The train was packed until Clapham Junction. I found The Old Crown though that its advertising itself as OC fooled me for a minute. Seeing no one in the bar I proceeded through to stairs going up and climbed to the first room. No one I knew there either, so onwards and upwards to the next room, temporarily named Catherine, which was empty. I waited outside. A pretty young woman in a close-fitting cap I wasn’t sure was Dominika was. She offered to find out by phone where Beehive, who’d neglected to give me the details, would be eating but, not needing it, I hadn’t brought my A-Z and without it would get lost in Soho, so decided to stay put, with her. She’d had bedbugs herself at Cable Street. We were shortly joined by Maria. I bought us drinks on my card that always works and we went upstairs where Zoe presented herself to me as If I already knew her but didn’t. “You’re pretty, Zoe.” Sian and her crooked finger she can straighten at will and isn’t asking doctors about, and Veronika, in a hat with protective ear flaps I forget the name of that boys in Scotland wore when I was a child and that lengthened her thin face further, also joined us. Dominika thought Sian should keep her finger crooked. The girls went over what they’d do during their performance about the association of dogs with man. Dominika bought me a large wine.
Quentin came with Beehive and I was able to hand over present and card. “Is it silk?” she asked of the scarf, “To go with my hair,” a greenish blue. She put aside what she could see through the transparent packaging I hadn’t opened, to keep it pristine, in order to open a wrapped box from somebody else. She’d been told of the bedbugs, “which are curtailing my sex life. I asked Quentin to stay over but he declined.”
Carsend addressed me, stating I’d put him in a blog. “Was it all right?” It was. He’d say so anyway. “You look different? Is your hair shorter?” He thought it was the hair. “What’s his name?” I asked Quentin. I’d regressed to thinking ‘Carson’ which I knew to be wrong. Quentin taught me how to remember it, “Think of ‘cars’, ‘end’, ‘Carsend’.”
People wanted to know how I knew Beehive. “Through Quentin.” And how did I know him. “We went to the same writing group he founded.” Quentin demurred. “You were the key man,” to what bookshop he was now uncertain. “Langton’s.” George wanted to know if I wrote. “Quentin’s my publisher.” George was impressed I wrote though Quentin’s much more impressive. George wanted to know if he’d read anything of mine. “Have you read ‘Dadaoism’?” No. Then not. “What was the other thing? Sacrum…?” “Sacrum Regnum,” Quentin said. I dismissed as irrelevant a book with another wouldn’t-be publisher.
Quentin was doing the rounds collecting to pay for the room hire. “I wasn’t told about this.” That was down to Beehive. “I won’t have change for my paper tomorrow,” Sunday. Quentin waited in the way of a nonetheless expectant dog. “Oh all right. I’ll get more money.” I took a £2 from my palm and handed it over, followed by £1, but paused, looking for another. “There’s one,” he said. “Oh you would see it, wouldn’t you!”
I asked the barman, who would impress me by leaping over the bar in one bound I couldn’t’ve done even when young, if we might take our drinks outside and I went out with Dominika, out for a fag. “I might as well finish my story about my Issy,” I called Belle who came to tell me she wanted to be married, believing I could effect it. She’d already been married but I agreed, also believing I could give what she wanted. What did I want in return? That she should write the process down, by implication for me to read. To cut an extraneous story short, she had a twenty-two year long marriage that was hell. When she died of breast cancer she treated with alternative medicine, her jealous husband brought her memoirs to me to prove she was unfaithful, as I knew she wouldn’t be. He died shortly after. It had been a symbiotic relationship. In archiving, I’d pencilled out what’d make a commercially successful book, turning on Belle’s realisation she’d made a mistake, but her daughter didn’t want her mother looking stupid. “Am I talking too much?” I asked Dominika on the stairs up. “No! Anyway I like hearing you talk.” Whenever I was hugged from behind, I’d know it was Dominika.
Sian asked if I smoked. “Hash?” She only smoked tobacco.
