He observed from across the room as L attended to the needs of the various guests. She was being very solicitous (was that the word?), unusually so for a new arrival. Displaying a confidence you rarely saw in one just off the boat, she circulated, put herself about, talked and laughed where appropriate – though, from this distance, across the room, he couldn’t tell what she was talking or laughing about. Occasionally she looked across at him. Perhaps she was trying to impress?
He admired the way she threw herself into her role so unselfconsciously, with such apparent conviction, when she knew that the body was downstairs. The body, in itself, might be sufficient motivation for this performance. It could also be that her prior training was particularly good – wherever she’d come from, he wasn’t sure: he really ought to find out and pass on some form of commendation, a good word to whoever had been involved in her preparation. Perhaps she knew that the more she involved herself with these other bodies, the more the body downstairs would disappear – and later, she might think, when she went downstairs, she would find that it wasn’t there.
He was thinking this when she came over and informed him of her worry regarding the electrical appliances, that they would all have to be unplugged, for safety reasons – don’t want any fires do we – and would he mind starting now though the event wasn’t yet over, because there were so many to deal with. Again she demonstrated qualities unusual for one so new: pro-active, assertive. So because there was something striking about her, he agreed: he could have expressed the fact that he was rather disconcerted, but instead he went along with this persona of hers.
He started with the nearest appliance to hand, the microwave. He reached over to the back of it – it was positioned on one of the units, a plinth of crumby old formica. The lead went down the unit’s side – someone had taped it there – across a brief dirty interval of shadowed floor, to disappear into a cut-away at the bottom of the next unit: it could be a guide-line for blind mice, he thought. He crouched down, and feeling a bit like a mouse about to use its escape tunnel, he pulled on the lead, felt some movement – some give – and then the lead was taut.
He did not want to get in the way, to spoil the event (though no doubt the guests were oblivious to him, caught up as they were in their own desires (soon to be wound up)). He opened the front of this unit to gain access to the plug. To his surprise he found within a convoluted knot of cables, leading off via a succession of plug sockets, out of the unit. This would take longer than he’d thought. And never mind the body downstairs, the place was a health and safety disaster – extension lead upon extension lead. A memory came to him, of a course he’d once been on – in another life? – concerning the dangers of the office environment, including such practices as this approach to electrical cabling.
He now found himself down on all fours, crawling past the unit to see where the cables led, and aware of legs and movement to the side of him – a few pairs of bare feet in front of him now, and on through the legs. He was getting under their feet. He looked up, mouthed ‘sorry’ and ‘excuse me’ – politeness was important. However he himself was now irritated. Why was it that the event was not over? Why couldn’t they all just go, and leave him to deal with what he had to deal with? Perhaps L, if she were so assertive, could have announced the end? He looked around for her, and found that she was already looking down at him – a group of guests were between the two of them – but he could see her face clearly, and he could immediately see that she had been watching him: her face answered his last question with ‘it’s your job, why haven’t you dealt with the situation?’ Without words she continued – ‘why are you squirming around on the floor, creating a disturbance, when you are in charge? You are the organizer, the responsible one.’
He felt unable to answer these charges at this point: partly because they were unspoken – though no less real because of that – partly because he was in this undignified position, crouching here and craning his neck up, body parts (some of them not so good to look at) crossing his field of vision. And partly he knew it was true that his position in the chain of command entailed his effective performance of certain functions, and it was perhaps the case that he had been less than effective recently. For one thing there was the organization of the venue – always treading the fine line between accessibility and inaccessibility: it was becoming clear to him that this was not the best of places.
He followed the cables across the floor. They went under the chair with a couple on it. There was a row of four plugs beneath it. He could lie down, stretch and reach between their legs to unplug them. He lay down, reached out, but couldn’t quite make contact. He stayed still for a moment, aware of people stepping over him – it was like he’d become one of those things designed to slow down the traffic: what were they called? Yes, a sleeping policeman – that was what he was like.
Turning over – trying to revolve with as little disturbance as possible – he lay on his back now, with the slow movement of the couple just above and behind him, and standing astride him, looking like a colossal statue, was L – she was talking to someone he couldn’t see, and as he lay there looking up between her legs, he reflected on what we see and what we don’t see, and how what we see at any particular moment could always be the last thing we see.
I knew you when I saw your pilot in the parish.
Will you not come in to look at our many curios?
Shall I bring them to your hunger?
I am so amused I should sit down, dress
And stand up. I should shout from the rooftops.
Wife. If you want to see, here is the mammoth
Opportunity. Here is the muddy masquerade.
I scroll inside of me as I go about
And it is more exciting than any play
We have so many interesting exposures
And inclusions. But we have many more
Sidewalks wrinkle in the sunlight.
We need this sunlight, warming up the footpaths,
Drying-out the playgrounds and the thorns.
Tracks took us to the lifts to see the old schoolmaster:
There is a gondolier,
Which is like transfixed Superman.
Some idioms about egg-cups.
A nice old irritation-stiffener.
A hair-piece drying on the prongs.
This is where the wonderful aphrodisiacs
Glimmer : they are priceless now.
We only have fudge
Though we can move it wherever we want
(the fate of our household).
The housemaid looms larger: you are advised
Not to dangle the toddler over the charcoal.
We can see her silk in the parlour.
The headlamps show the hot perfumed
Toxins, sinking into petals and ditches.
The night of The Wrong House-Father:
While we waited for the fair we had such a
Feedback as we had never before experienced.
After lemon we went to the widow.
She showed us her floor, the little rows
Where she dries coal, and the three
Compartments where she keeps her
Talk about the future when you see
The biography of weeds written
By the road-side.
Take these sighs directly to pay four dragons.
There are no dragons.
This is China. Though it looks like France.
After a while it will be reading,
And reading much.
The new curtains are growing:
Thinly, to be sure.
The oranges are ripe.
There are very few triumphs and they are not of the biggest.
I am sorry you did not see the famous Peonies.