9 Dust

Maxl has left and I go over the flat with the dyson and some degree of resentment, directed not at Maxl, though clearly over the six months or so that he’s been here he never once did the same, and neither did I over the six months or so that he’s been here, because let’s face it: he’s the houseguest, does he expect me to go around and clean up after him? Then again, he’s the houseguest, so do I expect him to go round and clean up after me? Clearly not. And since neither of us found it necessary to go round the flat with the dyson for the six months or so that we’ve been here together, to clean up after each other or let alone after ourselves, there is now a considerable amount of dust about the place.

I end up cleaning up after him because he leaves with a hug and a, ‘so this I suppose is goodbye,’ which it is only in as much as he’s not staying here any longer, he’s moving across town to North London and we’ll be seeing each other by the end of the week.

And so, no, my resentment is not of Maxl, whom I love and continue to love even though I’m seriously glad he’s moved out now, my resentment is with the dust. Dust in itself to me is objectionable to the point of being offensive. Why make people dusty? Isn’t that just adding insult to injury? I pause and reflect: what injury? The dust twirls around in the dyson and I look at it this way instead: the good thing about leaving a little dust to accumulate in the flat is that when then you go round it with a dyson you really notice the difference. Both in the flat, which suddenly seems altogether less, erm, dusty, but also in the little dyson which visibly fills up and you think most of this is just dead skin cells: I litter my space with this; how many dysons have I filled since, well, ever?…

I look at George and I notice we haven’t said anything for a while now and that has not felt strange, it has felt comfortable. As comfortable as it should when you are sitting opposite yourself – even your much younger self – and you are actually quite happy to be there: with you, but not you. That was now and this is then. I opt to not ask him any more questions for at least another such moment, and he looks at me and seems content. The moment is so comfortable that I try to remember it from his perspective and it feels like I can though it’s much more likely that I can’t and that I’m just constructing that memory in my mind even as I reflect on it, like a seven-dimensional puzzle. We’re coming to the end of our mojitos and I catch Ahmed’s eye.

8 JoJo

Today is unusual in that it passes slowly. This is unheard of, more or less. For the third time in a row I look at the clock or the watch or the phone and I think, ‘ah, it’s not gone eleven; oh, it’s only just coming up one; hn, it’s not even three.’ Normally it’s, ‘what? six pm already, I need to get in the shower otherwise I’ll be late for the theatre the cinema the drinks or the dinner or sometimes the gig. But today I’m running early and that’s unusual and I’m wholly unrushed and wholly unpressured and really quite happy; the sun is out, it’s as hot as summer though it’s only April, and the time is barely two thirty in the afternoon. Which is new.

The reason today passes more slowly than usual is probably because I’ve been up and functional since about ten and the reason I’ve been up and functional since about ten is that I went to bed about two, which for me is early, and the reason I went to bed about two is that in bed was JoJo and I wanted to be with him, and that’s unusual too. [I’m changing his name here as well, by the way. Not that not doing so would land him in trouble, or me, for that matter, I don’t think, but I don’t know whether he’d want to be named and I don’t want to ask him because that would seem like making a big deal of things, and I’m not of a disposition to make a big deal of things, generally.]

Everything’s a little different since JoJo’s arrived, three days ago. By coincidence, he arrived on the day Maxl departed and within hours everything changed. Gone is the stuff and the friendly but heavy presence of a man who doesn’t really want to be here but doesn’t not want to be here either, who seems to lack all sense of humour but still retains a modest charm, who has brilliance concealed by sluggish thinking and earthy inaction. Gone is the farmer who somehow found himself in a city, who almost by fluke made it to London and into my life where for a while I thought he ought to stay, but from where to know him departed I thank my angels, god, the universe and all that is in and around it, because after I previously had asked all of them for him, they have shown themselves wise and forgiving, by putting him there for me just long enough to see what that would be like and then, without fuss or damage, taking him away again, no questions asked. Thank you angels, thank you god; universe and all that is in and around you: thank you.

