. It made him feel ashamed. She had been the last person on earth he had ever wanted to hurt.

‘It was my job, Polly.’

‘What? Fucking and leaving? Nice work if you can get it,’ she said, dabbing at her eyes with a teatowel.

Jack studied the carpet. ‘I had to leave. I get orders. It’s a security thing.’

‘A security thing? Not to say goodbye? Oh yeah, of course, because World War Three would probably have started if you’d said goodbye.’

What could Jack say? It had not been possible for him to say goodbye, that was all, but he knew that there was no point in saying so now.

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