After Quentin buzzed me in I was climbing the stairs in front when his head appeared round a corner at the back of the ground floor to redirect me. I’d forgotten to bring his address but remembered it sufficiently though I’d tried no 6 before 8. From the hall he led through a door on the right where he introduced me to his girlfriend in the kitchen to the left, an agreeable girl whose name I didn’t get and gave up trying to retrieve because it wasn’t corresponding to any I already knew. She was stuck cooking in the kitchen, like a hausfrau she remarked later, a cake for Quentin from his childhood without a recipe that gave quantities. When cooled it looked good enough to eat though not by me.
Before me on the sofa was Myling, still pretty and whose name it pleased me to be remembering and, beyond her, another youngish woman whose face was a bit familiar but fuller from aging and whose name I didn’t at all recall. Turning to my right was “Dan! I was hoping you’d be here,” because I’d been a tad worried about his well-being though there was nothing I could do about it. His long hair seemed more brittle than I remembered though his talk was only marginally subdued. He contended his hair was exactly the same. Hardly possible since nothing can be exactly the same as it was, and I suggested cutting off four inches to get rid of the split ends. Myling, who I sat beside, thought four inches exorbitant.
No one was dressed according to the theme which apart from the German heavy metal I’d googled my eye skated over anyway: marmosets, cockatiels? I was going to wear my leathers but the zip was stuck and on my going for the WD-something to loosen it saw reflected an unsightly bulging above the trousers and abandoned the idea, unbuttoning with considerable difficulty. The girlfriend said WD-40 attracted dust.
I extracted a bottle of champagne from my bag which Quentin, after a debate what to do – open it now or later since there was a bottle already opened, securing my compliance I’d have a glass from that and that he should put the champagne in the fridge meanwhile – put the champagne in the fridge, and brought out a bag within which were bags of gluten-free taco crisps he was careful to attribute to Dan whose consideration was unexpected though he’d been considerate of my necessary diet at a previous party. I’d brought a sandwich just in case. Not only that but he’d brought a Tesco pizza for me, Quentin said. “I’d thought of bringing a pizza!” Dan said he’d brought a sparkling wine but with mock ruefulness that I’d gone one better. He’d said that before when I brought champagne. After the champagne we wouldn’t notice any difference, I said. The wine I was presently drinking was too sweet. I shared the taco crisps around. Myling asked if I’d been at the Peckham bookshop. I didn’t know it’d been in Peckham but knew she meant where Quentin had given a reading. From their relationship I realised I’d last met her friend at Quentin’s St Margarets birthday party years ago.
“ ‘Beehive’ ?” Beehive explained it was what she was called at school. “The little hairies in Glasgow used to wear beehives,” by back-combing. Hers was natural. It wasn’t obviously a beehive since the honey coloured hair was constrained at the back. It was very thick. She was going to have it dyed because the roots were showing. Dark. More apparent was the looking out from under the white shelf of her brow. She said something about our being friends. We’d only just met. I trust that I said, “We’re not friends,” and not ‘we can’t be.’ We settled for acquaintances. I felt I’d made a faux pas. She said I was the one who wrote of these occasions. I have to winkle things out of Quentin and here he was, offering information to her; and that he had done pleased me as a sign of their greater intimacy. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to write about this occasion, I told her. There was too much conversation going on that was disparate and in the same room whereas a shift of place helped with sequence. She’d have to be the focal point, meeting the girlfriend. My perspective wasn’t of itself enough to give coherence. I went on to her thinking Quentin was flat, and told her what I’d told him, that she must’ve known he was from the start. That was probably something I wasn’t to broach with anyone far less her but I had done, couldn’t take it back and I didn’t think she was taking it amiss, with her agreeing, yes, but for him to be continually flat…. “He makes me laugh” was all I could offer up there.
On Dan’s giving Quentin his present of a tightly wrapped book, I took out of my bag a pair of 28” waist trousers that no longer fitted. “Adrian okayed giving you these but if you don’t want them, he does, and I’ll buy you something else,” I threw to him. Adrian had wanted to come and Quentin was agreeable he should have but each of us there was his friend and this his birthday. I suggested because Quentin could so easily be imposed on, that’s why one didn’t do it, and it was therefore a self-protective strategy on his part. I also presented him with Steph’s request for a job at Chômu she’d written on a stick-it note he stuck at his office area and which, Myling noted, became unstuck. On the subject of Adrian I expostulated he bragged he’d more books than I had and hadn’t read one of them. He was reading a book now on knowing yourself sexually though I’d’ve thought he knew all there was to know there, whereas I read the books I bought. Quentin also collected more books than he was reading and the Japanese have a word for it, not osso bucco, more like busoocci, the buso part meaning pile (Quentin’s word, ‘stack’), the occi read, the ironic implication being one’s read what one’s piled up when one hasn’t. Quentin’s hair’s grown long again, with a balding spot on the crown.
