In see-through red shirt I’ve had for over fifty years and Japan windcheater, off to Quentin’s party with champagne, cake, box of chenin blanc, card and Latin dictionary. He’d said he’s doing Latin. Wrong address directed me to right one, Mornington Terrace, where, looking about, I saw an upturned bucket with the number on it, indicating the basement flat. Dan let me in. Quentin was having his face painted by Dominika. In the kitchen Dan opened the champagne which spumed onto the floor. “You should’ve had a glass handy. It must’ve been shoogled on the way here.” He made an attempt on the spill. I had the smallest glass, Dominika the largest. Quentin looked at the absence of words in his card I put in later. I said I’d seen a card, crisis in the middle ages, but thought better of it since Beehive might call me a bitch. He’s forty-five. They laughed. Quentin had a go at the spill. Dominika wiped it up.
Mei-Ling and Yasmeen came next. Yasmeen had a pillow – I eschewed making any pregnant remark – for her back she’d had an operation on, a vertebra replaced. “You’re partly robot.” (I later asked why the vertebra was removed: malignant.) There wasn’t enough champagne left for two so they had their own pink sparkling rosé. We reminisced how long we’d known each other – “I’m bad with names” – and still hadn’t got Mei-Ling’s right, “A hyphen!” subsequently addressing her as ‘Mei-hyphenated-Ling’ but may already have spelt ‘Yasmeen’ right. I’d check. (I’ve checked; I had.) Mark Samuels in pork pie hat and Honey, who has Crohn’s disease and can’t eat wheat must’ve arrived meantime because they were other side the table when I said ei is usually pronounced ay, as in May. This was disputed, by Quentin, but who then came up with ‘feint’ – “From French,” I said – and Mark with ‘reign’, probably, though I heard ‘rein’ unless he did say ‘reins’ and I’m misremembering. I thought it was so pronounced in Latin and possibly Greek. Mark remarked Quentin’s punctiliousness as editor, down to a comma. Having gone over my publishing from my diary, the line of Quentin, Dan and Yarrow Paisley was easy compared to the work I put in on the other which foundered on the bad faith of the publisher. “It makes for a better story.” I was asked if the writers’ group liked my writing. I considered. They liked my blogs, so “Yes.” I didn’t write for it. “You know The Fling?” Quentin agreed he did.
That might have led on to John who wasn’t there and I tend not to mention people who aren’t, as I haven’t Steph who, I told Dominika, wanted to meet her again, but in my trawl through my diary his was a better story than the publishing one. I may have got on to him through telling Quentin I was a bit dispirited and the last time was connected with when John wasn’t about, John claiming that as the cause “I’m becoming you,” I told Quentin. “In that case, am I becoming you?” “You are cheerier.”
However it started, I would have to say something to get to what I was wanting to tell Quentin that resulted from it. “I thought John was a fling, a heterosexual having a bit homo on the side that demeaned me. When he disappeared I thought he’d found cottaging suited him better. You met him,” I told Mei-Ling, at Quentin’s last year’s party when I had John read out a poem of his I thought good she was less sure was. Phase two, starting with the declaration of love on a Xmas card, ending with his being taken out by the police in shackles, handcuffs, would make the better story. I could see they, electrified, agreed with that. I went into his missing me because I’d gone up town in a blizzard to a book-selling by Quentin. “You were there,” I told Mei-Ling. There was a debate whether Mark also was. Afterwards I was back home for five minutes before going on to dinner at a friend’s so wouldn’t be in for John. Instead he sent the Xmas card, mentioning he’d got into a little bit of trouble with the police, thus didn’t have to explain himself when he did visit. He didn’t want his name mentioned and would sue if I published what I’d call ‘The Convict’. “It’s already written, in my diary.” Though a publisher, Quentin didn’t know what the legal position was on that. “I was shaking after he left, with anger. He threatened me! His name wasn’t in it. When police from Scotland Yard asked if I knew him, I shook my head. I knew him as ‘Reilly’ or ‘O’Reilly’. When they showed me a photograph, it was John. I thought they were calling him ‘Mersh.’ It all becomes fiction in the end.” Mei-Ling thought a surname given pretty defining. “Makes for verisimilitude.” Quentin nodded. I went on to say we can’t say black any more but if we say ‘Fred’ and later he turns out to be …Japanese, that’s a little shock for the reader who’d be assuming something else. Quentin nodded, saying something. “Is there really a ‘Fred’ in Japanese!” No. He gave a near enough equivalent. There was something on assumptions made from appearances because Mei-Ling, half Scotch, thought from my cultured Scots accent I’m unaware of I was Scottish when ‘I’m British, born in Shoreham.” What was his crime, Mei-Ling wanted to know. “Conspiracy to murder.” I explained the circumstances. “I don’t know if it’s true. I got it from John,” in dribs and disconnected drabs, though he wasn’t keen to give the last bit I wanted to know. “He phoned the police afterwards in case the man was still alive.” But that wasn’t the main point I was distracting myself from and wanted to tell while I remembered it. John had my story in ‘Dadaoism, An Anthology’ read at the Wandsworth prison reading group and it was appreciated by Sadiq Khan. “What was he doing there?” Mei-Ling asked. “He was a murderer or rapist. No,” he was visiting, showing he cared. “I was disappointed but John assured me the murderers and rapists, with a yen for writing, did also appreciate my story. They got the telepathy he said. The book’s mine now,” I said to Quentin who wasn’t bothered about that and, missing the ostensible point, picked up on the mayor of London’s having appreciated his book and how that might be used. “I could write to him,” I offered. Mei-Ling said I must care for John I talked about him a lot. “I enjoy his company. He was the most beautiful boy in Liverpool. Quentin thought he was good-looking.” Quentin nodded. “I didn’t notice. He was the best shoplifter in London, he was told in a pub to his embarrassment and pride.” She asked if he was a kleptomaniac. I assured her he wasn’t. I sounded off about something else as well, I can’t remember what. I’ve composed a letter to Sadiq Khan.
I completely forgot this, until a reference by John, who didn’t want one, to bananas on my bookcase reminded me: Honey had thought to bring Quentin a present of bananas. “Quentin,” a vegetarian, “doesn’t eat fruit.” I’d once forgetfully offered him a banana and he revulsed. He attributed the especial loathing to something in childhood he might reveal another time but not this. Quentin doesn’t offer but, when asked, does usually tell. Probably force-fed. I had a vision of a Quentin in left profile with a banana protruding from his arse, shortly followed by one of a small, grey-haired man. But would a father do that to his child? The word, ‘banana’ recurred during the evening. John said it was a wonder Quentin wasn’t gay. “We don’t know that’s what happened.” John went on to his being buggered by a parsnip. “Wasn’t that sore?” He couldn’t remember. “It was a little parsnip.” “I haven’t heard that from you before.”
Oh, yes! Brexit. How did I get on to that? The French and Germans didn’t let the Romanians and Bulgarians move freely for seven years. We could’ve been accommodated. The Lisbon treaty actually waives freedom of movement in certain circumstances. It’s not an absolute. We could’ve invoked that. We have more of their citizens than they ours. We have to have concessions elsewhere. Same with security. We supply 40% of the information with 8% of the total population. “And the Danes aren’t getting to fish in our waters, on the Dogger Bank, on historic rights, even if we don’t ourselves. If we’re going to cut off our nose, we should take a slice of theirs.” They laughed. “I should’ve been prime minister except politics is boring.” Mark agreed. “You have to be agreeable to everybody. I wouldn’t get far.” Dominika later said the British part of her thought Brexit might be better; we’d be poorer but more… “Equal?” I suggested. I didn’t understand the animosity against the Poles, I apologised.
