In 1976 my friend Glen decided to give up advertising to spend a year teaching English in Sudan. On his return he was supposed to be staying with his brother but they had a row at Heathrow Airport, so Glen phoned and asked if he and his new New Zealander girlfriend, Virginia, could stop for a short while in our spare room in the council tower block where we lived.
When they arrived from the airport, dragging several huge, overstuffed suitcases behind them, Glen and Virginia were both painfully thin and their skin was a bright orange hue. They had picked up a tropical parasite. Both of them spent their first few days back in London in our lavatory.
As the weeks of their stay lengthened, the couple hardly ever went out, but remained in the flat all day, arguing with each other and smoking. After a while me and my wife, Linda, had had enough and we asked Glen and Virginia to move out; but rather than being honest we told them (untruthfully) that our old friend Christine Walker was coming to stay with us indefinitely and she would be needing the room.
Reluctantly the emaciated couple agreed to move out but asked if they could leave their suitcases behind, as the only place they could find to rent was a tiny bedsit with no storage space. This presented us with a problem: one or the other of them would be returning every now and then to pick up stuff from a room in which Chris Walker was supposedly staying. I therefore felt I had to fake Chris’s day- to-day presence.
First of all I got some old shoes of Linda’s and scattered them around, then I threw some clothes about in a similar fashion. Next I placed a book by the bedside, open about halfway through, and beside it a glass of water. When I stood back and surveyed all this it looked incredibly false. Nobody, I thought, would believe that a real person was spending time in this room. It needed more detail. Feeling rather strange, I put on Linda’s lipstick and took a sip of water to leave the imprint around the edge of the glass. Then I got into the bed and rolled around to give it that rumpled look. Finally I sprayed some perfume Linda never used into the air.
Every time Glen or Virginia came to get something I would make alterations: turning the pages of Imaginary Chris’s bedtime reading, buying new clothes for her from Oxfam to scatter around, and leaving open a pack of Tampax once a month, though I was unsure how many of these things women got through each month. Five boxes? “Why is she in London?” I asked. “Who is she friends with?” In my mind, somebody as free and adventurous as Imaginary Chris would have plenty of friends, and lovers, too.
When at last they got a bigger place and the couple came and took their cases away, Imaginary Chris was suddenly no longer necessary. Linda insisted that I clear the spare room of her things, which made me sad, because I missed her terribly. Plus, there was a definite feeling that there had been some kind of spark between the two of us.
This article appears in the 11 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The anti-Trump