Ethan retired to an obscure corner of the gallery where he could consume an unsophisticated amount of canapés. Leaning against the pillar he watched Pete being lionised by the glitterati of the art world and tried not to mind too much. He wondered why he had been invited and why on earth he had come. Right up until the last minute he’d pretty well decided not to attend. No doubt at some point in the not too distant future someone would realise a dead beat college friend was no longer the sort of name that should be included on the list of invitees to private views at prestigious Bond Street Galleries and the decision to show up or not would no longer trouble him. He tried to comfort himself with the reflection that the snacks were pretty good and that it was fun to catch up with contemporaries from College. Pete Drummond might be the meteor shooting to fame and fortune but the other four were also doing well, teaching and exhibiting, even selling paintings.
None of them lived over a bicycle repair shop in Plaistow. He hadn’t sold a single painting since his degree exhibition and his living, such as it was, derived from waiting tables at the Station Café. It didn’t help that back then he had been considered the outstanding talent of their year. Ethan looked down, the plate was empty and he couldn’t really go and get more. It wasn’t that sort of do. Possibly the best thing would be just to go home. He could see his college friends all chatting to various people no doubt about exhibitions past and future. He dreaded the questions he would inevitably be asked if he got into conversation with anyone. He’d exchanged three or four words with Pete as he arrived. There was no chance of getting anywhere near him to say goodbye even if he wanted to. He could see Pete was deep in conversation with a man who Ethan vaguely recognised. He searched his memory then put a name to the face, Hiram P Rodmeyer, connoisseur and owner of a gallery in the States that catered for the super-rich who wanted to collect the latest big thing in art.
The sight of James Serkin, his professor and main supporter at Goldsmith’s, making his way down the length of the Gallery in his general direction decided Ethan in favour of leaving. He deposited the empty plate on the buffet table and turning to go was surprised by a voice asking,
“Are you by any chance also incredibly bored with all this glitz?” Ethan stopped. The speaker was extremely attractive and dressed in what even to him looked like an expensive black outfit. Her smile reached her eyes which were glinting with amusement. When he didn’t say anything she continued, “I saw you earlier. Someone said you knew Pete at College.” Ethan registered that she had a definite American accent. He nodded.
“Yes there was a group of us who hung out; some of the others are here tonight as well. I was just leaving, not really my sort of thing.” Professor Serkin was several yards nearer and Ethan turned decisively towards the door. He was very surprised when the girl tucked her arm in his.
“Good, I’ll leave with you. My name is Marty by the way.” She ended on a note of interrogation.
“Ethan, Ethan Makepeace.” He was confused by the turn of events. Smart, sophisticated women didn’t usually acknowledge his presence let alone leave places with him.
“Hey that’s a nice name.” She was towing him towards the door. At least he’d avoided Professor Serkin. If he’d noticed Ethan there would be a plausible reason for decamping without it being an obviously panic stricken flight.
Marty squeezed his arm. “We could go for a drink? Talk about something other than art?”
Ethan stared her and managed a strangled sound. He had a total of six pounds thirty five pence in his pocket and no possibility of using his card since he was currently right on his overdraft limit. Women like the one in front of him only knew men who could afford to buy two drinks or more likely bottles of champagne.
Marty who had been bored with the whole evening and indeed with the whole trip to London had acted on impulse. Now looking properly at the man in front of her she realised he didn’t look shabby chic, just shabby. She noticed the frayed cuffs on his jacket and the cracked shoes and realised he might not be able to afford to buy a drink. She didn’t want to offend him by suggesting she paid so she grinned and said
“Or we could go to your place and you could make us a coffee? Where do you live? Is it far?”
If he’d felt a sense of panic at the thought of Professor Serkin it was nothing to what he felt now.
“Plaistow,” he gasped. “Sorry got to go.” He wrenched his arm from her grip and fled up the street towards the tube station.
Uppoint had been attracted to the gathering by the girl’s overwhelming sense of long standing boredom with life. He knew what that felt like and had decided to help. Talking to her in the gallery he’d implanted the idea that boredom could be alleviated by acting on impulse. Maybe picking up the sort of man she would not normally come across. He’d pointed to Ethan who looked out of place and was stuffing himself from a plate that was stacked with canapés. Marty had needed no second bidding. Uppoint, who’d intended to cultivate Marty and see what he could do to help, was caught by the riot of emotion that rolled off Ethan at the point where Marty suggested going back to his place. After all boredom was boredom and while he understood and empathised with it, never before had he caught from anyone else the sense of being the only one of a kind on the planet and the impossibility of any meaningful interaction with humans. Uppoint immediately abandoned Marty in favour of the much more intriguing problem presented by the man now sprinting hard in the direction of Marble Arch.