The Antique Dealer and The Beggar Boy
“Crap!” Simon shot to his feet as the front door crashed open and his name was bellowed in a tone of voice that suggested the bellower was in the mood from hell. In the process of becoming vertical he dislodged the box of books he’d been poking through sending them scattering across the attic floor. “Double crap!” He cursed as he cracked his head on a low attic beam. “Treble crap and fuck,” he glanced at his watch. The dark hour was upon him. Ah well, it was no more than he expected. He waited.
“SIMON!” The bellower began pounding up the stairs, “WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?”
Simon took a deep breath, and prepared to make known his location.
“JUST WAIT UNTIL I LAY HANDS ON YOU!”
On second thoughts, he hastily hauled up the loft ladder, best to pretend he wasn’t here. Hopefully Ezra wouldn’t think of looking in the attic and would go away and come back again when his fury had abated.
“SIMON, I KNOW YOU’RE IN HERE SOMEWHERE,” agitated footsteps prowled the upper floor. “I CAN SMELL YOU!”
He could not! Simon indignantly sniffed under his arms, nope fresh as a...well, maybe a shower later.
“You’re not supposed to be up there. Come down.”
Simon gulped as the voice floated through the attic opening. It had stopped yelling, not always a good sign. He put an ingratiating note into his voice. “Hello, Ezra, I’m sorry. I lost...”
“Don’t talk, just come down here so I can kill you.”
“No, I’m not coming down until you promise to be sweet and forgiving.”
“Very well. I promise to be sweet and forgiving, now come down.”
“I never lie.”
“Yes you do. You lied last week, at the war museum. You promised faithfully not to kill me if I came out of that Bleriot X1, but as soon as we got home you killed me. It wasn’t fair. I was only looking at the controls. That’s why you go to museums, there’s no point going to museums if you can’t look at the exhibits without getting killed.”
“That Bleriot was a fragile piece of aviation history. It was also suspended twenty feet above the ground from a couple of cheese wires, and I still don’t know how you managed to get into it. You’re lucky that you weren’t killed for real. Death at my hands was gentle in comparison, now get down here.”
“You’re always killing me.” There was more than a hint of a whine in Simon’s voice. “And usually after promising not to. You even killed me for cooking you a meal a few weeks ago.”
“Are you still bearing a grudge for that?” Ezra manfully resisted an urge to yell again. He rather enjoyed yelling, it was better than turning to drink or medication as a stress reliever. However, his doctor had suggested less shouting might be a good thing as he was in danger of developing nodules on his vocal chords. He continued calmly. “Actually, the promise I made concerned not killing you if you came out of the wardrobe you’d locked yourself in, and I kept that promise. I didn’t kill you for locking yourself in the wardrobe, nor did I actually kill you for cooking me a meal. I killed you for setting fire to a rare first edition Victorian cookery book that I had lined up for a collector. You have been told on any number of occasions not to touch the more valuable books, or, if there’s something of interest you particularly want to look at, like a recipe, you obtain my permission, and photocopy it carefully. You do not take the original book into the kitchen and lay it on top of the Aga. Stop prevaricating, Simon, and get down here.”
“Not until you listen to the reason why I was late.”
“LATE!” Ezra ignored all medical advice, breaking into bellowing mode once again, “YOU DIDN’T TURN UP AT ALL. I WAS LEFT SITTING THERE LIKE A MELON!”
“ I think the word you’re looking for is lemon, Ezra, not melon. Lemons are the fruit commonly associated with incidents of human embarrassment or foolishness.”
There was a brief silence as Ezra digested this helpful information, then.
“I’M IN NO MOOD FOR ANAGRAMS!”
Simon grinned and then risked a small peep through the attic opening. It didn’t look good, Ezra’s colour that is. It had a puce tint of intense rage about it. The traffic must have been heavy on the way home. Heavy traffic did nothing for Ezra’s complexion, especially if he was vexed to begin with. He pulled a face as he observed his partner’s fingers moving towards his tie. Damn, unfastening of the tie was an indication that blood pressure levels were still hovering in the nuclear zone. Death by fall out looked imminent, unless he could avert it. He spoke sternly. “Are you done barking and bawling, can I unplug my ears and have my say now?”
“Oh very well, trot out your excuse.” Ezra’s volume returned to normal levels as he unfastened his tie, and reached for his top collar button. “Say what you like. I’m still going to kill you. I’ve been looking forward to killing you all the way home. It’s the only thing that kept me sane during those bloody hold ups on McMillan bridge.”
“I had a bit of time to spare before setting off, so I thought I’d just pop up into the attic and have a quick poke around. The Estate Agent said there was lots of interesting boxes up here and I thought it was about ti...”
“Shut up!” Ezra suddenly abandoned all efforts to undo his over tight collar button. He’d just remembered what the Estate Agent had omitted to say was in the attic. It only came to light in the surveyor’s report. Besides boxes of junk there were patches of chronic dry rot in the wooden floor, which they had not yet got around to having treated.
“That’s not very polite.” Simon pouted. “You said I could...”
