You may think that living in a filthy, glorious mess like I have done since 2020 has endowed me with supernatural powers. I may have thought thus and angered the gods. Whoever tried to usurp their power was slain. Prometheus stole their fire and introduced it to humanity and that’s why the almighty rulers tied him to a rock. Problem solved.
A man looking his worst foe in the eye in times of reason and logic, however, is defenseless, for no god will save him by feeding the other guy to the dolphins. Mythology has always been disinclined to take living in an up-scale neighbourhood in Buckinghamshire into account. No suckerpunching, no flame throwers, no setting of Staffordshires on any unwanted intruder. And a million eyes watching me because everybody was at home.
‘How can I help you?’ I managed to utter, pretending I didn’t recognize him. I had not seen him in person in years and the last time he had appeared on TV had been in the early 2000s.
‘Clive, I’m sorry,’ he said. Then his lower lip started to tremble and just as a Jane Frampton, our next-door neighbour walked by, with her dog on a leash and waving a merry salute at me, he burst into a violent fit of tears. Jane stopped and gave me a mesmerized look. The dog sniffed the rear wheel of a BMW 8 coupé, lifted a hind leg and left a generous mark. Jane wouldn’t move, so all I could say to Risley was: ‘Come in then.’
When I led him into the kitchen to have tea, I suddenly remembered it was Christmas. A time for peace, hope and forgiveness. Risley has come to apologize after twenty-six years, I thought. After all, it was because of him that Maurice had broken up with me at Cambridge in 1995. Maurice and his friend Arthur had caught Risley and me in my room having a romp against my desk, and that had ended my romance with the only person I had deeply and truly loved at the time.
‘How did you find my address?’ I asked. Sobbing, he said that he had gotten it from an acquaintance of his. ‘And to what do I owe the unexpected pleasure of your visit?’ I was cynical, but he ignored it.
He then told me he had nowhere else to go. His parents were no longer alive, he had no siblings, his friends would not see him. He had become a sitting duck for the authorities and the press. Again.
‘After the scandal at the House of Commons in 1999,’ he said, ‘my political career was over. I became a professor at Cambridge.’
To all of you who don’t know: in that year, Risley was on a vacation in San Diego and got arrested for performing lewd acts with other men in a public toilet. The court tried to charge him for assault and such, until it turned out that all persons involved had consented and were over twenty-one. The verdict was narrowed down to indecent exposure, which he could deal with by paying a five-thousand dollar fine. The House of Commons, his professional domain, did not press any charges against him. After all, he had not visited California as a politician, but as a tourist, and it had not taken place on British territory. However, he had blemished himself for life, so they coerced him into resigning.
Of course, he had been all over the tabloids for months, until all died down and he was enabled to work as an inconspicuous anthropologist at his alma mater.
‘I met Sandro three years ago,’ Risley said. ‘His parents are English but they gave him this wonderful Italian name. I was his mentor in his first year and he took extra classes with me in his second. It was love at first sight. Picture any Mediterranean beauty, Clive, and multiply it by ten. He’s tall, slim, he has a delightful mop of black curls and the sweetest brown eyes. He’s very sporty, he loves marathons and mountain bike riding and taekwondo. Perhaps that’s why he has been a scholastic disaster from the very beginning. No time to study. He’s highly intelligent, but he dropped out in the end.
I helped him, tutored him at my house, even hinted the answers to questions on upcoming exams. And he loved me. At least I thought so. I was fifty-two when I met him…By the way, how old are you now?’
‘Forty-nine,’ I said.
‘You look a lot younger,’ he smiled. ‘But I digress…Clive, have you any idea how blissful it is to hold a young creature in your arms, to feel soft skin and muscles and to listen to his moans of pleasure? A god, the very paragon of Hellenic beauty, even more so because all the Greeks left us were mere ideas and cold marble statues…I was past my prime, nearly bald, not much to look at, and I had never expected to be granted this wonderful gift ever again…You understand, Clive.’
‘To a certain extent, I do,’ I said. Then I pointed at the teapot. ‘Would you like another cup? By the way, my wife is visiting a friend across the street. She may be back any minute.’
He grinned. ‘You’re dodging the subject, aren’t you? When I saw your drive, I knew. Whatever is to remain undisclosed to unpleasant visitors becomes manifest as soon as they cast a look on the vehicles on the premises…That Audi A7 sportsback is yours, of course. You always had good taste, dear. The Volvo must belong to your spouse. Ladies need cars with boot space for their shopping bags, and women are more climate-conscious by nature than men. Yours is a diesel – shame on you, Clive! Hers is a hybrid, so there…’ He accepted another cup of tea and giggled.
I grabbed my pack of Marlboros. ‘Would you have one?’ I offered.
