They were at Gatwick, Colin and Archie, waiting to check in, and Colin refusing to think about whether it was a good idea. Already Archie was talking to the young Italian ahead of them in the queue, who had the new kind of iPod he wanted. Colin knelt down by his suitcase to get out his copy of I promessi sposi, which he was still working his way through in Italian. He wasn’t wholly pleased to find Archie could speak Italian too, albeit only in the present tense; he didn’t want him running off speaking Italian all over Rome. Now Archie was sending the young man his mobile number, and asking him something about a discoteca. Oh, God, thought Colin. Surely we’re not going to Rome for discos. Though with a tiny part of himself he thought it might be rather thrilling to come back having gone to one.
Colin Cardew was fifty-two, and worked for Latimer, publishers of the well-known cultural guides. He lived alone, drank a bit too much, and was thought to be duller and older than he was by people who met him at book parties. He had been to Rome twenty years before, with a friend who had later died, and a sense of awkwardness and regret had kept him away from the place ever since. Archie was told nothing of this, and in a way his ignorance was the beauty of the plan. He had asked to be taken there, asked to be shown something new. Colin glanced discreetly at his small, neat form, the fashionable inches of underwear white above low-waisted jeans. There hadn’t been sex, or anything close, since the previous May. Archie would wriggle away or say, ‘Goodness, I’m hungry!’ and they would go to the local trattoria. He had made himself, touchingly but frustratingly, into a friend: Colin still paid, but for dinner rather than fifty minutes in bed. Well, he knew you could never spell these things out, but he felt fairly sure that by accepting a free weekend in Rome his young companion had agreed to something more.
On the plane Archie insisted on the aisle seat, claiming a tendency to claustrophobia. As soon as everyone was belted in and the doors were closed the first officer announced a delay of eighty minutes. Archie showed great forbearance for the first one and a half of these minutes, but after that he said, ‘I knew we should have flown BA.’
Colin went over one paragraph in I promessi sposi several times, stung by the criticism of his arrangements, and unable to see why BA should be any less subject to delays on the tarmac than Alitalia. Well, it was a useful reminder: that Archie, though he liked to be paid for, didn’t care to be planned for. He could fret if he wasn’t in charge of arrangements, and treats and surprises didn’t always go down well with him. Sometimes, if he got wind of a plan, he took it over himself and changed it, so that it turned into a surprise for Colin instead.
Colin said, ‘Well, at least you can start getting in the Italian mood,’ and passed him the Latimer Cultural Guide to Rome. Archie said, ‘Right . . .’ with a worried frown; and then laughed and rested his head on Colin’s shoulder in a gesture of trust and affection, child-like as much as lover-like. ‘I just want to get to Italy,’ he said.
‘I know,’ said Colin, suddenly encouraged. ‘So do I.’
‘I’m very lucky to have you to show it to me.’
‘Yes, you are,’ said Colin; and then, thinking it was probably time for their first lesson, ‘So, who are the two great architects of baroque Rome?’
Archie detached himself and leaned out to gaze down the aisle at a retreating steward.
‘You haven’t answered the question,’ said Colin.
‘Um . . .’ Archie smiled dimly and sent his eyes from side to side in a mime of thought. ‘Yes…now…who are they?’ he said.
‘Well, they’re very easy to remember. There’s Bernini and there’s Borromini: the two Bs.’
‘Oh! . . . right. So it’s Bernini — and . . . what was it again?’
‘Bernini,’ said Archie. ‘And Borromini.’
‘And there’s also a third one, called Pietro da Cortona, but I’m not going to bother you with him till we get there and can actually visit a church by him.’
It wasn’t clear that Archie had imagined their actually visiting churches. ‘Okay . . .’ he said; and then, ‘No, the two Bs are probably quite enough for my little brain.’
‘I thought,’ said Colin.
‘Look at this guy’s biceps,’ said Archie, as the steward, colossal in his short-sleeved shirt, sauntered back down the aisle. Archie grinned at him, and got a sly raised eyebrow in return.
‘You’ll see much finer examples of that in Rome,’ said Colin gamely, reopening I promessi sposi and reading the faintly familiar paragraph for the fourth time.
