|Come round, won't you?|
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
"Are you all right?" asked Juliet over the telephone in the small hours of the morning. Grosvenor had hoped that she would call. He wasn't exactly depressed over the evening's events, but a sense of dissatisfaction hung over him; he had been looking forward to having an intimate conversation with Juliet, which had failed to materialise.
Nonetheless, Grosvenor answered Juliet's question defensively, denying her statement that he had seemed "put out". When he asked how her evening had been after he had gone home, the reason for her call became clear. She was upset because Izhar had made a pass at her. Grosvenor could hear her crying on the other end of the line. He thought about how happy she had seemed earlier (after a dry spell, she was now seeing several men). Now she appeared to feel as if her world was falling apart.
Juliet talked about how she felt that she had done something wrong that had brought on the incident. All her closest friends were male, and she viewed those relationships as asexual. Did the fact that she was a woman mean that there would always be an obstacle to true connectedness, she asked. Would she have to keep her conversations with male friends in check to avoid "leading them on", and was Izhar using their friendship as a convenient way to procure sex without having to put in the work required to approach a new person and start a relationship with them?
Grosvenor tried to explain, as he had done on other occasions, that gender and sexuality were factors that could not be ignored in relations between people. Feelings of attraction were not based on logic, and could give rise to extremely powerful impulses; he drew attention to the amount of effort that Juliet had recently spent on tracking down an attractive man she had met at a party. With this in mind, he felt that Izhar's pass did not mean that he placed little value upon his friendship with Juliet.
Grosvenor told Juliet that while her openness with others did leave her vulnerable to an extent, it had its rewards in the close relationships it enabled. He reflected on how he himself kept his own actions and impulses so regulated that he had difficulty connecting with people. In the spirit of greater openness, he admitted that he had been uncomfortable during their earlier meeting.
The conversation drifted away from what had happened, onto lighter subjects, and Grosvenor was glad that Juliet seemed to be in much higher spirits when it came to an end. He pressed the button on his 'phone's handsfree kit to disconnect the call. This took several seconds, enough time for him to hear Juliet saying something to herself before she hung up.
Monday, December 29, 2003
Grosvenor smiled and nodded as he tried to take an interest in the conversation that Juliet was having with her friend Izhar. They were having an animated discussion about mutual friends of theirs that Grosvenor was not familiar with. When Juliet took a break to go to the toilet, Grosvenor managed to exchange a few pleasantries with Izhar, whom he had not met before. He seemed likeable enough to Grosvenor, although he got the impression that his machismo was a little overplayed.
When Juliet returned, the conversation reverted to topics that Grosvenor had neither the will nor the ability to comment on. He wondered why Juliet couldn't at least make an effort to choose subjects to talk about that he could make some sort of in-road on. He recalled one time when he had tried to make people who didn't know each other more comfortable with talking to each other, he himself had ended up being excluded from the conversation. Juliet was one of the participants in that case. Typical, he thought.
Juliet and Izhar discussed where they were going to move onto after leaving the restaurant that they were all sitting in. Grosvenor detected that somehow he wasn't invited, but it didn't matter, as he had grown weary of following their conversation, and announced his departure. As he was putting on his coat, he extended a hand to Izhar, who asked him to finish putting on the coat before shaking his hand, to avoid being rude. This grated, but he said nothing, although his silence must have communicated something, as Izhar said he was "only joking" moments later.
Grosvenor beat a hasty retreat, relieved to be leaving the situation, but a little heavy-hearted. He looked back and gave Juliet and Izhar a thumbs-up sign and a smile, a trick he often used when feeling melancholy. As he left the restaurant, he felt regret over not giving Juliet a hug to say goodbye.
Feeling rather sorry for himself, Grosvenor walked to the train station. He thought about how there wasn't really any rule that obliged Juliet to be more considerate in scenarios such as the one he had just exited, even though he would have preferred it. And hadn't he made the choice to remain quiet during the evening? Choice of response was what it was all about, he thought, and he didn't have to respond to the events that had just unfolded by being miserable. He felt a little better.
Thursday, December 25, 2003
Grosvenor had consistently been failing to get out of bed before noon for days, and today was no exception, even though he had stayed awake on Christmas Eve after working through the night to try and re-set his body clock. He hurried downstairs, as his relatives had already started the ritual of unwrapping their Christmas gifts.
