Spontaneous Animals

portrait of Peter Alternberg
The gods smile down on those who have no use for dating applications. It was a hot day with a hot wind; in spite of the hot wind, it felt as though there was no air movement at all. In my flat the air did not move and it was a furnace. Outdoors the air did not move and it was a furnace. I had no dealings other than to walk to the pet shop for cat food, and, as I did, I thought to myself—‘The gods smile down on those who have no use for dating applications.’
    Several young women passed me by, outside the prison and the Co-op. No men, just women; their legs, midriff, breasts exposed. They spoke and were happy. They walked past the empty yellow oval too hot for cricket, they stopped to call out through open car windows. It was Sunday and those with any sense at all were either by the sea or—it could not be mistaken—in their back garden with a barbecue going. The smell of cooking pork filled my nostrils and I was nowhere near the edge of land! I did not look at the young women; instead I smelled the cooking pork, pig, pig on a grill, spitting, such a dirty but intelligent animal, much like a human, thinking to myself that dating applications are a silly thing and if only I could be done with them forever. The night before I had ordered from a pizzeria that, not unpleasantly, reminded me of my last relationship (April—June) and in the morning I took my sex toys down to the bin store along with two bags of catshit and some old sketchbooks.
    Do you see an empty parking spot? how the lines hold onto nothing, but were lain and lay to embrace closely? The paint is wearing away, yet cars still go there, habit, flighting.
    They look for spontaneity, these women. It is a criterion, and they declare it over & over. ‘I am looking for someone spontaneous,’ they say. I do not know what it means to be spontaneous; you may laugh, but each time I write it down, I misspell it, disturbing my thoughts, preventing my spontaneous paragraphs! Be spontaneous! It is not good enough to just act spontaneously, one must be spontaneity! That is what these thirty-something women look for. Spontaneously I duck below the bough of an overhanging tree; spontaneously I cross the road; spontaneously I stop to examine a box of encyclopaedias someone has left at the end of their driveway—seventeen volumes, free. Spontaneously I note a dead pigeon in the road, its innards stretching out like a purple shadow. Me and my lover could have paused to examine the encyclopaedias, perhaps carried them like a stretcher back to our flat.

    Activity, too! They love activity, these young women, these thirty-somethings! It is not enough for them to be sedentary! They must be active. Activity demonstrates virility and I, for one, am uncontrollably attracted to someone active. In bed, they pull out their gym membership card and wrap it around my membership and we roll our eyes backward. I get hot when I think about discount Nylon. I am a ‘trusting guy’ but many Thomas’ are not, so one must understand that these people have to put a photograph of them being active. Parallel to my slovenliness are thousands of thirty-something women who can be found, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, armstretched atop mountains, kayaking, openwater swimming, climbing strange walls with very small steps screwed into them. ‘Together we could’ she says—‘Travel the world.’ And it is so intimidatingly boring and inconceivable that I smirk and move away.
    So hot was it that I could not walk a straight line. The boxes of cat food and my water bottle pushed my backpack onto me. Mopping my brow with a tissue, I spat my gum with gusto into a bin; satisfied that it had recently been emptied and I was the first to toss any rubbish into it, like some sort of trash Neil Armstrong.
    Women on dating applications do not like dustbins. They do not say it, but you can tell, especially if you are familiar with the unique etiquette of dating applications, the patois of loneliness and fruitless hope. What they really like is good food and wine. Immediately I recognise my shortcomings, for I enjoy, above all else, bad food and wine. After one particular breakup, the Polish man in the cornershop asked me, truthfully, if I enjoyed the wine I bought there every day; I told him, in no uncertain terms, that it was none of his business and that he should ring it up regardless; ‘It’s the worst thing I ever tasted,’ he told me; I bet he would clean up on the dating applications, the bastard! Give me bad food, give me off food. Give me that gazpacho I bought past it’s use-by on the corner, and the ruins it made my guts on that building site the next day. These women are beyond my reach. What they fling away, I scurry towards!

    The age of thick eyebrows is passing me by and I weep. Rotten gazpacho bubbles in the microwave.
    At the train station, I waited for my friend in history whose mother dropped him off every morning, despite it being within walking distance of his home. I saw her sharded by a reflection and I saw him getting out the passenger seat. ‘My mum says you look well young and that you’ll always look young, like Michael J. Fox,’ he tells me, in lieu of goodmorning. ‘That guy from Back to the Future?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘I never liked those films.’ The art teacher, Harvey, tells me I am exaggerating my features again, that my eyes are not so big and they are closer together. The women do not look my age. They gurn out at me and I cannot help but note, unkindly, that they do not look the age they claim. Often I burst out laughing—‘Thirty-four?! Fuck off!’ and I roll around, show my cat and tell her about how brutal paperrounds can be for humans. The cat stares here, there and everywhere. She does not blink. Blinking is for the weak and humans and weak humans. Quickly, I run to the bathroom and look at my face, the hair about my temples. Very slowly, all of the worst things happen to you, very slowly. Eventually you die, so it matters not, I suppose, when one lies about how close they are to that most absolute of full-stops.
    Occasionally, I admit, I play the part of some Scandinavian or Russian playwright, imagining the life of these people, their trials and ceremonies, the sparks and fails, the children they bring along with them. ‘One thing you should know about me,’ they say is—‘You will never be more important than my son.’ There are photographs of them with their child, its face concealed. The mother looks a kind of happiness I will never comprehend, part of a bond stronger than anything. Yes, it might be nice to speak to this stranger, but cannot. The child’s skin is smooth. My friend is in Tobago to bury his mother, and he tells me of the undertaker.

    Be it an accident of fate or destiny of personality, but I have no-one to relay the parts of life that amuse, frustrate, trouble or enlighten me. The cat does not understand, no, she reclines atop the kitchen units, blinking and yawning; when I don’t pay her enough mind, she squats on my bath towels and I chase her into the bathroom.
    The gods truly smile down on those who have no use for dating applications.
    The gods smile on my parents who are in Lanzarote to celebrate, on Thursday, their fortieth wedding anniversary. My mother is often confused by my romantic affairs, until I confess that I do not quite understand them myself. I met my mother for breakfast on Friday and she told me how much she loves my father, despite how loudly he eats oranges and sips champagne. That and them is the north star I lean towards. Forty years. If everything went well, what is seventy-eight? Besides, Britain will have rotted in on herself before then, like an apple on orchard’s October lawn.
    I am no actor, not even background. I want to know and get known. Without past, I can imagine neither present nor future, and, for that, I am doomed. And then, on my walk back from the pet shop, I put my eyes to a man smoking in the shade outside a halfway house, an old Victorian block with shutters and dim interiors. His stare cuts into me and I turn away sheepishly, the smoke dribbles bluishly.
    Every woman on the dating application asks for faithfulness. It is universal; if it is not said, then it is unsaid, it is implied. It is never taken for granted. They say that they, like the gods, look for the faithful. They say that if you have a partners already, you should not interact with them. It is difficult to imagine everything they—these women—have gone through. Such things are in a different language to a dabbling spectator such as myself.
    And yet all these beings, their histories and heartbreak, are subject to my thumb, only to be swept aside as if they were naught but dust on a ledge!