Love secrets of don juan, p.4
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       Love Secrets of Don Juan, p.4

           Tim Lott
 
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  I bet you do, I could just about hear Carol say, but the tug on my arm grew stronger and I was pulled into a corridor at the back of the house.

  Off it was a box room. Inside there was nothing except a pile of empty boxes and a bean-bag. I felt a wave of panic rise inside me. I spoke in an attempt to conceal my nerves.

  She’s nice, that Carol.

  She’s a stuck-up little tart. Don’t waste your time on her. Thinks she knows it all. Likes to poke about inside people’s heads. Nosy cow.

  Sharon was inspecting her sharp little fingernails while darting glances at me in the half-light of the room. I was thrown even further off-balance by this sudden show of malice, which, even as I registered surprise, was cast aside and replaced by an odd, cat-eyed softness. She seemed to be expecting something, but I wasn’t sure what. I struggled once more for something to say.

  What… what… do you want to show me then?

  At this, Sharon took a half-step towards me, and thrust out her chest slightly. Do you see my brooch? she said. I noticed then that she was holding it in her outstretched hand. It was still open, or broken, indicating availability. She seemed to want me to take it, so I did.

  It looks nice, I said.

  My heart is broken.

  Oh.

  Will you help me to mend it?

  I’m not sure what you —

  Then she kissed me.

  Or she tried to kiss me. I wasn’t sure what to do. Her face moved forward, her lips clearly aimed at mine. I retreated slightly, but not enough to prevent their scented advance. I smelt her breath: sweet, like honeycomb, or maybe something more infant – bubblegum, Frosties, Coco Pops. I supposed I ought to open my mouth, so I did. Her arm crept around my back, and she pulled me towards her. I felt her tongue enter my mouth. Many times I had imagined this moment, and many times I had thought I might be repulsed. This was my first discovery about sex: that things viewed in the cold light of day, and at a distance, feel entirely different when one is at the centre of them. Immediacy, the present, transforms everything in a crucible of surprise. Self-consciousness closes down. A secret inner topography must be navigated. Her tongue in my mouth felt wonderful.

  I wasn’t sure what to do. I felt it was not enough just to provide space for her probing soft tissue to limber up. I clearly needed to reciprocate. I began to experiment by moving my tongue around hers. Again, not at all repulsive. Lovely, in fact. More than lovely. If I had known the word ‘sublime’ at that age, I would have thought it. But ‘lovely’ was the most intense word I knew.

  Then I surprised myself. I was so encouraged that this hitherto unsought experience had proved so rewarding that I decided I wanted to investigate others. I sensed somehow that the situation positively demanded bravura. So I put my hand up her skirt. Instead of pushing me away in disgust, she parted her legs and gasped.

  Under her skirt were, as implied by the pale signposts of her thighs, her knickers. And inside her knickers was… Until that moment, I hadn’t really had a clue. I just didn’t know what to expect. In 1970 most of the world (excluding the infinitesimally small iceberg tip for whom the 1960s meant something other than the arrival of washing-machines and package holidays) was nothing like as sexualized as it is today. Eminem would have been locked up – seriously. And so would Madonna, Britney Spears and Robbie Williams. When I masturbated, I used pictures of nude classical sculptures from my ten-volume Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia – it was that hard to get a look at a pair of exposed breasts. As for vaginas, they were off the imaginative map, in a region marked – in crimson children’s crayon – Here There Be Monsters.

  So, I was unsure about the nature of the female anatomy. The idea of a vagina was merely an unsubstantiated rumour, as far as I was concerned. There had been a long childhood period in which I tentatively believed that babies were born out of women’s bottoms. Then it had become apparent to me that there was more to it than that – but I wasn’t sure what. An additional hole of some kind? Some unimaginably subtle groove or inflection? Or not even that – an… area? I didn’t know.

  The first and primary thing that surprised me was that the exploration of this… object, or non-object, or absence, or whatever it was, was not an entirely neutral matter for the female. Sharon Smith seemed rather powerfully in favour of the idea of my putting my hand in close proximity to it, whatever it was. I hadn’t expected that. She wriggled when my hand touched the cottony softness I knew from my own pubescent development – a coiled furze, a dry, downy meadow. She bucked. Then came the surprise.

