Boarding the train, I went one way for a seat and John the other, where he took a single seat.  I sat beside a bearded young man who kept looking at me furtively.  Opposite was a boy who said we could have where he sat, vacating it to sit across the way.  “Thank you,” I said, “he’s fine where he is.”  The boy across the aisle from me in taking something out of his pocket dropped a 20p.  I picked it up to give him.  “Thank you, Eric,” he said in a coarse voice suggesting he’d get out at Feltham.  I noticed a 5p.  “This too.”  “Thank you, Eric.”  “Who’s Eric?”

“Are you Scottish?” he was going on the accent.  “No.  British.”  “Scotland’s part of Britain.”  “Yes but I wasn’t born there.”  “Are you gay?” he asked, making another deduction from appearance he wanted confirmed.  “Is that a pass?” I asked.  “What?”  “Are you making a pass at me?”  “You look like Jimmy Savile.”  I don’t, “He was a paedophile.”  “Have you seen yourself in a mirror?”  “When I’m shaving.  Have you seen yourself in a mirror?”  He was not pretty, unlike the younger boy.  There was something wizened about his eyes.  He could’ve been sixteen.  The girl seated other side the younger boy laughed.  I stared at her, “You think this is funny?”  She held my gaze.  “You’re encouraging him.”  He put his feet up on the seat - I said nothing – and one shod foot between the legs of the younger boy, a homosexual act to assert dominance, as I thought to say before saying nothing.  “Get your foot off my balls,” the younger one said and decamped to the seat behind where he’d originally been sitting.

The Feltham boy said I’d - I forget the exact verb he used: not roger, not fuck, maybe had - John the night before and, he added, John me.  Although the boy was making a bid to draw John in, John had good reason to stay out and I’d’ve stopped him if he did intervene.  I am perfectly capable of dealing with any situation I find myself in, the difficulty being articulating the appropriate words for that moment.  John had ...I’d’ve said, only come that morning before breakfast but that would’ve been raucously interpreted and in any case none of the boy’s business, nor meeting the intent of his statement.  He said I reminded him of Eric ...Smithers, I think that’s the surname he gave, and that he himself was called Jimmy the Machine, a source of pride.  Why machine? I didn’t ask.  He asserted his heterosexuality with reference to the girl.  “If you have to prove you’re heterosexual that’s the first proof you’re not.  I wouldn’t have you if you paid me oodles,” I said.  “What’s oodles?”  “A lot.  You’re rough trade.”

They retreated as one along the carriage.  “That was embarrassing,” I said.  “Did I do okay?”  The train stopped at Feltham.  “Back in a moment,” John said and alighted, an odd time to dissociate himself now they’d gone.  He’s going for the guard I thought.  I saw the younger Feltham boy go through the barrier and wondered if John had got back on the train.  I recognised him farther down it.

We met up again on Staines station platform, walking to its boat club where we had coffee with the gluten-freaks, Sandra, Jacqueline and Wendy who talked of their diseases other than the coeliac I share with them and the glutenous John not.  After lunch back home again, we went up town to Waterloo, walking across the bridge into Gay Pride.  A fat girl was being arrested by police.  Why?  A small brown man stepped out of the crowd to tell me.  “A public nuisance,” I concluded.  “Don’t get involved,” I told John who got involved, rearranging the fat girl’s legs into recovery position, then rearranging the body onto its side to follow suit.  Once satisfied, John left off.  A policeman’s arm was glistening with spew.

Trafalgar Square was barricaded off and people were let in through a sequence of pens like sheep.  I demurred.  To end my bleating John moved on and we came upon the actual parade, as he thought I’d intended: a lot of exhibitionists showing off and a thick crowd being socially agreeable.  It was as boring as a Belfast Orange Walk.  We looked for a park.  John got his bearings in Old Compton Street which was jam-packed and where footing was made insecure with bottles and cans.  John moved in the wake of policemen and I in his.  I lost sight of him at the corner with Wardour Street and, after waiting a bit for him to come back, went home.  There I ate two bits of fruit before hearing, “John!” from outside.  There was John with my bottle of wine and corkscrew.   He’d’ve felt guilty he said next day if he’d gone to his own home and drunk it.

