Saturday, 23 February 2013

49. His dark hair is badly cut

I am dreaming about a man. His dark hair is badly cut. He's stubbly. He is wearing a white polo shirt and blue jeans. His eyes are blue, or are they brown? He looks Eastern European around the high,curved cheekbones. He would be handsome if he wasn't so pale and expressionless, and if his clothes and hair were better. As it is, everything about him seems designed to hold other people at arm's length.

I wake up. The man's face stays with me as I shower. I know him. I know I know him. I know him well. But I cannot remember who he is or where I know him from.

School? No. Work? No. Through friends? Not that I recall, no-one I'm still in touch with. I don't remember ever meeting this man, but I know I've met him.

Do I like him? I think about it. The feeling I get from this man is one of self-possession. I knew him but I didn't know him. I can't recall ever seeing him laugh, but I do remember his sneer - not at me, but at other people.

A question floats unbidden to the top of my mind. Could this be Matthew?

I don't know what Matthew looks like, not properly. I have an idea, but I don't recall his face. I know he has blue eyes and dark hair. I know he's slim. I know he has a large mole at the top of his left thigh, where it meets his groin.

All day, the dream nags at me. Who is he? Who is he? I know him. He's a real person. We've met. Who is he?

After work I go and meet Amanda. She is with Alex in the Crescent Moon. It's the first time I have met Amanda's latest. With other friends, I might have dressed up a bit more but Amanda's relationships generally don't last long enough for me to figure out their last names, so I'm going to wait and see if Alex has sticking power before I start trying to impress her.

The Crescent Moon is empty apart from a bored barman slowly wiping down the bar and Amanda and Alex, who are sitting on the sofas in front of the large TV screen at the far end of the room. The TV is showing Diamonds Are Forever. I buy a large white wine and take it over to the two of them.

Amanda's nervous. I can see it in her eyes. She stands up and gives me a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek. I inhale her familiar, comforting Amanda-smell; Givenchy, leather jacket, skin.

Alex is sprawled on the sofa. She doesn't acknowledge me. She's wearing a black tank top, black jeans and black boots. Her arms are covered with pornographic tattoos, knots of people doing unlikely things to each other. She's playing with a blue-beaded choker clasped around her neck.

On the screen behind her head Blofeld's satellite blooms like a flower, a thousand diamonds gleaming, death floating silently through the neverending night of space.

I suddenly understand why Amanda's so obsessed with her; she's not only beautiful, she has a movie-star quality, a kind of sullen, exotic sexuality. Like invisible sequins glitter every time she moves her hand through the air. Like a real-life Bond girl.

"This is Alex," Amanda says proudly, as if Alex is a large fish she has caught or something. Alex stares at me silently.  Yes, that figures. She's far too cool to observe social niceties. Her eyes are cinnamon brown.

"Hello," I say, and put my hand out. After a moment, Alex shakes it.

And just like that, I remember who the man is. He's a friend of a friend; we went on a blind date once in 2009. I thought he was a dick.

Huh. That's boring. Stupid brain.

I sit down and start drinking my white wine.  

Sunday, 17 February 2013

48. There are some stars among the branches

It's Saturday. It's 9am. I am painting.

I woke up with a picture in my head. It doesn't happen to me very often these days. When I was younger, the pictures used to arrive almost every day, drifting shyly in when my mind was occupied by other things. I would be in a meeting, or watching TV, or on the bus, and suddenly there it would be. Or rather the potential image would be there. Paintings never come exactly as images for me, although I have an idea of what the image should be. It's more a ...a feel, a ball of emotions and ideas, a sense of a palette of colours and correlations with similar things I've read or seen. There's usually a sense of a backstory, although I don't always bother analysing what it is.

When I'm first drawing, I like to work in ball-point pen rather than pencil. Then I like to paint over the ball-point in oil or acrylic.

I once painted a picture of Matthew.

In this picture it's night. Matthew is sitting on a low, crumbling stone wall and behind him there is a mass of vegetation. It could be a hedge, or an overgrown garden, but it's too dark to see anything but the outline of a few twigs. At the very top of the painting there are some stars among the branches.

