Emily

October 26th
Today is my birthday, and it’s the first one I can remember when nobody wanted to organize anything for me. Mum bought me a card and stuck £100 in crisp new ones into it, same as last year. Dad didn’t write in her card (surprise, surprise) and he sure as hell didn’t bother to buy me one himself. Last year he took me to lunch at Rules but so far he hasn’t called – must’ve forgotten completely.
Rachel made an effort, with tickets for Swan Lake and a bottle of bubbly, and Chloe, bless her, spent all her pocket money on a Juicy C. purse, but it feels really hollow. What happened to the family? Why the F… can’t dad just come home once in a while and be here with us? Mum’s hit the bottle again, ‘cos there’s all that shit in the Mirror about him and his secretary. Sooo fed up.
Doesn’t help that Jason got me pissed last night and gave me one of his dive bombers. Woke up about 3am to be sick, and couldn’t remember getting into bed with whatshisname, but there I was. Nice though. And someone nicked my money. Or I spent it. Couldn’t afford a cab home and had to take Jason’s change to get the night bus. Yuk! Lucky mum was in a coma, so snuck in about 5.30am and just up and dressed now. Time to send a few texts and see what’s cooking tonight for the birthday girl.

February 14th
Four valentines from . . . whoever. Kiddy stuff. Who cares. I don’t give a flying F… Why should I? Dad pulled me into the study (!!!) after I got in this morning with a “What’re you on, Emily?” like I didn’t know my pupils were a bit saucerish. F… him! The bastard only ever speaks to me to tell me off for partying. What the F… is he doing with his mates all week? The papers hate him, and he thinks it’s none of our business? Mum’s gone into a downward spiral and Rachel is buried in her room all day studying. What am I meant to do? Told him I was fine and that he should pay more attention to his marriage. Got a clout for my trouble. Fuck you, dad!
How am I going to get that £500 for Jason’s mate? I can’t disappear, and god knows he’s had what he wants from me already, so I can’t pay him in kind. I don’t trust him. Maybe he’s working under cover or something. Jason seems cool with him but I’m not sure about Jason either. If his mate is a pig, and he’s into me for enough coke to party till Christmas that I’m supposed to have used, then I’m going to jail. Maybe Rachel would lend me her savings if I told her I needed it really badly.

May 25th
Fuck, Fuck, Fuck!!! Two weeks late. Sitting here with the test kit and can’t bring myself to use it. I know the answer anyway. Sick again this morning. Fuck. Who was it though? Jason’s always careful. I’m sure it wasn’t Leroy, even though I was way out of it. He told me nothing happened. What can I do? I’ll have to go to the doctor or pay for a clinic, and I can’t tell mum, and dad would go ballistic. Jason’s mate is going to kill me if I don’t get him the £800.
Phoned to ask dad for an advance on my allowance, but got Maria. Always Maria. And her trying to be all pals and smarming up to me and fucking my dad. Bastard. Does he care at all about us?

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Tapas

“What do you think of this rabbit?” he pointed to the remains of the carcass on the deep blue glass plate, surrounded by scrapings of mashed potato and rich gravy.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it. We had it last time we were here. It’s the best thing on the menu. Do you want that piece of chirizo Tanya?
“Thank you but I’m not going to eat any more. You go ahead” Vera skewers the slice of chirizo and, moves her fork to include a piece of Manchego and a grape.
“Andalusian, it says. Probably caught outside Belgooly. Scrumptious though. Great choice. I’ve never had rabbit. All those cute little furry things with big eyes. Did you try the duck?”
“Don’t worry, these Andalusian rabbits are really ugly.”
“So say again. You want to invite only people you want, and no family? Then you’re talking about finding somewhere for sixty people. I can’t hear more than one person at a time.”
“I organized my 50th and that was a great venue, and it didn’t cost an arm and a leg. You should decide who you want first. That’s what makes a good party, not the venue or the food.”
“The mini- burgers are great”
“I’ve had one. You have that half.”
“No, I’m stuffed. The thing is we need to think about this. It’s a year off and can’t we just elope?”
“Darling, you know I would be happy to keep this between us, but… Can I have another glass of this wine?”
“Sorry sir we don’t do that one by the glass.”
“OK, we’ll have a bottle then.”
“No, Dan, we’ll never get through another.
“How about the Malbec, sir. It’s similar and we do that by the glass. I’ll get you a taste of the Malbec. It’s very popular.” The waitress, or is she the owner, returns with a small wine glass a quarter full of red and Dan tastes the wine in an exaggerated gargling, swirling it from cheek to cheek.
“I’ll have another glass of that. Adam?”
“No, thanks, I’m driving.”
“We can get a cab”
“No, it’s fine. I’m fine. I’ve only had a glass.”
“Can I bring you the desert menu?”
“Not for me. Vera? Dan?”
“No.”
“No thanks.”
“I think we’d like a moment, if that’s OK?”
The waitress reaches between Adam and Vera and her perfume cuts through the not insubstantial aroma of rabbit and duck and she tries to get her thumbnail under the edge of the slate serving dish without success. Adam smiles up at her and reaching across the slate, pulls it from the far side towards him and to the edge of the table so she can lift it by its edge. He wonders why restaurants use slates for serving. They must be so impractical, unhygienic and easily damaged, and their only redeeming feature is that they present the food well. Tapas somehow looks more generous.
“Can we have the bill please?”
They barely see the total before it’s whisked up and split. They’re drunk enough to make round numbers of everything substantially higher than the specific, just so that the four-way split is easy to calculate. They all drop €50 notes onto the small silver dish while focusing on the free custard tartlets which have been brought on a separate dish to the table, as a substitute for desert, a freebie from the grateful restaurant owner who’s finally getting full houses and profits, and recognizes the value of regulars over tourists. They had the table in the corner by the window, even though this time they hadn’t remembered to ask. The problem has only been that Vera, sitting next to the restaurant door, is the one most susceptible to the cold and every third customer doesn’t shut it after them. Adam has been up and down like a bloody yoyo throughout the meal, closing the door. Being solicitous. He feels it is incumbent on him to be responsible, given that he’s the driver, the least drunk. The host.
Returning from the toilet, Adam realizes that the party for a year hence, in his and Dan’s joint honour, has been planned and booked by Tanya, the party organisation expert. It’s a game.
“I don’t like the sound of that.”
“It’ll cost you”
“I’m not going to be organised. Can’t we just change the subject? It’s a year away. Let’s leave it.”
“You’re just so negative. All I was doing was talking.” They often row like this. It’s not about the party. It’s about control. It’s always about control and power and respect and each other’s share of the limited attention span Dan offers.
“Maybe we can do several different things spread out over a few weeks?”
“All year I was thinking.”
“Maybe you should elope.”
“I don’t fancy him.”