Joe arrived. He’s making money filming an advert for a posh hotel whose bubble of poshness he can’t, otherwise, relate to his life. Oscar wasn’t there, having a cold in Oxford. I ascertained I’d got the right Iz Zi, in a prior blog. “She misspelled ‘glamorous’” “You corrected her.” “No! It’s Facebook. I told her she was.”
Dominika went down on the floor on four legs, bum wiggling to the fawning life, walking up to the other girls, portraying the association of beast with man. “Where’s the humping?” Sian later said that would be an improvement. Maybe not since they were all bitches, not a dog among them.
I spoke to Patrick who said he was seeing a psychotherapist for depression because he isolated himself by relating to women with mental health problems, without, he added, thinking he could solve them. “How old are you?” Thirty. “I’d’ve thought it’d wear off. You’ve always a way out of the relationships. Why do you think you do it?” He wanted to be needed. He had a system of quick expressive hand and arm movements accompanying his words. I was finding him attractive, in fact rousing and that never happens when I’m talking with people but did, before dying away, and that I put down to his vulnerability inciting predation. I gave him my address to remember.
I told I think Maria of the rousing. “Surely not,” she said. She, or possibly Dominika, referred to my boyfriend, “who’s dumped me.” I explained the circumstances: he didn’t want responsibility for the bed bugging. Maria admitted to being Joe’s girlfriend and finds sex makes for intimacy. I had doubts about that, citing two recent novel sexual experiences with two people, the emotional satisfaction from being fucked by a neighbour upstairs of me, a one-off, and the pleasure of fucking the quondam boyfriend without the convention of raising legs for easier access but like fucking a woman.
Most of the karaoke songs were like a slow rap. “They can’t wait to rhyme,” I said to Quentin, who vigorously agreed. “Your songs are better,” I told him. “Oh!” I pointed to a ‘to’ that should’ve been a ‘too’ and Quentin gleefully nodded. I also noticed the American solecism of using the stressed preposition ‘of’ for the unstressed verbal abbreviation, ‘ve. The best singer was – I asked Quentin, “What’s his name?” – Nick who gave some idea of the music and also danced exuberantly, usually with Naiem, George and a taller bearded man in pink who keep saying things to me I didn’t get, before he was off. I couldn’t dance like that. Too boisterous. I’d start making it… what was the word? slower, softer: seductive. Nick did sometimes pause but the look in his eyes was never the self-doubt of what-am-I-doing! He might occasionally look at me with an interest he didn’t know how to follow up on. He wasn’t that interested! Meanwhile I was appraising his looks, his attractive extroversion and how thick his waist might be and did I mind? I asked Quentin if another young man whose belly I thought I recognised was Richard. He didn’t know. I also considered whether Nick’d look better shaved, to lighten his face, since his hair, eyes were dark and sometimes his face retreated behind a darkening, blurring veil.
Quentin, much more sociable than me, threw himself into the singing especially one song so dolorous, “You could’ve have written it yourself.” “Why did you say that!” Beehive charged. “You bitch!” She buffeted me a lot. In Dan’s absence I was Quentin’s other man though we weren’t talking. I was just standing near and stood my ground. I wasn’t doing anything. She kept giving me looks that slid away. “Are you enjoying the party?” she asked. “Yes. Thank you for asking me. I like different experiences.” ‘Lola’ was coming up. “You do ‘Lola’,” I said to Nick. “You do it with me.” Oh, no. I was sitting and watching a lot. I didn’t know whether I was enjoying myself. I didn’t want to leave though. I looked at Patrick who after talking with one man was talking with another. I was more isolated than he was. They were all lovely but something was lacking, perhaps the specificity of the erstwhile boyfriend’s attachment. I’d make do and mend. Quentin and Joe mouthed, was I all right? I walked over, “What did you say? That’s what I thought you said. I’m fine.” Joe said ironically I’d be alleviated if I sang. “Yeah, right.” Quentin asked what I would sing to. “Ca the yowes tae the knowes.” I did sing to Killing Me Softly, and to Lola but only briefly with a microphone a girl slyly put to my mouth.