The lift at the hotel was very small, but then it was a small hotel, family-run, in a historic building, and close to the Forum… Colin hoped these advantages were evident to Archie as he edged into the space between him and the porter and their two cases. Despite the awkward comedy of the lift, he had a sense of ritual, in being taken upstairs, with a handsome young man, to the bedroom he knew already from the website, with its view of the Forum, its cable TV, and its ‘matrimonial bed’. That matrimonial bed was a bold decision, but the smiling porter seemed to solemnize it. He wasn’t really a porter, he was Silvio, the son of the owner. As the lift door closed they all started speaking in Italian at the same time, so that Colin missed what Silvio was saying, quickly and humorously, to Archie – it was something to do with the telephone. Archie frowned and shook his head as if to close the subject, and shifted to give Colin a wide close-up smile. It was a smile that seemed full of shared expectancy. Colin blushed and looked down, abashed by the presence of Silvio, who was laughing contentedly.
At the end of a narrow landing Silvio unlocked a door and went ahead of them into a room of which all Colin saw at first was a wardrobe and a shuttered window and the high coving of the ceiling. Archie strolled in after him, with a quick scanning glance, and Colin, his smile in the mirror looking almost sarcastic with tension, came last. ‘Ah . . .’ he said, as Silvio brandished the TV control and then crossed to open the bathroom door. ‘Um . . . !’ – for a minute Colin’s Italian failed him; while Archie was saying, ‘Perfetto!’ and pressing an absurdly large tip into Silvio’s hand. ‘Um . . . yes,’ said Colin, scrambling to repossess himself and looking round, as the door closed and they were left alone, at the wardrobe, and the bowl of fruit, and the two high bolstered single beds.
They had breakfast next morning on the rooftop terrace, which did, strictly speaking, have a view of the Forum. A distant wedge of ruined wall could be glimpsed between the neighbouring house and the awnings on the roof terrace of the much grander hotel in front of them. Their own roof terrace had a bar with a coffee machine, half a dozen tables with paper cloths clipped against the breeze, and pots of geraniums wired to its wrought-iron railings. Colin said, ‘You can just see the top of the dome of S. Luca and S. Martina; which is indeed two churches, S. Luca on top and S. Martina beneath. It’s rather fascinating.’
It seemed unlikely, from Archie’s look, as he spread some red jam on a white roll, that anything had ever fascinated him less. He leaned back to signal to the waitress for more coffee. ‘It’s by Pietro da Cortona,’ Colin went on.
‘Right . . .’ said Archie.
‘Well, you’ll see,’ said Colin. ‘I hope it will be open. Last time I was here it was closed for restoration.’
Archie brightened a little at this. ‘You are going to take me shopping, aren’t you?’ he said.
‘Well, what do you want?’
‘I don’t know yet, I want to see what there is. And we’ve got to get you sorted out, too: get you some nice jeans, something a bit more casual, Colin. That’s my task for this weekend.’
Colin drank his little glass of concentrated orange juice. ‘We’ll want to do some sightseeing first,’ he said. ‘You haven’t forgotten about the two Bs?’
To his relief this seemed to be a game Archie was prepared to play. His smile was happy, and confusingly like smiles he’d given Colin in the past. ‘Ah yes, now . . . who are they?’ he said.
‘You can’t have forgotten,’ said Colin, still excited by the remembered smiles.
‘They’re B . . . B . . .’
‘Bernini,’ Colin murmured.
‘Bernini! Yes, they’re Bernini and . . . B . . .’
‘Borromini,’ said Colin.
‘Exactly!’ said Archie.
It wasn’t clear who’d won the game, once they’d played it. Archie sipped his hot coffee and sank back into a vaguely critical silence. Though the silence itself, the untuned and rhythmless hum and squeal and nearby clatter of the city, had for a minute or two past been eaten into by the strident electronic bleeps of a reversing vehicle. Only their recurrence, after nine or ten seconds of peace, made Colin start to picture the van, some narrow negotiation in the street below.
‘God, I can’t stand that noise,’ he said.
‘Forget about it. It’ll stop in a minute,’ said Archie, who tended to meet impatience with patience, and vice versa.
Colin got up and leaned over the railing, but he couldn’t see where the noise was coming from. ‘I wonder if a single injury has ever been prevented by those bloody things,’ he said.
‘Well, we’ll never know, will we?’ said Archie. ‘I mean, you can’t count things that don’t happen.’
Colin sat down again, frowning madly, wondering if Archie would let him make a joke about the things that hadn’t happened the night before. ‘How very true,’ he said.
