Title: Sport 27

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, October 2001

Part of: Sport

Conditions of use



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Sport 27: Spring 2001

Julian Novitz

Julian Novitz

page 3

Stories from the End of My Generation

Christchurch is a morning city, a city designed for and built by a sturdy, industrious class of early risers, people with places to go, jobs to do, families to provide for. I'd be prepared to wager any amount you'd care to name that the passengers of the first four ships (and indeed the passengers of the next hundred or so ships who came after them) were not prone to sleeping in. No, they would have been up with the sun, clearing away the native bush to make room for the rolling plains of Canterbury and the wide, safe, friendly streets of Christchurch. They would have been hewing and hacking away as the virgin light spread, making space for their city's squat buildings, space for its empty skies. Christchurch looks really good at about 8:30 am on a summer morning. The sunlight glints off the windscreens of cars creeping forward in long lines on increasingly insufficient roads…the bus-stops are packed out with school kids in their quaint striped uniforms…the intimidating size of the sky above is offset by its bright healthy morning blueness…It all looks so perfect, so pristine, that I'm almost wishing I was truly having breakfast instead of what for me is technically dinner, that I could be playing a part in the bustle of this waking city.

‘Okay…a long black, an orange juice, an apricot and almond muffin and a cheese salad roll…That's ten fifty.’

I hand the money to the girl behind the counter. ‘Thanks,’ I say.

‘Thank you,’ she says, then curiously raises one of her ring-binder eyebrows. ‘So where are you from?’ she asks me.

I smile. ‘Can you guess?’

‘You sound…American,’ she says, at length. ‘American…or Canadian?’

‘I'm Canadian,’ I say, ‘I'm from Toronto…’

The café-girl grins, satisfied with her act of deduction. ‘Thought it was something like that…I'm sorry I said American, I know you page 4 guys hate being mixed up with Americans…’

‘Don't worry about it,’ I say and point to a table by the window. ‘You'll bring the drinks over…?’

She nods and I go and sit down, collecting a much-thumbed glossy magazine on the way to my table. I loosen my already drooping tie and flick through to the horoscopes while I wait for Wall.

…an opportunity for romance beckons on Friday…Saturday night is a good night to get together with friends…on Sunday you will feel at a loose end…people kicking you in the head on Monday are probably up to no good…

Wall arrives before our drinks are ready. He slumps down into the seat opposite me. We stare at each other for a while, too tired to speak. Wall is wearing his work uniform, the tight black T-shirt with the little green ‘Gamesman’ logo over his left tit.

‘Phil,’ he says, ‘we've got a problem.’

‘Problem?’ I ask.

He nods sombrely. The little café-girl with the ring-binder eyebrows approaches us with our drinks on a tray.

‘Espresso?’ she inquires.

‘Here,’ Wall says.

She puts the coffee down in front of him, hands the orange juice to me and smiles at us both.

‘She's new,’ Wall says, his eyes still on her as she returns to the counter.

‘Yeah…she thought I was Canadian…’

Wall snorts with faint mirth. ‘Doesn't that Liza chick…you know, the one who works Wednesdays…doesn't she think you're a Yorkshireman?’

‘Yeah,;’ I nod, ruefully, I'm not really from Canada or from Yorkshire, I was born right here in Christchurch twenty-eight years ago, at Christchurch Women's Hospital no less, only fifteen minutes walk from this very café…I've lived in Christchurch, on and off, for maybe twenty-five of those twenty-eight years and yet almost every day, every time I meet someone new, my nationality is called into question. ‘What's that accent of yours?’ people will ask. ‘What country do you hail from, mate?’ Somehow I just come across as generically page 5 foreign, as someone who could have been born in London, in New Orleans, in Zurich, in Ghent, or on Mars but who simply can not be from round these parts. It's always been like this, even in primary school the other kids would tease me because my voice sounded ‘posh’, or ‘weird’, or ‘German’. Of late I've taken to playing along. I just pretend to be whatever variety of foreigner people take me for; it's easier than having to cope with their shocked disbelief when I reveal myself to be Christchurch born and bred.

‘Philip,’ Wall says, ‘the problem…’

‘Okay,’ I say, ‘what's our problem?’

‘Jason's bailed. Packed his bags. Gone. Kaput.’



I frown. ‘I don't understand. Where's he gone?’

