London woke up. Slowly. And so did Frank. He sat on a bench in the park and watched the pale lingering moon, wondering what the fuck he was doing here. From where he was sitting he had a panorama view of the city. Not the kind of view his regular park provided. How the hell did he get here, and more importantly, why? He didn't have a clue.
As the sky changed from dark to grey tot pink he became aware of the cold. His hands felt like big lumps of ice. His coat was damp. And he wasn't alone. They were everywhere. Fluttering up and down trees, racing over the grass, making an awful noise. Squirrels.
All his limbs felt stiff when he got up. His ignorance of his whereabouts kept nagging him. Hands in his pockets in a futile attempt to get warmer, he stumbled out of the park. He still didn't recognise his surroundings. He no longer wondered how he got here. Probably something to do with too much booze.
In the almost deserted streets a man walked his dog. A small aggressive dog that tried to attack Frank. Frank kicked him, hardly touching the ugly animal. The man started to protest, but thought better of it when he saw the look in Frank's bloodshot eyes. 'Piss off.' Frank mumbled.
The next street was familiar. In the distance he could see the Thames, quiet at this time of day. And on his left rose the contours of the Cutty Sark. He recognised his surroundings, but couldn't as yet connect the facts. He sat down on a bench opposite the Cutty Sark and lit a cigarette. The smoke activated his foggy brain. Greenwich.
He must have said it aloud, cause suddenly there was a woman standing next to the bench. 'My patch.' She said. She sounded angry. She was wearing at least six layers of clothes and was carrying an assortment of bulging carrier bags. Her face and hands were grimy. Frank couldn't help but laugh. 'I'm serious.' She said, threatening.
She was so close now he could smell her. not a pleasant smell. 'Look, I've got a home, right? Nothing to get upset about.' It didn't help. Frank sighed and patted on the empty seat next to him. 'So this is your bench? Well, I'll be off in a sec, just let me finish my cigarette, alright?' She kept staring at him. He tried hard not to breathe.
When he was certain his words had no effect whatsoever he offered her a cigarette. She took three. Held out her hand for his lighter. He shook his head. She shrugged and sat down next to him. The stench was suffocating. He suddenly regretted telling her he'd finish his cigarette first. But he couldn't leave now. It wouldn't be fair.
He lit her cigarette, taking care to put away his lighter. It was his last one, and still half full. 'Ta.' They smoked in silence for a while. 'What's your name?' she asked, eyes fixed on the sails of the Cutty Sark. 'Frank.' 'I'm Diana.' They shook hands. Hers was definitely sticky. 'So, what are you doing here, Frank?' she asked.
What about you, he thought, but was afraid to ask. She outweight him at least a hundred pounds. No equal match. 'I haven't the faintest idea.' He said. it was the truth. He couldn't have come all this way by foot – his feet would be sore. So it must have been a bus or the tube. Which still left him with the question why. He didn't know anyone in Greenwich. He remembered a trip to the Observatory, though. A school trip, but that was years ago.
'I live here.' Diana said. 'It's central. They say the foot tunnel is dangerous, but it's not. And the people are nice, except for them schoolboys.' She smiled. She could do with a dentist. She started on her second fag. He lit one as well. 'What exactly is it that you do, Frank?' she wanted to know. 'Nothing much, really. Nothing at all, to be precise. I used to be an actor.' He answered her question surprisingly honest.
'Used to be.' She repeated and blew smoke in his face. 'So that's what you was. And what are you now? A drunk?' 'Probably.' It was still cold, but the sun had come up and warmed his face. He knew he would fall asleep if he closed his eyes. Greenwich, he thought, why Greenwich?
'I used to be a princess.' Diana said, a dreamy look in her eyes. 'Yeah, right.' Frank said. She nodded. 'We had this play at school. About the royal wedding. I got the princess part. Because of my name, see?' 'Of course.' Frank snorted. She gave him a puzzled look. 'Are you making fun of me?' He held up his hands. 'I wouldn't dare. Honest.' She relaxed. 'They let me keep the dress. I've still got it somewhere.'
She started fumbling in her carrier bags. She opened a few and then gave up. 'What colour was it?' Frank asked. Slowly the street came alive. People on their way to to work and school. 'Purple.' A noisy bus stopped at a nearby bus stop. 'Do you wanna go?' Diana misinterpreted Frank's look. 'Nah. I do want a coffee, though. You?' 'White. Four sugars.' He got up, surprised at how stiff his legs still were, and walked towards the café across the street.
'You're up early. So you're Diana's new fella?' the man in the café said. 'What? Her? She's scary.' Frank searched through his pockets and found just enough change. If you didn't count those two foreign coins that resembled five pence pieces. The man didn't even look at the coins. 'Wait a sec.' He said, and wrapped something in greaseproof paper. 'For Diana. Egg sarnie.' 'Don't make much profit, do you?' Frank said.
Diana wolfed down the sandwich. 'He didn't give you nothing?' she said, her mouth still full. 'No. I'm not hungry.' Frank lied. 'Besides, I'm not homeless, am I?' She grinned, showing off her stained teeth. "If you say so.'
He still didn't know why he was in Greenwich. It must be a coincidence. The result of his drunkenness. He said goodbye to Diana and wandered in the direction of the foot tunnel. The tunnel was gloomy and seemed endless. He thought of the ships passing overhead, and felt miserable. At first he didn't notice the sound of footsteps. But when they got closer he could hear Diana gasp for breath.
She had been running. 'Frank.' She wheezed, and took a deep breath. 'You lost something.' In her hand was a wrinkled piece of paper. 'There you go.' The paper was smudged where she had held it. He could see her fingerprints. 'I'll be off then.' She said, and slowly walked back.
It all came back when he'd read the first lines. The words 'audition' and 'Greenwich' triggered his memory. 'Fuck.' Ten am, the paper said. But what time was it now? He asked three people who passed him. Two ignored him, but the third man showed him his watch. Not enough time left to go home, take a shower and put on clean clothes, he realised. And then he remembered. Smiled.
'What's so funny?' the man asked. 'Everything. Not that it's any of your business, mind.' Frank said. He turned around and walked back to Greenwich. Diana looked surprised. 'Don't you wanna go home?' she asked. 'Not yet.' He waved the letter in front of her. 'Win the lottery, did you?' 'Audition.' He explained. She shook her head. 'You're mad.'
Frank sat down on the bench and closed his eyes against the sun. He kept smiling, even when a passing dog sniffed at his leg and consequently raised his hind leg. Diana shouted at the animal. 'Completely bonkers.' She mumbled.
The room was full of actors rehearsing the part of a homeless drunk for a new Channel 4 detective series. They all eyed Frank suspiciously. Nothing new there. It usually took them no more than a minute to dismiss him as a threat. He was no competition. Except today that moment didn't come. They looked puzzled instead and wrinkled their noses.
He had to wait for a long time. Under normal circumstances he would have fled by now. This time he stayed. He was faint with hunger and fatigue. No one wanted to sit next to him. The woman who called him by his birth name flinched when he corrected her.
He got the part. They called him a natural, refreshing. A method actor. He thought it was one big laugh.