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Experiment 7

After the Party

page 43

After the Party

Two o'clock in the morning.

The party was dying down, leaving few embers aglow.

Andrew propped himself against a concrete post at the edge of the tennis court and watched the yellow lights of the windows and the shadows in side dancing their drinks slowly around.

Parties come and go, and, when they have gone, one never draws a picture in one's own mind of what they were for and what they were about. He never did what one may call a sort of statement of accounts of what he gained from a party and what he had brought to it, with figures in black and red eyeing him and winking.

Time was getting on, beating and clicking and ticking out of all the clocks and watches in the world, and he felt that there was very little left, for him to be able to do anything in it: as if he had been sleeping and loafing, or embezzling some funds. No profit, Sir; bankruptcy is the word.

Peter, the man who had beaten him up, was straddled on the wooden steps of the tennis-club building, grunting his drunkenness away.

And the girl he had come all that way to see, had left and it was, for him, as if he had gone questing for gold at the end of a rainbow. He could not say if it was the rainbow that had vanished in that moonlit, warm August night or the gold he had thought was there.

He had drunk and argued and gone out and had a fight: two hundred and fifty miles for that alone. For that and Shirley: that is, the idea of Shirley, because the Shirley he had found, or failed to find, was not his Shirley at all.

Looking at it dispassionately, a girl must mean a lot to a man, if he goes all jittery like that and drops his Saturday's wages, which are the only thing that keeps him digging and shovelling in the middle of nowhere, and hurries up on a Friday night along those dark roads. But thinking of Shirley now, he realized that, perhaps, it was not Shirley he had been looking for, but a girl, any girl, and her softness.

People had come out and he had looked at them, unseen, from his place in the shadow cast by the building, and he had felt glad of this seclusion that made his presence there page 44unsuspected. It was lite peeping through a key-hole and observing somebody in a bedroom, or it was like being God and squatting there, doing nothing all the time and knowing everything all the time. And he did not know very well if his was the same loneliness God must experience, if he exists, when he looks around and finds no other God to keep him company, no other fellow-beings with whom to amuse himself at creating worlds or wiping them out of existence, at playing football and drinking beer. Although using God as a term of comparison is just another way men have of expressing some thought that does net mean much.

Patricia came out and stood on the threshold of one of the doors, as if she had been carved out of the yellow rectangle of light. There was no breeze from the sea and all was still for a moment and Andrew moved suddenly away from Shirley and whatever she had been. Patricia's shoulders were white against the dark colour of her dress, and he had no other thought except the fleeting memory of a girl who, to him, had been something that no other man would ever know: a tall, long-limbed girl climbing out of a hot mineral pool and standing, helpless and frail, on the concrete floor of the bathing hut. The thoughts a man thinks when he sees again a girl he has known before and the underlying belief that all girls are the same, that all people are the same and are too shallow or scared to admit it, that he knew what had happened here and there, to this and that.

Now that he had Patricia in his eyes, Shirley was no more: there had been no. inner torturing but only a calm matter of fact acceptance of an unthought-of truth. and the changing into a new mood. That he should have known how unlikely it was that he could have convinced Shirley to make one of those much talked about gestures of defiance and recklessness did not occupy his attention any longer; or that he should have left thoughts of secret rendezvous and light-headed elopements to the heroes of some glossy-paged woman magazine, where people seem to live all the time in a one-dimensional world. And, really, what was Shirley? A slip of a girl, too young and pouting to be of any use to a man, too immersed in the observance of the rules of living and too superficial to know what living is about: a gasket, a gear-clutch, a refrigerator, a car built up gradually on a mass production assembly line.

Patricia was older: and, when he thought of it, that was the only difference between her and Shirley. As far he was concerned, they stood to him in the same light and, perhaps, it had only been a whim of his that he had been enlarging in his mind qualities which he thought were Shirley's but which, in truth, were a creation of his own imagination.

page 45

Seeing Patricia seemed to have been a sufficient reason for him to transpose his unexpressed and somehow shapeless longings from one girl with certain three-dimensional characteristics to another, with different, and still somewhat similar, ones.

'Peter,' Patricia called 'Peter, where are you?'

Andrew thought he should tell her, but he did not speak and waited to see what happened.

