Friday, October 29, 2004


So, much chatter could have crammed this clear silence.

But long days have been left to die unwritten, as if slept through like nights of forgotten, but tumultuous, dreams.


There were lots of little tales I could have typed here, and didn't.

Here’s one. The effete and single Russell at a party, all night like this with the boys:

“Monica is a hotty, isn’t she? I know she’s engaged. But Greg says her man Mike is working in Brasil. Think I should try with her? You do? I will then. It’s been too long for me – and too long for her I bet – ! I’d love to get her bed. And you definitely think I should give it a go? I will then. After a few more drinks, that is.” Hours later, a “hello.” Soon, Russell is attempting to flirt, every now and again his head swivelling furtive glances back at the boys, like a snake dancing out from his blankets in a box, panning the crowd, then returning to his master, who plays a tune on a flute or whistle.

At the end of the evening, Greg overhears Monica asking Russell back to her's. Russell would love to he says, but has to be up early next morning. (Visiting someone or other, somewhere or other.) On Monday over lunch, he explains: turns out he really likes her. More than a one night thing, so he decided not to. When’s he going to call? Not sure. His mobile sounds and her name is on the display. He doesn’t answer. Not in the mood. Tuesday over lunch: she’s called twice without leaving a message, and has now sent him a text message. “She’s so keen! Like a stalker. Better give this one a miss.”

Single and sexless he is once more! – but you know what judgement we all silently decide upon. And we all know that at the next party, he will be equally as excited and convinced in talk - and that he will sleep alone later, deceived and fruitless.


Ah, there have been a few sights in these weeks, months.

I could have noted this one:

An early morning meander via the heath and its pond, heading for a paper. And there in mid-air, a crow, spinning and bobbing. This way – but only a bit. That way – but only a bit. Swinging with the bursts of the breeze. Then faster, then a swivvle, a turn. Then still. All above the pond. Its wings were splayed as if for flight, but they were not flapping. Its black beak was open but was silent, not squawking. An amazing sight I wandered towards than morning – how did it do that? – why? – and then I spied the fishing line.

A mistake, slung by clowning children perhaps? Either way, slung too far; caught on the branch of the tree that overhangs the pond, and just left there. An invisible slice of wire, sharp as razor, a tight little line of death above the pond. The crow had severed its neck on it, the crow must have flown right into it, everything totally stopped in just one second. Horrible thing, I watched it for a while, suspended like a piece of lifeless plastic art in some contemporary exhibition – before heading off to scan the headlines about terrorism and football.


Perhaps you would not like some nasty story, out of the blue and just like that.

Instead, there is my new housemate. A friend of Alexa’s from Greece called Dimitrios. He tells his Grandma that he only applies for jobs on Wednesday. Wednesday is his lucky day of the week. She told him so in the letter which flew-over with a bundle of food. Dabbing olive oil with bread and picking at feta and tomatoes (with a sprinkling of oregano) he sits around stoned a lot while we beat him at cards.


Get it while it’s hot! When the man in the Indian takeaway shakes your hand, when the guy in the fallafel place stops you in the street to say hi, when the Chinese boy not only knows your name but you also know what Universities he’s applying to and why, when you can’t recall the time you did a weekly shop, it’s definitely time to get back to the gym and get on a diet. (I must have thought that first a month ago; perhaps when passing by the pizza place with the police sign outside it – the one asking for witnesses to the murder of the delivery biker to come forward.)


Another tale? Perhaps I have been avoiding something.

I had not seen my uncle for six years until six weeks ago. Slimmer than before, dapper, too, and no longer smoking. I know this about him:

As a boy, he once threw his younger brother into a canal. And he once in the backgarden tied his younger brother up, neck to foot, in rope. And then prodded my father’s shoulder ever so gently – just to watch him fall, ever so slowly, and ever so inevitably. Then he left school, an unqualified bully, and joined the merchant navy. He cooked all over the oceans of the world, fighting and screwing in how many ports. At some point he ended up living again on the south coast of England. Marriage, two kids, a job doing computers at the local Coastguard centre. Even after she left him and the kids moved away, I think he was happy: canoeing to work, windsurfing at lunch, the sheer fact of the beach, visiting relatives on the weekend. Lots of romantic dalliances: He has a photo album of different bikini-clad, posing women that proves it.

