Tangled Up In Blue

There are some things that I must write about, some things that, having put them off, or tried to ignore, I find myself being pulled back to, gravitating towards the notes I made in my phone or in my mind that keep on repeating themselves over & over until I am haunted, and succumb to their call as though repressing them were all too much. So it is – a month after having recalled her visit last year – that I find myself compelled to write about our final date together in London.
    It has been said that Sundays with her were always special. I do not know why but the day I had learned to loathe in my youth blossomed in her company; undoing the damage of years of homework and the horror of Monday’s school, church, Sunday lunch, vigorous baths, early-to-beds, my imminent return to bullies, and seemingly perpetual bad weather. Roast dinners are forever ruined to me due to their association with the sabbath and my abhorrence for it. She undid all that. Our Sundays together could not have been better. The biggest date of her ten-day visit had been arranged on the last Sunday before she returned to Finland on the Monday. It was to be our last day together until the new year, at least, although future plans had not been made, perhaps on account of having to  acknowledge that this would soon be over. Both of us were sad about this, yet neither showed nor discussed it, for it would only spoil the occasion. If I did not say it aloud, then it was not really happening.
    She applied her makeup next to the only window in my flat, because the light there was best. The mirror she had brought with her was set up on the sill, between the plants, and she ducked down closer to its circular reflection, her hair tied back, her breasts hanging, her vertebrae delightfully pronounced. This was the first instance when she was not ready before me, so I was able to spectate and to gaze inquisitively, to pull out my camera – which I had already primed and checked for film, putting another roll into my backpack – and, as they say, ‘capture the moment’, although such things are never truly captured, merely recorded. The night before, in the Italian restaurant down Old Compton St, we had run over the itinerary one last time, ensuring our plan was perfect. We made sure we left ourselves enough time in the morning to fuck and then get a pastry and some coffee.
  Outside of the photobooth, there were a number of hotel guests milling about, waiting for something or someone, unremarkable jazz playing, sofas and chins in palms. She sat on my lap and I adjusted the height of the chair as she adjusted herself in the mirror before us, the mirror against which I watched her and smiled and she smiled too with her wonderful teeth, the lines around her lips creased in the muscles of her face. She kissed the side of my face and I put the money in and she wiggled her bum into my thighs, settling. What I felt, I later learned, was her Ischial tuberosity, a name beautiful enough to suit the impression it made in the nook between my Rectus femoris and Sartorius. Six years earlier we had done the same thing in a Viennese photobooth; the strip of four cut in two, separated and pulled apart. That was so long ago, things are different now, I told myself. Alarmed by countdowns, we posed and smiled, four times, kissed, four flashes; we were happy, I thought. I am happy, I thought, four times, not hiding a thing from the lens. Waving it in the air, waiting for it to dry, both of us hidden under a doorway from the rain to look upon four rectangles that slowly bloomed and contrasted. For the photobooth, she had removed her jacket, exposing her white clavicle in a blue dress, but now she was covered again, the wind and the rain too much.

    A tube to Oxford Circus and the squeeze of the tunnel’s fingers reaching up and grabbing the middle of Regent St. We shifted quickly through until we reached the Photographers Gallery, walked up to the top floor, beginning our way down, visiting each room on the descent, visiting the exhibits of seventies food and Soho nightlife. She would offer her opinion so often that it began to bother me; she is so intelligent, I thought, she need not constantly flaunt it! It made me think of her father. Still, I was on a date with an art critic, so should expect it; still, it seemed born from some insecurity that I truly wished she would not feel, because, as she went from piece to piece, she was so immensely bright and smart and talented, so perfect and beautiful and so elegantly dressed that to look upon anything but her seemed a great waste of time – but we had paid a fee, and so there I was! I wished to clutch her hand, and tell her—‘Shh, hmm, yes, just… look with me.’ The smell of her perfume as she brushed against me was entrancing, the bottle of which, depleted, she would leave at mine and I returning to its nozzle again & again like it were a narcotic! After too long in the gift shop, we went back out to the chaos of tourist’s London.