Peter was still lying there, pouring over the stilted steps, like an overgrown jelly-fish. Patricia came down a few steps, with the solemnity of a drunkard or the high priest Of some old-fashioned religion, and bent down to look at Peter. She tried unsuccessfully to wake him up and called him again a few times in a sort of plaintive, half-voiced whisper, without any conviction that he would come to and be able to take her home. She did not know whether to be angry or hurt or kick him or roll him down the steps. She thought, with a certain disillusioned bitterness, of the unexpected turn events take, of how she had waited for this particular evening to arrive so that she could see John again and say something to him and perhaps dance with him and get him back. Because, after all, if you think of it, that's all a girl's life is for: sitting and waiting for a man to arrive, even if she sits on her dignity and waits for him by catching a boat and going overseas; and even if she looks for him, it's still up to him to make up his mind and arrive, and all the girl can do is to hope that it is the man she wants who comes along in the end and does things to her and so on. Although, she thought, perhaps, one man is just as good as the other and girls are just a pack of fools.

Earlier, Andrew, sitting on the grass in the shadow, had seen John take Shirley home. They had come down together, Shirley so minute and childish and John some sort of bully-beef in the making, and he had thought he was jealous and mad and felt like calling 'Hi, there, Shirley; hi there. Let me take you home.' And he had seen himself knock John out with one lightning, powerful blow, and carry Shirley off in his arms. But then, as now, he had done nothing: he had just felt a pang, a slight envy somewhere. He had seen Shirley walk out of the tennis-club grounds, [unclear: her hand] in John's, and had sent a silent, dispirited good-bye after her, which was more of a farewell to a particular facet of himself, disappearing with Shirley beyond the gate, and to what for a while he had thought existed in him. Overcoming half-heartedly his own incredulity, he had confusedly known, then, that hs had been wasting his time and hopes when thinking that it page 46would be sufficient to show up again, as if nothing had happened, to start weaving his and Shirley's interrupted story from where their threads broke off. Making love to a girl seems to slide off her back like water on a duck's feathers: Shirley had pretended she did not know him and there their bond had ended.

illustration by G. Murphy

page 47

Patricia had come down now. She was, herself, in the shadow, and he thought she had drunk too much. She had kicked her shoes away, and everything had gone round and round and seemed to be on a sort of gigantic merry-go-round. Her head had lolled and turned this way and that, like the head of a puppet with a broken neck, as she pirouetted on the grass and let her skirts blow up.

She had stopped and stood uncertain, with the gawky awkwardness of a girl too tall, and looked again at Peter and realized she would have to go home alone, because it was too late for anybody to come around and offer her a lift in a car.

'It's been such fun.' she said 'Such a friendly party.' She sighed sadly and shook her head as if she were resigned to accept the inevitable conclusion that whatever uneasiness or dissatisfaction she might feel was only of her own making. She saw Andrew, then, sitting on the ground, very pale in the moon-light, with his coat torn at his shoulder. She did not show any surprise, and realised that her reactions were slow and blurred, and looked down at him, her hands crossing on her lap, in a posture he seemed to remember, waving gently like a metronome marking a very slow time. She said '... Well...' She had avoided meeting his eyes, just like Shirley, the whole evening, but she was past caring now and nobody would be watching. Andrew would take her home and what should she keep him at a distance for: John had gone; Peter was out for the night, and Andrew was cute, in a puppyish sort of a way. Now that he could not do anything to ruin her carefully kept reputation in the eyes of those who knew her, she was even curious to discover what he thought of her and the Sunday they had spent together at Morere. There was her feminine, intuitive knowledge that all the power a girl can have on a man is derived fundamentally from the pleasure she gives him and nothing would please her vanity more than to hear him tell her how unforgettable she had been. The fear she had had, earlier in the evening, that he might have come for her and would make a scene and would upset all her plans, appeared so pointless.

He said 'Well, Pat; remember me?'

'Yes. How are you?'

page 48

'Fine.' said 'I didn't think you cared.'

'Whre are you doing there? Are you drunk, too?'

'I was beaten up.' he said 'Ever seen a good party without a fight? It keeps you fit.'

"And so it does.' she said 'What are you here for?'

'Looking around; chasing a pot of gold; waiting for you to come along.'

'Pffui.' she said 'What a lot of rot.' Which is another way of keeping a red rag in front of a bull's nose.

'Take it easy.' he said 'I meant it as a compliment. I haven't seen you for a long time, but I've just. discovered it doesn't matter. I feel for you; really, I feel for you. I knew it as soon as I saw you in there tonight, and you didn't even look at me. And I knew it even more when you came and stood there, in that door.'

'And you must have kissed the Blarney stone.' she said. 'I didn't see you, really.'

'Anyway,' he said 'You've seen me now. And that's all that matters, isn't it? Who took you to the party?'

'Nobody, really.' she said 'I can do what I like; I am a flower that goes from bee to bee to bee ...'

