120664 Loss

How grown ups ruin things. 

The little boy on the District Line is giddy with insight, aglow with love, his voice alive with excitement. Swinging round the pole he’s meant to just hold on to he tells his friend, ‘sometimes I think that everything is just a dream.’

The slightly taller but still little boy, his friend, says: ‘so do I!’

It’s a moment of sheer wonder. A wonder dad has lost. Dad says: ‘That’s the question my dad likes to think about, how do you know that everything isn’t just a dream, that we’re not in someone’s brain…’

The boys try to ignore him, they’re not quite ready for his existential, inherited angst. But dad now has the upper hand: ‘How do you know,’ he insists, ‘how do you know you’re not dreaming right now?’ There’s a smile on his face, but it doesn’t look as benign as he possibly means it to be: there is power at play now, it’s a smirk.

Slightly older but still very young boy has no answer: ‘I just know,’ he says.

Dad – to the younger boy, they don’t look like brothers to me – is like a dog with his bone: ‘But how can you be sure? Have you ever had a dream?’

This strikes me as near-cruel a question. These boys are maybe seven, eight?

Older, slightly taller, but still nine-years-old, I imagine, at-the-most, boy is now unsure: ‘Yes…?’

The uncertainty infuses a slight quiver in his voice now.

My heart breaks, I want to hug him and say: everything is all right, and you’re quite right too, and your little friend: sometimes everything is just a dream, but not in this cynical, clinical way your little friend’s dad now makes you think and worry about.’ Still dad won’t let go and instead pushes on with his inquisition, until: ‘you start freaking me out,’ the little boy says.

At last dad relents, sensing the fear he has just poured over his son and his son’s gschpänli, who were just a moment ago so excited that everything could still be a dream, and to whom until just a moment ago it probably was…

The tear I shed for these boys is as heavy as the joy was light that I felt for their innocence. If only dad had had a wiser father. The prism of your childhood casts the world in colours that but slowly fade…

The Ice King – 3: The Thought

I feel the ice melt under my skin, I sense us slip away in the rush of torrents, surging up, then drowning into the depths; my eyes closed, I heave into his brain; where there were colours there is now only green and blue and that purple and the white in the flashes between: I bounce and dissolve, the water rushes through me, the glacier crashes all about us as we tumble down the mountain, turn into a stream – the quicks, the pools, the depths, the shallows and the waterfalls – into the valley, then the river, then the calm. Then the meadows passing and the flowers and the cows on the hill. The trees. Is that a sun in the sky? I haven’t seen one in years. The Ice is gone, the King is no more. What have I done?

I float on the easy current along the stately swans and the comical ducks and I wonder. Was that necessary? Was that emotion? Was that too much? The cloudlets above sing a round that lulls me into a new kind of sleep and I dream that I am already restored to my senses, but senseless in love. I know not what that means; it’s a feeling I have.

As we reach the towns and beyond these the cities, it is more a case of becoming a boat, or a ship, from which to salute the other farers of waterways and nod at them gravely: the river has turned so regal, so slow. I’m not sure I want this. I’m not sure I’m ready to leave him behind or see him head off, onto land, into the streets, the multitudes, to be what, a citizen? Like the others. I cling on to him, but he is no longer there, has he never existed at all?

I refuse to panic and say to myself it’s only a phase, it will pass, it’s all in my imagination, soon I’ll wake up in the glacier, gazing at him by my side, and I’ll marvel at the tone of his skin and the glint in his eye and the nearly smile that says, I nearly get you, you’re not quite alone.

I dream that I’m not alone and for a moment feel warm and the glow that encompasses me is enough for a while to soothe, to restore. We yield into the wide, and buoyed by the salt and cheered by the seagulls we stretch our limbs and with strong strokes make for the open, the free. I half expect a dolphin to greet us but it seems we are heading north, which is just as well. At least we are now at sea.

Soon the seals and the icebergs. I’m not at home here, although the shades are familiar. I feel I have lost myself and I want not to mind. He’s in my head now, I in his body, and against all odds we’re afloat, but are we together? I don’t even know who he is. He is the Ice King, but I’ve turned him into a fish. That is not true, of course, I have turned him into a captain. I have not turned him into anything he’s still the Ice King, but like me he is out of his element now and so he may just be a prawn. He may be a wave or a plastic bottle discarded in Old Amsterdam. He may be a thought or a lover. He may be my nemesis. Can he be my salvation?

I want to say, ‘polar bear, be not afraid’ and mean it. We’re here to help. The Ice King looks at me with compassion now, maybe for the very first time, and thinks a thought of astonishing beauty. This, I know, is the noble mind. And the thought alone that a thought can be beautiful and merely to know that a mind may be noble, that fills me with joy.

