Thursday, May 16

Somewhere Near Where I Wanted To Be

‘HUG LIKE YOU mean it’; sometimes those words come into my head when someone is leaning in for the embrace, as they tuck their shoulder under my face. So it was with her outside of the station as the rain fell. The city didn’t seem to tire of being grey and wet. I hugged her tightly because, more than I cared to acknowledge, I was so very glad to see her again. Her small bones compressed a little. Rebecca introduced me to her friend whose name I was too startled to remember; the name was spelled out to me later, and even later than that I learned how to pronounce it. The streets were remarkably empty. I was very happy and had forgotten about my hangover.
The night before I missed my train and caught another that would take me somewhere near where I wanted to be. I stood up the whole journey so that I would not fall asleep and miss my stop. The window was pulled open between carriages for the air to hammer into my face. A couple got on and stood next to me, kissing. I started to stamp my foot on the floor, then took the opportunity to clear my throat numerous times, spitting noisily out of the window, watching the small white thing fling back. The kissing couple got off at the second stop.
The last person I hugged with as much fervour was as naked as I. We were sitting somewhat awkwardly on a hotel bed and I had my penis inside of her. Most other hugs were a joke to me; I disliked them.
She drew her hood up against the rain, tugging habitually – or with a nerve – at the cord that contracted it. Two years – or if one doesn’t scrimp on accuracy, twenty-five months – since I had last seen her and that day seemed more like summer than the present.
On the train up, a party of young women awoke me from my sleep, so I thought of Rebecca; the break-up of her engagement, her relocation, troubles, deephearted blues, sweet heart. I looked forward to seeing her again because the day before I, myself, had been in an unsinkable sadness. Though the weather, which could only be pretty when viewed from an aeroplane, tried to dampen my spirits, I felt a grand happiness looking at her.
The Tate was busier than I had seen it for years. The smell was musty & nostalgic, was burdened with decades of labour & love, of people going & gone insane, of dead bodies & pilgrimages. In the centre I would pick out a piece then take a closer look; the paint was very interesting to me. There was she. Her neck was long. Her lips were thick and red, as if she’d just been punched in the mouth; twelve rounds. Familiarising myself with the way she tied up her hair helped me pick her out of the crowd.
As we sat outside having a cigarette, a toddler appeared and started spewing spit, grumping in his clumsy exploration, he coughed and more spit came out. Rebecca to the mother – ‘Oh, he’s cute!’
‘No, he’s not … He’s insane.’
The child soon lay on the floor and, without words, admitted that he’d had enough.
Saturday afternoon (blend one sky into the other) Saturday evening. The Thames, a harlot if there ever was one, flowed. We three sat outside a pub while the air dropped a degree or two in the same way you might drop your clothes before bed. We cared not for time; fancy people from the counties rolled in for an evening in the city, all dressed & happy and I was all dressed & happy. The Tate towered.
I gave her a painting I had done from one of her photographs. Again, she clutched me – ‘If I was drunk, I would cry.’ Some people make up terrible compliments. She couldn’t lie to me if she tried. Her friends turned up after a while and I met them standing up. Sanne had appealed to me. I was struck by her, took her hand, ‘Hello’, and sat back down. With five of them, they returned to their mother tongue, motioning extravagantly, gurgling with excitement. Dinner cruises rolled down the river. Saturday evening at the river. Diners sat satisfied on the boat, constantly checking that the current did not tumble their prosecco over the carpet that was replaced in ‘03. Simone ordered a beer. Sanne & Renée ordered whiskeys. I was very interested in the colour of whiskey on a day like that; who drinks whiskey as their first drink? and so I was very interested in Sanne. After a moment, they ran off in the rain to explore the gallery.
Rain: people got off of their wooden seats and went inside. We remained. I was glad that we could remain, cowering, when necessary, under the eaves. Simone climbed on top of Rebecca and I. Her bum was completely boneless and her hand was on my leg. I struggled to see past her red hair, though I didn’t mind.
As darkness stiffened we left the pub and walked across the bridge, back into the north. There were cries for dinner; Simone – ‘I feel like curry!’
We walked, sure to find something. A young man riding a bike paused to take a photograph of us against St. Paul’s. ‘How the hell did the Nazis miss this thing?’ I wondered. ‘How the hell have I only just met these people?’ I had known them for years – not their names, nor their faces or identities, but we all walked along the pavement together and, despite their personalities, I had known each of them for years, and they had known me for years and at least two of them had been present when, aged six, I had a rotten tooth pulled out the front of my mouth. On the treeless avenues of London streets there was wet rain lying in puddles beyond where the drain could reach them.
An Indian restaurant at half-nine in the evening.
Six of us sat down.
No. No one else would be joining us.
We tore at each other’s dishes. They started to clean up, sweeping the floors, closing the kitchen, stacking chairs downstairs, couples being hurried by polite waiters at an impolite hour.
