The Fat Mate

by Michael Buergermeister

 

Is it true that there is a principle in nature, which renders the happiness of others necessary to us?
Edward certainly felt a degree of pity or perhaps compassion when he heard the tale of woe and remorse told to him by Blackman, his future landlord and flat mate in one. The longer Blackman talked the gloomier the large front room in which they both sat, with its high ceiling and huge bay window, grew until they were shrouded in complete darkness. One half of Edward listened attentively; he was not a little fascinated by the tale and flattered by the trust being placed in him; the other half took pleasure in the way the sunlight slowly faded to be replaced by the street light's dull orange glow. It was as though he were observing time itself: the transformation of day into night and Blackman's joy into misery, a meditative pleasure he savoured in the manner others enjoy a hot bath. Edward did not experience schadenfreude; he did not elate in Blackman's downfall. It was more of a detached, philosophical, pleasure gained when watching the play of Nature from a distance. Unhappiness fascinates everyone, as long, that is, as they themselves are not afflicted, and is more often a matter to be laughed at than not.

Blackman certainly had the gift of making Edward conceive his misery in a lively manner. What is more his own stoutness seemed to verify his tale and give it a tragic dimension. Blackman or Mathew, as he will be known from now on, had put on a lot of weight in the course of just three years. He was now thirty-three. He had a stocky build, so it was hard for Edward to conceive of him as thin. His tale began with Oxford and a fatal decision. Mathew had decided not to marry his girlfriend. She had wanted to but some strange demon in his breast had resisted the idea. He subsequently felt remorse, grew depressed and had flunked his exams on account of an unhappy love affair. It was only after leaving Oxford that he became aware of the fact that he was the exception and not the rule. Nearly his entire circle of friends and acquaintances married one another soon after graduating.

