Saturday, June 18

Twenty-four Hours of Ending

Upon the dirty grey steps of the train station, leading down and out to Old B—d St, I saw her sitting, with her back to the sun, dressed in fashionable black, fingering her phone, the arch of her spine, and her exposed arms sporting several new tattoos. It is strange: I never imagined her getting new tattoos. I imagined her meeting new men, fucking them, sleeping in a different bed, telling someone else—‘I love you,’ planning a family, but I never imagined her getting more tattoos. Why had I not thought of her getting new tattoos, as though I left her body in a finished state? There was no mistaking that it was her, alone, on the station steps. O, it is her! I was not too bothered, and, finding myself pleasantly surprised by how little I was affected, I smiled. But what to say, should I, having found courage amongst some bone or organ, approach her out of the blue. Surprise was on my side because, to my knowledge, she had not seen me. I could approach her left shoulder, delicate and nuzzled in the old days by my familiar nose. Maybe I could open with a joke, an in-joke, something we had prepared in-love, or an underwhelmed greeting as though I was unfazed. Do you know I could think of nothing, and that is when I was beset by a form of terror! a fight-or-flight impulse. My stomach tightened so that I thought I might vomit; my knees weakened so that I might fall. I cursed myself a hundred times! You fool! You stupid fucking bastard, and still I walked along feeling worse. What would it have been for me to leave five minutes earlier or later, or taken a different route, to avoid her.
I performed my lunchtime tasks around the city before returning to the office and saying to a friend—‘We’re getting smashed tonight.’ He asked why. I told him I would tell him later. I told him later and he seemed to understand, although I knew that he could not. We got drunk and talked. I told him about the girl I was seeing, how good she was but that there was something missing. Indeed I forgot all the troubles of the day.
American girls have the most perfect teeth. I have never met an American girl who did not possess the most perfect teeth. As they talk to me, I stare into their mouth, enviously, at the order, the whiteness, the lines of their perfect teeth. I met an American girl and she had perfect teeth. She showed me all of her tattoos. She had perfect teeth. Her flannel shirt was undone enough to reveal the black lace of her brassiere stretched across her ribs. She was lovely; flighty and amusing, scolding me for my bad language, a sensible drinker, more sensible than I, and engaging so that I enjoyed talking to her very much. She had good eyes that I became sworn to.
When I left the bar I was in a far better mood. My mother had warned me—‘Don’t let that ruin your weekend! Don’t get too drunk!’ I was okay.
During my walk home it began to rain heavily. Instantly the streets were charged with diagonal lines, shiny surfaces, a soft hiss of water colliding with solid states. I hunched my neck up against the rain but felt cold all over; not unpleasant but such a downfall that I was lost and abstract among the drops. A fast food restaurant served fried chicken and dismal white light onto the pavement. There were lovers in there because I watched them. If I had not watched them then, discretely, they would not have been lovers. They were lovers who held hands and kissed necks. He wore aftershave and she puffed flesh out the edges of her tight dress. They dazzled beneath the electric bulb menu; two lovers with fingers entwined. I ordered six pieces of chicken and hurried through the rain; water softening the brown paper bag.
In the morning there was a text. It came to me as I had my first cigarette through the stuffy mouth of my hangover—‘I’m going to start dating other guys,’ she said. She was not to blame; I had not contacted her for five days. Truthfully I had enjoyed being alone, as all the news stories had taken a toll on me and I was not feeling up for communication. She continued—‘I wish you all the best with work, your writing and love in the future. I will always remain your friend.’ I ordered a coffee and sat on the train that would take me back to my parents’ where I thought that I could get way from everything for a weekend. I could not bear to think of things. She text me again—‘I want you to know that I really like you, really felt a connection with you but I’m finding it difficult us just talking or interacting sporadically. I’m going to truly miss your company and charm if you don’t speak to me.’
I told her that I hope we can remain friends. I told her how lovely I know she is. The words all felt awkward, entangled, fractured, or perhaps a little flagrant, since I knew that she deserved better than me, and that I had so many of my own things to deal with first. Anything I had to say seemed hollow because she cared so much for me and she was so wonderful, but there I was, broken and haunted, and what I wanted to give her, what she deserved, I could not. She would have been worth so much of me.
My niece was expected at any moment. I slumped on my parents’ sofa. The Saturday was dimly lit outside and the wind had stifled down to a tremulous twitching of shrubs. When she arrived she was all soft-faced and yawning from her nap in the car. She smelled of her. She put a straw hat on; a hat she has grown attached to, so that she cannot remove it nor have it removed. There are words that flow out of her mouth constantly – her mother is such a chatterbox – but the words do not make sense, marked only in percussive sounds and sweet nouns. In the evening, after dinner, we take a walk to the beach. The sun is low and by now only flickering gracefully and slim through the atmosphere. I see its bones broken through the branches of nearby trees. She runs screaming over the sand, leaving her small footprints behind. She laughs and screams, the straw hat on her head.

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