John and I went to Hammersmith for a film. Blackkklansman was on soon, too soon for us to have a meal in Wetherspoon’s beforehand. There was a later showing. He offered I should go after the food if the film was going to make it too late for me. He was paying for the meal. I was to pay for the cinema. I teased I might leave after eating. He made me buy another round of wine. I noticed he has no conversation but didn't mind, watching people behind him at tables by the window while he overheard talk and commented on by-passers. In the cinema John said we could sit anywhere and did. I wanted to sit as designated by the tickets but didn’t in fact because I’d misread where the seats would be on paying for them and they were other side the aisle beside two girls. I joined John before the film started and he was against moving for a more central view than that from the end of a row, being fine where he was. It was a good film though a bit overdone towards the end with the racist cop being arrested and the black one enthusiastically accepted. Afterwards we were waiting for a bus but John wanted to walk a shortcut that came out opposite Batum Road where he’d stayed while on the run and I directed the police to. A bus took us to Hammersmith tube station. The third train took us to Richmond. John decided to sleep over. I’d hardly notice he was there, he said. “I’ll have to go home if I don’t have my blood pressure tablets with me.” I mimicked hope. He had them. I mimicked rue.

We’d stopped practising and I reverted to being unable to sleep because somebody else was in the bed. That I couldn’t put paid to our going on a prospective trip together. I rested and got up at four to pee when his snoring became insupportable, if not in itself. Noticing the door wasn’t, I locked it and put the chain on before going back to bed. The room light went on. He must’ve got up after me. “Why’ve you put the light on!” “It was a mistake.” The light went off. He was yelping from the other side of the swivel chair positioned so there’s access to and from the inside of the bed in the dark. It was the sound he makes when he hurts his feet. The chair is on steel feet but they don’t protrude. I asked what was wrong. I got no answer. He wasn’t back in bed. “Where are you?” No answer. I felt from the foot of the bed. He wasn’t there. Lying back, I felt down beside me. He was there, below me, on the floor, this side of the chair without any intervening crash between chair and bed to account for it. “Don’t touch me!” Oh, I turned over, away from him. Shortly he returned to bed. I failed to muster up annoyance and wouldn’t be irritable but wanted no further imposition to suit his convenience on energy depleted by sleeplessness with any insistence he shower and making him breakfast. I just wanted him to go. I got up to pee again, at eight-eleven on the kitchen timer. Returning to bed, I saw the heavy chair had been moved. “What the fuck! Why have you moved the chair?” back towards the wall. “Arsehole,” I added sotto voce, going back to bed. He got up, taking his clothes from the back of a chair at the console. I saw his head above the other end of the table facing my direction. I thought to push the chair at my face this end further into the console, deciding against. His coat was whisked off that chair and put on on his way out. I got up in case he got stuck with the locked door and chain but he was soundlessly gone. I stayed up, not feeling too bad, considering. I did momentarily doubt he had moved the swivel chair which was roughly back in place. I’m sure my thinking had been conscious but John’s leave-taking so fitted what I wanted I had to suspect it was relayed unconsciously to him who then acted it out, rationalising as best he could why he was not bathing as invariably he does before going out of a morning. That he didn’t convinced me there had to have been unconscious communication. He hasn’t contacted me since.

John and I were overlooking Edinburgh, deciding on the best way to reach and cross the Forth. John thought walk directly through the city but I saw what could be a bridge extending from this side farther up river and suggested going towards the extreme right, prepared though to do as he thought since on reaching the river we’d have to turn right anyway. It’d take longer. John fell in with my thinking and we walked leftwards, coming out on the shore. John went off, to find the best road to take I thought. Up river were three beautiful suspension bridges I wondered could we cross on foot. The river was flat and still. I walked across it. Looking back, I couldn’t see John following. Other side the embankment and below was a town and square buses left from though no bus stop was visible. I walked back, looking for John on the other side. He’d gone on. I retraced my steps. The town looked different. A bus was going to Edinburgh by the near road, the next to Dunfermline. None was going to Elie but I could change at Kirkcaldy. We’d meet up in Elie.

