The Dinner Party
She looked around the apartment. The yucca towered in the corner where it had lived in their last place, all of the pictures were lined up on the brick cladding that served as a mantelpiece. Even the guitars were placed in their stands instead of strewn about as usual - everything was right with the world.
Everything has its place and all in its right place.
She sighed. Chaos was just around the corner. God she loved him but he would do anything at the drop of a hat. That man had no impulse control. It was always meant in the sweetest way, like the time he'd bought the whole bar a round in Acapulco when they were celebrating the book launch. The round had cost $500 and the rest of the evening was spent fending off coke dealers who thought this crazy gringo was a good mark for a big deal.
"What's with the deep and meaningfuls?"
She raised an eyebrow.
"The puffing and panting.Why the sigh Hun?"
"Oh nothing, just remembering our old place, everything here seems so new."
I smiled "Is everything in its right place yet?"
She nodded and leaped toward me pinning me to the couch. "Are you taking the piss out of me ya little fucker."
"Don't do a British accent Abi, you can't pull it off."
"Don't do awww Brewtish Awksnt Abi," she parroted as I wrestled her arms playfully and we melted into each other. We held a kiss for a long time, the world descending into warm softness.
"You're not the only one who is missing the old place." I felt the twinkle of a tear as I looked around the expansive space.
"Ever since The End Game went best seller my life has changed so much. I used to live in a eighteen by eighteen foot bedsit and now I... we own a loft apartment in Manhattan."
She blinked back her own welling tears, "Yeah, I remember that place, you better believe that I wasn't impressed with that shit hole."
"Why did you bother coming around then? A beautiful blonde american student, you could have had your pick."
"You were a god lay." She thought about the truth of why he'd hooked her with his quiet charm and relentless hopefulness and stubborn will to survive.
She wrapped me in a hug, "you were one in a million, is that what you want to hear."
Then pushed me away.
"Now you want to fill up our lovely echoing pretentious loft with a bunch of jabbering pretentious people and feed them locally sourced daikon and sashimi."
"Why not? The therapist said I need to get out of my comfort zone."
"Yeah, but those literary people," She sighed again, this time it lasted a full thirty seconds.
"Who would you invite?"
"I don't know, anyone else would be better."
We walked down Broadway, past a huddle of homeless crouched in the stairwell of the basement trade entrance to a general store. One of them glanced up at me, eyes two olive pits in the glare from the snow.
That face was familiar, an echo from another time and place. Long matted hair framed a raggedy beard streaked with stains. I stopped frozen in place, the fog of memory rising like steam from the sewer grates.
Shit it was cold.
The moment of Déjà vu passed, fleeting yet profound. "What's the matter babe," Abi squeezed my arm bringing me out of the trance.
"I'm sure I know that man."
"How would you know him?"
"Liverpool, a long time ago."
She pulled me around the corner down a hundred and tenth and I pushed the door of my favorite deli open with my foot.
"Hey you crazy Brit, I told you someone will be coming the other way one day and you're gonna get your foot smashed."
Westside Market sold the best fish and more varieties of veg than you could imagine. This was what I love about this city. You can buy any produce you want. Back in the UK it was buy what the supermarkets sold or travel out to some farmers shop and pay ten times the price. All for the privilege of buying some baby beets, decent daikon or Black Garlic.
The big Greek looked at me, arms upraised, "Why do you feel the need to kick my door open?"
"Lukas, why are you always breaking my balls."
"Jase, hey you lazy good for nothing, get out here and listen to this Limey trying to speak like he's from Lexington." Lukas' burly brother popped out from between the plastic doors of the chiller room.
"Hey you Limey maniac, I read your book."
"How did you find it?" I held my breath, always unable to brush off a harsh critic.
"How did I find it he asks." Jase looked at his brother like he'd been asked how he liked his eggs.
"I found it to be very..." he paused, scratching his chin and looking upwards. "I found it to be very... papery. Good for wiping your ass with."
The two brothers hooted with laughter as they stared at my falling face.
"Nah, nah, it was good. Fucking crazy though, you're fucked up Son. That character Silvio, the one who is still in love with his dead wife and sleeps with her ashes."
He shook his head as he disappeared back into the freezer room. "Fucked up Son," a shout drifted from the plumes of frost laden air.
"You after that good Yellowfin tuna again Row?"
Lukas slammed a huge portion out on the cutting board before I had time to answer.
"A pound please. How fresh is this? It has to be fresh Lukas."
"As fresh as you're gonna get in the city. I'm telling you I wouldn't lie to one of my best customers, it's my reputation."
He eyed me like a mafioso in a Scorsese flick.