‘Looks like he's run off to the States to seek out his Internet lover. Here, I found this taped to his door when I woke up.’ He passes me a hastily written note which reads:


I'm off to the States to find Joni. Sorry if I'm leaving you in the lurch, but I have to see her, I'm caught up in the impulse, I can't fight it. I've just bought my tickets, emailed Joni to say I'm on my way and now I'm headed for the airport. Wish me luck. I don't know when I'll be back, maybe never.

Love you guys,


I look up from the note and smile. ‘She's gonna turn out to be thirteen, isn't she?’

Wall nods briskly. ‘Yeah,’ he says, ‘that's a given. But right now we need a new flatmate.’

Even after hearing of Jason's inconvenient departure I can't help but feel good as I walk back home. It's a great morning, the sun is everywhere, you'd have to look real hard to see a single shadow, but it hasn't got hot yet and I'm still comfortable in my tie, jacket and silly page 6 red gold-lined waistcoat. With the sun shining in my eyes, all the people who pass me by look like pale shimmers on the pavement, ethereal blurs and day-time wraiths. I'm almost bobbing my head as I walk and under my breath I'm chanting the lyrics of that great 1985 Exponents classic:


In Cashel Street I wait

And dream that we may be



One day

One day

Onnnneee daaaay….’

The flat that I share with Wall and (till recently) Jason is upstairs on Cashel Street. It has a large living area/kitchen, three small bedrooms and a nice little balcony overlooking the street below. This Cashel Street loft is the third flat I have shared with Wall. The first was back when we were at uni, the second after I had returned to Christchurch skint and forlorn after my brief experience of domestic bliss in the States. We fell together in this flat two years ago, upon the completion of my European sojourn. Live with Wall, work, go overseas, come back to Christchurch, live with Wall…this is the pattern of my life, a karmic cycle all of my own.

(Biographical Sketch 1—Harold Wallman

After barely managing to graduate from the University of Canterbury with a BSc in Philosophy, Wall had packed his bags and set off to join the New Zealand Army.

‘Socrates was a soldier,’ he had said when I questioned his career choice, ‘so was Déscartes. Ideal life for a philosopher in the army. Training to kill and to be killed can only enhance one's appreciation of the insubstantiveness of physicality and the preciousness of sentience and reason.’

His army career, however, was short-lived, and, when I returned page 7 to Christchurch after failing to make a future with Anya in Santa Fe, I found him working in the tele-marketing trade; trying, over the phone, to sell swifter, stronger vacuum cleaners to people who were trying to have dinner. He now laboured in a computer games store under the auspices of a manager six years his junior. I have no idea how he landed the job, considering how he had always disdainfully dismissed personal computers as ‘glorified typewriters’ and was still uncertain of the difference between Playstation and Nintendo.)

At home, I turn on Jason's PC and check his email.

Please don't come, Joni writes, not now, not yet. There are things about me you do not know, things I cannot yet reveal. I do Love you Jason, but I am not yet ready to…

The phone rings and I abandon Jason's correspondence to answer it.

‘Philip? Have you read it? What do you think?’

‘Hello, Morris…’ I say.

‘Have you read it?’ Morris has the rapid-fire, re-caffeinated voice of someone who works in an office which adjoins other offices. He sounds like a man who has become used to deadlines.

‘I haven't read it,’ I say, ‘I'm still working my way through the last lot of stuff you sent me…’

‘Where are you up to?’

‘Three eighty-five. Look, can't this wait? I just got in, I was going to bed…’

(Biographical Sketch 2—Morris Gladbury

I was at uni with Morris too. In fact, he flatted with me and Wall for a while. He is up in Wellington now, married, be-kidded and working as an associate at some law firm. I was the best man at his wedding and I am apparently the godfather of his two-year-old daughter, but, despite this, we have not seen each other in about three years. Eighteen months ago, however, he began to mail me large chunks of a novel, a vast disorientating work-in-progress. When I could bear to read it, I did so at the hotel desk which I man from late in the evening till early in the morning. So far, the plot was indiscernible, the setting jumped page 8 between historical eras with dazzling speed, the characters were laboriously set up and then capriciously dispensed with (although I had been flattered to see that no fewer than two of them were based on me, the others all appearing to be based on Morris) and the prose was constantly switching from the third to the first person and back again, often in mid-paragraph.)

‘Three eighty-five…’ Morris says. ‘That means you've read the wedding chapter? The wedding of Hermann and Charlotte? What did you think?’