John was pissed off so getting pissed. “Any excuse,” I remarked. He was pissed off with not getting support from Probation or SOVA (Support of Vulnerable Adults) required by the Royal College of Psychiatrists for his job of monitoring prisoners with mental health problems. On Monday, day before his phone conference he’d propose me as his support.

He’d put his feet up on the chair on my going towards the other chair at the end of the console when I saw on the table a tea towel, picking it up to return it to the kitchen, turning too quickly for him to reinterpret what I was doing. He accused me of attacking his feet! He’s always putting his feet for me to step on. “I’m entitled to move quickly in my own flat!”

He wanted to read my diary entry on two days before when I took half the tablet left in the dispirin container. He’d asked the day before too. This time there wasn’t going to be enough subsequent to the request to let me forget it so I complied, taking out the laptop. He asked when I’d written it. Before going to bed, on the day, not the day after as he’d suggested to obviate incoherence. He praised my writing. I read out the entry up to the sentence, ‘He was angry he could’ve been hauled back to prison if it was him had put the drug in the dispirin container and that I’d be dead.’ His diatribe began.

Since I answered back, giving as good as I got if not better, I don’t have the connecting thread. Retrospectively I’m not sure what he was objecting to. I thought it was that I was showing him up as self-centred though that isn’t explicit. It might be that I was saying he’d put the tablet in the container because I pointed out that was a conditional clause, if he had, and it was him deduced it was at the time. I wasn’t concerned who had. I’d said ‘inexplicably left’. He scorned I wouldn’t wonder who’d left it, as anybody would. I didn’t know what anybody else would do but I hadn’t. He was imputing to everybody what he might have done. I hadn’t said it was seven or eight years before, he charged. I had said ‘years before’, I pointed out. He may have said he’d deny doing it. I wasn’t the one said he had. He had. I offered to have Quentin check the entry. He wasn’t having that. I’d known about it, why hadn’t I asked him? Why would I? I didn’t associate it with him. He could’ve taken the tablet thinking it was a dispirin of some kind. It looked nothing like. If I didn’t believe he cared for me, I should ask his fucking mother. “Don’t call your mother fucking!” “I’ll call my mother what I like.” “So can I!” referring to an occasion when I’d jokingly called her his ‘fucking mother’ and been told not to. That stopped his flow for a moment. I hadn’t questioned his care of me. It was compatible with his self-centredness. “You’re misinterpreting.” “This is why you’re not asked to parties,” as if I cared. “People don’t like you writing about them.” Dragging in what other people may or not like was irrelevant generalisation. “I’m not your friend. I’m somebody you use to write about.” I’d thought he was reconciled to that. If he doesn’t want to be written about, he knows what to do and maybe that was what he was doing. He accused me of making him a scapegoat. For what? I was posing as a victim, with him as the bad guy. In a diary entry? Who’d I be posing for? and why would I? I don’t care what people think. He does. “You turned your friends against me.” “Maybe you shouldn’t’ve asked to read the diary entry.”

He swivelled the chair to be looking at right angles to me. I finished reading the entry. There was silence. I was disoriented, thinking it was an hour later and I was missing what I wanted to watch on tv, until I realised I wasn’t and switched it off, explaining why. There was silence I couldn’t think how to break or that it was incumbent on me to. He was readying to leave and I postponed taking in the washing to preclude giving him the opportunity to while I wasn’t there. He thanked me for the food and left. I followed out and even went out the front door to the block after him but he’d gone. Was he scuppering using me for support come Monday, today? I wasn’t fed up with him though this was his second flare-up and I wondered if there would be a third and if it might contain any physical danger to me. I thought not. I wasn’t emotionally affected by this one. We haven’t contacted each other since and I won’t till tomorrow, if then, and don’t see why I should.

Addendum: he didn’t recognise the tablet, because 1) he didn’t have his glasses, he said 2) he took my word it was a B. Then it was the smackheads confirmed what he thought, to make him look good, once he’d decided it was most probably him put it in the container after they’d instantly recognised it. His stories differ every time. He said he’d told me he’d put it in the jar. I didn’t remember. I don’t believe he did. He didn’t tell me about the methadone. He wouldn’t tell me about stashing the tablet. I was trying to get him off at the time. I succeeded. At least when tested he was clear. I wouldn’t’ve thought I succeeded if I’d known of the subitex though I still thought I had once I knew of the methadone. It is not beyond my man to have engineered the whole thing from start to finish.

