Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Within four minutes of putting down the phone, the doorbell rang.

(This was Friday morning.)

Thrusting the infant Ming into the arms of the nearest child, I went to answer.

It was a woman. A woman in a black suit. She was wearing dark glasses. With red frames.

A long, silver car with dark, polished windows was parked across the road, its engine quietly running.

A chauffeur in black, M.O.D. uniform was leaning against the bonnet. He too wore dark glasses - but he smiled.

The woman in the suit said, "My name is Miss Martin".

Without waiting for invitation, she stepped briskly through to the kitchen.

Ming's towel was on the floor. The children were under the table.

Ming, himself, had returned to his familiar size. He was wearing a cream dressing gown with pink roses on it. His back was to us while he tied the girdle.

(It had been on the clothes horse, airing - and it's horrible . Lucy's mum gave it to her three months ago because it didn't suit her and Lucy gave it to me. It doesn't suit me either but I feel obliged to keep it because it was a present.)

Miss Martin said "Mr Ming . . . "

At which moment, Ming finished tying the girdle and turned.

I think Miss Martin was as startled as I. His greenish skin had turned sallow. His pink-punk hair had fallen greasily to one side - and he needed to clean his teeth.

Miss Martin abandoned whatever it was she had been planning to say - she could see he wasn't well - and went back to her car.

Ming's been off work, the last few days. The weather irritates him. He wants the ground to warm up so his Jerusalem Artichokes will grow. Maybe, he says, the new ones will talk with him.

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