My neighbour is eschewing transgender or having himself castrated to become a eunuch.  After all, “you have an arse,” I said, should the woman inside every man want to be accommodated.

Moncie called up and I let her in though she turned up her nose at all my offerings.  She likes going under the bed and when I rolled onto my side so did she.  She also likes being let out the front door to the block.

John left at quarter past twelve.  He’s since complained I only wanted to show myself in a good light in this blog and not him, so I’ve added on the second half which I’m sure you’ll agree isn’t interesting.

I was reading the letters page and the first letter seemed familiar, sounding like a copy of me, so I skipped to the end to see who’d written it: John Cairns. I had. Thankfully the editor had corrected my misspelling of a name I didn’t think to look up. The end ‘too’ seemed otiose and I’ve checked from my sent folder to find out how it was edited. In public writing you factor editing in. It’s too much bother to give the published version. Here’s the original email:

Since there are three times the Europeans here than British there, in a much bigger entity, May should have been asking for a major concession beyond the reciprocal recognition of rights. Accepting Europe’s negotiating basis perhaps precluded her having done that. It’s not too late. If Baumier is illegitimately demanding a European court supervise any agreement on rights, Europe is intent on imposing a hard Brexit without any deal, as Davis, our negotiator, is aware if he says no deal is better than a punitive one. We have to use what we have and the number of Europeans here gives us some leverage since Europe is so keen to exact that its citizens’ rights here should be as if we’d never left Europe. Of course this is a bargaining chip to be used! They’re not here for our good but their own. Stop being maudlin about it when politically Europe is determined to do us down.

Instead of ‘the’ in the first line the editor put ‘as many’ and instead of ‘British there’ ‘there are Britons in Europe’. He inserted a ‘Theresa’ before ‘May’ and ‘citizens” before ‘rights’. He didn’t make a separate sentence but put a ‘but’ before ‘it’s not too late’. After ‘If’ he inserted ‘the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier,’ and dropped the ‘illegitimately’ and inserted ‘that’ after ‘demanding’, changing the form of the verb to suit. He inserts a ‘therefore’ before ‘intent’ and a ‘David’ before ‘Davis’, dropping ‘our negotiator’. He’s put ‘must’ instead of ‘have to’ and ‘EU citizens living in the UK’ instead of ‘Europeans here’. He’s dropped the ‘Of course’ and exclamation and inserted ‘for May to use’ instead of ‘to be used’ and replaced ‘They’re’ with ‘EU citizens are’. He’s put ‘We should’ before ‘stop’, ‘this issue’ instead of ‘it’, ‘seems’ instead of ‘is’ and added the otiose ‘too’ at the end.

In see-through red shirt I’ve had for over fifty years and Japan windcheater, off to Quentin’s party with champagne, cake, box of chenin blanc, card and Latin dictionary. He’d said he’s doing Latin. Wrong address directed me to right one, Mornington Terrace, where, looking about, I saw an upturned bucket with the number on it, indicating the basement flat. Dan let me in. Quentin was having his face painted by Dominika. In the kitchen Dan opened the champagne which spumed onto the floor. “You should’ve had a glass handy. It must’ve been shoogled on the way here.” He made an attempt on the spill. I had the smallest glass, Dominika the largest. Quentin looked at the absence of words in his card I put in later. I said I’d seen a card, crisis in the middle ages, but thought better of it since Beehive might call me a bitch. He’s forty-five. They laughed. Quentin had a go at the spill. Dominika wiped it up.

