The New Guy
You’re smoking a cigarette on a fence post tipped over in a field. For the afternoon you’ve walked out of the claustrophobic town lodged in a valley where your flat is located. Your company is one plump female who is sitting next to you on the other end of the fence post and who is also smoking a cigarette, which she has rolled too tightly and does not want to burn. She’s got your lighter but it’s to no avail. Her cigarette will not burn in any useful manner.
You amble past a military installation on top of the hill. Concertina wire is there to keep the curious out. Your companion says, “They planned the Falklands here. God knows what else.” There have certainly been more conflicts since the Falklands. You take a swig from your whisky flask and her eyes and heart flash at the sight. The installation marks the end of the public footpath and the only choice is walk down the road into town. But not before stopping in the Hare and Hound. It’s too early for the bar to be full. The vast old manor house is decorated in a cool corporate style and for some reason you choose a seat under a ventilator that hums with an overpowering tone, sucking up your smoke and chat. She drinks her wine. You taste your ale. You both smoke. Does every word count? Why is Bret Easton Ellis a good writer and Douglas Coupland not? What is your book about? Who do you emulate? The ring of a mobile interrupts this conversational tag. It’s not yours. You don’t have one. Your companion rummages in her purse and she is quickly talking with Lucy and then Eileen. It seems you are going to be invited to either Lucy or Eileen’s house for a drink and pizza. You are new to town, so a bit of mingling wouldn’t hurt your social status and you gladly accept the offer with a last sip of the foam in the bottom of your glass.
The road moves with little traffic. The conversation continues. Bret is obviously her model and you cannot move the subject on to Boris or George or anyone you might respect. It’s probably not Bret.
You will stop by your companion’s house, high above the town, before you make the customary stop by the off-license. Your companion is a bit skittish when she opens the sand-blasted glass door of her flat. Her boyfriend is moving out and standing there among the carton boxes. He has already pilfered all her Foucault books and a few DVDs. She seems to want run salt in his wounds when she asks in an off-hand way, “Do you want the piano? Sam can’t fit it in his new place.”
Of course you want the piano, but then you consider refusing. It seems such a highly erotic gift. This musical object you will touch on a daily basis; your relationship to it is all about sense.
She’s finishing up with Sam, who has been complaining about his tiredness in the interim. “You heat up the shepherd’s pie. Don’t wait up for me.” The last instruction falls from her mouth like a real command. Sam does not appear too happy about the gifting of the piano. He is a blurred shadow in the light behind the door.
You have a slash in the darkness and she waits for you. “He’s moving out this week,” she says. You navigate down the lane. The off-license is busy as could be expected on a Friday night. She’s been instructed to buy white wine to go with the pizza, so with a bit of convincing you manage to buy not only Chardonnay but a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc as well.
You stroll down a bend of terraced maisonettes. You remark, “What convinced the English to build such cramped, low houses? Was it because coal was expensive or people were so short? What function did it serve?” A man is locking his car and then strolls behind you. “What was the question about the English?” So you repeat yourself and he walks on your flank explaining that these are Victorian houses and not townhouses built for the rich before ducking into the open door of number 24. You will not walk much further. Number 33 is where your companion will vigorously ring the bell. It’s a long time in being opened. Everyone is downstairs in the kitchen, but the hostess does finally make her way upstairs and open the door.
“Hello, Lucy!” your companion says. “This is my friend.”
“Oh, darling, do come in.”
You introduce yourself to Lucy. She looks at you askance, perhaps worrying that you are no more than a grotty student at this particular moment in time. You notice that her mouth seems to move all over her face with every word she says. One corner moves to the left ear. The other corner moves over her brow. The next word sends her mouth to her throat. You will watch this phenomenon all the evening and you will only remark on it later when you are tight.
You are a professional you say as she slips her tongue out of your mouth so slowly and wetly that your hard in a sec. Post is a good kisser. You’ve been looking at her all the workshop, smelling her, grinning at her mouth, giving her a eyeful. Scriptum has been at you all night, leading you out to the dance floor. And you squeeze her box a little in return but you don’t kiss like you kiss Post, just 50 and 100% sexy with just a little roll of harem fat on her, enough to make you think would she shave herself with the mussel shell. Oh, it’s good this night when you’ve drank two margaritas not three breast in the brown’s after handing in your writing, the shit or whatever it is you think is good. Your hostess to Tub says Fuck me. And you say later, you tell in Hungarian I will fuck you and kiss 100,000 times knowing she’ll like the sound but won’t get the promise. Oh, it’s good with old Scriptum, flirting and touching a bit on the dance floor. That was until Post’s kiss, just the right measure of dry and wet and smokelessness that makes you grip your dick all the way home so glad you left but wanting to turn back so badly. Oh, you’re not that guy but you have your raunchy sense of humor and will look at the underwear and suggest the ice cream be leather-flavored. Oh, it’s good, leather and JD ice cream that reminds you of that perfect pussy over there next to the great brown river that dresses up with gloves and red bike lights and leather undies and soap. You cast a spell on Scriptum with your Surrealist seafood squid rice as you’ve cast a spell on her. You light the Armenian paper. You have to write about me you tell her. And make Post your slave. So I can kiss both of you. But later. Cuz I don’t wanna go back later to Gee and be smiling like a guilty fuck on holiday. You’re on the rebound you tell Scriptum and she says she just wants someone who is sensitive to her. You tell Lucy not to tell Post about your dick rings. You tell her you are like one of those guys in an Italian flick you fucks everyone in the family. She wants to.shake your hand and leave and shout out your ear with her barfly indulgency but you’re not going to do it cuz you can’t turn off, sleeping like a line of coke in your bed, whizzed up to your dreams like 3 grams a day, the confession of John who would fuck you too and four (3 1/2 months or maybe days) behind him in narco anonymous and you tell him that the you with which you washed or do you, after you enclose yourself in the Hat and Fava. Scriptum tells and Post shows with her wet hot tongue. You bet she’s gotta a bush to her navel and you’ll make her shave it. Neither Post nor Scriptum have told you they love you for ages. Only G has told you and suddenly due to ten weeks of intimacy and contact the act of kisses is loaded with meaning. It’s the truth those kisses. I thought of fucking everyone, Lucy, Post, Scriptum and John. The sperm is coming out of my eyes if I don’t relieve myself each morning. It goes into a plastic bag so it doesn’t go on the carpet. One whole bag so the jizz doesn’t go on the carpet. One time I forgot about it and Vivian was left in to rot with Nina. Oh, but how Post Stir Yir Jizz, will she come in the morning and or will you leave a note on her car in Queen’s square that morning when go down for apples and she is still throwing up after complaining to Scriptum about how bad and awful and tarty you are, like a fag but only just so, if you can anticipate the morning at ten o’clock eight hours before it happens. You’re ecstatic with flirting and kissing and touching and squeezing. You’ve held Post’s breast and bumped Scriptums and palmed her ass just a moment, behaving badly but able to be silent for a moment and keep the girl at bay as you really don’t want to shag anyone. Or do you. It’s Scriptum who says it, and you say yes, I’ll have her by the river. You’ve lasted six weeks without G. Only one more week to go. If you can manage without betrayal. Will you have Scriptum in her mother’s house like you’ll had Gee, somewhere among the books and potted plants on the pull out sofa? Post kisses you fifty. Oh, it’s good like pancakes and syrup. Gee can kiss like that, so horny and urgent and ready that you bite her teeth in response and hope she’s got a bush up to her belly cuz she hasn’t had it for so long not even down in her cornwalli. You live down in the crack of the tub and its talking with voice and rain. You throw keys at it. And your scarf. You are going to be there master and pit them against one anther and punish them with your scripture. It’s like that. Are you high on ashti, hamayoun or abut-ata? He asks you who are your favorite people and you say Arabs cuz you shake hands and touch hearts and after the conversation is man to man without regard to race or position or anything. You might be stained with the honor of guest. Grow up a little bit you tell them, Lucy and Scriptum and Post, but especially Scriptum who tells you so many times how much she loves you. Is this what it means to have a gift, that the blondes open their legs for you when they get to know you, that you are just a bit of the feminine and able to slide between their legs with the metal slaves in your dick. Post’s got chestnuts in her mouth when she talks (she write that) and oh it’s do good. She tells you about her dead brother killed by whooping cough and Scriptum broadcast from the first moment the death of her father by suicide on the fifteen minute watch. You know that. You like it when the revelation comes later. You’re not an exhibitionist in the first instance. You wanted only a week ago to put Cheeky monkey on an iron railing and bop her brains out but she was drunk and you said honor me, and you stand by that, and you were thinking becuz of the alcohol she could say you raped her to the police so you take her home and just leave her there and make sure you watch her let herself in so you aren’t inculcated at all. How are you going to work with them both in the spring? Do you shame them both? Maybe they will outwork you? They are as strong and cunning as you are. You assess her, strip her suck her fuck her before she has a chance to turn around. She’s walking down the street. Any woman who passes the bar on the street. But you won’t step across the line even though it’s late and you would almost call Post on her mobile and really have a nice one with 50 kisses. It was the hottest kiss ever and you’re touching yourself thinking of it. Scriptum mentions offhand that she loves you and she’s a naughty girl, and well Scriptum really tells you this night, fuck me and you don’t. It all sounds good. You’re touching yourself under the table at home. I’ve seen your willy, she says, hello, bing bang, hello, blang, ming, hello. You were being provocative and mentioning the rings and then showing the rings and Lucy was astraddle you and snogging you with her body of alcohol and motherhood but Post is sexier, fuller. You want to hear her breasts slapping together, long and hard like her kisses. They are doing the desperado thing, sticking to you because you are half handsome and kind, wanting you for whatever it is, your sick, tired voice. You can have them tonight if you pick up the phone at 2.42 and find someone’s mobile number, Post Stir Yir Jizz, for whom you would soak your dick in saltwater beforehand to make it taste like the sea and she would rest her elbow on your pelvis and slowly take it into her mouth, that piece of manhood objective like the master and commander. If only G could be here to have you and take her like in October when after a good fight she gave you the nicest, softest blowjob of the year, so carefully taking you into her mouth, working down to the base and not intimidated by your pleasurable dick, nothing overly meaty but held by a pair of nice balls, so slowly and lovingly blowing you before the fucking would begin and you return the favor when she lays on her stomach and you part her ass and suck the contents. Sriptum could be Monitor, with whom you dance last winter in the basement of the art museum, and with whom you were overly flirty with your pelvis and moves to the palace sound system. Monitor too tried to take you as this evening, left at the right moment. There is the hollow clop of heels on the street and you wish Post and Scriptum would come and you could offer them a breakfast before anything would commence. You need to ask about this phenomena, when the girls are going to want to fuck you because of who you are or may be or were, or in his case because he is so fucking stunning, chin, pecs and tongue and so able to get everything for so little responsibility, not to himself, certainly not to anyone, breezing on rescue cream. Do you love Scriptum or Post? No, but you want them. Scriptum is so charming and wonderful and you are so nothing and why would she love you? Whisper the math solutions, you say, unbuckling your belt. You then tuck it back. You’re not swinging. You’re anticipating events like Roland told you like a boil on your neck that hasn’t burst underneath your hair yet, the stress and computer juices that flow through your eyes into the back of your neck, your unwashed neck of pullovers. You’re not wasting any more time with those chicks. You’re getting more into trouble than you need. Scriptum says she’s an only child too and you’re my brother and fuck me too. You say if you shave your pussy and you know she’ll do it and show you her yonni and you can lick up its length and it’s her trick to play your sister. She’s going underwear shopping with John and well she doesn’t like the cheap knickers at M&S, not really, cuz you say, a velvet ribbon will suffice. After turning in your portfolio you talk with Post and Scriptum about Lucy’s dildo that she ordered online and well confused inches and centimeters and got a big veined one that she hid in the closet and eventually threw away because it was too much and she liked her eying of chicks for sucking with the anchors of her eyes.