He preferred not to make too much of a fuss about Christmas; he found that not building it up meant that he now enjoyed the festive season so much more than he had as a child, when his expectations of it had been high. So it was all the more delightful to him that all the gifts he received from his relatives were items that he really wanted, even though he had not even thought of giving them any clues.
With lunch served almost immediately after the exchange of gifts, Grosvenor decided that he would wait until the early evening to telephone Juliet to wish her a Merry Christmas. He was aware that in many households, lunch on Christmas day was served late, due to misjudgements about how long it woluld take to cook the traditional bird, so Juliet might well be busy with that at any time during the afternoon.
When he did call Juliet at her husband's house, he could hear the sounds of her small daughter in the background, enjoying the day and what he assumed was a generous payload of toys. Her enthusiasm for life was such that she would probably have been as happy if she had received a few sheets of paper as a gift.
After describing her meal of deep-fried turkey to Grosvenor, Juliet mentioned that her adopted family, who lived in Italy, would be visiting early in the New Year. She said that she was keen for him to meet them. It was the first time that anyone had suggested such a thing to Grosvenor, and he was surprised and moved. He felt proud to have Juliet as a friend, but he wasn't used to the idea that someone might feel the same way about him.
Monday, December 22, 2003
"My hands are getting really cold holding this glass of icy water," said Grosvenor. "Here, feel this." He awkwardly took Zanthe's hands, which had been crossed one over the other. "This is the one time that I can touch your hand and have it feel warm to me." Zanthe had bad blood circulation, which normally made her skin cold to the touch. "Ice Queen," added Grosvenor.
"Oh yes, they do feel cold," remarked Zanthe with genuine surprise. She shot Grosvenor a glance. "You only did that so you could hold my hand."
That was quite evident, thought Grosvenor to himself, but did she have to say it out loud? Now he was embarrassed. Couldn't she just go along with it and play the game? Once upon a time she used to call him "Big Man". Now - nothing.
"He's so smooth," observed Murray wryly.
Grosvenor left the pub shortly afterwards, pondering on how he was going off Zanthe.
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
"Let's cross over here," said Eduardo, as he and Grosvenor walked towards the station. They had just left an Indian restaurant, the same place that they always had their lengthy suppertime meetings. Topics of discussion had ranged from Eduardo's concerns about losing his job to Grosvenor's lack of knowledge as to the correct way to behave in a nightclub.
"Why did we cross there?" asked Grosvenor as they reached the other side of the road.
"We need to cross to get to the station," replied Eduardo.
"I don't think it makes any difference whether we cross or not."
"Well, I didn't like the look of that lot over there," said Eduardo, gesturing towards a group of surly-looking baseball-cap-wearing youths that had been walking slightly ahead of them at a slower pace.
"Oh..." said Grosvenor. He'd always assumed that his own aversion to bands of disenchanted youngsters was proof that he was a craven coward, and that other people were secure enough not to be concerned about such things. "I didn't like the look of them either," he said, "Why didn't you like the look of them?"
"They're wasters," replied Eduardo.
"I think it's important how you approach people like that," said Grosvenor. "Like with this hat here," he said, pointing to the East German army surplus mutze on top of his head, on which was pinned the original badge featuring a hammer and sickle. "It always gets comments when I go out wearing it. Always. You've got to wear it with authority if you're going to get away with it, especially with groups of teenagers; they're always looking for something to pounce on. "
As he rode the train home, Grosvenor thought about how his attention-grabbing hat ironically helped him feel more confident, even though it might be seen as an object of ridicule. He began to understand why people with tattoos seemed to ooze attitude; standing out from the crowd put you in a potentially vulnerable position, so you became more acutely aware of not allowing yourself to fall into the role of a victim. He didn't want to get a tattoo, but he did have some temporary tattoos depicting dinosaurs at home. They might be useful as a social aid even if applied in a non-visible area, simply by virtue of him knowing that they were there.
Monday, December 01, 2003
I was dozing off in the cinema during the second act of a particularly inane film about the conquering power of love when I became aware of a disturbance in the row I was sitting in. Someone was making their way along the row, blocking people's views as they passed. A figure slumped down next to me. The sweet smell of boiled milk filled my nostrils. A shiver went through me.
