FathomOnline

 

 Fathom Vol 2

Cover

 

Inside Cover

 

Poetry

Michael Bolton (2)
Paul Tyndall (2)
Shelagh Ross  
Kim Storey
Greig Dymond
Margot Tyndall (2)
Steven Gregoris (2)
Alistair Highet
Christopher Mitchell (2)
Paul Deagle
H.M. Peter Westin

Prose

Andrew Potter

Extras

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Andrew Potter

 

 

The Marriage-Go-Round

“Hang on, the telephone’s ringing.” Mrs. Plumscott reached absentmindedly for the receiver and mouthed the required words, “Good evening, Regent’s Guest Home.”

An efficient voice stated, “Overseas call for a Mr. J.J. Harrison.”

“A Mr. Harrison? Oh yes. Won’t be a moment.” Mrs. Plurnscott’s eyes shifted across the lobby to search out the young man slumped on her 1846 Victorian divan, “It’s your call sir.”

“Thank you very much.” The young man graciously accepted the outstretched receiver and then turned his back to the desk, “Hallo, speak to me.”

“Joe, hello.”

“Hello, comrade Anna, agent 007 at your service.”

“Stop Joe. This is serious. No fooling now please. We arrive Thursday morning 10:55 on British Airways flight 902 from Melbourne to Heathrow. She is ready. Call Mrs. L.”

“O.K. O.K. All’s well here. We’re ready.”

“Bye then. Thank you.”

“Fine luv. Have a good flight.”

Mr. Harrison spun around, dropped the receiver into its nook and lit a Winston. Thank God that’s over, he thought. Looked like the whole thing was going to collapse. Ah, it’s well past midnight. Belter call Mrs. L. tomorrow.
 
“Good night, Mrs. Plumscott. Thank you for keeping the vigil.”

“Glad to be of service, Mr. Harrison ... Sleep tight.”
 
Mr. Harrison thoughtfully climbed the stairs to Room 301, top floor. Hmm. We’re into the early hours of Wednesday, October 11th. Just one more day and then the fun begins.

Righto, righto, Joe, get yourself up. A rare autumn sun streamed in to illuminate mercilessly the true dinginess of Room 301. Joe didn’t look twice. He trudged out to the shower room, came back refreshed, then dressed and went downstairs.

Mrs. Plurnscott’s basement dining room offered standard English bed and breakfast fare but Joe had a rendezvous in Holland Park at 9:00 a.m. Brilliant morning. 8:30 a.m. Fifteen minute walk from Lancaster Gate to Holland Park. I’ll take it slow and get there at nine on the nose, he decided. The sign for the Trafalgar Cafe was just ahead on the right. Joe crossed to Holland Park station and ambled over to a swarthily handsome fellow sitting on a public bench in front of the cafe. This intense young man was perusing the morning edition of the London Daily Mirror.

“Hiho Algenon. What are you reading that rubbish for?”

“Oh, hi ya Joe. I’m looking at the pictures.”

“What, page three? Who is she today? A good looker?”

“Never you mind. Let’s go in and get some breakfast.” The two took the table by the front window in the sun. Algenon waited for the big hello.

“Come on then, out with it Joe.”

“Ya, I finally got the call last night.”

“Well?”

“It’s on.”
 
“Great! Like you expected?”           

“Righto. Let me go over the whole scenario. Here, look at these photos. That’s Anna, of course, and her, the blonde, she’s Sophia, the Countess.”

“Holy knoly, she’s a beauty.”

“True. O.K., listen. I want you to know the background. Anna is now an Australian citizen and she can return to Poland without danger of being trapped, but Sophia travels on a Polish passport and she is a persona non grata in the eyes of the Communist Party. Her father was a Count before the war and the family is closely watched because they openly support Solidrity. Sophia needs a foreign passport so that she can travel freely to and from Poland. You remember Anna?”

“Sure, she’s a strong one.”

“Well, Anna befriended this Sophie bird in Tasmania and suggested that Sophia marry me to get a British passport. Her father’s going to pay £2000. The girls arrive at Heathrow tomorrow morning at 10:55.

“From Melbourne?”

“Right. So we meet them at the airport. Hold it! Balls. I almost forgot. I’ve got to ring Mrs. Lodwinski. Joe finished his toast and tea and headed for a public ’phone.

Joe slid back into his chair with a fresh pack of Winstons, “I’ve got the exact details. The wedding is set for 4:00 p.m. on Friday, October 13th at Mrs. Lowdinski’s house over in Wandsworth. The money’s coming underground and the priest knows it’s a political arrangement.”

