[The World Keeps Going Round]
Martin always met Julie on a Friday night. Maybe not every Friday, certainly, but regularly enough for Julie to joke last week that he should change his name to Terry. She even suggested that one of these days they should meet at Waterloo station, and even though it was corny as hell, Martin had laughed because coming from Julie it was a great line.
He was not sure why they were friends; couldn’t really pinpoint the time when he took it for granted that they were. In fact if he were being honest he would say that he tried not to think of it, mostly because if he did he always ended up wondering if they were really anything more than mere acquaintances. Or worse, perhaps only work colleagues. After all, they never did anything together outside of the work routine apart from the Friday night pub visits. And even then, wasn’t that just an extension of the work routine too? Progressing from a joke about Johnny Halliday by the vending machine in the office canteen to laughing about how horribly clichéd it was to be discussing Sartre in the Cafe Boheme at lunchtime, then finally reaching the conclusion of full blown boozing sessions on a Friday where they spent all their time talking about their worlds of books and films.
So what had it been? Two months? Three? Time was a bit fuzzy these days. It seemed to slip past too quickly and everything blurred together. Was all this just habit now? Were these Friday moments really just a part of the working week? Were he and Julie just parts of the employment jigsaw puzzle, fitting together in the picture of the nine to five, oblivious to the worlds beyond? When he thought about it, he wasn’t even sure where she lived, other than the fact that it was somewhere north of the river. The other end of the Bakerloo line at least, which was effectively nowhere, wasn't it? Anyway, they always found it funny that they both came from opposite ends of the line and met somewhere in the middle. So from Lambeth North and from Kilburn Park they would travel each day, colliding at Piccadilly Circus.
Of course Martin had pointed out, when it became clear that they both travelled on the same line, they weren’t coming from opposite ends at all, and weren’t even meeting in the middle. The middle would be more like Baker Street. Or even Paddington, if you counted the number of stations, and if they had started from Harrow & Wealdstone and Elephant & Castle respectively. Which they didn’t, but still, if you were going to be accurate... To which she had cried ‘Merde!’ and asked why all men were obsessed with such pointless facts and details.
Martin had felt a bit bewildered at that. He thought details were important; had always felt that if you paid attention to the details then the big pictures would look after themselves. Whereas Julie seemed to think that the main idea shouldn’t be spoilt by facts and details that didn’t fit. Like the fact that they didn’t technically come from opposite ends of the line and technically didn’t meet in the middle. The facts simply got in the way of the idea, and so could be discounted. It was simple, really.
Technically too, of course, they never did collide at Piccadilly Circus either. That would be a ridiculous notion, although it didn’t stop Martin from vaguely searching the crowds on the escalators every morning, wondering if he would see her face. The possibility of the impossible, he thought, is always a hope that must be clung to. Because if you let that go, what are you left with? The daily pursuit of the boringly attainable. The thirst for the ordinary. He often wondered if there was any more depressing adjective; thought it the most horrible thing in the world to read stories in the papers celebrating the very ordinariness of people. Or at least that there was a need to describe people as such. Surely people could be extraordinary? Should be extraordinary.
Martin glanced down at his creased suit and grimaced. No. Perhaps not. But then again, yes, why not. Not the egocentric attitude of thinking oneself to be extraordinary perhaps, but certainly to think it of others. Some others, at the very least. Not that Julie would agree. She’d no doubt wrinkle her nose at the very suggestion. ‘People,’ she would say, in those glorious Gallic tones ‘are disgusting. I hate them all.’ And then she’d raise her glass and say ‘Salut!’
And he’d drink to that. To Julie, at least. His favourite warmest hearted misanthrope.
He glanced at his watch.
[A Long Way From Home]
He glanced at his watch but didn’t really see the time. He looked at the empty glasses on the table. Counted four. But the barman had already been round and cleared three. So this was his fifth. Julie on four. They really should get a grip. Wasn’t he getting a bit old for this? Was thirty-two too old for this? Martin closed his eyes. Remembered when one of Julie’s French friends had asked how old he was. He’d said something like ‘old enough to know better, but too young to care.’ He thought it was clever at the time but now realised that he must have just seemed like a bit of a dick. Was this how it went? Getting older and with every year getting ever more paranoid that you just looked a bit of a dick? Did you perhaps reach a point when it didn’t matter anymore? A moment when you realised all of a sudden that you didn’t care? If he could be sure that there was then he’d happily embrace the idea of getting old. But meanwhile…
He felt a hand on his shoulder. A soft shake. ‘Hey old man. Wake up.’ Martin opened his eyes and looked into Julie’s. He could remember when that would have been so difficult. Not just with Julie, but with anyone. Avoid eye contact. Scurry past and hide away from everything. Hide from the possibilities.
He looked at her as she sat down beside him, smoothing her skirt down on her thighs, the top of her stay-ups just glimpsed as a darker tone of black in the shadow. A tiny tear over her left knee drew his eye to the fleck of whiteness beneath before returning to her face framed with straight golden bangs. He remembered reading something once about how you could figure out if someone liked you. Most of it he had forgotten immediately or dismissed as nonsense. But there was something about eyes. Something about maintaining contact and about your pupils being dilated when you liked someone. Apparently it was natural. Instinct. Something like that. Of course, he thought to himself, drugs do that as well, don’t they? Make your pupils dilate. And alcohol also. So maybe it’s not that simple.
He looked into Julie’s eyes and saw large pupils gazing back at him. If he was being particularly daft he’d also say they were sparkling, but that would be going too far, surely? And if Julie’s pupils were dilated, what about his own? Had she read that same fact on the Internet? Did she believe it? Did she care?
All these questions flickered in the back of his mind as he settled into the sofa, the fifth pint of London Pride clutched like a talisman. He pondered all of them in almost an instant, but most of all Martin wondered why, after all these years, it never got much easier.
Well that wasn’t really true though was it? He could look Julie in the eye, couldn’t he? And the talking was easier. After the stuttered Halliday joke and the too quick Sartre dismissal they had settled to a seemingly endless stream of words about music, books, films. All of that. Corny but true.
He remembered when she’d said she got the tube from Kilburn Park and he asked if she knew that Bee Gees song. Julie said yes right away, but then added that she actually knew it only as someone else’s cover version. She asked him back if he knew the Monochrome Set song about Lambeth. Martin had laughed. Yes. Corny but true. The ordinary becoming extraordinary.
He liked how they could share reference points even though their experiences were different. Different times, different cultures. Or maybe not. Maybe none of that mattered. It certainly felt that way; like the contexts all boiled down to ideas and feelings in the end. Which was what made the links. Perhaps the world then, he suddenly thought, is not about the details, the facts and the things at all. It’s just about the big ideas; the feelings and the snatched moments. And whilst the people might fade to dust long before the objects, those objects, those details too will fade with time. But the feelings go on forever.
All of which sounded like a load of bollocks now of course, when the pupils were dilating and the warmth of Julie’s body against his arm made him question just exactly what those feelings were right now.
Martin put his head back and thought of songs about kissing.
[Nothing Lasts Forever]
As always they hugged at the split in the tube station corridor. He would go left and straight ahead, she would go right and down the stairs. Diverging again. This time Martin thought that Julie held him tighter and a little longer than usual, but that was probably just the sixth pint talking and if he was honest he could remember thinking the same thing every time they said goodbye.
He kissed her cheek.
They parted and went North and South.
Same as always.
And same as always the ache of separation immediately began to grow somewhere inside. The pain of impulses ignored pierced the heart like an icicle: a creeping paralysis that would ebb and flow, waiting for the end of another working week.