'I heard that John gave you the brush off. I saw him go out some time ago.'

'Who told you? What else did they say? I don't care about John. Who told you?'

'Never mind.'

'Who told you?'

'A little bird ...'

'And what else did the little bird say?'

'John had the ball and he was running down the field for a touch-down and then he knew he wouldn't make it and he passed the ball to Peter. And the ball was kicked around a bit and got all muddy and in the end nobody knew who had it ..'

page 49

'A lot of lies.' she said 'They don't know anything.' But she did not know whether she was not suddenly afraid of finding herself drawn out of her cocoon of secrecy and thrown and used and played with in the eyes of everybody. After a brief pause, she burst '... And what do you think you are, to come and insult me like that ...'

'Don't you remanber?' he said 'My name is Andrew. Do you forget your men so easily?'

'Look,' she said 'can't you be a gentleman and forget it yourself. We were silly, that's all.'

'You were, not me.'

She sulked and he went on 'You make me laugh: how can a man be a gentleman if there are no ladies around? You can't tell me that you are a lady just because you stick your nose up in the air and strut around and look all proud and clean. Perhaps you don't know what a lady is. Come on, look at yourself. What are you going to do with Peter tonight?'

'Blow him.' she said 'Who cares? Let him go to hell; let the poor bugger be.'

'Want a lift home?'

'If you promise there isn't going to be any funny business.'

'Scout's honour.' he said.

He got up carefully and started towards the gate.

Patricia said 'Wait a moment. I'll go in and get my wrap.'

She looked for her shoes, very carefully and seriously, and he could see she was not steady on her feet and said 'What did you have to kick your shoes away for? People always do things they oughtn't to and then they are sorry and cry, and say they were out of their minds.'

'Damn the shoes.' she said 'Who cares? I can walk barefoot; I can walk barefoot for miles and miles. I can, really. I am not a sissy good-for-nothing puss. I tramped to Tolaga, barefoot once, you know?'

'Go and get your things,' he said 'and I'll find your shoes. Who gives a damn about your tramping?' Who gives page 50a damn if a girl goes tramping?

He started peering at the grass around him and somehow felt that his evening was going to conclude somewhere, like a round little circle that starts at one point and gets hack and does not get lost in the wilderness.

Whether he had come to see Pat and make love to her Was not very important. What he had come for was not important either. Only the fact remained that this girl, this unit taken by itself for which he did not care too much, was going to he in his car tonight and that, also, he was going to he gone tomorrow.

Patricia had come hack, and he had met her at the bottom of the steps and led her towards the gate. He had looked at Peter and had wondered what Peter would think in the morning of parties and girls and the world in general. But he was sure that either Peter would not think anything or he would say 'Oh, boy. What a party. I was out all night.'

When they were by his car, Patricia held a bottle in the moonlight, as if she were offering a sacrifice to a forgotten divinity, and said 'Look at what I've got.'

He said 'You pinched it.'

'I beg your pardon.' she said and looked stern.

'All right.' he Baid and opened the door and helped her in.

She sat down with a sigh and threw her head on the back of the seat and shut her eyes. 'Got my shoes?' she said.

'No. I couldn't find them. You'll have to come back tomorrow.'

He started the car away from the kerb and she said in a very subdued tone 'Who told you about me and John and Peter?'

'I don't remonber.' he said 'But anybody in town would know, wouldn't they?'

'No, no.' she said 'It isn't true; how can they know? What do they know? I am not what you think.'

'Nobody is.' he said 'And still nobody knows what they really are, do they. Maybe they don't want to.'

page 51

'Oh, it's so hard for a girl. Has anybody told, you anything about you and me?'

'They wouldn't tell me, I think.'

'Have you told anybody?'

'One or two.'

'You are a bastard.'

'Drink up and forget it.'

'How long are you going to stay this time?'

'I came just for the week-end. I got fed up with the camp and the chaps and all the other bloody things and ran away.'

'What for?'

'I've told you already: to take you home.'

'Have a drink.'

'With a girl around, I'd rather not. I want to know what I'm doing.'

'Macbeth ...' she giggled.

'What's that?'

'Nothing. What do you mean? What do you want to do? You promised.'

'Put it this way.' he said 'I've never been a Scout; what does honour mean? Who promised what?'

'I should have known.'

'Well? Didn't you?'

'No. You scare me now.'

'Drink some more and you'll forget. And what are you scared of? Lst's be the boy and the girl of an American novel of the twenties.'

