A chance meeting at Richard and Amanda's housewarming party.
Somebody once said to me that everyone goes to a party at least once and ends up stuck in a kitchen talking to someone who is, frankly, boring. I have to say it's never happened to me. Oh, I've been stuck with plenty who seem disinterested, disaffected. People who do not look like they are having fun; people, I believe, who should not be at the party in the first place.
I tried to explain this to a woman I met at Richard and Amanda's housewarming. As I was talking to this woman about my theories of social dynamics, she stood there tapping her heels, sipping her glass of Pimm's and gazing at me with only a kind of melancholy interest.
"Did you know that human instinct dictates that one instantly moves to the right side of a room when entering a party or social gathering? It's a little like when you go shopping and join the queues for the checkout at the right end of the store. Anyway, this would implicate that the party animals would be found towards the left of the room... although I expect there's also some circulation."
"Really?" she sighed. Distracted, I thought, she looks positively distracted. What else is new?
"Yes. And of course, these dynamics don't have to follow all the time. I think this is because certain rooms in the house serve certain functions. The kitchen in any house party is where the food and drink is kept, so one never needs an excuse to be there. I think you find a lot of wallflowers flock to the kitchen because of this. They're more likely to, anyway - they'd feel less obliged to socialise. You'd assume that the party animal would never need to go to the kitchen. People find him so intriguing that they probably fetch his food and drink for him."
"I suppose so," the woman replied, pulling her sleeves over her wrists. The jumper was aran, a putrid shade of green.
"Other rooms could serve as a hiding place for wallflowers," I continued, trying to catch her eye. "For instance, the, er, the rooms upstairs could become an ideal sanctuary... they're normally quiet and secluded and close to the bathroom, which is a bonus. On the other hand, the bedrooms often serve another function at, perhaps, more raucous parties than this. The kitchen's the best place. One can hide away and emerge at any time, or even make non-commital chit-chat with people coming through the kitchen."
"Or trap someone in a boring conversation," she quipped. I distinctly saw her smirk.
"What do you mean?"
She explained, "Well, a terminally dull person might lurk in the kitchen to pounce on unsuspecting victims."
"Yes. A boring person doesn't circulate. If I were stuck talking to you in the living room, which is in itself unlikely, I'd probably make my excuses and flee into the kitchen. An experienced bore hides here and waits for people to come to him."
I blinked. "That may be true, but you seem to be implying that you find ME boring."
"Oh, I do. Unutterably boring. You're just the dullest man I've met. Have you ever met someone like that?"
I was a little taken aback by her bluntness, but thought about it. "No," I decided. "You see somebody once told me that once in a while, you will meet someone like this. But it's never happened to me."
"That makes sense. If you've never been stuck with a bore, then the bore is you."
"That makes no sense to me," I retorted. "I could say the same about you, in fact! You may have trapped me in the kitchen to bore me rigid with those gardening anecdotes I heard you spouting to Richard and Amanda."
She smiled at me over the top of the glass. "Actually I'm more of a wallflower. I wasn't intending to bore, I was nervously trying to make conversation. I thought my stories about my cacti would interest them, mainly because they're so interested in their OWN hyacinths and carnations and rhododendrons. Besides, you're the one who trapped me, not I you."
"You," I huffed, "are a remarkably rude woman."
"Then why are you still here?"
I paused. The woman then did three things in quick succession. She removed her jumper and tied it round her waist, then she refilled her glass, and finally picked an empty tumbler off the draining board she'd been leaning on.
"Drink?" she said.
I took the tumbler and filled it with brandy and coke. "It's hard to believe you're a wallflower, you know, given your current body language. I think of myself as some sort of expert in observing and singling out different members of a group, but your posture and arms and facial expression don't suggest self-conciousness."
"That's because I'm drunk. Alcohol's good for my self-confidence... although it doesn't make other people any more interesting."
"Shame," I said. "It certainly wouldn't make me any more interesting, by the sound of it."
"Drink your brandy," the woman said, and I did.
There was something I had to know. "What," I asked, "makes me boring?"
She made a throat noise before answering. "Well, the best way I can think to describe it is, er... you're very passionate about a subject that doesn't interest me much at all. Specifically, the function of each of the rooms of a house at a party. Social dynamics of a certain kind do interest me, but really, I don't care about how a room works. It's just a dead thing with walls around it. I don't think many other people are interested in rooms and social dynamics in the way you are. Sorry, but there it is."
"Perhaps, but I theorise that boredom is subjective," I countered. "Other people might find those things fascinating, just as, doubtless, somebody finds your cacti fascinating."
"I have twelve," she told me. Someone shuffled past her to get to the fridge and left with a plate of nibbles. "My favourite is Truman. When he was given to me he had two brothers, both of whom died when I forgot to water them. It was two years, they were all dry and brown and I thought they were dead. Then I watered them and Truman was reborn. He just sprang into life, and I've had him ever since. The other two didn't make it, sadly."
"Why did you name him Truman?" I wanted to know.