I’d decided to try out the different tablet found in the dispirin container, way past its use-by date, once the dispirin were all gone. I looked at the tablet which had a dividing line and B on both halves, presumably the manufacturer’s initials. I broke the pill, prudently waiting to see how a half went before taking the other, putting that away in order to recycle the emptied container. I’d had my Waitrose coffee and, putting off lunch in case John came, took the half with a little water, lying on my bed listening to cds.

I was heating up and sweating, so stripped off. It was most pleasant, best if I shut my eyes and with my inner eye watched images play out like dreaming, limbs of a more stationary figure speeding up before resettling in one instance like a cartoon or part-digitised image for effect. My stomach was a little suspect especially when I tottered unsteadily to change the cds, aggravating the queasiness which settled again to a faint suspicion as I resumed flat-out immobility. Water was filling my mouth; I was going to be sick. I quickly doddered through to the pan and retched about four times: coffee, nothing solid - too long after breakfast. I rinsed my mouth out and sipped some water before resuming my posture. I was sick again. There was the silhouette of a profiled bent figure on the glass of the door listening, not like John’s. I opened the door. Mark. “Are you all right?” “I’m fine, so far as I know.” It was nothing but water and acid the third time sick.

Speeding to answer the buzzer took so much effort and caused so much queasiness I couldn’t make it to the outside door which was in any case open but had to rest against the jamb of that of the bathroom. “You look dead!” John said. “I can’t leave you alone for a minute,” he went on in the room, “or you’re off with Adrian to a field of travellers to get yourself killed,” he harked back. “You should put me on a long lead or reins.” “What have you taken?” I explained. “It could’ve been put in, in the factory, to poison you.” That seemed unlikely. “Who could’ve put it in?” he queried. I couldn’t think of anybody. It came to him, “it was most probably me. I thought I’d taken everything with me.” He hadn’t the methadone when the police took him away. There was some liquid left in a bottle I took in half-spoonfuls in order to empty and recycle the bottle. “You’re rubbing off on me,” I said. “Where is the other half?” “In a little brown bottle.” “I’m taking this to the pharmacy to find out what it is.” That seemed OTT but, if that’s what he wanted to do, okay. “How do I get back in?” Having to attend to all his activity when I just wanted to lie motionless with my eyes shut was ...demanding. “There are duplicate keys on the trolley I’d got out for you.” “What’s the trolley?” “That.” “There are no keys there.” “Try the shelves.” “I’ve no time for that.” “But....” I had to get up, kneel down and rifle through papers and things before my hand discerned keys. “There’s the keys.” He snatched them. By now I was dry-boking. “I won’t be long.” He wasn’t. In almost the next instant he was back. “The pharmacy didn’t know what it was and advised an ambulance to take you to A&E or to your GP as an emergency,” or something such. He was being overly dramatic. (He says I said ‘I’m not budging’) He went on with his story: “I asked the smackheads,” of his acquaintance, “who recognised it instantly as Subitex. It’s not a B but an 8 and you took the maximum dosage, 4 mls, £80 worth of synthetic heroin in one go to get you off. How long have you been taking heroin?” “Eighty years,” I said submissively. “You’ve been taking heroin for eighty years?” he derided. “I thought you said how long had I not been taking heroin. Eighty years.” “If you’d taken the other half you’d’ve had a heart attack.” “I didn’t. There’s no danger.” “All addicts feel that. You were playing Russian roule-te with a bullet in the gun. You were gambling with your life for a win over death.” “No I wasn’t; my man would never risk my life, except as a joke.” “What’s your man?” “My spirit, my unconscious ‘I’.” “Does he still speak to you?” “No.” “Am I schizophrenic. I hear voices in my head I’m talking to.” “You’re thinking.” “The voices are different.” I shrugged; he dramatised. I didn’t go into it but for it to be his man talking to him he’d have to be in a dwam. Nothing suggested more than consciousness. “I’m angry.” With me? “If you’d died I’d’ve been hauled back to prison.” I had to smile at the self-centredness, which he immediately mitigated with, “and I’d also be angry you died.” He flushed the other half down the pan, shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted. “I wouldn’t have taken it. It’s pleasant but I don’t want to be sick,” however easily. “It was worse that time with the marijuana.”

