Saturday, October 02, 2004

Ububele, Kew

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Service: * * *
Food: * * * * *
Ambience: * * *
Babe Count: * * * *

Lionel Abrahams, my friend and mentor, the way I loved him best. Smiling devilishly.Karen and I are at a do in honour of Lionel Abrahams. He was my friend and writing mentor, and he died recently. I didn't go to his funeral, cos I don't do funerals. In fact, I don't want anyone I know to have a funeral for me if I should die. Let it be known that I want my body donated to medical science. NO FUNERALS, okay?

Anyway, this event is quite interesting. I know about half of the people in the room. Most of them I know because we spent time together in Lionel's Monday writing workshop. I was a stalwart there. Went for about ten years. Wrote the first draft of my novel there.

And yes. I made it! The redraft is complete, and is sitting with Jacana, along with 97 other novels. I pity the pooooooor judges! When I was very actively running Barefoot Press, my poetry publishing company, I grew allergic to poetry submissions. If a single page of poetry could send me into tremours, I shudder to think how 98 novels must make an editor feel. Oh man. The horror!

But mine's a clean 70 300 words. And it feels like a weight off my mind. Which is definitely contributing to my feeling that the depression might be lifting. (Still lots of physical fatigue, but my mood's shifting.)

Molly Seftel might have something to do with my mood lifting though. She's standing at the microphone and she's reading extracts from Lionel's last novel... THE WHITE LIFE OF FELIX GREENSPAN. I was one of his preliminary readers, so I'm very familiar with the book. I read it from cover to cover twice, making extensive notes for Lionel. I own two copies of the book.

Molly Seftel is reading. And reading. And reading. She's a very good dramatist, so she's injecting lots of animation into the text. But she's going on a bit.

Jane Fox, Lionel's widow, asked people attending the dinner to prepare a very short piece in tribute to Lionel.

Behind the podium, there's a giant photo of the lovely man. Lionel's two pairs of glasses are below the picture, along with the stick he used to press keys on his computer keyboard. He was severely spastic, and could only type one letter every two or three seconds. I helped him put his glasses on hundreds of times in the fifteen years I knew him.

So it's strange to me that as Molly Seftel reads yet another extract, I'm pressing me hands to my eyes to hold back the tears. Except they're not tears of sorrow. I'm desperately trying not to piss myself laughing. And Karen isn't helping either. She's also sitting gouging her fingers into her eyes, and if I look to the side, I can see her body shaking, which sets me going. Our faces are both wet, and we're making those little desperate moaning grunts that people make when the laugh almost escapes.

Molly says, "And now, just another passage. This one about Felix's politics." (Felix is a character Lionel created as a thinly disguised version of himself.) "I'm ALLOWED to!" she says. "I was Lionel's BEST FRIEND!" And off she goes. More reading.

Nadine Gordimer. She was the chair of COSAW, the Congress of South Africa Writers many years ago, when I was a member.Every now and again, I get my mirth under control. But then Molly starts reading ANOTHER extract from the book, and I look around, and I see yet another person falling asleep. Nadine Gordimer is sitting pertly at the table in front of me. She's paying polite attention, but I can see her head drooping.

And then I look at Erich Viedge. He and I met at Lionel's workshop, and we've been great friends ever since. His head is in his hands, and he's looking desperate. Bulging eyes. Despair. When will this woman stop reading???? And I almost lose it completely looking at him. And Karen looks up to look at what I'm looking at. And sees Erich's face. And very nearly loses it completely too, and she's making terrific little gagging noises, and I call on all of my powers of concentration to prevent a wail escaping my own lips. And then, thank Lionel's mischievous soul, Molly shuts the fuck up.

The applause is strained. I look around. And I judge that I'll be second at the mic. I'll set the tone for people to follow.

"Hi," I say, "my name's Roy Blumenthal." Inexplicably, people applaud, loudly. This is weird, cos while half of them know me personally, I'm not THAT applaudable. When it dies down, I say, "I've just finished the redraft of my novel, and I'd like to read the entire thing. But unfortunately, I've left it at home."

Applause. Then Jane says, "Less than five minutes, Roy!"

I say, "Much less than five minutes. I want to say thanks to Lionel for something in particular, something people find low and crude in me, but which Lionel loved. Lionel was a punster. And if he could love puns, so can I. He was a surrogate father to me in many ways, and I loved him. And you too Jane."

"Thanks, Roy," says Jane.

"And here's a very short poem," I say. "It's exactly eleven words long, so I'll say it twice."

I recite my poem:

I touch your photograph
too often
for my heart to heal.

The applause is long and satisfying. And Nadine Gordimer nods meaningfully at me. Which is good. Cos she's one of the judges in the Jacana novel competition.

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