In this extract of The Brilliant & Forever our three intrepid readers are preparing to attend something almost as daunting as the festival itself: the launch party. It’s a place where making a good impression could mean the difference between winning or losing . . .
The Great and Good of the Brilliant & Forever
The annual Brilliant & Forever launch party had arrived. The evening sky was a deepening bruise; the very air over the island seemed to crackle. I could hear it. Normally the sky doesn’t talk. Yet a palpable static of anticipation and apprehension fizzed and sparked at my ears, hissing words like ‘failure’ and ‘disappointment’ as I cycled around, trying to keep my mind in the moment, rather than projecting into worrisome futures. Maybe the sky was echoing my own inner voice? Maybe that’s outrageous arrogance.
The streets bristled with adrenalised people dashing in and out of houses, cars, shops, shouting platitudes about clothes and haircuts and drinks. Alpacas bounded along in jittery, alert packs. They weren’t allowed to attend the party, but some of them showed support by bearing homemade flags with painted ‘Archie for the B&F’ or ‘Alpacas are Brilliant & Forever’ messages fluttering. Some flags had an image of Archie in his stetson, grasping his spittoon, grinning cheesily.
Back home, I had a long hot soak in the bath and read chapter eighteen of Life and Fate to remind myself to be grateful for the countless opportunities I had and the immeasurable terrors I didn’t.
Macy and Archie came round to my blackhouse at eight. Macy wore a strapless dress; its top half was green, then it fell in black silken pleats from her waist to just above the knees. She’d gathered her hair into an Ecclefechan plait, complete with diamond hair clips. She looked sensational.
‘You look sensational, Macy,’ I said.
‘And you look shit,’ she said, presenting me with a quick hug and a solid good-natured slap across the shoulder.
‘My face is like an early hagiography, or the world’s greatest novel.’
‘Not yet made up.’ She smiled, pleased with herself.
‘You never wear make-up.’
‘I know, just practising some lines for a story.’
‘Very good,’ I said. ‘Hey Archie, you smell like vanilla shower gel. I’m going to eat you.’ I made a play of grabbing him and attempting to bite into his neck. He thrust me away, beating at me with his rhinestone stetson.
Archie is one of those alpacas who showers regularly as a concession to humans, an act some hard-line alpacas shun and politicise, and today he had brushed his coat, too.
He put on and adjusted his stetson, which I knew, and he knew I knew, was his favourite one. ‘Gotta make an effort.’
Maybe I did look shit. I had dressed in a yellow tartan kilt and purple shirt.
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘Parties aren’t real. They make me uneasy.’
‘Your dress sense makes me uneasy,’ said Archie, trying to lift up my kilt.
‘Oi! Quit it. Let’s just stay in and watch a film instead,’ I said. ‘Who needs parties. The B&F itself is what it’s about, the party’s a superficial event for whitehousers and posers. I want to stay in and watch a film. Yeah, I’m gonna fight for my right not to party.’
‘Is there a John Wayne on?’ said Archie, suddenly alert.
‘No, but there’s a Jeff Bridges. It’s called True Grit. From 2010. Jeff Bridges and his actor pals make a good effort at repeating just about every single quotation from True Grit, in order.’
‘Like a film would have more drama than the B&F launch party! You just have social anxiety, and face it,’ said Macy, who was perfecting her hair in front of and inside a wall mirror ‘you’d be crazy if this society didn’t make you anxious. Ergo, you’re worried because you’re intelligent.’ Macy had a theory that intelligence caused people to be unhappy. I had a theory that any intelligence ascribed to me was exaggerated.
I opened my sporran to see if I’d remembered my eye drops, cash, pen, inhaler and blank page. ‘I just feel it’s weird. Eight o’ clock, Saturday, you are granted permission – no, you are obliged – to be happy. Let’s synchronise watches.’ (Archie didn’t use one, Macy in lieu of a watch had a tattoo of a watch on her wrist; the watch’s face read ‘Now’.) ‘Impossible,’ I said, ‘or is it easy, to synchronise your watch with itself.’ I suddenly panged, wanted to be a watch in sync with itself, just as quickly shook the thought away. ‘But parties – how can people even do that? Just start being happy because someone decrees this is the time to be ecstatic? People don’t get together every Wednesday morning at eleven fifteen to share a few hours of poignant behaviour. We don’t congregate every second Thursday at midday to express our communal outrage.’
‘Maybe we should,’ said Archie.
I paused. ‘Maybe we should,’ I conceded. ‘Maybe there’s a revolution on the horizon.’
‘You’re nervous and havering,’ said Macy. ‘Don’t make me slap you in the face.’
‘I,’ Archie announced, ‘am going to get rip-roaring drunk and persuade everyone to get nekkid and dance the fandango with me. They’ll see how much fun an alpaca can be. I’ll show them Bohemian living, fandangoing alpaca fashion. How’s the fandango go? Such a great word.’
‘I know nothing about it,’ I said. ‘Nothing. So you can’t call me intelligent.’
‘I don’t know the fandango either,’ said Macy, ‘and I’m supersmart. It’s no indicator. Straighten your sporran, mister.’
‘Parties aren’t real,’ I said again.
‘You’d pass up the chance to watch an alpaca do the fandango?’
I sighed. ‘Well, when you put it like that.’
‘Here’s a taster.’ Archie started shaking his hindquarters and scatting random syllables – ‘doo-wa-doo-woo-a-shoobee- doo-shoobee-doo-way-a-bom-ba-shoo-a-weeeee eee-wee-ba-ba-boo’
– and in this fashion he shook and shimmied and sang his way around the room, his rump occasionally crashing a book or a mug to the floor. Macy and I grinned. Archie was as excitable as a kangaroo. It was wonderful to see him in exuberant mood.
At last he stopped and struck an exaggerated, disgruntled pose. He pouted and made his face look as hurt as he could, which didn’t work too well with his perma-smile. ‘The hell you pair laughing at? You got no class. It’s just a jazz thing you don’t get.’
We laughed at our brilliant mad alpaca pal. No humour as endearing as unselfconscious self-deprecation. And no question, I supposed, but that we were going to this party. I tried to don the mental equivalent of a yellow kilt.
Macy sped us to the castle in her battered Datsun, cornering at screeching right angles. The landscape streaked by like we were on a train. Boyracers hurtled past in the other direction, millimetres away, sound systems blaring repetitive beats.