Five Years’ Time

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CC Image courtesy of Lena_J on FlickrI remember running together along the cobbled pavement of St. Giles to catch the beginning of the play.  Something French and obscure.  Afterwards we walked back to college, said goodnight beneath the clock, went our separate ways.

 

He left suddenly part way through second year, and we lost touch.

 

‘Anna!  How are you?  If you’re in London – want to meet up?’

I stare a moment, and not because the punctuation is whack.

 

A few weeks back, I’d been invited to a salon in South London, the kind of terrifying Bohemian affair I can never quite muster the courage to attend.  I’d noticed his sister’s name amongst the list of organizers and his own, under ‘Going’.  Idle curiosity took me to a sparse profile, which took me to another, more active, full of smiles and blonde bubbliness.  Not what I’d expected, but they looked sweet together.

 

It feels strange, writing to a man without worrying that I’m coming across too keen or replying too fast.  Good strange.  I say I’d love to meet up, and how about this evening?  I can even fool myself, when he comes back minutes later saying tonight would be good, that I don’t mind so very much about VP‘s sudden silence.

 

The theatre comes into view.  I imagine he’ll be easy to spot, above the crowd.  He’s tall, very tall, I remember that, with messy red hair.  And then I see him.

‘Hello!’  We hug.  ‘I’d forgotten how tall you are!  I must have asked you to ballroom dance at some point!’

‘I think you did,’ he says, smiling.

His hair has lightened and – wait for it – falls down his back in a ponytail which reminds me of Legolas.

‘Shall we find a coffee?’ he says, scanning the street.

‘Mmm.’

It’s a glorious evening, too hot for coffee, and the pavement is crowded with tourists and commuters.

He laughs.  ‘It’s not much better than Piccadilly Circus!’

Where we’d originally planned on meeting.

‘I was just thinking that!’

‘Let’s find some green.’

 

‘Are you hungry?’

I prop myself up on my elbows, look at my watch. ‘I should be.’

‘That’s a no then,’ he says, smiling.  He hasn’t changed.

‘I will be soon.’

‘Shall we walk?’

‘Mmm.’

We rise, brushing leaves and grass from our clothes, and start walking in the direction of life.  He has a habit, initially disconcerting, of stopping every now and again to discuss something, so our progress is slow.  At the playground we pause.  He tells me he used to come here as a child.

The sign on the fence reads, ‘Adults may only enter if accompanied by a child.’

‘Which of us is going to be the child?’ I say, looking him up and down.  He gives me a look; we climb the railings.

 

‘What sort of food do you like?’

I lower myself gently to the ground.  ‘Errr… good food?  What sort of food do you like?’

‘Good food.’

Our eyes meet along the length of the see-saw.

 

‘I’m just going to find the loos…’

I examine my reflection in the mirror.  I look tired.  I should refresh my make-up, comb my hair.  If this was a date I would do those things, but it’s not.  Is it?  I frown.  I’m not sure what’s going on.  It feels like a date, but that might just be him.  He has a way of looking at you, piercing and intense, which makes you think… But he has a girlfriendFacebook says so.  I check my phone.  Nothing from VP.  The girl in the glass looks sad, wants to go home, but she’s agreed to dinner.

 

‘Have you tried this?’

‘Not yet.’

Skilfully he transfers a slither of perfectly rare beef to my dish.  I eat it.

‘Wow,’ I say.  ‘Wow.’

He nods, and again our eyes meet.  They keep doing that.

 

On the walk to the tube, I brush against him.

 

‘Don’t let it be another five years!’ I say with a nervous laugh.  ‘Well, goodbye.’  We hug.  ‘Oops I trod on your foot.’

‘And… I’m around on Saturday, so… let me know.’

‘I will – I’ll talk to Catherine, see what her plans are.’

 

The next day, I find myself once again on his profile, barren save for a relationship status.  He didn’t act like someone in a relationship.  I bring up the girlfriend, browse the pictures.  There’s one of them in the half-darkness, playing on swings, and a location: the same playground.  For the first time I feel anger towards him.  Just a week after Matthew and a virtual repeat.  I close the tab and delete the draft text suggesting Catherine and I meet him for lunch when she’s over on the weekend.

