4. The Party

WE MET AT ONE of those parties where no one knows anyone at first and then with every passing drink everyone realises that they've met each other already at some party years ago, or studied with them or worked with them, or studied or worked with someone who knows them. The warm night was consoling and suffocating at once, like a purring cat that's decided to sleep on your chest. The girl I’d come to the party with had run off almost instantly with some people she'd remembered she'd once known and left me to my own devices, as the saying goes, which usually when this happens to a party is a surefire way of making me leave. But I was halfway through a drink when I saw Lloyd from a distance and realised I knew him. I went up to say hello to him, and he looked at my blankly, and I had to remind him of my name. People like Lloyd have always made me fidgety. I can’t say why, I have no idea, to tell you the truth. He was tall and dishevelled and handsome, dressed almost entirely in black except for a white shirt, a good one, unironed. To his credit he didn't pretend to remember me, although he took me at my word that we'd met before, several times in different locales, including once in Barcelona, where he worked as a chef and warned me not to relocate to the city, calling it a savage and dangerous place for people like me. But this had been some years previously and I wasn't offended that he couldn't remember. He must have said the same thing to all kinds of grafters drifting through Barcelona. I asked him what he was doing for a living now, if anything, whether he was still a chef in Barcelona, or what had brought him back to M----, but he ignored the question, and frankly I didn't blame him, who cares after all? He never seemed to lack for money, not then and not now. In Barcelona he was quite the man about town despite or perhaps because of his world weary act. Although he seemed to enjoy the attentions of several local women, he was desperately and unhappily in love with another, who was not at all his type. She was the saint to his demon, or so I was told, although I dislike such summaries of complicated situations, and at any rate I never got to decide for myself, as I never met her. It was always slightly astonishing to me when Lloyd spoke to me, as he always gave me the impression he ought to be talking so someone more interesting than me – not through any fault of his, he was always well-mannered and polite to me, which I appreciated all the more because I had seen him act utterly witheringly to others. He did not hide his contempt. At this party, Lloyd was with three other people I’d never met before: a pretty girl called Sumi Carruthers, and two twin brothers, Shaun and Benjamin Weirmeyer, both of whom radiated the kind of spiteful, agitated rage that you can sense from 20 or 30 yards away. It was hard to make out exactly what had brought this unlikely quartet together at the time. I joined the conversation, which seemed to centre on some obscure moment in history – the reasons for the failure of the Weimar republic, oddly enough, and the merits of the film 'Cabaret' in relation to the musical theatre version. Benjamin seemed to know a surprising amount about both of these topics, related by only the slenderest of threads, and when he spoke he was erudite and thoughtful. As soon as he shut his mouth, however, he once again assumed the pose of an almost homicidal anger, which made me wonder whether this was simply the way the twins appeared, their genetic inheritance, so to speak, rather than a symptom of their personalities. After Benjamin spoke, Llyod replied with a withering put-down, which Benjamin heard with surprising equanimity, replying lucidly to the contrary, sustaining and elaborating his line of argument, which prompted Lloyd to call on me to adjudicate. I stalled for time while racking my brain for something intelligent to say that would offend neither volatile party until Sumi chimed in, telling us she knew of another party that would be much wilder than this one, and we unanimously agreed to go, squeezing into the one cab, driving several blocks until we realised that we didn't know the address, and had to return to the previous party, which in the meantime - a matter of a few minutes, really - had mysteriously been all but deserted.