Because I’d missed meeting John off the train, he’d the opportunity to ask my neighbour Diana for a cigarette and be told to fuck off. “Can’t a convict cadge a fag any more?” he complained, finding it difficult to take in that it was because of his association with me and not for his own sake he’d been told to. Jumping the gun, as is his wont, to pie in the sky, he wants me to live with him in his one-bedroom flat. He’s in prison for five more months; I’ve been independent forever. “I want to look after you when you’re old and cranky.” “I am old.” And cranky. “When you’re ninety!” “I might not reach ninety,” I spiked that gun.
He’s never had such good sex as he has with me, he said, “That was very good.” “It was good, quite good, not bad,” I’d lain on him afterwards like a dead-weight. It was because I hadn’t come on my birthday, he’d left disappointed, and not because he hadn’t come himself, he convinced me, despite his being a plausible, “selfish Arian,” as I’d thought and was saying. He’d not only have to cope with life like everybody else but all around would be temptations and, “Your self-esteem is entirely based on criminal skills.” “I’ve changed,” he said. I laughed and, taking something through to the kitchen, found I was continuing to laugh.
We shared a gluten-free pizza and went for the £20 he exacted, on the understanding he pays for his next train ticket here himself. After sex if he asked for the moon I’d reach up and give him it.
Once he’d gone I readied myself for Tim’s belated birthday and farewell party Nick was coming to. I thought I was taking the easiest route there though not finding the DLR at Canary Wharf should’ve been a clue I wasn’t. My mistake worked out for me though because I was aiming for Mile End and it was closed, as I observed in passing, walking from Bow Church. Even so I was still the earliest there as I’d been trying to avoid and thought must have succeeded but who can avoid their fate?
I presented Tim with champagne and card and we had a chat about his handing down his furniture to the incoming tenants. Tim also explained Sharan and Yuko were not a couple but that certain sexual shenanigans he and Sharan had got up to with Yuko and some other girl Tim had got off with might have lead to a misunderstanding, but that it was really him Yuko had been taking a temporary interest in, separated as she was from somebody else more permanent somewhere else. Why was he telling me this? Sharan and Jieun came next. I’d thought June an odd name for a Japanese girl but Jieun spelled it out for me and that she was Korean. Their lingua franca was Japanese. I like to get the names right for my diary. I made a gesture with my hand and spilled my drink I mopped up but patently not well enough since Tim subsequently was blotting the bequeathed rug with more paper towels, as I observed to Matt and Nadine who’d come next. They were a bit miffed at not having been invited to the previous, Chômu party and asked what was Chômu. I sort of explained it derived from a digital magazine run by Justin and Quentin, whose publishing company took on the name; and that Justin was interested in fashion, and Tim had lived with him in Tokyo. I’d been co-opted by Justin into the group despite having no interest in fashion whatsoever, as was evident, and Tim ran the London branch. I may already have suggested less than tactfully, since he no longer would be, Sharan should. It was for my words of wisdom, I explained, Justin had co-opted me though, “I think he’s also commended other people for their wise words.” And then there was Nick, standing effulgently there with arms outstretched and beaming: here, early, for the whole party!
I unceremoniously dropped Matt and Nadine without so much as a backward thought. He’s an engineer; she’s a German who speaks unstilted English and works in Slough at a job where she can re-oil her rusty German, taking about an hour to get there of a morning.
“Nick!” We hugged, as I anticipated we would on this, our second meeting. Pleasure then might impair recollection now. I knew he was coming by train but, “I’d thought you’d drive.” He explained the difficulty of parking in London; and sought reassurance the train ticket hadn’t cost too much at £45. I didn’t know but compared to John’s almost £25 from Kent, Nick’s from Leeds seemed reasonable. We sat on the couch.
I wanted the tankas I’d written of our first meeting to be acceptable to him and hinted Quentin thought them very good. I’d read them out at my writing group where a woman had criticised the third because of its sexual connotation. I explained I’d oddly fixated on his eyelids and the words I used describing them, full, rounded, etc suggested – and I extended my arm horizontally, hand pointing directly down to his crotch – the balls beneath. I think he was okay with that. He blushes beautifully.
From a photograph on Facebook, because of how it was lit, I’d noticed his nose splayed at the tip. There was a bump in what in profile I’d thought regular. “From hockey,” he considered. What made his eyes beautiful, I said, was the almost straight line of the upper lid, I was tracing with my finger to the outer canthus. He said his mother said he had the long lashes of a girl. His eyes were light, green or hazel, not, I don’t think, blue – I neglected to remark their precise colour.
