Aiming for the start at 8:30, after peeing I left at 7:30 for Joe’s party Dominika had invited me to, taking the fast train to Waterloo, Jubilee to Canada Waters and found the DLR station, after asking where it was from a passerby. “Does that” sitting “train go to Langholme Park?” “Where?” the platform assistant asked, never having heard of it. “Langsomething Park?” “Yes.”
There was no park this side, so it had to be across the rail bridge to the other and Bright Street should lead onto St Leonard’s Rd. “Is this St Leonard’s Rd?” I asked. “Along there,” I was directed, but no one along there knew where Balfron Towers was. Wrong direction. A van driver said the only tower he knew on that road was “that one,” he pointed. I hadn’t thought it’d actually be a tower. He kept on being helpful.
“Do you know where Balfron Towers is?” I asked a couple. “Are you going to the party?” They were eating first, letting me in and punching the lift button for the twenty-fourth floor. I missed flat 132 at first but saw Joe through its kitchen window. I was first to arrive, as usual. He was still setting up. “You’re as pretty as ever, Joe; and shaved. Are beards going out? I’m only an insecure man five days a week; I shave two.” I apologised for not bringing champagne. He said there was prosecco, as was my bottle. I asked for Dominika’s address he was surprised I didn’t already have and added it to my to-do list before returning it and the biro to my cloth Richmond library bag with the A-Z, phone and glasses in it I put on a bench by the window and followed Joe as he put things away and secured cupboards in the kitchen and, along the lobby, in another room, beyond which was an open balcony.
A young woman who might be his partner burst in to induce Joe to set up the sound system on the roof but Joe, after quickly introducing us who went through the kissing on the cheeks, was disinclined to, on the grounds the speakers wouldn’t be loud enough for outdoors. She was Metta, though I wasn’t sure it wasn’t ‘Netta’. I’m assuming the spelling. Metta had a ring through her septum. Joe has one through the rim of his ear. My interest was in having one drink from my bottle, leaving the rest to whoever wanted, to which end I sined out four glasses by leaning over two bikes. I opened the bottle unaided and started pouring into a glass while, Metta, impressed I’d washed up, stretched for some paper cups. I transferred my drink and poured two more.
We were drinking in the bigger room, as long as the adjacent other and balcony together, when Dominika arrived with Jackson, her boyfriend I embraced and kissed on at least one cheek. Jackson had heard a lot about me. All good, I doubted. I poured drinks for them and another young man. That was the bottle out of the way and checked Metta’s name from Dominika.
Jackson and I drifted onto the balcony for a smoke he rolled on the edge, losing some grass. “Get down and pick it up!” I mock-ordered, assuming it’d fallen in and not out. He’d read Nietzsche. I hadn’t got through Also Sprach, not his best Jackson considered which was Birth of Tragedy. I didn’t say I thought his suicide invalidated whatever he might have said about life. We talked of Francis Bacon and Charles Dyer Jackson tentatively corrected to ‘George’ who committed suicide. “Why?” Jackson thought it was because Bacon’s superior friends patronised him. “That’s inferior! If you’re superior you make people,” I skirted the word ‘inferiors’, “feel better about themselves.” “People should be nice to each other,” Jackson concluded. “You have to be able to be nasty.” That may have taken us on to Socrates, a virtual suicide, who, Jackson thought, wanted to be appointed teacher to Athenian youth. I didn’t say it was to be fed at state expense. “It was that condemned him. Why didn’t he go into exile as was expected?” That, Jackson thought, would’ve betrayed his principles. I considered whether principles are worth dying for and doubted I would for …whatever mine was. Why didn’t his man stop him? I liked Socrates because he had a daimon, Jackson called daemas, like I did and whenever I came across Socrates in any of the ancient books I read I put a dot on the corner of the page. Jackson liked that but said he didn’t understand. I explained: Socrates’ god must’ve been his unconscious will, as my man, without being very Socratic about it, told me he was and Jackson too must have an unconscious will that wasn’t making itself evident to him, as mine did me but no longer much was – so why was I going on about it? The last time was probably while I was being strangled into unconsciousness and saw a vision, of me on the floor with a man standing over I took to be my man leaving me dead who took on the appearance of my assailant