YOU tugged at my arm. I turned and looked into your brown eyes, so often my first clue: would they be tender, or furious, or sobbing, or lascivious? And they were mischievous—they hovered upon me for not a second, before aiming at their primary interest. I kept looking at you: the sun reflecting on your mahogany skin, your flat but delicate nostrils. It was our first holiday together, in the Algarve, and we were five years younger than today and every time I looked at you I wanted to fuck you. This was regardless of whether those eyes were tender or furious or sobbing or mischievous. And I wanted to fuck you then.
I could tell you were impatient, as it was barely a second later that the tugging arm on my elbow was maneuvering me, redirecting my gaze towards the primary interest, the matter of utmost importance. You pointed an cyan tipped finger as well, and at this point I surrendered to your will.
WE stood together, spellbound, and we feasted on the magic. It was an advertisement, displayed behind the window of a perfume shop. I didn’t recognise the subjects, but I know now and will never forget that they were Scarlett Johansson and Matthew McConaughey. They wore funereal clothes, and were sitting sharing some fruit in the foreground. At the same table, and in the same form of dress, were two elderly peasants. The mother (I guess) had a wistful look, while the stars in the foreground appeared ecstatic. There was something comically unusual about the image.
You were convinced that the picture was a composite of several portraits. There was an atmospheric incoherence that initially led me to agree with you. Stepping closer in, however, I could not detect the seams. ‘The light,’ you said, ‘is inconsistent.’ This satisfied me for the moment, and in any case I had by now become lost in a deeper study of the detail. The ancient photographs on the wall in the background, the basket of strawberries and sharon fruit, the way Scarlett pulled her pendant away from her, the glaring white teeth of her and Matthew.
I could have stayed there all day. I should point out: we were laughing aloud. It is important not to forget this. Eventually we giggled off on our way to the gelateria.
We went back to this advert for this perfume in this alley every day of the remainder of our holiday. On the last day, you said, ‘let’s go in and smell it.’ But I stood firm in contradiction to you. This was not to upset you, but because of an inchoate feeling I had that there was something important about this poster, this perfume, and that we presently did not, and had not the capacity to, understand its true meaning. We had to eek its meaning out over the years. I did not want to rush the story. This was the story of The One. The One, which comes in two variants, one for each of the cisgenders, and is produced by Dolce & Gabbana.
YOU had ombre hair, which was in fashion at the time, and you looked fine, as in wine. The hair accentuated your south European features, which were a mystery to me given your lineage. Everywhere we went, people assumed you were a tourist; we loved to watch the confusion on waiters’ faces when they heard your accent; a sort of bourgeois Geordie that nobody but you spoke.
I loved to listen you talking; your high-pitched clipped vowels sent tingles through my hair in waves. You were saying something; I wasn’t really listening. I was just enjoying the noise and staring at your bum. You were wearing fishnets and a miniskirt, even though (because?) you know that I can’t help myself when you dress like this, and we were going to visit your parents for the first time. It was going to be a tantric journey to the north east.
WE both saw it, I think, at the same time. That poster. I think we had both assumed that it was just a foreign campaign, but here it was, exactly the same at home as it was abroad. We were instantly transfixed, instantly laughing, as the train slowly took us away from it. Then it was as though we had been brainwashed; we found ourselves standing by the doors, looking out the window, tickets limp in our hands. I told you we had to go to the bathroom.
You were game for this. We both had to go.
I, for my part, was massively rewarded by this experience. I glowed and rejoiced in the tingles all the way to Newcastle. This, I believe as truly today as ever, is the only way to (temporarily) neutralize the erotic power of fishnet tights.
We were going to your cousin’s wedding; my first time in your provenance.
You introduced me to the clan; there was a townful of them in the bungalow and you could taste my discomfort. ‘Why don’t you boys go for a pint,’ you said, and off we went, your dad and uncle and brother and I.
I recall having difficulty with your father, a rotund man with white hair who stood the height of a wheely bin, who appeared to me to be a deformed version of my uncle. By this I don’t mean that he was deformed; merely that he neared but did not conform to the image of my uncle; a similar man. This being so, I found your father highly distasteful. I suppose the error was on my part rather than his, but it is a basic ineluctable fact that when one person looks like another they will never, in my eyes, have any status higher than parody.
