What I was after perhaps was someone who wasn’t quick to attribute meaning, someone indifferent as a cat. But how was I to know that then? I can’t remember when I began to lose concentration. I think it was when I started seeing things – like the frosted window in my bathroom door with the raised swirls – only in terms of words that might describe them, but I can’t be sure.
In fact when the woman first moved in, the bathroom soon became the second locus of contention after the kitchen, the disputes revolving around who did or didn’t squeegee the cubicle doors after taking a shower, when we took solitary showers, but especially when we took showers together, as I now recall, and especially when we’d made love in the shower, depending on what each of us had done to accommodate or inconvenience the other.
I met her in the withering of youth, or rather she met me. Somebody met someone. She guided me to where I slept. Very soon the issue became that of the identity of the odours under the bedcovers, the fur on her perineum and the little bumps on my foreskin.
Somehow this is what a lifetime’s work and non-work converged into: a kind of slide, a deliberate ignoring until it became clear that we no longer knew what we were ignoring.
We laughed at my blunderings, argued over who had the best method of bevelling thoughts, slicing meat, giving grounds for respect, meeting both ways. When did I begin to black out? I’d wake up with enigmatic cuts on my hands, I remember that. I remember too resorting to words whose sole purpose was to free themselves; saying I for what I lost in saying it, walking in place while I tried to give words drift, unanchor them.
Two domestic contradictions rubbing against each other like two pebbles on the shingle beyond our meagre front garden, a sliver of which we could study through the kitchen window. She and I: two sides of some other side: a third party perhaps, a silent partner. But in what?
I liked holding my hand on the bedside lamp until she had to tell me to take it off. If she didn’t notice it I’d have enough trouble for that day. Was that what life was, I thought, seeking out enough trouble for each day, in the absence of a firm will to stay seated and silent? On second thoughts staying seated and silent got one in enough trouble most of the time, more than enough.
Maybe it was a kind of accuracy we’d started ignoring, the promise of a saving precision in defining this silent third between us. The sealine drew me out with its false promises, I spent much time with the salaaming waves that sucked the shingle in and out, walking at the wrong angle, twisting my ankles through the stones.
I’ll give her as much as I can. She had an uncanny ability to see through local human interest stories (I never read them myself) to the people speaking blindly behind them, gesturing senselessly. I paid due obeisance to her compassion, though I forget how, none of this is certain.
One day it was winter all over again, evening all afternoon, brightened I think by moons and streetlights and snow. The third party walked between us to the public house at dusk, the more nameless the closer we got. I wiped my nose on my finger as she asked if I was listening. I had to laugh as I offered it saintlike to the freezing air.
In the days when she reluctantly left her domain I left for my beloved coast. The sand was heavy with slushy snow, seagulls squawked over stray chips. They were building an oil rig out on the gas fields, or it may have been a wind farm. I understood this intrusion to be a version of myself and had to spray the contents of a nostril onto the beach.
We were a kind of failure of relation which spoke in the break between aloneness and togetherness. There was laughter to be sure, what sort of people wouldn’t laugh under such circumstances? There was speech too, real speech from time to time. I briefly entertained the notion that there was some force we were intended to conquer or placate together and that if we left the days to themselves they’d turn on us. I tell I lie, that was her notion, I didn’t understand it then and don’t now.
Can I get across our disgust at the failure of our words, at this very idea of a third party? Words were a question of esteem and I was backfooted by each utterance. So I took pleasure in the heaviness of the waves on my ears and hands, as if one didn’t have the hope of silence either, as if the surf itself were a hoard of false words being whisped into the air.
We observed the growth of our mutual aliases. Where she was now was in a cubicle before a screen that always scrolled too quickly or too slowly. She used to amuse herself by tracing its dimensions with her hands like a blind person. I suppose she preferred it to being left at my mercies, not that I had many. Her bosses would come up and nudge her and she’d stretch her lips and nod.
Meanwhile I was in areas of production, transferring boxes of wine bottles onto pallets, being accused of deviant desires by my stubble-necked colifter. Well, what did I dream of? The heart’s tender ways, ah the heart. A whisper that would return me to my missing self. No, only the waves, and making love for real in the dark fallacious night.
She got hopefully mixed up in a dam building project, I mean a project to build a dam, I think she administrated it. We might both have been administrators at heart, impossible to know after all the turns we’d been led round. We were where we were, she administrated her dam and I lifted my wine bottles wondering how to sneak one into a toilet cistern.
How did I spend the two hours at home before she returned? I showered, masturbated, let my eyes rest on the walls. My real downfall in life, I reflected, was my retarded relationship with cars, with modes of transportation in general. Their buttressy clunkiness, their noises and rushes, the violent rift between inner and outer space they produced. I preferred to walk even if it limited my prospects.
In the pub there was always a couple with slicked-down hair and harassing tattoos, in the afternoons wrinkled cocklemen, in the evenings hotel guests and smirking office workers. I’d reply to someone and she’d sniff, or vice versa. In between we taught each other baby words to bypass the sobering third party, to lure each other into tenderness.
Some of the nights back home were strange: the last circles of light seemed to gather around the corners of the ceiling, I don’t know if she saw them too. I fingered corks and caps, rolled them between my palms until we locked hands and lulled each other to sleep or made love in soft collisions like sea creatures. Other evenings I stepped out to observe indifferent dramas in the sky under the unknown and unknowing stars, it was enough to drive you mad. Then back home, drunk, to the walls’ silent treatment.
Sometimes she’d phone me, even from the other room, presumably mistrustful of her own anger, and set things out in tremendous eye-rolling detail. I listened with varying degrees of interest as the description of my shittiness took shape. When I was moved to speak, my outmoded phone looped my voice back onto itself.
I was well aware that simple disgust, simple anything couldn’t let me off the hook, but the sealine could still smooth time out past its own horizon. Ungraspable hours! In this mood I’d walk home to a flat full of a kind of invisible mist, until things resolved themselves back into their senseless places and the bitching started again. Sometimes holes opened up under our words whether or not we wanted them to and forced laughter, instantly regretted, out of our mouths. Stay low, I said, let time stretch back out.
It became clear that I had the duration of a fish in a tank, that the story had gone from me. The evidence was mounting that the days ahead would be more or less identical, whether they stretched or contracted. The tedium would grow as we grew together, like different species of mosses are wont to. I held her back, she said, that was the simple fact. This, this here is the problem, we agreed, pointing at the floor between us, palms upturned, for all the world as if it were to blame.