You’re trembling. You’re legs are wiggling into your torso which is shaking into your head. You want to fuck. You’ve wanted to fuck for ages and your fidelity has gotten you this far. Scriptum’s just left. She suggests you meet. Her boyfriend hasn’t turned up. You meet her in the Curfew and sit on a couch. She buys the first round. And you the second.
Can I order a taxi from your place, she says, my mobile’s dead. You can only accommodate her and she scurries ahead. That’s her trick, Scriptum, the mouse of handwriting. She’s got a scarf wrapped up to her nose and the cold wind is blowing her cropped blonde hair. She’s been careful up this point, carefully insinuating her way into your life. You can almost predict what is going to happen.
So you open up your dear bottle of Hungarian cabernet and she curls up in the orange chair and rolls a cigarette in a licorice paper. The wine splashes up around the edges. You’re not drinking. You need a break. She’s got her legs poking over the leg of your sofa.
She’s complaining about her boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, she iterates. He should go in rehab. I mean without me he’s going to have no one. He’s not going to have any social life at all. He’ll have Lucy and Johnny and that’s it. What a loser. I mean you go on holiday for a week with your kids and you come back and smoke crack? I’d never treat him like that.
That fucking rotter.
Oh, I love it when you say words like that.
What’s up with you and Gee? You said the weekend was intense. You didn’t really explain it properly.
Well, you know, it was intense. We had to talk about everything, mostly our relationship, her job, my future, where’s it going. Is it worth it, this separation? Is my writing any good. The only conclusion is that I don’t care what she does, so long as she does it well.
I’m going to miss you when you leave.
I haven’t left yet honey! There’s time.
I’m easy to get along with. I’m not stroppy. I’m not like that. If I was your girlfriend, I wouldn’t care that you smoke grass because it’s part of your nature. You like good food and walks, which I’m for. I wouldn’t be like that. Why do men like difficult girls. I mean those Eastern European ones are so difficult. I remember this girl from Poland that I was terrified of and we were invited to a dinner party with her and I thought I would have to talk about Kafka and Barthes and Foucoult and it turned out all she wanted to talk about was Ikea. This Polish Amazon was obsessed by Ikea.
Hold my hands, she says.
Where did you get those fingers from, you say.
From my mutti, she says.
You hold them for a beat, and in that interval you’re almost decided on her inordinate beauties.
You know me, don’t you already?
Yes, I suppose so, you reply.
But I don’t know you, she says. You’re a very hard nut to crack, old bean.
Scriptum smiles through her islands of teeth. Her nose is bulbous yet slender. Her eyes are too far apart. She’s got a bit of a chin. There are moments when these features fall into concert or utter disarray.
I’m a beast in bed she says but you’re not sure if you want a beast. He thought I was this pornographic sex goddess and I did all the work. I was always on top. I just wanted to be made love to. It’s a bit sad really — he makes me laugh, he’s fun and he’s a good fuck and we had one or two intense times but he says we’re friends and we fuck and I know it doesn’t work. I’ve wasted so much time. I loved the underwear, I guess, and I like the performing but it was all a big waste.
Don’t be distracted, you tell her, you’ve got to write.
It’s when she gets to talking about her g-string that you ask to have a look.
So she agrees and unbuttons her jeans and you’re looking at the best bum in Tub cleaved by a bit of acrylic thong. It’s great.
You reach to touch it but you touch yourself instead, hard inside your housepants. Oh, you’re making me ache, you say. We could do it. Or not.
But I’m in the sisterhood… G knows me… but, but, well, we could…
Scriptum opens her gummy-like eyes.
It’s no, you say. But can I see it again, you ask. This time you really touch a lovely hemisphere, hairless and surprisingly tone in your hand. You’re trying to lift it up so you can catch a line of Scriptum’s pussy. And then you stop yourself. You can smell that she’s wet.
Then the door rings. It’s the taxi.
Should I send him back? she asks.
And you say, hesitantly, your tongue so full of saying yes, I think you should go.
Scriptum fastens her jeans and you could have her right there in front of the fireplace and you stand up with a stick poking out of your yurt and the two of you will clutch by the front door, and you hold her ass and tell her, I’m hurting.
You’re surprised. How did this puzzling state of affairs happen?
From the first evening you met it was apparent that something was going to happen. Now we’re tumbling to something. Do you dare tangle? Events are about to take on an initiative all their own, that you are suddenly far more involved than anticipated. What’s driving you to Scriptum? Love? No, but she’s on your mind. There is a kindness and warmness and simple harmony to her that you like. If you look too deeply into her eyes you’ll see that the blue color is disorganized and scattered, little prisms of clashing color. Sex? You can tell that everything will be fine in the sex department. You know she’s got a nice mango wallet and tuned banana tits and the best bum in Tub. Or is it relief? She’s a good laugh, she’s fun, she’s a good fuck?
It’s more like recognition and loneliness are the source, that’s what you need to balance out. She knows your good. And you might just make it. And she is attracted to your pluses. She doesn’t know you well enough to see what are the minuses. If she read more then yes, well, it would work. If it comes in the form of sex to start, well, that’s not so bad. Or is it? Are you crossing some ethical line between reader and writer? Not there. You’re crossing the line in your relationship.
And when Gee has her turn of loneliness and neediness you are going to eat a jealous dessert when she tells you what loser breached your monopoly on her pussy and vice versa that has lasted for all these years.
There’s a pile of condoms next to the bed. You can’t tell if it’s a message to use a condom if you fuck anyone or if it’s simply supply for a hopeful future in bed. Gee was here last weekend. She brought the condoms. She looks tired, much older than her 34 years when she arrives, the bus surprisingly ten minutes early. The town is full of dates drunk because it’s Valentine’s day. You couldn’t have anticipated this, but she’s mad at your for being late. But I’m on time you say and she says, you’re still late. It’s cold. This way, right? You were startled but what could you say to your lover of 8 years. I love you. And you are right. There is not more than 96 hours to your time together. She’s unpacking wines and jams and the supplies that are part of your arsenal against the cold. And then she unpacks the details of her journey, predictable for its unsatisfactoriness. There’s soup, you say, and she has some of the leek and parsnip bouillabaisse. It’s good she says and she’s right on that account. After you will sit in the living room and drink green tea (it’s only with her you drink tea). You’re wondering how long it will last, before the two of you start to snipe. You can’t remember if you fuck that night. Maybe you do? Maybe you don’t? Probably you do, very late, when you think you’re too tired to fuck. You’re under some pressure to break the ice so you turn the heat on, something you would not normally do when you can hunch in your corner not moving for hours drilling out prose. It’s in the afternoon after a session in bed when you slip your finger into her ass after clipping your nails that you fall into the fold and you can begin to unwind.
You’re walking the skyline path. You’ve cut through a field and you can see Gee relaxing with every step over the turf.
It’s warm here, she says. I can’t take another winter. Oh, when it’s minus.
Let’s go back, we missed the path up at the top. You urge her on and she is resistant to the idea. Look it’s only six miles, the whole thing. See on the map. You’re standing at an iron post mounted in the ground.
In Romania they would have stolen that map.
It’s different here. We know that. 900 years of capitalism have taught everyone what is private.
When the path flattens and you walk around the top of Tubwick hill, it’s all right. You don’t have to argue too much about the number or color of the path. It’s clear, more or less.
You pass a dog pound and people are staring at the dogs, of which there are a disproportionate number of pitbulls. Neither of you are moved to adoption.
Aren’t you afraid they bite, she says when you stick your head over a fence to pet two piebald Shire horses.
I’m afraid we’re incompatible. I want to see you adapt. Maybe you don’t want to start all over again. Let’s just see. Everything is unknown.
She tears at the word incompatible.
I worry that your pessimism and my optimism are no match. I don’t want it to be like that, but I’m afraid it will be.
It doesn’t have to be like your family. Can’t you forget about them.
Look, it wasn’t easy. Two cultures so like yet different. Everyday there were arguments about this.
Free yourself from them. You’ve been going on about this, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Let the love out, G, let it flow and you’ll see that you’re better and you don’t have to be so angry and negative.
I need to know it’s worth it. Show me some of your writing.
It’s not ready. You understand me better than I do. I’m sorry I speak in codes and things have to be interpreted but that’s the way it is. It’s not going to change.
Yes, but you need to speak to me directly. I have to pull it out of you.
You’re walking along the skyline. Scriptum is scurrying ahead along the track through the meadow. She wants to take a cigarette break. At the top, you tell her, we’re going to the top. You both laugh. She’s got her stripey scarf rolled around her neck and it hides her jowls so that her face is set in the wool, a full lower lip, a slim nose expanding like a scallion, her eyes greenish blue at this moment under the strange pharmaceutical sun.
About last week, she says, you don’t feel funny about last week. She was gyrating on your finger after you tucked it along her fluffy bush and into the front of her g-string. You were sucking on one of her tits, heaving, the nipple hardening into a pastille under your tongue. It’s when you touch her neck that she’s goes off and soaks your hand. “I don’t feel funny. We didn’t do it.” Well, you nearly did. Calling the taxi was the aphrodisiac. You knew it could only go so far in ten minutes.
