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Authors: Sue Margolis

Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Romantic Comedy, #Humorous, #General

Neurotica

BOOK: Neurotica
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To Jonathan, who never has a headache

C H A P T E R     O N E

D
AN BLOOMFIELD STOOD IN FRONT of the full-length bathroom
mirror, dropped his boxers to his ankles, moved his penis
to one side to get a better look and stared hard at the sagging,
wrinkled flesh which housed his testicles. Whenever Dan examined
his testicles—and as a hypochondriac he did this several
times a week—he thought of two things: the likelihood of his
imminent demise; and the cupboard under the stairs in his mother's
house in Finchley.

It was a consequence of the lamentable amount of storage
space in her unmodernized fifties kitchenette that Mrs. Bloomfield
had always kept hanging in the hall cupboard, alongside the
overcoats, macs and umbrellas, one of those long string shopping
bags made pendulous by the weight of her overflow Brussels sprouts.
From the age of thirteen, Dan referred to this as his mother's
scrotal sac.

These days Dan reckoned his own scrotal sac was a dead ringer
for his mother's. His bollocks couldn't get any lower. Dan supposed
lower was OK at forty; death on the other hand was not.

By bending his knees ever so slightly, shuffling a little
closer to the mirror and pulling up on his scrotum he could get a
better view of its underside. It looked perfectly normal. In fact
the whole apparatus looked perfectly normal. There was nothing he
could see, no sinister lumps, bumps or skin puckering which
suggested impending uni-bollockdom, or that his wife should start
bulk-buying herrings for his funeral. Then, suddenly, as he
squeezed his right testicle gently between his thumb and
forefinger, it was there again, the excruciating stabbing pain he
had felt as he crossed his legs that morning in the editors' daily
conference.

   

A
nna Shapiro, Dan's wife, needed to pee right
away. She knew because she had just been woken up by one of those dreams in
which she had been sitting on the loo about to let go when suddenly
something in her brain kicked in to remind her that this would
not be a good idea, since she was, in reality, sprawled across the
brand-new pocket-sprung divan on which they hadn't even made the
first payment. Looking like one of those mad women on the first day
of the Debenhams sale, she bolted towards the bathroom. Here she
discovered Dan rolling naked on the floor, clutching his testicles
in one hand and his penis in the other with a look of agony on his
face which she immediately took for sublime pleasure.

As someone who'd been reading “So you think your husband is
a sexual deviant”–type advice columns in women's magazines since
she was twelve, Anna knew a calm, caring opening would be best.

“Dan, what the fuck are you up to?” she shrieked. “I mean
it, if you've turned into some kind of weirdo, I'm putting my hat
and coat on now. I'll tell the whole family and you'll never see
the children again and I'll take you for every penny. I can't keep
up with you. One minute you're off sex and the next minute I find
you wanking yourself stupid at three o'clock in the morning on the
bathroom floor. How could you do it on the bathroom floor? What if
Amy or Josh had decided to come in here for a wee and caught
you?”

“Will you just stop ranting for one second, you stupid fat
bitch. Look.”

Dan directed Anna's eyes towards his penis, which she had
failed to notice was completely flaccid.

“I am not wanking. I think I've got bollock cancer. Anna,
I'm really scared.”

   

R
elieved? You bet I was bloody relieved. God, I mean for a
moment there last night, when I found him, I actually thought Dan
had turned into one of those nutters the police find dead on the
kitchen floor with a plastic bag over their head and a ginger tom
halfway up their arse. Of course, it was no use reminding him that
testicular cancer doesn't hurt. .   .   . What are you
going to have?”

As usual, the Harpo was full of crushed-linen, telly-media
types talking Channel 4 proposals, sipping mineral water and
swooning over the baked polenta and fashionable bits of offal.
Anna was deeply suspicious of trendy food. Take polenta, for
example: an Italian au pair who had worked for Dan and Anna a few
years ago had said she couldn't understand why it had become so
fashionable in England. It was, she said, the Italian equivalent of
semolina and that the only time an Italian ate it was when he was
in school, hospital or a mental institution.