Being 59

59 should be an uneventful birthday. Forgettable. I had no hopes or expectations, nothing to suggest it mattered. The weekend was taken up with someone else’s 60th, which encapsulated all the horrors and pleasures of marking next year. The party lasted for twelve hours, the drinking for 16. The preparation lasted for three months and the clean-up may not end, as some stains are not removable.

I can’t help wondering whether 59 is well beyond one’s ‘natural life’. In the wild, or even in the middle ages, this would be considered a ‘ripe old age’, rather than just over the mid-point.
I’m dizzy with the thin air. I’m overflowing with emotions, which are unswitchoffable. The slightest hint of schmaltz and I’m teary. I can’t see anything ahead. It all seems to be behind me. Not least the writing. The achievement of a first, awarded on Friday, marked the closing chapter, not the opening of a new book. Fear. I feel fear that I’m not going to achieve anything as significant again. Not that the result has significance for anyone else. Just the old git doing what he does – setting himself goals and driving to attain them without real purpose. Just trying to prove himself again.
How do you move forward from this point? You’re in the process of being classified. People like/need to pin you to a colour. “He’s depressed. It’s a belated mid-life crisis. He’s not what he used to be. He really never dealt with the abuse. God, he’s so self-obsessed, narcissistic.”
Do you do what they say you should do? “Just turn up at the page.” “Go into the studio and make something you’re proud of.” ‘Keep writing and it will come”.
I felt something about the Kevin Barry method, which suggested the need for daily bowel movement. The constipated man sits patiently on the toilet seat and strains till he shits. Write 500 words before breakfast, without thinking and before doing anything else. That’s the morning pages.
Then take several hours to edit out four hundred, because most of what you say isn’t well said, or isn’t worth saying, or reading. Then spend the afternoon out taking exercise, breathing in the fresh air. Then go back to what you have saved and start to build on it. The foundations are strong enough for cognitive work. Find yourself by the end of the day with three or four hundred words worth keeping. Do that every day for a year and you will have 100,000 words. A book.
I thought this might be me, but I’m more of a stream of verbiage person than that, and somewhere closer to the Stephen King school. Sit and write two to four thousand words. Do that every day for four months without re-reading it too much. Get your 100,000 word draft finished and then start editing.
OK, so before the writing must come the idea. No? Surely you can’t start with nothing?
59 should have been an uneventful birthday, but he woke to find his world had changed. It was not just that his skin was green and scaly. That alone might have been attributable to the heavy drinking, or the fungal infection he thought he’d noticed in his groin over the last week. Nor that when he opened his mouth to thank his wife for her birthday present, he didn’t speak but rather squawked through a beak, like a parrot. That too might have been a hallucination brought on by the partying. It was the horrified look she gave when she turned on the bedroom light to greet him, took the wrapped jumper from her bedside cabinet and turned to him across the quilt.
“Fuck!” she leaped out of bed and ran naked from the room, only to re-appear briefly to check she had not been hallucinating.

59 should have been an uneventful birthday. It should have passed unobtrusively, shuffled by. Instead, it was a monumental traffic accident. A bloody tangle of vehicular wreckage and mangled limbs….

59 should have been. It was. It was in fact the quietest birthday he could remember. In the process of turning his life into a powerpoint presentation full of neat graphics and trend analyses, the liveliness of one’s birthdays is just one more smooth graph showing a Gompertz curve towards zero. This curve slides like a ski slope from the top of the hill, which, in my case was probably aged nine or ten, to the bottom, which may have come, but probably hasn’t – a year in which I die on my birthday perhaps? One in which the level of quietness is deafening.