however, saying ‘what’ll he do when I’ve gone? I don’t care what he does! I’ll be gone,’ that I knew from the tone was no longer my man in the vision but by which he was letting me know what the assailant was thinking, and from it that I wasn’t going to be murdered. “He stopped killing and went on to bite me, my thumb, the shoulder and somewhere else. As he was preparing to leave, he kept between me and the door. On his leaving, I asked, because I wanted to know, why he hadn’t taken the hostel place he’d been offered. He’d felt comfortable with me. I’d been too indulgent.” Was I talking too much? There was a lot more and Jackson was confusing the long-term prisoner I’d deinstitutionalised with the psychopath I’d witnessed against for GBH to the friend who’d brought him to me. I cleared that up. He might meet the former and think he was the latter. We talked of fate even Zeus was subject to, that the Xians scuppered with their belief in free will provided you choose subjection to god’s. Lucifer, Jackson said, was God’s favourite. “Probably because he rebelled,” I said. “I too act freely though unconsciously determined.” Jackson thought his nearest equivalent of being fated or unconsciously directed was his deciding without any apparent reason to go out for a walk one night in Melbourne and being attacked from behind by a man who asked why he was there and told him they were going to do this and that and then Jackson would tell him. Jackson, separating himself from himself, calmly raised his palm and gently pushed the man away, getting himself out of there and away. It was like me watching myself manipulate an employer into anger to the point of his having no choice but to sack me and then leading him back down again. The attack might account for the scar on Jackson’s left jaw I didn’t ask about. He has a mole on his right cheek which reconciled me to the ‘beauty’ spot I declined to have removed since the beauty it marked has long gone. His lashes, and looking out from under, made his blue eyes sparkle. He supported my having it out with Dan when he came about why he hadn’t come as the third appointed gatecrasher to my birthday party since any explanation was being avoided.
Dominika asked if mine was the canvas bag she’d put in a drawer in the kitchen. I had my keys and wallet with cards on me in my blue shorts. I couldn’t find the drawer on checking but someone pointed it out to me. Mette told me she’d lost her cards, pin no and Dutch passport in a fanny bag somewhere in the building. When I retold this in her hearing she’d giggle, “fanny!” at my having misheard. She said she shouldn’t be the one drinking out of a glass when her guests weren’t. “It looks elegant.”
Back on the balcony, I was being introduced by Dominika to people. “I won’t remember everybody’s name.” I wasn’t going to blog the occasion, using people for material, and there were too many of them to remember their names. I do remember Agniezka’s because she tutored me in its pronunciation till, “Perfect,” she said, and, having gone that far, I went on to how it was spelt. “I’m Polish,” she added, otiosely I thought since it was Dominika introduced us and she was, but probably not if one didn’t know ‘Dominika’ was Polish and ‘Agniezska’ might be a more generally Slav name. Agnieszka was shaven-headed. Another punk I wasn’t being introduced to had a lot of light dyed hair and asymmetrical black makeup, over one eye’s lid and under the other’s.
I saw dancing was starting up. If I was going to dance the encumbering blue hoodie had to go and I pushed it into the small kitchen drawer along with the bag. The drawer couldn’t be completely shut and when I passed I would glance to make sure it was as unshut though I could always get home in my semmit and buy another summer hoodie if need be.
Dominika introduced me to Naiem, whose name I had her spell out, I’d met before at her house painting. The punk I hadn’t recognised was Beehive, who went at dancing like a little locomotive, all pistons flying. Quentin was there and was shortly made up, by the girl’d done Beehive on entry, with a spar across his forehead and the post a line down the bridge of his nose. I’d never seen him dance before. I like to coordinate the movement of my body to whatever the music’s doing, holding to its shifts and nuances, my feet adept enough to adapt. Everybody was dancing with everybody else, the men perhaps a little wary of dancing too closely with me. I love dancing. Intending to leave early I went to see what the time was on my phone. 11:20, too late to catch the last train to Richmond, as I said to Joe. “What do you feel like doing?” Joe asked. “I feel like staying.” “Then stay.” It was an all-night party. I could catch the first tube in the morning.
