Friday, 28 January 2011

A Will and No Way - Part Three: the end

Will took my hand as we walked and I didn't mind. I was thinking how nice it felt, in fact, when I heard a voice say ‘Sorry’ followed by a deeper voice slurring 'Sorry', swiftly followed by 'Sorry'.  Three middle-class young men, very politely, were relieving themselves in the street. Will waved.

'No need to be sorry gentlemen, thank you for your consideration.'

'Sorry' they shouted at the back of our heads.

A homeless man carrying his weight in plastic bags approached, looking up at Will.

'Sorry - ' he started.

Will grinned.

'You're sorry too?’ What is it with this stretch of road, everyone is sorry. You're sorry? go and talk to those three guys having a piss. You can all be sorry.'

We passed a young couple on a bench in the late stages of physical communion – she was draped, supine, under him, her hands holding onto his collar for balance as much as in passion while he said ‘Baby? Baby? Baby?’ possibly trying to wake her up.

Will paused, a ripple running through him. He wore an expression I had last seen on the face of my neighbour, Mrs Waugh, the afternoon she turned her garden hose on copulating dogs.

The girl laughed and pulled herself up onto her elbows. The boy retreated and we walked on. Will scowled.

‘How old was she? Sixteen? She’s too young to be having sex. They don’t understand the dangers of pregnancy or worse, the dangers of falling in love with the wrong person.’

I didn’t know whether to argue or just enjoy the absurdity of his caring.

‘My sister, she was too young. And she was with that fucking idiot for years.’

It was less absurd. But I decided to argue. I shrugged, Gallic.

‘It's natural. We all want sex. You resist, you make it stronger, even at sixteen, especially at sixteen, and how can you possibly legislate who people fall in love with? you can control that?’ I looked at him. ’Have you always fallen in love with the right people Will?'

He thought about it.

'Yes. I think I have.'

As I remembered one of our kitchen exchanges included a story about a heroin-addicted ex-girlfriend that he referred to as 'the dragon' I wasn't entirely convinced.

We continued through this neighbourhood of contrasts, multi-million pound homes nestled next to council flats, past a famous and well-respected theatre to the tower block beside it.

I wasn’t prepared to let my moral high-ground go.

'How old were you when you fell off the wagon of virginity, Will?'

'Me? When I first had sex?' We walked up a flight of stairs. 'I had sex with my girlfriend's mother when I was 14.'

I gave up.  And just watched the movie of his 14-year old beauty, drawn into the bedroom of a bored and desperate single-mother of a teenage girl, initiating Will into what was obviously a life-time of female attention. I was the latest in a long line of admirers. I felt a silent communion with Mrs Robinson before I stopped myself. Not only was that slightly creepy, even if Will was now 42 -  I wasn’t bored. Or desperate. Obviously.

We emerged from the lift at the 16th floor. Will turned to me.

'Just to warn you, the old girl is probably still awake. She's very sweet, very lovely and she's probably drunk.'

I looked at him.


‘My aunt. She won’t bother us.’

‘Bother us?’  Myaunt? Was this a dog’s name?

‘She’s friendly. She’ll want to chat.’

So it wasn’t a dog.

‘Just don’t let her talk about the Labour party. We’ll be fine.’

I fought a slow and poisonous understanding. I was devoid of conversation. I stared at Will like a cow being told a joke.

‘Your aunt?’ I repeated.

‘I live with her. You know that. Raj’s mum.’

Vague and unwelcome memories pooled in my brain. ‘The old girl this’ ‘the old girl that’ had punctuated his conversation. I was glancing at his biceps at the time, imagining a mother in a home. She wasn’t his mother. But she was in a home.

And it was his.

The film of my night unspooled, heaps of negative rising into a dark wall between Will and me. I grabbed him, my voice wild, afraid of what this Labour-party hating aunt would prevent.

'Would you - please - kiss me now?'  Aching. Hearing my tone. Obviously desperate.

He looked at me. And then he did.

Kiss me.

The way you give up your seat for an elderly person on the bus.

He opened the handsome, solid door of the very well-built flat. A loud voice said 'Welllcome, welllcome hoooooome...' and Will laughed.

A radio blared. He led me through a dark hallway into a brightly-lit sitting room, cluttered with curios, knick-knacks, black-velvet paintings, newspapers and walls of vinyl LPs. Plastic flowers, net curtains, porcelain figurines and doilies covered every available surface. A waist-high stack of HELLO! magazines teetered next to the television. A plump and pretty 60 year old blonde sat, like a bleary Liv Ullman, in a chair near the kitchen door. She beamed at us, without getting up.

Will looked at her, full of warmth.

‘This is Aunt Sofie’ he said. She didn’t extend her hand but shouted ‘She iiiiis ADOOOOORABLE!’ in a heavy Scandinavian accent and, leaning across an occasional table, offered her cheek for a kiss.

