1 INK MONKEY
The doorbell rings. I swing my aching body out of bed, haul on my dressing gown, and shuffle wearily downstairs.
It rings again, this time with a touch of impatience. I open the door and there on the step stands an old man. Head thrown back, and nostrils flaring, he fixes me with a haughty stare, until I realise he is blind. I take in the sharp black cashmere coat, the natty tie, the ebony cane, and tucked under his arm the shoebox wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.
‘Can I help you?’ I ask, the flu pulsing in my sinuses.
His head turns to catch my voice. ‘Ah, la senora’ he says, and steps onto the door mat, wiping his boots carefully. I notice they are made of tooled eel skin, very pointed.
‘Buenos dias, senora,’ he says with old world formality.
‘And who on earth are you?’ I ask, much surprised.
‘Ah, con su permiso.’ He reaches into his pocket and presents me with his card. Nestling among the roses, flames and florid serpents are the words: Jorge Luis Borges.
‘Jorge Luis!’ I gasp. ‘But what are you doing in Derby? Aren’t you dead?’
‘Si, claro,’ he answers drily.
I can’t believe this, but I invite him into the front room anyhow, opening the dusty blinds. He turns towards the day light, nostrils snuffing the air.
‘Coffee?’ I ask. He nods and settles himself politely on the sofa, the box resting on his knee. I make us both a cup, and he sips his tentatively. After a long pause, I say ‘Senor Borges, why are you here?’
‘Senora Isabel’, he replies putting down his cup, ‘ I have brought you this. I believe it is yours now.’ His mottled old hands, still strong, grasp the box and he presents it to me.
‘What is it?’ I ask curiously.
‘No! Do not open it yet. You must wait till I have gone.’
‘But…’ What am I to make of all this?
The he smiles an old, sad smile, and beneath the wild white tufting eyebrows, I see the skull beneath the skin.
‘I am going now.’ He rises, takes a last sip and gets up slowly. ‘Coffee is good,’ he mutters and picks up his stick. He clearly wants to be off. I open the door for him, rather baffled. As he steps across the threshold, he suddenly grasps my wrist and fixes me with fierce milky eyes. ‘It is yours. Un regalo.’ he says hoarsely. ‘I know you have waited for many years. You will know what to do with it.’ He shrugs. ‘It is certainly no good to me anymore.’ And he smiles sadly. ‘Adios!’ he says and walks away down the street.
Adios! And what was all that about? I wonder. But I am rather excited about the present in the box. I snip the string and tear off the brown paper, and as I lift it I feel the weight of something inside shifting. Something is alive! I think. More cautiously now, I open the flap and peer inside.
Bright brown eyes in a wrinkled black face stare back at me. The creature is covered in sooty fur, soft as velvet and has cunning black suede hands, and a long, long tail. I am astonished, and just have time to notice the sharp little teeth, before it has leapt out of the box and made a dash for the top of the bookshelf where it sits, chattering rudely at me.
The Ink Monkey!
‘Come down here, Ink Monkey,’ I say, my voice all friendly.
It laughs its wicked laugh and declines.
‘Come on, come on down!’ I coax. It looks into my eyes and deliberately starts to masturbate. The skin is a surprising scarlet against the black fur, and the tiny hands very clever and deft. My jaw drops and I watch, horrified yet fascinated. Will it come? All over my bookshelf? The Ink Monkey flashes me a coy look: it is not telling. Then it starts to leap lightly from surface to surface, chattering and scolding, faster and faster. My ornaments and keepsakes from faraway places scatter, fall and smash on the floor.
‘Come down!’ Now I am really annoyed, and roll up a newspaper, determined to get it. But it has retreated craftily out of reach and I will have to fetch the step ladder. I shut the door behind me, hard.
‘What’s going on in there?’ asks Z. The sound of scampering feet and shattering objects has drawn him from his office. We listen together for a moment. What am I going to do?
Then, ‘Never mind.’ I say suddenly. ‘It’s none of your business. I’ve got this.’
He shrugs and walks off.
The words come back to me: You will know what to do.
I fetch paper and a bottle of blackest ink. Armed with these, I open the door firmly, ignoring the chaos and the little whirling black daemon. There is my desk waiting by the window, an old school desk retrieved from the skip some time ago and never used. I wipe the dust off with my sleeve, lay out the paper and pour some ink into the little ceramic ink well. After staring at the paper for a bit, I dip the quill into the ink, and start writing.
The doorbell rings. I swing my aching body out of bed…
The pen scratches and glides for some time. I am totally absorbed. Then I pause, pen raised. The room has become quite still and quiet. I smile to myself, and carry on writing. After I have pushed the words across the page for while, I notice, out of the corner of my eye, a small black presence that has taken up its place my desk. It scratches absently and then without warning, shoots out a skinny arm to snatch the inkwell.
‘No!’ I cry, as it drinks the ink. ‘Don’t do that! Stop it. How will I be able to write if