Part 1A Chapter by livspen
First part of a novel I'm writing, Fragments. Semi-autobiographical, mostly just a mad mixture of reality and fiction.
Specific is dull. Vague is fascinating.
“The only person you truly know exists is you. You are merely experiencing me. Lifetimes appear to coincide, but they don’t necessarily do that. I may be an 84-year-old man in your 18-year-old present. But you are merely experiencing a young, dazzling man with rugged features and seductive eyes.”
The bottle of rioja was almost empty. In the distant streets, a dog barked. I looked up at Lawrence.
“Please, no more abstract physics. And I’ve not had that much wine yet.”
“Bottle not enough for you?”
“You’ve had most of it.”
A mock look of indignance passed over his face, exasperated sighs followed. “Well, I never. A man can’t have one drink these days without somebody making comments.”
His breath wandered over to me in the brightly lit office. We’d rearranged the furniture in a restless craving for organisation or chaos, pushing it to the walls, and settling ourselves on the floor. He had mum’s velvet cushion to sit on and I a pillow, and between us lay the bottle we’d passed back and forth and a pack of untouched playing cards. Everything was peaceful, so much so that I couldn’t trust the peace. I awaited lightning, smashing, screaming.
Lawrence didn’t often have such an effect on the household.
“I do love this place, you know. It’s so charming.” He glugged the remainder of the wine, his eyes briefly closed. “Heavenly. ‘Heaven was made for man, therefore he is more perfect.’ Are you perfect?”
“If you loved anything half as much as you love Marlowe....”
“Love?” A crazed spark entered Lawrence’s eyes like pink glitter. He tipped his gorgeous head to one side, his lips apart and trembling a little. “Oh, let’s not talk of love. Love defies physics.”
“Oh, it does, I assure you. I used to imagine love was like energy. You could channel it into anything with ease, convert it. But....” His eyes fell to the cream rug, rolled around. “No. One cannot rationalise love, that abstract being.”
“I’m glad you think so. You’re far too logical sometimes, for a literary genius.”
A hoarse laugh escaped his throat, perhaps catching the residue of a cigar. “I am a Renaissance gentleman, darling. Doubt me not.”
His eyes had a sudden focus which denied his inebriated state. He stared at my face that same way he had stared at the actors in ‘Hamlet’ the night before - with a profound, bright curiosity. The smooth white skin over his face gleamed like lily petals. He pursed his lips thoughtfully.
“I think we’ll get married one day,” he said.
I smiled, nodded. “Of course. It’s only a matter of time. I’ll be your little housewife, bake you cakes, do your cufflinks and all the other nonsense.”
He continued to gaze. “Make me boiled egg and soldiers. Iron my socks. Take me on country walks. Pay for my coffin.”
The black silence that ensued threatened to eat up every millimetre of the room’s white light. There was a danger now of morbidity between us. I wanted to cry.
Instead, I kissed him.
You know you’re having a s**t day when you find yourself, on having just eaten an omelette you rustled up for yourself on a bored whim, exclaiming aloud:
“Well, that was extraordinarily nice. I can’t quite believe how nice that was.”
You were too chicken to flip the omelette over, and, with the absence of a spatula, you attempted to sort of tip it onto an ulterior pan, whereon it flopped languidly into a folded squat and bubbled menacingly for a few more minutes. Then, in a neurotic flap where you feared you’d be making a mess of two pans for one omelette, you transferred it back to its initial pan and shoved the brother into the sink, maniacally splattering it with Fairy Liquid.
The results? Surprisingly good.
I told the omelette story to Rose as she drove me home. She laughed a deep, throaty laugh at all the right places. For someone her age, she was so vibrant and alive in behaviour and in the things she said. I think, maybe, it was because she was ever so slightly mad. I liked her very much.
