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We walked across the street to the park. Some of our number dropped back, heading to the pub. They claimed they were too manly to go any longer without beer, but there was a wariness in their actions, a fear that what lay ahead was too strong for their blood.
The whole day had been like that. In clusters they dropped, like falling fruit, making their excuses and leaving. In this way I became a friend among strangers, laughing loudly, demonstrative in my behaviour, vocal, open, engaged in this for the long haul, staying the course. To what end, I didn’t know; something like seeing this thing through, following the path of least resistance, or heading towards a goal that I told myself was nameless.
Her name, in fact, was Lily. She was a wouldn’t-it-be-nice rather than an earnest aim. I didn’t want to set myself up for a fall. She wasn’t beautiful, but quite pretty, a little plump, neon bracelets and a denim satchel. The other girl was better-looking, a carefree black girl called Karen, blue jeans and shapely, her curves accentuated by her clothes. Maybe Lily drew my eye because she seemed more attainable, but I think it’s because she was the ringleader, the spirit of fire, the one who took us from place to place, from task to task, from drink to drink and drug to drug. Whatever it was, this psychological space she led us all to share, it was an interesting place to be.
We had walked quite far into the park now, away from the sound of traffic, and I noticed the strangers, new recruits, drummed up from somewhere to make up the numbers. Of the originals, only five remained; myself, Lily, Karen and two men, an Asian medical student and one whose name and face I can’t remember.
We stopped, because Lily had stopped. People were pairing off, and the student and I looked at each other with unspoken questions. What is this? Should we go with each other? Which girl do you want? Would you mind if I went with Lily?
I settled these questions by walking directly towards her. She smiled at me as she bent down, placing her clockwork radio on a patch of grass free from the melting snow. The radio belted out an old swing tune and I took her in my arms. My left hand cradled the side of her waist and the other led the dance as she pressed close to me.
“Have you any idea how fucking hard it is to dance wearing wellies?” I said. Her easy laughter brought relief as we relaxed into each other. I kissed her neck, falling into it the way one falls into sleep. It tasted of cooling sweat and cheap perfume, and my pulse rose and I breathed the bitterness in, and I pulled her closer to me.
“We can do anything you want,” she breathed in my ear. “As long as we do it safe.”
Partly because I wanted it too, and partly because I felt like I should, I gave my assent. All was well except the distance between my thoughts and actions. I wished I was more in the moment, no reflexivity, no doubt. I had got what I wanted though. I imagined us all from above, pretty young things in ballroom couples, holding each other in the song and the slush.
Soon afterwards I lay on her bed, watching her undress, thinking to myself this could only happen in London, she could only happen in London. We negotiated boundaries between polite and sexy, between love and lust, between the sensual and the carnal, between our red-glowing drives and our hesitant minds, between who we were and who we should be, between fear of it ending and the rules of casual sex, between passion and nonchalance, between each other and inside ourselves. Fucking, clumsily, like dancing in wellies.