Back To The House That Love Built
22:37: The kids are in bed, and there’s three adults sat in the lounge laughing like old times. Well, one of them is half laughing, half in agonising pain. Turns out the first born of the Miles household isn’t so squeamish when it comes to meeting new people. He’s even less nervous when it comes to ambushing them. I didn’t even see the whites of his eyes as he ran head first at me. Just under five years old so just the right height to be able to head butt my groinal area without having to lean forward too much. “Dan, this is Liam. Liam this is Uncle Dan.” At least the little bugger smiled before turning and heading back in to the lounge like a freak tornado. It was also at that time of crippling agony that their dog Bungle decided to introduce himself by licking my pain-contorted face. Usually a nice gesture until your nostrils realise you are being licked by the source of that bad smell in the car!
“So all those women and not even an inkling of a desire for kids?” Lucy enquired, sounding far too maternal from the opposite side of the room.
“God I hope not!” I squirm.
“Ironic really” Max says tapping me on the leg. “You’ll probably be shooting blanks anyway after meeting junior!”
Their large modern lounge is filled with a combination of alcohol bottles and kids toys. Max comments it looks like a party we all went to before we graduated.
“Well I’m gonna head in. Busy day tomorrow. Sleep tight Dan!” Lucy yawns, steps over the slobbering Bungle, does a half wave back to Max and heads up the stairs as quietly as possible.
“You’ve done well chap!” I’m more worried about the two of us being swallowed up in deathly silence than what I’m actually going to say. “Great house, nice family – well, three-quarters anyway. Good car, decent job. You’re living the dream!” I take a sip from my sixth bottle of ice-cold Bud and stick it back between my legs. Max just sits there and nods. Clearly now it’s his turn to struggle for something to say.
“Look, I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch” he says suddenly. “Things have been really hectic...”
Maybe that’s true, but for ten years??
“...and to be honest after what happened I wasn’t sure how to get in touch.”
I’ll agree things were left a little acrimonious between us. That’s one reason why I was so surprised to be invited to stay with them.
“Well we could’ve been friends on Facebook y’know. Your wife managed it. Jesus even some mad guy called Geordie James is a ‘friend’ on there and he’s the most annoying pain in the arse you’ll ever meet!”
“Yeah well, while you’re here it’ll be like the old times eh? Max and Dan back in the house!”
My brother was right – it does sound like a Japanese toilet cleaner! I don’t say anything.
He gets up, eventually. The sofa is so deep you practically need to be an Everest style climbing expert to stand. “Hey you wanna see some cool stuff?”
We go in to the extended part of the house, recently built judging by the slight red tinge in the brick work. It’s Max’s office. He’d always said when he got his own bachelor pad that he’d have a room dedicated to cool stuff. He was half right - there’s a few games consoles, a plasma screen hanging from the far wall, plush leather sofa opposite, a five piece drum kit in the corner. And in the corner enough computers to make the NASA control room look like a kiddies play area.
Max goes online and starts showing me a few projects he’s been working on outside of work. Says he likes to keep his fingers in as many pies as possible. He’s designed websites for DJ’s and local film-makers, produced audio content for a few companies in the area. It’s really impressive, and he looks really proud.
There’s a sudden PING from the speakers. A small box springs up in the bottom-right hand corner. It looks like an IM message. Max quickly deletes it and proceeds on to another website; much more personal this one.
“This look familiar then?” he asks, photo’s from our past scrolling past my eyes on a virtual conveyor belt. It’s like an updated poor man’s Generation Game. There are pictures of him and me working together in the club, the college radio, the beach party from our final summer, graduation.
“Max will you come up here and give me a hand for once!” Lucy’s voice is an angry combination of tiredness and disappointment at not being helped automatically. They have been married ten years after all!! The husband excuses himself and heads to help with yet another child based tantrum.
