Wednesday, July 31

Pretending I’m in a Smiths’ Video

[‘ LET’S DO SOME tequila,’ I said. The tequila was warm because it had been in a warm pub on a warm Thursday evening. They toasted me—‘To you getting laid this weekend.’ I was nervous, and I told them for the twenty-seventh time that it wasn’t like that. They laughed and slapped my shoulder. I didn’t know what to do or say anymore. Later on, when I was walking home, I became very angry. In the morning I had a stinking hangover.]
Travelling on my own, I was filled with excitement, though to look at me you wouldn’t have thought it. I was hungover, something I always insisted on being when I was on the move. On the train, the car, the departure lounge, I was excited. You can never feel completely safe in those airplanes. Death flashed before my eyes, roared with laughter in the jet engines, then swum back down to earth. On the other side I was happy; in another country; the sun was shining, it thickened the air; no wind; €3,50 for a bus ticket; I looked out of the moving window at the houses and the sights. She would be at Central Station.
Johanna was away from the other people waiting.
Embrace; hello; her shoulders were tacky with sweat. They are small shoulders. Two-and-a-half months since I’d seen her.
A city—Eindhoven—I had never seen before rose up around me, as though it were just being built when I showed up. The shadows ran out long, hiding from the seeking sun. We walked through the streets in the unbearably close air. Everything was sparkling over something or other.
We got to her place. She gave me a cold beer. I looked around. It was somewhere I could picture myself living. Sam was there, too. The two of them chatted in Dutch about their days; their voices were jumbled to me while being completely pleasurable to listen to as I retired to their back garden among the surrounding houses that sleepily waited for a cool dusk. The Dutch accent; as soon as I stepped off the plane, inadvertently greeted by it, it filled me with glee.
The supermarket was a relief. Sam bought a box of ice creams and handed them to strangers & children outside. When we passed the children—cycling summer down the street, cones in hand—she beeped her horn, Johanna put her ice-cream out of the window and the children waved back, throwing me into a fit of happiness. A village some miles over was having a festival. We parked up and made our way in. It was set up in the square, which, itself bordered by bustling restaurants, was a hive of life. Young, middle-aged and old. Music thumped out. We sat on the periphery while Sam tried to make contact with her friends. Johanna poured discount beer into plastic cups. I had never seen anything like it—‘I’ve never seen anything like this! It’d never happen in Britain!’
Sam found her friends. We sat down on a bench in the crowd. Chatter and laughter and activity all around; thunderous sparks of light and life coursing everywhere; kids running round fetching the empty cups; a thousand conversations I couldn’t understand. Johanna sat next to me in a loose black dress. Everyone in the village disappeared—went to the toilet at once, or to buy cigarettes—and it was just she & I. We laughed and caught up.
Those moments were worth the price of the flight alone.
I could not have dreamed of being anywhere better.
It was a moment, a time, of pure reassurance that things could be perfect: summer in bloom, music, crowds, resonance, drink, rolled cigarettes, the company of a good friend who has a talent for childish laughter, lightbulbs hanging on strings, close quarters with the merry human race in a strange land!
[When I was taken out of it, into the dancing crowd, I became unsteady. I did not know what to do. Out of nowhere, people were humming a tune I did not know.]
It was not long until we were on the move again, leaving that village I shall never see again, and rolling along in the car with the windows down and the music up. Johanna put her feet out into the rushing air. The wind felt pleasant on my sticky eyelids.
‘Can you ride a bike?’ Sam asked me, unchaining one of many such things from the front of their house.
‘Yeah,’ though it had been some years since I had done so. And, to think, the whole of my youth was spent straddling a bike.
The two of them led the way; I followed. They set quite the pace. Wind got into a fight with my hair and it felt like the latter was coming out worse. [In the centre of Eindhoven was a strip of bars and all the young life congregated there, alive and electric and feeling their way around time as a stretch of days on a calendar.] We wandered into a couple of establishments, spoke, drank, sniffing the air, deciding whether to stay or move on. Sam had to leave because she had work the next day. Johanna said to me—‘Come on, let’s go back to that other bar.’ We went. She led the way.
Time happened but it may as well not have.
I could not tell you what time one o’clock happened, or two o’clock, and three o’clock shouldn’t have even bothered turning up. Time just fell away in the same way I’ve seen my mother peeling an onion. We stood there drinking beer after beer after beer after beer after beer after beer after beer after beer. A lone man was dancing in the middle of the stage, minding his own business. I think he thought that the whole human population had been wiped out. Then some cunt came on and danced like she thought the whole human population adored her.
Johanna put her chin into her hand, and smiled all of her teeth at the lone dancing man. It was good to be back beside her. [Some of me felt as if she was distant, floating away … or was I floating away? I did not know. Drunkeness was us.] I was so happy to see her again that I kept looking at her and wondering why what the hell is this it am I such a happy man sometimes? [Still, I twinged with the haunt of a sadness I could not understand—why now?—and when she disappeared to the toilet, I despaired and thought that I was boring company because I was not dancing. The drink and the hours were taking their toll on me, sucking it out of my neuroses.] The conflict! because I was so elated to be doing something I hadn’t done before, and a cold beer in my hand.
Cycling home at four-thirty? I almost killed myself.
I was hot on her tail. She was a far better cyclist than I.
We opened the back door, to sit there and smoke. I told her in my voice that means nothing other than what it sounds like—‘Johanna, I’ve never met anyone like you.’
I lied down.
She lied down.
Right there on her kitchen floor, the door open, the middle fingers of smoke lifting up from us. Having a right old time. Drunk as sailors on shore leave.
When she passed out, I tried to lift the half of her body that was outside back inside, but I couldn’t. I was too drunk. ‘Let her lie there,’ I thought. She was dead to the world. I passed out in her bed, hoping she wouldn’t catch a cold.

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