Friday, 14 January 2011

A Will and No Way

Chris and I are in the early stages of developing a web site of podcasts called LOVE BITES:  urban tales of men and music written by me. We have three scripts ready to record, and one that will never see the light of day.

Or so I’d thought.

It was about a man, and me, and I could, undoubtedly, have found music. But it was too excruciating. And I don’t mean excruciating as when you spend years married to someone who turns out to be dealing arms and beating up people at football games without telling you. I mean excruciating as when you’ve been stupid and you see glaring evidence. A year on.


I can’t deny it’s bloody good material.

And perhaps my stupidity can inspire one dating soul not to go out with the good-looking, inappropriate guy when her head screams ‘Don’t touch!’ That perhaps she’ll remember values beyond simple aching sexual need are necessary for real communion. That maybe she’ll just buy a bar of chocolate and watch a George Clooney movie instead.

Read on, O curious human, to see just how catastrophic seven hours with a tall, dark and handsome man on a wet London Thursday night could possibly be.

Trust me.

I didn’t know either.


It was January. Will came to fix the boiler. I was house-sitting and the boiler was in the courtyard on the ground floor. There was no heat, which wasn’t debilitating because I’m Canadian, but God knows what damage could have been inflicted on the multi-million pound home if the temperature really dropped and the pipes exploded.

He came with an assistant and, after my assessment of Will's exotic good looks – someone told me later that Cherokee blood ran mildly in his veins – I was amused by his gallantry. “This was a beautiful home, I was a beautiful lady – he looked forward to a beautiful time.”  I enjoyed the flattery, didn’t take him seriously and gave him the job.

It was a good decision. He diagnosed the problem and in the process discovered most of the Victorian plumbing throughout the five-story house was in need of repair. He found a leak in a cupboard no one had bothered to open because it smelled so bad (because of the leak) and, bingo, brought three months’ worth of work into his life, and a cohort of plasterers, builders and painters into mine.

The mansion became a building site.

I spent a lot of time with Will.

I found out he loved ‘the dogs’ and Shakespeare. He had a rich uncle who made him memorise vast tracts of Hamlet before giving out pocket money.

Will would begin the trek to the attic from the ground floor, reciting en route the way some people sing, ancient profanity peppering the 17th century verse.

‘O that this too, too sullied flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew or that the oi, mind how you go, Dave, Dave, Dave, are you listening to me, you c***? Excuse my French, darling.’

I’d come out of my bedroom and find five men in paint-spattered jeans and t-shirts on a ladder, unhooking something from behind one wall and attaching it to another. Will would push them aside.

‘Make room, make room,’ he’d say, nodding at me. ‘All right, lovely?’ I’d squeeze past, eye-level with the tool belt slung on his hips as he balanced, expert, on a top step.

Once he put his hand under my elbow as I negotiated a stairway of open paint cans and brushes, and the charge between us nearly threw me over the railing onto the floor below.

I had to admit there was chemistry.

The months of nodding in hallways and chatting in bathrooms (Shakespeare, politics, ex-partners) culminated in going out with Will for a celebratory drink. The pipes had been fixed, the walls re-plastered and the boiler repaired for a shockingly good price, all under his watchful eye. He deserved congratulations.

The drink was casual and he was a perfect gentleman, only glancing down to look at the hem line of my rather short skirt once. We went out two weeks later, this time for dinner in town, where he was breathtakingly handsome in a long, wool coat that made him seem even taller and broader. I walked in front of him as we left the restaurant and had the unprecedented experience of seeing every woman look up as we passed – bang, bang, bang - staring just above and beyond my shoulder; like pinballs in a machine, their glances ricocheted off Will.

I felt a combination of offence – get your eyes off him, you hussy – and pride – I’m with him.

The third date loomed. The differences that had arisen between us – he was a right-wing Sun reader who oiled his social life with a lot of drink -  were offset by his intelligent curiosity, his attentive listening and, let’s face it, his decision that I was obviously Devastatingly Attractive.

I recommended a French film. My treat I insisted, and, very new-man for him, and very satisfying for me, he agreed.

It was a rainy night, so I got to the cinema early to dry out my cycling hair, and ten minutes later he walked in, right on time. He looked wonderful in his working London way; no media scruff -  all polish and a white fitted shirt, floppy brown hair. Almost old-fashioned.  I snaked through the French-speaking crowd to where he was looking for me, a head above everyone else. I moved very close and bumped his arm with my forehead. Then smiled up, broadly. Available. Keen.

My first mistake.

It's only a mistake in retrospect. In the moment he smiled and hugged me and said something disparaging about foreigners but how he’d try to cope without beer. He was repulsed by popcorn (a warning sign, how is it possible to sit in a public movie house and not eat popcorn? I am not capable of it, it is beyond me) (usually) so I forewent, as he’d done the alcohol, and when we got into the auditorium he spread his arms out in the dark.