‘I didn't…I didn't buy that whole wedding thing so much…Some of the details didn't seem right…’

‘Which details?’

‘Well…that five-page passage where Gertrude reaches over to straighten her son's tie…’

‘Thus revealing her need to control and correct Hans. Her fear, awakened by the sight of her niece reciting the wedding vows, of being expelled from the last sphere within which she still wields some influence—the life of her son…’

‘I just don't think a German Countess would fiddle with her son's outfit at a wedding in 1934. That's more like a Jewish mother at a Brooklyn wedding in the 1950s…’

‘What you're not seeing here is…’

‘Hey Morris, how about I call you after I've read through it all?’ I hastily say. ‘Then I'll have everything…in context…’

‘Okay, I have to go anyway, I'm meeting a client…’

‘All right, give my love to Eleanor, and how's the Sniffer?’

‘Anna's fine…We're going to look for houseware catalogues tonight…’

‘That's nice.’ I hang up. Morris had gone out with Anna all through uni, and then he had married her. Wall and I christened her ‘the Sniffer’ because whenever anything vexed her she would sniff, like an elderly, disapproving matron in some nineteenth-century novel. I wonder why Morris is bombarding me and not her with his torrent of half-written scraps.

page 9

Two nights later. I'm sitting at the front desk in my hotel at eleven in the evening, wearing my silly red gold-lined waistcoat and struggling with Morris's Byzantine prose, when a couple of people show up wanting to check in. The first is a be-suited man in his fifties who has just flown down from Auckland. He is rumpled and irritable and wants me to carry his bags up to his room. I try to tell him that I am actually the assistant-night-desk-manager and not, by any stretch of the imagination, a bell-hop, but this just irritates him all the more.

‘Look mate,’ he starts to say, ‘I don't know how you do things in your country, but round here…’ At about this point a real bell-hop shows up and takes away his bags. The guest breaks off his speech, glares at me, and then follows him. The second guest is a be-suited man of about my age.

‘I'm not really a foreigner, you know,’ I say as I check his reservation, ‘I just talk this way to sound sophisticated…’

‘Philip?’ The guest says. ‘Philip Bank?’

‘That's right…’ I say cautiously.

‘Hey! Philip! Don't you remember me, man?’

‘Fuck me…It's not Nick Weir is it…?’

(Biographical Sketch 3—Nicholas Weir

At uni with me. Used to flat with Jason. Went overseas.)

‘That's me! How've y'been, mate?’

‘Good…’ I take in his suit and look back down at his reservation. It's suddenly sobering to think that a contemporary of mine is staying in this place. I can't afford to order a bean salad off the room service menu here. ‘You look like you're doing well for yourself…’

‘Ohhh…not too shabby, y'know…?’ Nick waggles his eyebrows in a conspiratorial fashion. ‘I'm based in London now, I've been sort of running a small company out there. Network design, maintenance, that sort of thing…’

‘Your own business?’ (fuck)

‘Yeah. Spent a few years slaving as a systems analyst then thought: Why the fuck not? Went into business with a few other lads. Been running along quite nicely, wouldn't say it's doing spectacularly page 10 well…but on the whole, I'm content…’

(fuck fuck) ‘So are you just visiting out here?’

‘No…’ Nick says, ‘I'm in Christchurch on…business…Look, I'd better head for my room, I'm really bushed. But we should get together some time while I'm out here…’


‘Just give me a call sometime. I'll…’ he hesitates for an infinitesimal moment, ‘…I'll probably be out here for a while.’ Nick gives me a jaunty little two-fingered salute and heads for the lifts. I smile and vow to avoid the prick for the duration of his stay. A suit. A hotel room. A computer company. (fuck)

One Sunday, when Wall and I are sitting out on our small balcony, drinking beer from the can in the sun and listening to the best of David Bowie (1969-1974), the phone rings, I hear its shrill cries intermingle with the chords of ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and heave myself out of my deck chair to answer it. It's Helen, she who lives in the flat downstairs.

‘Hi Philip,’ she says. Helen has the most boring voice in the world. It has this nasal, droning tone which sets my teeth grinding whenever she says a word. Worse yet, she always sounds like she's bored herself—when she says ‘Hi Philip’ she says it like my name is the most boring combination of vowels and consonants to ever pass her lips, like the tedium of putting them all in order and then enunciating them has worn her out completely. Helen works in some sort of bank. Wall has a crush on her.

