Oscar Godsell (Deakin University, Australia)
At some point during the evening, we were left alone at the table. The others had gone to the rooftop, or to smoke outside. I can’t be entirely certain. There was a moment of silence. Not uncomfortable or awkward, as they usually are, but the kind of silence that allows your gazes to hover over each other’s mouths, as if performing some kind of ocular mating ritual. Some people might ask permission first, others simply lean in and kiss. I shyly wait in silence. She is of the kind who confidently snatches the other by the nape and pulls them close.
We disentangle ourselves and awkwardly acknowledge what has happened with sheepish glances and curled lips. ‘That was nice,’ I probably said.
She tells me she had wanted to kiss me throughout the evening, though I’m not entirely sure I believe it. ‘You didn’t seem very interested in me,’ she admits. I don’t really know what to tell her. She’s funny and confident. Jovial even. Not exactly my type. I wasn’t really very interested in her… but I did want to kiss her.
She’s the first girl I’d kissed in a year. It’s hard to imagine it’s been a year since things ended with Bea. In truth, things had ended a lot longer before that, but we never said it out loud. Me and Bea had been together a long time and never even came close to saying ‘I love you’. And we didn’t really. Love each other that is. It was a comfortable relationship. Convenient, in the way that we didn’t need to arrive at parties alone or endure mild illness in solitude. The kind of relationship that endured patiently through years of ennui.
Anyway, I’m getting distracted. I take her by the hand, the new girl, Ava, that is, and we return to the party. We had been unknowingly set up by a friend who thought we were a match. And we were a pretty good match. We were both a little odd, bonded of Cubism and our love of Spanish language – though she spoke Colombian Spanish and I Castilian. Above all, we were both available. Perhaps not emotionally, but both unaverse to the seduction aroused by too many glasses of wine and dim lighting.
I look around the room clumsily as people start to notice we’d been kissing. I’m not ashamed, just awkward. She’s a catch, really. She throws her head back when she laughs, and her smile could be used in a dental commercial. She tells long, detailed stories that make you want to listen for hours.
We fall onto the white leather couch and I rest my hand on her thigh as she sits facing me. She pays attention to each word I say and repeats them back to me. I don’t know if it’s because she’s listening or merely trying to seem like she is. At this point, I’m not thinking this could be anything more than a one-night-stand. She tells me about her singular relationship with a wealthy, handsome socialite who, during the course of their relationship, became addicted to cocaine. He would often disappear and behave erratically but she couldn’t leave him. So, eventually he left her, and they haven’t spoken since.
We dance and kiss, our hands acquainting themselves with foreign bodies. I’d forgotten how thrilling it is to be with a beautiful woman, to be seen with a beautiful woman, and to caress another’s body at whim. We pull ourselves close, dragging each other out of reality and into a delusionary fantasy.
We decide to go back to my apartment, four of us. It’s close by and I have some tequila and mixers. We take them up to the rooftop and enjoy the silhouette of the city skyline against a moonless night. The other two go downstairs and I wonder if they will be bold enough to go into my bedroom, or if they are horny enough to fuck on the floor. I don’t really care. I’m revelling in the idea that I’m capable of loving and being loved. We talk more about our triumphs, our hopes and our fears. People tell me it’s brave to be vulnerable, but I wonder if it’s simply reckless. I tell her the things I have long kept to myself, and for a moment, it feels good.
We dance around the idea of seduction all night. The way any new couple would on a first date, except this was never a date, and we’re definitely not a couple. It’s curious that sex is such a taboo subject. Something so natural and vital, but utterly unspeakable. She shows more bravery than I do, and eventually invites me to my own bed. We make love and slow-dance naked on the carpet. Finally, we rest, and she falls asleep quickly.
