Tuesday, August 28

To Mark The End Of Summer

THE SUMMER ENDED on his birthday, two nights after my own, on the twenty-seventh of August. Each year Adam would have a party in his back garden and many people would come from all around and, as I was at the time, I knew everyone, in some way or other. Sunburned and sleep-deprived he would return from the music festival in time for us all to arrive. He was a clear-skinned young man with rosy cheeks and a friendly disposition. I liked him. He had always succeeded in physics, for I had known him many years, since secondary school.
We would arrive at around four in the afternoon. In that late summer the sun is already weakened from months of being at its brightest. By the time we got there it was on its way down. His house was off a country road that was off another country road; the middle of nowhere – or as middle-of-nowhere as England allows – and newcomers only found the house after a lengthy search. It was a cottage chocked full of dust and ornaments and country living, though none of us really ventured in there. We spent our time in the garden, which, including a horse’s pen, stretched far around, bordered not by fences but by trees and a long worn path that led to god-knows-where. In his garden was a garage with one open side where the drinks were kept, an outhouse, and a patio, where the barbeque stood and smoked.
If I look back on the summers of my mid-adolescence, I see only that scene.
Adam’s father was a big round man with damaged hands, some fingers missing, and a great white beard. His mother was friendly enough, as were his older siblings. They let us be, unless you wished to go talk to them. One summer his father, having learned I was into Dylan, took me to his study and showed me his very extensive collection of bootlegs. We discussed Dylan for a long time in a drunken manner, recollecting and intensely discussing the merits of various live recordings. All of his CDs were arranged in empty ice-cream tubs along one wall. They took up the whole wall. His study was very untidy. I daren’t touch anything, not through any obligation of politeness but because I suspected that one minor disturbance would bring the whole room – and possibly the whole house – crashing down. After that his father took ‘Blonde On Blonde’ out, hijacked the speaker system and boomed out my favourite song – ‘Visions of Johanna’ – all across the field. I, drunk, exhausted, harassed by a thick sense of joy, collapsed on the grass, let the beer run into my hair and sobbed. It was a good place to be and I sensed that no one else understood why I was sobbing except the mangled-handed father.
Music at those parties was always there. A large number of speakers were connected in a sprawling network of wires that one would often trip over, especially when more inebriated. People fought for control over what was played; sometimes they even brought their own CDs; but the music was always played loudly. There were no neighbours to be conscious of, nothing around for miles. ‘Hey, check this out. Have you heard them before? They’re amazing. This guy in Art turned me on to them.’ And a song was boomed out. You sat there, on the grass, listening in, nodding your head, trying to make sense. The speakers in aged formica cases stood upright all around, monoliths, erections of musical delivery. From them ebbed memorable sounds, sounds that have stuck with me. One night myself, a friend and a couple were lying in my tent, side by side, staring at the pale roof that dimmed vibrations in the early morning hours. It was ‘Otherside’ by Red Hot Chili Peppers. The album had come out that year. Everyone was listening to it. We lay there, arms across our stomachs, facing upwards, next to one another, young and brushing our bare skin against the other. And that song played. It played on. The song has lasted for many years in my mind; not on repeat, but elongated. When I hear it I am back there, yet at the same time I am away from it, looking down on myself, wondering where my holy youth went, where the summers disappeared to, wondering what’s going on, wondering what’s meant to happen next.
We were, after all, young people, creating around us the drama that young people like to engage in. If it is not there, we create it. Those summers were no different and things that boiled over the school-less six weeks often erupted at those parties. I myself, never one to bother with such trifles, only observed from the periphery. From there I watched my friends and strangers get worked up into tears and fights and shouting and all sorts and found it most entertaining. Without shame, I skulked around and tried to listen in. Often those involved would raise their voices, like actors playing out on a stage. I wondered why they saved such incidents for parties; eventually, I could not understand it. Helen broke up with Daniel and all were involved. In the light mounted on the outhouse, they argued and fought and screamed and mascara ran and was wiped away. Gnats did their best to dizzy themselves in the glare of the halogen bulb; grass was illuminated but was not the same green that it was during the day; music, now irrelevant and distracting, still sang out. Daniel and Helen argued. They made up. They fucked in someone’s tent. They argued again as a condom was thrown next to some people pissing in the bushes. It was two a.m., was three a.m., was four a.m. Time lost its meaning. It struggled to hold on, to maintain order, but in the end we broke its grasp and then time meant nothing. So many relationships ended, begun or reignited at those parties at the end of summer. Some lasted as long as it takes to summon up semen, others stretched out for years.