(Biographical Sketch 4—Helen Gunby

I think she was at university with me. Sometimes it seems like everyone was.)

‘Hello Helen,’ I say.

‘Your brother's down here, I had to let him in…’

‘Thanks. Send him on up.’

‘I already have. I just called to remind you to fix your intercom. All you have to do is call the landlord. I'm sick of your friends buzzing page 11 me all the time…’

‘I'll get onto it, Helen. Catch ya.’ I hang up and go and open the door for Daniel.

‘Hi,’ he says as he steps over the threshold. ‘This was in your mailbox,’ he hands me a bulky package. It looks like another fifty pages of Morris's novel. I throw it on the sofa and close the door. Daniel is twelve years younger than me, he has just started at uni. I have long hair, he has short hair. I have a pierced ear, he has a pierced lip. We both wear glasses.

‘Where's Wall?’ Daniel asks.

‘Out on the balcony.’


‘In the States, searching for Joni, his Internet lover.’

‘Is she a guy?’

I shake my head. ‘We think she's probably just thirteen. What brings you here?’

Daniel shrugs. ‘I was thinking about your generation…’

Wall walks in and turns down the stereo. ‘What generation?’ he asks.

Daniel shrugs again. ‘You guys…you know…your generation…the tail-end of Generation X…’

The phone rings.

‘I'll get it,’ I say.

‘I don't like to be typed as a Gen Xer,’ Wall says.

‘It's not a bad thing to be…’ maintains Daniel.

I pick up the phone. It's Morris. ‘Have you finished yet?’ he asks.

‘I only just got the package…’

‘Not that, the other stuff. Part Three, have you finished it?’


‘I really need some feedback here, Phil…I can't write into a vacuum…’

‘I mean, think about it,’ Daniel is saying, ‘yours was the first generation ever expected to achieve less than its forefathers. But look at the way things turned out. You guys introduced us to the wonders of the World Wide Web and made cellular phones really small…’

‘I feel caged up here Philip,’ Morris says. ‘Every day, when I wake page 12 up, I feel like screaming, ‘What about me!…where am I!…why was I left in this place!…I didn't want any of this…I never wanted any of this…all I ever wanted was to find my…’

‘Yeah, that sounds bad, Morris,’ I say, ‘maybe you should tell the Sniff…maybe you should tell your wife about the way you feel…’

‘The other day, when I was sitting at the bus stop, I thought I saw a madwoman,’ Wall is telling Daniel. ‘A genuine and authentic madwoman; I was so excited. She was sitting there with one hand pressed to the side of her scalp, rocking back and forth, muttering to herself. I sat next to her for ten minutes but then the bus arrived and she stood up and I saw that she wasn't mad at all, she was just talking into a really small cellphone…’

‘My wife!’ Morris almost screams. ‘What's she? How can I talk to her? Anna shares my house, my bed and my salary, but what is she? What about her made me think that I could stand to wake up next to her every morning for the rest of my life?’

‘I don't know,’ I say, ‘her hair?’

‘…and that's another thing I hate,’ I hear Wall say, ‘text-messaging. All those abbreviations compressing our language into some sort of bizarre Orwellian newspeak, it gives me the creeps…’

Morris sighs into the phone. ‘Sure,’ he says, ‘joke about it…But you're lucky that Anya girl walked out on you when she did…’

‘Don't talk about Anya,’ I say.

Daniel and Wall nudge one another.

‘I can remember the letters you sent me,’ Morris continues, ‘you and her in that little basement in Santa Fe, all set up to play at being Levin and Kitty, you were so happy…Domesticity is a religion, Phil, a salve for out fear…’

‘A salve…?’

‘…but how can we flourish if we indulge our fears? Trust me Phil, nothing brings a man lower than the fear of being alone. Solitude is the only path to self-fulfilment. How can we ever be happy when we're smothered by the desires of another? Coupledom extracts a tithe from our personalities…That's…that's…sort of the theme of my novel, Phil…one of them, anyway…By the way, I've re-written the wedding chapter, I'll send that down to you soon…’

page 13

‘I'll look forward to it. Got to go now, Morris, my brother's here…’

‘Yeah…I've got a client coming soon anyway…’

I hang up. Wall scoops the latest instalment of Morris's novel off the sofa and feels its weight in his hands. ‘What's this like?’ he asks.

