Monday, August 6

The Distance of Two Albums

All things nostalgic have a girl attached to them. My brother recommended the album to me, although my memory of the album before November 2013 is empty; as though, plucked from time, it withstood no other period. Actually I correct myself: I remember listening to it on my way to a friend’s house for a barbeque two summers ago. Even then the album echoed to me November 2013. The last groove looping: November ‘thirteen, November ‘thirteen, November ‘thirteen.
I was in Vienna to meet a girl. The aeroplane wobbled to and fro as it came in to land, and she greeted me at the gate. We had met earlier in the year, but spring and summer had separated one time from another, and now I was eager to see her again. She was a photographer and feckless around the edges; she draped herself off the edge of hotel beds; charming; she was good company in bars and museums; she was decorated with the blue dark of a March that had covered itself in snow.
It was good to see her again. The smell of her clothes was still the same.
She had fallen in love over the summer and so it became quite clear that my arrival at her apartment was a hindrance. Still, to be in a new city was a delight. Each space was vast and imperial. I liked to dash about at night and did not feel any terror. Yes, yes, my heart was sad, but through no fault of the city’s. She would attend school for a few hours a day, and I was left to my devices, walking around, entertaining myself. That was when I listened to the album. I waltzed about the Viennese underground and made my way up to crisp golden church walls, crossed broad roads, I forgot myself in the idiosyncrasies of a foreign land (road signs, pavement construction, bakery smells, the cold glass of an ice cream parlour). When she wasn’t there, the album kept me company. Where was she? There, at the end of the road, walking towards and walked toward.
At a café on the corner, constructed from glass and white-painted iron, ornate, heated by a late sun, we embraced as friends. I removed the headphones and switched the music off.
We selected ingredients, crossed the city, made curry, ate by candelight as though we were Austrian figurines. Perpetually there was chai brewing on the stove, fragrancing the room. She broke my state of mind over a couple of hours; during that time, I lied down and read on an unmade bed. She spoke on the phone in Finnish. As I read, I drifted in and out of attention to her unintelligible words. Was she confessing love? complaining of my presence? Perhaps she spoke of art and he knew exactly what she meant. Let me not mislead the reader and confess that—yes, I understood why she did not want me. I was sleepy by the time she got off the phone—
‘Let’s go out.’
We went to a bar. There were not very many people about but the music played very loudly. I could not concentrate on the music. Over and over I understood why she did not want me. I suppose I am used to that. With my beer I thought that she was a good person and a girl of impeccable taste, but I was quite alone, even as she spoke and I listened and the music romped and the toilets smelled of bleach. It is awful to feel alone in company, and even worse to feel alone in the company of a girl. We went back to her home on the top floor, tiptoeing quietly past her racist neighbour’s door and igniting another pot of chai on the stove.
Her gentles snore arose.
I kept on my back, staring at the light that came through her curtain-less windows; lights of a city and a broken empire. It was all octagonal gold, confused in shadow and the Indian summer cascaded a good enough breeze over my exposed chest.
A lyric from the third song on the album went through my head, irrelevant and unwelcome. It went on & on. Her gentle snores found a 4/4 rhythm and the lyric ran about, over & over.




At the ticket barrier, checking pockets and that—‘Excuse me’ … step aside. There was nothing left on the travelcard, so I would walk. I did not mind walking. I was tired, yes, but walking is not so unpleasant and it was a beautiful May afternoon, the sun was strong and all the colours of the road were singing in a melody of chicken shops and trees. Strange that I should appreciate my first step out of the station so much. It seemed such a wonderful thing to walk home; why had I not thought to do it anyway?
Very quickly I began to perspire and all of my clothes became damp. The streets were busy; the market was closing; it was the rush hour. There was no shade, so I walked along in light, burdened by a backpack, and thoughts running through my head. The new album had just been released and I was listening to it a lot. By association, I thought of Vienna; although, truthfully, that felt like a million years ago. You see, I had been in love since then. That is what I walked along the pavement and thought of; I thought of being in love. The distance flew by when I thought of how I had been in love and the music playing along. I was sad that I had been in love but I was used to the sadness, or I was growing used to it. I was accustomising myself with a great deal: living alone, not speaking to her, losing my best friend, losing the first person I could say – without sense of regret or shame – that I was in love with. So many pop songs, books and poems made more sense to me now.
I passed the tube station I would have alighted at, and stared at the emerging passengers with a sense of superiority, and a staggering amount of sweat running off me. But the album had not quite finished. I went to the petrol station and bought some beer. I had used to buy prosecco, but now I bought beer. Everything had changed. One struggles to keep up with the changes that arise at the end of love. A cold beer after a long walk will taste good. I really miss that part of town. The petrol smelled strong. There was no longer much rush to get home.
I got home, but there had not been much rush to get there. The cats – her cats – leapt upon me, up the arm of the sofa and pawed my arms and side, like the dogs of my childhood. I greeted them both with my nose and kisses. I opened a beer and I raised the sash windows to let some more air in. The cats sat the open windows. I put on the album, just sat there looking out of the window, wishing I didn’t have to eat dinner, and I rubbed the cats ears and they purred at me. There were reminders of her everywhere, not least the cats. I drank and when that was finished, I went down to the shop and bought some more. It was no good. The silence was broken by the music. The albums were two years apart but seemed more separate than that. I played it loudly.
I ate and then lay down on the sofa. The cats lied on me; one (my favourite) on my chest, and the other on my lap. I got into our old bed, and my bed. The bed had made it through winter. I struggled to remember what it was like to go to bed with her. The sleeping body gone, the small spoon, and all there was to do was stare at the ceiling. Time passed. I felt myself becoming colder. In the morning the cats were all over me, one in the nook of my bent-over groin (clawing like a maniac should I try to push her away) and the other slept on the pillow against my head, running his claws through my beard. They were such wonderful animals but they were hers and had to go. I showered and took some painkillers. It was another bright sunny May morning when I walked to the tube station. It was payday. I listened to the album again. I got halfway through – eight songs – before I was back at the office, back in the commotion of people, back to pretending everything was okay. The mess could wait until later. I poured myself a glass of cold water and sat down. The cold water tasted good.

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