Mei-Ling and Yasmeen came next. Yasmeen had a pillow – I eschewed making any pregnant remark - for her back she’d had an operation on, a vertebra replaced. “You’re partly robot.” (I later asked why the vertebra was removed: malignant.) There wasn’t enough champagne left for two so they had their own pink sparkling rosé. We reminisced how long we’d known each other – “I’m bad with names” - and still hadn’t got Mei-Ling’s right, “A hyphen!” subsequently addressing her as ‘Mei-hyphenated-Ling’ but may already have spelt ‘Yasmeen’ right. I’d check. (I’ve checked; I had.) Mark Samuels in pork pie hat and Honey, who has Crohn’s disease and can’t eat wheat must’ve arrived meantime because they were other side the table when I said ei is usually pronounced ay, as in May. This was disputed, by Quentin, but who then came up with ‘feint’ - “From French,” I said - and Mark with ‘reign’, probably, though I heard ‘rein’ unless he did say ‘reins’ and I’m misremembering. I thought it was so pronounced in Latin and possibly Greek. Mark remarked Quentin’s punctiliousness as editor, down to a comma. Having gone over my publishing from my diary, the line of Quentin, Dan and Yarrow Paisley was easy compared to the work I put in on the other which foundered on the bad faith of the publisher. “It makes for a better story.” I was asked if the writers’ group liked my writing. I considered. They liked my blogs, so “Yes.” I didn’t write for it. “You know The Fling?” Quentin agreed he did.

That might have led on to John who wasn’t there and I tend not to mention people who aren’t, as I haven’t Steph who, I told Dominika, wanted to meet her again, but in my trawl through my diary his was a better story than the publishing one. I may have got on to him through telling Quentin I was a bit dispirited and the last time was connected with when John wasn’t about, John claiming that as the cause “I’m becoming you,” I told Quentin. “In that case, am I becoming you?” “You are cheerier.”

However it started, I would have to say something to get to what I was wanting to tell Quentin that resulted from it. “I thought John was a fling, a heterosexual having a bit homo on the side that demeaned me. When he disappeared I thought he’d found cottaging suited him better. You met him,” I told Mei-Ling, at Quentin’s last year’s party when I had John read out a poem of his I thought good she was less sure was. Phase two, starting with the declaration of love on a Xmas card, ending with his being taken out by the police in shackles, handcuffs, would make the better story. I could see they, electrified, agreed with that. I went into his missing me because I’d gone up town in a blizzard to a book-selling by Quentin. “You were there,” I told Mei-Ling. There was a debate whether Mark also was. Afterwards I was back home for five minutes before going on to dinner at a friend’s so wouldn’t be in for John. Instead he sent the Xmas card, mentioning he’d got into a little bit of trouble with the police, thus didn’t have to explain himself when he did visit. He didn’t want his name mentioned and would sue if I published what I’d call ‘The Convict’. “It’s already written, in my diary.” Though a publisher, Quentin didn’t know what the legal position was on that. “I was shaking after he left, with anger. He threatened me! His name wasn’t in it. When police from Scotland Yard asked if I knew him, I shook my head. I knew him as ‘Reilly’ or ‘O’Reilly’. When they showed me a photograph, it was John. I thought they were calling him ‘Mersh.’ It all becomes fiction in the end.” Mei-Ling thought a surname given pretty defining. “Makes for verisimilitude.” Quentin nodded. I went on to say we can’t say black any more but if we say ‘Fred’ and later he turns out to be ...Japanese, that’s a little shock for the reader who’d be assuming something else. Quentin nodded, saying something. “Is there really a ‘Fred’ in Japanese!” No. He gave a near enough equivalent. There was something on assumptions made from appearances because Mei-Ling, half Scotch, thought from my cultured Scots accent I’m unaware of I was Scottish when ‘I’m British, born in Shoreham.” What was his crime, Mei-Ling wanted to know. “Conspiracy to murder.” I explained the circumstances. “I don’t know if it’s true. I got it from John,” in dribs and disconnected drabs, though he wasn’t keen to give the last bit I wanted to know. “He phoned the police afterwards in case the man was still alive.” But that wasn’t the main point I was distracting myself from and wanted to tell while I remembered it. John had my story in ‘Dadaoism, An Anthology’ read at the Wandsworth prison reading group and it was appreciated by Sadiq Khan. “What was he doing there?” Mei-Ling asked. “He was a murderer or rapist. No,” he was visiting, showing he cared. “I was disappointed but John assured me the murderers and rapists, with a yen for writing, did also appreciate my story. They got the telepathy he said. The book’s mine now,” I said to Quentin who wasn’t bothered about that and, missing the ostensible point, picked up on the mayor of London’s having appreciated his book and how that might be used. “I could write to him,” I offered. Mei-Ling said I must care for John I talked about him a lot. “I like his company. He was the most beautiful boy in Liverpool. Quentin thought he was good-looking.” Quentin nodded. “I didn’t notice. He was the best shoplifter in London, he was told in a pub to his embarrassment and pride.” She asked if he was a kleptomaniac. I assured her he wasn’t. I sounded off about something else as well, I can’t remember what. I’ve composed a letter to Sadiq Khan.