Instead of taking up with a girl from Oxford he had enjoyed a passionate, intensely physical relationship with a German businesswoman. They had moved into a flat in Belsize Park, had married and eventually had two children.
At that time Mathew had displayed a singular lack of dedication, in contrast to his brother, and he rued it still. He had taken the easy way out and had joined his father's firm, whereas his brother had studied Chartered Accountancy. His brother, who he rarely saw now, was, in the meanwhile, on the boards of half the companies in the city. "My father is a fool!" he exclaimed passionately; bitterly lamenting the fact that the family business had been sold off for a fraction of its true value.
Mathew, in the meantime, had carved out his own fame. He had campaigned against a local pub and had subsequently been nominated as a candidate for the Conservative Party. He began to consider a career in politics and had dreamed of becoming a minister in the government. He took especial pleasure in thinking of how he would outshine his brother and become the pride and joy of his parents once more.
The third of his decisions proved perhaps the most fatal. He had tried to seduce his wife's German au pair. The au pair had told his wife and she, in turn, had sued for divorce.
He explained that he hadn't even found the au pair desirable. It had been a joke on his part but one which had neither been understood nor appreciated.
It had been his father's decision to sell the firm which had contributed to the disintegration of his life. Perhaps if the firm had stayed in family hands his wife would not have left him. After all his wife had been a businesswoman and her sole interest seemed to have been in business.
Mathew's misery had indeed been intense. In a self-destructive rage he had gone on a rampage. His brother had invited him to a highly exclusive party, which nearly all of the bigwigs in the city had attended. Instead of ingratiating himself and networking Mathew had been sullen and rude. Rather than making inane conversation he had simply got extremely drunk. He had retreated to the car park and in a fit of madness and envy had scratched the paintwork of nearly all the cars. He had even proceeded to demolish one before being apprehended. After that the question of his candidacy for the Conservative Party was quietly dropped. He still received his brother's hand-me downs now and again but that was it. They were no longer on the best of terms.
His wife had got their nice New Town apartment, as well as their two boys. Mathew was left destitute. He had been forced to move to the Old Town, something that obviously had been very disagreeable for him, if not positively traumatic, and he had only now been able to buy the house in Broughton, in which they now sat. It was not the New Town but it was as close as Mathew could get. Fate had floored him, as he put it, but he was not one to let life get him down. Or so he said. Edward was left with the contrary impression: of a man who was washed up, and he dreaded the prospect of being like that at the age of thirty-three.
Edward had already begun to derive sorrow from Mathew's sorrow. He might not have had an immediate experience of what the other felt nor could he form an idea of the manner in which he had been affected but he was capable of conceiving of himself in a like situation.
The question of the rent was discussed. Mathew said that he didn't really care how large it was as money was immaterial to him. Edward, very much straining to be magnanimous, and impressed by the fact that he would have the whole house to himself, as Mathew said that he would rarely be there, pegged it at a high rate. This was to prove disastrous as, in the long run; he would prove unable to pay it. But he did not, obviously, know this at the time. Alas Edward was still at an age at which he failed to realise that the aristocratic ideal of magnanimity is the prerogative of the rich, and that, even among them, it is seldom exercised. In fact it is more at home in the world of philosophy and literature than in naked reality.
Edward discovered, much to his surprise, that both Mathew and he had much in common. They both took an interest in philosophy. They both liked to read. And they both took history very seriously indeed. Perhaps this should not have surprised him, as Mathew had clearly enjoyed a highly privileged and expensive education. Edward though could be forgiven for thinking that his manner belied it, as Mathew was most certainly no gentleman. Edward had, at that stage, the habit of pigeonholing people. Mathew was, he had decided, an entrepreneur. That, at least, was the impression he had wanted to create. And it was inconceivable to Edward that an entrepreneur should have literary tastes or be interested, for that matter, in anything other than business.
Questions of morality were discussed. For Edward one of the key questions of the modern world was the one posed by Buchner: why do we kill and steal? Why do we, wittingly, commit evil? How, for example, was Auschwitz possible? Did people have a sense of evil? Of course he was aware that the word "evil" had religious connotations, and that, perhaps, it was natural to assume that it was better dealt with within the realms of theology. Given the fact though that philosophy and literature were better equipped to deal with it, having the requisite tools, he preferred to discuss it within that context.
Mathew had long been fascinated by Auschwitz. He had even visited it once and spoke of the aura that still haunted Birkenau. The vastness of the camp had astonished him, as well as the inanity of the appearance of the former barracks.
Edward was now excited and he wanted to speak about his favourite hobbyhorse. He spoke about Hobbes, his definition of good and evil: how good was the object of our desire and evil the object of our aversion. How it differed from Locke, who held that good was that which caused us pleasure, evil, pain. And how both in turn differed from Bentham, who took his definitions of pleasure and pain to absurd lengths, and who Edward mocked mercilessly.
Edward had been nursing, in the course of his years, his own philosophical idea: that everything we do is determined by value structures, by what we believe to be of value and what not. And that these value structures are almost subconscious, we, ourselves, hardly being aware of them.
Mathew was profoundly impressed with Edward's idea and was to tell his mother later that he found him extremely well read. He thought he understood him. But the fact of the matter is that every faculty in one man is the measure by which he judges the like faculty in another. Mathew judged Edward's sight by his sight, Edward's ear by his ear, Edward's reason by his reason, Edward's resentment by his resentment, and Edward's love by his love. They were too far removed, in age, experience and faculty to truly understand one another and a nearly fatal clash was nearly bound to ensue.

