Guy Parker was the last person to care about his own appearance and the first person to notice that of others. The fact that he looked so insignificant was actually more of a godsend than otherwise, as it helped him to remain invisible while enjoying the great Spectacle of Life. As long as there were people around to observe, he was hardly ever bored.
One early morning, however, Heathrow Airport managed to test even his patience, and after a forty-five minute wait he became uncharacteristically fidgety. He had been watching the same faces—listless and worn after the red-eye flight—and the same few suitcases that had been slowly revolving around the conveyor belt without anybody wanting them. The bags that were wanted were nowhere in sight—his included.
If a guy does not give a fig about how he looks it is only natural that he doesn’t have any emotional attachment to any of his clothing. Guy Parker really couldn’t care less about what he wore and he would gladly have abandoned his battered bag full of unwanted stuff if the unwelcome effort and expense of an inevitable shopping for some new clothes had not seemed an even worse option than standing around some more.
So he stayed and stared and yawned and tried to concentrate on black items. Why had he been such an idiot? Why had he bought a black suitcase, which was almost impossible to distinguish from the other million black suitcases that other unpractical idiots had bought and used? He should have tied a ribbon around the handle or put some sticker on it to make it easier to identify. But no, his carelessness as to his and his belongings’ appearance had backfired in this case and he was going mad as he tried to keep his tired eyes open and spot his dime a dozen black bag on the conveyor belt.
At last he got to a point where he swore that the first black bag even faintly resembling his would be the one that he’d take. If anybody stopped him on the way out and accused him of taking a bag that wasn’t his, he would simply act surprised and say that he had been convinced that it was his own bag and assure the person that he was very sorry about the misunderstanding.
It’s frightening how easy it is to take somebody else’s bag from a conveyor belt at an airport, especially after an exhausting flight that had arrived early in the morning. People are too tired to be on the alert and there really isn’t anything besides common decency and the slight chance of somebody catching you in the act to stop you from appropriating what is not yours.
Guy Parker walked out of the airport with a black bag, got on the Heathrow Express, and half an hour later entered his obscure little flat without a hitch. Despite his exhaustion and his previous irritation, he was now excited by the new sensation of having become a thief and by the curiosity as to what he would find in the bag.
Based on the relative dinginess of the bag, he was not a little surprised to find that it was nothing less than a treasure chest in incognito; silk blouses, crisp linen trousers, and bras of the finest lace welcomed him as he ripped the bag open. It had obviously belonged to a lady—a lady with style and sufficient financial backup.
Well, unless he was prepared to turn into a cross-dresser, he had no choice but to go and do the shopping for new clothes that he had so much wanted to avoid by toughing it out by the conveyor belt. Then again, he was so enchanted by his exquisite find that he minded the now compulsory hassle and expense less than he had expected. It has already been said that his own belongings had always left him indifferent, but, in key with his interest in Others, the appurtenances of an Other had a keen fascination for him. And this stack of personal items had proved to be a source of unusually great excitement.
Guy Parker spent hours fingering the unknown lady’s garments, trying to imagine what she was like. Judging by the size of the clothes, he pictured her as tall and perhaps a bit on the heavy side; not a greasy monster, but a strong busty Amazon with supple flesh and developed muscles, who, nevertheless, succeeded in remaining feminine. Despite her love of high heels and lace garters, she certainly dressed with elegant simplicity. Guy thought that this kind of woman, when at home, probably put aside jewels and her buttoned-up blouses and business jackets, and wore—with nothing underneath!—the pair of bottle-green silk pajamas that he was rubbing against his cheek.
Looking at—and smelling—the shampoo he’d found in the bag, Guy guessed her hair was a thick curly brown brushing the tips of her strong shoulders and it smelled of chocolate and honey. He hoped her eyes were as green as her pajamas and, having found a pair of spectacles, he was sure she wore glasses for reading. Maybe she read a lot. She certainly wrote a lot, especially letters, based on a batch of scented envelopes and another batch that looked like letters she’d received and cherished. To gain access to a love correspondence of the old stamp—who wrote letters with a fountain pen nowadays? People preferred dashing off emails filled with typos!—was an added bonus, and Guy was thanking his stars for his luck.