I completely forgot this, until a reference by John, who didn’t want one, to bananas on my bookcase reminded me: Honey had thought to bring Quentin a present of bananas. “Quentin,” a vegetarian, “doesn’t eat fruit.” I’d once forgetfully offered him a banana and he revulsed. He attributed the especial loathing to something in childhood he might reveal another time but not this. Quentin doesn’t offer but, when asked, does usually tell. Probably force-fed. I had a vision of a Quentin in left profile with a banana protruding from his arse shortly followed by one of a small, grey-haired man. But would a father do that to his child? The word, ‘banana’ recurred during the evening. John said it was a wonder Quentin wasn’t gay. “We don’t know that’s what happened.” John went on to his being buggered by a parsnip. “Wasn’t that sore?” He couldn’t remember. “It was a little parsnip.” “I haven’t heard that from you before.”

Oh, yes! Brexit. How did I get on to that? The French and Germans didn’t let the Romanians and Bulgarians move freely for seven years. We could’ve been accommodated. The Lisbon treaty actually waives freedom of movement in certain circumstances. It’s not an absolute. We could’ve invoked that. We have more of their citizens than they ours. We have to have concessions elsewhere. Same with security. We supply 40% of the information with 8% of the total population. “And the Danes aren’t getting to fish in our waters, on the Dogger Bank, on historic rights, even if we don’t ourselves. If we’re going to cut off our nose, we should take a slice of theirs.” They laughed. “I should’ve been prime minister except politics is boring.” Mark agreed. “You have to be agreeable to everybody. I wouldn’t get far.” Dominika later said the British part of her thought Brexit might be better; we’d be poorer but more... “Equal?” I suggested. I didn’t understand the animosity against the Poles, I apologised.

Mei-Ling opened the box of wine for me. I got hungry and had Quentin cut the cake to ‘happy birthday to you’, him, and I distributed it. Honey could eat it. There was a slice left I think Nigel had when he came. Sitting by Quentin, I texted John I was at Quentin’s party. He hadn’t come over as said on Good Friday and hadn’t replied to two texts then and that was a fortnight ago. Dominika wanted to bake. Dan had a gluten-free pizza for me and Honey I suggested be baked first. Dan cut it into slices and in taking a slice from the plate I took exactly half the pizza, the slices connecting at the crust, leaving Honey the other half on the plate. Dominika baked three lots of pizzas and is coming to my party to do a gluten-free one. “She’s giving me a back rub with her bre-sts,” I said. “I dreamt we were lovers.” She surmised I might not be as completely homosexual as, presumably, she thought. The assumption surprised me, “The unconscious doesn’t care about things like that.” It didn’t occur to me, for me to say, I’ve two children older than Quentin.

Quentin had a video he showed in the other room of him as a Neanderthal at a pool. “Vaughan Williams,” I said, Sinfonia antarctica. Quentin nodded. He was being threatened by a spear-wielding Amazon he offered a dead animal to – I knew how this was going to end – when on the ridge appeared a white alien in a cap slowly flapping his wings and Quentin abandoned the woman and scurried up the ridge to the alien but without the offering. He said the video was from some years ago. He hadn’t cut his long hair for it. I said to Domenica Quentin was braver than I was. “He’s not brave. He enjoys it.” She offered to make me up too. “I don’t like the feel on my face. Three girls made me up at university to see if I’d pass as a girl. I was pretty. I couldn’t wait to wash the make-up off. A lover wanted me to put make-up on and I did but femininely. He was disappointed. He’d wanted it dramatic.” Dominika told me Joe and Quentin aren’t related as I believed but Joe’s the son of an ex-lover of Quentin’s father. Dominika asked me to go out with her while she smoked a rollup. The poems weren’t haiku but she couldn‘t remember what they were called. I asked Quentin, “What were the poems of yours Dominika had on her wall?” “Tanka.” We considered whether drinking too much was related to childhood abuse. “John drinks a bottle of spirits and then whatever I have. I remark but don’t censure. He said it’s because he’s not having sex. That doesn’t affect me one way or the other.” I was chittering with alcohol and cold. Inside I looked on, smiling at losing Mei-Ling in animated catch-up to Nigel.

