Sunday, January 22

The Sale of The Century in Cambridge

THE DUVET, for all its faults, had been pushed to the side of the bed; the side with the wooden grate that filtered sunlight through to the adjacent sink that was stained brown around the taps and soap-dish.
She knelt next to me as I lay on my belly. I had on just my underwear.
She wore some shorts and a t-shirt. When she knelt next to me I could see that she had good knees; hairless, soft and, in her position, perfectly unmarked.
Big 70’s curtains hung down over the other side of the room. They had been pulled apart slightly and never rejoined, revealing, in their sliver, Cambridge on a Sunday morning.
She began working her hands over my ankles. I agreed with the decision she had apparently made in her head not to go near my feet. It was very wise. If she had touched them, I would have leapt up and that would have spoiled the whole episode. She worked on my ankles and then upwards to my calves. As a child I had been complimented on my calves, more accurately their shapeliness, as if one day I might be a professional footballer. Since then it was most likely they had grown a little flaccid; I never really checked up on them.
Her knees pointed at my eyes.
She chuckled as she massaged me.
All night I had laid there, in that spot—perhaps slightly to the side—and listened to the other students run down the halls in their drunken gaiety. I should have tried to savour those times more, for only after she was no longer in my life did the day and our occupation within it gain any lasting fondness in my mind.
But for now, at that moment, I enjoyed her hands, her knees that faced me, and her little chuckles. She had perfect teeth. Her teeth were so perfect that they frustrated me. They were an advertisement for good teeth. Her breasts, however, were larger than her frame cared to acknowledge and they hung there as she bent over, in the thin cotton of her top, and swung during her more vigorous movements.
The room was larger than anything I had experienced at university—although this was Cambridge—and I was particularly fond of the writing desk, which was large, dark and inscribed with various mistakes, forceful notations and the odd eulogy to a former inhabitant. Spread across it, in a fashion that suggested haste, were piles of her work, notebooks, course reading, and my own personal journal, which, unknown to me at that moment, had been severely vandalised.
Her fingers were creeping from my knees on to my thighs.
I moved my arms aside so that she had better access to my thighs.
“You should buy that Flaming Lips album,” she told me.
I drew my attention away from her knees and fixed upon her face. She was not looking at me but at my legs.
The day before we had wandered around the town and she had pointed to an album, saying—“You should get that.” And because I did not buy it she became offended. I should have bought it. So she was above me now, thinking of how I did not buy the album she told me to. And after she had told me to buy the album, and I had not, we were caught on the cameras of tourists, then printing grassy patterns into our shorts and it was all very summery and marvellous. Sometimes you will have done things with someone that are unremarkable to everyone else but because of who you were and who they were, the things you did become things that you won’t find again in your life and then you have to move on, remembering always that they happened and that is that.
So she was above me massaging my thighs and I continued to look at her knees.
Only a clumsy childhood—where one’s knees are scraped over and over, forming thick scabs that curl and flake—will produce a person capable of loving another’s knees. Those blunt hinges. She had good knees. They were unmarked. They were pointed right at me.
The slight gap underneath the door let in the echoes from outside, from the other students. This is Cambridge, I thought, and I supposed it were magical because as a child I had wanted very much to study at Cambridge. At twenty I was settling for occupying one of its many beds.
I sensed that she had not given a leg massage before, not because of the quality of it but because of the way she observed her hands giving it—as if they were not of her own.
Now that she was above my knees I began to be aroused but it was hidden by me being on my belly.
We sat on the grassed areas outside one of the old yellow university buildings. They was yellow with age, but had not started out yellow. There was running water nearby, other students, green grass that had been nourished by July, warm, bright and wet. We just sat down there and talked. She made me feel comfortable at times, and at other times I felt like a child being led amongst the day by his mother, as she showed me around and I was tuned-out to many things except her and the fine details of the city. For instance, what business was it of mine how the trees lined up down the avenue and then vanished when we got toward the centre of town? At that point she led me down a sunny side street and the backs of her knees where whiter than the knuckles of an iceberg.
If only every one could understand the knees of their girl or boy as I understood hers. They were coated in the perspiration that arrived in the night. Then I topped them up in the morning when I intruded her with my fingers. She was rigid and asked me to stop but I didn’t. I could not.
I did not really think that she wanted me to stop. She told me to stop but I did not listen.
After that, while I was dozing, she went and vandalised my journal.
At that time of the morning the halls were quiet. There was the odd sound of someone moving out or going for a walk but other than that there was silence.
I flitted between sleep and awake and saw her at the desk, writing away. I did not care what she was writing about but I wanted to see it when it was finished.
After she had finished writing and when I was finally awake, that is when I massaged her legs for her. I could not see her stubble although I could feel it. After that, she massaged me and that is when I saw her knees.
She worked on my thighs, one at a time, and it felt lovely. I could have drifted back into sleep. She got to my bottom and massaged that, underneath my underwear. The room was cool and the minutes passed. She massaged my bottom and my hips.
Then she did something I had not expected. Perhaps it was payback for earlier, I do not know. It is trivial. In one quick and accurate movement she scooped her hand underneath me and grabbed my erection with such fervour that I shuddered all the way down my spine and convulsed. She lingered, applying pressure with her fingers, and then she let go.
I did not want her to continue. There was no need. This was an act of possession, a claim to my genitals. This was a dog pissing on a lamppost. This was an astronaut driving his country’s flag into the lunar surface.
I smiled and panted.
An hour later we sat on a bench waiting for the next southbound train. Why is it that I did not think of what had happened then, but think of it now, many years later? Perhaps that was the first time I realised that when we are in bed with someone we are often forced to give something of ourselves away. Sometimes it is bad, and sometimes it is good. Very often it does not return. We just move along, I suppose, bargaining when we can and hoping for a good deal.
Either way, it was fine to be in Cambridge that morning. And now that I’ve told that story, I can forget about it and move on.

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