LA MAISON DU DÉLICE
“Let me put you through, Mr Farmer.”
The receptionist transfers me to a PA. PA’s name is my name - with an e. Patrice.Seek Signs: I have to ask, is Patrice the love of my life? My soulmate? My alter-ego? Has this route just been to lead me to her? Mr and Mrs Patric and Patrice…
Patrice blows me off. That was Adelaide HQ, so I try LA, but am somehow rerouted to Patrice. Very frustrating. All I want is to speak directly to Sullivan Leitch so I can make my pitch.
“Strictly business,” I assure Patrice. “This is a matter of grave—”
“Look, Patric, N-O. Not happening. I don’t know what you did but what I can tell you is you are on Mr Leitch’s shitlist.”
“Shitlist? How can you be sure? It’s a metaphor, surely.”
“Wrong. It’s an actual list. I’m holding it in my hand, and, Patric Farmer, your name is at the top. Let me tell you one more thing. Once you’re on, you don’t come off. The shitlist is laminated. Good day.”
Patrice hangs up. How rude. She is definitely not my soulmate, I decide, as I plot my next move.
An airport is the perfect setting for reflection. Until boarding is announced, all one can do is wait. This is often the only time life affords me a pause. It’s where I collect my thoughts. Therefore, despite my hectic schedule, I always allow plenty time for flights. Fretful airport experiences are not worth it: one shouldn’t view an airport as a barrier - somewhere just to get through - but as a destination in itself.
Another reason I love airports: the people. From flight attendants to shop assistants, they attract a very specific type. Itinerants in service to itinerants. These are temporal spaces - where no one (and thus everyone) belongs.
We - the Business Class, Frequent Flyers, Rudolph Members - choose this life, it does not choose us. We are drawn to an existence in which connections and contact are fleeting, ‘Where are you going?’ the only constant.
What I’m saying is, airports refill the soul. Hence, I envy news stories of people trapped in diplomatic limbo, between flight and passport control, consigned to live in an airport.
I once missed a flight on purpose. Stretched on a massage chair in Schiphol, I was so immensely soothed at that moment I chose to sack off my flight. There’d be other planes but would I ever return to this state of grace?
Further airport praise: I have a deep kinship to their homogeneity. Theirs is an enclosed system that has to function effectively. There is something inherently sensible about these flattened environments. Efficient and international. With a coherent sense of connection and balance. All qualities I dare to hope Freerland will share. There could even be a Rudolph in Freerland? Imagine...
The one I now sit in bears the hallmarks of all Rudolphs: windowless, no screens of departure times, no announcements, nothing to signal time or place. There’s something they do in a Rudolph, with the design, aura and service, that creates a potent sense of privacy. Each member is ensconced in their own commuter-headspace. I can’t lie, each member present in this one looks tired and stressed. These are men and women with the weight of the world to carry - no doubt in the midst of choices that will make and lose fortunes and futures.
I’m seated at the bar. My foot taps, ostensibly to the beat of the music - a chillout mix that rolls along faintly in the background - but mostly, it taps with nervous energy. A waiter arrives with another G&T. I take a stabilising gulp as I contemplate what to do next...
A voice instructs me to reach out to My Better Half...The Other Life...What Could Have Been (And Might Still Be).
I attempt calculating the time difference before deciding to try my luck: thankfully, she picks up after a couple rings.
Her face appears on the phone. Familiar and beautiful.
“How’s la bella vita?”
“It was good. I’m in China now.”
“Weren’t you supposed to be getting away from business?”
“What can I tell you?”
“Let me guess. It’s big.”
This is a joke of mine: having bought them a home, next I will carve a game-and-entertainment centre from the underworld beneath. But, as my Mother frequently told me growing up, ‘many a true word said in jest’...so one day I will give her just that: a multi-floor basement with pools, cinemas, gyms, a recording studio, and, just to be on the safe side, a nuclear bunker...anything to prove my value.
“What’s going on in China?”
“A deal that could change all our lives.”
“What if I don’t want my life to change?”
“For the better, Jan.”
“Where are you now? It looks depressing.”
“It’s a Rudolph lounge. It isn’t depressing at all.”
“Are you coming home?”
“Probably not just yet.”
