By Tracy Markham
Midas – Old Etonian
Mafia Boss – Sick Bacchus
Daughter – Statue
I often go back to that grey February morning. How I long for gray now..
We’d been snowed in for the best part of January. How quickly that white landscape turned to black sludge and even blacker skies looming low, portentous and unrelenting over the fens. It was a relief to get out of the village that day, be back in The City. I hopped in a cab at St Pancras, could’ve walked but didn’t want to get my Churchill brogues messed up did I , had them since ’77 you know. Trundling along we missed the turning and drove straight passed The Caravaggio. The cabbie had to do a u-turn. In my living and waking dreams we just carry on, we never make that turn. As if in slow motion, always in slow motion, we just carry on..
Hideous place The Caravaggio, never really been my bag, never been able to get a bloody table. I should have known then how easy things came to him, how easy everything came to him.
I saw his limo pull up just as I arrived. There he was larger than life all red cheeks and gaudy gold chains. He hadn’t changed a bit since last summer. Even in Calabria he was wearing that black suit – 90 degrees in the shade and still in that suit. The cliché of it all. And his entourage of ‘putti’, opening doors, pulling out chairs.
Was it really last summer? Yet a lifetime ago, a different lifetime now it seems. I’d helped out a close friend of his hadn’t I, drunk , lolling about in the road and falling into one rose bush after another, you know these young bucks. And my god you know how they drive over there, I mean he was bound to get himself killed.
‘’Come on old chap’’ I’d said, ‘’let’s get you home’’. He was out cold in the back of the hire car. I’d gone through his pockets to find an address, anything to help get him home.
Bacchus had insisted he repay my kindness. Of course the wife wouldn’t hear of it. I recall that conspiratorial glint in his eye just then, corpulent shadow in the doorway. Said he would be in The City in the New Year, we’d hook up, discuss off shore investments.
Six months later, the offer of lunch. He made it impossible to refuse, besides, what harm could it do..?
The Caravaggio is like a dark empty warehouse; minimal is the term they use nowadays I think. God damn silly style if ever there was one, all dim lighting and dark booths.
The Barolo ’89 flowed freely, blank faced waiters appearing from the gloom and all the while the boom of his voice. Laughing at one’s own jokes, how crass.
He liked his food that boy. I lost count of the number of courses, seven, eight, maybe more. He chose each dish, describing its composition in passionate intricate detail. He devoured everything with such lust with those enormous hands of his, yet with a deftness of touch I had never before encountered he extracted the insides of sea urchins and held them to my lips. I was transfixed, it was seduction.
We talked, or rather; he talked, of nothing really. He touched on his family, was vague about his ancestry. He regaled champagne fueled parties on yachts somewhere out in the Adriatic. And the women, so many women he said. I won’t deny I felt that prick of envy.
‘’What do you want?’’, he asked, ‘’what would make your day?’’
Perhaps it was all that darkness and you know how February is such a dreary month. All that talk of far off Mediterranean sunshine and that glint in his black eyes. And then the gleam of his magnificent Rolex, slipped for a split second from under his cuff and there like a little ray of glinting hope, a glimpse of gold. Bugger it, gold! ‘’Gold! I just want gold! Let everything I touch turn to gold!’’. I mean, it’s just a figure of speech, isn’t it?
And then for what seemed like no apparent reason, he took my face in his hands, this bear of a man, like the tenderest moment of love it was the softest touch I had ever known. For no more than a second it was as if he was gazing inside me. My wish was granted, he said, just like that.. A sudden chill went through me then, I thought perhaps someone had opened the door and let in a sudden gust of that icy February air, early evening diners perhaps but when I turned around there was nobody there at all.
It was dark when I left. Did we leave together? Did he stay inside? For the life of me, I can’t bring back that moment – the moment this world turned on its axis.
Out in the night, I watched people rushing about, wanting to be home, back to loved ones. And all the time this hollow dull inexplicable ache in my chest.
Oh and then a flash of pure joy as I saw Suzie, my darling daughter across the road. There she was, smiling and radiant, her briefcase swinging in her hand looking every bit a real city girl. I cried her name, threw myself through the oncoming traffic, blinded by headlights. To embrace my little girl, my sweet little girl…