It’s 5am. I feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable in my own bed with a body next to me, so, I get up and go out onto the balcony. A childhood dream returns to me. When I was young – far too young to know anything about sexuality – I had a dream. A nightmare, really. A woman, a stranger, is trying to undress me in my childhood bathroom. In a desperate act of self-defence, I stab the woman deep in the groin with a knife. She wails and clutches at her bleeding genitals. I sob hysterically and embrace her on the hard, tiled floor. I don’t want to go back to my room, so I fall asleep on a deckchair.
The next day, we have breakfast and go to the beach together, but by this stage I’m afraid of Ava. I feel overcome with shame and spend the rest of the day avoiding her attention. She gives me her phone number, gets in the car and leaves. I go home and try to disappear inside myself.
This has happened before. Almost always when I wake up after casual sex, I feel overcome with shame and guilt. Someone once told me that there’s a condition called post-coital dysphoria. I don’t know if there is or not. I refuse to find out because giving it a name won’t make it any less unbearable. Whatever it is, I simply cannot stand to be with anyone, especially not myself.
The next day, I text her to ask her if she made it home okay. She replies instantly to tell me she enjoyed the weekend. My phone becomes inundated with successive messages over a period of hours. I spend the next few days trying to convince myself that I can make this relationship appeal to me. She’s beautiful and funny. I’d have an answer when people ask me if I’m seeing anyone. And, people would stop telling me to get over Bea, as if she was some kind of natural obstacle.
Unconvinced, I make arrangements for the following weekend. We go to see the Australian Romantic and Classical Orchestra at City Recital Hall. It’s not until we get in the taxi to go home that I realise what happens next. I stare at the streetlights passing by and wonder what is worse, my own suffering in this predicament, or hers if I get out of the taxi and tell her not to text me again. I feel my consciousness dissipate and I give in to the uncomfortable truth that we are going to sleep together. It’s better to just leave it until tomorrow.
The next morning, she wakes me with caresses. I smile, say good morning and ask her if she wants to go out for breakfast, hopelessly trying to escape her embraces. She gets frustrated and jolts her head away. I feel guilty, so, I feign enthusiasm and reluctantly give her what she wants. I accidentally see myself in the mirror and close my eyes.
In the afternoon, we go to a book launch, where a handsome, and rather contrived writer spends the whole time flirting with her, right in front of me. I ignore them both and take advantage of the complimentary champagne, then go to smoke cigarettes outside with the obsequious poets. On the way home later, I become irritated. I’m angry at having forced myself into this uncomfortable situation. I sleep with her again, then take her to the train station.
I’ve felt nothing but angst all weekend, but she’s been too giddy to notice. Either that, or she’s also pretending she’s not rotten inside. We say goodbye and later that week I text her to cancel our plans for the following weekend. I liked the idea of moving on, but the reality of it was more than I could bear. At one point, I’d wondered if we might be made for each other. I wondered if she could come to my brother’s wedding. I wondered if we could grow old together. And I really did believe it for a moment, despite what she will come to believe.
I avoid her with the same strength of conviction with which I had committed to her just a few weeks before. I tell her I’m busy with work and study, which is not untrue. She wants a better explanation, but I don’t have one. I don’t even have one for myself. I try to tell her I never meant for this to happen. No matter what I try to say, or how I try to say it, it comes across as ironic, or unkind, or pathetic.
People often say you can never be too generous with love. But you can. It’s reckless. It might seem like I’m saying that out of fear, but I can only insist that I am not. At least, I hope I’m not.
Ava tells my friends and hers how horrible I was. How I only pretended to like her so that I could sleep with her. She blocks me on social media. My childhood friend sends me an angry text message, and I throw up while writing my response.
I turn off my phone and search alone through the bookshelf for a poem collection by Pablo Neruda. I find what I’m looking for.
“I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her. Love is so short, forgetting is so long… this be the last pain she makes me suffer, and these the last verses I write for her.”
– Pablo Neruda, poema xx
Oscar Godsell is a Sydney-based writer and copywriter in Marketing and Advertising. He is currently studying a Master’s in Writing and Literature and completing his thesis on Don Quixote and the Spanish Golden Age.