In the beginning there is spring and an evening of warmth. Stories about how things end, terminally, tend to begin with a beginning, like it or not. Some heat remains in the side of structures when you touch them, as you do; parties always spring up in response to the weather and the excuse is greeted with the enthusiasm of impromptu guests, and so people will arrive with ready-made gestures, glints in the eye, slaps on the back, et cetera – fresh glistening bottles held aloft and bulkier six-packs carried by the hip; I ride the 28 because here on the bus one might consider suicide. I do this for what seems like ‘ever’. But a different street arrives and I think about sex, then groceries, then finally literature versus pop-culture (I come to no conclusions). My state of mind is quite good – sure. I’m not looking for trouble. There will be people of a wide and varied eccentricity to meet. That’s cool. Living often has some kind of point. There will be girls glowing with all the colours of spring dresses. I sit there on the back seat. A cigarette behind my hand, I blow smoke out the window. It feels good. This was to be expected.
People are swilling around the house. Old friends discussing commonalities with confidence; new friends checking the place out, admiring various views and pieces of obscure art. I’m neither an old nor new friend and don’t know the host at all. I hope I’m correct in assuming who the old and new are too. This could possibly be important later, say, if I’m in some trouble and need a friend. For now I push through people, doors, stairways, and no-one seems to care. One of the bathrooms (the only room not offering any type of view) contains a bath around three metres long. It’s packed with ice and all sorts of drinks: to this I add my bottle and remove a better one. The bath is really quite astounding. I wonder at the scope of the other bathrooms. Anything seems possible. Dan told me at work where this party was, and he arrives in due course, suitably drunk.
He is confident and familiar but manages to recognise me and engage me. ‘Andrew,’ he says with joviality, glancing above the head of someone in front of him and taking a few steps to gain earshot. ‘How are you? Great you could come along. Did you find the place alright?’ I’m happy about this exchange even though my name is not Andrew, as you know. Dan will report later that I seemed happy. I tell him about the empty bus, the short walk through a maze of semi-urban streets, the obligatory tree and grassland. He looks impressed but I think perhaps it’s my habit of injecting excitement into the banal. Old friends tire of it. They quickly move on to new and more relevant reading material. ‘You know I love how you get something out of everything you do Andrew,’ Dan says, confirming the previous intuition. He is thoughtful for a second. ‘I would have been bored shitless catching the bus. But I must introduce you to Alex when I find him. He is quite a character. And his wife Madeline: you’ll find her intriguing, believe me.’ I picture her shrinking heads for a hobby, or performing nude gymnastics. Dan takes advantage of my pondering to drift off into a procession of people that are waiting and ready to get his opinion on some matter. He is obviously more successful in the workplace than I am. The ambient scent now changes to cooling sweat and English after-shave. What was it before? I wander over to inspect the art-works. They are there to be looked at. All is wonderment.
A young man is already giving a guided tour of sorts. He is tanned. His hair would look messy from surfing but it’s swept back with some kind of product. He professes to know quite a bit about the various pieces and people are listening to him. Many of them drink champagne. ‘And this is one of the later works…’ he says in one of the brief snatches of words I manage to catch. ‘Yes I would never have thought to look at it like that,’ says someone standing nearby. I am closer now. The surfing art-critic tour-guide has the hands of a construction worker. He smiles and leads the group over to the next piece, telling them in a knowing manner that they will ‘feel the whole range of human emotions before the evening is over.’ I wonder if these people are tourists, not party-guests at all. One girl near me has a camera around her neck. I follow them and try to become part of their group for a while. The surfing art-critic clearly knows a lot about this art. During a convenient lull I ask the girl with the camera if she knows the leader of this group. (The glory is in the details.) ‘I just met him in the front garden when we got here,’ she says. ‘He was admiring the circular driveway. Tom, my husband – he’s the one standing closest – just so happens to have landscaped the yard. He’s very good friends with Alex you know.’ She talks while still looking at the paintings. ‘And did you bring the camera to photograph your husband’s work?’ I ask, trying to connect. Frantic qualification ensues before I can stop it spewing forth: ‘You don’t work for the social pages do you?’ ‘Don’t make me laugh,’ she says, finally looking at me. She doesn’t laugh. She turns back towards the leader who is talking again. His talking calms listeners.
