|'There's a monster under my bed, mum. If you look for it, he hides. I shone my torch and the light went straight through him as if he weren't there.' Jimmy spooned another mouthful of cereal into his mouth.
'Wasn't there.' Candice corrected automatically.
'Was.' Jimmy was absolutely determined that the monster, with big, boogly eyes, was there. Every night. Without fail. Privately, he called him Jeremy. 'He's my fwend.'
'Roll your r properly, Jameson.' Candice spoke through her morning ritual of lipstick application, doing anything but rolling her rs. She wished the little brat was old enough to be packed off to boarding school, then she would not have to keep correcting his grammar and pronunciation. His teachers could do that.
'There is a monster called Jeremy what lives under my bed.' Jim knew it would annoy his mother, maybe she would smear her lipstick. He had played the Monster Game for three years now, with increasing disinterest from mother. 'He's big and hairy and has boogly eyes.'
'Who lives under the bed.' Candice wondered whether she should make a complaint about his teacher. The scruffy brat was not being educated. Never mind, he would be at the Haberdasher's Academy soon and out of her hair.
'Jeremy Fandango Williams. I told you.' Jim was used to explaining about him. 'He lives under my bed but you can't see him if you look for him.' The trick was to look for him. If you could not see him, he was not there. Then you were safe.
'Codswollop!' It was Candice's Word of the Month.
'When I go to Haberdasher's, will Mr Jeremy Fandango Williams, Esquire, come too?' Jim wondered if he would be able to buy enough chocolate. The other trick to be safe was to leave chocolate under the bed. It was always gone by morning.
'I expect they have their own spiders there.' She was trying a new make up regime, a blue, sparkly overlay on scarlet lipstick. Jim did not bother to argue. Mr Jeremy Fandango Williams, Esquire was not a spider. He was much bigger than a tarantula, although he did have eight legs. But no spider had a crimson mouth and a tube thing to suck up nutrients. And whoever heard of a spider that hummed rock music?
'Mother?' James spread marmalade on his toast. 'Did you remember to feed Sir Jeremy Fandango Williams?' The exasperation on Mother's face gave him his answer. There had been no monsters under his bedspace in the dormitory. It had been lonely at first, then he had made friends with Dan, Tibbs and Gidget.
'Mrs Kwelimbi cleaned under your bed.' Candice was particular in the way she referred to the cleaner. She did not want to be thought of as racist. 'She would have mentioned if she saw a giant spider there.' James smiled. Bunny Kwelimbi knew all about Sir Jeremy Fandango Williams, she would have been careful to look first and leave a generous bar of chocolate after. It had been Bunny who had told him about bribing Underbed Dwellers with chocolate.
'Mater,' Jameson knew that Mother approved of the affectation, 'Baron Jeremy Fandango Williams, OBE,' is becoming rather too large to reside under my bed. I believe he requires a larger space.' Not to mention that Jameson's feet overhung the end and his duvet cover was still the Superman one. He did wonder how the monster had contrived to be honoured with an Order of the British Empire. Had Her Majesty fainted when she saw the clashing orange and purple stripes? There had been nothing in the news. But then, she had knighted him already, so she must be used to it.
Candice looked at him in surprise. The brat was nearly as tall as her now and his voice was all over the place. She had avoided going in his room, it had always smelled of boy things. Old sports gear and chocolate. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, his alarm clock radio went on. Always tuned into a rock or heavy metal station. She always sent Henry to sort it out. Not that Henry was her husband's given name, 'Kevin' was so common.
'Mother, dearest.' Jameson wondered if he could get away with calling her 'mommy dearest' but he could not be bothered with the snide comments about language and grammar. She was too dense to catch anything else. 'The Duke of Underbedfordshire...'
'The Duke of Bedfordshire?' Candice interrupted. Was one of his friends one of the Russells? Or a Tavistock? How simply delicious.
'Underbedfordshire,' Jameson knew that he had turned her attention knob to the left. 'is not being fed properly while I'm away. Bunny was supposed to do it, but I haven't seen her lately.' He missed her, she had always had time to listen to his troubles and triumphs.
'I had to let Mrs Kwelimbi go.' It was simple mathematics. Either the cleaner went or the boarding school fees went unpaid. Then this long, lanky string of nothing would be at the state school and home every day. He would have to clean his own room. Henry could do the rest.
'Just be sure to leave a bar, or two, of very dark chocolate under the bed for him. It bungs up his tube, so he can't suck properly.' Jameson glanced out of the window. The taxi was waiting to ferry him back to Habby's and his friends.
'Hurry up.' Candice stood on tiptoes to give him an obligatory peck on the cheek and hustled him out of the door, she was running late for Liam. Or was it Xerxes? Shrugging the names away, she thought about handsome young men and appetites.
When Candice rolled in that night, slightly the worse for wear, Henry was waiting for her in the lounge. Even filtered through a bottle, or two, of Bollinger, she could see that he was in a mood. She blinked. A bad one. He was as flushed as if he had been at the Chivas Regal. The words 'towering rage' flared up in her eyes.
That night was their final, humdinger, row. With total untruth, Kevin, he insisted was his name, accused her of: spending all his money on champagne and toy boys; of being a lazy, idle, self-centred ... (She censored out the word.); of not caring a cuss for their son; of not this; of the (profanity) other and anything else he could bring to mind. In a fury, she swept out of the room.
'I'll teach the stupid clot!' Candice snatched her peach silk pyjamas from the floor, where she had left them that morning. 'I'll be sleeping in the brat's room from now on.' She yelled down the stairs.
Jameson's room still stank of old tennis shoes, with an odour of fetid dog's breath and a sickly, sweet waft of chocolate. She crashed into his bed and threw her arm across her eyes. After a while, when Henry refused to come and see her dramatic pose, she tugged off her clothes and scrambled into her night things. When she turned off the light, the brat's radio went on, softly. It sounded as if it were under the bed.
'Henry!' She yelled her demand. But he did not answer. The radio was humming Jailhouse Rock, loudly. 'Shut up, Jeremy.' She hissed. It grew louder, a Black Sabbath number. She put the pillow over her head. Jeremy was not real. It was a dream of a pathetic little wimp. With gentleness the pillow was pulled away. She should have screamed.
Even the half light from a street lamp could not disguise how big it was. The span of its eight legs -no, tentacles- was greater than the bed under her body. Its fur, striped in nauseating colours, rippled hypnotically, making what looked like an OBE award swing in time. But its face. Oh. Its face. Watery brown eyes, big and protuberant, were fixed on her. Underneath them a mouth, red with a slash of Crimson Kiss, was round and slightly open. She could just see the tip of what should have been a tongue. It looked more like a tube, the same colour as a straw from the burger place in town.
Her throat was hoarse, she thought that the noise coming from it was hers. It was not. It was a slurping. The same as when the bottom of a drink was reached and only ice cubes remained. They rattled like bones clinking together as her juices were sucked out of her carcass.
When all was silent, Kevin opened the bedroom door a crack. When he flicked the light switch a huge, dripping something slithered under the bed. On the covers, a desiccated sack of skin was inside peach silk pyjamas. He swallowed convulsively. Silly cow. Before he went in to dispose of the evidence, he tossed a super-sized bar of black chocolate under the bed.
'Good boy, Jeremy.' He crooned. 'Well done!'