How Not to Survive

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22

It’s a few days later and I’ve just had a shit interview for an even shitter job as a bartender at this new gay dive that’s opened recently off Dean Street. The manager basically shot all these questions at me like he was firing off live rounds of ammo, like, What do you do if a customer changes his mind? What do you say if they argue about the price? What do you do if they offer to buy you a drink? Apparently none of my responses were right, since every time I answered he did this wincing thing like he was developing a tumour just from being in my presence. We’ll let you know, he said at the end, obviously meaning, Not if it came down to you or a new drinks tray. But it’s fine, since I only went to get Mum off my back seeing as now she’s kicked the booze and back to being a lawyer she thinks it’s her job to be my own private pain in the arse. Every morning since drama school and me parted ways it’s been the same – What are you doing today? Have you checked the papers for jobs/courses? Do you have a plan mapped out for the rest of your life? It’s like, do us all a favour and have a drink already. She’s basically transitioned from a total alchy into a total maniac, and you don’t have to be a genius to work out that Dad’s impending nuptials to Barbie have got something to do with it.

Anyway, today is also Teresa’s twenty first birthday, and Teresa’s not the sort of person to let a landmark like that slip by without making it as big a deal as she possibly can. She’s down in London for the week to celebrate, and in the like, ongoing bid to turn my sister into a fellow evil doll Barbie’s gone and rented out the whole of McKenzie’s, this swanky restaurant in London Bridge, for Teresa to have a party with all her friends. Unfortunately for Barbie she couldn’t really forbid Teresa to invite me or Mum, and Mum’s determined to go despite all my subtle hints that maybe it’d better just to meet Teresa earlier for a coffee. She’s totally pissed off Teresa’s opted to stay with Dad and Barbie in Kent rather than here with us, and keeps having these fits about how her most wonderful and cleverest child is being kept from her. It’s like, Thanks Mum. The only reason I’m only going along is to make sure she doesn’t hit the bar at the sight of Dad and Barbie together, since a party of Teresa’s likely to be about as much fun as getting locked in a convent for several hours, and will mean not only sharing a room with the evil doll herself, but also with her even eviler offspring, who’s still going out with Teresa.

I find Mum waiting for me outside the station, glaring at the world around her like she’s looking for reasons to go ape shit on it. As soon as she sees me she demands to know how the interview went and then when I confess it didn’t exactly go what you’d call well, she starts chewing me out for the way I’ve dressed and for not making more of an effort. I know that this onslaught is basically just nerves because of what’s coming so I do my best to ignore it, though by the time we reach McKenzie’s I’m pretty much bitched out and ready to tell her to go in alone. But as we wait for the doorman to find our names on the list Mum goes from angry to frightened, and suddenly starts having these second thoughts.

She’s like, Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

I’m like, Now you see.

She’s like, Oh dear. Do you think we should just go?

Ma’am? says the doorman, opening the doors for us, Are you going in?

Mum gives me this helpless look, like she’s about to drown. But we’ve come this far and I figure if we turn around now she’ll only change her mind halfway back to the station, or else regret it and take it out on me later.

I’m like, Come on, we’ll just be quick, and take her shoulder.

Mum squeezes my arm with what I think is gratitude and we head in. The place is surprisingly full, and not just with the overweight girls and dweebs Teresa hung out with before she started uni – there’s actually a smattering of vaguely cool-looking human beings here as well. I had no idea she knew so many people, or that so many people liked her enough to bother turning up for a party of hers. I figure it must be the posh bar and the free drinks, or else that Barbie hired them, which might seem like a pretty mean way to view it but there’s no way I can believe these guys are all fellow members of the Christian Union up at UEA.

So here we are! goes Mum with a pretty tragic attempt at brightness, I wonder where the belle of the ball has got to... Might as well jump right in I suppose!

We gaze around at Teresa’s friends, who all blithely ignore us.

Oh hi there! Mum goes chattily to a thin preppy-looking blonde girl, Are you a friend of Teresa’s? I’m Lois – her mum.

The girl gives her this unimpressed withering look, like Mum’s just admitted to having genital warts.