I explained what Joe and I had meant by understanding why he’d been faithless was that he must be so wanted it’d be hard for him to resist. He said he’d played around, of course, beforehand but once he had a girlfriend he was constant till the relationship was breaking up anyway. He didn’t know about her, meaning how faithful she’d been. “You must always have known it’d end. She was always going back to China. Were the spots crusty, like cold sores?” No. Red. Spots. The doctor had thought thrush. “Thrush? You didn’t have a disease at all! Basically all it was was a means to bring us together.” Justin had suggested he broadcast his problem within the group, he said. If Justin hadn’t, Nick wouldn’t have, I wouldn’t have gone into it on Facebook, and we wouldn’t’ve been primed to meet each other. I was expecting to love him on meeting, regardless of how dim and, probably, not good-looking he was, as I was also expecting.
He was heterosexual, he said. “Yes you are.” He and Justin, whom he thought of as an alpha male, had gone out together in heterosexual pursuits but, from Justin’s writing, he thought maybe Justin was after all gay. From my face, he’d read: so? I didn’t say it was almost Justin’s duty as a writer to have as much experience as he could. “It’s writing. You can write anything.” Nick accepted that. “In my critique of Justin’s writing I thought he was a narcissist. In one story a character fancies somebody and follows her as she goes off with somebody else and wanks off as they make out.” That wasn’t the only wanking. I explained Justin hadn’t liked my conflating two characters but one had wanked off in a cubicle. Nick’s recollection and interpretation vaguely concurred with mine and his mind had been eased, I thought. Nothing I said was untrue but I didn’t see the point of his retroactively fretting about something that hadn’t impinged at all at the time. “I’m going to be the last person to meet Justin.” We’d finished our business.
Quentin arrived. David, who runs his father’s business, sat down the other side of me, introducing himself; and I accepted I wouldn’t be listening in to Nick’s conversation with Quentin, giving my attention to David. Perhaps taking my cue from that I left Nick to get on with it with other people, occasionally observing him in animated conversation enjoying himself, except, in passing, I stroked his spine and when he turned felt his leanness, “you’re firm,” and slimness between my hands, hoping I hadn’t drunkenly overstepped. The only line assumed I wouldn’t cross was the sexual; I never feel any desire.
Quentin’s successfully moved house, moving in once he returns in three weeks’ time from Japan. He’s flying off to visit Justin, with Daniel, who was being troubled by double vision. I doubted I’d be able to blog the party which now was as desultory as any unless putting in the event earlier in the day made for cohesion. Out there, on the balcony, Lawyer Dave addressed us at length on the subject of Justin, his liberating influence because he thought for himself and let one think what was best for oneself. I did that. Justin had said to him the scarcely teenage girl singers were the real Japan, or something such, and Dave had thought, yes, they are. “I don’t have Justin, or Quentin’s, grasp of superficies,” I said, bemused by the importance they attach to them, “your Annette Funicello,” I asided to Quentin. “Maybe Justin will jazz you up. How old are you?” I asked Dave, since Justin’s twenty-eight or nine. “Forty-three,” and a successful, American lawyer, being appraised if not this time for partnership. He thought Justin would come to London, when I might meet him.
Sharan and Jieun helped direct us which food we could eat, I being a coeliac and Quentin vegetarian. Tim blew out the candles of the cake. I couldn’t have any of that but there was champagne. “Am I greedy?” I asked Tim for more. I pimped a cigarette for Quentin from Kevin who looks like a Mormon and works in that show. Jonty, who looks like a drug dealer but is an evangelical Baptist, didn’t have any. He and his wife, Diane, are South African. He lost a ball to testicular cancer. “Are you sure…?” I asked ironically of Diane. Of what, Jonty wanted to know, what was I going to say? “’Are you sure?’ That was it.” He wanted to know how I knew Tim. Chômu. I may have mentioned it was his little sexual problem had been instrumental in bringing Nick and me together. Jonty wanted to know what Nick’s little problem was, on the grounds I’d started and should finish what I started. “No – except it’s not what you think it is.” Tim kept disappearing and it was explained he was making sure certain people got off safely. “Is he going to make sure I get off safely?” I asked. They smiled; they thought not. I didn’t meeting Tim’s criterion for care.
I told Quentin it was time for me to go. I hugged Nick and Matt goodbye and then had to wait while Quentin, coming with, dallied over a girl. Diane thanked me for my wit, I throw off like a dog water, none of which I can recall. Quentin complained the girl had written undecipherably on his palm. “They do that,” I said. “Do boys learn Japanese because they like Japanese girls or like Japanese girls because they learn Japanese?” “Both.” We parted at Canary Wharf, he for Lewisham. I caught the last, slow train to Richmond. A boy interrupted his spiel with another to address me, “We’ve met before.” “Surely not.”