Oh, No, George! Why –– I Just Happened To Be In The Neighborhood

Yes, I’ve been watching Smiley’s People and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy again.

[The doorbell rings.]

[The doorbell rings again.]

[A pause.]

[The doorbell rings a third time.]

[After a brief interval, George Smiley answers the door; he is friendly but guarded, and he already knows I’m here to lie to him.]

ME: George! There you are. There you are, George. Hello, George, old friend, there you are, and there’s your old friendship, right where I left it.

GEORGE: Hello.

ME [drowning in my own flop sweat, already broiling under the flames of my own failure, resentful at the obviousness of my effort and failure both, perfectly aware I have nothing to be angry with George about besides his effectiveness, angry just the same]: Ah, hello, George! I tried ringing you earlier, no answer, no luck getting you on the phone, and then I happened to find myself in your neighborhood, didn’t see you at the local, saw the light was on, and I thought, why not stop in? Must be home, light on and all that, so you must have gotten home all right after — well, after everything, I suppose, yes, I trust? Hello, George. What are you up to? Reading? Cleaning? Laundry, George? Anne away? Anne can’t do the laundry away? Cleaning Anne? Are you cleaning? Bit late for cleaning, George. Late in the day, that is. Only a bit. Hah! [Laughs horribly.]

GEORGE: Ah.

ME [sinking in quicksand]: Well, to be perfectly honest, George, I’m really here, to be frank you know, because I felt I owed you an apology, George — over how things went, I mean, you know [touches face] because we parted on what I thought, you know, we parted on what I thought was a bit of a dour note, and the more I thought about it, the worse I felt, and the more I came to believe that [apologizing for the very first time in a thirty-year professional relationship, in a completely out of character fashion, signaling obvious disaster] I was in the wrong, that I was to blame, and that, well, in a word, you know, I was brusque. Cold. Indifferent. Not how I ought to have behaved [touches face, picks up poker, stirs up fire in the fireplace, notices smudge on shoe, stoops to swipe it with thumb, straightens back up, touches face, opens handkerchief, returns handkerchief to pocket, briefly curtseys, touches face] at all, really. And so I just thought I might come by and see how things were, how you were getting Anne, how Anne was getting on, how you were getting on Anne, whether you’ve finished everything, whether you’re done, whether you were reading and if so whether you were reading anything good, I haven’t been able to find anything reading worth a damn all year, and I just thought I’d come by, since I was already by, you see, and give you the name of the firm we’re transferring everything over to, George, and lucky for me you were home, since here you are, and you’ve been reading or cleaning or cooking only I don’t smell anything and it’s really too late to be cleaning, and is this what you’ve been reading?

GEORGE [embarrassed for me, how dare he be embarrassed for me, his day is long since ended and he’s a cuckold moreover, and yet his maddening quietness always makes me feel as though I’m always the one doing something wrong and he is someone terribly, terribly important and gracious and could kill me in an instant]: Roggeveen. 17th century. Dutch.

ME [pulling my hair out to mop up the sweat]: Dutch, eh? Explorer, most likely. Where’d he explore? China, most likely. Do a good job of it? Must have been. Look at where China is today. Well, probably in the same place it was in the 17th century, I expect, only even more so. Ought to have our boys look into this. Do you mind if they look into this?

GEORGE, patiently: It isn’t mine, I’m afraid. Would you mind putting it down, please?

ME: Oh, yes. What was I doing? Just about to leave, probably. May I have a drink before I go? [openly grabbing papers out of his desk and shoving them in my pockets] Thanks, I’d better not. I just remembered I’ve got somewhere to be that’s not in the area at all. But I’m glad you were able to, ah, and of course there’s the name, which you’ve already got, and I’ll ring your girl later, for the rest of it, and you haven’t found anything, have you? But I will see you Friday, of course, and I couldn’t be looking more forward to it, couldn’t be more forward for a Friday than I am, and do you know the other reason I came over has simply slipped my mind. It’s a funny thing, about that — maid’s out, is she? Haven’t got a maid? Hm? Probably she couldn’t find a cab, the maid, if it’s her night off, why she’s not back yet. Only of course she wouldn’t be, would she, if you haven’t got one. Well, I’m not lying to you George, I can tell you that much. Well, I just happened to be in the neighborhood, nervous talking to you. Won’t have that drink after all. 17th century, you know. Goodbye, see you Friday, all normal. Did I? Didn’t I? Haven’t seen my keys, have you, George? Awfully late for keys. Didn’t I? Well [touches face] no reason, of course. ‘Til then, George.