Once Opened, Discard Any Unused Solution After 3 Months




One can become intimately familiar with a toilet, well-acquainted with its every curve and nuance, its height and its colour, depth and breadth, so that, without even looking, they are assured of its exact position, even if, through complacency alone, their member wanders from its aim. The bowl had dried out, rattling with piss; the lever pulled, and a small grey puddle of dust at the bottom swells and disperses. Five months since it was last used, the water evaporated during the hot summer. Three rolls of toilet paper, from back when there was a national shortage, tower by its side. The temperature of the lamps overhead and the aroma of toiletries, the grout, the rings of scale in the bathtub like fireworks. Has it really been eight months since anybody lived here? The man laughed as he walked in, to lighten the situation more than anything, as it had rained the whole car journey and outside the day was very dim—‘Just as you left it!’ The tap stiffened, the water cold. Old soap smelling of the good old days. Then he sees it next to the toothbrush pot: contact lens solution. White and blue like a swimming pool. What is it solving? Is this the solution? He picks it up and his chest tightens, a breathlessness takes hold. Up to the light, on the side—'Once opened, discard any unused solution after three months’
    PA announcements and chatter, heels knocking on the floor, not one consistent flow but a myriad of them in different directions, excuse-me’s and beg-your-pardon’s, the tails of coats flapping. Victoria at that time on a Friday evening exists in a valley, between rush hour and the evacuation of all who came into town for the evening. In the tunnels of under- to overground, I was carried along by the terror of nervous excitement. My heart was in my throat, as they say; my heart, the organ I trust the least, had worn itself out over the last thirty-six days, all building up to this moment and the nine days that would follow, and they would follow far quicker than those that had impatiently preceded them. The arrivals board is so rarely regarded in a train station. Arrivals, arrivals…! It is tacked narrowly to the edge, denoting only the station from which it came, unlike the departures board, which, in loose wobbly lines, paints a geographical picture of the surrounding conurbations. On time – platform eighteen. There is a time and a place, a record somewhere, of me relaying or recording her appearance outside the ticket gates. Perhaps it was, during drunken hours, described in a pub to someone who had never met her but had travelled through Victoria station. The train from Heathrow was full and then empty of those who were coming back and those who coming. Weary, glad, wide-eyed; tourists, Londoners; they spread apart like stage curtains and there she was. We saw each other at the same time. They moved around and she towards me. My smallness in the expanse of the train station stood facing platform eighteen, a million chemical reactions occurring within me, a hundred secretions and a thousand signals being sent & delivered that led to me feeling overwhelmed. In the middle of the crowd, we kissed. There was the taste of her breath, the breath of airports and her distance and then her closeness, the smell of her skincare routine and the spit that had dried on her lips, the smell of her apartment that I would eventually come to know; I inhaled.
    A complex arrangement of bus stops and theatre lights. It had rained puddles on the ground. We walked without knowing where to. I was dizzy. The night previous I had been out with some work-friends to the Ministry of Sound, where I was told, with unfortunate timing, that I had to attend a meeting first thing in the morning under the clouds of Canning Town, and I then set out, with some determination, to become quite drunk, drinking and drinking but, for reasons undefined, could not become so, until my friend came up to me, caressed my arm, put her blues eyes to mine and said—‘I’m in love with Matt B—s.’ (A year later I recalled this to her on the off chance it had slipped her mind, but, no, they had celebrated together in their lockdown flat with a takeaway and many bottles of champagne.) In twelve hours, I thought, she will be here. And then she was, as though those hours had been nothing, as if those thirty-six days were nothing but a reminder that, for those preoccupied by matters of the heart, time was relative. The downpour had washed the air clean, had washed it fresh. Through it all, the strength of her scent reassured me that she was close and would become closer. Old school boozers are a muddle of tacky wood and dirty carpets the colour of red wine. She placed her backpack down and we occupied a pair of stools, our thighs & knees interlaced. It was a hangout for political interns and Westminster journalists. The windows steamed up. Already, in mid-November, the kitsch of Christmas lights was starting to litter the eaves. It was warm in there, busy because outside it was cold. I cannot remember what we spoke of. I remember that I did not want to drink but wished to go home with her, away from the sobering crowd, to the absolute of her singularity. There was no need for drink, it sought only to exercise my patience. Still, I would put it off until I could bear it no longer. Her black jeans were so coarse underneath my thumb and fingers, concealing something so pale, so smooth. I could still smell her breath. She was inches away. At such times I do not recognise myself nor my life, I do not have time to reflect on everything that has happened to me until that point, I do not challenge what lays before me, both the past and future are without and I am within, their trifles no longer trouble me. All my anxieties and fears, my neuroses, disappear as though they never existed. If one of the journalists had turned to those drinking intimately behind them and asked—‘What was the name of your first school teacher?’ or ‘Tell me about the road you grew up on,’ then I would stammer nonsense and begin to laugh. She was as thirsty as me. People continued to enter the venue, shake off their umbrellas and chuckle their way to the bartender.
