Pete's Underpants (three fragments)

By Bertie Marshall

 One. 

It occurred to him to make up his bed, throw the maroon duvet on and get under it, take a sleeping pill. It was 4.55pm and still light outside, his mind drifted onto a scene from Place Vendome, the 1998 film, directed by Nicole Garcia and starring Catherine Deneuve, as a rich, troubled, alcoholic wife of a diamond merchant; in the film she wears endless Yves Saint Laurent raincoats, a black one, a red one, then a grey one, she smokes incessantly and takes sleeping pills, attends dinner parties, secretly guzzling dregs from the other guests wine glasses. Every time she passes a mirror, she stops, tilts her head to one side and makes a little snort of self disgust ... on the staircase of a clinic where she goes to dry out, in beautifully subdued lighting, the camera passes over the paper planes of her face and for about fifteen seconds she looks like Michael Jackson ... 

Two. 

Something I’ve never noticed before in the photo of you in the metal frame on my bedside cabinet—I’ve seen that photo probably every day and night for twenty years and I’ve never noticed before ... an orange glow hovering just above your left ear. In the photograph I’m always drawn to the eyes first, then to your sun browned arms leaning on the table, the sleeves of your white t-shirt and the blue of the thermal vest, they all seem to heighten, compliment each other: back to the eyes that are creased in a smile, I can see a pause behind whatever you were thinking at that second, then you fixed a friendly but detached gaze at the person taking the photo—8x5 fuji color snap; your left eye seems to twinkle with mischief, while the right eye reads worried ... 

Three. 

Catherine Deneuve stands by the window in a green crushed velvet dressing gown, she’s smoking one those long dark cigarettes—a Nat Sherman, I think. She crosses to the bed, sits on the edge and rolls her tights down to a pile on the rug, lies back on the bed and mutters something like “le vache” then curls up in a fetal position and asks, “rub my feet, will you?’’ to a man in the room. She tells him she called him because she didn't want to be alone, she was drunk and had taken a couple of sleeping pills. She does virtually the same scene again towards the end of the film in a hotel room by the sea with a different man: grey raincoat, cigarette, glass of water, takes two sleeping pills, telling the man, “Ah, but I won’t sleep.’’ He says, “Why take them, then?’’ She replies, “Oh you know, old habits.’’ 

Bertie Marshall was born in Greenwich, London, in 1960. His critically acclaimed memoir of mid-1970s pre-punk London, Berlin Bromley, was published in 2006. He published From Sleepwalking to Sleepwalking in the Fellow Travelers series (FT009) in 2016. His new book, Pete's Underpants, has just come out from Dostoyevsky Wannabe Original.