She sits slightly forward on her chair, body taut, fist emphasising words on the table.
“So we need to make better entertainment programs?” I don’t get it.
“Yes. They tune into our programs and we let them know what’s going on in between programs.”
“It’s a bit long winded.” I laugh.
“What do you suggest then?” She turns her glare on me. “I expect you think nature is a bit long winded, do you?”
“What? I don’t know what you’re-”
“Think about it, Steve! Trees produce berries. Birds eat them and shit them out. The seeds grow new trees. The berries are our TV programs. The seeds are the news items between them.”
Seeds. Clean seeds. Seeds blowing through the air. Parachuting their way to pastures new where they land and work their way into the earth. And when conditions are right they grow and grow and grow. Big and strong. Dynamic. Responding to their environment. Moment by moment. Seeds of change. I open my eyes. I am fresh, new, at the start of each day and my thoughts, tacked onto my dreams, support this. Seeds of change. The moments of sleep fade into the moments of wakefulness. I am warm, tucked inside the duvet. My body tingles with anticipation of movement. Not yet. Not yet. My eyes close and fragments of dream return; Rebecca’s hand reaching. Wriggling toes. Laughter. It’s all meaningless now. Sometimes I wondered if the Mates were in her lunchbox. A line from a Prince song. Condoms. Condoms! Clean seeds. What was that? Why? Why did she have to make sure I was clean? What did she mean? I should write this down really or I might forget it but I’m too warm and comfortable inside this duvet. And the alarm hasn’t gone off yet. And soon it will. And then I’ll get up and get clean. And go to work. It’s a special day today. When is the alarm going to go off? Surely any minute now? I’m certain I set it. What if I didn’t? I roll over and slide the drawer open. It was just about to go off! At least I can disable it and not have to hear that noise. I swing my legs over the bed and stand on the mat. Stretching my arms above my head I yawn, making a nice sound as it finishes. I wonder if there’s any hot water? I step off the mat onto the cold tiled floor. Gloomy tiles. Brown and black. No shine to them any more. Did they ever shine? I tiptoe across them, skirting the bed, and lift my towel off the hook on the back of the door. The yellow paint peels in places. I hold the towel against my groin and open the door. I wonder who’s about? Beethoven’s Ninth rouses my senses. Lily must be in the lounge. I’ll say hello after my shower. Humming the choral intro from the fifth movement I step into the bath and turn on the shower.
“Hm hm hm hm hm hm hm hm hm hm hm hm hm hm hm, hm hm hm hm hm hm hm hm hm hm hm hm hm hm hm. La la la la la la la laaaa…” What a tune to greet the morning! Ode to Joy. Yes. He knew what he was talking about. Although, I think he was quite miserable most of his life. I realise I am thinking my thoughts in time with the symphony. I am feeling good today ay, yes I am, oh, yes I am. La la la la la la la la la la la la la la laaaa. Gets in your head that tune. I turn off the water and tuck my towel around me.
Cardboard boxes lay around the lounge. Some on top of each other. Some covered in dust. There is an old standard lamp from last century and I don’t recall it ever being turned on since I’ve been visiting here. But then no-one really socialises in this room in the evenings. Amidst the chaos is Lily. Pottering. She’s boiled a kettle atop one of the cardboard box piles. People seem to prefer to make food and drinks in this room than the kitchen next door. It’s lighter in here though. One whole wall is a window; very different to Rebecca’s place in Canary Wharf: this is an ex council block. All residents dead, of course. Thanks to Silenol. Maybe that’s why we don’t like being in the kitchen. The scene of the crime. Lily is jiggling in time to the orchestra as she stirs liquid into mugs. She screws the cap back onto a bottle of water and plonks it into one of the cardboard boxes.
“Lilyyyyy!” I shout over Ludwig’s music and Lily jumps. She turns and a big smile is lighting up her face. She is so beautiful when she smiles. And so ugly when she doesn’t. It’s so odd. She looks me up and down, nodding.
