I'm Having a Party

Chapter 1

"Hey, Howard, are you coming up on the roof?" Vince said, tapping Howard on the arm.

"No, Vince, not now." Howard turned around to continue doing a stocktake, or at least pretended to.

"I feel a new song coming on," Vince said, rubbing his hands together and jigging about. "I was gonna go up there to get some inspiration from the moon."

Outside, The Moon turned his white creamy face around. "I don't know nuffin'. Less you wanna know what Jupiter's been up to." His eyes darted about. "Can't tell you actually. It's disgustin'. I'm The Moon!" With a creak he turned his back.

"What's up with you, Howard? You usually love getting up on the roof. What did you say about it? It's like being in heaven without having to turn into a ghost first."

Howard looked thoughtful. "I did say that. But no, Vince, I will never again set foot upon its gloomy tiles. Not now that it holds so many bad memories for me."

"Oh don't be like this, Howard," Vince said. "Bad memories?" He scoffed.

"Yes, Vince, bad memories. Bad memories you know very well, sir!"

"Oh no, this isn't still about the-"

"Don't say it." Howard looked away dramatically and covered his face.

"Oh, you're not still going on about that are you?"

"I am a sensitive soul. Maybe a simple fool like you could easily stop thinking about it, but not I, sir."

"Yeah, 'course I could. I'd just start thinking about Gary Numan. Or have a look at my hair in this mirror," Vince said, drawing a hand mirror out of his pocket and admiring himself in it. "Look at it, it's genius!"

"That's your problem, Vince, isn't it? You can't take anything seriously. You're like a marshmallow unicycle."

Vince laughed. "Yeah," he said. "Look, Howard, it was only a joke. You need to get yourself a sense of humour. Get Leroy to get you one next time he goes down the Cash and Carry. He'll get you a good deal. Cash and Carry…"

Howard could never resist a good crimp, and joined in and bobbed from side to side with Vince.

"Cash and Carry," they sang together. "Carry your cash in a great big satchel. Get your rice in a great big sack. Naan bread. Naan bread by the kilo. Toilet paper. Kitchen paper. Wallpaper. Yeah!"

Howard sighed. "You just don't get it, Vince," he said as he walked off.

"Howard, where you going?" Vince said, going after him.

"To be alone with my thoughts. Must you follow me around like some kind of psychedelic hound dog?"

Vince laughed. "Psychedelic hound. Genius! I'm putting that down on my list of song titles. Hey, Howard, where you going? The roof?"

Howard turned around. "Yes I'm going to the- no, I'm going somewhere else actually."

"Whatever," Vince said as Howard left the shop with a jingle of the bell on the door.

Before he went out on the roof, Vince had to re-do his hair. It had been a while since he backcombed it and it was getting a little flat.

Two hours later, he wandered into the living room. Naboo had his feet propped up in his curly slippers and was watching Eastenders.

"Hey, Naboo, you seen Howard?"

Naboo looked up. "Not recently. But he does tend to blend into the background."

Vince pushed up a bit of hair that seemed to be falling down. Not opening that second can of hairspray had been a mistake. "It's just that he said he was going somewhere, and I thought it would be here. Where else would he go?"

Bollo lumbered in with a can of Pringles. "Howard? I seen him 'round by the bins."

"Oh no. What's he doing round there?"

Bollo shook his head. "Oh, you don't wanna know."

"I think I do!" Vince said, heading to look out of the window that faced the back of the building. He saw Howard out there, standing by the bins. He looked like he was talking to someone, but there was no-one else there. Vince laughed to himself. Now Howard was pacing about and waving his arms around. Vince shook his head. What was he doing? Now he was crouching down with his head in his hands. He opened the window and was about to ask him what he was up to, but then he heard Howard weeping loudly. He shut the window.

Vince didn't feel like going up on the roof any more. He was no longer in the mood to write lyrics. Somehow it didn't seem like it would be much fun without Howard anyway.

The next day, during a quiet period in the shop, Howard was kneeling down by Stationery Village. "-so you see my predicament," he said mournfully, after he had finished telling them his sad tale. "If any of you might have a bit of advice for me, I'd be awfully grateful."

One of the pencils rolled over to look at him, grunting with the effort. "Oi, mate, shut up. We're tryna have a kip over here."

Howard sighed. "Sorry."

"Hey, Howard, what are you doing? You're scaring the customers."

Howard looked around at what seemed to be an empty shop except for them. "What customers?"

Suddenly three people emerged from the walls. Their psychedelic outfits had made them blend into the wallpaper and the rainbow spectrum of goods on what had become Vince's side of the shop. Howard watched them bound over to Vince with armfuls of items to purchase. They chatted animatedly about trivial things. He couldn't tell if any of the customers were male or female, but Vince and his crowd didn't seem to worry about the distinction.

"Hey, Howard, watch the shop for a bit, will you?" Vince said. His circle of doppelgangers had taken him by the arms and were leading him off.

"But Vince, what if we get a rush on?"

Vince laughed. "As if that's gonna happen. You ain't suddenly gonna have eighteen people all wanting muffin coloured elbow patches."

Howard looked affronted. "We might."

"Well, I'm sure you can handle it. Something big's happenin' down Camden, can't miss this."

"And you didn't think to invite me?"

"They wouldn't let you in dressed like that, mate," one of Vince's friends said.

"Nah, the fashion police'd be right on you, throw you in fashion prison," Vince agreed.

