From his desk beside the office window on the top floor of Norman Shaw North, J.Alfred Prufrock – real ale enthusiast, Faroe Islands devotee, Wolves fan, cycle lane maniac and MP for the highly marginal seat of Grummidge West – leaned back slightly in his chair, sighed, pressed his fingertips together, and contemplated the Conservative leadership election.
He had voted in the first round for Boris Johnson, after a pleasant conversation with James Wharton, a slightly less pleasant one with Gavin Williamson, and a very much less full one with Johnson himself – who had referred to Prufrock, within the first minute of a two minute audience, three times as Albert, twice as Andrew, and once as Aelred, before lapsing into grunts, Latin, and a promissory riff about the workings of the honours system. The buzzer on the desk phone sounded.
“Prufrock,” said Prufrock, lifting the receiver.
– – –
“Hi there, Arthur. Team Hunt speaking,” came the reply. “Look, we know you voted for Boris in the first round. Now, Jeremy wants to stress that it’s time to think of the good of the Party. Boris is going to make the final, with or without your vote. No-one admires Michael more than Jeremy, but frankly – how can I put it? – he’s a bit flaky. Dom’s going nowhere. Ditto Saj. What the Party needs now is a dignified, grown-up last round. And that means Boris v Jeremy. Can you assure him of your support?”
“Absolutely,” said Prufrock. He put the receiver down. The buzzer sounded again. He picked up the receiever. “Prufrock”.
– – –
Morning, Prufork. Team Gove speaking. Look, we know you voted for Boris in the first ground. Now, Michael wants to stress that it’s time to think of the good of the Party. Boris is going to make the final, with or without your vote. No-one admires Jeremy more than Michael, but frankly – let’s be candid here – he’s a bit dull. Dom’s going nowhere. Ditto Saj. What Boris needs is a testing, quality last round. And that means Boris v Michael. Would you consider lending him your vote?
“You have my solemn assurance,” said Prufrock. He put the receiver down. Then –
– – –
“Hi there, Alb…er…um” – there was the sound of paper being shuffled frantically – “Team Raab speaking. Look, we know you voted for Boris in the first ground. Now, Dom wants to stress that it’s time to think of the good of the Party. Boris is going to make the final, with or without your vote. Frankly, Jeremy’s dull, Michael’s flaky, and Saj is going nowhere. And none of them are real Brexiteers. What the Party needs is two proper Leavers in the final. And that means Boris v Dom. Would you think of switching for just a single round?”
Prufrock had no sooner suggested that he would do so than –
– – –
“Hi, there. Team Saj speaking. Look, we know you voted for Boris in the first ground. Now, Saj wants to stress that it’s time to think of the good of the Party. Boris is going to make the final, with or without your vote. Frankly, Jeremy’s dull, Michael’s flaky and Dom is going nowhere. What Boris needs is a last round that looks to the future – up against a man with a great back story, Ruth Davidson, and appeal to new voters. That means Boris v Saj. Saj can get there if he’s leant enough votes. Will you help him out?”
Crackling over the phone. Then –
– – –
“Hi there, Prufrock. Rory speaking. صبح بخير. Look, I’m in the Purple Haze Cafe, Greek Street. Can you join me in ten mins? By then I’ll be in the Twinkling Fakir, Swindon. You can track me via
#RoryWalks. Look, old thing, here’s the rub. Boris is going to make the final. Jeremy, Michael, Dom, the Saj – none of them can beat him. Only I can. I know you don’t want him really. If enough people switch, I can make it. Then your seat will be saved! Oh, by the way, I’ll be in Grummidge Town Hall within three hours. How about it?
Prufrock opened his mouth. He closed it. He opened it again. He wanted to speak, but words escaped him. Hunt, Gove, Raab, Stewart, the Saj – their faces and names seemed to dissolve and reconfigure, merge and meld, in the claustral semi-light.
– – –
And then he heard it: that soft, inimitable, East Yorkshire-tinged accent – as though a Yorkshire Frankie Spencer were auditioning as Richard III.
“Albert, Gavin speaking. I’ve got James and Grant here with me. Now, we do need you to led someone your vote for Round Two. Let me come to that in a minute. On the one hand, I did just want to say that the fact-finding opportunity in Cannes is still open. And on the other, what a pity it would be if that story about the loofah, KY jelly, magic mushrooms and Health and Efficiency somehow came to light.”
Johnson, Hunt, Gove, the whole lot of them – all were suddenly swept away. Against what was left of the light, a single shape gathered. To his horror, Prufrock watched it grow. The hairs that covered its body bristled. Its legs snapped at the air. Its fangs glistened with venom. Its bulk swelled. It hissed. It spat – and, now suddenly man-sized, it launched itself at him.
Desk, phone, wedding photo of Mrs Prufrock, Billy Wright memorial medal – all crashed to the floor. The monster’s masticating jaws slobbered at his. Its tentacles clawed at his M & S string vest. Prufrock’s last memory was of opening his mouth to scream, but no sound came out…