We’d bumped into each other at the GUM clinic. I’d walked into the crowded waiting room of desperately casual out-patients, my first thought being ‘So many dirty fuckers!’, my next being ‘Oh fuck, it’s Jimmy!’. Not through embarrassment, more an amused moment of simultaneous recognition. We both broke into grins that we were there, and sat and nattered with only the slightest of awkwardnesses until it was time whichever one of us had to go off first to get our waters siphoned and urethras scraped.

A couple of hours later and we were coincidentally discharged, or maybe dismissed is a better word in context. At the exit, we both pointed towards the leafy garden of the White Swan and said ‘Pint?’ with a matching hand/forearm gesture, in an amused moment of happily resigned certainty. It was one in the afternoon.

Now, Jimmy Duggan slumps against his beer. He doesn’t like the band on the juke box. ‘Is there anything worth saying about them? Their art means nothing to me.’ He knits his fingers round the straight pint glass. The sun’s shining in his face and he’s squinting as it’s glaring, the backwards lettering of a beer logo in the big window of the pub shading his mouth and frown. It’s two in the afternoon.

Outside in the baking heat of the park next to the boozer, I can hear kids screaming with early summer delight. The rattle and roll of scooter wheels and plastic beads on bike spokes. I don’t think Jimmy is hearing this, but you never know.

‘The fucking kids!’ He gulps down at least half a pint, as if the mere sound is enough. Refreshed, maybe a bit dewier of eye, he softens and purses his lips. ‘Headachey,’ he mitigates. He’s been talking with alternate bitterness and what is meant to be wry detachment about “The Scene”, with capitals, in quotes, as he insists on pronouncing it, for about at least 40 minutes. He seems to not want to talk about anything real. The knitted fingers are a bit trembly when he unlaces them and runs a hand through his hair. His barnet’s longer and less kempt than I recall from last time I saw him, which may have been six months, about, at least. He’s overall a bit unattended looking. Wearing loafers sockless, cardie buttoned up wrongly – buttoned up at all, on, in these temperatures. He is thin and distracted.

That’s when he mentions the cause of his headache, who he’s been seeing, and my bollocks retreat inside.

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Thoughts on a napkin with circles of gin

Some stick-thin English chick literally stepped from behind a plastic plant in the bar of the terrible chain hotel I’ve been suffering. “Enrique Hemaski. You knew Isabelle Bauze.” It was almost an accusation. She had her light brown hair in a not-too-severe ponytail, with a stray bang tickling one bony cheek. Dial-a-cliché black trouser outfit on.

OK, here we go, I thought. I’d expected something like this ever since I’d heard Izzy died, having met serious, take it personally girls like this before. I had a couple of gins in me from brunch with a designer and I decided to live down to my rep. “Yeah. And yeah. Who the fuck are you?” I hammed it up, the breathless tipsy swagger, and finished my cigarette off with what I hoped was maximum phallic symbolism, stabbing it in the dirty sand of the ashtray next to the plants.

I straightened while she waited with a look of detached amusement.
“It’s okay, Mr Hemaski, I’ve read your books. I think you’re funny. Relax.”
I had to laugh. She had me, the insouciant floozy. I relaxed.
“Yeah, I knew Isabelle. She just died. That’s why I’m in this dungeon. I’m going to Paris. You still haven’t told me who you are.”
“My name’s Jen…” I stuck out a hand, which she shook cordially but impatiently, a sharp amused exhalation through the nose and a pursed lip smile. “…Collis. I lecture at Silversmith’s. My doctoral thesis was on Bauze. I’ve been asked to edit a memoir…” She put a hand on one hip and extended the other to the side, palm up. She was a hieroglyph signifying what can you do. I did my De Niro bottom lip shrug and moved my head a little.
“So what do I write about her? That I haven’t already, I mean…” I laughed a raspy laugh and rubbed some silvery stubble. “If you know which of my fuckin’ hilarious books I’m talking about.”
Now she laughed. “Everyone thinks Fin is about Jean-Paul Duchamps. I think it’s about you… Well. It can be read…” she said, a voice that seemed bored with academic qualifiers. I liked her style. In a previous novel, life, I’d probably have tried to fuck her. Whatever. She shrugged. “Well, you knew her, anyway. You definitely had a thing going on. And yes, I think you’ve definitely written about her.”
I cocked my head and waited, my arms folded. She shifted slightly in what looked like an anticipated move. The pony tail swapped shoulders.
“Not in Tricoteuses.”
I waited. She rolled her eyes and her voice took on a quality which suggested a deeply professional annoyance born from a deeper passion for I know exactly what. “Diners Club. I take it you’ve read Alessandro.”
I rasped a laugh again. The air con was fucking drying my throat out and anyway I feel awkward with professional academics.
“I met her, once. Tried to have a man to man chat about her Famous Reading…” She nearly stops herself smiling. “Heh. She didn’t want to know. ‘It’s so aaahb-vious!’… What the fuck, I thought it was funny. So did Edith, in point of fact. I mean, Tricoteuses…” I do the honkiest chateau du Frog I can manage. “C’mon. I wouldn’t mind some credit for doing my job sometimes.”
“Quite.”