‘Terrible,’ I say. ‘No plot, lots of pointless characters, no unifying message…’

‘Remind you of something?’ asks Dan.

Visa. Work permit. These are things which I must try to arrange.

A few days later, Helen lets another visitor into our building and they wake me up, knocking on the door at three in the afternoon.

‘Hello,’ I say blearily, ‘you here about the room?’

‘Yeah…’ our visitor says, taking a few cautious steps back.

‘Want to come in and check it out?’


‘Why not?’

The guy shrugs in a hapless fashion. ‘Sorry mate,’ he says, ‘I didn't know this was a mature flat…’

‘A mature flat?’ I say, but he's already heading back down the stairs.

It's cheaper to fly on stand-by, but I want to set a date.

I try to avoid Nick Weir. It's hard because he lives where I work. Some messages are left for me at the desk and I ignore them. Whenever I see a lift descend I duck out the back to get a Coke, just in case it's him. Eventually, however, he somehow manages to bump into Wall and they arrange to meet for a beer and Wall brings me along and, when I see Nick Weir sitting at a table outside the Dux, I think ‘oh fuck’, but it's too late to run away so we have a few drinks and Wall and Nick argue about computers (one is anti, one is pro) and then I say ‘It's getting pretty late’ and Nick says ‘Why don't you guys show me a bit of the old Christchurch night life?’ and Wall says ‘Ahhh…okay…’ and we take him to club on Oxford Terrace which is not a place we usually frequent and so the three of us wind up sitting at the bar, page 14 sipping overpriced drinks and watching candyfloss-skinned club chicks dance to a repetitive techno thump.

‘Christ, she's not too bad, eh?’ Nick mutters, nodding at a pouty little blonde who might have just strutted out a Glassons wear-it-your-way ad.

‘Not bad at all,’ Wall says. To the best of my knowledge, Wall has never loved, screwed, nor so much as put an arm around the shoulders of a member of the opposite sex. To his credit, however, this fact does not make him feel the slightest bit self-conscious when indulging in laddish banter of this kind. Club chicks and nasal-voiced Helens, I think as I take another sedate swallow of gin and tonic (prepared Oxford Terrace style—heavy on the tonic), interesting women are a myth, a device of literature, an illusion of the screen. What I would not give to have some pale, dark-haired nymphomaniac who reads Proust and chain-smokes unfiltered Marlboros hovering around the edges of my life…I look to Wall and to Nick. All you ever have are your friends. I look to the people dancing on the floor, to the club chicks and the guys with tight T-shirts and excessively short haircuts. I wish I could say that I've never felt so alone, but I feel this way all the time. Nick and Wall give up on their half-hearted ogling and have returned to the evening's earlier arguments. Wall denounces the Internet as ‘a vast monument to the intellectual, moral and aesthetic failings of Mankind’ and Nick slowly stiffens on his stool like an eighteenth-century nobleman who has been slapped in the face with a white glove. All you have are your friends. I feel this way all the time.

‘So where are you from then?’

‘Can't you tell?’

‘You're not…you're not Scottish are you?’

‘Aye, ye ken it…’

‘Really! No way! I was up that way for a while, a couple of years back…whereabouts are you from?’

‘Didja no say it yeself? Ah'm frem Scatlin…’

‘No, no, I meant where in Scotland…’

‘Oh aye. Ah'm frem Gallenach.’

‘Oh…right…Whereabouts is that?’

page 15

‘Well…d'ye ken Hadrian's Wall?’


‘Aye, well it's jist a wee bit northa that, likesay…’

Daniel rings me and asks how my travel plans are going, how long will it be before I rejoin the poverty jetset? I tell him that he's been reading too much Douglas Coupland and he asks me if I've decided where I'm going and I say yes but before I can say anything more someone knocks on the door and I have to go open it. Morris is standing on the landing. He is wearing a dark, finely-cut suit tastefully offset by a patterned green tie; eye-catching, though not to the point of eccentricity. He is holding a briefcase and has a large carrier bag slung over one of his shoulders.

He says, ‘The girl downstairs let me up.’

‘Come in,’ I say.

Morris steps into my flat and I close the door behind him. ‘I've…I've come to finish my novel,’ he says.

‘Yes,’ I say and take his bag.

‘I think I've left Anna.’

‘You think you left her?’

‘I think I've left my firm too…’

Morris sits down on the sofa, still clutching his briefcase. I toss his bag into Jason's room.

