The First Squeak

Goodness only knows what one is supposed to write in a blog. I haven’t got a clue. A bunch of lovely people keep telling me to write one, and because I believe in them, and I believe in their belief in me, I’m obliging, but I haven’t the foggiest idea what to write. I’m just sort of floundering about trying to get to grips with the whole idea. But then maybe that’s all that life is; floundering about and hoping that one’s particular style of floundering is useful or life-affirming in some way.

There. That was deep. I mentioned the Meaning Of Life in paragraph one of my first blog post.

On the other hand, I’m about to post a short story that I wrote recently that is extremely light-hearted and has no great meaning whatsoever. So I don’t think that the rest of this blog is going to be very deep.

Anyway, here is the story. It’s called Mr Hudson. If you read it and feel that one of the characters is based on you, then it probably is. (If you don’t like the character however, then it probably isn’t based on you at all and you were absolutely the last thing on my mind when I wrote it.)

 

              Mr Hudson

Mr Hudson specialised in belligerence. It wasn’t something that he necessarily recognised in himself, but it was certainly felt on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis by his staff. His temper could flare in an instant, like a sudden thunderstorm, raining down hail and lightening on whomever was unfortunate enough to be present.

His wife, Mrs Camilla Hudson, acupuncturist and lecturer at the North London College of Acupuncture, blamed his liver energy. “It’s stagnant,” she told him over breakfast. “That’s why you lose your temper. Your liver energy is stagnant.”

Mr Hudson responded with a murderous silence.

“You need to unblock your meridians,” Mrs Hudson added, through a mouthful of porridge. “And that coffee and buttery toast doesn’t help.” Mrs Hudson specialised not in belligerence, but in great dollops of unsolicited advice. “With stagnant liver energy you want to eat sour foods. Like lemons. And plenty of green vegetables.” She popped another spoonful of porridge into her mouth with satisfaction. Her diet consisted almost entirely of green vegetables and unpronounceable organic grains, which contributed not only to her slender, if somewhat wiry, figure, but also to the air of sanctimonious self-satisfaction that she emanated. “So few people take full responsibility for their health and well-being,” she continued, waving her porridge spoon at her husband. She felt herself slip into the all-too-familiar and deeply satisfying role of College Lecturer. “Stagnant liver energy often relates to unresolved issues to do with anger. You should meditate.”

Mr Hudson drained the dregs of his coffee and tried to remember what the woman he’d married had been like. Certainly not this. Women, he thought, should let men know if they intended to change drastically over the years. They should say something like, “darling, I may be sweet and light-hearted now, but I should warn you that in twenty years living with me will be like snuggling up to a rattlesnake.”

Mrs Hudson was still holding forth about liver energy as he plonked his plate in the dishwasher and headed for the door.

Forty five minutes later Mr Hudson squeezed his not inconsiderable bulk into the space between his large mahogany desk, and his antique mahogany chair. Through the open door of his office he could hear his secretary gossiping on the phone. His already gloomy mood darkened. Men like him were supposed to have nubile young secretaries who gazed up at them with eyes full of reverence, and who blushed when spoken to. For some reason his company had instead assigned him Gareth. Gareth giggled a great deal. Real men, thought Mr Hudson, do not giggle. When Gareth wasn’t giggling he was humming, and when he wasn’t humming he was usually hugging some other member of staff. Everybody stopped to make a fuss of him as they passed by his desk, and he soaked up their love like a Labrador puppy. Mr Hudson’s brow furrowed deeply and his fingers drummed moodily on the mahogany. He made a mental note to ask his wife whether wanting to murder one’s secretary was also a sign of stagnant liver energy, and then vetoed the idea. Mrs Hudson was intolerant to gluten, dairy products and his particular brand of humour.

Gareth’s head popped around the door. “Your nine O’clock client is early Mr H. Shall I send him in?”

“It’s Mr HUDSON” was the snapped response.

Gareth was oblivious to anger. It seemed to wash over him without effect.

“Shall I send him in?”

