Letting the oven continue roasting the potatoes at a peep for the vegetarian dish, I went out for the Standard. Kate and John were waiting for me when I returned empty-handed at three. “You’re looking a lot better,” I told the depressed Kate whose eyes were regaining their mad gleam. I’d a picture up of the moon, Charon, the pronunciation of which John queried but I assured him I’d looked it up and it had a short stress. For them was dished up roast chicken, for meat-eaters, with a white wine, Kate having half a glass, and lettuce with a French dressing Kate thought preferable to balsamic, in order not to overpower the taste of the chicken. “I wanted to keep the cooking simple. There was no accompaniment in the recipe to the chicken – just chicken!” I’d also baked sausages, however, with halved tomatoes and a halved leek in case there wasn’t enough food and these were added.
Kate wasn’t getting enough sleep. John woke up and couldn’t get back again whereas I could and was even sleeping through the night, which I attributed to the summer heat, astonishing Kate by not having to get up to pee. John didn’t get up to pee when he awakened. Our eyebrows were all over the place. “I used to be pleased my lashes caught on them but now I have to snip them growing down.” Kate’s nails had ridges. “Syphilis,” I said. Ridged nails were in her family. “Hereditary syphilis,” I said. Beards were metrosexual Kate said. I denied they were, having read an article saying they ended the possibility of metrosexuality. John said they were fashionable. “How can they be? Everybody has them. They’re herd. Fashion is before the herd.” Kate brought up the trolling arguments on Facebook where sides are taken and abuse let fly. “It reminds me how stupid people are. I never get a reply, I suppose because what I say is sane. There was this argument about fazing, homosexual abuse, and I said homosexuality was used in initiation. It was down the pit. It didn’t fit their stereotypical thinking!” This led on to a man tried for raping his girlfriend while she slept, self-sedated. “She noticed his semen on her yet this went on for a year. She noticed he was watching porn. She knows men are led by their pricks but she was putting temptation in his way. I was missing something and started to think she was passive-aggressive, like hoovering during card-playing, doing a good thing, putting him in the wrong, playing the victim. And he must’ve known, mustn’t he? what he was doing wasn’t quite right, yet he didn’t wear a condom the better to deny it and get off with it. They might’ve had an unconscious agreement.” Kate agreed. “He did get off with it, because he admitted it, before a judge. It was in Ireland.”
There were assorted cheeses, wolfed down with crackers, and a cake I put candles in just before five. “I asked my mother was it minutes before or after. She said she had more on her mind at the time than to note it. She could be so scathing. If I’d been born in Scotland, somebody else would’ve noted it. But I was born in England, at Shoreham,” seventy-seven years ago to be precise. “Usually I wish for happiness but this year I’m going to wish that the book’s finally published,” by my would-be publisher. Kate approved. “She’s looking frail. She might die. That’ll be the next thing I expect and that’ll be that.” Kate agreed. “I wouldn’t put it past her.” I remembered to make my wish while I blew the candles out with one breath on the hour of my birth, “give a minute or two.” We had champagne with the cake.
We discussed what it was like being born then. “My father paid for the confinement,” so it wasn’t in a hospital. “Mrs Bruce was the midwife, thus my middle name.” They hadn’t been born in hospitals either. My mother had gone on to give birth to a stillborn at home. “Maybe if she’d been in a hospital the cord round its neck would’ve been cut and it saved.”
John wanted to know who the actor was in the film about monkeys. “Can’t you be more specific?” He couldn’t. His jaw clacked with vagueness. I thought he meant the camp one in Cheaper by the Dozen but Kate suggested Spencer Tracy and he went with that. After three hours, they thought of leaving but didn’t like to leave me without anyone. I told them to do as they wanted. They settled back a little longer and on their going Quentin and tall Dan arrived together, having met at Richmond Station. Quentin’s ringlets were silvered. “I,” fingering the one to my left, “hadn’t noticed before.” “I must take a photo.” He took a photo of a yellow warning sticker RHP, my social landlord, had put at a balcony box to be removed in twenty-four hours or else. The stickers had adhered since July 6th for the previous eleven days, and there had been another lot before that. I’d used the thyme and tarragon from the boxes in my cooking and would thank RHP for not moving them before my birthday.
Dan hadn’t been here before. He has moved as he said he might, to Archway, where there’s a bridge for suicides, I extolled, in case he changed his mind. He didn’t know why that bridge since there were several. I asked if he’d tried Richmond Bridge or Lock. He said I was ruthlessly honest. I demurred at ‘ruthless’, and can’t recall on what specific instance he based his contention. They had cake and champagne before the vegetarian meal for Quentin Dan surprised me by wanting too, of the roasted potatoes, steamed broccoli florets and soft goats cheese though I’d made a mistake in buying Tesco’s soft when the recipe actually wanted a round log sliced, albeit melting. There was enough left for anybody else wanting vegetarian. Dan’s doing a philosophy BA on Open University because he’s no school qualifications.
Quentin, assured I did mean I wanted no presents, gave me a card of a smirking angel I inferred meant me without reading what he’d written. “I’ll put it here,” on the top left corner of the small bookcase fronting the mantelpiece lined with cards. Quentin’s having a short story from Rule Dementia! translated into Spanish and is going to Mexico City for the promotion but not taking Beehive, his girlfriend, because he can’t pay for her himself as he’d have to. “I don’t think it’s a breakthrough,” I considered, “but it is something.” He deduced the wine he was drinking was English because of the taste of elderflower. I checked. “You’re right.” It was Bacchus from Chapel Down. Quentin can detect the ingredients in food.
