PERRY, YOUNG AND OLD
Perry was deeply touched by his breakfast. He had laid it out the night before. He did this every night – and every morning he thanked his past self, who had been so kind.
He sat at his kitchen table relishing the food, perfectly cooked in the elaborate timers that had cost so much. Occasionally he stopped, thinking how his past self had bustled around last night, working so hard for his pleasure. ‘Thank you, Old Perry,’ he said.
Perry checked his watch. He kept it half an hour fast, mistrusting himself to be on time. This also was a matter of past and future selves, he saw, as with the breakfast. Recently he had named his past self Old Perry – who was kind and thoughtful and knew that Perry was inclined to be late.
‘Yes,’ thought Perry, with a sad smile. ‘I’m a dizzy trollop.’
It was time for the shop. He crossed the chintzy streets with their stuccoed houses, self-conscious boutiques and cafes, swift on his little strides, and was actually inside his shop, turning the sign to Open, when he remembered the cash.
‘Damn.’ He’d been short of cash ever since he’d bought that mirror. ‘Damn.’ He'd always kept most of his cash at home, to control his spending, but Old Perry had imposed further restraints.
He hurried back through the elegant streets. His house was a silly little Regency thing, painted pink and absurdly narrow, its rooms piled atop each other on three floors. It had once seemed amusing. ‘Built for a Duke’s doxie, no doubt,’ he would tell his friends with a laugh, back when he had friends. Nowadays, Perry only had Old Perry and Young Perry.
He opened the front door, which was cheap and thin and led direct into the tiny lounge. Wheezing and hot, he climbed the narrow staircase to the upstairs kitchen. He opened the kitchen drawer. The bottom of the drawer was lined wth newspaper. He lifted this newspaper and took out an envelope. Inside was a note with the combination to the safe, written in Old Perry’s square bossy hand. ‘A fusspot,’ said Perry irritably as he put on his spectacles, which hung around his neck on a red ribbon. ‘So strict.’ Now he was flustered: without Old Perry’s foolishness, he would already be hurrying back to the shop. What if some big collector should call?
He muttered and shook his head. He never hid this rebellious streak. It showed that he was emotional, and that Old Perry was right to restrain him.
Upstairs again to his tiny bedroom, where he lowered himself to the carpet and slid under the bed. It was very uncomfortable: one hand holding the note, the other turning the combination lock, sneezing in the dust and dark – and he was rather stout. He'd kept the safe in his bedroom for years, but Old Perry had pushed it deep under the bed and had set a combination that was impossible to remember, and had put the combination in an envelope under the paper in the kitchen drawer.
‘More rules,’ thought Perry, irritably. ‘I’ll be very late.’ But then he corrected himself: it was for his own good, because he was so impulsive, as the mirror had shown. So expensive, but how it had called to him!
At last the safe was open. And what a surprise! Two chocolates, Belgian, wrapped in gilt paper, sat on the pack of banknotes. He smiled with pleasure and then grew quiet, thinking of Old Perry who loved chocolate but had left him this treat.
Old Perry was severe but kind. His lips were thin and did not smile. He sat up straight and pushed his spectacles hard against his face with a thick straight finger, especially when he thought of Perry, who was unreliable.
Perry squirmed out from under the bed, dusty and hot. He brushed himself down and felt guilty; thick rolls of dust lay on the white carpet. But he was late and his future self would have to do the vacuuming.
He put the combination into the envelope and slid the envelope back under the newspaper in the kitchen drawer, his lips drawn thin and censorious, thinking of Young Perry, his future self, who was charming but untrustworthy. He didn’t have a clear picture of Young Perry, but certainly he wasn’t built for housework, unless it involved design, perhaps, or light work with a feather duster.
Perry laid the chocolates on the kitchen table. He washed his hands with his head on one side, smiling and thinking of Old Perry who had left him the chocolates and of Young Perry who would come home and see them with delight.
He hurried to the shop. He was too late to do the paperwork. He’d have to do it at lunchtime, which meant there was no time for shopping. This was Old Perry's fault, whose rules were becoming impossible. Perry was angry for a moment, but then he thought, ‘Old Perry knows best.’
When he came home he went into the bedroom to change. He stopped in shock. Rolls of dust, thick dust from under the bed, lay on the white carpet. Old Perry had left this. ‘Unfair,’ thought Perry. ‘Unkind.’
