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He was waiting for something, anything really, to happen. London owed him that much. But anything, like something, is usually more specific than it at first seems. Experience was the word he used to describe this vague anything to himself. He often named things, which either already came with names or needed to be given them. The young man didn’t think he was doing anything like this, quite the opposite in fact – he thought himself permeable and flexible as a leaf floating on the wind.
Last time he had a girl in his room she stared out of the window at the autumn leaves while he slept on her shoulder. She felt happy to have what she deemed a beautiful man resting on her naked body, though physically she was rather uncomfortable. In lying on her back to accommodate his head and curled body she was suffering a slight deadening of her left arm – the one on whose shoulder he was sleeping, and her lower back hurt on account of it being unsupported on his cheap fold out bed. Plus she needed to pee and she didn’t want to disturb him. She didn’t know where the bathroom was in the large house he shared with four people she’d never met and she wasn’t totally sure where her clothes were. She satisfied herself temporarily by observing the patterns made by the orange-yellow leaves in the trees outside. She really did love this time of year.
She was the third girl he’d had in his bed in as many weeks. Both he and his housemates wondered how he did it. They didn’t slap him on the back and congratulate him though, they were more likely to have hushed conversations in the kitchen about whether he was “really happy”, desperately lonely, horribly confused etc. Yet, when they finished their cups of tea and coffee and went on with their days they would suffer fleeting moments of jealousy – he was just having so many … experiences. They too had encounters, relationships even (one was in a Very Serious one which gave her, in turns, a deep sense of emotional security and a deep sense of frustrated desire), but no one had had even half as many experiences as him.
The boy and girl had met the previous night at the closing down party of a London club popular with arts graduates aspiring to become hipsters and hipsters aspiring to become “creatives”. The club held the same closing down party every month – it seemed the revenue generated from each party was enough to save the club from ever actually having to close down. Every month the party was packed and every month there was a long queue out the door. Everyone wanted to say they’d been there but history never seemed to happen, so the present never seemed relevant and so on. The space was big and cavernous, under some railway arches with plenty of room to get lost, and although it liked to pretend to have the air of a renegade underground dive bar it was actually a tightly managed, centrally located, well-known and respected venue whose listings appeared in all the mainstream newspapers and magazines. The bar staff looked like the customers and almost everyone (except the bouncers) was white, or close enough.
She had noticed him dancing enthusiastically to a band from whom she could sense only posturing and desperation, though the crowd seemed genuinely enthused or at least extremely high. I’m missing the point again, the girl thought. But there were only so many pseudo-psychadelic free folk bands composed of white boys from the home counties wearing baseball caps and singing about nothing in fake American accents she could take. This band’s name was suspiciously fitting to the zeitgeist – obscure, playful, long – and alluding in equal parts to a dangerously de-contextualised Native American aesthetic and to the rituals and customs of ancient English religious sects – Druids, Pagans etc. They had songs called things like Rite On and suffice to say they were hugely popular on the almost-underground London music scene.
Despite the bad faith implied in the boy’s dancing to music deemed culturally bankrupt by the girl, she hung around. Because he was, well … so cute, and this gave her a kind of energy, a simple good thing not to be ignored. Getting him to notice her was easy, she was open and kind, friendly and present. She existed in her body in a precise and fluid way – and, as they say, one thing led to another, or rather, the other.
It had worked so well that instead of waking up alone in his miserable fold out bed, he was waking up on the (admittedly slightly too bony) shoulder of a not at all bad looking girl who was willingly still in his bed on a Saturday afternoon. Things were happening! He smiled and opened his eyes. Well, he thought, this is how love affairs begin. These things would eventually all add up, amount to something and show him what he really wanted and needed and he would finally know. She smiled back, assuming he was smiling at her specific her-ness, which in a way he was, but he was also smiling at the situation as a whole.
He was also smiling at the stillness. Neither of them had said anything yet, no kisses had been exchanged. He hoped again that one day everything would be still. That one day everything he had done and thought and felt would align into a perfect life into which he could, as if by chance, but really as the result of many carefully made, tiny decisions, step into. He imagined it appearing like a castle over a hill. After all, he thought, he would have earned it. Therefore every decision was vital, because every decision might be the wrong one, the one that could send him down the wrong path; and it may be something so tiny, so irredeemably minute that he could never retrace his steps, find the flaw and correct it. It was therefore impossible for him to decide anything until he had had plenty of experience. The point of said experience was to one day gather it all up into a pile, and, once the pile was big enough, to look at it and extract from it a few nuggets of truth. It is fair to say, he would deduce, that I am one way not the other. Based on past experience, he would muse, I think it’s best for me to take this course of action and not that.
Doubt was the enemy. And experience would shore him up against it. Having sampled as many ice cream flavours as possible in a given period of time he could finally say without a doubt that mint choc chip was his favourite and he would always know what to look for. This would make him feel happy and confident in ice cream parlours and freezer sections. Experience would be his guide, something which defined limits and marked out needs. Then he would finally know what he was and what he wanted.
She felt no need to speak. She stroked his neck. This irritated him. She remembered his name though felt nothing about it. Her feet were cold so she pulled the corner of the duvet over them, this shifted him slightly and he was irritated again. He had been so comfortable a moment ago. Why did she have to do that? She said something about the colour of the leaves but it was too soon and he did not want to hear her voice and he was annoyed again. But he had just been smiling. He smiled again just to try it and this made her say something else about the leaves and he wished she would be quiet. She suggested they get up and go for breakfast but he was unsure so she went alone, leaving her number, though not really sure why. He was deciding about her; he didn’t like this type of girl. When she left he felt another step closer to knowing what type of girl he really wanted, but even if he met her now he couldn’t be sure because he still hadn’t had enough experience. He would have to go out and get some more.
At a cafe she ordered the biggest breakfast special she could find: two poached eggs, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, sausages, bacon, two hash browns and two bits of toast. Plus two cups of tea, orange juice and a glass of water. For some reason she always wanted chocolate after a fry up so after leaving she bought some and ate it in the park, dipping it in her coffee to ever so slightly melt it and get it to the texture she deemed most perfect. She smoked two cigarettes with the end of her coffee, measuring the drags against the sips, each balancing out and complementing the other.
It was her absolute favourite kind of weather, cold and bright with trees full of wild neon leaves that seemed so unnatural, but were exactly nature taking its ridiculous course. People’s cheeks were round and pink, their eyes were nothing and everything, dogs barked ambiently. Children reacted to each other and to their surroundings in simple immediate ways; they reached out to touch and try. The roofs pointed up and sunlight flashed against opening windows. People were in their various states of misery and joy, boredom and lust and she felt happy to be among them. For a while, she tried to read her book but eventually submitted to the happy distractions of birds and people and kites.
Mira is a writer, contributing editor at Mute and 3:AM, and one third of Monster Emporium Press. Her fiction has been published in Two Serious Ladies, The Literateur, Metazen and other places. She lives in South London.