The Blossom That Fell From The Tree

[Following my previous post, I thought I would post this piece on a date from 2019. This was a good date.]

As the blinds are raised, the couple are there. There is where they live at that time of the day, at approximately eight-fifteen, when I open my flat to the new morning. Adjusting my eyes to the sunlight I search for them, and there they are, embracing. They are illicit lovers dressed in school uniforms. I cower, lest they see me! I’m no madman, pervert nor voyeur, but I like to see them. Recently they have become a pleasure to observe, but I am ashamed of that. He wraps his arms around her, and I can see them smiling and laughing. They simply stand there up on the fourth floor, outside the lifts, opposite my flat, and enjoy a few moments together before school. The mornings here are warm and calm. What to do besides meet on the fourth floor, outside the lift and hold each other? Summer holidays are in a week. I wonder where they will go then.
    ‘I’m amazing at first dates,’ she says.
    ‘I’m terrible at them.’
    ‘I’m amazing at first dates, then I get worse.’
    ‘O, really? … Well, I get better at them, so at some point we’re going to meet in the middle. That date will be incredible!’
    Blossom dropped from the tree above us and fell, spinning, onto our table. She gave me one of the small flowers and told me I should cherish it. She sat there, fingering the petals, with this terribly cheeky grin slapped across her face. Her sense of humour had not softened in person; only now there was her expression and gestures, subtleties in her eyes that only an animal of the same species could pick up. After two drinks she told me that the date wasn’t working for her; she packed her things away and stood up. I had half a pint left, and could not afford to leave it. My options were: I sat there alone in the busy pub garden and finished my drink amongst the staring eyes, or abandoned it altogether and walked away to save face. I decided I would finish the drink. ‘Yes, it’s really not working,’ she said— ‘So I’m going to go.’ Hmm, I would finish the drink, but this was all going quite badly. A nausea rose in my throat, and I attempted to keep my cool, yet I could feel my organs push up against my shoulders, huddling around the bottom of my neck. She stood up to walk away, then smiled and began laughing, before sitting back down.
    ‘That famous French sense of humour! Wonderful! World renowned for your fuckin’ amazing sense of humour! Hilarious! What fuckin’ larks!’
    ‘You didn’t find it funny?’ she cooed.
    ‘Yeah, it was a hoot.’
    ‘You didn’t look that sad…?’
    ‘I roll with the punches.’
    She looked at me with her dark eyes and put her hand on mine. She got the next round. In her absence I wondered how things were going. In my fist was a rolling paper with ‘3.5 — loser’ written on it in red ink that matched her fingernails. She had a rolling paper that read ‘7.4’, until she squashed it into a tight ball and tossed it into my pint glass.
    ‘I just couldn’t bring myself to give this date a seven-point-five.’
    ‘Fuck you.’
    ‘You wish.’ She pushed my hand away—‘Anyway, you gave me a three-point-five and wrote “Laser.” I don’t even know what “Laser” means.’
    ‘I wrote “Loser!”’
    ‘You should learn to write English properly, then. You’re the reason I voted Brexit.’

    The place got busier and busier. There was always the risk that someone else would sit down at the table we had secured earlier in the evening. It is a statement to turn up to a pub in the east London backstreets so early on a Thursday evening. Already skinny model types were beginning to act audaciously, sitting down next to me with their disgusting tailored cigarettes, their phones vibrating endlessly, a jaw turned exactly to portray an air of something-or-other, like look-at-me, look-at-me. She and I would scowl at the intruder, then resume. She was either my kind of woman, or French, or both.
    When it all got too much, we left.
    The streets were quiet. What happened to my side of London? What was this? There was a wine bar, bustling with ten o’clock conversations, digestifs, olive stones, whatever. ‘Let’s go in here.’
    ‘Get some wine.’
    ‘The cheapest wine is sixteen quid a carafe. The second cheapest is twenty-seven quid.’
    ‘Don’t get the second-cheapest. They know people will order that one because they don’t wanna look cheap. It’s usually worse than the cheapest.’
    I trusted her sound advice, ordered the cheapest and we sat outside on an up-cycled bench in the silence where flat-paving stretched in long straight lines.
    Texting for two and a half weeks in the modern age, you wonder how things will go face-to-face, whether or not there will be a chemistry — that indeterminate thing that can so easily make or break things — whether you will get along, the birds singing, the sky all blue, the compass spinning to a north pole, do not let it fall on its face, you pray against the sum of your nerves and anticipation. She walked how I expected her to walk. ‘What do you mean “sassy?”’ We sat down and I poured us both a glass of white wine — ‘I only drink white wine with fish or chicken’ I lied to sound sophisticated — and then hid the bottle underneath the bench, suspecting that fiends would come along and try to grab it, but none came; what a strange place. She put her head on my shoulder, then mewed against my neck. I purred. Later she would tell me her memory began to blur when we started on that first carafe of white wine. Now I suspected we were living amongst the fruits of our prior text messages, a strange realisation of everything coming into effect. Her skin was soft and smelled of cocoa butter and fruits. Her hair smelled like… I have smelled hair like that before, and always associated it with a certain lifestyle, a certain person. So she came from a warehouse in Haggerston, worked in government affairs, lingered around artists and the like, she patronised fine restaurants, spoke four languages, travelled extensively; the smell of her hair was strongest in its parting. She kept her head on my shoulder. I liked the way she looked at me when I remembered something she had told me before, as though I had passed a test; yet it was all so simple to listen to. Yes, some things I forgot but others stood out to me, and I clung to them as she had done the blossom that fell from the tree.

    ‘Fancy another one?’ ‘Yes.’ Why not stay longer when everything was going so well? I did not want it to end. It was going better than I had even imagined.

    It was past midnight when we finished, both of us entangled in first date madness; all rose-coloured in romance and too drunk to stop ourselves. There was no point in being civil or patient. She showered when she got back to mine, declaring — ‘I’m awake!’ as she emerged from behind the curtain and dressed in my clothes.
    I saw the numbers when we went to sleep. I saw her bloodstains on the sheets and I saw sunlight drawing lines across my blinds; before I went to work she turned them so that I could see the illicit couple stood there, wrapped around each other, smiling, laughing, embracing, not kissing but happy. As I ironed my work shirt she came from behind me, put her body to mine, her arms circling me, grabbing as they went; romance had lasted the night and sobriety. Three hours sleep and a little hungover without dinner. Through slivers, the embracing and illicit lovers observed us as we observed them. It was all very polite. It was all settled. Chaotic and messy, this was how things begun, and the illicit lovers finally stepped into the lift that went down to ground.

[The relationship ended just over two months later. She made an ultimatum that I remove images of my ex (posted ten months prior) from my Instagram, and I refused. It was a great shame, because she was truly lovely. And looking back, perhaps I regret it, but one cannot regret such things. They cannot be helped any longer. I hope she is doing well, for I think of her fondly.]