This is the city
And when our gazes meet I don’t flush and look away as I used to, the awkward schoolboy caught staring, openly or playing the window/reflection game, by rowdy college kids or taciturn commuters, but force myself to fix my eyes for one blink, two, and, my heart quickening at the brazen novelty, relax my lips to suggest a smile. He smiles back and eases past the clink and slosh of careless Friday night pints at an improbably even pace, as if the bodies packed together under the distracted fog of release and smoke and chatter were no harder to pass through than an impressively viscous stout.
It gives me time for a better look. He has thin lips, an elegant nose, shaggy, styled, crested hair and eyes that have a calm intensity, whilst a jacket hanging studiedly over his T-shirt remains unruffled by the friction and the heat of the jostling crowd. And then he’s in front of me and he’s beautiful, too beautiful: not my type. Not one of the lank-haired introverts whose ineptly sweet natures I would moon and mope over, led on by their tolerant diffidence whilst the girls smoking in the locker room told me I was selling myself short. But he’s in front of me, and he’s smiling, so I stand my ground.
Conversation comes surprisingly easy: I observe it with critical detachment, wondering whether talking to those vigorous football boys and haughty drama girls we spent our lengthening adolescence dodging around the shrinking town could have actually been as simple as this. He tells me his job, namedrops, celebrities: and me? ‘An actor’ I say, out of my mouth before I know what I’m doing: choking down thoughts of the lurid usher’s waistcoat, my heart freezes. But conversation continues. Leaning in to be heard over music cranked up the second it hits nine o’clock, the feel of his breath sends the warmth flooding back down every artery as he asks the obvious questions which I answer with secret exhilaration. And nobody stares when a stranger walks into the bar, because this is the city and no-one knows who you are.
After he’s chopped me a line on his glass-topped table and, in careful imitation, I hoover it up as if I’d done so a thousand times before, it only gets easier. Friends, parties, anecdotes, all guiltlessly embellished and unhesitatingly believed, barely allowing me to finish before he is responding with his own versions, let alone pausing to question, and soon the overlapping babble of our words gives way to the graceless tangle of our overlapping limbs as the sweaty exploits so recently ascribed to a string of obliquely hinted fictitious romances suddenly become my undeniably corporeal reality.
So we lie together, our hands brushing in occasional, lazy caresses and I watch him gazing silently at me, wondering what he sees: who am I, new to both of us, dirtying his bed, what am I capable of being in the eyes of someone who doesn’t still carry an image of me with that stigmatising side-parting four years after it was disposed of, how much can I sustain of my grand elaborations. ‘I need to be somewhere,’ he says.
It’s only when I stand that I realise the world is spinning and only when I’m clinging to the railing and spitting a mouthful of bile that I realise his directions make no sense, or maybe I just don’t remember them clearly – is that a bus-stop there? Another few steps but I stumble and need to sit, glancing about at the monolithic concrete of silent estates and the chain-link fences unfamiliar from the journey here. There’s a woman passing and I gabble half a sentence before noticing that her eyes are kept fixed firmly ahead, and for an unexpected instant I remember the warmth of his breath in the bar. The car slows only long enough to watch my vomit spray onto the pavement, because this is the city and no-one knows who you are.
By Neil, 15 March, 2006; direct link.