Buddying

In friendship, Montaigne tells us there is a "chaleur generale et universelle… toute douceur et polissure…" Perhaps given the differences between Mathew and Edward there had been no hope of friendship as such. Yet there was room for "buddying", and this was, much to Edward's surprise, what Mathew sought.  If there was to be no general warmth, no gentleness and smoothness, there was to be a general mildness, at least for a while. Both were lonely, both had time on their hands and both were on the lookout for fun.
Mathew sought to win Edward as a friend. They watched videos together, went shopping together, enjoyed listening to the Fine Young Cannibals together, while driving fast in Mathew's car, and went out with Mathew's young boys together. They discussed every possible topic under the sun. But at the end of the day Edward's reserve remained unconquerable and he simply did not feel the ease, the affection or even the admiration friendship requires. He felt pity for Mathew's plight but that was all. At the same time Mathew had come to despise Edward. Edward had neither money nor was he capable of "pulling the birds". Indeed he was, in Mathew's eyes, nothing better than a pretentious parasite. Slowly the mildness cooled. The happiness of each was not, for the other, as material as it had once seemed to be.
The first surprise for Edward, once he had moved in, was that Mathew spent an inordinate amount of time in the house. Indeed he seemed not to have a proper job as such and Edward began to suspect that he didn't have one at all. He began to suspect that Mathew's job, at what was formerly his father's firm, was nothing better than a sinecure. The second surprise was that Mathew, being bored, had decided to renovate the house, and it became, all of a sudden, a very unpleasant place to be. The third surprise was that Mathew treated him as an unpaid babysitter for his two boys.
The first surprises for Mathew were the demands of his new flat-mate. When they went to an auction-house to find a bed Edward demanded the best one in the house, a King sized bed. "My God Edward," Mathew had exclaimed in a loud voice so that all could hear "all you need is a couch to fuck on!" To Mathew's surprise Edward had insisted on the bed and Mathew had been shocked at its inordinate cost. What was more he was quite alarmed at Edward's fondness of luxury and was annoyed when two highly elegant candlesticks went amiss and turned up in Edward's bedroom. He was also surprised, when he contacted a friend of his in London and enquired after the value of Edward's mother's house, to find out that Edward had no money at all to speak of.
One morning Mathew walked into the living room wearing a large, long, dark leather jacket. In Edward's eyes it was hideous. In Mathew's it was cool and that same evening he wanted to "try it out", more exactly: try out its effect on the girls he might meet. Mathew had complained that there was nothing more miserable than single's bars and that at a certain age nearly all the women were married. Now he hoped that, with the help of Edward, he might succeed in "pulling the birds" as he put it, half jokingly.
Their first chevauchee was, from Edward's point of view, a success. He enjoyed himself immensely. He met some very nice girls, had a nice time and had been delighted to find that Mathew had paid for both the drinks and the taxi. From Mathew's point of view it was an annoying failure. He had failed, quite singularly, to get laid, and that at considerable expense.
The second attempt ended, for Edward, in disaster. Mathew had taken him to a strip club. That had been for Edward as novel as it was disillusioning. The girl had taken her clothes off so mechanically that Edward got bored. Then they drove to a gay bar, an experience Edward found most unsettling. He was not sure what Mathew wanted. Did he want to find out whether he himself was gay? Or was Mathew gay himself? Mathew explained that he enjoyed such "borderline" experiences, but Edward had no time for such extremities. He was strictly mainstream.
When Edward went to a ball Mathew got his hopes up. When he saw him walk out the door, elegantly attired, a huge slipper orchid in his buttonhole, his hair freshly cut, a youthful spring in his step, he didn't believe it possible that he could fail. But Edward did, to Mathew's surprise, indeed come back empty handed. He had got his wires crossed, having fallen for three girls simultaneously and was at a loss as what to do. Especially when he discovered, to his horror, that they were, all three, on the most intimate of footings. He had spent sleepless nights beforehand deciding which to pick and had come to no decision. Should he two-time or, in this case, "three-time" the girls? He had never done so before, and what would happen, he could not help thinking, if he got caught? When he saw all three together at the ball, and all three, obviously, on the most intimate of terms, he had lost his nerve.
Perhaps more should be said about Edward. The whole truth was that he had a profound mistrust of womankind, a mistrust that, indeed, bordered on misogyny. This was on account of his difficult relationship with his mother. Both had been very close. And when they fell out Edward would never feel quite capable of trusting a woman again. What was more he still cherished somewhat naïve ideals. He didn't want to compromise his high notions of romantic love and hated and despised himself after one-night stands. What he sought was a love absolute, divine, a love, in short, which was completely unrealistic.


