Writing is really difficult these days.
Everyone gathered at the house in the country. The house was set back from the open road at the edge of the hamlet and in the early October dusk it could barely be seen in the shadows but for dimly lit windows that reflected slightly off the wet grass. It was a young man’s twenty-first birthday. The house had belonged to an affluent couple who died at the turn of the century, and they donated the property to the community. It had a functioning kitchen, high ceilings, thatched roof, and many original paintings from the twentieth century upon its walls. In the reception was an empty fireplace and many armchairs where guests slouched and spoke quietly. None of the armchairs faced one another, as though they had been placed to discourage conversation. The kitchen was bright white and steel surfaces; tinfoil platters were lumped here & there like coral. The dining room had a DJ and paperclothed tables with six seats at each.

There was music.

As the newly-arrived guests put their platters in the kitchen, the host – mother of the twenty-one-year-old – embraced everyone, putting a kiss upon their cheek, gray hair just above her shoulder and waving softly. A young girl, who had been watching our arrival with interest summoned the courage to address my brother’s girlfriend—‘What’s your name? … Izzie? Eva.’ Then she turned her attention to me—‘What’s your name?’ I told her and she repeated it, not quite a question; I did not know what to say; children are unnerving. ‘I’m ten. How old are you?’ she had turned her attention back to my brother’s girlfriend—‘Guess.’ ‘Fourteen!’ ‘Haha, no.’ ‘Fifteen!’ ‘No.’ ‘Sixteen!’ ‘No.’ ‘Seventeen!’ ‘No.’ ‘I’m gone go to the toilet,’ I said and walked away.

There was an old couple on the dancefloor. Nobody else seemed to them. They were totally submerged in the presence of the other. He stomped his feet and patted a peakcap on his freckled skull, smiling. She wore a Chinese-style silk dress and regarded his moves with amusement, dancing in circles around his centre, smiling. I watched them and they did not even know that I was there; a whole being with history and hopes was spectating and they had no idea. Their world was only the other. ‘Cute old couple,’ said my brother’s girlfriend to me, lowly, bending over the table and her glass of prosecco. I almost said—‘I wish I had that,’ but I stopped myself and simply replied—‘Yes.’ I pictured a life in love, of attending evening parties in country houses, dancing till midnight. It was something I was envious of. All the times I thought I had been in love remarked upon me something familiar and yet they were a world away. The tremors of their dancing carried through the floorboards to my feet and up into my bones, my static hips, the beercan in my right hand, and that was as close as I got to them as I caught their weddings rings catching the disco lights back at me.

The host is a saint. She is my mother’s only friend. She used to date my uncle, although she hates him these days and often fantasies of breaking a candelabra across his head. She is one of those rare humans that I cannot speak ill of. She teaches art to people with disabilities and special needs. She holds art shows for her students and always makes gifts for people on their birthday. Dancing is one of her favourite things. She has been a single mother long enough to tell a man to fuck off; she has been in love enough to wonder if it was the right decision.

Because she is my mother’s only friend I thought I would make the effort to attend, and because she is my mother’s only friend my father drove many miles into the stormy countryside, off the A-roads then the B-roads, down to the single-lane capillaries of England. Faraway gold-bellied clouds plumped over distant towns as dark cottages whizzed by and the rain fell relentlessly. She was stirring a bowl of slaw when I entered the kitchen—

‘How’s your girlfriend?’ she asked.

‘You wha—?’

She repeated her question.

‘I don’t have a girlfriend.’

‘O, your mum said you had a girlfriend.’ She looked embarrassed, as did I.

‘O, no, I don’t have a girlfriend. I don’t know what she’s talking about. No. No girlfriend for me.’ I picked up a handful of chicken wings and left the kitchen. The light was not so harsh outside.

There was a man in a wheelchair on the dancefloor. More, he was on the perimeter of the dancefloor. He was unable to move from the neck down. He directed his wheelchair with his chin against a controller. As the music played he swung his head back and forth. His hands were collapsed in his lap. As the music sped up and became louder he swung his head more vigorously, enjoying it very much. He smiled at the people dancing in front of him, especially at the old couple in the peakcap and silk dress. Behind him was a painting dated 1928. It was of a horse and carriage with six people sat atop and a driver with a whip. The carriage passed along a worn path through a field. The four horses wore blinkers. The sun shone on their flanks, the outstretched limbs of their postured trot. I could smell summer in the painting. It was ninety-seven-years-old.

The twenty-one-year-old and his friends gathered on the dancefloor. They were all very different from each other, like characters in a comic strip. They had fun. One would smash his beer bottle against the top of another’s and it would froth up. They all laughed at his lapse in awareness, for they had been pulling that prank all night. In good sport, the one who had done the smashing bent down and began mopping up the spilled beer, another would kick him from behind, and he would smear the wet napkin on their face. They all laughed. I laughed with them but they did not see me, like the old couple.

The DJ was one of the worst in the three counties, but he worked for free. A child approached him and requested that he turn it down. He complied. Twenty seconds later the host asked that the DJ turn it up, but he only argued that the child had told him to turn it down. ‘I don’t care,’ she said. A moment later the child reentered the room and asked him to turn it down again.

Eva became obsessed with my brother’s girlfriend. She watched her intently, not taking her eyes off her, shadowing incessantly. Where one might become secretly interested, Eva made no effort to disguise or conceal it. ‘Eva has Asperger’s,’ my mother told me. I said that I had guessed. ‘It is very severe.’ I was happy to see my mother with her friend. ‘She has frequent episodes where she throws tantrums and just screams and it affects her brothers so they sent her to live with her grandmother.’ Eva was in the background, dancing with my brother’s girlfriend. Her trainers were gold. My mother pointed out Eva’s parents. The father was sat in the corner with his three sons, one of them upon his knee, all were laughing and fooling around. Eva’s mother was on the dancefloor alone. She did not talk to anyone, but danced by herself. She was made up; her hair curled. The straps her of heels wrapped around slender ankles. Her grey dress clung to her tightly; it clung to her all the way to her thighs. They were swelled in the light from the DJ booth.. Her stomach pronounced underneath her navel. Not once did she dance with her husband, sons or Eva. Instead, she slowly shifted in time to the music, mute, her gaze kind of outward and directionless.

Sometime later when I was outside with a cigarette, her husband passed me by, holding one son in his arms and the other two at his side. He wished me a good evening. I reciprocated. Two minutes later, Eva’s mother emerged from the country house, not wearing a coat, her body’s shape in the tight grey dress descending the steps. Without measuring my decorum, I put my eyes up her as she approached. She caught me, yet I did not flinch. ‘Good-night,’ she said. ‘Good-night,’ I said. She was swallowed whole into the darkness of the gravel car park, where the diagonal of lamplight that glowed around me abandoned her. Only the crunch of her heels in pebbles reached back and the rain, which had not ceased all day, smothered her sound.