Falling

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11.

We got back to our place. There was no sign of Daisy. As well, perhaps, that she did not witness our sub-human incarnations.

Danny’s demeanour remained the same as it had been since I had found him. On my prompting he cleaned up. Though mute and inert, he was thankfully biddable.

He was due at work that evening. I was dubious whether he could do his shift, but if he didn’t show, he would be fired. When the time came, I took him to the restaurant where he washed dishes. I found Marco, Danny’s fellow plongeur, the guy with the rat. I didn’t quite know how to explain his predicament, but Marco, seeing Danny’s unfocused eyes, made gestures miming pulling on a joint and shook his head.

‘Too much partying, big guy,’ he said in English, wagging his index finger under Danny’s nose.

‘You know how it is, Marco, the weekend scene,’ I said, thankful that he had constructed this explanation for himself. He took Danny by the arm. Perhaps he saw a new challenge for his training abilities: one to supersede the rat project.

That night Danny came back with Annalisa, the waitress. Our flat was on the rooftop of a pensione. I arranged for him to bed down there, where I and the others could keep an eye on him.

Annalisa was an unmarried mother, holding down two jobs. As a good-looking young woman, naturally vivacious, regular offers to date came her way but she had little time or appetite for it. The ‘romance’ with the client had not blossomed.

I asked how Danny had been. He had got through his shift. It was OK, she assured me, whilst flashing a look that said she thought it my fault that he had come to this pass.

In the days that followed, Danny remained much the same. Daisy returned, but was unforthcoming about anything to do with the séance, beyond establishing that Danny had been found, and dropping downstairs to spend some time with him. She was not willing to be drawn about Actaeon – nor I, for that matter, about Agata. That seemed to be how the open couple thing worked.

I sought out Laura. I needed someone to consult. She seemed unaffected by the LSD experience. I wanted to ask about Casanova but we left the subject unbroached; I took it she was in no hurry to recount the episode’s denouement. It was Danny and his altered state that I needed to talk about. I described the fugue, and the way he had been ever since.

‘He’s catatonic,’ Laura concluded.

‘He’s what?’

‘Like a schizo.’

‘Not literally, surely? Not medically speaking? Danny’s not bonkers…’

‘He’s acting “bonkers”, isn’t he? You know what they say, if it walks like a dick,’ she giggled, ‘like a duck, I mean…’

‘It’s no joking matter…’

‘Sorry, Freudian slip.’

‘Having flashbacks, are we?’ I regretted the waspish tone as soon as I had spoken. It was an overspill from the tension in the flat; Daisy was the one I wanted to spite. Even so, I was prey to a prurient curiosity whether Laura did ‘get laid’.

‘Aren’t we supposed to be talking about Danny?’ An edge crept into Laura’s voice too. She was ready for the fight – our fight – one that intermittently flared between us since that time: a drunken night when we had fallen into bed. There persisted a temptation to taunt the other with what might have been; to dangle an invitation to go in search of lost threads. It seemed, wherever you looked, the accursed séance had shaken loose our moorings.

’Quite right – it is Danny we need to talk about. We are talking about him. You were saying he’s catatonic…’

‘All I mean is that he is acting as if something is really wrong, clinically wrong. Schizophrenia, what is that? A person splits himself, because he experiences conflicting realities. R. D. Laing – “The Divided Self” – it’s all in there.’

‘I don’t see how that relates to Danny – it’s a whole lot simpler, isn’t it? He got hit with a Matteo-style Mickey Finn that he wasn’t bargaining for; a whole lot more than I did, incidentally, and maybe you? Who the hell knows what Dr Mengele was up to there? And wham! He’s into a bum trip.’

’All that’s true, but Danny was fixated by Maria Pia. He’s been building up to the séance – she’s been building him up to it. He thinks the moment’s come: he’s in love and – let’s face it – he is a child in that respect. He thinks they’re for ever: it’s the Sound of Music with fucking – then, guess what? – he finds Maria Pia with someone else; he can’t deal with it…’

‘What did happen there, actually?’

‘Of course, you were otherwise occupied, I recall…’ It was Laura’s turn to be waspish.

‘Let’s just talk about Danny – d’you know what went on?’

‘Well, as far as I can gather, he lost Maria Pia and went around looking for her. I know that because he asked me where she was. I saw him wandering around, but he was quite happy at that stage, well you know – spaced and happy in the “hey, man, far out” kind of way. Then, he found her and she was screwing someone. Then he really started: raving, shouting. He actually bit—’

‘Yes, I know, he got a piece of Casanova. Was it him Maria Pia was balling?’

‘Maybe,’ said Laura, colouring a little. I felt a cheap pleasure at her discomfort. ‘Anyway,’ she continued, ‘he quietened after a time, and people gave him some space, then he locked himself in the bathroom.’

‘So you think that’s flipped him, for good, is that it?’

‘It’s conceivable, isn’t it?’

‘Conceivable, yes.’

We fell silent, each considering what that possibility held out: what it meant for Danny, and what it required of us. Neither of us wanted to explore the implications right there. After a while, to usher out the topic, I said, ‘We’ll have to give him time, and see if he snaps out of it.’

‘He probably will,’ said Laura firmly, ending further speculation.

~ o ~

Danny did show signs of improvement, even if he did not exactly ‘snap out of it’. He began to react, when addressed, with a smile – a smile that was broad and frank, and wrapped around a fog of puzzlement. Though, all things considered, this was a welcome development, it was heartbreaking if you dwelt on it, which I preferred not to. The next breakthrough was that he started speaking again. His utterances were formulaic: ‘billiant’, and ‘luvely job’ were two standbys. I surmised that he had dredged these up to carry him through his shifts at work. If he could meet all requests with a smile and a ‘luvely job’, everyone was happy. He took himself to work now, which I was glad of, and Annalisa continued to see him home.

The final great leap forward was that he began playing the guitar again, spontaneously, and rather well. Not only that, but from somewhere he discovered a voice. Previously he had been an aspiring Bream, sticking with classical repertoire, but in his renascent musical incarnation he crossed over: into folk ballads. He soon had an affecting rendition of ‘Streets of London’. This never failed to bring our fugue back to my memory, and perhaps also to his. Actually, I wondered whether, as far as he was concerned at least, the fugue still continued; the song was perhaps his testimony, his correspondent’s despatches. In a way you might have said that he had reacquired a sufficient complement of social graces: a smile for all seasons; a couple of handy phrases and an admirable turn on the guitar. Such is a man.

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