Friday, July 21

The Nurse, Part II

The following days were filled with an immeasurable anticipation: if my phone should go—‘It must be her!’ It wasn’t her, until finally it was. When that first message arrived I danced around to music by myself, because the joy was so new and clean, and most likely to disappear as quickly as it had arrived. Yes, I was sure to be unhappy again, so I danced and danced; I struggled to sleep; I sung Irish love songs in the shower. My life was fragranced with the scent of something promising. She had wanted to meet me. It is not in my nature to become excited about anything, yet I was excited and hopeful.
At our meeting place I was not terribly nervous. I daydreamed: perhaps she had grown much fonder of her date from Tuesday night, informed him of my advances and it was he who was coming, to bash my skull in! No, do not think such things. I arrived early, like a professional, to keep watch over the four different directions from which she could arrive. It started to rain, only enough to perfume the pavement, and yet I cowered underneath the overhang of a great office block. Waiting for her in the rain, I reflected that it was a good use of a Saturday, even if it should end in a punch. There were a number of other people waiting around the place. What if she should see me and recoil from the unpleasantness her drunk Tuesday self had forgotten? All four directions were covered. She would be here soon. The nerves came.
Eventually she showed up.
I forgot to note the time.
She could have approached me a thousand times like that and not once would I have glanced my wristwatch.
We walked toward the river. The conversation came quick and easy, without proper introduction. She was as good as I remembered ‘It’s quite cold. You mind if I go back to get a jumper? ... Actually, no, I should be okay.’ It did not take long for her to mention a past lover. People in their twenties (and thirties) are obsessed with the loves of their past, as though they satellite constantly, a planet and its moons, Jupiter. As she spoke I thought of how my past lover mentioned hers so often, and how it made me so unhappy. We asked questions and took turns answering them. We were quite new to each other, in the same way that babies are new to the world and they open their eyes and move them about in their sockets and go—‘O, I have not seen that before.’ It was hard for me to look where I was going and to look at her. Very soon, though, I became comfortable with her presence, as though I were not on a date at all, not being taken in by her forest eyes, but just being and wandering through the city as I were inclined to do any other Saturday.
We walked on and sometimes the bustle clattered around us. The wind of the Thames came blustering about our hair.
At the side of the river there was a sandpit that she wanted to sit next to—‘I love the feeling of sand in my fingers.’ But first: a drink. We got a drink each and sat down next to the sandpit where the children played and people passed us by. There is always something going on in the city; it sparkled and revolved around us. It was my first chance to study her again and to hear her words without the distraction of focusing on where I was going. I thought that I was quite a dull person. I sat there next to the sandpit and I listened to her tales of travel and love and I thought—‘Yes, I am quite a dull person without much to my name at all.’ She had been to so many countries and I had been nowhere (impotently wallowing in the city), and she told me many tales and my attraction toward her inflamed. Because she had seen so much and I so little and I wanted to be the sort of person she shared interests with, I grew sad and put my hand into the sand. Then, flinching somewhat at the noise of my thoughts, I attempted to brush the sand away. The city was in the throes of Saturday, in the hubbub of a weekend.
We sat down and she bought lunch: two extravagant hotdogs. She kept referring to it all as a ‘first date’ and she would ask me questions, to suss me out; it takes me a long time to open up and she would most likely never know me fully. Content was I to just enjoy her company, although I am not used to the dating malarkey; I realised, a trifle uncomfortably, that I was being judged, and I am not suited for judgement. What did she think of me? I noted to myself that despite me putting so much weight on the occasion – as it was not an occasion so oft experienced – she breezed through it and the exchanges as if they were nothing new. We went around the quiet backstreets of south London and, stopping in pubs along the way, thought, simultaneously, that those in front of us were very different from us; and, at that, I felt warm. At times I would be pessimistic and she optimistic, then me optimistic and she pessimistic. She told me about her favourite pub, which, by chance, I had not been to. It was later. We would go there. I wished to know everything she held close. The sky was not blue but white, as the strained clouds of grey bent under the weight of an intense sun. She revealed that she was recently out of four-year relationship. The last two years she had wanted to be free of it. I understood, then, that she was quite different to me and I quite different to her and she had a large house white and I a pale ale.
