Battery Tea Lights
‘You’re not romantic;’ she said, as she turned to face the sharp light cutting through the broken blinds, ‘you’re too sarcastic to be romantic – you just laugh at anything I say’.
The bed was flat, the mattress thin, compacted, worn away by the years and the great weight of those whom had slept here before us – the drunks with no way of getting home, her and her partners before me; I hated the bed, hated how it reeked of their presence. I didn’t resent her having lovers before me, but I wasn’t a lover; how could I be, when I wasn’t a romantic, when I had neither the money, the passport, nor the inclination to whisk her away to foreign cities?
What would Paris be, to us, but dirty city streets and luxurious gibberish, and I would watch the Seine roll past us whilst she undressed on the bed.
What could Venice ever be, but the stink of sewage and the guilt of a gondola ride, and how she would humour me for moments in art galleries and laugh at me when we walked away – I’d deserve to be laughed at; I wasn’t romantic – how could I appreciate art if her nakedness wasn’t my muse?
How could I look at a naked form forged from careful brush strokes and feel anything, if I couldn’t treat the weights of her breasts like the scales of saints?
My arm was numb from the weight of her head, I could feel my fingers scrabbling for life beneath the blue pillow which didn’t match the rest of the bedding – it was a pillow from her room; this bed didn’t have enough pillows for the both of us. My back was a stab wound, my spine was a ragged mess held together by thread after our sleep. We slept facing away from each other, and our feet would touch flat stone slabs brushing against each other in a production line – no; more like uncooked steaks, still sweating from the cow’s demise.
One of us would say I Love You as a habit, like one would say goodnight, like one would apologise to a stranger in the street. It was ingrained in us both, I think.
I reached out to her with my other hand, leaving a long shadow across my sunken chest. I kicked my hair-haloed legs across the bed until I was against her, my ribs against her back, her hair in my face blinding me, smothering me – my hips pushing into her spine. My fingertips found her stomach, the bar she ran through her belly-button, traced the slick skin of her stretchmarks with my fingernails – I was supposed to love her for her scars. The line of her underwear peaked out from her leggings, turquoise and textured and I made a noise in my lungs, like one of satisfaction and surprise.
I knew we were going to fuck; it happened beneath the morning sun, when our flickering, sleep-ridden eyes led to the movement of blood in our bodies. I could feel it developing, slowly, an uncomfortable swelling and a heat, like I was infected with some pubic abscess. She shuffled, a little, to make herself more comfortable, and moved her cheeks across my loose-fitting pyjamas.
I was between her, in the valley of her humanity, in her most honest part, and I felt myself move down a little further. I was gone, given up to a lust I didn’t feel. My hands dared to dive beneath her textured underwear and the tightness of her leggings dug into the back of my hand.
I look at the back of her head with lust – I’ve sent her the same messages so many times, that each and every word is recorded in my phone’s autocorrect. I could tell her I love her, call her beautiful, from anywhere in the world, and leave her with sixteen cross-kisses, with as little as six thumb movements across the screen – including punctuation.
I started to move my hips, uncultured, un-targeted thrusting – romance was precise, and I’m not a romantic. The disgust made my legs heavy, my loathing made me lazy, but I moved my body like a snake against her because I said I loved her, because she said she loved me.
I didn’t know what she wanted from me – was I to roll away from her, and listen to the sorrow in her voice, cling to her and listen to disappointed, claustrophobic anger? No – this was the easiest way, an emotionless expulsion, the flickering of fingers across flesh and ugly genital meeting in hot, wet, ignorant affection.
She started to respond – it wasn’t tentative, it wasn’t hesitant; it was an immediate, scripted thing. There was no passion there, all gone, all replaced with certainty and derision and I knew that I’d cum before I wanted to but I just wanted it to be over; I wanted to hear her gasp and shudder and kick me off of her and we’d lay there, gasping and breathless and I’d have to dress quickly, run into the bathroom and tear away some toilet paper so she could wipe what was left of me off of her stomach.
Her clothes didn’t fall away, like they had once done in my dreams, but they were peeled away like a second layer of skin, like we were both some lizards beneath the sun. Her eyes were as dead as mine, but she smiled and I had to – how could one maintain a grim severity when trying to take someone’s clothes away. She was wet, and I was suddenly wet, and when I entered her I felt the skin pull back in irritating agony and my exposed humanity was rubbing raw against her. I moved my hips in a haphazard fashion – there was no rhythm, no passion, just the desperate motion of a sexed virgin trying not to disappoint.
I rubbed at her hardened clitoris with my finger as I fucked her – I wanted it to be over. She felt like an exam I could have finished in a matter of moments, a paper that I realised I didn’t want to pass anyway. She took in quick breaths, and her eyes drifted to the ceiling and she bit her lip – she’d be thinking about work, anything, to keep the image of my face, my hair framing an ugly nose and a ragged beard, away. I fucked her until she came, I told her to cum over my dick, and when she was finished I rubbed myself to completion over her stomach, and not much came out but she acted like her rotten stomach was drowning.
We left the tissues on the desk whilst she panted, and I closed the eye that she could see – I smiled with the lips on her side, and snarled out of the other. I was her Thalia, as if she knew who that was, and my very own Melpomene. We stunk of each other’s sex; it made me nauseous and she wanted to rest on my arm again. I said I love you, she closed her eyes and looked at the light-ridden blinds again. She loved me too – because she was a romantic, and I am not and never have been and so long as I had a conscience and a consciousness, I couldn’t be.
The orchid I bought her weeks before was still alive, its roots pushing from the rubble veneer like questing fingertips looking for some organ; some pulsating, throbbing sexual thing without the ghosts of sex, and the head cast its sudden shadow over our bodies. I remember buying battery-powered tea lights, once, to romance her in student accommodation where we could not boast an open-flame, and those small apartments and narrow hallways held the stink of old flames for days at a time.