With you, the thing is, I feel so relaxed. I can just be myself, she says. You know you’re my ideal man. She’s working on you. A CD, a bar of chocolate, a pint. I don’t do stroppy. I mean with Mark, I was like you do whatever you want. I’m fine. Within reason. Just don’t tell me what to do. Don’t be bossy.
I’m not being bossy you say. You don’t really reply to the rest of it. It sounds nice as she describes herself, a woman who is low key. What kind of rarity is that? Of course, it’s the drugs Scriptum takes, the mood stabilizers that keep her in check.
This way, you tell her, pointing to the entrance to Rainbow wood.
You’re staring at the same tree that you stared at with Gee. It’s funny. You pick up the phone and you don’t which woman it will be. It is Scriptum or Gee? You don’t remember with whom you’ve been where. You’re going to veer off now. You’ve made it to the top. You both want a pint after a mile and a half. You needed to do six miles of issues when you walked with Gee. You’re at your best together walking, arguing over the map and directions and which route is best.
You want to spend the night with her. You touch her leg and it makes your dick hard. You don’t mind her stomach. You’ve reached over the dimples in her lower back and held her lovely smooth white orbs. Scriptum’s unfastened your belt and zip and pulled out your dick and cupped your balls.
Gee thinks that it’s Post who is after you. But it’s Scriptum’s damaged genes that want yours. You don’t know how to take it. Is it physical? It’s certainly physical. She’s insinuated how much she likes buggery and that turns you on. Is it love? It’s not love but you’re beginning to see that Scriptum is cool and smart and good material for a companion. As for the claims of her relaxedness, a fuck between you would tip the scales. It wouldn’t be about saying no anymore, the limits to personal space end at the door, but yes to the attention demanded by intimacy.
We could try it, you know, old bean, she says, scrunching up her eyebrows cutely. But when I did it before, it was awful. Never tell anyone. I told Mark that I kissed a guy from work and he figured that if I admitted that then I’d probably done more. So he yelled in my face whore bitch until I told him it all. It was a snog that got out of control. You can’t tell, never admit it.
But if you have the agreement to tell.
That’s what you’ve got?
Well, yes. But I still think it’s better not to tell. Me, I don’t want to know.
No, you’ll destroy everything. It just isn’t worth it.
It would be nice. It would.
We could do it and then like forget and maybe it wouldn’t have happened.
Shall we go now?
I fancy a curry.
We could get a ready-made one from Waitrose.
Why don’t I cook something? Thai or something like that.
OK. I just don’t want to see Post. She’s quite intense. Now that she’s moved she writes 3,000 words in 2 hours and I’m not like that. It takes me a day to do 750, if that.
Come on. We’re not going to talk about writing.
One bottle of wine or two? Red or white?
It better be just one in case we can’t keep our hands off one another.
Agree. Just one.
The Saumar is quite nice. Shall we have that?
Do you think one is enough? Maybe?
White with what is it? Pork you said?
Coriander, we need coriander. And a pepper. And a mango or papaya.
Is this all right?
It’s International Women’s Day. Just that you’ve forgotten. But instinctually you know. You suggest to Post and Scriptum to lunch at Boards. Your treat. It’s run by a Frenchwoman and, well, it’s fine. You split a bottle of red wine and everyone orders the chicken stuffed with venison with a puys of lentils. It’s nice stuff and well, it’s relaxing sitting there in the long dining room behind the window of plants revisiting the horrors of the workshop. After the last bite of new potatoes you slide out your leg to Scriptum, satisfied.
I’m going to go into town, Scriptum says as Post leaves to find her parked car. The space will click off on two pounds fifty. Then you remember the coffee. So you go to the Guildhall. And the chemist’s, the old one with old wooden shelves and everything behind glass and smelling like salts. Are we going to fuck, you ask, do we need some condoms. I’m having my period she says. Oh, well, we’ll have to wait, you say. You both walk out onto the street and she’s clicking along in her gypsy boots swishing her relaxing blonde hair. There’s some lipstick on her tooth, the one that is plopped in the middle of her mouth, a nice asymmetric fault. My cycle’s like six weeks. It’s no good if you think your pregnant. But now that Post’s moved in, she’s set me off.
I thought she was finished.
She isn’t finished, silly, she says. Crazy baby.
I am going to run a bath, you say. She’s smoking under the corrugated plastic of the back patio. You stink. You can’t wait. You add the Radox and Dr. Hauschker pine essence to the water. You shed your stiff socks and drop off your pants. It’ll fill quickly.
I haven’t seen that kind of heater for ages, she says. That heater’s illegal.
Sometimes I forget to turn it off.
That’s what grandma bought.
It’s a bit mad this flat. I’d go crazy. She’s sitting on the cold cobalt colored carpet, her back against the gurgling radiator. You splurge and turn on the heat for the chicks.
I wish I didn’t have to stare at gold.
You’re living in a Van Gogh. It smells like pines. You sink under the water. You give it your head.
Ahh, you call, Ungh, Umm, Ah.
I don’t think I’ve ever watched a man have a bath before having sex with him.
That’s what I do to the chicks. I ask them if they’d like to come over and watch me take a bath.
You both laugh. Ahh, you say, Ungh, thurr, so welcomed by the stubby tub, your legs cocked up on the tiles and the heater neon near your toes.
Do you want me to read you my story, she asks.
OK. You read me a story.
She’s curls out the door, exposing the lower back from which you have already decided you’d like to eat a chop on, the odalisque-like dimples gathering the jus, her two round hemispheres delicately abraded by the knife. She comes back and reads in her cute, sneaky, innocent voice next to the radiator like a cat and, well, it’s nice, like the soap you are rubbing over your body.
Scriptum leaves you to towel off and moisturize yourself with sport oil and apply a steroid to your scalp against seborrhea.
You will go upstairs and drink the red and then the white. You’ll feel like you’re in a bordello in your gold room, snogging with Scriptum, grinding, torturing, for surely if not for her cycle you would have bonked now, She massages your thigh and you say grab it but the tease doesn’t. Take off your bra, you say. What, take off my bra? She says. And she does, pulling it out of her sleeve. You’ve got a vest too, you say, why do you need a bra? Because I’ve got big boops, she says, and indeed, you’re pulling out a breast and applying your tongue to the nipple, which is quick in coming and square and tangy like a Starburst. You’re craning across the bronze sofa. It’s not easy being a teenager, you say. It is a bit like being teenagers, isn’t it. I love sucking titty. You kiss and lie with one another. You straddle. She straddles. You spoon. You scissor. The afternoon passes, the clouds and flat façade of flats turning darker. Shadow ticks across D Street. You know this is going to have to wait until after your vacation with Gee before Easter. Scriptum is going to want it to happen earlier judging from her glazed sleet eyes.
Do we want to go there?
I’m going now. Thanks for dinner.
Really, I want to go. You move in and give her a kiss. I’m going to go. I’ve got stuff to do.
She’s touching her eyes, rubbing off chunks of mascara. She does that when she’s upset.
Be cool. Lock the door, you say, really leaving.
And then she says she doesn’t remember. Loud.
You compare her to some of the women you’ve fancied. I’m the immoral one, she says. She can’t resist. That’s obvious. She wants you.
Post calls. It’s about Scriptum. You’ve both been edging into this conversation about her, not knowing what your conclusions are with this clever but mad friend, fit to abuse herself and lapses of memory.
“I found blood on a corkscrew and bloody rag in the morning. I was cowering in bed, she says, from half past three to six thirty in the morning. She’s been up all night. In the evening she had out her art supplies. I didn’t ask her what she’d been doing. She leaves around 10.30 for a drink, she says. I don’t know what happened. She plays loud music, gets something to eat, up and down the stairs. And then she says she doesn’t remember. She was up before I was. But I was scared. In my bed. Like a nightmare.”
The second episode. She carves up her face, a stitch on her chin, a strawberry under an eye.
I’m attracted to this kind of woman. Or they’re attracted to me.
My reaction was to turn off.
It’s me. Hooray! Hoorah! We like that. Crazy baby.
You’ve banned Scriptum from calling you. The harassment has been too much. The phone can ring any time. From 9 in the morning to 11 at night. You’re afraid to pick it up. What does she want? Every day?
To be friends, she says.
Yeah, but friends aren’t forced, friends don’t harass one another, friends don’t do this, friends don’t twist around personal information and stab you in the back.
She pretends she doesn’t know what you mean.
You’ve had time to hang around with Archie she says.
That’s exactly what I mean. You don’t anything about that so shut up. I didn’t tell you. She can speculate all she wants.
It was pretty obvious when you left together.
She’s gone too far. She doesn’t know what people’s barriers are. She thinks it’s all right to tell you what to wear and where to go but it’s not.
You’re just back from Brussels. You’ve just put your Gee on the bus after a traumatic but healing weekend together. The phone rings and it’s Scriptum. Without fail.
Has she been watching your front door with her field glasses glinting high up on the hill?
You’d believe it. It’s not just that you smoke so much that you’re paranoid. Uh-uh.
What do you mean, she asks?
I mean that this is not what friendship. You don’t want to be friends with someone. Either you are or you don’t. If you have any respect, then it’s something else, it evolves on it’s own.
You’re going to be the bad guy even though you will rapidly fall from grace with her.
I gave you a chance to be with me, she says. She’s deluded. Tell me the truth, she says.
You don’t want to. But she asked you so you might as well try. Look, I was worried. There are at least three of you. I shouldn’t tell you this. And you don’t tell anyone. Announcing that you’re bipolar isn’t helping. The label, it’s no good. OK, you take your medication and there is a danger that you’re sensitivity goes out the window in favor of stability. But you don’t know what you do. You don’t tell anyone. Who’s there to help? Who knows?
I’m the only one, she says.
You’ve got to make sure other people are there to help you. I’ve never had anyone like this around me and frankly I don’t know how to handle it. I was worried and I didn’t know who to talk to, because you’d be the last person to admit it.
OK, I did have a bad patch there.
Funny euphemism you think. You’ve seen the shaking hands, the face hairy as a side effect of the medication, the strange point in the equilibrium when three bottles of wine and the medication suddenly collide and Scriptum looses all motor control. She doesn’t exactly shit herself, but she falls on her face. Once, a nice big strawberry under her eye, the other one black. The next time, a few big chunks of skin missing as if she’s had a nasty meeting with a fisherman’s gaffer hook. And the false alert about toxic shock, like she can’t even remember if she’s got a tampon in or not. It’s that bad. Then there’s the eyes, so black that they swallows up the whites and there is nothing else except this unnerving black vortex that could be the edge of the universe.