As we moved about London I felt a new memory being put upon the landscape, as though it were a fresh coat of paint: roads that previously triggered a particular recollection diminished before my eyes and became born again in an instant of experienced bliss; instead of the nostalgic pain of past they rolled around in her, renewed. Just allow the district line to take me back and forth, left and right, from one side to another, if she clings just so to the pole and steadies herself and I hear the sound of her voice.
Her favourite pub was quiet, quiet for a Saturday night, and we were able to get a table next to the fishpond she had wanted me to see. ‘Look how big the fish are!’ It felt sacred that, her wanting me to see something that interested her so much; from such small details the human before your eyes becomes fuller, more of a life than just another being. The fish fought and splashed up at us. Their water could be smelled in the air, reminding me of pet-shops from my youth. We talked and the fish fought and splashed us with water. She leaned over the water, reflected in all around, a half-dozen hers. It was nine o’clock when she said—‘I’m gonna go to the toilet and you think about what we should do next.’ I watched her go to the toilet. Why is that so tender? I cannot explain, although I watched, I saw, I went along with the movements of her. Hmm, what to do? I did not know. If only the night could not end, if only on that particular day the earth could halt its revolution. I would prefer to spend more time with her; that is all. ‘So, did you think of anything?’ I told her that I hadn’t. I am really not so imaginative, but if I were maybe I could have conjured up some way for us to spend more time together. ‘Well, how about we go back to either yours or mine and continue drinking there?’ Music. It was a grand idea. Knowing that she did not dislike me, and fashioned by alcohol, I placed my right hand upon her right calf that was draped over her left knee. It was the first time I touched her skin properly and I did not take it lightly. Hold that in memory, mind, and don’t let me forget it. Immediately she apologised for not having shaved. I told her she need not apologise. I wish she had not apologised. I did not want her to be sorry in the slightest for that moment.
We walked back to mine, stopping at the cornershop on the way to buy vodka. The sun was setting now and it gracefully aligned its fall with the canyon of the A13. We discussed which vodka to buy and I was happy-so-happy to be with her. The bright fridges of the shop, fridges I had spent much time in front of before, were powered by the small electricity of her beside me. I said hello to the men I knew.
Don’t end, day. I have money. I will meet you under the bridge with the money. Don’t end, day.
When one shows someone the home in which they live it is an unveiling of something that cannot otherwise be exhibited; it is where you eat and sleep and come and relax and phone your mother and shower. She sat down and I prepared us a drink each. She declared that I was interesting. I watched her as she made her way around my very small studio, looking at books and photographs on the wall and paintings I had scattered about (complete, half-complete). I put on a record and we sat down, continued talking – for we had not really stopped – and after a while she laid her legs over mine.
We had our first kiss. Before the first kiss, one is likely to realise it is the first kiss and prepare accordingly. A memory is moved aside – your childhood friend’s favourite ice lolly, the name of the road down which you had your first fistfight – so that a new one might replace it. As we kissed, I thought—‘This is our first kiss.’ We did not break away for some time. We carried on from there until it was four in the morning and my visions distorted under the vodka.