"I singled him out from my other eleven cacti. He feels superior about his miraculous resurrection, you see. So like the main character in 'The Truman Show', he's isolated and truly unique."
It occurred to me that this woman's cactus bore more similarities to Truman Capote - short and prickly - but I didn't say so.
"You are not a bore," I concluded. "You're just eccentric, and probably a social misfit."
"Well, I think a bore," she added thoughtfully, "could also be someone with a bad sense of humour. Or no sense of humour at all."
"Do you have a sense of humour?"
"Er, not in the traditional sense." She drained her glass. "I find humour in wordplay, and also in other people's shortcomings and mistakes. That doesn't say much for my self-esteem, does it? But I would never go out of my way to humiliate anybody."
"I think I have a sense of humour," I said. "There's a lot I find amusing, but try as I might, I can never tell a good joke. Perhaps we're both socially awkward."
"We must be. Except I'm a crazy wallflower and you are a tremendous bore. At least we're something. These people at the party aren't anything in particular, least of all Richard and Amanda."
My brandy glass was half-empty. "They are difficult to talk to," I admitted. "It's actually very hard to go on talking to people when you are painfully aware that they are bored and distracted and would rather talk to somebody else."
"I know the feeling. People don't understand me - it's much easier to just fade into the background."
It suddenly dawned on me that I didn't know this woman's name, so I told her mine. "My name is Harold. Please don't shorten it to Harry, because that's only really short for Henry and it annoys me."
"Fair enough. I'm Megan, and I used to be called 'Megs' when I was at school."
"I never had a nickname at school," I remarked. "I wasn't a popular boy."
"Me neither. I mean, no friends at all. What I meant was my mum called me 'Megs' when I was in school."
There was a considerable silence, during which time the man who had barged past Megan before returned to the kitchen and took an entire bottle of Malibu from the counter-top.
"The party must be becoming more animated," I said. For the first time, I noticed the kink in Megan's hair, making it curl under her left ear.
"It must be. Can I ask a personal question?"
I may have frowned. "Alright, I suppose."
"Does being a bore impede your success with woman? I don't know how you, er, operate..."
"Impede? It stops it dead in its tracks, I'm afraid. Yourself?"
Megan was laughing. "Sorry," she said. "I liked that analogy. I don't have much success with men, no. I think because I'm passionate about cacti and my favourite books and my little animation projects, they must assume that I won't be an, er, an attentive partner."
"People don't want to be with me," I added, "because I don't interest them at all. Which is worse. So off they go to look for a better model, regardless of my feelings. People are really very selfish."
"And you're not?" She poured me another brandy.
As I drank this second drink, my limbs began to loosen. "I just want what anybody wants," I replied with a smile. "Companionship and understanding."
"True," Megan said. "Although I'm not sure I believe in social interaction in large packs. Those girls and women who go everywhere in groups, even the toilet. That group may have nothing in common. It's strange, isn't it?"
"It is vaguely interesting," I supposed., pushing some stray hair off my face. The movement was long and smooth, as if I were a newly oiler robot. It was a wonderful feeling. "I don't see why two people can't just have a close friendship, or at least a mutual understanding. That makes more sense to me."
"Indeed. I'm rather drunk. Have you noticed the conversation's gaining some momentum?"
Nodding, I put my glass down on the counter-top. "I must be drunk too, because I'm feeling very much at ease in your presence - at a social gathering, which I would normally avoid like the plague. The only reason I came here was because Amanda insisted I come, probably out of pity."
"Richard invited my mother and I. She thinks I need to, quote, 'get out more', unquote."
"It would be simpler," I stated confidently, "to have a close friend to "stay in with", thus rendering "getting out " utterly redundant. Well, somewhat redundant, anyway. If one has a friend, one does not need to mingle with the others if one doesn't want to."
Megan tossed her hair behind her and swept a wavy tendril out of her eyes. "I agree. In fact, Harold, I think we should retire to the sanctuary of one of the other rooms, and refuse to be a part of this social gathering any more. I'm tired of listening to the same conversations fifty times from those people."
I looked at her for some time. "Aren't we both already hiding in the kitchen? If you, er, remembered my theories of social dynamics in relation to the rooms of the house, you'll recall that the kitchen is just the place for wallflowers and predatory bores."
"I know that," Megan said once I'd finished. I loved the way she didn't try to interrupt me. Everybody else always did. "But people keep intruding, and it's so loud in here. Upstairs, it'll be quiet and secluded, and we can take as much drink as we need with us."
"Um." I wondered if I understood the situation, and began to quickly calculate all possible implications. Then I said slowly, "Do you think that... that there will be anybody else up there?"
Megan was already picking up the glasses and bottles we'd been using. "Oh no, I don't think so. The party isn't THAT raucous." She smiled at me. "Yet."
Something like joy flooded into my head. Even though I was drunk, and my eyes were tired and my limbs were heavy, it was clear to me that here, at last, was a person who was prepared to be with me.
I followed her up the stairs, her brown hair waving out behind her. Megan and Harold. What an unlikely pair, they'd say... or at least they would, if anyone knew or cared.