“Right, I’ve made you a space on the settee. You sit yourself down and I’ll go stick the kettle on.” I said to her as I went into the kitchen. Once the kettle was on I looked in the fridge.
“Liz, you couldn’t nip to Spar for us could you? Got no milk in.”
I don’t think she was best impressed, but hell, I’d never invited her.
In fact god knows why the Queen decided to come round here, to my house. I suppose it’s that whole ‘win their hearts and minds’ mantra. That was hers, right? Anyway, when it was first announced I’d been awarded this, what the PM had called a prestigious honour, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even know about it until they all started showing up at my door. I couldn’t exactly turn around and tell her to get lost neither, seeing as now the whole country was noseying in. As the day approached, telly crews, journo’s, radios, mums down the street and even the girl in the newsagent wouldn’t leave me alone, asking me all about myself, asking to look in my house, see what it’s like, to photograph, to write about, asking if I’d get the Queen’s autograph for them. The shop girl even asked if I’d put an advert on my front door for her. Said I could have free milk for a year. At first I laughed it off and said no thanks, then I asked them if they wouldn’t mind leaving me alone, then I told them all where they can get off, but that still didn’t stop ‘em.
That morning I hoovered the living room carpet, gave the top of the telly a dust, and made sure the crack in the corner where the ants were getting in was covered up like I did whenever I had company. When the doorbell rang that afternoon I was brushing my teeth.
“Hold on. Down in a minute.” I shouted out of the bathroom window. I heard someone tut, a man. Once I was clean and dressed I headed downstairs and stopped, hand on the door handle.
OK, I told myself, this is it. Defcon 1. Ground-zero. Time to open the airlock and depressurise us all. Oh hell, let’s just get this over with. Sooner she’s in, sooner she’s out.
I opened the door to a guy who was a G-man straight out of a nineties comic. He was huge, suit, shades, earpiece, massive chin, the whole shebang. As he barged into my house, he spoke into the wrist of his jacket and scanned my living room like a machine from behind those shades of his.
“Please, come in.” I said to him.
Then the Queen came in. She looks short on telly, but that’s only the half of it. She made me look huge, and I’m only five-ten. She wasn’t wearing a crown. Not even a little one. Just a blue hat the same shade as her coat. She wore a crown on all the coins, so I figured she might be here. After all, I’d made the effort for her.
She wasn’t wearing that signature smile either; at least not once she’d gotten inside, out of the neighbours’ sight. She looked around the crowded hallway. I bet she’s got airing cupboards bigger than my entire house.
“Your Majesty, Robert Bradshaw.” The G-man introduced us. For the first few weeks I’d given the press different names with the hope it’d keep them off my back for a little while. Douglas Quaid, Max Rockatansky, Sam Spade, Winston Smith, Apollo Creed, but it didn’t take long for some tenacious journo to blow that wide apart. He found out everything, and now I think the only thing that the entire country doesn’t know about me is whether I prefer red or brown sauce.
“How you doing? The ride over here OK?” I said to the Queen.
“I’m fine, and yes, it was very pleasant. Thank you. And yourself?” She was very polite. Maybe it was just that accent.
“Eh, not bad.” I said. “Bills came yesterday, you know how it is. Well, suppose you don’t really.”
She didn’t say anything. It’s not like she’s your run-of-the-mill rich arsehole who started off with nowt, so I didn’t expect her to understand. I suppose she just wanted me to say I was fine for the sake of formality.
“Right, I’ve made you a space on the settee. You sit yourself down and I’ll go stick the kettle on.” I said to her as I went into the kitchen. I watched her from behind the door as she looked down at the un-fluffed cushions, faded brown throw and the coaster on the carpet, and made her G-man sit down first. He prodded around the cushions, then, holding her hand, helped her sit. She only perched on the edge like she was already planning on not stopping long. Suits me.
Once the kettle was on I looked in the fridge.
After I’d asked her to go get us some milk I heard her G-man mention it into his wrist and I assumed someone was going to fetch some. I went to get cups and saw there was only one clean one left in the cupboard. The rest were all in the bowl, somewhere. I was having the clean one. As I was washing one out, the suit grabbed me by the elbow, hard, not painful, but enough to make his point heard as he whispered in my ear: “You do realise you’re speaking to Her Majesty The Queen, right? Show some respect for God’s sake.”
“Well,” I said. “She might be your queen, but she’s in my house.” I turned around to face him. “When I go over to Buckingham she can speak to me however she likes. And if she doesn’t like it she can fuck off.” I set the cleaned cup next to mine, then went back to the living room and sat down.