In the morning I awoke and could hear the crows beyond the window. The murder chatted amongst itself and got breakfast. She was asleep next to me. Usually I sleep on the left and others on the right, however she took the left and I the right. She was asleep so rather than take myself back to slumber straight away I thought I might enjoy her silent snores. With my nose in her hair I smelled her. I kissed her hair because she was asleep she would not call me silly for kissing her hair so much. Her shoulder and hair were the thurible wafting over my bedsheets. Her lashes were long and her eyebrows thick and unpencilled. I thought that she was beautiful and I liked the morning’s rise. Drawing the sheet over her uncoveredness, I was seven-a.m. happy; all of her the most magnificent of colours, broken into triangles around her holies. It was the only opportune time to study her face and, because she was unaware, my eyes could gaze as much as I wished; the tiny freckles; a week previous I had never met this girl before and right then she was next to me, as real as anything, having been plucked out of the eight-point-eight million people living in the city. After I had had the chance to revel in the moment, I got up and urinated. I took a glass of cold water and placed it next to her side of the bed for when she woke up. It is good to wake up to a glass of cold water. I turned off the music that had soundtrack’d us a few hours earlier and got back in next to the scent of her spine.
We finally arose at eleven and lay there for a good while. She lifted my arm and placed it underneath her head. ‘Let’s get a fry-up delivered,’ she said; I talked her into going out and showered myself while she chased me along.
The restaurant was quiet but outside it was alive with Sunday morning market. It was a large racket. Overpriced fry-up and warm coffee. ‘I put this blue soap thing in my cistern and it makes the water in my toilet blue!’
I said—‘That sounds incredible.’
‘Let’s go back to mine.’
‘I want to see your blue toilet water.’
‘I want you to see my blue toilet water.’
We went to hers and she showed me around and I took a photograph of her blue toilet water. She showed me where some chopped tomatoes had spilled in her kitchen. ‘Now it’s your turn to look at all my stuff.’ I told her that I had to try out her toilet and see the blue water in action. As I did so, she changed into a small dress. She apologised for her hair but I thought her hair looked terrific and told her so. ‘You look lovely.’ She really was so pretty.
‘Let’s go out and get one drink. One drink,’ she said.
‘Deal. Just one.’
‘I want a bloody mary more than anything.’
The first bar did not serve bloody marys, so she ordered a mojito and we sat there overlooking the Thames, its drudge brown waters breaking and kissing in the wake of a bludgeoning boat. The sun was so hot. We talked about a new job for her. In the soft weariness of a Sunday afternoon we sat side by side and I admired the knots in her wavy hair; knots caused by the wind of yesterday and the fingers of my hand. At the edge of my vision was her small shoulder, a perfect colour, a connection of bone, a joint, softened by muscle and a most beautiful colour. She had tried to brush the knots out, but the brush would not budge. The hair came down over her shoulders. My tired tummy made heavy work of the beer.
We went to another pub and asked—‘Do you do bloody marys?’ and they did. The pub – all the pubs – were busy with good-natured people who liked to savour the last day of their weekend. They were families and seemed a million miles away. I liked that she was still wearing the same skin from last night; had not washed it off; I liked that the knots in her hair only made her more divine. It was the same skin that I had seen tumbled out of the bedcovers and, falling in love with the colour of her skin, had pulled underneath while my thoughts were stirred with the sound of crows and lust.
She must be tiring of me! It was a thought I could not shake. Surely she must be trying to shrug me off. We sat in the bar and our conversation did not dry, not like the bottom of empty summer glasses, but I thought that she was tired of me and I should say—‘O, let’s go our separate ways,’ if only to bring her some relief.
On the walk back, when her apartment was so close, we decided on one more drink, one final drink, we promised, so we closed into a small pub where the customers drink not for pleasure or the cricket on TV, but for loyalty to Sunday sessions and nothing else going on. We sat down in the corner, away from the others. It was a dark pub of wooden maroon. Her apartment was just across the road and soon we would have to bid farewell to each other. I would miss her, true, but I realised that if I were to rest decently then it would have to be beside her, in a sticky coffin of bed covers and detached condoms. These were the last times.
‘I am no good with good-byes.’
‘Neither am I,’ I said.
‘Shall we just hug?’ she asked.
We embraced and went down our respective streets, at ninety-degrees to the other. The comedown began, and it lasted several days. I will not tell her how I feel. If I were to tell her how I feel, it would be improper. I would not express how much I enjoyed being around her, and then I would suffer the consequences. No, I would keep quiet and that is all.

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