Archie was cool and practical. ‘We need to get going,’ he said. ‘We haven’t got much time here, you know.’ But just then there was a different bleep: Archie had a text message, in fact two text messages. He sat there thumbing and chuckling to himself for the next ten minutes.
As soon as they were in the street they saw where the noise was coming from. Behind the hotel a large building had been demolished, and they looked down into the excavation where two mechanical diggers were shifting and levelling the rubble. Forward they rushed, from different sides, clanking and jolting, to scoop up dirt and twisted metal and broken Roman bricks; they seemed to bow to each other with their scoops. Then almost together came the bleeps, and the trundling erratic reverse. No one else was on the site, but the warning was sounded. It was piercing and implacable, with an echo that came back dead off the buildings like a knock. Colin laughed thinly at his continuing bad luck.
He marched Archie up the hill, to the high open-sided piazza on the Quirinal, where they had their first view across the whole city, with the dome of St Peter’s in the distance and the wide brown jumble of roofs below. Archie seemed to like that, and the twenty-foot-high naked statues of Castor and Pollux. Size was in general a mark of authenticity, for Archie. They pondered the colossal fig leaves of the two young gods, colossal absolutely, but proportionally on the small side, and Colin made a joke about ‘Pollux’s bollocks’, which Archie seemed to enjoy more than anything since they’d left London. Colin wished it was the sort of remark that came to him more easily. Harnessing the mood of childish hilarity, he hurried them along to the pair of neighbouring churches, where Archie would have his first taste of the two Bs.
His own first feeling, as the door of S. Andrea thumped softly shut behind them, muting the roar of the traffic, was, It’s still here. The mild light on grey marble, the cherubs and the gilding, the candle trays and parish notices, the one woman praying: it was all as it had been twenty years ago. The notices referred to a new famine and a new pope, but the mood was the same, the mid-morning vacancy of a church in Italy, with the rumble of lorries and whine of Vespas in the long hot street outside. He walked slowly around, tipped his head back to look up at the elliptical dome, with a dull protest from his neck. He smiled to encourage Archie, and also, in a way, himself. It wasn’t quite working for him, great though it was. He felt that if Archie would say something, smile, make even a tiny gesture of surrender, it probably would work: his own long-ago sense of discovery would revive.
He went over to Archie, who was still standing near the door, with his hands on his hips. Colin kept smiling purposefully, but Archie’s half-smile was that of someone not easily taken in.
‘Isn’t it wonderful?’ said Colin.
Archie glanced around. ‘It’s quite small, isn’t it?’ he said.
‘I know,’ said Colin, and nodded enthusiastically.
A twinkle came into Archie’s eye. ‘I was just looking at you there, Mr Cardew. You’re getting quite a pot on you. We’re going to have to get you down to the gym when we get back; do some work on those abs before it’s too late.’
‘Oh, it already is too late, for that,’ said Colin.
‘Never too late,’ said Archie, with charm, and the way he had of seeming to allude to Colin’s fantasies, and play on them. He reached out and squeezed his shoulder. ‘Let’s get on,’ he said, as if Colin had been dawdling intolerably. ‘We haven’t got long here, you know.’
Out in the street, Colin said, ‘We’ll just have a quick look in S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, shall we?’
‘S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane,’ said Archie, with a certain stoniness under his mimicry. They bustled along the narrow pavement, Colin fiddling with his top shirt button, as he did when he was nervous and responsible. It was hard to talk because of the roar of buses and taxis. ‘God, this city’s polluted,’ said Archie.
‘I suppose it is,’ said Colin.
‘I can hardly breathe,’ said Archie.
As they drew close to the church, on its busy crossroads, Colin said, ‘We ought to cross over to see the facade properly. It is rather amazing.’ But Archie had already dropped behind, and when Colin turned round he was standing with his mouth pulled down and his fist rubbing at his left eye. ‘Are you all right?’ said Colin.
Archie was somewhat abstruse. He said it was his allergies, and also that he had a bit of grit in his eye.
‘Let me look at it,’ said Colin, and after a minute of blinking and squeezing, Archie let him look, with the child-like submission and bravery that anyone will show when they have something in their eye. ‘I can’t see anything,’ said Colin, keeping Archie’s head steady with one hand while he held his eye open with the thumb and forefinger of the other. It didn’t escape him that this was their most intimate moment in over a year.
