This Saturday I took the train all the way to Waterloo, the Jubilee to Canada Water, the East London to Whitechapel and whichever, District or Hammersmith and City, to Mile End. It was quicker.
Tim let me in. His two helpers were there, Yuko doing the Japanese cooking and Sharan the barbecue on the balcony. There was no newspaper for the latter to make firelighters from and Tim’s old tenancy agreements were no substitute. Yuko’s English wasn’t fluent. Tim’s Japanese was, though he was out of practice reading it. He’d spent time with Justin in Tokyo, tableting for me the Chômu concept of fashion as not to impress but an expressive means towards increasing human happiness. “How does Justin square that with his depressive stories?” I asked. Tim gave a succinct answer to that. I cleared with him having asked a young soldier to follow on after me to the party though Tim was none too keen, “So long as he’s Chômu,” he conceded. “He’s interested in my writing. That’ll do. He may not come.”
Jin arrived. She knew Tim. The ‘Jin’ was short for Rajinda who was getting nowhere with internet dating and had given up at thirty two. I was interested in catching names in case I wrote a blog, but only if there were some point to the proceedings. Matchmaking for her was a motif to give coherence. By putting out my phone not to miss John’s call he didn’t make from prison, Jin thought I cared for him more than I said. “He wants me; and he’s worked out behind his man there’s a woman.”
Quentin arrived with Léon, his brother, the Chômu publisher, and somebody whose name I picked up as Dave, who was dressed like Mao Tsetung, with a hat. We’d been told to dress up. I showed off to Quentin my jacket with Japan embroidered on the back. Jin asked the backdrop to the Chômu thing and I explained Quentin and Justin had had a blog called that and the name was then applied to the publisher. I sat by her to get out of Quentin and Léon’s view of one of the three videos. To her I expounded the principle that in any given social environment one chose the likeliest and went for him, the likeliest in this being Warren who’d made an attempt to learn everybody’s name. Jin picked up he was otherwise engaged as I confirmed when he was leaving.
The given environment was shortly changed for the better by an influx of likelier lads for Jin to make hay with and pretty Joe who hugged Quentin and then came on to me. He bet I was the first one punctually there as, apart from the two workers, I was but I’d surpassed myself even in his estimation by having come a week earlier, unaware that the date had been rescheduled. That was also amusing Jin no end.
Joe’s coming to my seventy-fifth birthday party that might lead onto a book launch, my guests getting in for free. Oscar won’t be coming, being for a time in San Francisco with his girlfriend, just the way Oscar likes it, Joe opined. “How old are you?” “Twenty-five.” “I’d thought of you, Oscar and Ben adding up to my seventy-five.” Joe was proposing to arrange it. “No; it’s just a conceit. How’s Dominika?” He’d just been on the phone with her who was waiting in Melbourne for the right to stay. “But she married an Australian.” Even so. “What’ll she do?” Come back. That was okay with us.
Jin wasn’t interested in Tommy who looked fine to me.
Dave wanted Léon to sit down but Léon preferred to stand. Quentin was my restraining hand by appointment in case I should get out of hand as at my last dinner party. “What’ll you do?” First – I forget what; probably – a good talking to, then emotional blackmail. “That won’t work. What’s the third?” He was still working on that. I was telling Quentin Tim had succinctly explained how Justin reconciled pursuing the happiness of the greatest number with being a depressive writer but had forgotten how. “Tim! How did you square Justin’s pursuit of happiness with his depressive writing?” “Everybody needs an outlet.” With one mighty bound Justin was freed.
Dave’s a publisher. I’ve four already and might be collecting them. We discussed another publisher’s wanting horror without a victim, an idea I couldn’t conceive the meaning of or I’d have submitted a story. In any case I didn’t write horror though Quentin thought I might. Quentin thought horror without a victim might reside in the writing’s creating an illusion for the reader. Or something. Yuko’s moving hand asked were we an item. “We’re friends. Are we friends? We’re friends.” Tim was taking a picture of me and Quentin who I pulled closer, head on his shoulder. “How does he look?” “It’s my usual look,” Quentin said. “Misery.”
There was champagne! Sharan was carefully equalising for toasting. Léon didn’t think Justin’s writing was depressing. He’d a shirt like mine, a fifty year old red see-through, though not quite like.
Nick had come, all the way from Leeds, without the expected northern accent, as Jin commented. Everybody, he said, in his school spoke much the same. “Was it a state school?” I doubted. He confessed he’d been privately educated. “A posh school,” I said. I could tell from the quickening I was interested, like a cat presented with a mouse, neck already scratched, to tease and play with. He was tall for a mouse, fair of face, features in regular proportion, nice teeth, and light of eye though I can’t recall the colour I was so taken by the lids, delicately darkened, rounded and full. There was no champagne for Nick, except that of my sparkling wit. He preferred beer, opening a bottle with practised skill, “but not with your teeth.” This mouse was enjoying being teased and played with. He touched me.
For six months he’d been with Justin who was putting him into a story, using his real name, as, I reflected, I do. He knew Japanese but, after Taiwan, was inclining to Chinese, and the food was better. He never used to get headaches after drinking white wine. “How old are you?” “Twenty-three.” Not that much older to account for the change. “Does it affect your stomach?” It didn’t.
He was surprised I hadn’t twigged, from the ‘Nick’, he was the Nicholas from the internet I’d wanted to meet up with at the party to see how he’d resolved his small problem I won’t divulge. Nick was gorgeous whereas Nicholas couldn’t spell ‘when’. Who can’t spell ‘when’! Nick said he was agitated, by his little problem, which I won’t divulge but was spread all over my timeline for anybody to read. Only by the group Nick thought and I doubted. Pretty Joe was giggling the while. Bad Joe! Give me credit; it didn’t even occur to me to say. ‘Let me see.’ In any case the symptoms had gone. There was nothing to see. Any such seeing would’ve been limp anticlimax. (I realise that’s tautologous but I like the ‘limp’.)
Nick had got away with not admitting faithlessness to his girlfriend, along the lines I’d suggested over the internet, but felt guilty, and not about the misspelling. “Ach,” I waved that away, such is the power of attractiveness, “she’s probably no more faithful than you are. I can see why he’s faithless.” Joe agreed. “What I like about the young,” I chucked both under the chin, “is this, no wattles, though they will come.”
Jin was leaving. “To give a man what he wants, you have to trap him. It’s easy for you. Think how much more difficult it’d be if you were a woman in a man’s body, to the fore because more suited to your appearance, like me.” I took the same route back and was home shortly after twelve.