We had spoken a day or so prior; you attempted to prepare me. You talked me through the likelihood of certain sayings, particular places. You know how I tend to freeze and sweat when abroad with aliens, and it is thanks to your mercy that I made it through the ordeal of the club. Bitter, I remembered to order, once I had translated the question. But largely I was lost; I had a feeling they were making fun of me. When they spoke to me I laughed and agreed. By the time the man had arrived with the much coveted pie (our table became rapidly popular; with hello’s men came by, and as furtive pastry-eaters they left without even a how’s-the-wife) I was in the antechamber of discombobulation. It was then that The One was brought back to mind. Not just the oddity of it all, but the separation. I felt like there were five of us around the table, together in one space, yet of two different universes with an overlapping edge, a tectonic fault line between us.
You, of course, were furious; a snob—that was how you described me. But you never prepared me for the pie; an Anglo fruit-salad, in a way. There were still two evenings to pass, still the wedding to be attended too, and I had made the wrong first impression.
I recall the train back home; at pains I tried to elucidate my theory of The One. But you failed to understand me, even once you had calmed down, and left your familial angst in its psychogeographical redoubt. I worried I was losing you.
We did not fuck on this transit.
YOU gave me such solemn eyes and I did not know what to take from them; was this empathy? Was it stage mourning? But then a hint of you came through; it was almost imperceptible: it was a question asked in a quantum physics. You said, ‘am I doing it right?’
I tried to say, ‘you are,’ in the same technique. I used a millimetre of forehead tilt and I think you understood, as you softened your eyes. I marched on, with my brother, father, uncle and cousins, and we carried my grandfather’s box to its terminus. He was Argentinian, but had a generic continental European look that I did not inherit. I did not really know him.
WE had by now made it a thing: this statelessness. We were not to be tied down by the chains of our ancestors; we were not to be compelled by the accidents of our birth. But we did funerals, weddings, birthdays divisible by ten, and Christmas, although we had by now opted out of gift-giving. Families, we realized, were to be outgrown, but not offended.
You looked delicious. I remember finding you quite overwhelming; I wanted nothing more than to drop that coffin. I followed your pendant with my eyes; you held it between finger and thumb, then let it drop down into your cleavage, and I wanted to follow it with my mouth. Knowing what ludicrous sum you had spent on that black sleeveless dress made me want to tear you out of it. This was a decadent desire.
I always think that the way you looked that day will be the way you are ultimately defined in my mind; you had a Scandinavian theme; pale from avoiding the sun, blonde even though you always hated blondes (was it just because they were not like you?) I breathe deeply now as I recall this.
We hosted a little seance for the departed, in our holiday rental. We had been talking a lot about the book at the end of the universe, that tome which awaits us, which details all events. My inkling is that it was written long ago; you tended to argue that the sentences accumulate in real time; it is a work that is never finished; otherwise our lives have no meaning.
You were in the kitchenette, filling a vase from the tap, when the ceiling creaked. My father, brother and I made quizzical eyes across the seance table, and then a middle-aged women in a bath came through the ceiling, and split our table in two. She had suds on her areolas and it was a miracle nobody died. Her high turned white with the shock.
I suggested we all nip out; for the ambience in the apartment had become inappropriate.
We stumbled into the sunlight; the five of us, blinded and unnerved; we slipped into a rustic cafe. I ordered the fruit salad and we were brought a basket of strawberries and sharon fruit. I looked at our reflection in a mirror—not a mirror, but a window, a trick of the light—my beard was unkempt; our clothes were black, we dressed for the evening though it was the day. And we beamed, for although we were nominally sad, we were relieved to be alive. And the light: I could see this. It shot in from a high window, and it sliced our table in half.
YOU and I were in the foreground. You pulled away your pendant, as if to catch a particle or two of sunshine, and toss them my way.
I laughed because I understood; I finally understood. And you were ecstatic too; because we were together, not just in place and desire, but in thought.
WE were, at that moment, in greater unison that we ever achieved through physical love. We were alone together; my brother, my father and the women from the bath were there, but they were not with us, and were incapable of understanding.