Along with my mobility without repercussion, our conversation diversified, more tangential and I don’t recall the connecting thread. His bête noire is my friend Kate. “You didn’t have to tell her I was coming with you to Worthing.” I agreed, “but in telling her in the way I did, saying you would be coming with me but not visiting her, it incited her fear you would.” “We smoked her out.” He takes I’m a psychopath for granted, putting it down to my man while I stay like Caesar’s wife above suspicion. “Was your breathing shallow?” “Yes. It was pleasant. I’ve kicked the bucket ...list, if not the bucket.” He wouldn’t leave till sure I’d be all right: I hadn’t to take another drug to get to sleep if I were active as he anticipated, my kidneys had enough to do. Did he mean liver? I was to lie on my side and have a bowl to hand for projectile vomiting. He left at quarter to twelve and shortly after phoned while I was readying myself for bed.

The introduction to the neo-decadent anthology, DROWNING IN BEAUTY, by Daniel Corrick gives some idea of what is meant by neo-decadence, and why I read it beforehand, to find out what that might be, though he does obfuscate meaning by too much dealing in metaphor. ‘Decadence is art about the idea of art,’ he makes clear however, and ‘ecstasy in extremes, art about art and the artist, hidden beauty; these are the defining features of Decadence. Contemporary art and fashion scenes present an inexhaustible supply of eccentric personalities and scenarios.’ He means him. ‘Fandom and counter culture are havens of the aesthetic extreme. Decadence is a mode of consciousness,’ as all writing, of necessity, is though he does go on to specify, none too specifically, ‘dying, decaying, growing and mutating as its objects do,’ those of a decadent consciousness that is. ‘Neo-Decadence will look forward to where life in the 21st century is moving.’

Brendan Connell’s manifesto adds that the writing should be artificial and shallow, without contrived emotions. ‘Then maybe something will be realised.’ What? I’ve pencilled in the margin.

‘Writing can be neither sincere nor authentic,’ Justin Isis concurs with artificial and shallow in his manifesto. Oscar Wilde was content with one; neo-decadence has advanced to two.

The first story, MOLTEN RAGE, by Brendan Connell is a good story competently told in an arc from a character’s being not very high to as low as he could go, short of death. I scored out ‘like sewage’ as otiose if ‘his writing had a mephitic tang to it’. I liked the artful casualness of ‘as the latter was throttled, kicked and finally stabbed’, especially the ‘and finally stabbed.’ I felt I’d read the story before and might have located where sooner if I’d read the publisher’s page. It interested me to compare comments. I corrected the American spelling of ‘dived’ in both but this book doesn’t indicate where it’s published, so not a British book for British people, unlike the first, published by Chômu, a British publisher you might expect consistency of spelling from. In the first book, above ‘philosophy of violence’ I wrote ‘Sorel’ and corrected the horrible Americanism of ‘off of’ to ‘from’. I was more affected by the ‘throttled, kicked and finally stabbed’ at the first reading – a ‘contrived emotion’? – but more appreciative of it as art this time around, when I also remarked as unlikely that the ‘crucifix suspended above the chancel contained a nail from Christ’s cross’. The narrator’s use of see-me language does not detract from the story telling and does emphasise the artificiality of the writing in conformity with the author’s manifesto.

The third leg of the tripod on which the prophetic arse of neo-decadence is seated is Justin Isis. The inconsistent spelling of ‘coloured’ I put down to sloppy editing. THE QUEST FOR NAIL ART is a study of a shallow disagreeable character. The writer’s control is complete; not a word is wasted, none see-me. This is art. His varnish reveals no crack to give the appearance of life beneath, an illusion which also would be art. I’m not sure his conclusion quite nails it. I looked up ‘decal’, an abbreviation of a longer word, basically a transfer.

