I’m being published in this my last phase of life and reactions from friends have been interesting, a couple saying they’d buy the book my short story was in but didn’t. Greg was one. My being published diminished his importance to himself. He added insult by buying another book instead he suggested I should read, on Jerusalem. He’s had himself circumcised and has lived in Israel, and rubbed my nose in his Jewishness, part of his identity, he explained. I’m assuming this is the motive for my action because I felt no irritation when with him and his partner at his mother’s for dinner.
I asked about the time before I’d gone to his own place, not his mother’s, and he hadn’t been in. He made some excuse about her not being well which covered the cancelled Thursday but not the alternate Sunday. Whether he’d stood me up or I him wasn’t clear though the probability was the former, as I’d assumed. “I didn’t mention it before because I didn’t want Greg feeling guilty. I just went home again.”
His partner and mother were unexpectedly pleased for me I’m being published. “I’ve four publishers.” Greg interrupted whatever story I was telling with interjections about the food he was preparing to have their attention with excuse. I simply waited to resume each time.
I had a champagne cocktail. Greg said the Israeli media showed the soldier murdered by black British Islamists was decapitated. He said he’d two and a half thousand friends on Facebook. “How!” All the people he’d been to school with. “Then there’s the thousand you had sex with.” Greg blushed before his mother. “Oh it’s nothing she doesn’t know about. That leaves five hundred.” I had a second champagne cocktail and did feel anaesthetised but not drunk.
At table I had a glass of wine in addition. Greg made some pontificatingly trite observation I diverted from.
Three of us were talking about Cromwell and Greg said he reintroduced the Jews into England. “It’s Thomas Cromwell, not Oliver, we were talking about, Henry VIII’s time, a century earlier,” I said.
I wasn’t entirely conscious after that, my unconscious taking over, consciousness skimming only occasionally above the surface, so its memory is patchy. There was a mention of the Romans renaming Jerusalem as something Capitolina and excluding Jews from it. Namatianus, though I couldn’t quite remember the name, got a mention because of his dislike of the Jews. The partner was interested who that minor latin poet might be. I was aware of anxiousness not to offend his mother as I ribbed, riled, needled Greg without quite realising that was what I was doing. The tribal god of the Jews got a mention and that their pretensions to being his chosen people must’ve got up other people’s noses – that they were no better than Mohammedans with Allah.
On Greg’s mother’s thinking we should change the discussion, I was brought up short, wondering why, realising whatever I’d been doing was done, that this woman in a wheelchair from multiple strokes was more sensitive to its effect than I’d been. I confirmed from his partner’s downcast face I’d said something though not quite who’d been targeted.
Facing into the corner of the wall, Greg said, “I want John to go.” His mother immediately said she didn’t want me to. Greg at once put pressure on: in that case he would go until I left, and he made to. I weighed in the balance that my ostensible hostess wanted me to stay while my actual host wanted me to go and decided, “It’s easier if I leave.” Greg went back to his corner. At the door out I said sorry if I’d upset him; he could’ve been putting it on. But I had done something successfully. “John’s not really sorry,” Greg said. “Of course not!” I might not know what but didn’t feel sorry. Whatever my unconscious had done without my inhibiting brake was fine by me. “Now you wonder why I don’t have you over more often,” he was imputing to me an emotional dependence on him I didn’t have. I didn’t know how true his words were to his thinking. He may have felt guilt at not having wanted me over more often, implying the reason then was the like offensiveness to him now. “It’s entirely my fault,” I said to the two people who might not have existed for all I saw of them. I left only to come back on not finding my phone in the pocket I kept it in, indicating through the glass of the outside door I’d left it behind. I couldn’t discern whether it was Greg or the partner came back but the phone went off in another pocket and I grinned and waved my thanks. I’d enjoyed myself.