The Lorenzos stumble out of the Psychology building in the late afternoon, after finishing a fairly fruitless session trying to work on their TITE group project, due at the end of the semester. They blink in the bright sun, which has just come out, and Ren suggests they go to the student bar.
‘We need a drink after that session,’ he says, although mainly he just wants to gaze at Lily some more. We are privileged to have such a prominent member of the gourgeoisie in our ranks, he thinks, although he uneasily notes that many females would also consider Miles to be a member as well.
They sit on the lawn in front of the bar. This is one of the few bits of grass left on Greenwood Glade (which is what the main campus is called). Sitting out here is vastly preferable to sitting inside the bar, which is a windowless, airless, black-painted dungeon, full of undergraduates, and inevitably fogged with smoke. Even the smoke can’t quite disguise the smell of mould that inheres in the walls.
The Lorenzos are feeling good because it’s sunny, and it’s the end of the week, although it’s not the end of the week really, as they’ll all be working over the weekend, but it feels like the end of the week. They’re all still getting used to this concept of the ‘working week’ after their years as grad students. Especially Ren, who used to get drunk on any night of the week he felt like, who’d sleep in for as long as he wanted, and who sometimes lost track of what day it was. Life as a grad student is a privileged one, he thinks. At least it is if you’re smart and in the Humanities. It’s not so good if you’re a plodder in the Sciences.
The other three are happy to have put their grad student days behind them, to be on the next rung of their academic ascent, and to have some money and respectability and kudos. They gladly accept the loss of freedom, and the shouldering of responsibilities, that goes with all that. Ren doesn’t. He doesn’t really want to be an academic. It’s just that he’d rather die than get a normal job. He has plenty of philosophical ideas, though, and he wants to get them out of his system. He plans to do that, and in the meantime line up something more interesting and glamorous. He doesn’t have much of an idea of what, but he’s sure something better will turn up.
They’re all feeling relaxed, when Lily takes her top off, and she’s just wearing a singlet, not too tight, but tight enough, and then it’s like they all get tractor-beamed up by this fabulous sun to some empyrean realm. Then she rubs it in further by letting her hair down. It’s not so much that she’s more beautiful doing that than she was before, it’s just that the sense of her loosening up draws them further into her aura. She holds up her glass of white wine and it’s like it has waterproof LEDs inside it, and the glow reflects onto her lovely, amused face. The boys, the overgrown boys who all fancy her, are sucked in by the vacuum cleaner of love, suddenly yanked over the threshold that separates fancying and love. Or perhaps it’s just the line between fancying and infatuation. They’re grabbed by giants from behind and thrown through the air so that their stomachs feel funny. Do I know any giants, Ren thinks? Well, there are the giants of my field, Plato, Locke, Kant… no, more likely to be a modern giant. Rudolph Carnap perhaps. Rudolph Carnap is throwing him around, like a dwarf he has torn off his shoulders. ‘You feel dis in groinal tubes, ja, shortzen stuff?’
Ren knows what the others are feeling. He can sense the sap rising all around. He can think of nothing worthwhile to say. Not that that ever stopped him before. But now it does. At least don’t say anything stupid. They’re all just sitting there, sitting slack-jawed, staring at the smiling Lily. Ren’s tongue dries up, literally. He’s got the Saharas in advance of his hangover. Going through the hangover process in reverse would be interesting, he thinks. You’d feel a bit shagged out two days before your binge is due. Then the next day you’d start out pretty tired and listless, and you’d feel worse and worse as the day wears on. You’d maybe start vomiting, if you’re the vomity type, and a mega-headache would increasingly impose itself upon you until you can take no more and you have to go bed and sleep it off. You can at least sleep; in fact, you’re incapable of being awoken during the night, until you suddenly wake up next morning completely crazy. You jump out of bed, stumble downstairs dangerously, and then you start weaving all over the kitchen, knocking things over while you stuff yourself with snacks while singing away to yourself, and then you can’t wait to meet up with your friends who are also off their nuts, so you all get taxis to meet together and laugh hysterically over stupid things, while you knock back whiskies, which makes you less crazy. Then you all have a few more hours of drinking beer and wine, which knocks the edge off the mania, but still leaves you feeling happy and sparky, until you’re feeling normal again, at which point you have to go off to do some work. You’re feeling somewhat flat by that point, and a bit stressed.