Gareth had this irritating habit of being happy all the time. Despite earning a fraction of Mr Hudson’s salary, he shone with a sort of unshakable inner contentment that completely eluded his boss. He displayed no sign of envy at Mr Hudson’s superior position, and had the gall to grin at him and make friendly little comments, as though Mr Hudson were his equal. Mr Hudson’s blood pressure began to rise and he felt his ulcer twinge. “Yes, send him in.” He glared peevishly at his young secretary. Gareth’s hair was also ridiculously shiny and he seemed to exude well being, like those people in vitamin adverts who leap in the air laughing with joy. Mr Hudson’s hair, what was left of it anyway, had never been shiny. He made one last desperate attempt to stab at his secretary’s good mood: “I can hardly deal with his case if he sits in the waiting room reading magazines, can I? I’m not a bloody psychic.”

Gareth grinned at him benevolently. “You could try, Mr H, you could try…”

It was a difficult morning. Two clients were late, throwing everything off schedule, and there was another fluff-up with the bank. Mr Hudson’s ulcer twinged periodically, and then other parts of his body began to join in. He began to wonder whether he could sneak a hemorrhoid cushion onto the mahogany chair without anybody noticing. His clients, rather than rushing respectfully into his office as soon as they were summoned, lingered instead in the hallway to chat to Gareth, who addressed them as though they were all his very best friends. Mr Hudson, waiting at his desk, was forced to sit and listen to them in a state of mounting indignation. And when they did tear themselves away from Gareth and finally arrived at his desk he had to sit smiling through clenched teeth while they told him what a gem his secretary was. And how caring. At twenty past one Mr Hudson was in a thoroughly foul mood. At twenty two minutes past one Gareth’s glossy head popped around the door to announce that Mrs Hudson had phoned, and left a message that Mr Hudson needed to drive immediately to the North London College of Acupuncture because of an emergency there.

“What emergency?” barked Mr Hudson.

“She didn’t say Mr H. I hope she’s ok.” Gareth looked concerned.

“Call her back, find out the problem.” Mr Hudson picked up a file on his desk and glanced at it.

Gareth disappeared and reappeared thirty seconds later. “Her phone’s off,” he said, casting a sympathetic look at his boss. “You must be so worried. Do you want me to come with you?”

Mr Hudson heaved himself to his feet, muttering obscenities. “Cancel my appointments this afternoon,” he said, slamming his office door as he left.

The London College of Acupuncture was painted sunflower yellow. No one quite knew why, but it certainly made it easy to find. Mr Hudson’s silver Mercedes slid into the college car park like an alligator sliding into a lake. He glanced at the building. The ruddy thing hasn’t burnt down, he thought rattily, so that rules out one possible emergency. He maneuvered himself out of his seat with difficulty, as there was little room between his belly and the steering wheel. They build these cars for children, he muttered, struggling to his feet. Everything’s so bloody tiny these days. Striding toward the college entrance he noted a lack of paramedics. No medical crisis then, he thought.

As far as Mr Hudson was concerned, emergencies fell into two categories. Those that happened to other people, and those that happened to him. Those that happened to him happened regularly: Gareth losing a file or forgetting to call a client back. A client being late for an appointment. People at the bank not understanding how important he was and applying the same bureaucracy to him as they applied to everyone else. Running out of coffee. A scratch on the bodywork of his car. Being unable to locate matching socks. Being unable to bend far enough over to put said socks on, due to the size of his stomach. Mr Hudson was no stranger to personal emergencies. The other category of emergencies, those that happened to other people, happened far less often. There were really only two kinds: medical crises and buildings burning down. Everything else was just fussing as far Mr Hudson was concerned.

The girl at reception had a single feather earring and was chewing gum. Mr Hudson sighed. He had no particular opinion about acupuncture from a health point of view, he had no interest in it, but it pained him to see what he termed as a business letting itself down. Chewing gum on reception and wearing bits of bird as jewellery did not give a business gravitas, he felt. He glared at the girl. She gazed back at him, chewing in a slightly bovine way. “Well!” he barked eventually. “Where is she? What happened?”

The girl stopped chewing. “Who?” she asked.

