The song was beautiful.
‘This is your 30th year / Now you are dum-dum-dum …’ Even the words he hadn’t heard and those he couldn’t now remember were perfect and thrilling to him. How wonderful it had been! And how wonderful they had been! The singers, and musicians that was. But looking at it again, sinking back into the evening, the guilty heaviness he had felt soon bloomed in his stomach. Bloomed in the place where his guts had turned as he listened, and the beginning of a cough scratched at his throat. Bloated from the beer and sickly from all the food he tried to listen as hard as he could to the song; and sing along though he did, and smile, and keep his eyes fixed on them all, he felt he was missing part of it. He smelt the smoke that clung to his jumper and couldn’t get past feeling how fat he was. And beyond that, he thought to himself, why wasn’t he in that circle singing to Marseille? Not actually that circle, but another one, somewhere, another time. Their ruddy faces and clear voices rang clear and had made him shudder at his evening of shoving more and more in to himself. He needed to get involved somehow. He knew he had smoked too much to take any pleasure in that, and besides, thick smoke sat around him anyway, clouds trailing from the cigarette Pest held in her fingers.
The trip home from the party turned Pest grouchy and he melancholic, and the gloomy thoughts of the song accompanied him the entire journey. He longed just to be there and warm so he could forget about it all. His spirits instantly rose as they ascended the stairs to her flat and he remembered Buda’s stash of weed.
He was rolling a second joint when Pest fell asleep. Now he was utterly content. What he loved about getting high, he thought to himself, was that it made everything else feel so good. Any chair would bring him warmly into its fold; a swig of beer stung the edges of his tongue and cooled his throat. A cigarette would comfort, and then he would put one of the chocolates from Ghent whole into his mouth and smother it under his tongue and crush it with the roof of mouth. It would spread out in thick rolls to line the warm wet little grotto, and he would feel the sharp edges of the nuts cut into his check and squash into the grooves of his teeth, the sides of his check pulled inwards by the gloop.
‘You are enjoying my birthday chocolates are you?’ Pest had snapped at him. ‘Ye you enjoy them!’ He had felt himself shrinking inside and he despaired for a moment that she had ruined everything by exposing his gluttony. But the feeling thankfully fell away and now she was asleep so he continued to enjoy the chocolates. He would assess and reassess how many more he could have before she would realise in the morning that he had kept on eating after her chastisement.
This is what he was missing at his grandfather’s he thought, but then reflected, with his grandfather’s port and cigarettes it wasn’t so different. These were the real joys of life he thought. As he was prone to do now, his mind floated towards Lady Baxter-White and the Baron, and wondered if they had enjoyed themselves like this. Had Bobo? And if she had, had it been before or after her eighteenth birthday? He settled back into the past and brought the visage of his glamorous ancestor in front of him. Loosing none of her beauty back in London she had darkened, his grandfather had told them. No longer the face of a dandelion but instead a lilac snowdrop standing in shadow. His grandfather had gone to his study to collect an envelope of old photos and he showed them how his mother’s expression had hardened into a steel pout. The lines already forming over her face were evident in the dusty pictures. Against a silent hysterical current that flowed faster as her birthday approached, Bobo challenged their caution with silence, and her coldness sent all into disarray. Because she hadn’t been enjoying herself.
‘One time, two days before her birthday, when my father took her hand in his, as had been demonstrated by the handsome wives, she withdrew, stood up and bright red in the face screamed at him that he was presumptuous and had no right and left the room. For a moment the juggernaut screeched to holt, and my father found himself flung down from the crest of the wave to a floor he hadn’t previously been aware existed. But the places were already set, and the machine steadily in motion. My father had no more power to alight, or halt the engine, than Bobo did. The train ran itself. And that, I believe, is where it began. I don’t know the exactitudes. Bobo found a quiet resolution that she was to keep as long as I knew her. And my father, well … All I know is that he got through Bobo’s eighteenth with Bordeaux, the eighteen months of their engagement with a few crates, and was half drunk as she walked up the aisle.’
Marriage at eighteen … and him drunk. But older than her. Thirty or so. Imagine marrying a thirty-year-old … Imagine being married at thirty. They would all be thirty soon, and then what … It wasn’t too bad because times are made just to enjoy ourselves. And we don’t know when the next time we truly, ignorantly enjoy ourselves will come. And this feels good and that can’t be bad. And there were other times and even if he let this time slip past, let the circle of song fall into the mist of things missed, this had sharpened his search to touch the map and really feel next time. It had been beautiful. Squandered, nonetheless.
He wondered what Buda and Vienna really were getting up in that dingy old flat in Pecham. Buda would have enjoyed the song, as she listened to all the songs that he later loved. It had been that way at school, with Pest and the others as well, and they had stumbled upon a band they had loved, but no-one else knew them.
His limbs felt solid and regel, and he was aware of the cold blue streams running through them. His toes were little pebbles at the end of his bonny little feet that spread out on the sequenced carpet below him. The beer that slopped around the bottom of his glass was now warm and flat but it was trusty and refreshing nonetheless. All he really cared for now, all he needed for, all he really willed to have was a playful breeze to dance past his feet and over his arms and chest and up to his neck and face. And to listen to that song.
The effort to find it was awful and he almost toppled over an empty beer bottle.
Where was the laptop?
He fell asleep before the end.
Bertie Digby Alexander