As I was dancing, a young man asked where I got my black tiger-striped vest. He liked black. I told him where but that he was unlikely to be able to buy one since it’d been on a remainder sale. Gary was his name. I thought of stripping it off to give him but he was too big for it to fit.
I’m trying to remember where I told Jackson Quentin didn’t think himself a success. It may have been in the small room. Jackson thought he was, as did I, but Quentin wanted to be able to live off his writing. Jackson said he must read something of Quentin’s. Jackson painted and I told him there were church venues and such all over London, that Richmond reference library had continual exhibitions. He had had ten exhibitions in Melbourne and one coming up here I advised asking the High Commissioner to, to breach the coterie and reach the public as Quentin hadn’t. All Jackson wanted was to have a house in which he could spend his time painting. “You’ll have to be successful to be rich enough to do that.” On our way out, me following a padding Jackson, I was asked again by Gary the name he’d forgotten of the online retailer of my silk vest. “Patra. You must come to Richmond,” I said to Jackson who replied he would. We mounted the stairs to the roof for a smoke. He didn’t like going too close to the edge in case he felt the urge to throw himself over though the protecting wall was chest high. I looked down. The houses were like Monopoly ones and the people, if not ants exactly, were like very small animals. The trees were too far down and off to cushion my fall. “I see what you mean,” I said. Along the horizon was an edge of red lights at the tops of buildings that weren’t to ward planes off since the taller Canary Wharf had a flashing white light. Jackson thought the red was chosen for aesthetic reasons but that would mean each building separately going for red as was unlikely. He pointed out an odd green.
Because they can’t find dark matter and energy, scientists are beginning to think Einstein might be wrong, I told him. This was a good thing, we agreed. I said Dominika was leaving the party early to write her thesis. While Jackson liked it he couldn’t come to grips with it and would read it later, a stance that I compared to my inability to understand ‘To the Lighthouse’ on a first attempt but found it great at a second. Jackson went off to pee in the near corner of the roof.
A young man got up of the ground to introduce himself, “We might as well know each other,” as Richard, shaking hands. He’d been lying on the dance floor earlier and I asked why. He’d a bad back. Was it on medical recommendation he lay? It was but he didn’t want to talk about it any more. “Is it because you’re tall your back’s bad?” because the tall people are more susceptible. He walked off. I asked Quentin if I’d said anything offensive. He thought not. Beehive thought it was because Richard had suffered too long from his back. The idleness of my intellectual curiosity may have, in contrast to his real pain, annoyed but you may work out from this text more exactly what the reason might be though I’d no inkling of it at the time.
In the dance room I wanted to ask Quentin if he was enjoying himself but I wouldn’t know if on consideration he said he was whether his enjoyment would be what I’d call enjoyment. Instead, I’d been told I attracted the depressed, that all my friends were, and asked Quentin what might be the reason, was cheerfulness always breaking out? “Are all your friends depressed?” I couldn’t count beyond two, him and the one who’d said. I wasn’t counting… – I made a gesture – because…? he’d know why. Two wasn’t enough to affirm all were unless I took my friend’s word and I wasn’t prepared to do that if I didn’t know who they were and recognised that they were. Quentin excused himself. “Go.” Gary commandeered my ear to say he played hiphop and was expected to wear colours. “You can wear what you like.” A distinction based on clothes was too superficial to engage me. Blacks wore colours because they could carry them off. Gary’s skin wasn’t dark enough to be set off by them to advantage. A girl said I should be wearing a curly wig. “Is it because of my nose and Medici features?” I asked. Possibly. She sought endorsement from another girl I should wear a curly wig. “I know a man who wears a wig,” I said, “to be taken as a girl by other men who want to think they’re heterosexual.” The facial expression of both girls was that of comme il faut. The paraphernalia’s unnecessary if you’re clothed with grace. Dominika said “everybody thinks you’re lovely.” That could be construed as patronising of them. I told her I’d advised Jackson to invite the high commissioner