Tag Archives: relationships

Reunion (reprise)

You look surprised to see me and maybe even a little embarrassed. Perhaps she hadn’t told you that I might be coming. Most of all you look older. I know that’s a stupid thing to say after nine years but it’s what strikes me the most; you’ve hastened your hair’s natural retreat by cropping it back and it’s fading to grey. You’re carrying more weight now. Not a tummy exactly but everything’s a little looser, I have to work at making out the line of your jaw. I suppose that if we’d seen each other more often – or at all – then the change wouldn’t be so marked. I can see how the increments would have accumulated over time, I just get to see all of them unfolded at once. It’s enough to send me to the toilets so that I can find a mirror, try to see what the impact of nine years has had on my own face. I can’t judge. I’m too used to seeing it every day and it’s been a long time since I was the person that you knew who peeked up and out from under a fringe. I think I used to hide behind it in the hope of being found. I don’t hide anymore and I’m not looking to be found.

When we talk it’s less awkward than I’d expected. There’s a moment as we meet when the slightest inclination of your head suggests that, maybe on auto-pilot, you’re thinking of greeting me with one of those cheek brushes that seems to have become the standard in our 30s. The older we get the less contact we seem to want. In our 20s it was all hugs and embraces. And, for me and you, the tango of course but it’s a long time since I did any dancing. I shift backwards slightly and offer my hand. Less contact. We touch and I remember the softness of your skin.

When you meet back up with someone after a long absence there’s only really two places the conversation can go. What are you up to now or do you remember when…? We start with the now and keep it light; you’re working up in Harrow, a tech start up that I didn’t catch the name of, and I’m dividing my time between travelling and freelancing, sometimes combining the two. Writing about jazz clubs ? You offer it with a tentative smile, a cautious prod at the thin ice covering the deep waters that are our former lives together. You were always good at that. Finding ways to get me to open up, unlocking the private chambers of my heart, leavening and lightening my seriousness without belittling it. You wouldn’t have let ‘private chambers’ pass without a gag either. I catch myself missing that. Missing the fun we had, even when it was innuendo and bad puns. Writing about jazz clubs. You know me too well. I haven’t really changed. And he nods, sadly, and says: no, no you haven’t. 

We’re saved from our small talk by the arrival of the cake. Mike’s carrying it in, thirty five candles flickering and illuminating Sally’s name spelled out in icing. I knew that there’d been a similarly large celebration at her 30th but I’d been out of the country, it was the summer I spent in New Orleans. She’d never been one to pass up a party and this gathering had been billed as the warm up event for her 40th. It wasn’t clear if her and Mike were planning to do this every year but I already knew this’d be the last time I saw them. I didn’t know how I’d feel when I saw her again. Watching her about to blow out the candles, the flames dancing under her easy smile, I could see why it had happened. She’d been a pretty girl and now she was an attractive woman, lively and confident and larger-than-life. The size of her personality was still in inverse proportion to her dress size. I don’t know whether she’d ever told Mike but something about the way they are together, the way he still tracks her movements around the room, rests his hand lightly around her waist when they’re close, makes me think that she never did. Maybe she never thought it was a big deal. Better to hide the truth to stop people from getting hurt; it was just a drunken mistake.

I can clearly remember when you told me. That morning in the kitchen in the flat. Things hadn’t been great for a while but the connection between us held fast. A little frayed but it held. I don’t think either of us really knew how we were going to resurrect what we’d had at the beginning but if you’d asked us then I think we’d have said we wanted to. We were incandescent falling in love but didn’t know what to do when the boil settled to a simmer. Maybe we’d have found the right ways and the right moments to turn the heat back up if we’d had more time. I slept with Sally. Four words that took three seconds to say between two people and to break one heart. I slept with… You were half way through saying it again, tears forming in your eyes, but I didn’t hear it. I was shaking my head, trying to dislodge the words. You stepped towards me extending your arms, saying you were sorry over and over and over again, but for each step you took forwards I took one away until my back bumped against the front door. It was our last tango. I held onto my tears until I’d slipped out the door and fled to the street.

I wound up on Shepherd’s Bush Green sobbing on a bench until some homeless guy offered me a swig from his last Special Brew. Looking back there was something blackly funny about it I suppose. Perhaps I should have invited him to sit down, maybe we could have gotten drunk and duetted on some power ballads, howling incoherently at the early risers and late finishers making their way across the park. He looked a bit like Meatloaf and I had enough mascara smudged around my eyes that I could’ve passed as that witchy woman he sometimes sings with. Anything for love but we won’t do that. Instead I smile at him, decline the proffered can, and ask if he’s okay. We chat for a bit and I give him some change for a coffee or something. I’ve seen enough bad movies that I was half expecting him to turn out to be a philosophy lecturer down on his luck offering up wisdom for the lost, or an angel testing people to see if they’re worth saving, or a lonely multi millionaire in disguise, waiting for the right person to bestow his fortune on. The best he offers is “people aren’t reliable, you can’t trust them” before he shuffles off across the Green towards the Off License.