In A MANSION OF SAPPHIRE the character’s feminine name was at odds with a male sensibility to begin with but the soft-edged style righted that while inappropriate to the intensity that goes with obsessiveness I’d’ve thought. I wasn’t sure whether the concluding sentence of Damian Murphy’s story was good or bad: ‘All that remained was the ardour of her aspiration, flaring like a dying match head,’ asking to be blown out if you ask me. It does imply imminent death, but, if only to sustain the flame, wouldn’t she drag herself off after that last sentence, however reluctantly, to the fridge?

Yarrow Paisley’s ARNOLD OF OUR TIME is more like the thing. He wouldn’t mean a Matthew or Malcolm. Most likely a Benedict, with the section heading of Arnold Addresses Congress. In fact he means any old Arnold and proceeds to juggle his balls, linguistically and metaphorically - the metaphors having literal effect - until they drop with a light conclusive thump at the end of his performance. ‘Dispirited, Arnold donned his shirt, mismatching the buttons with their corresponding holes’ is a nice touch. Good.

You don’t... well, I don’t expect to see ‘o u r’ followed by an ‘o u s’ in good writing, as Ursula Pflug’s FIRES HALFWAY is but there it was instead of ‘glamorous’. I blame the editor.

I questioned a book’s pages would crumble in a night and a draught blow it away in Colin Insole’s THE MEDDLERS but it was salient aspect of things found where they were found by a character destroying that place and its social efficacy.

I thought the main character of DP Watt’s good story, JACK, would become a jack, of the cards he was playing, and in a way he does.

In Avalon Brantley’s GREAT SEIZERS’ GHOSTS it was unlikely a dying king would have such command of language, the writer thus meeting the required inauthenticity of the neo-decadent credo.

Really? I questioned Daniel Corrick’s character’s saying in CHAMELEON IS TO PEACOCK AS SALAMANDER IS TO PHOENIX ‘it was a private matter one didn’t talk about, like masturbation.’ I have a friend who enquires how many times a week I do it and encourages me to keep my hand in more often, for the sake of my health. Dan gave me this book on my birthday and his story was surprisingly good until I was reading Quentin’s AMEN, which is brilliant if of dimmer lustre at the end, I think because based on an unbelievable mythology not made believable. Still, very good, Borgesian and best. I might look up ‘abertive’ in the Oxford to see if it exists. He means ‘aberrant’. ‘Acedia’ is sloth. The listless character’s asking how he can write his best without pride could apply to the writer himself or the justification of any writer of a self-importance that is seeking endorsement. Maybe I’m myself too decadent to be able to distinguish but all the stories seemed normal.

On reading James Champagne’s XYSCHATON I paid little heed to the title and not much to the headings, Topology, I took to mean study of place, and none at all to their enumeration. It opens with a quotation that you’d have to be of a particular temperament to find apposite, ‘the unbearable death of youth’. The writer might’ve been doing something complex and interesting, melding one conscious entity, possibly alien, with a more recessive other, maybe human, ignorant of what was being done to it. It couldn’t be an unconscious directing consciousness, the wrong way round for that, unless from the point of view of the unconscious, hardly likely since the writer uses the word, ‘subconscious’, meaning below but also under (the control of) consciousness, and it’d be ludicrous to believe the receptive entity was in control of Z. I stopped short on ‘Z have’. Surely that should be ‘Z has’. It was a grammatical mistake that looked deliberate somehow ...because who’d make it? A small child might, referring to himself as a third person while maintaining the first person conjugation, but the consciousness of Z as monitored by the writer didn’t have a childish tone to it. It was a solecism too far. The writer presumes to be sure that some of us are curious why he’s been replacing the word ‘I’ with the letter ‘Z’. ‘Is that it?’ I wrote in the margin and abandoned expectation on this simplism the writer thought clever. If I said that my exclusion from this book in no way whatsoever impairs the objectivity of my criticism of it, you might smile and deduce it does, so you know exactly what I thought on reading ‘Perhaps you’re under the impression that Z am simply being twee or that Z have employed this strategy to make this story more difficult to read/understand. But Z can assure you that it is no mere postmodern pretension.’ What, behind his mask, are the writer’s pretensions? It’s not to pornography. I did feel the merest twinge in that direction but have had a more sustained one after writing up my diary for the day. He’s deliberately eschewing pornography.