Matthew is wearing a black polo shirt and faded jeans. He's staring straight out of the painting, smiling slightly, and between his knees he has a brand-new hub-cap. He holds the rim with his hands. The hub cap is shiny enough to see my tiny distorted reflection imprisoned between his long pale fingers.

I'm not in any way an accomplished artist. I've never devoted enough time to learning, I just do it when I feel like it, and I lose interest in pictures when I've finished them. I usually keep them, in a folder in the drawer under my bed, but I don't look at them again. When they're over, they're done. I'm not even sure that anyone else knows I paint, but then I don't suppose that makes any difference. The pictures wouldn't mean anything to other people. They are complicated, coded messages from a me who is far inside, far down, to the outer me who lives in conscious reality.

But I don't want to throw them away, even though I'm unsure what to do with them when they're over. The exception was the painting of Matthew. I didn't like having it in the house, so I burnt it.

I drink some of my tea and look at the blank sheet of white paper. I run my fingers over it. It's smooth to the touch.

Today I am thinking of a girl. I'm thinking of an endless green forest in the height of summer. Beech trees and hornbeams and oaks, Peaseblossom and Mustardseed. I'm thinking of flowers and fireflies, glades and long grass, sweet-smelling crackling undergrowth. Dandelion seeds drifting through sunlit air.

I remember when I was ten, I went on holiday with my family to Gloucestershire. We visited an ancient woodland called Puzzlewood. I remember Labyrinth; Little, Big; The Passion of Darkly Noon; waterfalls I saw in Thailand.

A magic forest, innocent and beautiful, but with a terrifying darkness deep in its heart. A forest "where all things are perfect, and poisonous." The forest I sometimes dream about being lost in. The forest where you can sometimes hear singing at the end of a dirt track, or chuckling laughter from behind a rock (but when you go to look there is nothing there. Perhaps a tiny footprint or a strand of golden hair; or wine made from blackberries and honey, left for you in a strange blue glass. When you lift it it is as fragile as a soap bubble).

I'm thinking of Paradise.

I draw a woman who is a snake. She is holding an apple. The Devil is supposed to be a man, but I have always thought that perhaps he isn't. When you read old fairy tales, it's always the witches, the old women, who hold out the apples.

My picture has green eyes. Snake scales overlap on her neck. She does not smile. Her feet are bare and her tangled blonde hair has flowers threaded through it. Her white dress is torn at the shoulder. Fireflies are tangled in the long grass at her feet and there are eyes in the branches behind her.

It should have the feel of a tarot card, I think, although I'm not really aware I'm thinking. No, not a tarot card. An illustrated book like the monks used to make. I draw a border, fill it with twining leaves and dancing hares and sly-faced monkeys. I wish I knew how to do gilding. It needs gold on the border, and on her hair, and on the apple in her hand. I suddenly remember something and hunt about in a drawer till I find a pen with gold ink I used to write Amanda's birthday card.

That's better. Once the ink's dry, I'll paint it.

My phone goes off. The moment freezes and shatters, but the idea is there in front of me, caged in ink on the page.

As always, I feel slightly disappointed. I am not able enough to capture exactly what I saw. I know just how far I've fallen short. But this is close enough. I know this is as close as I can get within the limits of ink, paper, and my artistic ability. I'm satisfied with that. Everything else - adding paint, refining lines - will just be embellishment.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

47. Patterned with geometric shapes

Amanda, Gin and I are sitting in the cellar at Harry's Bar. It is 5.30pm on Friday and we are enjoying post-work cocktails, prior to buying ourselves an expensive dinner and then visiting a few drinking establishments.

Harry's Bar goes for a North African vibe. The floor and walls are covered with overlapping multicoloured carpets, patterned with geometric shapes. There are pierced iron lanterns on the low tables.

We are all still in our work clothes. Gin is wearing a charcoal-grey suit and a peach blouse, with nude tights seamed up the back, and black high heels. She looks alarmingly professional and for a moment I imagine her at work, on the phone or tapping at her computer keyboard with delicate red-painted nails. I wonder how her work colleagues see her. Even at the end of the day she looks as perfect, as trustworthy and middle of the road, as an advert for life insurance.

