Further extract from the novel “Here Am I Sitting in my Tin Can.” Fast-forwarding (as if that were possible in a knackered old campervan) to Chapter 3 – Autumn.
“That was nice,” says Anna as we lie on her bed afterwards.
“Nice?” I say.
“You made me see colours,” she says.
I’ve absolutely no idea what that means but take it as a compliment. Tied together by the post-coital chord, I can now see the eczema on her flesh, angry-looking islands she said she was self-conscious of but now I hope is liberated from. It’s ages since I’ve fucked a woman, I’ve spent so much time on my own in the tin can that sometimes I’ve wondered if I’d ever fuck a woman again. I certainly didn’t expect to do so tonight, with a woman I only met this afternoon while drinking with the five o’clock dregs of The Barrel in some dead town in Lancashire.
“I know I said I wanted casual sex,” she says, “but I think it’ll be more than that. Causal not casual, if you know what I mean.”
“Yea I know what you mean,” I say, not knowing what she means. Privately I fear this is getting deep and she might want to see me again so wonder if I should add that I’ll be moving on tomorrow when the bearings are fixed, but decide it’d be impolite in the circumstances and add only silence.
After I left the pub in tears at being told the garage bill would be £350 I couldn’t afford, I bought a limp sandwich from a pound bakery and sat on the dead town square chewing it over. 350 quid! Where the hell was I going to find 350 quid! It was thoroughly depressing. But then I thought about Harry and his Alzheimer’s and his poor wife and daughter and wondered still, what does it matter? What does anything matter? What the fuck’s it all about? Who cares that I’ll be spending the night in a knackered campervan with a garage forecourt as my garden? I chuckled existentially and threw the remainder of my sandwich to the pigeons gambling on a meal at my feet and spinning like hungry avian robots.
“I’d hoped you hadn’t gone far,” she said, just as I was about to walk away into the warm night.
“Hello,” I said.
“I just wanted to thank you.”
“Thank me? Why?”
“The way you spoke to my dad. You didn’t know him yet you seemed to give him life. Mum said I should go after you.”
“Thing is,” she said, “May I sit down? It’s so hot.”
I shifted my rucksack along the seat and she sat and said, “I can’t be long, mum needs my help.”
“You do a brilliant job,” I said, “I can see it’s hard.”
“You mean I look tired,” she said, smiling, and suddenly I saw the dark rings around her eyes dissipate and her beauty for what it was before.
“I meant it must take its toll,” I said.
“I hate it,” she said, “it brings me out in eczema. That’s why I cover up. I can’t tan like you.” I hadn’t noticed in the pub, but now saw how pale was her skin, and how she was wearing more clothing than most in such heat.
“But you do it because you love him,” I ventured.
“Sometimes I wish he were dead,” she said, “that must sound cruel.”
“Not really. You mean an end to suffering.” With that she nodded, sombrely, and I found myself explaining how it made me feel – the way it made me question life, which now seemed as meaningless as pigeons.
“Who said anything about bloody pigeons?” she said, again with that smile.
“Doesn’t matter,” I said.
“Well anyway mum and I talked. She said she could see a spark in me, when I talked to you. Sorry if this sounds stalkish but she said I should go after you.”
“What for?” I asked, wondering and liking and nervous about where this was going.
“Fun I guess,” she said, “That came out wrong. I mean I was being impulsive. Some would say I’m not the impulsive type.
“Some say I’m not much fun,” I said.
“You mean your girlfriend? Wife?”
“Single. Just me and my rucksack.”
“Are you an explorer?”
“I prefer experientialist. Just me and my rucksack and my experiences.”
“Well that’s fun,” she said, and so I told her how it’s far from fun at the moment, yesterday I nearly died on the M6 when the back wheel fell off, that I’d been towed to safety and I owe 350 quid to get it fixed, and tonight I’d be sleeping on a garage forecourt, and how it feels like I’m going fucking nowhere.
“Bad luck,” she said, “Nobody would want to stay long in this dump.”
“Don’t you like it?”
“Dead,” she said, “Nothing ever happens. I don’t even know why the bloody pigeons insist on staying.”
“Who said anything about bloody pigeons?” I joked and she laughed, so I added, “So what do you do for kicks? There must be something.”
“I’m single too if that’s what you mean.”
“It isn’t but anyway.”
“I was married. Childhood sweethearts we were, I thought the world of him…”
“Tony always wanted kids,” she said, looking across the square into the distance of memory, “but I didn’t. I loved him madly but couldn’t see myself having kids while living in this hole. I’d’ve wanted more for them than growing up here. Tony said we should move away then, but his job was here and so was mine. Then with what was happening to dad. He couldn’t handle that. I understand why but I resented him for not caring enough. So in hindsight I realise that was the beginning of the end. Two years later we were divorced.”
She didn’t reply to that because she couldn’t, because she was crying, so I just let the moment linger, wondering whether to touch her arm, give her a tissue or something.
“Thanks,” she said, taking the tissue, “you must think I’m bonkers.”
“I don’t think you’re bonkers at all,” I said.
“I ought to get back,” she said.
“Thank you for being so kind.”
“Any time,” I said. And then she paused, looked me in the eye and said, “I wonder – and feel free to say no – but will you have dinner with me tonight?”