“You travel too much. You need to smell the roses.”
“And what about my rose? How are you, Jan?”
“Good, good. Listen, I’m glad you called. Do you know a...what was she called? TR-something?”
“That’s the one.”
There’s a name I don’t want to hear - especially coming out of Jan’s mouth.
“Pat? You there? Hello?”
“I’m here, I’m here.”
“Who is it?”
“A journalist. The one who wrote ‘The Playboy Dealer’.”
“Ah, yeah. I knew I knew her name from somewhere. Well, I got a voicemail from her. Said she wants to speak to me for an article—”
“Just say ‘no’! I forbid it!”
“Erm, you don’t forbid me from doing anything. I’ll speak to who I want to. ”
“That hack has damaged my good name.”
“Are you crying?”
“I dread the day that Dougie reads that sordid defamation.”
“Okay, stop crying. Jesus. I wasn’t going to do it. I’ve got way too much to do with my time than be talking to some posh bird about you.”
“Did she say what it was about?”
“The contemporary art landscape. That’s what she said. Evidently you must be a part of that landscape.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re not speaking to her. She’s nothing but trouble, that one. Trust me. You do well to steer clear.”
“Alright, granddad. Calm down.”
“I’m calm, I’m calm. I’m happy to see your face. Where are you?”
“For a gig. It’s festival season, numbnuts.”
Jan is the only person who calls me ‘numbnuts’ - hell, she’s the only person I know that still uses the expression ‘numbnuts’.
“How’s it going?”
“Another day, another dollar. It’s alright but I could use a holiday. Perhaps an Amalfi break of my own?
(It crosses my mind to say something along the lines of ‘how does a holiday in paradise for the rest of your life sound?’)
“I can’t wait to see Dougie again.”
“Do you want to speak to him?”
“He’s with you?”
“Where else is he going to be? You think I leave a kid home alone while I’m on the road?” (I assume she’d hire a child expert to look after him, but I don’t say this. Jan knows what she’s doing.) She shouts: “Dougie, do you want to speak to your dad?”
There is a pause. The video scatters around. I only catch a flash of Dougie’s face. He holds the phone right next to his mouth so that I never get a proper look at him. But I hear his growing voice: “Daddy?”
“Hello, my good boy. This is your father.”
“How do you do, young man?”
Listen to me. I become my own father, rigid and distant, when I speak to my son. Fortunately, Dougie stays upbeats and answers, “Good! When are you coming home?”
“Are you coming for my party I’m having?”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Silence. I rack my mind for something to talk to him about. Football? Music? Do boys his age read? I don’t find this easy. I want to speak with him, I want to hear his voice, but conversation between us never is fluent. Instead I find myself saying the most ludicrous things: “You be a good boy for your mother, my son. Well behaved and obedient, yes?”
We stammer on, but it’s downhill from there.
I’m sad after the call. I imagine Dougie and Jan. Their bond. I wish I had some of what that. Stability. Roots. Home.
Home. My thoughts keep returning there. But where? Where do I live? In the sunless netherworld of a Rudolph? From my barstool I watch the other members - my transient family - each alone, lit by the glow of their devices. They are all here, but not really. Really they are in transit, one connection in a chain of interchanges, links on the bridge of enlightenment, another stop on the journey to that place you can stop, tell yourself it’s over.
You have reached your destination.
Will I never not be planning the next flight, exhibition, party?
You need to smell the roses…
A single rose, left at my grave, from Jan perhaps.
Patric Farmer, he loved art
Jan and Dougie. And Patric? I am the most intermittent visitor in their lives. That is why the birthday picnic is so important. It will solidify things. Jan and I have been getting on better than ever. It is imperative I present us - the family unit - at the gathering to mark Dougie’s tenth.
It was before I had to go out to Belgium for you-know-what. Just a kiss. Nothing more. Who am I kidding? Our tongues brushed and it was charged with passion. Am I a dog? Do I love Jan? When I see her on stage, witness her command over the audience and hear her voice, I am humbled that I am even known to her.
My phone lights up. It’s a notification from Jenna: “Be good to catch up. Meet on Virxion?”
