The Fourth Holy Sacrament

At the passing train, dairy cows rustle with excitement and prance in their field, neither away nor toward but rather alongside the small fence that separates them from the railway tracks. They prance on the spot, with strong legs and strong hooves that press into the soil that is so wet with yesterday’s rain. Today is June-bright, and the grass is a holy colour. One wonders whether there is a grass perfectly watered and sunbaked that the cows prefer, as a human will season their soup or brew a cup of coffee, spooning in just the right amount of ground. There are dairy calves, too, and they bleat in their gangs betwixt the flanks of mothers. The land is flat, portioned up by hedgerow and shading trees. A trough of water reflects on five sides freckled white and beneath it the water is dark. The cows will be milked in the morning, when I, on my journey to work, will not be able to see, but I muse as to where their milk will end up: a cereal bowl or cup of tea? a local cheese, or undergoing unearthly processes till it is poured into one of those hotel room capsules, lukewarm and starved of the life that sided those calves dashing through fields? Maybe, I think, it will end up as ice cream.

Her two favourite things were ice cream and sex. She devoured both voraciously; one cold, one hot; one in silence, the other not. It was October in Vienna the first time I saw her eat ice cream; a warm autumn, but autumn, nonetheless. The ice cream parlour there, along Stephansplatz – past Domkirche St Stephan, I remember – had a small crowd outside of it, but she pushed through with the confidence of a regular. There are sights I recall, and one of them is her crossing the threshold, through the glass front and open door, white tiles and contained cold. We both ate from cones, and there was crisp blue sunshine off the Danube. Her tongue ran laps of the two chocolate scoops as we walked down the street, slower than before.

Later on, we sat outside a gallery and there was a terrific crowd about us, many others dining or sipping coffee, a cheerful background of chatter. She had before her, again, a bowl of ice cream, which she ate in silence, and should she wish to say anything she would first set down the slender spoon, brush her lips and begin. She crouched low over the table so that her nose was just above the tip of the scoop, and she spoke quiet and intimately, as though what she had to say was for me and the ice cream only. She had on a black baseball cap. Of all her childish idiosyncrasies, her affection for ice cream – and indeed most sweets – was one of my favourites.

Sex is different to ice cream, but not by much. The only difference is her neighbours never knew when we were eating ice cream.

Maybe her two favourite things are not ice cream and sex but things that are quite different, things that I cannot begin to recognise. Maybe I sit here on a Saturday night, myself alone and charred before the rising sun, believing that they are two of her favourite things because that is what she showed me. I never know. I never knew, for she showed me only what she chose to, and as she unwrapped one piece of herself and then another so I began to have indeterminate feelings for her, feelings that both overwhelm with joy and terrified me. Occasionally she might not wish to show me things, but would end up doing so anyway, by accident or confession, and so my feelings intensified and life possessed an unfamiliar calm, as if things, which had been in turmoil for so many years, were finally still and all was peaceful.

It used to be that I wrote only for myself – or at least I tried to – as a means of finding that calm at the end of the day. ‘Write like you’re dying’ became a mantra, or an exercise in ignoring any consequences of my writing, disregarding the idea that people might read it and then, hopefully, I could commit myself to the keyboard with abandon. If I could only write for myself, then perhaps, through honesty, I would become a better writer, or, at a minimum, the process would be cathartic.

Now I realise, over & over, that I do not write only for myself; it would be dishonest if I were to put my fingers down right now and tap out that I do so. At times it is something I seek to convince myself of, but to little effect, for, deep within, I know the truth: I write for myself, and I write for her. What a confession! and I am abashed. ‘For’ is a word that may be substituted with ‘because’ in this instance – I write because of her – but not substituted due to it being more applicable; both could be used. I could type—‘I write for her; I write because of her’ a hundred times over and each would be true.

I see so little beauty in the world that when I finally stumble across something I think is uniquely beautiful, in every sense of the word, then it affects me long after it has disappeared. The longer I am exposed to it, the longer it lasts afterwards. I might choose to chase it away, and should I stumble, then finally I succumb and embrace it. Why deny its place in my mind? Why reduce its presence upon my shoulder? As much as London lives in my heart, so does the silent village and grass-edged rivers of my youth. As much as she is gone, so she is still here.  Chuckling over the foolishness of my feelings will not help. It is five days since I began writing this, six since I saw the prancing calves. Now I am perspiring heavily and nauseous from tiredness. Steadying myself upon the edge of the table, I take a sip of wine and pull a sheet of card from the side to fan myself, but droplets run down my cheek regardless. The last hour – it has only been an hour! – has dragged terribly. There is a pile of crumpled tissues next to me: coiled with snot and sweat. Five days ago, I was moved to write about her, ice cream and sex. Three days ago, I was compelled to acknowledge that she courses through my writing. I paused, should I even confess? It did not matter, nor would it matter should it come out clumsily. Why should ice cream and sex not flow awkwardly into one professing their inability to put someone out of their mind? It all makes sense after five nights.

As I passed the prancing calves and the dairy cows beside the railway tracks, I thought of her, ice cream and sex. The next night, too, I thought of her, and I wrote, then each night for five, until I sit here now, weary and undying. It all makes sense in my mind, but less so when I put it down. It is strange what one remembers when they see something unexpected and the memories that stir within, as whole lifetimes flash by, fast as the train carriage they sit within.