Six Days

On the back of her hands, which were white and soft as anything, ran long scratches in a state of fading. The scratches darted like international flightpaths or someone leaping from the bathroom across the hallway into their bedroom. Holding up her left hand and running my thumb along the lines, she smiled and said, almost with an air of nostalgia, the name of my cat.
    It had been six days, but before that it had been another six days. Measuring these passages of passing, I held aloft my own hand for inspection; seeing similar scratches, I grinned at the thought of my cat marking us both. Six days ago, she lay on my sofa, her legs across me, and my cat on her legs, the scratches fresh. Six days before that, I matched with A.W.
    My cat wakes me up every morning. If she ever had any understanding of time, alarm clocks or anyone else’s need for rest, she leaves it at the door, but such is the audacity and cheek of cats. From the top of her tree, she pounces upon me, the minor flicks of my sleeping limbs, and then greets me face-to-face with purring that sounds like a kettle boiling with no water in it. I greet her affectionately and invite her beneath the covers, which she always regards with discernible suspicion, treading in, turning, retreating, before finally settling into the nook of my arm and making biscuits on my chest. During the week I attempt to return to sleep as quickly as I can, but on weekends I will lie there for a while, enjoying her warmth and black eyes. On the first day of April, I could not sleep and after an hour decided that I would look at a dating app, which claimed to have found someone I was most compatible with. How miraculous that the application could determine and guide me towards someone who I had so much in common with, that a relationship would surely blossom and bring love into my life like some android Cupid! It had to be addressed immediately! My cat looked at the phone with me, both of us blinking indifferently at my ‘most compatible’. How underwhelming! A.W. was the first I liked, although that was much later. I thought nothing more of it, put a children’s cartoon on and drifted off, with my cat still in the nook of my arm.
    How long is six days anyway? Why, in spring, six days is a tremendous expanse, a period as broad as the Triassic, layers in the earth, rings within a tree. The lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus radican) upon my sill was thriving, cascading waves of tumescent red flowers that curled like ear canals. The trees along the railway lines beyond were getting dressed. Morning’s birds were calling and rutting. Everything points towards the sun. A.W. said she would love to, that she was wondering when I was going to ask. It was spring. All history was winter. We were summer.
    I waited outside Saint Paul’s Cathedral in the rain, although not so much in the rain but a damp dizziness, spinning in all directions, searching the holy faces of bowed tourists. Through a blur, she came towards me, visibly irritated at the weather but more beautiful than I had anticipated, causing a terrible flutter of nervousness in me as we walked towards the venue. If one were to ever meet a potential lover outside some grand landmark, then at least the skies should be clear, the pigeons courteous, the pedestrians graceful; but we were not so lucky. Side-by-side she was, thinking, yes, hmm, making her mind up, peering at me, all senses piqued. Every word and sentence I had previously fingered or telephoned became vapour in her presence. Excused myself—‘Work has left me flustered. I’ll calm down in a bit.’ Her eyes punched holes through the chambered bones and tissue I keep between my ears. There was little room in her calendar for softening a stare. Her eyes, my goodness, her eyes!
    ‘I used to come to this pub with my dad when I was a kid,’ she said. The brewer’s daughter.
    There was a lot A.W. had already told me and there was everything to learn about her. First: what did her gaze mean? you cannot escape it, lest her lips purse and the rainwet tips of her hair flick at you like snakes. Our old man pub was pumped by a young lady to whom the service industry was a brave new world. We cheers’d. It was either the beginning of something or the end of nothing but it could not be both. One is seldom fully cognizant of such moments, standing opposite in some steamwindowed pub, pale ale and soft rock rattling, insignificance becoming bond, a relationship unfurling like Fibonacci. I did not know what she thought of me, so I too kept my cards close to my chest, or at least so I thought. Dating is a strange thing! We went from one pub to another, taking a seat at the bar, behind which a man of circular dimension and unfitting t-shirt polished glasses with a damp rag and hummed; his humming enough that it toyed with my mind and I—‘What is that noise?’
    What is that noise?
    That is not a noise but a sound: not a sound but the sound; the sound of us loosening, the sound of us ordering the same ale, of ‘two’, the whisper of our legs finally touching in a silent declaration of mutual fondness, the sound of familiarisation, the soft slur of inebriation, the clamour of lust, the sound of somewhere else, the hubbub of us. Smithfield knows not where it sits in the capital; neither City nor Westminster, it lingers between, and us within it. Take a look and you will see me and A.W. stumbling along its streets. The tenderloin of our romance spared by its market!
    We pressed on to somewhere else, where they served cocktails on small tables, where they arose dim candles about our elbows. What came did not taste quite right, like freshly turned soil or churned greens. But still, A.W. put her head on my shoulder; the motion of our carriage flirting her skull against my clavicle.
    In the morning I awoke and the bed was bare but for me. It may have been good enough for a renaissance painting it would not do! Had I really slept so soundly that she had arisen and run away? What could I have possibly done? Was my snoring so wretched! I missed her with a terrible instant sadness. I panicked more than I care to admit and leapt up to look for her. It was not long, it was a fraction, a petit decimal, only a small flat, fifty-metres-squared until I found A.W. in my kitchen with a glass of water, her eyes outwards the window, painted fingernails betwixt the shoulders of my cat, who sat politely erect, a tail wrapped round, and comforting on the corner of my dinnertable. ‘Are you okay?’ said I, over & over as though it had been a chorus. She pointed—‘There are balloons trapped in that tree.’ She was not okay. I told her the balloons had been there since Saturday night. The balloons were foil and sparkling ensnared. She came back to bed, sitting upright on the rattan headboard, a spontaneous nudity concealed hastily beneath a set of spare pyjamas. The sun fresh; it was April and Good Friday; bank holiday to boot – the declarations of Pilate snuggled into the cappuccino I made her. She chuckled as my cat terrorised us in the sheets. The bedroom’s easterly glass whistled, getting warmer.
    Large breakfasts arrived in logo’d boxes, which we took at the dinnertable, eating nicely and joking together. Our communication had returned. She was calmer, and, most charmingly, prone to fits of giggling. She could stop herself from laughing! Nearly breathless with it, she held her hand over her mouth but it was too late; I had seen her beautiful lips & teeth laughing. Laughter on our first morning together! ‘You’ve proper got the giggles, haven’t you?!’ A.W. giggled more, nodding and blushed. Afterwards, our plates smeared and cleaned, we met on the sofa. My cat joined in. It was just us three at an address somewhere in Britain. We watched television and made jokes. We had known each other for years by that point, yet I still found so much enjoyment in stroking her ankles.
    We walked to the train station and pulled up our own fog behind us; a route charted inebriated became clear. I wished she would hold my hand; she tripped on an uneven slab and reached for my hand to steady herself; our fingers interlocked. It was hot. A.W. and I kissed at the gate and I thought about when we would see each other again. It would be six days.