4 Maxl (Still Here)

I wake up to a horrible dream. It’s so horrible I don’t want to think about it, it could well be the second most horrible dream I’ve ever had, and I take issue with horribleness, so I go back to sleep once again and I don’t continue to dream, which I’m glad on.

Maxl knocks on the door and wakes me up; I’m already half awake but that means I’m also half asleep and I’m hugging a cushion for comfort. He asks if I’m all right; I am puzzled: he’s never been this concerned about me before. He says he’s concerned about me.

Maybe I made horrible noises in my horrible dream, it’s possible. I blink at him and say ‘yes’ and I’m about to go back to sleep once again; he says ‘it’s nearly half two’, which in German means half one but means nothing to me at the moment because they’ve put the clocks forward last night and I don’t do mornings at the best of times.

Maxl rustles about in my room while I drift back off to sleep. He keeps much of his stuff in my room, so it’s a bit like having a live-in partner, without the partner, it’s a bit like a lose-lose situation: the worst of both worlds. The good thing I suppose: we don’t argue. Though he moans at me.

Maxl moans at me about England.

Every day he comes back from college or from the bank or from the tube or from the post office or from the supermarket or from the park or from the cafe or from the pub or from the pavement, moaning at me. Every day.

He is German so he’s used to hyper-efficiency; he also lives in Berlin when he’s not here, so he’s used to an agreeable level of anarchic socialism. Objectively, I agree with most of what he complains about but the complaining itself bugs me, every day, about everything.

That and the fact that he moans at me in German: he makes it sound as if I were responsible. Maybe I am responsible. Maybe my quiet acquiescence to all things British, to all things English, to all things London, has made me complicit in bringing about a college that charges an arm and a leg but that has embarrassingly poor facilities and a bunch of students who, instead of standing up for their ideas and their rights and their freedoms, do everything they’re told, as they’re told, and for a bank that charges an arm and a leg in fees and makes opening a bank account as much of a deal as if you were asking the Emperor of China for a slice of Tibet, and a tube that charges you an arm and a leg but shuts down for weekends at a time and that runs late because one of their drivers has a bout of the sniffles and that goes on strike at the whiff of a comma in a staff manual being changed and that stops running at midnight when half the population is still about town enjoying themselves, and for a post office that I can’t think of what they might be doing wrong off the top of my head but I can easily imagine that in Germany they run their post offices in a way that is altogether more, well, German, and for a supermarket that installs machines that talk at you instead of employing people who serve you, and for a park that is actually pretty much perfect if you ask me but that if you’re German you’ll probably nevertheless find something to moan about, and for the cafe that I can’t I’m losing my will to live…

The pubs close too early I know and the trains are a nightmare, get over it, it’s London, this, innit.

I can’t be doing with this much moaning and I realise that much as I love him, if Maxl were my husband I would have to ask him for a divorce now. That would be terrible. Fortunately he’s only a very good friend and I can love him even though he moans at me because I know I don’t have to own any of this beyond the level to which I just have to own my share of this culture that so irks him. Better still, much as I love Berlin – and I love Berlin, and I always, always still keep a metaphorical suitcase there – I don’t have to move to Berlin with him just because he doesn’t like London. I actually think he quite likes London, which makes me also think that maybe he moans about Berlin! At his girlfriend! (Phew!) I don’t know and I don’t want to speculate because I’m troubled by my horrible dream which I don’t want to think about and I also don’t want to seem ungrateful or ungracious or ungenerous. I don’t want to seem or to feel un-anyhing. I love Maxl [I’ve changed his name here, by the way, because I don’t want to get him into trouble nor do I want him to think that I don’t love him just because he moaned at me] and I am grateful to him for being a good, loyal friend, and I graciously accept the gift of insight that even someone you love can get on your nerves to the point where you are quite prepared to wrestle them to the ground and slap them with a very wet fish, and I want to retain and hold on to the generosity of spirit that says live and let live, love and let love, be and let be. And I realise I am actually moaning about somebody moaning at me. Which is a little ironic. And I like little ironies. Though I still don’t like moaning. Which I suppose makes it doubly ironic… And the whole experience reminds me acutely why I so much enjoy being single. 

I feel tempted to tell George about this, but obviously I don’t because I don’t want to prejudice him against Maxl or against me. And I certainly don’t want to tell him about the horrible dream, which he’d be bound to want to know more about.

11 Death (Imagined)

I noticed I was dead when I saw myself lying dead in my bed; looking down on myself from a great height: there I was. Gone. A lifelong flirtation with significance, over. And nothing dreadful in consequence. No pain, no loss, no uncertainty. Just the remorseless ease of an expired existence. Of almost failure. Of having nearly been. Something or other. Someone? Then I woke up and realised that it had been a dream. I don’t like to say ‘only’, but it had been ‘only’ a dream. I had dreamt my self dead. What new joys. Wait on me.

