The Evening Party

Instant Coffee Caresses

Wednesday was going to be bad; it could be prepared for, and it would be bad, but, if one anticipated it, then perhaps it would not be too bad. The first meeting of the day was in Canning Town, E16, at nine o’clock. I arose tiredly and clinging to the beautiful warmth of my bed in a flat with a broken window. The orange juice was raw, stung my hot throat and fizzed about my teeth. Outside it was very cold. A slim man I’ve seen around ends was patiently walking his dog, adoring it time to sniff and piss as it pleased. An old lady stood outside the cornershop talking on her mobile phone for it to open as her own dog leapt up and started to point at the aforementioned; she apologised and yielded it to heel. I zipped myself up, stood on the platform, checked the time and stared into the morning windows of the housing blocks opposite. They must get tired of being spectated. On the train I saw a naked man leaning from around the edge of a curtained door, studying the sunlight as though he were a nervous actor regarding the spotlight. I smiled at his nakedness and the ice cold sunshine beating down.

A team of women worked frantically in the coffee shop. It’s really something to watch them operate. I wonder if they are friends outside of work. I wonder who is the biggest drinker, the worst taste in men, the overbearing mother, the most on top of things. As I walked away with my drink I looked at my watch and said aloud—‘Fuck yeah, on time!’ Then I chuckled on the escalator and skipped past those stood on the right.

My colleague — or friend, maybe — met me outside the hotel and we walked to site together. His catchphrase is—‘What you having for dinner?’ so I told him what I had for dinner, and then he told me what he had for dinner. It was simple conversation, punctuated, like true Englishmen, by complaints about the weather.

Over the three floors of demountables, we searched for the other attendees. One man had handed in his notice and was even more feckless than usual; his father had died, his mother had been sectioned, drinks & drugs were tearing him apart, the job was breaking him into smaller pieces and he had to get away. We sat in a cold room and everyone complained. Builders came in to shout & swear, then left as though a little exorcised. Attendants came and left. A roll of mints were passed around and one man cried—‘I don’t give a shit… I’ll be in Portugal.’

After an hour and a half, we had to move into another meeting room. The crowd thinned a little more. A builder made me a cup of coffee and it tasted good. I placed my hand over it to keep warm then looked at the steam that draped across my palm.

I smushed the steam into my fingers. I was surrounded by three electricians talking about electrical things.

I leaned on the desk and folded my arms. There was something in the breast pocket of my coat — the pack of rollie filters from fifteen minutes ago, when I snuck out for a smoke. The filters went back into my bag (special pocket) and, no…

There was something else in my coat’s breast pocket.

I had considered taking her pass for the ferry. It had been used and no longer had any monetary value. It was discarded on the work surface, next to a bowl of lemons and ginger. It had her name on, and I considered claiming it for memory’s sake, as opposed to letting it be flung into the general rubbish bin she kept so fastidiously beneath the kitchen sink. But, no, I thought, that was maybe her memory and I would have my own, so to claim it felt more like theft that it actually was.

There was something else in my coat’s breast pocket. The button popped off.

(‘Do you want me to get your coat dry-cleaned?’ ‘Yeah, that’d be nice… yes, please … I’ll just go down the pub in my jumper, it’ll be okay … I’d forgotten about this smell of the dry-cleaners.’ The coat hadn’t been washed since Christmas.)

I pulled it out and clasped it in a hand that had just been so carefully caressed by instant coffee steam.

It was her ferry ticket.

Upon it was drawn — in her trademark black-gel pen ink — a heart with an arrow pierced through it. Like a teenager, I grinned, and all the worries of my world floated off like pigeon feathers. Yes, I grinned, then I took the pass and put into the inner pocket of my coat, closer still to my heart, closer by two layers of material and of insulation. I fingered it, feeling four edges, and conscious of the instant coffee steam smudging the pen.

After a moment longer, I pulled it out as the electricians discussed a big problem they were having. The flight of the arrow was smudged as I had so trembled to commit. The arrow flew from ten till four, suggesting it had been on its descent. Inconspicuously I attempted to sniff some trace of her, but no, not a hint; it smelled of nothing whatsoever. She had snuck other things into my luggage but this was my greatest discovery.

For the rest of the meeting, I felt our frail rectangle. I was filled with an indescribable joy. She had sent seven texts on my phone. I could not wait to tell her about everything: the meeting, the discovery, my plan to snatch the pass, the worst crime of the century. I hadn’t eaten breakfast but it was midday and the taste of instant coffee in my mouth, the steam long gone; she was so faraway, so close.