I decided to go to Steph’s party, changing the maybe on Facebook to going. Trawling through those going I noticed none of the ones I usually met at parties was. I shaved, eschewing the fashion for beards, and my face was looking unusually if attractively florid with blood suffusing the cheeks from the warmth of the rinsing water. I wore my skinnies with red canvas boots and a pale pink stretchy top, for warmth, that matched my face. I peed.
I asked at the ticket booth when was the last train back from Hampton Wick. “I mean Hackney Wick.” She told me but advised the train before just in case. Following the direction board I got on a train which would’ve taken me to Upminster. I got off before it did. The train I wanted was the next but across the way people were boarding what looked like the one I wanted so I asked the assistant at the turnstiles who said of the Asian she let through, “Liar,” and I agreed, going on to enquire was the next train for Hampton Wick, “I mean Hackney Wick,” going from platform 5. “Platform 3,” she said. I pity tourists in Britain.
I sat still and observant. One young man talked all the time into his phone in what I took at first to be a Slavic language but decided, since we were passing through that part of the world, it was probably Hebrew. Frognal is such an interesting name. The young man turned his head discreetly round to take a look at me. I ignored this. Another young man sat on the other side and may have been evincing interest. Who knows? I got out at Hackney Wick and had no time to seek a toilet because while I had a rough idea where the party would be I was pretty sure I’d alighted at the wrong side of the station so asked a young woman where Wansbeck Road was. She didn’t know but, once she realised where the party was to be, directed me to where the boats were.
I found the canal and asked did anybody know where the Nagasaki was. “In Japan.” I proceeded along the bank – there were a lot of boats – until I realised the Olympic Park was on my right, that this was the canal the offshoot canal I wanted was off, so I turned about until I recognised a cutting on the other side and made my way to it but remembered from the map on Facebook Steph’s boat would be on the other bank to the one I was on so I went to the other side which, however, gave no access to where the boat might be moored. I walked away and about to find a way in. It was cordoned off.
I went back to the other side of the canal offshoot and could see Steph on the other bank. For some reason I thought it might not be safe for me to walk across the lock gate and tried going on, crossing by a bridge, to find access from the road. It was cordoned off. I explicated to a policeman that I wanted to get to the bank of the canal on this side where the party was and was directed by a cyclist, talking to him, the way round to where I would have access. It was cordoned off. I’d been there before. I was beginning to think I was fated never to get to this party and might as well go home. This time around I asked how was I supposed to get to where the party was. Oh I could go down the side of the tape, so long as I didn’t breach it, and the canal was there. What was there was a bridge across it to the other side. I’d been there before. This time around I crossed by the lock gate, followed a path and came upon the party beside a boat where a young man recognised me from the train and I him. We said nothing. I passed on to the group by the side of a second boat where was Steph.
“I didn’t think I’d get here,” and I was about to go into my travails, “but I have. I need a drink,” I was pulling a bottle of Brut Imperiale from my bag, when a young man from the small group near Steph swooped in affably, “We’ve met before.” Because I didn’t recognise him or immediately recollect from where, briefly at a previous party a few years ago, I leant toward to shake his hand. He then flew off. “Is that the boyfriend?” It was. Jon. I followed up on the bottle with a birthday card for Steph and a spider plant for the boat. Jon flew back to commend the plant which would grow to enormous proportions and take over until one called a halt to that proclivity by pruning its procreativity. “Good in confined spaces,” I said, “like toilets. It clears the air. I assumed you’d have cups,” which Steph went for. I tried opening the bottle but my hands haven’t fully recovered from collapse and handed it to Steph, “You open it.” Jon flew in to perch again, long enough to refuse a drink since he already had one.
