Don’t take away my irony

‘You’re just in time,’ said Patrick, kissing Julia through her scratchy black veil.

‘You mean late as usual.’

‘No; just in time. We’re about to kick off, if that’s the phrase I’m looking for.’

‘It’s not,’ she said, with that short husky laugh that always got to him.

The last time they had seen each other was in the French hotel where their affair had ended. Despite their communicating rooms, they could think of nothing to say to each other. Sitting through long meals, under the vault of an artificial sky, painted with faint clouds and garlands of tumbling roses, they stared at a flight of steps that led down to the slapping keels of a private harbour, ropes creaking against bollards, bollards rusting into stone quays; everything longing to leave.

‘Now that you’re not with Mary, you don’t need me. I was…structural.’


The single word was perhaps too bare and could only be outstripped by silence. She had stood up and walked away without further comment. A gull launched itself from the soiled balustrade and clapped its way out to sea with a piercing cry. He had wanted to call her back, but the impulse died in the thick carpet lengthening between them.

Looking at him now, the freshly bereaved son, Julia decided she felt utterly detached from Patrick, apart from wanting him to find her irresistible.

‘I haven’t seen you for such a long time,’ said Patrick, looking down at Julia’s lips, red under the black net of her veil. He remained inconveniently attracted to almost all the women he had ever been to bed with, even when he had a strong aversion to a revival on all other grounds.

‘A year and a half,’ said Julia. ‘Is it true that you’ve given up drinking? It must be hard just now.’

‘Not at all: a crisis demands a hero. The ambush comes when things are going well, or so I’m told.’

‘If you can’t speak personally about things going well, they haven’t changed that much.’

‘They have changed, but my speech patterns may take a while to catch up.’

‘I can’t wait.’

‘If there’s an opportunity for irony…’

‘You’ll take it.’

‘It’s the hardest addiction of all,’ said Patrick. ‘Forget heroin. Just try giving up irony, that deep-down need to mean two things at once, to be in two places at once, not to be there for the catastrophe of a fixed meaning.’

‘Don’t!’ said Julia, ‘I’m having enough trouble wearing nicotine patches and still smoking at the same time. Don’t take away my irony,’ she pleaded, clasping him histrionically, ‘leave me with a little sarcasm.’

‘Sarcasm doesn’t count. It only means one thing: contempt.’

‘You always were a quality freak,’ said Julia. ‘Some of us like sarcasm.’

Edward St. Aubyn, At Last (The Patrick Melrose Novels, #5), 2012.

Patrick Melrose & Bikini Girl

Patrick ordered another double espresso and watched the waitress weave her way back to the bar, only momentarily transfixed by a vision of her sprawled across one of the tables, gripping its sides while he fucked her from behind. He was too loyal to linger over the waitress when he was already involved in a fantasy about the girl in the black bikini on the other side of the cafe, her eyes closed and her legs slightly parted, absorbing the beams of the morning sun, still as a lizard. He might never recover from the look of intense seriousness with which she had examined her bikini line. An ordinary woman would have reserved that expression for a bathroom mirror, but she was a paragon of self-absorption, running her finger along the inside edge of her bikini, lifting it and realigning it still closer to the centre, so that it interfered as little as possible with the total nudity which was her real object. The mass of holiday-makers on the Promenade Rose, shuffling forward to claim their coffin-sized plot of beach, might as well not have existed; she was too fascinated by the state of her tan, her wax job, her waistline, too in love with herself to notice them. He was in love with her too. He was going to die if he didn’t have her. If he was going to be lost, and it looked as if he was, he wanted to be lost inside her, to drown in the little pool of her self-love – if there was room.

Oh, no, not that. Please. A piece of animated sports equipment had just walked up to her table, put his pack of red Marlboros and his mobile phone next to her mobile phone and pack of Marlboro Lights, kissed her on the lips and sat down, if that was the right term for the muscle-bound bouncing with which he eventually settled into the chair next to hers. Heartbreak. Disgust. Fury. Patrick skimmed over the ground of his immediate emotions and then forced himself upwards into the melancholy sky of resignation. Of course she was spoken for a million times over. In the end it was a good thing. There could be no real dialogue between those who still thought that time was on their side and those who realized that they were dangling from its jaws, like Saturn’s children, already half-devoured. Devoured. He could feel it: the dull efficiency of a praying mantis tearing arcs of flesh from the still living aphid it has clamped between its forelegs; the circular hobbling of a wildebeest, reluctant to lie down with the lion who hangs confidently from his neck. The fall, the dust, the last twitch.