  
Mathew's Passion

It is said that when the original passions of the person principally concerned are in perfect concord with the sympathetic emotions of the spectator, they necessarily appear to this last just and proper, and suitable to their objects, and on the contrary, when, upon bringing the case home to himself, he finds that they do not coincide with what he feels, they necessarily appear to him unjust and improper, and unsuitable to the causes which excite them. To approve of the passions of another, therefore, as suitable to their objects, is the same thing as to observe that we entirely sympathize with them, and not to approve of them as such, is the same thing as to observe that we do not entirely sympathize with them.
Edward could not approve of Mathew's passion. Perhaps to do so would have been to feel the same himself. It was not that Edward considered Chung, the object of Mathew's passion, unattractive. It was more that she failed to excite his imagination the way other girls did. She struck him as curiously devoid of sex. Indeed he regarded her more as a colleague and acquaintance than as an object of desire. Yet in introducing the one to the other Edward was fulfilling his principle function, the one he was, at the end of the day, there for.
Mathew had been complaining that no girls came to visit. Thus when the opportunity presented itself Edward invited Chung in, if only in order to save face with his flat mate.
Chung and Edward had met at the university newspaper. She had already worked her way up to be junior editor and for some reason or other had accompanied him to a production of Don Giovanni in Glasgow. Accompanied is not the right word. She had driven him there and the action was appropriate: she was always in the driving seat. Edward had not known what to write about the production, it being instantly forgettable, and it had been at Chung's behest that he had tried to make the review as amusing and entertaining as possible. At any rate the one thing he forgot about was the truth. Edward had been toying with the idea of going into journalism for a while now and Mathew had strengthened his resolution. Everything else struck him as a waste of time.
The first time Edward saw Chung he had been impressed by the elegance of her dress, which somehow ill-suited her rather squat build. He was not sure what to make of her. She dressed more like a young professional than a student. Even the most elegant, the most aristocratic had their own casual nonchalance. She, though, seemed more to belong to the frightening world of reality, the world of offices, pressure and jobs rather than that of the campus.
Chung was radically different to most girls Edward knew. Stronger, robuster, not as beautiful, not as charming. There was something about her energy and ambition which frightened him. What was more their relationship had been, from the very start, a professional one and Edward had not been induced, regardless of the conversations they had on the way to see Don Giovanni, which naturally enough touched on love and sex, to alter the basis. On the contrary the tone of their discourse was so cool, philosophical and analytical that it was difficult for him to believe that it could ever be otherwise.
Mathew persuaded Edward to apply to a special school for journalism in London. As part of the application process he was required to do an interview. Edward had always wanted to get to know a famous politician, with whose views he himself sympathised, and as the politician was a personal friend of his professor it wasn't too difficult to set up an interview with him.
The house in which the famous politician lived was large and cold. Edward was, though, warmly received and the politician moved quickly to the business of the interview as a practiced performer. Perhaps Edward had been too warm in his enthusiasm, perhaps too half-hearted in his application for the journalist school, but for whatever reason the interview went badly. The answers he received to his questions were not particularly interesting or revealing. And this was despite the fact that the interview had been granted on the condition that it would not be published. Perhaps it was the innate caution or his training as a lawyer that limited the scope of what the politician said. At any rate Edward realised that he only had a bland interview in the can and even committed the mistake afterwards of enquiring whether he had lost his gloves at the politician's house.
Edward was vain and what was more going through a phase of pretending to be very cool. He was, at that point in time, very much "going with the flow", and let himself go, sometimes, a little too far. It was in this mood that he encountered Chung one night and it was only a matter of time before he blabbered out the fact, in a mixture of vanity and arrogance, that he had landed the coup of getting the interview with the famous politician. She picked up on the possibilities immediately and asked him if he was willing to write it up for the university paper. Without thinking he assented, only realising afterwards what a faux pas he had made, and how he had given his solemn promise that it would never be published. Yet by then it was too late. Chung told him that the title had already been sent to the printers and that he would have to deliver the article. Given the insignificance of the newspaper Edward thought that the mistake would not be that bad. But when it came to writing up the article he founded himself confronted with a strange unwillingness and lack of motivation, which was hard to overcome.
It was in the course of this unhappy drama, or melodrama, to be exact, that Edward invited Chung in for a drink.

