THE S WORD
I swirl my bread in the yolk breaking the membrane, the orange liquid released pools round my fried tomato.
“Top breakfast, Laura.”
“Breakfast? Have you seen the time?”
“More like lunch,” she complains clearing away my mug even though there’s still a mouthful of tea left in it.
“I had a heavy night,” I admit. “But this has helped enormously. Don’t have any nurofen do you?”
“I can’t keep them in the house.”
A statement of sufficient mystery to entice me, despite my thumping headache into asking, “Why?”
Perhaps my sister is in one of her anti pharma quests again, the cupboards stuffed with natural remedies that naturally do nothing.
Or maybe her husband, Alan has a secret codeine addiction, this is a far better prospect for I refuse to believe that he really is as dull as he appears. He tells people he works in the city, in banking. Which is perfectly true, he works in a branch of HSBC in Reading city behind the counter.
That’s how he met Laura, she used to bring in the takings from the sandwich shop she worked in and he’d pay them in. Alan tells me they struck up a flirtation, a phrase that makes me shudder imagining all kinds of gruesome plays on words such as bap, dosh and rubber stamping.
I tried to talk her out of their first date pointing out that her knowledge of him was purely based on the parts of him she could see above the counter.
“For all you know he’s wearing culottes and kitten heels.”
In retrospect I rather wish he had, it would have given us more to talk about, I have a wicked collection of kitten heeled shoes.
Anyway I digress, partly because Laura’s answer to my question is her answer to everything these days, “Because I’m pregnant.” She tries to take my plate away, I wrestle it back from her.
“There’s still the tomato left.”
As I slice into the tomato I tell her, “Could have done with a sausage though, its not a proper fry up without a sausage.”
It wasn’t a criticism, more of a helpful suggestion so her response is way over the top. Her hand flies up to her mouth and she turns away, hanging over the sink taking in deep gulpfuls of air.
“Don’t mention that word.”
“The ‘s’ word.”
Laura disapproves of my language, “But I didn’t say shit, or shag or shaft or sex _ oh you mean sausage.”
That propels her back to the sink.
“Do you need some water” I ask seeing the distinctly green tinge of her usual flawless complexion.
She nods and sits back down or rather sits up on the breakfast stool. My sister doesn’t so much as veer towards shortness but rather limbo dances straight under it with inches to spare.
“It’s the morning sickness,” she explains in between taking careful sips of her water. “Or all day sickness I should call it. It’s awful, Tess, the strangest things set it off.”
“Like the ‘s’ word.”
She nods, cautiously. “And any of its fellow animal products. Just the thought of them, let alone the sight sets me off. Stupidly I decided to cook Cottage pie for Alan’s supper last night, it’s his favourite.”
It would be, no doubt his nan cooked it for him when he was a little Alan in a knitted tank top and shiny red sandals.
“So I went to Tesco’s to get the mince and Oh Tess it was dreadful!” Her hand shooting up to her mouth again. “All that meat, that raw meat, all bloody and bleeding. Shelf after shelf of it. I couldn’t bear it, I just couldn’t bear it and I…….oh this is so embarrassing.”
I place down my knife and fork, “What happened?” I ask trying to keep the gleeful anticipation out of my tone.
“I knew I was going to be sick, I couldn’t hold it in, it was bubbling up my throat so I just grabbed the nearest receptacle.”
Only my sister would use the word receptacle.
She looks at me with distraught eyes. “The shopping basket.”
I pondered, thumb on my chin. “That’s quite a holey receptacle. In fact I don’t think it could really be classed as a receptacle given the holes.”
Laura hands her head down in shame, “It went everywhere. They had to do a tannoy announcement for a cleaner to come and mop it up.”
I’m laughing, I can’t help it, but it’s a silent gasping sort of laugh so Laura doesn’t notice. Thankfully.
“Then the cleaner came and he put his yellow wet floor sign right by my feet. Oh it was so humiliating!”
I manage to wipe away my tears of mirth before she looks up, pressing my lips together in what I hope is a suitably sympathetic line.
I pat her hand, “I’ll do the washing up. You sit down and put your feet up.”
“Who’s that?” hisses Laura.
“It’s Devan. He stayed the night.”
“Devan? Who’s Devan?”
“We met last night and he needed somewhere to crash.”
“So you brought back a complete strange into your pregnant sister’s home?”
“Actually I told him it was mine.”
Which retrospectively was a terrible idea since Devan strides out of the bedroom and thinking he was in my flat didn’t think about throwing any clothes on.
“Tess,” he grins, cheeky as a bum pinching vicar. “There you are. Fancy going back to bed?” He gives a chortle that stops mid innuendo laced hohoho as he spots Laura perched on the stool.
“Ah,” he says following her eyeline downwards to his _
“Chipolata!” squeaks Laura and heaves up her stomach contents all over the breakfast bar.
Besides, he was very fond of his penis and had been intending to hang onto it until his death when they could pickle it, put it in a jar, and display it on a plinth in the temple of Mars Ultor for all he cared.
