Baggage Reclaim

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wigan2Rush hour at Euston station: not my usual habitat. I’d attended a dance class the night before in Angel and, distracted by the attentions of my favourite partner, had left without my favourite cardigan. So I was on a mission to reclaim it.

He comes through the same entrance that I did. Seeing me he does an odd little pivot, diverting his course in my direction.

‘That was very… something,’ I say, laughing.

He smiles. We exchange greetings.

‘You’ve been getting around a lot lately!’ I say, immediately regretting my turn of phrase.

He’d messaged me in January, saying he owed me dinner and asking when I was around. I’d learnt he’d recently spent time in India, Scotland and the north of England. And when I’d seen him in the autumn, he’d been on the brink of leaving for Japan.

‘Yes,’ he says, ‘I’ve been to Wigan today.’

I laugh. ‘That’s not quite what I meant!’

He doesn’t say anything, only smiles.

‘But OK, how was Wigan?’

The train comes; as we board, he tells me about Wigan. I listen, half-smiling, to his wry, intelligent words.

After letting him know I was around in February – and resisting the urge to specify the 14th – I’d heard nothing further from the man.

The train pulls into the platform at Angel.

‘See you soon,’ I say, as the doors open.

‘See you soon.’

We both know what that means.

CC Image courtesy of notmydayjobphotography on Flickr

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Reality Check

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CC Image courtesy of reuvenim on FlickrNovember 2014

‘So I’ve got one silly man-related question.’

My mother looks up from her iPad, wearing a patient, slightly pitying smile.

‘Your email the other day made me smile,’ I begin. She removes her glasses, prepares herself for what is clearly going to be the ‘round the houses’ approach. ‘The one where you said you hoped Gus wasn’t going to get my hopes up.’

We laugh.

‘Yes,’ she says, ‘he sounds dangerous.’

‘No, it’s fine, really.’

[insert long rambling explanation of why it’s fine]

‘But,’ I wind up, ‘well, what I wondered is, if Germany does come back to London – and I know I’m asking you to predict the future here – but if he does come back to London, what are the chances he’ll get in touch?’

There’s a pause.

‘He might get in touch,’ my mother says, slowly. ‘And he might suggest meeting up, but then you’d have to decide if you were happy with things on his terms.’

‘I wouldn’t be. I mean, I don’t know to what extent his ‘terms’ were because we were in different countries, but, if we were in the same city then he’d have to want to make it work or I wouldn’t go there.’

‘Right.’

‘And… if he did get in touch and suggest meeting up, then you’d say, what, go for it?’

‘Well, if he gets in touch and you end up… going out, well, then that’s fine… until he meets someone else.’

‘Because,’ I hesitate a moment, ‘I guess the bottom line is, being in the same city wouldn’t make him fancy me more.’

‘Correct.’

‘Hmm. And… if he did get in touch and we went out or whatever, it would probably end in tears?’

‘Yup.’

‘Because if he doesn’t fancy me enough to make it work when we’re in different countries, then it wouldn’t work when we’re in the same country.’

‘Correct.’

There’s another pause.

‘Is there any chance it wouldn’t end in tears?’

‘Nope.’

‘None?’

‘Mmm nope.’

‘Hmm. You don’t know that!’

My mother doesn’t say anything.

‘So really,’ I go on, ‘if he did get in touch, then I’d be better off not going there at all, because it would only end in misery.’

‘Yup.’

‘And heartache.’

‘Yup.’

Another pause.

‘So you’re saying it would be best not to go there, knowing it would all end in tears?’

‘No, well, I’d go there.’ She looks thoughtful. ‘But I think perhaps you wouldn’t.’

CC Image courtesy of Sheep"R"Us on Flickr

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Wedding Night

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CC Image courtesy of RMH40 on FlickrI look at the screen and frown. It’s late, I’m still recovering from drinking my body weight in wine and the prospect of reading an industry report on processed cheese isn’t all that appealing.

*

One of the bridesmaids points him out to me as the only straight, single man there. I look him over, the guy from Dubai, and decide I’m not in the mood for rejection.

Then dinner happens. Pierre to my left is a familiar face from university. He’s charming, French and so not interested. At one point I look over at Catherine.

‘Anything?’ I mouth, nodding in Pierre’s direction.

‘No.’

‘No?’

She could at least pretend.

‘No Anna.’

CC Image courtesy of N@ncyN@nce on Flickr

Catherine and I head in the direction of the bar with a view to asking about taxis.

‘Or,’ I say, putting a hand on her arm, ‘I could try talking to the guy from Dubai?’

‘No Anna.’

‘Why not?!’

