For a year, my older brother and I lived around the corner from each other in the 11th arrondissement. He was already a long-term resident; I was there because one day, at home in Dublin, I realised I could be, and if could, should. Most Friday nights we went down to the Bastille, bought two bottles of Veuve Clicquot from the same little store, and walked up the rue Saint-Antoine to a flat mysteriously owned by our friend Marcie, a beautiful South African woman who made a precarious living recording the English-language announcements for the Gare du Nord.
Friday nights at Marcie’s was the weekly ‘po’: a party for ten or fifteen people, depending on who was in town. Most of the action was in the sitting room overlooking the courtyard. It was a small room – like many Parisian apartments most of the flat was corridor – but big enough, just, to dance in, get high, dance some more. My brother adores a party. He takes parties personally. He has a gift for them. He will, as a general rule, be the first onto the table. He consumes like a Viking, or he used to. His appetites were one of the things I most admired about him. I wrote a bad poem once juxtaposing our characters, in which I was ‘the monkish younger brother’. This was something of a misrepresentation, as I was rarely more than a couple of drinks behind him and in my teens was a reckless and enthusiastic pill popper. By Paris I’d slowed down. Or perhaps it was simply that the role of roisterer was spoken for. Isn’t that how it goes? The parts cannot be duplicated. If one brother is practical the other must be fingers and thumbs. If one is quick the other must be slow. If one performs the other watches.
Whatever he took on board, however heroic the measures, I never knew him not to remain witty and good-tempered, though there were two or three times when I was aware of him having breached some border of the known self (known to him, known to me) becoming, in a way that was slightly unsettling, somebody else, less predictable. And while he was filling his glass or woofing powder up his nose I might be found in a cramped corner by the window having a conversation too serious for the occasion. If he spotted me he would sound my name like a hunting cry. I loved that because I never wanted to feel forgotten by him. I’d rouse myself, we would tap glasses, and I would feel the infectiousness of the pleasure he was getting from doing more or less exactly what he had done the Friday before. We would, for a while, resume our old double act, talk nonsense to each other, cod Elizabethan, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. I might, in this new mood, start to dance. I might, if he reached down a hand, climb onto the table with him.
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