I root through my hand luggage to find the hardware. There it is, one of the most expensive and sought-after pieces of technology, tangled and scrunched up. I stretch it over my eyes. What next? Finger on the temple...and...yes, purple appears...the Princip. A banner reads: Virxion request from Jenna Freer.
Intuitively, I say, “Accept,” and the command is enough to make her image emerge, crumbly and stuttering at first, before it finds definition. She stands before me, blonde head, black uniform, over the flat purple.
“Pat, how goes? You close the deal with Sun?”
“‘Almost’ is a powerless word.”
“There are conditions.”
“His chief demand is that you use Chinese engineers to construct...correct me if I have this wrong...Babelia?”
“What the flip? There truly are no secrets. I am doing cartwheels. You want to throw some ball?”
A glowing red ball materialises in Jenna’s palm. She lobs it at me. It leaves a pixelated trail as it glides towards me. I catch the ball. I hold it in my hands. I can feel its weight. I throw the ball back to Jenna.
“What does he know?”
The ball comes back at me.
“That you’re building a tower from space to the earth’s core.”
Back to Jenna.
“Huh…” She passes it between her hands. “Babelia is the first stage in our phasing to vertical cities. It is a tower anchored on one end to sea stations and to satellite colonies at the other. It will be completely self-powering, using geo-thermal, hydro, wind, and solar energy. There will be stacked farming across the levels with crops for specific climates, from the icy layers in the thermosphere to the warm air above the Pacific.”
The ball comes back at me.
Back to Jenna.
“Impressive? Babelia will be a self-contained ecosystem, a building that powers and feeds itself. I consider that beyond impressive.”
Back at me.
“Well, Sun wants in.”
Back to Jenna.
“What makes him think I want him?”
Back at me.
“He claims you can’t do it without Chinese materials and expertise.”
Back to Jenna.
“Jeepers, I am flabbergasted.” She bounces the ball at her feet. “You know something, Pat. Every deal is a deal with the devil. And if this makes China friendly, then I say giddy up, because the proprietary information they have gotten their hands on is stage two of our futureplan. We are talking 40-year projections. If China can build the future today, then yee-haw.”
Jenna throws the ball high, it shoots up and explodes like a firework.
“Now, Sullivan Leitch. What is the status?”
“I’m trying to arrange a meeting.”
“Trying? How about achieving?”
“Sullivan and I have bad blood. Or rather he has for me. I have no opinion of his blood.”
“Pat, you are telling a loser’s tale. We have a saying at Virxion: try might will to succeed but will will win whatever.”
“It’s a bit complicated.”
“Switch the narrative, Patric. My narrative is not whether Sullivan Leitch will sell. That is written. The only question is whether or not you are the dealer. If the story ends here for you, I thank you for your service and will find someone who can finish the job. Perhaps this will encourage you.”
The Princip dissolves to blue, sea and sky.
“Here is a live feed from Freerland.”
A cluster of boats surround...oh my...the National Gallery. It has come along tremendously since I saw it last. It is very nearly a complete globe.
“I have seen the rising sun captured in its body. It glows, Patric. It glows like a second sun, a diamond on the sea.”
The sight is mesmeric and alien.
“Listen, Pat. In programming the answer always goes back to the source code. No matter how illogical or impossible it might seem, your solution will be there. The fix will be in the source. So let me ask again: what is the status of Sullivan Leitch?”
“I’m taking a flight to Adelaide for a face-to-face to seal the deal.”
“Yes you are. Australians respect men with balls, Patric. Show him your balls, or bollocks as you say in Britain. Virxion, out.”
Jenna is gone. The Princip returns.
It is truly the perfect purple. A shade that isn’t too dark, too light, too deep, too shallow. It makes for a soothing, ruminative dimension.
I picture Sullivan Leitch. The last time I saw him was two Serpentine Summer Parties ago. He chased me wielding a telescopic truncheon.
This isn’t going to be easy.
I take off the Virxion and wave to a member of the bar staff.
“I need to get to Adelaide. Can you help?”
“Certainly,” she says, brushing fingers over a tablet behind the bar. “The fastest route is a plane to Hangzhou, followed by a connection to Sydney, then on to Adelaide. The first connecting flight departs in 18 minutes.”
“Get me on it.”