He stepped around the dust and changed into his dressing-gown and slippers. Shaking his head he went into the kitchen and saw the chocolates on the table. He was grateful for a moment that Old Perry had left him this treat, but then he said aloud, ‘I’d rather have a clean bedroom, thank you very much.’
He thought of Old Perry who had left the dust and of Young Perry who was too dizzy to clean it up. He unwrapped a chocolate. He found that now he had a clearer picture of Young Perry, who certainly loved chocolate. He loved chocolate and ice cream and cake, which was bad for all of them, and he laughed often. His skin was pink and his flesh soft. He was too vain for the glasses, and left them slung on their ribbon around his neck, so that he blinked vaguely and was clumsy and absent-minded, which was either endearing or, when you thought about it, perhaps not.
Perry put the chocolate into his mouth. He was defiant at this selfishness. He remembered Young Perry but thought, ‘You can’t leave chocolate forever.’
It was time to prepare the breakfast for morning. He looked in the fridge. Odd: there was no bacon and no sausages. He frowned. Old Perry hadn’t been to the butcher’s: he also hadn’t done the paperwork or the vacuuming, all because of his own stupid rules about the cash and the envelope and the password and the safe.
Perry saw Old Perry: the shop was closed for lunch, yet he was idling in the back room, self-righteous, with pursed lips and firm spectacles, sitting up straight to hide his fat belly but who did he think he was fooling?
Perry slammed the fridge door. He sat restlessly in front of the TV. Once he got up and went back to the fridge. Definitely no breakfast stuff. He thought of Young Perry coming to the kitchen table next morning. Then he was irritated, because Young Perry would accuse him.
Perry changed to his dressing gown and went to the bedroom, stepping over the rolls of dust. He stared at the alarm clock. Old Perry had moved it across the room to the sideboard, where it couldn’t be reached from the bed. He had stood it on a tin tray to make it louder, and had taped a sign on the wall over the bed. ‘Get Up You Fool’, it said.
Perry tore down the sign and put the clock on his bedside table.
He was late getting up. He had turned off the alarm and rolled over and dozed, so that he was sleepy and bad-tempered when he came to the kitchen table. He already knew that something was wrong. No appetizing smells filled the flat. No sound of sizzling, no waft of warm air. He stared at the cold containers. And the kettle was empty.
‘Cruel,’ he thought as he hurred downstairs. ‘Unkind.’
Again he was late opening the shop, so again he couldn’t do the paperwork. At lunchtime he closed the shop but did no shopping and no paperwork. He sat in the back room with his arms folded, the glasses pushed hard against his face, thinking that he was defied but that he would defy people in return, especially Young Perry, who was useless.
In the evening he watched TV and didn’t even consider making breakfast.
Next morning the alarm rang and Perry rolled over and slept. Even so, he noticed the funny smell. It was very faint. Presumably it was breakfast. As he dozed he thought about one of those foreign sausages, or a smoky French cheese, or perhaps a funny smoky kind of tea. He slept and woke and slept again. At last he got up in a panic.
He rushed to the bathroom and washed quickly. He’d be very late, and perhaps a rich collector had driven down from London and was waiting outside the shop in his car, the engine running, and would go away angry and tell his rich friends that Perry was unreliable.
‘I’ll just have time for a bite of breakfast,’ thought Perry. ‘Just a bite while I put my shoes on. A mouthful of bacon perhaps, with a bit of bread that I’ll dip in the grease. Not the sausage, though, which smells burnt.’
He hurried to the kitchen, but there was no food. His plate was laid as usual in front of his favourite chair. On the plate was the envelope from the kitchen drawer and inside the envelope was crushed ash, which most certainly was the combination to the safe.
Perry stared at the table, and saw himself as Old Perry preparing this surprise, and as Young Perry, who would flap his hands with dismay.
‘Enough,’ he thought.
He breathed and counted, breathed and counted, because this was marvellous against stress.
He would be sensible. He would run the shop properly. He would think about advertising, and sell the things that normal people bought. Above all he would forget about Old Perry and Young Perry.
He put on his coat. He hurried to the stairs and saw the wire too late.
As he fell he saw himself tripping over the wire, and also saw himself as Old Perry tying it across the stairs. He did not see himself as Young Perry, because there would be no Young Perry.