Read Great Apes Online

Authors: Will Self

Great Apes (7 page)

BOOK: Great Apes
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“And isn't it?”

“Possibly, but the only authority you quoted was another newspaper article.”

“Drink, Tone?” This was from Tabitha, who had interposed half her long body, half her long hair. Gareth stiffened to avoid contact, the leggy girl was that sexy; and where they were standing, hard against the bar, fast becoming a thicket of arms and legs, with burning tobacco foliage.

“Thank you, Tabitha, a Stolli martini, please –”

“Straight up?” Julius fed Tony from behind the bar.

“Straight up, but then wiggle it a bit, please. Then pull it out again, but put it straight back up.” Tony gave his double smile to Gareth, who shivered with distaste.

“It wasn't another newspaper article – I quoted Wittgenstein … Wittgenstein's theory about private language.” Gareth took a pull on his glass of white wine and peered down at his interlocutor's bald patch.

“Certainly you quoted what you
thought
was Wittgenstein, but actually you misquoted him, because you lifted the quote from an article on exactly the same subject that appeared on Sunday, I think you know which one I mean.” And Tony snorted, realising too late that a glob of cocaine and mucus was poised on the very lip of his nostril. This shot down in a near-vertical trajectory and lodged on the rim of Gareth's shoe. Fortunately the journalist didn't notice. Although Tabitha did, and dissolved in giggles.

“So what if I did? I don't think that goes to prove
anything much. Why don't you address yourself to the real questions, instead of trying to score points.”

“Ho-hoo! The real issue. Is that it? The real issue.” The critic was becoming agitated now. Animals were Tony's first – perhaps only – love. He lived in a council flat in Camberwell with his mother, who looked like an ancient Labrador; and an ancient Labrador. “So, if that's the case, under what circumstances do you feel it's acceptable to raise veal calves in crates where they can't move, where they can't do anything but slam their heads against the planks until they're bruised and bleeding? Perhaps if we could be certain that the beasts weren't in any real distress it would be acceptable, hmmm?'

Gareth was not to be humiliated. Or rather, he had been humiliated so long ago that everything which had followed was nothing but mint on the lamb of shame. He hated Figes and his little clique. The sexy girls, the two apparently mute blacks, the painter Dykes with his sniffy attitude. He looked down at his shoe and saw that a glob of whitish mucus was lodged on the rim of the toe. He discreetly smeared this off on the carpet – ten hours later this residuum was hoovered up by a Guatemalan cleaner, dressed in blue overalls – then came back at Tony: “That's irrelevant. Whether I misquoted or not, the point I made still stands – we can't know the animal's state of mind.”

‘Well, shrinks now apparently have the humility to admit that they don't know anything about depression. They just hand out the drugs and if the patient responds then they say that they have a depression that is responsive to such-and-such a drug. So perhaps we should do that with the veal calves, give them Prozac and if they
seem
to be
happier take it as read that they are. I can see quite a brisk trade being done in the flesh of calves raised on Prozac, can't you?”

“You're being idiotic. Very silly.” And Gareth contrived to notice someone on the far side of the bar, someone he needed to talk to urgently, right away. “Excuse me.” He rotated his figure on its axis and abstracted it.

Tony called after him, “Or how about venison on Valium?”

And Tabitha chimed in, “or ham on haloperidol?”

The clique dissolved in forced laughter, which left them with the uneasy feeling of not-having-been-fair to the man.

“But seriously,” said Ken Braithwaite, the older of the brothers by three minutes, “if we eat the meat of animals who have been physically tortured, perhaps we should be more imaginative about it.”

“Whaddya mean?” Tony was dipping one of his mouths in his martini, the other one nuzzled at the side of the glass.

“Well, how about eating the flesh of animals who have been emotionally abused?”

“Hmmm, nice idea. You mean persistently sexually humiliate pheasants – and then shoot them?”

“Something like that.”

“Or,” Tabitha said, clutching the little ball of humour and running with it, “chickens that have been socially ostracised, maddened by the fact that they aren't invited to parties.”

“Sort of free-rage chickens, you mean?” said Tony.

“Which reminds me,” said Tabitha, “if
we're
going to rage, we'd better do some of these.” She already had the
pills, dusty with lint, secreted in her hand and she palmed one each to Tony and the Braithwaites.