    The pub was opposite a building site I had worked on during the dissolution of a previous relationship. Every day I went to site – a cigarette’s length from the tube station – and passed the pub, regarding it but never entering. After the breakup, I was able (excuseless) to work weekends, and still I did not enter; following nine hour Saturday shifts, I went back to my flat and drank alone. That building site came to mean the end of love; and still, when I was with her, finally inside it, not once did I look outside or remember what had come before. I squeezed her hand and rushed to the toilet. ‘One more,’ we decided—‘Then we’ll go back to yours.’ ‘To mine.’ A year later, it is all quite a blur. It is a blur through which premature Christmas lights are draped, a blur of condensation on windows still bearing yesterday’s smudges, it is the blur of tight black jeans over her knee to my knee, and a blur the colour of joy all over it like sunlight off the surface of a river. A year later, I struggle to remember. A year later I am cooking a feast for my family and drinking beer very quickly. ‘Are you sure you want to cook? You have a lot to do,’ they both challenge me. There is a carful of belongings I have brought back from my flat, that is now being emptied (another story for another time). No, I tell them, I want to cook. ‘As long as we don’t eat late,’ my father says. All day I am busy dusting each and every one of my books and finding space for them in my room; I unpack and dust all my films and TV shows and documentaries; I sort through kitchen utensils and uneaten food; then I go downstairs and begin preparing dinner. My back aches and my arms ache from the day previous, but I keep going. Once I have finished all my coffee, I begin on the beer. Only when I go outside to cool down in the cold, do I find myself suffering nostalgia. ‘This time last year… this time last year…’ I shake my head. At the time when her train pulled in a year ago, I am serving up and everyone is digging in with large spoons.
    Outside it is raining. We load her backpack into the boot and take our seats, but there is a malfunction of sorts, and we sit there for a time, the sound of the soft radio and rain on the windshield. The three of us – the driver, me, her – we talk and try to understand what is going on, but it appears that he cannot move. We thank him and soon find another cab that, at last, takes us back home. As soon as her backpack is on the floor next to my chest of drawers, one of which I had emptied for her in anticipation, we release the decorum that prevented us from being too intimate in public. Clumsily we move, joined by smearing lips, to the bed. We had promised ourselves we would not come for two days prior to seeing each other again. Her black jeans were hard to remove, clinging to every elegant contour of her legs, the pores of her ankles, tattoos on white flesh.
   Afterwards, we sit entwined at the end of the bed. Smiling. The best parts of us are sticky from the best part of the other. ‘I got you a gift,’ she says, stretching out from the bed to her backpack and pulling from it an object in a paperbag with stains on it, circle splashes of transparency, and already I can smell – cinnamon! Eagerly I unwrap and gasp. A korvapuusti, which may have endured a three-hour flight and thousands of miles, but, she explains, it was fresh when she bought it. The ears were slapped this morning by hands that did not believe that its cardamom would be carried so far and presented as a gift from one lover to another, that it would be offered as a gift stirred from a conversation that had happened weeks before, because memory and imagination go hand in hand with food. I admired it. Never before had I eaten food in bed, but I made exceptions, which I kept secret from her, choosing only in my silence and secret grin to acknowledge, the weight of the rules being broken that she might never know. At first she refused to deny me a single bite or pluck of dough, but, at minimal insistence, tucked in with me, pearl sugar tapping onto the floor and rolling into the dust underneath my bed. She ate and enjoyed it like she had never eaten korvapuusti before. I ate and enjoyed it like I had never eaten korvapuusti before. Licking my fingers—‘I have a present for you.’ She took her head off my thigh and I went to my shelf where the gift lay. I picked it up, small and black, and placed it in her open hand. ‘It’s a fob… to get into the building.’ She smiled. A helpless smile will always involve the same muscles doing the same things to the same parts of the face, and yet one might never tire of their lover’s, for it would always be seen from different angles or within different contexts; the face might age, but the same muscles would be doing the same work and pulling on the same skin, and the smile would always hold the same wonder and thrill, as though its appearance were the objective of a lover’s each and every action. ‘I tried to get you a key cut, too, but apparently it’s some super special key and they can’t cut a new one without my landlord’s permission or some documents or some shit, so I’ll just give you mine.’ We kissed. Her breath smelled different now.
    The korvapuustiwas dinner, and we had to brush our teeth. Standing naked about the sink, we bowed across our jaws, our mouths pried in weird positions, and still the breakout of smiles all dribbled in white; spare hands caressing. Having finished, I sat down on the edge of the bath and, without intending to be incongruous or cause unease, and at least neither perceived, I, from my porcelain perch, watched her complete her routine. That was it! I watched her open the new bottle and delicately pour the contact lens solution into the tiny contact lens beds, pinch her big dark eyes and then, peering carefully, lay them down to sleep. As though she were poking an event horizon, I stared at her graceful finger, the allure of its line, and I stared at her legs up to her buttocks and then the curvature of her spine. As she removed her makeup, washed her face, applied her moisturiser, I elaborated upon my previously, albeit briefly, divulged plans for the weekend. When her hips struck the cold sink, she shuddered and flicked back. We spoke of my plans and she agreed to all of them enthusiastically.
    We got into bed, all the lights off. Now she looked like the ghost that had apparition’d before me in bed many times since her last touch back in October, but now I could feel the shift of the mattress and its cover as she turned from her glass of water to face me, blotting out the moon that came through the blinds. We tasted each other’s toothpaste. Different kinds of mint. Tell me about the different kinds of mint and how they came to exist, how they came to wind up in our toothpaste, then onto our teeth our tongues our lips our necks our organs, colding various stretches of flesh underneath the draughts through my busted window.
    The plan was to catch the ten-thirty-six out to the coast. Forsaking food, we stayed in bed a little longer, then prepared ourselves and our baggage, holding out between her exhibition hands an open-backed dress that would have exposed, somewhat inappropriately given our proposed company, a lacerated back that would not begin to fade or to heal for a few days yet. ‘I don’t think so, right?’ ‘As hot as that is, nah, might be a bit much for my parents meeting you the first time.’ She supported her breasts into a black bra and drew over her shoulders a transparent hot pink shirt, doing the buttons up. The colour in my flat at that time of the morning at that time of the year is blue and white, like the bottle of contact lens solution. She stood in front of me, piercing that last button, bathed in blue and white.


Mark

Thank you for reading. It really does mean so much to me.