Plus Coco Khan
I am jet-lagged, and ill, plumbing unexplored levels of exhaustion. I mostly manage to go about my normal business, but at least once a day I experience an interval of all-encompassing bewilderment. I’m I having one now, in the kitchen.
“Where are you going?” my wife asks.
“Nowhere,” I say.
“Then why are you sitting there with your coat on?”
I look down. It’s not even my coat. “I guess I was cold,” I say. “Anyway, we should leave here no later than six,” she says. “For what?” I say.
“That thing,” she says. “I told you.”
“What thing?” I say.
My wife goes on to describe some kind of literary event. I think: whose coat is this?
“This is news to me,” I say. “I’m ill.” “Fine. Don’t come.” My wife has a very particular way of saying these words.
At 6.15pm, we are in the car, on our way to the thing, with my wife at the wheel. “Turn left,” the car says in a man’s voice. “I’m not doing that,” my wife says. “Why have it on if you’re only going to ignore it?” I say. “Recalculating route,” the car says.
“I like a literary event, me,” my wife says. “I do them all the time,” I say. “You never want to come.”
“I’ve seen your act,” she says.
A small pip sounds. A blue box appears on the dashboard screen, obscuring the map. “It says you have a text from Jen,” I say. “Read it!” my wife shouts.
“On my way to Reading,” the car says. I begin to experience a second interval of bewilderment.
“Why is she going to Reading?” my wife asks. “She’s meant to be meeting us there.”
“I think she probably wrote ‘on my way to reading’,” I say.
“Reply!” my wife shouts.
“What is your reply,” the car says. “See you there!” my wife shouts. “When did you learn how to do this?” I ask. “Reply sent,” the car says.
“Ages ago,” my wife says.
“It’s very distracting,” I say. “You wouldn’t do it if you’d been on a speedawareness course, like I have.”
“I have been on a speed-awareness course,” she says. A blue box appears on the dashboard screen.
“Another message from Jen,” I say. “Read it!” my wife shouts.
The car answers.
“What was that?” my wife says. “Dunno,” I say. “Just nonsense.”
“Again!” my wife says.
The car answers again. Rain beats on the roof of the car. “Still nothing,” my wife says.
“He said, ‘light skin tone thumbs up’,” I say.
Four days later, I am sitting in the kitchen, still ill, staring in perfect incomprehension at a crossword puzzle.
My wife walks in. “We should leave no later than 12.45,” she says.
“To go where?” I say.
My wife describes a second literary event. “Actually, let’s leave sooner and have lunch.”
This time, we take public transport. As I stare down at my newspaper on the train, my eyes begin to roll back in my head, but I pull back from the brink of sleep when the answer to 12 down suddenly presents itself. From there, I get 7 across. By the time we arrive, the puzzle is more than half done.
We find ourselves in a large square surrounded by Christmas shoppers. My wife points to an adjacent Boots. “I need some nicotine gum,” she says.
“I’ll wait,” I say.
The sun appears briefly, and I begin to feel vaguely human for the first time in days. This time last week, I think, I was on a plane listening to people sneeze. I glance down at the newspaper in my hand and immediately divine the answer to 14 down. I fish the pen from my pocket and carefully write it in.
“You cannot do that,” my wife says, materialising behind me.
“Do what?” I say.
“Stand in the middle of a public place, in someone else’s coat, doing a crossword. You look like an old man.”
Even as she says this, I realise that 14 across must be some kind of anagram.
“What are you talking about?” I say. “I’m on fire.”