One moment Trev and I were grooving on the dancefloor, Trev with his head bowed, his eyes closed, and his arms extended like a glider; the next, it seemed, Trev was telling the taxi-driver to drop us off outside an 18th-century townhouse with its front door on the high street. As I got out of the taxi, I fell over for the third time that evening. I’d fallen down on the dancefloor while dancing to ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ by the Chainsmokers. And before going out I’d taken a flyer in the garden at home after contesting a 50–50 ball with my six-year-old grandson, distinctly hearing a crack as my right shoulder hit the deck.
Trev paid the driver and pressed the doorbell. I was still languishing on the pavement when the door was opened by a preternaturally gentle and accepting young man, who seemed not to mind at all answering the door at four in the morning to two drunks in their fifties, one of whom was lying on the pavement groaning. He led us through the house and into a sitting room, in which every surface was forested with empty bottles and cans. The party looked like it might have been a good one but it was now clearly over, the only remnants this quiet young man, his petite, dark-haired French girlfriend and Sean, Trev’s nephew. Immediately obvious to Trev and I — addled as we were — was that Sean’s latest ambition in life was to lie with our host’s French girlfriend, an ambition of which our host was tragically all too aware, but gallantly pretending to ignore.
I slumped down in one armchair; Trev in another. Our sad young host affected great happiness at the arrival of two late guests and busied himself offering beer, chemicals and a choice of music. (No, unfortunately he didn’t have any Pointer Sisters, he said to me.) Then I fell asleep. When I awoke, the curtains were edged with daylight. Trev was noticeably absent, as was our host. But on the sofa, Sean’s siege of the Frenchwoman continued. She was lying in the foetal position and Sean was cosying up to her but hadn’t yet made a decisive lunge. Earlier in the evening Trev had proudly described Sean to me as an ‘unbelievable shagger’. But if you asked me, his approach work was far too cautious, relying as it did on inanities and sheer attrition.
At this point I ought to have upped and left. But I felt ill, my face hurt and my shoulder was on fire. I reclosed my eyes and listened to the sparring.
‘Please,’ he was saying. ‘Let’s go to bed.’
‘But there is only one bed,’ she said in her French accent. ‘And my boyfriend is already sleeping there.’ ‘That’s OK,’ he said. ‘You can lie next to him and I’ll lie next to you and just hold you. It’s all I want to do. Just hold you. Please?’
She considered for a moment, then said, ‘But supposing he wakes up? He might be upset to find you in bed too.’
Knowing now that there was a bed in the house with a vacancy, I determined to seize the opportunity and get there first. I stood up shakily, and said, ‘Did someone mention a bed somewhere?’ ‘Yes,’ said the Frenchwoman with alacrity. ‘Go to the top of the stairs and go through the only door that is unlocked.’
So off I wobbled. I went up the stairs and tried a few doors before I found one that was unlocked, went into the bedroom and climbed into bed beside her boyfriend. ‘What are you doing?’ he said, waking up and sitting bolt-upright in dismay. ‘Your girlfriend said to come on up,’ I said, almost asleep already.
He was very decent about it. He said that normally he wouldn’t mind, only his girlfriend had arrived in England only that day, and he had been looking forward to sleeping with her for such a long time, and he was hoping that she would be coming up to join him very soon. Such a nice guy. I rose, stumbled back downstairs to the sitting room, and slumped back in the armchair. ‘He says he is looking forward to sleeping with you and not me,’ I said. Then I fell asleep again.
I don’t know how long I was asleep. It might have been two minutes or half an hour. But the next time I woke, Sean was still pressing his suit. Keeping my eyes closed, but listening, I now heard her unexpectedly relent. ‘I am sick of that guy, actually,’ she said. ‘I don’t know why I came here. We can stay down here. And maybe as soon as that old man goes, we can do something.’