She danced around the hotel room naked – there was a cocktail glass on the bedside table sticky with her lipstick and full of his bile, cocktail fish crunched beneath her bare feet.
“I’m the wild woman of Wonga,” she laughed – but he lay spread-eagled on the bed, his head a toxic mush of daymares. On a rooftop several storeys below their window there was a huddle of stuff they couldn’t decide on – was it bits of roofing, felt or tar, piled up and discarded? Or was it the figure of a tramp, subsiding into death beside the steam-wreathed water tank? All that week, as the stuff between them unravelled, this heartless scarecrow kept them company – not until the last day did they decide that it was nothing, just trash. “You’re not ready for a relationship,” she said, “with anyone.”
That was in Manhattan – 15 years later they sat smoking outside a West End fish restaurant. His head was full of piled up certainties – felt, or tar. He said, merely as an aside, “That was when you told me it was over.” “Me,” she snorted, “it was you who ended it. I came across the letter the other day in which you wrote that it couldn’t go on… besides, you were already screwing that young girl, what was her name?”
He knew the girl’s name well enough – it was his own he was having trouble with. He looked down at his feet, surrounded by cigarette butts and dollops of pigeon shit. He understood that he was falling – slowly at first, but soon enough he accelerated to the terminal velocity at which he knew he would have to live the rest of his life. He looked at her – she was as beautiful as ever, her face darkly drawn out by his plunge.
Umbrella by Will Self is out now