"We get it from the market every morning, which is fresh off the boats. This tuna is twelve hours max from when it was caught. It's only you and the restaurants buy this high quality stuff, and the restaurants buy the rest up daily. Why do you make me tell you this every time you Limey bastard."
He slapped his forehead, staring at the sky pleadingly, "Why has god sent you all the way from that miserable rain soaked isle to curse me so."
Abi laughed as I placed the money in his now outstretched hand.
"Yeah, that ought to do it. See ya next time Limey."
"Wait. Give me four sandwiches, pastrami on rye with mustard, rocket and some pickles. Plenty of meat, don't stint."
He shrugged and shook his head at my choice of rocket, then threw the sandwiches together with the practiced ease of a master. Wrapped them and stacked them in a bag.
I handed over the extra dollars, "later Lukas."
"What's with the sandwiches?"
Windows formed fractal crystal patterns, ice capillaries flowing in the still air. Cabs screeched by, horns honking in the grey morning light as the commuter crowd barged and bustled their way past the couple.
Abi winked as they stubbornly held hands receiving glares from be suited business men and mobile phone text junkies.
"Hey, watch where you're going jack," Abi screamed at a passerby who shoulder barged his way between them. He glanced at her, stopped talking for a second on his hands free, grabbed the mic to muffle it and flipped the bird with his other hand.
His coffee was gripped between chin and chest. "Fuck off lady," he shouted back "make way for people who actually have a job."
I barged him back, upsetting the precarious balance of coffee, handset and the briefcase he'd gripped between ribs and elbow.
"Fuck off yourself dickhead." I calmly repeated in his face and then led a smug Abi around the corner back onto Broadway. She always liked it when I fought back, which wasn't often.
"Stay here Hun," I ducked down into the basement trade entrance and the group of homeless spun to confront me.
"What the fuck Rowan. Come on, we need to get back." Abi's shrill voice echoed into the gloom and smell of piss and puke. I could hear real panic in her pleading.
The man with the olive pit eyes stared me down for a long moment as an emaciated woman reached into a heavy trench coat pocket.
"Rowan," his voice seemed to concertina into distances of past memory. Shared experience long forgotten or half buried by the machinations of the subconscious.
"Give me what you've got," the lithe woman pulled a switch blade from her pocket but the man grabbed her arm and swung it so that the knife rested against the woman's stomach.
"No," he breathed in a long whisper, "I know this man."
"I've got subs for you all." I dropped the bag and the crew inspected the contents warily. A one legged man unwrapped them and inspected the contents before handing them around to the crew of four, leaving one in the bag.
"What flavour," the woman said in a surly voice as she pocketed her blade.
"Pastrami on rye with mustard," my eyes never left Charley.
"Charley... what, how... did you get here." His eyes flashed anger.
"I mean in Manhattan." His gaze mellowed and he stared away at last, shuffling his feet.
"Heroin Rowan, that's ultimately how I ended up in the States. But I'm eight months clean of that shit and glad of it. Do you remember when I inherited all that money in 1998, blew it on weed, blow and blowies? Things just kind of escalated into a shit storm of chaos."
"You?" he looked back at me, sunken eyes bright with shared memories.
"I sold my book."
"Good on you mate. I always remember you writing poems, and once some lyrics for the music me and Dave produced. I didn't know you wrote stories as well. Those were good times. I always thought it was crazy the way you and Billy were smoking weed daily at the age of fifteen. Like two mini Cheech and Chongs."
"Yeah, and we used to hassle you to get it for us when the usual supply had run dry."
"Don't remind me. I risked my ass going out to score for a couple of underage kids. That was serious jail time I risked. What is the book called?"
I looked away sheepishly, "The End Game."
"Fucking hell man! I've seen that book in all the newsstands and in the window of that shop Rizzoli books near to Madison square park."
Abi tottered down the slick steps in those heels she loved. I noticed Charley catching a sneaky look at her ass, but why the hell should I begrudge him.
The rest of the group had tucked into their subs and were munching unceremoniously, mustard splashing left right and center.
"Aren't you going to introduce us?" Abi glared at me with that - you're off your rocker - look that she had perfected long ago.
"Charley, Abi. Abi, Charley." I nodded and gestured at each of them in turn.
"Pleased to meet you," Charley extended his hand, grey with years of sleeping rough.
Abi took his hand, shook it and gave him her best smile. I loved this girl so much. She didn't have an ounce of that judgmental crap in her that most people based their whole lives on.
"It's nice to meet you too Charley. You guys old friends then?" She gave me a kind of backwards nod to indicate that this display of my crazy impulsiveness needed winding down.
