View from the Bridge: 18
by John Morrison
18: Coming to Grief
It is generally agreed that the Milltown take-away's 'Sign Our Condolence Book and Win a Kebab' promotion struck exactly the right tone of reverence and commercial opportunism during these difficult times. What no-one could have foreseen was that, in lieu of a more appropriate site, these undistinguished premises should have become the focus for the town's grief: a veritable shrine to Diana, Princess of Hearts.
Hungry customers can hardly squeeze through the door for the bunches of flowers, cards, mawkish poems and teddy bears piled high on the pavement outside: heartfelt tributes which workmen are already transferring - with all the sensitivity and solemnity the occasion demands - into a council rubbish skip.
It's an easy mistake to make: confusing someone you've only ever seen on the cover of glossy magazines for someone you actually know. But this is not a mistake made by the regulars of the Grievous Bodily Arms, whose sour and sullen opinions about a life cut so cruelly short are mostly unprintable. Not because of the sentiments expressed but because, after a few pints, these career drinkers have lost the ability altogether to articulate recognisable words. Nevertheless, with the help of a grotesquely extended Happy Hour (April to October) they are doing their very best to return to what passes for normality here in Milltown.
Elsewhere, ensconced at the bar of the Flag, Local Writer is busy losing some memory capacity and pondering an uncertain literary future. Where else but in Milltown, he wonders to himself, could a humble scribe be woken up at 3am by an agitated phone call: "Help, I need 2,000 words on angst and mortality, and I need them yesterday. "
He sits alone. It was Jean Paul Sartre who said "Hell is other people", but then all his friends were French, so he knew what he was talking about.
A publisher has just returned, in a plain brown wrapper, Local Writer's proposal for a book - The Satanic Pulses: a Vegetarian Cookbook - that would attempt to capitalise on the worldwide success of Salman Rushdie's seminal work. The rejection slip, formed from words snipped out of tabloid newspapers, intimated that the publishing house had gone ex-directory, and pleaded with him, in a surprisingly plaintive tone, never to contact them ever again.
It was a strange sort of post altogether. From his breast pocket Local Writer produces a letter from his bank which proves to be an intriguing exception to the usual computer-generated threats to end his overdraft facility. He reads it to himself...
"Dear Local Writer,
we are writing to offer our warmest congratulations that your account, unusually, seems to be in credit. On behalf of all our counter staff and tellers, may I just say 'well done',
yours sincerely, your Bank Manager"
Equally amazing was how it got delivered at all, since the envelope was addressed to "Local Writer, c/o Fantasy Island".
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