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I swore I could smell you in our bedroom when I woke up. The faint mixture of sandalwood and spice that would lure me to that spot on your neck; just under your earlobe. That spot I would kiss, making you squirm in my arms.
I got up and slid open the balcony door. Dusk was approaching. All around me landmarks were lighting up. Tower Bridge to my right, and in the distances on either side Canary Wharf and St. Paul’s. Judging by the breeze that hit my nude body as I stepped out, it was going to be a chilly night, not too different from the first time we laid eyes on one another.
Do you remember?
It was a crisp September evening in Oregon. You were wandering in front of the library looking for the student union. It was only your second day in America. I looked into your eyes and could hardly hide my attraction. It wasn’t the quiver in my crotch either, it was that spark in my brain, that instant feeling that I was now complete.
I closed my eyes and thought about our first night together. Your arms around me. The way your eyes looked into mine. The deceivingly green pools of lust I could easily drown in. The beads of sweat on your forehead as you pushed into me. Your groans of delight as I reciprocated. Your soft skin pressed against mine. Your warm breath on my neck. Lying awake in the morning, looking at the sleek contours of your body. Perfection. Everything I ever wanted and needed right there next to me. You waking up and smiling as you hit me with a pillow.
I walked back inside and lit a cigarette. I still felt your presence there after so many years. Your radiant smile piercing the walls that separated us.
Our stereo beckoned me. I turned it on, put my cigarette out and went to shower. The warm water hitting my body nearly sent me into ecstasy. I could still hear your sweet English voice calling out, “don’t take all the bloody warm water” as it advanced towards me. You’d finally join me and say “I think you do this purposely so that I have to shower with you.”
“Is that so wrong?” I’d respond.
You’d look at me with those mood changing eyes and say, “I love you!” We’d kiss whilst the water rained down on us.
I lathered my body. I could feel tears rising. I rinsed my face and body, turned the water off and reached for a towel. I stepped out of the shower and glanced at our unused monogrammed towels. They hung there like spirits on a clothesline.
As I entered the lounge, Portishead’s Wandering Star had filled the room. The phone rang but I let the answering machine pick up. I remembered how much you always used to correct me, “Ansaphone Joe, we call it an ansaphone in this country.” I would merely smirk when you adopted the American use of pants. Two cultures fusing together on a daily basis.
“We’re not able to take your call, please leave a message.” It was my agent. “Joe, your manuscript was due a month ago. Call me immediately!”
“So it was.” I shrugged my shoulders.
I put on your favourite outfit. You know, my green cargo trousers, black v-neck t-shirt, blue trainers and nothing underneath. “You look gorgiss,” you would comment as you would stroke my nose length raven coloured hair. That pronounced ‘giss’ never ceasing to raise a smile.
My stomach began to growl. I walked into our kitchen. Nothing. I glanced down at the counter and smiled. I remember when we couldn’t decide on dinner, so we’d do a line of coke instead. Did we pick that up in New York? Yes, it was New York. The choice between pizza and Chinese. Our Piscean nature working against us. You smirked and said, ‘if we do a line, we won’t be hungry.’ Your logic. Our logic. It made sense, so we did. I kept that image in my head as I grabbed the rolled up £10 note. One for you and one for me. The way it was meant to be. The powder shot through me. I caught a glimpse of that photo of us at Porthmeor Beach. It was so windy that day. I wiped my nose and looked at my mobile. It was time to go out.
I left our flat and hailed a cab. A chilly breeze splashed against my face.
“Soho mate.” How you would laugh that I managed to pick that phrase up. Innit was your least favourite.
“Mind if I smoke with the window down?” I asked.
The driver nodded. I could tell that he wasn’t in the mood for conversation. That suited me fine. We crossed Blackfriars Bridge, and as I looked around me, I remembered being a young boy thousands of miles across the Atlantic. This city was only a place in books, films, a distant fantasy. I was so lonely here when I first arrived. So lonely when you weren’t around. London felt like a nanny, obliged to care for you but not care about you. ‘We can go back if you’d like?’ you would say when you saw me sulking around, afraid of crossing the streets for fear of being run over. And I loved you even more for trying but going back was never an option. Fate had others plans, she always does.
I arrived at the Welly, which, you’d often say was too cruisy for your liking. But it didn’t matter, not anymore. It only ever mattered when you were with me. No, actually it made no difference then either. I was only looking at you.
I ordered a pint and surveyed the room. Little clusters of people like archipelagos filled the pub. The atmosphere was more like a house party and I was the neighbour you felt compelled to invite to avoid a noise complaint. I drank my pint quickly. “This was a mistake.” I said to myself. I left the pub and put my cigarette out on the pavement. I couldn’t go home. Not just yet.
I walked around the corner to Rupert Street. The bar was heaving. I needed another drink. I entered the bar and headed for the bartender.
“Pint of Stella, please.”
I went to light a cigarette, and was told I couldn’t smoke at the bar. “Fucking anti smoking cunts.” I mumbled and then crossed the room.
