“Dizzy!” I called, in a state of consternation. “Where are you!?”
“Parpilly prip!” responded Dizzy Gillespie, speaking his usual mix of English and fluent Trumpetese. “I’m right here, boss man.”
”Not you,” I dimissed him. Where’s my Dizzy? The one who ran England in 1868 and then again from 1874 until 1880!?”
“Aw, him,” tooted Dizzy G “No idea, friend. Parp!”
I cast my anxious eyes around. Benjamin Disraeli had to be here somewhere. We’d arrived together at the New Year’s Party jointly hosted by Sir Christopher Wren and Christopher Robin, who’d bonded over a love of minuscule birdlife and being called Christopher, and had just announced their civil partnership. The vast age difference would easily have been the elephant in the room, except that position was taken by Dumbo, who was getting giggly on his fourth sherry and claiming he could fly around the cornice.
Finally my yearning eyes found a familiar face. Sir Launcelot the Brave, my manservant, had been invited as a guest, but inevitably had ended up wandering around proferring a tray of drinks. I sidled up.
“Launcelot!” I hissed. “Where’s Benjo?”
I followed my manservant’s gesturing eyes. Of course. The kitchen.
I slipped through to find my erstwhile friend by himself, eagerly scooping party snacks out of their serving dishes with his index finger. Hoummos or tiramisu, it didn’t seem to make a difference.
“Bloody good stuff this, Ward Sell,” he said, gesticulating a mixed fingerful of taramasalata and Creme Egg. “No rum baba, of course, but I ask you, what is?”
“What indeed,” I offered feebly, sinking into an antique pouffe, much as Christopher Robin planned to later on. Finding my friend amid the anachronistic collective had dispelled my rising social panic, and I felt content to sit in silence. Benjamin, however, never was one to let silence stifle repartee.
“My dear lumpfish,” he enquired mutely, “what, by all that’s Hogmaniacal, is the matter? This is a night for incandescent conversational acrobatics to light the eventide like the fireworks without!”
(”Without what?” enquired Launcelot, returning for a platter of vol-au-vents. He was perfectly ignored.)
“—And yet, young Wardio, you slump like a dejected sock! Raise your game, and speak to me, or I shall force you to discuss balustrades with Mr. Wren.”
I shivered. “You win,” I conceded good-humouredly. “But what to discuss?”
Benjamin’s smile was a triumphant argent shard.
“Let me take you back,” quoth he, “to a time I like to call pretty much a year ago, when thou and I conversed—at your instigation!—of shoes and ships and ceiling wax, of cabbages and kings. And more specifically, of your aspirations and predictions for this year ahead, now become this year just past. And do you remember what you said to me then, old mung bean?”
I twitched nervously. “I—”
“ ‘As far as I can see,’ you said,” continued Disraeli, “’this’ll be a year in which, for the most part, I know what I’m going to do.’ my challenge to you, Ward Sell, is to consummate your prediction in the marriage bed of truth and hindsight,” (his metaphors do tend to wander after a while) “and tell me, if you would, whether that brash assertion came to pass?”
I sucked air through my teeth. The question was a good one. I thought whilst maidservants bustled through the kitchen to collect novelty ice cubes. And after a while, I raised my head.
“You know, for the most part…yes. I spoke to you* a year ago of a year of recollecting, gathering, of pulling together a self split asunder by more travel, novelty, black times and high times than I was equipped to take. I was exhilarated and tired, doing my best to process a self-inflicted tumult which I never had long enough moments to come to terms with. Benjamin, I was bleeding out and grinning like a demon.
“And so I spoke to you of coming back, of a year spinning on a mid-summer hub of a pre-booked return ticket. And no, I didn’t know it all. I didn’t know the shade of heartbreak that airport would assume. I didn’t know that I would breathe the eucalypt mist of the Blue Mountains, that I would miss the end of my own leaving party after a literal volcano of sangria, or spend my coming-of-age by a bonfire of palm-fronds on the Pacific shore.
“And in Edinburgh, the same. I didn’t know how surreal and ill-fitting I would feel for my first month home. I didn’t realise just how much I would have to subordinate myself to study. I didn’t know how little I would see deeply valued friends, even ones living merely a few roads away – conversely, I didn’t know how living with my new flatmates–Gareth aside, and eternal blessings upon his stalwart friendship–would be, and they proved delightful.I didn’t know the shit that some of my friends would undergo while I watched impotent from the sidelines. I didn’t know how pressed I would be for time, how little of my own writing I would manage between essays and staying alive…
“…but Benji, all of these are matters of degree. I did know that I would squeeze Australia for every experience my every last dollar could get me. I did know that I would leave already missing friendships forged from humid, dehydrated, adamant steel. I did know that I would touch my soles to Edinburgh streets with a scintillation of glee. I knew that the tension would be lower once I was back—excitement maybe curbed, security increased a thousandfold, the study of literature again undertaken as a joy and not a chore. That old friends would still be there, that steel untarnished. The ibises replaced by squirrels, boardshorts with knee-length coats.
“So yes, dearest Benjamin. I put it to you that—if one acknowledges all the disclaimers I gave you before—my predictions held water. It was, as I had said.”
Benjamin raised his eyebrows, and raised a finger as though to object. And then, to my surprise, he lowered it, and nodded thoughtfully.
“Very well,” he said, “I’ll give you that. And now, I think you know what’s coming. If last year was so succinctly foreseen…what of the next? Aran, what will happen to you in 2012?”
I spread my arms wide and shrugged, a bizarre gesture which made it look like I was lifting a small elephant. What to say? That I would graduate—hopefully? Get a job—if there was one? Try to do more exercise? Write, think, walk wheresoever the wherewithal to wander was mine to command? Try not to get things wrong?
“Benjamin,” I answered in a rattle of truth, “I have no idea.”
“And what of you, dear Dizzy?” I enquired once a suitably sonorous interval had elapsed. “What does 2012 hold for the esteemed Disraeli?”
“Ward Sell,” he intoned with absolute gravity, “I am dead.”
And with that, Benjamin Disraeli walked through the door to rejoin the New Year’s party, and I was left in the kitchen, to reflect, by myself.
*And dearest of readers, not to labour the device, but remember always that Disraeli is yourselves, and your very self Disraeli.