And what has happened in the last six years? His job moved to the regional HQ miles away: now he catches the train, now he wears a pin-stripe, now he sits in a grey cubicle, now he battles a war of attrition with clueless IT guys and a distant, sluggish management. On the day he became a grandfather a few years ago, he saw in a little burst of excitement and happiness that he had been depressed for so long a time. (Perhaps from before his brother’s death, even.) Before the birth he had watched TV only for the majesty in nature documentaries, which he stored on a library of videotapes. Now he watched for clues... He decided upon a diet to help him out... Eventually, he picked up the phone to the family whose Christmas cards he’d not replied to for years. And he realised he had to end his latest romance: Beth, all garden centres and weekend papers, made him feel old. And cigarettes had to go: he needed his lungs back to start windsurfing again. And...

And there he sat in mother’s lounge, spouting off about office frustrations half-amused, half telling himself not to take it seriously. There he sat, alert and jovial, advocating a life of fruit and vegetables (except potatoes) and fish and sea sports, like a pastor at peace in the little garden that was all his own idea. Youth once more? The return of spring? That must be some kind of victory for a man nearing sixty, so long tossed around uncertainly on changeful seas. At last, at last, a home of sorts – little, but as solid as a continent. Either that, or some kind of comment about the confusions of this world: that the elixir of knowing what to wish for, and knowing how to make it work, took all of this time.


Perhaps it was last week or the week before. I was sat in a quiet hotel bar, hoping Katy wouldn’t return from the loo for a little while longer. A guest has a conversation with the barman. Football flickers in the background. A porter passes through. In the corner, someone flips through a foreign newspaper.

We had been talking, talking, talking, about everything that had happened. Already a second bottle was waiting, sat breathing on the table. I wanted to work out what to say next, how to make something of what happened, how to conjure hurt into meaning, how to make sense of it all. I didn't do so, and neither does this.

Anyway, we had gone over much of it already. This is what had happened:

After her Spanish holiday, Katy had returned immersed in tales of woe.

A restaurant: Pamela had made them wait for an hour for an al fresco table. Outside at last, and it started raining. Then the rabbit was disgusting... A bar on the second night: some guy had been chatting them up and Katy told Pamela she wasn’t interested. Pamela disappears for ages to take a phone call, explaining she thought Katy was really interested... Then there were the phone calls. Pamela to her fiance: she couldn’t wait to see him. She missed him so. The holiday was great, although they kept getting so much attention from men. Tell me you love me? Pamela to the guy she’s having an affair with: she couldn’t wait to fuck him again. Katy was here, she’s seen a photo, thinks you look hot. Yeah, we should all meet up... Pamela eating: cramming as much as possible as fast as possible into her enormous body. Pamela walking: slow, cumbersome, sweaty, breathing hard – let’s call at taxi. I know it’s only five minutes but it’s my holiday and if I want a taxi –... Pamela complaining: she could do with some cocaine. What was wrong with these Spanish people? Did no-one know where to find it? And what did Katy mean, she didn’t want to try the next bar because it was two in the morning? Katy better not forget they were here to have fun, and just who had paid for this holiday, afterall: yes, her, Pamela, who right now was thinking about going home early on the next flight because of all this... Spain, Katy told me: never again. And Pamela: not for a long while.

Katy had told these tales for weeks. Countless friends had listened to the lists of grotesquiries. Most had found it funny. Some, afterwards, had admitted it was strange to hear Katy being so mean. Katy was never like that. They were a shallow victory for me, her recent ex: told you Pamela was no good. Those weeks after the holiday ... There was that week-long argument. Katy came home and used some ex for sex, and told me about it as if confessing and apologising all at once. “Adam, don’t go mad.” “It’s not big deal,” I told her. “You’ve been like that since I’ve known you and we’ve split up. So what if you’re promiscuous?” And in the week that followed, I got dictionary definitions of promiscuous, I got the one opinion of her million friends emailed to me (along with a internet forum discussion,) a detailed itinerary of her sexual decisions, what a casual use of one little word said about me. An apology or a change of subject was never good enough.

It was toward the end of work on a Tuesday when the gasping phone call came through. Katy had sent me an email earlier that day: we were meeting up on Friday, and she had something serious she wanted to tell me. It was about the holiday in Spain, but something different to before. “Adam!” she said on the phone. “What’s wrong Katy?” “It’s Pamela. She wants to see me again. I can’t!” “Why? What’s wrong?” “I’ll tell you on Friday. I can’t breathe!” “Please, tell me what it is.” “No – but you’re so busy this week – and I know you have plans – Friday – I –” “Tell me now.”

