By Matt Holland
I met her when she was just about to leave. Half a paper cup full of gin in one hand and one arm in her shiny leather jacket. I saw her scanning through the smug mass of partygoers for a table to rest her drink on, when she couldn’t find one she looked for a friend but she couldn’t find one of those either. I saw the look of quiet rage on her face and she saw the same look on mine. So she chose me.
“Hold this.” She demanded straight up. No hello. No please. Just an exasperated command barked out under duress. I had my hand out at once and she thrust the gin into it while I tried to think of something clever to say. She swung her jacket onto her shoulder like a matador and jabbed her arm into the remaining sleeve, then the bull was slain. I spied the edges of an old book curled over her jacket pocket like a joey. I got an urbane thrill of eloquence when I recognised the title.
“I read On The Road last year.” My eloquence, no matter how urbane, was brittle. “How far along are you?”
“About halfway, Kerouac is so boring.” She said with just an enticing hint of an accent. “What did you think of it?”
Her eyes were the colour of golden toffee. Haunting, almost wolf yellow. I couldn’t remember anything about the book and I had read it twice. It was one of my favourites in fact. It sounds like a cliché but I couldn’t even remember my own name at that point. I only knew her eyes.
Those bright and uncanny eyes sized me up while a book corner smile curled up the corners of her mouth. Her lips were unpainted and soft. Something about the book popped into my head. My one solitary observation.
“I think that Sal Paradise just needs to come out to Dean Morarity and get it over with. He’d be a lot happier.” I said, drawing from the ignorant reading that I’d chiselled into there for my first year essay back when I thought homoerotic readings of serious books were funny and that coming out would be easy.
She laughed. Not the polite society titters that were whispering all around us but a real genuine laugh right up from her belly. She probably didn’t expect such bluntness from somebody so obviously nervous. Something inside me broke its chain and soared to the sky.
“Although the forties were a weird time to be gay, no?” She said.
“Probably, but I’d much rather be lynched while I’m young and happy than live in misery.”
“That’s so quaint.” She said. There was a hint of vague mockery in her voice, but that patient smile stayed glued to her face. I wasn’t sure what I thought of her. All I knew was that I wanted to capture this moment forever. “What’s your name?”
I told her. She told me hers.
We sat out on the rocky steps leading out into the garden in our respective leather jackets, passing her bottle of gin between us and drinking it straight up. Just like me she’d been invited by Liz and didn’t know anyone. I was the first person apart from Liz that’d spoken to her all night and vice versa. She smoked these thin barreled cigarillos that you could only buy from France. They were cherry flavoured, she explained as she offered me one. It had a drizzly sweetness to it that tasted as if it’d been doused in expensive liqueurs.
She was Croation but had lived in London for years. She said she learned English by watching American cartoons – her speeches were coloured by Ren And Stimpy and Beavis and Butthead. Her accent was a high class mix of classy English maturity and fierce European strength. My ear settled on that accent like it was an overstuffed chair, relaxing into it while I listened. I rarely had much to say in those days, so it was good for me to have someone who I could listen to without awkwardness.
As she talked we drifted closer together until the leather on our shoulders squeaked. The warmth flowing out of her body was as exciting as it was terrifying. She put a hand full of chewed fingernails high up on my leg and turned to face me. I’d never kissed a girl before. Her lips tasted like sweet and full flavoured like the cigarettes. Her wet tongue smacked of gin and was as cool and refreshing as a cocktail.
“Let’s go somewhere,” she said to me.
She was the first woman I’d ever been to bed with. I used to spend nights dreaming what it’d be like, wondering. Reality was much better.
The first time was awkward and clumsy like my first year interpretation of Kerouac, but she guided me with that same loving patience. The second time was better and we exhausted ourselves against the sheets. We collapsed against one another, arms and hands entwined into one fragile structure.
The next day we said goodbye at a train station. She had to go back to her husband and I had a life I needed to lie through. We were surrounded by the stagnant flow of early morning office traffic. She pulled me close and her kiss exploded into my mouth, her lips clamped down on mine like a scuba mask. I sucked in her breath, tangy and warm like cigarette smoke, while her tongue spread its moisture around my mouth. Warmth ruffled the thin skin in my heart like the flames in a hot air balloon. Her husband was lucky. Someone had blessed him.
The voices and trampling feet of the city crowd departed and diminished around us, like music in another person’s headphones. She squeezed me in a tight hug as I clung to her, still soft and bed warm. We were a loving obstruction in everyone else’s commute and we didn’t care.
Not enough time passed and we came apart. Her smile sultry under the squinting yellow green of her eyes. She still had her hands on my shoulders and traced light, symmetrical circles with her thumb until my knees buckled. We hugged one more time, clasping the moment between our two heart wrecked bodies. We said our goodbyes and I watched her walk around the corner to catch her train.
She blew one final kiss at me as the train doors sealed closed. My cheeks reddened as the train rushed off and took her out of my life.