*Features adult language and themes.*
What’s the point of having a party on a boat if it never leaves the dock? It’s like getting into a taxi and paying the driver to stay put. Sure the view was good, but the floor didn’t stop moving. Plus the sound of water lapping at the side made Kurt want to piss constantly. Though with the amount he’d already drunk no other excuses were needed.
He stood at the rail looking out over the dark water of the Thames. Soft jazz music filled the air not occupied by the slapping of water. The boat had been moored just down from the London Eye. Firework central on New Year’s Eve. He had to give it to the magazine, they really hadn’t skimped on the promotion. I’m just surprised they had this sort of money left after my advance.
Self Magazine had hired the entire boat, all three levels of it. Kurt’s wife had told him it was the place to be to bring in the New Year. If you care about that sort of thing.
Martha did. She cared about anything that her friends deemed important. The latest production, the hottest restaurant, the popular bars. Seemingly any place that was preceded by an adjective. She had been thrilled when he’d told her about the magazine column. Her yoga friends were avid subscribers. They bought into the whole holistic, touchy-feely editorial. In fact Kurt had gone up considerably in his wife’s estimation with the deal. He’d had four books published, two DVD’s, countless sold out shows and a bank balance big enough to support her lavish lifestyle, and it was a few crappy magazine articles that justified his career. It’s only because her friends approve. She gets to use me as social lubricant. She finally sees a reason to show me off.
It was such a shame her friends were a bunch of cunts.
One of the biggest revelations to Kurt upon moving to the UK was getting a good grasp on the slang and swearwords. He was quite aware of the ‘c-word’ back in America, but the Brits seemed to use it with such flair.
It was such an apt word for Martha’s friends. It had a harsh sound, especially if you put emphasis on the ‘c.’ It reminded him of the meaningless noises they made when they greeted each other; strange squealing expulsions. The end of the word was also stamped with a strong ‘t.’ The same sort of noise they made when they disapproved of something. It just fit.
Kurt was a writer, it was his job to use words to describe a plethora of things. He had an extensive vocabulary, yet in all of the hundreds of thousands of words available to him, that was the one that best described Martha’s friends.
He turned around to look out over the party. Despite the chilly winter air the open deck was full of people mingling. Waiters circled amongst the guests with silver platters of fancy canapés. The sort of finger food that consisted mostly of aspic jelly. It all looked like frogspawn to Kurt, nothing else about the food suggested it might taste any better. The waiters were roundly ignored by the guests, the trays might as well have been hovering in mid air. There was no direct eye contact, no cursory ‘thank you’s’. Glasses of champagne were plentiful too. It was a party after all. What is there to celebrate?
Kurt spotted Martha in the throng, she was waving him over in a jerky agitated way. She’d probably been trying to get his attention for a few seconds more than she would have liked. He’d selfishly let his attention wander from her for a few moments.
He swayed as he reluctantly let go of the rail. The champagne had done its job quite thoroughly. He slid through the crowd, grabbing another full glass on his way, making sure not to acknowledge the server.
He jostled his way through to greet Martha. She turned and leaned her body towards him, offering her cheek for a kiss. He obliged, planting a quick, sexless peck on it. She stood in front of him, smoothing down his lapels and adjusting his shirt collar. She had a disapproving look on her face.
She knows I’m drunk, Is she upset? She always looks at me like that.
“There you are, darling,” Martha said elongating the ‘ahhh’ in darling. “We’ve been looking for you everywhere, haven’t we girls?”
It was then that Kurt realised he’d been lured into the coven. He was surrounded by Martha’s friends. They all stood in statuesque poses, their heads tilted away from each other as though they were looking around at something else far more interesting. To Kurt’s eyes they were all dressed the same, in designer ‘uniforms.’ They would talk endlessly about their clothes, about their differences and merits, about how much they cost, and whose name was on the label.
If you’ve seen one designer dress you’ve seen them all.
“Good evening, ladies.” Kurt said, trying his best not to slur.
His only reply was a collection of hums and mutters, which would have been insulting if it wasn’t so demure.
One of them turned her head and seemed to notice Kurt for the first time. “Oh, it’s the man of the hour. Hello Kurt, congratulations. I’m looking forward to reading your little article. I’m sure it will be most intriguing.”
