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.’


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{Memories of the Past}

a surreptitious glance in a doorway: you
had been waiting for me
but how long?
i can’t remember, i remember
seeing you at the cinema and us
exchanging glances
(those were the days, mostly, of
glances)
and us not speaking, i was too shy, you shy too
so i started walking
across the river, there: a cafe, old style; what
was i doing in there, could it be, really, that you
waited
outside while i was having coffee inside?
or did i pop in to see if i liked it, but didn’t, or whether you would follow (but why would you? it was an old style cafe; and you didn’t), so i
popped out again, straight away? that seems more likely, certainly it seems more
reasonable…*

you were in the entrance as i came out and i saw you again and you me and it was clear
you’d been waiting for me, there
in the doorway
but we still didn’t speak
how was that even possible: it was obvious
you had been waiting for me, yet
we didn’t speak, i not to you, you not to me
i was incredibly young, you a bit younger,
there by the rhine, in basel, at that time
of glances, mostly, and quietly aching
silences

you were there too maybe two, three years later
now on the southbank
in london
you looked different, a bit, though not much
you had those same eyes, longing
uncertain, a
querying glance, that
glance
that i must have had too
it was the era of glances, of not saying what any of us wanted, ever, of
uncertainty, being afraid
but of what?
of being found out
of revealing too much
too much to the wrong kind of person, of being
vulnerable
literally, viscerally, in danger of injury, death
or afraid merely of actually having, enjoying, living a moment, such one
brief encounter?
who knows

those were days of unspoken desires
at night time
near rivers
only this time i actually asked you
for a light
or you me?
i you or you me, one of us asked the other for a cigarette or a light or for both and
another glance was exchanged and a flame lit up and in that flame we did not look at each other again, we just looked at the hands touching, cupping the cigarette, and that
once again
just was that
how curious
how timid, how cautious, how wary i was
of you
always
and yet how much i wanted to be with you
still

and then there you were in st james’s park: another you, another glance
i on my way home
you on your way where? i didn’t ask and you didn’t say
it was nice
there
to finally meet you
at night, late
by the pond, not the river
to feel your hands on me, taste your lips
such a long time ago now
such a situation between two and three, thereabouts, in the morning
when that park is not closed and not open but we both were
closed and open and there: those were the days
of such stolen moments, so
rare
i miss them no more than i miss you
and i don’t miss you, i’m just maybe sorry
a bit
that it took me so long to pluck up the courage to finally meet you
albeit briefly
we wasted, it seems, a few opportunities, you and i, but

you live and you learn, and nothing
but nothing
can be rewound, reconfigured, restored, it can not even be really
relived, it can
of course be
in one way or another
remembered, redeemed?
(to what end? none other than to know that there was such a thing as a path, a trajectory,
or an arc:
a semblance of something resembling a story
a sequence of inconsequential instances, now implanted, the shapes
along which the currents of time have mostly been channelled, each curve, each bend
not just leaving traces but forming them too
until
at last
there’s a torrent
and the river, the brook or the stream
floods its banks and
ignores
these patterns, these half
designs, half
instinctive behaviours half
needed half wanted half detested half worn and half
overthrown memories
only half
ever
because the half that sits underground under consciousness under skin under mind
remains there forever somehow, and
so be it

albeit not always appreciated not always valued not always wanted or loved
you are always
a part of me still, and
welcome
to stay

whatever became of you, i do wonder
and then i forget that i ever did
because life goes on and
there are many more rivers to cross and bridges to burn and transgressions that must be traversed and
comings together
to fathom, just

know that i never not wanted
to know you

*


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11 Death (Imagined)

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