Susie and a thin man found me in the park. I was walking slowly round the pond, making the bones in my nose tickle by hooting. Susie said my mother had tipped her off, after hearing my voice while throwing stones at the ducks. I had been there a day and a half. "It's because of my job," I explained, "batch testing New Age CD's." "But Hal said he didn't hire you in the end," she said. "That would explain why he hasn't paid me." The thin man with Susie coughed up a small laugh, and spat it onto the ground. "You'd better come to dinner on Saturday," Susie said. "Clive will be there too." She squeezed the man's arm. "Clive is the suicide journalist." He was ghostly pale, with black hair and a sad wit in his eyes. I'd say he looked like John Cusack, if I could remember who the hell John Cusack was. As he gazed moodily at the pond, Susie explained that Clive had announced in his weekly column that he had six months to live. On April the fifteenth, he would be committing suicide, and until then he would write about how it felt to be staring death in the face. Clive took aout a notebook and muttered something about the blackness of a moorhen. "Do you know what month it is now?" she asked. I thought it might be Martober. Susie dabbed a damp eye, and said that the suicide column was the saddest, funniest, most tragic and uplifting thing she'd ever read. "He has just twelve weeks to go." I looked across the pond and started honking again. Susie turned to collect Clive, who was puffing on three cigarettes and smirking at his notes. "Eight or late with a good excuse," she crooned, and popped a sweet in my mouth.
I arrived well after dark. A smart woman opened the door. "I couldn't afford a bottle of wine," I said, "so I've drawn one on a piece of cardboard." I had prepared for the party by eating half a jar of instant coffee I'd found in the bins at Sainsbury's. She took my cardboard and said "That's brilliant. Could I use you in a programme?" When I asked her what sort of programme, she said "I could make a whole series about the things people bring to parties." "What do you do?" I said, thinking of the window at Dixon's. "My name' s Hosanna Bell. I work in the warm arts." We stepped past Susie's yachting gear and into the dining room. Seven people sat noisily round a large bowl of oysters, but Susie wasn't a single one of them. I thought I was at the wrong party, until they explained that the whole point was to be late, but with a good excuse. "Why are YOU late?" they asked. I said I'd had no money for a bottle of wine, and the homeless bloke at the tube station who normally subs me a couple of quid because he says I look worse off than his dog was being mugged when I asked him this time and hadn't given me a penny, and then I'd got lost whether Susie's house was directly opposite some trees, or directly opposite no trees at all. Several conversations had started by the time I got to that bit. Susie arrived to great squeals and kisses. She announced that she had spent the last three hours in bestial congress with a junior cabinet minister. Gobs hung open, because everyone had thought he was gay, and several of them also knew that he was her half-brother. She wore a grin as big as a harbour. "Do you think Clive is still coming?" said a sincere man in glasses, and the talk turned at once to his column. Hosanna Bell said she had seen more truth in Clive's writing than the entire works of any writer she could think of. A woman called Emma agreed. "I'm still reeling. I don't know whether to weep, laugh, throw up or hug everybody." "That's just your protein rush," observed a man called Paddy, pointing to the seventeen shells on her plate. Emma touched his leg. Paddy was Clive's editor, and was busy milking the table by mildly deprecating the praise for Clive's column, so people doubled it in protest. He was just declaring that the columns would have to be polished up for the book, when swearing in the hall announced the arrival of Clive.