I concentrated on Steph who I was there for though, and it seemed to me odd, asking about Jon whose birthday was also being celebrated, a day and ten years older, though he looked younger. He was doing a PhD on reformation art. I think he had the beard time before and before beards became fashionable. I said I’d noticed none of our common friends were coming. They’d been asked. Steph herself felt adrift. I suggested this was no necessarily bad a thing. I myself had drifted into teaching after university and it proved the right thing to do. There might be a current beneath directing the drift. She’d tried teaching, a no-go. She liked the zero hours contract job she was doing, though it was boring, because she didn’t have to go in if she didn’t feel like it. She asked should she do a market stall. Why not? We were joined by a very quiet Helen, a friend of Steph’s up from Kent specially, who didn’t drink and was vegan. “I hope you’re taking B12.” She was though that vitamin could be got from yeast apparently and not only from eggs, fish and liver as I’d thought. Steph thought yeast might be a bacterium. She got a plastic cup of water, soda I think, for Helen whom I meanwhile speired. She’s into coffee and works in Shoreditch beside the flat white economy, so called because the nerds break off to have one, “It’s ever so sophisticated, Helen.” Apparently if you want the best coffee, you go to Melbourne,” where a common friend of mine and Steph’s had gone. “I didn’t know anything about it till she was there. I wasn’t asked to the wedding! I thought she was settled.” Steph suggested the marriage might not have been based on romance. “I know. She asked me to entertain the boyfriend while in London and I did – and he didn’t even ask me to the party he was going to! Mind you, I don’t think I was up to it.”
Steph asked if we wanted food. We weren’t hungry but I hadn’t been on a boat in a long time. Steph showed us how to board, along a ledge to the front above which was the spider plant on its side. The interior was dark. Steph went into the inner sanctum to pee. We had the vegan stew, I apologetically checking the ingredients to make sure none was glutenous, “because we’re told, being coeliac, we have to.” Steph asked about having another boat alongside for an art studio instead of the studio being rented. It’d be cheaper. Jon was agreeable to that, she said. “You do what you do at any time. In my twenties I was corresponding with this woman and fifty years later the book I made of it is being published, if it is,” not perhaps a good example of something panning out. Steph was astonished I was seventy-six. The seventy year olds she knew were inactive. I said I was fat. Steph denied I was. “I couldn’t get into my 28”. I tried.” She said she hadn’t been 28” for some time. We took the food out. It was delicious and just what was called for at that point. I thought of throwing the emptied plate in the brazier but Steph said that would’ve caused poisonous fumes and we deposited the plates in the bag for garbage. I replenished our glasses. Jon swooped and I poured him one to the foaming brim, waiting for it to settle before upturning the bottle for more only to find it was already emptied. He was off again.
Steph asked if Chômu might have a job for her. I offered to ask when my friend, the publisher, should visit. “Good!” Jon said from beside me. At that angle he did look his thirty seven years. Helen, also leaving early to get back, was staying on longer. I asked Steph how to get to the station. Left, left again and I’d see it. Jon did his thing, to my surprise hugging me, though the young men do that, “thanks for the bubbly;” and I kissed his neck. The beard did not impinge. Then he was off, as was I.
I had to wait for a train which was not the last. A big young man I did like the look of couldn’t keep his eyes I didn’t engage off me. It was too fraught. How would I get home? By train, in an hour, in the morning. He picked up his workman’s bag and got off next stop. Onto the train came a musty drunk, from his mutterings probably Scottish. He sat one empty seat away from me, drank from a tin, dropped his cigarettes and on his retrieving the pack I saw his complete cleavage, wondering how his trousers kept up at the front. He cleared that segment of the train which is one carriage, bending from Willesden for so long I wondered would it ever straighten up. It did and swung to the left. The drunk didn’t engage me but did a young man with a girl round a clear partition, saying for once discernibly he didn’t speak English. Without him to hold my attention after he left bare-bummed at Acton, I became most aware I needed to pee. I had no wish to wet myself and thought of getting out at Kew but even if I found a lavatory didn’t have the requisite change. I willed it be held in till Richmond. Between Kew and Richmond lies an interminably long piece of track. The pee had been held in so long it made a moue about coming out.