We stand around for a while. It would be nice to be a part of something, if only to be remembered for that. But then the group moves along and she moves with them. I try to move with them, only to find myself muscled out.
Alex confronts me in the bathroom with the ice. ‘You motherfucker,’ he says, a glint of insanity playing about his eyes. ‘Hold on,’ I say. I can be very placating at times. I back into a corner. I nearly fall over a basin. ‘I don’t know you.’ He is not placated. ‘I’m Alex. You’re in my house, drinking my beer. I saw you talking to my wife.’ He is intent; he fixes me with a gaze. ‘I’ve talked to a few people,’ I venture (a cowardly way of speaking; I shudder to think of the retelling). But then a girl walks in. (There’s always a girl.) Alex turns and smiles, tells her about a special bottle he has down in the cellar, then slaps me on the back, even winks suggestively at me over his shoulder as he leaves with the girl. From down the hallway I hear him asking her if she’s met his wife. I get another beer. Alex is destined never to mention me after this evening.
The scene outside is beautiful and poetic but she’s talking of bad things. (She isn’t Alex’s wife. Some things will never be explained. It seems no-one has ever met her. I picture a woman pale and translucent from a lack of sun, tied to a chair in a basement. It really doesn’t matter.) But this is Jen and she has a history of her own, it isn’t attached to the party in any way. Apparently boyfriends beat her; agents have ripped her off. It’s almost post-card perfect as swimmers emerge and frolic. The ocean is dark in the night and faces get half-lit up when passing the fire. And there’s an optical illusion of moon to decorate our scene. I’m obviously happy by now to sit back. Even though when I think about things (then and now) nothing much in the way of drama presents. A couple of incidents – but nothing soul-destroying. I’d talked to people; people had talked back to me. So what happened? Jen seems to be the girl of your dreams from a movie that you would love until an actual meeting – her life such a mess of anxieties, much worse than your own. It becomes apparent she is a girl of contradictions. You might wonder how she ever appeared so beautiful and other-worldly. She is really drunk and her voice is quavering. Her story involves things (I maybe told myself then) that you don’t speak of to someone you’ve just met. But then I don’t tend to meet many people. Especially now. Perhaps this is how people really behave. Out in the world.
She takes the joint and says it might be too much for her. She smokes and then lays back. I have to stop myself imagining the pitch rolls of dizziness that might soon become nausea and a violent need to go home to your own bed. I look out at the sea as I smoke. It’s good to decide this is a good thing. In this instance I let the colours and electric dots impress themselves upon my vision. Enjoying the sensory alertness of being so tired. People still swim or emerge from swimming. There is no end to the party; Jen quietly vomits next to me. In the end I start thinking there can be no end, and I cannot hope to emerge. There’s usually a coherent whole to give evenings shape: even the out of control ones would end with the retelling:
‘last thing I remember was saying lets play for beers, then I woke up in Annandale, curled up in a corner hugging a bottle’.
Ha. Good times. Now though, things can’t just end here with the retelling because it precedes the events. I’m in temporal trouble. I’m stuck in this Friday and it’s almost refusing to melt into that ‘The victim was returning home in the early hours of Saturday morning when…’ newspaper column. You don’t even read those things fully, unless there’s some sexual deviancy in the recount.
Jen is no help – now or later. Dan must be confidently lost. Alex lost his mind in the ice-room, seemingly or not. I’ve lost my monthly bus pass. I don’t mind the long walk, even at this time of night. Things always turn out well for me. The beach sand is fine and silken. Silken as.