Sunday, August 21


If I listened carefully while lying on my back, I could hear the sound of upstairs’ water running down the pipe, and that is how I masturbated. Just as I came, the door buzzer rang and I straightened to answer it with semen running down my leg; there stood two gas engineers. Their arrival had been unannounced, although I permitted them in. They set up around my oven, specifically the hob, with toolboxes and a large cardboard package containing a new hob. Because they took up the entire kitchen, I could not prepare myself a pot of coffee nor make myself something to eat, so I sat there on the floor, dying of hunger, dying of thirst. ‘Sorry for the mess,’ they said, but it was the sound of the electric saw that cut through me and my fuzzy mind. At half-two, they left and, trembling with hunger, I made myself breakfast. The intrusion! I was deeply uncomfortable with strange people in my flat. Coffee did little to calm me and, most likely because of the night before, I trembled terribly and perspired from every pore! I would drink again, so I showered and left. Walking down the street I saw a silhouette cut against the hazy buildings of a crooked figure hunched over a dog with swollen tits. The man was feeding scraps to the dog. Would you believe it, so worn were my nerves that I became anxious approaching him. He would lunge at me and my feeble arms could not possibly swipe him away. My knees trembled as I neared him closer still. As I passed—
‘Excuse me, fella.’
I turned and met his eyes. He had kind eyes so that I regained my nerve and wondered what I had been scared of in the first place. All his bottom teeth were missing, replaced by grey gums.
‘I’m homeless here and – I know your face . . .’ He was certain he recognised me. ‘I’m homeless and asking if you can spare some change so I can buy some food.’ I recognised him. I apologised; not a coin in my pockets. ‘I’ve seen you before. I know I’ve seen you before.’
‘I think we’ve met before,’ I said. ‘South of the river, back in May.’
‘That sounds about likely. I’m from Lewisham.’
‘Yeah. Sorry, man, I ain’t got anything. Real sorry.’
‘That’s okay, fella. I remember you helped me out last time. Just looking for some food. Found a kebab for her, but I need something.’
‘Really sorry, man. Good luck and take care.’
‘You, too.’
He remembered me! How funny! I was – what was I? – nothing special, unmemorable, but he remembered me. All I had handed him that night in South London was some change and a rollie, and we had a conversation as the traffic passed us down Borough, yet he had committed me to memory! What a gentleman! if only I had had some money, I would surely have given it him. The sad sight of his dog, her teats dragging near the floor and twitching her lip at kebab meat. I turned and watched him stagger off.
North London seems like another land to me, everything feeling different, foreign, a hundred miles from home. The streets do not resonate with me like the east does. It was hot out, the sun shining brightly. Thick leaves covered the outside of the pub and shimmered perfectly in the thin breeze, flicking green light like sequins.
Elena sat there on a wooden bench, alone, but at the opposite end of the table were three young men holding golden pints. Her head was ducked down and covered in a shawl. I went around the table. Upon noticing me she arose and we hugged, her little bones like a bird. In lieu of her usual stilettos were flats, bringing her five inches shorter than me. She hunched over her pint and regarded it almost contemptibly. ‘The first one flew down, but I’m struggling with this one already. I got you one, too.’ I thanked her and sat opposite. Across the narrow table we could talk to each other without raising our voices. There was a large projector screening the five-thirty game, which she had a better view of than I, but even that too she glanced at as though it had just knocked a drink out of her hand.
‘Are you okay? What’s the matter?’
‘Nothing,’ she said. I did not believe her. ‘I suppose I look like a Russian widow.’
Most of the pub – a hundred faces in the dark – looked up at the football, their faces tinted blue green and bouncing around in soft flashes. The commentary played from somewhere up in the heavens. There was chatting, a loud amount of noise. Elena and I talked briefly about an art documentary before she said—‘I’m mad today because a guy I liked got a new girlfriend.’ She sipped the beer and grimaced, adding—‘I’m moving to shorts after this. It’s fucking disgusting.’
I smiled at her—‘”Mad” seems understated, and American.’ She looked up. ‘Although that is an excuse to be mad.’
‘Yeah, it’s pissing me off.’
‘That’s proper fucking shit. What you gonna do now?’
‘Nothing!’ She stretched her fingers around the glass.
‘What did you say when he told you?’
Her—‘I told him I didn’t really know what to say, but that I was obviously a bit jealous. I told him I was kind of happy for him.’
‘Was that a lie?’
She chuckled for the first time—‘I don’t even know!’ The commentator became excited as an attacking effort neared the goal—‘Needless to say, he’s gorgeous, talented and French. Whatever.’ She paused for a moment. I was about to say something – although it may not have been helpful – she said—‘He’s annoyed me. I was a bit of a dick early on, but still . . .’
I laughed—‘Why a dick?’
‘I can’t be arsed to talk about it, I’m sorry.’ The beer was indeed lacking, but it was cold and wet. I was still shaking. Looking at her long lashes batting down to clear dust off the surface of the moon, it seemed strange to me that any man or beast would decline the extension of her hand. We had talked about love, lust and fucking before, but I could not imagine her going wanting. Years ago someone had told me—‘Longing looks good on you, kid.’ Longing always occurred to me as something brutal, a malfunction of the species, a defect in evolution; it was hell to endure, unpleasant to observe. She spun on her bum to the young man on her right—‘Can you stop tapping my foot with yours, please!’ The speed of her action surprised him; he recoiled and shrunk. I looked at him, then at her. ‘I feel like I can only snap at people right now.’
‘Let’s go out in the garden,’ I said.
The garden was in bloom and ran in circles upward, steps, poorly painted handrails where fingers and nails had struck their mark against the wood. Tobacco smoke was thick in the air. The pub had a Thai restaurant within it; red curry each; she tofu, me duck. Drink followed drink. The sun went down—‘Let’s go central.’ She hailed us a cab with her thin fingers piercing the air. More shots in the basement of a pub; a Belgian barman joining us in our salutes to nothing-at-all. All thought had gone. What our environment presented, our brains rejected; only to be fumbled over in the morning for it to never be recalled. ‘I know this other bar, a couple doors down.’ We moved on. The bar was split over three levels, spilled like running water. On the ground floor everyone was dancing. They moved like fire—‘I don’t want to dance with them.’ The first floor was a little quieter. More and more drinks, stuttering time and the bliss of consciousness blurring. As the night wore on we became separated and, as if I had been asleep, I awoke, stood at the edge of the dance floor. I looked around for Elena but could find not a trace, neither the top of her shawl in the crowd or any whisper of her fragrance.
The street was cold, was busy. I walked to a fast food restaurant and ordered another meal; it had been five hours since the Thai. I was at the brink of civilisation. The atmosphere was ghastly. I took my order and ran back out into the street. The vehicles came at me, the holiest of them with orange halos, and, wobbling, they passed me by. I was not alone, but all up and down the pavement other Saturday night Sunday morning life skirted along. I was alone. Finally a cab stopped, its halo punctured by four black symbols, clear now but abstract before. I entered.

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