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Authors: Will Self

Dorian (8 page)

BOOK: Dorian
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—No, you fool, it’s a tape. Some friend of Henry’s got it off a news cameramen he knows. Cool, isn’t it?

—Fucking marvellous.

—I caught some of the action.

—You what?

—I saw some of the rioting, the action. I drove over to Brixton, but stupid squad turned me back at Acre Lane. Still, I got the scent of it-

—Stupid squad! Scent of it! You sound like Wotton.

—And what if I do?

Dorian had achieved more intimacy with Wotton in a two-week relationship than Baz had managed in two years. Baz felt shouldered out by a phalanx of Dorians. I suppose you haven’t shown
Narcissus
much then? He tried, but casualness did not become him.

—To tell you the truth, Baz, looking at myself looking at myself looking at myself isn’t exactly my idea of a turn-on, even if it’s yours.

—That’s not the fucking point, Dorian, it doesn’t matter what I or anyone else wants to do with you. In the piece you aren’t
you
– not in that way. You achieve a bit of fucking transcendence –

—Transcendence!

—Is that so ridiculous? Look – you can mock me, but you can’t mock my work. I’ll buy it back off you if you’ve no other use for it than
this
. He slopped alcoholic droplets at the screen.

—No… No, don’t do that. It may be art for you, Baz, but for me it’s… it’s an alternative me. I said it when I first saw him – I’m jealous of myself; and now he’s almost a whole month younger than me – and such buns!

—You’re still laughing at me. I shouldn’t give a shit – cruising queens and romance don’t exactly mix – but I did try and say a true thing in all this… Baz did more slopping… ’bout you, me, ’bout bein’ gay, ’bout… stuff.

—Baz, you’re wandering.

—Fuck it, Dorian. I’m all washed up, man. My habit’s so chronic I wake up in the night with a hand at my throat and it’s my own … He slumped back, his head hanging… I’d go back to the States but they probably wouldn’t let me in…

Dorian had begun to display talents in the only two areas of human life that are worth considering: he was becoming a seducer
par excellence
, and he was transforming himself into an artificer of distinction, a person who is capable of employing all of the objective world to gain his own end. If Dorian had been some Jacobean Machiavel, he would have swiftly acquired the means by which to introduce belladonna into a victim’s eye. As it was, he dabbled in drugs.

He knelt in front of poor Baz, unwrapping just two of a succession of envelopes he’d bought from Honey. He withdrew the injecting equipment and a bottle of distilled water from a small Chinese cabinet set in a niche. No addict, Dorian was able to make good choices in bad faith, and so he had stockpiled. Have a hit if you feel like one – he said heavy things with great levity – I’ve white and brown. Have a speedball. A little of what you fancy does you good.

—What is this, Dorian? You’re not doing all this shit, are you?

—No, not really. I’ve a friend… Dorian rose and sauntered over to the darkened picture windows. On arrival he peered at his own reflection… He’s got a bad habit. I’m trying to help him. Actually, he’ll be coming along tomorrow evening. I’m having a little
vernissage
.


Vernissage?
For what?

—For
Narcissus
– what else. Henry will be coming, naturally. He’s asked me to invite a person called Alan Campbell – perhaps you know him?

Dorian had acquired Wotton’s matter-of-fact tone for discussing facts as if they didn’t matter. This was creepy enough, but creepier still was the lust with which he watched Baz take the hit. The pumping in and sucking out of the hypodermic – which both resembles coitus and also is experienced by the injector as a series of mounting waves of orgasmic intoxication – was what particularly aroused him. Yeah, Baz groaned, I know him. Australian. Bent doctor. Bent in every fucking way.

—Henry says he’s very amusing. Anyway, my young friend needs connections of all kinds –
I
think he’s rather talented. He does a sort of painting based on the ghetto graffiti. Picked it up in LA.
You
could be of help.

—Listen… Dorian… I don’t wanna be a wanker –

—Then come, and don’t be.

—But Wotton – Henry; and Campbell. I know what it’s gonna be like. A lotta fucking drugs, rags out, amyl out, then circle-jerking… It’ll all end up in a conga line of fucking buggery. You want that for your young friend?