There were photos, taken by Dan. “I should’ve pulled that in.” “No,” Yasmeen indulged. The first phase ended with Yasmeen’s leaving and Nigel’s coming.
Nigel’s married with two children and has to do with televised sport. It brings in the money when finding alternative work nowadays is chancier. I said my skills would be wasted on a good man, with no badness to mitigate. We’d met before at the Cheshire Cheese I inevitably called Cat years ago at a Quentin party. “You are my party people.” Mei-Ling was pleased by that. She, Nigel and Quentin knew each other from Durham. “Who’s going to fill the hiatus? The party’s flat.” There was no unconscious drive or direction.

Beehive with bright blue hair, Naiem, who went out again for sparkling wine, and Joe came. “I wanted to see your and Oscar’s shorts but there were no trains to Waterloo. It would’ve taken hours.” I asked if he’d seen the video we’d seen. Joe nodded, smiling. “You made it.” Joe asked would I be blogging. “No, I’ve lost interest.” He thought that a shame. “It started with you,” I addressed Quentin, “when I thought you important.” Before she left I asked Mei-Ling to my party, looking for a piece of paper while she rapidly entered the information on her phone. Mark remarked this but said nothing.
I said Beehive should win the prize for putting most effort into her costume, painting black stripes on a white jacket and enlarging its lapels “and you for least effort.” “The booby prize,” Nigel said. “Oh no!” I left at ten to ten after a dance with Dominika, thinking it was later. I embraced everybody goodbye except Nigel who held out his hand. I asked a woman which way to the tube. John texted he’d had flu. On the way I replied I hadn’t thought there was anything really wrong. I caught the Windsor train and was back in judicious time for a repeat of Versailles I was about to watch when John texted that I’d known because he told me, telepathically. ‘Like fuck.’ On the day I’d bought his birthday card, I thought I might as well post it; he wasn’t coming. There were no words and, if he could unconsciously transmit from afar, they wouldn’t be the conscious words he was assuming. The communication bypasses consciousness. I’d felt there was nothing really wrong.

I was feeling shoogly. At Clapham Junction a girl took the emptied seat. I wasn’t going to make her feel bad about it. What did I have to do to get a seat, faint? A burly young bespectacled man offered me his. My thank-yous reddened his face.

A beggar woman in Liverpool St asked if I’d…. “No. I’m busy,” working out which train to take to Clapton.

Dominika was sighted through the door of unit 11. I paid £4 and had my right wrist stamped red. I was herded away from Dominika to take part in a curtained-off corner where we were a group of patients the therapist wanted help from with a dummy. I took longer than any of the other men to suspend my disbelief. The girl next me was the readiest. The controller affected to take down what the dummy was saying and asked among other things if we’d had any problem with change. I never counted mine. The young man other side the girl on my right had difficulty changing Scotch pounds. “They’re legal currency,” I said. We had to name the dummy. “Dummy,” I suggested. Then Ego since I think it was being called Id. “Igor,” the comptroller said but it was of indeterminate gender. “Leslie,” I suggested, since it could either be spelt with an ie or ey. We had to hold hands. “I’m not tactile,” I said. We held hands. The controller stood up by the dummy and made it touch her br--st. She railed at the dummy. I said, “That’s not very therapeutic. That’s what the simple do – and why are you asking your other patients to help?” Somebody had to hug the dummy. The man on my right held it up and the dummy’s shoe fell off and his pants down. “Cinderella,” I said. It’ll be masturbating next.

