First and Fiftieth
Ten Million Years
The Last Saturday in May
First and Fiftieth
Ben and Joe's
A View from the Edge
God would be an atheist
A British man in his late thirties
I’m coming back.
To love you.
My nighttime erection subsides as I stare out of the window at distant housing estates, railway lines slinking through toy suburbias, tiny cars skittering by. A London I know but do not recognise, an early Sunday morning in summer. The Thames sweeps into view, motionless, eternal. The crystal curve of Waterloo Station. Charing Cross Legoland. The Houses of Parliament and London Eye.
Among a small crowd of chattering tourists we rose slowly into the air. I stood behind you, entranced by the mystery of your thick dark hair, by the delicate tones of your perfume. The river looks tired, you said. I murmured a reply. By chance my fingers brushed your hand and by intention, as we stared into infinity, your fingers claimed mine. A touch so light and strong. My heart thudded, then disappeared. We were alone. I took you in my arms and we fell into a waltz over clouds and sunshine, my arm around your slender waist, your gentle breasts nestling into me, your hand, your beautiful, long dark hand, on my shoulder, all possessing me and yielding to me as we swirled over London and the shadow of my once shallow life.
The plane hits the ground, shudders to a halt, New York seven hours and a lifetime behind. Friends in loud gloom-lit bars salute and forget me as they drink through an endless night. On the other side of this slumbering city you stretch out on a bed of subdued light and subtle scent, of promises granted and withheld. The curve of your cheek, brown as mahogany and soft as silk, the bouquet of scattered long black hair, your slender mouth half-open like a child’s, your arm embracing a pillow as it once embraced my unforgiving white body.
Every Sunday, I tell myself, you sleep this way. Every Sunday for a year you have shifted in your sleep as images of wonder surround you, as your limbs trace the paths you run, the treasures you hold, the lovers who woo you. Every Sunday each slight unconscious gesture has echoed across the ocean to haunt me, wakening me from too short and too drunken a sleep. Whether alone or with a stranger, I pushed myself out of bed and watched you wake, pulled on sweater and jeans and saw you sit up and reach for the robe that draped you like an evening dress. A year ago you would prepare breakfast as I walked to the corner to buy the Observer and wondered what chocolate or magazine or trinket to surprise you with. Six months later, with the Times delivered, I had nowhere to go but the kitchen. There your ghost lingered, laughing at the slovenly manner in which, alone, I slipped bacon and egg into pans, or, when I had company, smiled at the politeness with which I offered breakfast options.
The long corridors are sluggish with bawling children and patient mothers, old couples in stubborn silence, first-time lovers and anxious students, arrogant businessmen and nervous mules, returning home or drawn to London from the four corners of a shrunken world by restless avarice or ignorance. As I shuffle forward to show my passport to a middle-aged man stiff with boredom and disdain, from the corner of my eye I see you shake your head. I turn, nervous and relieved, but it is someone else, another woman of the same height and complexion. As alluring as you, her presence as unexpected as yours that first night in Fulham, at a predictable party in a predictable terraced house, predictably saturated with music and chatter. As friends and strangers eddied like leaves in a swirling stream, you stood quietly in the kitchen, in impeccable dark dress, first among equals in a coven of beauty. I reached for wine, met a familiar face and talked. When I turned back, you had gone; only an hour or so later, when I had drifted upstairs and was discussing the minutiae of barcodes with a safely married man, did you pass me again and smile. I walked over, the music died, the people faded and in that room overlooking the river, with abandoned coats strewn across the bed, we tentatively pushed open the door of each other’s personalities and walked carefully in.
"Sometimes you sit, watch the trains, the sunset, the rain. Sometimes you talk. Tell your story if you've a mind to. Trouble is, memory changes things. Things you want to forget. Things you want to remember that never happened. Happens to everybody. Gets so, nobody's story's true. Not yours, not mine. But it's all we've got."
First and Fiftieth
The inspiration came from a Gérard Lenorman song, Les Cathédrales, a poem about a man begging his ex-lover to let him return. The beginning of the song "Je reviens t'aimer comme on revient prier dans le silence froid des cathédrales"gave me the opening lines here.
Lenorman continues (my translation) "After so many years I have come back to find you, you who gave me your woman's heart, your eyes of stained glass lit by the sun shining before me as you look at me. I stand here, bare-footed, hungry and cold. I beg you, open your arms. Marie, at your feet I am nothing more than a man alone in the desert. Marie, I'm going crazy, listen to me, this song is my prayer." (Original French here.)
Incidentally, I wanted the fourth paragraph (beginning "Among a small crowd of chattering tourists" to be part of the blurb of the book, but friends told me it was too Mills and Boon...
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by Martin Foreman