KEYS TO THE CITY
I: A New Career In A New Town
II: Dream Life
III: Paintings As Prayers
IV: Late Summer Evening
Rose Crowned Evenings
Moments Of Pure Ashtray
The Personalised Circus
Blind Children On Western Streets
Lucifer Says He Won't See Me
Swans On The Surface
Girl Smoking On Balcony
Stained Glass Window
The Insurance Was WILD
The Sea's Smile
Van Gogh's Lights
The Disappointed Prince
A Night At The Circus
Chekhov In Kreuzberg
A Stolen Dress
Two Contract Killers Get Arrested
My Uncle Dick
Death In The Cafe
Performing To The Curtain
Getting Past The Curtain
Living With Samuel Beckett:
An Anti Essay
A STOLEN DRESS
The boy and the girl were walking down Western Road, and soon entered a bar.
They were of course students of the arts, literature students. He was evidently of a melancholy disposition; he considered himself a poet, a writer of some sort - certainly not a student. The first thing one noticed about him was his profile: a long searching neck upon which sat a rather girlish face, pretty but still in the process of formation. All this gave him a somewhat bird-like manner, unconstant and unsure in his movement, always turning his head in analysis, thinking as rapidly and maniacally as that of a bird on the ground. She, however, while also looking quite young and of a dreamy nature, was a bird of paradise, stronger, harder to catch. She was an actress; she allured, she was utterly enigmatic in her plain looks, tempting and charming.
They were friends, companions, obviously more than friends, physically involved with one another, but what they were, in accord with their style and views, had no name, no label - it just was. “Free” was a word they often used.
They entered a bar.
“What are you going to drink?” He asked her.
“I think I’m just going to have tea,” she responded, in her familiar sing-song voice.
Then she sighed abstractly.
“We have to go to our lecture soon…” she said.
“Ha!” The boy scoffed, “What, Thomas Hardy and Jude the old bore?”
“Its actually one of my favourite books!” She countered.
“I’m sure it is,” he replied ironically.
She gave a mild cry of offence, but he continued in his mocking voice.
“No, I’m not going to the lecture. What can they teach us that we can’t read for ourselves?”
“Well,” the girl replied, “sometimes these lectures are really good - I know they’re not all great - I hated last weeks one, but you can definitely get a lot more out of them than just reading the book, and isn’t that why we’re at university? To learn? What about Terry, you said you loved his lecture the other week.” By now the girl was being ironic too.
“Yeah Terry was good, but, its all too prescribed, academic. “A learned man will read on, for thats all he can” - thats what I think.”
“Who said that?” The girl asked.
“I never knew you could read German,” she said teasingly.
“No, it was a translation,” he said indifferently.
“Ah,” the girl said, smiling brilliantly, “probably one of your things outside the course, right?”
“Oh I don’t know,” the boy said, shrugging nonchalantly, but actually embarassed, “I don’t even know what the course is.”
The girl laughed to herself. He was always so pretentious, but often quite entertaining.
“Lets stay in town,” the boy said.
“And do what ?” The girl said replied incredulously. What could they do? They had already done a good few things today; they had walked all the great streets and lanes of Brighton; the bookshops and cafes and vintage shops - she had tried on all the outfits for him - and now, well, now this was a new scene, from one of those witty plays, he... the pretentious young poet boy, and she...well she was her self, in the lead role, independant. She would fight him all the way, and probably win. It was fun.
“You and adventures,” she said musically.
She looked at the boy fondly. What a silly young man! But she did have a special affection for him, she liked him very much. His looks - no; there was too much conflict between his femininity that was always there, and that dogged schoolboy ego thing that constantly reared up and tried to assert itself, a combination she felt no ultimate attraction for. No, it was his silliness: he had a pleasant silliness. Lost in her thoughts, she unconsciously gave him one of her brilliant plain alluring smiles, which always made him look away shyly, relinquishing his power. There was a pause, wherein the girl and the boy both suddenly felt quite weary.
They remembered the barmaid was waiting for them to order.
“Oh yes,” the boy said, recovering, “I think I’ll have a beer, have a beer Katty?”
“James! You’re such an alcoholic!”
The barmaid laughed. “Nothing wrong with drinking in the afternoon,” she said drily.