They had invited me with them. I could imagine nothing else. It was all I wanted to follow them and to see what colour their adventures were and how soft their sleeping bags felt unfurled damply in some four-man tent.
It was up to the taxi driver to serve us the city past the window. Very vivid crowds going by on a Saturday night. In the distorted lights that broke in, five heads bobbed in their mother tongue and I listened and even in their incomprehensibilities I found something to laugh at. An English teacher telling me years ago – ‘Only five percent of communication is verbal.’ Maybe I had known these five Dutch girls back then, too. At the end of the ride, we climbed a large hill, aiming for a pylon in the sky, orange-pink lights fruiting on some very metal branches. I led with Simone; her eagerness and speed matched my own, though we trailed down entire streets. At the rear was Rebecca. I kept looking behind me. It was useless for me to look behind at her. Sanne’s ankles also occurred to me as if I had not once encountered ankles before. ‘Almost there,’ said Simone, eyeing the sky – ‘Almost there. It’s near that!’ signaling the orange-pink fruit in the sky. ‘This is when wine tastes the best’ says I – ‘When you really have to work for it.’ I thought of how good wine tasted. I hoped they would have a lot of it. With the tone of Arabian bandits, they had promised me wine beyond my wildest dreams.
Every time I looked behind at Rebecca, careless in her manner, I was stirred enough to smile at her. Sanne took good care of her as Rebecca’s lips were seldom still enough for a fly to land upon.
The campsite was asleep.
The office, punctured by empty golden windows, was walked past and there, the van. A mystical beast I had heard about from their stories. It was white like a seasick ghost and groaned when its doors were opened as if it had been asleep, too, like the rest of the park.
For some time, the girls busied themselves here & there; some peed, some looked for juice or for chocolate, some knew they had tobacco around there somewhere.
We sat in the van and Sanne chose the music. It was one of my all-time favourite albums, very sad. Rebecca said it was too miserable for the occasion and ordered it be changed. Sanne leant over the front seat and put another C.D. in from those she had in the glove-compartment. When she bent over, I stared at her bum and wondered if I’d found Jesus. It was a very heavenly sight to me. We laughed and we talked. Red wine was drunk from white plastic cups with ridges in them and the red wine lingered on the ridges the same way that birdshit lingers on the ridges of cliff faces. They shared some chocolate between them. All the Dutch packaging was full of simple words shapes & colours like red blue & apples. I sat next to Rebecca. Her knee, draped over its twin, was tiny, barely worth mentioning in a lonely hearts ad. I wished to squeeze it, feel how small it was.
When we went for a cigarette she told me she had a boyfriend.
Beach closed.
She told me about him and about the things he had done. If I could just pinch his eye out of his head … ‘It’s okay, we weren’t dating at the time.’ She was fragile to me, enforcing this childish carelessness upon her behaviour as a distraction from dealing with the things that cut her guts. It seemed to me as if she was swimming against Life, rather than with it; and spitting it out every time some got in her mouth; going out of her way to piss in the water even when it was warm, yet admiring the light that refracted off of it and smiling like a maniac all the while. We shared a cigarette and, for all my sadness at the tumult of my more troublesome organs, I was more than just a little happy to be beside her.
Some time later I asked for the ‘pee-key’ and she said she also needed to urinate. Outside – where a fox asked again & again to join the party – she linked arms with me. I felt disgusting because I always thought linking arms always put one party before the other, as if one led while the other followed, so I held her hand and she said – ‘That’s it.’ I rubbed her little fingers and, in my silent way, I despaired at her & her boyfriend. What could be done? I had but to enjoy her while I could. I have years in front of me to regret the loves that never hardened their shells. I could only enjoy her fingers while they were interlaced with my own.
Back in the van more music was played and wine was drunk. Back in the van I thought the five of them were like a bag of Skittles:
Simone and Reneé were orange and yellow Skittles respectively, because of the colour of their hair. Anniek was purple because I suspected that if she was in a queue for a film and you asked her what her favourite colour was, she’d say – ‘This is taking ages … Probably purple.’ Sanne was green because green was lime and lime tastes good with every drink and green is my favourite colour. Rebecca was red; every time I buy a packet of Skittles I eat a red one first; they taste the best to me; they were my favourite; I’d always eat a red one first and a red one last.
Rebecca, Sanne, Anniek & myself were ejected from the van and, finding the night too cold, took our wine elsewhere. The campsite was silent. Small lights could be seen between the branches of trees; just enough to see our path. The grass sparkled, but with dew or with rain we could not be sure. The omniscient orange-pink fruits still hung in the sky. We carried wine with us and headed to the ladies’ toilets. It would be warm there. We could sit down. It was unlikely that anyone would disturb us.
