I am curled into the smallest space possible on top of the bedsheets, clutching a polaroid, willing myself to be smaller, shrinking imperceptibly as the curtains rattle. Time does not tick away, I have ensured this; I have not wound my watch in quite some time, my stereo clock blinks all the zeroes and my phone lies frozen in the bottom of my bag; a dead register of the names and numbers and faces of people I have nothing to say to, forever. And yet there is still a whisper, plucking at hairs on the back of my neck, traces of red lipstick almost-but-never-not-quite bringing colour to the curve of my jawline. Wrapped around me, no contact, lungs locked at a distance. She’s humming not quotes but rhymes.
She is humming for me though.
By this point I had been an idea myself for while, all skinny ties and stunted progress; forever in North London, forever talking about what to do next, forever all words. I’m a few weeks off from a revelatory breakfast at Veselkas, one that shuffles my mind sideways in a mess of ideas, art, cheap coffee and waffle crumbs. I am yet to paint mural in my eyelids; but that is just a matter of time. Instead I am wallowing in the sound of the year before the year before, memories of ice-cubes melting and ringing ears, that blend of pre-sex fear and shouting only a very small club with very big speakers can nail. I am not yet sure who I want to be.
And here she is, a moue and reflection of where I’ve been, where I’m stuck.
“You can’t ever change”
“You can’t and won’t and never again”
“No; I can’t. I cannot. I am unable to”
It is not clear which of us is speaking, and she is just an idea. There is more.
There is the heart-shaped locket and the restraint and the exposure of skin between the not-yet-met folds of cardigan. There is retro and disco and twee. There is celluloid and inter-titles and matinees. There is vinyl and crackle and the absent b-side/another half/a part of a whole. And, yes, the tumblers of Scotch can’t help.
Some time later and a franked and stamped delivery arrives, one made of a blistering headache and a churning stomach. I see somewhere onstage, somewhere from the back of my head, a time when she stood and her lungs soared. And I choked.
She’s still here. She’s still whispering “This is okay, for a while.”
So there was the year before the year before where she lit a fire in my eye. When I remind her of that she smiles like she’s won and does it again; ice-cubes melting, ringing ears, hips and motion and a calculating glare in the right direction. I take it to Veselka’s and take her with me.