There were lots of people at the party. It was to celebrate a man’s 60th birthday, held in a restaurant on a waterfront. Outside, a balcony levitated over the smooth black river.
The man was a work colleague I didn’t know well. The only person I knew well there was my son, three years old.
The man gave a speech, thanking people for coming. My son led me out onto the balcony. We saw the river moving fast below us. A young man came out to the balcony to smoke. His friend came too. ‘To make sure you don’t jump’, the second man said to the first, with a nervous laugh.
Evening was coming in from upriver. A pleasure cruiser glided past, customers sitting in rows on the top deck. I picked up my son. I thought I would try to make them wave at us. ‘Wave,’ I said to my son, and he did. We stood there waving at the stone-faced people. After a while, a man waved back. Then others waved, one after another, embarrassed. I wanted the woman in the stern, stiff as a mannikin, to wave, so I kept on and my son kept on until she too lifted her hand, desultorily.
My son said: ‘I think there might be sarks in that river.’
‘Socks?’ I said.
‘Sarks,’ he repeated carefully, frowning.
‘Sharks,’ I said. We both looked at the river, and maybe he was right. Willows swayed hopelessly in the current and all the reflections cracked up.
We went back inside. The speech had ended. I sat in a ladderback chair across the table from a comfortably plump and smiling middle-aged woman.
‘Aren’t you scared?’ I asked. ‘Don’t you know we might as well be on the deck of the Titanic with the band playing?’
‘So dance,’ she said.
The man whose party it was paid the restaurant owner hundreds of pounds in ten and twenty pound notes. I said goodbye and left with my son. The night was bitingly cold. Constellations broke apart in a sky black enough to drown in.