Art Pact 238 - Coming to New York

We'd dropped all pretence at friendship and fellow feeling by the time the boat reached New York. While the others all cheered and waved at Liberty Island and the great slowly greening statue that adorned it we sat sourly in our stateroom and pretended that we were still in the middle of the Atlantic - partly to avoid the realisation that the denouement to our journey was rapidly nearing (and with it any chance of reconciliation), and partly (I think) because it gave us the opportunity to ponder favourably on the idea of hacking each other to death with axes and toppling our body over the side for the sharks to eat, out in international waters where the evidence of our crime would never be detected. At least, that is what I thought, and if I know anything about Chivers it is that he thinks along similar lines as me when it comes to homicide.

The stateroom, which on boarding had seemed so luxuriously large as to present us with almost an overabundance of riches when it came to personal space, now seemed to be far too small for two people to inhabit - even two people of good sentiment towards each other - even, dare I say it, two people on intimate physical terms. The hallway that led from the stateroom door into the day lounge was of necessity not as wide as it might have been, and should one chance to pass from the lounge into the bathroom and discover the other emerging hence having completed his ablutions, there was little passing room to allow manoeuvres that did not cause an uncomfortable closeness of person. I did not mind being pressed somewhat against Chivers' rotund belly, of course - such squeamishness is for imbeciles and bible-thumpers - but to have to look at his face and consider the rapidity with which we had travelled the ordinarily long path from allegiance to hatred (and we had not even the excuse of the short-cut available to married couples), that was both awkward and painful, and it was not clear whether it was the awkwardness or the pain that was the worst of those two emotions.

It is hard to say whether the enforced confinement was the sole cause of our discontent, but it is clear that it acted at the very least as an accelerant to the decay in our relationship. The great liner itself would have been too small a place to share with someone whom one also shared such a terrible secret, but to see them every waking hour was more than any mortal man could bare, of course. I knew that I had done an awful thing - clearly I would no more have travelled to the uncultured colonies had I not been forced to than I would have spent the Christmas fortnight with my aunt and her horrific brood - but I, like most people of some intelligence, had the mental fortitude necessary to put the whole episode in a locked box within my mind, quarantining it from active thought so that I could go about my day without the slightest twinge of guilt or regret, rendering me fit to travel among the great mass of non-murderers and non-thieves with which I coinhabited the Earth.

Chivers, though, stood as a constant walking and talking reminder of what I had done. I might sleep well for the last few hours of each night, but on emerging from my slumber and making my way into the day lounge to sup on the breakfast our cabin steward had laid out for us, I was instantly brought back to the truth of my circumstances by the sight of his hairy visage sat across from me at the dining table. I could see, too, that he was thinking similar thoughts as he saw me - a peculiar slump in his frame, a downturn at the corners of his tight-pressed lips, a blink of the eyes and a tweak of the crow's feet that emerged from each of them, all these served as notes of his displeasure at my appearance, and so to me were a sort of dark (and particularly ugly) mirror into which I stared every morning, a constant reminder of the moral decay into which I had jumped with both feet. I felt not unlike a type of modern Dorian Gray, but one so enamoured of the louche lifestyle and the traces it had left that he proudly displayed the painting chronicling his dissolution above the mantelpiece, glancing up at it each morning as the proud master of a country house might look up at an oil-painting of the long-dead patrician of the family. More than once I dreamt of taking a knife to Chiver's face only to find that it tore like hemp canvas or shattered into a thousand stinging shards rather than simply gushing forth the expected crimson.

So it was, then, that we came to be there in the stateroom, each bitterly watching the other out of the corner of his eye while pretending to be disinterested, each also ignoring the great cries of jubilation from the decks outside (below us, of course, for our stateroom opened onto its own private balcony), and the majestic form of the French bequest as it gracefully slid past the portholes. The Atlantic ocean is only so wide, however, and the same can be said with even more truth about Hudson river, and it was clear that we would be putting in to our dock in downtown Jersey city in no more than ten minutes. Even allowing for a certain amount of bureaucracy- and seamanship-related business, we would be able - perhaps even compelled - to disembark the ship within the hour. There was sadly little time left to repair the rift between us, but at the same time there was blessed little time until we could be shot of each other forever.

"Here we are, then," I said to Chivers, those two possibilities warring in my breast.

"Here we are indeed," he said gravely.


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