Night before I prepared the guinea fowl for slow-cooking. In the morning I started on vegetarian dishes from recipes I’d been saving: harissa roast potatoes, beans, tomatoes and fried potatoes, baked eggs on chard but gave up on John’s appearing before twelve with flowers in a bag. The cooked beans were left in a sieve. The chard charred in the oven.
The sun flowers and roses were difficult to extricate, needing both of us, and put in a plastic pint glass as most suitable vase for floral display on the unfolded console table in the room.
Michele was first to arrive. I’d forgotten she already knew John from an abortive drive to pick him up from hospital after an operation he hadn’t yet had. Her present was a flask and cylinder of small whisky bottles to fill it. She said she’d already bought it before I’d instructed her not to bring a bottle. “This is different.” It wasn’t a bottle for the party. I’d plenty bottles for that. She told John I’d never forgive her for two things, one being her taste for Jeffrey Archer. The other I forget. John asked how we’d met. On a computer course, Michele told him. I said I nearly cried, thinking I’d never get the hang of it but it made it so much easier to put writing that’s in the wrong place in the right one than when typed. “Is that a real orchid!” she asked. It was the best she’d seen. Michele doesn’t even have brown fingers. We ate guinea fowl and the harissa potatoes with champagne probably. Michele, who doesn’t drink, had the best ginger beer.
Jean came, asking if she should take off her shoes. “No, the carpet’s done.” She neither ate nor drank – she never does – citing a ropy tummy and sat on the corner of the bed other side the swivel chair. I sat on the bed up from Jean and the chair to include her and filled any hiatus, primarily with reference to her print of a red-haired witch pinned to a panel of my airing cupboard, explaining it was John saw it first: the pendulous nose, the eyes, the pointed chin, that perhaps you had to be at a distance to see it as Michele closed in and saw it. Consciously it represents light from a torch.
After they’d gone it was just after five, when I was born, time to light the candles, seven on one cake, nine on the other, and blow them out. I forget the wish. With the cake we were drinking a £100 bottle of 2006 Comtes de Champagne when Steph came and partook. “The expense adds to the taste,” I said and she agreed. I found out she hadn’t actually got on with a common acquaintance. Being Cancerian, I was resentful, I said, and persevering with it. Steph said she’d have no more to do with whoever was objectionable. “That’s what I do,” I said. It simply is what people do.
Dan arrived with gluten-free goodies. “You’ve brought me something to eat,” as had Steph. He had a glass of the champagne. Dan then helped himself to food in the kitchen. I added the beans to the frying pan. There wasn’t much Comtes left for Quentin when he came and sat on the swivel chair but I took a key out of the kitchen drawer and went out the door and along a bit to the door of the shed, or wine cellar, where I extracted another bottle of a cheaper champagne from the racks. “Finish that first,” I instructed, before filling Quentin’s glass. Dan positioned himself behind Quentin on the bed, reclining like an “odalisque. What’s the male word?” “Catamite,” Quentin said. Once I pointed out the plates on the washing machine, Quentin helped himself, as did Steph to the guinea fowl. I liked I could just leave them to it. Quentin was having to eat with the difficulty of a plastic fork. I retrieved a real one from the sink, rinsing and drying it, and gave him that. “I want this magnum of prosecco drunk.” Steph was happily surrounded by four men. Finger keeping place, Quentin held the book I was reading as he talked.
Throughout music played at low volume from the cd memory of the Bang and Olufsen except when John played Bowie for his and Quentin’s benefit. Quentin had predictably forgotten he was to bring a Bowie called Station something for John’s delectation. John rolled up tokes we smoked on the balcony, making sure one of us was inside with Steph. Somebody mentioned somebody we knew had an STI. I was confused because my relationship with that latter somebody had begun with his broadcasting he had an STI when it turned out he hadn’t but knew what to do if he had. I didn’t know what to make of it, so made nothing. I am making something of it now but nothing much. I’d had an STI myself recently. Fiona came with a gluten-free cake she’d baked and helped herself to food. Most of her cake and all of one of my two were eaten. John stuck my phone in the other that apart from the dent remained intact.
Of my array of spirits, only the good rum was brought into play and entirely consumed, more reluctantly by the women. “Just a little bit,” said Quentin. “I know you’re drunk when you start doing your Dorothy Parker: ‘just a little one, darling, just a little one – and if I want to take home a horse, don’t let me.’” Quentin told me he and his girlfriend were having a trial separation, since May, two months ago. “I asked if there was rift between you and Beehive, and Dan,” judiciously adding the latter, when I’d wanted to know if they were coming to the party and he said I’d have to ask them. “You said there wasn’t. I concluded you were respecting their autonomy.” “It was an inappropriate place,” John Elliott’s funeral, after which he, John – not Elliott – and I came back to mine to continue the wake. “An inappropriate vessel,” I murmured, alluding to Quentin’s funniest, indeed only memorable line from the last birthday party when he protested my pouring spirits into his wine glass, that it was an inappropriate vessel, whereupon I got him an appropriate shot glass he sat over the rest of the evening, along with the bottle. “Is it because Beehive was jealous of Dan? or me,” I judiciously added. I was assured not. “What was it?” I snuggled up to Quentin in a mock-seductive attempt to prise out of him what he would no more reveal than why bananas horrified him. “You said,” at his birthday party, “you might divulge why at a later date.” We’re never going to know of that unspeakable trauma. Quentin and Dan left shortly after at about half eight. I forget why.
Fiona stayed until half ten. John said it’d been a successful party. I tried to gauge had it been. I’m fatalistic, tending to think things are as they should be and couldn’t imagine the party and the people at it being other than it was and they were, ideal.
I was having an erection and asked John to stay. The sweep of the closing curtain over the table smashed two glasses. “You should’ve let me do that,” said John. I looked at him: he hadn’t shown the least interest.