Characters in Five Quotes – Nero
As June 9th is the anniversary of Nero’s suicide in 68 AD, how could I fail to represent him in five quotes from Palatine http://www.karnacbooks.com/product/palatine-the-four-emperors-series-book-i/36826/
1) You could always tell when Nero was about to enter a room. The air was sucked out, there was a momentary silence, and then you were hit in the face with a full blown typhoon. It was, Epaphroditus imagined, like hearing the whistle of a ballista bolt above your head just before it obliterated you off the face off the earth.
2) “You will leave. You will all leave. I wish to spend time with my Poppaea. Rome needs an heir as everyone keeps telling me. It is my duty. Our duty.”
Good luck with that one, thought Epaphroditus as he departed to the sounds of a giggling eunuch and his amorous emperor
3) Where it had fallen down was the timing, which was his department. He wasn’t going to beat himself up about it, though. Who would have thought to check the delivery schedule for the day? And why would anyone have thought it necessary to inform him about the delivery of a water organ? And how was he supposed to know that water organs were Nero’s newest and greatest passion? Nero’s passions were so numerous it was impossible to keep track of them all. And water organs? Why water organs?
4) Nero, placated, attempted a smile. “Answer me honestly, Epaphroditus.”
“I always have, Caesar.”
“Tell me, am I a good lyre player?”
Epaphroditus affected incredulity. “Caesar, you have spent many years in a painstaking cultivation of the art.”
“I have, haven’t I?”
“How could one fail to be a good player after such a length of study?”
It was a good question and one Epaphroditus had wondered about for years.
5) “We should expel all the Gauls from Rome, don’t you think? They are going to be in on it and they’re just waiting for the signal and then they’ll kill us all in our beds. We should execute them first. Can you look into that?
“I am going to Gaul. No, don’t protest. I am going. When the troops see their emperor and see him weep before them …
We could use the elephants. The ones from that show last year, we could ride them to Gaul, across the Alps. Like Hannibal. Vindex would never expect that. Poppaea could sit on the trunk dressed up like an Indian. I can just see you in a turban, you’d look so sweet. Get Calvia to design an outfit
My historical fiction author brain has to label this alternative history. The bitter ruler of the title is the emperor Tiberius and though he was married to Julia they had divorced by the time he became emperor.
The Bitter Ruler
I seem to sign nothing but death warrants these days. Sejanus brings them in each morning; one scroll, two scrolls, three scrolls, sometimes more.
He has an apologetic pained expression as he places them on my desk. He knows what’s in them, he knows how those words will hurt his emperor.
Sometimes I refuse to sign so that I can express clemency.
It’s an important attribute of an emperor; clemency. For though I have the power to have you killed, I also have the power to let you live.
I prefer do to the latter but Sejanus implores me to be careful, too much clemency and it will signal that I am weak.
“Too little clemency and the emperor is too harsh, too draconian,” I counter. “Look what our history tells us about tyrants!”
He smiles in that way he has of showing he doesn’t countenacnce my view but he will let it pass.
Of course he’s right, he’s always right because whenever I bestow my clemency, the next month the scroll returns thicker with ever more evidence. And I am played a fool once more.
It used to make me angry, now it just saddens me. It saddens me that so many of my friends hate me so much. Why do so many want the crown from off my head?
If they truly knew what it was to be emperor! To sacrifice all your own wishes, your own desires for a realm that seemingly despises you.
If it were not for this accused crown I would be married to Vipsania still. We would have been happy.
Instead I am tied to Julia, my empress. She wears her crown well enough, a stately presence on my arm at banquets. She chatters away to the King of Judaea and the Indian trade ambassador. They find her charming.
They don’t know her like I know her.
I know what she gets up to at night, Sejanus brings me scrolls on that too.
He suffers greatly, says he cannot bear for me to be made a fool of like this.
What pride have I? What do I care about wearing the cuckold’s horns when I have worn them since my wedding night.
Her lovers are too numerous to list, suffice to say I know them all. I considered them friends once. Now they bow their deference and I find myself wondering if that is the position my wife takes before them. Does she stand there bowed to the waist, arse thrust up in the air ready to submit to their lusty thrustings? Or do they stand before her and gargle with their spit as she takes their putrid members into her lying mouth?
They make me sick, all of them. Those fawning courtiers with treachery in their minds and fingers that dabble between my wife’s thighs.
I suppose they are waiting for me to die so that they may marry her and take my crown.
We have no children, how could we when we have mated but the once. And from that one rutting I grew such a disgust of her that I have never touched her since.
It used to pain me this childless state. I used to imagine a smiling boy who I could teach to ride, an ally in my fight against them.
But now I am glad. For why would I want to leave this cesspit of a city, this sewer of an empire to my own blood.
No, I have a far better plan. I have a snake for Rome, an emperor it truly deserves.
I’ve told no one of my plan, not even Sejanus, for I’m not as stupid an old fool as he thinks I am.
If I were to reveal my snake then the next morning his name would be in the first scroll placed on my desk. He thinks I don’t know. I play along because it suits me. Why wouldn’t I take the opportunity to remove Julia of her lovers?
I once thought Sejanus was one of her admirers. But no, apparently he has some wine boy who submits to his foul desires with but the faintest of resistance.
But that sodomite will learn soon, as they all will learn just how much I truly despise them. For only such hatred would compel me to leave them my snake, to name Caligula as my heir.