So long has passed since I started this trilogy, that I had completely forgotten what I'd already written. I've had to re-read parts one and two today. I never read my blog. I can't bear too. Gosh. It is embarrassing tosh, really. You may need to get your bearings by reading the previous two posts too (if you can bear it). Pour yourself a gin, crack open a packet of cheesy puffs and put your feet up - the trying experience will be over in two shakes of a lamb's tail. For those of you who are planning on jumping straight in: this part of the Underscore/Rochester narrative dates back to February.
Our previous scene ended on the cliffs by the thundering North Sea with a kiss, an indecent proposal and a very startled primary school teacher. We move on, several hours later. Miss Underscore and the swarthy rogue are loafing in Sunderland fleapit, The Woebegone Whippet. The decor is an opulent mix of threadbare Axminster and flock wallpaper; the ambiance heady with the aroma of incontinent jack russell, damp shell suit and putrefying dart injuries.
Rochester: I've always like this boozer, you know. It's like stepping back into the 70s. The barmaid already has me marked as a complete Southern tosser, like.
Miss Underscore: Heavens to Betsy, you've only been here 30 seconds. What have you done to offend her?
Rochester: Asked if I could pay by credit card. Oh, and enquired what kind of gins they sell.
Miss Underscore: What kind of gins do they sell.
Rochester: Believe me petal, it didn't even warrant an answer. Hey, look at that old chap over there. He's surrounded with fanny.
Rochester gestures with his glass to where a weary octogenarian in a flat cap sombrely nurses a pint, his eyes clouded with memories. Around him, a gaggle of bawdy, bosom-nudging ladies straight from Beryl Cook pout, cackle and giggle like post-menopausal sirens. A terrier of some description, head on his paws, snores under the table.
Miss Underscore: Widower.
Rochester: Aye. Popular though. Do you think he'll go home with any of them?
Miss Underscore: Those ladies? Of course not. I think he's going to go home with his dog. Make some cocoa, sit in a high back chair and talk to the missus.
Rochester: Aye. Good call. I think you're probably right.
Miss Underscore: I bet he can't stand to be in the house by himself of a night.
Rochester: Where do you think he lives?
Miss Underscore: One of those little terraced cottages round here. I see him in the park sometimes with the dog. He's like you. You don't like being in by yourself. You're always propping up a bar after work, glowering into the middle-distance, like Byron in a tank top.
Rochester: Yup. True. I could do with a pub like this in Bristol. Scene of one of our first dates, this place. (nodding smugly) See, Underscore, see, I remember! You always portray me as some sort of unreconstructed, obtuse oaf - but it is simply not the case.
Miss Underscore: Christmas night. I am astonished you remember. You played pool all night with the local radgies.
Rochester: I won!
Miss Underscore: You were beaten in the end. By a woman of the female gender.
Rochester: (scoffing) Lesbian. I bought you a bag of Quavers, didn't I?
Miss Underscore: No. You bought yourself a bag and let me have one. Yes, I suppose that was our milk and honey period. You pulled out all the stops too woo me in those days.
Rochester: Yup. It wouldn't be physically, emotionally or financially possible to maintain that level of romancing though. So no Quavers tonight. I'm glad you came though. You ran off nimbly mind, after our kiss. I did wonder if it was the beard. If it was a bit too much for you.
Miss Underscore: It wasn't the beard, Rochester. The beard is lovely. I approve wholeheartedly of the beard. But let me make something clear: your offer was for a drink and for us to spend the night together. I came for the drink. You have not made a sale on anything else. Don't be counting any conservatories.
Rochester: (smirking) Ok. Ok. Do you want another gin?
Miss Underscore: No thank you. Stop looking so smug. We can't do this, you know. CAN NOT. We've been here so many times before. Five or six years, we've been doing this: when you were single, when you were married, when you were married but out on licence. If, IF (pauses) you'd . . . we'd wanted a relationship, it would have happened by now. Our timing was always awful, but it's got to be more than timing. There's a reason we are not together.
Rochester: OK. Now you're being quite interesting, petal. What do you think that reason is?
Miss Underscore: Oh, I don't know. . . . well, I do know, but let's change the subject.
Rochester: No. I'm fascinated. Howay.
Miss Underscore: (exasperated) Ask yourself that question, Rochester. Look at the evidence, even when you left the long-suffering Mrs Rochester, you hooked up with someone else: that lass from Manchester. I wasn't even on your mind. I wasn't a second thought. Seriously. Let's change the subject. (firmly) OK?
There is a pause, while our star-crossed protagonists sip their toxic cocktails and soak up the atmosphere of desolation and out of date bar-snacks.
Rochester: OK. OK. New subject, eh?
Miss Underscore: (giddy with relief) Lovely. Thank you. What's the subject? How about facial hair? Your beard could be longer, you know. I think Aunty Margaret has more facial hair than you still.
Rochester: Not facial hair. Nope, the subject is . . . drum roll . . . HAPPINESS. No, don't roll your eyes at me Underscore - it's very passive-aggressive of you. That's the subject, deal with it. Are you happy, flower?
Miss Underscore: Oh, dear God, Rochester! Can we not talk about something a bit frothier? Lesbians, crab linguine . . . the holocaust? Anything?
Rochester: Howay. Happiness. That is our topic. Are you happy, pet?
Rochester: Howay flower. Are you happy?
Miss Underscore: (eyes suddenly flooding with tears) No.
Rochester: (reaching over to take her hand) Oh fuck. Why not?
Miss Underscore: I think I gave up any expectation of happiness years ago.
Rochester: Cunting hell.
Miss Underscore: I have, that's exactly it, I have given up. . . Can we go back to lesbians with facial hair as our topic?
Rochester: Howay, petal, don't cry. Here, give us a cuddle.