I’m here with Paul actually, she goes in this I-could-care-less-if-you-developed-a-face-eating-disease-right-in-front-of-me voice, Do you know where he is by any chance?

Mum’s too surprised to reply and the girl doesn’t wait for an answer anyway, just points her nose towards the ceiling and drifts off like she’s spent her whole life balancing beach balls on top of it.

Well! goes Mum, I hope all the guests aren’t like that!

I’m like, What an uppity bitch.

Instead of contradicting me, or telling me off not like, thinking better thoughts, Mum laughs. Then she freezes.

Jaz, would you get me a large lemon and tonic? she goes through her teeth. I look over where she’s looking and see Dad and Barbie who are wending their way towards us through the crowd, arm in arm.

Now please? adds Mum in a voice like a danger signal.

I don’t need to be asked again. I head for the sanctuary of the bar, turning round to look back just as Mum, Dad and Barbie all collide at the centre of the room, half expecting them to explode in a shower of body parts from all the seething tension. Instead I watch as Mum kisses Dad’s cheek before Barbie wrenches him away as if to say He’s my property now. Then, in a gesture that obviously takes every last ounce of her self control, Mum puts her hand on Barbie’s shoulder and learns in towards her as well. Barbie’s obviously a bit surprised, and rightly a bit wary in case it’s just a ruse so Mum can go for an eyeball, but then she submits and let’s Mum plant one on her cheek and even puckers up her own lips to do the same for Mum. Then they both put on these massive smiles, like they’re having a teeth off, and Dad says a few things which you don’t need to be a lip reader to know must be life-alteringly interesting, given how Mum and Barbie just ignore him and smile at each other until finally Mum’s jaw starts to sag from the effort and she says something and heads off towards the other side of the room. As she goes I notice Dad looking after her, and there’s this look in his eyes like he really wants to go after her. Only of course there’s not much chance of that with Barbie soldered to his side.

Hello Jarold, how are you? goes Paul in my ear, sliding up beside me like a snake, Sorry – Jaz, that’s what you like to be called, isn’t it?

I pretend I haven’t noticed The King of Smarm and try to squeeze past, but he plants himself directly in my way.

I’m like, Oh hi Paul, I didn’t notice you.

Paul treats me to his special smirk, the smirk he’ll no doubt wear one day to fire employees and perhaps even nuclear warheads.

I hope you’re not planning to make another scene, he goes, This is Teresa’s special day you know.

I’m like, Wait – we’re here for Teresa?

Paul’s like, So perhaps you could try and keep your drama to the sidelines? Just this once?

At this point the birthday girl herself appears, letting out a shrill squeal that’d frighten a bull and all but jumping on top of Paul. Teresa’s wearing another low cut dress that shows off her boobs, this time in slutty bright red, and has got so much make up she’s practically got a whole new face. But despite her scary new look I get this weird affectionate feeling towards her. Not because she looks sexy or beautiful, but because she looks young, kind of like a little girl doing her best to look sexy and beautiful, and there’s something obscurely touching about it.

Paulie, I’ve been looking for you all over! Teresa cries directly into Paul’s ear, and maybe it’s just me but it seems like he flinches a bit, I thought we agreed you were going to help me with the presents!

Sorry Tess, goes Paul, trying to disentangle himself from her, I ran into your brother.

Teresa frowns and looks at me like she’d forgotten she even had one.

I’m like, Hi Tee. Happy birthday!

Oh hi Jaz, she goes levelly.

I’m like, You look really nice.

Teresa plants her free hand, the one that’s not still trying to fondle Paul, on her hip and gives me a suspicious look.

She’s like, What’s the insult?

I’m like, No insult.

But Teresa’s not having any of it.

Oh drop dead Jaz! she goes, Come on Paul.

She grips The Smirk Factory’s hand and leads him off in the direction of Dad and Barbie. I see a gap at the bar and plant myself in it, right next to a space where the barman’s lining up cocktails. He says they’re called Wet Dreams, and I certainly don’t need more encouragement than that.