Quentin and Dan came and were roped in for a session. I wasn’t sure how valid it was as art. “You’re critical,” Sian said. I had to agree with that. I had a glass of wine for £3. The table-tending girl asked if anybody had a lighter and opened a beer with it.

The roper-inner staged her own performance. People had to write out questions with the answer rain. Three people including the young man who’d trouble with change had to choose adjectives and call them out where the performer indicated as she read out her spiel. His was extrovert he had to repeat because he’d pronounced it introvertedly, and large. Another was intense. That over and the three were back in the audience they had to repeat their adjectives in response to a more complicated set of directions during the next bit where a volunteer had to answer the questions.

“Not one of his answers was rain,” I said to Quentin, who smiled condescendingly. He’s less socially awkward than I am. “Oh! It was a set-up!” He also smilingly asked would I be blogging this occasion. “Nah!” I couldn’t remember my own words that made people laugh, never mind theirs. Dan said the answer to his question was reign. I approved since it’s the answer I’d’ve framed a question for. Outside I told him I’d dumped my publisher. “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked. “No.” He said he’d only four submissions that were any good for the book he was editing this year and wanted about ten. “Have you written anything for it?” I asked Quentin, who had. “Did it meet the criteria?” of neo-decadence. Quentin nodded, after consideration. “It could be crap and Dan’d publish it,” I said. Justin’s didn’t and he’d set the conditions, “But he is co-editor…,” Dan said. Somebody referred to me as a writer. “Quentin is more a writer than I am,” having published lots.

Beehive arrived. Mwha, mwah.

Zoe and another girl did their thing with typewriters and boards with words projected on them that became inarticulate, to articulate emotion, for them to dance and writhe to. A more attractive Jackson was behind Dominika. “We’re going out for a smoke,” I told Quentin but it wasn’t a smoke. Jackson had given it up because Dominika asked him to. He didn’t know if it made any difference. “You looked different to me. I had a friend Paula who wished she hadn’t smoked so much because it affected her memory.” It might alleviate dementia. I was trying to keeping my mind active. “How old are you?” he asked. “Seventy-eight.” He didn’t think I need worry yet. “Did you ask Dominika to give up drinking?” No because he drank too, though not as much as she did.

“Jackson’s given up smoking,” I told Quentin. “He’s behind you,” said Quentin. So he was. “I was telling them you’ve given up smoking.” “Weed,” Jackson underlined; he still smoked.

Sian gave me her phone to hold for the duration of the performance.

I was out again with Jackson, smoking, when that climactic performance was starting. The young man of the change and ‘large’ I’d laughed at was pressing against me and giving me a sexual charge that inactivated me as I monitored the effect of his covert performance. Judging it diminishing, I belatedly pressed back reciprocally. He moved off. I concentrated on the overt performance of Sian, Zoe on drum and Dominika on guitar, the last with least to do in the first bit but in the second reading pensively from Genesis culminating in man’s replenishing the earth to much shrieking and collapsing, Zoe on all fours. “The twist was a long time coming,” I remarked to Jackson, who moved away.

Each of us interpreted this differently, so outside I asked Dominika what it was about: man’s dominating the earth and the earth’s not relishing the submission. “Wouldn’t you have to believe in the premiss,” of god’s giving man dominion, “for the end to be effective?” Dominika thought tradition enough. The young man of change, large and charge joined our group with a girl, his face contused or swollen with some emotion regarding me. An obtrusive photographer came good in taking a photo of me, doffing my hood, Quentin in his broad-brim, and Dan. I saw my white head was in the photo, thanking the photographer. Dominika hugged me. “I’d forgotten the farewell ritual,” I said to Dan. “You can’t just go off.” In that case…, he said, giving me a hug too.

“This’ll do,” I may have said of an aisle seat on the train back. A young man diagonally opposite was crunching through a snack packet. When the train filled up I moved in and he moved his pack from the seat beside him. In the window reflection he stared into my eyes. I believe I blushed.

Yesterday I thought I might use my continued sluggishness to renege on my agreement to go to Camden with John but I was soon moving fast. I don’t like going to places for their own sake. I require an ulterior motive, a party, an exhibition, and John’s suspected motive of acquiring weed and have me subsidise the acquisition wasn’t mine. I don’t like smoking.