Will offered drinks. I requested tea and he glanced at Sofie, solicitous and hopeful. She was sure there was, if he looked, she was sure there was tea. And with the grace of a Maasai tribesman entertaining a 19th century missionary, he looked for what would make me comfortable while having no idea why I would want it.

He drank a big tumbler of something green. Aunt Sofie was emptying a bottle at her feet.

She spoke non-stop and revealed herself as lovely, as sweet and, very quickly, as the drunkest person I have ever seen in three-dimensions. She was fictional-drunk, she was Hollywood-drunk. She was incomprehensible, except in small snatches. She rocked in her chair, her head lolled from time to time before it snapped up to emphasise a point she was keen to make.  Even if she hadn’t been Norwegian, the chances of me knowing what she was saying were one in a hundred. I looked at Will for clues but he just smiled, patted her arm and replenished his drink.

In a bolt of clarity, she launched into a monologue I had the impression she had been reciting even before we arrived, about her dying sister and the way her family treated her and how they were a bunch of c**ts before asking me if I liked Shakespeare.


She was the wife of that Uncle.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I love Shakespeare.’

‘I KNEW it!’ she crowed. She levered herself up from her seat and threw her arms around me. She stayed there for a long moment, her heavy head on my shoulder. She was marinated in alcohol, she smelled highly combustible; she seemed to go limp in my arms. I shot a panicky glance at Will, wondering if she was unconscious or possibly dead, but eventually she roused and poured herself back into her chair.

‘He is a GENIUS, he is a fucking GENIUS. Strindberg and Bergman, they aaaare ruuuubbish on my feeeet compared to the greatness that is SHAKESPEEEARE.’

I gazed at the loops of blonde hair, un-dyed, piled on her head and saw, in a flash, the movie of her life. An educated youth, the pregnant bride of a London wide boy (virile, broad-shouldered ) she’d met on a summer holiday. The lure of criminality to offend her severe Scandinavian parents.

‘What’s your favourite, what’s your favourite?’ she said, passion clarifying her English.

‘Othello,’ I said, glancing at Will. We’d compared notes already. He winked.

‘Oh yes. Oh yes.’ She grew sad. ‘It’s coming up.’

I wondered if she was referring to her dinner and looked around, desperate, for a bucket or a bowl but saw her silent attention was turned to a huge, 1980’s-style speaker, set up beside the mattress where Will sat. (We were obviously in someone’s bedroom as well as sitting room. Was it hers? Was it Will’s? This was pertinent information.)  Voices were proclaiming and she nodded to Will who reached over to the hi-fi and yanked up the volume.

‘I would have been happy if the general camp,
Pioneers and all, had tasted her sweet body
So I had nothing known. Oh now forever,
Farewell the tranquil mind, farewell content…’

It was Laurence Olivier. The unmistakable tone. Oceanic feeling, believably expressed - the hallmark of the greats. In my estimation anyway. And Sofie's, apparently.

‘Gielgud saaang the verse. A poncy poof. Olivier was a MAN.’

We listened to the despair of the self-deluded general and I looked at Will’s legs, long and strong-looking in his fitted jeans, I looked at the shape of his high-cheekbones and the almost-tilt of his brown eyes and the slight pull of his shirt across his chest as he leaned his elbows on somebody’s bed.

Whose bed?

How long before I found out? Would we have to wait for Sofie to fall asleep before we had sex on this mattress in the sitting room? Would we do it in front of her? like the dog I had imagined she was?

I felt like a teenager. The girl on the bench. Maybe I was too young for all this.

Will finished his drink. I hadn’t had a sip of my Tetley's before he stood up, took my hand and said 'Well, we've got to go and have a little lie down...'

'Oh, but I was enjoying - ' I think Sofie said. Opening her arms.

Thank God there was another room. And it was his.

Huge telly, a stack of CDs, prints of Portugal on the walls. A poster for an opera and a boxer making a famous winning blow. I wondered who it reminded me of in its unlived in, temporary way. And then I knew.


He put on music. Fabulously Neil Young.  We sat beside each other on the bed as he took off his socks.

'This is the best song in the world,’ he said. We sang along.

Only love can break your heart.

He turned off the overhead light, put on the telly. I was shocked for a moment then realised it was for the mood. Not so bright.  He began to unbutton his shirt. I stood and tried to stop him so I could do it. He paused then pulled away. I leaned against his cupboard, wondering what was going to happen next.

He lay down. I lay beside him. He kissed me, politely, again. Just polite.

He glanced up over me at the television. I saw and struck the sheets.

'NOT an option, Will,' I said, sitting up. 'Watching the television is not an option.'

He laughed. We tried again. I was a tinderbox, so the merest touch had me gasping but I was alone.  He paused and pulled away.

'We don't have to do this, you know, ' I said, sarcastic. 'We could just chat.'

He leaned up on one elbow and sighed.

'I think I would be safe in saying that all Englishmen - that every Englishman - would want to feel he was making the moves. I'm used to being the predator and that he wants - you know. The chase. He wants the chase. You know.' He looked down at me. 'A bit of hard to get.'