I’m sat in the slightly-smaller-than-Max’s leather chair, taking in the ambience of the house when I look back at the screen. In tasteful black and white is a photo I either lost, tore up or burnt half a decade ago; Rita Katzenberg with her arm around a slightly larger version of myself. (I went through a random body-building phase for a while. Ballooned up so large my clothes looked like rejected shirts from The Incredible Hulk TV show.) I’m lost in the romanticism of it all when there’s that ping again. Another box appears in the bottom right hand corner. Sure enough another message. I try not to read it but there’s nothing else to do!
You not playing tonite hunni?
Hit me up if you change ur mind, am sooooo horny for you!! ;-)
The leather squeaks as I shuffle uncomfortably in the chair. I’m trying not to judge. Max has changed. I quickly minimise the message, catching a glimpse of the URL. It’s none of my business.
The slideshow of past memories has now morphed in to holiday photos and other happy occasions. The birth of Liam doesn’t appear to be one of them. One shot looks like a film still from the chest-burster scene in Alien. There’s the father, proudly holding on to his first born. There’s the family coming home. There’s little Liam grinning so maniacally it must be an audition for a prequel to The Omen. There they are at church. There’s Liam getting christened. That might be steam coming from his head as the Holy Water is dabbed on his forehead. There’s the proud parents with the grand-parents, and the Godparents. There’s a dog chasing a cat..... I pause the slideshow, taking it back one frame. The Godparents; a guy who looks like Max’s mullet-haired clone - I’m guessing his brother, some girl who I’ve never seen before, maybe a relative or friend of Lucy’s. And then.....she hasn’t aged a day.
“Yeah, that was Lucy’s idea. She promised her she’d be Godmother of her first kid y’see.” Max taps me on the shoulder, half-comforting, half apologising.
“She looks exactly the same!”
“Yeah. Must be those Dutch genes of hers I guess!”
I just nod. “There was a message for you just sprang up. I minimised it. Hope you don’t mind, was just looking at these pics.”
Max goes back intently to his screen, glancing briefly at the message before deleting and trying not to blush. “So are you gonna be ok tomorrow?” he asks, not looking back at me. “I mean, you do know she’s gonna be there right?”
“Up until a few hours ago I didn’t. Saw her email address on the message from Lucy while I was at work. Don’t know why I’m so surprised to be honest.”
“Dude it was a few years ago now, know-wot-I-mean? I mean she’s moved on, I was guessing you had.”
He’s clearly guessed wrong. “Oh yeah, a long time ago!”
“Yeah, I mean with all the action you’ve had you’re making Hugh Hefner look like...” He struggles to come up with a decent analogy, so I save him the trouble.
“Believe me sir, my exploits have been greatly exaggerated!”
“Oh really?” he says, turning back to the PC and clicking on its favourites folder. “And how is the burgeoning porn actor career coming along?”
“About as good as your career as a Fat Elvis impersonator!”
“That’s only rumour and speculation!” he says with a smile. He still knows when we’re joking around. It’s like we’re on old turf again. We’re friends again. “There’s no physical proof of my misdemeanours, unlike some people!”
And bang on cue the screen is filled with a moving, grainy picture of an out of focus bed. Barely visible is the lower torso and legs of a man, roughly six foot in height, laying on his back. In the background is a barely audible soundtrack of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing. From the right comes another pair of legs; more supple and substantially less hairy. They stop at the foot of the bed and the rest of the body leans forward. The girls naked breast dangling tantalisingly over the hairy male knee-caps. The chair squeaks again. Now we’re on completely knew turf. I suddenly feel like I’m sat in a dirty x-rated cinema next to some dirty, shaven headed perv in a flasher’s mac.
“Now this must bring back some memories, eh?” he asks through a broad smile. I’m squirming. Suddenly my former business partner and one time best friend has gone from a successful entrepreneur and loving family man to an x-rated version of Eric Idle’s Nudge Nudge Wink Wink character from Monty Python. Say no more!