“My wife! Don’t you know who I am? My wife for heaven’s sake!” Mr Hudson felt himself heating up. “The emergency, the bloody emergency that I’ve just left my bloody office and driven half way across sodding London for! Mrs Hudson! My wife! My bloody wife!”

The girl blinked at him slowly. “Camilla?” She asked.

Mr Hudson closed his eyes. Was everyone in the world on first name terms nowadays? Was there no respect any more, no sense of one’s superiors? Even if they managed to utter your surname they only managed the first letter of it. Like you were some bloody character in a book.

“Yes!” He bellowed. “CAMILLA!”

Is if by magic, his wife appeared at the doorway in the white coat she wore to treat patients. Mr Hudson referred to it as her quasi medical robe. Mrs Hudson in turn referred to Mr Hudson’s bespoke suit and gold cuff-links as his monkey-suit. “Oh good,” she said coolly, “you’re here. Follow me.” She turned on her heel and walked briskly down a corridor. Mr Hudson followed her indignantly, puffing as he struggled to keep up with her lengthy strides. “Camilla!” he shouted breathlessly, “what’s going on? Where’s the emergency!?”

He found himself, less than a minute later, standing sweaty and breathless in a room full of students. “Quickly!” Mrs Hudson clapped her hands together. “Clothes off, gown on.” She patted the treatment couch. “We’re already late.” Mr Hudson stared at her in disbelief. “We’re in a hurry,” she added.

Mr Hudson looked at the room of students. They seemed very young. “To do what?!” he exploded.

“This is a third year final exam.” Mrs Hudson was now walking toward him holding a medical gown. “We need a volunteer patient. Our scheduled one cancelled at the last minute. So I called you. It was an emergency. Please lie down.”

Mr Hudson wasn’t quite sure how it happened, but a few minutes later he found himself lying on a rather small treatment couch, in only his underpants and a pale blue robe, answering myriad questions about his health. A rather attractive young student with blonde hair and a peachy complexion was taking his pulse, holding his wrist in soft gentle hands. Mr Hudson found that he was disinclined to be difficult in her presence. He smiled at her. Mrs Hudson cleared her throat. “What is your opinion Alice?” she asked. Alice, in a voice that could make an angel sound scratchy, offered her diagnosis. It wasn’t flattering. The words excessive heat were mentioned along with some reference to stagnation (whatever that meant) and his large intestine. Mr Hudson chose to ignore the words and focus instead on the way she smelt. Delicious. Like roses. No, something naughtier than roses. Was there a naughty rose perfume? he wondered. He was surprised at the detail that she was going into, and how accurate she was in her assessment of his health and daily rhythms. She seemed to have a far greater grip on what was happening in his body than his GP. He drew his attention back to the naughty roses smell. So delicious. The deliciousness of youth. “And the treatment?” Mrs Hudson’s voice broke through his erotic reverie like a sledgehammer. Alice talked about various meridians and then announced where she was going to place the needles. Mr Hudson broke into a cold sweat. He opened his mouth to protest, and then caught Alice’s eye.

“It’s normal to feel nervous, lots of people dislike needles,” she said soothingly.

“I’m not nervous!” laughed Mr Hudson. “Good Lord no! Nervous! Ha!” He tried to wave his hand in a gesture that suggested that fear was, to him, an almost unknown emotion, but found that he couldn’t, as Alice was still holding his wrist. He avoided Mrs Hudson’s gaze.

“And what advice might we offer a patient on a dietary level, if they were suffering from a stomach ulcer and were overweight?” Mrs Hudson’s voice was clinical rather than critical, but the word overweight still stung.

Alice offered her advice. Mr Hudson stopped listening when she mentioned eating kale and cutting out anything fried. He watched her like a hawk as she washed her hands in a small sink in the corner of the room and then unwrapped the packaging around a hair-thin needle. “All our needles are sterile, we only use them once and then we throw them away, so there’s no need to worry about hygiene,” she said soothingly. Mr Hudson did not find the information soothing. What would have soothed him was the knowledge that she was not going to stick any needles into him at all. “Excellent,” he muttered, offering her his most charming smile. To his surprise, and despite the fact that he had never felt so tense in his life, the first needle didn’t hurt at all. He felt a tiny prick, so light that it was barely noticeable. The other four needles followed in quick succession.