"My knickers have gone right the fuck up my buttcrack," she says.

I am wearing a grey shift dress over a long-sleeved white shirt. Amanda is wearing a black and white striped skirt, a dog collar, and a black t-shirt on to which she has stencilled the quote "It's not that I've been dishonest, it's just that I loathe reality." (Amanda idolises Lady Gaga to the point of insanity, and also has the advantage of being a freelance web designer who mostly works from home).

We are drinking peach Bellinis, because Amanda likes to imagine she is in the famous Harry's Bar in Venice. 

"Has he been in touch?" Amanda asks, a little too casually.

I shake my head. It's been three days since I had sex with Chris. No email, no text, no phone call. Nothing. I saw him from a distance in the work canteen yesterday. Initially I thought he saw me, but I must have been wrong. I wonder whether I should have found an excuse to go up to his office, say hi, but I'm unsure what my reception would be so I feel too shy.

"He might just be trying to play it cool," Gin suggests, but I can tell she doesn't believe what she's saying.

There is a silence. Gin looks at me and then changes the subject.

"I had a text from Jason," she says. "He wants to get back with me."

Amanda snorts. "And he told you this by text? What time did he send the text?"

"2am today," says Gin. We all start laughing. Thursday is Jason's night for going out with his friends. They usually go to the pub and then to our local lap-dancing club. He imagines Gin does not know this, being unaware that Amanda's former colleague Kelly is one of the lap dancers and they are still in touch (I vividly remember the night we were out with Jason and bumped into Kelly. She confirmed it to Amanda later, but her amused expression when she saw who was with us told us everything we needed to know. He, on the other hand, did not recognise her; Kelly says this is common when one bumps into one's customers out of work while wearing glasses, minimal makeup and clothes).

When Jason and Gin were together this habit caused her a lot of pain, but now they have broken up it seems slightly more amusing.

"Got knocked back by a wizened orange pole dancer, did he?" Amanda says.

There is a myth that all lap dancers and pole dancers are insanely hot, and to be fair some of them are okay. Kelly, for example. She's not a knockout, but she's reasonably pretty. However, most of the others we've met are ropy. To say the least.

One of my problems with things that are forced upon us while general culture shouts THIS IS SEXY! LOOK AT IT! YOU NOW FEEL SEXUALLY AROUSED! is that they very rarely are sexy.

But then again, I am not the audience these clubs are aimed at. And a lot of people must find it sexy or they would not be making money. Which they are. 

Sunday, 3 February 2013

46. This space is for you

Chris has just left.

I'm sitting curled up on my sofa watching TV. It is 11pm on a Friday night and the programme is something featuring celebrities I have never heard of chasing each other round a brightly lit set made to look like a house. They look strange. All puffed up lips and rippling muscles and orange boobs. Hair fried with bleach until it's as lustreless as straw. The one who seems to be in charge - the alpha male? - is grabbing all the women's breasts and comparing their texture while they giggle and the beta males hang back alternately looking jealous and cheering him on. The women's eyes are full of fear but avid for the attention and they put themselves forward, undoing buttons and pretending they don't want to be touched. 

I'm frightened of these people. They look like aliens. They're behaving like aliens. They live in a world of innuendo and assault. The show is too bright but when I switch off the TV it is too quiet. I know these people are what most other people regard as "reality". That's why it's called reality TV.

I get up and wander through into the kitchen. Rammstein is asleep on the armchair. I shut him in here; I didn't want Chris to know about him. Sometimes people get put off by cat owners. I don't know why. Perhaps because they have ideas about the cat lady from The Simpsons. Perhaps I am the cat lady from The Simpsons.

I wonder if he put the condoms in the bin or down the toilet. Personally I prefer the bin because I hate to think of fish getting tangled in them, or seagulls choking on them. But then I suppose if they go to the dump they kill other creatures.

