In the caravan I smeared honey all over Sonia’s face. It was half past two on a grey humid afternoon. The muffled roar of traffic floated across the Thames. I should’ve been out there doing my act. I told her, ‘Honey’s great for the skin. Gives it flexibility, relaxes it.’ So she let me.
I massaged it in, pure Champagne honey. ‘Mmmm,’ she sighed, ‘I like it.’ And she lay back on the sofa and enjoyed it. I could see because she wriggled and squirmed a bit like a little girl. I had a friend once, a fag. He had a nose job and Botox pumped into his lips. His consultant told him, rub honey on your face every day. (I never forgot that.) He did. Rubbed honey in every night, lay on the bed letting it soak in. He began to look a whole lot younger than forty.
‘It’s great for the skin, see,’ I said, as my middle finger insinuated itself round the curves of her lips. She nibbled at it .
Outside the plane trees spattered the morning’s raindrops onto the stalls. Funny how people still came to the park to lug balls at coconuts and bury their faces in candy floss. All that sweetness melting into air, the promise of nothing. Ugly carousel organ music was grinding away and wooden horses hurtled round with stricken black and white eyes.
But I kept going with the honey. ‘That’s enough Wayne,’ she said when I eased a sticky palm under her T- shirt. She sat up, put her feet on the floor.
‘Come on. Stay here and get warm.’
‘No Wayne, I can’t.’
‘Oh come on Sonia, why not?’
She was washing her face. ‘I don’t know. I’m a cautious person. Maybe Wayne when you’re, like rich. Then maybe you’ll want to marry me.’
‘You mean when you’re rich.’ I stared at her.
Someone banged on the door. ‘Wayne. Wayne? Get your arse out of there. The cops are here. They’re asking for you.’
‘Oh shit Wayne, what’ve you done?’ said Sonia. She paused between mascara brush strokes, forgetting to breathe.
I ran a comb over my hair, pulled on a leather jacket. The constable looked harmless enough but the plain clothes detective had mean eyes. ‘How can I help?’ I sounded ingratiating.
They were looking for someone called Hugh O’Malley, an Irishman from Dublin.
‘What for?’ I said.
‘We want to ask him a few questions,’ said the copper. ‘We’ve heard you’re a friend of his.’
I said I didn’t know where he was. Last time I’d seen him was at the World’s End. I had to raise my voice against the blare of music and kids screaming in joyful terror. ‘No, I said, ‘I’m sorry. I can’t help you with Hugh O’Malley. He could be in hospital for all I know. Did you know he’s got a head problem? Tried to top himself two months back.’
They left saying to let them know if Hugh showed up any time.
Hugh’d tried more than once. There was that time he climbed onto the roof of a four storey in Orchard street. He was high as a kite on coke or something. They got him down as he swayed on the parapet, arms outstretched like a trapeze artist. He couldn’t stop crying back on the ground. About some posh teacher woman he’d met in a pub who ‘led him on’. He’d fallen for her. Then she dumped him – no, he wasn’t her type, she told him. He couldn’t understand it. He tracked her down to where she lived on a houseboat on the Embankment. But she’d left off living there. So he sat with her roommate, a South African exile, and they drank Teachers into the dawn. Next, Hugh was in prison for housebreaking – and he sent a letter to the teacher saying it was her fault he was fucked up and he’d get her when he was out.
Battersea Park was mayhem. I thought, I hate this place. Why was I tagging along with this fairground lark. My one-man band on a uni-cycle went down well enough with the crowds; even better when I wore the gorilla suit and played the sax. They liked that stuff, those classics I copied from ‘Bird’ and Canonball Adderley. The kids wondered if I was for real, a gorilla on a bike playing a sax. When they got close up I squirted them with my plastic water pump stuck in my buttonhole.
Inside the caravan Sonia was frying egg and bacon sarnies. The coffee smelled strongly of Colombian beans. I put a shot of brandy in it.
‘Wayne, you ok?’
‘Yeah. . . . I guess.’
‘Wayne, next time you could be more generous with the honey.’
What sort of invitation was that? What the hell. I had to get on my cycle, earn some dosh. But my head was full of Hugh – him standing high up there against the sky. Him folded up on the pavement, knees drawn up to his chest, sobbing. Anyway I wasn’t ready for marriage. Even if Sonia did get rich.
‘Ugh Sonia – I’m a cautious person,’ I said. She blinked at me.
We drank the coffee.