I was cleaning out the fire grate first thing and as I dropped the pan vertical so that the ashes released into the bucket below I was distracted by an observation that was generally comical yet profoundly concerning: I rarely acquire any enthusiasm for the opposite sex outside of being drunk. It was soon obvious that this particular observation wasn’t simply a fleeting instance of light-hearted self-derogation and as it achieved increasing firmness in my mind I felt incredulous and a bit put out that urgent tidings such as these could have remained distant for so long, since, it seemed to me, the instances upon which they derived foundation were surely not restricted to isolated and uncharacteristic phases, but more or less encompassed the entirety of my romantic career. At the same time I had to concede that up until recent times I’d been more or less drunk a good part of the time. Which meant, first of all, that a revelatory breakthrough such as the one I was presently undergoing had had, hitherto, no opportunity whatsoever to occur, and, secondly, it also implied I had, in all probability, been routinely duped by a compelling but ultimately fallacious string of attractions. So strange and inevitable was this thought that I turned away from it for a while and swept the floor, then, after a while, when I regarded it once more, it seemed to me suddenly flat and perfectly harmless, just like the sort of droll wisecrack one might see across those technicolour postcards of sassy housewives wearing high-gloss palazzo pants in tropic shades of green. It doesn’t mean anything, I thought, you’re just going about a few tasks, amusing yourself as you go, don’t give it another thought. Well that summation might be proportionate and sensible—and its recommendation workable—if I had in any way changed my ways, but, in truth, the behaviour upon which the original observation was based more or less persists—and I could not, with good conscience, continue to turn away from it.
Weeks passed, however, before I took up with it again. Weeks, in fact, where I spent time with a man, sometimes in a state of inebriation, sometimes in a condition of sobriety, and, when I reflected upon this period of time, I had little option but to posit that, overall, relations with the man in question fared significantly better when I’d imbibed a little alcohol. Clearly I could underplay the unseemly implications of this bolt from the blue not a moment longer, and therefore took a little time, one particularly inclement afternoon, to ruminate upon it in a deliberate and dispassionate fashion—however, in truth, this level-headed approach bulldozed my curiosity and stirred up nothing new to revive it. The premise just kept on repeating over in my mind like an appalling but dull diagnosis, and before very long I got up from my appointed seat next to the fire and went out the front to smoke a rolled cigarette and allow the many lovely things thereabouts to imbue upon my mind a more peaceable sequence of impressions. And then, just my luck, as I watched the branches of the beech trees being moved around by the wind, tossing out a few small birds here and there, a divination came to me with such blazing and spontaneous alacrity it pretty well blew my mind. However, the sensational mode by which the latest idea came to light was in fact not the least bit dazzling or unprompted but was rather the sort of consolidated outcome which is typically produced when a protracted and half-hearted analytical process aggravates the superior auspices of an exasperated subconscious. Consequently, the emanation’s illuminating glare softened soon enough, enabling me to continue looking at the trees while at the same time according the contents of this most recent development a privileged yet manageable place among my thoughts. And so it was that I was able to approach its core without panic or distress, when either or both would have been quite permissible—and thus calmly confronted the nauseating possibility that perhaps the reason why I’d drunk so much for so long was because I enjoyed feeling enthusiastic about men and since that enthusiasm, which I so very much enjoyed, could not be brought about by any other means, I’d had no choice but to spend a good part of my time becoming drunk.
In many ways this aerated point of view appeared more troubling than the costive statement from which it had originated, and I was quite defeated in my efforts to distinguish anything amusing about it. In order to impart fully the seriousness of the situation I should make clear a distinction, and perhaps ought to have done so at some earlier juncture: I am not referring to the diffusion of those superficial inhibitions that may preclude one from being at ease with and enjoying the company of men in a recreational context. I have, in general, no inhibitions of this sort. In fact, from time to time, it has been pointed out to me, with varying degrees of justification and tact, that I’d do well to cultivate a little more social reticence, sober or drunk. Indeed, regardless of how aggrandising it all feels from the inside, alcohol does not reliably enhance the most charming aspect of one’s public arsenal—so, to clarify—it is not mere confidence and conviviality that is sought during these vital sessions of artful libation, but the stimulation of a rather more sophisticated piece of kit. Something that prevents one from scrutinising and dissecting everything that is said; something that shuts off the mounting dismay and stumbling evasions; something that enables me to hang off every word. A bespoke man-size filter for example, or a succession of perfectly pitched blind spots, or a persistent and delightful ringing in the ears, or a languorous crescendo of beatific bemusement. I don’t know—whichever elusive device it is that surely one must have in spades so that critical indifference is converted, rather niftily, into mindless fascination, and one’s usual agitation has the opportunity to metamorphose into a gloriously inappropriate and stupefying crush.
It might appear that this difficulty is merely circumstantial, relative to the second party in question, one that, as such, could be circumvented straightforwardly enough, were I to select to spend time with men who are in possession of qualities that are, in the most part, of an amenable and captivating nature. However, as tempting as it is to apportion blame, I’d be issuing an inadmissibly skewed overview of my encounters if I propounded the idea that, so far, I have not met with such men. I will not mislead myself or anyone else and pretend that I have not been acquainted with attentive, original and thrilling men. In fact, on the contrary, I have had the good luck to swing hands with some of the oddest males the species has to offer. And yet, how to reconcile such a fortunate and encouraging record with the aforementioned assertion that I was, in the most part, quite unable to endure advances made by any one of these extraordinary men until I had achieved a precise tone of inebriety?
