He summons me again. I drop everything.
It’s six months since I’ve seen him. Nothing is consistent or to be relied upon. I think we will never get bored of one another (and anyway he’ll die young, with his habits). So I always feel like we’re living on borrowed time. And the string of our meetings, even as they crescendo into declarations of love, never amount to anything. Bill is my Achilles heel.
This time his merry dance leads me into the woods, and beyond that a sunny glade.
He seems keen to demonstrate his earthy side. Man of nature. Able to swing an axe. A temporary sales mission. He knows that will oil my cogs. I thought he’d tarmacked over that long ago.
I’m secretly gleeful. Sitting in a meadow like a normal couple. It’s not quiet Fields of Gold, but close. Such a novelty. Normally we hole up in his flat hoovering cocaine off the glass coffee table and listening to records. Gobble, gobble, gobble. And everything is done under the cover of darkness. Fucking vampire.
We wallow in that nicely mown meadow for a while, drinking our poison. His is 63% proof Jamaican rum and he furnishes me with vodka. He chains a few cigarettes picking up the butts as he goes.
Fringed with wild grasses and dense trees, the meadow is in seclusion. It doesn’t feel like London, but from the viewing point up the hill you can see the Shard.
“I can’t believe I never knew about this place.” (I didn’t ask why he’d never taken me here before.)
“I come up here a lot.”
He’s never mentioned it. Another unopened door. Another revelation.
“I came up here around 8am yesterday morning to watch the fire.”
“You could see it from here?”
“Well, up the hill at the look-out point.”
“And it was still on fire?”
“No, just smoke by then, drifting across.”
We pause in a respectful silence.
“We used to bring the kids up here for picnics.”
They cast long shadows. I don’t ask for details. Now tucked away with their mother in a foreign country leaving him fifty fathoms deep.
Bill reclines on the grass, his t-shirt long since abandoned, and I try to ignore the contagion that spreads from his masculinity. I have to repress my desire, mute it for fear of rejection. He still looks magnificent to me and I want to crawl all over him, but I leave a polite distance between us.
To a bystander we might appear to be a normal couple but the reality is we are infested with dysfunction. Yet we have a go at it every summer, undeterred by previous failures. I’m not one to hold a grudge.
“It’s good to see you.”
I know the script. Button my lip. Let him do the talking.
“I’m still caving.” His euphemism for addiction, roaming the house all night, misery heaped upon misery.
“Well, I feel better now that the weather has changed.”
Even amid all the woe, wading through setting concrete, there is still nothing more magic than time with Bill.
“I feel like a different person in the summer.”
A moment of reflection.
“Great place for a fuck.”
He drops it into the conversation carelessly. I’m unprepared but my mouth speaks.
I’m compulsive. Put something in front of me and I have to have it. The button says ‘don’t press’ and I press. Get a compulsive and an addictive personality type together and you’ve got a recipe for disaster…or fun…depending on which way you look at it.
“I must admit, it had crossed my mind too,” I tell him. It feels like jumping off a cliff. He’s only just downgraded us from ‘lovers’ to ‘friends’.
“I’m game if you are,” he says, grinning. “But I don’t want to mess with your head.” I ignore the comment.
He throws his empty bottle onto the grass theatrically. I smile.
“OK. I’ve got to wee first though, so I’ll do that and then we’ll get to the other thing.” I wonder if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.
From the clearing are a series of paths and I trudge towards an opportune one finding further in, that the brambles are thick, making it difficult to get to the concealment of the foliage. I crouch and from my vantage point between the branches I see a man approach Bill. An exchange is going on.
Having relieved myself, I pick my way back through the undergrowth immerging into the clearing. Neither of the men acknowledge me.
The old man is lingering. I can tell that Bill is vexed because his normally easy charm is strained. Names have been exchanged. Michael is hunting for butterflies. He has a camera case around his neck and is explaining in fastidious detail that the camera itself is new and difficult to operate.
“I see lots of Red Admirals here but what I’m really hoping to find is an Adonis Blue. They’re incredibly rare.” He delivers this information concentrating hard on Bill, who’s languid charisma is not lost on the old man.
He flips open a page of the notebook he is clutching to illustrate his point.
“See here, the last Red Admiral I spotted was on the 12th at 2:36pm but the last Blue I saw was…”
He begins turning over page after page.
“Let’s see. I think it was in this notebook… I dog eared one of the pages…but maybe it’s in the one at home.”
This old mad has settled on our lust lawn and, exchanging glances with Bill, I can tell neither of us is inclined to leave. It’s too perfect to abandon due to the hindrance of one decrepit senior.
The blethering continues for some length before the old man, as if taking a mysterious cue, finally decides to leave. He steps a few paces away and then turns back.
“Do you know, it’s eight minutes exactly from the look-out point to my house. I’ve timed it on several occasions and it’s always been the same.”
Agony. Bill’s smile stales to a feebly concealed grimace.
“Do you live near?”
Bill offers him a brief answer before the old man says, “Well, have a lovely afternoon” and shuffles off.
He isn’t gone long before Bill is behind me with his hands burrowing into my pants. But our antics are short lived before another pair edge into the clearing – this time a father and son. The father takes his son’s small shoulders and hastily rotates them before they’re gone. Our plan is flawed. We need to regroup in the cover of the undergrowth.
Bill leads me into the woods and up a steep hill of dry clay, rutted and cracked. At the top of the mount Bill’s previously veiled desire cuts loose. After an enthusiastic kiss, he tells me to lie on his t-shirt which he flattens against the earth. Seclusion has trumped comfort. The bouncy green of glade will have to be a conquest for another time.
I lie back watching him spit on his palm before he enters me. My breath kicks to the back of my throat. He starts moving and I bite his collar bone. The relief coursing through me is like the antidote to a poison. Feeling euphoric, I watch the pale green sunlight filtering through the acorn leaves. I should have kept my eyes open longer.
Afterwards he gives me his hand and pulls me up so that, stood on higher ground, I match his height. Leaning in, I put my mouth on his shoulder, inhale from his neck and tell him how good he smells. Like a homecoming after all those summers together. He brushes me down.
Taking my hand, we climb up the path, past Queen Elizabeth the first’s oak tree, past the lookout point and towards the road. He lights me a cigarette and we puff away in unison. I think, if only I could bottle this moment of perfect joy, if only I could experience it in future as acutely as I am now. I know that nothing else this summer will quite match it. I plan to record every detail as soon as I get home.
The cars on the road are stacked up in the early evening rush hour and as we saunter past we congratulate one another on having bunked off work. Certain that our afternoon of boozing has beaten the day the poor bastards in the office would have had. A small, intimate victory.
As I walk home I ruminate on how I will write it up. I will luxuriate at the bottom of the garden typing away, stewing myself in the heady memory of Bill’s appetite.
But it won’t last.
Just another stolen summer.