After a couple of Wet Dreams I feel start to feel vaguely OK about being surrounded by Teresa’s insanely boring friends, and I even allow myself to be drawn into a conversation about robot technology with this little Asian guy with an amazing squint. They’re playing classic cheese and quite a few of the guests are getting down on the dance floor, or at least swaying around and looking like they’d get down if they knew how. I’ve totally lost track of Mum, but I’ve been doing a good job of guarding the bar so at least I know she isn’t getting tanked up or anything.

The guy beside me is just arguing his claim that cyborgs are already walking among us and the government just haven’t released a statement about it yet, when the proof itself comes striding purposefully towards me like a lethal pink-clad missile. I’m like, You convinced me, and try to do a quick leftie, only to go face-splat into the barman, who almost drops his tray of empty glasses and gives me this patient smile that totally fails to disguise how much he’d obviously like to head butt me right now.

Jaz? demands Barbie from behind.

There’s no escape so I turn back round.

Hey Julia, I say, trying to sound like it’s really nice to see her, How are you doing? Great party!

Have you seen your father? she goes coldly. She’s clearly given up on me after the whole Bob Hope debacle, and I suppose I can’t really blame her.

I’m like, Nope.

But even as I say it I do see him, and to my astonishment he’s on the dance floor with Mum. They doing this impressively awful dance that’s a bit like the twist, and around them all these people are watching and clapping along, either out of genuine enjoyment or sheer embarrassment, it’s hard to tell. But it’s the expressions on their faces that’s really interesting – they look like they’re having the time of their lives, and are both giggling away like a couple of naughty school kids. At one point Mum even rests her hand on Dad to steady herself, and afterwards she just leaves on his arm there like it’s the most natural thing in the world, and he doesn’t push it away or anything.

I turn back to Barbie and give her a look that’s meant to convey to her what I don’t quite have the guts to say in case she goes for me – that this is what people who belong together no matter how fucked up it is are supposed to look like. I’m fully expecting her to go charging over and manhandle Dad away, and maybe offer to take things outside to Mum, but instead she just watches with these big shiny eyes, like any second she’s gonna burst. Then to my surprise she emits this sound that’s a bit like a sheep bleating and turns and dashes off in the direction of the ladies. It’s pretty obvious she’s not off for a quick snort. I ought to feel pretty gleeful at the sight of her retreating pink arse, but the weird thing is, I don’t at all. I mean, there’s definitely some smugness, but there’s also a certain degree of sympathy too, which is pretty fucking unexpected. I guess it’s because no matter how amazingly awful she is, there’s no getting away from the fact that Barbie’s got it bad for Dad. She’s basically done everything she can legally do to make him hers.

I look down and realise that during my two sentence exchange with Barbie I’ve managed to down yet another Wet Dream and I’m feeling a little giddy. I’m also desperate for a cigarette so I plonk down my glass and head out the backdoors to the little patio area, which is completely deserted. I sit down at the table in the corner and I’m just about to light up when I hear these two voices that belong unmistakably to my folks.

You know how I feel, Dad’s saying, And I know how you feel too.

I quickly crouch down under the table so they can’t see me, and next thing I know I’m greeted with the sight of their buttocks planted firmly in front of my face. It’s kind of disturbing.

I suppose so, whispers Mum.

There’s this long pause while they both reflect. This is big stuff, clearly. They’re obviously going to confess that they still love each other any second. I fight down this maddening urge to clear my throat.

Oh God Lawrence! Mum goes suddenly, Why do things always have to be so difficult?

That’s the way of it, Dad says gently, Nothing anyone can do.

And she hates me! declares Mum.

Dad’s like, She doesn’t hate you. You just make her nervous.

Since when do I make anyone nervous? demands The Lawyer.

Dad chuckles, and a second later Mum joins in.

OK, fine! she goes, But at least I’m trying.

I know, says Dad, not laughing anymore, And it means a lot to me.

There’s another long pause, and then he’s like, It was never going to work out between us, was it? in this gentle voice like he’s worried if he speaks too loud he might cause something to break. It’s pretty emotional, though the effect is kind of ruined by all these distant screams from inside as the DJ plays Alexandra Burke’s Bad Boys.