Miss Underscore: No. Don't. Seriously, don't touch me Rochester, I couldn't bear it right now.
Rochester: Well. This is going well. (he downs his gin in one) Don't fucking say you've given up on happiness though pet, don't you dare fucking say that. . .You do seem rather . . . isolated.
Miss Underscore: Maybe. Maybe. And just overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by life. God. Getting through a day is just exhausting. I'd like to move. I'd like a new job. I'd like a relationship with someone who isn't a fuckwit. I settle for just getting through an average day. I've given up on everything, everything really. I just can't cope. Can't cope with even tiny things. I HAVE given up. Let's change the subject. (barely holding it together) Again.
Rochester: Underscore, you can not fucking give up. What would your dad say about that?
Miss Underscore: Oh God. Don't. That's not fair. Don't mention my Dad right now.
Rochester: I know you miss him, pet. Listen . . .
Miss Underscore: I keep dreaming about my dad. Every night I dream about my dad.
Rochester: What happens in the dreams?
Miss Underscore: He has messages for me. He's normally telling me to move - move house I mean. Oh, and dust more. Moving and dusting seem to be coming through quite strongly as themes. I'm just depressed, I suppose. It will pass.
Miss Underscore: I am just finding the whole business of living rather exhausting. Maybe it's because I'm on my own and I have to handle everything on my own. But then, I'm a cranky old dame with too many pets, rising damp and a penchant for big cotton knickers. . . so of course I am on my own.
Rochester: Your ex, Senor Boldon, once told me something about you.
Miss Underscore: (aghast) Oh God what? About my big knickers? I think my knickers were smaller back then. I think everything was possibly smaller back then! I thought you said you never discussed me!
Rochester: Honestly, we didn't. Not much anyway. And it wasn't about your pants.
Miss Underscore: What did he say?
Rochester: That, on one of your dates . . .
Miss Underscore: There weren't many dates, you know. Only 3 or 4. Señor Boldon and I never reached the giddy heights of DOUBLE DIGIT DATES - not like us old-timers. We must be on at least 11 or 12. Howay, what did he tell you?
Miss Underscore: Ahhh. . . He told you that. What did you think? What did you say?
Rochester: I just told him that I hoped you were OK. I didn't really comment.
Miss Underscore: You must have wondered why I told him about those days and not you?
Rochester: Your choice, pet.
Miss Underscore: You know, Señor Boldon was the first fella I'd been involved with after Son of Satan. I had NO IDEA how to act. I went a bit crazy and shared EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING. Why the fuck did I even broach that as a subject? The night came to an abrupt ending, I can tell you. He couldn't get his blouson pleather jacket on quick enough. He went through the doors of The Gregarious Greyhound like Wyatt Earp in BHS slacks. I vowed after that not to mention it to anyone. It was years ago, you know. I did it many times, when I was a teenager and much later in my 20s. But not for years now. The thoughts and moods are still there though. I think they always will be. That's what I said to your brother. That's what freaked him out.
Rochester: My theory about you petal is that I think, when your mum died when you were little. . . well. . .I don't think you ever recovered. When you told me that you grew up thinking she'd been murdered, because no one ever explained what happened to her. I mean fucking hell, man. That's harsh, brutal.
Miss Underscore: You know what, I agree. Ripples in a pond. I was 16 when a friend's mum inadvertently mentioned to me that my mum died of breast cancer, and I thought, 'Really? Was that it? Why didn't anyone tell me that before?' She thought I knew.
Miss Underscore: No. The gin here is bloody awful, isn't it? No juniper. Sunderland gin. Made from the sweat of 100 racing pigeons and botanical essence of allotment marrow, brewed in a tin bath in a lock up behind Gala Bingo.
Rochester: I've never experienced gin like it. It would be difficult for us to be properly together, wouldn't it? Can you imagine me introducing you to the family? Señor Boldon, sat there furrowing his brows at us, Granny showing you pictures of me and me brothers from the family album, the Masturbating Monkey* sniggering at it all. Fucking hell, petal. It couldn't happen. Call me old-fashioned, but I don't like the fact you slept with my brother. It's awkward.
Miss Underscore: Of course, I see exactly how awkward that would be. Yet, amazingly, the situation is not awkward enough to put you off spending the night with me tonight. How peculiar.
Rochester: OK, OK pet, I take your point. It would be nice though, to spend the night together.
Miss Underscore: Your arrogance is astounding, Rochester. Look, the chap with the dog is leaving. One of the ladies has given him a parcel wrapped in baking paper. What do you think's in it?
Rochester: Madeira cake laced with viagra.
Miss Underscore: Yes, and some ham and pease pudding sandwiches. And a paper napkin spritzed with Yardley English Fern. You don't see many old gentlemen in flat caps and tweed jackets these days, Rochester. They break my heart. They remind me of my dad.
The old gentleman courteously waves to his fruity harem of ladies and, with a quiet dignity, leaves The Woebegone Whippet. His melancholic mutt follows.
Miss Underscore: The worst thing, about the overdoses, was that years later, five years later, I went through a screening process to adopt - a child, not a lurcher. On my own. I got all the way through, passed every part of it. Then that came up. Over. Immediate refusal.
Rochester: I never knew that. I never knew you even wanted that . . .
Miss Underscore: More ripples in a pond. That was the one thing I did really want.
Rochester: You can understand that mind, flower. You can understand their decision. You've got your classes now, your teaching. Is that enough?
Miss Underscore: It's got to be enough, hasn't it . . . . . .
Rochester: (looking out of the window) It is pouring down out there. Sheets of rain. Shall we go?
Miss Underscore: Go where? To my place? You're very confident that you're invited, rogue.
Rochester: Am I? Am I invited?
Miss Underscore: (sighing) Yes. Yes. Of course.
* The third brother Grimm.