“You are wearing nothing!” She is much smaller than me and has bouncy blonde hair. There is so much life in her hair and there is so much of it that it cannot be controlled. I love this about her. I walk over and ruffle her already ruffled hair, “how are you? It’s been a while! Did you manage to record the program okay?”
She pecks my abdominal muscle and pushes me away, “it’s like talking to a tree! Let me see you! Have you been taking good care of yourself? How is your mother? Yes. Too many questions.” She waves them away, “I made some tea. You like?”
“You know it! I’ll get dressed. I know it’s too much temptation for you otherwise!” I dodge her swipe and leave the room. It’s going to be a Beethoven day. I didn’t realise Lily was working on the program today. I’m glad. She’s one of my favourites. She loves Beethoven. The first time I met her she told me about the motifs in his music that appear like a thread, connecting different pieces. It’s like he had to find different ways of using the same thing, different expressions, in order to get some distance from it and understand it, make sense of it before bringing it to a celebration of life in the Ninth. Not just the beauty of life. The ugliness too. A celebration of everything. I liked what she said. It made sense to me. We danced to Beethoven’s Ninth that day, like you’d dance to a modern music track. That was important, she said, you dance to it and you feel it in your modern day times and it makes the music modern. Her accent is European. I’m not sure exactly where she’s from. She won’t tell me. Whenever I ask she waves my questions away and tells me it’s not important. What is important is now, she says. She met my mother before I was born and they knew they wanted to work together immediately; she was very happy that I ‘finally came back to the fold’. I realise I’ve been staring at the crack in the brown tile next to my left foot. I get dressed. The car will be here soon. I pick up my wallet. A knock on the door.
“The car is here. You are ready?” The door opens and Lily’s head appears, green-grey eyes greeting me. I nod. “Okay. Come, then.” I follow her out of the flat, down the stairs. Cracked tiles everywhere. Cracked windows too. The wind howls into the stairwell making it seem colder than it is. Our slow procession finally reaches the bottom and she pushes the door.
The car, engine running, sits at the side of the kerb. An arm rests on the open window; a gloved hand taps the car door. The driver’s head snaps towards us as we approach.
“Everything all right?
“Yep, yep, fine. Thanks. How you doing?” I nod at him and open the rear door for Lily. She sits and slides her legs in. I trot round to the other side and join her on the back seat.
“Have you heard the news today?” Lily leans forward, addressing the driver.
“Nothing big. You after something in particular?” He glances in the mirror. He’s a big man. Stubble. Wearing a blue woollen cap.
She shrugs and looks away out of the window, lips pursed. The hairs above her upper lip look darker when she does this. Assessments must be recognised, she told me. Judgements. That’s her word for them. Otherwise they get in the way. I still have trouble with it but I’m learning. I haven’t judged her hair today. I don’t think.
“Steve, what are you think about?” She is peering at me. “You look troubled.”
I smile, “I’d forgotten you were there. I was thinking about what you said about assessments.”
“Oh, yes. You are not in the present.” She grabs my knee and gives it a shake.
“I still can’t quite get used to it, Lily.”
“You can if you don’t assess it.”
“No but!” She pats my knee. “You see. Today, you will notice what these ladies look like. That’s all. Just notice. And we will talk after and see what you noticed.”
“No, Steve. No but.” Her eyes are kind as she watches me. All I can do is smile and wait.
The curtain shimmers under the studio lights. Flecks of red and gold. Sparkling. In a moment the curtains will rise majestically to reveal the set. Lily is talking to the conductor. Probably about Beethoven. The girls are standing around in their costumes. Each costume is different yet similar, highlighting individuality within unity, a common theme on the show. The costumes are tailored to their body shape. They look great. Amazing in fact. The thing I still can’t quite get used to is the hair. Lily keeps telling me to stop assessing the hair and I can’t. I’m bemused. She says it comes across in the broadcasts.