Schoolyard memories rushed back upon hearing that voice.
"It's me. Grosvenor. John. Grosvenor."
I turned my head. I hadn't seen that face, smelled that lactic aroma, in over a decade. Next to me sat my old classmate, my best friend through secondary school. We had sworn to stay friends forever when different choices of university separated us. For a year or so we exchanged letters and saw one another during the holidays. When my parents moved to another part of the country, we continued the letter-writing, but Grosvenor's missives began to become erratic in nature, and came so frequently that I was unable to reply to one before the next arrived. Eventually, the constant demands for timely replies and near-psychotic musings on the nature of existence (as he saw it) wore me down, and I stopped responding. The letters continued to come for a while, but stopped abruptly, the final one being a single blank sheet of paper.
"John," I said, "What are you doing here?"
"I saw you come in," he replied. "And since when do you call me John?"
We left the cinema, my attempts to be non-disruptive curtailed by Grosvenor's barging past the other spectators as noisily as he had when he came in. We went to a small coffee shop, where after a little small talk, he told me the reason that he had chosen to contact me now.
"I've been watching you," he said. I spluttered in the middle of a sip of coffee.
"You've been watching me?" I replied, half-chortling. "What do you mean - you've been spying on me?"
"Let's just say I like to keep tabs on old friends."
"Oh, really?" I said, "and how long has this been going on?"
"Oh... since the time you decided to discard me like a used tissue, about twelve years ago."
"Look, Grosvenor," I said, "it's been really great catching up and all, but I have to get going - I have an appointment with reality." I started to get up. Grosvenor chuckled.
"You always had a way with words. A good 'turn of phrase'," he said, raising his fingers to emphasise the quotes. "That's one of the things I've always liked about you."
I started to walk away.
"What would Martha say if she knew about that little redhead you've been seeing?"
"Finally. I've got your attention," said Grosvenor. I turned to face him. On his face was an idiotic smirk. I sat back down at the table.
"What - do you - do you have photos or something?" I asked, trying to appear calm.
"I might have," he said. "But I certainly wouldn't do anything as crass as to bring them here and show them to you like some overdone gangster film, though."
"You haven't got anything," I said, trying to call his bluff.
"Maybe I do, maybe I don't," he said. "But I know you." He leaned in. "If I give word to that wife of yours about your adventures between the sheets with Sophie, or whatever her name is, all she has to do is ask you a few suspicious questions about this or that 'conference' that you were at, and you'll crack."
He slouched back in his chair and flicked a grain of sugar across the table.
"You never could lie for toffee," he said.
He was right. My questionable ability to lie effectively, a result of my upbringing, was not something that I could stake my marriage and my child on.
I didn't know what it was that Grosvenor was going to ask for, although I was sure that it wouldn't be anything as straightforward as money or material goods. His demands still managed to surprise me, though.
He told me that he had been keeping a weblog, an online diary that anyone could read on the internet. He had dreams of achieving some sort of public recognition through this journal, hoping to become the next Samuel Pepys or something. He seemed to think that it would stand as a monument to the times we live in, a record of the way we lived for future generations to refer to. However, his uneventful life, along with his limited writing skills, had meant that this log attracted almost no readers. He confided that he had lost so much motivation to write anything of consequence in this diary that at one stage it had become no more than a statistical record of his masturbatory activities, complete with details of times and durations.
Now, he wanted me to write his journal for him. I explained that this was a ludicrous idea. How could one man write an intimate record of another man's inner life? He told me to think of it as a "biography in real time". He would telephone me when he had had an experience that he considered worthy of noting down for posterity, giving me key details of what had happened. I was to then transform this into prose, using my imagination and my knowledge of the man to fill in any gaps, in terms of both details of events and what might have been going through his mind.
"Don't worry," he said, "I'm not going to make you do all the work. I'm going to save some of the stickier details for myself, heh heh."
Grosvenor gave me instructions on how to create a "blog", and promised that he would be in touch. I don't know when I will hear from him, or how long he is going to keep this up for; hopefully the novelty will wear off. But for now, I am resigned to the task ahead of me, and sit calmly waiting for the 'phone to ring.