Sunday, July 24

Card Tricks and The Imaginary Drumkit

Justin lived down the end of the corridor. I, too, lived at the end of the corridor, but at the opposite end of the building; except my particular spine of student accommodation was host to a frequently-used fire exit, so it did not seem so quiet. Down Justin’s end of the corridor the lights appeared to dim and the air to stagnate, so quiet was it down there. Most of his time he spent in the television room, alone. There was little on but still he would sit there, dully drifting in and out of thought, snacking occasionally, most often just his eyes moving and nothing else. He could often be found in there, slouching on eighties’ furniture, staring vacantly at the set, the light bluely reflecting off his spectacles. He would drink cheap beer in the evenings when there were other people about, beer he did not share, but beer that afforded him the confidence to become animated. He would pretend he had a drumkit in front of him—‘This is the snare, right, and this is the kick, yeah, and over here are the toms…’ and he would pretend to play songs on his imaginary drumkit. He was obsessed with his imaginary drumkit. People would watch him and smile and he would focus on his imaginary drumkit and the light would bluely reflect off his spectacles. No one understood. When he had finished his performance, he would procure a pack of cards from his back pocket and show us a trick, tricks that were neither obvious nor spectacular. It amused him, when the routine was over, he was quiet down; the next night he would do the routine all over again. There was nothing much for him but the imaginary drumkit and card tricks.
Michelle was very different. She seldom spent time alone. She wore her hair in a way that made her look older than she was; black Irish hair and pale Irish skin. She regarded him strangely, and then we disappeared off to become drunk and laugh. When we returned he was still there, staring at the set. In the evenings she would invite me to her room—‘So, do you want to lose your virginity?’ she would ask me, and I would say—‘No,’ and laugh and she would not laugh. She seemed lonely but afraid to admit it. Her boyfriend was in another town. I licked her breasts and her feet. The dirtier her feet were, the more I enjoyed licking them. She would spit water into my mouth for a game. I would look at the shadow cast by her nipples against the bedside lamp. Her room was heavily fragranced with cheap perfume. We went to the student bar many times a week, became drunk and then went back to our halls, where Justin was sitting in the television room. There would be snacks passed around, music – terrible music – and some more drink. Michelle would tell everyone that I liked her feet, and I would be embarrassed. The same thing went on. It was repetitive for those ten months, but you tolerated it because otherwise you would be alone.
I did not see much of her in the second year. She disappeared from the face of my earth and I did not miss her.
The next I heard of her, twelve years later—‘She married Justin!’
I shook the telephone, laughed—‘No way!’ Love worked in strange ways, it did.
‘Yes way. They just moved to Ireland together last April.’
‘Fucking hell,’ I said.
‘Yeah, mate, fucking mad.’
How had things developed for the pair of them after that first year of university? I assumed neither would see the other again. Fate obviously had other plans. Did he ever think of her like that back then, did she of he? All the conclusions of life seemed absurd to me! Not would I, in a month of Sundays, have placed the two of them together. Therein lay the magic of fate, I suppose, sometimes things just happen and feel right. I got another beer from the fridge and continued to listen to my old friend on the phone as he continued—
‘You remember Jenny?’
Jenny and Michelle were friends; best friends at university, not as any grand friendship statement, but as a default, for neither had much choice, forced together in the situation as they were, being of similar temperament and background within the corridor. They regarded the other women in the corridor as strangers, intruders perhaps and were suspicious of them, although they were friendly enough. Within each other they found unwavering loyalty, but little else outside of campus and those three years.
‘Yeah, I remember her.’
She had taken to swinging. In my absence, six years later, the university group met up, and she talked a lot about her swinging. It had been two children since then and she was not what she was. All her education, the little flame she showed me one evening, talking about ambition and life’s path, had been forsaken for children. She met her husband after we stopped seeing each other. One sunny afternoon in April 2006 I saw the pair of them on the bus; I kept my head down, strictly observing in the reflection of the window. On their way out she saw me and blanked me, which I deserved. What little I knew of her after university was through a social networking site, receiving a message off her one evening, saying simply—‘Fuck me.’ There were photographs of her with her husband and with her children. I left the social networking site.
‘Swinging, really?’
‘Yeah, it’s really fuckin’ weird. She was tellin’ us all about it and how they meet up with strangers and shit.’
‘But she’s attractive and young,’ in my naivety—‘I thought swinging was something you did when you were middle-aged and your kids had moved out and you were bored as fuck.’
‘She ain’t attractive now.’
It seemed to me, even during the telephone conversation, that life had happened too fast to Jenny. All the fears and concerns she had told me of through tears and nude vulnerability – relating to getting a good job, making a name for herself in the world, becoming successful independently – were abandoned as soon as she saw the opportunity to do otherwise. Meet, marry, breed; in quick succession, before she turned twenty-three.
He told me tales of other friends of ours from back then: people who had returned to their hometown never to leave, who disappeared into drugs and were not seen again. It was sobering. I remembered why I had cut ties with all of them. ‘Anyway, mate, we should meet again, catch up properly. I’ve got this book you gotta read—’
‘It’s not self-help, is it?’
‘Nah, it’s how to chat up birds and it’s fuckin’ insane. Proper works. I’m steamin’ through bare birds at the minute. You gotta read it.’
‘I’ll pass.’
‘I’ll send you a link.’
I leaned back into the sofa—‘Okay, Steve, listen, I gotta go. I gotta make dinner and it’s late.’
‘All right, man. Let’s meet up, yeah, in town?’
‘Yeah.’ I hung up, with no intention of contacting him again.

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