T TIME: Part 25

T in Adelaide Road

In the Underground, loving the walk through the sign-papered tunnels and the flowing of people ahead of me, behind me, surging up and down the Dantesque escalators, loving being in London and knowing where to change trains, get off at Swiss Cottage, turn the corner into Winchester Avenue into yellow-lit Adelaide Road past the pock-faced grey 198, cross the road to the Prince Consort, push open the swinging doors. Destination reached, I anchor.

T is standing at the bar in his blue donkey jacket, the collar turned up, drinking a pint, eating a sandwich. Hello Natkin, Natinka. We sit down. Everything we say is what we've said before but there is something new, delicate, a leaning towards each other. Words turning to smoke when confronted with presence.

This presence. A great heap of rusty nuts and bolts, coils of twisted wire, strands of impossibly knotted rope, sawdust, crumpled letters, broken china, tear-stained photos, shoelaces, ragged shirt collars, cloudy windowpanes, flat tyres, lace, all these and other debris self-assembled by candlelight into the shape of a man, a man with terrible teeth who speaks in a nasal cockney accent, swearing, belching, coughing, laughing, a clanging, rattling edifice giving off a kind of dim radiance, burnished to a dark, steady gold.

Sometimes when he is holding court at the pub, T introduces me:

"This is my wife, she's a Paraguayan Indian. She was adopted by a Russian Prince who found her wandering around the docks, six years old, barefoot and mute. He took her home to his wife, they cleaned her up, sent her to posh schools and now she speaks seven languages. I picked her up in Soho, she was lost, asked me if I knew a Paraguayan cafe where she could drink maté. I'd never heard of maté but I took her to a bar and bought her vodka and she has stuck to me ever since." Inside I am purring like a stroked cat, luxuriating in the fantasy role T offers me, at ease in it. As if I've come home at last.

But other times when the black dog creeps in and wounding words shoot out like bullets, I go back to my room and cry. On one of those nights, much later, my bell rings insistently. T is holding a bunch of rain-soaked roses. He sees my red eyes.

"That's why I love you, Nat, you can't hide anything. It's so easy to please you and so easy to make you sad. You can't hide what you feel. Neither can I...oh God, neither can I." He leans against the mantelpiece and cries.

"What a fuck up, what a fuck up it's been. It could have been marvellous. But I've made myself a neuter in every way, sexually, mentally, emotionally. At eighteen I'd as soon hit someone with a broken bottle as spoken to them. That's what I was, a labourer, a peasant, wanting punch-ups. But then I had to meet Miss M and learn about all those cunts Cezanne and Rembrandt and Mozart and talk quietly about art, whisper. And what am I now? I'm nothing." He looks up, his wet cheeks suddenly smooth and young.

"But Auge, do you know why I loved much? Because she was just like me. A cockney girl, wanting things she could touch. She didn't give a shit about art, I was enough for her. I could have married her. That boot-and-lash stuff I go on about, only intellectual shit. I'm not an intellectual. Her children, hers and mine, watching them grow, nappies drying in front of the fire, a flat in Camden Town, the brass bedstead...." His face screws up like a baby's. He cries, I cry.

"That's all I want. I could have had it all but I let it go. I drove her away so all she could do was to escape. Miss M's not my type, you're not my type. I'm not comfortable with any of you."

"Come to bed with me," I say. First he refuses then he tells me to put on my gold shoes. I do, and also fetch my leather coat and a piece of rope, my clothesline. We get into bed. We wind around each other. He exasperates me by tickling my nose with the end of the rope. Eventually he falls asleep and I lie awake, ruminating. At dawn he dresses hurriedly and goes home.

Natalie sad, London





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