JoJo is more than a breath of fresh air, he’s a tonic, a breeze to keep you alive and awake; and he’s done what I couldn’t expect he would do but still knew he would, he’s come back, if only for a few days, and so while we’re not sleeping together as in ‘sleeping together’ now, we’re sleeping together as in sleeping together, and I like him next to me in my bed and sometimes it happens that I snuggle up to him and when he gets up at an unfeasible hour in the morning to go to work, I briefly stir, sensing him unclasp himself from my probably too firm embrace, and because the sun is already shining and I had a good dinner with him the night before, which he cooked, and because he’s the only person I’ve ever known to come and go like a cat, unperturbed, unencumbered, loyal but free, dictated by his external needs maybe more than by his internal wants but nonetheless appreciative of the shelter, attention and stroking of his warm body and reciprocal appreciation of his comforting presence I can offer, he wandered back into my existence, and I have no idea how long he’s going to be here for, but while he’s here I am happy and because I am happy I like to be near him, and so when he’s home I go to bed early so I can go to bed with him, and because I go to bed early I wake up calm and rested even though I don’t sleep anywhere near as soundly as I do on my own; and the day passes more slowly than it normally does, and I think maybe the day passes more slowly because without knowing it or being aware of it or consciously acknowledging it, I am waiting for him to come back, and part of me wonders if that has a meaning, and an even more reticent part of me wonders if, should it indeed have a meaning, that meaning is that I am slowly changing, at last, and if that is the case then what, exactly, in turn, does that mean?

6 Domesticity

Why would anyone not put their milk in the fridge? Is this a male thing; do men, as a rule, not put their milk back in the fridge, whence clearly it came from? It bothers me.

Maxl drinks green milk, semi-skimmed. I don’t see the point of anything semi, let alone -skimmed; the green cap is not for me. I abhor the idea of milk that is skimmed of its fat of its taste of its goodness of its milky nature, as I abhor decaffeinated coffee, artificial sweetener and non-alcoholic beer. They are, as far as I’m concerned, abominations. They are, if not abominations, man-made oxymora. They are the kind of contradiction in terms that I, at the risk of sounding judgmental, find wholly unnecessary. And necessarily unholy…

Maxl pours over his muesli green milk, it actually looks green, the colour is all wrong. It looks wrong it feels wrong it sounds wrong. The word ‘semi’ sounds wrong, as does the word ‘skimmed’.

Maxl pours green milk over his muesli and then leaves the milk out of the fridge for the rest of the day. Although it bothers me, I don’t strictly mind, as it’s his milk, and being green it probably won’t go off as it’s basically waterlike cow juice that has nothing good about it. This milk is no cheese in the making. Also, I’m hardly someone who uses his kitchen in a sanctified manner. I am no chef. Things lying or standing about in my kitchen are generally not in my way.

I don’t mind, but it bothers me, and I wonder what makes a man leave his milk out of the fridge: is it an innate desire, a need to mark your territory with some liquid, signalling your existence?

I’ve never known a woman to leave out her milk; women know how precious milk is, they don’t care for milk that turns yellow and rancid. Men don’t mind yellow and rancid, it’s part of their being.

Maxl leaves his milk out and sometimes, too, his salami. I read nothing into this, I just note it and wonder: what is it that makes men leave their milk out, and, occasionally, their salami. That is all. That, and the fact that it bothers me. That fact bothers me in turn, as I like to think of myself as the kind of person who would not be bothered by anything near so trivial. Does it mess with my sense of territory after all? Or with my sense of order? Or my sense of propriety? It may be the fact alone that it’s green milk, not real milk, that he leaves out of my fridge: I probably deep down feel that my kitchen is being sullied by the presence of fake, pretend milk. Perhaps, even though rationally I know it has absolutely no meaning, it deep down offends me. The way it offends me, deep down, when I find in my fridge bottles of Coca-Cola left by house guests, although they invariably turn out to be useful, as Coke is an excellent liquid for clearing the drain.

I resolve to leave things be as they are and not trouble too much about matters so insignificant such as these. At least, I think, I don’t have to put up with this kind of behaviour for any length of time and I certainly don’t have to own it: we are not in a relationship, we are not cohabiters, we are not even flatmates: he is a guest and the law of hospitality stipulates that he can do with his milk – the top any colour of his choosing – whatever he likes, for as long as he likes, just as long as he doesn’t expect me to endorse or approve it. Which clearly he doesn’t: he’s completely oblivious to absolutely any of this, and he doesn’t even notice if I put his milk back where I think – inadequate and green though it be – it belongs: in the fridge.

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.