All her stories are false. Why did she get divorced? Why did she break up with her last boyfriend? According to her, it’s their mutual faults and that she’d had enough of them, that they had somehow betrayed her. But now you’re wiser and know that’s only one version of the truth and they couldn’t take it, the moods, the delusion, the targeting, the swing from supporter to enemy. It’s not a good leg for a friendship to stand on.
Who would settle for a coke freak for a boyfriend? Scriptum would. And lie to herself that it’s a real relationship when the guy is scared to end it because he knows she’s crazy too, that at any moment she could revert to randomly attacking people on the street like she was doing before she was sectioned.
I was afraid, you say. I was afraid I’d find blood on my door.
Post’s been at your place for two nights. You’ve given her one of the rooms, the one with the mosquitoes squashed on the wall, the ones that you’ve killed with Orhan Pamuk’s Snow or Orwell’s Burmese Days and a shout, “Mother!” You catch her looking at you with that look, the one where the head is tilted slightly and eyes are narrowed and glazed in invitation. You don’t go there, at least at first. It’s been like that all this time, the tension between you something you both tacitly acknowledge but do not act upon because there will be consequences like emotions.
Post was here staying the night during the last episode a few weeks ago when Archie drunkenly attacked you and you fingered one another on Walcot, tucked in an alcove next to iron railings and a church and you succeeded in losing the drunk party of people from the course, half of whom who tipped over in front of Schwartz Brothers at the taste of a hamburger. People pass, spilled out from the pubs, closing hour, last call, Archie came home with you like butter and you so enjoyed the wetness of her, that she didn’t know how to screw really, hardly how to give a good suck, and you had to instruct her as if you were the master. Somehow you did it silently enough but you could hear Post’s mind in the next room. Would she come in to and join in the festival as you planted your balls in Archie’s crotch, her Scot moans soft and sexy like water, Post partly curious, partly jealous, partly wanting? She doesn’t. She sleeps and you and Archie are balling away, her pussy so keenly wet, morning, noon, and night, because she doesn’t tire of it, not at the tender age of 23. “Anal,” she says but you don’t give it to her like that because that’s something that you do to someone who you love and this is just carefree and adventurous. Plus she’s already sucked the life from dick and it’s not going to go in that hairless hole at four o’clock in the morning even if you’ve loosened it with a few of your fingers and your fingers been tickled by the head of a turd there somewhere. Archie’s forgotten about her friend, about the keys, about where’s her stuff. She’s been waiting all night around the table for the moment and she’s smart enough not to disclose the fun relationship that the two of you have. She deserves a real boyfriend, you think, not just some part-timer like you. You’ve told her you have a relationship on hold in your old European hometown and that doesn’t phase her. Not at all. She probably likes the role of concubine and lover.
Post leaves this morning. You’ve still got a part of her hard nipple under your finger. You’ve been holding her by the baskets of her bra. Each breast overwhelms your hand. You’re not used to that. You’ve reached behind her back and clamped your hands over her buttocks which are hard and taunt and you knew that, that it would be like this from yoga and jogging. She’s grinding a bit. You’re grinding back. Neither of you can help yourselves. Nope. No way. It’s good-bye. A long kiss more like soap than toothpaste. Your mouth is a new taste. Not nicotine and tar but steak and zucchini because that’s your new breakfast. And hers, well, it’s one moment soft and the other hard and you both know the tricks to good kissing, the game of whose mouth is closed and whose is open, whose tongue is inserting and whose is biting, whose is pulled back and whose darts over teeth and gums. Of course, you’ve done this already, hundreds of time with your eyes and you know she sleeps with two duvets and she’s got a white nightie and she drinks tea early in the morning and goes back to bed for a few hours only to have a coffee later when she gets up properly. You know she’s been homeless, she’s got two kids from different men, that she’s had plenty of sex during the sexual revolution and that’s part of her biography that she’s proud of, from Pimlico to Crystal Palace, and she should be because Post’s made it on her own, unlike you, ever dependent on the family font.
Have a nice summer you say
We can’t do this you know because there would be consequences
You’ve already said you can’t do casual sex.
I might pull off the road and take care of myself.
You could come back here once you pick up the car.
I don’t know what I’ll do. It depends on the car.
You’re still kissing when the taxi comes. That’s why you started. Post called the taxi so you knew it couldn’t go too far.
What stopping you? Is it that she’s old enough to be your mother, that she’s got a son who’s 29 and you’re, what, 33?
It’s because she is going to fall in love with you and you can’t fall in love with her, not like that.
She calls you from the rent-a-car place. I’ve got a great car, a Toyota with a CD player but I don’t have any CDs. I could take you to a field for a shag but I don’t think I should. We can’t go there. I can’t do casual. She wants you all to herself. She hasn’t be laid for, what, three years or more. Sex is that important to her even though she sure as hell knows what she wants: it’s you, just that you’re not 100 percent available and you’re going to your honey in a few days.
I think you’re right, you say. You’ve already cranked off, what three times, since she left and still your balls are full of semen, like a chimpanzee. Maybe it has to do with not smoking.
It’s the fourth night. She’s lying there in her silk nightdress. She’s come into your room. It’s not nice to not say goodnight, she says. She lays next to you. I’ve been suffering from my ardor, you think or say, and you mean to suffer. She unfolds one of her sloppy breasts that you have to squeeze like toothpaste with two hands to get a tongue on. It’s like a mole, fuzzy, lumpy, determined, blind. You’ve walked around the hills of Bath and heard her pussy calling to you as light falls over the downs. You’ve thought about what she acknowledges as big tits as she swings through a gate. But you’ve grown your beard and let your fingernails dirty and remained unbathed and still she’s after you. She’s not leaving. She invites herself for another night. She wants to see C., she says. She buys a red mullet and some muscles and you make them sweet all right, baked and ramen. She rolls onto you. She knows what she wants and she makes herself small to you. Her pussy is exactly where your hand is. Your drumming on its folds. You’re piqued and repulsed. Your head is lost in the balm between her jugs. Do you want to, she says. Let me get a condom, you say. No, you don’t — You don’t know where she’s been in fifty years. You’re wrapping up. Your dick doesn’t want to go in, in her or the condom. You lay to the side. You don’t want to have to lie on her and see her face. You scissor into her. It’s loose like pudding. You last longer than you want and she makes the act of cumming look bad as she waffles on. You wanted it, you conclude. And it sucks and you already are disgusted with yourself and you rush off to the toilet. It was fine as a possibility and horrible as a reality. You take the wrap off and wash yourself. The friendship is ruined. You broke your hand in her house, wasn’t that warning enough from God, don’t touch? It’s soapy now. I don’t believe in God, she says in response, when she quizzes you about what she perceives as romance. She thinks you’re her tart. You kick her out of bed. It’s not working on the twins and you want her to leave. There is no cuddling, even of passion. This is not like the other girl when more was never enough, who was sweet and enthusiastic and unbent with keenness. She’s gone early in the morning and she knows its over. Still she thinks the conclusion is opaque and continues to heckle you. She leaves her charger and her nightdress and you have to mail it to her. You wish you didn’t and hadn’t. She writes you acute emails about her pining and it’s not going to work. You don’t tell anyone you’re even in Bath. As far as your concerned the ranch is good and you’re enjoying your new path learning to fly with Gary the one-armed Vietnam Vet and enrolling in an alpine guide class in Lander. You’re on your way back to Budapest and the flat out there. You’re a little prince of travel and tastes, ranches and forests and paths and airports. It’s pretty good for you on a budget of near nothing moving around the flats. You drop the dialogue entirely. You don’t want to say anything to anyone from the last year on this stop. You’re entangled, stirred, and ejected, perfect fruit for solace in the cold of the East.
It was his aunt’s flat and she’d taught Toby to cook. His papers and mess curled from the kitchen downstairs past his bed and halted suddenly at the stone steps to the cellar where the flat’s odd contents were stored. Apparently, the two coal vaults under the road were damp-proof.
Toby had no trouble redecorating the mold when he began his project to turn the two rooms into a club. Dumping the old silk Chinese rug ridden with crusty moths was the most painful, far easier than the task of pruning the vile creeping vine interwoven with a spindly quince on the garden wall that he completed at his aunt’s request. He carefully waddled in the metal shelves to his absent aunt’s bedroom and then reloaded them with the old dusty heavy tools, knowing he would have to return them to the cellar some time. He glanced nervously at the Chippendale chair. He broke it once already while ferociously masturbating to the Internet and repaired it with JB Weld. Her sharp eyes would eventually bring the inevitable: discovery.
Breaking the lock to the silver cabinet was simple once the walls had been repaired. One tunnel was covered in old cloth and the other with translucent plastic sheeting. One table was to be found and he washed the mold off with water and bleach. He fashioned another from a plank and made legs from the old gardening and fishing books inside the flat. Once the lock was forced, he found what he wanted: the good cutlery and plates, and a bottle of Courvoisier-soaked peaches black, scrofulous with age.
He brought up the cardboard box of death and birth certificates for the Rivers and Llewellyns tied with string. Late at night by the fire in the gold wallpapered room, he reflected over the turned, brown photographs of Hay, Hyderabad and Khartoum and his dead mother’s and aunt’s lives. Home was lost once they left for the cities; like them, Toby was a traveler of no tradition too, a man of suburbs and alienness. Nonetheless, he’d returned to the wet flat in Bath to live, suspended and pondering in the gold room like a stubborn uprooted weed just surviving on the family’s wealthy lawn. Encountering a feeling of home was powerful and disconcerting but he was enjoying it.
Before putting on his damp pajamas for bed he tossed in the hot water bottle, but only after studying his handwork, his toes hooked on the blue pile carpet tonguing the cellar door.
“You’ll need a sideboard to expedite the service,” he said. The cellar was less threatening and echoey with its new fabric and plastic walls and arrangement of tables. The bar unfortunately looked empty except for an old bottle of apple juice turned to cider, but he would fix that with a minor charge to his credit. He was almost asleep when he realized he needed a waitress cum expediter to help and Post might do the job. His shoulders pleasantly sore from the work, his last task remembered, he could at last greet his dreams.
The mountain bike was proving sweeter than envisaged for the runs to the Bath market and the special purveying trips to the allotments for fresh horseradish root. The long therapeutic run along the towpath to Devizes upon which he had embarked was a bonus — the light and rain were favorable.