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Let’s Dance (Part II)

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(Continued from Let’s Dance (Part I))CC Image courtesy of Quite Adept on Flickr

‘I got you a prosecco,’ he says, wielding a glass.

I take it in my free hand, drink from the beer bottle in my other.  We… ‘talk’ may be an overstatement.  We say words, which roughly make sense.  I don’t mention the girlfriend, though I am thinking about her.  I wonder if he is.

I look at my watch.  ‘There’s not long left – I’m going to go dance.’

He drains his drink.  ‘Am I the one you’d choose to… dance with for the last half an hour of the party?’

I give him a look.  ‘It seems to be a tradition.’

‘Yes.’  He laughs.  ‘I look forward to seeing you at Christmas!’

‘Y-es.’

‘I – I would very much like to see more of you before then.’

I turn to face him.  ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea, is it?’

‘Why not?’

‘Because….’ I glance in the direction of the dance floor.  ‘Oh, let’s dance.’

We danced to Bowie’s classic at Christmas and I listened to it for weeks afterwards.  They’re yet to play it tonight.

 

Matthew and I are dancing.  Nothing untoward.  He’s spinning me (he was complaining earlier about how his girlfriend doesn’t get it when he attempts to turn her) – it’s basic rock ‘n’ roll.  I don’t see it coming.  An older colleague I don’t know very well passes by, engages him in conversation.  They start dancing.  I’m doing a solo spot.  In my naivety I think, he’ll be back in a second.  Seconds become minutes.  I see Colleague on the balcony, go over to her.

‘We need to have a word, missy.’

‘It’s fine!’ I say.  Which invariably means it isn’t fine at all.  ‘He’s got a girlfriend, and I’m emotionally distanced.’

I am, in a way.  Since VP appeared on the scene, I haven’t once looked at Matthew‘s profile.  And tonight I couldn’t be more on my guard if I tried, to the point that I’m not even sure I’m feeling it.

‘Ooook.’  She doesn’t look convinced.  ‘What are you doing then?’

‘What?!  We haven’t kissed or danced in a grinding way – it’s fine!  He has a girlfriend!’

In the space of the next, what, two minutes, my mood undergoes a startling transition, from light and cheerful to blind rage.

I glance in the direction of the floor.  They’re still dancing, Matthew and Older Colleague.  ‘What’s he fucking doing?!’

Colleague gives me the most annoying look of sympathy.  ‘He’s so drunk.’

‘That doesn’t make it OK!’

The next time I look, he’s nowhere to be seen.  I entreat Colleague to join me on the floor.  Just as she does, the song changes. I try not to listen to the words, try not to scan the room for someone who isn’t there.

‘I think I might cry!’ I say.  ‘Mattthew and I danced to this at Christmas!’

We laugh and she hugs me.

 

The next time I see Matthew, he’s on the balcony, smoking with Older Colleague.  I’m fuming to a wasted Ryan, then I’m fuming to Colleague (‘They say that,’ she says, ‘then three years later they have a baby together!’), then I’m leaving.  Matthew is standing near the exit.  I could have ignored him.  I should have.  But instead, for a moment, I put my hand on his arm.  I want him to see me, and once he’s seen me, to say something, to apologise, to vow to leave his girlfriend.  Yes, probably that.  I think he turns, but I’m not sure.  He doesn’t come after me.  My last view of him is cycling away – incredibly in a straight line – down the road.  I get out my phone, say a little prayer that there’s a message from VP waiting for me.  But instead there’s a weird screen I haven’t seen before, some kind of system error.  I turn the phone off and back on.  ‘I really need you to be here for me!’ I say.  Yes, I’m talking to my phone.  There’s nothing.  I’m not surprised, or particularly sad.  It feels like a punishment of sorts, for following Matthew, for dancing with him, for not walking away when he spoke about his girlfriend the way he did.  For letting myself believe, just for a moment, that it was real.

