The First Time (1)

It was in the Clapham Grand, on a floor like treacle. Just a scalp with matted brunette sweat, stuck across his eyelids. He was a disembodied cranium bobbing on a ball pit of gelled and slicked-back cruisers. That one. He was just a forehead on a dance floor.

“That one,” I told the girls. Out loud it wasn’t with the same firmness that resounded in my head, but I pointed him out, “that’s the one. He’s the one.”

They didn’t know of course. They thought he was a one, one for tonight, one for the road.

Marked by stretched-up limbs I couldn’t see, chugging a beer, sweat stained white and green boxes on his shirt, I watched him. I tracked him. Did he look too much like Chris? The height, the slimness, the chestnut flicks across the eyes, they were all the same. His chequered shirt later lying on the floor playing tricks in the dark, taunting me in my dreams.

“Can I buy you a drink?”

A guy appeared next to me but I looked past him to the one I’d circled with a red felt tip. Now there was nothing left to do, except Sambuca.

Louise had leant across the bar, snatched the vodka and started pouring out generous shots into open mouths, so no one noticed I was gone. I’d detangled quickly, detaching friends like prosthetic limbs, used only to get inside the door. It would be ages before they’d figure out where I’d gone.

Later if I ever thought of him, which was hardly ever, I wondered whether he was perplexed by the ease of it all, gobsmacked even.

I wondered if Chris had been to a place like this. Slinking flat against cold stone, tracking girls.

Have you ever been hunting? My best friend’s an apple farmer and they used to shoot at rabbits. Pests. Gun in the hand and hit it. Square in the head, brains burst like second-long Catherine wheels.

My opening line, probably clumsily delivered masked in a front of booze was, “Will you take me home?”

It’s not like I’d ever done this before and he stared at me, then produced a hip flask of whiskey from an inside pocket and took a very long swig. He might have made a sound, a gesture, some movement. But, after he had handed me the flask, the very first time I heard his voice it was to say, “I’ll get my coat.”

He left the homoerotic banter of his mates and we went outside. I gulped down the sappy brown alcohol and he gave me a cigarette that he then had to light.

“Where do you live?” I asked him.

“Balham,” he replied.

He was staring at me. “Shall I call us an Uber?” He was unsure, hovering on the borderline, trying to convince himself he was drunk enough to do this. I nodded and drained the hipflask dry.

“My name’s Jonty,” he said as he tapped open the app for the Uber and then offered me his coat. It was freezing but I stood shivering in my dress, watching broken heels trip by and boys being sick against lampposts.

“What’s your name?” He prompted.

“Sara,” I said blankly, before I could think of anything else. What did it matter though? It wasn’t like we would ever see each other again.

“You had a good night Sara?” He said, the use of my name sounding odd.

The Uber ride was quick and the quiet too loud. Jonty wasn’t as drunk as I thought or he probably wanted to be. He tried to make small conversation, what was I out for? Where were my friends? Did I have any mental issues?

“How’s your night mate?” He turned to the driver, continuing the small chat, rubbing his denim knees with his palms. Did he ever think about me after?

He lived in a shared building but had his own flat. It was only then that I wondered how old he was. I didn’t know anyone at that point who lived on their own in London. He went straight to the kitchen cabinet and started searching for more whiskey. The hipflask contents had started to go up inside my brain, making my mind buzz nicely and my eyelids flicker. Now was the time. All I had to do was touch his back. I didn’t care about doing it in his bed but he got me there anyway.

I wanted it to pass, quickly and efficiently without any mess. Did he have a girlfriend? Maybe she was meant to be out that night? But it wouldn’t have made a difference, only pain, a triumphant, relief and then turning over so he didn’t breathe inside my mouth. It really was that easy. It’s a sudden revelation that you cannot have before. And after there is nothing you can do. A whiskey knock-out. He tried to hold me and a few tears leaked, slinking their nauseating bodies down underneath my nose, making it itch.

All I could think was, has he done it? Has Chris done it yet?

As soon as he was asleep, I crawled silently from the bed, I put back on my clothes. I knew he was pretending and I prayed he wouldn’t move.

“Sara?” He whispered into the night but I was already out the door.