“Peter…”, Michael tried to sound helpful,
“What !”, Peter turned round slowly, and glared down the ladder,
“Erm…”, Michael arranged his features sympathetically and remembered yesterday’s tantrum, “…well I think that maybe…”, he paused as his courage deserted him,
“What !!”, Peter narrowed his eyes and took a step back down the ladder,
“It’s just a tad…”, he put his hands up straight and then flicked them both to one side,
“Say it…”, demanded Peter menacingly,
“No…I’m not going to….”,
“Say…the word !”, Peter hissed in a guttural voice,
“No”, Michael crossed his arms and looked pleasantly upwards,
“SAY IT !!”, Peter screamed at the top of his voice.
At this a small figure, obscured by a scarlet umbrella splashed over to the foot of the statue that they were working on. Peter cast his eyes skywards sarcastically. Michael watched her approach with relief, she glanced at him as she passed and tutted,
“Actually it wasn’t m….”, he began but stopped short as she flashed those supernaturally blue eyes at him in a momentary expression of anger,
“Michael, don’t even start, okay ?”,
she raised a finger at him and he swallowed the rest of the sentence. She shook her head again and called up towards where Peter was now shiny with the soaking he was receiving.
“We’ve told you about the tempers haven’t we ?” she spoke sharply but with control.
Peter put down the shears with an over elaborate amount of care and came down the ladder with as much dignity as he could muster in the pelting rain. When he got to the bottom he tuned to face her very slowly and slowly extended a pointed index finger,
“I….”, he said, “had to come here in a boat this morning”,
“Aha”, she looked straight back at him, seemingly unmoved,
“I live in Shepherd’s Bush !!”, he drew back as he spoke to enhance the effect.
“And ?”, she put a hand on her hip and her face tightened with tension,
“And ?”, he laughed sarcastically to himself and turned away, “’and’ she says, ‘and’, as if that’s a perfectly normal occurrence in West London”,
“You want normal do you ?”, she snapped at him and moved the umbrella to the other hand, “how’s this for normal, last night I had to swim underwater in order to get something from the freezer downstairs. In Chiswick mark you !”.
Peter looked a little non-plussed by this and could only venture a rather tame ‘really?’ in response.
“Yeah”, she drew herself up to her full 4 foot 11 inches, “so don’t give me a lecture about hard you are finding all this”, she saw him begin to speak and held up a hand to stop him, “and for God’s sake please don’t go on again about how we’ve had it harder than other places, and couldn’t we have had sunshine or something else. I went to Italy last summer, and saw skeletons fused to the ground. So we, in comparison got it damn lucky !”.
“She has a point”, Michael offered in a meek voice,
“Is that right ?”, Peter rounded on him, “and how the Hell do you explain this nonsense…”, he gestured vaguely at the statue behind him,
“I’ll admit, it is unusual”, Michael smiled thinly at them both and rubbed his hands together anxiously,
“Oh oh”, Peter staggered back in mock surprise, “Unusual is the word your using for this is it ?”,
“I think to be fair Michael”, she spoke as if to a small child, “that’s probably understating it a bit”,
“Yeah”, Peter joined in, “stone statues that suddenly need trimming fall into a whole different category to un-pissing-usual !!”,
“Don’t you think you should get out of the rain”, Michael ventured, “after all you’re gonna catch your death of cold”,
“I don’t care”, Peter glared back and walked back towards the ladder, “now if you’ve all finished lecturing me on normality, I’m off up this ladder to take a pair of shears to Nelson’s Column in a Trafalgar square that is three feet below water. Okay ?”, he climbed for a few seconds and then looked back down at Michael, “and if you say it, if you say that word, I will throw the shears at you…no no, better still, I’ll make you do this”,
“Ah but I’m scared of heights so…”, Michael spoke as if this explained everything,
“So you keep telling us”, shouted back the rapidly ascending Peter, “good thing you’re not scared of water or else you’d be completely screwed wouldn’t you ?”.
Michael flushed a little and caught her grinning in the corner of his eye. She immediately looked away and positioned her umbrella strategically between the two of them. Michael pretended not to notice and looked stoically upwards into the teeming rain.
“Try and get done soon”, he called up, “weather looks like it might get nasty”, he clenched his teeth as soon as he said it, and the little red umbrella was whisked away from her face so he could see her look of horror. The ladder stopped shaking, and Michael’s stomach clenched. Peter had stopped just before the summit, and now stood very still. Michael’s face flushed hard this time, and he heard his heart thump above the constant drone of raindrops. Peter looked down at him, framed by a canvas of turbulent grey cloud and the eerie swirl of watery daggers shooting towards them. His eyes were wide open with fury, and a large droplet of water was hanging off his nose. Michael knew he should say something, and say it now or a pair of stone shears may shortly be hurtling towards him. But he couldn’t, he thought furiously but his stupid brain couldn’t come up with anything.
Glancing across at her he saw only pity in her eyes. He didn’t have time to work out what that sudden shadow above him was, and before his brain could process the information, Peter had fallen onto him with a crunching thump that knocked the wind out of him and sent him sprawling into the water with a big splash. Underwater for several seconds, he could see nothing but bubbles and the churn of white water. Managing to flip himself over and get his face above the surface again, he flinched and lurched as hard as he could to the left as Peter’s fist flew towards him and glanced off his right cheek. A numb pain followed it, as did a further blow to the solar plexus that would have been shattering if the water resistance hadn’t slowed it down.
“Stop it for God’s sake”, she screamed vaguely behind them, but Peter continued to pummel him. Then, as quickly as it had started it stopped, Peter got off him and sloshed away. She came over and helped Michael lean on a handy plinth before shouting something at the retreating Peter. Michael didn’t care what she’d said and stood there breathing heavily and trying to work out which bit of him hurt most.
Peter stood warily at a distance, looking a little contrite but also still very angry. She walked over and moved him away slowly and then pointed up the ladder once more,
“Finish the stupid thing and we can get back inside”, she then wheeled around once more and looked at Michael, “and you don’t say another word okay”. Michael nodded in response, but was in truth too tired to speak.
“Right”, she said, “now that we’ve all calmed down we can trim this ruddy stupid thing and dry off”.
The ladder trembled once more as Peter went up for the third time. She walked over carefully to where Michael stood.
“You okay ?”, she said under her breath,
“Yeah”, he replied, “my head hurts quite a lot but otherwise I’m fine”,
“He does seem unusually tetchy today”,
“You could say that”,
“Sad really”, she said,
“Why so ?”,
“Well, because from here it does look crooked doesn’t it ?”.
Michael looked at her sideways before responding,
“That’s because it is”, he looked straight ahead,
“What do you mean ?”, she asked slyly,
“I mean that once a month I go up there and trim it so it isn’t straight”,
“What !!!”, she turned and hissed at him under her breath, “Are you crazy, he’d kill you if he found out !!”,
“Maybe”, said Michael, “but it gives him something to do. Without it, what exactly…”, he looked around them at the drowned city, “what exactly would he have to do but go mad”
“And what’s in it for you ?”,
“Exactly the same thing. If you can focus on the little problem, the big one seems to go away”,
“So you’re deliberately looking at the trees rather than the wood”, she looked away and nodded slowly,
“Well, let’s face it”, he looked at her pointedly, “the damn wood isn’t there any more is it ?”.