Sally leans forwards and chases the flickering flames across the cake with the most extravagant exhale she can muster. She gets them all bar two. Thirty three candles marked now by a smudge of black smoke slowly rising into the air and two that stubbornly still burn. I look up and you’re staring at me. I hold your gaze as Sally swoops on the final pair, snuffing them out with another quick puff of air. Each reduces to a glow, like an echo of the fire they once were, and are then extinguished.

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Union (him)

“We’re going on to Sally’s.”

It’s noisy in the club. Some band I didn’t catch the name of are hacking their way through The Jam’s “Start!” and our group, gathered loosely at the bar, are shouting to be heard over them. It’s noisy but I heard you clearly. I pretend I didn’t, exaggerate a cupped ear, point towards the band, and shrug. I just wanted to feel you lean in closer, feel your breath on my ear, smell the faint trace of perfume mixed with lemon vodka. You take a step in towards me and lightly rest your fingers on my arm. As you rise slightly on the balls of your feet to close the gap I catch a flash of green eyes hidden somewhere under layers of fringe and mascara. You smile.

“We’re going on to Sally’s. After this. If you wanted to come along then that’d be cool.”

It’s noisy in the cab. I don’t remember who flagged it down but I guess maybe Sally or Mike had sorted it out whilst we were talking on the pavement. You were telling me about backpacking through South America and wanting to learn the Argentine tango. I’d hooked my leg round the back of a lamp-post and thrown my head back with a triumphant “ole”. You’d laughed and pulled me into a dance hold – “not like that, like this” – and I felt your heel slide up the back of my thigh. I stared at you until you broke eye contact, shook your head laughing, and said: “Ole is Flamenco, twinkle toes.” The cab’s running through the main arteries of the city, taking us away from its heart. As the pulse of the night dims the more I become aware of my own. The windows fog up and I sketch a smiley before wiping it clean so I can try to see your reflection in the glass. You’re on the pull down seat opposite listening to Sally talk about the time she met Sister Bliss from Faithless. I’ve heard it before. The cabbie’s got the radio on and “God Save The Queen” rattles out of the speakers just as we turn up The Mall, circling the Palace. Me and Mike join in with a loud rendition as the girls try and drown us out with the national anthem. Fascist regime. Send her victorious. We mean it man. Long to reign o’er us. No future, no future, no future.

It’s quiet at Sally’s. Her and Mike have disappeared, apparently so she can show him some book he’d been asking her about. I’ve known Mike a long time and he’s not much of a reader. Me and you are sitting on a blue futon. I’m picking the label off my beer bottle and you’re idly swirling an ice cube around the inside of your tumbler.

“Sally hasn’t got that book,” you say.

I look at you. You’re tilting your head, hand behind your neck. Your hair has fallen away from your face and I trace the line of your jaw. Your lips twitch in a smile and there’s that flash of green again as you catch my eye. This time you don’t look away.

“Mike’s never heard of it anyway,” I reply. You laugh and I put a finger to my lips. Shh!

“Well I’m not going to sit here quietly and listen to them shagging,” you protest loudly. There’s a pause and then Sally calls from the next room: “we’re not shagging”. Another pause: “not yet anyway.” And then laughter followed by a few mock gasps and groans.

It’s quiet when we kiss. I was always bad at reading the signs. If you’d left it to me we’d have still been sat there arguing playfully about why jazz sounded like something musicians do before they start playing the song or swapping war stories of terrible first dates or how you couldn’t talk in pubs anymore or… You moved across the futon quickly, whispered “enough talking now, twinkle toes” and kissed me. Later you swear I said “ole”. It sounds like something I’d say but, honestly, I don’t remember anything after that kiss.

 

Powder blue

That bit was true. She wore powder blue. A skirt that shifted up and around her legs as I watched her walk, hips lifting and falling as she retreated from me. I didn’t follow her. She’d made it clear that I shouldn’t but there was nothing I wanted more than to chase her. Powder blue skirt, white blouse, hair pulled up in a loose bun, loose strands tumbling down her neck. I memorised her back. Her walking away was as good as it was going to get so I fixed it in my head. I love to watch you leave. Jesus, now you’ve got me sounding like the lyrics from some 80s hair metal band. Shot through the heart and you’re to blame.

