SUNDAY, 17 January
In case I ever find this diary, some ten years from now, and want to die of shame for how lame I was, I’m making this entry. Today you, Leo Taylor, had a pretty good day. There, how’s that? You got up out of bed and you were fine. Nothing remarkable happened at all. You showered, you took your dog for a long walk, you even looked kind of good today—hair went in all the right directions, and you were even checked out by some guy as you waited to cross the street. And not even a lecherous old codger but a man you can think about later on.
Later, when you were at home, Squire—your dog who is probably dead now that you’re reading it ten years from now—did that cute thing where he jumped straight onto your lap in an imperious manner, (which you can’t resist no matter how many people tell you that you spoil him), totally disregarding the stacks of paper you had balancing there. Despite his nefarious interference, you graded all the essays from your Modern European Economic History class like a champ. And then you had enough time to clean your flat.
You’ve never been so quick and efficient in your life!
FRIDAY, 22 January
The cat funeral.
Yeah, that happened today. I went and participated in—aided and abetted?—a cat funeral. Is that a thing now? I hope not. It was kind of, well, awkward.
That being said, poor Sarah was awfully upset about her cat’s death, and she put a lot of work and effort into saying goodbye properly. The cat was buried in her garden. Her husband, Rob—poor soul—looked awkward as he stood there with his hands on the grip of the shovel, waiting for Sarah to finish her speech.
Surprisingly, a lot of people from the department came. I bet it’s because Sarah’s got dirt on all of them.
It’s January, so it was bloody cold, and the burying bit, where Rob put the tiny cat coffin into the pre-dug hole and then shovelled earth on top, was quick. We had to wait in silence as Sarah arranged flowers on top of the pile of earth, while Rob played “I Will Always Love You” from his iPhone.
Yeah, that happened.
There was an awkward moment as Whitney Houston (am I the only one who prefers the Dolly Parton version?) bellowed into the cold, damp air, and we all stood there not knowing what to do next. Sarah and Rob’s garden looks really nice in summer, but today it just looked awful: muddy ground, fallen leaves, dry and twiggy bushes lining the fence. Sarah sobbed as she stood at the foot of the grave. Rob’s eyes caught mine, and so I went to her, put my arm around her, and slowly, delicately turned her back towards the house.
The gathered crowd let out a relieved sigh as they followed, probably because the wind had picked up, and it had started to drizzle again.
Inside, a large table stood piled with sandwiches and cold snacks and Sarah’s excellent cakes. She does make amazing cakes, and I began to suspect that some people came not to say goodbye to Bonkers the Magnificent, but for the baked goods. I mean, even Ralph from the School of East Asian Studies came, and I know he didn’t care about Bonkers because he kept referring to Sarah as “Steph.” And he ate shitloads of cake. And then he produced a Tesco shopping bag from up his sleeve and started packing some to take home.
In the background, on the TV a slideshow was running featuring Bonkers looking like an annoyed celebrity, tired of having his picture taken. The background music was a compilation of power ballads. Judging from their taste in music, Sarah and Rob’s ears must have had a funeral of their own some time ago. I wonder who came to that.
I gravitated towards the bookshelves and examined the huge collection Sarah had of books on anthropology and mythology. There was also a respectable amount of literature on trains—Rob’s hobby. I was busy with this when I heard a sort of welcoming noise coming from the gathering behind me. Engrossed by a number of books that formed a series on African mythology, especially the one that talked about Odinani, I didn’t turn in time. And then it was too late.
I heard “Hey,” and then I turned, and my heart stood still.
I smiled, my face heated up, and I found myself unable to open my mouth. Next to Jack, smiling and looking extremely pretty, stood his fiancée.
I hadn’t even bothered to put on my contact lenses. My hair—the blondish mop that passes for my hair—had got wet and tangled in the weather outside. I wore a black sweater and jeans. She, on the other hand, looked as though she was only stopping in on her way to a catwalk show in Milan.
“Leo!” Jack said breezily. “Where have you been hiding?”
He looked smug. My smile stretched wider. Probably like that of a maniac.
“I was ill,” I said. My voice sounded shaky even to my own ears.
“You didn’t come to the departmental Christmas thing,” he said. “You missed some party!”
“Oh yeah,” I said with a laugh. “I can guess. I know how wild a bunch of eighty-year-old World War I fanatics can get. They party like it’s 1921.”
He laughed. How dare he!
“Oh, this is Sasha,” he said, finally pointing the wineglass in his hand at the woman standing next to him. “Sasha, darling, this is Leo. Haven’t I told you about him?”
Sasha was smiling beautifully, and I waited for some sign of recognition, fooling myself that he had indeed spoken about me. You know, in the evenings, when they were half-naked, and laughing about the gay dweeb who slobbered after him. For better or for worse, there was no sign of recognition in her face.
“I was just looking at these,” I said, pointing at the books.