He pulled over, sucking deeply, and pluck some traditional ingredient for a tart or chutney. He found the patches of horse sorrel. He filled paper bags with baby nettle for soup, armed with a scissors and cutting away the baby stingers. He dug up the roots of burdock to fry with sesame. He harvested poppy heads for tea and cake from a dark cottage garden. He took the dandelions in the park. He gathered rosehips for salsa. He pickled wild plums in the Umebasi style. He reached into the flimsy grocer’s box of apples left by the road and filled his bag. He caught scent of a Crusty’s arbor of cannabis in a patch of woods between the towpath and the Avon and didn’t hesitate to clip from the rich hypnotic crop. He jellied pearls of mistletoe secateured from the trees.
For all the inconveniences and old tradition of the countryside, the Saturday market was his weekly D-day in his natural quest to avoid ever eating anything processed.
Toby woke with the lights on. The stubs and computer and photocopies were fanned around him. The machine was still singing. He’d fallen asleep on the settee, compressed and bent between its two arms, a spring. He threw on his leather jacket and tipped into his backpack, double-checked for his keys. On the bridge he joined the crowds of Bath thrusting with post-alcoholic strides towards the merchants. He pushed his uncut blond hair from his eyes. He was ready to invade.
He hustled down the cold leafy street and entered the decommissioned railway station. He passed the rummage sale of furniture in the corridor and rapidly repaired to the throng gathered around the birds. Guinea fowl in a Georgian style was the beginning of the inaugural Caucasian Sufi feast.
Toby’s list was long yet thrifty for the first event of the club. He’d been working on the rules and food. Earlier in the week, he had quickly composed an ironic flyer in Illustrator and sent an e-mail to a select list of students, acquaintances and neighbors once his mind was made up to start up the experiment. He posted a few flyers around the campus and in the university swimming pool locker rooms for kicks. The writing course had been going fantastically with the regular workshops at the prestigious college, but he felt segregated and his sense of isolation needed improvement with some gluttony, debauchery if possible. Writing wasn’t all he did.
He kept the goods kosher. The meat and milk were separate. As were the leaves and roots, fruit and fish as they went into his rucksack. He coursed around the spiral of stalls, people pointing and calling for what they wanted, gathering in the vortex of the chemical free and homegrown. There was no point in eating just any junk.
Toby restored his flagging sense of energy with a crafty jam doughnut and an organic burger once he had enough. There was only so long he could hold out.
Toby pushed on his gloves. He lugged his victuals through the cold shady streets. The town was filled with the black, blue and white colors of the rugby team supporters shopping for a win. He prowled through the people satiated with bags and on the prowl for a boozy greasy lunch. Along the windy tongue of Pultney Street the crowds thinned. The patrician houses looked down from the misty hills. No balloons flew today.
He dropped the goods in the cool bolthole of the club. He picked up his gym bag and soon left. At the weekends the university’s vast sports training village enjoyed an usually unbusy swimming pool. The students were too hungover or horny to swim on Saturday morning.
The bus nosed up the hill. Fog clutched at the vehicle for a few minutes until his stop. The shortcut took him past the cottages and parking lots to the long low-slung building, the mud surrounding it rapidly being landscaped into tame institutional harmony. It was very expensive and very new.
“A swim,” he said to the girl with a streak of white in her hair. He presented his student ID and money. It was slick being a student again. The girl from reception was familiar. She lived in a canal boat, if he was not mistaken.
He walked over the weights and courts moving with athletes. He slipped on the blue plastic booties at the locker room and rushed out of his clothes. The pool restored his sanity and sense of movement. It was time.
Near infarction at the end of the laps, Toby slowed down in lane four and watched the university swim team stretch around the pool. He couldn’t distinguish who was more beautiful, the delta-shaped men or ribbon-like women, only lung and muscle. Even warming up, they were faster than fish, like predators, chasing him from one end of the pool to another. He was no match at the end of eighteen laps and he tossed off his water helmet when he left the pool for the vinyl-coated showers.
He walked down after Swim Fit. Bath, a star of sandstone, was spread in the cracks of the seven hills. The meadow was muddy and he tucked in his brown trousers. A bent old woman in a cape walked with her black dog under a river of migrating black crows. A steam engine chuffed and puffed below, billowing thick anachronistic flowers of smoke. None of the usual balloons lofted into view, traveling over the foggy bottoms and coombes of Somerset. The hedges were scant of berries and the meadow barren of mushrooms. But he couldn’t appreciate the murky beauty of the valley. His mind was filled with notes for the afternoon’s intense cooking to come.
Along the canal was mayhem. A hen party was tanking up the lock and a queue of boats had formed along the popular waterway, waiting impatiently on the green mirror of water. Toby hurried on. He had the club to ready. If he could help it, his guests would not be behaving like that.
A meal and tea was the first order of the afternoon. The radio spat out the digest of sports and politics. After tying on his apron, a quick choice was bangers, smoked salmon and walnuts with saffron pasta and a pot of elderflower tea. He studied the bags of ingredients spread over the floor and noted his tasks. Before starting with the cake, the two guinea fowl vanished in the slow cooker with prunes, red wine and coriander. A chicken rubbed in salt went into the oven.
He washed the marble with lemon juice and began the cake. He melted the chocolate and separated the eggs. He lined the tins and folded together the batter. The oven ticked away as he prepped the salad of chard, spinach and cabbage with dill and garlic vinagrette. He then filled two trays of roasted vegetables: squash and beets and parsnips and celeriac. He took a break to polish plates, glassware and silver and attend to the tablecloths, washed in the appalling launderette at the end of the mews. The phone rang with a confirmation. They would be late. He completed the cake by cutting layers, painting it with whisky and filling it with hot chocolate genouche. The fowl had fragrant steam under its lid. He washed the dill, purple basil and mint and prepped the garnish. He boiled beets and soaked some dried cherries for a salad. He ground walnuts and peeled the meat off the roasted bird. He mixed spices and nuts in the mortar and added yogurt to the cooling mixture. When the doorbell rang, he signed for the delivery of wine, sherry and cava, calvados and Ricard bought on credit from Oddbins; he remembered to polish the brass doorstep.
Toby carried everything down and cooled it on the flagstones. He walked again and again over the stiff leopard pelt by the laundry line in the corridor. He unsealed the Calvados and had an inaugural drink. He set up his computer and speakers and composed a playlist of Caucasian funk and jazz and some Stalinist swing for posterity, sipping the apple smoke. From the bookshelves he took down Oedspensky and Guerdjieff and placed them in the cellar too for his guests edification. He’d save Lorca and Borges for another occasion. He plugged in the printer and printed out some photographs lost on his hard drive: the honeys and apples and cheeses and fishes, the markets in Tavira, Sibiu and Bressanone, even a selection of exhibition opening sandwiches glistening under plastic from Berlin, London and Budapest, and naturally meals taken in Monchique, Vis, Ubeda or Cluj. Contrary to his poor appearance, Toby was in love with real, fine food and paid near nothing for it because he could make it himself once he sussed out the local markets. This new endeavor was a test to see if he could push all his talents of food, sound and text. After years of loafing, Toby knew what it meant to be a perfect guest in a perfect place. Tacking pictures on the walls was the least he could do in his appetite for recreating those meals.
Toby called his aunt and guardian from the telephone nook under the stairs to say hello and reassure her everything was going fine in England. He didn’t want her calling when he was working the club. She was cranky about her nephew and his management of the flat. She suspected, but he was careful not to antagonize her about his untidiness, even if he knew his aunt was secretly pleased that he was in England. He reasoned the club was a good way to force him to keep up appearances and make some money and friends, but he didn’t disclose anything to her in this call about his career as a budding promoter, entrepreneur and artist during the short trans-Atlantic squall of breath.
Surely Bath would approve of Toby turning his private space into a quasi public one, by booking only, from what he could gather from the calls so far. He gave much planning to the menu and the price — 50 quid per person including drink and 25 quid for students. He knew it was ballsy and unorthodox to ask people to pay for his layout, but Bath could support anything mildly exclusive, as was only too apparent in this wealthiest of towns filled with second wives, luxury cars, boutiques, international real estate agents, and flogged to the tourists — Bath, a spa tart sans baine.
Was it rich to charge people for a dinner? If he did the work and purveyed, then why not pander in the temporary restaurant in his cellar? Toby was baptized a capitalist. The tune of money was what made his what was left of his family think and talk. His aunt said art was only worth making if he got paid for it. This was the start. But what was to be its name?
He lit the kerosene lamps collected over the years, and the hall filled with the pleasant warm glow of the reliable smelly lights. The flat, remodeled forty years ago, was like a museum with Toby as its mischievous, stinky caretaker.
The electric fire barred to the wall above the short bath kept his knees warm while he soaked his back. It wasn’t easy getting clean in the flat. He felt perpetually greasy without a shower and again it was the sports training village that came to mind lying in the Radox-scented water. He laughed at the thought of his aunt’s wealth compared to his shoestrings. Maybe entertainment was the way to fame, like granny had said. If he got more than ten people, he’d take some dosh in his economy of little scale. The heat of the electric fire smelled like burning hair and money.
Repairing upstairs, coiffed, oiled, and powdered, he turned up the thermostat. Approving of the steam condensed on the windows, he reached for a fresh apron and then uncorked and decanted a bottle of Pinot Noir into the crystal flask. He could at least welcome himself with a sip of the fragrant stuff. He preferred Zinfindel or Plavac but this would do. Waiting, he realized he didn’t have a strategy about what to do if someone turned up without a reservation.
Post was punctual. She’d pulled back her hair into a ponytail exposing the black roots. She smiled, exposing the strange canine in the middle of her gums, and they gave one another a hug.
“Hello, old bean! How are you?”
He nodded and grinned, clearly pleased. “So, you know what to do?”
“Yeah,” she said, her voice hanging on an agglomeration of aah.
He prepared a plate, a rehearsal, garnished it with pomegranate for Post so she could explain to the guests what they would eat. This night she was to be the appealing sweet public face to his private club, and he walked her through the arrival and dinner plans.
“When they come in, you’ll greet them and take their coats and offer them the first glass of wine. We’ll start with this Voignier,” he said, tapping the row of whites, cold against the window. “I’ll come down to say hello when I can.”
They walked downstairs together.
“They can use the bathroom on the landing,” he said, lingering on the stairs.
Post poked in her head. “Cool cherry wallpaper. Like nan’s.”
