Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Pretty Red Dress

I reread the last seconds of our conversation: when she sits opposite me in chairs made of rust and varnish across an old school desk flecking aqua paint with the grazing of each plate or coaster across its surface; when she stands up and I stand up and we are together but so far apart; when she fishes her purse from her satchel and spins her heel on the fractured floorboards and I sit down and watch her walk away in her pretty red dress which we bought together last month from a pokey boutique on Degraves Street and breathes softly floating away from her creamy thighs until I can no longer see her amongst the tables and I look down at my hurried blue scrawl drying across the page, bouncing up and down on the parallel lines.
This looks perfect.
So what are you ordering?
I was thinking just a cappuccino. I’ve heard they are good here.
No, I’ve got it.
C’mon Annie. Its my shout.
I always get a little self conscious when I reread my words. ‘So’ when inquiring of her preference is too forthcoming and easily miscontextualised. I intended a casual and helpful flick of the conversation towards getting drinks but I can also interpret a misplaced aggravated forcefulness pressuring her to order. Then suddenly I am the disagreeable arsehole of the story, bickering over who should pay for no discernable reason. I did not intend that at all.
            The cluttered coffee shop sings a lively babble of Saturday afternoon conversations backed by an acoustic guitar. Young couples sit on knock off chairs, lift their coffees and chat jovially through their smiles. Some tap their fingers on their partner’s wrist or feed the other carrot cake from the far end of the fork. I think they look like us, as much as its possible. Annie and I are three months into some metamorphic relationship which is at different stages of development around us. I thumb back through the dog eared pages of our dinner dates and coffee dates and casual afternoons sprawled across couches and vacations into fantasy and drunken scribbles, and sweaty tender moments ejaculated in blue ink. Then I find the line where we begin.
Hi. I’m Tom.
I note the neatness of my calligraphy, the perfect curves of my vowels and the gentle strokes of ink against the line.
Pleased to meet you.
I recall the dim floodlights and tower heaters illuminating council bins full of ice and crownies, reclining on a plastic lounge suite on a ceramic carpet. She sat close, her perfume, the bare skin of her crossed legs, in the semi light to read my scrawl. I despised looking at the page because I was not looking instead at her. But I needed to explain myself in the well worn way.
I’m mute. I do know Auslan but I prefer to write in my Spirax. This is the sound of my voice.
            I held the words up to our eyes, to our smiles. My mouth can be expressive without words. I can smell the vodka in her smile.
            I have been mute for ten years now so I am used to it. I apologise in advance for the handwriting, I tend to slur my words.
            It is.
            So are you at Uni still?
            Psychology? That’s fascinating. How are you finding it?
            Can I get you another drink?
            No worries. Cheers!
            We talk as friends and drinks and mosquitos move across the pages and my pen swings out further and further into a drunken swirl. I read through to the end at the beginning.
            You are very beautiful.
            Could I have your number? Don’t expect me to call it though. .
            Then she prints the number herself across the page. I admire her handwriting so much, how she can flick the pen to tickle the page or create tones and moods that transcend the simple meaning of a collection of letters.
            I’m so glad to have met you. That night under my bed lamp I met her again and again with each letter casting assumptions through my tipsy giddy mind. I have met her again now.

