We had red wine. We had sausage rolls. We had cakes from Countdown cut into neat squares. We had proper glasses, serviettes and tomato sauce.
But where were the guests? Where were the people? Was anyone ever going to turn up?
The sun was shining outside. The sky bright blue after a week of torrential rain. Everyone out and about… strolling in parks, flamingo scootering along the waterfront, rocketing up hills… anywhere but here.
Then with a glint in his spectacles, a dazzle of teeth, our first punter popped his head around the door. Gerard from Toastmasters to say he was very sorry but he had to rush to an emergency dental appointment. His molars were killing him. And a brief appearance by Charlie too, his smile as enigmatic as a wartime secret, confessing he couldn’t stay either. There was a game of infants to be supervised in the park.
Val and Lexy didn’t show. They’d jetted off to the Chathams last Friday for a holiday with seals and fish and acres of empty beach. They say there are fossil teeth buried between the pebbles – the remnants of ancient battles. No emergency dentist though, not out there. Nor book launches. You have to grin and bear things, or else tie the end of a piece of string around your tooth and briskly slam a door.
My book launch was going to be a hushed event. So quiet we’d hear the Trappist monks praying in the next room. The barbecuers outside sizzling sausages. So much empty space we could count electrons, probably protons and neutrons as well. The whole room was composed of elementary particles anyway, the whole world. All we had to do was convert them from one manifestation into another… fermented grapes into bombast and pee… long dead trees into petrol in our cars and plastic in the sea… and all those trees still living into tomes of paper to plug our minds.
Words, words, words. Lost in a theatre of silence.
Damn, still no-one here. We wouldn’t sell many books.
Plenty of booze though. Enough to drink ourselves stupid, enough to create a new ocean in a place where no-one ever looks.
Then hurray! Two newcomers arrived.
Raymond and Iona from Karori with their shiny faces and blunted footwear. No spikes on these people, only well rounded empathy. They volunteered to man and woman the sales desk… assuming we sold anything.
Followed by Madeline and Mavis, Rigger and Trigger, and Angel of the North too. All writers, all quite aware of what we were going through. The birth of a book, its temerity at stake. A launch with no-one to clap at the end of sentences, this gasping story dead on arrival.
Thank God, you can always depend on other writers. They know the odds. They know the dangers. But for the title on the cover, the colour of your shirt, the ink in your pen, this could be any one of them.
Then people exploded in like burst balloons. Bridge partners, computer fixers, fallow quizzers, teachers and even wizards. Gandalf waved a wand and Dumbledore farted and suddenly – abracadabra, reach out and grab ya – we had a quorum. Enough players for a spelling bee, enough drunks for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, nearly a party. Everyone shaping words around wine glasses and talking as they chewed, chewing as they talked, trying to make sense of strangers they might never meet again. Who are you? Why are you here? Do you teach my daughter maths or physics or the meaning of life? Fancy another spinach roll? A slice of melon? And where is the caramel slice?
Time for me to make my way to the front and… ahmm, hmm, open sesame, bookfarteramus leviosa, clap, clap, clap… tell them… still didn’t know what I was waiting for.. what this was all about…?
At least my teeth didn’t hurt…