“Friday the 13th, Joe?”

“That’s what I said to Mrs. L. but I tell you, those Poles have more balls than Churchill gave them credit for. They’re tough and they’re tenacious. Look at the Polish government-in-exile. Been in London for 42 years and you know superstitions aren’t on their agenda. They reckon God can’t give them much more bad luck. Anyway, there’s a Polish Pope now and they’ll all be wearing crosses and carrying rosaries.”

“Don’t forget the garlic. You know me, I’m a suspicious sort.”

“Listen, Algenon, this is more than a few quid; it’s an opportunity to give this girl international freedom of movement. She doesn’t want to be a political refugee for the rest of her life.”

“Cut the crap, mate. I understand all that. I agree with you, but I have some questions.”

“O.K. Shoot.”

“Are you sure you want to do it? You know, get married, keep up the facade for the Home Office boys until she gets her passport. They’re not blind to phony weddings. It’s a dicey proposition mate. You’re not an actor. And furthermore, what happens if you fall in love sometime in the future and want to marry the girl? And, hey, what if you really fall in love with this Countess Sophia Solanski? Are you going to start eating borscht and Polish sausage?”

A sly smile spread across Joe’s face, “She’s a real cracker, isn’t she Algie boy? Now let’s leave well enough alone and I’ll collect £2000 on Friday and we’ll be off to Rio for the Carnival.”

“Alright. Tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. outside Lancaster tube station?”

“Right. See you then.”

 

Thursday, 8:45 a.m. Another unseasonably beautiful day. “Christ, I’m running late,” Joe hissed through a morning Winston. No time for a shower. Well, the English are only supposed to bathe once a week, he mused. Old tradition. One more stiff upper lip to torture a fine Roman nose. Black suit today. The salesman had told him it was an Italian cut. Huh! Probably made in Manchester by a bloke called Smith. White shirt and that new tie. ‘Understated elegance’ they call it in Paris. Superb. Brush back that red mane. Groom your moustache. Red, white and black: good combination. Your mother would be proud of you, Joseph Jeremiah. Well, of your looks anyway. Fit to be the Queen Mother’s bridegroom.

“Morning Mrs. Plumscott.”

“Have some breakfast today, Mr. Harrison?”

“Sorry, in a rush.”

“Not even a cuppa?” pleaded Mrs. Plumscott.

“Sorry luv. Business appointment.”

Joe dashed over to the tube station. Algenon was leaning on a lamp-post looking very smooth, dressed in a blue three-piecer.

“Nice one Algie. Off to Fleet St. today, are we sir?”

“How right you are, old chap. I must say, I do admire your tie. Harrods?”

“Why, of course. Pinched it from under their noses.”

“Shocking. I daresay, the criminal element is permeating our entire society.”

“Well, actually, I got it down at Portobello Road last Saturday. Under the bridge. You see, there was this lovely thing selling ties and shirts and she gave it to me for 50p.”

“You’re such a charmer, J.J.”
 
“Nothing less for the Countess of Krakow.”

Heathrow Airport. 10:50 a.m. Thursday, October 12th.

“Here, Algie. Upstairs for International Arrivals...How do we look?”

“Spot on, J.J. They’ll be charmed. I’ll just run over for a couple of juices. Be right back.”

“Joe, Joe, over here.” called a strong voice.

“Hurry Algie. They’re over there. Let’s go.”

Joe was every inch the gentleman, “Hello, hello, my sugar blossoms. May a thousand tri-colours fall to your feet and pave your way to the Home Office.”

“Well spoken, Horatio,”smiled Algenon.

Anna bowed, “Thank you gentlemen. We appreciate your assistance. I’m glad you can do this Joe. I could think of no one else silly enough to give it a try.”

“Why thank you, I’m flattered. But, after all, you are feathering my nest.”

It appears to be equally beneficent. Here, allow me to formally introduce the bride--the Countess Sophia Solanski of Krakow, late of Tasmania, but never too late, as they say in Warsaw.”

“Charmed, your ladyship,” chimed Joe and Algenon in unison.

The voice was strangely smooth and somewhat amused. “Call me Sophie. I was never a countess. You are gentlemen. Poland will thank you.”

Anna took over, “Joe, what is the news from Mrs. L.?”

“Good news. No time wasted. The wedding is tomorrow at 4:00 p. m. Mr. Solanski has sent his blessings. A Polish priest will officiate.”

“Good. We will now go to Wandsworth.”

Again, that throaty, yet sultry smooth voice,” I thank you. Until tomorrow, my husband.”

Joe and Algenon took their leave.

