Is it something about the month of June? Is it the heat? The provocative birdsong? Is that why these wayward memories have been taking me down meandering lanes I haven’t trodden in years? So here’s one that’s been assailing me today. One from 25 years ago, when I was dizzily, crazily in love. Ah, those were the days!
Or were they?
Krakow, 6.00 a.m. on a glorious June morning in 1996. The district of Podgorze, just across the Vistula river. Temperatures already rising to 25C. A lapis lazuli sky, utterly cloudless. Birds singing loud and clear. The occasional shop about to open; the occasional cafe putting out tables and chairs.
We’re stepping out of our taxi that we got from the centre of town, having spent the entire night out. Yes, the ENTIRE night. You’re fumbling about in your pocket for the taxi fare, until you realise that all your money has been spent.
‘I’ve got some cash in the flat,’ you say, as though trying to convince me you’re not really a pauper. But I tell you to forget about it.
I pay the taxi driver, and off he careers into a cloud of dusty, early-morning summer haze. We remain standing by the wrought-iron gate, looking up at the no doubt once-impressive building: a nineteenth century villa with picturesque balconies shrouded in trees and tangled, overgrown flora. You smile at me in satisfaction.
‘Nice pad I’ve got here, isn’t it?’ you say. ‘I’m sure it must’ve been stunning, a hundred years ago. But time means nothing, if you think about it. It’s only people that categorise it, making definitions and restrictions that don’t really exist.’
Oh, please not one of your philosophical arguments now! ‘Let’s go in then,’ I say, pushing open the rusted gate that leads into the front garden.
Can’t you see that now is not the time for philosophical ranting? All I want is to have a break from the aura of post-marital break-up that my own pad is infested with. I want us to have a long, slow, romantic morning together in your pad. I want us to have breakfast sitting out on your balcony, shaded from the rising sun by all that lush verdure. I want us to go on a leisurely stroll through the nearby park that you told me about, and then perhaps have one final coffee back at your place before I return to my children and ex-hubby.
But before I go back home, please let me stay a bit longer right here, right where I am now, in that slow, sensual, morning with you, my new love of a mere six weeks. Lover-not-yet-turned-monster. Time means nothing, you’re right. What’s six weeks? My love and desire for you is already powerful enough to defy an entire century.
We push our way to the front door through tangles of bushes, branches, twigs and leaves. You fumble in your pocket for your keys and eventually extract them, together with an empty tobacco pouch, a couple of groszy (equivalent to about 5p), the cigarette lighter you couldn’t find earlier on, and several crumpled tram tickets and tissues, all discoloured with age. You open the front door, and we trundle our way up the tired old stairwell. We reach the top floor, and again you fumble about, trying to open yet another door. At last it gives, and immediately after entering we are rewarded with a luxurious dolloping of early morning sunshine. I catch my breath, being unaccustomed to the sun these past ten months or so, thanks to the gloom of my own art nouveau apartment in the Old Town.
‘Oh, this is lovely!’ I say as I wander about from tiny hallway to skeletal living room to stuffy bedroom. I’m totally spell-bound, mesmerised by the effects of the sun rays. I’m immune to the dust, the grime, the unmade bed, the dirty clothes tossed on the floor, the books scattered everywhere, presumably in some attempt to make up for the total lack of ornamentation. The flat is almost monastic in its unassuming simplicity – though I’m sure monks would keep it a damn sight cleaner.
We settle for your squashy kitchen in the end. I sit down at a small table by the window, strewn with unwashed mugs, over-brimming ashtrays and discarded papers from half-corrected essays. You fill the kettle, but before making a coffee you have to rinse out mugs and spoons, digging deep into the disgusting debris that has overgrown the cracked porcelain sink, every bit as chaotic as the garden. But it isn’t disgusting to me. It’s sheer bliss. I simply cannot get used to the decadent sunshine and picture-book view that stares at us from the open window as though part of an impressionist painting – a watercolour sky casually brushed over trees and red-tiled roofs, with a church steeple peeping out above a distant wood. Some of the trees reach so close to the villa that it seems as though they practically live inside the kitchen. I’m hopelessly enchanted. Or maybe just hopelessly in love. Up to that point, I’d been able to see nothing wrong in you. You were, quite simply, my answer to an endless stream of petitions that I’d sent out several months previously to the universe at large, and which had returned in the definite form of a miracle: you!
