So there I was hauling my hungover arse around the city (notice I said ‘arse’ not ‘ass’. There’s a clue for you all — aspiring middle class Brit, somewhat stuck up his own, clinically repressed according to my therapist, and in the throes of constant disaffection. But hey, I wouldn’t know how to cope any other way). I think Howard Jones understood when he said: ‘does anybody love anybody anyway?’
So why had a taken the day off work to navigate this looming grey city I despise so dearly? Because of love. Because of a woman. Because I am a shit who doesn’t know how to love a woman.
Oh, Gwendolyn is clever, much too clever for me. I don’t deserve her. Leaving me all these bread crumbs like some old fool in a fairy tale, some aged Hansel making my way towards the witchery cottage of her heart. She knew I couldn’t resist. She knew I would feast senselessly when I got there — like a sacrificial child to a hot oven. Why else would I have gone crawling back year after year? And if she didn’t want me to, why leave all these clues?
I mean, it was a little fastidious if you ask me, the way she left it on the pillow as if it meant nothing. ‘Can’t take it no more, bye,’ that ruffled note said as it lay on the hurriedly abandoned side of the bed. That ‘bye’ — there is so much hanging in those three letters, it trails off the tongue like ship slipping out into a fog bound sea. So sad. ‘Bye’. It leaves you wanting more doesn’t it?
The first clue was that receipt tucked down the side of the Scandi-style sofa. I’d found it after turning over the flat in a fit of rage and depression for an hour. When I sniffed it, it still had her designer perfume languishing within its whitened folds.
The girls at Lashka’s Brow Bazaar confirmed she had been in. I grilled them for further clues as Celine plucked, preened, and pampered my caterpillar with her smooth expert fingers and twine.
‘It’s a little game we like to play,’ I said. ‘We leave each other clues every anniversary. I find her, she tries to lose me. It keeps things alive, you know?’
‘Ahhhh, zhat is sooo cuuute,’ said Celine as she relieved me of half my expression.
‘Yeah, and this is the first. You have the privilege of being the first in our game,’ I beamed with a hollow feeling of despair as I caught an unrecognisable forehead in the mirror. ‘Now did she mention anything while she was here, where she was going? A trip maybe or a meeting?’
Celine said that Gwen always went to Aspirations after having her brows stripped and caressed. Celine’s brother Pierre worked there and might know. Aspirations as it turned out was some pristine wine bar in a prime reclaimed part of the city peering over the tumid river. When I got there, slipping on the shiny, unsticky floor, I was greeted by a blonde straight out of a brooding Calvin Klein advert — unisex features, unmade up and freckled — who told me Pierre had left. That he was moving back to Paris.
Why hadn’t I noticed before? Perhaps because I didn’t want to. The Master French in Your Sleep in 21 Days CDs she used to play each night; her sudden refusal to eat anything but French cuisine; her obsession with those awfully pretentious, pouty movies: Trauffaut, Godard; her switch from breathing burning tobacco through the end of a trusty Embassy No. 1 to exclusively puffing on a Gauloises or Gitanes. The crumbs weren’t out there, they were scattered all over the flat like bits of pain (a dual language pun, how clever of me). The shared American Express statement confirmed a transaction for Air France.
Flash mobs, what is it with flash mobs? They’re like voyeurs gorging themselves on the lives of others, imposing through benevolence on somebody else’s happiness (or despair) — Louie Armstronging an engagement on a public train, professing congratulations over a birth, a graduation, a job promotion, a parole, shedding tiny pieces of joy and sending them skywards in an eruption of song and dance; I hate flash mobs, especially the one that greeted me by the departure boards of Terminal four at Heathrow that afternoon.
‘At first I was afraid!’ Some homeless guy with a scraggly beard almost threw his arms around me. So this is why Gwen always turned up the Bang & Olufsen whenever Gloria Gaynor came on. Then some banker type in a pinstripe stepped forward. He had his walking umbrella upturned, and hips awobble Elvis style. ‘I was petrified,’ he took the baton. And pretty soon all manner of backpackers, hooded teenagers, and mothers with pushchairs full of stoppered toddlers were bursting into song and dance telling me how they planned to survive without me. God I hate flash mobs.
How about that then? A turn up for the fairy tale books. The manchild wasn’t wanted after all. And the reason Hansel’s got a bald spot, protruding moobs, stirrings of prostate problems, and a severe risk of type II diabetes is from futilely chasing and fattening himself up on all those bread crumbs.
I parked myself on my usual stool at the Boar and Lion that evening. I could pretty much have had a pick of seats, not many visit good old reliable pubs like this anymore. They’ve all upgraded to those poncy wine bars like Aspirations and all night Turkish coffee houses. Except for Mad Bill in the corner and the odd lost tourist mistaking it for some other TripAdvisor recommend joint. It’s people like us that keep dives like this alive. Men, who no fault of our own are genetically unloveable, men who confuse loving with taking, and for whom the trail has finally gone cold in a burst of song. We sit and weep silently, indivisibly and wonder what we could have done less wrong as we murmur into our ales. Who knows, perhaps Howard Jones is in a corner somewhere singing into his. What is love anyway, does anybody love anybody anyway?
Image credit: Patrick Fore via Unsplash.