The seating plan was working, thought Jerome, bringing his glass of wine to his lips in order to suppress a giggle of godlike triumph. He was the creator, he was Brahma, he was Dr Frankenstein. After all, what else is an effective seating plan other than the assemblage of rogue limbs, individually useless and wanting, and stitching together these parts to make a creature of form and substance?
It’s alive. It’s alive, it’s alive.
Colin had just finished an anecdote about the golden age of cinema, which Frank had immediately leapt upon and was telling his own story about Clark Gable flying planes during World War 2. Jerome had known that Colin and Frank would feed each other, so he’d placed them on opposing corners of the dining table, because (and here was the craft that separates someone who is able to cook from an actual chef) if Colin and Frank wished to talk about their shared cinematic passions they would have to do so across the entire table, including everyone in the wheelhouse of conversation.
But Jerome’s guest arrangement had a far more self-serving purpose than simply creating the perfect alchemy of friends. After 16 months of unemployment, after eating into Rebecca’s salary for over a year, suffering the hateful patience and genuine optimism of his peers, the immasculatingly non-judgmental fucks that they were, Jerome had secured a steady columnist job. All that was left of the news was to maximise its telling.
“My friends” he would shortly begin. “Let us not talk about what’s already old, let us talk about what’s new. Here’s a fun little game we can play. Let’s go around the table, starting with my left, and all tell us something new that’s happened in their life.”
To his left, he’d placed Frank and Gemma, who had recently gotten engaged. This was big news, arguably bigger than his own, and so it was prudent for him to get it out of the way first, allow time and subsequent people’s lesser affairs to extinguish some of the excitement.
“We’re getting married” they said, the utter arseholes. The crowd went wild with whoops and started chattering like a bag of thrashed crows. Grins, small claps of hands. Jerome placed a hand on Frank’s arm. “Really well done,” he said through a big smile. “Now who’s next?”
Move the conversation along, don’t allow the engagement to take control.
The next along, Seymour, had nothing going on.
“Oh, not much,” he said, exactly as Jerome knew he would. Also, he was a nervous public speaker. “I’ve -well- let’s see. I’ve got a new… a new washing machine?”
Ha. Fucking BULLSHIT on your washing machine, Seymour.
“Great,” said Jerome sweetly, patiently, satisfied that Seymour’s terrible offering had taken a significant dent out of the evening’s momentum. “Greg, Sue?”
Greg and Sue also had tiny news. Not no news whatsoever; that might derail the conversation and people would return to Frank and Gemma. No, they had just enough to keep the conversation’s journey around the table a worthy enough enterprise.
“We’ve just had a pool installed,” they said to mild ‘oooh’s and ‘very nice’s.
You think that’s very nice? Oh how I pity thee, table of friends. Pity thee whole, I do.
Next came Rebecca, sitting at the other head of the table. She knew of Jerome’s newfound employment of course, but Jerome had been quite clear that if she told the table before him, he was going to very slowly break the cat’s legs. Instead:
“Oh, new hair.” She gestured to the haircut that Jerome had requested she get. Again, polite ‘lovely’s all around.
Then came Colin. It was now time to build excitement again and the home stretch of guests reflected that. Colin had a holiday booked, and Terry had a new girlfriend, so again a step up. She was an unknown quantity, but thankfully, to correct any possible great news she might have, he had placed Eddie after her. He was to be the last speaker before Jerome, and Eddie’s life was objectively dogshit. Then it would be left to Jerome to deliver his news, soak in the exclaim, field questions for a while and control the rest of the evening’s talk.
“Booked a holiday to Lanzarote. Off in two months”
Of course you did, Colin. What a squalid little person you are.
Then came Terry.
“Well, as you know, I’ve have a new love in my life.”
Big ‘aww’s from the table.
Yes, yes, we can all see her, don’t dwell. We’ve got momentum going here.
“Terpsichore is such an unusual name,” said Rebecca.
“Yes, I suppose,” said the unknown quantity. “It’s Greek.”
Alright, that’s a little interesting, but out with it. What’s your deal? What’s your boring life?
“And what do you do for a living, Terpsichore?” Jerome asked, politely.
“Oh,” she said, “I’m the Goddess muse of choral singing and dance.”
The table erupted with ‘my god’s and ‘what did you say’s. People were leaning forward, gobsmacked. Terpsichore was smiling so horribly, horribly nicely.
“It’s good work if you can get it.”
Frank laughed and clapped his hands. Rebecca was asking Colin if he’d ever heard of such a thing and Greg and Sue were exclaiming loudly between themselves.
It’s breaking apart. It’s breaking apart.
“We dodged a bullet there, eh?” said Eddie leaning to talk to Jerome. “I had nothing.”
“We?” spat Jerome. “We?!”
“Do a piece for them,” said Terry to her.
“Oh I couldn’t -” she said.
“They’ve love it.”
“We would,” said all around the table, bar one.
Terpsichore stood and did a small turn. Everyone burst into ecstatic nosebleeds and tears, the roast goose in the middle of the table came back to life and flew away, and from somewhere they could hear a choir singing. Applause, just so much applause.
“I – I could probably write a column on that,” said Jerome, trying to be hear over the praise.
“Very nice,” someone said.
No! No no no no no no NO NO NO NO
“I have a new job as a columnist,” he said again, his mouth dry.
“NO,” Jerome shouted, leaping to his feet. The table went quiet. “It’s not ‘lovely’! I will not be accepted, I will not be tolerated, I will not be met with pleasant indifference like the rest of you!”
“Yes, dear” said Rebecca pleasantly, eyes still brimming with tears, heavenly chorus all around them.
“No! I am a man!” he shrieked, banging on his chest. “Fuck me or fight me, but nothing in between!”
But nobody heard him.
“Do it again,” said Terry to his new girlfriend. “I think they’d like to see it again.”