Upon seeing the cellar overdressed as supper dungeon, Post had a suggestion. Her teeth roved about her mouth as she talked. “Toby, I do like the photographs in the hall, but the club’s a little too, shall I say, Tobyish? How about some flowers or some art? Dumb it down, darling, if you want to seduce your guests. And that fabric on the walls is wibbly-wobbly — it’s gotta go!”
Post took the initiative and clipped a few bouquets of flowers from the quince and other shrubs in the garden and it transformed the design. Toby appreciated her help so he could think about the meal.
“What’s the plastic for?” she asked later, upstairs in his kitchen and in his head, pouring a glass of wine.
“I thought it might get wet,” he said with an abrupt laugh, “When I torture the guests.”
Lewis was first, early to a fault. He had a buoyant swagger to himself as he bounced before the flat, piqued already with drink. Lewis was ready for what he called mini pizzas and what Toby called burek, wowing at the gold room and the orange furniture after he introduced himself.
“This your grandpa?” Lewis asked, pointing at the drayman framed on the wall with a sepia horse.
“Nope, just random.”
“Oh,” said Lewis, tucking in his chin and pulling in his stomach, covered by an untucked shirt and an open blazer. “Isn’t it strange that this is Bath and there’s no place to facilities?” he advanced. “That city council can’t get it right with their project. Bloody corrupt. All Romans. Good rugby team though.”
“I call it the tub,” said Toby emphatically.
“The tub’s crap,” said Post, rolling her Rs into Ws — “cwap” — which made Toby laugh even if he’d heard the words many time. She tied on her apron and asked, “Red or white, Lewis?”
The bell rang short and sharp. Toby poured the Voignier and Post disposed herself to open the door to the new entries.
“Guineas are for gentlemen and pounds are for prols,” Lewis said as he dropped the money into the copper fruit bowl from Tunis and licked his lips in anticipation at the steaming bird. It was surely be a great founding night, what with Lewis’s endorsement.
The buzz on campus at the English and Creative Studies Department was that Toby’s club was the place to be on Saturday nights if one wanted to experience what was happening on the frontiers of food, text and sound. The graduate students, professors and even undergrads waited with trepidation for the arrival of the e-mail invitation. They all desperately wanted to be on the main list and not have to rely on the irregular activities of an unreliable forwarder competing for a spot in the reservations. Some tutors were booking weeks in advance without knowing whether it was Bretagne, Dalmatian, Apulian, Japanese, Kalmyk or Druz on the chalkboard. Toby, obtuse to the fact that his every move was watched or criticized, moved with utter confidence.
Though he looked haggard — perhaps having enjoyed one of the principles of the club beyond its usual weekend opening hours or perhaps having researched recipes late into the night — and his texts seemed careless, no one dared say too much about the story that he had bothered to write down. Even if they might be doing him a disservice as a member of the MA by not giving him criticism, who cared what Toby wrote when there was an exciting fusion of live prose, music and food at Toby’s so far eponymous club? Did it matter that he fell asleep during the workshops? Did it matter he might be high or drunk? Who could find fault with a fellow rumored to purvey all his food from his personal contacts across Europe? Who DJ-ed with panache and had a voice like the best honey cake? Who could extemporaneously rewrite Dante or Heaney with the Oulipo n+7 formula? It was Toby and he didn’t even notice the expectations and pressure. He was in his element, capitalizing, strong as he should be. He raised the price — though not for his fellow students at Tub Teachers Tech — knowing some enterprising matrons of the city where already copying his original idea. He had an inkling of how dangerous and profitable it was to be successful.
The students crowded around the coffee machines belching some amorphous foam for fifty-five pence, the price perfectly inconvenient for any ideas of two for a cherished quid.
Toby stepped out of his adviser’s office into the crowd of colleagues and a few professors who bothered to lower themselves and talk with the students. Someone searched for something to say to the star chef.
“What did Kedgeree say about your outline and synopsis?” asked Margaret, simultaneously worrying the balls of fluff coagulated on her pullover and melting a Snickers between her tacky fingers. She wouldn’t come to the extravaganza because she was dieting. She didn’t notice that she ate four candy bars and drank four tins of soda in the three-hour period of a workshop.
“Fine,” he said, not disclosing anything of his plans, unforthcoming about even the mention of Kedgeree and his loathsome incompetent bumbling and mumbling. But grousing was neutral and fertile ground for comment. “It’s a lot of work to write this bloody novel by September, don’t you think?”
“It’s unfair,” said Post. She pushed her hands into her waist and kicked out one foot in a challenging stance.
| | | |
“They could do more,” admitted Darth, noncing through his teeth at a cute freshman marred by acne flicking past the scrum of writers on her way to the toilet.
Post interceded. “The department wants the money. It’s a real moneyspinner, selling dreams. Too bad they don’t care about the dreamers.”
“Too right,” said Margaret. She opened another Snickers and puffed. “None of us are proper writers. Well, except for Francis.”
“Bitch!” said Post and Toby simultaneously, laughing. Margaret hadn’t said their names.
“None of the tutors are proper writers either so it doesn’t matter what they think. Except for Austin.”
“If I were you, I would write that caramel again and send it to a magazine.” Margaret fumbled her words over a new snack.
Toby pushed back his hair behind his ears and removed his glasses. His patience for shoptalk was nil.
“Your hands are a mess. Look at those blisters.” Post scrunched up her face in mock pity.
“I’ve been working!” He was defensive, which surprised him.
“Still 50 guineas, Toby? You’re no socialist. You’re guilty, mate.”
“Hello, Lewis! You alright?” Post shifted to the defensive too. It’s hard to defend taking everyone’s money week in week out unless a born merchant.
“I’m dropping down to the Boat. Anyone care to come?” Lewis jingled the keys to his Volvo.
No one had funds for pubbing, not with Toby’s sonic visual feast on the cards every week.
Toby looked longingly at his bike locked outside. He should bolt. He moved towards the automatic door and passed the department office. He needed the wind, in copious abundance in the narrowing channel of valley that cupped the unthreatening town of Bath.
The secretary from the department, she was wild. She was a regular, unfortunately. Her fingers danced through her hair and she sucked on an end.
Toby ducked in. “Problem, Barbara?” She was odd and smelled like menthols.
“You said that urine was a good preservative. I’d like to know what you mean by that and your aged game?”
“What I meant? If elephant urine can remove paint, then surely lamb’s kidneys can clean you out, maybe fortify you, that’s all.”
“Am I too late to book for this Saturday?”
“Full house,” he said, shrugging, knowing full well he had expanded the club yet again and installed a bar on the groundfloor, leaving more room for diners downstairs. The flat was becoming cramped; already the kitchen was filled with the gadgets he bought from bankrupt restaurants in Bath to make his creations even finer.
They were trying to lure him, trip him up, catch him up, get comps. He didn’t mind the accolades but people were being unreasonable. Was he the reincarnation of Escoffier? He turned on his heels, huffy and insulted.
With panache he jumped the few speed bumps on his bike, dropped down the long campus drive, spun around the roundabout from the minor road to the major, dipped down to the defunct railway line and joined the path that would take him back to Bath. He stopped for a regenerative spliff away from the eyes of campus on a river bridge. Some kids were dropping like friendly stones into the Avon despite the inclement water, and one of them, green with weed, black with mud, blue with cold, encouraged him to take a dip. Toby didn’t take it. He’d swum in enough sewers in his life so far.
Toby quickly found himself expanding the club, seeing no reason to limit the financial incentives to its success. He vacated his bedroom to make more space, and Sunday morning sometimes reaped the reward of his culinary and alcoholic taste in his aunt’s bedroom now converted into his den and priory — whether she was Kris or Cristina it didn’t matter. He was enjoying it, but it made him feel like a slut.
By the second month he promoted Post to general manager and let her cull the culinary groupies as his proxy and keep the list eclectic and close. Educated in public and art schools, she was trained well. She handled the calls and settled the schedule. She listened to his late night chats while he fretted over the menu and suppliers. She was there to expedite after he signaled that he had mounted the sauces and made a good Friday. She dealt with the neighbors curious about the late traffic.
Therapy, she said with a confident, posh ring to her voice, it was therapy.
In a way she was right. Toby was the great food psychiatrist, and he was looking forward to skewing their minds with his new research and his skill, his goodwill and feeling coming out in the food like well-curated spice. What it could do for a boy forced to fuck his father’s new second wife while his father watched he couldn’t predict, but he assumed there to be healing vitamins and minerals among the foods to which he gave his utmost care.
Post bought a little leather guest book for people to write their thoughts. She’d already categorized the remarks into nonsense, piddly pooh and crap. He’d spotted the comparisons to the usual English kitchen stars, but he wasn’t anything like Nigella Lawson, Nigel Slater, Jamie Oliver or Delia. He was his own brand of food porno and he was making his market.
Perhaps cynically, he had grown quite astute at deflecting people’s comments, invitations and suggestions about the club, but he was not opening a real restaurant and he was not going to occupy a gallery for a month. For once, he knew what he was doing was right. No doubt or rejection filled his mind. He plunged the money back into his underground business, but also enabling himself with a nice phone and a proper Hi-fi as part of the upgrade. But the school year was winding down, he hadn’t rotted to death in his aunt’s wet basement, and he did have the novel to write. It might not be delicious or edible, but he couldn’t underestimate the amount of work required to pass or excel. The club was to be only a temporary endeavor. The place couldn’t take too much wear and tear.
Toby was one big stomach.
He was taken by surprise when Charlie proposed to sleep with him. Red-headed, white-skinned, big-boned, she eased up to him at the conclusion to Club №5 when he had finished reciting Lorca in a quiet lull of Spanish.
“I can’t stop looking at you,” she said, emboldened by drink.
He’d heard something before about Charlie wanting his phone number, but he didn’t respond until now. He needed it. “Wait. You’re just my sort.”
He could play the guru and show the path.
Quickly prioritizing, he disposed of the last guests with a call to privacy and the strange tones of Merzbow from the sound system. Only so much Japanese noise from the 1,000-hour archive was bearable, unless synched by drugs. He was abrupt in hurrying Post through her last drink as he cleaned up and filled a bag with dead bones and trimmings. Charlie poured herself one more honey schnapps and lingered, but not long enough. She knew.
Charley and Toby clutched over the round kitchen table. She wrapped her legs around him. He touched her lips, ears, neck, breasts, waist. There was a lot to handle. They savored kissing, drunken wet bites. They went downstairs anxiously. He was trembling. He switched off the lights but left the blinds partly open to enjoy her body. She took off her shirt last. Her breasts were hard and pointy. Her ass was hard and large. She was young and new. She wanted to be his, to learn and also provide. She was wet and her anus was white. He wanted to feel guilty but he savored the experience too much, this young, hard body offered to him like a blessing. He used condom after condom and she was pleased to be with him so long. Rubber dick, he concluded, because of the alcohol. But she didn’t come and this bothered him even as he tried all the teasing, open closing manual and oral tricks in his repertoire. He was surprised by his ardor. As if he was young again. It was so nice. Better than the Internet.
