She was walking slowly in the rain and she suddenly realised it didn’t matter which road she walked down, which street she crossed, it didn’t change a thing.
Things took her by storm, like this rain. Whilst others pursed their lips and were able to remove a secret part of themselves into a corner far far away from probing eyes and vicious tongues, she was not. Whilst others could shake their heads and laugh off a derogatory remark or look, she could not.
She was walking slowly in the rain and she didn’t care, she was seeking a cavern, a hideout, a dark place she could lay down her head, she was seeking what no longer existed, what she could no longer get out of the buses and cars on the Strand, from the swarms of people emerging like waves of water kept behind sluice gates at the theatres, from the man standing at the bus stop stamping his feet in the puddles and gazing at her through the slits between his fingers. If she stopped and listened she might be able to hear the drone of an aeroplane overhead, hear the silence it carved in the sky. She had a sudden longing to be sitting in her room, listening to the rain drops, listening to the quiet dialogues of the earth, watching the squirrel huddle in the tree.
But she entered a bar and sat down. Anyone else would have gone home, enduring packed hot bodies on buses, anyone else would have been on the phone eloquently expostulating their feelings. She seemed unable, locked in on herself whilst she tried to sort it out, a sort of locked in syndrome.
In the bar she ordered cider and a packet of scampi fries and was at the end of the barman’s stare. Couldn’t she order a Sauvignon and nachos, that would be more appropriate at least? She was being packed off somewhere, that’s what it was. Her feelings were being packed off, they weren’t wanted in this bar even, she could tell, she could tell by the barman’s eyes.
In the corner on a sofa a couple were smooching. Probably an office romance. She overweight and in red, bursting out of her top and her legs flung over his, him, beefy faced, chuckling, probably an area manager doing the rounds. They were sitting back, relaxing, looking lazily at their watches. His hand was moving towards her legs. She no longer watched. But at least there was something she thought.
A young man opposite her was looking. Blond hair, blue eyes with flecks of green. At least in the sun. He was staring moodily at her and then at his finger nails. The music was obsequious, if music could ever be that. She could tell he thought so too. She had half a mind to go with him. He had rejected her, hadn’t he, the other one? But why, she thought. Who would care? She needed someone to care she was doing it, even if it were an illusion, she needed the presence of someone else in the back of her mind. But there was no one and she wouldn’t go on the journey alone, for its own sake. Still if he looked her way again. If he asked.
Ah but she knew he wasn’t going to. He was immersed back in his lap top, he seemed to be playing a game or watching a movie. They all did it now, on the tube or the bus, killing people on their way back home.
She was damned tired. Damn tired of it all and all this traipsing around. Guilt, that’s what she felt now. And guilt at being here, of it leading her here to this seedy bar and not some yogurt or smoothie outlet.
She worked, of course she worked. She had her ideals. But it was on the ends of things she mostly fell off. Long ago she’d taught herself to believe it didn’t matter what anyone else thought. She ran workshops, taught in them, she read the V Spot, and Laurie Penny, she attended demos even. Of course she did. She was mostly vegan. Of course she was, she did it all well. Still , she fell off somewhere and when she did she invariably ended up here, in places like these. She couldn’t call herself one of the brethren could she? She’d quite like to be one of those girls snucking around on her bike in short skirts, fucked twice or three times a week (their glowing faces spoke of it) a vibration of intense intention about them, a girl whose bag was full of books and head full of Patti Smith and grew tomatoes and drank smoothies all day long and went to yoga and all of that- all those things she had to do be one, to be adequate and she couldn’t do it, she just got left behind
Look, I don’t know you, I don’t know who you are.
She wondered if that was said for the benefit of someone else. Anyway it was a drifting sentence, a statement wafting in on the breeze as a punter stumbled in through the door.
Sex and relationships, if only they did not mean so much, she thought. But they did and they did.
She thought back to a drinking party she’d been on with two friends, both trainee nurses. Later one of them said, well you’re either gay or you’ve been abused. He was triumphant, a small smile spreading across his lips. He was referring to her manner of dressing. It was all set up, he explained, everyone was worried that she didn’t seem to be normal. He and the other nurse had had a confab.
I’m just not interested in sex very much, she replied.
Rubbish, you’re just inhibited. You need a shag.
It was the last straw when he got her together with a lecturer at the university, even when it ended up with him doing the shagging, in the arse, anyway. She thought he had done it on purpose, he had a crush on him didn’t he? He knew she’d desist and decided he’d strike the iron hot whilst the other man was vulnerable.
It was practically rape, she thought with a shudder.