I didn’t know what else to say, and Jack kept looking at me expectantly, as though I were a magician he’d paid to see, and I’d come without a hat or a rabbit.
“Oh, I use those too!” Sasha gushed, suddenly quite animated.
“Sorry?” I asked.
“I use those too,” she said again. “You know, to practice my balance.”
I didn’t get it. I looked at her, and then I looked at Jack. And then at her again, and again at Jack. She was beaming a wide smile, but Jack’s expression was somewhat pained.
“You use… you use books to practice your balance?” I asked, feeling a little prick of amusement, which I knew was bad, but oh God, did I need it. Because I began to suspect that she did not mean “balance an argument” when she said that.
“Oh yeah, I’m a yoga instructor, and sometimes, in tree pose, to make it more difficult, I balance books on my head.”
I glanced over at Jack again, and he said, “Sasha, dear—”
But I cut in. “That sounds hard. Do you think this one would be too light for the purpose?”
I took a book at random. I know I was being a dick, but to see Jack’s face as she actually began to balance the book on her head, talking about how Jack had “so many books, but they weren’t all good for balancing, and they take up so much space!” was priceless.
He got fed up at the end, and shooting an angry glare at me, he snapped the book off her head.
I left them then, under some pretext, and wove my way through the crowd to say goodbye to Sarah and to leave. She hugged me fiercely, which is slightly weird when the huggee is tallish and slim, and the hugger is shorter and rotund. I thanked her for the whole thing and promised to give her a ring tomorrow. Then I shook Rob’s hand and went to look for my coat. Somewhere in the corridor, near the front door, Jack caught up with me.
“Oi! Wait up!” he said.
I had just pulled the hood of my coat up—which, in the full-body mirror next to the coat hooks made me look like a delinquent youth, especially in contrast with Jack’s rather more respectable look: his elegant suit, the way he kept his hands in his pockets like a GQ model, and the fashionably arranged disorder of his brown hair.
“What?” I said. “I’ve got a bus to catch.”
“Yeah? That wasn’t nice, what you did there.”
“What wasn’t nice?” I stopped looking at him because it didn’t help my clarity of mind.
I suddenly realised that if he didn’t know I was gay or into him, the whole scene back in the sitting room could be interpreted in quite another way. I didn’t want a quarrel with him, but I’d be damned if I apologised to him or to her.
“What you did to Sasha, you ape.” He didn’t sound angry, only a mixture of annoyed and amused.
“What did I do?”
“You know full well—”
“I beg your pardon,” I said, “we had a civilised discussion about the ideal usage of books.”
“You were making fun of her, Leo.” He lowered his voice reproachfully. I looked up and saw his eyes alive with amusement. “I wish you’d get to know her better before writing her off like that. She’s a nice, sweet person, who only got the wrong end of the stick there.”
“Ah, sticks!” I cried, my voice high and my eyelids fluttering in an imitation of Sasha. “I use those too!”
I don’t know what possessed me. It was really out of line, but he burst out laughing, and then he said, “You know, men used to call each other out for less.”
“All right, then,” I said, grabbing an umbrella and pointing it at him in an en garde stance.
“Stop it, you fool.” He laughed, swatting the tip of the umbrella away. “How was the cat funeral?”
I said with mock solemnity, “A beautiful ceremony. It did justice to the dignity and determination that characterised the life of Bonkers the cat.”
“Well, fuck me,” Jack said. “And here I thought they’d just dump the old thing into a ditch.”
“That’s because you’re a barbarian,” I said.
He laughed, and it felt so like old times, like he was one of us again, that I had to grind my teeth not to say something. Something which would, in the end, be very humiliating, and I am glad I didn’t. I left quickly, head ducked under the strength of the rain, and tried not to think about it.
I took the bus home, listening to The Cure on my phone. Out of the windows, the streets were barely visible through the rain. Not that I wanted to see anything—it was bloody gloomy out there: a cement-coloured mass, with here and there a bright umbrella bobbing away into the distance. Tempted to consider where the bright red umbrella was going and who was hiding underneath it, until I realised I didn’t give a crap.
The bus kept going with the tempo of an injured snail and kept stopping with a loud squeak. At some point two giggling schoolgirls came up onto the first floor of the double-decker. They fell into their seats, laughing, soaking wet, words and giggles intermingled, their voices the same, their hair different shades of the same colour—a sort of dark blonde—their jeans cut where their bony, white knees were. I was finding myself growing angry at their careless cheerfulness. What were they so giggly about anyway?
Of course, it’s easy enough to be angry with womankind for stealing all the men, when actually I should be angry with me and my brain. I suppose, imagining that Shakespeare really meant it to be Romeo and Julio, or that Herbert and Pip in Great Expectations were obviously into each other, is not me being cleverer than anybody else; it’s just sad and stupid. Jack’s straight and he’s getting married. This is real. Whatever.
Time to look for job opportunities elsewhere, maybe.