After Colin let him go Archie carried on frowning and rolling his eyes. He was breathing noisily, as he did in his sleep. ‘I’ve got to have a drink of water,’ he said. ‘I’m so dry.’
‘Well, all right,’ said Colin, with a smirk that showed he wasn’t easily taken in either. They set off in search of a cafe, leaving the church unvisited.
‘Rome is so beautiful,’ said Archie airily, taking Colin’s arm for a moment. ‘What’s that over there?’
‘It’s the back of the post office,’ said Colin.
In the afternoon, Colin tried a different tack, and took Archie to the Baths of Caracalla. ‘I think you’ll like this,’ he said, as they got into a taxi. ‘It’s both old and large.’
‘Great,’ said Archie, sleepy but mischievous after two martinis and a bottle of Corvo. ‘You know, it’s all new to me,’ he said, with a yawn.
‘It’s where Shelley wrote Prometheus Unbound,’ said Colin, as if that might focus it for him.
At the entrance to the site there was a little kiosk, where they bought plastic bottles of water. Colin took his jacket off, and led Archie through the deserted grassy precincts towards the great broken vaults of the baths. It was splendid, but perhaps a little dull. It required some patient reimagining, which on a hot April afternoon seemed somehow beyond them both.
‘They are quite large,’ Archie conceded.
‘I think Shelley somehow got right on the top,’ said Colin, looking in the Latimer Cultural Guide. ‘He talks about the “mountainous ruins” and “immense platforms”.’
‘Mountainous,’ said Archie. ‘Immense.’ He hopped up a low mound, and sat down against a ruined wall, facing the sun. Colin scrambled up beside him with some difficulty in his leather-soled shoes. ‘I’ve been thinking,’ said Archie.
‘Oh yes,’ said Colin.
‘We need to get your hair sorted out, get you a new look, something a bit younger. Have you ever thought of having some tints?’
‘What, a blue rinse you mean, I suppose.’
Archie laughed happily at this. ‘No, not yet,’ he said. ‘No, just some highlights, a few little blond streaks. You know, just as if you’d been in the sun. It would take years off you.’
‘I doubt it,’ said Colin. ‘Anyway, I’m happy the way I am.’
‘Are you?’ said Archie, with a devilish grin.
His own hair colour had changed several times since Colin had known him. When he’d first had him round it had been straw blond; now it was a reddish brown, which was probably nearer the natural tint.
‘You forget that I’m twenty years older than you, or is it twenty-four years older? You must let me know when you stop being twenty-eight.’
‘Colin,’ said Archie reproachfully, undoing three buttons and then pulling his shirt over his head. ‘Well, I’m going to get some sun.’
‘Hmm . . . good idea,’ said Colin, though he waited till Archie was napping before he took off his own shirt and then his shoes. He lay uncomfortably on the stony grass, looking at Archie’s pale body.
Colin’s mood of anxiety, going up to Nino’s salon, was heightened by the large framed photos of women that lined the staircase, and by a stifling smell that he associated with his mother, and her formidable perms. Staunchly unfeminized, Colin had the feeling, as he was greeted and gowned, of seeing something he wasn’t meant to, like a glimpse into the ladies’ lavatory at a theatre. Sunday, too. In his Rome you couldn’t have done this, but new European Rome seemed perpetually open for business. Archie had looked into it: now he was talking confidentially with Nino, and responding to the dapper old man’s remarks with Italianate gestures of his own.
‘It’s my hair,’ said Colin firmly into the mirror, ‘and I’m just having it trimmed a bit. I’m not having any highlights –’ and here his voice jumped, so that he wondered if he was about to make a scene.
In a minute Archie went away, like a prudent parent, leaving Colin to brave it out. What was Archie going to do, unsupervised, Colin wondered — he seemed to disappear with a sense of purpose. Nino approached, smiling remotely, and fingered Colin’s bushy grey hair, which was, in truth, a bit longer than usual because he’d thought Archie might find it more romantic; though what he meant by romantic was as vague as it was ineradicable. Nino, like any professional, wanted to flatter him but also to suggest there was serious work to be done and paid for. He pursed his lips and pushed Colin’s hair around, then nodded competently before sending him off to be washed.