It was at one such party where I saw my first pair of breasts in the flesh. We were practically best friends; the same surname and forced to sit next to each other throughout school; she the surviving twin – it would have been impossible to deal with another girl as identically beautiful as her. Her name was Becky. She was my equal, but more academic. We competed in English, Biology and Art. Her cursive was neater. If she had been four inches taller she could have been a supermodel. Her philtrum is one of the most arresting I’ve ever seen. Her and Sean argued in the plastic confines of my tent. I sat there sipping my beer, listening, trying to make sense of everything, not understanding a thing. He walked out and zipped us in behind him. She lifted a plastic glass of wine to her lips. She talked to me about him. I understood her more than I understood him. I thought that she was lovely. I knew she was lovely. She was one of my best friends and I adored her; she was without equal; she strode like a goddess, like someone who invented the earth just to plant her high heels upon. With her folded legs in a sleeping bag she removed her top. I do not know why she changed her top but I watched her. Her small breasts did not need a bra. In the lights from outside that sprayed through the tent in miscellaneous shards of grey she was topless. On her right breast was a feint birthmark. They were perfect. In the coolness of late August they were hard and they pointed towards the horizon. She sat there, then put another thin t-shirt on. We talked. She, like very few other females, knew that women were something that man, for all his endeavours, could never better. I understood that too, even then. In the isolation of my tent, the two of us discussed things that I can no longer recall. Then we went out for another drink.
Then there was Katie. I had seen Katie around college. She was an unremarkable blonde girl that I cannot describe to anybody, because, if I did, they would be bored. I saw her at a music festival a few days previous to the party. She did not decorate her body with colours; rather she was all one colour: hair and skin and feet all one colour. In a field, festival music baiting the air, she danced. There were no shoes on her feet. She had denim shorts on – perhaps she taught me my absolute infatuation with denim shorts – and big thighs. Her thighs were big and unbruised, threaded with blonde hair. She moved in a way that distracted me from all conversation. Then I knew that I was infatuated. She was at the party that year. To get myself brave enough I was walking around with a beer in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other. I drank from each freely so that I might talk to her without nerves. So I went over. She was sat upon a little brick wall with her friends. Her bum was big. Her waist was small, her hips were big; she was built for nature, she was built to continue a species but I didn’t care about that, I only cared about the shape of her. We spoke and it went well. She sipped from my bottle. I took it back. In the end, when I thought I was ahead, I stood up and walked away. I was certain that our conversation would continue later in the night. As I was out of sight of her, on the host’s lawn, something overcame me. It was an immediate sickness; something I could not ignore. I vomited. A thin pulse of vomit dripped out of me. Vomit is more interesting when it is sewing itself into strands of grass. I watched it. It leapt up my throat again. I spilled it out. I sat down. I was sitting in the vomit but I did not mind so much. Another great load came out all over my leg. I lay down. More vomit came; it went on to my shoulder. Tiredness overwhelmed me. The final ejaculation – longer than the others – fell upon my shoulder. It was on that shoulder that I lay down. Katie was just a faraway thought. She was there. I fell unconscious.
I awoke in a tent I had not seen before. Everything was still. I think there was a CD playing but it was quiet, on repeat, playing for nobody at all. I lay there. My nostrils stung with acidic smells. I lay there for some time. Eventually I heard someone approach the tent. It was a boy called Alex that I have not seen for some time these days. He was also very good at physics and I considered him academic competition. Opening the tent, he put his head in – ‘Are you OK?’ I told him – ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’ He smiled at me – ‘You were sick.’ ‘Yeah, I slept in it. It’s all over me.’ ‘Sean dragged his tent over here for you to sleep in. He stuck you in it.’ ‘Ah! it’s Sean’s tent!’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘What a friend!’ I don’t talk to him these days. ‘I was trying to talk to Katie.’ ‘I think you may’ve drunk too much.’ ‘Yeah, I reckon.’ Alex stood up and walked away from me and the tent and the vomit. He was laughing. Why was he up so early? The bottle of vodka that stood in the grass outside my tent made me gag. I will never drink vodka again, I vowed. Everything was hopeless. I could not ever talk to Katie again. She had, no doubt, seen me lying in my own vomit on the grass. She was too good for me, anyway. She looked twenty-five. She was the sort of girl who made men reassess their mothers or forget to look when they crossed the road.
There was no one else awake at that time of the morning after a party. Alex could not be seen. I went and drank some flat, warm coke. Other tents lay there in the morning sun. There were dead bodies in the outhouse, surrounded by bottles and the thick musk of weed. I did not know what to do.
That was the last party of Adam’s I ever went to. University dragged us apart and I was no longer any good at physics. I wonder if he still has them. I don’t care, really, for they have left their mark; their women and booze have done their work and have sent me on my way. Nowadays, at this time, on this date, I think of those parties. They are a million miles away. I don’t suspect I will see those people ever again.

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