It’s hard now to say what perplexed me more. Being dead (in my dream), or being alive (after all). But finding myself thus among the quick in a hitherto slow existence, I believed I had heard, and was minded to heed, a call for action: I got out of bed and made coffee.

Mug in hand I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, naked. I do that a lot these days, I examine my body. I marvel at it, not admiringly: bemused. I don’t look for blemishes or signs of decay, I look for signs of familiarity; for something that says: this is you. I don’t find it. The person standing naked in the mirror in front of me could be anybody. It’s not that I’m alien to myself or strange, just: unfamiliar. I’m roughly fifty and not beautiful. What I marvel at is not beauty. What I marvel at is the fact that I don’t recognise myself in the shape I’ve become. I’m not even unattractive. In fact, I may be more attractive now than I’ve ever been. And I’m not even sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’m not sure it’s a thing. Any more. ‘Attractive.’ To what and to whom and to what end. Nevertheless, I’m a little alarmed because it seems late in the day to suddenly start feeling attractive. Alarmed but a little reassured too, because perhaps it just means I’m not over the hill. What is the hill? Going down is supposed to be easier than going up. What ride am I in for? Now?

Mug in hand I stand in front of the mirror naked, looking for signs of familiarity. The eyes maybe. Or the nose. Maybe the lips. I’m stubbly and I like it. There. That’s something to hold on to: seeing as it is that I’m alive there’s one thing that I’m happy with and that’s worth holding on to: my stubble.

I remind myself I am sitting opposite my young self and I had promised my young self – not so much promised, perhaps, as enticed him over by means of the prospect of – a question. My mind goes blank. The memory of imagining my own death, even just as a dream, and the image of my standing in front of the mirror naked, mug in hand, and content that I have inexplicably become ‘attractive’, possibly owing to stubble (which has since grown somewhat into a near-mature beard) sends a shudder down my spine and I put down my Mojito too firmly.

‘George,’ I say, sensing that something – anything – is required from me at this point, ‘what are you doing in Istanbul?’

This is not, obviously, the question I’d had in mind for him, but then I can’t begin to conceive of what question I might have had in mind for him, and since it’s a question that is playing on my mind about myself (what am I doing in Istanbul?) I feel it is pertinent, or if not pertinent then perhaps justified, or if not justified then at least maybe useful, useful in as much at least as it might open the conversation and at this point in the proceedings (are these ‘proceedings’, and if so what are they?) I yearn for a touch of conversation.

I startle myself at realising I also yearn for a touch, his touch, any touch, some contact beyond verbal, visual, aural, and I want to place my hand over his in a fatherly gesture. I don’t. But there are now two versions of us sitting at this table in the garden of the Limonlu Bahçe: one, the ‘real’ one, in which he still holds his glass in both his hands and has his eyes not exactly fixed but nevertheless on it, whereas I look at him in my ongoing state of bewilderment, and one, the ‘imagined’ one in my mind where he has put down his glass and I have cupped my left hand over both his hands and I look him in the eyes and he looks back into mine.

‘Not exactly sure,’ he says – in one version examining the glass in his hands and twisting it slightly, in the other holding my gaze with a blend of confidence and the uncertainty his words imply – ‘I was doing Interrail with a friend, I had no intention of coming here really, but maybe circumstances conspired…’

I know at once that they did, even though I still don’t remember this scene from my past, and I am immeasurably relieved; he is, although he doesn’t know it, similarly displaced from his own reality: we are on the same page, more or less.

I imagine squeezing his hand and cupping my right hand around his neck and pulling him close so he can rest his head for a while on my shoulder, but instead I pick up my glass and lift it up to him and say, as if I had any authority to do so: ‘welcome to Istanbul,’ to which, in both versions, he too raises his glass and clinks it with mine and, once again gamely, says: ‘welcome to Istanbul.’

4 The Sultaness (Reclining)

The Sultaness sleeps like a Matisse Nude, a duvet draped over her one leg, casually veiling the sanctity of her majestic vagina. Her arm stretched out over the ledge of the mattress, her head inclined tward the window whence barely a breeze now teases the heat of the afternoon, not quite away.

I marvel at her voluminous undulations. How did she get here? Into the imaginarium of my mind, into my brainspace, my own private place of precious wonder? My Bloody Mary arrives from the creature who reminds me of her as well as of me and I confer upon myself the privilege of some measured doubt. I could be dreaming: I could be asleep still on the train to Kingston and wake up any moment now, quite possibly with a hard on. I am not normally given to arousal by women, round-shaped or angular, but hey, if this is a dream then anything might happen. Might it not. The thought of quite possibly still being asleep reassures me for the time-being, as does the Mary which is Bloody and perfect and has enough of a kick to it to feel real: I begin to relax.