'The Americans can't write.' she said.

page 52

He was driving through the town, towards Kahiti hill and the beginning of the East Coast road, and went over the bridge. The hill and the look-out and the memorial to Captain Cook, there on his right, always made him think of an old Roman hill he had read about, where a chap with a funny long name had actually struggled with a beastly devil, who looked like a luscious woman, and had succeeded in casting the devil, or the luscious woman, who was naked into the bargain, on to the thorny bushes growing wild in front of his cave. He had always wondered, ever since, if it had not been ungentlemanly of the old chap with a funny name to throw a woman, even if she was a devil, to the brambles and gorse on the hill-side.

But that was just his way of interpreting disconnected pieces of history.

'Shall we go to the look-out?' he said.

She gave no answer and he drove straight on and could not help thinking of Shirley and Pat and the way people seem to meet for a moment and part soon after and, even if they meet again, they are nothing more than strangers. He had this girl Pat who had been John's girl six months before; and six months before, he had had Shirley who was out with John tonight. And there was also the fact that one Sunday, three months before, Patricia had staged a one-night stand for his benefit.

It was as if somebody had shuffled a pack of cards haphazardly and mixed all the suits and put Jacks and Queens together which were not supposed to be.

And Peter was the Joker: a fat slob of a Joker, which was not much good by itself, but was worth a lot if you threw it on the table at the right moment. But, to crown it all, he could not say he cared: about Queens and Jacks and Jokers, that is.

'Let's go to your place.' he said.

'No; my landlady is back and I can't have visitors at this time.'

'Let's go to my place, then.'

'I don't want to.' she said.

'I thought the car would be uncomfortable.' he said 'Just be nice. What's the matter with you?'

page 53

'You're so persistent. I wish they'd beaten you up harder, you know? You're a nuisance; and you don't love me, do you?'

'No.' he said 'I don't even know what you mean.'

'And you don't want to marry me, do you?'

'No. I'm all free and easy.'

'You're pestering me. What if you give me a baby?'

'Say it's John's Peter's.' he said 'They'd marry you, maybe.'

'Maybe.' she said. And shrugged her shoulders. And the mention of Peter and John brought back to her the solidity of both in a fragmentary, composite picture of what they were and the game she had tried to play and a sense of her own failure. Why she had to think she wanted John so much and why she had to go out with Peter, thinking that John would be jealous, and why she was going to let Andrew make love to her, seemed questions she could not answer. She had a pattern, a blue-print of what the world and people and herself should be, but, then, things happened and [unclear: where] did the blue-print go? What was wrong and who was lying?

'You know?' he said 'I'll be gone tomorrow and I don't think I'll ever be back. I won't worry you any more and you can do a friend a favour, can't you?'

She was too hazy to understand what he was saying and only muttered unintelligibly and moved closer to him. He thought he heard her call him John, in a sleepy, childish way, but he did not resent it. He grinned to himself and slowed the car until it stopped by the side of the road, and put his left arm around her and drew her head towards his. She was weighing limply against him and he thought he was holding the body of a girl who had just died and who, just now, could be to him all the girls of the world, whom he could, call Ann, or Shirley or Elizabeth, because it would not have made any difference.

He reached down with his hand towards her knees and kissed her, but nothing happened and he asked himself if that was what it is like with a girl from the street, who is a woman, and any woman and, in the end, no woman at all.

'Pat,' he murmured 'Pat, can you hear me?'

page 54

He pulled her long rustling skirt and laid his hand on the crispness of her nylon sheathed knees and paused undecided as if he were on the verge of trespassing into a forbidden world.

'Pat,' he said again 'why do you have to let me down like this? What a cheat you are; what a dirty trick to play on a man.'

He shook her once and slapped her face, but she only grumbled and leaned more heavily against him. He turned his head and surveyed her, the way one surveys a cliff-face before the climb, and if he had not been much more concerned with his own disappointment, he would have been amused. It was like opening a treasure chest and finding it contains a few old newspapers and business letters instead of priceless gems and pieces of eight.

Patricia was slumping at his side, a big doll with a tear letting the sawdust out, with her dress pulled up high on her legs, showing the weaknesses of her armour, the white skin above her stockings slightly bulging from the pressure of her girdle and criss-crossed by what seemed to him a maze of elastic suspenders.

There she was: potentially a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a bag, a lover, a drunken sot, a girl with, deep and strong within, her faith in being, for the mere fact of her womanhood, as tall as a mountain top, as immaculate and inaccessible as Heaven, as brilliant as the sun.

'They'll never realize of what reflected light they shine.' he thought.

He shook her again and pushed her slightly away from him and, feeling sorry in a way, covered her and said 'By gosh, girl, let's go. You'd better go home.'