Esmeralda C. Stubbs

“Summer will be here soon and I like summer even if I’m not the type of person who wastes time telling other people they love summer, I mean, really? Who cares what someone’s seasonal preferences are or not? Do we think this tells us something about who you are? About the kind of person you are?

But anyway, I want to say that London is waking up too but really that’s probably just me as it is more accurate to say that this city is barely noticing any seasonal change whatsoever as it charges forward in that way that it does, ever ever onwards like a . . . I don’t know what, like a combine harvester stuck in gear? Even if agriculture seems wrong for this stupid busy city, the hunger of the harvester, that works, never finished, never satisfied, and maybe London does spit out the equivalent of chaff, all the grain stored safely in Hampstead, Primrose Hill, Highgate and we’re the mulch of Holloway road, the stalk, the shaft laid down as compost. But still, we aspire don’t we? We wait to be plucked. Inappropriate.

 

Even if that’s not how it feels in the mornings when this flat is a mess. It’s a long way away when I need to clean, the plucking that is. And I don’t sleep when I drink. And last night I didn’t sleep. I’m being dramatic. The alcohol wakes me early, don’t know why, always the same, ready to go go go while it’s there, until the post-midday crash that itself depends on my own personal and individual response to the temptation to take another drink and ward off the moment.

Warding, that’s what I’m doing, I’m warding. I don’t know why I enjoy the feeling in quite this way, I don’t know why, I don’t know why… or maybe I do and just need to take the time to remember, try to wrestle with that tricky old fish until I can hammer it to the board and rip out some guts to perform my acts of augury, and maybe then, maybe then I would know why I enjoy teetering around brinks one knows better than to tetter around.

But who has time for fish? And besides I’m too young for the thrashing and the blood and the bad smell that come with it. I’m happy to occasionally take that drink and wend my way along the course the day chooses, so rarely in my control, sober or otherwise. And at the very least the air and the space you can find by dipping along these lines, by playing at being whoever it is, there in among the gears but outside is unbearable sweetness. Or that’s what it feels like and the fact it can’t last, that it’s not the type of thing you can put in a box and take home with you, like all those things that are only yours always, in a way, like the seasonal preference, like the pint of guiness I pulled in the upstairs bar and left to settle before forgetting about. The boy in the harrington and jeans and boots stood there like an idiot smiling at me before I stared back at him and asked just what he wanted in a way that was kind of in a way asking him why he was standing there like an idiot and he smiled and reminded me about the Guiness I’d forgotten and then I laughed and he smiled some more before he went away, but not forever because he was sat with a friend when I went to clean the ashtrays and we passed these light little words backwards and forwards, like casually tossed from one to another, but not, you know, not anything to do with anything but. . .

 

And suddenly I found myself collecting glasses and cleaning tables every few minutes, or well, at least a lot more often than I normally do, to have the chance to play our little repartee. It was so easy and you see how quickly it happens, an ‘our’ appears from nowhere. Sometimes he’d come to get another drink and then I’d flirt, yes me, would actually flirt, albeit from behind the safety of the bar, which is only really different from before because it involved more eye contact and smiles and suddenly I find my finger in my hair, which is frankly a little embarrassing as in my head I can see myself doing it but it doesn’t stop, and I don’t think I want it to stop because that might be a bit like death, in a way, like other people, like that thing when something decides to sit itself between the thing you think you want and some people, or at least this is how it seems to me, some people kind of come to love the thing in the way, or maybe they loved it more from the start but it wasn’t quite so obviously and acceptably a thing to love, like embarrassment for example, which can be as delicious as frustration. Better, maybe, than when you realise there’s a finger in your hair and it’s twirling, yes twirling, without anything that seems like a conscious decision, just there, on the side of my head sending it’s little signal. Like a motor. I guess. And I have the feeling it’s obvious, it’s incredible, and saying to this boy I’m here, basically, I’m here and my pussy is sending signals to my fingers.

 

Instead of feeling embarrassed, or at least as we’d conventionally understand it, with that blocking-type frozen thing of embarrassment this is a push, a thing that makes everything stronger. But going on, within the flirting and more than usual lingering eye-contact I asked him what he did and he said he was a cook and I asked what kind of cook and he gave me this look that kind of said “duh” but not in a real “you’re stupid way” and then I asked if he was a good cook and he said that he could cook an egg, which, in that moment, I thought was an unusually perceptive judgement of someone’s ability to cook and also steered a nice line between confidence and humility. So I said I’d love an egg and he said he’d see what he could do. Then the next time he came to the bar I held out my hand and stamped my foot like a spoilt child and asked where my egg was in a way that was no more than joke and performance and teasing and goading, which I think we could file under the rubric ‘continued flirtation a la Esmerelda C. Stubbs’. And he reached into his pocket and put into my hand a perfect perfect egg! A real egg, right there, in the bar.

 

At that exact moment I felt so incredibly happy, like it was the most beautiful thing, incredibly and perhaps disproportionately happy that someone, another person with their life and their mind and all the other things would go to the trouble to make a gesture, a grand gesture in a small way, to do something you know? And we were complicit in it, like we were the same, or together, even if Rowenna who was working with me didn’t believe it and picked up the egg and dropped it on the bar where it cracked and made a mess, but it was ok because he had another one which he gave to me to replace the broken one, and he’d found the cracking funny and not annoying as some people might have seeing as how he had just put himself outside of the normal and everyday and some people might be nervous enough in those moments and fragile like the egg and not find the cracking of the thing funny at all. But he was ok and it was ok and I gave him my phone number in exchange for the egg, then before he left we kissed in the middle of the bar for just a second but with a real force right in the middle of the room with all the people around, even though everything… but we were just there and he had to leave and we stood in front of each other and looked at each other and there didn’t seem like anything else that was going to do and so we did.

 

And I was left with it for the rest of the night, which got better when I finished and walked outside and he was stood on the other side of the street waiting for me. I know that some people might think that was creepy or scary but I didn’t as I felt in my heart that it was just the thing that he’d wanted to do and irrespective of the details which involved standing on his own in the street at three in the morning and perhaps being ostracised as being creepy/scary he’d realised somehow that very very important fact of life that things only happen if they’re given the possibility of happening and perhaps also he thought that I might have been waiting to see him stood there and furthermore not the type of person who was given to caution, myself believing as I do in the fundamental durability and toughness of my own person.

 

We didn’t kiss when we saw each other but held hands and I asked him if we were going back to his place and he said that we were and there was always the thought, always the thought, that it might never have happened if it hadn’t been for the simple lapse in my own memory, something that is essentially a flaw or a failing not least in my professional capacity as a bar person but also as a human being in some sense, but, if not, then I would never have had either the delicious feeling of that evening or the portion of love that the world chose to bestow on me in the subsequent moments. And it not only goes to show in some sense that the best things can’t necessarily be placed in a box and taken home but also that outcomes of any one thing are funny, most especially as they take place afterwards and seem to always hold that little bit of mystery we can’t reach.”