“Get down, now, do you hear me, now.” Ezra’s voice was firm. “Put the ladder down and get out. It’s not safe, watch where you’re placing your feet, avoid the...”
There was a sudden loud crack followed by a tearing sound and a scream that made Ezra’s blood run cold. He stood for a moment blinking dust and snowflakes of paint and plaster out of his eye. His vision cleared, taking in the figure lying prone on the landing. Heart hammering with shock and fear, he flung himself down on his knees, brushing splintered wood and plaster from Simon’s body. “Oh God, Simes, baby.” He began gently examining his limbs, there seemed no damage that he could detect, no blood anywhere, breathing regular, no apparent head injury, why then was he unconscious? Gathering him into his arms, he begged, “Simon, speak to me, say something.”
“Oops,” the blue green eyes opened, sparkling with mischievous laughter. “Clumsy me.”
“You horrible little sod!” Ezra let him drop back onto the floor.
“Love me though, don’t you?” Simon propped himself up on an elbow.
Ezra immediately picked up the inflection in the voice that made a question rather than a statement out of the words. “Yes, I do.” He rose to his feet, pulling Simon up with him. He wrapped arms around his waist, “are you sure you’re alright?”
“I’m fine.” Simon wound his arms around Ezra’s neck, feeling happily in control of the situation. “Probably a bruise or two to come out, but otherwise intact.”
“I don’t want you going up there again, not until it’s been made safe.” Ezra glanced around at the debris. “My God,” he took a shaky breath. “You were lucky. Another inch or two to the right and you could easily have plunged over the ruddy banister and that would have left a fine mess on the hall tiles.” He kissed the dusty figure tenderly, he’d already swallowed enough dust and grime, a little more wouldn’t matter and then he began vigorously brushing Simon down with his hands. “You look like the mummy from a thirties horror film, all grey dust and cobwebs.” He suddenly stopped brushing, a flint edge creeping into his voice. “You’re not dressed. You’re still in your sleep shorts and t-shirt. You never had any intention of keeping that appointment, did you, Simon.”
“I did, Ezra, honestly,” Simon looked at him guilelessly. “As I said, I just went into the attic for a quick poke around. I know I shouldn’t have, not when I was alone in the house, but I did it for you. I thought you’d be pleased if I found some old books or maps that you could sell in the shop. There’s loads of stuff up there, Ez, and I did find a box of books. I started flipping through them and I lost track of...you’re going to kill me aren’t you?”
“Look me in the eye, Simon, look me in the eye and tell me you genuinely meant to keep that appointment.”
“Which eye would you prefer me to look in, the left or right one?” Simon regretted the words the moment they left his lips. Sometimes he hated his mouth, it insisted on saying things that were never in tune with the moment.
Ezra dusted the seat of Simon’s shorts, clearing ceiling debris from them with one sharp smack, then he pointed wordlessly towards the bedroom.
Simon immediately moved towards the bedroom. He knew when Ezra was to be obeyed without argument. Ezra yelling wasn’t really scary, Ezra yelling was, well, just Ezra. Ezra wordless was terrifying. In the bedroom he took up position in front of the Edwardian dresser, fiddling with the hem of his t-shirt, resisting an urge to reach a hand back to rub the sting that Ezra’s hand had left on his bottom.
Closing the bedroom door and folding his arms, Ezra gazed at Simon for an hour-long minute before speaking. “I’ve rebooked the appointment, you will attend it.”
Simon’s sea coloured eyes shone defiance. “I don’t want to. I don’t want to go. I won’t go, just like I didn’t go today.”
“So you did miss the appointment deliberately. You planned it. All those promises were just to keep me off your case.”
Simon stuck his chin out at an aggressive angle, “your obsession with this appointment could have gotten me badly hurt!”
“Elaborate.” Ezra fixed steady eyes on his partner.
“That accident I just had wasn’t an accident,” there was childish triumph in the voice. “I wanted to scare you and make you forget all about the bloody appointment, so I stamped on a rotten patch on the attic floor. I knew what would happen.”
“Go and have a shower, Simon, go on, you’re filthy. I don’t want you spreading muck everywhere.”
Simon remained where he was, determined to take his moment of defiance as far as it could go. “I think it best that you don’t mention this appointment again, who knows where it could end.”
Ezra began to count in a slow, calm voice. By the time he counted out eight the sound of running water reached his ears. He removed his jacket, shaking dust and flakes of plaster and paint from it, hanging it over the back of a chair, pulling his tie loose from his collar. He stripped off, changing into chinos and a long sleeved top, raking his fingers through his hair to dislodge dust and particles of plaster before re-combing it. Then he sat on the dressing table stool, waiting.
Freshly showered, fragrantly damp, silently sulky, Simon walked back into the bedroom clad only in a white bath towel, water still trickling in little rivulets from his hair. Taking the towel from him, Ezra silently dried his hair off with it, and then picking the hairbrush up from the dresser, he took hold of Simon’s hand and led him over to the bed.
Copyright Cat/Fabian Black 2010