Sunday, November 2

Heard About You Last Night

OUR TRAIN OUT of the city stopped at every station along the way to where we wanted to be and where she hurriedly walked me through, determined and knowing exactly where she was going. I recognised, from the way the welcome sign affected her, how strange she felt at returning there, to that city on the heel of England where she had been holed up during university.
I followed. I followed on a length of string and tried to absorb my new surroundings of Brighton as it bristled a little grey in the Sunday afternoon. There were hills up and down with shops and buildings upon them, teeth on a cog. We walked to the hotel and from the steps up to its door I could see the sea: a thick dark line with many things underneath it and a blow of clouds above.
We gathered ourselves. She applied some lipstick and touched up her eyes. She posed, bent, in front of the full-length mirror and leaned herself in toward the glass. We walked along the seafront and the wind came off it and struck us sideways. Some children were leaping over walls. When we settled into the pub – she a double rum and coke, me a pint of stout that tasted of soil, and both of us looking forward to the night – the day was continuing in the winding-down of Sunday. I glanced out of the window and saw all of the people. For the first time, it was as though she and I had not known each other for so long but were strangers, filling in the gaps of each other’s absence; ten years; let’s continue. She was beautiful and her thigh came up near me with the skin there was all soft and I pretended that I didn’t know how soft it became the darker the light went. It aroused me, the strangers we had become. It was all new, all over again. Seeing her in a city I did not know: she transformed into a stranger once more. I put my hand on her thigh, the cold dress, the warm underneath. She was all very good to me. We had another drink then up the street to a pub that was serving out roasts and bidding everyone a good evening.
The lights glowed low.
We took seats out the back.
She sat at a wooden table all marked with stains, rings, tiny dots of no real significance; I sat striding the bench so that – what else? – but to look at her. And there we talked and talked and drink spurring us on (as it does) while those around us fed their dogs fat from the pork, darkly winter happening down through the alley where all the ashtrays were laid out. Right then, as though no one else were around, she was perfect. She shone and the wood held her. She was very good to be beside. We talked about the horrors and the wonders, nervously but honestly, of our love and our history, as both are intertwined. Her big Disney eyes stared at me. We kissed. I had never kissed her before. It was exciting to kiss her for the first time because she kissed exactly how I thought she would kiss. So long had I not felt that way – newness – that I was happier than I could have believed. And where had it all come from? The city was slowly unwinding, Sunday night, the clocks gone back and the whole nation trying to adjust. It felt as if we were on holiday, just the two of us, no sun, but love and lust and the thoughts of ‘Oh, this is all a new thing!’
The end of summertime; autumn back; we had the extra hour and we spent it in the pub, drinking – or maybe we spent it in the morning, lying in bed. No, it was our hour and we got to choose how we spent it: in the pub. I could have stayed there for many hours. It was not a long walk down to a Japanese restaurant with people sat outside in the unusual warmth of late October. Still, wisps of steam arose from their meals. We were given a table upstairs where it was cheaply decorated in white paint and the odd Japanese print to offset the English accents. The customers were students (loud) or people for the gig (slightly quieter). We were happy with our choices. We ate and the restaurant emptied as the time approached.
On the streets there was still a hubbub for a Sunday evening. Rough-looking people sat on benches, or drunkenly talked and dogs crept in and out of legs.
This was her city to me, but to imagine it as hers, before me, or before us, was difficult. She led me and I followed, taking in what I could, still stuck in the blurry perspective of lust. A holiday but for the less rich; at the end of a train-track, not a runway. The Brighton Dome putting its finger in the air. We walked in and I thought of Indian soldiers. Sound was coming from the hall, but many were at the bar. It was my birthday present so she offered me a t-shirt. We bought drinks and stepped back. I even filled a couple of glasses of ice-cold water that went down my throat, lighting it up all the way.
It was a life goal of mine to see this particular band, which she knew and that is where the tickets came from. They belted us. I wished to go deaf from them – as I had heard the rumours. Come on, die young. The flashing lights, the amps, the instruments, all illuminated. There was dry ice and it was sifted into the crowd so that they appeared to me a zombie mess, docile and stunned. They became beautiful to look at. But when the band roared, all senses became bottomless. I lost my notion of direction. My body went back one way, then fell forward again. My eyes went numb and my ears, so destroyed by the sound, were useless flaps of cartilage and skin on the side of my skull. A great hand pushed the air out of my chest. And I thought yes! and yes! again because it was how I wanted to feel and her body next to me and all of it so wonderful I thought I could cry. Indeed at times my eyes watered and I trembled, perspired, wobbled over the music.
I was happy.
But it is many things to be happy, because it cannot be measured in words or glandular excretions.
As we walked back around the city, the big roads called my name. My ears were ringing. Walking in a straight line was too much for me. Halfheartedly we looked for somewhere to get a nightcap. After some more hills – which she assured me were nothing – we were back at the hotel and its dark windows and dark doorway before us. The landlady had showed me which key was which to get us in afterhours. My ears were ringing and there was the sea, chiming the English Channel, neighbouring the flow that runs by my parents’ house. We turned the lights out and I felt for her body in amongst the duvet. The hotel gives you three: a sheet, a duvet, a quilt. The sheet is the softest to the touch, the duvet the cosiness and the quilt is for your toes as they twitch, no longer ignored, at the bottom. She drove her fingernails into my back while I punched the bed through the wall and all the while my ears ringing. It was good to have sex with her for the first time because I had forgotten what all of that was like. Then she was she again and I was me, checking out the blood on my back while I pissed in the en suite toilet. You try and have a go at things, to be an exciting person and a human being, and then happiness gets you most when you see that familiar silhouette waiting in bed, knowing that there is nothing better to come than to sleep by their soft warmth.
In the morning I had a cigarette in the street. Builders were clambering scaffold opposite and banging for Thor. I could see her through the front window in the dining room pouring tea out of a pot and arranging some coffee for me. The sun was out over a clear blue sky and infinitely the sea sparkling down the way. One of the builders came into the road across from me and we stared at each other, then I put my butt into the gutter and went inside for breakfast.

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