—You want that for yourself, Baz?

In a few three-day weeks (forty hours awake, sixteen asleep – drugs and sex are not merely socially liberating, they secure a release from the calendrical straitjacket as well), Dorian had moved from ingénu to omnivore, which is always a delightful metamorphosis, especially when achieved at a grotesque, galumphing pace. Now, with the countervailing heroin and cocaine making him spuriously lucid, Baz succumbed to Dorian’s advances with tense speed. Hands went to crotches, legs entwined. The vitreous perfection of Dorian’s beauty shattered in Baz’s mouth, and his acid saliva bit into Baz’s tongue. On screen, on carpet, in Brixton, in Battersea, on videotape, in reality, men thrashed and bashed about in the violence of abandonment.

In Henry Wotton’s childhood the years were inseparable and their events were confused. JFK stood trial in a glass booth in Tel Aviv and was sentenced to orbit the moon. In Henry Wotton’s boyhood it was the seasons that were mashed, so that the boy Hal tobogganed down grassy slopes, or picked daffodils from among drifts of fallen leaves. But in 1981 it was
that
summer, the impossible one that budded and blossomed and fruited at once. It was perpetually a sunny mid-morning in the vicinity of Henry Wotton (as if time’s arrow were a record player’s sapphire stylus, to be picked up and returned to the same groove, over and over and over), and at a large bay window to the rear of his house (a window stinky-fringed by thick-stemmed amaryllis and thicker still arum lilies), Consuela, a stolid Filipino woman, could be observed banging a rug out on the windowsill. She was doing it unconsciously and yet with great physical concentration. If a tidal wave had hit she would undoubtedly have kept on going, her light-blue nylon housecoat whistling slickly in the sticky heat.

Behind her a tidal wave had hit. A tidal wave of debauchery. It was a room of substantial size and unnecessary length, with two entirely separate seating areas, one based around facing leather settees, the other centred on a group of armchairs. All of the furniture – and there was a lot – failed. There was expensive modern stuff that looked about as comfortable as a colonoscopy; there was spindly early-nineteenth-century clutter, evocative of mounting hysteria; and there were even some overstuffed Edwardian pieces, which lay about on the tawdry purple prairie of the carpet, as if they were recently slain buffalo. All this, together with a colour scheme notable for its sky-blues and lemon-yellows, produced an overall effect that was at once chilly and cluttered. A high level of indifference to their own habitat was integral to the Wottons’ willed extinction.

More obvious pathogens took the form of occasional tables castellated with bottles and glasses, and ashtray after ashtray set upon surface after surface, all shedding cigar, joint and cigarette butts. The ash in one particular chair lay so heavily – on the back, the seat, the arms – that the outline of where someone had been sitting was clearly visible. It was as if a latter-day Pompeian had been extinguished by the eruption of a cigarette.

How sublime it is to eavesdrop on the rendezvous of spies, or to be a peeping Tom who specialises in watching voyeurs. The finest, most exquisite acts of betrayal are those of the double agent. Lying on a tubby sofa, in a towelling robe with ‘Waldorf Astoria’ sewn over the breast, was the lean form of Dorian Gray. He was reading
Against Nature
by Huysmans, the Penguin Classics edition with the portrait of the Comte de Montesquiou on the cover. He was surrounded by plumped-up cushions and appeared indecently comfy. His hair was wet, his adorable chest glistened in its fluffy housing. The uneasily dreamlike music of Debussy, or possibly Respighi, twined its strings and harps and cymbals in his blond waves. This allegorical scene – Industry in Opposition to Repose – demanded to be ruptured.