"No defence will get you outta there," said another of his friends.

"It's nice that you hang out with your Dad, Vince," said a third. "Even if he is a bit weird."

"I'm not his Dad!" Howard said, as the door banged and jingled behind the laughing group. "Weird? Who are you to call me weird?" He sighed and turned back to Stationery Village. "Do I really look like someone's Dad?"

All he heard was exaggerated snoring from Stationary Village. He leaned on the counter, and waited for some more customers. Just one person looking for elbow patches in any of his range of colours might be enough to cheer him up a bit.

Hours went by, and only one person came into the shop, but they had mistaken it for a fancy dress shop, so Howard spent ten minutes explaining in detail how to reach the nearest one, until the lady got tired of him talking and left.

It was only afterwards that he realised that he had missed a potential sale there. He could have sold her some of Vince's ridiculous clothes. He hadn't thought about it at the time, because Vince didn't really consider them fancy dress outfits. Vince didn't do fancy dress. Or if you looked at it another way, he did it every day. Howard had shot a few sneaky glances at him today, systematically working down from the top of his mullet to the heels of his silver iridescent winkle pickers. His outfit, while ridiculous, nicely accentuated his figure and showed off his personality.

"Oh, Vince, why did you have to turn a light on in my heart only to walk out of the room?" Howard said to no-one in particular.

"Shut uppppp," hissed somebody from Stationery Village.

An idea was forming in Howard's mind. He glanced at the door. Did he dare? Some people walked past the shop window but didn't come in. He hesitated, but then hurried over to the rack of clothes before his bravery left him.

He caught a glance of himself in the full length mirror surrounded by the hippest icons from the 60s through 80s, for inspiration. He was currently wearing a beige polo neck under a dashing tweed jacket with elbow patches in a daring muted gunmetal, paired with a pair of smart nutmeg khakis and brown shoes that were polished but not so much it made them showy.

He took off his brown fedora and turned to the rack of clothing. The colours and styles looked almost normal on Vince, but would he be able to find something he could reasonably wear? He pulled out a mirror ball suit. Definitely not that one.

Vince returned much later, wearing a massive smile. "Hey, Howard, you'll never guess what happened! Why are you hiding behind the counter? Look, I brought you a Twix! I got a bit hungry on the bus home so I ate one of them."

"Thanks," Howard said. The first thing Vince noticed was the silver sparkly eyeshadow he had applied inexpertly. The next was the studded fingerless glove on the hand that reached out for the Twix.

"Howard, have you done something to your hair? You've been borrowing my straighteners, haven't you?"

"No," Howard said, flattening his hair down self-consciously.

Vince grinned. "Yeah you have. That's definitely a Nicky Clarke burn on your ear. You've been having a little dress up while I've been away, haven't you?"

Howard picked up the open Twix and took a bite of it. He had been so absorbed in trying out a new look he had forgot to eat lunch. He stepped out from behind the counter. He had found a beige PVC all in one suit that Vince noticed was very tight in certain places. Underneath he was wearing an extravagant red shirt with a pointy collar, and completed the look with brown cowboy boots.

"What do you reckon?" he asked, looking nervous.

Vince picked up the rest of the Twix and munched on it while he took a minute to fully take in his friend's outfit. "What are you meant to be, Howard?"

"What do you mean? This is just a regular old Howard Moon outfit, yes indeed, sir."

"I mean, points for trying, but I don't think it's really working for you, is it?" Vince walked around him and saw that the suit was even more ill-fitting in the back. He picked up a piece of Howard's hair. "This is the most limp I've seen your hair. Don't think straighteners are for you, mate. Need to make the most of that little bit of a wave you've got going on. Did you even try the root boost?"

"I didn't have the right protective equipment to use that," Howard said, shifting about from foot to foot. "I'm gonna have to take these shoes off, they really hurt. How do you manage to wear completely triangular shoes?"

"File me feet down, don't I? All the mods do it."

Vince noticed that Howard looked really dejected when he sat down to struggle out of the cowboy boots. He searched for something to say to try to cheer him up.

"What happened to that girl you liked? What was her name?"

"Oh, I never asked her. Wait, she's your mate, you should know."

Vince shrugged. "Dunno, think her Dad's some musician. What happened with her then? I thought you really liked her."

"Oh. It didn't work out."

"She chucked you, didn't she?"

"We didn't have that connection anyway," Howard said, taking off the fingerless gloves.

"What connection? What are you on about?" Vince said, laughing.

"You know, the one where you know this person is your destiny, that you're fated to be together for eternity." Howard clutched his hands to his chest and the PVC squeaked.

"You're not right."

"Just because you have the emotional depth of a half rotten satsuma! You wouldn't recognise true love if it'd be staring you in the face for ten years."

"I think I would. It'd be a bit creepy though, hovering there all in my periphery the whole time."

There was a long silence.

"Vince?"

"Yeah Howard?"

"Can you help me up? I can't bend in this thing."

Vince laughed and covered his face. Howard held his arms out, and Vince went and helped him to his feet.

"How're you gonna get out of it?"

"Oh, I already checked, there's some butter in the fridge."

Vince made a face as Howard squeaked off upstairs. There was no doubt about it, Howard was going wrong in a bad way. Part of him just wanted to watch it happen and have a laugh. But another part of him wanted to do something to cheer his mate up. He had no idea what. That, he was going to need some help with.