Mum gives this sad little moan – only instead of sounding like a noise of pain it sounds more like a noise of agreement.

She’s like, No. It wasn’t.

We gave it our best shot though, didn’t we?

Yes, says Mum, We certainly did.

Yet another pause, and this time it seems to go on forever. Eventually I sneak a peek over the table in case they’ve both had simultaneous strokes, like something you might read in Amazing True Stories section of the tabloids. What they’re doing is hugging, but it’s obviously not a We’re-getting-back-together sort of hug. As I watch them I get this funny tingling sensation, a bit like you sometimes get right after you’ve taken a piss which you’ve been storing up for hours. Only it’s not just in my bladder but all across my insides. It’s the feeling of my hope for them being eviscerated. Because it’s suddenly just plain awful and simple and obvious.

I watch as Dad gives Mum a last kiss on the forehead and heads off, presumably off in search of The Plastic Princess. I wait a minute to give Mum a chance to compose herself then stand up.

I’m like, Hey.

Mum lets out a little shriek.

Jarold?! she goes, madly dabbing at her eyes with her sleeve and looking like she doesn’t know whether to be furious or ashamed, What the hell are you doing here?!

I don’t say anything, just give her this look to show her that I understand. Mum gazes back at me like she’s not sure which alien race I’m channelling. Impulsively I go to give her a hug, but to my surprise she pushes me off and gets up.

Oh dear, she goes all breezily, I think someone’s had a bit too much to drink. Won’t you ever learn from my example? Anyway, I’m back off to the warzone. It must be about time for Teresa to cut her cake.

With these words she leaves me standing there like a mummy’s boy loser and heads inside. I slump down on the seat, light my cigarette and take a drag. From inside I hear them cut the music while everybody starts singing happy birthday. It’s weird, but I’ve got this strange aching feeling like somebody’s just died. I guess it’s because of Mum and Dad, but it’s totally stupid really, since it’s always been ridiculous of me to think they were gonna have another stab at things. And even if they were, it’s like, Why would I even give a shit? But somehow I guess I secretly sort of did, that’s all.

I don’t know, but maybe the fairy of shit things that happen has finally got bored because when I go back inside I’m just in time for a little scene that cheers me right up. First of all I run into Teresa who’s holding a plate with a slice of cake on it looking murderous, like it’s all been too much and the birthday girl has flipped. At first I think she’s coming for me, but she just pushes past not saying anything, and I turn and see she’s actually heading for Paul, who’s chatting to the thin preppy blonde from before, the one who was a total bitch to Mum. In fact she and Paul look like they’re doing a bit more than just chatting, seeing as this girl has her hand on Paul’s hand and is drumming her fingers up and down on his wrist in this way that’s like, totally sexual.

You said you and she were history! Teresa goes wildly into Paul’s face as she pushes between them, What the hell is she doing here?!

All calmly Paul’s like, Tabby was just in town and popped in to say hello, that’s all. There’s no need to get angry, Tess!

TABBY?! screams Teresa, WHAT THE FUCK IS SHE SUPPOSED TO BE? A FUCKING CAT?

It’s like, the first time I’ve ever heard Teresa swear, and I have to say she takes to it like a duck to water. Behind her Tabby puts her hands on her spindly hips and yawns like this scene is so passé she can hardly believe she’s wasting her life on it.

She’s like, You might as well tell her about us, Paul. She was going to find out from me anyway. Why do you think I even came to this non-event?

To this Teresa gives her a shove that sends her face-first towards the far wall. Through some feat of amazing skill Tabby somehow manages to stop before collision, teetering millimetres before it on her sky-high stilettos. By this point everyone’s gathered up for a good gawp, even the bartenders, and it’s probably the best entertainment anyone’s seen at a party like, ever. Helpfully DJ fades the music and there’s this great thudding silence while we all stare expectantly at Paul, who looks around and emits this uber-fake laugh.

Oh come on! he goes authoritatively, giving us a cool smirk and shaking his head as if he can’t believe what a hoot this situation is, OK people, nothing more to see here! Just a little misunderstanding, that’s all. Why don’t we all get back to having fun, hmmm?

