Sunday, August 31

Few Things Terrify Me Anymore

DRASTICALLY BEHIND SCHEDULE, I emerged from a quiet Mansion House station and rushed across Southwark Bridge; an hour and a half – though I suspected, without looking at my watch, that I had made some time up by walking as quickly as I could, to the point that I was perspiring profusely and feeling very uncomfortable. The south of the river, where it runs in tumultuous blacks and browns and grey breaking over the edges upon the pebbled shore, was busy and I recalled – a boat of children and families passing underneath – that it was the summer holidays. When you are older, the summer holidays, the meridian from which you measured the year, had lost all of its value.
I was en route to the Matisse exhibition. Long lines of school children (holidaying in England during the summer break, led by that bosom’d teacher) were rolling past, in casual but identical wear. Telling one from the other was impossible and conjuring an age for them was out of the question.
Sitting in the middle of the café, I watched the people come in and choose their lunch from the three fridges by the wall. A woman with no chin considered me and scowled; we held our eyes up to each other and I was determined not to look away; she looked away first, but I noticed in her something of a condescension, as though she had not always been the sort to pluck a sandwich out of a fridge, and to see me devouring one so enthusiastically sickened her to the core. I smiled and rolled the food on my tongue. It was a good day. I was off work and enjoying the break. I had been called by my bosses twice that day and had ignored both calls. One, in fact, had woken me. Nine-twenty-four. I let it buzz. He had unwittingly woken me from a dream I was having in which I bumped into an ex-girlfriend in a cinema (garden? a sort of greenhouse with plants, flowers and climbers everywhere; red velvet seats all aligned) and she noticed me and her husband noticed me and her acknowledgement of my presence was enough to chase the husband away. He had her children with him. I was upset I had ended a relationship and my sheets were wet. The phone buzzed, and then it ceased.
Negotiating one’s way through a herd of tourists is risky and not for the feint of heart. Each gap was judged carefully and then, if possible, exploited. In front of me was a dog holding its own lead; its owner, a local, was dawdling behind and watching the dog most happily. Often the beast looked back at him, small brown eyes turned to reveal those triangles of white in the corner and carrying on, adjusting its speed as required, wagging its tail smugly as the lead swung gaily and didn’t stroke the floor.
The women queued for the toilets outside the door but the men’s were empty. I did not think it possible that people could walk so slow. There were few loners, such as myself, but mainly families, tourists and school groups from other countries. I stroked my face. She enticed me to grow a beard, to stop shaving during my time-off. It irritates me while I grow accustomed to it. A beard seems a great cover-up for my acne scars but I pull at the strands constantly and grow frustrated with it. Somehow through patience and tolerance, I avoid having a fight with another young gentleman outside of the exhibit entrance. He blocks my way, refusing to move, so I put my nose against his neck and breathe heavily. Many of the last century’s greatest fights took place in art galleries but I shall take the revolting habit no further. I wait for him to leave and follow him with my glowering eyes.
Much of the exhibition bores me: the cutouts have their moment but Matisse’s paintings excite me the most. Only when I get to the nudes – of which I have seen in magazines and on the walls of tube stations, glowing at me in blue and white, rigid Yves Klein – do I take a shiver.
One particular cutout had ghosts of charcoal across it. I saw in the faint lines – my Girlfriend’s cunt. I stood and stared, could not think why I should see my Girlfriend’s cunt up there on the wall, but I could. The lines were perfect. It was indeed my Girlfriend’s cunt. It was when we are in bed and I lift both of Her legs up toward Her chest and it sits there, ripe, to be caressed and licked. Her narrow font is squeezed by the pressure of Her thighs and the position I hold Her in. I am able to lick Her up from the anus to the crest of Her pubis, skin parting and the sweet stickiness all around my lips. The position is a pose because it is a beautiful sight to behold, as the shapes of the legs and the stomach and the hips and the cunt and the hair bristling there all blend together and provide stimulation for the eyes. Anyway, Matisse had erased, to the best of his ability, the lines and I took my reveries elsewhere.
A girl catches my attention. She is young and barely interested in the French nonsense for which her parents paid handsomely to observe. Her mother calls her to and fro, explains things and the girl’s bold, dark eyes search the room and flick. Her front teeth protrude and knock her upper lip out so that it is a fleshy ledge. The lip bends and moulds with flamboyant contour and ill-appreciated definition. It is so that her lips do not come anywhere near each other when she relaxes her mouth, leaving them purchased open in a fascinating and gormless expression. For a second, it saddens me that either she will grow into her teeth or, no doubt, have them ‘corrected’ so that the pronounced lip is buried into where it should be. I pause a moment for all the corrections made to fragile, nervous children.
Later that evening my parents were flying out to Spain to see my aunt. My mother had called the night previous – interrupting a beautiful but boring film – and, peculiarly, had said—‘Love you’ to me. It caught me off-guard, but in an instant I remembered telling her how much I loved her on the evening of my birthday, in a message, no less, but all the same. ‘I love you,’ I replied and felt that twinge of joyful relief one feels when admitting such a thing. I thought that later on I would wish them a safe flight and hope to see them soon. The gallery was swimming with mothers. They all hovered around their disinterested children, looking over their heads at the exhibits; the closest thing atheists have to angels, pulling their wings out for a brief stretch and then covering their mouth while they clear their throat next to the Creole Dancer. I tried to lip-read every mother in the room.
Passing through the gift shop I scouted for books I might buy as a treat to myself on payday. I was running out of time but found a lovely book by a Japanese photographer. The words were in Japanese but the photographs were of, I’m guessing, his girlfriend. The paper was also delightful and the photographs inspired me, so I bought it and thought I had made the right decision.
The day was still warm and outside of the building were people in groups sat on the grass. I could see them between the silver birches and beyond them: street performers, panhandlers and the gargling Thames like an iron rail. To make it for my meeting Her outside of work, I had to hurry. There was no time to walk, only to take the tube where the wind had completely stopped – apart from that which is pumped – and I could feel all of the perspiration running down my back and drawing my t-shirt to my skin. Opposite me was a gentleman wearing only a vest, his thick muscles out and the perfume of underarm hair sprouting black in curly wisps. He was tensing them as he read the Standard and seldom looked up other than to check the name of the station as we rolled into it. I checked my watch. Being in the city – that is the financial district – when I am not working is unusual to me, for I cannot quite settle into it and feel as though the past seven and a half years hadn’t happened. Nevertheless I still know the streets. While walking along, I slow my pace and hold my clothes open so that the perspiration might dry. It is that, and so on, my solitary wanderings over, the day going.

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