Monday, July 16

Let It Die

SHE MADE ME promise not to write about her but, in light of events, what do I care about one broken promise? We bonded over writing and fell in love over six years ago; a love that we invented all by ourselves.
When I rounded St Paul’s I saw her coming off the Millennium Bridge; not sure it was her, but doubling back and seeing that it was. We said hello next to the road that she had meant to cross until I stopped her. A lot of Christians were sweeping rainwater off of the cathedral steps; still it rained; still they swept; water sheeting from step down to step down to street. A hangover lingered in my bones and I noticed that, as we walked and talked, it was as if I were drunk again without having returned to a pint glass. We did a long circuit in the intermittent rain, the cold winds and the un-summery weather. Bars burst their doors and spilled bankers into the street. We found an old pub at the bottom of London Wall and went in. She told me she had already been drinking, to celebrate the end of a weeklong assignment at the air show.
It was strange for two people who have not seen each other in a long time – and a time during which one’s life changes remarkably – to settle down so quickly. She gesticulated excitedly as she talked with her American inflections. There were mostly men in the bar. Her teeth were perfect. I began to recall why I fell for her in the first place.
We were idealistic in oh-six. We were less dented by the asteroids of life. I didn’t know what to do with myself back then and she came along and I didn’t know how to deal with the effect she had on me. We wrote together and, as we grew, she left it behind. She is a journalist now – ‘I haven’t written creatively, for myself, in a long, long time.’ How painful it was for me to hear those words! I felt as if she had been forced to leave a part of her youth in a lay-by while she carried on her way. At that moment I felt childish because I cannot stop writing for myself, as I try to make sense of a great many things – and now I sit here doing just that, still without sense.
In six years she had got herself a decent job, her own place, and a boyfriend, whom she mentioned in the same breath as marriage. I live with my parents, have a job I am exhausted with, and write saccharine prose about all of the things that play on my mind. I was in awe, inferior.
At times I thought that she was flirting with me. If she was, she did it masterfully because rather than feeling uncomfortable – as I usually do – I was relaxed and enjoying myself. Really, I was full of laughter and time was singing along with the surrender of day into night. In fact my disposition in her company was the greatest compliment to her that I could determine; even after our hiatus I was not nervous or anxious; I simply was; so few young women arrest me into that state. Still, through all of this, I told myself that she had a boyfriend.
We left the pub and travelled east. All those streets I have walked down a hundred times, but with her the pavements were new and the buildings had just been built. So inviting were those roads that I lead her through diversions and long-cuts and unnecessary extensions until we got to the market where we could find something to eat.
She ate with the same awkwardness she possessed when she was eighteen; her hands clutching the cutlery uncomfortably; before, it had irritated me but now it was endearing; the bloom that earlier she appeared to have discarded reappeared in her table etiquette. She filled me with laughter then discussed sex as she forked out my order on to her plate – ‘The crazy guys fuck best, but they’re crazy.’ Such an admission was tainted with both experience and sadness, on both sides of the table.
Her arms stretched out and I wanted to take hold of her hands; that she had a boyfriend became less important.
We went to another pub. It started to rain and we took cover in a small empty room where a man promptly turned around and informed us – ‘This is a private party.’ It didn’t seem like a party at all. We made our exit, but not without anger. The rain fell.
As we drank she moved even closer to me. I am always too timid to get too close to anyone but she, flirtatiously or not, made no bones about rubbing against me. She illuminated the wide parts of my body with her touch. All evening she had, subject to temperature, undressed and redressed herself of her scarf, jacket and cardigan. Now she was fully clad as we walked along the street to another bar.
I had been drinking but I could not get drunk.
Rain lay on the street. Trios, quartets and quintets of revelers made their way about; different stages of inebriation; some seeking a fight, others love, most relief. Bars, traffic lights, streetlamps, kebab shops and a petrol station lit up horizontal lines before our eyes. The only doorways worth entering were guarded by a man who stood on a step and looked down at you over a jawbone. Irrelevant and hedonistic music pumped out. It tilted, shifted within the walls. For a moment, just then, as I got to the bar to order another drink, I felt like I was the person Life had always wanted me to be, as if I’d finally got the hint and was reading the instruction manual, like if you weren’t falling in love with someone or something then you were wasting your time.