“My heart is a hammer, Algie boy.”

“She is a princess, Joe.”

“Ah...Poland will thank me. I hope Poland will kiss me,” breathed Joe.

“You never know your luck in the big city, mate.”

“Too right. C’mon. Let’s pass a quiet afternoon in Hyde Park. I need to dream.”

FRIDAY THE 13th.

A third glorious day of English sun.

Perfect day for a wedding. Picture perfect, Joe realised. Four figures framed by a white rose trellis. The sun in the southwest. Descending to Atlantis. Thirty-three years disappearing into that same ocean of dreams. It scares me, it scares me to sell my name like this. But, why is my heart pounding?

The majestic drone of the Catholic ceremony was coming to a climax. “I hereby pronounce you Man and Wife.” Joe was so far away that he barely heard the priest continue, “You may now kiss the bride, young man.” Oh my God, my God, my brain is a balloon. Joe couldn’t have imagined that this woman would haunt him so. Free, single, happy-go-lucky for thirty-three years and now, now what? She is truly magnetic. I cannot deny it.

Anna’s voice broke into his reverie. “Wonderful. You and Algenon were so calm, Joe. Now step two. Let us review the arrangements. Come. We will take that, table in the far corner, under the oak.”

Celebration swirled around them but the bridal party managed to retreat from their happy compatriots.
 
Anna took the lead. “Joe, you and Sophia will wait for three weeks. A respectable time lapse. Then you can apply to the Home Office for Sophia’s passport. Few here know that this was a marriage of convenience, and the fewer who know, the better. Even the local Polish community can be careless. Tell no one. You must appear to be happy newlyweds.”

Sophia smiled and murmured, “We will fool them.”

Joe did not hesitate to agree, “Yes, yes. Have no fear. The British Home Office will be treated to a command performance. Romeo and Juliet. Tristan and Isolde.”

“Fine, Joe. Fine,” replied Anna. “Just remember to be dignified and professional. Here are the marriage papers and here is your portfolio. You are an antique clock dealer and need to travel in Europe. Your new wife wants to accompany you so she requires a British passport. Now then. Mrs. L has prepared your room here. Sunday you can bring all your things. You and Sophia must naturally have the same address and Mrs. L. has set aside a special room in the event that some Home Office agents call upon you here. It must appear that you are living together. We understand they are very efficient and thorough. I hear that £50 can buy an English husband these days.”

“I’m not surprised. We’re a hard up bunch, aren’t we? The Empire stoops low. Our dear Victoria would turn in her grave,” laughed Joe.

“Don’t laugh, mate. The mighty Empire has stooped lower than that,” added Algenon.

“Well, Algenon, what are you going to do now?” asked Anna. “This passport process will probably take two or three months.”

“Oh, I’m O.K. I’m over in Holland Park working at a Hertz-Rent-a-Car depot. Business is slack. You know our plan? We’re finally going to get to South America. Rio for Carnival time.”

“Right,” piped in Joe, “it’s time for the boys to see some new lands.”

Algenon took his leave. “Righto. I must be off. Thank you for the fiesta, darlings. I’m honoured. Listen, Joe. I’ll meet you at your hotel Sunday avo at 2:00. Happy Honeymoon.”

“Thanks cobber. We couldn’t’ve done it without your esteemed presence.”

The girls hugged him and Algenon was off.

Sunday afternoon was grey and overcast. London fog. Algenon walked into Regent’s Guest House. “Hi there, Mrs. Plumscott. Is Mr. Harrison in?”

Mrs. Plumscott was filing her nails. “Oh yes, he’s upstairs.”
 
“Thank you. I’ll go up.”

“Come in, mate. I’m back in the real world. What a dream. I never knew the Polish had so much charm. I’m being treated like a king over there in Wandsworth. Mrs L’s a real gem.”

“Good borsht?” queried Algenon.

“The best. And my wife is quite a hot one.”

“You haven’t, have you?” Algenon was incredulous.

“Sure. A marriage has to be consummated,” said Joe offhandedly.

“Why you devil, you. How did you get past comrade Anna and Mrs. L? I figured they’d have the Polish London Battalion guarding her bed. Are you in love or just your usual mad self?”

“Well, Algie. I’m going to have a heart attack if this doesn’t stop. I can’t believe it. She haunts me.”

“Oh. this is great,” said Algenon sarcastically. “The mercenary falls in love. That beats Romeo and Juliet. I’ve seen you slip through a dozen nooses and now you throw out your Casanova cloak.”
 
“Hey, hold it! Who says I’m in love? This is just a job.”