Yes, in the end it was a good thing that Bikini Girl was spoken for. He lacked the pedagogic patience and the particular kind of vanity which would have enabled him to opt for the cheap solution of being a youth vampire. It was Julia who had got him used to sex during her fortnight’s stay, and it was among the time refugees of her blighted generation that he must look for lovers. With the possible exception, of course, of the waitress who was now weaving her way back towards him. There was something about the shop-worn sincerity of her smile which suited his mood. Or was it the stubborn pout of the labial mould formed by her jeans? Should he get a shot of brandy to tip into his espresso? It was only ten thirty in the morning, but there were already several misty-cold glasses of beer blazing among the round tables. He only had two days of holiday left. They might as well be debauched. He ordered the brandy. At least that way she would be back soon. That’s how he liked to think of her, weaving back and forth on his behalf, tirelessly attending to his clumsy search for relief.

He turned towards the sea, but the harsh glitter of the water blinded him and, while he shielded his eyes from the sun, he found himself imagining all the people on that body-packed curve of blond sand, shining with protective lotions, playing with bats and balls, lolling in the placid bay, reading on their towels and mattresses, all being blasted by a fierce wind and blown into a fine veil of sparkling sand, and the collective murmur, pierced by louder shouts and sharper cries, falling silent.

Edward St. Aubyn, Mother’s Milk (The Patrick Melrose Novels, #4), 2005.

Wyśrubowane kryteria seksu podgrupowego

– Skoro już pytasz – zaśmiała się – to Nicholas Pratt zrobił na mnie dość odpychające wrażenie.

– Wiem, co masz na myśli. Problem Nicholasa polega na tym, że chciał zostać politykiem, ale zniszczyło go coś, co ileś lat temu uchodziło za skandal erotyczny, a co dziś pewnie nazwano by „otwartym małżeństwem”. Większość ludzi najpierw zostaje ministrami i dopiero wtedy rujnują sobie karierę skandalem erotycznym, ale Nicholasowi udało się to już wtedy, kiedy próbował zaimponować centrali, startując w wyborach uzupełniających w bastionie laburzystów.

– Zuch – skwitowała Anne. – Czym dokładnie zasłużył sobie na wygnanie z raju?

– Został nakryty w łóżku z dwiema kobietami przez trzecią kobietę, swoją żonę, która zdecydowała, że nie stanie u jego boku.

– Chyba i tak zabrakłoby dla niej miejsca. Ale zgadzam się, że niepotrzebnie się pośpieszył. W tamtych czasach człowiek nie mógł opowiedzieć w telewizji, jakie to „wyzwalające doświadczenie”.

– Kto wie – rzekł Victor z udawanym zdziwieniem, po belfersku łącząc palce obu dłoni w łuk – może są takie zakątki torysowskiej Anglii, gdzie do dziś nie wszystkie matrony z komitetu selekcyjnego praktykują seks grupowy.

Anne usiadła mu na kolanie.

– Victorze, czy dwoje ludzi to grupa?

– Obawiam się, że co najwyżej podgrupa.

– Chcesz powiedzieć – odparła ze zgrozą – że uprawiamy seks podgrupowy?– Wstała, targając mu włosy. – To okropne.

– Myślę – ciągnął spokojnie Victor – że po tym, jak jego ambicje polityczne szybko legły w gruzach, Nicholasowi zobojętniała kariera i postanowił utrzymywać się z odziedziczonej fortuny.

– Według moich kryteriów to go jeszcze nie czyni ofiarą – odparła Anne. – Nakrycie w łóżku z dwiema dziewczynami to nie łaźnia w Auschwitz.

– Masz wyśrubowane kryteria.

Edward St Aubyn, Patrick Melrose: Nic takiego. Złe wieści. Jakaś nadzieja, tłum. Łukasz Witczak, Warszawa 2017.