Mr Hudson lay back on the treatment couch and stared at the ceiling. He felt like a human pincushion. For some strange reason he was also beginning to feel unusually relaxed, as though a river of something pleasant was washing through his body. He yawned. “That’s a good sign,” noted Mrs Hudson. Mr Hudson looked at her, and noticed, with some surprise, that he didn’t feel the usual twitch of bitterness on seeing her face. In fact she looked quite nice. Old, of course, but then so was he. She looked intently at him. “How are you feeling?” She asked. “Rather good,” He responded. A smile spread across her face. Mr Hudson realised that he hadn’t seen that smile for years. It was a smile of pure delight, like a child stumbling upon something magical. He smiled back at her. She really was quite beautiful. There was something elfin about her, otherworldly. She had a transparent quality, like a very fine leaf. Quite an extraordinary woman really, thought Mr Hudson. He closed his eyes. It was most unusual to feel this relaxed without feeling drowsy or drunk. In fact he didn’t feel tired at all. He felt relaxed but at the same time alert and full of beans. It was rather lovely.

Mr Hudson floated back into his office where Gareth was hovering anxiously. “Is Mrs H ok?” he asked, as soon as he saw his boss.

“She’s fine. Everything’s sorted.” Mr Hudson lowered himself into his mahogany chair. It was like sinking into a warm bath. He felt so well, as though something in him had been smoothed out. He looked at his secretary. “What did I miss?” he asked, smiling benevolently.

Gareth blinked a few times. He seemed thrown by Mr Hudson’s lack of belligerence. “The bank called back,” he answered eventually. “They need you to pop into the branch and show them some ID before they can transfer the funds. It’s impossible otherwise.”

“No problem.”

Gareth stared at him. “Really?” he said. “You don’t mind?”

Mr Hudson didn’t really mind about anything. Everything was fine, nothing was worth getting upset about. Not on a lovely day like this.

Three hours later Mr Hudson opened his front door with slight nervousness. It had been years since he’d brought a rose for Camilla. He wondered if she’d laugh at him, call him foolish, or berate him for acting like a teenager. He momentarily considered throwing it into the hedge, but it was too late, there she was, standing in front of him. There was a pause. Mrs Hudson glanced at the rose. “Hullo Hugo,” she said, faintly. “Who gave you that?”

Mr Hudson cleared his throat. “Nobody,” he said. He suddenly felt a bit shy. “I bought it.” There was another pause. “From that place next to Waitrose,” he added unnecessarily. Mrs Hudson looked at him. He looked intently at the floor. “It’s for you,” he said awkwardly. “Darling,” he added. He leant over and kissed her cheek. It felt soft, powdery. Warmer than he’d expected. He handed her the rose and then promptly hid his embarrassment by making a big drama out of wriggling out of his jacket. He felt a small hand helping him out of the left sleeve. “The darn thing keeps shrinking,” he said, glancing at her and smiling quickly. “Along with the rest of my clothes.” Mrs Hudson didn’t say anything. She just looked at the rose. Mr Hudson didn’t quite know how to cope with this. He was used to daily lectures on his food intake and increasing girth. He felt uneasy, as though he and his wife had wandered off a familiar script that they’d been reading from for years. He had no idea what to say to her now. “I’m getting terribly fat,” he offered, hoping by this comment to nudge things back onto familiar territory. There was no response. “I should probably eat less,” he added, hopefully. He looked at his wife nervously. Her eyes didn’t leave the rose. She sniffed it gently. “Cuddly,” she said quietly. “You’re just a little cuddly. Nothing wrong with that.” She smiled at him quickly, and for a split second her face was full of tenderness.

Turning, she walked down the hallway, the light from the kitchen framing her slender form. Hanging his jacket on the coat stand, and slipping off his shoes, Mr Hudson padded after her in his socks.