I’ve got to move and do something, but the tears were coming to her eyes. Besides the alcohol was kicking in. She suddenly thought, forgiveness was the thing. It came on her unawares. She could try and forgive instead of this hard anger towards a love affair which never really was a love affair.
He hadn’t come to the meeting, of course he hadn’t. She thought she may have spotted him in his sports car but after all it was raining sheets wasn’t it and she was drenched standing by the river and couldn’t see a thing. Right from the very beginning she knew it would end badly. Little anxious flirtatious glances and stares and then he was off the US somewhere. There had been a vacancy in her at that point. The emptiness and terror brought about by knowing he was not in London was matched by the relief that she knew where he definitely was. Then when she knew he was back she hesitated. She felt the old pull. Every street, road led to his door or it was as though she might see him at any moment. She felt like she would. And then quite by chance she found herself walking down the side street by his apartment and waiting there. Of course it was a silly thing to do and she knew it. Yet she had to be near. She was trembling, scared so that her legs turned to jelly and the bottom of her stomach lurched. She clung to the river wall as if sea sick. After thirty minutes he came out. At the sight of him she felt the familiar desire to hold up her head and become stand offish. She didn’t want to be reigned in by him, it was a natural impulse, perhaps because she was drawn to him so much, this was her reaction, to shimmy off. But another emotion pressed at her. She thought, I am going to have it out with him, I am.
She followed him up the street, along the river. It was three months since she’d last seen those eyes fasten on her with an expression of longing- at least she thought it was longing- and she was still stirred to the very depths. Those eyes lived with her every day and came out at night. Yes she must have it out with him although a little voice was saying she was stupid. She was not one of those women who would smile quietly to themselves at their power and then go on their way.
She was following him and she was walking through doubtful shadows. What if he turned and saw her? What then? For she knew she would not be able to speak. But he did turn and see her and stand still. A gaze down a narrow alleyway. But then his phone rang and he took the call, all the time his eyes on her. But his gaze seemed rather absent minded, he was not apt to allow himself to be blown away by emotions. It was a hard stare he gave. His philosophy was always to move quickly on from a person, she suspected that he said that because he was not good at it, therefore he had to reiterate it to the world. But perhaps he was attracted towards morbidly strange women anyway.
She had stopped when he was on the phone. Her hand reached out to crumble the surface of the wall, she pretended she was very interested in looking at the water. She could feel his eyes but she knew too he wasn’t going to say anything or do anything. When she looked back everything else was still there but he had gone. The sudden empty space hit her in the face like cold water. I’ve got to talk to him, she thought, disregarding the sense that this kind of petition never worked.
So he hadn’t come to her proposed rendezvous of course, although he had passed her in his car and she was soaking wet. What was it anyway this pattern of continuous staring and gazing?
You look sad!
The blond haired man had taken out his earphones and was speaking to her.
but she hadn’t been prepared for it, she had paused too long before she replied, in the pause he had seen that it took all her courage just to say that. A little smile came to his lips, he put back his earphones, he was bored…
She wriggled with nervousness when she remembered what she had said to him.
I need you so much.
Need you so much. Just for all the little gazing scenes. But she did, it was no use denying it. She felt like she was losing her life if something did not happen and she became hysterical. Hysterical text messages.
This blond haired man could probably read it all in her face.
Her phone was ringing.
Look, I really don’t know who you are.
Well I thought I saw you just now, near where I asked you to meet.
I was coming to tell you I don’t know you.
But of course you know me.
If you talk to me again I’ll never ever talk to you anymore.
And rung off. She couldn’t tell he was frightened she’d hoarded little things in her mind which for him meant nothing at all, but for her was part of a big jigsaw puzzle. He felt it was out of his control.
What it was maybe, was that he liked seeing her when he was with someone else. It was almost as though it gave him confidence. And she couldn’t separate herself off from it. She couldn’t even reach herself as if the look took her all in, negated her ability to realise she existed. She remembered it now,
You stop me.
Perhaps it was a joke. If it was a joke was it that she got some perverse kick out of it? Did she enjoy humiliation? Or was it that she just loved him and the only relationship she could have with him was a humiliating one?
As she sat there in the pub she couldn’t work it out. Why should she feel stupid or childish? Yet when she saw friends with their boyfriends they didn’t seem anymore happy. One was always more unhappy than the other and the other didn’t seem to see. Was that love or sexual convenience, because most people will sleep with each other?
At least she knew love even if it could not fulfil her, she thought. It was this that made her an optimist of a strange sort.
All this time during her thoughts she hadn’t seen him leave. She looked up and there was just a space. It was too late to run out after him. But she knew there was no point anyway. The other was still there, would always be still there, she would always endure that state of enhanced awareness that the feeling of love and attraction produce.
She could see his eyes disappearing into the night.