He could hear her pottering around now outside somewhere, tending to the garden, and hated her, he didn’t know why. Maybe he envied her. She existed in a bubble, here in the house, and that was what he wanted for himself. Not because he enjoyed being insular but because he found that it was his usual mode—not doing anything in particular, not anything of significance, but preparing, always preparing to do something. He was obsessive compulsive by nature and it infuriated him, but there was immense lure in giving into it, becoming a short circuit, like a robot attempting some task but caught in a vicious cycle the programmers hadn’t anticipated. Without his father goading him, he would go nowhere, perhaps would be insane—in his head things narrowed down always to reflections of themselves, to minutiae, frustratingly, and for everything there was a micromanaging alter ego, in fact two; a large one and a small one, the large one telling him to get on with it and the small one, the one operating on dopamine, that had control over the reward signals in his brain, challenging him to analyse everything, arrange everything, deeper and deeper, smaller and smaller until he lost his focus and ended up bumping into walls, withdrawing from the prospect of engaging any task more complex than rearranging his wardrobe. He was a neurotic mess except for his father’s constant calls to action.
“Look at him,” James’ father said, grinning, not seeing what James saw. He grabbed him and pushed James around—this way, that way. James pretended to be a ragdoll.
“All right, all right,” he said, snapping out of it. “What did you put in your coffee?”
Malik and Leland were both at the art opening, both had shit-eating grins and were half-drunk on the complementary champaign.
“What are you dog fuckers doing here?” said James, looking for someone to take his coat. “Could you please take this?” he told a passing someone, a young woman in a vest and tucked-in white shirt. She obliged and James held the coat a moment longer to look into her eyes. She had small dark spots swimming around her lovely green irises, and she frowned slightly, not exactly flushing, but smarting with some other strong emotion James quickly studied, drank down and savoured.
“We could ask you the same question,” Leland said. “We appreciate high art, I’m baffled about why you’re here.”
“The high art,” echoed James half-seriously nodding at the unintelligible masterpieces which with open mouths and manic eyes communicated everything and at once nothing, like pornography or depraved sex that really hits the spot. “And comedy is the highest art, appreciate that,” he added, bending slightly then trailing slowly, discreetly to another corner. The boys were quick on the uptake and without protest moved with him. The same woman from before just then passed through his cloud, grimacing, and James sent her a knowing wink.
“Pizza is happening after this,” Malik said casually, finishing his drink and gritting his teeth as though it had been ayahuasca, something they had all tried together and separately and enjoyed despite the screaming.