Her eyes were black, so I told her that her eyes were black. She made out to take some offence from that. She shouldn’t have; blue and brown are so common; even green made it on to a politics TV show the other day. Black irises overwhelm anyone who knows how inundating eye contact is. I had no issue with staring straight into them, whereas otherwise I would be avoidant. She shot them straight back at me. There we stayed, adjoined a few millimeters beneath our eyebrows. Musical pulses pumped through the room. The spirits and liquors were gold and silver, fooling you into thinking they’d been discovered in some royal tomb and brought there for our pleasure.
She must be drunk, I thought, because she did not allow distance between us. I sensed perhaps a conflict in her; she had a man at home and maybe she was feeling the same way as I, though better equipped to handle it. She had more to lose. Me? I had nothing.
We sat in the bar and I felt like nowt was going on around me.
She was cigarettes and coffee.
She was eating cherries in the sun.
She was Mahler in the midnight hour.
She laughed at the men dancing, commending them, moving her arms in time and then putting them by mine.
Slowly the bar emptied.
I took her hand and told her I wanted to kiss her but she would have none of it. How I wanted to kiss her! She would not have it. She unlocked her fingers from mine but close they remained, though not laced together. So I took them again – not convinced by her effort – a few moments together and removed again. So it continued; each time the moments together stretched. Our heads rested and I smelled her hair – ‘You smell almost exactly the same as you did six years ago.’
I had to leave so we started to walk back. It was almost midnight. Fine drizzle was falling. Through the arches of a big block of offices we walked and she took my hand, freed it, then took it again. ‘Don’t tell my boyfriend.’ She was fooling with me. I did not care. I used to feel sorry for those half-dead mice that my friend’s cat played with on the kitchen floor; the mouse making it a few inches and then getting snapped back; weaker and weaker with every pounce; small bones cracking.
I pointed her in the direction of her train and told her to get the westbound Central. We embraced as crowds of people escaped the ticket-gates and ran to their home counties.
I wish I had cherished that hug more than I had.
A lot of the other people in the carriage with me were passed out, or talking loudly; some were even running up and down the length of it, just to burn off some energy. I looked at the whirring black past the window in the beyond outside. I thought the love I had for her died but it had only burrowed itself underground and waited until Friday the thirteenth of July two-thousand-and-eleven to emerge. Apparently it had cocooned down there so that when it showed its face again it would be stronger and more brilliant. I had not prepared for it; otherwise I would have started taking multivitamins, going for a jog in the mornings before work, and stopped listening to Leonard Cohen. I could not separate her from my thoughts.
The next day I got out of bed early so that I could, as we’d planned, meet in London.
As I was getting into the shower she sent me a text telling me that she didn’t want to see me, because of the man who was waiting at home for her. And that was that.
I went into town and sat outside the cafĂ© in the rain. All the other customers left but I felt a great relief just sitting there, rolling cigarette after cigarette, watching the wind carry away the steam from my coffee. My body was there, cold and shaking, but my thoughts were on her. I am my best when I’m infatuated, chasing after a lover. There is no complacency, no boredom, no happiness. I feel as alive as I ever will. But until I get my way, it’s just longing and it’s not worth a thing. The saddest sight – that catches you unaware on a rainy Saturday afternoon – is that of two lovers under an umbrella looking at rings in the window of an illumined jewelers; the most pathetic is that of a tacky mural on the wall of a fast food restaurant where I eat by myself.
So help me: I knew that I was damned. I knew that though I thought of her she did not think of me. That’s the way it was.
For the first time in months I was feeling the pain of infatuation, of unrequited adoration, that precious torture we help ourselves to when we are too stupid to put another record on, and it was more than I could bear; I was glad because I could distil a deranged pleasure and reassurance from it.
There was too little reprieve to be found in that realisation, though, and the rest of the weekend was spent at the bottom of a well, going through bottles of wine. During moments I would imagine what I would be doing with her if we were together as planned. Now, Sunday night, we would have been at a gig. She asked me not to go and I abided her wishes.
This morning as I was doing my hair in the bathroom, I heard my parents talking in the kitchen. My father asked my mother – ‘Is he meeting her tonight?’ ‘No.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘He fell out with her.’ ‘What is wrong with that boy?’ I finished with my hair and was quite satisfied with how it looked, certainly good enough to walk down to the offy for some tobacco.
Something had passed though I had not wished it to, of that I was certain.

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