to his exhibition, explaining why, “or somebody important,” and that he was thinking of going back to Australia after two years. She said they might move on, to Canada. “Are you happier?” She was. “Are you divorcing?” She was. She was wobblier than me, thus reconciled to being two pounds overweight. I didn’t catch the beginning of what Dominika was saying but it was something about my getting sight of her breasts later, then her vagina. I recalled at four making Sheila Raeburn show me hers in full flow and concluding, “When you’ve seen one vagina, you’ve seen them all. It’s a very white party.” She agreed. I thought the one man who stood out as black was telling us he’d broken a glass but Dominika retrieved the other half of his broken glasses from the floor to give him. She was more au fait. Suddenly there was Oscar! We danced and embraced. He felt hot. I thought to ask Quentin about Dan but forgot by the time I reached him and Beehive on the balcony, so passed by to the small room where I stood, turned and, passing Quentin, went back to the dance one where I turned, stood, recalled and went to Quentin, “Is Dan coming?” He wasn’t. He was too big for the dance floor and had no friends here. He was tall. “He has friends here.” “The friend he has with him hasn’t and would be gatecrashing.” ‘Gatecrashing’? Of this party? Was he using that word to make it more likely I’d accept the explanation? “No one’d mind.” Quentin was conveying what wasn’t true. “Oh, Dan!” Beehive emitted exasperation short of a groan, substantiating my observation of the party that women, free to go wherever they would, came back to reclaim their men not from other women but other men and Dan was Quentin’s other man, except he wasn’t here. They had been to a music festival together. I was too relatively unimportant to Dan to think his not being here was primarily to avoid me. Was I never going to see him again? “He asked me to give you his regards.” “Give him mine.” Jimmy Hedges was there. “You brought the beard with you.” He was leaving next morning.
I was looking for someone to attach myself to and saw Jackson framed in the open outside door but didn’t want to obtrude. He may have had more than enough of me. “There you are,” he said. “I’ve been looking for you.” I was wanted! and made aware by the attendant impact I might not be as self-assured as I thought. “Will you go out with me to buy cigarettes?” He hadn’t thought to bring them and papers. “You can’t think of everything.” By leaving the block we let in waiting people, possibly gatecrashing, definitely relieved to get in to the parties. We walked right quite a way through all but empty streets until Jackson decided ours was a hopeless mission and we turned back. I pointed to a line of shuttered shops we hadn’t been aware of. What time was it? I didn’t have my phone. By his it was two o’clock. He should’ve asked Dominika. She didn’t smoke but would’ve got him a cigarette in no time by asking. He didn’t like asking. He preferred giving. “Is that because you’re afraid of being rejected?” He thought it was more he felt vulnerable. I didn’t think I minded asking. A cyclist was coming toward but he’d stop, might not have a cigarette anyway and I’d’ve made him deviate from his course. A pedestrian coming toward turned to his right and was too far away to ask. Jackson pressed 1, 3, 2 to be let in. There was a prolonged sirenic buzzing he in a tizzy cancelled. “We can wait till somebody comes out,” I said but, following the instruction plate, pressed, didn’t cancel and there was a voice and babble I ignored because there was also a click. I pushed the door and we were in. Having learned how to operate the door, I applied my acquired expertise to the lift, pressing 2, 4. The lift however required a different expertise, the pressing of a button already marked with a 24. They make things easy for anybody to use. “You get the cigarette. I’ll get the papers,” knowing exactly where they were. Joe was standing outside the toilet, between the door to that and the small room doorway. We embraced and his hotness impressed me. He introduced me to Issy, close-cropped, maybe a fashion. I asked were she and Joe…? “Just good friends.” “And there’s another,” I said of a fleeting Oscar. Jackson came out of the toilet. How had he come there? “Are you in line?” somebody asked. “No,” though curious what might be inside. On a shelf to the left was a pile of loose coins, so trustworthy were these people. The papers were where I remembered them, apparently since unused, on the table by the wall on the right. I snaffled a few, emptying one packet, and decided just to take the other. “Here,” I couped the lot into Jackson’s hand.
