The book's title has changed too. As with all works in progress things are apt to change from time to time. The book was originally called Don's Tiny World, which I was never really happy with, so I have decided to change it to a simpler, more immediate title that more accurately reflects the path of the book... Atomic.
Camden market, for the uninitiated, is a very cool place. The stalls are arranged in a fashion perfect for just wandering and 'happening upon' things. You are just as likely to find a flower stall as you are to find someone selling an ancient soundboard that was used at a '72 Roxy Music gig. It is situated next to Camden Lock, and within spitting distance of various watering holes, mostly run by Irishmen who know how to look after their Guinness. Don liked Camden market and the Lock for the good beer, the atmosphere, the great selection of eateries, and the record stalls. This was his primary reason for going there, which he did once every two or three months. His flat was sparsely furnished, yet he possessed a collection of vinyl, tape and CDs that was probably worth more than the flat itself.
For some reason Perry had wandered off on his own. He often did this, and Don was used to just going home by himself. Perry had invariably shown up the next day with a story about bumping into an old mate, a woman, or some D-list celeb that had invited him to a party. How much of it was true, Don neither knew or really cared. As long as he got to wander round his beloved Camden a few times a year and enlarge his record collection, that was fine. Perry could do what he wanted. Either way, Don was on his own, riffling through the records under 'B'. Barrington Levy? Sure. Bardo? Not so much. Blondie?.... ah, Blondie.
He suddenly stopped and reminisced as the copy of Eat To The Beat that had met his fingers stared back at him poutily. Yes, that was the LP with that fateful song on it, Atomic. The one that always reminded him of Stephanie, her hair, her eyes, her party, that first real kiss. He lingered for a few moments before moving on to Buddy Guy. Why did this guy file things under people's first names?
His next stop after the records was a bookstall. As well as music, Don was a passionate reader. He didn't really have a preference for a particular style, just as long as it was good, well written and interesting. Sometimes he would just buy a book because it looked like it might be interesting or had a cool looking cover. In some cases the cover art was way more exciting than the contents turned out to be. Still, no matter. He was browsing through a rack of newer hardbacks when a slim volume caught his eye. It was curiously entitled Home Of The Spider, and he picked it up and had a quick peruse. It seemed to him that it was a fairly standard thriller and he was about to put it back in the rack when he froze, agog at the blurb on the back. More accurately, the picture accompanying the blurb, depicting the author, one Louisa M. Hall, artily photographed in black-and-white, standing next to a rubber plant. That face... those eyes... that Theda Bara bob. There was no mistaking it was Stephanie, his Stephanie. She was a thriller writer, a pulp novelist... wow. Just wow. He quickly regained his composure just enough to be able to buy the book. After that he was too stunned to continue shopping. Best go find a place to sit down. Maybe a drink would help calm him. After all, he'd just had a shock – a fairly pleasant one, but a shock all the same. His heart was seemingly trying to eject itself alternately out of his chest or his throat, and sometimes both at once. He tottered unsteadily to the nearest pub, bought a pint, sat down at an outside table and began to read.
It was clearly Stephanie's writing style, he thought to himself. He could imagine her voice intoning the words as he read. It wasn't the greatest book in the world, but that did not matter to Don. He had found something that brought her back to life in his mind, and that was all he cared about for the moment.
After two or three more drinks he was about halfway through the book and was hit with the sudden realisation that time was actually going by at its usual speed. Two whole hours had passed and Don had been in a dream state. If he didn't pick up the pace he was going to miss his train back home. He quickly gathered his stuff and made to go back to the market for one last browse. As he moved off, head down, bustling along, his elbow nudged a woman he was passing and sent the bags he was carrying and the papers in the woman's arms flying in fifteen different directions. Shit. That was all he needed. He quickly dropped to his knees and started scrabbling for all the pieces of paper and the contents of his bags, trying to rearrange them as neatly as he possibly could as he did so, and placing the papers into the waiting hands of the woman with the bob haircut. The bob hairc...