It has been written that the propriety of every passion excited by objects peculiarly related to ourselves, the pitch, which the spectator can go along with, must lie; it is evident, in a certain mediocrity. If the passion is too high, or if it is too low we cannot enter into it. It has also been written that it is indecent to express any strong degree of those passions which arise from a certain situation or disposition of the body, because the company, not being in the same disposition, cannot be expected to sympathize with them.
Edward was not able to enter into Mathew's passion, not simply because it was too high but principally because it was a physical one. Yet even if it had been a question of the imagination it has also been written that our imagination, not having run in the same channel with that of the lover, we cannot enter into the eagerness of his emotions.
Edward was tired of the female sex. He seemed to have been chasing it unceasingly but without success. He had, though, at least kept company with it and this alone had dulled his desire. Mathew on the other hand was in a different position. When Chung entered the living room the change in him was palpable. He was like a dead man revived, or at least a starved man with his eye on a meal. And Chung responded in kind. She positively warmed to the sudden attention. It was such an agreeable change to Edward's callous indifference. After all she had come in for one purpose only, and that was not a cup of tea.
The conversation was nothing if not polite and Edward felt out of place expounding his historical and philosophical theories. Nobody seemed to take the slightest interest in them. He seemed like a small boy among a pair of adults who wanted to talk about the things which really mattered: money and success, however indirectly and discreetly. Edward saw immediately that there was empathy between the two. Both had a stocky build, both were ambitious, and both were social aspirants. After Edward returned, having got himself a drink, Mathew not having offered him any of the whisky he himself was drinking and Chung, having declined one, he noticed a palpable change in their aspect but, for the life of him, couldn't imagine what it was. All of a sudden both, who had been conversing so jocularly before, were sitting like a pair of guilty school children on the couch. It needed Edward's entry to break the spell. Yet however much he tried to guide the conversation in a direction which was interesting for him the other two resisted and seemed very much in a world of their own, although Chung's visit was, ostensibly at least, to him. There came a point where Edward simply dropped out of the conversation and ceased to listen to what was being said, which he found a little irksome and a little insulting, being fond as he was of hogging the limelight and being the centre of attention. He sat in an armchair growing wearier and wearier while the others grew ever more animated. Yet at the same time he was acutely aware that his presence was needed, if only for the sake of propriety, and every suggestion, on his part, that he should retire was stoutly resisted. He came to feel not a little exploited and trapped in an awkward situation and he was beginning to resent their lack of manners. But perhaps it was more his singular lack of imagination which was at fault. Because he himself didn't find Chung sexually attractive he couldn't imagine anyone else doing so and because he himself was not sexually starved he couldn't imagine what an impact her presence was having on his flat mate. Had he done so he would have observed the pair with greater interest. Had he understood what was going on he would have realised that it was the birth of Mathew's great passion and one he should take seriously and not scorn in the way he was to do. For Edward it was unimaginable to be without girls and not be in the company of at least one stunning beauty, even if he could not possess her. He could not, for one second, imagine Mathew's world, the world of business negotiations and deals, of offices and factories, of driving from one end of the country to the other. A grey world, an ugly world, in which Chung's female charms, however mediocre in Edward's eyes, struck like a ray of sunlight in dank darkness. It spelt hope for Mathew and, within a few seconds, perhaps milliseconds; he was profoundly serious about the new guest. 
Edward wrote the story and thought it best to put the matter behind him. But it had become a chore and he found new distaste with the idea of journalism. It was not that he had not been a little cynical beforehand. Having written long enough and seen how government press releases resurfaced, word for word, in front page articles by leading newspapers, he had grown to despise the profession. This now added to his disgust for it and put paid to his journalistic ambitions. What had started as a whim had ended in a nightmare. Sickened by the whole matter he was irritated when Mathew told him that Chung's rewriting of it was much better than the original. Edward gave him a bitter look and smiled a bitter smile. It was for him the ultimate humiliation. He read the finished article himself and strained in vain to find anything of himself in it. Hardly a word remained. What was worse, the famous politician was quoted as saying all manner of things, which had no relation with what he had said at all. Over ninety percent was blatant invention. And what was worst of all, his name was attached to the wretched thing. There was no escape from responsibility for it. Of course truth was always the first victim. He had noticed that in his own reviews. The more he had striven to entertain the reader the less room there had been for factual account. And he had had to concede that he had enjoyed reading well-written reviews and had been willing to forgive their factual inaccuracies himself.
Edward had no desire to see Chung ever again so he was surprised when her name cropped up in conversation and he was surprised at the context. "You know Chung said her mother would call me a hairy barbarian." Edward gave Mathew a perplexed look. He hadn't the slightest idea what Mathew was talking about. He didn't even begin to understand the implications of the statement and simply let it roll by. Mathew felt immediately uncomfortable about it, as if he had revealed too much and made himself vulnerable. One thing was clear to him though. He could not share his passion, the one thing that increasingly obsessed him, with Edward. Edward was simply indifferent to it. He didn't understand.