But this glorious morning in June the miracle is beginning to whisper its malevolent secret to me. Sorry, just kidding! it’s sniggering into my disbelieving ears. Oh, I believe all right; I just don’t want to. And who can blame me? I adore you right now.
We don’t end up having breakfast on your balcony, because you have nothing in the cupboards to offer for breakfast. Not even a stale piece of bread or a couple of biscuits. Nothing. Bugger all. You’re clean out of everything, other than some horrid coffee that you proudly make the old Polish way, with black beaded bubbles winking at the brim, and coarse grains getting stuck in my mouth and on my lips, which I had hoped to keep pure for kissing you with.
After you’ve finished your vile coffee, and I’ve used the remains of mine to water the dishes in your compost heap that constitutes your sink, you take me by the hand and lead me into your bedroom. The sun divides its rays into several boisterous rivulets that stream in through an alarming number of gaps in your curtains.
‘Could you draw the curtains, please?’ I ask timidly, feeling like a teenager on her first date.
You laugh. ‘Who the fuck’s going to be watching us?’ And before I can protest, you lead me over to your unmade bed.
You start peeling my clothes off, one by one, delivering a staccato running commentary as you aim each garment at a patch of floor which you designate as a goal.
Soon I’m lying naked on your bed, exposed to every ray of sunlight that streams in through those garish, immodest window panes, as well as to your unflinching gaze. At this close distance, even vision-impaired retinas can espy every lurid detail. We spend a good couple of hours experimenting and exploring and tasting and discovering. Best sex we’ve had yet, freed from the interfering overtones of my own flat, which always has someone else’s ghost or real presence to contend with.
When we finally finish, you doze off while I lie in your unconscious arms. And, despite my physical contentment, vague mercuries of doom are already dancing before my eyes, hand in hand with the filtered sun rays.
A myopic bird suddenly bangs into the window, screeches, and flutters off again, disturbing your slumber. You squint at me, sit up.
Still lying down, I stroke your face as I gaze into your indecently blue irises. ‘I wish I were a poet,’ I murmur dreamily, post-orgasmic satisfaction holding fear and insecurity in abeyance. ‘Times like this need poetry, don’t you think?’
‘Ah yes, poetry!’ Your face brightens. ‘How about this one then?’
I love it when you recite poetry to me. Back in my schooldays, I’d always had difficulty memorising even the shortest of stanzas; you, on the other hand, seem to know half the repertoire of the English poets by heart. I close my eyes and await your rendition of whatever is coming.
And then out it comes.
‘There was a young lady from Ealing, Who claimed to have no sexual feeling.
Till a young man named Boris Just touched her clitoris
And she had to be scraped from the ceiling.’
Grinning at me, you jump off the bed, start to get dressed, and launch into some bawdy song that is every bit as irritating and inappropriate as your poetry recital. Don’t get me wrong, at other times I would have howled with laughter, because I love your jokes, your mimicry of various accents and people, your brilliant sense of humour. But humour is the very last thing that I want right now, fifteen minutes after sizzling sex with the man I love.
The man I love? Is that really you? The you who recites William Blake and Shakespeare and John Betjeman, who gets passionate about the inequality of the world, who wholeheartedly believes in egalitarianism? That ‘you’ has vanished. In your place is a hard, cynical man; a man who still sends me into frenzies of desire, but who has suddenly metamorphosed into a terrifying stranger to me.
I knew, that morning, that you were someone who was destined to put me on a ship headed straight for an island of pain and heartache. No, not an island; a fucking continent .
The above extract is from my autobiographical novel, THIRTEEN STATES OF BEING