Toby was puzzled. He’d never slept with a rich girl. He’d most often taken some flawed creature, maybe schizophrenic, epileptic or bulimic, burdened by a lack of stature and class. He liked damaged goods and the healthy balance of Charley often shopping or dieting was disconcerting; money helped her get on with it, she said, clutching a bag of organic cod for her steamer. She told him she was once in the officers training corps and somehow it seemed appropriate, the contrast. She cleaned bed and breakfasts during some holidays as a condition of the trust, yet sent herself to Mauritius during the term for a holiday with pals. That night, he discovered the copious bottom and the friendly calling charm of her voice. He was sure they’d do it some more under the nose of the writing class. Post would be curious and assuming, of that he was sure. His reputation was in dire need of a tune-up since skipping classes for a fortnight. Tongues would be sizzling. He almost could turn on the flames of the department; he joyously poked his tongue in derision from the cocoon of fire. They had found the monster in their midst and it was him, living in the bino-vaults, hirsute, odiferous, and fun.
It struck him that this was the first time he had sex in his aunt’s flat. Perhaps no one had ever had sex here, such was the prude and outmoded design, surprisingly a hit with most people for whom the novelty of not redecorating every few years seemed inconceivable. Why have it later when you can have it now was the unofficial motto of the club, as the meal digested in 24 hours in most cases.
He’d been having novel ideas about how to diversify as the club expanded in popularity and reputation. People liked his cooking and the run of the premises and his choice of wines. He devised rules and made a membership for his most trusted clients. But he thought of increasingly weirder menus like cooking clothes or children’s menus for adults or videoing his own kitchen show and contest.
Like sex, he’d found that changing the terms of the payment had also helped generate interest. He was willing to barter artwork for meals and that dramatically increased the diversity of people normally unable to afford the fare or disinclined to come; not everyone’s budget was devoted to food. He could enlargen the participants.
“I think it’s quite good actually,” Post said, rubbing her apple-like chin.
Post created a shrine with Nash’s Ming Horse, wise and cool in a skin of iron. Aside from the packets of cash left around his feet, and tucked into his armor, the offerings slowly gathering around the growing stupa, some magnetic point in the earth that was putting the guests at ease not only at the party but afterwards in their daily lives the more they charged it with offerings.
George presented him with a white rat in a bamboo cage and told him about the annual rat workshop in London. Amy presented him with a jar of his own testicles, something like grapes, which he called his sisters, a picture of the ochiotomy and an account of his time at the gender center. That gesture stole the guests breath away and everyone had a hard time eating the kidneys for the starter, even if cooked so perfectly in cognac and mirepoix that they were no longer redolent of piss.
Later, Low surrendered a series of photographic prints made from negatives from the nineteenth century and recreated by Low in his visits to the old sites. Natasha from Polish Belarus gave him a bottle of Ghengiss Khan Mongolian vodka and the recipe to an Angry Dog (raspberry syrup and Tabasco). He regretted the three-day stupor and wrestling after, one room of the basement smeared with alcoholic jelly shots, plaster and motor oil.
Lewis added a silver cigarette case heirloom and a pair of wooden sunglasses from Myanmar. Dan made a hand puppet of his own long maple hair. Charlotte tendered a puppy from her winning Isle of Man bitch. Esmerelda unbunged a barrel of cider from her father’s estate and flooded the two rooms with apple bubbly. Othello appeared on a tip, fresh from the Royal Theatre. Lev brought a harmonium from Calcutta and a Theremin of his own build to make a concert. Agnes brought a smorgasbord of smoked fish from the Baltic. Bernard reserved two tickets for him to Jerusalem that Toby subsequently missed. But then the gift-giving took an ominous turn. With the smell of garlic and rose incense teasing his nose, he sensed that lightening would certainly strike twice.
The big call came at the wrong time. The self-regulation was not working. The re-conversion of the ground floor bar back to the old writing study was not helping in anticipation of his aunt’s mid-summer visit. Neither did a new computer. Toby had no willpower. The weather was superb and he wanted to make the long day ride through the old druid villages to Wells again now the worst winds had died away.
“Good day, Toby, Post might have mentioned…”
“No.” Toby was used to saying no.
“Well, ha-ha, this is Lord Nash up at Dyrham Hall. We have met and I’d like to know if you were able to do a do?” Nash sucked the saliva through his teeth when he talked. He appeared to fiddling with some kind of instrument.
“What kind of do, sir?”
“A punk rock juggling festival. You see, I like juggling, juggling with fire especially.”
“For how many?”
“Well if the Palestinians and Albanians come — 300 friends?”
Feasible. Lucrative. It would have to be halal. He could make a contribution to the Fatah and the KLA. It didn’t matter if the Muslims were taking over Europe. He’d help. He like visiting the halal butcher and talking about his many trips to the Middle East and some of the music he collected. If they had so irrevocably changed Eastern Europe, then surely they would be good for England or America, surely they would make beautiful women. What better backdoor than juggling?
“You know how Hoxha stopped illegal weapons in Albania? Well, I’ll tell you. If you were caught with an illegal weapon in Albania, you were buried alive. But with a pipe, a pipe, a big pipe, sticking out of your mouth so you starved to death, buried, buried in the ground.” Lord Nash stammered, then warped into a twitching guffaw and strummed what sounded like a balalaika to accompany his mutant song.
Despite the engrossing facts, Toby pulled yet another cigarette butt from crack in the gold settee of the gold room at he talked to the lord. What else was down there?
“Very nice theater in downtown Tirana where we had the convention. This year it’s the Hall, and Post mentioned you as our man.”
“You’ll have to pay in advance.” Toby wanted to dissuade him.
“Just don’t tell my wife. I’ve got to organize the marquee — we need a good tent.”
Could he refuse? Surely a week to organize the party would not be too much of a diversion? It was bad timing.
“Ok, but how much” he said, shaking his head. Anyway, the novel files were gobbledygook and nothing was working. He needed a new deadline.
“What do you think they’ll like?” Toby asked tentatively. The Mediterranean moves were among his best. The Albanian and Palestinian guests would be epicures, used to the freshest and simplest food made by their women and combined in great flavorful ways. “Tajine, brouchettes of kidney and liver, fava bean salad, stuffed quince?” It wouldn’t matter what he fed the uppercrust barbarians up at Dyrham. They’d juggle boiled spuds and cabbages if need be to get something free.
“Talk to Maxi,” Lord Nash said, leaving off with a grandiose strum of the mystery instrument.
A week later when Toby met Maxi at Bar Ha-Ha for a drink to discuss the menu he realized he was overcommitted. She had brought over 20 cookbooks. Toby only used two, Larousse and Mrs. Beaton, and some Xeroxed pages on Caucasian cooking. Maxi smelled like manicures, hair dye and Silk Cuts. By her figure and youthful look, the sweep of blush rising from her mouth to her cheeks, it was clear she was a second or third wife. Her eyes were coy, her hands searching. He was in trouble when she soon eased her fingers on his thigh. She wanted to see the club.
Maybe she was just naturally flirty?
The club became hard to sustain with the catering event so near. He canceled two weekends in a row. Those weekends a hoard of people were angrily ringing the bell and clamoring for entry as if the club was going on secretly without them or a new more important set had replaced them. Some of his classmates felt let down too; they all wanted to read their new work at the club as the deadline was impending. It wasn’t his responsibility. The club was temporary; that was its first principle. His aunt had postponed her visit due to a case of shingles, so conceivably it could continue to be lucrative, but she would be coming as soon as she was better. It was best to stop.
Toby asked Post to come with him to the dinner at Nash and Maxi’s manor. Fairly, he wanted to gather what their concept of food was like, and allay Maxi’s fears about the food for the juggling convention. In the conservatory, after petrol-like Moldavian schnapps, they tucked into the excellent roast bird, liberally applying the gravy to their meal and tanking up on wine. Toby naturally commented on the succulent meat to which Maxi responded docilely. She crunched her stiletto heel into his toes. After that he had a hard time communicating anything about himself or his new writing. He ate and drank dutifully. Post recounted the appearance of her latest scar. Maxi queried Nash about their plans to go on vacation together. Toby hazarded Nash was right, Gaza was nice, but Albania was the perfect place for burial alive.
Lord Nash, obtuse and dribbling bird, regaled them in fragments with his juggling workshop in Gaza, and everyone heaved a collective sigh when he got to the jumbled end. Obviously, Nash had survived the grenade-like adventure and not been confused for a jocular member of Hamas by the Israeli snipers. As if to make up for his monologue, Nash rolled up a tree of cannabis into a flute and brought out the special glow-in-the-dark balls. He’s spent a fortune on juggling and, not wanting to be outdone, spared himself for the real show.
Toby felt himself disembodying into star-like purchases of light as the house glowed from the preternatural fire of Lord Nash’s gasoline-soaked juggling pins. Lord Nash was naked, juggling outside with fire, and Maxi danced on the picnic table under the apple tree. There had been no music but it must have been resonating somewhere when she plunged through the old wood of the picni table, laughing hysterically between groans. Toby clutched his stomach gripped by laughter. Nash blew a plume of fire over Maxi as a finale. The tree sang, the apples and old leaves partly ignited and burning, a red wig on the tree’s black crown.
Toby resolved not to do the juggling convention in this baffled state. He was overwhelmed and the ride back home seemed an eternity, suspended in the deep bass of Lord Nash’s soundsystem. Back on the cold wet bed of his aunt’s bedroom, his dreams were active and psychotic. He felt her watching him with her beady eyes from the broken chair all night. She knew!
He woke wan and pale that next morning. Food had lost its appeal and that was an omen that the temporary really needed to close. Toby too thinned as his interest passed. He was down to slightly blue cheddar, proscutto and olives, no bread.
Did he venally ask Maxi for compensation as his takings were down? He couldn’t remember. There were blank spots. What else had they done? Toby was restless and anxious.
Nash offered to pick Toby up a few days in advance in order to prepare the food and grounds. The Palestinians and Albanians had their visas and were about to embark.