I did the library, where I internet, and shopping. It was after eleven. Maybe he wasn’t coming.

He came. “I don’t want to go to Camden. We could visit Diana,” his idea I’d resisted. “Visit Diana first and then go to Camden.”

I went to a ticket booth, choosing the second one manned by a woman, to ask about a train to Tolworth. She said I could get a bus there from Clapham Junction. I inferred Tolworth didn‘t have a station. John had put money on his oyster. “As well you didn’t buy a ticket,” I said, as I’d assumed he was doing from an automatic dispenser. I knew there’d be a 281 from Twickenham and a train going there in three minutes. The bus was at the stop outside the station.

We went upstairs. The front inside seat was vacated. “I’m an adult,” I said. “I don’t need to sit at the front.” “I’m still a child,” John said and we moved seats. The bus went roond the hooses. John harped on about my poor navigational skills, citing the time we’d gone to Dulwich Art Gallery, arriving fifteen minutes before it closed. “Twenty,” I thought. “It saved me money.” He only realised on the way back, passing Bermondsey, we could’ve got there in plenty time via Clapham Junction instead of the way I’d taken. “I’m never going to hear the end of this.” He took a snooze, with his feet up until his legs strained, my gloved hand on his thigh. He exaggerated the length of time we’d been on the bus to two hours which, by citing the time we’d caught the train at 12:41, the few minutes the train took to reach the next stop and the time it was by his watch now, twenty to two, I substantially reduced the time spent to thirty-five minutes, actually about an hour. “Look out for a hospital. There’s a sign. Let’s get off here. I think we must go up that road.” I walked back from the bench to the sign which had directions on this side too. “No, it’s that road.” John insisted on continuing to sit while he rolled a cigarette which, he said, he could do handcuffed. There was quite a walk.

I read a board and we went through Cedars, Lilacs before finding her in Jasmines – without an apostrophe – ward behind swing doors before other swing doors opening on to a high fenced garden into which she’d thrown her butts from a wheelchair. She’d broken her hip. She was overjoyed to see us, putting on tears and drying them up with equal facility. A man pushed in and was told to get out. John attended to his mumbling while Diana recounted her latest misfortunes, having little regard for the insertion of a communal tv socket in her flatlet that’d facilitate her having a set she could buy with the accumulated benefit money. She did ask about her plants I’d put farther out to catch the rain. She returned to the expulsion of the obtrusive man, pushing him out with the door but concerned he shouldn’t thereby hurt his arm. He was replaced by a fat woman with a stick accompanying a taller, thinner patient. The fat one objected to the butts, hinting if she could bend down she’d pick them up, a suggestion I curbed my response to on account of its manipulative intent. The more agreeable John went off and came back saying he was told it was a job for domestic staff. He nonetheless put all the many butts into an improvised ashtray I was tempted to tip with my foot and Diana ignored, flinging her doups carelessly out as before. I lit her cigarettes by inserting them in a hole outside the door and pressing a red button. The female pair returned from their garden walk and the fat one returned to the attack on the grounds smoking was disgusting to those who didn’t, namely her. “You said that already,” the thin one commented drily. They were replaced by another little old woman who wanted the way out though she must’ve known this wasn’t it. She called Diana a ‘wom’ twice before making all comprehensible by inserting the r. She asserted I was a wrong 'un or dodgy and that she had a stick to use on me, at which dodgy John smiled that I was targeted and he not, whereupon he was, “and you’re no better.” Time to go! though, with Diana clasping my hand through the doors out to the door out, and Pat – the name picked up from her restrainers – seeking to seize the opportunity to escape, our going was not without difficulty. We had to sign out as well as in.

I asked an ignorant man where the station was and we went looking, deciding it couldn’t be beyond a big roundabout, so took a bus to Kingston where John betted he could get back before me by bus. The train was delayed twice. “I’m buffeting you,” John declared, from behind on the steps up at Richmond station, making me think he’d won and had been waiting in ambush but in fact he’d seen me from a 371 bus and jumped off to take the train too.

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