The alcohol is having a fine effect on the gathering, and soon Shigem launches into an anecdote that I can tell will be a long one. I do lend half an ear to it, as it certainly fits the mood; but the greater part of me is inconspicuously finishing off my tune-in to Kim, now that his childhood has piqued my curiosity … and I see you, Kim, there in your first college room, which you loved for being yours alone, at half-past-eleven in the morning, at your window with a coffee. Underneath a still, damp, stone-washed sky was a lane, little-ridden, lightly mossed, leading to the stark brown bulk of the Library. Along the lane’s far edge, a blond boy wandered past—quite pretty, dressed in a black coat and black-tie, returning home from some night out. Blue smoke rose as he took a languid draw from his cigarette, his hair hanging forward in a pale curved spray. And you sipped from your coffee mug, and idly watched him down the lane and vanish round the corner.
The hazy amber days you lived there were a gorgeous alcoholic social haze of serious fun. You wasted not an instant of those years, and nothing can alter that. They’re sealed—yours—and perfect.
Reclining on the warm grass beside the river late one night, you heard sweet thin notes approaching through the clear air. A girl alone in a small canoe floated from the shadows of the trees to your right, drifted past and down the river to your left, around a stone corner, underneath the Bridge of Sighs, and disappeared. For minutes more, her piping trailed behind her, faded, and vanished.
From the window of your last room, you looked across the front court: through fountain spray and through the arch, to tiny figures ambling in the haze along the distant road; then coming back, nearer figures by the river, framed in the arch; then back nearer still, upon the lawn just beyond the arch; then here in this front court and down beneath your window. That soundtrack was playing, and now it reached the infinitely creepy-sweet “Mysteries of Love”. And through your leaded window, all those distant background figures, standing still or gesturing in talk or crawling antlike across the frame, were sealed in a different world, photographed and laminated here in your memory.
Then London, in a strange room, with telephone numbers. I see you pushing on, through a spitting London rain, past the black-painted rust-spotted wet metal railings enclosing the grass in a lonely residential square. Pushing along in the rain to a boy you loved or thought you did, who loved you back or thought he did, you were edgy with uncertainty, the promise of togetherness, and imminent aloneness. ’Cos you know as well as I do I can never think of anyone but you, went the song. Alone in buses and trains, reflecting, questing, staring at the distance, always seeking something, someone, somewhere else perhaps… You heard the silence beat behind the bustle and the rain: beating on and on, while you rushed through the rain to some suburban street you’d never seen before (and yet would see a few more times, a few), and the system of the city worked around you, oblivious. Sure, you’ll be all right, you thought—but where was the outside lightning, to answer yours that always seemed to flash alone without direct reply? And your symphony revolved within you, underneath the plane trees and past the wet railings, as the rain pattered on. Then, by and by, Kim: your face in the rain … last chance on the stairway … alone in the social whirl … I’ll never see your eyes again … dance away…
Once you saw, waiting on the platform of a station, a tall platinum-blond spiky-haired boy in sunlight—striking, thin and sexy in a long-sleeved black-and-white-striped T-shirt, and he settled right then into your lifelong memory, just before your train pulled away from him forever.
A last small residential square in the afternoon. Soft weather, damp air. You accessed the square itself, found a hidden wooden bench, and sat. The odd bus passed, beyond the railings. A breeze blew the wet black branches of the trees, and their few remaining brown leaves spiralled down around you onto dripping shrubs. A grey squirrel hopped among the leaves on the lawn, as it nibbled at an acorn. It saw you, stopped nibbling for a second, then nibbled on. You held each other’s gaze.
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