“You have no idea how weird this is!” I say, simultaneously disgusted and yet unable to turn away. It’s like watching Titanic or Passion Of The Christ – I know exactly what happens! Shit, I was the unwitting co-star. But still I’m waiting around to see what happens next.
“Christ haven’t you seen it before?” Max asks with a childish grin on his face.
“Oh I have. I’m more concerned about why you would have this saved in your favourites folder!”
“Are you kiddin’? This is the ultimate example of ‘I knew that guy back when...’!”
What was he hoping to do, pick up some tips? “Who else has seen this? Have you shown Lucy?”
“Shown her? Shit, she was the one who found it!”
What kind of family am I staying with??
“Oh relax will you!” Max says, closing the film down just as the girl starts to mount the guy. “It’s sex, that’s all! I bet if me and Luc recorded ourselves going at it and put it on the net you’d be the first to watch!”
I’m practically livid. “Is that another one of your business ventures?”
“Could’ve been!” he says with a glint in his eye. Oh God, there’s a Max/Lucy sex tape somewhere isn’t there. Makes sense I guess; they filmed the birth of their first born, why wouldn’t they film the conception? “And anyway, it’s on the internet ain’t it. Anyone can watch it. You ain’t the first and you sure as hell won’t be the last!” Then he leans a little closer. That perv in the dirty mac is about to say something even more cringe worthy. “And I can tell you one thing for certain, some people actually liked it!”
“Please tell me you’re not on that list or I’m grabbing my bags right now!”
“Shit no, what do you take me for? I just had to see it ’cos, well. It’s like a fully fledged Jedi Knight checking if his Padawan learner has remembered all his masters teaching ain’t it?”
“Let’s just say certain mutual acquaintances from our past have made passing comments on it and said it brought back memories, that’s all!”
“You showed Rita?” I scream at the top of my voice. Max shushes me, desperate to keep the conversation on the QT. He runs over and shuts the office door.
“I didn’t have to you twat. Apart from the fact that it’s on the net, also remember where she comes from. She’s Dutch ain’t she? From fuckin’ Amsterdam. To them a good porno is like watching a fuckin’ artsy fuckin’ Ingrid Bergman or some shit like that. It’s no big deal. Here I’ll prove it.”
He goes back to his favourites and clicks on u-love-it.com. A screen pops up demanding confirmation that you are over eighteen. Max clicks confirm, and he’s through. That’s it. No age verification. No proof of ID. The internet equivalent of having some makeup-caked, starched suited airline desk operator asking if you’ve packed your bag yourself. “Well no, my good friend Mohammad-Ramsay-Geoff-Jeff packed it. Oh, and when he said goodbye to me he said ‘Allah be with you, and enjoy your seventy-two virgins!’” Even little Noel could get past that so-called security. Suddenly we’re watching another grainy clip of some anonymous couple going at it, this time on a sofa. “There’s loads of these man. See, everyone’s doing it. Best thing Paris Hilton ever supported if you ask me!”
Now I’ll admit I’m a fan of a bit of porn. There’s nothing wrong with it. People have sex after all. We wouldn’t be here if they didn’t (which brings a whole disgusting other debate in to our heads which is not to be discussed here!). They’ve just gone one natural step further. It’s well noted that almost as soon as the camera was invented people realised it would be great to go round snapping anyone and everyone naked. As soon as the video camera was invented it was as if its sole purpose in existence wasn’t to capture the key moments in a persons life, or to create some major cinematic experience, but to film two (or more!) people going at it like rabbits. And let’s face it if all porn was to be forcibly removed from the internet there would only be a few dozen search-engines left and just one site called www.whathappenedtoalltheporn.com. But I’ve never sat in someone’s study, with their wife and two kids sound asleep upstairs watching a couple of home-makers trying to seduce the babysitter. It’s uncomfortable to say the least.
