Wednesday, April 1

Hot Cheeks

I WAS CARRYING OUT my daily lunchtime walk, ceremony, a long, pointless tramp around the City, full of swag – no doubt relieved to be out of the office – but also full of the forlorn thoughts I do my best to keep away. As I joined the back of the bank of England, a man begun to make his way diagonally across the road. You will not cut in front of me, I thought, eyeing him evilly and spitting. He carried his trajectory. You will not! He was on the pavement now, smoking his electronic cigarette, middle-aged, entitled, a bastard on the slabs and coming right for me, as I not change my course. He angled and was touching my side. He very slowly walked in front of me, my nose to his shoulder. With anger and a certain sense of joy at my mischief, I brought both of my feet down in quick succession on the backs of both his legs, from the calf to the heel, making sure I caught him as square as I could. He turned to confront me, to squeeze an apology out of my lips! I stared back at him, my mind all aflame with hate. He turned away, and hobbled into the anus of the bank, with its guards, turnstiles and lingering smokers.
I will clasp at any small victory I can, but what a victory! I strode down the street, swinging my arms, wheezing at my rollie, admiring the slant of the sun down through the buildings and off the glass.
No matter how much I drink lately, sleep is not easy to come by. I will, in the reclines of a few Sunday beers and friendly company, start to doze on the sofa and retreat to my bed – all old & forgotten – but find that, despite my tiredness, I cannot sleep a wink.
Last week—‘I just lie there. I haven’t been able to sleep at all. It takes me ages to get off, then I have nightmares and wake up over and over. It’s fuckin’ shit.’
‘Really? … Cause you broke up?’
‘I guess so. I just lie there, and sometimes I cry and stare at the ceiling and then I’ll have nightmares and wake up covered in sweat… So, yeah, I’m guess I’m taking it well.’
He laughed at me.
‘Yeah, I’m really rolling with the fuckin’ punches. Dealing with it fuckin’ superb… What girlfriend? Who? Never heard of her. Ha! I fuckin’ wish.’
He continued laughing at me, his hand on my shoulder, into the pub.
What is that pillow over there without the black dome upon it, shining ever so lightly in the dimness? Why, it’s just a pillow. It is scented at certain times of the year. I only have a pillow on my hands, otherwise. Not only that, I miss her warmth. How kindly that warmth offered me sleep, and, o, I never even imagined I would take it for granted.
In the distractions of unpacking groceries, I told another consoling friend—‘I never thought that I would get used to sharing a bed with someone!’
Tim, one of the cats, her cats, shares the bed. He waits until it has that eleven-stone cold lump in it, then he spirals at the head, and crumples into a disc of cat-fur. His bones poke through. He looks at his company, regarding it through nightly inclined eyes, purrs, nuzzles and relaxes. He once purred between two sleeping heads and kept watch, waking them up at weekends, putting his cold, wet nose onto hot cheeks. He pesters his company awake and another night is done. It gets easier as time goes. So it goes.
Although she made great efforts at short notice to take all of her belongings when she left, there are still some scattered around the flat. They leap out and revel in the easy upset they cause. Above the bookshelf, a photograph my mother took of us on my birthday, she is smiling cheekily and I am looking around. We don’t really look like a couple, more a pair unsuspectingly caught in a moment. There is a real lack of photographs of us together, so that it seems, in the settling dust, as though maybe nothing ever took place. If I had to prove to somebody that she & I were cohabitating, I would struggle, and, presented as evidence, all my photographs of her would only draw heckles of repressed obsession.
As I ready another load for the washing machine, I find a dress of hers near the bottom of the bag. Immediately it arrests me, because this dress has a memory that I quiver at: We had spent the day at the pub, walking around, a modest weekend – as we often did – and had come home to my old flat. She sat in my only chair, and hitched the dress up to reveal she was not wearing underwear. Against the haze of fading springlight, she went down on me. She hitched up her dress, firmly, so that I could observe her perfect sex while her spit ran into my hair. I filmed it. I didn’t need to film it; the dress is there, at the bottom of my laundry basket, smelling of stagnation, unworn, limp without its occupant, its incumbent pale dream whisking it back from the pub toilet and smiling at me as she approaches.
Now I am some wine down, listening to love songs, writing about her as midnight stirs, and I know that when placing my skull on that unpopular pillow I will not fall asleep.
On the thirteenth of May, she gave me a collection of music she had assembled solely for me. Its title – ‘I Wish I Was Cat Comfy’ – desires a secure, safe and relaxed coziness, which I never thought about at the time, but now, ten-and-a-half months later, I find myself searching the songs for meanings, clues, and hints; not an unfamiliar game to me. I listen to it now alone when before I listened to it knowing I would return home to her, and that all those lyrics and song titles could be remembered or practiced.
The bed is beneath me, unoccupied until I enter it and damned until I wake up. Things get better with time, I read that in a history book somewhere but not a romance novel, and besides there is always pop music. I guess I just have to get used to sleeping alone, keeping one hand above the duvet on the snug cat as his ribs rise and fall.

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