It is said that the sentiment of love is agreeable to the person who feels it, that it sooths and composes the breast, seems to favour the vital motions, promotes the healthful state of the human constitution; and is rendered still more delightful by the consciousness of the gratitude and satisfaction which it must excite in him or her who is the object of it. The mutual regard of the lovers renders them happy in one another, and sympathy, with this mutual regard, makes them agreeable to every other person.
Edward was not sure if love made Mathew more agreeable. He certainly seemed like a changed man, but the fact was that he saw much less of him. And he was very much busy with his own thoughts and reflections, having been thrown off course and having abandoned his plans to become a journalist. He was confronted with the disagreeable, practical, fact that he had no prospects, and what was more, no prospect of having prospects. He did not like living like the lilies in the field and he had no intention of starting to do so. What was more he was under increasing pressure from his mother to do something. To his alarm and surprise he discovered that Mathew had established a close rapport with her. What was more she was inclined to sympathise more with Mathew than with him. In fact nothing seemed to give her more pleasure than talking ill of her son. It was yet another betrayal of trust Edward was not likely to either forget or forgive.
Whenever Edward did see Mathew the latter would bound into the living room full of energy and with a self-satisfied air. Like the cat who had just eaten the cream, Edward would say to himself. Edward had become dispensable to him and he made him feel the fact. Indeed the boot seemed truly on the other foot and it was Mathew's turn to show how profound his contempt for Edward was, especially for his poverty. His generosity toward him, based, as it had been, only on calculation, ceased. He had found a new person with whom he wanted to curry favour and Edward was no longer in fashion. Edward was no longer treated like a flat mate of more or less equal status but more like a lodger and a none too welcome one at that, whereas Mathew seemed to think himself once more the lord and master of the universe, a man of purpose and action, a member of the Herrenrasse. He talked disparagingly about the poor. How they didn't deserve any social benefits, how Nelson Mandela was a trickster, and Apartheid had been a thoroughly good thing. After all, Mathew had said, it had put the blacks in their proper place. How Bush was a great man, who was simply misunderstood and how the only thing the Arabs understood was force. In short he was doing everything in his power to appal Edward. And Edward was duly sickened. He retreated to his own room, and stayed there. Mathew was surprised when his overtures of reconciliation were blithely rejected. The breach was complete. There was no sympathy between the two men after all.