Raindrops had left a pale grey pattern on the windscreen, merging into the thick clutter of trees and houses flying past. Rose’s nails, a violent purple hue with blanched tips, dug into the leather of the wheel as she drove. She had recently filed for divorce from her second husband, news that had failed to move one muscle on Lawrence’s face. She was his mum. He knew what to expect. Lawrence liked to b***h about her at every opportunity, even with Rose’s own parents. Secretly, I was grateful that Rose was a bit nutty. It made for a wonderfully complex Lawrence for me to enjoy.
The car, an old Volvo, smelt of cinnamon and arrow root or something, Rose’s scent of choice. Lawrence said his stepmother always smelt too clean and clinical compared to her.
“Say hello to your mum for me, I haven’t seen her in donkey’s years,” said Rose when she pulled up next to our wobbly hedge. I rolled up the window, and when I looked back at her I saw a shadow of Lawrence’s charming grin. The small lines around her eyes and the silver of a singular old hair flaying out of her headscarf were completely at odds with that grin.
“Bye, Rose. Thanks for the lift.”
I wondered if she ever knew what it was about her son which I couldn’t go on without. She must have had certain suspicions. The little blue hand-prints he and I had done together on newspaper, covered in glitter, were still on her fridge.
I’m on a sofa in Starbucks - it’s upstairs, but not as comfy as it looks. I try my best to avoid these lamentable coffee chain places, but today it seems like a kind of refuge. Sometimes I am forced to go out into myself, to escape into an ephemeral but blissful elysium of inner-peace. But do I ever really escape?
I could sit here all day, sipping cheap tea and pulling pieces off muffins. I could, but in reality I can’t, because the bell will always ring and I must return. Back to the faces of b*****s who never cared about anyone. The faces which launched a thousand ships. The faces, mask-like. The faces.
Duck-egg blue: the colour of those walls and today’s sky, her eyes, his sweater. Colours may not exist, but blue.... that blue....
I might stay here forever. It’s no use trying to find him now, he’s far away, thinking about plans and making himself seem as much as a maverick as me in front of cut-out friends.
The man diagonally across from me has blue eyes, set back behind oval brown-rimmed spectacles, but their blue is colder, sparkling. The white hairs distributed neatly over his lower face glisten like tiny paint strokes. He has a round, friendly-shaped head, balding, but a fistful of loyal, unapologetic grey hairs remain. He seems exhausted like his moss green water-proof jacket. Sitting opposite him is a boy who might be a son but carries no conceivable trace of the man, or a past shadow, even. His hair flops in a healthy ebony sheen matching stunning eyes; he’s wonderfully tall, as if his limbs have been individually stretched. He’s got on this tan leather and jean jacket, straight grey jeans and painfully fashionable shoes. I know him well, by sight, having seen him around countless times. Distantly linked to him, perhaps, friend by casual friend. I stop myself picking the muffin as long as they are sitting there. When they amble out, the boy’s frappé empty like the vain void of his own image, I relax and devour the soft ginger sponge in thirty seconds.
I imagine he’s divorced the mother. I imagine the boy feels an awkward affinity with his father, but his father is a stilted figure, estranged from his role and clinging to formalities. I imagine they sometimes talk about the bands the boy likes, but the father never asks about girlfriends, the cigarettes in his pocket.
One day I will be middle-aged.
One day.... I will be old.
For now, for today, that forgotten time, drowned in our espoir for tomorrow and nostalgia for yesterday, I must try to live.
Shall I call him?
Difficult though it is to establish a date when this all began, I feel a sense of its age. My hair. It was dark, inky black, when he smiled at me and I pretended to be lost in a coke can. Or was it a bottle?
“He was looking at you, wanting to say hello.... smiled. You need to communicate with people, Olivia, it’s worrying.”
And now my hair is approaching brown again, a light chestnut once more, days of vampirish cults now dissolved. The frizzy ends of my hair were caused by a bad hairdryer, though, not Schwarzkopf abuse.
He is a creature of intense self-shame. Like me. Months of longing to reach into and join him have made me weary. He’s got so many walls growing and surrounding him. No one can pull them down now. He does not live in a world I can see, it is just a computer screen to me. Everything is clouded with boredom and circumstance and time.