Miss Collis crossed her ankles and leaned back slightly. Her hands were together in front of her and she’d magicked a card into them somehow. She held it out with a slight gesture of the wrist. Business card. I took it. “So, if you could say… something… Doesn’t have to be too long. Whatever you think.”
I held the card about chest high and gestured decisively with it a couple of times. “I will, Miss, uh, Collis. It, uh, is, miss?” I added, kind of hamming, kind of weakly. My heart wasn’t even in it for playing. She gave me a knowing, pursed lips smile. “It’s Doctor Collis, Doctor Hemaski. I look forward to hearing from you.” This time she stuck her hand out, and we shook.

I lit a cigarette and watched her head out through the revolving door. So, eulogy from Dr Hemaski. I had a bite in my stomach, which was maybe the dried out scrambled eggs from breakfast, maybe the gins, but mainly a sudden sense of responsibility to the dead. I decided to try for another drink and see how it sat.

Coming up in Part 2: Enrique and Isabelle.

Somewhere outside a pub in Leeds.

‘What, her? Naw, she’s left.

Y’what?

Yeah she was there. In her fuck-me boots and that top.

Yeah, that’s the one.

Ha ha ha.

Y’what?

Hang on a sec… ‘scuse me, love. Thanking you.

Still there?

Yeah, it’s filling up.

Y’what, about…? Hey mate, I’m just talking.

No, I know, but you sound serious.

Ha ha ha…no, but seriously. You better just stop with that.

Well, she’s got a boyfriend. He dunt take kindly to people with designs. Not on Mandy.

Fucker’s six five and plays rugby. He gets shirty.

Look, he’s from Garforth and you stay in Headingley, you get me?

Alright, alright, don’t get upset!

Y’what?

Hey, you asked me. I’m just relating… yeah, yeah… how the evening went…

Before she were in? No, I’m telling… I’m on t’pre-lash in that bar the students go in. See some lass mouthing along to ‘Come As You Are’ on the jukebox.

I dunno, some emo bird…

Yeah…

…in a, in a crop top and drainpipes. Converse All Stars. Asymmetrical hair.

Yeah, tidy. Playing at being the DJ.

That’s it, little emo lifesaver.

I know, it din’t look promising musically, but… I was thinking, “Come on then, surprise me,” and fair fucks to her, she did, follows it with ODB, ‘Got yer money.’

Top. Now she’s mouthing along again as she sticks in more coins. But then Dirt McGirt’s closely followed by Green Day, sort of proving me right the first time, kind of, but anyway.

No, she was with about… thirty mates!

So yeah, I’m all ‘wake me up when this record ends’, about to finish up me drinks and move outside, and I notice Mandy, suddenly, playing Stu.

Stu.

Aye, y’know him.

He’s… He’s got… highlights and green day-glo socks.

Pink and green day glo.

That’s him. Mismatched socks.

He’s not, no, but Gordo thinks he is.

Why? “Cause he dresses like one.”

No, I dunno. Gordo’s…

Gordo’s a rugby player. I told you that already. Supposed to be a law student too…

…I know, it’s fucking deadly, innit? So Stu and Mand are playing pool and notice me slouching over by the bar. Stu’s like “Ah, just the fellow! Come and lend a hand, sir. Mandy’s tanning me arse here.”

Yeah, all that. That expression on his face.

I wan’t biting, no. I looked round nonchalant, you know, doing the de Niro face.

Yeah, internal. Voiceover.

Anyway, he looks a bit shifty, she looks like butter wouldn’t fucking melt as usual, then they both got a call about the same time and shifted sharpish.

No, that were it. I think it…

Naw… I don’t think Stu were at it, no. But I wouldn’t want to speculate.

Of course.

She’s hot, yes.

Shmokiiiiin’! Yeah…

Look, no one’s denying it. No. But seriously: no. Don’t touch her or there’ll be a palaver.

You’ll end up getting… fucking… rucked and mauled by this fucking… prop, whatever the fuck he is. Big bastard. Did you not hear about Nevitt?

Nevitt.

NEVITT.

Yeah, that’s him. ‘Have it!” Well, he tried. Got a kicking for his efforts.

Just sayin, know what’m saying?

Smart.

Yeah, well up for it later, mate. Give us a shout, we’ll see what comes about.

No, just outside… Blakies now.

Yeah, it’s filling up.

Having a smoke.

Alright then.’

Wednesday, deriving from Wines-day, the middle of the week and the day associated most closely with needing a stiffener to see you through to the weekend.