For some reason or other Mathew's parents had taken a liking to Edward. It was perhaps the fact that he seemed to embody the cliché of the "nice" boy, or what people thought one should be. On the surface at least. Yet Edward was not sure how to approach them. On the one hand he tried to be friendly and polite, on the other he felt constrained by his relationship to Mathew. He had his own deteriorating relationship with his mother in mind when he spoke to them. Yet his own deteriorating relationship to Mathew freed him from a lot of constraints and he felt no longer the need to be loyal to him. What was more he was going through a phase of demanding absolute truth from himself, feeling sickened by all the lies around him. Thus when he was asked what the bunch of red roses were doing on the mantle-piece in the living room he had answered, after a short embarrassed silence, that they were for a young lady. He didn't want them to think that they were for him. Mathew's parents had smiled glibly as if pleased with this news about their son. As if they were happy that he had found himself once more, after the difficult year behind him. Edward didn't want to make much of it. It seemed perfectly natural to send a girl fifty roses, as if it was something one did every second day. But Mathew's parents seemed to take the matter much more seriously indeed. Perhaps it was their sense of propriety, or their deeply ingrained Protestantism or simply their fear of losing Mathew again. For whatever reason they seemed to take Mathew to task for it, with unhappy consequences for Edward. Mathew was not willing to forget or forgive what he saw as Edward's meddling and above all an attempt to humiliate him. Especially as the love affair wasn't going as well as it should have been. Edward became a source of ire, resentment and finally hatred in his eyes. Yet he did everything in his power to prevent it, and the fact that they had less to do with one another than before meant that it didn't come to Edward's notice. Mathew's hatred lay slumbering and festering until one night it broke out.