“Wozzthis?” queried Steve, the younger Braithwaite, but after popping it.

“E,” Tabitha slurred – she was chewing hers up for a quicker rush. “Good too. White dove.”

“That's all I want to eat from now on in,” said Ken Braithwaite, skulling his with a swallow of beer. “The breasts of white doves raised on ecstasy.”

Beneath the basement they stood in were the kitchens, and beneath this was Bazalgette's main sewer conduit for Soho, a Victorian creation originally tiled in green, but for so long unseen that the green was neither here – nor there, where brown rats squeaked horribly. Hosts of them, crawling up and over, through and under one another, as if dimension was of no account. They copulated in passing, their long tails twined in scaly knitting. And on their backs, in the filthy fur that covered their bodies – little sacs of organs – the lice trundled, excremental eggs plopping from their abdomens.

In Soho Square – where the hunt was centuries gone – two mutts mucked about with one another. The dog covered the bitch, entirely. For his legs were as long as the bitch's body. He crouched to snag his corkscrew in, and then twisted it, twisted it. The two bodies shuddered, half on the grass – half off. On-side nails scratched the paving, off-side nails found purchase in the grass. The dog's fore-paws flapped, then twitched, then spasmodically waved. He was too big for the job, his part-Alsatian body heeled over, like a shaggy yacht with too much sail on, and too late
he felt his cock hook in hard under the bitch's bone. Then they were arse to arse, horribly mated, awfully fucked. They yowled and yowled and yowled.

In the green deep, off the continental shelf, where the leviathans keep only each other's company, a penis the size of a lifeboat was unlimbered, swung out on its davit of sinew, and then plunged gently into its oceanic counterpart. The two vastnesses nuzzled one another, moved closer together with ridiculously subtle movements of their tails, each the length of a suburban cul-de-sac. Their underslung mouths parted to reveal curtains of baleine, enough to stricture a school of women. Barnacles on belly grated against barnacles on back. Their theramin cries swooped and oscillated weirdly. Of such creatures it could never be said that they came, only that they had departed. Quit the earth first, now exited the sea.

In the car-deck room Simon groomed Sarah. His finger traced the soft line of her buttock, beneath the soft line of her pants, beneath the soft fabric of her skirt. She grunted, leant into him, tucked the whole of herself beneath his barbellate chin. Her fingers scampered on his flocculent chest. The cleft of her was in the corner, in line with a cleft of cornice, a cleft of carpet, a cleft of plaster. He bit her lip. His finger explored – he was almost bent double to encompass her – hooked up the hem of her skirt, blotted itself on the inky top of her stocking, and then imprinted his touch on the white flesh above. Dab and dab and dab. Leaving dabs. He explored the lightly wrapped crotch of her, hair bunching in damp flawless flaw. Her sex was gaping. He visualised it swelling. He moaned. She moaned.
“Touch me,” she whispered, muffled by his mouth. He did. The elastic rimmed his finger. He sunk the emissary inside, scouted the gaff, looked for a place to leave the genetic evidence. Her little paws moved down, swirling, over shirt to belt. Simon thought of an axe-shaped turd he had once extracted from where it was wedged in his son's arse cleft. “Monkey, monkey,” he uttered in her mouth.

The door to the car-deck room banged open and Tabitha stood there guffawing, a drink slopping in her hand. “What have we here?” She turned up the fader switch by the door. “Love in a dim climate, or what?” Sarah and Simon broke. His hand went to his nose, he added musk to mucus, cunt to cocaine. Tabitha threw herself in a chair. She was wearing a very short skirt and her legs were hosed in something matt yet shiny, emphasising their great length, their insulting shapeliness. “There's fuck-all happening down there,” she continued, grabbing handfuls of her tawny hair and pulling them upwards, a characteristic gesture “The shiny happy people and I have dropped an E, but it doesn't look as if you two need one.”

Sarah still stood in the corner, she had hoicked her skirt up to rearrange her blouse and underwear. “Hoo, I dunno, Simon?”

“God, I really shouldn't –”

“Shouldn't, or don't want to?” Tabitha's tone mocked him, lassoed him with double meaning. She always fancied her sister's men, wanted them. Although whether this was out of competitiveness, or genuine attraction, was impossible to say.