Passing through the dance room I asked Gary if he had a cigarette. No, but he knew a man who did. The man refused, moving away, looking offended by me. Gary was profusely apologetic. “I don’t mind.” The room was smoke free.
Outside I saw Quentin and Jackson heading for the roof and tagged along, catching the word, “nominalism.” “What’re you contrasting it with?” “Realism,” Quentin said, going on to ideas. “Are ideas the same as platonic forms?” They were. He extolled mathematics as a language entirely composed of universals. Physics is universal, I thought. It uses mathematics. Quentin cited four as a universal. “When you said ‘four’, I saw a 4,” (not like that though: curly from the top, like the glyph for Jupiter). He alluded to sets but that one needed the idea of a set to include it in the set, or something. I hadn’t been taught sets so had no idea what he was on about. ”I don’t want to die,” I said apropos of nothing, but knew I’d have to. We headed to the other side of the roof from earlier. Quentin turned to ask if the effect of heights was particular to them. “Burns in spate do the same. It’s common.” I wasn’t paying attention to what they were saying but trying to work out if the moon on the horizon, a crescent moon, was the moon and not, alternatively, some luminous sign on the top of a building. “Is that the moon?” They paid no heed. There were clouds but, from a star I could see higher up, not such as would obscure the moon so that that might be a sign low cloud was occasionally blurring the contour of or it was the moon. The moon, Quentin objected, without the cloud of a doubt, was too much an object to be taken for a universal and there were other moons. They are called moons because of the moon though. “There’s the moon!” said Dominika. “We’ve been through all that.”
She handed us tins. “I haven’t to drink beer,” being a coeliac. “Shall I give it to Quentin?” who had his. “If you want to. I brought it for you.” It wouldn’t be cloudy, with gluten, in a can. “I don’t think it’ll be dangerous;” I drank. Her thesis was taken from my short story she hadn’t finished. What short story? “Instance.” Her thesis was an author’s work didn’t just belong to the author but because of the way its words related to each other it was something in its own right, and she didn’t mean as interpreted by any reader. Did I understand? No, “I can only understand the way I understand,” my Uranus stuck in Taurus. “My words are too vague!” “I was trying to understand how they related to the short story and failed to see how. The short story isn’t meant to be understood either consciously or unconsciously, for example the protagonist uses ‘you’ to address his man who isn’t evident while the antagonist takes it to mean him and at one point it’s both,” to have an effect on the antagonist a reader mightn’t grasp but she wouldn’t have got that far anyway. “It’s a written model.”
Dominika asked what hatpins were, I think as used metaphorically, that I in my befuddlement took literally and explained what. I went back to Quentin, “my short story inspired Dominika’s thesis.” “Good.” I rejoined Dominika who said I’d met… a name I didn’t catch, and who was wearing close-fitting white head gear that made her difficult to recognise but she was either who Dominika and I had gone to a show with or the actress in that show. Dominika told her I was seventy-four when my first story was published. I subtracted 2012, the year of publication, from this year, 2016: four, which I subtracted from seventy-eight, my age now, and I would have been seventy-four. I marvelled Dominika knew about me better than I did. It wasn’t strictly true it was my first published story but close enough. “It was dadaist, breaking all the rules and the final rule it broke was it was true.” “But it reads like fiction!” Dominika said. Because of dyslexia she finished reading an hour after everybody else. She told how we’d been to the Wigmore Hall to hear contemporary classical music though we couldn’t remember what. I suggested Rihm while she grappled with recalling a name I didn’t recognise. I may be conflating two scenes here because sitting in the same place for both, the second with Marlon, the girl’s brother. Oscar peed in the corner.
Oscar was standing in the door with a smudge on his cheek and a black comma from the left corner of his mouth. “Wipe it off,” he said. I did think to spit on the tissue myself but held it to his lips, “Spit. Your beauty is resumed.” If his dancing’s anything to go by he’s as lithe as ever.