Thoughts such as these lurched and abated throughout several afternoons of inclement weather and churning branches. In the mornings I did other things, and in the evenings perhaps I sat with a man and drank and got close to him, or didn’t and became discomposed. On it goes. Essentially I cannot identify and fix upon a relatable purpose for them. That’s what I’ve concluded and, in fact, from time to time, it has been pointed out to me, with varying degrees of infuriation and despair, that I’d do well to cultivate a more conventionally orientated set of needs. Which always comes as a bit of a blow it must be said, because, on occasion, I have gone quite out of my mind with love, and yet, as it turns out, that isn’t quite the same thing. But, tell me, what is one supposed to do exactly? Get cosy? Get cosy, perhaps? Get cosy! They stand there, you see, these terrifying and familiar entities. They stand at the door, a little before seven, with a bag containing God knows what. Some wine. Some flowers. Things like that. And I’ll hear them coming. I’ll hear the gravel, and when I hear the gravel I put myself in another room, the kitchen, the bathroom, sometimes, even, I’ll put myself upstairs. I hear the gravel and the hook drop and the lower part of the door open and then, after a crumbling pause, footsteps, not many, over the stone floor. As this awful and accustomed entity makes its way in.
No, I’m not there, never there to greet him when he arrives. What does he look at while he stands waiting I wonder, and what thoughts pass through his mind? It is not immediately that he calls out to me and I cannot help but feel he must be looking at something and often the feeling that he is looking at something becomes so abrading I eventually tip-toe, lopsided, from out my hiding place. I come down the stairs or out of one of the adjacent rooms, always holding something, such as a towel. A towel, a newspaper I haven’t been reading, a piece of laundry, a glass. Like something reclaimed and brought back from another world. And I don’t stop. I pass right through and vanish into another part of the house. As if the item I’m holding needs to be presented somewhere as a matter of sacred urgency.
Such domestic fluttering is always interpreted as a cue, to move a little further in and set their bag of things upon a chair. I can hear it all from the kitchen; I almost always end up in the kitchen. Looking at the dishes and the knives in the plate rack, then down at the worktop, listening. Listening. In the kitchen, near the sink, some aspect of me is waning, and I cannot pin down exactly why. I feel utterly flimsy, yet I don’t look in the mirror, nothing like that; I just stand for a moment, my back to the door and my tapering hands side by side on the worktop, pressing down. Pressing down with the concentrated effort of trying to give myself a little more density. I go to the doorway. I go to the window. I go to the entrance and push closed the top half of the door. And then I move across to the fireplace; sometimes I put both hands flat against the oak beam, and then I turn, and then I finally turn.
But no, that is not it. I appear to have turned but I have only twisted in fact; some of me has turned, and some of me has remained away. And yet it is an adequate gesture, enough to create a general impression of having turned fully and thus of being engaged and unopposed, even of enjoying the conversation perhaps. I do not have the courage to take the risk. To risk turning entirely and coming to face something very ordinary. I couldn’t stand that so I stay twisted. And then I reach for my glass and I drink. I drink in order to—what?—become untwisted? Isn’t that perfectly commonplace? Isn’t that what’s proverbially known as drinking to unwind? But no, that’s not it. That’s not it either. It’s the location, actually—appearing to be located, to be precise—that’s what I object to, and somehow wish to dispel. I want to shove the walls away and for the stone floor to turn to sand. I say such silly, merciless things indoors, the walls and floor and ceiling press so much acidic nonsense out of me—I become defensive, critical, intractable and remote. Impossible! No, there are times when men and women don’t belong inside rooms.
We’d be better off silently overlapping each other; next to a river or beneath the clouds or among the long grass— somewhere, anywhere, where something is moving. Isn’t that right? Shouldn’t we be somewhere where something is moving? It’s the treacherous stillness I can’t stand. When so much is at risk what sense can it make to be somewhere where apparently nothing is moving? There is music, of course, but selecting it is such a colossal anxiety—so often it comes out wrong and warps things, like a poison, casting me in some dimensionless and highly-strung role, an eternally spurned revenant in fact. Preposterous really, yet barely surprising. They sit there, you see, biding their time, these awful and accustomed entities, clueless, quite clueless anyhow, it seems, to the music, to the compressed hands and sipping breath, to the craning shadows. Perfectly composed and biding their time. Awaiting that kiss which somehow settles everything. And I have to try, so very hard, not to say something imploring and unsophisticated, such as: I only wish you could just spend five minutes beneath my skin and feel what it’s like. Feel the savage swarming magic I feel. But an invitation of this sort achieves nothing, worse than nothing: it comes to them as a threat. A threat they scrapple to keep at bay by tethering worn out schemes of placid cosiness about the place. They move about your home depositing things here and there, making ordinary noises along the way, like it’s perfectly acceptable. It’s ridiculous and quite untenable to become enraged and put off by such gentle armaments as these, yet I cannot settle, and so I drink. I drink to you; I drink to me. I drink to plough and fortify a one-track mind and suddenly, briefly, the blood surrenders, shuffles through the old channels, and there is no such thing as a false move.