“How to Not be Lonely”

Further chapter from “Here Am I Sitting in my Tin Can”…

While living like this has its luxurious freedom it sometimes has its downside, like when I only have loneliness for company.  So this morning when I’m up early and driving to Staithes I find myself contemplating how to combat the overwhelming need for companionship.  I could phone a friend I suppose and that would be good, but it’s not the same as having someone there to laugh with, someone to nudge and say “Isn’t that funny?”… someone to hold.  And it’s with that final thought that I realise it’s months since I’ve had a fuck.  And it’s depressing.  I’m passing through a little town I don’t know the name of and see a supermarket, so decide to call in and buy some decent food and a couple of bottles of wine.  I’ll cook something nice I think, and eat and drink, and tell myself that I am happy in a world of my own. 

Just as I’m settled in the quiet end of the carpark away from the lazy bastards who prefer to park almost in the entrance, and locking up the van, I hear a voice:

“Excuse me,” it says, “you’ve dropped your wallet.”

She’s small, petite, blonde and pretty, dressed casually in black.

“So I have,” I say, “thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome,” she says, grins a toothy grin and proceeds to load her shopping into the boot of her Kia.  Under normal circumstances exchanges such as this would end right there, but today I have a need, a need borne out of loneliness…

“I’m on my way to Staithes,” I say.

“Nice,” she says.

“So I believe.”

“Are you staying over in that?”

“I am,” I say, not at all offended by the slight disparagement in her tone, “In my tin can.”

“I didn’t mean to sound rude,” she says.

“Not at all.  You’re right, it’s not much, but it’s home.”

“You live in it?” she says, “how wonderful!”

***

Chicken is what I decide on.  I’m traipsing up and down the aisles hunting provisions: yes, roast chicken, veg and a Chateauneuf du Pape.  I’ve no idea if Chateauneuf du Pape is any good because normally I am only the connoisseur of under-a-fiver bottom-shelf plonk.  But now I’m reaching for the upper echelons and taking two down, reading the label and saying it out loud, Chateauneuf du Pape.  It sounds posh and I like saying it, it rolls off the tongue.

Four hours later I’m in Staithes, a rural spot up the steep hill from the harbour, the four rings on my cooker fired up and pans a-bubble.  I’m nervous and bloatedly red-faced.  I’ve changed into smartish jeans and a shirt that’s not ironed but passable.  I’m weighing up the odds, thinking how strange life can be and how risky was my asking her to dinner, and how ridiculous it is that I’m expecting her to turn up!  A stranger in a carpark, a traveller travelling the country to find a story, a man who hasn’t shaved for weeks, inviting a pretty woman to dinner aboard his tin can!  What fool is he to expect this to end any other way than disappointingly?  And yet, this is no mean feat to juggle pans on four rings burning and no mean feast to bless the plastic plates. 

I’m always nervous when preparing a meal for a woman, but there’s no greater pleasure in doing so than when she actually eats it.  When finally it’s all done I prepare to plate up and look at my watch, grimly expecting it to tell me she’s late and then she will probably not show at all.

She is dressed in black again but this time a dress, she is slim and beautiful with the smile of someone exuding goodness.  Her talk is lyrical, accompanied by bangles, and her hair is tied back to show ears adorned with dripping silver.  Maybe she’s nervous too, though she doesn’t seem so.  I pour the Chateauneuf du Pape and we chink plastic glasses as I disclaimer the culinary fare.  But she puts her hand on mine and with that toothy smile she says “I’m sure it’s going to be lovely.”

After some more small-talk about the weather and how nice it is to beach-comb etc etc., it’s time to eat.  The plastic crockery is hardly conducive to romance, or maybe it is, but anyway she compliments me on the taste.  I’m embarrassed.  I say I’ve never been comfortable with compliments, it’s something I hate about myself, and in the cramp proximity of my tin can my discomfiture is amplified, but she tells me not to be, there is always room for compliments.

Despite my apologies she eats every last plastic-forked morsel, as between each morsel she tells me about her life, and between each morsel I watch and listen.  Her face is fascinating too.  She offers to wash the plastic but I decline.  “I’ll do it in the morning,” I say, hoping that the “I” would be “we”, and suggest instead going for a walk.  There are beaches to comb.

We walk for miles, chatting, laughing, and now I know her name, and in Robin Hood’s Bay I finally take her hand in order to help negotiate some rocks.  I don’t think she really needs help, but the ruse has worked because we remain hand-in-hand for the rest of the walk, talking constantly and laughing.  She finds a stripy stone and picks it up to clean and keep, popping it in the small bag she wears around her neck.  I ask if that’s significant and she says no, she just likes stripy stones, as we reach a quiet cove to rest… she looks at me, and if this were a film we’d cut to rolling waves.

Aferwards, hand-in-hand, this time with silence speaking volumes against the raging sound of sea and air, we return to my tin can to finish the Chateauneuf du Pape, which turns out with some miraculous stroke of luck to be her favourite.  I hope we’ll crack the other bottle, she’ll say she’ll stay the night, be the first woman to do so, but she tells me she can’t, she has to get back.  Though I want to, I don’t ask why or to whom.  Yet we talk for ages more.  I tell her about my life as a nomad, she asks intelligent questions about how things work in my tin can, how it feels to live like this, I busk guitar and we sing, we enjoy being silly, till finally we kiss goodnight and she disappears, leaving me deep in thought as I wash my plastic plate.

Later, when it’s dark, I sit and smoke and reflect on everything I made happen.  It’s been an unusual evening, unusual in its four rings burning, its culinary fare, its choice of alcoholic companion, and its rich and exciting lust.  But the most unusual thing of all is that my companion didn’t exist.  There was a lady in the carpark who told me I’d dropped my wallet, I did thank her, she did load up her Kia with bags of shopping, but I did not invite her to dinner.  Though as I traipsed up and down the aisles hunting chicken, veg and Chateauneuf du Pape, I wished I had.  But I hadn’t, and so I dined alone, thinking of her and wondering what’s her name.

And that’s the way it goes.  More than likely, I think, tomorrow will be the same.  But still, as long as I have an imagination, I will always need two plates.

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