‘I haven't…I haven't exactly told them yet…’ Morris says, at length. ‘I just went out at lunch and got on a plane and…This is it, man…this is it…I can't go back now…’

‘There was this night once when I didn't show up for work,’ I say. ‘My work starts at nine pm, y'see, and when I woke up, on that one occasion, I rolled over and saw that it was six o'clock. I thought ‘good, I can sleep for another couple of hours’, but it was actually six in the morning. I had slept through my entire shift.’

‘Did you get in trouble?’ Morris asks.

I shake my head.

‘No one noticed I wasn't there. The desk remained unmanned all through the night.’

page 16

Morris moves into Jason's room where he spends the next week or so writing and drinking vodka from the bottle he brought with him in his otherwise empty carrier bag. Sometimes he wanders into my room to wake me up and insist that I read a newly revised passage or to tell me again how lucky I was to have been abandoned by Anya and how he envies me for the years I have spent on my own. Anna calls up to ask whether I have seen him and I say no and she sniffs and hangs up. Morris tells me that this means she's probably seen through my attempt at subterfuge and will undoubtedly call again or even turn up, unexpected, on my doorstep, but she never does. Morris has no clothes besides his suit and as the week wears on it grows increasingly rumpled and stained; he is not washing and he smells of vodka and sweat. Morris's presence in the flat would be almost unbearable if Wall had not taken an interest in his work in progress (which now has a title—The Theory of Everything) and started subbing me in my roles as editor, proof-reader and literary critic. Daniel too has become intrigued and has started to drop in more frequently now, to discuss points of plot, theme and character with our new writer-in-residence. Previously barren surfaces are swiftly colonised by piles of annotated paper. Heated arguments over the chronology of World War Two, Jungian psychoanalysis, the organisation of the civil service in nineteenth-century Russia, split infinitives and the correct usage of the word ‘hopeful’ rage throughout the flat. I spend these days sleeping or sitting out on the balcony in the sun. Slowly and quietly I put my affairs in order.

While we are having breakfast at our café on yet another fine Christchurch morning, Wall tells me that we were visited by another potential flatmate just after I had left for work on the night before.

‘What was he like?’ I ask.

‘She,’ Wall says.

‘Oh. Right. What was she like then?’

Wall takes a thoughtful bite out of his apricot and almond muffin. ‘She was short and slender,’ he says, ‘dark, with a pallid complexion. She carried a copy of Swann's Way tucked under one of her arms and, while we spoke, she carelessly tapped the ash from her unfiltered page 17 Marlboro into the cup of coffee which I had prepared for her. She mentioned that she liked to have sex a lot.’

‘So are we going to give her the room?’

Wall shakes his head. ‘I told her to get lost,’ he says. ‘I mean, she's a smoker. We don't want a smoker, do we?’

It's about midnight and I'm working my last shift at the hotel desk. The place is deserted, no sign of any customers wanting to check in or check out. Under such circumstances I'd normally try to grab a little sleep, but right now I'm too wound up. In just a few hours I'll be gone, out of Christchurch for God knows how long. No more white houses, no more green gardens. No more treading the mean streets of suburbia. Say a fond farewell to uncluttered skies.


I look up to see Nick Weir standing over the desk.

‘Hi Nick,’ I say wearily.

‘Hi,’ he says, then leans closer. ‘Look, Philip, I need some help…’

‘What sort of help?’ I ask.

Nick smiles nervously. ‘This is…this is silly really…’ he says, ‘but the thing is I…I can't pay my bill…’

‘You can't pay? But you've been staying here for two weeks!’

‘I have enough left to pay for about three days…Nick ruefully admits, ‘two days if I'm charged for all the stuff I took from the mini-bar…’

‘But you have money! You own your own company! In London!’

‘Well…really I should have said that I owned my own company. I owned it for about four months…then it went bust.’

‘I see…’

‘It happens all the time, you know. It's rough in the computer trade these days, lots of competition, every idiot is trying to get in on the game. You see, my company went bust, my girlfriend vanished and I was left at the end of the day with enough money in my account to fly just about anywhere in the world or pay a fortnight's rent on my place in London and so I just thought, ‘Right! I've got to get out of here.’ Then I thought, ‘Where will I go?’ and I decided to head back to Christchurch. I don't know why…I really don't…Anyway, I page 18 checked in here and spent the last couple of weeks in my room, drinking from the mini-bar and trying to figure out what I'm going to do…’ Nick takes a deep, steadying breath. ‘I'm all out of money now, Phil, and I really need some help.’