“Jonathan! Did I get the name right?” Yes, but he couldn’t remember mine. “John.” Was that as in Jonathan? “Just John.” He was looking if anything thinner than last time whereas the first time we met, at what I called the Cheshire Cat until corrected to the Cheese, I remembered him as fleshy with thick wrists. His hair was greying like feathers above his ears. He was still a very good-looking man. He and his partner crossed the room to sit on the floor. Her face was familiar but the name didn’t come to me at all whereas days before I’d thought of him and going through ‘John’ had arrived at ‘Jonathan’, thus the greeting and how I’d expressed it. He had a burst of entertaining animation about his failure to nurture a plant which stubbornly stayed on the borderline between living and dying. I wondered if he was ill. I should give him one of my plants, I thought, which would more likely grow, except I no longer had a spider plant to give and no knowledge where to give it. “You have brown fingers.” Between bursts, he lapsed into loss, his eyes occasionally flickering over me. He asked something about Richmond because I answered, “You drove me home,” from the last occasion. The distancing now was odd because he’d been tactile then. On the first occasion we’d met, at the Cheshire Cheese, we’d talked extensively. “You must’ve been there,” I said to his partner and Myling. Also there had been Gareth who Quentin said might be coming but had commitments. Jonathan wasn’t drinking, “I’m the driver,” he explained. She wasn’t drinking either; she’d exams to prepare for. “I thought you were a doctor.” She bared her teeth smiling; she was but these things just kept coming. I couldn’t conceive coming to a party without drinking at it.
Across from me was the table Quentin used as a desk that Myling and her friend remarked on because its right legs weren’t straight. Quentin demonstrated how they must be at an angle for stability. An office chair was tucked into this table I thought should be turned around, as it was, for Jonathan to sit on, thinking it uncomfortable for him and the other two, to be sitting cross-legged on the floor when there was a chair available, but he said he was comfortable.
An old man with buck teeth, a paunch and balding hair in a ponytail arrived and I took this opportunity to insist on introductions, to make sure of the names I didn’t have should I write of the occasion, as I said to Beehive. “This is..,” so-and-so and so-and-so, I said of the names I knew and with a hand invited the others to divulge theirs, Myling’s friend Jasmine and Jonathan’s Elizabeth. “This is Geoffrey,” I concluded, following on from as much as I’d picked up from Quentin’s initial introduction of him. Geoffrey was his surname he told me. His first was “Ted?” “Pet,” I heard and said. “PF,” Quentin corrected. How had that come over as Pet? Myling said she wasn’t Myling but Mayling. “Is that with an a-y?” “E-i.” “Of course,” like latin. I’d finally got the spelling of Meiling’s name right, after only five meetings over umpteen years. I was getting Jasmine’s wrong until Dan corrected me, “with a Y.”
Geoffrey, I mean Pet or PF, sat on the chair. He had published twelve books called Warriors. “Did Chômu publish them?” I asked Quentin. The last. “I must buy it – and Justin’s new book,” I told Quentin. I asked Dan to give Justin my regards. “Will they be on Amazon? Both my publishers are in this room. I have a third, digital, Yarrow Paisley,” trying to think if I’d any more. “No, that’s it.” This prompted Dan to ask about my book’s being published. “Don’t know. It’s a scam, she’s run out of money? Don’t know.” “It’s a she?” somebody, possibly Yasmin queried. Dan was prompted further to tease about the occasion, what Meiling called the Beach party, at Joe’s, when there was a display of Chômu books by Quentin and I was looking to see what other one I might buy. ‘What about that one?’ Dan suggested and I looked at it and was about to pick it up when I realised whose it was and had a revulsion which Dan laughed at and was laughing again at on the reminiscence. “I’d’ve bought his books and read them,” and …I don’t know what I’d’ve thought of them, “if he hadn’t said he wouldn’t buy mine because if he bought a book he read it and he wouldn’t read mine, which wasn’t even published, and isn’t. On principle I won’t buy his.” Pet drank from a bottle of pressed juice he’d brought. “Is it alcoholic?” It wasn’t, maybe for a medical reason.
