I look at myself. Not in the mirror, not as a person with a yen for profundity and meaning, but in a picture. I find the picture among my belongings as I clear out my flat because it’s being renovated: for the first time in decades I go through every object I own and therefore am owned by and decide whether to keep it, or whether to part. Keep it or part. Keep? Or part: divest, my mind mostly suggests, and my heart, in most cases, though not quite all, affirms, yes divest!

I am unambitious but consistent in the pursuit of my task, as I progress through each item one by one. I look at every photograph, and every photograph looks at me. I don’t notice me at first, not in an ‘oh, here I am, look at me!’ kind of way. I just know I’m there. In the picture. As anyone ever photographed by necessity is. In this particular stack, I am part of a collection of early black and white ten by eights that I must have had done when I first decided to be an actor. This dates them in the mid to late nineteen-eighties and me at about twenty-two, twenty-three. I don’t notice me, not this time round. I’m simply there.

The second time round I notice myself. I have been away for seven weeks, nearly eight, and I’ve come back into my flat, which is all new and fresh and still so familiar and more home now than ever, and as I unpack the boxes I once again go through almost every thing I own and am therefore owned by, only this time I do so not one by one but in batches, just to make sure. And this time round I jump out at myself: I am beautiful. I wish I’d known that. I wish I’d known then that I was beautiful, but I didn’t. I still don’t. But I was. And I am. Only I can’t feel it now, I can’t even see it. I couldn’t then. But I can now see it then. I can now see that then I am beautiful. I have a gentle face and searching eyes, and an almost translucent skin; I have my life in front of me; not my childhood, not my youth, but my whole adult existence. I am overcome with compassion. How brave I was, and needed to be. How unencumbered I was. How I looked forward, unafraid. How strong. How fragile. How soft, how resilient; how steadfast. How honest. How vulnerable. How resolute not to hurt, not to fail, or if to hurt then not to cry, not to grumble, and not to succumb; yet to prevail…

I sense the time has come. I trust it now, much more, the sense. All the things I know and all the things I don’t know are the same: they all abide by and reside in me. No words of wisdom, no advice. Let me make my own mistakes. Let sorrow, loss and lingering despair crush me to tears. I won’t protect me from myself: that would be crueller still.

Across from me, at the Limonlu Bahçe, Istanbul: George. I lean forward a little, my chair creaks, he looks up at me, curious, askance. Unimpressed. Unruffled. Unspoilt. Unused. Undamaged. Unfathomable, even to me. I know how you feel, I’ve been there, believe me, I’ve been you, but no, I don’t know you at all. I know you no more than I know any boy your age. Man! You never liked being a boy, much, a youth, maybe, yes; do you like being a man? I hear myself think the question and in a flicker of recognition—probably imagined, only by me—he says: ‘Do you relish being a man?’ (‘Relish.’ That’s better. ‘Like’ is so lightweight, it’s neither here nor there. He could have said ‘enjoy’ but that, too, has long since been eroded, diminished to some middling marketed meaninglessness.)

‘I do.’ I say: ‘I will. If I haven’t till now, then henceforth I shall.’

‘Henceforth?’ He gives me that smile, that bemused, too knowing, wry play on his lips, a light in his eye.

I don’t want to burden myself with the responsibility of having interfered with my own life. Not here, not now. I used to be troubled. Then charming. Then enigmatic. I’m still working on wise.

‘Be generous, be kind.’ (I thought I was not going to give me advice. Is it that hard to refrain?) ‘Forgive. Live and let live, and trust the universe is on your side.’ He looks at me, unsmiling, unconcerned, frank. He knows all this already, everyone does. ‘Felicity, fortune and favour all balance out, over time. Take your time. Let not there ever be any hurry. Go you about with a heart that beats warm, and a mind that keeps open and a soul that is free, and your path will lead you where you need to be.’ (That’s done it: I’ve lost him.) His eyes linger long and soft, not hard, then, inscrutable now, he nods. ‘Just remember…’ (Stop it! Stop it now! No counsel, no words, no well-intentioned guidance from yonder!) ‘…if you want a squirt of milk in your pail you have to squeeze the odd teat now and then.’

I get up; the temptation to ruffle his hair proves almost too much, but I know I used to hate this and so I desist.

‘Fare well.’ I say, in two words. He looks up at me and, unsmiling still, but gamely returns: ‘Fare thee well.’

And then I remember and I turn around to him before I leave and I stand at the bottom of the steps that lead up through the house, from the garden, onto the street, and the garden is busy again now, and buzzing, and I see myself sitting there, alone but not lonely, quiet, composed, a little aloof, just the way I was in that photograph, just the way I now feel, and I spread my arms to this Garden of Eden afore me and I demand, at the top of my voice, of it all: BE MAGNIFICENT!

And, having said what I needed to say now, I leave myself to myself: my adventure, my journey, my love.

And here I was and I will be, but mostly now, here I am.

(And the good thing about fiction? I unimagine it, and it’s gone…)

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.