Z needed to build a time machine if he wanted to fuck himself when a boy. Easier said than done, as he himself remarks, and one would think impossible to do. You’d think he’d know if he succeeded and that no such intimation he was fucked is given leads one to believe he failed. He sits inside a box with ‘time machine’ printed on it and ...succeeds. How? By thinking? This is a character who describes a boy as ‘blonde’. If he can’t get that right.... He has no unconscious whatsoever and thus no spirit to effect anything. It’s like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic and the ship not sinking. He does smoke a pipe. It’s fair to assume he’s having some sort of hallucination which might explain why he goes, psychologically implausibly otherwise, from conscious narcissism to promiscuity and dying, from an overdose. It does not explain how, in that event, his story comes to be told.

At Topology 21 my eye took in it was composed of symbols that made no sense and passed on, glancing back to check it was meaningless before proceeding further. That was a waste of space but I’d read something like it before that wasted space. I turned back to the Isis manifesto and drew a blank, literally. I did read the manifesto again and may again have wondered what was meant by its NO SUSTAINABILITY but what I saw was a blank page, a visualisation that the story I went back to reading wasn’t correlating to the manifesto. The meaninglessness of Topology 21 makes more sense if you read the topologies in numerical order but why should you? That’s not how they’re presented. Z doesn’t fuck himself after all. He makes do. He dies thinking to make love to a boy is to drown in beauty – for fuck’s sake, I wrote – as I suppose it would be, for the sake of a puerile fuck. Has he seen boys? In the main they’re not beautiful. By and large they’re plain, if not excessively so. Besides, if he’s drowning in a sea of boys the ones below should’ve suffocated to death already. The dream of a self-induced coma does not have to be consistent but it would have to be unconscious in the first instance and realised by consciousness, and there’s no intimation that that’s the case. It’s an implausibly conscious fantasy merely. The words ‘frivolous’ and ‘trivial’ came to mind, shortly followed by ‘doodle’, to describe this story considered so good it’s culminatory and gives the title to the whole book but ‘doodle’ implies some sort of unconscious organisation. ‘Drivel’ also came to mind but that’d be insulting. I settled for ‘meretricious twaddle’ to account for its appeal to the magpie eye of the editor who’d think it glinted with value. ‘Twaddle’’s also insulting. I should think of something more substantiating like it doesn’t really hold together and I don’t just mean because he’s shuffled the topologies, presumably to give some idea of disparate spaces at disparate times while continuous read numerically and also to make the story important. None of the others so much as refer to the unconscious and one doesn’t know how deep their individual consciousnesses go. If neo-decadent, not far.

The story ends with another quotation, ‘Someone who is attracted to small boys is simply attempting to travel back in time and re-experience his own past pleasure,’ a specious justification for paedophilia. Oscar Wilde said one must not equate an artist with his subject matter and in any case there’s nothing to suggest the writer is emotionally involved with his subject. I have to say on writing this and having to find out how the time travel was effected by reading some topologies in numbered sequence, I do have a greater appreciation of the story. I’ve also spent more time on it, as anticipated.

I must not neglect to say something about Colby Smith’s SOMNI DRACONIS I made no marginal hooks to hang anything on.

After breakfast I was about to ready myself when Jean came. A later appointment had been brought forward and, so, her visit to me. Should she take her shoes off? “Are they difficult to put back on?” No. She wouldn’t eat or drink, because slimming. Par for the course. Unwontedly though she didn’t sit on the corner of the bed but perched on a stool, perfectly willing for me to go on with my preparation. I considered that might militate against the attention I gave to my invited guest and if she, a friend, didn’t mind me in déshabillé, nor did I and said as much, sitting myself down in the central chair facing her. Jean talked of a friend she hadn’t seen for years but that they picked up easily enough, which I took to refer also to us who don’t see each other often yet were talking at ease. She went on to her search for success, however that might be defined, assuming I did as much as she in its pursuit, citing a friend of hers who’d had loads of illustrations for other people’s books, was published but making no money from it. Publishers didn’t go for fifty year olds who’d trained to negotiate terms but for the young, the better to rip them off. And what had I been doing? I couldn’t think of anything except going back with John to make sure he didn’t do anything silly, self-harming and self-destructive, before going on with him to his PIP interview, Personal Independence Payment, when he dragged me in to be witness to the truth he didn’t eat much despite being fat, because of his drinking he hadn’t told Probation about. I could testify he’d had two drinks that morning and when he visited me would bring a bottle of wine he drank before going on to mine but that that was better than his shoplifting and taking heroin and crack. John dragged me out before I went on to marijuana. Jean gave me her mob no.

