I can close my eyes and feel a memory that never happened, but may do soon. Like a premonition, but without the baggage of determinism, I can remember what it may be like to feel grass between my toes and feel the cold as wet as dew whilst wondering about a thousand ghosts marching by as though commuters rushing to the next connection. I can stand, legs spreadeagle, balancing on two railway lines and will the old clunking Diesel towards me. But it always disappears, and I don’t have to dive into the rough scrub pricked by sharp stems and heroin needles. But I still smell the burning.
Skin on skin, warm breath on moist eyelashes; batted in embarrassment a fleck lands on the partner’s cheek. When everything is dry, there is no point. Pleasure in language, pleasure in body language and the words we cannot say – the shy smile, the eye glinting like sunshine on a crystal ball, the tight embrace that doesn’t want to end. And you don’t want it to. You want to absorb the person like osmosis, transferring their cells and memories and feelings and opinions and lifeforce under your skin to be pumped around you as the ultimate transfusion.
It’s too easy to be insincere. It is shocking that feeling has become a currency; a quantifiable method of determining who are the angels and who are the monsters. What is in me stays there; what is in others escapes, leaking with enthusiasm.
Every day I drive to work, I pass the same bus stop in the middle of nowhere. And every Friday an old boy waits for his bus at the same time. What began as a glance became mutual recognition, and then a four or five second stare as he watched me accelerate from the nearby junction and I forgot about all traffic to watch this man. One day he lifted his cap from his head and waved, so I waved back. Now it is a ritual. Until, for a month of Friday’s he disappeared. The shelter remained blank, as though it had been built for him and was now redundant. I realised he was now dead, this strange old man with legs so bowed a horse could pass underneath them without troubling him and a deerstalker hat tied like the ghost of Jacob Marley to his jawline. Just another spectre to address as I drove my car into something that didn’t matter. Two buildings. Lots of beds. A temporary sensation of escapism.
I used to admire people who were content; I would’ve traded anything to be them. It’s Gary and Tony on the couch in their goldfish bowl content. It’s Mr Bean in his curious universe content. It’s the old men and women in all those old local pubs who were there every day at five past twelve with stories of what they might’ve been but for circumstance, but now content.
I had a flashback today to a New Year’s Eve lock in, inside a pub that is now just the wreckage of a bonfire. The man who lived below me and three others were all doing the can-can on an impossibly narrow bar. The landlady sat at the end, chain smoking and drinking her way to a couple of cancers which now leave her with a walking stick. Since it is a lock-in, it is now a free bar and my friend is trying to pour himself a Guinness for the first time, without leaving more head than John Merrick. I know this cannot last. As night becomes morning and then threatens to become mid-morning and nearly noon, a man with a military moustache will try and ‘punch my lights out’. Which he won’t do for two reasons – firstly, because he’s drunk and half-joking and secondly, because the switch is already dimmed low.
I imagine they now sit among the wreckage. They have to wash their clothes every evening to get rid of the smoke. Black timbers and rain water. The landlady now smokes twenty an hour on the former site of a sweet shop she is old enough to remember spending farthings and half pennies in. I stopped balancing on the tracks and ran away, pelted by rocks, leaping over boulders and gasping for breath on that cool grass. I’m not content with content anymore.
Skin on skin. Gasped breath on lips before the nervous kiss. The tight hair grab, the moist cheek as a tear runs from their eyes to you. Diluated pupils, tugged corners of mouths, glances over the shoulder. When you are sitting on a train and a look is as good as a kiss, a laugh is as good as a hard fuck. When the nameless become memory to stand awkwardly alongside the rest.
The old man reappeared the other Friday. Not at the bus stop but striding towards it. Still with the deerstalker helmet deflecting time, still with legs like a man who is trying to shit into a trench, still walking though and still with the time to smile and wave at strangers. He will live forever, whether he likes it or not.