In Oxford the parks all shut at dusk, whatever time of year it is. So in winter Sal and I have them to ourselves for more than half the day. It’s easy enough to slip into the trees before the guards come round on their carts talking about football or how tea in this place stinks or how the bitch wouldn’t let me and it’s been five Saturdays in a row now, and we laugh at the snatches we hear and think how dull their lives are but at least they’re not as dull as the students who think they’ve got the future beat as a rock star, novelist or a Nobel Prize winner.
In the week we hang out in Christ Church Meadow because from there you can see the windows of what must be a hundred student rooms, and we lie on the grass and watch the lights go on and off and count the curtains still left to close and take videos of the ones that don’t, even if it’s only someone making coffee or looking out of the window because, you know, one day we might want to watch someone making coffee.
On weekends, like today, we go to parties like the one where we met. People are so easy to please when you turn up late with lots of drink. And when you stay till everyone else has emptied their stomachs in the sink and staggered back home or crumpled where they stood like the pissheads of Pompeii, and do a bit of shuffling with bottles, you find yourself on the eternal guestlist of the clueless minds.
Vodka, says Sal holding up two bottles jazz hands style.
Te—QUI—la, I say reaching two bottles around her.
A redhead wearing some kind of lamé dress squeals and ushers us in like her oldest friends in the world. We squeeze through to the front room on the left and on a formica topped table under the window we find the bar, where it invariably is at a student house party.
Sal pours shots for everyone and hands them round, dancing out the steps and smiles she’s learned by heart.
Things are already slowing down. Like the end of the Titanic when they’re all getting cold and the sea goes quiet and bodies start dropping off bits of debris without making even the sound of the surface of the water breaking. It’s easy to manoeuvre my way to the wall, moving arms and legs, anorexic backsides and spotty shoulders like placemats.
I watch her, like I watched her the first time. Same dress, same flicks of the head, succumbing to the same slow stiffness of the limbs. The room goes quiet around her till she crumples onto the sofa, the last piece of the anaesthetised jigsaw.
I’m so still no one even half-intoxicated would distinguish me from the furniture. No one moves but I know to stay here, to wait, to watch Sal breathing slow and shallow.
Eventually, movement. He wasn’t asleep, just marking time. Like I’d been doing the night we met. He tries to be quiet in that drunken, exaggerated way people have. Cautious within the bubble of his tunnel vision, but not really vigilant, not enough to spot me, blended with the cheap cigarette-stained wallpaper.
He approaches the sofa. He has stopped looking around. Doesn’t notice the click. Sees and hears nothing but Sal.
They go different parts of all the way, from a hand on the outside of her top to reaching out for a bottle and going the full Fatty Arbuckle.
But invariably they’re silent.
Just in case they wake anyone.
Except me. Sal said she chose me because I started quoting Henry Miller when I put my finger in her asshole. You wanted that more than you wanted not to wake me, she said. I said, you were already awake, and she said, yeah but you didn’t know and I came on your first word for that.
His first touch is light. Short. Testing. Tips of the fingers. If she moves, he’ll laugh and pretend he slipped. She doesn’t move. Of course she doesn’t. Then the full palm on her breast, through cloth. He leaves it there a good minute. Removes it. Lowers his head. Fingers lifting an edge of fabric. Looks, taking in skin. Doesn’t touch. He’s a shy one. Hand moves downward, settles briefly on her backside. Doesn’t linger. The dress is thin, loose, falls and clings, he feels every contour of her crotch, feels she has no underwear, feels the bar run through her left lip. Hand still. Taking it in. Thinking. Daring himself. Wants to look. Wants to touch. Lifts fabric, looks. Blinks like he’s taking a picture for an album.
I sit on the towpath south out of Oxford. There’s still an hour or so before sun-up and the laptop screen looks like a second reflection of the moon next to the silver canal.
Sal lies on the gravel beside me and I can’t tell if her eyes are open or closed, if she’s here with me or somewhere else, and if she is whether I’m there with her, and if someone’s touching her and if they are if that someone is me.
I ask her what she’s thinking, and wonder if I’m asking her, or the other Sal, wherever she is, and she says it’s cold, and I tell her I’ve finished and she says that’s great because, you know, one day she might want to watch,
Photo from: http://www.oxfordlight.co.uk/