Tuesday, July 5

Tourists and The Song

She meant it with all the best intentions when she said—‘Get a grip,’ but I was startled by that command, looking around, shrugging my shoulders and preferring to be alone, all of a sudden? We shared her wine; leftovers from the night before. It tasted of red wine; I don’t know; it was not bad red wine. There is bad red wine; I do know; I have drunk a lot of that. The room was sticky with heat and unmoving air. We were nude and sticking to the furniture like Chinese food. There are fleeting moments when one is able to achieve a substantial grip, but how they have eluded me. She told me stories but dizzily I lingered around the edge of her narrative, staring at nothing in particular. Difficult things are easily said, yet still she continued. When she got out of the shower she applied a lotion to her body and I told her—‘You smell nice’ and I sniffed her shoulder and squeezed her bum. She left the lotion on my old writing desk. It has dust on it, but it is not my dust; I do not know where the dust came from. I don’t have the heart to put my nose to its lid. ‘Get a grip,’ are sharp words. The lotion is in a pale green pot with gold letters. The worst thing is, I almost said—‘Yes, I just need to find a good woman.’ Instead I took her to bed and then she showered.
Around the city of London I went searching for something, but could not get my hands on it. Of course, I thought Sunday morning, I could just telephone around, to find out if it was in stock, but I wanted the adventure. Walking aimlessly around the streets and blanking out the masses allows me to feel like some sole survivor. I had walked some distance, when, unsuccessful, I stopped in at a café on Piccadilly. A hairless man behind the counter served me and I took my seat in the corner, as far away from the crowd as I could be, next to the kitchen and subject to many a shoulder barge. Altogether I did not mind; from my stool – with crooked neck I ate – I could see the rest of the café and was left alone. I cannot relax if I know that someone is behind me. I listened to my own music. During a break between songs, I heard the radio over the PA. It was a love song I recognised most sadly. I cursed aloud and turned my music up to bleach it out, but rhythms of it still penetrated my ears. As my own music carried on of its own accord, encouraged, this intruder continued alongside it. ‘Get a grip,’ I told myself. The song conjured up such memories that, even when inflicted upon me within that busy Piccadilly café, I was taken somewhere else, somewhere nice almost. ‘It’s my favourite song.’ ‘I’ll make sure to play it at your funeral, then.’ ‘No, play it at my wedding.’ Differences. When she was not there, when she was sleeping, the song was played. Get a grip. I drank the rest of my coffee and left, to begin the long walk home. It was indeed a long walk and my legs were tired, my feet sore, but I wanted to walk. I cannot express to you what it is to walk around these cluttered streets at the weekend before, the right path taken, the skin peels back and the vein of the Thames is opened before you in all its brown torpor. There were tourists everywhere and the song, still.
It was the middle of the night, in my first flat where we started living together and adding up the numbers of love. She screamed and woke me up. She sat upright; bolt upright, they say; she did that. On the benches along the embankment many were sat: drunks, groups of students, friends, lovers, people with a cigarette on a break from work. The memory struck me from nowhere for the first time since, and the song, still. Sometimes you wake from nightmares and you have tears down your face, as though you were crying in your sleep. I bought her a DVD with the song and she never opened the cellophane wrapper. We always said we would watch the DVD together. We never did. The DVD sat there for months, collecting dust, not just my dust, and its cellophane wrapper distorted all of the light until I thought that that is what light looked like. I asked her if she was all right, I asked her what was wrong. She told me she had had a nightmare in which a man was coming up the stairs to the mezzanine upon which we slept. He was a black shadow. With her big Disney eyes in the sepia darkness she stared at the stairs next to me. I held her and told her there was nothing to be afraid of, but the image made me shudder, as I had suffered a similar nightmare in my youth that refused to be forgotten. I spooned her back to sleep and felt that any illusion of safety I could offer her reinforced my own illusion of safety. Her soft body against mine, her soft shoulder against my nose. Just for a moment, I felt as if there was a purpose in me, position of protector, assuming fearlessness and bravery.
The tourists and the song, still. I do not know why it came to me out of nowhere. It seemed so long ago; another postcode, another me. I cannot tell you why I recalled such an event, although one is prey to romantic nostalgia. I was still some miles from home, and from the buildings in the distance, pale and fragranced against the grey London sky, I tried to gauge how much longer it would take for me to get there.

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