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Let’s Dance (Part I)

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CC Image courtesy of Kikishua on Flickr

I remember everything he’s ever told me.  In fact, the whole time we’re talking, it feels like we both already know everything the other person is saying.  A smile plays around both our mouths.  We look out over the water.

 

The bit I regret most is, as I left, putting a hand on his arm.

 

Tonight I would ignore the guy.  Not in a rude way, just that I wouldn’t seek him out, strike up a conversation, or even be found in his general vicinity.  I spend the first half of the evening dancing with Ryan (and inevitably therefore thinking of Tristan who, true to form, isn’t there).  Matthew’s in the other room, drinking.  He might not even dance.  It would probably be for the best.

I see him enter the room, but pretend not to notice.  I feel his hand on my shoulder and feign surprise.  We’ve been here before.

‘Not since Christmas. I haven’t seen you – since Christmas!’ he says.

‘No.’

He’s pretty hammered, that much is clear.

 

We look out over the water.

‘So,’ he says, ‘you went to Oxford?’

‘Yes.  How did you know that?’

‘It’s on your Facebook profile.’  He laughs.  ‘I might have looked at your profile a few times.’

I give him a look.  It’s a running joke between VP and I – as much as anything can be a running joke between two people who barely ever see each other – the hourly sweep we make of each other’s profiles.  Of course, VP’s joking (I think).  Matthew – Matthew I don’t think is.

He laughs again.  ‘Fortunately I regularly delete my search history!’

OK, in hindsight, this is appalling.  He has a girlfriend, and when the power of speech comes back to me I remind him of this fact.  He doesn’t deny it, only smiles and changes the subject.

 

Back on the dance floor…

‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ he says.

‘No.  But you have a girlfriend.’

‘Yes.’

We dance on.  I can see Beatrice out of the corner of my eye.

 

‘What do I do?’

Matthew’s gone ahead for a smoke, cue summit meeting.

Beatrice, smiling, spreads her hands.  ‘Is he still with his girlfriend?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then…’

I have my answer.

‘You could ask how his girlfriend is.’

‘Did that.  What do I do?’

‘Well… you can get with him…’

‘No!  No no no.  That’s not even – no.  I shouldn’t follow him.’

I follow him.  Which is my first mistake.

(TO BE CONTINUED)

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Precious Little

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CC Image courtesy of Roberto Trm on FlickrWe get drinks.  I know what’s coming.  Karl always takes the same line of questioning.  Twice I try to put him off, but it’s no good.

‘So, are you seeing any boys?’

I scratch my head.  ‘Sort of – one.’

‘Who is he?’

‘You don’t know him.  He’s kind of… random,’ I say, smiling.  I love the fact no one knows him.  It makes him seem exciting and exotic, as if he weren’t already those things.

‘OK.  So it’s a guy I don’t know, and you’re, what, seeing him?’

‘Yes, sort of…’

‘O-K…?’

‘I’m not quite sure what we’re doing. There are – er – logistical issues.  He doesn’t live in London.

‘Where does he live?’

‘Not in London.’

‘You’re being very evasive.’

‘Mmm.’

‘Are you lovers?’

This might be why.

‘No.  How are we defining lovers?  I think I know how we’re defining lovers, and no, I don’t think we are.  We’re… dating.  Is that OK?’

‘No.  How many times have you seen him?’

‘Four times.’

‘Over how long?’

I look at my watch. ‘A… month and a half.’

‘OK.  Are you sleeping together?’

‘I’m not answering that!’

‘OK so there’s this guy, who doesn’t live in London, and over the past month and a half, you’ve been on a few dates.’

‘Yes.’

Put like that, it seems like precious little.

***

‘Hi, I’m Jason.’

‘James?’

‘Jason.’

‘Sorry – hi Jason.  Anna.’  We shake hands.

Karl and Jason resume their conversation.  I don’t understand most of it and my expression probably says as much.  As far as I can make out, they’re talking about some form of orgasmic meditation which Jason is into.  I’m trying really hard to keep an open mind.

‘I just need to say hi to…’

It’s a masterclass in extricating yourself from a conversation.  Karl wanders off, leaving me alone with Orgasmic Meditation.