“So this is how you spend your last hours before the lights go out huh?”
Max holds his hands up. “Hey, all I’m doing is proving a point here ok. Stop being so uptight will ya?!”
I want to point out the obvious; wife, kids, asleep blah blah blah, but there’s an aptly timed distraction from the ping of yet another message. Both of us turn quickly to the small box in the corner of the screen. “Man take the hint!” Max says under his breath.
“More work type stuff?” I ask.
“Um, yeah! We chat over messenger on occasion. She’s still at the office by the looks of it.”
“Yeah, Michelle, my assistant!”
He’s saying it as innocently as he possibly can. I want to push it a little further, try and get the goss. But I’m well aware that after all this time it’s none of my business. My personal indiscretions are a matter of public record. What goes on in a man’s private life is another matter.
“You know what? We should head for a night out on the town. Just you and me, like the old days!”
He’s serious. The huge dark rings under his eyes that I’m presuming are from a combination of hard work and crazed terrorists-in-training off-spring are doing nothing to stop the sheer excitement radiating from his very being. I glance at the digital clock on the wall. 23:09. Things will be winding down now. It’s too late to head out in to town. This isn’t London after all, it’s Bournemouth. A place that we used to joke would always shut up shop just before the sun disappeared over the horizon as the locals were convinced they would be attacked by vampires. Oddly from memory that’s exactly what a few of our club-based cliental would resemble.
“Dude, it’s too late!” I tell him, pointing to the clock. I’ll admit even I’m a little disappointed.
“Oh man, I had big plans for tonight too!”
“Well I think we’ve covered a lot of ground don’t you. We’ve established I’m an up-and-coming porn star and you’re Bournemouth’s seventh best Fat Elvis impersonator!”
Max manages a small smile. “Maybe we’ll end up in town tomorrow anyway. Y’know, after the wedding.”
Those neck hairs are back up again. I feel a small bead of sweat form above my right temple. “Yeah, that would be great!”
We establish it’s truly time to turn in. For the first time in months it looks like I’ll be in bed before a new day starts. It’s a novel thought. I even feel a little tired. Maybe it’s the hint of the sea air.
Max leads me round the back and in to the garage. “We converted it a couple of years ago” he explains, suddenly back in Family-Man mode. “Figured it would be handy to have when people come to stay. Luc thinks it’ll end up being the boys room when they’re older but I’m quietly disagreeing!”
“Want them out by the time they’re sixteen?”
“Fuck yeah. This’ll get turned in to gym or something!”
“Well good luck with that!” I pat Max on the back. He’ll need it when convincing his other half.
We head in to the rafters and on to a perfect wooden floor, white painted walls with a few copies of famous portraits hung to maximum effect in key positions around the room. There’s a double bed at the end, next to a small en-suite bathroom. “Wow! You should charge people for staying here!”
“Oh didn’t you know? You’ll be getting a bill when you leave!” Max jokes. He gives the room a quick once over to check everything works. He looks really proud. “Listen, I’m glad you came down today” he starts, looking like he’s having an intimate conversation with his slippers rather than his guest, but that’s ok. He was never one for direct conversations when things got a little emotional. “I mean I know a lot has happened, but it’s good to see you man!”
I smile, at my own shoes. “Thanks dude. It’s good to see you too!”
“Listen we have an open house policy here ok. Anything you need just use it. Loads of food in the fridge. Got the TV and tonnes of DVD’s. Whatever you need okay?”
“Thanks. I’m hoping I’ll actually sleep, but thanks!”
He nods, half smiles and turns to head down the stairs. I take a turn around the room and check out the en-suite before hearing Max again. “Oh dude, by the way. There’s a dog flap-type thing for Bungle in the door downstairs. He gets restless during the night. He hasn’t figured out stairs yet ’cos he’s old and thick, but if you hear footsteps it’s him okay?”
Or Liam come back to terrorise me. “Thanks for the warning!”