How am I feeling, feeling I am how. Sometimes it's difficult to know. I visualise my favourite of all my former counsellors. She is sitting in a low wicker chair, her blonde hair tied back, wearing a sensible trouser suit. She has her glasses on. The cuffs of her trousers have ridden up to show two inches of pink sock. I imagine what she would say, based on previous experience.

"How are you feeling right now, Alice?"
"I don't know."
"Can we work on that?"
"If you like."
She pauses.
"No, it's if you like," she says. "This space is for you. You can talk about whatever you want. Or not talk."
We are silent for a few moments.
"I have a big feeling," I say. "But I don't know what it is."
"Is it a good feeling or a bad feeling?"

Back in the kitchen, I pour myself a glass of wine and take it through to the living room. The celebrities are firing water pistols at each other. I turn them off. The room is quiet. Rammstein comes through. He has his foil ball in his mouth. He drops it in front of me. "That's ridiculous. You're not a dog," I say. 

"It's a bad feeling," I say.
"What happened to trigger this bad feeling?" the counsellor asks. "Can you think of when it started?"
"It sort of started when I was having sex with Chris."
But it had been there all along, intertwined with the sexual excitement. I desire Chris, but I don't trust him, so why did I let him come here into my space? Into my flat and then into me? I invited him over and then cleaned the whole flat today, from top to bottom, to avoid thinking about the evening.

"Did you want to have sex with Chris?" the counsellor, my counsellor, my internal counsellor, asks. My immediate impulse is to say yes of course I did, but when I think about it this is a difficult question.
"I'm not sure," I say.
"What makes you say that?" she asks and for a moment I want to punch her.
"I invited him over, so I must have wanted to have sex with him."
"Not necessarily."
"Why else would I have done that?"
"Why did you invite him over?"
"Because we had been on three dates and I thought he was expecting to be invited over. That's the time. That's when most people have sex. If I'd left it any longer, he might have thought I wasn't really interested in him."
"Are you really interested in him?"
"I don't know," I say and the counsellor and I both start laughing.
When we've finished, she says: "What was it like having sex with Chris? Did you enjoy it?"
"Well, 'enjoy', I mean 'enjoy' is a difficult word."
"Not really. You know whether you enjoy something. Did you have an orgasm?"
This question makes me blush.
"Yes," I say. "But it wasn't..." I trail off. It's difficult for me to explain what it wasn't, that somehow it felt like he had won by making me come in front of him, that it felt like my body had done it against my will. He had made me show my vulnerability but he hadn't shown his (when he had come he had buried his face in my neck so I couldn't see his face. He didn't speak. He barely made a sound).
"He didn't talk to me all the way through it," I say. "He just did it to me."
"To you?" says the counsellor. "That's an interesting phrase. Didn't it feel like something you did together?"
"Well, it was," I said. "I asked him over. I dressed up for him. I made the initial moves. I didn't tell him I was uncomfortable with it."
"So you were uncomfortable with it."
I suddenly feel tricked. Then I realise she's completely right. That's exactly what I said. And as I think that I realise it's true.
"Yes, I was uncomfortable with it," I say. "But that's because I'm a freak, not because he is."
"What makes you say that?"
"I'm not normal. Most people want to have sex with someone they fancy after three dates."
"Do they?"
I stare at her. "Well, yes," I say.
"Do you not want to have sex?"
"No, I do." I do, I do, I do. I see men I would like to have sex with everywhere. I'm just scared of them. "Most people don't take it seriously."
"Why do you think that?"
"I see them all, everyone I know. Getting in and out of bed with each other. Getting in and out of relationships with each other. Falling in love and out of love. I don't do that. I never have. I'm not part of that world. I'm shut out of it."
"Who shuts that door?"
I look at my hands. "I do."

I have drunk my wine. Rammstein has given up waiting for me to play and is batting his ball all over the room, now here, now there. Now he is pouncing on it. Now he is still, to lull it into a false sense of security. Now he has knocked it under the TV and he can't get it. He feels for it with his paw, then looks at me plaintively. I get up and take the coat hanger off the back of the door and start fishing for it.