Half an hour later, Colin was sitting with a large art book in his lap and numerous twists of silver foil in his hair. Nino, it turned out, was a member of a special Borromini society devoted to restoring the master’s works, each one of which was the subject of a beautiful scholarly book. He brought out several of these from his office to keep Colin distracted as the colouring took hold; Colin said how much he liked the buildings, and found himself wanting to impress Nino, who, he saw now, was a rather distinguished old man. He spoke to him as though what was happening on top of his head was not a pathetic surrender, to Archie’s will and to some tiny speculative vanity of his own; as if it was normal and indeed benign. After all, who would say no and mean it when offered the chance of growing ten years younger, which was Nino’s casual prediction? They would just be highlights, very subtle, very natural, as if the signore had been in the sun. Then the signore was left alone with a cup of coffee, hardly daring to look at the freak in the mirror. Behind him, in the white salon, women were reading under driers or chatting candidly with the stylists. He wondered, with sudden horror, what the people at work would say. From time to time Nino drifted back, peeped cautiously inside a silver tress, then wrapped it up tight for a further baking.
When Colin was back in the street, it was nearly lunchtime. He went hurriedly towards the hotel, knowing everyone was looking at him. The whole treatment had cost 190 euros, to which, in complex embarrassment, he had added a handsome tip. He couldn’t quite look at what had been done to him, but now, as he glanced in a dark shop window, he saw the effect, architectural as much as painterly, that Nino had produced with his scissors and heaters and silver foil. Still, he managed a tense grin for Archie, who was hurrying the other way, perhaps to meet him, and who walked straight past without recognizing him.
In the restaurant, after a quickly dispatched martini, Colin said, ‘Please don’t keep looking at it.’
‘Looking at what?’ said Archie.
Colin signalled to the waiter for another drink. He could tell that Nino had gone a bit further than Archie had expected. Archie had wanted him to make Colin less embarrassing, but it seemed he had ended up making him more so. This was an irony in which Colin himself could take only a limited satisfaction. The whole thing was a botch, and it would need a visit to another Nino to redress it.
‘Your hair, you mean,’ said Archie. ‘It looks great . . . amazing!’
‘You think I look a fool,’ said Colin.
‘Really, Colin, no one will notice,’ said Archie.
‘Well, make your mind up,’ said Colin.
Archie gave him the wounded look of the well-meaning meddler. ‘Well, I think –’ he said, but then his phone bleeped, and he had a text message to deal with. The second martinis came, and Colin sipped at his, feeling the alcohol sharpen his resentment of Archie’s mobile, and of these friends whose mere illiterate texts were apparently so amusing. Well, you could hardly call them texts. He watched Archie press Send, and put the phone down beside his glass, ready perhaps for a reply. ‘That was Aldo,’ he said.
‘And who might Aldo be?’ said Colin. ‘Someone you met this morning?’
‘Aldo – we met him when we were checking in. With the little goatee? We’re going to a club with him tonight.’
‘Are we?’ said Colin, and found his martini had gone already.
‘Well, you may have to wear a hat,’ said Archie. ‘Joke! Joke!’
They drank a bottle of wine with their main course, and when Archie said, ‘Shall we have another?’ Colin said, ‘Why not?’ He saw the day could sensibly be disposed of this way; and when they were drunk together the blur of a chance of fun seemed to shine through the misery, the expensive folly. Colin could take his drink, but he was wandering a bit as he went to the lavatory. He heard his name, looked round stupidly for three seconds, and there at a corner table were the Gortons.
‘We didn’t like to interrupt,’ said George suavely.
‘He looks rather super,’ said Emma. ‘Good for you!’
‘Oh . . . yes,’ said Colin, with a little gasp.
They eyed each other, jovially but warily. ‘You’re looking well,’ said Emma. ‘You’ve done something to your hair.’
‘Oh . . . gosh,’ said Colin, who had actually forgotten this fact as he approached their table. Now, he ran his hand through it. It felt silky but stiff.
‘Very dashing,’ said George.
‘Very bold,’ said Emma. And since Colin just stood there: ‘Well, lovely to see you. Don’t let us keep you from your friend. We haven’t exactly been spying on you, but we can see you’re having a marvellous time!’
Really very drunk, in the street, barging each other as they went along. Colin put his arm round Archie’s shoulders. It seemed absurd, but then again perhaps only prudent, to have another drink. ‘I suppose we should go to St Peter’s,’ he said.
‘Umm . . .’ said Archie, distracted by the window, the interestingly priced Armani suits. ‘Shall we go in here?’
Colin was saying, ‘. . . of course we could just go back to the hotel and have some fun.’