  Through a quieter backstreet onto Piccadilly. She walked as skillfully as me, both of us breaking hands, skipping past a dawdler, rejoining, dodging, we moved in unison. I was simultaneously aroused and amused at how well she walked. Fortnum & Mason was hectic. The walls and the floor were covered with display after display, mostly in royal red, twee Christmas carols in the background that could not quite be distinguished, and an unsure yet polite shuffling of customers between it all, giving way, waiting. She wanted to get some gifts, especially for the couple who were looking after her dog and would inevitably end up feeding her too much steak – of all things! – so that, for weeks to follow, they would have to go on many walks so that she would lose the weight. In the queue, a man, basketless and overburdened with tins of biscuits, jars of marmalade and wooden boxes of expensive teas, began poshly decrying how busy it was and how it seemed to get busier every year. As I withdrew in silence, she humoured him, engaging in brief and polite conversation. I could not help but grin to myself as we flew out of there and into one of my favourite nearby bookshops next door where she swaggered between the shelves, swinging her arms, darting from category to category, to the letterM to D to true crime and poetry.
    The climax of the date, so to speak, was to take place in a grandiose and extravagant tearoom deep in the affluence of West London. It was grey when we arrived at its glittery exterior, decorated for Christmas. We walked past the queue and, both of us unsure, entered timidly. The entrance was done up in various scenes, props, fake snow, music and carousels. The staff greeted and led us through the darkness to a large tearoom that opened up in a hall of pink, sweet smells and soft sound, waiters and waitresses fluttering all around dressed in black against a collage of locals and tourists dimly lit, stylishly lounging with graceful hands a quiet conversation across the intimate, pink-clothed table to their well-dressed company. We took our seats at a table for two, had our coats carried to the cloakroom and stared around gawpmouthed at our surroundings, the opulence, giggling a trifle at the predicament of us having ended up there. The menu could hardly be made sense of, and it was with great nervousness and embarrassment that I checked with our waiter that champagne had been included. The champagne was especially important to me on our last date. I never drink champagne, so its inclusion was of the utmost importance. The waiter, distracted from his presentation, assured me that, yes, our champagne was included within the bill, then went into his elaborate and confusing presentation on the menu, little of which made sense or could be followed by either one of us. Upon the flutes’ arrival, we toasted ourselves and our time together. She looked so beautiful I could not take my eyes off her. Around us was a strange mix of blasé rich locals, indifferent to the luxury of it all, and tourists who took photographs of each and every spectacle; I suppose I found myself in the latter for half an hour or so until I saw in the back of the menu that one should not use the flash photography, before sheepishly becoming quite hot with embarrassment.
Both of us looked around like children, while incidentally, the actual children nearby did not give a toss but stared at their phones instead as their parents held court and discussed matters of greater significance. A string quartet played in the corner as ballerinas pranced down the aisles with careful elegance between hurrying waiters. When the food was brought out, we probed and examined it all with careful curiosity, one of us taking the menu between our fingers to try and ascertain what it is we were eating! When the main tray of sandwiches came, they could have been consumed in a heartbeat, but both of us – her with greater discipline – took our time. We would describe what we had just tasted, with either gusto or uncertainty, and then reach out for another. The tea came – I did not know what I had ordered, but learned, from the menu, that tea was best served at a lower temperature than I had previously understood – and was enjoyed before a tall and ornate platter of desserts was lowered into the middle of us. She devoured the desserts with characteristic relish; never a crumb left, and each was pored over with complete pleasure as she gasped and sighed and I chuckled. It made me so happy that she was enjoying herself. Nothing else seemed to really matter so long as she was enjoying herself. There was a miniature chocolate gateaux that she took particular time and care over, making sure every last bit of it was gone, swirled cutlery rattling, and as she did so, she looked about the room, observed, her jaw pointed towards the rim of a spoon, the overhead light perfumed with pink landed so carefully on her nose and cheekbones, every feature of her face, that, for past nine days, I had come to know intimately, shone.
    When we got out, the force of a cold street pushed upon us, we wished, unanimously, for a slightly more casual venue. Walking not far, we found a pub, which had survived many planning applications and remained unscathed, bent as though merry between modern buildings, and now, on a Sunday evening, was quite empty and quiet enough for us to recover ourselves and drink with a little less etiquette. In the back room, as we lowered in the corner, there was a middle-aged couple craned over their drinks, a hen party partaking the last round of the weekend, and a lone man on the opposite side of the room underneath an ornate arrangement of holly, pinetree branches and hollyberries. She carried with her the uneaten desserts in a pink cardboard box. For once, walking out of there, I confronted the knowledge that she would go home, that, in fact, within twenty-four hours, she would be on an aeroplane away from me and our little time together. Cab lights bounced off the rainwet road and caught our eye; silhouettes underneath dim amber. We shared a cigarette and stood on the edge of the pavement. The desserts in the little pink cardboard box were devoured when we got home, the gateaux having tumbled about and smeared itself but still delicious. We were silent. If I could not speak of how sad I was at her leaving then I would not say a thing, and so I ate a spoonful of gateaux held out to me and smiled mildly.