After she left, I shaved and dressed. Michele came, like Jean, with a card, some gluten-free shortbread, a box with a tumbler engraved with John 80th on one of its parabolically curved sides and a miniature Jack Daniels in it, plus two books by Jeffrey Archer I now must read though she kindly said if I didn’t want to I could give to John who came while I was feeding Michele the salad of caramelised carrot and fennel on corn couscous I’d made for her but with french and not mung beans. He came bearing gifts: a watch, a black zipped hoodie and steps to replace my use of a shoogly stool as well as a card. She doesn’t drink. I gave her a pineapple juice and soda. “My favourite drink!” She’d told me it was. John had a slice of savoury picnic cake I’d baked, mistakenly adding a second layer of crushed Jersey potatoes before inserting the filling I simply put on top beneath the cherry tomatoes to be charred, with its herb dressing, and greedy Michele had some of that too. I had a bit of both. She made a gesture of taking some champagne with us I added to on bringing out the caviar I doled out with a half-teaspoon, topping it as wanted with sour cream, on pieces of melba toast I’d browned from a gluten-free cob all night in a slow oven. John went on munching the toast. Michele had talked of other things but the relationship to her dead mother was the final refrain. She left before her parking time ran out.

There was a hiatus of John and me, neither of us much minding if that was it. I danced to Eminem for him.

Dan came with the book he’d published I wasn’t in, a neo-decadent anthology. I liked that his hair matched his cinnamon shirt. He had a wedge of the vegetarian pie I’d made of herbs whisked with egg, feta cheese crumbled over before the baking. I told him my book was coming out the end of the month and Jacyntha, the publisher, intended coming to the party. Had he met her before? He hadn’t. “It must’ve been a dream.” He asked if I was writing anything. Nothing apart from reviews. He wasn’t much into writing himself. He had some of the savoury cake. Since I’d been born at five, and it was shortly after, I lit the candles arranged on two cakes, one chocolate, the other not, in the shape of an eight or infinity and a nought. Dan made a remark I had to have them all ablaze before I’d blow them out, with a breath while making a wish. I brought out the good champagne, a Taittinger, to go with that and followed through by giving Dan a taste of the caviar. He brought up his book again John said I could afford to buy. “It’s a gift!” Dan said. I liked the cover and put it with the Jeffrey Archer.

Quentin started wiping his feet on the mat I knew enough about to ignore while attending to his drink, the last of the champagne, except to shout through, “Quentin’s a vampire somebody should ask in.” There was no response. Handing Quentin his drink stopped the incessant foot-wiping. Dan rushed to greet him. Later I glanced at his feet to see if he’d taken off his shoes and didn’t think he had so far as I could judge, quite unable to distinguish a lizard skinned shoe from a like-patterned sock. He had a quarter wedge of the pie like Dan and like Dan a slice of savoury cake, of cake, provided there were no almonds in it – there weren’t. “I’m only allergic to almonds” - and spoonful of caviar. I giggled at the wording of his card, not sure how ironical he was being in its fulsomeness, written on a train to Hounslow.

John was rolling a spliff. I may have mentioned he was in line for a job giving £125,000 a year. What did they think of that then? Dan said he wasn’t rich. “Dan’s not rich,” I added to what I knew of Dan, taken from the horse’s mouth. Quentin’s mention of an influx later made me wonder if he was countering a disappointment I didn’t have at the fewness of numbers or knew of one coming. Joe? It seemed he was expecting Dominika but I explained she hadn’t been asked; she’d asked herself to last year’s and hadn’t come. I had asked Joe again, despite his not coming to one before. We went out to smoke on the balcony. Quentin guessed the caviar cost £70. Nowhere near. I forbore to brag. I may have prompted John to talk of the coming interview for the job of reviewing prisoners for the Royal College of Psychiatrists. His monologue was going on too long. I thought he should give space for the two others to speak. They were adults who could fend for themselves without my intervention. Dan asked him, “What are your thoughts about it?” which I didn’t think helpful since that was what John was already doing, giving his thoughts, at length, and went on doing, quite oblivious to Dan’s interjection. “Once he starts,” I said to Dan, “he doesn’t stop until he’s finished.” Fiona arrived. “You don’t drink,” I said. “What!” she said, contemplating an evening of not drinking. “I do drink.” A delivery of wine shortly followed. “Does anybody have two fives for a ten?” I wanted to tip the man but not with £10 and kept him waiting till John came up with a five.

