When Lionel smiles it’s like the friendly gape of a wet-mouthed hound, the fleshy corners of his mouth a little sad and down.
‘Do come in!’ he says, but he doesn’t make quite enough room in the vestibule, especially as there’s another, inner door to open, and as I’m laden down with obs bag, weighing scales, folder and other things, we’re forced to do a little dance in the limited space available.
‘If you could just…’
‘I tell you what, if you…’
We manage to get the door closed, and stand together in the main hallway, an impressive room, with a geometrically tiled floor, an ornamental fireplace, and a chandelier hovering above our heads like some elaborate, crystalline spaceship.
‘If you’d like to come this way,’ he says. I follow him through into the living room.
‘You have a lovely house, Lionel.’
‘Thank you. That’s so kind. It’s just me now, of course. I rattle around somewhat. I’m thinking of downsizing.’
‘Thinking about it! It’s hard to move when you’ve been in a place as long as we have. Sixty years, this autumn. But Gloria passed last year, so now it’s just me.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
He sits in his armchair, and begins turning his wedding band round and round.
‘It’s supposed to get easier,’ he says. ‘Time the great healer and all that guff. But you know, I don’t think it does. If anything, it gets harder.’
‘In what way?’
‘Well you see, to begin with I was so busy. There was lots to do. People kept coming round, family and so on. How are you coping, Lionel? Do you have everything you need, Lionel? Taking me places and so on and so forth. But that can’t go on forever. People have their own lives. So it all falls away rather, and you’re left to your own devices. It’s the little things that take you by surprise. I’d just finished reading this…’
He picks up a book on Hollywood from the side table. ‘And it just happened to mention The Day the Earth Stood Still. Have you heard of it?’
‘Absolutely! It’s famous.’
‘Oh! Then you may be interested to know that Gloria knew the robot.’
‘Or the man who played the robot, at least. When she was a student in California back in the fifties, she had a job selling tickets at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, and the doorman there, a really tall chap, got hired to play Gort. I remember she said they were jealous as anything at first, but as it turned out, he didn’t have a nice time of it. Half suffocated to death in the rubber suit, by all accounts.’
He puts the book back on the table and folds his hands on his lap.
‘Now it’s just me, sitting on my own, thinking about robots.’
* * *
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