Neither was Anna, who had cellulite and a crinkly
postchildbirth tummy flap which spilled over her bikini briefs when
she sat down, overly keen on going for lunch with Gucci-ed and
Armani-ed spindle-legged journos like Alison O'Farrell, who always
ordered a green salad with no dressing and then self-righteously
declared she was too full for pudding.

But as a freelance journalist, Anna knew the importance of
sharing these frugal lunches with women's-page editors. These days,
she was flogging Alison at least two lengthy pieces a month for the
Daily Mercury
's “Lifestyles” page, which was boosting
her earnings considerably. In fact her last dead-baby story, in
which a recovering postnatally depressed mum (who also just
happened to be a leggy 38 DD) described in full tabloid
gruesomeness how she drowned her three-month-old in the bath, had
almost paid for the sundeck Anna was having built on the back of
her kitchen.

Dan, of course, as the cerebral financial editor of
The
Vanguard,
Dan, who was probably more suited to academia than
Fleet Street, called her stuff prurient, ghoulish voyeurism and
carried on like some lefty sociology student from the seventies
about those sorts of stories being the modern opiate of the masses.
Anna couldn't be bothered to argue. She knew perfectly well he was
right, but, like a lot of lefties who had not so much lapsed as
collapsed into the risotto-breathed embrace of New Labour, she had
decided that the equal distribution of wealth starting with herself
had its merits. She suspected he was just pissed off that her
tabloid opiates earned her double what he brought home in a
month.

   

B
ut what about Dan's cancer?” Alison asked,
shoving a huge mouthful of undressed radicchio into her mouth and pretending to
enjoy it.

“Alison, I've been married to Dan for twelve years. He's
been like this for yonks. Every week it's something different.
First it was weakness in his legs and he diagnoses multiple
sclerosis, then he feels dizzy and it's a brain tumor. Last week he
decided he had some disease which, it turns out, you only get from
fondling sheep. Alison, I can't tell you the extent to which no
Jewish man fondles sheep. He's a hypochondriac. He needs therapy.
I've been telling him to get help for ages, but he won't. He just
sits for hours with his head in the
Home Doctor.

“Must be doing wonders for your sex life.”

“Practically nonexistent. He's too frightened to come in
case the strain of it gives him a heart attack, and then if he does
manage it he takes off the condom afterwards, looks to see how much
semen he has produced—in case he has a blockage
somewhere—then examines it for traces of blood.”

As a smooth method of changing the subject, Alison got up to
go to the loo. Anna suspected she was going to chuck up her salad.
When she returned, Anna sniffed for vomit, but only got L'Eau
d'Issy. “Listen, Anna,” Alison began the instant her bony bottom
made contact with the hard Phillipe Starck chair. “I've had an
idea for a story I think just might be up your street.”

   

D
an bought the first round of drinks in the pub and then went
to the can to feel his testicle. It was less than an hour
before his appointment with the specialist. The pain was still
there.

Almost passing out with anxiety, he sat on the lavatory, put
his head between his knees and did what he always did when he
thought he was terminally ill: he began to pray. Of course
it wasn't real prayer, it was more like some kind of sacred
trade-union negotiation in which the earthly official, Dan, set out
his position—i.e., dying—and demanded that celestial
management, God, put an acceptable offer on the table—i.e.,
cure him. By way of compromise, Dan agreed that he would start
going to synagogue again—or church, or Quaker meeting house,
if God preferred—as soon as he had confirmation he wasn't
dying anymore.

   

M
r. Andrew Goodall, the ruddy-complexioned former rugby fly-half testicle doctor, leaned back in his leather Harley Street
swivel chair, plonked both feet on top of his desk and looked at Dan
over half-moon specs.

“Perfectly healthy set of bollocks, old boy,” he
declared.

Kissed him? Dan could have tongue-wrestled the old
bugger.

“But what about all this pain I've been getting?”

“You seemed perfectly all right when I examined you. I
strongly suspect this is all psychosomatic, Mr. Bloomfield. I mean,
I could chop the little blighter orf if you really want me to, but
I suspect that if I did, in six months you'd be back in this office
with phantom ball pain. My advice to you would be to have a break.
Why not book a few days away in the sun with your good lady?
Alternatively, I can prescribe you something to calm you
down.”