Batface could always be relied on in this capacity. She spun across the room and crash-landed next to Dorian. ‘Whoa! Whoa! I’m most awfully sorry, Dorian, I didn’t realise you were here,’ she shouted over the violins. She was wearing a dress comprising several layers of translucent peach material, which was a ludicrous choice for a thirty-year-old such as herself. Poor Batface, with her strong features, which would have been so handsome had they not been permanently twisted into an asinine upper-class moue, and her straight limbs ever kinked by the puppeteer of embarrassment. ‘Golly,’ she gibbered on, ‘I mean –
are
you here, anyway?’ apparently confusing the real present with an undergraduate philosophy seminar from the not so distant past. ‘I mean – oh, of course you are, silly, silly – what I mean is, what I mean is… y-you and Henry must… m-must
sleep together
!’

Batface spat it out at last, although she didn’t mean it euphemistically and Dorian didn’t take it that way. It was only the third – observing but unobserved – party who found this shamelessness on his part and her monstrously clashing horns remotely upsetting. She got up and began pacing, her floral dress trailing behind along with her words. ‘Oh look! The jiggling man is jiggling in time to
Pini di Roma
and Consuela’s beating. Oh,
do
come and see, Dorian.’ Her frightened hands spread about her frightened face, a gesture that was her anxious essence. Dorian detached himself languorously from the sofa’s embrace and joined her at the window. It was true, the jiggling man was up there, and he
was
in time. It was awful and claustrophobic, this Planet Wotton, with its grossly abbreviated growing season, and its tight orbit around the fixed sun of the jiggling man.

‘It’s odd,’ Dorian said, as the beating and the jiggling and the violins all continued, ‘Henry pointed him out from the studio garden when we first met.’

‘He’s quite obsessed… He thinks it’s a portent, but it’s more likely someone with Tourette’s – they tic, you know. I myself don’t believe in p-p-portents… but I d-do. Bother! I do in c-onnections… For example, this, here. Th-this cover picture on
A Rebours
. Henry gave it to you, I daresay. He fancies himself as de Montesquiou, the real-life model for Des Esseintes, the decadent hero of Huysmans’s novel. Incidentally, there’s a copy of Baldini’s original in the Langham Hotel of all places. But what interests me is that de Montesquiou was also one of Proust’s models for the Baron de Charlus in
A la recherche
. Not that his period interests me
per se
, but Proust was ob-ob-obsessed by Madame de Sévigné and she does interest me… really… really… she… does.’

At last, her hesitations outlasting her words, Batface had stopped. Meanwhile the violins, the jiggling man and Consuela’s beating all continued relentlessly. Dorian stared at Batface. He could see no attraction in her face, he had no compassion for her bonsai of self-esteem, and he had no real intellect himself to speak of, yet he could discern – and marvel at – the hidden order in the Batface world view.

‘B-but,’ she stuttered up again, ‘I’m not talking about what I should be talking about, w-which is to ask you where Henry is – have you seen him?’ Having at last managed to utter the query, Batface went over to the turntable, yanked the stylus off and scratched out the
Pines
. Consuela stopped beating, the jiggling man kept on making the pace for entropy itself. ‘Yes, that was it. Very definitely.’

‘Actually, he’s with the police.’ Dorian glossed this supremely Wottonish remark by filching one of his mentor’s cigarettes from the pocket of the robe and lighting it with a gold Ronson.

‘Oh dear – nothing boring, I hope?’ It was Batface’s major accomplishment to render ignorance and insouciance utterly indistinguishable. ‘Henry does
so
dislike the police – he cannot abide them.’

Dorian was impressed. ‘It’s not exactly boring –’

‘It’s fucking murder – a murder inquiry.’ To enter in
such
a theatrical fashion – through double doors, in full, midnight-blue, sharkskin-suited fig, and holding a bunch of white shirts (some of them prominently bloodstained) in his crooked arm – implied that Henry Wotton had been awaiting a cue. At any rate his lines were well prepared. ‘Stupid squad snapped into action when the laundry service reported me for consistently dispatching claret-soiled clouts to them, and sent two of their finest round to interview me.’

‘You mean,’ Batface was intrigued rather than appalled, ‘they don’t actually have the
corpus delicti
?’

‘Absolutely not. It’s more a case of them adducing random evidence and then seeing if there’s a crime that relates to it. Trouble is, if they look hard enough they’ll probably find a victim, and then where will we be?’

BOOK: Dorian
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