When he said he had already replaced me, I knew he was putting it badly. That word has an air of substitution about it; it implies that one is as good as the other, that either can fill the gap equally well. And to make him the subject of any verb was entirely false, for she was the instigator, of that I am sure. So I checked out my dictionary, and there it was: To displace – to shift from its proper position, to oust. Now this was nearer the truth of the matter: she had displaced me. To put it like that brought things back to their rightful order. No-one had taken my place, she had merely shifted me from it, a subtle but important distinction. It pleased me to reach this conclusion. It showed that my mind was still working in its usual logical fashion, that this unpleasant development had not shaken my ability to reason.
So I was the rightful occupant of that place in his life, and she the interloper; I the legitimate resident, and she the cuckoo. Who did she think she was, to evict the lawful tenant of his heart – some grubby squatter claiming dubious precedence for an act that in more honest times would have been called theft?
He had told me of her arrival during the course of lunch at our favourite wine bar. I knew that something was wrong when he rang me at work and suggested we meet; his office is particularly busy on Mondays, and he usually just has a sandwich at his desk. At first he tried to imply that there was something wrong with our relationship, that we should simply stop seeing each other. But I had no intention of letting him get away with such a false account of the situation, and I explained that we had always been meant to be together. I told him that he was my king, and I his loyal subject. As in the best stories, after overcoming many obstacles, he would eventually marry me and make me his queen. I quietly congratulated myself as I observed my response to his news; I stayed calm and firm, in spite of the silly lies he was trying to tell me. Finally, my tenacity paid off, for he admitted that I was not at fault, that he had started seeing some secretary from his department. I had thought him more resistant to the dubious charms of empty-headed pretty faces, but I soon recovered my composure. I realised that this was the first of the ordeals that we must pass through to conquer mischievous fate and strengthen our love, a rite of passage that would forge a lasting and meaningful relationship from the merry-go-round of parties, gigs, and over-indulgence that had hitherto been all we had shared. It was my duty to enlighten him, to show him the right way to view our present circumstances, and I set about it with zeal. Blinded by her image and blinkered by his delusions, he could not see the situation clearly, and he walked away from me, still suffering from the misconception that we were finished.
I considered my options through the long, starlit hours of night, sitting on the wall opposite his flat. I knew that it would not be easy to set him back on the right path, that I would need all my resources to conquer this adversary, and so I had followed him home from work while trying to decide on my first move. I was now watching the windows for a glimpse of her, an opportunity to know my enemy, to find the chink in her armour. I had not seen her arrive; but then, I would not have expected a trespasser like her to come openly to the front entrance – she must have sneaked up the fire escape and in through the kitchen window. I was sure that she would not have risked staying away and giving the rightful inhabitant a chance to move in.
By one o’clock in the morning, the flat had been dark and silent for over an hour, and I knew it was time to act, while she was asleep and her defences were down. So I used my mobile to phone him. I told him that she had failed, that she may have ejected me from the nest, but that the fall had not killed me. I explained that cuckoos make uneasy bedfellows, for they are arrogant in their certainty that they can shove others around to get what they want. I told him, most calmly and reasonably, that he should get rid of her quickly, or he too would soon find himself pushed out of his tree. He swore impatiently, and hung up.
I realised that she had addled his mind, that logic alone could no longer reach him. Then I remembered that he was a keen yachtsman, and a metaphor that he would surely understand occurred to me.
So at two o’clock, I rang him again. I pointed out that a boat may be a very solid object, but the water that it displaces as it cleaves through the sea soon returns to its rightful location. After only a few minutes, there is no trace of the boat’s passage. If he would only realise that this interloper was merely a ship that was passing in the night, by dawn all would be as if she had never intruded. He shouted at me most unpleasantly, told me to stop ringing him, and hung up again.
How could I put it, so that he would understand, in spite of having his thought processes sabotaged by that intruder? I knew that I had to find some way of proving to him that, although she might temporarily have displaced me, I was his rightful partner, and was worth far more than she. So I thought some more on the question of displacement, pacing up and down the street to aid my concentration. Eventually a story from physics classes at school came to my mind. It was about a scientist in Greek times called Archimedes, who had to work out if the king’s crown was made of gold or of some cheaper alloy. The important fact, as far as I could remember, is that the quality of an article can be worked out from the amount of water that it displaces.
So at four o’clock I rang him again, and suggested that he throw her and me into his bath (separately, of course – I had no intention of becoming on bath-sharing terms with her), to see which one of us made the biggest waves. Then he’d know. He’d have a purely scientific way of seeing which of us was worth having, and which of us was rubbish. Only afterwards, he’d have to build me a new nest. The old one would hold unpleasant memories, you see. He told me I was crazy, and I said that I bet they called Archimedes names, too. Truly great thinkers are often dismissed in their own lifetimes, and it takes a while to appreciate the value of a novel idea. So I told him to think about it, to work it out, and to call me from his window when he’d run the bath. He hung up again.
Now, once I can understand. Anyone can get angry or impatient, and hang up the phone without finishing the conversation first. But three times in one night is appallingly rude, and I rang him back to tell him so. He needed to know that this interloper was undermining his character, and it was my duty to point it out to him.
But this time his line was engaged, and even though I kept trying, I couldn’t get through. The sod’s taken the phone off the hook, I thought. I wondered what Archimedes would have done. How would he have got a hearing, if his king had refused to listen? And then I remembered. It just goes to show what a genius the old man was, that he anticipated that people might not listen to his ideas, and worked out such a clever way of grabbing their attention.
So I got up from the wall, and walked quietly to the end of the road. By now it was getting light, and the early birds were leaving for work, driving off in their cars, or walking hurriedly towards the tube station. I crouched in a gateway and stripped. Thank God it was summer – it was cold enough, I can tell you, at that hour of the morning. Then I dashed out from my hiding-place and ran all the way down his street, screaming “Eureka!” at the top of my voice. I nearly paused outside his window, but I remembered just in time that I had to displace as much water as possible, and I kept going. Archimedes would have been so proud of me!
He didn’t come out of his flat. I never heard from him again. And that’s what made me realise the truth. You see, he wasn’t the king after all. He was like Bonnie Prince Charlie; handsome and charming, but only a pretender to the throne all the same. My daring ploy was successful, though, in a funny kind of way. You see, a very kind man in uniform realised what was happening, and brought me here. Now I know better than to believe that I need that impostor. This is my nest, and the man who looks after me here is my king. So Archimedes got me on the right track after all. I’m happy now; the king employs servants to look after me, and every day he comes to see me, and listens carefully to everything I say. He never gets cross with me, or impatient, although I get the impression that he would prefer me to stop pushing the servants into the bath. I’ve told him I’ll try to resist the impulse, if he’ll take down the cuckoo clock in the dining room. So far it hasn’t happened. But we are both too mature to allow minor differences of opinion to interfere in the wider scheme of things, and I know that I’ll stay here with him for the rest of my life.