It’s lunch time and me, Aaron, Kingsley and Adrian, our new, ‘intrepid’ legal guy from Cape Town, are sitting around a table at the Hawksmoor. Kingsley’s been telling an anecdote about how he sealed a deal with a massive client by getting one of the account girls to go back to his hotel room in Seattle. Adrian grins at the account and I can see that the expensive merlot has stained his perfectly straight, white teeth whilst a miniature chunk of rare, sirloin steak is wedged between two of his teeth. I look over towards Aaron who’s seemed distracted all day; whether it’s to do with me, or something that happened last night, I don’t know, or particularly care, but every ten minutes he reaches down to check his phone, sometimes replying to a text or, I imagine, looking at social media.
I imagine myself in relation to the universe, an insignificant speck against a backdrop of eternity, sat at lunch, with three other smudges of matter infinitesimal in the vastness of history, talking about nothing, of no relevance to anything or anyone who means anything. Like a passport photo stuck in the Library of Babel, aligned in rows and columns along an infinite wall, with the passport photos of everyone else who ever existed separated into chronological order by date of birth; one emotionless face in an impossible sea of expressionless faces.
I’m going back to the office.
Yeah. I want to finish off that idea.
OK. Shall I come?
I don’t mind if you stay.
Aaron gets up to leave. Kingsley nods and continues his conversation with Adrian which seems to have drifted to the quality of prescription drugs in South East Asia. After a few seconds I mumble inaudibly and move towards the toilet. I wash my hands and splash water against my face. There’s an abstract painting on the wall that reminds me of an African child from a Comic Relief pledge film.
Alice is making me look at her recent work. It’s a book cover for Penguin Books, a novella about a man who lives a quiet life in the South of France. She’s used gentle brush strokes of green, red and yellow against a blank, white background. She says it’s supposed to represent the simple warmth of the man’s tale, though I doubt she’s read even a third of the book.
My art director says that they need to be less considered.
They’re nice, I think they look great.
Yes but are they more… careless now?
In comparison to my earlier ones?
Alice fumbles with a pile of graded craft paper and produces a similar illustration.
I don’t know. I guess...
Alice sighs and puts the work down. She opens the fridge and pulls out a bottle of white wine, offers me a glass, to which I refuse, and then pours herself a large one. I’m starting to feel tired but I worry that if I say that I’m going to bed I’ll upset her so I move over to her and put my arm on her shoulder, which doesn’t quite have the affect I was going for and feels more like the comforting of an older relative. Alice doesn’t seem to notice however and puts her arms around my waist affectionately.
How was work for you?
It was fine. It was good.
What did you get up to?
Worked on the Gillette script some more, went for lunch at the Hawksmoor.
Alice’s phone rings. She raises her hand as if to say, ‘sorry, I’ve got to take this.’ So I leave her and go upstairs and sit on the bed and try to try to stream an episode of Breaking Bad on Alice’s iPad, but it starts to make me feel nauseous. I switch off the lights and put the Ulysses audio-book on my iPod and listen to it through headphones, with my eyes shut, at next to no volume.