The writer’s style was polished and his handwriting surprisingly beautiful for a man. The letters were delicious—sensual, almost erotic—and completely devoid of humdrum matters. Apart from the joy she had repeatedly given the addressor, nothing particular concerning the addressee could be gathered from them—not even her name, as the letters were addressed “Dearest.” This vagueness had, in time, had a double effect on Guy. On the one hand, it fanned his desire and he became increasingly obsessed with the mysterious lady, but as his obsession grew, so did his hunger for more details; palpable facts.
In order to satisfy this need, Guy once again turned to the garments. At first, he planned each day what his beloved would be wearing and gently laid the selected pieces of clothing on his bed. He would repeatedly gaze at them for half an hour at a time, envisioning their wearer and heaving great sighs.
Then the time came when this little ritual ceased to suffice and one evening he grabbed that day’s getup from the bed and put them on. But as soon as he’d caught sight of himself in the mirror he felt terribly ashamed; becoming a cross-dresser was not the answer to his problem and it was even offensive to the lady he so much wanted to feel near him.
Nevertheless, the experiment with his unknown charmer’s clothes did have a positive outcome; he started paying attention to his own appearance. He began dressing with great care and when not contemplating the garments currently lying on his bed, he roamed the streets and dreamed of meeting Her.
But even this prowling around London fell short of fulfilling him after a while. He desperately wanted to find Her and his initial scruples as to the possibly disappointing reality were washed away by the determination that he wanted a cure—disappointing or not, reality was, at this point, better than being consumed by his feverish imaginings. The envelopes of the letters addressed to Her had not been kept, and so he could not gather any information as to where she lived and what her name was. Yet one of the scented envelopes that she most probably was using when replying to those letters had already been addressed, and so Guy could look up the fellow—his rival—at least.
What he would say or do when standing face to face with this man was a question Guy Parker couldn’t have answered even when he was only two blocks away from his destination. His obsession was so great, however, that he felt above any potential embarrassment. With determined steps he approached the dwelling of Francis Lyme, squeezing the batch of letters in his hand, and oblivious of the admiring glances that his recently adopted spruceness attracted; justice finally having been done to his naturally handsome features, Guy Parker had turned into a distinctly good-looking man.
The man opening the door for him seemed to be of the same opinion; his squinty eyes glistened appreciatively as he sized up Guy from head to foot. He even smacked his thin lips before he answered the handsome fellow’s inquiry:
“Yeeees, I am Francis Lyme. And I am more than delighted that you are looking for me. Tell me, dear boy, how can I be of help?”
Guy Parker was taken aback both by the manner and speech of the wizened hunchback with the disagreeable squint and thin lips. Was it possible that his Adored One had anything to do with such a distasteful individual? Worse than that, was it possible that the impassioned correspondence that had so much inflamed Guy himself had involved this little monster—that such a one had written those fiery letters to the woman of Guy’s dreams?
Guy gulped and determined to get to the bottom of this matter; he even fancied it would be all the more romantic to rescue his beloved from such an evil-looking troll. So he answered as politely as he could:
“I am wondering whether you could direct me to the person to whom you’d written these letters.” And so saying, he held out the batch of letters that he had been hiding behind his back since the beginning of their conversation. The troll was taken aback at first, and then he smiled lasciviously:
“Well, well, well. First you’ll have to tell me how you came upon these letters. I have no doubt you’ve read them and, I am sure you’ll agree, they are rather spicy, to say the least, and so you shouldn’t be surprised if I am surprised at seeing them in a stranger’s hands, however beautiful this stranger is.” This time he actually licked his fish-lips and Guy needed all his self-control not to slap him on the face. But before he had time to react to the obscene old goat’s words, he heard the noise of feet rushing down a flight of stairs, and then he saw the silhouette of some tall person approaching the entrance where they had been standing.
“Andy, dearest, why don’t you wait inside? No need to come out into the cold in those thin pajamas.” But before the old man got to the end of his sentence, the tall individual running down the stairs had reached them and, heedless of the other’s admonitions, stepped to the door. His silk pajamas weren’t green, but his eyes were, and they immediately alighted on the batch of letters in Guy Parker’s hand.
“Where did you get those?! Sweet Jesus, did you take my bag? How dare you?” His unruly brown curls were bouncing around his head as so many coil springs suddenly come loose, and Guy thought he could smell chocolate and honey. It made him sick. It made him stagger and stutter:
“A mistake. A very big mistake. I didn’t know…” and without finishing or giving time for the strange couple to detain him, Guy Parker turned on his heels and rushed out into the London fog. He was soon running, as if for his life—as if Nemesis herself was pursuing him.