by N. R. Radzik
The scene is the living room of a flat with a kitchenette and balcony, open-plan and comfortable as a crop top. I would say ‘chic as you like,’ however I know nothing of these matters, my interests confined chiefly to alcoholism, as both object of sociological enquiry and discipline. I had in fact been invited to this scene, i.e. the living room, to pay respects to the eminent and gout-ridden networker, M. F. CRUMBLEY, in light of his or her achievements. Since I was unaware of the specific achievement I had been induced to respect, I came prepared for numerous forms of celebration, stumbling into the living room festooned with confetti, red roses, white lilies, birthday candles, Union Jack, curly red wig, olive branch, Riesling spritzer, prayer book, sacrificial blade etc., all of which were cheerily deemed at once tasteless and redundant and thrown off the balcony in a spirit of moneyed abandon.
This was yesterday, the Winter solstice. Set against the black sky, the blinking lights of the city lifted by ridged limbs of steel and glass gave the impression to inbound motorists of a titanic wolf spider. England was dark and cold, and the people of the city were thankful for the meteorological excuse to remain sedentary, and ensconced themselves like tapeworms in the bowels of the omnipercipient beast. As an inbound motorist, however, I exuded ‘negative energy’ on arrival to the event, suspecting human civilisation to be no more welcoming than the bleak and hostile universe itself, and indeed once my useless gifts had been hurled piecemeal into the street I gave my wholehearted attention to both wine and cognac, hampered as I was by the possession of merely two hands.
M. F. CRUMBLEY was nowhere to be found, but many of the guests among whom I was labouring intensively to depress my central nervous system were interacting with one another nonetheless (albeit with conversations premised on the hypothetical whereabouts of the host, a topic of infinite variation and therefore pointless). I noticed an old friend, TABITHA, drinking sloe gin rapidly, and delivered through gritted teeth a witticism along these lines.
TABITHA: What do you want?
At this moment, a man approached us. Because I was sitting down, and could not be bothered to look up, I only saw his midriff and dangling arms, but gathered that he was topless, pleasingly muscular, and wearing a watch on each wrist as well as a signet ring engraved with the shield and spear of Mars, God of War, recognised widely as symbol of the male sex. He introduced himself as –
ARCHIBALD, LEADER OF THE PACK: Archibald, Leader of the Pack, pleased to make your reacquaintance, Tabitha. As you may have heard, I have discoursed far and wide and debunked many facile, emotivist arguments. You are known as a worthy debater, and it has been an oversight on both our parts not to have hitherto contrived a situation in which we might pit our wits against each other in pursuit of solving the great issues of our time. Perhaps this evening is opportune?
TABITHA: I have been drinking gin for nine hours, Pack Man.
ARCHIBALD: Prove it, with facts and logic.
TABITHA: I will not be so easily tricked into a discourse with you. Besides, who is to say you are worthy of me? Why should this be the case?
ARCHIBALD: I say so, for all the reasons I just gave you about me winning arguments.
TABITHA: But did you not infer your opponents were facile and emotive?
ARCHIBALD: I did.
TABITHA: Then does it not follow that you may also be facile and emotive, merely to a lesser extent, thus you cannot assert, on the basis of this already questionable reportage – and the assumption a worthy debater is neither facile nor emotive – that you are by necessity a worthy debater?
ARCHIBALD: Oh my God…
TABITHA: Might we not also agree that a cretin would vouchsafe their debating skills on unverifiable claims which, if even true, would demonstrate at best middling talent in this regard, and that since we have observed you behave as such, you are cretinous?
At this point, the topless man licked his lips in confusion, raised his face to the ceiling and unleashed a barbarous howl that caused much disgruntlement among the guests, especially cowardly MARTIN, who, whinnying, splashed his eyes with half a pint of shandy. The topless man was promptly enjoined to leave by the host’s de jure spokespeople. TABITHA shook her head and sighed.
TABITHA: I’m getting too old for this. I had hoped to see consensus in my time. I had hoped to see some arguments seasoned and served. But we are addicted to opinion and prideful conflict, as sure as we are to the sharp metallic tang of cocaine. But it’s a young man’s game. And I have posterity to consider, the imparting of thankless virtues like patience, the disposing of my estates, replacing of kidneys…
ME: You’re twenty-five.
But TABITHA just shrugged and continued to drink her sloe gin, in rapid, mechanical movements, the copper mug flashing from knee to lip in the space of a breath. That’s not a happy person, I thought, accidentally aloud, and TABITHA managed to shoot me a quick nod between slurps.
MARTIN: But where have you been, Crumbley? We were worried sick.
The sound of MARTIN’s simpering cloyed me from dark thoughts of an eternal and contiguous conversation in which all that could be remembered from before the conversation slowly gives way to memories of the conversation itself, and the words become proxies of their former selves, proceeding to whispers of fragments of former whispers, enduringly quiet and indistinguishable, until all that is left to express is a gargled moan, the exhalations of corpses, forever. It transpired the host had arrived.