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Jane rang me up and said we need to talk about Eichmann. Third Reich discourse is necessary, she said. There are things to say about the final solution, points to be made about chain of command; great swathes of Adolf Eichmann need to be brought up into the air and tossed about until they are well aired, Jane said.
This was the first I had heard from Jane in six weeks.
“You know what I mean?” said Jane.
It was clear what she meant all right. It was always clear with Jane. If she wanted to talk on a subject it inevitably got discussed. She and I had spent hours together talking things through. We shared discourse on Pope Julius II and the drummer from Slade. Afternoons were lost to the pros and cons of Phillip Schofield. Meals were interrupted by mention of Kafka and Charlotte Church. There was one Saturday in January, not long after we first met, when we spent the whole day in bed thrashing out dialogue on Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, and an afternoon in May, when Jane showed up at my workplace and dragged me out into the street to discuss Bill Clinton.
One time, on holiday in Devon, we even spent a whole week talking about Piers Morgan. I recall Jane calling him a callous man, a greedy man; out for profit and grandeur, but with no care for humanity – not my kind of guy at all said Jane. I can hear her opinions still now; calm yet firm in her appraisal, not afraid to raise her voice to get across her point about humanity. I struggle to recall what I would have said – I have never been one for talent shows – in fact looking back I can’t think that I would ever have much to say about Piers Morgan during that week, but that was always the way with Jane.
Jane insisted that the Eichmann matter needed to be seen to right away.
“Drop everything,” she said. “Get in the car and meet me in the café on Ferdinand Street.”
I explained that I didn’t have a car any more.
“Well get a bus then,” said Jane. “Or a train, why not hail a cab? I don’t really care what you do so long as you’re at that café within the hour ready to talk Nazi war crimes.”
I heard a quiver creep into Jane’s voice.
“You will come,” she said. “Won’t you?”
For a time I let the receiver sit flat against my cheek as I thought practically. As Jane inhaled at the other end of the line I planned a route to the café on Ferdinand Street, I worked out rough costings for bus fares and train tickets – I would presumably have to buy some sort of coffee or cake if I was going to sit in a café with Jane discussing Eichmann. If the discussion went on for a while I might have to buy two.
I could never be sure how long Jane would wish to talk for. At times she could be painfully brief. I remember one Sunday morning she urged me from my bed at three am, to get up and drive cross country from my parents’ house on the Norfolk Broads, with the expressed intention of talking about Woody Allen. I drove a Peugeot 206 I borrowed from my mother. It was a car I was unfamiliar with and a bulb had gone in one of the headlamps. There was a great deal of driving rain. For three hours I drove hunched forward over the steering wheel, desperately trying to keep track of where I was, sometimes veering into the centre of the road to straddle the cats’ eyes like a car on a Scalextric track. Twice I stopped to buy more windscreen washer fluid.
When I arrived at Jane’s front door dripping wet and several pounds out of pocket she invited me in and gave me a towel. She sat down with me in her front room. I noticed she was wearing an old T-shirt from a gym that she no longer went to.
“You know Annie Hall is his only what I would call good film,” she said.
That was it for Woody. Jane touched me briefly on the shoulder and went back up to bed. I climbed back into the Peugeot and drove back to my parents’ house on the Norfolk Broads, resolved to persuade my mother to invest in a new bulb for the headlamp.
At other times Jane could be far more protracted. There were several months in the autumn of 2011 when we discussed Mary Poppins as a matter of routine. Neither Jane nor I had ever seen the film but every morning and every evening Jane would bring it up without fail. At breakfast Jane would sit up at the kitchen table staring into her bowl of bran. She would wince and grimace intermittently.
“I just don’t think it would be my kind of film at all,” she would say.
“Possibly,” I’d say. “Possibly.”
It was clear that Jane thought more about Mary Poppins than I did. She reminded me of this fact regularly. She cited reviews and criticism. She printed off stills that she found on the internet. Some mornings, while I was trying to play devil’s advocate, she would push away her bowl of bran and shout:
“You have no idea do you? You just have no idea. You don’t even know who Mary Poppins fucking is!”
Later, in the evenings, Jane would get more analytical.
“You know from the stills I’ve seen there are bits of Mary Poppins that don’t look all that bad,” she would say.
I agreed when she said that the scenery certainly looked nice. I even suggested that with the right sound system the songs needn’t be so bad. Occasionally I found Jane looking up at me from the sofa to smile.
“Maybe Mary Poppins wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all,” she once said.
We carried on like that for over a month, Jane and I, discussing Mary Poppins. I once found myself in a supermarket where they had the DVD on offer. Before I knew what I was doing I had it in my basket where there was meant to be something for pudding. It was an impulse buy, I would explain, let’s stick it on and see what Mary Poppins is actually like. But before I made it to the till I put the DVD down by some tinned peaches. I could hear Jane’s voice in my head: are you insane, we’re nowhere near done talking here – so I picked up a tin of peaches and went home.
Maybe if I’d brought the DVD home that day it would have brought Mary Poppins to a head. As it was, we rumbled on for the best part of two months, until one day in October when Jane decided she wanted to talk about Susan Boyle and we never mentioned Mary Poppins again.
“Tell me you’ll be there,” she said, seemingly near to tears at her end of the phone.
As luck would have it there was very little to do that day, certainly nothing that couldn’t wait. I explained that I would be there. I estimated my journey time to be 30 minutes and told Jane to expect me in 45. The quiver left her voice and she grew excited. I could almost feel her smile pushing into the receiver.
“I can’t wait to see you,” she said. “There’s so much to say.”
Thomas Chadwick is currently splitting his time between London and Gent, Belgium. His short fiction has been published in print and online and he was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize 2013.