It was with superhuman effort that Toby roused himself to call the farmers and arrange the halal slaughter of the lambs through the Bath mosque. He’d roast them whole in a Balkan feast. He organized the mackerels and sardines for the fast grill and roe for mezze. He sourced the sweetest onions in chalky Wiltshire and simplest, best ewe cheese in Somerset. He located the acacia and linden honeys from the Forest of Dean. The organic flour and butter was for sweets extraordinaire. But he needed nuts and spices and he expected the Palestinians to bring them and a special chap who appeared once in the market, his cache was that exclusive. In the exercise of cultural diplomacy they should use more than batons and balls. In the end he had to capitulate to necessity and buy from Julian Graves for Nash’s do.
Resourceful, Nash has sourced a French accordion player and her band. That would definitely make the food taste better.
Maxi was very curt when he arrived at the manor. Toby caught her hiding her best fleur de sal under the sink. Lord Nash took him to the studio, the annex that was to be his quarters. He tumbled over the drums and clunked into the piano. Nash shouted; he was nervous too. He didn’t like people sleeping with his instruments. Toby drew a joint from his pocket and that put Nash back in more mellow operation.
Maxi relaxed too once she saw his competence, efficiency and cleanliness in the kitchen. He moved much of the prep work under the apple tree and the new table capable of withstanding Maxi’s dancing. The chickpeas were thinly hulled. The mangos and pomegranates came from South Africa. He prepared the spongy organs, marinated the fresh anchovies, devised fruit salsas and diverse pickles like parsnips and dates or beets and cherries. He had no trouble deboning ten pig heads for roulade. The flies left only temporarily to pester the cattle on the adjoining estate. Inside, the oil-fired hob was excellent for his purposes and the kitchen filled with the pleasurable scent of urine and steaming skin. He set Maxi on boiling the spuds for salad. The refrigerator accumulated trays of food, and he stored less sensitive food in the pantry. He braced himself with a Ricard as he mopped his brow, cut with relief like the old butcher block. He wasn’t so young and lean anymore. That left the question of who would chop wood and prepare the fire pits for the lamb? Ever the pyromaniac, Nash supervised. Toby handled the chainsaw, then the ax as the late, potent sun fell over the Avon valley and the Severn close in the distance. The sawdust tickled his back like rosehip itching powder and his body was sweaty with smells. Nash put down the flashlight and rolled up a smokeable bromide. Toby resumed the dangerous work of building the fire pits.
He languished over his coffee at dawn, his legs sore, but not for too long. He prepared the doughs for biscuits, filo, burek and pie, the chapel and kitchen sterile and silent as the bright white and yellow colors melded in his hands. After bumping the oven closed with his hip, hungry, his hands redolent with yeast, he test-drove the cool salads to adjust saltiness and vinegar. A cold spicy kidney refreshed him. He cleared a way and made progress with more glutinous mixes, completing the stories of food, alternately turning and incorporating his hands in the pleasure of chemistry, the pleasant sweet stickiness of eggs, water, milk, cream, butter and sugar. More was never enough. In testament, the oven hummed mercilessly. But in deference to the vegetarians he made walnut, rhubarb and cheese burek. That would boggle them. And for fun he made a random batch of pepper biscuits and gravy, fried bacon and tomato for the sleepyheads.
He greeted the team of lads rattled the gate and who had come to the marquee and stage. When he last checked at ten o’clock, rolling the layers of filo, the tent was up and Maxi stamped over the stage, yodeling a boogaloo.
Soon, the first of Nash’s juggling pals appeared. The lane was clogged with posh cars and some took to the overflow parking at Dyrham Hall. Tents sprouted on the lawn. Acrobats limbered up and far too many unicyclists began to lurch around the sea of green grass, sometimes buoys, sometimes yachts. Toby caught sight of Post arranging beanbags and pillows for the chill-out area. Time was slipping by and a quick and easy lunch solution was tomato sauce and eggs.
The lambs’ arrival was an enthralling event. The mosque butcher unloaded the flock of little creatures curled in cute beards of fat. Gutted, they were still warm. He managed to rub the lambs with lavender, rosemary and salt and skewer them and test the tricky mechanical spits. A few vegetarians looked displeased at the low-caste meat eaters slavering over the carcasses, but they too would be provided for: burek, bhagee, saslik and salads on the hoof, not just spears of halitosis-inducing, karma-killing meat.
Toby jokingly reminded Nash to pick up a brace of fire extinguishers as he prepared to pick up a load of writing students to help tend bar on the day. Toby could finally, indirectly repay them in part for their investment at his club with a day’s labor at Nash’s juggling convention. All’s well that ends well, he’d told them.
Nash’d go back to Bath later to meet the Palestinians and Albanians and introduce them to the Honorable Lord Mayor.
The week after the fire, Scriptum brought a Ouija board and lit candles. She batted her hair behind her wrinkled neck. She jammed her cheap rings on her fingers. She moved the eye over the polished board. Toby was rigid with fear. He didn’t like witchcraft. The wind rushed through his legs. His aunt stood before him and she beckoned him to the river where he spoke to his mother, white and pallid like the drowned. As she left his mother sent him a trifle and a fruitcake, both alcoholic and sweet.
Toby looked up into Scriptum’s eyes.
Scriptum licked her lips.
He was disconsolate at that mean thoughtography and he didn’t know what it was with this older woman, and she grabbed his face and screwed her tongue down his throat like it was a dick. He shuddered and she squeezed her breasts at him.
“I was asleep in the wardrobe when you fucked Charlie,” she said. “But then I woke up and looked through the door ajar.”
Was it his aunt speaking through the Ouija board?
She was a waxy Bahamian tan and moved towards him. “It’s not nice to not say good night.” Her voice was wrinkled with evil intent.
She pushed him onto the bed. “You remind me of Peter,” she said, “I liked Peter.” She fell on his and her belly pushed against him. Toby had not willpower, not fortitude, not sense, when instead of banishing the woman from his room with oaths, he grabbed at her dangling breasts and inserted the flat nipples into his mouth obediently.
He made the mistake of filling her expectations once, he remembered, as he fiddled with the soft flaps of skin in the darkness. He had cooked her fresh seafood ramen. He was only being kind. He thought you could do that for friends. She had tugged her nipples and crotch at the table then but he had politely ignored the peepshow come-on. She arched her backside into his hand and he fiddled too with the flaps of her groin, thick like cords of shrimp. He turned her on her back and obligingly pulled on a jacket. She wasn’t going to leave without him in her, so he might as well get it over with. It was a horrible, base thought, but he couldn’t help stop.
“You don’t have to do that with me,” she said, frowning at the gummy sheath.
Despite the discombobulating circumstances, this too-near rape, he had a sense of preservation and insisted. Who knew what and for how long the old bird had been slagging?
He slipped in along her side and he was surprised to find himself in space. He wasn’t nearly big enough. He disappeared in her like she were a horse. She masturbated with relish as he plunged away, lost and saddened that it came to this. She lifted her hips and offered her muddy back garden but his wand found no reason to shy there lest it be a looser and even more unpleasant purchase.
He left the bed and slept upstairs when it was done. He was too angry too sleep and shaking with disappointment. He had urged her to take him.
The taxi came before dawn.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, smiling and crying crocodile tears before closing the door with a compact thud, her coat and bag caught under the door.
He found her torn silk gown wedged in his bed, blowing and murmuring like an ill wind, part aunt, part mother. By the unclean feeling and urge to take a bath and launder the sheets, he gathered he’d transgressed somewhere, for the old taboos were still there in the streets of Tub, which might as well be the streets of Vienna. They were called rape or sadism or incest or parricide, but really what Scriptum was about was evil.
His room was not the same. It was washed with shame.
All his life Toby had wanted to be wanted and now that he was, he didn’t like it. Or did he? He had admired the ‘in’ peers at the schools and consequently been utterly outside. He wanted to be ‘in’ but hated it. What he didn’t understand was that now, with the club, two half barrels dug under the road, he was suddenly Mister It. All he did was transfer his emotions, depression mixed with drug use, into the food, and the result was startling and fresh, as if his spirit dwelled in the chutneys, salads, meats and vegetables, something that was irrevocably new, a story of simplicity that he had learned after reforming from the heavy handed mixes of far too many components together to saturate his taste when simplicity was called for. Here he was doing the most uncommercial event ever (uninspected and untaxed) and people were responding to his enterprise. He knew all along that the capitalist world above ground, above the roof of the club, the saloon and estate cars parked above, was not for him. He’d learned long ago to disregard it and seek his own rules. He was not going to do down lying.
Stream and Marsh Menu, November 2005
Chrysanthemum, lime and honey tea
Terrine of duck liver and squash with Angus Durer bitters
Roulade of smoked salmon and dill
Glass of St. Andrea Italian Riesling
Sherbet of mango/pomegranate and mint
White Trash biscuits
Roast duck leg with green lentils
TBA: Deep-fried salmon and chips/Bremen and Ricard sole/Sesame cod
Glass of St. Andrea Bull’s Blood
Braised root vegetables
Endive radicchio salad
Salad of chard, spinach and cabbage
Chocolate fudge walnut cake
Apple charlotte with chocolate sauce
Glass of raspberry (?) schnapps
Home cooking pop up
Hunger is the best sauce…. Cervantes
This is a special introductory offer. Our house (office, writing room, living room, studio) will temporarily assume the functioning of a food club. We spend about three days preparing the meal. We take a few more days to set up the space and tables. For one night and for ten guests, our home will be transformed from a living to an entertaining space for a few short hours. Reservations are open to a select public. Our vacation from heaven is only so long.
Cooking and eating please us, perhaps to our detriment. Our lives are intersticed with a constant search for the most interesting and best ingredients to make our eating life healthy and fulfilling. We seek fresh, real food from wherever we may travel. That said, we ask what is food, and in looking for an answer we may also cook inedible meals from clothes. These are for wearing, not eating. We want to know: Can you eat it? How do you eat it? And what happens if you do?
- Guests assume full responsibility for consuming food and beverages so provided by the purveyors/proprietors, and waive all rights therein for death or other bodily harm that may result from consumption of said food and beverages provided by the purveyors/proprietors.
- Guests may be removed from the premises for bad behaviour as well as expelled from membership.
- Guests may freely associate with other guests
- Guests may smoke on the balcony, weather permitting
- Guests may purchase more alcohol, dependent on availability
- Guests may suggest a guest chef or meal for further consideration
- Guests may not harm or otherwise threaten others
- Guests may freely consume or distribute any items within their personal possession
- Guests may offer gratuities to the purveyors and/or their representatives
- Guests may contribute exhibits, performances or objects d’art