It was about here I talked of the convict, probably because Quentin set me to, as he’s done before. As I remember I had difficulty closing in on the word for the prison he was in, ‘open’, that he absconded from when the police didn’t know about me. He was eventually caught, had six months to go, took heroin, refused a blood test, cheeked the officer and was to be put in a closed prison conveniently close, and what did they do? let him out to go to hospital on his own whereupon he absconded again when the police did know about me and I wasn’t having that. He was eventually caught. By this time he’s been in prison for twenty-nine or thirty years. His only chance of being deinstitutionalised, another word I had trouble with, is complete rejection, the loss of me the incentive, and if it works I’ll have nothing to do with him. The writing group want me to correspond with him, because they find his letters interesting, but they’re wrong. “What is he in for?” asked Pet. “Murder. Worse than murder. He robbed the murdered victim.”
As Quentin went to bake the gluten-free pizza, I advised to “Put foil under it to avoid contamination.” I was given half and the two other quarters shared out. I think Pet had one. Pizzas were ordered, three delivered, baked and eaten but didn’t impinge on me. Quentin replenished glasses to about two-thirds, irrespective of size. His must’ve been big. He was sat by Liz talking fondly with her and I wondered would Beehive remark that and be bothered. I thought not. She wasn’t jealous.
Meiling and Yasmin were leaving. I didn’t want them to go. They had a long way to go, Meiling said. Carl came. He was black-haired with what used to be called a heavy beard when men shaved but that he sported as stubble. He was quite good-looking, not as good as Jonathan. Dan was on his feet and I hadn’t realised how tall he was. They sat on the floor, having a most animated conversation I tried overhearing, extracting a word from it that hardly gave me a clue to the whole. I put it to Beehive this might be because of Dan’s rapid expectorating style but she understood him. My hearing’s going. I’m losing interest. Carl’s eyes flickered over me.
Liz and Jonathan were going. Quentin asked Liz where he’d first read, there’d been some question about it. The way Liz put it, “Wasn’t it a place in Twickenham that was to be Ottokar’s?” decided it for me: everybody else had been right and I wrong. It was too early for me to hitch a ride and they weren’t offering. When Carl left I asked Quentin if I knew him. He’d be very surprised if I did. Carl taught classics.
There was some play with a stuffed marmoset that Quentin sat on the table back to us. German heavy metal music provided a background. Quentin said it’d be louder later. David Rix came. He was fatter in the face than I remembered from the book-reading where we’d met but as buttoned up. He’d brought two fruit flans he’d baked. I was impressed, “Quentin doesn’t like fruit,” I said. He said it was mainly bananas he didn’t like, probably because they’re the most meaty, nutritious, with potassium without sodium, whereas I’d’ve thought, looking at the orange slices on the nearer flan on the floor, that the juicer fruits would the more epitomise fruit. Quentin took a slice of the pear flan, his principles slackening. Pear also has potassium.
I patted the sofa for David to sit down next me. Quentin poured him a drink, “Say when.” I wondered if Quentin would continue pouring if David didn’t say ‘when’. “When!” He’s finished his book, Meat. “Are you publishing it yourself?” He wasn’t but didn’t know what other publisher would. Quentin may have spilled on himself because he pulled up his Hawaiian shirt, presumably going with one or other of the themes except mufti, to reveal his grey and hairy belly which had its own little belly. “Show me your belly again!” He wouldn’t. He was saying it wasn’t actually his birthday though I’d thought it was. Maybe a day or two earlier? He was going around assuring everybody pizzas were ordered and would be arriving shortly when I thought they’d already been and were eaten, “unless,” he went on, “they’ve already come and been eaten,” and was assured they had, confirming I’d been right in my supposition. Beehive brushed past my knees. “Thank you,” I said, alluding ironically to the gratification this gave, but, from the look she gave me, she was taking it as sarcastic objection.
