The Almost-Two-Months

She made a face—‘Can I nick a cigarette, please?’ ‘You want me to roll it or you wanna do it?’ ‘I’ll do it,’ she said, seizing on the paper, filter and a pinch. As a regular smoker, one is able to enjoy the relish with which the social smoker goes about rolling and inhaling a cigarette; the pleasure is palpable; every exhalation the release of some burden or other. She talks so much that the light goes out and she asks for another as we stand, balanced precariously, on the edge of the kerb. In dim streetlight, our tiny lumps of ash can be distinguished between the cobbles. She is five gins down and telling me about her life. ‘We started fucking while I was with my last boyfriend. I would take the train down to Kent to see him. It was so expensive. Sometimes he came to see me, but mostly I went down there. Two hours each way. He was lovely back then. I mean, although I did the travelling he would always make me dinner and that.’ It had gone out; she motioned for my lighter. ‘And I decided I wanted to be with him and everything. And then… like, a year later, I’m pregnant, and I’m, like—“Fuck!”’ Her glasses make her eyes look smaller, even still they are large. There are swathes of the street scene reflected in her spectacles, and from them behind the blue rings rinse and break through.

I knew women like her growing up. They are good company and listen to the same music aged thirty-two as they did at sixteen. Never settled into school, never settled into work, always waiting for life to give them a break or a sign.

She turned to go in; as she went to stamp out the smouldering butt, she paused, held out her hand to stop me—‘I don’t know why I’m telling you this…’ The baby’s father is out of work, sits around all day, and still the child is driven off, by her, to the sitting grandmother. He bemoans his predicament, scolds her when she does not tend to her daughter in the middle of the night though she must wake for work. Revealing this to me, she stared without breaking. After a moment, she stopped speaking long enough to sigh. She apologised. For a few seconds, she did not say a word, but having pulled her stare away, she looked downward, her breasts rising and falling. She was looking at her cigarette that had burned out.

The music was good. When we entered, Beck told me—‘O shit, there’s a DJ! I’m not going to be able to stop dancing.’ He waltzed off with a big smile. His smile was like the sail of a ship. All was contagious. Over our head, pink fake flowers were arranged and could be easily caressed. There were candles and fluorescent lighting. There were stacks of menus for Christmas. My colleagues were in fine spirits, a small group of whom rustled in a circle of jigs and swaying. Their toes pointed together, slapping, dipping in & out, lowing, and laughter that only faintly elevated over the speakers like a shark fin.

‘Why don’t you talk to me anymore?’ Milly was at my ear, her face right up to mine. It was the closest we had been in over a month. Immediately my body was flushed, arteries and irises dilating at once. I had been rumbled. It was true I had been avoiding her, and now she was upon me. Her skin so close I could see the pores in her porcelain. Perfume was there, too. Defiantly she bore down on me. It was arousing. Alas, I confessed, as though I had been interrupted previously. What if she thought me a fool and ran away? She did not. She only said that I was silly. ‘I thought you were my friend,’ she said. I told her I was. ‘Let’s go outside,’ she said.

We went to the walls of the decommissioned church opposite and crouched down, our backs against the soot-laden base of its spire. A floral dress draped over her knees. We were pressed to each other. ‘I see you have your septum piercing out,’ I said. She kept it concealed at work, tucked in. ‘You noticed.’ She giggled and wiggled it. There were flutters. Down the lane behind St Mary-le-Bow, crowds amassed a perforation of misty silhouettes through the sound of happy chatter. It was Milly and I, almost two months after thinking I had made a fool of myself—‘O, please, don’t worry about it.’ ‘It’s good to talk to you again.’ It was.

It had been a long almost-two-months. When I got a chance, I stole a look at her. In the ramshackle vistas of office beige, she was truly a relief. If she came towards my desk, I looked up and I shook my head at myself! For a smoking break, I had to pass her, and each time was a thorn in my side; each time I thought that I was a fool. There was something about her appearance toward my vision that caused me to smile. Only once had I cause to confront her, in a lift with Beck and Eddie there as well; making a joke to amuse her when I had not the bravery to speak like an adult, and she laughed, and it was enough to get me through.

But now she was by my side. The shape of her lips was like seahorses upon a mirror. How long we crouched there that by the time we arose our knees were frozen in place and we groaned. ‘Let’s go get a drink,’ she said. We stood by the bar, talking, making up for almost two months. There is a real difference between floral dresses and warm skin. ‘Let’s get a shot,’ she said further. We cheers’d, the tequila running clearly a little amber down our throats, citrus segments pursed between our fingers, grins breaking out like convicts.

I do not recognise my life right now. Its odour is my own, its creak upon the floorboards equal to my weight, its allergies and fetishes identical, but I do not recognise it all the same. Perhaps I have become boring. Perhaps my mind is overloaded with fortune. All of the sadness and anxiety has been replaced with a certain shade of green. Upon the horizon is a huge change that I keep close to my chest; maybe it will come and maybe everything will shift for the better, maybe stay the same. My routine is a shambles. Seldom I sit down to write. I come when I can. It drips into my hair. The smallest of dribble’s tickling revives me as I lean towards slumber. I try to get more than five hours sleep. The windows are open a sliver. The other morning I stayed awake long enough on the train to witness the sunrise, witness the sun rise. There is magic in that elevation, wonder in the colours. A day whooshes me by, and at the end of it I arise to take a long walk, and my knees rejuvenate within their pain. I see new families moving into derelict houses, I see a murder of crows sweeping across an orange haze.

And at last I came to stand in the whirl of Old St roundabout. There were black & white photobooths with H and pre-recession nights-out, taxi rides to dates and Hallowe’en parties. Everything spun about me. The chicken shops had HALAL written upon them in neon and FRESH FISH DELIVERED DAILY. Double alliteration pricking my hunger’s percussion. Photographs of meal deals, condiments in vinegary vats, labourers quietly conversing and forking carbohydrates. Everything I loved about that city collected at Old St roundabout. A maroon-curtained towerblock watched over proceedings, petting the orange skulls of Autumn’s deciduous trees while drains below choked slowly into November. A cyclist passed me by, the effect of his existence no more than a breeze over my shoulder. I realised that my skin was soft and my cheeks rosy.