He looked a bit drunk, and seemed small with his coat off. He said he was sorry he was late, but actually he didn't give a fuck. Everyone laughed, except Paddy. Susie said "This brilliant man has asked me if you would all take it easy on the suicide questions tonight," and helped him liberally to bivalves. We nodded, of course, and I asked him if he thought oysters could commit suicide. Susie glared at me. I said I was just wondering if an oyster could make a decision like that, and if so, how it would die, because it couldn't really hang itself. "Are you being weird, or sarcastic?" said Emma. I didn't know, because I get the two feelings mixed up. She called me a plankton, and started telling Clive about the time she had cut her wrists. "Look at my scars," she said. "They are beautiful, but not as beautiful as your columns." For some reason, Clive looked at me as he said "Only the very ugly is truly beautiful. And if the printed word has any meaning, then it must come from the very edge of fuckybumbooboo." There were titters. Paddy muttered something about Clive alienating his fans, but was cut off by Emma. "No, Clive has every right to be drunk. You are in masses of pain, Clive. You are doing it for us." "Yes," agreed Hosanna. Clive asked her what the hell she knew. "In the warm arts, we're strong on people power," she said, "and what you have done in volunteering to take your own life is illuminate with poignant resonance the self destructor in all of us." There was a ripple of applause. Clive, who had been sousing his oysters in vodka and setting them alight before hurling them down his throat, now added a cigarette to the turmoil, and belched the word "bollocks." Paddy banged the table, and started telling Clive that if all he could do was get pissed and shove drugs up his bum for the last twelve columns, he would lose all his priceless empathy. "This is the finest copy I've ever commisioned," he said, "and I'm not having it ruined by some jumped-up little floozy going all diddums." A man called Stitt said that Paddy was threatening the purity of Clive's columns. "If he uses the bottle, then that should come through in his work." "But he'll end up writing about you lot!" said Paddy. Suddenly all the guests were telling Clive about the time they'd nearly topped themselves. Hosanna Bell described how she'd been suicidal for six months after giving birth, until she'd decided to sue her baby for what it had done to her figure. Clive was insulting everyone and writing notes on his cuffs. "Losers! Crap attempt!" he shouted. "I want something that actually works." Someone said hosepipes work. Clive knew a bloke in a garden centre in Maidstone who actually cuts them to length for your particular car. He said the people carrier length hose was the most popular. "Wow," said Hosanna Bell, now also scribbling feverishly. "So then, Mr Superstar," Paddy was saying, "what is the best way to kill yourself?" Clive said that in fact the best way he knew was to buy 200 foot nylon rope, tie one end round your neck, the other round a lamp post, and get into your car and floor the accelerator. He said that's how his great-uncle had done it. He'd made Clive help him. He was just nine years old. And he'd had to ride in the car and stop it crashing when his uncle's head came off. The blood had made the pedals very slippery. Clive blinked, smarting eyes. The table fell silent. "Really?" said Paddy, genuinely shocked. "Of course not, you moron!" brayed Clive, and went on to explain that we were all idiots, he could say anything and we'd lap it up, just because we thought his pain meant something, how we wouldn't give him a second thought if he wasn't going to kill himself, except that actually he wasn't anyway, because the whole thing was a hoax, and he was going to say so in his column next week. Paddy erupted, and decked Clive with the oyster bowl. Then he stood over him, roaring that this was his f***ing idea, Clive had agreed to do it, and he wasn't going to wriggle out of killing himself now, not now there was a book. Clive crawled from the room. The general opinion was that Clive had just treated us to his most savage and moving cry for help yet. We had all understimated his pain. "I feel choked up now," said Emma, "but if I read about next week, I'll be crying for the rest of the year." "Someone bring me a f***ing fag." Clive's voice sounded glutinous. Susie gestured to me, as everyone else was still debating the meaning of his actions. He lay on the floor, two regurgitated oysters a tongue's length from his leaking mouth - one of them still slightly alive. His nose seemed a better place for the cigarette. The caustic fumes revived him, and he stumbled to his feet. "I'm going out," he said "I'm going to break into a car, and drive around drunk until I crash." As he lunged past me into the hall, his foot snagged on a rope among Susie's boat bags, and he fell on the sea grass. We both looked at the large coil of blue nylon. "Are you good at knots?" he said. Susie's car keys were hanging by the front door. "You might as well use the Discovery," I said. "She'll be so thrilled to have a new story."
About an hour later, I revealed that Clive hadn't just gone for a walk. He'd gone to divorce his head. And how I'd helped him with the keys and the knots. I needed to go to sleep, and had correctly anticipated that Paddy would punch my lights out.