Soon, prowling up and down the tube platform, I thought of those with such directionless anger they push strangers onto the track; I thought of the relentless burning rage of animals primed for fighting who are kept in cages. “Sexual assault!” The phrase pounded through my skull like banging blood. Soon, Katy was opening her door to me, teetering there with a beer in her hand, her pale face wearing a ridiculous grin – forced and false like a clown’s, or like that of a child caught being naughty, and who can plead only with the charm of their face for forgiveness.

Soon, the story. How on that first night in Spain, Pamela and her had been out getting drunk. They’d gone back to their room, to yatter about sex under the covers in dim light and comfort. Pamela had been telling Katy about this new guy: Extremely good in bed, and what an appetite! What fun. He’d be up for a threesome, you know. O, revealed Katy, she had a threesome once! A mistake to say that, she knew as she said it.

Pamela wanted a threesome with her guy, Pamela said. And he knew all about Katy; he’d be up for Katy. If Katy had had one before, she should try it again. Pamela was her friend, a good friend (heck, she’d done her a big favour in paying for this holiday!) – and what’s wrong with them, anyway? It’d be fun. Didn’t she find the thought a turn-on? Come here; let’s try something now. Go on. We’re friends, aren’t we! Do me a favour.

On, on it went; Katy saying no, Katy trying to sleep, Katy trying not to upset Pamela, on it went. Drunk at the edge of control, tired at the edge of indeciveness, Katy told me after what she had thought at the moment she gave in to the bullying, at the moment Pamela’s face was kissing her, as her hands were moved to Pamela’s breasts, as Pamela’s fingers jammed inside of her: When will this end? I can’t ever tell Adam. You have to forget this.

We were out on the balcony, shivering, exhausted and huddled together. The sun had set over Notting Hill. The street was bustling with people still, interuped by the occasional siren. Of course I moved my hand over her hair, fondled through it, stroked at her cheeks; of course I kissed her on her forehead, wrapped my arms around her; of course I put my hand on her shoulder, gripped her; she moved toward me. Kissed me a little. Then more. In bed before sex: “I know what this is Katy, and I know what this isn’t.” The morning after: cold, and not a second of eye-contact before rushing off. I watched her march away. Who would have thought she had the ghost of a monster drifting beside her? Its chill wisps about her body, swirling, encircling, unseverable.

After that, Katy managed to write Pamela two letters, telling her what she had done, and why the friendship was over: She didn’t miss out fitful sleeping, she didn’t miss out that she wanted revenge, that she couldn’t stand the thought of Pamela, and wouldn’t care if she died tomorrow. I told my friends this seemed to bring Katy to terms with it; that after sending them, after dealing with Pamela’s one call, Katy was less hateful; down, true, but more like her old self.

When Katy returned from the loo, we talked some more about how I’d gotten that wrong. The memories that came from nowhere; daggers in the darkness stabbing suddenly. The questions that swirled: why her? Was it even assault, or rape, words she used that slice through the air like a sword?

Katy had never thought one of her friends could do what Pamela did – and if Katy had insisted no, they may still be friends. Katy – a beautiful 28 year old secretary who had drifted from New Zealand to London via Scotland and partying and endless drugs and casual-sex and a-marriage-for-a-passport and friendships sprouting everywhere like flowers – had never supposed that she could be thrown like a little girl with a delightful smile from such a carousel onto a slice of such spikey railings.

The lifts at the tube station were not working. We clamoured down the bare metal staircase, spiralling into the grimy tube tunnels beneath London, entering the innards of a vast, indifferent mechanical beast together. “You missed something funny back at the hotel, when you were in the loo,” I tell her.

It was the sort of little moment that could have made a little blog entry a while ago – had my mood had been different; the sort of instant dotted through the city and its years, like a trail of sweets across some dark forest floor.

“One of the guests came in to speak to the barman. They’d obviously gotten to know each other a bit during his stay. He came in to say goodbye – it was his second to last day staying there, he said.”

“Right,” said Katy, turning with a smile for the punch-line.

“And the barman looked at him and asked, ‘so when is your last day?’” I could remember clearly the dumbfounded look of the guest; the vacant stillness of the barman’s waiting face.

Katy laughed. “What did the guest say?”

“There was a pause. He said, ‘Tomorrow.’ Another pause. Then the barman said, ‘O.’ That was it. They shook hands, and the guest departed.”

Different directions on the tube at the bottom of the staircase. I tell her we’ll talk later in the week, I’m here for her, call me if and when she wants, she’ll be ok – the ordinary things of friendship, for all that it is worth in this world.