Archie, abstracted for a moment, staring across the crowded square . . . ‘Yes!’ he said.
‘Great!’ said Colin, of course it was all going to be all right.
‘Yes! I know what we must do,’ said Archie. ‘We must go for a ride in a carriage. I cannot go back to London without first having had a ride in a carriage.’ Pulling at Colin’s arm.
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ Colin said.
‘Oh, please,’ said Archie. ‘Please, please, please.’
‘I’m not going for a ride in a carriage, and that’s that,’ said Colin.
‘It’ll be something to remember,’ said Archie. Stumbling him towards the rank, with three or four carriages waiting. Crocheted cushions, plastic flowers.
‘It’s a total tourist trap,’ said Colin, smelling the horse dung.
‘They’re a total rip-off.’
‘I’ll pay!’ said Archie.
‘You haven’t got any money,’ said Colin.
‘I can make some! I’ll pay you back.’
They were almost scuffling, Colin heaving him away; Archie had started talking to the driver, he was being handed up the listing step of the vehicle, agreeing to the mad first price that was mentioned. Colin said, ‘No, no, no, that’s fifty quid as near as dammit,’ reaching up, tugging hard on Archie’s arm – anyway, they went in the carriage, Archie on the mobile to Aldo and making Colin speak to him too. Colin slid down on the plastic cushions, dreading being seen by the Gortons.
He woke at 6.25, and lay for a while measuring the violence of his headache and the sundered intimacy of their two beds. The digital clock cast a faint green light across the table between them and drew Archie’s face very dimly out of the blackness. He was sleeping steadily, open-mouthed, eyebrows raised, as if phrasing a question.
Colin felt the horrible tightening under his ribs and pure instinct hurried him out of bed, patting and stumbling in the near-darkness – the blaze of the bathroom lights was like the spasm of his own body, swallowing wildly to gain the two seconds he needed to reach the bowl and double up.
In the shivering frailty afterwards, tears blurring his eyes, the tiny unaccountable prickle of pride . . . He rinsed his mouth out and cautiously drank a glass of water, leaning against the edge of the basin. In the mirror he saw the bony moppet, ghastly with age, grey-jawed, its grey-and-gold hairdo squashed tall by sweat and sleep. The vein in his temple twitched with its pain, and behind it, slipping in one against the other, the disordered images of the night, the shared taxis, the insane new friends, the cash machines, the immense walk home, and somewhere, in the second club, an image seen only from the corner of the eye, Archie signalling to Aldo that Colin was blind drunk and that this was their moment. A moment that had seemed a long weekend to Colin, gripped by his own simple but absurd idea.
He got his nail scissors out of his sponge bag and, tilting his head forward in the mirror, started hacking at his gold highlights, which came away in small jagged tufts, mixed up with the adjacent grey. He kept moving his scissors in the wrong direction, snipping at the air, poking at his scalp. This showed he was still very drunk. He piled the rough clippings on the glass shelf beside his toothpaste and the cologne he had bought for Archie at Gatwick. A whorish cologne, he’d felt at the time, though that was the one thing he could never say to his young friend, companion, whatever the hell he was.
‘What are you doing?’ said Archie, sounding bored, barely awake.
‘I’ve just been violently sick,’ said Colin.
‘Hmm,’ said Archie.
‘I hate this hair,’ said Colin.
Archie looked at him in the mirror, and what might have been guilt, or maybe some harder impersonal sense of comedy, twitched for a moment under his sleepy frown. Colin put down the scissors.
‘What’s the matter?’ said Archie amicably, but as if he had limited time for the answer.
Colin looked at the little offering of his own hair. ‘What’s the matter?’ he said. ‘Um . . . yes, what . . . is . . . the matter . . .’
His heart was pounding at the scale of the opportunity; he held the edge of the basin and looked into it with a pant of panic. He saw that if he started to answer, if he opened that padded and studded door a chink, he would be answering all day, all the way to the airport, and on the flight, and in the long anticlimax of the train to Victoria.
He managed to sleep again, with his fist against his forehead, to equalize the pain. Archie was sleeping too. At eight the piercing bleeps of the diggers began. It was Monday morning, it was that time already, they had started and they weren’t going to stop. Archie pulled the covers over his head, and Colin lay across from him, looking at the shrouded hump he had become. There were the brief intermittences, distant rumbling and clanking; and then the bleep again, the bleep of a thousand busy reversals.
Photograph by Roy Luck