“Shouldn't, mustn't, really ought not to. I've got to work all day tomorrow and it's getting edgy, I open next week.”

“But, Simon.” She rose and crossed towards him, came right up to him, so close he could smell her, see the saliva behind her lips. A pill appeared between her thumb and forefinger, she took it into orbit in the space between their faces. “Next week is on the dark side of this moon, wouldn't you say.” The little white satellite rose again and was dropped into his open mouth. Simon turned away, picked up his whisky and washed the thing down.

They stayed on in the club for quite a while, despite the fact that there was fuck-all happening. In fact they revelled in the fuck-alledness of it. Submerged themselves in this lukewarm footbath of anti-sociability, with its froth of tragic bathos. Until the ecstasy bit Simon drank to offset the great oubliette of emptiness and self-loathing he felt the cocaine about to tip open beneath his feet; and he took the cocaine to keep him sober. His natural geniality was not yet the aberrant genitality it would become; now it was simply crushed and then extruded from between the up and the down. And so he flowed all over the bar, talking, talking, talking. And always joking, hurling witticisms, looping in people he barely knew, people he didn't even like.

The shiny happy people formed a core group in one of the seating arrangements; those moving past would prop themselves on the arms of chairs to pick up their niblets, to insinuate themselves. It was nearly eleven when George Levinson turned up, plainly drunk and smartly dressed. He had lost the boy he'd picked up at the opening in Chelsea, but managed to acquire another one over dinner at Grindley's. The good thing – as far as the clique was concerned – was that this boy had a girlfriend, a girlfriend who was even drunker than George. Drunker than any of them in fact,
and as they saw it gauche as well. She lunged across the table knocking over glasses, she made jokes that fell utterly flat – providing no relief whatsoever – she lolled against the gay and inveighed against the straight, she talked about drugs, loudly. In a word, she was a
find.
A find because every clique needs to have a litmus paper on hand with which to test its acidity, its determination to dissolve and exclude foreign bodies.

Simon joined in with this, assisted George in his bantering attempts to prise the boy away from the girl. Whenever they linked arms, or showed one another any physical affection, George would butt in, crying ‘Say no to hugs! Hugging is a crime!' And then Simon would take up the cry, and then the others. ‘Hugging is a crime!' They all cried. It was, Simon reflected, staring moodily at the distorting lens that was the bottom of his whisky glass, a ludicrously appropriate slogan for the clique, the members of which only ever touched one another on greeting or parting. For the rest of the time – especially when in this desert of white powder – touch was a mirage.

Simon looked across at Sarah and felt this. Felt that he might never touch her again, might never hug her again, feel her bird-brittle ribs against his. There was an undulation in the air now, a distortion that pushed her still further away, across an acre of table, several furlongs of carpet. She sat, shiny-browed, blanched in chemical sweat, listening to Steve Braithwaite explain some detail of a new artwork. She was their agent, so this made sense. Indeed, the clique were really her friends, not his. George wasn't a shiny happy person, he belonged to Simon, to Simon's past, to his marriage to Jean. He was Magnus's godfather. Seeing
him with the shinies felt wrong, uneasy. Like catching a favourite, jolly uncle coming down the seedy stairs from some whorish fuck pad.

Not only that, his presence showed the clique up for what they were, spoilt children, playing viciously because unsupervised.

“I'm going to walk,” said Steve Braithwaite, “from the nuclear power station at Dounreay, all the way to Manchester, staying right under the power lines for the entire distance. Ken will make a visual and aural record of the whole thing –”

“What's the point of that?” the girl broke in.

“The point, young – and ignorant – lady,” George Levinson went offensively on to the offensive, “is to experience various kinds of parallax. Isn't that it, Steve?”

“Exactly. Both the parallax of vision derived from the pylons themselves – the way they march, girdered clefs stringing the notation of power across the land –”

“Quoting from my – as yet unwritten – catalogue copy are we, Steve?” Figes donated his pennyworth.

“And, of course, the parallax of power itself. As I absorb all of this incredibly damaging radiation, as my cells themselves begin to fission, so I will be gifted a true fusion, a proper perspective on the nature of power, raw power, in our society. D'you see?”

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