Because I hadn’t baked a cake for it, I surmised I wouldn’t be celebrating the birthday on the day with anybody and so it has turned out. Even Yvann downstairs, who intended to mark it with his presence and, as he later told me, was thinking of doing so on the day, didn’t. Everything willy-nilly was being directed to that non-celebratory end.
That out of the way, Jean initiated, I coordinated with Quentin a meeting of us three for which Jean was making a reservation for 8:30 that implied eating out that I only learnt of at the last minute. My preparing of vegetarian food for Quentin wasn’t, however, otiose since he’d be coming over beforehand. John left, proposing to come back after he’d signed in at a hostel two hours away in order to meet Quentin. He didn’t. It’s feasible they think he’s a figment of my perfervidly erotic imagination since no friend has seen him. Yvann asked if the guy he saw me seated beside on a bench was my boyfriend. It wasn’t.
Yvann came up as usual for money he didn’t get but stayed for drink, filling the intervening gap since Quentin, busy with editorial work, was late. I determinedly pushed the soup I’d made on him and Yvann, and as determinedly reimbursed him for the cost of his having come. I’m poor but he’s poorer. His brother’s publishing company isn’t breaking even as yet and Quentin’s working unpaid, living on benefits. These are being sorted out and his rent paid. He’s also been able to defer paying off his student loan despite his recent move’s complicating things. He brought a wine I didn’t expect – I’ve a shedful of wine – when I wasn’t wanting him put to unnecessary expense. We drank champagne.
Both Quentin and I were uncomprehending of what Yvann might be saying. I thought he wanted me to keep £20 for him over and above his repaying the £20 he owed me but what it was was he wanted another twenty and he’d pay back forty, probably inspired to this renewed attempt to extract more money by the £20 I’d given Quentin in reimbursement. Yvann was most incomprehensible when he went into rap word association and laughed. He categorised as homosexual my applying dermatological cream to Quentin’s facial spots. “It’s not even homophiliac,” I said. I feel tender and protective when with Quentin though he’s a grown man able to get his writing published even if he can’t live by it. Yvann, in front of Quentin, repeated what he’d told me that he’d recently been sucked off by a man. “So that’s true? You did.” One swallow doth not a gay make. Quentin laughed when I said to Yvann, “I’m not encouraging your alcoholism,” as I handed him the remains of his drink in a small bottle and another in another little bottle for a take-away.
Jean came. I asked how her mother was. Dead, in April. “Did I know?” Jean conclusively remembered I did, having sent her an email saying it would be closure for her. She took a sip of champagne, and left. She doesn’t drink. She never stays. I don’t know why. She’s entitled. In fact it’s a wonder she came in to put her glass down on the table. This time the reason was she’d parked up the hill in a residents-only parking area she didn’t have a ticket for and wondered if the restriction applied after six. I pointed out the square by my block for her to park in. The office workers were gone and wouldn’t be in the next day, Saturday. On her going off, I admitted my faux pas to the two inside. How little what affects others impinges, I sawed. Jean didn’t park where I suggested because of a clamping sign but in a car park at the top of the street. She didn’t come in to say so. We went out late to our reservation at the Britannia I somehow thought was the pub on Water Lane and was directing us there, Yvann having veered off home, but Jean, a tactful pilot, said it was on Brewers Lane and I abruptly changed direction.
Jean wanted to eat out in the garden area despite the staff not wanting us to and got her way. I liked this imposing Jean except there’s always something to baulk her, in this case rain and the lack of an umbrella over the table. We retreated to the table reserved for us.
Jean feels ninety four – she doesn’t look it – and is tired all the time. She’s wife, mother and doing a course on art. Quentin felt his age, almost forty. I don’t feel mine. When I was young I could pick up a conversation where I’d left off with whoever I’d been talking to until I realised it was being taken I must love them when I didn’t so I stopped doing that but, knowing where I am now, I said, I should’ve kept that skill because “Everything goes.”
Some guy had imposed two dogs. Jean was against me feeding one the remnant of her battered fish unless I asked permission. I did it with mock surreptitiousness. The dog shimmied her body to induce more. The other dog nearly snapped my finger off taking a chip. Quentin patted them. His stare at me was reminiscent of an original intensity. I gave him half my remaining salad to be helped eat it. He asked who the framed picture was of that looked like his grandmother. Bette Davis? One of the Havilland sisters? Probably somebody whose heyday was the thirties, like my mother, and made up in that era’s cosmetic style. I stood up with two £5 towards my share when Jean said she was paying for me as her birthday present but not for Quentin I spontaneously offered one of the £5 to but he demurred. I asked at the counter about the picture. It was one of the owners’ great aunt.
We were going back to mine when Quentin decided he didn’t have time to if he was to get back home by what I thought a circuitous route that’d take longer. He wasn’t taking me up on the offer to put him up. We were walking him to the station when I recognised Yvann by his odd gait coming towards us. He lists from one side to the other, possibly from having been run over by a car. He turned about to come with.
Jean had wanted to be accompanied to the car park and Yvann took over the rôle Quentin relinquished by his departure. We were escorting her safely to the car when she explained what with her husband’s having to take a reduced salary to keep his job he wasn’t keen on and the mortgage she was short of money. Leaving her, we went to the exit to wave her off but she’d already gone or was taking too long. Yvann said she looked good for an old woman. “She’s forty-four!” He’d give her one. “You’ll have to stop spitting.” “I can do that,” he said.
Yvann was book-ending the occasion. We drank Jean’s glass between us. He unscrewed Quentin’s bottle with the intention of finishing what he was about to start. I told him to rescrew. He might be fucked as well, he threw off. He held my hand. I was the best neighbour he’d ever had. I was making us a cocoa when he came from the bathroom, showing his cock. “Very nice,” I said. He asked me to show him mine. I demurred, on the thought if I did a sexual situation would probably develop that’d entail my being unfaithful. I’d show him another time when it wouldn’t. He said he shouldn’t have done that. I assured him it was okay. It was. I wondered if he’d remember. Leaving, he tried for a couple of pounds for tobacco. I refused. “If I remember and have money left over tomorrow, I’ll buy you the tobacco.” In the event I was 20p short.
John returned next day. Adroitly using reverse psychology, he told me to “Do what you have to” with respect to Yvann who he didn’t want me to let in. I didn’t. He said Yvann would remember what he’d done drunk. (He did.) John, on leaving to enjoy his last day of freedom by laying flowers for Amy Winehouse, said I was grooming Yvann. “He’s twenty-two!” John’s fifty. He said Yvann’d claim I raped him. “I’m seventy-three!” John said he’d say I got him drunk on red wine. Have some more Madeira, ma dear. (I’d’ve used the word ‘plied’) “It could be for his good, detraumatise him. He was abused as a child and still has nightmares.” “The prisons are full of people who think like that,” John said. “I’ve never been to prison.” We had to laugh. He had. He was the one in prison. “It is an experience I haven’t had,” I conceded.