A lot of Brits think that Americans don’t ‘get’ sarcasm. “Thank you, Cynthia…” God, I hope that’s her name. “I’m glad you could make it to this little shindig. It’s great to see you.” I can be sarcastic too, bitch. In fact I use it exclusively, in varying degrees of intensity. “Is Harold with you?” Martha shot him a dirty look.
“No, not tonight, he’s looking after the children.”
I know his secretary is young, but it’s rather crass to call her a child.
The air had turned decidedly chilly, and it had nothing to do with the weather. Kurt was surprised that all of these ‘ladies’ weren’t wearing coats, they must have been freezing. When they were all together he was reminded of a flock of birds in an oil slick. Their plumage all slicked down and smooth, with their bones sticking out at strange angles. They moved in ungainly, jerky ways but it was obvious that in different circumstances they could be graceful. They also insisted on pecking at one another and anyone else that ventured near.
One of them gave a little sigh, in an instant everyone in the group turned their heads and fixed on the reason for the expulsion of air. “Can’t believe she has the nerve to show her face in public.” Kurt didn’t catch who muttered it.
“So soon after she buried her husband.” Cynthia added.
“I heard she did everything bar digging the grave.”
“Even though she’s no stranger to digging, per-se.”
“Hmmmmmmm,” they all chorused.
“Perhaps Kurt could help her get through the grieving process?” Said Beverly in acidic tones.
“Oh, Bev. Behave,” said Martha giving her a playful pat on the arm.
“She looks like she’s coping quite well,” Kurt said, daring to join in. I dread to think what they say about me when I’m out of earshot. Then again it’s probably no worse than what Martha says to my face.
The object of their bitchiness made her way over to the group.
“Good evening ladies, Cynthia, Mary, Charlotte, Beverly, Martha.” Her gaze strayed across to Kurt. “Oh, Martha, this must be your talented husband, Kurt isn’t it?” She extended a gloved hand. Kurt shook it gently.
“Yes that’s right.” He replied.
“They say behind every great man is a woman that takes all the credit.”
“Absolutely, Grace. I take as much credit as I can, usually in card form.” Martha said through a tense, thin smile. “It’s wonderful to see you too.” The others chimed in with their own platitudes. “How are you coping? We were so very sad to hear about Jack.”
Grace applied a sombre expression and closed her eyes for a few seconds, as though it took a real effort to summon the strength to speak about the subject. “Well, you can imagine the shock of it all. Yes, he was getting on in years, but he was always such a sprightly thing. I can’t stand to stay at home alone surrounded by reminders that he isn’t with me anymore. I thought it best to get dressed up and show my face. Talk to a few of my friends. Everyone has been ever so supportive”
“Well, if you need to talk you know where we are,” said Martha.
“Thank you dear, much appreciated.” Grace looked past the group into the crowd. “Ah, there’s my nephew, he looks a little lost bless him. I must go and save him.” She made to move away from the group. “Lovely to see you all ladies, I’m sure I’ll catch up with you in the New Year. Have a good night.” With that the crowd swallowed her up.
Kurt watched her leave, rejoining the young man she’d referred to as her nephew, he looked relieved when she appeared and stooped to give her a kiss on the cheek.
“Funny, I always thought Grace was an only child,” said Charlotte or Mary. Kurt had lost track.
“She is,” replied Cynthia.
The group laughed in a hysterical high pitched way that cut right through Kurt’s drunken haze.
“So Kurt, what can we expect from this column of yours?” Asked Mary/Charlotte “Martha has talked about it a lot, but she hasn’t given away any of the juicy secrets.”
In other words Martha has been boasting about me working for a big magazine. She’s probably told you how much they’re paying me, and you’re wondering what on earth I’m doing to justify either.
“Unfortunately, I can’t tell you a lot about it. But suffice to say it’s very exciting to have the opportunity to work with such a popular publication. Hopefully it means I might have the opportunity to help a lot more people.” My next book should be called: ‘How to speak without saying anything at all.’
“I for one, can’t wait to read it. I subscribe you know.”
“That’s great. You don’t have very long to wait. It comes out tomorrow, and it’ll be posted online for subscribers.”