"Yep, we go way back. I used to sell him drugs," Charley grinned, his teeth were missing in the most fascinating checker board pattern.
"Yeah, I met him in university in Liverpool when he was - how do you guys say it - mad for it."
Charley laughed, choking on the cold air. "Yeah, mad for it. That's the one love."
Abi grasped Charley's hand warmly with both hands, shaking one final time before extracting them.
She nodded at me "Come on you, we've got to prepare for this dinner party."
As Abi walked slowly back up the stairwell I glanced back at her then at this man who I remembered being the best producer of early 90's Techno I’d ever met, "Why don't you come to dinner mate."
Abi halted at the top of the stairs.
The mad old coot with one leg choked on his sandwich.
"What are you talking about Rowan, are you mad or something?" I stepped back as Charley's fists bunched up.
"How am I going to sit around at a dinner party eating volovants and commenting on the wine selection. Look at me you dope." He swished his hands over thick trousers stained black around the pants area and the swathe of threadbare thick coats he wore to fight off the bitter cold.
I grinned at him holding up my hands to show I wanted no trouble, "we're not serving volovants and there's only one type of wine. You still like wine don't you Charley?"
He shook his head, my infectious smile spreading slowly across his pockmarked face. He gesticulated violently at his clothes again.
"Use our shower, take some of my clothes, you're welcome to them. Fuck, don't bother if you don't want too... you can eat at my table as you are Charley. There is no one I would rather have at my housewarming dinner party."
His eyes welled up and I looked away failing to blink back my tears.
"Seriously, come and join us. Life has a funny way of driving a stake through your heart and it's rarely anyone's fault really. It's just the way it is. Some get lucky breaks and others don't. It's life and it's fucking cruel."
I walked toward him and wrapped him in a hug.
He returned it wholeheartedly. I have to admit he stank like the men's latrine in a dive bar.
"I hope you have a fuck tone of soap mate." Charley laughed as he mounted the steps with me, and Abi just shook her head, smiled at Charley and nodded in exasperation.
The water flowed in dark rivulets as he lathered shampoo into his scalp. It felt good. He could feel it all drain away.
Not just the dirt but the last six years of wandering from town to town, chasing new places to play the drug addict's game of manipulation and intimidation. Washing away that world of threats and debts, living for the quiet moments of death, those quiet moments where the needle or the pipe wiped it all away.
No more birth, growing up, making a marker of yourself based on expectations; parents, peers, teachers and friends. No memory of failing. No memory of falling in love, a part of you dying each time that feeling disappeared and above all, a window wiper to fear. That's what it was to be a drug addict, running from that fear, that truth, which every human must eventually face. There is nothing more to this life than a brief fleeting lucid dream.
He washed it all away.
It was like tattooing a story on the universe. To fear writing the story because the process of writing was painful, with every possibility that the story can only be written once, was a monumental waste of life.
This is what it is like to be a Heroin addict. He washed it all away.
Brown scum disappeared down the drain as he splashed half a bottle of their expensive shower gel over himself and the catharsis continued. Hot tears added salt to the cleansing suds as he wracked almost painful spasms in the heat of the water.
He washed it all away.
His mother’s death, the way his father left them cold outside the crematorium bleeding tears in the autumn sun. The piercing nothing of everything and everyone as dead leaves rained down as the procession of mourners escaped, duty done.
His brother’s sectioning after he bit the head off his son’s hamster. Billy was ruined in that deadly rancor of too much acid mixed with a family of fuck-ups and a bad case of mania.
He washed it all away. Finally, it washed away and the water ran clean.
He spent some time shaving using the dry razor. He spent some time washing the tear streaks from his face with cold water. He borrowed one of Abi’s hair bands and placed his hair in a ponytail before cutting it to a uniform length and dumping the remains in the toilet.
He threw on the clothes Row had let him pick out from the wardrobe and looked at himself in the mirror. He smiled. No matter what the rest of this crazy day might hold, he felt like his past had finally lost its power to mould him, and he flushed the toilet watching the last of it spiral away.
“So what do you call this shit then.”
“Sashimi,” I grinned at Charley watching him discarded the slice of daikon and wolf down the tuna with a mountain of wasabi on top.
“Whoooeeee, delish. That’s a spicy combination. The tuna is real good Rowan Where did you get it?”
“Same place that I bought those subs, Westside Market deli, expensive but good.”
“Yeah and I bet you can’t match me with the wasabi,” he dashed back another, this time constructing a kind of spring roll with tuna and wasabi as the filling. He coughed and took a piece of the discarded daikon radish and a mouthful of water.
“Might have gone a little overboard with that one,” he winked.
