The mood hangs over, the rain sets in again, and the next evening finds you caged and pacing tiger-like, aching the more for the lack of yesterday’s strained entertainments. Tonight you have nothing more novel to deflect your thoughts than the dregs of the bottle of champagne. The dregs of a celebration. You reach back for an anniversary, the events of a previous July, but only the beginning of a doomed relationship comes to hand.
The last, and indeed the first champagne you had ever drunk was just a few months earlier; a networking function at the Moorgate office, with all the departmental bigwigs over from Marylebone. A tasteless drink, were it not for the acid tinge, but all the same, you downed glass after nervous glass. An alien fish swimming inadvertently in other people’s seas, you shelter in the lee of a group of drinking draftsmen, and tread water there, as if implicated in their conversation. One of the draftsmen, an Australian with swept-back hair and approximately a sheep-shearing physique, tried to teach you how to ask a French woman for her favours. Not that you needed teaching; though perhaps your vocabulary is more extensive than your technique is fluent. You just nodded your head. You didn’t yet quite believe that most people in most situations will laugh at most of what you say, if only you say it with enough energy.
You play some music, but after a time, it imitates your weariness and starts to sound only of your imprisonment. You must go out, despite the wind and rain, which after all may help to tire you if you walk fiercely enough through it. Over the avenues, other villages display their colours in a second night of fireworks. You wander the lanes in the lukewarm rain, yearning for a body and a voice beside you there in the dark. You see her wrapped against the November air, long since a girl, but intent on the twists of magic that warm a child in winter, like jacket potatoes wrapped in tin foil wreathed in the deceptive oven of ashes. Her eyes are lit by sparkles and sparklers, and the flames of the bonfire deceive you about her face, and her about yours. She tells you what the doctor ingenuously told her – or was it an invention of her own? – that to physically shape your face into a smile helped you to be happy, by forcing the muscles to secrete the fluid of a smile. Now that it comes back to you, here in the rain, you stretch the skin of your stony face into the right shape. The muscles tremble with antagonism.
You never much had the chance to smile for her. Rare and nervous meetings among groups of mutual friends in pubs and clubs, where the drink turned your infatuation into sorrow and remorse at the mental betrayal of Louise, who would often also be there. And back again. Wavering indecisive between the old and the new. Neither of you attempted to be alone with the other, until finally you wondered whether there was ever anything between you at all. And so this non-choice of France, isolating yourself, safe with kindly neighbours, with whom there are no chances. You’re the spider who has webbed a net in an out-of-the-way recess where no fly is inquisitive enough to venture.
You wanted her here, but in the letters you have written, you could not bring yourself to ask without a sign that she would accept. That’s how strong your solitude is – self-denial to be broken by the slightest intimation of intimacy. You try to read her replies in that light, but her love looks off to the side. Now you stand in the dark in the rain, watching the last occasional July firework brave the sky, hoping she will suddenly materialise by your side, in front of you, in your arms. And for a moment, you see her weary face freshening before you in the rain. You reach out to touch her cheek, finger away the raindrops from around her firework-reflecting eyes.
But she’s not there.