Caterina decided it would be better to buy two of everything because every time she went shopping at the store, guaranteed that the next day she would run out of something that she needed, if she went to the chemist for the two packs of cotton wool pads, she would run out of the toothpaste the next day and if she bought two of whatever it was, in theory it would reduce her amounts of visits by half, but in actual fact it did the opposite and doubled her amounts because of the things that she forgot to get and the rate at what she ran out of increasing the variables in her equations of food or toiletry requirements. Either that, she thought, or another theory was that Shakespeare was a hypochondriac, and his best lines were inspired by doctor’s scripts — “The un-ravelled sleeve of care”; “O, true apothecary”; “The patient must administer to himself” — or none of the actors could read his actual handwriting, and they improvised their current complaints.
She would always lose weight, Caterina decided.
Boxes of Alpen or Weetabix, of every shape of sugar coated wheat or rice would nestle on the table and find their way back in about an hour, lighter in her cupboards than when they came out.
Then he could retreat to his attic. There was only a ten year age difference between Duncan, Alexei, and Caterina, but the older you got, he decided, the more you needed your space, although he’d appreciated that their company was undemanding and was amazed by their easy acceptance of his first impressions of Caterina. Brands, labels, and also very talkative, working on theories for why dogs stuck their heads out of open windows in moving vehicles and smiled with their tongues hanging out. Frank was completely the opposite. You could probably mistake him for a famous footballer if you put him on a bus with ten of the other players. He dressed in mainly dark colours and had a total condemnation of most things.
Duncan was very busy writing his third novel. Most days when he was writing, Duncan would wear a grey marl track suit, trousers with a white Levi’s T-shirt, and sit in the kitchen where he had a view out of his window into the garden and could easily make himself cups of jasmine green tea. Today, his toothpaste had mixed into a mauve colour and he’d tried some of Caterina’s new raspberry jam spread on his toast. Last weekend he had fed the pot of over-estimated spaghetti to the pigeons in the garden. They had appeared to enjoy it, throwing it into the air, wearing it. Twenty five percent of it had turned into a collection of wig spaghetti, scarf spaghetti, and spaghetti jackets.
For a while Caterina thought it was heading for a kiss but then she thought maybe he was gay. The trip to the races was a better bet? Nothing came of it. They had laughed at names and cheered as some horses ran. It was a nice excuse to get dolled up, anyway, and bet with someone else’s money.
Frank wasn’t back yet, it was a Thursday and he was probably at the pub after work. Alexei and Caterina had eaten most of the pizza they’d ordered and were watching a documentary on the sofa about a famous philosopher, Kierkegaard or Wittgenstein or Derrida, while waiting for a music programme. Duncan had followed his same routine. She took advantage of the empty bathroom. She usually shaved about twice a week and tried her razor: it was too blunt. The new one always resulted in blood running down her legs, ankle wound more often than not, as they presented several difficult angles. Duncan had felt like an interpreter to her new voices. They couldn’t stop asking questions in attempts to find meaning to their existence in a society created by previous generations, to understand the origins of things and what they meant. Why did you always get an After Eight in an Indian restaurant? Why was a pizza company named after a game of numbered counter pieces? The nostalgic discourse of the regular voices, the treble and bass, these came and went like a descant harmony. India’s one of the happiest nations in the world. It is hardly surprising that they only serve a plate of peppermint seeds after your meal.
He passed the typical FOR SALE signs, the small Italian trattoria and the pink walls with the railings, shuffled his iPod. He would go and watch rugby at the pub this Saturday. They’d started rehearsing last week and he could easily work around his new role as a university lecturer going through a divorce.
Frank had to know who he was aiming the product at to conceive a simple idea that would sell well. This involved suggesting a lot of ideas and reacting to other people’s ideas, drawing very rough thumbnail concepts [small scribbles the size of a thumbnail, a picture of the end of a finger.] with one stroke headlines [simple handwriting not represented by any particular font.] until the game of cerebral tennis produced a genius idea that would be turned into a presentation of great looking ads that the client would love. There was mail, minutes, diaries, bookings, and telephone enquiries to organise and answer. He had one beer at lunchtime and two beers after dinner with some of the other teams in his department and Caterina was watching TV when he returned home.
Nearly out of coffee and tea again, said Caterina.
We’re going shopping on Saturday morning, said Frank.
