Terrible news: Samantha has read last week's column in which I confessed my utter despair regarding her reaction to the column that was printed in the previous weekend's colour supplement. She is sat at the table drumming her fingers upon our copy of Teddy's first novel, Crime, Punishment, and Some Chafing - a terse and somewhat overwritten account of a young writer's struggle to get his first novel published. Samantha hasn't read it of course, but she's read my bloody column and God am I going to know about it!
'Perhaps you would care for some taramasalata,' I suggest in placatory mood. 'I'm rather peckish and it's very nearly lunch time.'
'Why do you do it, Hugo?' she asks me, quite directly.
There being nothing to gain from pretending to have misunderstood, I opt for brutal honesty bordering on sarcasm - always good to set off the pinot grigio with just a few drops of urine for the sake of texture. 'It's my job, darling. I'm a writer, you see.'
'You write about us,' she observes, quite correctly.
I say nothing although my forehead is cool with the sweat of the accused. Now stood, I seek sanctuary in the interior of our Smeg™ refrigerator, and it occurs to me that if I so choose I could quite literally seek sanctuary within its capacious inner space without the necessity of removing shelves, wine rack, or kumquat holder. I am looking for the tub of taramasalata but my eyes have fixated upon a plastic bowl wherein shreds of rocket marinade slowly towards the twilight of their useful and edible lives. Samantha served the salad when Francine and Toby popped in after Jessica's bassoon lesson, but I can't remember whether that was Monday or Tuesday.
It is killing me.
'My point is,' Samantha opines, snatching up the conversational gauntlet with a grip that clearly underscores my failure, 'that quite aside from the slightly lurid idea that your readers could possibly have the slightest interest in the existential angst of daily life in West Dulwich, I would just like to know where it will all end.'
I was braced for the thrust of the knife, but had not expected this innocuous and yet mysterious inquiry. I recalled the column in which I told of my midnight expedition to the Seven-Eleven on Lordship Lane, my witching hour purchase of Big Ones International volume eight, issue seven and subsequent frenzied onanism. Empty your shooters over my hooters, the tagline suggested and so I did without shame in the crushing solitude of my wife attending her weekend Reiki retreat. What compelled you to write about this?, she cried upon publication of the not-so-much-grisly-as-slippery details, why must you share every last narrative winnet in this way like some suburban Rabelais who never fully grew out of the delight taken in the contents of his own soiled nappy? Those were not her words, but that was nevertheless their meaning, and I saw it then, the infinite regress of the column about the column about my column, spiralling forever inwards.
'I am a writer,' I challenge, turning and wielding a container of lemon grass. 'Would you ask that I not write? Would you tell Waitrose to cease stockage of its pesto, spinach and pine nut pasta salad? Be glad that the bitter struggle of the creative troubadour is alone his to know and to suffer and send forth unto the world. Be happy that you know only his pain without feeling its sting.'
'Yes,' she says, eyes wearied with the burden of her own thoughts, 'and I wouldn't mind so much if you were actually writing about something other than the fact of your having nothing to write about. It really is terribly, terribly dull, Hugo, and no-one cares about the inner turmoil of a balding upper middle-class man or his self-conscious collection of Stone Roses albums.'
This cuts me to the quick, the mid-paced, and the slow; and thus do I buckle but not bodily, only psychically keeled over and there obliged to gaze into the howling wound of my own well-trodden fundament, that place in which I had sought comfort on so many occasions, my muse and my shame, the russet fount of inspiration; and I know in that moment that I shall write about this in my next column, and already I hate myself.