Jackson came late, after work. I waved. The girls did another performance about giving birth, not to a child but a half water melon I thought Maria said, that Nick and the boys entered into, encircling the birth, and which was extended into happy birthday wishes to Beehive. Joe was making a video film of the performance on a device with a screen not much bigger than a phone if not a phone, that he delegated to Quentin who spread his hand in front, interfering with the picture, and I thought Joe, who was back, should take over again, as he did. “Was it about giving birth?” I asked Sian who said, “Yes”.
I was introduced to Julia, ADHD but who medication normalised if not the rushed abruptness of her speech. “So long as it doesn’t stop you doing what’s you,” or something such I said. She deplored Trump’s talking ill of the dead Castro. She was going off, but, “You stay here,” she said. She didn’t come back. She looked at me and her eyes slid off. She did make a foray down to the karaoke group nearby.
I told Dominika Sian had said she loved me, and I’d reciprocated, “She doesn’t know me,” not that knowing is a prerequisite of love. Dominika let Jackson and Quentin talk without her intrusion because they liked talking to each other. Me too, Jackson, when he was talking to George. Jackson was perturbed George was a Bolshevik and wanted him to be too. I didn’t understand how either, but maybe to do with the Corbynista hard left taking over the Labour party. Jackson thought them too principled to succeed politically. I’d only just understood what had happened and couldn’t anticipate where it was going. He had a beard so I couldn’t see whether he had the scar I remembered that Dominika and now he denied he had.
Joe was leaving without knowing how to get home and his girlfriend had already gone. “Didn’t she say she was?” She had. I asked Quentin, who was well-wellied, if he knew how Joe could get home. He didn’t. “He’s a big boy; he’ll manage,” I concluded.
“Have you lost your bag?” I asked a rifling Carsend. He had.
I also was leaving, on seeing Quentin was preparing to. I commended a passing Nick on his Lola, his energy. He said I hadn’t sung. I had. He said I was shy. I was a Cancerian but I did do things. He assumed from the accent I was Scottish. Born in England, even brought up in Scotland, where I acquired my east coast cultured accent, I was British and had no secondary nationality to fall back on, neither Scotch nor English, should the worse befall. He said he was from Indonesia and had done better guessing about me than I him. “Djakarta?” A little place, or island, to the… but I interrupted him so he didn’t finish. He admitted to having been from Oxford, where he knew Beehive. He’s here for a few months. Leaving was delayed. Quentin had taken off his big black hat.
“I’m the token oldie,” I told Nick over my shoulder as we cantered down the stairs. “You’re only as old as you feel,” he said. “I don’t look in mirrors,” I said. “You should,” complimenting his young looks though maybe a residue from thinking about his face being improved shaven.
Outside I was going with Dominika and Jackson along New Oxford Street while the others the other way but the ritual of their leave-taking takes time and Dominika and Jackson went back to add length to it with hugs. Under his close cap, the beard melted into the overall handsomeness of Nick’s face. I tried discerning which girl he’d leave with but failed. He blew me a kiss and I blew him one back. The inordinate leave-taking went on. Left to me, I’d go. I edged back, not to be too conspicuous. Nick’s eyes, on seeing I hadn’t gone, slid off. The ritual over, we three left. Jackson had a cold coming. Dominika wanted food. I ran for a Piccadilly bus. “Where did the bus go?” Round a preceding corner. I left them. Tottenham Court Rd tube station was open, at three in the morning. I decided to walk on. The streets were as busy as during the day. Among so many people at night I felt my life was pointless. Unlike last time, there was a crowd waiting for the N22. An Irishman asked for change. “I haven’t any.” I wasn’t about to call him back to insult him with the little I recollected I did have. Last time I’d the top deck to myself. Behind me was a hubbub that progressively thinned till items of phatic conversation became distinguishable. On alighting, I thanked the driver, going home to feed the bugs. It had taken ages for Dominika to get rid of hers.