            She returns to the desk with two mugs and aligns them gently on established coffee stains in the timber.
            Thank you so much. I am buying the next one and I wont forget.
            “So what’s this all about?” She is smiling sweetly. We are school kids exchanging notes between desks behind the teacher’s back. The scene is too perfect, too idyllic. I suddenly feel so obvious. I don’t want to do it this way.
            What do you mean?
            “You said we needed to talk, so here we are.”
            Yes. My pen hangs over the page. I am not sure how to phrase it.
            How are you?
            “Fine. Bit stressed about essays and work but nothing untoward.
            Aren’t you happy?  
            “I suppose I am.”
            “Tom; is everything alright?”
            “S**t. Are you still pissed off about me and Conrad the other night? It was a mistake and I have apologised so many times that if you can’t forgive me now it is your problem.” Her hands are curled tight around the coffee cup. She projects her words down into her reflection.”
            That isn’t fair.
            “Really? And I haven’t forgiven you for your mistakes?” She lunges across the desk and pulls my Spirax into her arms. I don’t know what to do, I feel so powerless. I swing my hands towards my body, trying to call the pages home. Annie pins the book to the desk and flicks through the past until her lips curl around a moment. She reads my words aloud. I have a beautiful voice.
            I am so so so sorry.
            I don’t know how it happened. I’ve just been so stressed lately and I haven’t slept and I completely forgot.
            Of course I will make it up to you.
            It confronts me to hear my words used with emphasis, tone, diction, tempo, rhythm. They are not meant to be heard like this. She can manipulate each spoken syllable into a weapon.
            “Lets look again,” she says. She runs her eyes through memories until she stops somewhere on the way to now.
            I didn’t mean it, really.
            You look really funny right now.
            I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I love you.
             I love you.
            I love you.
She stops reading. Then she reads it again.
            “I can’t believe you thought gesturing that would be funny.”
“What are you trying to do? Do you think I’ll find this funny? Endearing?
I didn’t mean it, really.
“You’re an idiot.”
            You look really funny right now.
“Bugger this. I’m going home.”
I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I love you.
Then why don’t you show it some time.”
I love you.
“Stop it.”
I love you.
            She looks up.
            “No wonder you feel so strident. It reads like I forgave you.”
            I pull the book back across the table and flick through to the present.
You did.
            “And so you can’t let this go now?”
            “I don’t understand,” she starts. “This isn’t it. There is something more.”
            “Tom,” she says and tugs my hands into the centre of the desk. “This is the longest relationship I have ever been in and I am so happy. Its been three months and I am still so happy. I thought you were happy to. You told me you loved me. What is going on?”
            I am silent. She pulls the book back into her hands and reads again.
            I know I am not as expressive through my mouth as others, but could I kiss you now?
            I love you! I love love love love love love… The pen stroke falls away from the page.
            Come here.
            Come closer.
            I slam my hand firmly over the page. Between my fingers I can read a jumble of moments.
That feels…
            Thank You…
            I can feel my throat begin to choke and squeeze tears into my eyes. I can’t believe I have questioned our relationship like this. I am thinking that maybe I am happy. She is silent, looking at me through the mists that hang over my eyes. She is waiting for me. I feel lost within the silence, as if I am trapped in some unending moment where I look dumbfounded at her beauty and regret that I still love her. I ground myself, jabbing my pen deep into the page.
            I forgive you.
            Of course I forgive you.
            You look so beautiful right now.
            With each new line I stain with ink I am self conscious that I am conversing with myself and that there are no gaps between each line.
            “So what is all this about Tom?”
            Her words come from the page; I cannot look up into her face for feeling guilty. I try to lose the question in the babble of other couple’s chatter but it remains printed in my mind in the silence of ink. I fumble back and forth through the past instead.
            “What are you looking for?” She asks. “What are you hoping to find?”
            I remain blank.
            “These aren’t memories,” she says. “They are lies. They are words and nothing more. You are ignoring me. You do it on those pages and you are doing it now.”
            I read the page open in front of me.
            Stop laughing at me.
            You’re an idiot.
            C’mon, let’s go.
            I can’t remember what we are doing. I can’t remember how I feel. I can remember cluttered bars and parties with her friends or my friends and shouting silent diatribes at awful movies through the darkness and leaning into breasts, her arms, on the corner of her bed. I can’t place these lines. I can’t decide if three anonymous lines count as a memory or if they are worth remembering at all.
            What were we doing here? I scribble in the margin.
            “I don’t remember.”
            Does that concern you?
            “No. I may not remember what happened but whatever happened here contributed in some way to how I feel now and there is no need to remember.” She holds my hand holding the page and tips me into the present again.
            Your coffee is going cold.
            “That is fine.”
            Now the coffee is tangible in my memory. I have some setting, some anchor to base this memory on to reminisce. I look back at what I have written and wonder what the hell is going on.
            Thank you so much. I am buying the next one and I wont forget.
            What do you mean?
            How are you?
            Aren’t you happy?  
            That isn’t fair.
You did.
            I forgive you.
            Of course I forgive you.
            You look so beautiful right now.
            I try and recall each second of the immediate past and find gaps. This is a fabrication of my life; a monologue and not a dialogue. Its not true.
            I have torn pages out. When we fight. When I feel Embarrassed. I am not sure I will keep this page.
            She nods and smiles a small crinkle across her cheeks. She takes my hands in hers and then unfurls my fingers from the pages.  She drags the book back through the splinters and paint flecks until it is in front of her. She takes the coffee shop and the babble of noise and the guitar and the lukewarm, drinks and the mug rings and the aqua paint flakes between her fingers and rips them from the book. My page pulls from the binder with a long and anguished scream. She opens the desk and places the book inside. Then we are sitting on either side of a single sheet of page.
            “Tell me what you want to say and we never need to mention it again.” She pulls the pen from my closed fist.
            Tell me.
She holds out to me and the shadow of her arm falls across the ghostly white page and the worn desktop.
I am messed up right now. The pen rests on the full stop it swells and swells with juicy ink. I watch it engulf the lines and the w.
I love you and I don’t.
“Is there someone else?
No. There is no one else. I feel the need to clarify this with a full sentence. She takes the pen back into her hand.
Are you homosexual?
I look at the word, there on the page in front of me. On my page. Ink on page. It suddenly didn’t matter that the page was severed from the book. The ink was diffusing through the paper and printing a coffee coloured graffiti on the worn school desk. She has placed the pen on the page and is looking at me. I can do nothing but stare at the word.
“No one will read this but you and me,” she says.
Maybe. It is written in front of me. Now nothing else seems to matter.
I am gay. I am a homo. I am a queer. I am a faggot.
I watch my mind leak into the paper and lie, exposing itself like a slut, on the faint blue line. She puts her hand on mine and takes the pen.
How long have you known?
I still don’t know. I don’t know. I’m sorry.
But you still love me.
Maybe you don’t feel this way. Maybe you’re just scared of commitment in our relationship?
No. I don’t think so.
“Consider it,” she says. She strokes her hand across the words on the page and feels each one. Then she looses it within her clenched fist.
“You love me,” she says and fills her mouth with the page. Then she pulls me across the desk by my shirt and kisses me. She leverages my lips open with her tongue and my own tongue slides into her mouth. It curls over the creases, folds, letters and I pull away. She closes her mouth and swallows my confession with a sip of latte.
“I’ll call you later,” she says and giggles; our joke. She stands up into the babble of noise with a smile and I follow her to my feet. She drops her purse into her satchel and swings the satchel onto her shoulder and her heel on the floorboards. I watch her pretty red dress weave between tables of happy chattering couples until I can see her no longer and I sit back down at the desk. I sit there for a long time, staring at the flaking aqua paint on the desktop and the disrupted coffee cups. When the cups have been collected and the couples begin to move on, I open the desk and retrieve my book. I open it to the back and look at my stains on the page.
This looks perfect.
I take the pen in my fingers and look across at the empty chair. Then I reread the last seconds of our conversation as they emerge from my pen.
            What would you like to order?
I was thinking just a cappuccino. I’ve heard they are good here.
No, I’ve got it.
C’mon Annie. Its my shout.
            Thank you so much. I am buying the next one and I wont forget.
            I pause; then put the pen down.

No comments:

Post a Comment