‘Because….’ She sighs. ‘Will it make you happy?’

‘Probably not.’

 

‘Oh! Thank you!’ I take one of the G&Ts winging its way to the table via Dubai. ‘You’re Erik, right?’

He confirms his name, asks mine.

‘I’ll rise,’ I say, getting up, ‘in the words of Maya Angelou.’

It’s not my first gin of the night.

‘What?’

‘Oh nothing.’

You’re tall,’ he says.

‘So are you.’

We talk. I discover he loves oysters, Futurist sculpture and Egon Schiele and that he works for his family’s processed cheese business. By the time we’re dancing Viennese waltz in the driveway I’m pretty much a lost woman.

CC Image courtesy of flickr-rickr on Flickr

Catherine comes over. ‘Our taxi’s here.’

I rise from the hay bale, say my goodbyes to Pierre and the other guests. Finally I come to Erik.

‘It was nice to meet you.’

‘You’re leaving?’

We walk a little way from the bonfire.

‘Goodbye.’

‘Goodbye.’

His lips touch mine.

 

‘Why didn’t I stay?!’ I say to the ceiling.

Catherine in the neighbouring bed laughs. This has been my reprise pretty much since we left the bonfire.

 

A week later I’m showing Erik’s LinkedIn photo to close friends with an entirely unfounded sense of pride and ownership. I’ve added him on Facebook, which he doesn’t appear to use, and have heard nothing. I haven’t read the processed cheese report.

 

I decide to shelve all further explorations until the happy couple return from honeymoon and are ready to be reminded that they have friends who are still single and sufficiently unhinged to believe that a distance of 3000 miles is no obstacle to a relationship.

CC Image courtesy of Kurush Pawar - DXB on Flickr

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The Friendly Ghost

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CC Image courtesy of State Library Victoria Collections on FlickrOne idle Saturday morning in early May, I’m flicking my way through the Tinder catalogue. This was back when you could see at at a glance if you had any mutual friends and who they were*. Now the way I see it, a ‘good’ mutual friend (i.e. someone you’d be up for dating in their own right) can elevate a ‘maybe’ to an unequivocal YES. This one is definitely a maybe. I flick to the next picture – is that jewellery he’s wearing? We’ve one mutual friend. I tap the icon and their identity is revealed.

I’ve written before about transference, here and here. And now here. I go back one screen, seeing with different eyes. And when we match and he gets in touch, I forgive the typos galore. I even let the earnestness slide for a day or two. A week later he messages again, and then again a month down the line, but I don’t reply. I’ve met a man who can spell, make me laugh and be earnest all in the space of a few words. I’m a lost woman.

 

Wednesday night, I’m queueing for cheap cider with Gus and Ryan. Tristan and some of the others come over, drinks tokens in hand. They’re mostly familiar faces, colleagues I see with varying frequency around the office. All except one. I’d seen him come in with Tristan and since then had been doing a little dance of avoidance. It works well until… it doesn’t.

‘Hi, I’m Casper.’

‘Hi – Anna.’

It’s a weak handshake.

‘How – how do you know Tristan?’

I know how he knows Tristan, but it’s easier this way.

 

Two pitchers of cheap cider later, I find myself next to Tristan. He leans in, even closer than he usually does, and says in a very loud voice:

‘So Anna,’ he starts to laugh, a good-natured, cider-fuelled laugh, ‘I was saying to my friend Casper, you should meet Anna, and–.’

At which point Casper comes into earshot.

‘He’s coming over,’ I say, laughing, ‘so you might want to stop talking about him in the third person.’

Tristan looks totally unphased.

‘I think Tristan’s trying to tell me something about you!’ I say to Casper.

‘Oh OK,’ he says, also laughing. ‘Shall I go then?’

‘Probably best.’

It’s all very good-natured. I turn back to Tristan. ‘You were saying, you said to Casper that he should meet me, and then….’

‘Then he told me you’d already met on Tinder!’

‘It’s true.’

 

Cut to later in the evening. Casper is drinking minis of white wine.

‘I don’t drink beer,’ he tells me.

I examine the label on the bottle. ‘I was supposed to go to a Blossom Hill-themed party the other day, but then I didn’t.’

You can tell I’m really trying.

‘Well, could I buy you a drink sometime?’

‘Ermm,’ I take a swig of cider, ‘thanks but… I’m afraid I’m… otherwise engaged.’

Whatever that means.

CC Image courtesy of Daniel Kulinski on Flickr

*You still can see mutual friends on Tinder, but if you change your Facebook password, you then need to log out and back in to the app in order for them to show on people’s profiles. Am I still using Tinder? Nooo.

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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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