Dan had stopped listening round about “psychosomatic.” The
next thing he knew he was punching the air and skipping like an
overgrown four-year-old down Harley Street towards Cavendish
Square. He, Dan Bloomfield, was not dying. He, Dan Bloomfield, was
going to live.

With thoughts of going to synagogue entirely forgotten, he
went into John Lewis and bought Anna a new blender to celebrate.
One can only imagine that God sighed and wondered why he had
created a world full of such ungrateful bleeders.

   

A
nna got home just after four. Denise, her baby-sitter, had taken Josh and Amy swimming after school, so she would be bratless
for at least a couple of hours—more if Denise got them
sausages and chips at the pool. Anna decided to have a bath and a
quick de-fuzz. All through the lunch she had been aware that she
was having a bad pubic hair day. The sideburns on her inner thighs
were reaching a density that would have done a woolly mammoth
proud.

As she turned over Dan's knicker drawer looking for his
razor, which he always tried to hide because whenever she used it
she left it blunt and clogged up with leg hairs, Anna realized she
was getting quite enthused by Alison's feature idea.

She'd said to Alison she wasn't sure if she had time to do
it, which was a lie she always told features editors just in case
they started taking her for granted. But she thought she probably
would. She could never say no to work, in case the Alison O'Farrells
of this world forgot who she was and never used her again. But more
than that, while Alison was explaining the idea to her, she began
to feel rather horny.

Alison had just received a preview copy of Rachel Stern's new
book,
The Clitoris-Centered Woman.
Anna despised Rachel
Stern almost as much as she despised polenta-eaters. Stern, an
American, was one of a gaggle of beautiful Harvard-educated
feminist writers, barely old enough to menstruate, who with their
pert bosoms, firm arses and live-in personal trainers had the
audacity to lecture the sagging, stretch-marked masses on how
antiwrinkle creams, Wonderbras and cosmetic Polyfillas were a form
of treachery against the sisterhood, or some such rot.

In her last book,
Dermis,
Stern had railed against
cosmetic surgery. On the day of publication she had led a massive
protest rally outside an LA clinic to launch her “Get a Life Not
the Knife” campaign. Hundreds of East and West Coast academics,
“educators” and writers—mainly svelte Stern look-alikes,
but with a smattering of token uglies—turned up to yell
abuse at the women going into the clinic. According to the
LA
Times
the protesters even dunked one woman's head in a vat of
liposucted fat, thoughtfully provided by a mole at the clinic who
was sympathetic to the cause.

“Look, I know you can't stand the bitch,” Alison had said,
“but I reckon
The Clitoris-Centered Woman
is actually
quite sensible. It's about infidelity and why women are more
reluctant to be unfaithful than men. She says women don't go in for
extramarital shagging because they feel they can only do it if they
are actually in love with the guy, and being in love with two men
seriously does your brain in, so not doing it in the first place
saves all the hassle of whose heart you're going to end up
breaking. Anyway, Stern says that all this needing to be in love in
order to have an affair is crap and women are just as capable as
men of having affairs purely for the sexual pleasure—hence
the title. So affairs become no more than a bit of glorified
pampering—like going for a manicure or a facial except you
get an orgasm instead of your blackheads squeezing. Of course, the
most difficult part is keeping it secret and not blurting it out to
hubby.”

“And don't tell me, she reckons we should all be into
extracurricular rutting because it can really zap up your
marriage   .   .   . and what you want me to do is to go
out and interview three slappers who make a habit of being
unfaithful just for the sex.”

“You got it. Two thousand words if you can. You've got loads
of time—she's not due over here to launch the book until
mid-July, which gives you about eight weeks.”

Anna realized she had got so carried away replaying in her
mind all this talk of adultery that she had been absentmindedly
shaving her pubes for at least ten minutes and had left herself
with little more than a Hitler mustache between her legs. As she
rinsed Dan's razor in the bathwater and watched her hairs float on
top of the white scum, it began to dawn on her that if anybody
needed to become a clitoris-centered woman, it was her.

BOOK: Neurotica
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