“You’ve got me beat on the wasabi mate.”
Next to him a bespectacled editor of the New York review watched him in fascination. Like a raptor considering if a wolverine was fair game.
She leaned forward giving him a serous flash of her well-presented cleavage and asked, “why do people from England call each other mate?”
Charlie ogled what was on show for the briefest of moments replying, “it’s not the whole of England love, just Liverpool. I guess we’re like the Australians, we just want everyone to be our friends.”
“Fascinating, and do you think this is an English trait in general?”
“Nope, have you ever been to London love?”
“Yes, on many occasions to attend meetings for the review and spend leisure time. It’s a beautiful city.”
“Did you travel on the tube?”
“Occasionally why?” she sipped on her glass of Muscadet.
“Ever hear anyone call each other mate? Or even speak to each other for that matter?”
“No, I guess not. I never thought about it like that. People seemed friendly in general.”
“Everyone is friendly in London around the tourist areas, or in the decent hotels. The tube gives you a more nuanced vision of the English national character. Generally miserable downcast and belligerent, just like the weather.”
Charley grinned at her as he slurped his wine, “but not us Scousers, we’re friendly whatever the weather.”
I glanced across at Abi and caught her hiding a smile behind her hand. She was enjoying charley’s company as much as I was. The way he messed with the pretentious literary set was making her night.
It also warmed my heart to see Charley let himself go and be himself. This was the guy I remembered, funny a little crazy and uncompromising.
I stood up and finished my glass in a gulp, “I’ve had enough of all the formalities myself.""
I glanced at my friend David D, who I had met at some ridiculous party one night and done Molly with in one of the VIP booths. Little did I know at the time that this guy was a hundred grand a night DJ. We’d spent the rest of the night talking about old school techno, drum n bass and an unfashionable love of classical music. That night had been an epic combination of freaking out city brokers and negging wannabe super models.
“David has graciously agreed to play a set.”
Half of my guests whooped in excitement while the rest started the inevitable watch tapping, looking uncomfortable at the thumping music that started to undulate from the main loft room at the tap of a clicker David held in his hand.
“Time to party people, I’ve hit my magic wand,” he camped it up as I grabbed Charley by the arm and pulled him in close to speak to him as the music drowned everything out.
Abi grabbed me by the arm “Come dance with me.”
“Go on you fucking Div,” Charley shouted down my ear. “If I had a girlfriend like that I wouldn’t keep her waiting.”
“Yeah, Hun I’ll be one minute I promise,” I assured Abi before turning back to one of my oldest friends.
“Listen to this tune Charley… don’t you recognize it?”
His eyes focused outward, pupils looming large as if he’d taken something. Realization looming large in his hypothalamus as the familiar beats drummed a pattern in his soul. A gateway to a time before so much went wrong with the world.
in luminous flow,
dancing love realization
bringing one nation.
“That’s our tune you beautiful fucker,” Charley grinned at me, eyes aglow with luminous flow. Alight with blazing summer’s light. “Only one of the biggest DJ’s in the world playing our fucking tune!”
“It is your tune mate, you did all the production, I just wrote some lyrics. He likes the tune as well Charley. Speak to him after his set… he likes the tune!”
Charley danced off into the crowd, arms waving shapes, flashing back to when we’d saluted the sunrise in those days of the brave new generation, dancing for one love nation.
I threw my arms up and followed him, dancing like it was 1999. I grabbed Abi and spun her around in ecstasy as she leaned into me and we kissed.
If only one moment in my friend’s life was changed it was enough. If by some lucky flip of a coin, I could be a part of breaking the stake that had impaled Charley’s spirit for so long, I’d die a a hap man.
© Rowan Joyce, all rights reserved.
EDIT: I forgot to add this YouTube version of Underworld's Pearls Girl that completely exemplifies the style of music Charley used to make. Listen to it while reading the final section of this story!
All Credit to the Artist/Musicians
The character of Charley is an expression of my empathetic soul being unable to come to terms with the cruelty of life. Is there something I can do about this? Is there a message to this dream? Yes, the message is clear, next time I see Charlie (not his real name) shuffling around town I'm going to stop him, try to talk to him, and try to help him. This story made me cry a few times in the writing, and I;m not ashamed to admit it. Especially the passage in the shower about washing away the influence of fear and its influence on addiction in life. The measure of us as human beings in this short life is how much we effect the people who are/were important to us in a positive manner.
Thanks for reading.
We now also have a curation trail set up so if you are a SteemAuto user, search for 'theinkwell' (all one word) and it is available as a community trail to follow.
We would like to say a special thank you to those kind souls who have already delegated to help support The Ink Well and creative writing on steem.