A cyclist had his bike anchored in the groove between the headrests of the seats opposite him, who sat on an aisle seat, thus preventing the use of five other seats since no one would choose to sit either side an in-your-face bike wheel. In exiting at Clapham Junction to check did a train go to Catford from there, I murmured ‘selfish’. Reboarding, I was sitting elsewhere, but, on upping to leave at Waterloo, saw the door was being blocked by the boy with his bike and involuntarily uttered an “Uh!” and went to another door. The boy remarked my disgust to another cyclist and looked at me as I passed him.
I took a train to Catford Bridge where I asked a woman where I’d get a bus to Stanstead Rd, a conductress to tell me when to get off, as she did while I was asking another woman beside me where to, and yet another girl to indicate which direction to take on the other side the road, the which she did using an apps on her phone. Yet another, a young mother who was a stranger there herself, waved back to me on coming across the road I was looking for.
Quentin let me in and we mounted stairs and passed through doors until, ascending a further flight in the flat itself, I saw Jonathan whose name I’d forgotten, though may have nonetheless used because the recognisable face fitted somebody from another party long ago whose name was Jonathan but I remembered as fleshy and this one’s arms were thin. “Have you got thin?” He denied he had. I also forgot the name and the face next to him, but not Liz, sitting by the window, nor, of course, Daniel, other side of Mark, whose name and face it was.
I unloaded champagne and an English sparkling wine. “You always go one better than me,” said Daniel who’d brought one bottle. I proceeded with cans of beans, avocados, a lime, salad onions, half a cucumber – “in case you get horny in the night,” I said to Quentin, who’s vegetarian – and some homemade melba toast which I inexplicably and aberrantly called mocha, inadvertently making Liz think it was a toast she hadn’t heard of. I’d also brought a cactus house-present in case the last had got lost in translation. It hadn’t. Quentin is so careful.
I told Quentin John – I’d visited in prison day before – found him soothing unlike another friend of mine who was too probing for John’s criminal liking. “I said it was because you were depressed all the time, which got him onto his own depression he said was floating – What does that mean? Under a dark cloud? – momentarily relieved by two days. Two days is not momentarily, I told him.” I also mentioned James had said on Facebook I was equally loathsome with a Kenny sombody or other, Daniel supplying the surname, and there they were tagged on a photo together in an arena. Daniel, who’d seen it, asked which one was James, the one with hair or the balding one. “The bald one with mad eyes,” I said, that there might be no mistake who. “I knew Kenny’s loathsomeness was only skin deep whereas I’m loathsome to the bone, to the last crunch.”
I’ve lost the transition but we went on to reviewing books. I’d done one of Justin’s Quentin had published but Justin didn’t like it so I’d put only the first half into Amazon, finishing it off with a sentence. That Justin hadn’t liked it was questioned. “He corrected my misinterpretation, quite rightly.” Quentin intimated I’d done worse with his book. I dilated on how even friends jibbed at buying the book my story was in because they thought being published made me more important and diminished their importance to themselves.
I told Quentin I missed him, but don’t make demands on him he’d feel obliged to meet that’d add to the burden life is for him. “Why are you publishing John Elliott’s second book when the first isn’t successful?” He’d accepted both at the same time. “Oh.” “And I do like his writing.” “I know you do.” As Quentin was leaving the room, Daniel said, “He likes yours as well.” “No he doesn’t. It was Justin,” co-editor of the anthology my story’s in, “told him it was dadaist, and daoist, as it is, though I didn’t know that at the time. Quentin went along with it.”
I sat on the sofa beside Liz sipping a glass of champagne Daniel had poured. Liz, who hadn’t heard of my relationship with an absconding convict, got it, with the assailant thrown in and that I was still heady from a fall before Xmas, like a cap that crinkles out into an ache and back again. Liz, a freelancing doctor, thought it might be a concussive effect. “After all this time!” It can take up to two years to go. “It could be with me till I’m dead! When you’re old, things stay.”
Quentin’s lips purse with prussic acid from unbitter almonds. I asked Quentin were Joe and Dominika still together since it wasn’t clear from Facebook . He wasn’t sure how to answer. Daniel explained if Quentin said yes, it meant they were, and if he said no, it’d mean they weren’t, and that that was logic, whereas…. “I won’t ask Dominika.” Quentin bet I would. “I can be discreet. I have been discreet about things for decades.” “Biding your time,” Daniel remarked and that I did not deny.