I lit a Marlboro light. They were your brand. You got me hooked on them. Now they’re with me forever. I thought you were with me forever. Maybe you are?
As I exhaled, I felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Joe? Is that you?”
It was Michael, from New York. Tosser, I believe is how you used to refer to him. “Hello Michael, what brings you over?” I asked trying desperately to feign interest and failing miserably.
“Business as usual, I heard about Antony..”
“Anthony, his name was Anthony, th.” I corrected immediately. You would’ve been proud of that.
“Right, sorry, Anthony…so um how are you holding up?”
“Getting by, and you?” I could hear you whisper liar into my ear.
“Oh same, old same old. Greta has been screaming in the office about your manuscript.”
I took a sip of my pint and a drag of my cigarette thinking about my novel, the thought fleeted as quickly as I exhaled.
“Anyway, when you planning on moving back?” This question has plagued me for two years now, but only when confronted by an American. We can only survive overseas for a limited time, then its back “home.” Our wandering years only entering our minds when we need a momentary escape from our mundane lives or to namedrop at parties. I lived in London, on the Portobello Road for 6 months. Paris was great, shame about the French. It’s never, I spent two years in a council flat in Hackney, or we lived in Brixton. That’s too real. It’s too permanent. We’re not meant to survive outside for that long.
“Why would I do that?” The response that never ceased to solicit a look of confusion. You know the one, where you can see them calculating the figure in their head only to be left with a remainder they’re not sure what to do with.
“Well I mean, what else do you have here?”
“A home, friends, a life.” I downed what was left of my pint.
Michael stood there, giving me that look, that fucking look of pity. I looked around the room and decided it was time to go.
I exited the bar into the crisp night air. Soho was buzzing all around me and I knew in my heart it was time to go home but one more drink, one more drink was all I needed to make it through this evening.
I went into Escape, the name beckoned me like a prostitute. Without even looking around, I headed right for the toilet. Needing something stronger, I pulled the stash out of my pocket once in the stall and did the usual, one for you, one for me. I looked at myself in the mirror before exiting, but all I could see was what I wanted to see, not what I really looked like. That was the best thing about drugs. The worst thing too.
I walked to the bar and ordered a double vodka and tonic. There was some rather bad dance music playing, I glanced at the pretty boys dancing. “You loved dancing.”I said.
“Pardon?” a voice answered.
“Sorry…must’ve been thinking out loud.” I replied.
“No problem. What’s your name?”
He wasn’t that bad looking. He certainly did not compare to you but then, no one does. No one probably ever will.
Perhaps I’ll have fun with this one.
“Joe, and you?” I asked rather flirtatiously.
“Rob.” He answered smiling so boyishly that I could feel your disapproval from above. He bought me another drink and begin talking, “I’m studying Philosophy at UCL, blah, blah, blah.” It didn’t matter.
He was cute and I could sense that he thought the same. That was all that mattered at that moment. There was a moment of silence, that moment between going home alone and jerking off or waking up in a strange part of town.
“I don’t live too far from here. Fancy coming over?”
I foolishly agreed and we left the bar. Stepping out into the street, the headlights of the car driving past were blinding me. We walked towards Fitzrovia in that anticipatory silence, the one in which you look at it each other from time to time and smile.
We entered his building and he then started blabbing about how his parents paid for his flat and about how he really admired writers. “Don’t we all.” I said. He seemed amused by my sarcasm. The young always are.
His flat was a typical student domicile. Used sofa, ornamental wall hangings, fairy lights and dishes in the sink. He offered me some water. I accepted.
“So, are you involved?” I asked. It wasn’t really any of my business, and I didn’t particularly care but the conversation had to go somewhere.
“I was until recently but he was quite immature.”
And you’re not. I wanted to say, but I simply smiled.
“How about you?”
“No.” I felt a dagger in my heart. I was involved. I was involved with a memory.
He then leaned over and kissed me. Our tongues swirled in each other’s mouths. It felt good. I thought of your soft lips pressed against mine.
He lifted my shirt and began rubbing his hands over my chest. I brushed my hand on his crotch. This was going all the way.
Through the experience, I thought of nothing but you. You were touching me. You were kissing me. It was your hair that I was rubbing my hands through. It was your ear that I wanted to whisper, I love you too.
“Call me” he said as I exited his bedroom. His naked body followed me to his lounge as I went to put on my clothes.
“You were wonderful” he continued, “I’d love to see you again.”
“Sure” I responded. I knew you would never allow me to call him. You would never allow me to call anyone ever again.
I left his flat, walked towards the end of the street and hailed a taxi. The taxi radio was playing Tricky’s Ponderosa, I kept thinking perhaps he was right.
We sped back across the Thames, across that divide that kept so many people frightful of what lurked south and so many South Londoners secretly happy it did.
I entered our flat. It would be dawn soon. Another glorious day? I sparked up a spliff that was on the coffee table and stepped out onto the balcony to smoke it. The city would wake up tomorrow as if tonight had never existed. I thought about the sea where you were finally put to rest, but you don’t really rest there do you.