This happens so regularly, so predictably, I should be inured to it.
I am not.
As if he’d read my mind, the man who doesn’t need to shave, on our second meeting, wears the tiniest hint of stubble. He has spent the night in Peckham, but does not volunteer any more details about why or with whom. My impression is that it was a simple case of crashing at a mate’s house, but that impression may just be wrong. I don’t feel I know him well enough to enquire about this, or the number of days he hasn’t shaved, so I can’t tell whether this is just the result of one night’s morning’s not shaving, or whether it is in fact the protrusion of several days. Faint though it is, it nevertheless intrigues me because it comes up so different to the soft light blond tuft that sits off the lower side of his jaw bone and the two or three long hairs that sprout from his little mole near the back of his cheek. The ‘stubble’, such as it is, shows up in short little thick pins, which compared to the rest of his head appear black.
We sit opposite each other, discussing comedy, I believe, though my mind is only half on it. The other half of my mind—my conscious mind, we’re always talking about, I have far less of a hold, if any, on my subconscious mind, if that isn’t plainly stating the obvious, which plainly it is—is divided into roughly four areas of attention, each approximately equal in measure: one quarter takes in the astonishing, familiar, but nevertheless new-from-this-angle scenery, on The Dove’s terrace in Hammersmith, with Turner clouds in the sky and rowers already back on the river; another quarter takes in the mild tea taste of the light ale my fellow drinker has bought for our second round and that he’d described, after the first sip, as “undeniably unusual but not altogether unpleasant;” a third quarter has registered that the Turner clouds have now once more wholly obscured the sun and I can take off my sunglasses again which I do think is kinder on the person sitting opposite; and the fourth quarter is taking in the person sitting opposite, thinking: you are exactly the kind I would fall in love with, but I won’t, except that I will and if truth be told—and it be!—I already am. Falling. ‘Falling’ is perhaps not the right word: sinking, more like. Slowly, as into quicksand. A calamitous, and thrilling, degrounding, inexorably (or is that just a cliché), into… love?
Maybe not, maybe that would be not only insane—as well as a further profound misapprehension of the heart and the mind and the soul—but most inexcusably a distortion of the truth; and truth, we have already exclaimed, be told! What then, if not love? A glow of untenable, unsustainable, inexplicable, unwarranted, but oh in life indispensable warmth that says: I like you. More than makes any sense. It will pass. It will solidify, the ground. Mush will turn into dependable clay, on which to build.
There will be friendship and love there will be friendship and love, and the two will and will not be the same.
Far be it from me to claim that I can’t say I’m not entirely impartial to the occasional quadruple negative…