Melbourne, June 2000
“Need a cigarette,” he muttered, shrugging off both me and the blanket, and climbing off the mattress. He was wounded; a deer bit in the haunch by words as sharp as lupine teeth. They were my teeth, my words, but I hadn’t meant them to sink quite so deep.
In the dim blue light coming from the TV screen, I watched as he shuffled over to the window. He opened it with one hand, using his other to flick a cigarette from the pack tucked away on the sill. I followed the tremble in his hand as he brought a lighter up to the cigarette, then noticed it in his lips as he took his first drag. Eyes closed, he inhaled deeply, holding it in until the shaking stopped. Without opening his eyes, he turned and leaned against the window sill, releasing the smoke from the warmth of his mouth into the wintry air.
I watched him from the mattress on the floor, in the middle of the barely furnished room. A TV, an armchair, a mattress. I’d never asked him why he didn’t have more stuff in his flat. But then, he’d never asked me why I didn’t have more time. It was just the way it was. A hint of morning, a piece of afternoon, a trace of evening. Everything around us felt fast and fleeting, as if the next time I came he might be gone; as if one day I would leave and never come back.
What we lacked in things and time, though, we made up for in moments. He fed me tea and toast when I was unwell, our shoulders pressed tightly together as we sat up against the wall. I fell in love with England hearing it on his tongue while he read me his poems in the afternoon sun, the two of us lazing in the armchair. We shared goodbye kisses, whispered and rushed, standing by the door where he’d kissed me so carefully and deliberately the first time.
If we had hours rather than minutes, we would listen to music through the tinny TV speakers, tucked up together under blankets on the mattress, arguing over the best of British. Morrissey? God no! Too depressing. Paul Weller? Hmmmm. Not The Jam. But Style Council were ok.
Hold on, he’d said. Let me play you some of his solo stuff.
The guitar was aching melancholy and heartbreak; the voice molasses and whisky and grit. I listened to it on repeat for days after.
You do something to me
Something deep inside
I’m hanging on the wire
For a love I’ll never find
I put it on that evening, as I was sat there watching the blue light caress his back. Although he didn’t turn around, the muscles in his shoulders tensed for long enough for me to know that he’d heard it. Climbing off the mattress, I stood, hesitating, wanting to fix and soothe, but not entirely sure he’d let me.
I approached him delicately, my wounded deer; jittery and skittish, but so strong, so beautiful, so proud. His bathrobe was wrapped around me loosely, and as I neared the open window I shivered, the cool air brushing over the bits of my skin it could reach. He didn’t move, but I knew he was aware of me from the way he’d cocked his head. I softened my steps as I drew near, not wanting to scare him away. My arms slipped carefully around him from behind, and I rested my head gently against his back. His body remained rigid and tense, but I held him anyway, quietly si