Sunday, May 29

Birdcage

On the second day we met again, down by the river, where the water slips inland and slips again, further into rectangles and thin strips. We sat in a birdcage looking out toward the city as it paled behind some May haze. ‘We could fuck in this birdcage,’ she said. ‘We could hang a harness up,’ I said—‘But I dunno if I’d be comfortable with everyone being able to watch us.’ ‘They’d have to pay,’ she suggested, the businesswoman. ‘I could go around afterwards,’ I said—‘Collecting money in a condom.’ She laughed. She had her hands in my hair. Sex was something we had in common; each remarkably tuned to the other; she to me, me to she. We could fuck in birdcages. We could take the show to Vegas, live it up with the other dying stars.
She came back to mine. I felt exposed, although willingly, and only fulfilling my end of the bargain. There she wandered, pointing at all of my photographs on the wall. ‘Who’s that?’
‘My mum.’
‘She’s pretty.’
‘She doesn’t like that photo—“But I’m drunk!” she says, but that’s why I like it.’
‘Who’s that?’
‘That’s my ex.’
All of my books, their spines to attention, looping and stiff; adopted portions of myself disorganised and irregular on the shelves. The surveyor. There was a meal for us but it would go uneaten. She was preparing for bed in the bathroom when I heard—‘Babe, there’s a sanitary towel in your bin.’
I sighed.
‘Looks fresh…’
That bin is never emptied because not once did I think it was in use, but it was, and the discarder of towels framed in my mind, causing me to flinch and grimace. So, to explain it all, honestly, because I thought that honesty would be best. Why, yes, she was disappointed that I had had a sexual affair with a work colleague, sad because she had high hopes for the two of us. ‘It was stupid of me,’ I said. ‘Get me another drink,’ she said.
There were tears in my beard. O, how inconvenient that it should die on the vine! I stroked her thighs. ‘You fuckin idiot.’
Perhaps I was an idiot. Worse criticisms have been hurled my way. I had no fight to argue otherwise, not except to acquiesce to an earlier request of hers—‘If I play guitar for you, will everything be okay?’ The notes were wrong at first, but I got there.
We did not fall asleep until three in the morning.
When the alarm went four hours later we fucked once more and walked to work together, her hands in my hair when she felt like it. That affection I was not used to. Coping method: smile and shudder. It was a sunny day. I watched her walk away, watched her bum sway.
‘Can I see you this evening? Just ten minutes, please.’
Me—‘That sounds bad.’
‘Can I?’
‘Sure.’
We met briefly—‘I’m sorry about last night, for reacting the way I did. I have too much going on in my life to worry about you and a co-worker, but I don’t want to not see you again.’
I looked at her, looked at a nearby building, looked at her—‘There was one too many negatives in that sentence… So you want to see me again?’
‘Yes.’
‘Good.’
‘I’m taking you for dinner Friday night. Tapas. Dress smart casual.’
‘You’re overestimating the extent of my wardrobe.’
‘I’ll see you then.’
The week flew by, although by Friday evening it felt like so long since I had seen her. Had it been only three days? I could not be sure. Time was loose. I was over-thinking my life, sending myself mad and falling into depressed states of mind. Friday night and I was nervous for only one reason: my trainers. (Two reasons: one left and one right.) She looked beautiful, a tight black & white dress, high heels, red lipstick, magnificent eyes! ‘You look beautiful,’ I told her.
‘What the fuck are they?’ she smiled at my trainers.
‘Right, I don’t have any fuckin shoes. I ain’t gonna wear my work shoes because I don’t feel comfortable wearing them outside of work, these are my only other shoes, I’m sorry they’re a piece of shit. Can we just forget about them and move on?’ She laughed at me. I laughed with her, but I did not find it funny. I felt humiliated. These were my trainers; clothes always seemed kind of unimportant to me, trivial. Egotistically or otherwise, I always felt my worth lay elsewhere to my appearance. However, I could not relax. In the busy restaurant I felt like a fool because she looked how she looked and I looked how I looked. All the customers were thinking—‘There is a fashion student and there is a bum. What is she doing with him?’ It was a race to get my feet underneath the table—‘There! they’re under the table now.’ She smiled; I could see how unhappy she was. Could she smell beer on my breath, too? She may not like that, either. We shared a bottle of red and the food was good, as she had promised. There struck up a conversation. My date entertained them and I smiled politely. It was their first time in London visiting their son. They all looked alike: the mother blue, the father yellow, the son green.
She suggested we go to another bar, I knew the place; it was a bar for city-workers and out-of-towners. I did not like it, but paid for the cab there. We stood in line. One of the doormen got to me, pointed at my trainers, looked at her and said—‘No trainers allowed.’ My shame was immense, but I laughed it off. We walked down to another bar she preferred, but when we got there everyone was terribly drunk so she led me out. I just wanted to go home. ‘Let’s just go home,’ she said. I liked that she called my flat ‘home’. A homeless drunk approached us and asked the way to Tower Hill. She hid behind me. I did not mind talking to him. I liked her sheltering behind me. ‘Keep going up there, geez, keep going parallel to the river.’ I was glad when we got home and when her lipstick smudged everywhere.
The next day I took her for breakfast and then accompanied her to work. It was a boutique shoe shop near Bond Street, underneath a music studio. She showed me around. It was lovely. I told her so. She explained all of the shoes. ‘You’ve got some chive in your teeth,’ I told her. ‘Why didn’t you tell me before?’ ‘I dunno, I thought it was cute.’ ‘Yeah, real cute!’ I looked at the names of the shoes while she went to the water closet. I walked around London for a few hours. Time passed very slowly, yet there was so much left of the day. I was unhappy, tired, I was thinking of things. I sat in a cafĂ© with a cup of coffee and regarded all of the young couples around me, and the loners on laptops. I stared out of the window.
I got home and took a nap before getting up and going for another walk to get a coffee, just to get out from between the four walls. There was a seat for me in the lumps of sunlight that fell down between the buildings and the trees. The coffee tasted of burnt hair. A couple sat on the grass in front of me. He acted so cool and assured. She smiled a lot, playing with her shiny black hair. She had cheekbones, too. I tried to stop staring. On my way home again I bought a couple of beers. Everything seemed defunct. As much as I had wanted the walk to alleviate my troubles, it had failed; I returned the unsuccessful survivor.
She arrived at mine around seven because she had left her phone charger and a pair of shoes. ‘Sorry,’ she apologised. I assured her it was no bother. It was good to see her, distracting me from my mood.
In her hand was a shopping bag of shoes. I prayed they were her shoes.
‘O, I bought you these. I feel bad about what I said about your trainers last night.’
My heart sunk, as the saying goes. I opened the box and removed the crepe paper. I did not like them—‘Sorry, I don’t like them.’ I was in no frame of mind for that. I neatly arranged the crepe paper back over the trainers and closed the box.
‘That’s okay. That’s okay.’
I could tell it was not okay.
Fifteen minutes later—‘Right, I’m off.’ She hurried out of the door. I stopped her on the threshold—‘Are you not going to say good-bye?’
We kissed and she went.
I closed the door and sat down. I opened another beer. There seemed to be a lot of flies about, cutting through the air in geometric shapes. They did not bother me. I did not wish to fall asleep nor stay awake. I just sat there as the sun set.

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