“I’ll read it with interest. I can’t wait to find out what’s wrong with my life,” said Cynthia.
“Come on, Cynthia, play nice,” said Martha “It’s not about telling people what’s wrong, it’s all about helping people make the most of what they’ve got.”
“Quite right,” said Charlotte/Mary.
“Thank you, Mary.”
MARY. Right so the other one’s Charlotte.
“He’s got you well trained, Martha. Spilling the party line at a moment’s notice,” said Cynthia.
“Not a party line at all. I support my husband in all his endeavours.”
Only because this particular endeavour has bought you a new car.
“I support my idiot of a husband plenty, thank you. You’d have the same attitude if Kurt was doing business with Donald and Jeffery. I told him years ago he should have thrown his lot in with Evan and George, but he refused to listen,” replied Cynthia.
Donald, Jeffery, Evan and George? Does she know anybody with a bloody surname?
“Now, now ladies, claws away,” said Charlotte.
Cynthia held up her hands. “I paid good money for this manicure thank you. Anyway, I don’t blame Kurt at all. Like you said he’s just making the most of what he’s got. If I had a perfect life I’d try to sell the secret too.” The irony in her voice was so thick she could have chewed on it.
Bitch. Martha’s opened her big mouth to someone with an even bigger one.
Kurt shuffled closer to Martha and gave her a squeeze of a hug, kissing her forehead. “I’m perceptive enough to know how lucky I am. It’s a duty to try and help others find what we’ve got.” I need to get away from this now. I might start sobering up.
“Ah, speaking of duty, it looks like it’s calling.” Kurt pointed across to the other side of the deck where his agent was stood talking to a very tall black woman. Alan had made no sign of wanting to speak to him, but the only other person that noticed was Martha. She turned to Kurt and kissed him on the cheek.
“Don’t be too long, it’s almost midnight. I need my New Year’s kiss.” The other ladies ahhhh’ed as he made his way back through the crowd away from them all as quickly as he could. Not so quickly that he couldn’t manage to pick up another drink on his way through.
“Ah, Kurt. Good timing. We were just talking about you,” said Alan.
“Yes, my ears were on the verge of bursting into flame, I had to grab another glass of bubbly just in case. All good things I hope?”
“Of course, of course. All good, nothing bad, as ever.” Alan motioned towards the woman he had been talking to. “I don’t think you’ve met Simone before. Simone Saunders, she helped us out a while back before our London run.”
Kurt lurched over to shake her hand, in what he thought was a controlled and gentle way, but was in fact awkward and clumsy. “Nice to meet you Simone. Thank you very much for your help.” I have no idea who she is or what she did.
Simone retrieved her hand from Kurt’s grasp. He’d held onto it a few seconds longer than was comfortable. “No problem at all, glad we could help you out. It was lucky you were in town at the time.”
“Which town was that again?” Said Kurt.
“Forgive him, Simone. He travels so often it’s difficult to remember where he did what and when,” said Alan.
“I understand. Things must get very hectic. The company I work for helped you out while you were in Ipswich.”
“Ahhh, that’s right. I remember spending three days in Ipswich one night.” Kurt giggled at his own joke.
Alan joined in with the laugh, while Simone smiled politely.
“Yes, I guess things do seem to move a bit slower there compared to the places you’re used to,” said Simone.
“That’s the place where all those prostitutes got killed isn’t it,” said Kurt, slurring.
“Unfortunately, yes. Generally it’s a very safe and pleasant town,” replied Simone, forcing a polite tone.
“So what d’ya think?, Was he just to cheap to pay?”
Alan put his arm around Kurt, laughing half-heartedly. “OK Kurt, think we better take a stroll.” He turned Kurt around and started to guide him away from Simone. “Lovely chatting to you Simone, have fun, and Happy New Year.” Simone smiled at him with a frown and gave a little wave with her half full glass.
They got to the rail on the land side of the boat. Kurt was still giggling to himself, the drink overtaking his senses. Alan straightened him up, holding him by the shoulders, only for Kurt to slump against the rail when he let go.
“What the fuck are you playing at Kurt?”
“What? It’s a party isn’t it? I’m having fun.”
“You may be having fun, but you’re rat-arsed.”