That bit was true though. That bit I remember. The stuff before that I’ve tried to forget and mostly been successful. I expect it was the usual easy let down lines about not the right time or not in a good place right now or it’s not you it’s me. Your mouth said some words. Your perfect kissable mouth said some words. I watched it and remembered feeling it on mine but couldn’t reliably say what it said. You never listened. Perhaps that’s what it said. It’s a fair cop. Guilty. There’s not a court in the land that wouldn’t acquit though when I submit, in my defence, the glory of watching that mouth and tasting those lips and feeling that tongue tease and test mine. Who’d listen under those circumstances ? A better man than me. You were just too distracting. Too arresting. Does that make me shallow ? Did you get tired of splashing around in shallow old me, looking for some depths to sink into that just weren’t there ? I don’t know. Maybe I am. You just walked out on me and I’m fixing the image of your swaying hips and perky backside in my brain as my memory of this moment. I’m not proud.

There’s other stuff I’ve forgotten. Dates we went on as a prelude to sex. Conversations we had as a prelude to sex. Staring romantically into each other’s eyes as a prelude… You get the idea. The prelude was always pretty predictable. As we’ve established I’m shallow enough to have my well rehearsed moves fixed down to a tee. Like muscle memory. You could drop me down in a bar, in a cinema, walking down the street hand-in-hand, in a restaurant, in a gym, on a train, even one time buying some throat sweets in Boots, and it would end in bed. Or the floor next to the bed. Or stairs. Or an alleyway. As I say, you get the idea. I’m not boasting, it’s just something I know how to do. That part is always a means to an end. The fact that it is seems to always bring about this you-walking-away end.

It was all lies. I never wore powder blue. I might have worn navy or black or, when we first met, something red even, but powder blue ? I always knew there was a gap between the reality of us together and the twisted narrative playing in your head and presumably this was part of it. That I was all powder blue and perfect bottom and floor to ceiling legs and blow job lips. What the hell are blow job lips anyway ? Coming next month in Cosmo: 23 lipsticks that look great round his cock. So what did he tell you ? That it was all sex ? That he was dreadfully, charmingly, shallow and that I thought I was the one that would get him to dispense with the scuba diving and gear up with an air tank to fully explore our murky depths together ? He’d never use a diving analogy without some fucking gag about, you know, another kind of diving though. That part about him being shallow ? Give him some credit: that part, amongst all the lies, was true.

For the record then I wore navy. I remember it now. A straight, tailored skirt from Hobbs, cut just above the knee. There were no flashes of thigh or glimpses of suspender belt. No hint of what was underneath unless you were some kind of sex obsessed maniac that sees navy as powder; some permanent rendering of the world in soft focus. I guess that’s what too much porn will do to you. That and an endless compulsion to buy me “gifts” from Agent Provocateur. Yeah, sure I’ll wear those. Just as soon as you clamp your balls in a vice and shove a feathered butt plug up your arse. Also for the record my hips don’t sway or swing. I don’t casually sashay across the floor. I walk. Specifically I walk away from you and not so that you can watch me leave but so that I can get the fuck away as fast as I can without falling flat on my face in three inch heels. I’m amazed you didn’t mention those. Presumably you couldn’t drag your eyes away from my behind long enough to notice.

That stuff you forgot ? Honestly, you’re right to forget it. It was forgettable. You’re not the only one that phoned it in during those dates, during those meals, those films, those walks, as a prelude to getting to the mindless escape of fucking. You really think that was a one way street ? I’m not walking away because you didn’t listen or because ‘it wasn’t you it was me’. It was you. It really wasn’t me. I just got fed up finishing myself off every night after you rolled over asleep after another loud but short explosion. You’re lucky my name’s only got two syllables: I’m not sure you’d have ever managed to call it out before you came if it had been three. I was happy with shallow, I was feeling pretty shallow myself, but if we’re going to connect purely for sex then let’s at least do it properly. That too much to ask ? Sure, at the start, maybe I was looking for something more than that but not by the end, not when it became obvious that there was no more to you than that. And in the end you couldn’t even deliver against your shallow promise. You were a means to no end and that’s why I walked away. Remember me in powder blue if you like. It’s a lie but then all of it was.

……

This is story 36 in a series of 42 to raise money and awareness for the mental health charity Mind. My fundraising page is here and all donations, however small, are really welcome: http://www.justgiving.com/42shorts

This is not dissimilar to previous story, Moonshot, in that it was just an attempt at straight voice. I’m not sure the two protagonists ended up being distinct enough but you can be the judge. As usual there hasn’t been an edit.