Mayling – I haven’t checked the spelling – still pretty with shorter hair came up the stairs. She’d done Japanese with Quentin, “though looking younger,” I added. Quentin, she explained, had been a mature student. “He didn’t know what he wanted to do yet,” I said. I’d last seen Mayling two years before. Her friend had had an operation to have a cyst removed from her kidney because of a genetic disposition to cancer. “That was Yasmin,” Mayling affirmed, who I’d once met with Mayling at one of Quentin’s birthday parties.
I’d thought Dominika, because of her surname neither Quentin nor I had a hold on, was Sudetenland Czech but Quentin said definitively she was Polish, from a city difficult to have a hold on. “Lodz,” I offered because of the difficulty in pronunciation. That was it, Quentin recognised. Dominika arrived without Joe.
She didn’t like my disapproval of the cyclist she was sure had heard my passing remark however sotto voce, a supposition I did not dispute, because she herself had been coldly disapproved of in a trolley in a supermarket. I’d never have disapproved of that, just a spot of fun, not the same thing at all. “He was smirking,” I said of the cyclist. I would never disapprove of anything Dominika did. She knew how to behave. “Is it because you’re here, Joe’s not?”
Quentin read out a disapproval of ebooks. I was hoping he wasn’t limiting sales by not publishing in that form which all his books could take, yes, even the anthology, the one my story was in one. Daniel asked him what he was doing about getting reviews. Quentin gave a detailed account of a variety of dealings with different reviewers I hoped didn’t end with them. I said I was pulling on any thread of apparent opportunity in hopes it wasn’t loose but with others netted some promotion, having reminded prison John about making the anthology a book for his reading group, telling a BBC producer of a Wandsworth angle, priming Quentin to make available the anthology for me to have at my other publisher’s proposed book launch and telling Daniel I’d want a copy of the poems sent to the BBC producer. He made difficulties, objecting he’d already taken in the information what to do with the BBC and was filling something up with poems. Yes, yes, whatever, if and when, I also wanted a copy sent to the BBC producer of Late Night Junction who might use the poems with music. Daniel asked who the publisher of my book was that was taking so long to be published. I told him, “It keeps falling into black holes. I’m the present one,” not getting on with checking editorial corrections. “We need to get out of the coterie,” of writers reviewing each other to the sound of back-scratching.
I’d brought money to buy books from Quentin, upping the price of a thicker one, and had some left over but however cheaply they were going Quentin wasn’t about to give me another book for less than £10.
Daniel had brought gluten-free ciabatta for me and Quentin had also kept me in mind on buying food for the party; he’s not as poor as he was. “That’s good of you.” I had some tomato salsa and cheese on a ciabatta. Jonathan said something about going to Clapham Junction by car and I asked might I have a lift, an altenative to going back the way I’d come. He’d be leaving shortly, however.
“Does anybody want anything?” Quentin asked. “I want a glass of the Nyetimber,” which I now knew to pronounce after Daniel’s correction of my ‘Nytember” – I knew there was an e in it somewhere – but not yet how to spell. I opened the bottle. “It’s as good as the champagne,” I said and Mark agreed, “I’ll have another glass,” he said. He was leaving first, “Small ones at home.” “Children,” I remembered; “could be dogs.”
Jonathan was following after Mark, Liz and I after him. Daniel popped a present in my plastic bag, saying not to tell …somebody. (I’m biding my time.) Quentin didn’t know whether he’d won the bet or not. There was a cry from Dominika or Mayling or both, “You did. He has money left. He’s £5.” I did, and, extracting it from my card wallet, handed over.
There were handshakes, hugs and cheek-grazing farewells. Liz let me sit in the front of the car where we resumed our chat on John who I didn’t love. “He’d run all over me. I work on his love. I want him out to see if it’s worked.” “How old is he?” “Fifty-one. I’m much older. I can see Jonathan’s good-looking but couldn’t see John was until Quentin told me.” “But if you met somebody else….” “Oh yes. He’d accept it. He accepts everything I do. Being wanted is,” I forget what I said but meant pretty difficult to resist.
His mates were trying to get a young drunk slumped across the exit up to let me out the train. “He can stay there. I can step over him.” He gave me a thumbs-up. I looked back. They were trying to have boarders step on him.
I’d one minute to get home and watch the end of The Last Weekend in which the rapist progresses to murder and madness.