There was a sudden rustle of duvet and a figure loomed snapping at my side. ‘For God’s sake, Richard! Why don’t you go and see what he wants?’
‘Isn’t it your turn?’ I asked Judy but she just groaned and rolled onto her side. ‘That’s very unfair,’ I added. ‘You know I went last time.’
‘Oh, no,’ she muttered, heading dreamwards. ‘He’s your friend. You go and see to him.’
I gave breath to a sigh. Lying on my back, my eyes open, I’d found myself in a deeply meditative zone and I didn’t want to move. From there, I had begun to make some sense of my life, my career, and my future. It would take something very special to move me…
‘Richard?’ went the voice again, this time with a note of mild distress.
Unquestioning, I slid out of bed and into my slippers. I winced as I stood up. Judy always forces me to wear pyjamas when we have visitors and I have an unnatural habit of getting the cord of my pyjama bottoms wrapped around my tenderest parts.
I hobbled out to the landing and paused at the door to the spare room before I knocked.
‘Richard?’ said a voice on the other side.
I went on in. The room was in semi darkness; the only light coming from a slight chink in the curtain. It was enough to illuminate the man lying on the extra long bed.
‘Yes, Stephen? What do you want this time?’
Stephen Fry peered out from beneath his sleeping hat, his broken arm held up by makeshift rigging that Judy had strung from the ceiling.
‘I’d like a glass of water,’ he said.
‘Well, I, Fry, would be shamefaced were I to ask you to make me a hot chocolate made with organic goats milk and with a touch of cinnamon sprinkled on the top.’
I looked to the man to whom I owe so much. ‘And I,’ I replied, ‘would be shamefaced if I didn’t make you a hot chocolate made with organic goats milk and with a touch of cinnamon sprinkled on the top.’
I turned for the door.
‘I hope I didn’t wake you,’ he asked.
‘No, not at all,’ I replied. ‘It’s hard to sleep when your intellectual world has been thrown into chaos...’
‘Chaos’ might have been too strong a word for what I’d experienced earlier in the day. ‘Turmoil’ was a better way of describing it. Working as Stephen’s scribe, I’d been introduced to new ideas and shown the way a gifted imagination works. We’d written an opera together, followed by essays, poems, and an intense hour writing out a future Dork Talk article about the exploits of Mozilla browsers. The whole experience had taught me that writers aren’t born but fashioned from tweed and green cape. Writing isn’t a craft. It’s a gift possessed by a few rare intelligences of true and natural genius raised at the twin comedic teats of Cambridge University and the BBC. It was just the sort of thing to make a lowborn man bitter about his more talented friends.
Some might even say that I’d have been justified were I less tolerant of the Great Man’s peculiar demands. But I am, if I’m anything, a patient acolyte of the Priory of Fry. I can’t forget that I owe him many debts. He’s saved me and my friends on so many occasions, he could spend a month with us and I’d bow to his every request. I was more than happy to wander down to the kitchen and put a pan on the hob for the man who had bravely plucked shattered walnut shell from Ronnie Corbett’s groin.
The heat had barely begun to rise from the milk when the kitchen door opened and Stephen wandered in. He was dressed in a bathrobe with the official Fry crest on the pocket; two hippos cavorting around a quill errant.
‘I thought I’d find you here,’ said Stephen, cradling the heavy cast on his broken arm. ‘I was wondering how you’re getting on with the hot chocolate.’
‘It’s warming nicely,’ I replied.
He walked to the breakfast bar and threw a leg over a stool. His arm made heavy contact with the worktop and he winced slightly.
‘I never did ask you how you broke it?’ I said.
‘Ah, now there is a story to be told in the glow of a hob busy boiling goats milk,’ said Stephen. He smiled and slowly brushed his hair from his eyes. There was a definite whir in some mental mechanism as his mind switched modes from observation and to composition. ‘After I, Fry, Scrabble Champion, left you the other day, I took a plane to Brazil.’
‘Indeed. It was going to be a week long jaunt around the nation that brought us the G string and the maraca. I was there to film a new documentary about the animals of South America. My destination was the city of Tefe on the bank of the River Solimões. It was there that I met the BBC crew and the subject of the first programme. A family of manatee.’
‘Sea cows,’ he explained. ‘A strange creature that is best described as having the athleticism of Christopher Biggins and the personality of Jo Brand. Not the world’s most loveable beast and, in truth, Richard, probably harbouring a desire to exterminate mankind. Think of them as the aquatic version of the North Koreans. Fortunately, like the North Koreans – and, for that matter, Christopher Biggins – they lack the equipment to do us any serious harm. Except, that is, when mankind happens to be called Fry. Ah, Richard. I didn’t see it coming. One moment, I was in a pool of water talking to camera and the next and I’m being mauled by a sea cow. It didn’t even have the decency to say “moo”.’
‘It mauled you?’
‘Slowly but it caught unawares.’
‘I see,’ I said.
‘And that’s how I came to be injured. To avoid serious sea cow mauling, I jumped back and tripped over a submerged log. Fortunately, my landing was cushioned by the female manatee. You might say it was a swings and roundabouts situation. My injury would have been much worse if I hadn’t landed on the creature.’
‘Lucky for you.’
‘But, alas, not for Mrs. Manatee. In saving me, she suffered a mortal wound. A very contradictory beast, the manatee. Some are prone to do great violence and others equally great kindnesses.’
‘Oh, Stephen,’ I said, wiping an honest tear from my eye. ‘Don’t tell me any more. You didn’t warn me this story would end so sadly.’
‘Not as sadly as for the family of little manatees. As the ambulance drove me away, I could hear them crying out for their mama. “Mama. Mama. Mama.” A sad sound, indeed. Their mother crushed by a falling Fry and their father condemned as a Fry mauler. The world can be so cruel.’
I turned around just in time to catch the milk before it boiled over. I quickly poured it into a cup, stirred in the chocolate and shook out a bit of cinnamon.
‘Ah, wonderful,’ said Stephen, taking it from my hands. ‘And you had cinnamon. I’ll sleep well after this.’
I smiled but I doubted if I would sleep at all.
The cries of the baby manatee would keep me awake until dawn.