Wednesday, April 4

Peacock

THE INVITATION that extended when drunk was still there in the morning. I thought sobriety would have chased it away but she stuck to her guns. The words of my grandmother rang in my ears. I ran about town doing chores for my mother and father and bought some tobacco, then I told her that I would come over—‘OK, I’ll be about three hours.’ She lived on the other side of the city.
My grandmother’s words—‘Sleep with women. Have one-night-stands. Be careful, but do it.’
A house on the way to the train station was in the middle of a children’s party. Balloons fidgeted in on their strings, screams, a child atop a slide peering over the garden fence. It was fancy dress; girls done up in fake silk dresses that puffed at their flush waists walked down the street with their mothers. A pub-stolen grinner at the door greeting every one and the housewife in the kitchen, shouting hello.
I bought twelve condoms and pondered over some of the other strange gels and tools that occupied the ‘family planning’ shelf in the pharmacy. Then I walked through the Saturday city. Without the workers it glittered. In the absence of those fair businessmen the City grew upwards and towered and could be seen from miles around, as if it were a lover descending the stairs, ready for a ball.
Tourists fought with the homeless for a good spot on the Bridge to have their photograph taken. The river swirled like Van Gogh and the sunlight was unrelieved upon its waters. Still, they fought—and the Towers swayed fractionally and the Belfast, resolute, stared back hard through eight-foot long turrets.
Only when I stood in the carpark did I begin to feel nervous. Until that point I had been satisfied and distracted to take in my surroundings. She drove in and nearly hit me with her car. She drove recklessly.
Her perfume was strong enough to trigger my allergies. We poured drinks—my hangover had just faded—and sat on her sofa. After we kissed once she said—‘Don’t suppose it’s worth me reapplying my lipstick again and again.’ ‘No,’ I told her. And there we were sat, side-by-side, watching the television set, talking and such, about last night, about ourselves. This is what people do, I supposed, they sit in front of television sets and they talk and they kiss and eventually they go to bed. Her perfume still tickled my nose. She inadvertently revealed to me throughout the course of the evening her emotional tenderness; a boyfriend of nine and a half years leaving her, without much reason, the week before Christmas, and the fa├žade that lingered on Boxing Day meals with the family. Differences between us came to my attention and then I focused upon them, dissecting them in detail. A very quiet road lay behind the open blinds and her Turkish neighbours busied themselves noisily—‘Newlyweds,’ she told me, ‘always with their family
round. You’d think they’d want some time to themselves, but they don’t.’ The house had been a project of hers and her partner. It was made up of strong colours and stronger contrasts and tobacco smoke from the kitchen penetrated all over. I told her the smell reminded me of my grandmother’s house and then regretted it.
This is Saturday Night. This is the Life that had so eluded me but is now here. Wine. Woman. Words and sentences that often politely assembled themselves in my mind fell away and I was just a well-mannered young man in a stranger’s home. She confessed that she did not like to be alone in the house anymore. Since he had left she made it her business to occupy herself every night, just to be away from the house. When I went to the toilet I whistled to myself. We smoked and she emptied the ashtray every time.
I ordered a pizza and more films were played. She struggled. This did not come naturally to her. I was, all things considered, an alien on her sofa. She played with my hands and I stroked the paper of her wrists while she made vague threats toward me that insinuated my doing so was seriously affecting her inhibitions.
When we finally went to bed I undressed before her. She grabbed me and pulled her underwear to the side and forced it in. I sweated out the booze and when she came I was relieved and feeling nearly dead. Her bed was very comfortable, like those in expensive hotels. Strong sunlight through the metal blinds woke me up. All emotions were prey to some hawk, hovering behind the lamp. I went to rape her in her sleep but she stirred and was wetly willing. I sweated out some more of the wine I had drunk and collapsed. There were no fireworks. This was something else. I knew that the campfire I had tended in the night had smouldered to nothing but I did not care. Snot had hardened in my nose so that as I tried to get some rest, she punched me and told me to stop snoring. ‘You snored,’ I informed her, but she was not interested.
I watched her spray on some perfume. She covered her neck in it, large patches that reflected the light, singed, then dried and could not be seen.
The rail replacement bus service took me through the southern suburbs of the city—which palely pronged on the skyline, never really appearing to get closer—and, with the first remarkable April day, I was awarded with wet eyes the observations of people coming and going, sitting on the Heath, picnics, joggers, children with fathers on the boating pond, pub lunches, salt & vinegar crisps; a city caught between trying to defend itself and finding a mate, like a flaring peacock. Adjacent to a very definite one o clock window, I rolled a cigarette for my returning walk through the City. There would be no waving palms. Football fans smothered the pubs and it was into them I vanished.

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