As I’ve said, time is of the essence.
I should leave here now. That’s the second couple on the neighbouring table to leave. The French girls by the window have eaten their cookies. That man looks like he’s itching to wipe my table. But I have nowhere to go.
When I first met her, she seemed perfectly content on the surface, which is something you very rarely find in a person. But the second time she smiled and spoke to me, little dimples in her cheeks, I could feel the good intent slowly dripping away from her face and by the time she finished speaking a haughty scowl had taken over. Of course, I expected there to be a lurking menace behind a precociously beautiful teenage girl with Topshop features. I had a private giggle in my head when she told me her name was Myra, though it felt more like a shudder at the time. After her grandmother, apparently.
I had no qualms with her, not as long as she kept away from his life. Why should she like him, want him, anyway? He wanted to be the ultimate nerd; he strolled around wearing unusual accessories; he strived to learn as many of the Lyrical Ballads as possible. Her last boyfriend had been a twenty-three year old singer-songwriter with great hipbones and an ivory smile which hinted at no illegal activity whatsoever. I’m not sure if Lawrence had ever had a girlfriend really, or whether I believed he’d had at least. And yes, I foolishly counted on this superficial distance between them. The distance between empty and brimming. Now I have only me, little old me, sitting her on this scummy little chewing-gum wall with a pigeon for company and no one to blame.
It wasn’t even her face that did it. No. It was the whitish blonde hair meandering down her back in loops and coils as she stood talking to me, her arms hanging down beside her hips as she pretended to be my best friend in all the world. I saw him looking over at us, her, lacking his usual divine subtlety, perhaps because he’d been knocking back pear cider for three days. He didn’t ask to be introduced. I’d struggled to keep them apart for a good few weeks, and now, perhaps, the inevitable had arrived. I was not a cruel person. He was still looking; I turned her round so he could see her properly. The pink light of the sun illuminated her body, her unsquinting duck-egg blue eyes. And I shrank behind her, muttering something introductory which came out a lot more formal and grand than I expected, like one of those old announcers at balls. A few hours later, she’d slipped off home, and Lawrence was curled up on the sofa beside me, moaning her name.
At the time, I was complacent. I reassured myself that it was me and Lawrence and everything else came afterwards. Years of being together in back gardens, picking flowers and playing in mud in paddling pools, comparing snails, building hide-outs and writing songs on his battery-powered keyboard, had secured it. It was our names written on the underside of his grandfather’s piano, eternally. Besides, Rose would never warm to her. Rose would put a stop to it, wouldn’t she? I felt safe.
But of course, nothing could be so bloody clichéd. He wanted to see her again, more, as often as possible, and for a period of time I was Pandarus. When Lawrence was with me, the whisper would always come. Had I seen her? Then he somehow got her email address and my work was obsolete. I sat at home, pretending I could think of something, anything else, eating packets of biscuits at a time and finding any kind of work completely unpalatable. For the more he saw her, the less I saw of him. I ran my fingers over his letters, ones he wrote when we were eight years old, and pictured them together.
“That’s a good drawing. Really good.”
Dad stabbed a bulbous, friendly white finger at the paper. I tasted the sweet irony for a moment.
“Adolf Hitler drew that.”
Dad mouthed a silent repost and moved away.
I reflected, playing with the four remaining cheerios which sank so morosely down into the ebb and flow of skimmed milk, pale yellow now, upon how I had also admired the effortless smooth curves of Hitler’s life drawing. The next day was Dad’s birthday. When he put on the new pyjamas my Mum had bought for him from M&S (“They’re very light, Jools.” “They’ll be perfect for summer. I’ll get you some winceyettes for winter”), I remarked, to myself more than anything, how the grey vertical stripes resembled those on Auschwitz uniforms. I squinted a little and pictured that haunting yellow star which it lacked, clear as reality itself.
© 2010 livspen
Brighton, Sussex, United Kingdom
AboutIm Liv. I'm from Brighton, England. I write, constantly. Enjoy. more..
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