No one moves a muscle. Then Barbie pushes her way through the crowd.

She’s like, Paulie? What’s going on here?

At the sight of his mummykins Paul’s cool facade cracks into smithereens. He looks between Teresa and Barbie like a man who’s just realised he’s about to face execution. Over by the wall Tabby lets out this long dry laugh.

I can’t believe you let your mum call you that, she goes.

Well? demands Barbie.

It’s not simple! whines Paul, suddenly sounding like a snotty little kid, But I can explain! Can’t we just go outside and resolve this in private, like adults?

People look pretty disappointed by this sensible suggestion, but fortunately for them Teresa has heard quite enough. As Paul opens his mouth to say more she lets out an warrior-style cry that sends a shiver of fear down every spinal cord. Then, with an amazing artistry that almost makes me proud to be related to her, she lifts the piece of cake she’s holding and inserts into his mouth at the split second it’s open the widest, using her palm to force it all the way in. Paul recoils, clutching at his mouth as if he’s just been given the kiss of death or something.

You’ve got disgusting hairy nipples anyway! Teresa announces as he drops to his knees and starts choking out globs of icing over people’s shoes.

Paulie! Barbie screeches in anguish.

Maternal instinct overcomes her and she rushes over to her son and whisks him off towards the bathroom, patting him down and assuring him it’s going to be all right. Meanwhile Tabby looks around at everyone, who by now are all staring at her, and mutters, Like whatever! before taking flight for the exit.

Teresa stares after her, trembling like she’s in two minds whether to set off in pursuit and make her eat the floor. People start to back away, worried she might suddenly decide to take out on the whole room while she’s at it, but then Mum pushes past and gently touches puts her arms around Teresa.

Mum! wails Teresa, suddenly collapsing in a tidal wave of tears.

Come on, Mum goes firmly, and leads her to the nearest chair. Within seconds they’re surrounded by a like, sisterhood of Teresa’s friends. I head over and stand at the back while everyone takes it in turns to denounce Paul as a womanising bastard (which actually sounds kind of sexy). Teresa meanwhile seems to be lapping it up, crying away and declaring she’s through with men to rounds of cheers. You can totally see that she’s secretly loving every minute of it, and if anything it’s going to be one those defining moments in her life where she stood up and showed the world she wasn’t going to take its crap anymore. It’s like, Good for her. I figure I’m not exactly needed here and that I should probably just leave now before anything happens to sully the wonderful memory of Paul getting stuffed, and so I down a final Wet Dream and head.

Outside I find Des with his hands in his pockets, looking like an out of place building and towering sheepishly over the doorman, who’s searching for him on his list.

I’m sorry sir, goes the doorman timidly, But you’re not here.

I’m like, Des?

Des looks up and gives me this relieved smile like I’ve come to rescue him or something.

He’s like, Jaz!

I’m like, What are you doing here?

To this Des’ face returns to sheepish.

Your ma invited me...

I give him this look because I’m a little sceptical Mum would go and invite her sponsor to her daughter’s birthday party. I’m just fitting two and two together, and doing this like, mental back flip, when Mum herself appears.

Des! she squeals, rushing over to him, standing on tiptoes and planting a kiss on his cheek. He’s with me, she goes all defiantly to the doorman, He’s my guest!

I give her this cut-the-crap stare.

I’m like, Your guest, hmmm?

For a second Mum looks cornered, but then she grips Des’ hand tightly – so tightly that he lets out a tiny little Ouch! of pain, and stares right back at me.

Mum’s like, You may as well know, Jarold, Des and I have been seeing one another for a quite a while now... you’re old enough and mature enough to hear the truth. I hope you’ll be happy for me and make an effort with him, as he’s a truly wonderful man.

At these words Des forgets he’s having the circulation to his fingers cut off and gives Mum a look so full of adoration she could probably fuck him right over and he’d still think of she was an angel. Mum gives him this fond soppy smile back, and then they both go arm and arm into the restaurant, leaving me in this total like, traumatised state on the pavement.

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