The ladies’ toilet was long; toilet cubicles on one side and shower cubicles on the other. Photographs of lilies were printed onto stretched canvases that hung decoratively upon the wall. The soap smelled sweet. Magnolia plastic pipes ran across the walls. Everything we had to say, in English or in Dutch, echoed throughout. We sat on the cold tiled floor and talked and we passed the wine bottle between us; a pleading hand held out for a moment before the owner surrendered it. Drinking wine straight from the bottle and with these three young women. When they talked in Dutch I listened just as keenly, occasionally making up what they were saying. Rebecca was getting more and more drunk. Sanniek laughed at everything as if it were a filthy joke told behind a pub, she rolled her neck all the time and gave it some of the overhead bulb. Sanne put her ankles out before me, I saw that they were shaped like Christmas morning.
When Sanne offered me her jumper I noticed a myriad of specks on it that one could not make out – specks no doubt carried from Holland. Wrapped around the specks were fallen strands of her hair. Warmth and the spiral of her fallen hair. The jumper fit me the same way a river fits a fishing rod. It was one of the greatest garments I had ever worn and, oh, it smelled of Sanne.
Our teeth were getting blackened by the wine.
What was that noise from where Rebecca had disappeared? I hurried over, placed a stool beside the cubicle and looked over.
With a grin hair slicked back naked body from an awkward angle, she shined up at me. In the toilet earlier she had left a small pool of blood. Lunar cycles announcing fertility. The blood. Maybe I could have stared, taking toilet breaks and slices of bread, for centuries. A drop of blood explodes in water. Osmosis breaks open the red blood cells and sends red everywhere. When she emerged from the shower she wore a detached shower curtain. The pattern on the curtain was of a Klimt painting. She wore it and didn’t think of Klimt. Her small cunt bled a little and didn’t think of Klimt, either. Swaddled in the shower curtain with the spittle of an impromptu shower trickling down her, I thought she’d never looked so good. She sat beside me and she smiled laughs. I thought I’d never want to be inside her more than I did right then; not moving; absorbed; waking up with the cold water.
The wine was all gone.
I had removed my shoes and my socks to feel the ground. I was so tormented by her that I felt a little lost. I felt the ground. It stung. Small stones pushed into my foot on our way back to the van & tent.
(Then I woke up.
Sleep is a strange thing.)
The morning came through the tent in the tint of the tent. Sleep is a strange thing because time has passed and it was there but no one felt it. Sleep didn’t care to remind me of going to bed the night before, five hours ago.
Rebecca and I were wrapped around each other. Rebecca was over me. I was in Rebecca. Rebecca was in me. I had a bit of Rebecca stuck at the back of my throat. We, Rebecca & I, were doing our best impression of oil & water. One body left the tent but it wasn’t Rebecca. She was entwined with me, was Rebecca. (I went for an eye test once in the hospital that lay at the end of a long row of very expensive houses. There was nothing wrong with my eyes, which was, I remember my mum saying – ‘Very good!’ because my dad suffered a terrible eye disease as a child.) I could see Rebecca perfectly; her face was very close to my face, maybe an inch or so, and the terrain of it slid in & out of focus. Rebecca’s deep red lips. Rebecca’s stirring eyelashes. Rebecca did not move away from me. I pulled Rebecca closer to me. This was as good and as bad as I had felt for some time and it was all Rebecca’s fault.
It was then I noticed that, aside from my t-shirt and overshirt, I was naked. I felt my buttocks and they were naked and they asked me why. I had no answer for them.
A ghost Sanne floated into the tent and informed us – ‘We’re going for breakfast.’
When she had gone, I remarked – ‘I could lie in this tent all day.’
My head hurt. Everything else felt Indian Ocean.
There was dried saliva on our lips when we kissed. I knew that beyond the tint of the tent a Sunday was going on, but I wished nothing to do with it. A gang of birds tried to rouse me, but failed. For some time – though I could not be certain how long – I had been running my fingers through her hair. It was not something I meant to do. I was running my fingers through her hair like I was falling off a bicycle. Her hair: it was all I could smell. I ran my fingers through. I kissed her and she returned my kiss. Without any reason, I put her hand on my penis, and she took it. I felt her stubble and the lip of her sanitary towel (in the pub I had seen her sanitary towels; they were pink; they waved to me; I waved back) – ‘I’m on my period.’ I didn’t care. If I had been sober I might have been ashamed of my thoughts, but I was drunk so I thrived on them; I wanted to taste her blood. How good, out of everything, to taste something that was made in the marrow of her bones, then leaked out to swim around her body before washing out her womb. Sometimes when I drink things they hang around in between my teeth for hours. Her nipples were pennies with a birthday candle in the middle. They tasted of wine sweat.
She was outside and I was pulling on my jeans when I realised what a fool I had been. I couldn’t even stand up in the tent when I realised what a fool I had been.
As she applied her eye makeup, I took photographs. I simply enjoyed watching her apply her eye makeup. There was nothing to it. For breakfast she ate a tin of tuna and I had some bread. That was when I realised she didn’t care for me; I put the touch of my fingers on the feel of her shoulder bone. Nothing. We split a bottle of coke that had ‘Sanne’ written on it. By the time the girls got back we had finished our breakfast and I had used up all of the film in my camera, photographing her applying her eye makeup.

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