Fiona had a wedge of the pie. “Can I have another?” Of course. I resorted to sparkling wine faute de mieux. She also had some of the savoury cake and cake. I dispensed tots of rum to all four though Fiona asked if she could leave hers. Quentin moved from the chair to the bottom of the bed. John was talking again but so were the other two. When I inquired about what, I was gestured by John to zip it, “This is a private conversation.” In response I went into some sort of performance of some sort of wheedlingly protesting character. When Fiona and I were talking, silence fell, as Fiona noticed, “Are they listening to our conversation?” “No,” I assured her, taking a look, “they’ve just stopped talking and are refocussing. They haven’t got round to listening yet.”

Steph came, a carnivore at last. I broached the guinea fowl, cutting off a b-east and ladling out carrot, potato and french beans, not without difficulty, and reheating in the microwave. “Is it the same as last year?” That gave me pause. “Yes.” Steph’s great. She showed her clothes designs from a phone, helped herself to cake, sat in the chair, got up to move it - “It’s a swivel chair.” – swivelled it, looked for party music and found Shostakovich, worked the cd player with a will, only needing a quick direction at one point. She left a little b-east and potato. I threw the former out for the fox. Jon came. More guinea fowl. More left. Fox. He asked for beer. “John was going to bring some.” I had another time bought beer for Jon who hadn’t come. He settled for red wine. Steph had some of that. They move their barge every two weeks. It’d be too costly to stop any one place. He sat by Steph on the stool, swerving every time I passed going about my hostly duties, washing plates and forks to have clean ones available, making sure Quentin was totted up but not being detained by his arresting look. That Jon and Steph were affectionate with one another after so many years together was a pleasure to see. I recommended the savoury cake to them since everybody went for it but they weren’t having that. Fiona was on the steps. Wait a minute: I was sitting on the stool, trying hard to take in what Jon was saying. What was he sitting on? The stool too. Unless I was on a chair pulled out from the console which, by the way, I’d unfolded out that morning before Jean. I was fuddled by weed and wanting to find something pertinent to say. Jon had done research on 15th century Germany and wished it to conform to his ideological bent. I didn’t know what but presumed Corbynista left. But in all intellectual honesty the evidence didn’t support his theory. His intellectual honesty was commendable. “Did it put a dent in your ideology?” I asked, in retrospect quite pertinently. Apparently not. Wafting across was that somebody had a PhD in engineering, the likeliest candidate of those present being Dan, however improbably. [Jon] Jon tried the caviar but wouldn’t hazard a guess to cost.

Fiona said something to me in the kitchen. She looked nonplussed by my reply. “What did you say?” She repeated. “I misheard.” I read 8:28 on a timer, working out that that was the time and I didn’t have to take off two hours as from a twenty-four hour clock in what after all was after noon. “I think we can assume Jacyntha’s not coming.” Fiona said she was bonkers anyway. I’d thought she’d come for the food, being greedy, but had had no expectation either way and couldn’t speculate why she hadn’t. Dan and Quentin left, then Fiona, and Steph and Jon substantially later. I offloaded Fiona’s rum on him at leaving. John wasn’t up to going home and asked to stay. I couldn’t decide whether it’d been a good party or not. It seemed ordinary, nothing standing out, “except Quentin’s feet-wiping”, not worth having, no dream fulfilled of three publishers in the one room, no discernible art behind it to be revealed by writing, not worth writing out then. John assured me everybody had enjoyed themselves. That wasn’t the yardstick. We had the risotto nobody wanted for supper, the washing-up left, despite John, till the morrow.

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