‘Okay,’ I say. ‘Go get all your luggage and meet me back down here real quick. You can stay at my place for while, I'll walk you there.’

‘Thanks mate!’ Nick darts off towards the lifts but then stops and turns back. ‘Won't they miss you here though?’ he asks.

‘No,’ I say ‘they won't’

Back at the flat Dan and Morris are sitting on the floor amidst a heap of scattered papers, engaged in a vigorous debate.

‘…and I don't see why you keep calling the city “Christminster”,’ Daniel is saying. ‘It's clearly meant to be Christchurch. Why don't your just call it Christchurch?’

‘The masking of Christchurch behind the alias of Christminster is vital to the integrity of my novel,’ Morris says. ‘Christminster was the name used by Thomas Hardy to denote Oxford in Jude the Obscure. The protagonist in my Christchurch scenes, Malcom Manticore, is the antithesis of Hardy's Jude. Manticore, who has formal education spilling out his ears, wishes to flee his city and taste the pleasures of the outside world, while Jude wishes with a similar fervour to enter the cloistered world of Christminster and attain the education which he has been denied. I have to use the term “Christminster” to link my Christchurch to Hardy's Oxford…’

‘Okay…okay…’ Dan says, ‘but I still don't understand how this ties in with all the pre-war Germany stuff…’

‘Look, it's really very simple…’

‘Hi,’ I say.

They both look up at me. ‘Hi Phil,’ they say. Morris squints his eyes blearily, trying to remember who Nick is. I re-introduce them, then slip off to call a taxi. My bags are already packed and I don't feel then slip off to call a taxi. My bags are already packed and I don't feel like loitering for prolonged goodbyes. My check-in time is ten o'clock but I can hang out in the airport until then. I like airports, I don't mind waiting in them. When I re-enter the living room I find Wall page 19 waiting for me, grinning with devilish glee.

‘Guess what,’ he says, ‘Jason just emailed me from LAX. He's on the next flight back.’

‘What happened?’ I ask. ‘Didn't he find Joni?’

‘Oh no…’ Wall says. ‘He found Joni all right…’

‘She was thirteen,’ I say.

‘She was a guy,’ Daniel says.

‘Actually she was a thirteen-year-old guy,’ says Wall. ‘Real name Johnny…’

‘Wow…’ Nick is saying, ‘Wall, Morris, Phil…man…this is just like The Big Chill….’

‘Yeah,’ Wall says, ‘only on one's dead…’

‘Give it time,’ I say, eyeing Morris, who has just taken another fortifying slug of vodka.

Before long, the phone rings and I duck away to answer it.

‘Philip?’ Helen says sleepily. ‘Did you call for a taxi? Because there's this…’

‘Thanks Helen’ I say and hang up. I fetch my bags from my room and, by the time I return to the living room, Morris has slumped, unmoving, into a corner while Dan and Wall are trying to list all the generational categories which have emerged since ‘Gen X’ became too tarnished a phrase. The Missing Generation, Generation Y (Why?) Generation Next. Nick sits down on the couch, carefully shuffling a segment of Morris's novel out the way. ‘So we've got four generations in…what? Three decades?’ he says. ‘Is anyone else troubled by this?;’

Dan shrugs. ‘Our culture is accelerating…’

Wall looks up and sees me with my bags. ‘Where are you going?’ he asks.

‘Back to the States,’ I say. ‘I'm going to find Anya. Nick can have my room.’

‘You're making a mistake…’ Morris murmurs as I open the door.

‘That's sweet, that's romantic,’ Nick says, reaching down to liberate the vodka from Morris. ‘Go for it, Phil.’

‘When are you coming back?’ Dan asks.

‘Never,’ I say.

page 20

‘Good-bye then,’ he says.

‘See you,’ says Wall.

Downstairs, the taxi is waiting for me. The driver holds the door to my building open while I struggle with my bags. Helen, in dressing gown and fuzzy slippers, opens her door and peers out at me.

‘Where are you off to?’ she asks.

‘The airport,’ I say.

‘Oh…’ says Helen. ‘Going home, are you?’

‘I am home,’ I say.

Helen gives me a puzzled look and closes the door. I don't see her or Wall or Morris or Nick or Daniel again for about six months.