Gary was dancing frottage behind me and I did think to put my arm backwards to grasp him round the neck. I had danced rape before but any elaboration would’ve been inappropriate to the circumstances. Jackson put his arm round and pulled me in with him and Dominika. “Is this called a threesome?” shortly to be a foursome, a fivesome and a most unstable sixsome. Gary called for attention: the police were here. This party has everything! and the music was to be taken down a notch, the windows closed. The floor cleared. I liked the illusion of hands and arms dangling from the upper frame of the open window reflecting those beneath. I went out to see the police who were along the way at another party. “You made it to the party then,” the girl who’d let me in said. I didn’t see the point of anybody’s complaining when the parties were celebrating the end of flat guardianship, a one-off. Neither did she.
The door to the roof was locked. A girl tried unlocking it using her phone. “That’s a very smart phone,” I said. She went on to use a hairgrip to no avail. Quentin, Jackson and I stood by the door discussing what truth was, a debate too restricted to consciousness for me to be much interested in though I’d still have liked to be able to put together the big flat jigsaw puzzle that I was pleased to see enthused Quentin. “It’s usually truth to something,” I offered, and liars know what it is the better to avoid it. “You know them by their insistence they have it, so much do they want their lie to be believed true, like Xians.” Jackson asked about truth in fiction. I waved him to Quentin whose forte that was. Up the stairs came a group. One stopped to offer me a drink. “Is it all right if I drink from the bottle?” It was. His wine didn’t taste cheap but unexpectedly good in a way I couldn’t define. “Have another,” he said. I thought about my person for something to give him and, finding nothing, declined another pull, handing the bottle back, looking up, appraising his smiling face, swithering between concluding he was good looking and not quite but deciding he’d do me, in the right circumstances. He paused a moment longer, hand on the door he went through, catching up on his friends or not as I turned back to mine. Jackson told of Wittgenstein disconcerting his men by wanking over mathematics. “Whatever it takes.”
They were leaving. “How?” “Bus,” Beehive succinctly said. I would leave with them, watching her in bra and pants change with her back modestly facing the small room. I watched Quentin in the kitchen face the challenge of a tie in a knot round his striped kimono. I’d’ve raised it above my head. He lowered it to his feet and stepped out, rolling up the tie for later disentanglement. Ready, I waited outside. I did think to say goodbye to others but didn’t want to miss going with Quentin and Beehive. Naiem joined us. Mette let me off leaving the party since I’d been there a long time. I was surprised by her bare bum and legs as flimsy fabric was parted by her hips like theatre curtains opening. At the lift Naiem had lost his phone. On the ground Quentin thought to phone Naiem to indicate where the phone was as I wouldn’t have. He didn’t have the no on his but Beehive did on hers Quentin phoned from, as the lift door opened on Mette with Naiem disconcerted at his phone’s ringing. It was 4 am. He’d thought his phone lost because he’d put it in the wrong pocket. I’ve done that. Beehive felt guilty at shortening the party for Quentin but it was the right time to leave it. Naiem and I followed Quentin and Beehive to a stop where was a night bus to Trafalgar Square. Naiem and I recalled what he called a door I bought that Dominika still used for designing on. When he got off and waved, I waved back. When Quentin and Beehive alighted they scrutinised the shelter timetable for another bus. A bunch of blacks at the back sang London is a city that never sleeps. Trafalgar Square was hooching. I took out my glasses and looked up the A-Z under a light to see if I’d written anywhere the no of the night bus to Richmond. What I thought a homeless man lying on the pavement was an overturned bin. I walked to Piccadilly Circus where there’d be a stop. I asked a man at the underground exit where it was. He said he was only a garbage collector but Richmond was that way. I couldn’t see a stop that way but buses on Regent St were going north so I reverted to that way, Piccadilly itself, and recognised N22 on a stop there as my bus. A man said he’d been waiting for an hour for his. I chose to get off at Richmond Station where I said good morning to a scavenging neighbour who didn’t see me. Richmond looked odd empty. I drew the curtains, cleaned my teeth, peed and went to bed at six.