Sport 33: Spring 2005
Marcus was released from the clinic on a grey, humid, drizzly day in April.
By five o'clock that evening, he'd found a suitable fat. The block itself was situated in a sodden little gully of a street.
Behold a tiny kitchen like the galley on a trawler, its stinky black stove petite and personable! Marcus was also beguiled by the rest of the mouldy dump—he'd long aspired to living in just such a windowless bunker: a womb without a view.
'It could do with an airing,' said the woman.
'Who the hell are you?'
'I'm Mrs Sykes. From the floor above.'
'Goodbye, Mrs Sykes.'
Marcus wore his wheat-coloured coat in the Continental manner, leaving the sleeves empty. When the Salvation Army van arrived, he directed operations like a caped gendarme, disposing the junk he'd bought earlier in the day. Mattress, blankets, small cuboidal fridge: these and an armchair were all his possessions now. Well, almost.
He opened his only suitcase. Sandwiched between two of his best shirts, the tastefully gilt-framed oil was small and square; Marcus took the painting from the case and stood it on the seat of the armchair.
'Shall I fetch you down a cuppa?' the Sykes woman asked.
'No. Enough already.'
'You can tell me to mind my own business, but you shouldn't wear jeans with a nice coat like that.'
'Should I not?'
'It's a great mistake, in my opinion. What's your line of work, if you don't mind my asking?'
'I don't know how to take you, I'm sure.'
Marcus lifted a bottle from his suitcase. The poison of his choice was Tattoo, a vodka-and-cranberry cocktail with a red-and-green page 151dragon on the label. Bold, romantic, maritime Marcus!—he swigged a mighty swig of dragons and tattoos, toasting distant Shanghai mentally.
'I don't think much of that painting,' the Sykes person announced.
'You really must stop barging in like this.'
'A country road with bits of snow and mud. There's not much to it, is there?'
'Not much at all. Deliciously.'
'Would I know the artist?'
'I shouldn't think so. His name was Maurice Vlaminck.'
'A motor mechanic by trade, he played the violin in the gypsy orchestras of Montmartre.'
'Derain gives him a pipe. A painter and a poet, was Vlaminck. Billiards he liked, and tennis—and wrestling and cycling and driving racing cars.'
'You seem to know an awful lot about him.'
'In 1945, he published a book called Radios Clandestins.'
'So what are you really? A writer?'
'No no no no no, Mrs Sykes. My name is Marcus Darke and I'm an actor.'
'Like Peter O'Toole and Al Pacino?'
'Like Peter O'Toole and Al Pacino, yes.'
'But have I ever seen you on the telly?'
'I prefer to work on the stage.'
'Mind what you're doing with that bottle! You're slopping your dripper, Mr Darke.'
'So I am. How careless of me. Would you like a snort yourself?'
'I think not, under the circumstances.'
Marcus considered the cold lights in his bottle. 'I prefer to work on the stage, but I don't get the parts anymore. I'm resting, Mrs Sykes, and I have been for some time. I've been resting yes for years and now I'm slopping my dripper, and soon I'm going to throw you out and take my medication.'
'Medication, Mr Darke?'page 152
'"I could be bounded in a nut-shell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams."' 'Nightmares, Mr Darke?' 'But not just at night, Mrs Sykes.'