1. Renaissance Man
But I go to Hollywood but I go to hospital, but you are first but you are last, but he is tall but she is small, but you stay up but you go down, but we are rich but we are poor, but they find peace but they find . . .
Xan Meo went to Hollywood. And, minutes later, with urgent speed, and accompanied by choric howls of electrified distress, Xan Meo went to hospital. Male violence did it.
'I'm off out, me,' he told his American wife Russia.
'Ooh,' she said, pronouncing it like the French for where.
'Won't be long. I'll bath them. And I'll read to them too. Then I'll make dinner. Then I'll load the dishwasher. Then I'll give you a long backrub. Okay?'
'Can I come?' said Russia.
'I sort of wanted to be alone.'
'You mean you sort of wanted to be alone with your girl-friend.
' Xan knew that this was not a serious accusation. But he adopted an ill-used expression (a thickening of the forehead), and said, not for the first time, and truthfully so far as he knew, 'I've got no secrets from you, kid.'
'. . . Mm,' she said, and offered him her cheek.
'Don't you know the date?'
'Oh. Of course.'
The couple stood embracing in a high-ceilinged hallway. Now the husband with a movement of the arm caused his keys to sound in their pocket. His half-conscious intention was to signal an ?.impatience to be out. Xan would not publicly agree, but women naturally like to prolong routine departures. It is the obverse of their fondness for keeping people waiting. Men shouldn't mind this. Being kept waiting is a moderate reparation for their five million years in power . . . Now Xan sighed softly as the stairs above him softly creaked. A complex figure was descending, normal up to the waist, but two-headed and four-armed: Meo's baby daughter, Sophie, cleaving to the side of her Brazilian nanny, Imaculada. Behind them, at a distance both dreamy and self-sufficient, loomed the four-year-old: Billie.
Russia took the baby and said, 'Would you like a lovely yoghurt for your tea?'
'No!' said the baby.
'Would you like a bath with all your floaty toys?'
'No!' said the baby, and yawned: the first lower teeth like twin grains of rice.
'Billie. Do the monkeys for Daddy.'
'There were too many monkeys jumping on the bed. One fell down and broke his head. They took him to the doctor and the doctor said: No more monkeys jumping on the BED.'
Xan Meo gave his elder daughter due praise.
'Daddy'll read to you when he comes back,' said Russia.
'I was reading to her earlier,' he said. He had the front door open now. 'She made me read the same book five times.'
'Which book? Christ. The one about those stupid chickens who think the sky is falling. Cocky Locky. Goosey Lucy. And they all copped it from the fox, didn't they, Billie.'
'Like the frogs,' said the girl, alluding to some other tale. 'The whole family died. The mummy. The daddy. The nanny. And all the trildren.'
'I'm off out.' He kissed Sophie 's head (a faint circus smell); she responded by skidding a wet thumb across her cheek and into her mouth. And then he crouched to kiss Billie.
From the Hardcover edition.