I rack my brains.  ‘So… what do you do?’ I say.  ‘For work.’

We know what he does for play.

I’m expecting holistic therapist, poet, or something in that ball park.

‘I’m an IT consultant.’

I fight to keep a straight face.  I can’t for the life of me think of something to say.  He’d been talking earlier about the applications of meditation in everyday life, so I mumble something about how it must be useful at work.

‘Tell me about you,’ he says.

I cringe but tell him what I do.

‘Do you enjoy it?’

I don’t know why but I find myself answering honestly.  Next thing I know he’s telling me how it’s all about attitude, how anything is possible, how language constructs reality and barriers will only keep me from living the life I want.

And I’m nodding, because I know all this.

‘I have to go,’ he says, taking out his phone, ‘but I’d really like to continue this conversation.’

I try not to stare.  I mean, I know they say men are the more visual sex, but the stuff I’ve come out with in the last ten minutes – I can’t remember the last time I sounded like such a gimp!

‘Err…’

‘We should exchange numbers.’

‘Err…’ I can’t remember my ‘politely decline to give a guy my number’ rap, perhaps because I don’t have one.  So instead I say with a shrug, ‘You can have mine.’

Or not.  A thought occurs to me.

‘I – I’m sort of seeing someone.’

‘Sort of seeing someone. That doesn’t count.’

I laugh.  ‘Err..’

‘Do you feel happy and fulfilled by what you have with this guy?’

For the second time this evening, I’m being forced to confront the realities of my relationship with VP.

I can’t help laughing.  ‘I’m not talking about that!’

He smiles, but doesn’t say anything.

‘No.’

I hadn’t meant to say it.  Next thing I know, I’m reciting my number.  It feels like a small betrayal.

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Wasted

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CC Image courtesy of francisco_osorio on FlickrThe Master of Ceremonies is wearing what looks like a high-end bin-liner.  ‘Turn to the person next to you,’ he says, ‘and share a story with the theme ‘Wasted’.’

‘I’m glad I’m next to the wall,’ I say, laughing.

Karl isn’t going to let me off the hook.  He goes first, with a story about how he wasted four months of his life working for an estate agents called Foxtons.  In that time he worked like a dog, to the point that he would get home to his girlfriend and be too tired to have sex.  ‘She used to beg me,’ he says, eyes wide with wonder, ‘but I just couldn’t!’  He shakes his head.  ‘It was such a waste.’

Now it’s my turn.  On reading the event description for the evening, I’d run a quick scan of the memory files for any relevant anecdotes.  Lately the saying ‘you regret the things you don’t do’ had been preying on my mind.  In Forget Me Not, the woman asks, ‘Any regrets?’  ‘Maybe,’ the guy says.  It’s a poignant moment.  Regrets, I realised, are something I never want to have and I don’t have many.  But there’s one I can’t seem to shake.  There it is, a wasted opportunity which fills me with feelings of regret.  It’s a trivial story, barely a story at all, but once lodged in my head, I can’t shift it.  And so, when Bin Liner invites us to share, it’s the only one that springs to mind.  I take a deep breath.

‘I should’ve gone to the ball at which I would have met the man I should marry but I didn’t because the guy who invited me I was still getting over and now the guy I should marry is going out with someone else….’

I said it was trivial, pathetic even.

Karl cuts in, ‘How do you know he’s the guy you should marry?’

I frown.  ‘Sorry?’

‘How do you know he’s the guy you should marry?’

I don’t, but the question is just annoying.  I mean, of course he’s the guy I should marry.

‘Because, when we did meet-.’

‘So you did meet him?’

‘Yes, we worked together…’

And if you’d let me finish the ruddy story, you’d have found this out!

‘… and we just got on really well.’

To the point that I was left in no doubt that he was the man I should marry.  Honestly, details.

‘But if you had met, you might have gone out together, and found it didn’t work.  I mean, you meet, you become lovers, and then you get to know each other, and then, if it works, it might become a relationship, but not necessarily.  More often than not, it doesn’t work.’

‘True.  But, well, I think it would work.  But anyway, now he’s got a girlfriend.  It’s such a waste.’

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