Mei-Ling opened the box of wine for me. I got hungry and had Quentin cut the cake to ‘happy birthday to you’, him, and I distributed it. Honey could eat it. There was a slice left I think Nigel had when he came. Sitting by Quentin, I texted John I was at Quentin’s party. He hadn’t come over as said on Good Friday and hadn’t replied to two texts then and that was a fortnight ago. Dominika wanted to bake. Dan had a gluten-free pizza for me and Honey I suggested be baked first. Dan cut it into slices and in taking a slice from the plate I took exactly half the pizza, the slices connecting at the crust, leaving Honey the other half on the plate. Dominika baked three lots of pizzas and is coming to my party to do a gluten-free one. “She’s giving me a back rub with her breasts,” I said. “I dreamt we were lovers.” She surmised I might not be as completely homosexual as, presumably, she thought. The assumption surprised me, “The unconscious doesn’t care about things like that.” It didn’t occur to me, for me to say, I’ve two children older than Quentin.
Quentin had a video he showed in the other room of him as a Neanderthal at a pool. “Vaughan Williams,” I said, Sinfonia antartica. Quentin nodded. He was being threatened by a spear-wielding Amazon he offered a dead animal to – I knew how this was going to end – when on the ridge appeared a white alien in a cap slowly flapping his wings and Quentin abandoned the woman and scurried up the ridge to the alien but without the offering. He said the video was from some years ago. He hadn’t cut his long hair for it. I said to Domenica Quentin was braver than I was. “He’s not brave. He enjoys it.” She offered to make me up too. “I don’t like the feel on my face. Three girls made me up at university to see if I’d pass as a girl. I was pretty. I couldn’t wait to wash the make-up off. A lover wanted me to put make-up on and I did but femininely. He was disappointed. He’d wanted it dramatic.” Dominika told me Joe and Quentin aren’t related as I believed but Joe’s the son of an ex-lover of Quentin’s father. Dominika asked me to go out with her while she smoked a rollup. The poems weren’t haiku but she couldn‘t remember what they were called. I asked Quentin, “What were the poems of yours Dominika had on her wall?” “Tanka.” We considered whether drinking too much was related to childhood abuse. “John drinks a bottle of spirits and then whatever I have. I remark but don’t censure. He said it’s because he’s not having sex. That doesn’t affect me one way or the other.” I was chittering with alcohol and cold. Inside I looked on, smiling at losing Mei-Ling in animated catch-up to Nigel.
There were photos, taken by Dan. “I should’ve pulled that in.” “No,” Yasmeen indulged. The first phase ended with Yasmeen’s leaving and Nigel’s coming.
Nigel’s married with two children and has to do with televised sport. It brings in the money when finding alternative work nowadays is chancier. I said my skills would be wasted on a good man, with no badness to mitigate. We’d met before at the Cheshire Cheese I inevitably called Cat years ago at a Quentin party. “You are my party people.” Mei-Ling was pleased by that. She, Nigel and Quentin knew each other from Durham. “Who’s going to fill the hiatus? The party’s flat.” There was no unconscious drive or direction.
Beehive with bright blue hair, Naiem, who went out again for sparkling wine, and Joe came. “I wanted to see your and Oscar’s shorts but there were no trains to Waterloo. It would’ve taken hours.” I asked if he’d seen the video we’d seen. Joe nodded, smiling. “You made it.” Joe asked would I be blogging. “No, I’ve lost interest.” He thought that a shame. “It started with you,” I addressed Quentin, “when I thought you important.” Before she left I asked Mei-Ling to my party, looking for a piece of paper while she rapidly entered the information on her phone. Mark remarked this but said nothing.
I said Beehive should win the prize for putting most effort into her costume, painting black stripes on a white jacket and enlarging its lapels “and you for least effort.” “The booby prize,” Nigel said. “Oh no!” I left at ten to ten after a dance with Dominika, thinking it was later. I embraced everybody goodbye except Nigel who held out his hand. I asked a woman which way to the tube. John texted he’d had flu. On the way I replied I hadn’t thought there was anything really wrong. I caught the Windsor train and was back in judicious time for a repeat of Versailles I was about to watch when John texted that I’d known because he told me, telepathically. ‘Like fuck.’ On the day I’d bought his birthday card, I thought I might as well post it; he wasn’t coming. There were no words and, if he could unconsciously transmit from afar, they wouldn’t be the conscious words he was assuming. The communication bypasses consciousness. I’d felt there was nothing really wrong.