Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Constantine's Chambers


I bombed down the corridor, yanked open the door and bounded into the kitchen. Lolek, thank Christ, was there, stacking up the pots and pans. He had the radio on again. That '80s station again. Every night was '80s night in Lolek's kitchen:

When the river was deep, I didn't falter,
When the mountain was high, I still believed,
When the valley was low, it didn't stop me, oh no,

He turned his plump, kind face to me and smiled. 'Ah, Miss Julie, how good to see you.'
'The key, Lolek. The key.'

I knew you were waiting, 'knew you were waiting for me.

'But, Miss Julie.' He shrugged, then stretched out his arms, eyes dancing with laughter. I flung down my sports bag, grabbed the radio and launched it against the wall. KERPOW! It shattered into a gazillion splintering shards. The dancing stopped. The laughter stopped. I reached across to the worktop, picked up a breadknife and pointed it at his chest.
'The chapel key, Lolek. The dining room door. Now.'
'But, Miss Julie, it is forbidden. I cannot give you this one. Caesar has warned us.'
I looked at Lolek, Lolek looked at me, and I knew I could still back out if I wanted to, passing it off as a game or another slice of Constantine's Chambers theatrics. I was, after all, wearing a white cotton tunic, tied with a grey twine belt and emblazoned with a purple diamond on the front. I had silver-buckled shoes on my feet and a scarlet bandana, to top it all off, twizzled through my jet-black hair.

I could easily have backed out. Maybe I should have. But I took Macbeth's advice instead. To return would indeed be as 'tedious as go o'er'. And besides, Caesar had already given me my mission. I had to rescue the Grail.

So, I stepped forward with the knife ...


And here I am, still in my tunic, but minus bandana, belt and shoes. This is where the Grail has led me. This is where all the stories have led me - from Shakespeare to King Arthur to the gods and goddesses of ancient Ireland - from Dad to Mr. Martin to Caesar himself - this dark, cold dungeon that could be a prison, could be a hospital, could be a torture chamber for all I know.

The bed's all hard and lumpy. I pull the grey and white sheet up tight. It's night outside. An iron grille masks the tiny slit of window high on the wall to my right. I can see the outline of a door in front of me, but no light, only dark. I want a ciggie. My head hurts. My chest hurts. Everything hurts.

So, do I regret it all then? Coming to Constantine's Chambers, I mean. I could, so Dr. Tenby said, have had my pick of any Uni in the country. But even if that was true (which I doubt) it's been well and truly kaiboshed now. All I can do, in the time I've got left, is tell this story. And I will. I'll make a proper fist of it. And anyway, at least I went down fighting. Macbeth'd be proud. Caesar, I know, is proud. And I saw a vision. We both saw a vision. Jacqueline and me. A cast-iron, copper-bottomed, rock-solid vision. She can't say it didn't happen. Can't say it wasn't real. Whatever pans out now, or whether she's dead or alive, we'll always have that. Our secret forever.


Lolek chucked me the key. I put the knife down. The doorbell rang twice - beeeep beeeep - then BANG BANG BANG at the outer door. 'Leg it, Lolek. Any way you can. Climb out the window.' I looked around - stupidly - like I might find his wife hiding in the dishwasher.
'Where's Glinka?'
'Tesco, Miss Julie.'

I grabbed my sports bag and ran, through the blacked-out dining room, across the threshold and down the steps, three at a time to the chapel. At the bottom I stopped stone dead. Caesar was standing at the altar in a purple robe with white trimming at the neck and cuffs. A golden circlet ran through his bushy brown hair. He looked me in the eye, I looked at him back, and the Grail was a silver blur, as he lifted it high above his head ...


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