I left the cafe, lightly buzzing from the extraneous coffee, and began to wander down the highstreet. It was a wednesday afternoon and the cobbles were hot with the footsteps of hundreds of shoppers, browsers, window shoppers, malingering youths and pensioners. The pensioners weren’t contributing to the “hot footsteps”, they bleated and mumbled, wandering and meandering in front of all others, seemingly intent on impressing onto the youngsters just how meaningless and aimless their trip to the shops was. They were counting down the days til death and were at pains to demonstrate the paucity of their existence. I pushed roughly past one such pensioner, a woman whose cracked and withered body seemed to imply that she was devolving into some variety of goblin-like creature and that the transformation was near to complete. After passing the butchers it occurred to me that I was not in a rush to be anywhere, and had in fact nowhere to go. It was only then that I realised that the flat I shared with Jade up until about twenty minutes earlier was no longer my home and that I had only to return there to collect the cliched black bin bags of clothing that were sure to litter the front lawn. Having very few clothing items of value and even fewer reasons to see Jade again that day I decided that my first port of call was to be Jeff’s house. I turned left by the newsagents and down the narrow passage, past a group of chavs who attempted to intimidate me by pulling their t-shirts up over their faces and shouting racial slurs which were more bafflingly inaccurate than offensive.
Five uneventful minutes later I arrived at Jeff’s abode, rang the faux Victorian bell and waited on the step, taking in the rich oaky scent of the door and admiring the small cabbage patch covering the garden in lieu of a flower bed. After an appropriate amount of time the door swung open and the haggard shell of Jeff stood before me. He’d put on weight, not dangerously, but enough to notice, a bit around the chin, a ripple on his belly, visible under the pastel blue shirt and inoffensive brown jacket. His hair line had moved back, again, not significantly, but enough that I noticed. He seemed to be looking to compensate for this through his lush spouting of facial hair, thick and soft, a “real” beard as Jade’s mother would no doubt have said. One not normally worn by a man of 30 years, not a fashion statement but not a mess, it framed his face and covered his acne marks and the scar he’d taken from the glass fight in his student days. He look tired. He didn’t disguise his surprise at seeing me.
“Peter, what the fuck, Peter?”
His eyes narrowed and he laughed loudly before grabbing me by the shoulder and effectively dragging me inside. I followed the brutish scholar into his study (first door on the right, cabbage patch view), it was simple and utilitarian in design, it felt cold and clinical, much like a therapist’s office. A desk sat in the far right corner, piled high with books yet none were open and the stack was precise and clean. The whole of one wall was a built in bookcase with all manner of dusty, leather bound, frayed tomes of varying importance, reputation and obscurity. The only other item in the room was a mahogany and leather sofa, on which we both sat. He turned in to face me and began as though he were continuing a recent conversation.
“Well, where the fuck was my invite then?”
“To what?” I replied. There were many events over the past two years (had it been that long?) that i’d neglected to invite Jeff to, more out of apathy than vindiction.
“To what? To what? The launch, the bloody book launch! The biggest occasion of your life, the biggest party of my life, and you didn’t invite me? I mean, sod the book, Sir David Frost was there, wasn’t he?”
“And Robert Winstone” I muttered, though perhaps not wisely.
“You prick, I bet you had hundreds of tickets, and I know you, I bet it was just you and Jade, and she only went because she opened the envelope and you only went because she made you!”
“Damn the book Jeff, the book was a bomb. They tore it to shreds, it was that bloody Newsnight Review, once any one of those urbanite, wealthy, pretentious arses watched it being bled on tv they wouldn’t touch it. That Craig Thomas in The Guardian sai…
I was cut off.
“…that ‘for a work so steeped in it’s apparent convictions, Seraca not only lacks any real substance but also patronises and condescends it’s readership. It preaches to a choir, one which is thankfully choking and dying in the pews’. He splashed four stars on the Twilight book yes, but he’s also a bloody good historical scholar. His paper on The Winter’s Tale lit up a whole new discussion on Shakespeare’s body of work. He’s bloody good Peter, maybe he got it right about Seraca, maybe he didn’t, but he definitely read the bloody thing and that’s to be applauded. 982 pages man!..
“986, without foreword”