You—

You—

Nine years after it ended, it started again, history repeating itself so elegantly it was like something out of Brideshead—

Oxford, choked in an Edwardian haze, everything still there, waiting—

The cemetery wedged at the junction on the Woodstock Road, boasting heavy green sycamores—

Colleges, once open to us, locked and alluring—

And I see you lean yourself delicately against the dark spikes of Wellington Square and it is golden—

My lips are smudged dark with wine and I invite you to my room, quickly, before we go to get a drink—

I make you climb three flights of stairs, holding my books, and wipe my lips on a towel, knowing you can see the lace of my nightwear on the back of the door—

*

That summer a self, that felt ancient and new and lay under my skin like a soul between blood and bone, shimmered and came to life—

Enchanted—

*

Autumn catches us and the enchantment sinks a little deeper as I watch—

Other couples take selfies of underwhelming cappuccinos, all knitted hats and Sunday mornings, sleep deprived and perky from all the sex—

I sneer at them, but as the syrupy summer evaporates and winter sweeps into view with a woman you have made promises to in tow, I, too, itch to document—

I tell my phone too much – who you are, where I am, enough that it becomes my familiar, my demon, my spirit companion and it turns on me—

I turn off the location settings, delete Instagram, try to remember what I would say about my day before, when I was not lying, practice some more, get a little better—

I begin to take photographs, usually just the one, and only landscapes, taken with my coat on and melancholy in my fingertips—

Most are of concrete landscapes from the corridors of hotels—

The first, a view over Covent Garden, Seven Dials specifically, is dramatic – bruised storm clouds and concrete—

Melancholy. I think melancholy is what makes affairs so good. The angst, which looks and tastes like the green yellow of unripe lemons, cuts against the euphoria—

*

Except it wasn’t an affair for you—

And it shouldn’t have been an affair for me—

*

When we sleep together, a fortnight after we meet in Oxford, after five years of being apart—

In a Travelodge in North London, I think of the first time in St. Anne’s College, almost a decade earlier, and like then, we are both unable to enforce a measured pace—

I think of the months that followed the first time—

The other girls you slept with—

The other boys I slept with—

The clumsy conversations about monogamy—

How we wouldn’t be “exclusive”—

*

We leave the hotel room and sit on metal chairs in a cafe—

My skin feels hot, my jeans too tight, and you look at your phone—

Explaining that you are trying to write a message to your girlfriend, telling her about last night—

I wonder whether I can buy a foundation thin enough but good enough to conceal the bruises on my thighs—

We order smashed avocado—

I pour oat milk into my coffee and make flat jokes about hipsters—

Part of me laughs at me—

As I watch you type—

And I know that I won’t tell at all—

*

December brings a westerly wind, straight from a storybook—

And a thick white fog that I sit in, outside a hotel, on the outskirts of Oxford—

The sky is black and grey and I sit in the car, the poetry in my hand black and white—

You only have hours before the airport pickup—

*

I don’t see you for a month—

And when I do, we drink wine by the river in South West London, and eat Bavarian food that I insist upon, have sex in a hotel room until we run out of condoms—

And we try a bit of functional polyamory—

go to an exhibition at the British Library—

as a three—

no one is sure whose date is whose—

we drink in a bar—

and she tells us stories from a decade neither of us really remember—

It was the early nineties and she was dropping acid in college—

And we were not old enough to attend school—

She tells me what it was like to be in Manhattan on 9/11—

I tell her about the sixth-form girls who had a portable radio in the changing rooms at school, and had tuned in to play the news—

And bug-eyed eleven-year-old me had asked what the twin towers were—

*

Spring comes and you leave—

On a cargo ship on a long fortnight—

Your girlfriend laughs every time you tell her your itinerary—

We have a kind of friendship now, and I laugh too—

She catches a flight, fortnights don’t exist in America—

I try to tell myself stories of our relationship— 

our love affair has lasted since we were teenagers

there is no domesticity to us

I might smoke a joint with you but I won’t buy a pot of mint

which is a shame

because

mint is good for tea and smells like tomorrow

and marijuana makes me nauseous…

I haven’t seen you, except on Skype, where your presence is—

An extra dimension of being—

You do it well—

*

As the enchantment seems to fade, and before I can feel nostalgic for our first summer, everything changes and I, too, am in New York—

There are volcanoes in the street, in the middle of the tarmac, tiny and angry, expelling steam from the subway—

I read Woolf’s diaries and letters, draw apples with soft pencils, whilst you work—

The fish that was on the wall in England is on the wall here and I ask you why it follows you—