“We’re students,” Katty said, smiling.
They all laughed but James found the barmaid stupid and Katty intolerable. He found the reduction to a stereotype painful and humiliating, however trivial the comment was. He refused to accept it.
“I’m going to the bathroom,” Katty said.
“Beer or tea?” The barmaid asked, friendly and casual.
“Tea,” she called out lightly, strolling away.
James waited at the bar. He didn’t even want a beer. Her tea came first, so he carefully put it on the table, trying not to spill any. She was still in the bathroom. His beer was being poured - the glass was too big, it was four in the afternoon. The barmaid slid it on the counter and walked off. He was going to miss the lecture. Jude the old bore. Yes he’d have a beer.
He sipped his beer and looked around the bar. It was very quiet, there was no atmosphere, it was all quite unremarkable. Was this really where he’d ask her, in this low lit cafe bar, in the middle of the afternoon, over tea and beer? He thought of a poem he had read recently:
“How slippery are thy paths, how sure they fall,
How are thou Nothing, when th’art most of all!”
The name of the poet he couldn’t remember. She was coming out of the bathroom now. He readied himself for communication. He held his drink and stood by their table, smiling strangely as she arrived. Feeling in love in that moment, he pulled out her chair, somewhat ironically, considering that Katty detested that kind of thing - why couldn’t a girl, a woman, pull out her own chair? It wasn’t polite, it was men patronising women: it was fundamentally sexist.
James sat down now, but as soon as he sat down, he felt himself creaking in his chair; he couldn’t move, his wings were in the way. He had to get out of his chair, otherwise he would sink. He would tell her he was in love with her. This would be the end. Then he could die and move on and think of something else.
Katty made small talk, not noting his uneasiness.
“Hey, lets go outside,” James said. He had a strangely depressed, subdued tone, but he was really gasping for air and space.
This annoyed Katty. She was comfortable now. She had just landed, having positively flown to the bathroom and back.
“Outside! But we’ve just come in!”
“No, lets have a cigarette, and I want to talk to you about something,” Jame said, turning pale in his nervousness.
Katty looked at him. Why was he suddenly all withdrawn? And where was the silliness, his silliness, her silliness.
“Well, tell me now, what is it?”
James was talking in an aged and remote tone, alien to the pair of them.
“No, I need to tell you outside, I need to tell you properly, it's... important, outside.” He coloured slightly, quite lost now. He gave up. “Its very hard to say, in words…”
Katty watched him, finding him odd and quite child-like, but she placated him.
“Alright then, James.”
They smiled at each other, and then James was on his feet, taking her tray of tea, trying to open the door, walking quite stiffly, but loosening up. Perhaps he might win after all.
He glanced at Katty, walking gracefully behind him by the door. She was sipping his beer and smiling at him expectantly; he wondered if she knew what he was going to say.
They sat outside and told each other how they felt, and then finished their drinks and left the bar.
Again they were walking down Western Road, the streets busy with all the different people finishing work. It had begun to rain now, and the girl decided to quickly run into a shop, whilst the boy stayed out in the rain. A few minutes past, and then the girl walked out the shop briskly and purposefully. She had a stolen dress in her hands with all the labels still on it.
She smiled guiltily at the boy.
“Those labels will be hard to remove - I don’t think you can get them off, at least not very easily,” the boy said matter of factly.
“I can’t believe I just stole it!” The girl said excitedly. “I can’t believe I just stole it!”
They carried on walking down the street, in silence for a moment or two. The wild falling rain had soaked through the girl’s long blonde hair, and while her eyes were still big and wild and charged with excitement, she was coming down now: the thrill was fading, a nauseating numbness was gradually taking its place . The boy was walking beside her, almost drunk in his ironic distance from the world. He had just decided that nothing was what it seemed - nothing. He would tear down all the labels of himself and perhaps even of the world. They both felt terrible, but they could not have been more different in their separate feelings.
“Hey, are you alright James?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” the boy replied.
The boy looked at the girl with the dress. And why had she stolen it? Was it planned, or without reason? To feel something, or just pass the time? To want something you couldn’t have, or just want something, surely something?
In separate trances they reached the end of the street, strangely not knowing where they were.