It is said that hatred and anger are the greatest poison to the happiness of a good mind. There is, in the very feeling of those passions, something harsh, jarring, and convulsive, something that tears and distracts the breast, something altogether destructive of that composure and tranquillity of mind, which is so necessary to happiness.
Mathew was like a raging bull but was too intelligent to show it. He had lost everything. His career, his father having sold the company he had expected to inherit, his marriage, having tried to betray his wife, his social position, having been cast out of "good society" on account of his drunken rage, and now the girl he had grown to desire and who seemed to offer him the hope of recovery. And what was more he had lost the little esteem of his parents he still possessed. And there was one person he made responsible for that particular humiliation: Edward. He planned his revenge meticulously and had the self-discipline to put it into effect. He pretended a blunt kind of bonhomie toward Edward, who thought him simply shell-shocked and depressed at the unhappy course of events, and felt not a little sympathy for him. Edward had himself suffered enough from unhappy love in his life to recognise the signs and to feel pity and compassion for others when afflicted. Thus he was more willing to oblige Mathew than usual and when Mathew suggested going for a drive late at night he did not think anything too strange about it. He simply said with his usual cavalier air: "Why not?" Yet he did not think out the consequences, just as he hadn't thought out the consequences of his folly before, nor did he take into consideration the changed conditions and the fundamentally altered relationship between them. They were no longer "friends". No longer even "pro forma" friends. Edward was the guest who had stabbed his host in the back. Yet he did not realise this fact. He accepted the proposal in a happy go lucky fashion just as he accepted fate.
Edward had often enjoyed riding in Mathew's car, which was by no means luxurious but decidedly comfortable. He had especially enjoyed listening to music, particularly the Fine Young Cannibals, when Mathew had driven extremely fast. But this time the music, Mozart, seemed to jar. The silent and deserted streets of the elegantly classical "Georgian" "New Town", of which he was so fond, seemed eerie, and the ice age seemed to reign in the car. He could sense Mathew's ill will as something very palpable and his monosyllabic answers to his questions as to where they were going boded ill. They passed the auction-house where Mathew had bought the King Size bed for Edward's room, the department store where Edward, Mathew and his two sons had gone, the supermarket where they had once gone shopping together on Saturdays, Chung's flat, where nobody seemed at home. Edward was not sure if he should venture to broach the subject of Chung. It seemed a little insensitive to do so and the wound seemed all too fresh. He feared perhaps that Mathew would hold him responsible not for the act of introducing them to each other but for being a silent rival. He wanted to assure him that he had no designs on her and had done everything possible to discourage her unwelcome attentions and was too involved with other girls as it was. But it all seemed, in the face of Mathew's deathly, and almost supernatural silence, to be perfectly hopeless.
Edward ran through all the arguments in his head. He regretted, profoundly, all that had happened. He regretted above all that Chung had rejected Mathew's addresses. Yet at the same time he felt callous for pointing out that life would continue, must continue, such was the stream of things. He wanted to make a joke of his own love life, which was truly a joke, yet did not know how. The basis for communication seemed to have broken down. If that was the case, Edward asked himself, what was he doing in Mathew's car? And what was more, where were they going? He put the question once more to Mathew but received only a dark and low "You'll see" in return. Edward was not happy with the situation but knew that there was little he could do to alter it. He felt more and more uneasy the further they went and the longer they drove.
They passed a police car shortly before a bridge, which was to be their destination, and Edward was later to reflect that it was most probably that police car which had saved his life. The police car stopped and Mathew stopped at much the same time. "Come on." Mathew said, equally darkly as before. Both got out of the car and slowly walked toward the bridge. Mathew was stockily built and, without a doubt, strong, but Edward had been training and it was his sense of physical fitness, strength and, above all, youth, which left him no room for fear. If Mathew were to attack him, he did not doubt his ability, if the means were fair, to repulse him. Perhaps Mathew sensed his fearlessness, and his reason for it.
Both walked slowly, it was fearfully cold, Mathew wrapped in his leather jacket of which he had once been so proud and Edward with only a pullover and jacket, onto the bridge. Men doing repair work looked up in surprise as they passed. The orange glow of the lights and the fact that there was no traffic gave the bridge a monumental aspect, as if it were a huge sculpture. Edward thought about what his mother would say when she read in the paper that he had been found drowned in the Firth of Forth. Would she regret it? Would she feel remorse, anger or pain? He wasn't sure, she being so fond as she was of theatricality. He even smirked at the thought of getting his revenge, she having placed such eminent trust in his flat mate.
The walk seemed to take an age and what leant it an especially eerie aspect was Mathew's deathly and almost unnatural silence. Edward thought for a second that he could truly sense evil, yet the evil was in the intention if not the man. He quickly reflected on all their experiences together, which was over a time-span of nearly a year now, and could not, despite everything, think ill of him. Perhaps, though, he was mistaken. Perhaps Mathew really was determined to take his life. Yet if he had wanted to do so he had had plenty of opportunity of doing so before. He reflected on the time Mathew had come, in the middle of the night, into his room. He had been dead drunk but Edward had not known that at the time. He had suddenly sensed a dark presence in his benighted room and suddenly he had asked himself: Is this it? Is this the end? He had wanted to talk to Mathew, to tell him something banal and even foolish, to point out the obvious: that he was in the wrong room. But Mathew had simply lain down on the floor and in the morning had been gone before Edward woke. Had Mathew meant to kill him then? And did he mean to kill him now? In such a publicly exposed spot? Was this intended as a sacrifice? Edward was later to say that all murders are, in reality, suicides and he might well have said so on this occasion. Did Mathew mean to commit suicide, plunge off the side of the bridge, and take Edward with him? Edward would never know what, exactly, he had planned to do, or for that matter why exactly he had clung to life. Perhaps it was his privileged existence, despite all his woe, after all. At any rate the one thing he got out of him, as they returned from the centre of the bridge, where Edward had stood and waited for something to happen, was the sentence: "I'm not going to do twenty years in Barlinie, just for you."
Within a week Edward had moved out. He would never see Mathew again.

 

End