Something about a boy you were in love with—

With glitter in his blood—

Who dumped you on Hallowe’en—

I smile when you say this and spend too long with acrylics painting a cat—

To go with the fish—

Because I too want to be something that you love—

I don’t ask where your girlfriend is—

or why she has seemingly vacated her apartment for us—

For reasons I don’t really understand—

and that you are reluctant to explain to me—

she no longer likes me—

I came because you asked—

And so we get to know each other a little better—

I learn I like you in a hat with a cigarette half in your mouth and your jaw tight for me to watch—

I try to remember to buy ice cream without nuts—

We get the ferry to Staten Island and watch pools of rose light on the water—

We walk through parks to the same grimy Italian diner—

We pit olives and talk about your mother—

And so we conduct an experiment—

We thank each other a little too much and give type-two solidarity apologies—

We talk about the conundrums of feeding cats vegan diets, the problems of ownership, whether activism is the rent for being alive—

The best way to kill a mouse—

Or not to kill a mouse—

Drink tea, throw kisses, the sounds of habits crystallising—

We run down the East River again and again, talk about weed dependency, oppression, the anti-fascist movement, stress dreams—

We try a few times to talk about abortion, eat ice cream, scramble eggs, sort each other’s laundry. We listen to music, drink wine, drink beer, take drugs, watch Scandi noir on Netflix and deplore the misogyny in Game of Thrones

I cry on the subway about familial approval, you cry on at the platform at Union Square about abandonment—

We watch a cop menace a homeless man—

And try to stop it by just standing there—

I don’t know if it works—

We eat cider donuts, cycle through the city, make a friend on the L Train, go to thrift shops and art shops, argue over the merits of Central Park—

We try to decide whether to worry about hurricane Irma, drink too many milkshakes— And then your girlfriend arrives—

And I leave—

And autumn comes—

And now—

I can hear the puff and blow of the sea, the Atlantic, the East River that is not a river actually but a tidal estuary, I can hear its puff and blow on your breath, your voice through your nose as you say you would have loved it there all the coke and mirrors and you describe your three-night party in a dark green bit of Pennsylvania, although Pennsylvania is gold to me and what you tell is a circus of debauchery under a thick cold canopy of early Advent nights—

I’m interested because it is not my life right now and then you say and there was a really cool drug and I try not to let my voice blink like I didn’t let it blink when you told me that you had taken MDMA the last ten evenings in a row – how are you not so sad you want to die?—

Or when your girlfriend, whose intensity now exhausts me, tried to break up with you because she’d misheard something you’d said—

But it is a really cool drug that you are telling me about it is a mixture of heroin and coke and I cannot stop myself I ask heroin heroin?

Although I heard it, yeahhhh deliciously dangerous but they had run out—

We have a pact not to die, remember? I say—

And you laugh and I can no longer hear the puff and blow of the sea or the whir of sky trembling above it because you have switched off your fan and dropped your rollie in the bathtub and you say lightly, a repetition from a night in the summer on a balcony, I thought it was you that wanted to die young—

I let some round, symmetrical seconds clunk and bump by and I say as lightly as you, oh I do, I do, I’m only half committed to life itself, like everything else, for now.

*

We practice bad habits on everyone else and I think that is why our relationship has the rub of perfection, but it’s been weeks since I’ve heard you ache for me—

I lie to others—

And I’m unsurprised your girlfriend feels she has given up her life for you—

But maybe you are oblivious to your charm—

*

After you – the first time – I used to test other people’s mouths for the taste of coffee and smoke, you made the taste of smoke black, grey and erotic for me, but it is your words that are my pleasure. I listened for them on others and now I wish for my abandoned confidence of then—

I am in love with the discovery of other people’s perception of me; I like to think of it as a narcissism that is superior to plain narcissism because it is nuanced. I pass the time you are gone by going on enough dates to cultivate the perfect persona, the one where my anecdotes are funny, self-deprecating but salted with slight arrogance, that my confidence is winsome and I can twist an admittance of my beauty out of them. The ones that do this, I fall into bed with, and the ones who subvert this I keep around, confused, for months, while I wonder whether to dump them or fall in love with them—

I’m not really sure who you think likes coke and mirrors—

but as I change the cartridge of my pen, sip mint tea, try to conceptualise us again—

I just cannot think

it can be me.

About Katharine Rhodes

K I Rhodes is a creative writing student at the University of St. Andrews. She is currently working on her first novel, enjoys writing short stories and poetry. When she is not writing she is reading, running or exploring her adopted city of Edinburgh.

K I Rhodes is a creative writing student at the University of St. Andrews. She is currently working on her first novel, enjoys writing short stories and poetry. When she is not writing she is reading, running or exploring her adopted city of Edinburgh.

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