Opening of Apricot Pages
The use of the heater is quite simple. Or so was claimed for it in the instruction manual. The single round knob beside the grille acts as a rheostat which controls the speed of the fan (Its rotational velocity the first writer of the manual had said).
Rheostat, Francie spat to herself, that's a fancy word. It sounds like the phrase Clifford always uses when he's asked what line he's in. Real Estate, she finally got out of him but only after she had persuaded him to PLEASE SLOW DOWN. What's the hurry? REAL: She said. Clifford will you please slow down.
The heater would not work for Francie any more than for Clifford. Where's your rheostat, Clifford? I'm going to turn it down. Giving his scrotal sac a faint twist anti-clockwise in her imagination.
No work could get done that night though the citizens of Judhael's town of Totnes were more fortunate. There the milder weather and the nature of the local industry (each woman, someone had told Francie, stooped over raw buffalo hide, kneading it, and only at night) precluded the use of heaters of quite this kind.
She tweaked the label still in place on the matt black handle. It was torn. She read, Are you getting all the warmth you deserve? Women of today have too a wonderful variety of…, and there the tear occurred. She kicked it, with a damaging pendular velocity into the wall. The force of popular fiction nearly made it work but not quite. Instead it squatted there, a singular concavity in its shiny grille, an alert uselessness about its angle of posture. She kicked it again - from the ankle, this time, a flick of the foot. It rose up against the wall and dropped again silently.
Hegel said that the Roman state was the prose of the world. The wealthy within that state were warm, making use of cunning systems of underfloor heating. Recent far-reaching discoveries in the biological sciences have raised no proposals for tackling the problem of cold radically, tackling it at the level of the body's primal metabolism. So far as Francie knew, no major work had been done in this field; neither by the Romans, nor by their successors the English, nor even by the Americans.
She turned dispiritedly to her dressing table and to keep her mind off the cold fiddled with the wonderful variety of cosmetics that, variously contained, crowded its top surface. And there leaning up against the unopened bottle of Lanvin's Arpege that Mr Tibbet had given her eighteen months before was the mail she hadn't dared open.
She did so now.
First was a card from her cousin Judhael in Totnes. The little bitch, hissed Francie to herself. It showed a picture of a young woman looking wonderfully like Francie, stooped over something resembling raw buffalo hide. Underneath was a caption reading, Women of today have, too, a wonderful variety of occupations. Mark Tibbet (Mayor).
Mayor, mouthed Francie. Buffalo mare's piss.
The next two letters she couldn't read because they were of a different language. The third she felt between the first two fingers and thumb of each hand. She looked into space. No, she said quietly and put it down.
The next said, Please come round soon. I need you. Mark. She was about to throw that down when she saw on the back, PS Please come wearing Lanvin's Arpege. I'd be grateful and, in time, so would you be. Hmph, said Francie, intrigued despite herself.
The next card was as simple as the heater to use. In clear blue print it was headed, The New Woman's Ethical League (affiliated to the Council for the Use of Normal Thinking). In mauve ink its message read, There is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers. Francie opened her underwear drawer and pulled out a half-bottle of Teachers from beside her first edition of The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism. She took a slug, a long one. No work could get done that night, that was for sure, especially as the last envelope frightened her most. It was huge. She slit it open with a long eye-liner brush and slipped out a heavy concertinad card. On the front in clear blue ink was printed, … far reaching discoveries in the biological sciences. She opened it out with shaking hand. There were eight photographs of men she knew well. All of them are there except Clifford, my darling rheostat. Lance, Henry, Charles, Edwin, Anthony, Cedric, Sidney and Lance. All of them in the last two months had expressed LOVE but their features in the photograph were vicious. In the first square, instead of a photo, were the words, Each of us liked you. (Liked: That hurt her.) and on the last square were the words, And where are we now'.
Francie swallowed more of the Teachers. It is strange how much I need them now. She threw herself down on the bed, her whiskey breath in the pillow. Oh God: only Clifford and Mr Tibbet. Muffled through her pillow she heard the telephone ring. She clutched the bedclothes tightly until it stopped. Then she fell shaking asleep.
The next morning she would drive up to Mr Tibbet's place.