A response to ‘Alexi Marshall‘s ‘The Party’ by Jess Payn.
and isn’t it odd? for in rooms full of
strangers my most tender feelings
bear the fruit of screaming.
— Frank O’Hara
I enter a room where the walls don’t make sense, and there’s a girl with her head underwater in a bath of limbs and lines. There is no colour in this place and there is no third dimension. Someone is staring and the eye contact is between inquisition and indifference: Who are you?
This is The Party. Close up the spaces between thighs, heads, arms and throats. No one is leaving and the room is squeezed and asquint and only getting more full. Everyone else’s eyes are trying to be immune to one another. They’re unmindful of you: this is the enclosure of intimacy, aware of itself as a scene.
I look for her, and she’s down there. Crying tears of boys and men until these sadnesses puddle on the floor becoming a pool and it could be tears or it could be blood (I killed you; this is killing me) but maybe it’s just spilled wine.
Sat on an absent chair, she is blowing fuming faces to the ceiling and their
shapes stick out, telescopic; a snake unfurls by heads and over thighs and
some malevolent or at least mischievous many masked party-spirit sits,
nibbling its nails.
She is coiled around him, fist in the air. Someone is retreating behind a curtain or perhaps he is looking to enter the fray.
Beneath, she is leaning into her eyes: I want my time with you.
This angling that could become a kiss.
But there’s also the full weight of flush flesh slumping on top of fur, cheeks
puffing and eyelids heavy: now astride a dead-eyed fox. Her scratched nakedness makes her a blank siren in the dark.
Upstairs, she’s taking the charade too seriously: I want to be silly, nearing
Halloweeny. Put on a mask: this is she-devil coquettish. Watching the shower tiles with a focused frown, she’s got stuck-on wings, a bedroom of stars and a grainy dusting of ash. That cherub giggling and everywhere there’s black and white paint.
You always have to have something to do at a party, whether it’s performing or hiding. (I’ll try out my wink.) The final detail is a single hand, coy and destructive, pulling the walls apart.
Jess Payn is a freelance arts journalist based in London. She read English at the University of Cambridge, where she wrote her Master’s thesis on the ‘cuteness’ of Stevie Smith, and now reviews for the Arts Desk. Her writing has been published in Splice Magazine and The i Newspaper. She tweets @jess_payn.
Find more of Alexi Marshall’s work over on Instagram