Friday, March 22

PART III: Clementine-Sized

I POSED MY BODY in front of the hotel room’s bathroom mirror and saw the marks on me – most impressive of all the clementine-sized lovebite on my neck. Lifting herself off of me a few hours previous she had said – ‘Look at the marks on you! You have really sensitive skin!’ ‘O, fuck, Helen! I am gonna get ripped for this! I have to be on site first thing!’ She had made her mark on me now. Unhideable. It was official. I was a possession. I was possessed. If someone found me unsupervised at an airport, they’d hand me in and she’d come to collect me. ‘He’s mine. Yes, just look right there.’ She was proud of the marks she had made on my skin.
She had stirred when my alarm went off. She was the big spoon. Between the sex and the temperature of the hotel room, I hardly got three hours. Her body was something I was not used to. Every time I remembered she was there I kissed her lips and felt her body with my hands. She was pushing me out of the bed. She woke up with me and I put my arm underneath her head to stare at the ceiling and remember how everything was, how the world worked, which way to look when I crossed the road. When I was done showering she was back asleep, facing the window with her arms out.
Taking my time to dry & dress myself. Work was a half hour’s walk away and I could afford to be a little late. I looked out of the window. The same towerblocks that had watched us fuck were now standing erect in brilliant sunlight. It had not been sunny like that in so long. The world was wishing me good-morning. The curtain let fall; not quite closing, a thin belt of light lied on the bed, across her. I stared at her.
That’s what I did for some time: I stared at her.
When someone is asleep they do not know you are staring at them, so you are able to stare and pick apart everything about them and I could see that she was beautiful and the beauty was without equivalent or comparison. She was make-up-less. Her nude torso was above the quilt. All the time for peace. There were drops of her blood on the duvet – ‘I warn you: I’m a little bit on my period.’ When I went down on her I wanted to taste her blood, but nothing. I tried, putting my fingers in and tasting them. Nothing. No blood. Afterwards she was happily surprised at how little blood had come out of her, just a few pink stepping stones from the laundry’s shade of white to hers, peeping out the covers. I brushed my teeth and stared at her I dried my bits and stared at her I sprayed anti-perspirant and stared at her I did my belt and stared at her.
At that moment I knew that I had fallen for her. It hadn’t happened during the sex or when she brushed her teeth next to me or when I watched her take out her contacts – it had happened when I had slept. Only three bastard hours. Just enough to form a ridiculous misshapen love for someone I hardly knew. Above all the noise – ‘She is going to leave.’ She would go to Vienna, then Berlin, then home. Away from me. If she was in bed next to me, she would not be mine. It was how she was. As disastrous as that felt, it was that that I fell for as well. She was magnificent. She was the fall of an empire I tried to expand. She was the snapping of two bones fed only on cow’s milk. She was five letters six letters foreign. She looked so good when she slept. When I left I woke her in the light phase of sleep. I kissed her lips many times and she kissed my lips many times. ‘You might not see her again,’ I told myself and, one foot out the door, kissed her once more. She was smiling at me. And I left.
The hotel corridor was empty and uncomforting.
The lobby; I left that behind and strode out into the hooray sunshine. A sunny Wednesday eight o’clock morning down Commercial Rd. So many of the shops were still shuttered graffiti tagged up. Children in varying shades of my favourite drink got off buses and walked down the road with me, laughing and talking and being good, walking into newsagents, buying stuff their parents wouldn’t condone and sharing it down the pavement. Their uniforms made me happy. I walked on the sunny side of the street. Such a day and a place to walk and the bitterest of tastes for leaving her in bed.
A couple of miles to my office; from the immigrant communities to the rich white men. The buildings slowly changed and it all felt unearthly to me.
I picked some things up from the office and went to site, where I necked an energy drink and attempted to deal with some things. After a while I forgot about the large mark on my neck. Everyone could see it and they thought – ‘O, he belongs to Helen,’ while she was smiling in bed. I wished I were beside her. She gets up, dresses in her many layers and leaves – her blood tranquilly on the sheets. She texts me – ‘On the train to Hackney Downs now… Sorry for not waking up properly when you left! Hope your day’s bearable despite little sleep. Thank you for last night!’ Of course she said it in my ear in her voice. I was walking through the building site when I read it; the fa├žade hadn’t been installed so the sun and the elements came in and gutted the core; it was cold. On the roof I could see over London and the Thames and the water sparkling flashing strobing the bridges the colours thank the lord the people froing and toing down below as shoulders and hair. After a couple of hours I was ready to collapse. I took leave and, once again, in subtle warmth, walked down the streets.
A change overtook me.
The misery that had preceded her visit was a lullaby compared to the anguish of not being with her or knowing when or if I would be in her company again. Only an overbearing sadness. And when she leaves! O! what then? At my desk I carried on my labour despondently. People tried to talk to me, though I would not look at them. ‘You’re even more miserable than usual,’ them to me. Myself to myself. And always thinking about her and every thought of her was eclipsed by my knowledge that she was only visiting my life and that she was going to have to leave me, alone, here, on this cursed island. It was what I deserved for this foolishness! The day passed with tedium.
Always the smell of her. Inescapable, it clung to everything, small traces, invisible, invincible, and if it wasn’t there it fabricated itself just to torment me. It poked its tongue out at me.
That evening I returned home, up the darkened path, sat down with my family and they asked me many questions. Every minute had a twin from the night before, side by side, and though I lived through one I remembered the other. ‘Last night we were sipping sweet cocktails … last night we were eating opposite each other and complaining about hot and cold taps … last night we were against each other in the back of a taxi …’ I went to sleep before we had sex.
So it continued for two more days. Tremendous ruin.
Thursday was my dad’s birthday. My neck was still marked. I was still hers. It had faded slightly – the plush colours pronouncing themselves – but still there. I knew that I couldn’t see her. I didn’t know when it would happen again. That last photograph: her in bed, facing me, smiling at me as I closed the door and left her to sleep. A six by four matte print, pinned to the soft red of my eyelids. I didn’t feel like writing. I didn’t feel like drinking – ‘I can’t believe you’re not drinking!’ said my dad. ‘I can’t believe you’re not writing!’ said myself. The songbird had ceased, the cat had its tongue. The ill weather sucked the landscape dry of any colours my sadness left behind.
On Friday I knew that she was going to a fashion show and then a party, so I would not see her then, either. So I would not see her.
So I would not see her.
Two-and-a-half days. It did not seem like two-and-a-half days. It did not seem like two-and-a-half minutes or two-and-a-half months. No one knows what it seemed like. Work was the same, over and over. Friday. She was leaving Sunday afternoon. I was not seeing her Friday. I prepared to go home and get drunk. I would drink myself stupid. I had three bottles of wine – I knew that – so I could drink those and fall asleep. Meanwhile she was out, around London, enjoying her holiday. I hated myself for the inconsiderate manner in which I had fallen for her. I wondered if all love started out like this and if everyone felt it, or if some folk had heart brittle enough to not care. I wished we had never met. That was plain. I wished we had never met and it was just another Friday. It was four o’clock. There was a whole evening looking at me and a whole night looking at me and three bottles of wine looking at me and a Clementine-sized lovebite looking at me.

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