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1969,0705.49 Cartier cigarette case, c.1963

When we got hungry he used a penknife to shear crisp petals from an apple, and fed them to me in our hotel bed. His fingers were warm and the fruit was very cool. The ball of his thumb rested on my lower lip: its tip brushed my tongue and I felt something loosening within me, knots slackening.

After that I could not enjoy the apple. Its juice soured and its mealy remnants drifted on my saliva. I could not swallow. But still his thumb rested on my lips, his splayed fingers muzzled me and crept over my jaw, my throat. His index finger was on my cheek and the place beneath my ear ached where his middle finger rested. And him with that intent, hectic look about him, staring at me with his lips parted. I felt like a rabbit in a trap. I swallowed, then. When he kissed me it was that old feeling of the world falling away.

*

The way I felt about him, when our affair began, was like gravity. I would call it longing, but longing happens in the heart and in the mind, and this was all in my body. With him it was as if someone had stitched weights into my skin. I felt a great dragging in my flesh and a sort of achy grief in my fingertips when we were together, and it did not abate until I had touched him. We were magnets nudged towards one another until we sprang together across thin air, and when he kissed me tentatively on the cheek that little patch of my skin must have momentarily liquefied to glue, because he could not pull away.

Was it love? We never said it. I thought about it, but it seemed to me that love is rarely spoken simply for its own sake. At its worst it is a sort of awful obligation, a downpayment for fidelity and honesty and probably consistency; it requires married people to leave their spouses. In our furtive hours together most things went unsaid. Of course, silence comes with its own implications.

*

In the corridor before we got in the lift, I stopped to fix my lipstick. I had to lean across a vase of silk lilies to reach the mirror; he stood some feet away and watched. An elderly couple shuffled towards us, their heads bowed together in a sort of complicity. The man wore an Astrakhan coat something like my grandfather’s: the woman clutched at his sleeve.

When they drew near, the husband chuckled and called out, ‘she’s got you waiting for her, has she?’ and we smiled fondly away from one another.

I tell you what, young man,’ he continued, ‘we’ve been married fifty years and I’ve spent most of them hanging about while this one gets herself decent. They never change. You’ll see.’

As they vanished into their room, I wondered whose arm I would be clutching in fifty years’ time. I won’t even know you by then, I thought, watching his reflection advance upon mine in the mirror. Then his teeth grazed my neck, and the knowledge fell away from me even as I sighed, even as he pressed his hand hard over my mouth.

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