The music was louder and I got up to shuffle to it in a space by the door. Beehive on the sofa other side David had released her hair which, because of the prior constraint, assumed the curved shape of raised porcupine quills. On the music she was throwing her most distinguishing physical feature rapidly forward and back, forth and back. Quentin in the space other side the food started hiccuping. At least that’s the closest deduction from the sound I could make of it and people were advising him to drink water from the other side of a glass. He did but tilted the glass to him, wetting himself. I crossed to advise he tilt himself instead. The tilting forward might be putting pressure on the tubes, squeezing the trapped air and releasing an airlock. The hiccoughing didn’t stop but did diminish. I went back to my space, looking into the kitchen to see if the space there might be a useful extension to the one I was in for dancing. Instead of waiting for their entry, I continued going for a pee when Joe and Oscar were announced as arriving. From behind I put my arms round Joe who didn’t like it, nor when I chucked his beard, scarcely more than bristle. Oscar was sitting beside Beehive on the sofa. He looked very pretty, with ruddy gold hair and light complexion, and like enough her in looks. I remembered how lithe he’d been at Dominika’s flat-painting party and said how lovely it was to see him. I went on to tell Quentin I hadn’t been able to flush the pan the water of which was brown but not with the hard brown stuff. I sat down in the space he’d occupied by Joe who said I’d been to Steph’s party, he liked Steph, he hadn’t read my blog of it. I was being circumspect, I said, that that was only of the beginning, of my getting to the party, though I had completed the blog later that it wouldn’t come up again on Facebook. He said he hadn’t been asked. I said Steph said he had. I wasn’t going into it any further than that.
I was being pleasurably assailed by a buzz of many lubricious bees from Beehive on the sofa, hair under restraint, about my sex with Yvann. It took me a moment to orient because that had been at Xmas, four months before. Quentin had been talking. The attack was quick-fire; I was too busy dodging to remember the returns I made but I think I did say only Yvann would have done to have sex with – not her, nor Quentin, not anybody else – in anticipation of a Xmas card from the convict who knew him. “You wrote in a Xmas card you had sex with Yvann.” “I didn’t! In a PS I wrote Yvann had stayed overnight,” for the sex to be inferred. “Are you saying Yvann didn’t have free will?” “No! He had free will.” She was thinking only in terms of conscious will, however, whereas it’d be by the consent of Yvann’s unconscious he’d come for the sex that I might have what I could refer to in a PS on a reciprocating card to the expected Xmas card, next day, from the convict. I hadn’t known what I was doing and had to write the sexual experience out as a blog to find out the point of it. “You did it for his good?” She meant the convict’s. “Yes.” I didn’t think I’d explained fully but it’d have to do.
I left with Dan. We walked to Bexleyheath station, a shorter walk back than from because we were talking the while. Dan praised Quentin. We took the short cut I’d taken coming. Dan wasn’t for jumping into the train in the station that’d’ve taken me since it didn’t go to Victoria. He checked me I can’t recall about what, “You’ve told me that before,” a character trait of his I did recall. I’d thought him older than he was. “How old did you think I was?” That I didn’t know. On the train he apologised for the misspelling of ‘Horatian’ for the ode of mine he’d published. He’d apologised before. “It comes from the lack of a classical education.” It mattered more to him than me.
He explained there were days he could do nothing, and that’s why he’d asked Quentin not to contact him again. “I’d’ve done exactly what Quentin did but it wasn’t my place to.” Dan said it wasn’t to invoke a visit he’d done it but that he’d have to pay for it, not for what Quentin did but… the distinction he was making is lost on me. He and Quentin had been discussing my writing which Quentin described as – ‘moving’ I think was the word. It began with an m – a moving present. “I didn’t think Quentin liked my writing.” It sounded like they’d been discussing ‘the book’. At any rate I said I’d updated it. Quentin’d have got the moving present from my description of what it was like for me telepathising in the short story he had published, thanks to Justin, in ‘Dadaoism’, of walking on a small turning sphere where the future horizon is continuously changing and the remembered past forgotten. It wasn’t like that for whoever I was telepathising with. The background scenery didn’t change for them. They were stuck with seeing me. The story was more Dadaist than any in the anthology for being true. I’d wanted the reader to come upon it as I’d come upon the situation in life but “Quentin spoiled that by putting the title in the contents. Even so it was complained about, that there was no title.” Dan said Justin thought social networking was telepathy by machine. Justin thereby knew nothing of telepathy, which was between two people only at any time, to give plausible deniability, too spiritually fast to register on any machine or other consciousness, seeming to be taking a long time while occurring in an instance, though I didn’t do it much any more and hadn’t with Dan, he wasn’t bad enough; I hadn’t with the convict either. I did expand but Dan was glazing over with scepticism, so desisted. I’m not interested in being believed. Conscious belief is irrelevant to practice.
At Victoria, Dan led to the directions board and said he’d take an earlier train, though he’d have to change en route, rather than a more direct one later. I felt he wanted to be asked to come home with me, despite his stipulation otherwise, but I wasn’t up for that, asking where the underground was and on being given its direction went to it, deliberately not looking back.