I knew, rather than be waiting ready for Adrian to pick me up after work, I should be doing something, because he’s tardy. When I was peeing I thought this is when he’ll buzz but it was when I was eating two crackers, using up the last of the hoummos I was so hungry, he did. “This is my friend, Davie,” he said, who I said couldn’t shake hands because he’d shopping in them but did. Davie is short but firm.
As we walked up the road towards Adrian’s, he was asked how old I was and gave some sort of reply which indicated he didn’t know what was being expected of him. I explained it was a test Adrian gave; he was to guess my age. “Fifty-three.” “You’re being flattering.” He upped it to fifty-seven, sixty, on uplifting gestures. “He’ll end up at ninety,” I said. It was seventy-six. “I’d never have guessed!” he said. “Fifty-three’s the best yet but I’ll take fifty-seven, nineteen years’ difference.”
In Adrian’s kitchen drinks were dispensed: red wine for me, beer for Davie and cider for Adrian. “I thought you weren’t drinking today.” He binges one day and takes the next off. Davie also admitted to binging. “You’re young; you can get away with it.” He was rolling a spliff. “It used to be called a joint.” Davie said he still did call it a joint sometimes. He had a silvery cylindrical box of several tiers for the marijuana to go in at the top and come out as powder at the bottom to pinch onto shredded tobacco. He is from Colombia. He was going to smoke outside but “we said you could inside.” I took a puff, warning I’d cough, probably because I no longer smoked, and I did but improved with practice.
Adrian was making a balls of the pasta – because it was gluten-free for my sake he claimed. “The water’s not boiling. Was it boiling when you put it in?” “It is boiling,” but not when he’d put it in – but presumably not when he put glutenous pasta in either. Davie asked had he put any oil in. Adrian poured in oil. “It’s supposed to be a teaspoonful.” No salt either. Enough in the sauce, Adrian explained the lack, though salt might help keep spaghetti lengths separate. The pan was big but not big enough. Instead of 75 grams each, he’d put in a 250 gram pack and more than half another. He was all for abandoning the clumped pasta for rice but, “we can eat it,” I said. “Next time, you can do the cooking,” he said, still blaming the pasta and me. “Oh yes! Cook for you here and there, no,” I said, “you do the cooking here.” Davie took over the cooking with a fork.
The food was put on a tray to be eaten, without delay on my part, in the living-cum-dining room where Adrian switched on the tv. “He always has the tv on,” I told Davie. “You always have classical music on!” Aural background. In the event the tv didn’t distract us from each other though Davie’s eyes would momentarily dwell on it.
Adrian told Davie I was a parrot and clown. He’d got that from his friend, Charlie Carlos, who’d noticed me in town over the years though what Adrian had got was sparrow and clown, which made no sense since the objection was to colourfulness. Parrot made sense and, with the addition of an s, was akin to Adrian’s original sparrow. Apparently Charlie Carlos had ridiculed my wearing pink gloves or one pink glove with one of another colour but I think he must’ve seen me wearing my red silk gloves, which’d substantiate the charge of clown. The blue hoodie and red high tops I was wearing I’d said were for Adrian’s benefit. I complimented Adrian on the sauce with the inevitably broken but eatable pasta and the rice.
Adrian told how he’d lost the friendship of Josh whose father had locked the door against his coming home in the early hours and Adrian had refused to put Josh up because of jealousy between him and Jeff, Adrian’s husband. “How old was he?” “Seventeen.” Ah well, par for the age; “It’s not a hotel,” I said. “Exactly,” said Adrian. “Adrian doesn’t like it when I support Jeff,” I told Davie. I wondered how I might lose friendship with Adrian since I had my own place and wouldn’t be dependent on him to put me up.
I was to guess Davie’s age. Going on Adrian’s thirty-seven and more worn, darker face, I guessed “Early thirties.” Adrian affected amazement, so I upped the age. Even more heightened consternation. Davie was twenty-six, “Nearly twenty-seven,” he mitigated my heinous error. I took his face by the chin and turned him full face to me, “No lines,” I nodded. Without factoring in Adrian, I might have made it to twenty-nine or thirty, maybe twenty-eight at a push.
Adrian showed Davie a videophone picture of me at Piccadilly that, at the time of his taking I’d thought a still, but, on viewing, after listening about three times to distinguish what I was saying from the hubbub, it astonished me with the consummate artistry of my vocal and facial expression that yet looked natural and spontaneous as it also was. The art if not its effect was lost on Adrian and Davie who were laughing at an old soak saying anybody seeing it would think there’s that old soak with a glass in his hand again, as if I were, and they weren’t a whole lot soakier, if not old. I liked Davie’s laugh.
Adrian showed me on his phone a picture of a young man and told me to flick on from him to tell him which one I liked. “They’re all the same boy who’s posing,” as it were enticingly. “The first is the best,” the least false. Adrian agreed. Having failed, he showed me another picture of, he said, Davie’s brother. Who did I think the better looking? “Davie.” “They’re the same! They’re both Davie!” I think you might understand I was bemused by this and his attendant glee. A photo, even of Davie, was not the same as the person beside me on the sofa, but let that pass.
I asked Davie if he was on Facebook and his surname, which he spelled out, “T-O-B…,” I finished as “Tobin,” to which pronunciation he agreed. Davie went for another beer and a wine for me. He came back without the wine but I didn’t mind not drinking. He remembered and I stopped him pouring more than I judged a unit.
Adrian was almost hysterical with hilarity, in haste to take a photo of me growing feathers I think he was saying, and Davie joined in the laughter. I had no idea what of me might have changed to make me so suddenly comic an object that it warranted a photo to be spread around. A feather floated from my face to the sofa which Davie had vacated. That was the cause of the laughter? I think you can tell from my expression I was feeling contempt for Adrian. I was also registering his systemic intent to make me ridiculous to his friend. I wasn’t moving from my seat.
I recognised Jeff’s voice from the hall. “Is that Jeff!” who came in. “Jeff! I’m pleased to see you,” and I was though a little surprised I was to the extent I was. I saw the time digitally somewhere. “Is that the time!” five to ten already. Jeff went off for a bath after work.
Adrian said he should put a wig on me, I should be wearing a wig. That was the second time he’d made that suggestion, the first because on London Gay Pride Day I’d said he’d missed an opportunity to wear his wig and come as Adriana. “I don’t need a wig to be a woman,” I raised my arms with encompassing grace, “I am a woman.” I did not go on to say it was Adrian who wore a wig because I didn’t know how much Davie knew about it.
It was my shoes next. Mine were young persons shoes. I looked at Adrian’s. They looked like old leather slippers.
Davie was phoning his partner to join us and I didn’t know whether to stay for that or go. Adrian launched into a tirade I didn’t hear the content of but recognised it for what it was, yet another attempt to make me seem ridiculous to his friend. There was no prior thinking, no conscious decision; I simply found myself on my feet, saying, “I’ve had enough,” and was leaving, stopping only to say, “Good to meet you, Davie.”
From the hall I heard Adrian’s, “I was only joking.” The outside door catch opened easily and, seeing Adrian closing in behind, I closed the door on him. I didn’t feel angry but knew I was. I was being texted – it could only be by Adrian – texts I chose to ignore as I walked swiftly away. I liked being alone in my that-day-cleaned flat, wishing I could talk over the walk-out with Quentin who I thought would be interested in the lack of conscious preamble to the decision but he lived too far off for that.