“Listen, Joe. I apologize. I’m sorry to be so uptight but I’m sick of hanging out in London and it’s fuckin’ winter now.”

“O.K. Algie baby. Everything is under control. Anna said two or three months. Hang in there. I’ve got the money.”

“And I’ve got plenty. Why can’t we leave now? Those girls have all the necessary papers.”

“Algerien, don’t you realise that we have to live together until Sophie gets her passport? The Home Office is not a monkey operation. They can’t be rushed or toyed with.”

“You are getting in over your head. This shit could smother you. One should not play with governments. Is it moral to wear a different mask every day?”

“That’s enough. You bore me. Where’s your sense of adventure? I fully realise the ramifications but I want to help this girl and I don’t want her at the mercy of Polish communism. I am no freedom fighter or shining knight in armour but my heart has found something to stand for. Finally, I can contribute something to humanity.”

“True, true, but I can see that you are a knight enamoured and armed with the lance of love. Know what I mean?”

“Algenon, you are too crude sometimes. Let us sit tight and do a good deed. I do not want you to run off on me. South America is still the big hello. O.K.? You are only twenty-five and you can afford to wait for this, old man.”

“O.K. I’ll book the tickets tomorrow. January 30th?”

“Good. Don’t worry, mate.”

“Righto, Count. I bless your married life.”

“Why thank you, squire. My mount is ready and rearing to go.”

“Cheers. Give me a ring tomorrow. Keep in touch.”

January 29th. A cold, dark winter had fallen over London. A black cab pulled up to the Trafalgar Cafe in Holland Park. The driver scooted out to assist a very handsome couple to the curb.

“That’s three pounds five,” said the chirpy fellow.

Mr. Joseph Harrison handed him a fiver. “Keep the change, blue.”

“Ta, governor. Cheerio.” The driver sped off with a toot of his horn.

Joe and Sophia entered the cafe and headed over to a haggard-looking Algenon Smythe.

“Hello, sir. What’s for breakfast?”

“Ah, I’m havin a Bombay curry.”

“Get out of it, you joker. Let’s see, Sophie dear. Toast and tea for two?”

That lovely throaty voice still made Joe’s heart skip a beat. “Yes, darling. That would please me. And get some chutney for Algie.”

“Ah, very funny,” laughed Algenon. “I can see this fellow has warped you too. Heard from Anna?”

“Just yesterday,” said Joe. “Got a card from Warsaw. She is in the thick of it.”

“She will be allright. That lady is a fighter.”

“You’re right, Algenon. We leave in two weeks. And you, you’re off tomorrow to put on a mask in Rio?”

“Surprise, surprise. I’ll probably be off to Bombay soon.”

“What do you mean?”
 
“I kept it under my hat. Cancelled the ticket to Rio. I’m marrying an Indian princess.”

“Oh ya. Indira Gandhi?”

“I’m not foolin, you two. Look at me. I’m serious. It’s only for the money. £1,000.”

“That’s what he said,” smirked Sophia.

“Hey listen. I once had an Indian girlfriend. In Perth. She was a goddess. One hundred positions.”

“Joe, shut up. He’s serious. Tell me,” urged Sophia. “Forget about the clown. I want to know.”

“Well I first met her a month ago. She was renting a car from me to go for a holiday in Cornwall. She loves England and wants to live here. So we got chatting, I saw her a few times and presto! She has plenty of dough. It’s just a business arrangement.”

“Oh ya. You’ll follow in our footsteps. Wait and see,” chuckled Joe.

“You never know your luck in the big city. Anyway, I want to help her and we can free another soul from the shackles of the immigration squad. I’ll be careful.”

“Well, I dare say, that’s an about-face, big fella. ‘Make sure you don’t play it loose. And try to fall in love. You’re too old to be wandering around the world.”

“Yes dad, yes dad. I humbly obey. To tell the truth, I must admit that she’s a beauty. And she does like me.”

“Ah, Sophie, it’s such a relief to marry off one’s children, isn’t it?” Joe stood up. “On this auspicious occasion I propose, infact I insist, that we all meet tonight in the, Punjab Restaurant for Bombay curry. Wear your dancin’ shoes and tell that girl of yours to leave her knickers home, Algie.”

Algenon raised his teacup. ‘Yes sirree, this is the marriage-go-round.”

Joe took Sophia by the hand and waltzed around the table. “Bravo, marriage goes round. Love makes the world go round.”

 

last updated August 17, 2007 | © 2007 Fathom Publishing
poetry, prose, and artwork © individual authours | website created by Alana Paul