A sad, bearded man in a khaki parka stands there in the chilly dusk. I switch on the fierce porch light and he blinks. "Hello," he sighs. "I'm a poet and I wondered whether you'd like to buy some of my poetry?"
"Sorry." I realise my dressing-gown's only half done up and clutch it to me. "It's just that I'm about to get in the shower."
Some days I would have bought from him, but right now I've got no clothes on and my bag's upstairs and I can't face standing here half-naked trying to decide what an ode's worth.
"It won't take a moment," he says, with a cough. "Shall I show you what I've got?"
Jonathan lopes downstairs, paintbrush in hand. "Do we need any poetry?" I ask him, as if it were horse manure - regularly offered to us at our door by a simpering man with long, yellow teeth.
"We bought some last time," says Jonathan. "And - er, we've still got it. Sorry. Maybe next time, OK?"
"As you wish," says the poet with a sorrowful little bow. I close the door. And feel bad. "Oh dear, should we have bought some? There's nothing wrong with selling your art door to door. It's admirable, in fact. Would we have turned Keats or Byron away?"
"Byron would never have knocked on doors," says Jonathan. "Byron would have gone in for mail order - something smart and nasty, aimed at wine dealers and stockbrokers, like the Boden catalogue. We can't buy everything every time."
Ten minutes later, I'm washing my hair when Jacob thumps up the stairs, returned from his dig, anorak smudged with clay. "I've got fossilised mammoth bones and prehistoric squid, but they need a wash.Here," and he pulls several encrusted, stony lumps from his pocket. I take them, one at a time, and hold them under the fizzing water. Revitalising shampoo froths over ancient bone. History emerges.
"Look at that!" I squat in the shower to inspect the tiny furls and cracks. "A million years old."
"We went to the Little Chef," says Jacob. He sits on the loo, chin in hands. "Do you think the Natural History Museum would buy them?"
"I doubt it. I'm sure they've got enough."
We dry the fossils and Jacob nestles them fondly in loo paper, placing them in a Startrite shoe box. As I tuck him into bed, he puts the box next to his pillow, then thinks better of it, and pushes it to the foot of his bed. "I might be sick on them."
Next day, I go to my exercise class in Covent Garden. I lie on a mat with my feet on a box and curl my spine up and down, each knob of bone, each rib, sinking into the floor. Our teacher stalks gracefully among us. No sound but radiators hissing, our industrious breathing and the rain outside.
All summer they were excavating the courtyard outside. There was a brief rumour that it was going to be a new Marks & Spencers, but no, it turned out to be merely an Anglo-Saxon village. Now and then, I struggle to sense horn-helmeted, flaxen-plaited warriors loitering between Long Acre and Short's Gardens, but am overwhelmed by pasty-faced teenagers, Gap's plaid- shirted window, and men selling the Big Issue.
After the class, tripping on exercise-induced endorphins, I float into a second-hand bookshop. The man behind the counter has a defiant, black moustache and is drinking some sort of herb tea. Its green tang hits me from several feet away.
In the aisle between poetry and biography, two men in anoraks are arguing. "The knife went in under his ribs," insists the first man, "Punctured the bloody lung."
"I know that." The second man looks away dismissively.
"Because he was with a bloody white girl, I'm telling you. You ask anyone."
"Shut up, shut up, I heard you," hisses the second.
I slide my eyes from the Iris Murdochs to the man behind the counter. He sips his tea, licks the hirsute slit which is his mouth, regarding me coolly. I peek at the two men through a ragged gap in the shelves. Outside, everything turns black and the pavement thrums with rain. Sheets of water blur the window.
"Murder," concludes the first man, flicking through a 10p paperback. "They left him for dead."
"Yeah, well, he was dead."
Suddenly conscious that I'm the only other customer in the shop, yet too transfixed to attempt escape, I pick up Under the Net.
"They found the knife in a fried chicken box in a litter bin round the corner," continues the first man. "Blood everywhere, swilling on the pavement ..."
"Oh, shut up," says the second man again. I gain on the door. As I creep out, the bell dings treacherously behind me and the last thing I hear is a phlegmy giggle and a catching of male breath.
Outside, a man is being sick into a litter bin. Nearby, a woman is squatting down and lifting the wet tarpaulin on a newsagent's paper racks to inspect the front page of the Sun, which has a large, blotchy picture of Myra Hindley riding a pony.Reuse content