I will leave the kitty on the table, said Caterina. £2.00 each.
Her sister Nancy and family, the Yorkshire Tea Folk, were coming on Saturday afternoon. She needed to plan food for about eight people, other than takeaway.
Breakfast. He took the packet of Weetabix out of the cupboard, put it onto the table. Sitting down at the table to eat, he noticed the milk was missing. Then he realised he had put it back in the fridge.
Do you want some tea? asked Caterina, making him jump.
She gently banged the cupboards and drawers open and closed, pulling out crockery and cutlery, gently banging them open and closed in preparatory percussion with a breakfast break beat.
Alexei jumped again as the bread popped up. Then she stopped and waited. She put on the radio and sat down. After a couple of minutes, the room smelt of toast.
Richard opened the door.
Morning, Alexei! Have you had your breakfast? Would you like some bacon? There’s more than enough, and I can throw another egg in.
No, and yes, please, said Alexei.
After some more tea and a second breakfast, they started working in the office that had been added at the back of the house. It took an hour and a half for the two of them to roller the room marble white while listening to the radio, singing and disagreeing with most of the news.
Alexei practised some of his lines:
“How am I supposed to cope with one hundred and nineteen twenty year old students with a psychotic wife screaming at me every minute of my day! Your demands are unreasonable! If you insist on throwing your affair into my face in a ruthless attempt to get more of my attention, then the only option that I have is a divorce!”
The roller made crisp, wet crackling noises as Alexei moved it back and forth on the raised part of the plastic, dipping it into the paint, making tiny, even peaks. Less and less it crackled as he moved the roller over the wall back and forth until it dried. Then they sat at lunchtime and watched their English sheepdog dry while half an onion absorbed any toxic chemicals the trading standards still allowed.
Her sister Nancy was coming to stay this weekend with her husband and two kids. The sofa had a pull out bed and the kids had sleeping bags.
Alexei walked into the kitchen.
This is my flatmate Alexei. He’s from Russia. Say hello! said Caterina.
Did you have a party?
Yes, and we danced to Mummy’s new Adele CD.
Do you want some music on you chose, Judy?
Do you want to see my new bracelet, said Judy, Andrea gave it to me for my birthday last week.
Alexei found his inner child and played with the kids for a couple hours making funny animals out of vegetables stuck together with cocktail sticks: peas for eyes, potato noses, and mangetoute moustaches. He had found the shopping that Caterina bought and put it to good use. Then Alexei decided to make St Basil’s Cathedral out of red onions and tried to scare them by telling the story of Ivan The Terrible who blinded the architect for designing anything else so beautiful.
Who’s Ivan The Terrible? asked Andrea.
I don’t believe you, said Judy.
Where’s the week gone? exclaimed Frank, his eyebrows at diagonals. It’s Monday again. What have I got to show for it? And how’s the book coming along? What actually defines a local community? Would they eat it if they always had toast?
Well, the concepts for the artwork had been signed off on and that was going straight to print. Frank was really pleased with his work and it might win him an award. He’d already won one and the sense of achievement then had nearly moved him to tears. If Frank’s high school friend Simon could see him now: not as arrogant as some people had thought. He had to laugh, though, and take a lot of jealousy and a lot of backslapping, and just keep it up. He, Frank, would ask Rachel out. Simon went out with Rachel. Rachel would be impressed with Frank.
Frank wasn’t sure. The game produced few tries, the rain had stopped, but the players still kept dropping the ball.
It’s fine if you put it under the grill! she said, putting on her jacket. I have to be in early so I am going to go now. See you all later tonight!
New bag, said Alexei, and I now know what the inside of the Post Office looks like. Suddenly, remembered the CDs and books: I must call my brother. Ask me later if I’ve rung him.
What had Caterina got to show for the week that flashed by. He was starting the new part in his play, knew all his lines. They had rehearsed several times and nearly everyone was ready. Each character was like living another life and he had found his confidence growing and growing and he was able to react in any situation now. He wasn’t scared by the responsibility of kids for once and even found it attractive instead of wanting to run another mile. In fact, he’d even decided to take a mature approach in his conversations, although he knew he would just end up joking again.
Caterina and her sister had been close when they were kids. She would throw herself into her work to not think about missing her. Duncan arrived downstairs just as Frank was leaving. Alexei didn’t have to leave for another hour. He had some washing to do.