It doesn’t sound that appealing, so he takes a sip of his beer to irrigate the Sahara. Miles and Douglas do the same. Douglas is looking at Ren and Miles like he doesn’t think he can compete with them.
‘You seem to have an extra big smile, Lily. Are you extra happy for some reason?’ says Miles. Ren can tell that Miles is cursing himself for saying something so dim-witted, although it’s better than anything he could have come up with at that moment.
‘Yes, I’m happy because my boyfriend has been promoted. He’s going to be a Professor.’
Down, down, down they tumble from their empyrean realm high above the Earth, down through the various levels of reality, down through Plato’s world of the Forms, down through the realm where everything exists in twelve dimensions, down through Cockaigne, or cloud-cuckoo land, down past the castles in the air, down through the realm where everyone is a cartoon drawing, down through the level where angels sit upon clouds, and back down to Earth, with a bump. The sun has gone behind a cloud. It’s not the same Earth as before, is it, thinks Ren. This is a different place. Evil Twin Earth. Like Earth, but everything is corrupted and foul and depressing. Douglas looks like he’s going to cry. As well he might, he probably now has a meth lab hidden at the back of the Physics laboratory area, and he sells meth to the students. No, that’s not evil enough. He sucks off tramps for sips of Special Brew. No, too much, dial it back, the meth lab it is. Miles will be a gigolo on this planet. I wonder what I do now? Do I sell essays to students to fund a drug habit? Perhaps I do moral philosophy now. God… a shudder goes down his spine. Maybe I’m in Theology in this world. He drinks some more beer to get a grip. Douglas looks miserable, but Miles looks like he’s already convinced himself that it was no big deal, just a passing fancy, the next honey will be along soon enough.
‘Well, this calls for a celebration then,’ says Ren. ‘Champagne?’ At least he’s got his voice back again.
‘I wouldn’t trust any champagne you get from the student bar,’ says Miles. ‘They’ll probably just give you white wine with lemonade added to it.’
‘White wine with lemonade’s a bit fancy for a northerner like me,’ says Douglas.
After Ren has been to get them all another drink, Lily tells them about her boyfriend. He’s a forty-two-year-old Senior Lecturer – soon to be Professor – at the LSE.
‘Forty-two? Forty-two?’ says Ren. ‘That’s positively mummified, Dr Burkenhare. Are you getting him a pair of slippers as a present? Or an iron, to iron his skin?’
‘Yes, Ren, he’s all wrinkly,’ says Lily. ‘And he smokes a pipe.’
‘Well, good timing, you bagged him just as he’s about to retire. Just in time for a round-the-world cruise.’
‘I think Lily has a Daddy complex,’ says Miles. And immediately regrets it, because Lily goes a bit red at this.
‘Just because your Daddy was your granddad, Miles,’ says Ren chivalrously, trying to take the attention away from Lily’s embarrassment.
‘And my great-granddad,’ says Miles. ‘Give the man the credit he’s due, thank you very much.’
‘And your uncle?’ says Douglas.
‘Goodness me, we’re a respectable family. I don’t know what sort of things go on in your family, but we have some morals.’
‘He was also his aunt,’ says Ren to Douglas in a stage-whisper. ‘Miles is a bit sensitive about that.’
‘What’s your boyfriend’s name?’ asks Douglas.
‘Econ?’ asks Miles.
‘A conference affair, I expect?’ asks Ren. ‘They’re so romantic, after all.’
‘Whoa, those Econ conferences,’ says Miles in a Californian accent. ‘I hear they’re, like, totally crazy, dudetta.’
‘What field is he in?’ asks Ren.
‘Oh various things, industrial structure, economics of climate change, labour economics…’
‘You’d better get that ring as soon as you can, girl, he sounds quite a catch,’ says Miles. ‘You must be dizzy with excitement.’
‘Ha! Like your stuff is excitement personified!’ says Lily.
‘Miles tried to tell me what he does last week,’ says Ren, ‘but I fell asleep within seconds. But climate change? Labour economics? Not a teensy bit lefty, is he?’
‘Well, a little bit, yes. But he’s gradually been coming to his senses. He started off very left-wing.’
‘The one field where you might meet some non-lefties, and you bag yourself a lefty.’
‘But he’s a sweetie. And it’s not like I’m right-wing myself, you know. Just because I don’t like the radical left, or Continentalism, doesn’t mean I’m Milton Friedman. Or that I want to marry him.’
The chapter will be continued in Part 4