Monday, 6 September 2010

The Meat Job

The theme of Sara Solomon’s twenty-fourth birthday party was “Animals that are too ugly for TV”, which was one of the best ones she’d thought of in a while. Dressing up was a major component of Sara’s life—public and private—and her costume events were frequent and lavish, not to mention that they over-brimmed with the fashionable artists, musicians and media-types whose affections she worked so hard and so successfully to cultivate. It helped that she had money—the inherited fortune of a jewellery-store heiress—but there was no denying that she knew how to make contacts, and how to bring them together in all-night super novae of social energy.

Sara liked to joke about the morning-after complaints she received from uninvited neighbours: they never had a word to say about the noise, she insisted, it was the light of the spectacle that kept them from sleeping. The sort of light you’d expect at the end of the world, when all the countless components of the universe slip finally into alignment, revealing themselves to be the mechanisms of a crystalline machine set in motion aeons before and ticking each second towards a momentary state of total internal refraction. Light you couldn’t so much see as feel, and then only as the instantaneous erosion of your own body and its redistribution across the entirety of those dimensions formerly known as space and time. Good mother-fucking light.

Sara liked to talk in an overblown way. This wasn’t because she believed in the sublime; she just believed in talking. And playing. And having parties. She hadn’t read Plato, but she would have agreed with his assessment of poets; it was the metaphysics of compiling a good guest list on which the two of them diverged.

The “Animals that are too ugly for TV” party was held at Sara’s flat in South Kensington, itself a twenty-first birthday present from her parents, and the setting of a dozen prior soirees. Among the attendees were a fashion designer from Argentina and her English A&R-man boyfriend, a trainee surgeon from Botswana, a Canadian who made short films about cleaning products, the editor of a controversial vegan-lifestyle magazine and two members of a Romanian art-punk band that Sara had encountered the night before, each of whom had come dressed as the other. The remaining guests were mainly PR people, fashionistas and childhood friends of the hostess.

Tom Cobby was part of the latter group. He’d met Sara in sixth form and dated her for about three months, after which she’d flown off to Madrid for the summer and the relationship had dissipated. They were still on good terms, as was the case with all of her ex-boyfriends, but he’d only seen her once in the preceding year, and his attendance at the party was largely due to the nagging of various mutual friends. Although Tom was an affable and easygoing person, he was not a natural socialite, and he didn’t share Sara’s passion for the making and modelling of extravagant costumes. His outfit, which was based on a deep-sea anglerfish, was obviously a token effort, and way out of the running for first prize—it wasn’t even the best deep-sea anglerfish. That distinction went to Mark Sterling, who had managed to solve the problem of manufacturing a head-tendril strong enough to support a working light by using a clutch of LEDs, which were attached to a battery in the headpiece. Tom had compromised on this detail and painted a ping-pong ball fluorescent yellow; he was immediately impressed with his rival’s inventiveness.

“You’re like a vision of what I could achieve if I was taller, smarter and more hard-working,” was the first thing he said to Mark, when they met in the kitchen.

“You left out handsomer.”

Tom pointed out that when it came to impersonating ugly fish, good looks were a liability. Mark replied that he thought Tom had been speaking generally, then he finished stowing his spare Heinekens in the fridge—the one set aside specifically for drinks—and made way for a woman dressed as a post-op Droopy Dog.

The two of them got along pretty well on their own. It turned out that they were both connoisseurs of David Bowie films: The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Last Temptation of Christ, Labyrinth, The Hunger, The Prestige; they agreed that casting the Thin White Duke as Pontius Pilate was the greatest decision of Martin Scorsese’s career. But it wasn’t until Sara intervened that the real substance of their shared interests came to light. She was dressed as Sam, the Ugliest Dog in the World, a staggeringly repulsive animal that had enjoyed a brief period of Internet fame in the mid-2000s before succumbing to the cornucopia of medical conditions that had created its one-of-a-kind appearance in the first place. (The light that burns twice as brightly burns half as long, she repeatedly observed throughout the evening.) Her costume was remarkably authentic-looking, with dirty patches of fur scavenged from discarded soft toys, and little cellophane buboes filled with mayonnaise, which she would occasionally pop and excavate with a long-nailed finger.

“Hey guys,” she said, “don’t you both play the violin?” Seconds later she was dragged away by an insistent botfly larva to drink Flaming Sambucas out of the house’s one remaining clean receptacle, a ceramic egg cup modelled on Yogi Bear’s head. Had the larva been just fractionally quicker, the topic might never have come up, and The Meat Job might have passed Tom by without his ever knowing.

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