He tried speaking but found his lips to be non-functional. He dumbly nodded as if his neck muscles had been replaced with jelly.
“How the hell are you? What's it been, twenty-odd years?”
Alright. Try to speak.
“Are you okay, Don? You don't look too well. Here,” she motioned to the chair he had just vacated. “sit down.”
Eventually he regained the use of his mouth and they spent the entire rest of the day catching up on old times. She had left uni and wandered from highly-paid job to highly-paid job, never feeling completely satisfied in any of them, before finally jacking it in and focusing on something she had always harboured a desire to do – writing. She had adopted the pseudonym because she thought her name sounded too boring. He told her how wrong she was, how he loved her name. He was like a giddy schoolboy. He completely forgot about the train, the market, or Perry. She offered to let him crash at her place for the night, and really, how could this silly infatuated man-boy refuse? Now that he'd found her again, he didn't want to let her out of his sight.
Somehow he knew her stylish Hampstead flat would be decorated this way – an eclectic mix of old and new, a bit of IKEA here, a Chesterfield there, some Art Deco, Monet's “The Artist's Garden At Vetheuil” on the wall next to a Roy Lichtenstein, a Bauhaus-influenced armchair, a weaver's loom in the corner of the hall, some African sculptures and primitive American folk art in the bathroom. It was the way he would decorate if he cared about decorating and could afford to. None of it matched, yet it all seemed to fit together so well.
They sat up all night just talking until their eyelids would not cooperate and they were forced to rest. She toddled off to her room, leaving Don on the Chesterfield. It was probably only the second time in his life he'd ever sat on a Chesterfield and certainly the only time he had used one as a bed. He slept soundly despite the extremely uncomfortable angle at which his neck was propped, due to abject exhaustion and too much excitement. He was roused by Stephanie's gently shaking his shoulder at about 11 a.m. and presented with a mug of strong coffee and a glass of OJ.
Wow, this was a level of hospitality he was most unaccustomed to. He had to think for a minute to get his bearings somewhat and remember where he actually was.
From the kitchen he could hear the satisfying sounds of sizzling, pans and plates clinking and clanking, and water boiling, along with the dizzying aromas of eggs and bacon and toast and more coffee. This was better service than any hotel.
After breakfast, eaten at the table (at the table! How long had it been since he'd eaten at a table? How long since he'd even had a table?), Stephanie looked him directly in the eye and said, “How about a shower?” in that sort of semi-whisper much favoured by female actresses in American soap operas.
He nearly choked on his last mouthful of coffee. “Wh-whaat?” he spluttered.
“You probably need one, Don. You did sleep in your clothes, after all.”
He was both relieved and disappointed at the same time, as the realization that she was suggesting he showered solo hit his cerebral cortex.
“Oh, yeah. Right. Sure, sure.”
The hot steamy water enveloped him like an old friend, running down the front of his face and chest, onto his belly and covering his naughty bits with a warm wet cloak of soap-enhanced goodness. He stayed in that shower for a good 15 minutes, revisiting in his mind every detail of the previous evening's happenings, all the sights, sounds, smells, conversations and wonderful memories it evoked. He could scarcely believe how fate seemed to have smiled upon him for once. As he stood lost in his reverie the shower door slid open and there stood Stephanie, towel in hand.
His first instinct, like most men would, was to cover his manhood with his hand. He was slightly alarmed that Stephanie's response was to let out a small giggle.
“Oh, come on, Don. I'm not a girl anymore. I've seen one before.” Her tone was a tad schoolmarmish, which he found mildly arousing.
“Yeah, but you've not seen mine before, I mean, a little prior warning would have been nice.”
“I just wanted to see the look on your face.”
After a moment he could not help himself. He stepped out of the shower, made to grab the towel, but moved close to her, his damp chest rubbing against her blouse and the next thing they knew they were entwined, lips locked, heading towards her room, a moving pink mass of arms, legs and hair, tripping and fumbling until they fell onto her bed.
It was there that they stayed until about 5 p.m., until they finally decided that they were both hungry and it was time to eat.