“Rat-arsed? That’s a British thing, right? Haven’t heard that one before.” Kurt paused to twirl around trying to look at his own bottom. “Does it mean I’m growing a tail?” Then he carried on giggling.
“You need to get a grip Kurt, you can’t do this here.”
“Why not. Why can’t I enjoy a drink on New Year’s Eve? Why can’t I celebrate the start of my stunning new column? You know why.
Alan looked around, making sure that they weren’t attracting the attention of the other guests. He decided to drag Kurt along the rail to the back of the boat where there were fewer people. Alan tried once again to straighten Kurt up. He failed.
“You’ve got a fucking reputation to protect, Kurt. You understand? You’re the guy giving the advice, you’re the guy telling people how they should live their lives, you have to live up to the advice you’re selling.”
“You got a cigarette? Sorry I mean ‘fag.’”
“You wrote a whole book about quitting smoking. You cannot smoke in public.”
“Course I can. Why can’t I be a hypocrite, huh?” He paused in a moment of consideration. “OK, I’ve never written a book about drug addiction. You got any coke?”
Alan turned his back on Kurt in frustration, putting his hands behind his head. “I’m taking you to the toilet, you can stay in there and sober up a bit. You need to show your face at midnight.”
“You’re taking me to the ‘bog,’ people will talk Alan. If I can’t smoke I certainly can’t be seen fucking men.”
Alan just sighed, grabbed Kurt by the arm and started to march him inside. Kurt didn’t put up much of a fight.
I know he’s right, I can’t kick up too much fuss, but it’s fun to see him sweat a bit. About time I started making him earn that percentage.
The corridor was dark compared to the lights out on deck, it was also narrow making it difficult for Alan to guide Kurt along it. They were halfway along the corridor when the toilet door at the far end opened and a man came out. He was impeccably dressed in a crisp tuxedo, he was arranging his bow-tie, then before going back on deck, pulled up his trouser zipper. The door was slowly closing on itself when another hand inside the toilet stopped it.
“Oh, looks like someone else stole you’re idea, Alan.”
A woman came out of the toilet, pulling at her dress, and rearranging herself. She looked down the corridor out to the deck, and checked back the other way towards Kurt and Alan. That’s when Kurt recognised his wife.
Martha saw Kurt as he stopped in the middle of the corridor, a look of shock etched over his features. She gave him a cool stare of contempt, the corners of her mouth curved up slightly as she turned away and headed back to the party.
Alan hadn’t noticed who the woman was, Kurt had been in the way. He jostled and pushed Kurt back into motion, finally getting him to the toilet, manhandling him into the cubicle, then shutting the door.
Kurt fell to his knees and vomited into the bowl.
She doesn’t give a shit. She may as well have been fucking him in front of me. I knew it. Deep down I knew it.
Strangely, he wasn’t angry. It was a relief to have his suspicions confirmed. He wasn’t crazy, he’d seen the signs.
Alan was right, and Martha knows it. She can get away with anything because I can’t afford to make a scene. I can’t let people see my real life, it would destroy me. She knows if I try to hurt her, it’ll hurt me more.
He didn’t know how long he spent in the toilet, but he heard Alan outside telling someone that the toilet was occupied five or six times. He cleaned himself up, and felt sober. He didn’t know if it was adrenaline from the shock, or the puking that had done the trick.
Alan knocked on the door. “Kurt, you alright? We’ve got to get back to the party, the countdown’s started.”
“Yeah, I’m coming.”
He left the toilet, and walked straight out on deck ignoring his agent. He heard the crowd chanting the countdown.
Kurt spotted his wife in the crowd, standing next to her friends.
He sliced his way through the crowd, everyone was excited and happy.
Martha spotted him as he got closer. She couldn’t read the expression on his face and looked worried.
He stood next to her and put his arm around her waist, squeezing her hip hard.
He let go and moved to stand in front of his wife.
“HAPPY NEW YEAR.”
The band struck up ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and fireworks began cracking overhead. A few photographers started taking pictures of them and the other minor celebrities, the flashes adding to the light show above.
Martha leaned into him and placed a cold kiss on his cheek, then moved her lips to his ear and whispered. “Happy New Year, darling.”
Many thanks for reading. If you have any feedback or thoughts, feel free to comment below.