It has been a long day. Arriving home late and wanting nothing more than a bath and an early night, I hear music from an upstairs room as I reach for my keys. Several strange cars are parked outside, some of them with tinted windows. I feel as though I am being watched.
Inside the house the scene is one of convivial devastation. Beer bottles and pizza delivery boxes are scattered all around the kitchen and sitting room floor. There is an overwhelming smell of anchovies. One of the boxes contains eight identical pizza crusts, their disembodied grins following me around the room.
Waves of laughter are coming from upstairs. As I mount the stairs I can hear snatches of anecdotes told in voices I half-recognise. Between the helpless guffaws I can hear my name being used, sometimes with the titles of my books for added effect.
‘I hope you don’t mind,’ the book says. ‘I invited some people round.’
I can’t tell whether the book sensed my approach or has been sent out for more beer. It occurs to me it might need the bathroom. It looks terrible.
‘People? Which people?’
‘People,’ the book says. ‘You know, some friends of mine. Poets.’
‘Do I know them?’
‘Erm, I think you know some of them…maybe. Um, I’m not sure.’ The book meets my eyes. ‘Probably not, actually’ it says.
I open the door and the laughter stops.
The room is filled with people, squashed into the sofas, sitting cross-legged on the floor, or perching on the arms of the sofas. The book knows I hate this, and begins gesticulating to one of them to move, a signal the poet ignores. The book was right, I know none of them. They seem to be watching some old reruns of Friends.
‘This is, um, Anthony…’ the book says.
No one says anything.
Every eye in the room is trained on me now, waiting to see what I will say. There is a burst of studio laughter as Ross explains to his friends that Rachel and he are on ‘a break’.
‘I’m going to bed,’ I say. ‘I’ll see you in the morning,’ I say to the book as I reach the door.
No one moves or says anything.
From behind the bedroom door I begin to hear voices descending the stairs. ‘Great party,’ one of them says. ‘Till he showed up,’ says another. The book is doing its best to thank them for coming, but I can tell its heart is not in it. After the final guest has gone I hear the sound of bottles being thrown into a bin bag, then the same with the pizza boxes. The book takes them outside. I congratulate myself with thinking how well I have trained it.
Finally the book begins to make its way up the stairs. Its footfall is slow and regretful. It stops for a while outside my bedroom door, not moving, thinking better of entering and apologising, which it surely will, before heading on its own to bed.