~A FALSE FACADE~
Holding aloft the two glasses of Chateau Robert, Sonny Blake pushed through the crowd, nodding to colleagues as he sidestepped the potted palms. He was a popular figure at these thespian functions. Until the conclusion of Crisis, the hospital soap, he played the leading role which set budding actresses clamouring to take his arm; an irregular countenance and lopsided smile giving him that rugged appearance which was so in vogue with the younger set. His enforced retirement meant nothing to them. He was legendary; his position was influential.
As he pressed through the swarm of performers he flirted with the starlets, knowing his overtures would not be taken seriously. At fifty-nine his inclinations had subsided; only the memories remained.
Proceeding towards the Windsor Lounge Sonny was hailed by Susan Craig, an erstwhile star whose fortune was in decline. Over the months he had led her through the intricacies of everyday accounting, but Susan felt more comfortable spending money than saving it. Not having time to chat, Sonny inclined his head and nodded as if to say, Tomorrow, I'll call. Tomorrow, I will counsel you further. Susan gave him a dazzling smile. She understood his meaning. Taking a sip of wine, Sonny pinned on a jolly smile and carried on.
He spotted his friend, Peter Vaughan. 'Fine crowd tonight,' Sonny said, raising his voice above the hubbub. 'It's taken me a century to get these drinks through. Meryl will be wondering where I am.'
He started to move away, but Peter clutched his dinner jacket. 'Before you disappear I'd like a word.'
Sonny glanced towards the Windsor Lounge, imagining Meryl's frustration at having to wait so long, but the anxiety on his friend's face prompted him to enquire, a touch facetiously, 'Which word would that be, Peter?'
'You said you'd help with access to the kids.' Peter glared at a highly made-up woman who was endeavouring to get by. 'Weekends are dreadfully inconvenient but it seems I have no choice. Damned solicitor's taken Josie's side. Now, if you could collect them…'
'I will collect them, Peter, and I’ll take them to your flat on the understanding that I join you for lunch. I'll contact you tomorrow for instruction. Now I must get on. Meryl will be organizing a search party.'
As Sonny turned away, Peter remarked to his female companions that Sonny Blake was the very essence of compassion, an absolute rock of dependability. Who else would drop everything to drive twenty-five miles there and back to escort a colleague's brats.
Sonny paused at the doorway to search for Meryl. She would by now have forsaken the couch and joined a group most beneficial to her trade. He acknowledged a couple of agents, one of whom had sought his advice about his ailing mother. Sonny had recommended the relevant organisation. An intelligent suggestion, held the agent. One obvious to a five year old, deemed Sonny.
Meryl's piping voice emanated from the vicinity of the fireplace. Sonny moved in that direction. One of her routines was in full flow, the one he had taken such pains to perfect; hours of instilling into her that to successfully impersonate Joan Rivers she must remember to use the proper accent.
Standing at the boundary of Meryl's audience Sonny signalled his presence, lifting the wineglass for her to see. However, Meryl was absorbed in entertaining the crowd, using the grey marble fireplace and a damson-coloured chaise-longue as backdrop. Sonny watched and gloried in the fact that her performance was outstanding.
At the end, amidst well-deserved cheers, one beefy American roared his intention to engage her for his next revue. Smiling triumphantly, Meryl ran to Sonny and kissed his cheek. He handed her the drink and put his empty glass on a small onyx table. 'It worked,' she said. 'Your badgering worked.' She hugged him. 'Where would I be without you.'
At , after installing Meryl in a taxi, Sonny headed home, tugging his collar round his neck, battling against the rain. His black shoes squeaked as they always did when wet. His blue-black hair was soaked. He regretted not having brought a hat but who expected to see such a deluge after all that heat. A car drove by, splashing water on his trousers.
Reaching his basement home, once a high class Victorian dwelling, he gripped the iron handrail and began to descend, treading carefully on the slippery steps. One by one the street lights were extinguished. Raucous laughter emerged from distant revellers. A clock struck the quarter-hour, its clarity dulled by the rain. A cat meowed nearby. He fished in his pocket for the key, shaking away the drips from a leaking gutter.
The door swung open. Sonny knocked the light switch with his shoulder and the bed-sit was flooded with harsh light. Nine months he had lived there and still the bulb was naked. The tiny sink was cluttered with soiled crocks. The blue plastic curtain which hid the pipes was torn where once he grabbed it to break a fall. On the opposite wall was his unmade bed. Each night he vowed that next morning he would straighten the sheets, but he was prevented by apathy from attending to domestic tasks. Little point when the only spectator was him.
Taking the bottle of Gordon's from the shelf alongside the sink, Sonny filled a Horlicks mug. Thinking again of his dead fiancé, killed through his own neglect, a little thing like failing to spot the faulty brakes on his car. He felt despondency setting in, once again acknowledging that without his beloved Gloria his life was worth nothing.
Accidental death; accidentally caused by him.
This evening had been like slow torture and he knew he couldn't go on much longer pandering to the whims of others, aiding and advising, supporting and succouring, getting nothing in return. Good old, reliable Sonny. Rock of dependability. If only dependability could pay the rent or reliability settle bills. Advising Susan on budgeting had been easy but for him the road ahead was littered with court orders and final demands. And he still had legal costs to meet.
A profound sigh ripped through his lips. His temples throbbed, a common occurrence after consuming red wine. Refilling the mug with gin, he drank from the chip-free side. If nothing else it would ease the pain.