The Queen gave me that false smile that she gives to cameramen the whole world over. She was a professional liar, but up this close she was see-through. Maybe she was just slipping in her years. It happens to the best of us I suppose.
“So, what do you do for a living, Mr Bradshaw?” She asked like she didn’t already know. Like her heavies hadn’t been following me around for a few weeks now. She probably knew more about me than my own family.
I leaned back into my chair. The kettle started to whistle in the next room
“At the minute, nowt. I’m a trifle unemployed. Sorry, ‘between jobs’. Keyboard player by trade, but I don’t suppose you can call it a trade really. I only do, because I think things like note-smith and audio architect sound daft. Working on something at the mo’. Going to try to sell it to some indie-game company when it’s done, but there’s no telling out’ll come of it, so could just be wasting my time. Wouldn’t mind a Joe-job in the mean-time though. Could do to get the council off my back. Wouldn’t say no to a new telly either.”
It was like she didn’t know what to say at first, but then she said: “Well, I’m sure you’ll find something.” She looked down at the carpet, then over at the clock on the fireplace.
Yeah, I suppose we can’t all be handed a country can we? Platitudes from the weakest possible source.
Without knocking first, another suit, shorter than the Terminator sitting beside the Queen walked in with one of those little half-pint cartons of skimmed milk in his hand. Skimmed milk. Not semi-skimmed; skimmed, of all things. I took it off him, surprised he didn’t ask me for a quid, and made the brews. The G-men didn’t ask for one, nor were they part of the arrangement, so I didn’t make them one. They knew where the kitchen was.
Me and the Queen sat in silence, teas steaming on their coasters. She was pale and was wearing a lot of make-up. I thought about putting some music on, but I doubted she’d be a Blur or a Sabbath fan. Maybe she was and it was Britain’s best kept secret, I don’t know. It must be tragic really, having everyone know who you are, but nobody know a thing about you. It’s not as if she’s even done anything to earn the fame either, or the fortune.
Just who is she, really? I decided to find out.
“So, what’s it like being the queen then?”
She gave me that smile again and said: “It’s not what people expect, especially nowadays. Though, it’s never been easy.” And that was all I got. She had nothing real to say to me. We had nothing in common, and I didn’t know what she wanted from me. As I was thinking that maybe a life of banal formalities had made her into one, she said something that did take me by surprise.
“You’re obviously not from here, Mr Bradshaw. Where do you come from?”
“You’re absolutely right. I came here for Uni, stayed for the scenery. I’m from Hull, at t’other side of the country.”
She thought for a moment, trying to remember when she’d last heard of it. Trying to remember where it was on the map. I thought I’d jog her memory. “You drove through it in ninety-nine, there’s a fair there every October, the civil war started there because we wouldn’t let one of your Charles’ in, the House Martins come from there.”
I could’ve gone on, but she closed her eyes and gave a slight nod. I took that as her realising.
“What do you plan to do with yourself after this, Mr Bradshaw?” Her Majesty asked.
“Same thing I’ve always wanted to do, Lizzie. Go my own way.”
“Have you ever considered serving your country?”
I couldn’t tell if she was asking me to fuck her or go get myself killed in the army. Is it treason to turn her down? Either way, this is what I said: “Nope. Thanks, but I’ve got my own plans. And they don’t involve this country.” There was more I could have said, but the look on the G-man’s face told me I didn’t have to. She sipped her tea. I could tell it was too hot, but she made the point to anyway.
“I’m sorry I haven’t got any biscuits to offer you, ‘Liz. Would’ve got some in, but uh, been a bit hard-up this month. Don’t suppose your boy outside can go get some of them too?”
The Queen passed it off with a smirk. “It’s alright, everything’s fine, thank you.”
Platitudes. Delicious platitudes, just like the ones she gives every Christmas when she pretends to be one of us.
Not much later, I waved off the motorcade that had crammed itself down my street and went back inside. She hadn’t even finished her tea, barely sipped it. I poured it in the sink, then I stopped for a minute, and realised it was over. All those months of pestering for what, an undrunk brew and one-word answers? Christ. She could lock herself in the palace and never have to mention- never even have to think about me again. The same couldn’t be said for me. She had gates and guards with guns to keep the press out and what did I have? Still though, when I locked the door I smiled as I realised that while we’re all victims of circumstance in some way or another, at least I’m not a slave to it.
The news crews and photographers would be knocking on in an hour or so, wanting to know all that went on. I’d tell them I preferred brown sauce. Until then there was peace and quiet.
Written in early June 2012, ironically not to coincide with the Queen’s Jubilee, but it panned out that way anyway.
Read aloud at my first reading at The Robert Gillow in Lancaster, 3/6/2012. It got a few laughs.