Steph was let in and I was abstracting another bottle of champagne from the shed when she came through the stairwell door and I informed her I had let Quentin know about her want of a job in his publishing firm but the stick-it note I’d given him had come unstuck from his work desk so it hadn’t looked symbolically promising. They’d sorted it, she said. Anyway she had a job now.
Steph presented a bottle of prosecco I graciously accepted and asked might she use the bathroom. “Of course. The paper is up on the….” She’d seen it.
After cake, “Is chicken all right for you?” I gave her chicken in the lemony butter sauce which she didn’t eat and didn’t want the sausage either which I removed from her plate. “I’ll give the chicken to the cat,” but Jonathan, her boyfriend, arrived and I gave it to him instead. “I bought beer for hoi-polloi,” I said, “Jonathan likes beer.” Steph agreed Jonathan did. I told him when he took a bottle from the fridge to put another in. He mastered the catch which sometimes slips but then he is doing a PhD in a bit of religious history to do with Luther. He’s about my height, small, skinnier; I’d felt the boniness of his back from an embrace. He’s also interested in ancient history, appraising my library, abstracting a copy of a life of Pythagoras from a bookcase stacked like a Mayan temple against the wall across from the foot of the bed and picking up the Venantius Fortunatus I was reading from face down on the occasional table by the door and which he exactly replaced. He was exhibiting the same birdlike quality I’d remarked at his and Steph’s party of pursuing what interested him freely if within the confines of the cage of my flat. They’d both recognised which was no 28 from the spider plant in the window. I’d given them a house present of a clone. I liked that they felt comfortable in my place, Steph reclining stocking-footed on the blue silk sheet of the bed. She had not been let teach because of her laissez-faire attitude. She couldn’t control a class. “Fair enough,” I said. She agreed but felt she should’ve been given credit for the theory if not for the practice as they did in Germany. On her pointing to a spill from her glass, “It’s white,” I absolved, “Already drying.” When she divulged her previous boyfriend had been gay, I did wonder to what extent Jonathan was an improvement.
Quentin was leaving to meet Beehive at the station and go for a walk. A walk? both Dan and I queried. “Bring me a paper back,” I said. “What paperback?” As Dan was explaining what I’d meant, I elaborated, “the Standard?” and Dan ceased. It wasn’t a long walk, to the Green, and Quentin did bring back the paper and Beehive who liked the ladder in my black silk semmit. Beehive wanted a glass of water. She had to remind me since I’d been distracted. I enjoyed catering for them. The conversation was too much and disparate for me to net and, while of interest to us there, nothing stood out as of interest to others not there, I waived writing this.
Steph asked about Liz Kendall as leader for the Labour party. “Support for her’s fading,” I said, having read an article to that effect. “Andy Burnham’s good-looking.” Jon endorsed that as a valid consideration for election.
Beehive wanted the chicken before the cake and a sliver of the latter. I remarked her almond eyes. Dan was talking to her and I deliberately talked to her at the same time to see what he’d do. She complained so I desisted since he wasn’t going to.
Jon broached labour value. Marx was simply wrong, I thought. “You can put in as much work as you want into something,” I was thinking of the work I’d put into ‘the book’ nobody wanted, “but it’s the thing that’s valued, like gold is, and not for the work.” Quentin, who feels underappreciated, said, “I agree with John.” Jon feinted from labour value to surplus labour value and then to surplus value, an idea I wasn’t understanding, he explaining it in terms of when he was freelancing that he made more money but it was convenient to work for somebody else for less because, I inferred, the working for less would be more often than the opportunities made by himself.
We were sitting side by side at the foot of the bed. Jon was talking about the differences in interpretation between languages. I said, “Even in unconscious communication, which isn’t in a language – The Turk didn’t speak English or I Turkish – there can be a glitch. I thought he looked ill. He thought I was thinking he was bad-looking.” Detecting scepticism, I let it be.
When I switched on the pink light bulb, Steph said she’d had a red one which incited requests. I put a pizza in the oven and Steph supervised its readiness. Beehive wanted a sliver so got the broken bit. “Do you realise how difficult it is to cut something into five?” I rhetorically asked. Who didn’t have a slice? Maybe Jonathan.
On Quentin, Dan and Beehive’s leaving, I gave her a hug and called her my friend, and must have said something wittily because she was in stitches. It was along the lines of I’d forgive her anything because she was good for Quentin but I don’t know what it was, having had seven units of alcohol over the eight hours of party. I said I’d wave from the window but by the time I got there was nothing but empty street. “Are they taking a long time to get down the stairs?” Shortly after, Jon thought they’d better go too. I set up the laptop for him to look up train times. He explained they’d have to go or miss the last train to Chessun, I thought he said, in Hertfordshire. “Where?” Chessun, Steph said. While recognising there must be such a place, I didn’t recognise the name. I thought they lived on a boat. Maybe that’s where the boat was now. I hoped I hadn’t put them to too much expense on train fares. I did get to the window in time this time but they didn’t look up.
I left the clearing-up to read the paper before cleaning my teeth.