He shook his head. ‘I quit twenty years ago. It’s a bad habit.’ Then he sniffed and grinned.
‘I say, Mr. CEO Durham Logistics, is that weed I smell? Good heavens, do you know how detrimental that is? The human body is the temple of the spirit, you are never to disgrace it.’
‘Look who’s talking,’ I growled, blowing a plume of smoke into his face.
‘I was young at Cambridge,’ he smiled. ‘We all were. Booze and weed and fags – ha ha, fags…Youth is wasted on the young, my Apollo…But I digress again…As for that sweet, souped-up Lancia, that is your daughter’s car. She’s home from uni for the holidays, of course. And so is your son, the one that drives the Ford Focus. Of course, they are in their rooms now, pretending to study, but in fact escaping the obligatory family festivities…And of course, you and your wife gave them all that talk about no booze and no drugs. I don’t believe you set a very good example, Clive. Your pupils are dilated. Make sure you hide your stuff well. If your children want to get high, they are supposed to do it on campus without their old folks knowing. A reversed war of the Titans, so to speak…’
I felt like I had been run over by twenty trucks. ‘My wife and I never had any children,’ I murmured.
Now his hand was on mine. ‘I’m sorry to hear that, Clive,’ he said sweetly. ‘I should not have brought it up…I had no intention to insult you, dear.’
‘The Lancia and the Ford belong to friends of mine who are visiting,’ I said to prevent myself from sinking into an ocean of kindness that beckoned from the other side of the table.
‘They’re not in,’ I went on. ‘But I expect them back presently…’ Then I felt my bourgeois self resurge.
‘It’s lovely that you popped in, Risley, and I hate being such a rotten host, but I’d like you to leave before they get back. If you wish, we can meet in London for lunch one day.’
He put down his teacup and sniveled. ‘All that must be tomorrow. Or whenever. Not now. I’ve nowhere to go.’
‘Check into a hotel then. There are several around Luton Airport and they’re not overcrowded. Have you got your booster jab? Is your Covid app up to date? If so, it won’t be a problem.’
‘Can’t be done,’ Risley said. ‘I’d have the press on me in no time.’
It turned out that Sandro had moved in with him in 2019. Only the faculty office knew that his address and Professor Risley’s were the same. Risley had rented out a room in his house to American college girls before that, so this was rather inconspicuous.
‘Sandro got a student loan, but he usually spent it within one week. He bought endless designer clothes and Nike trainers. I ended up giving him money. I even got him a car so that he could visit his parents in Watford. He thrashed it within a month. And of course, he neglected his studies. I constantly coerced him into attending lectures and turning in his papers on time, but to no avail.
He dropped out in April of this year. No more student loans, and he would not look for a job. He’s completely fog-headed. He lost his passport and his driving license and his Covid pass and even his health insurance card. Applying for new documents was too stressful for him. I had to do it…And I did…out of love. Daytime was hell, but the nights were heaven, until…’
In October, Risley got home from work and found Sandro in the master bed with two girls. They were drunk. ‘You’re going,’ Risley had told him after the visitors had left. ‘I’ll pay for your train ticket to Watford. You should go back to your parents and grow up.’
A row had ensued, and Sandro had packed his bag and ordered a taxi to the station.
‘He’s lived with his parents for a few months now, ‘ Risley said. ‘He would sometimes phone me and apologize for his behaviour and tell me that he wished for us to remain friends…But then the faculty board got official complaints from him. I had allegedly given him higher marks for his exams in order to keep him as a lover…He even told them how I smoked weed and drank too much, which were all lies. He must still not have a job now, because he’s been demanding horrendous sums.
I was stupid, I transferred some monex to his bank account once because I could not bear the thought of him wanting for anything. He used this as a proof that I sent him money to prevent him from telling the world what had been going on between him and me. He contacted the press and shortly before Christmas, the first articles appeared. Former MP has gone astray again, an allusion to my conviction in San Diego in 1999. Academic lockdown fun - why attend lectures online if you can get good marks by bedding your teacher? It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that I’ll lose my fellowship. I’m done for, Clive, I’m done for.’
‘Sue him for libel, then,’ I remarked.
He shook his head. ‘If I do, he’ll upload compromising pictures of me onto his Instagram account. He has gained tens of thousands of followers over the past weeks.’
‘I do hope you have a good solicitor,’ I said.
‘Even if this were taken to court and if I won, I’d still lose all, Clive. No one would ever offer me any employment again, not even at a fast-food drive-in.’
‘There are always means and ways to part with it,’ I told him.
‘Not in my case,’ Risley stammered. Now tears were steaming up his glasses. ‘Because…I still love Sandro…oh, how I love him!’
He wailed so loudly that I did not hear Anne come in. She walked into the kitchen and froze.
‘Oh, fuck,’ was all she said.