|John’s right hand trembled as he reached for the mug of hot tea. We both noticed but said nothing. John was decorating an apartment belonging to my father. I was living in it at the time, over in London for the summer on the premise of earning some money for college.John and I would chat. He was generous with his paternal advice whereas relations with my own father were fractious. My father had recently threatened to throw me out for some antic or other. John had warned me the place reeked of smoke. I used to tube it up to Kilburn, to visit a basement bar and rat-a-tat on it’s green door in search of my weekly ten spot, chipped from a huge brick sized block of the stuff. This was the summer, I worked as a waitress during the day and on occasional evenings, ushered at the Everyman cinema up in Hampstead.
Before the mug toppled, John managed to grab hold of it with his left hand, damning his right. The tea had splashed over the rim, scalding him. Years later when we met again, his redundant right hand was pushed firmly in his pocket. By this time he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s’.
John was a kind man. He told me stories about the homes he had decorated and the people encountered.
He’d decorated an apartment in a red brick mansion block off Sloane Square. The apartment was a graduation present for a young gent; one of those terribly privileged and ever so, ever so types. He exuded limitless confidence and total fearlessness. Life was at his mercy and he treated it carelessly, chasing experiences with every mind-altering substance available.
This young sophisticate was very specific about interior decoration; magnolia would not cut the mustard. He had ordered bespoke wallpaper from Florence. It was a verdant lush jungle scene, of greens, browns, yellows and gold. A leopard peered out through the undergrowth, upon the branches swung monkeys, above which perched lovebirds and parakeets. It was a backdrop to fire this young man’s imagination, who having regaled John with various escapades patently enjoyed a hunt.
John had never seen such exquisite wallpaper nor worked with such material. A metre cost the earth. A small fortune lay in a roll. John had to be careful when pasting it to the wall. This was no slap dash, splash dash exercise; it required expertise and an excruciatingly steady hand. The result was beautiful, creating an atmosphere that was a mix of the exotic, warm, earthy, musky, febrile, where danger lurked between the grasses, a place one could be hunter and prey.
When the room was finished the young man decided to go hunting and in some altered state, he went into the jungle room and closed the door behind him.
The following morning, John found him, his hunting rifle beside him, his brains splattered against the wall.