Hard to get. He wanted me to play hard to get. I had been his mildly-interested employer who hadn’t taken him seriously for months while he flirted and insinuated and offered himself and now he wanted me to play hard to get. My stomach turned.

I sat bolt up. I reached for my boots.

'Right. Okay. This is over. I'm not what you want.'

'Don't - '

I was looking forward to my bed. I was trying to remember how to get to my bike. I zipped up the first boot. Will grabbed it.

'You're not putting the boots back on.'

'Yes I am,' I said, cold and angry.

'No, you're not,' he said.

I pushed him away, found the other boot and put it on. I was looking for my coat when he reached for my knees, pulled them to him and started undoing the zip again.

'This is more like it!' he said. Wrestling with me now.

Holy fuck. I thought. It's 1950. I felt anything but coy. I was seething with fury.

But he was having fun. And suddenly he was into it. And I could - feel he was into it. In a way I hadn't felt earlier. Oh God, I thought. I have wanted this so much and for so long and look, here I can have it, with someone who wants me because I want to go home.

All his resources and well-tried skills came into play, stroking my face and my hair, undermining my resolve. And -  every time I evinced pleasure he fell back. He made no sound, whatsoever, and I kept losing him on the screen.



He took off his shirt.

And at that point, time, the invisible river on which all our lives career, stopped.

My breathing stopped. I think even the television stopped. Neil had certainly stopped (fifteen minutes ago).

He seemed to reveal himself in slow motion. As Michelangelo’s David must have appeared to the Florentines - no sooner unveiled than historic, immortal - Will’s torso was a thing of laughable beauty.

I've never before thought that God might hate me but now, I whisper to you, gentle reader, I think that God must hate me a little. Or like to see me suffer. Because God gave me, that night, what turned out to be probably - oh - 17 minutes - with the most perfect, beautiful, athletic, poetic, transcendent body I have ever had the honour to behold. Taut, landscaped with the hills of his biceps and the straight paths of his forearms, the waves of musculature under his ribs.

My veins flattened.  All my disaffection vanished. 

What defence did I have against this?  I thought Oh, I could just sit here and worship you for a while.

I asked if I could just gaze at him. He laughed. I still don’t know what that meant.

He nudged me down. We moved, disjointed, through the subsequent steps until I stopped and mentioned condoms. He paused.  He pulled back.  For the seventh, eighth time that night, he looked confused.

He just didn’t have any.

The impossibility of the whole evening, from the cinema-shouting, to the pub with Raj, to pissed Aunt Sofie rose up like hands around my throat.  I'd brought condoms (what is it with people and unsafe sex these days? and he's my age, he has no excuse, he lived through the 80s) but it was irrelevant because - he didn't like condoms.

The evening spasmed, fell into coma and died. We edged closer, lay in each other’s arms, not speaking and I kissed his face. He seemed to fall asleep.  I peered over his shoulder, looking for my clothes.

'You're going to go?' he said. Unsurprised. Again.

He didn't move.

I lay back down and traced the route to my bicycle on his back, trying to remember the unfamiliar streets. He dozed.  I pushed myself up on one elbow. He leaned over slightly and held me fast.

I felt unspeakably sad. And claustrophobic. I finally got up and got dressed on the side of the bed.

'Get out of the lift, take your first right then go right again along St Paul’s Road . At the s-bend, you'll see Richmond Crescent. Your bike is at the top of that road.'

Even though he spoke from face down on the mattress, I could hear worry in his voice. I couldn't understand a thing he was describing. He said it again, word for word. 'Get out of the lift, take your first right –‘

'Can't I just re-trace my steps?'

'No, I'm giving you a better route. Get out of the lift, take your first right - '.

I felt like a prisoner of war being told how to escape from the camp by someone who'd dug the tunnel himself. ' - then go right again along St Paul’s Road.'

I still couldn't map what he was saying, but he'd repeated the words so often that I was memorising them in spite of myself.

I was dressed. He got up. I felt a flicker of something like pleasure, was he going to walk me there, see me cycling safely home?

'Don't get up' I said, half-meaning it.

'I have to. To let you out.'

Which was fair enough.

Richard Burton was performing in the front room.

'That's nice. Hamlet, ' I said.

'Not until 4 in the morning it isn’t,' he said.

The door opened easily.  I frowned. 'I could have done that.'         

'I have to lock it behind you. Goodbye, Stephanie.'

Why is finality so recognisable? And why, after an evening like that, would I mind?

We kissed and he let me kiss him. We didn't look at each other. He closed the door. As I turned I heard him say 'Be careful'.

I thought 'Does he know something I don't know?' Two a.m., on a council estate. He probably did.

My contacts were stuck to my eyeballs and I was dizzy. Someone got into the lift at the 8th floor. I stared at the numbers lit up on the panel.

We reached the ground floor. I heard Will's voice. Get out of the lift, take your first right then go right again.

The directions were perfect. My bike was still there.

A pub was still open. I glanced in.

Looking for the handsome, quirky guy.

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