 'You must know I'm prone to shouting things out in the cinema. Things that embarrass everybody!'

He said this in a shouting voice.

I thought Jesus. And tried to grab hold of the railings of the night as it began its imperceptibly slow tilt under my feet.

We sat down. He wanted to be at the back. I told him I liked the middle. 'My God', he said, ‘we are different in every possible way'’ but agreed to be much closer for my sake. I turned in my seat.

 'Will, you are a spiritual challenge for me.'

He laughed and said 'And so are you for me, ' but arranged himself so I could press my knees up against his, my arm against his arm.  As this was what I wanted.

He shouted things out during the trailers, like someone who has situation-specific Tourette’s. After the third comment I said, channeling my mother, 'Will, be quiet' and he said 'No! I'm not going to be quiet' and I thought

Fair enough. Why should you? Just because some poncy, uptight North American tells you to? I hate being told what to do.

It obviously wasn’t his problem.

But it did feel like mine.

The film started, intense and very French, and I heard him say 'Okay, I can do this.  I can gather all my intellect and do this.'

He crossed his legs and folded his arms. He put one hand on my knee and I ran my fingers up his white shirt. Then he removed his hand. And that was it. 
If I’d had adolescent images of necking through most of the feature, they were unrealized. I struggled with huge disappointment through the rest of the film.

Until, during the credits, when, finally, he took one of my fingers and rubbed its tip.

Which was more like it.

Music rose. Gaffer boy, second assistant to the catering manager, the star’s driver and dog handler, I watched them all. I watched every acknowledgement and disclaimer, oblivious to the screen, deliriously happy to be sitting in the dark with Will stroking my palm.

By the time we stood up, I was disoriented by the throbbing in my hands and kept making wrong turns trying to get out of the building. He switched on his mobile phone and I stood under the small awning outside the cinema, thinking  'Now would be a great time to kiss me.'

Instead he said 'That was a jolly little film.' Not put out, just commenting.

I asked what he wanted to do and he said 'Well, after that I think a great deal of drinking is in order.'

I grasped the railing tighter.

The descent began more quickly than I’d anticipated, the ship began its Titanic keeling when, walking to my bike, I overheard him on the phone say 'Yes, yes, fine. I'll see you in ten minutes.'

The blood dropped out of my chest.

I thought 'He's made another appointment? He's got some other date after this one? This is it? Goodbye at the bike?'

I unlocked. It was raining harder. He put his phone away.

'Are you meeting someone?' I said. Tight-lipped.

He nodded. 'My cousin.'

He waited for me. 

‘A boy cousin – or a girl cousin?’

‘I wouldn’t call him a boy.’

'Does he know - I'm coming? Should you warn him?'

He laughed.

‘I don’t think my cousin and I need to spend quality time alone.’


 A truck rumbled by and he didn't hear, couldn’t hear the tone of shock in my voice. The single syllable which I’d hope would say ‘Are you out of your fucking mind? We’re on a third date.  Don’t you know what this means? Where this is headed? Do we have to make small-talk with your cousin before we can have sex?’

He watched me unlock my bike. I turned and followed him. I spoke to myself, gently but firmly.  'Go with it,’ I said to me. ‘Go with it, Steph. Don’t resist. Allow.'

But I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking there are times, as when the oncoming train is heading indisputably towards you, that you should not allow the prevailing reality or go with the dominant flow – and that this was one of those moments. There are times when you should stop, look at the disaster catapulting towards you, and move to safer, quieter ground. Get the chocolate, go back to George. But when the train is very, very good looking and wants you and seems to promise an evening of unbridled pleasure – well.

You stand on the track, you whistle Dixie and you close your eyes. As the lights get brighter and the engine roars..

End of Part One

Excerpt from Part Two

His cousin was aghast.

'Will, what are you at? Look at her.' The cousin looked at me. 'She's beautiful, I think you're beautiful, sweetheart, you're lovely, don't go - he doesn't want you to go.'

Will kept his hands in the pockets of his long, wool coat.  'No, I don’t’, he agreed. ‘But. I want a great deal of heavy drinking first.'  He smiled.

I reached across the aching cultural divide that made the trans-Canada railway seem like a zebra crossing on Oxford Street.

'You know, don't you,’ I said slowly, ‘that I don't need to drink to be keen and available.'

'Doesn't matter,’ Will shrugged. ‘If half-a-dozen naked and nubile dancing girls were cavorting about me saying "I want to have sex but I won't drink"- it wouldn't stop me.'

And I just couldn't figure out what was.

1 comment:

  1. can't wait to hear the rest! i so totally feel the dilemma.