  It – whatever it was – was wet. But not simply wet. More than. Different from. It was like the interior of a mouth, yet much more so. I couldn’t make it out, but this much I did know: moistness was definitely a feature, moistness and clinging warmth.

  Further north, the prototypical kissing was developing greater complexity. We were switching positions, exploring possibilities. Until this moment I would have hypothesized that the possibilities were limited – in, out, to either side, up, down – but that’s not how it felt. There was a wide blue white-star-studded cosmos of potentialities. Each shift of the tiniest part of a millimetre sounded fresh chords within an unbounded space. It was a sensual Tardis, far greater in its span of dimensions than one could possibly have imagined from simple logic.

  Southerly it was likewise, only more so. I was beginning to recognize that, along with the moistness, there was shape, although not shape in the way I experienced the rest of the physical world. This shape changed under my touch, receded, advanced, throbbed, stretched and realigned itself in endlessly surprising and delightful formations. I found something, then lost it, then found it. Then found something new, then found something else more than new, something unthought-of.

  At one point during this space-probe, this Venus-trawl, Sharon Smith let out a low, soft moan. It sounded like a cat, like a miaow. That was the first time I had ever heard a moan like that, and I knew right away that I wanted to hear it again many times in the future, from many women.

  That moan evoked in me a startling range of feelings and thoughts. It made me feel excited. It made me feel successful. It made me feel important. It made me feel grown-up. Above all, it made me feel powerful. Her body was rising and falling, trembling and stilling itself, all to my touch. My finger was penetrating regions close, as I imagined it, and as it were, to her heart.

  After a minute or two of fumbling and exploring, I made the crucial discovery. The moistness, the contours, the fleshy landscape, the downy softness were a portal. They were trailers, signposts. There was something else, something more important. Something, I can see now, that would dominate my adult life more than any other single thing.

  There was a gap, hardly a gap, a valve more like, muscled, tight, pressured and counter-pressured. If you pushed at it – I discovered – it gave way, parted. Parted enough for your finger to enter – enough for the whole of what constituted me to enter. And inside there were lubricated walls, velvet muscle; here the moistness became a clasping wetness. Again, considered at a distance, it would have amounted to nothing much, so described. A wet place, almost sealed off, located in the triangulated zone between the thighs. But there, in the box room with Sharon Smith, I felt as if my whole thirteen-year-old self was entering it, as if I was concentrated in the tip of my finger, and discovering what she was like within.

  Because that, even then, was what I was intuiting, that this place really was a portal to the interior of another human being, and not just in the physical sense but in every sense. That place was where you escaped yourself, where you shook free from the lead-weighted dense aloneness that finally possessed each of us when childhood was cast off like a burning rocket stage. That was how you continued flight and how you achieved some union in your exile. This I understood, right away. It shocked me. I loved it.

  Sharon Smith miaowed, and pulled away, with a flick of her feather-cut hair. That’s enough, she said.

  That was that. Green swit
ched through to red without any pause at amber. What was once so astonishingly open was as suddenly and unexpectedly closed. Sharon pulled away, adjusted her clothing. There was a fading blush on her cheek and her lips seemed faintly distended, but otherwise she had absolute mastery of herself, as if she had efficiently completed a necessary chore. I noticed the heart brooch still in my hand and, for want of anything else to do, I offered it back to her. To my surprise and slight disappointment, she shook her head. Then she was gone, back into the other room to join the rest of the throng. But before she went, she smiled. I’ll always remember that smile. I think about that smile often. That smile said, So now you know.

  I did know. I wanted to know more. But I wasn’t going to find out from Sharon Smith.

  If I had had any doubts about the future of our relationship after Sharon broke away from me in that room, a girl in a pink dress was waiting to give me a full bulletin when I emerged, tousled and alone, from that dark corridor. Carol Moon was eating a raw carrot, and darted a look in my direction. She left whoever she was talking to and planted herself on the square yard of thick, swirly carpet in front of me.

  Hello there, she said, formally, as if expecting some explanation of what she can only have assumed to be my behaviour. I smoothed my hair, tried to calm my heart. I saw Sharon Smith on the other side of the room giggling loudly with Sally Shaw and throwing glances in my direction.

  Hello, I said, aiming unsuccessfully for an equanimity in my voice that I was far from feeling.

  Did the earth move? said Carol, munching carrot calmly. She had a glazed look, probably the result of the vodka. The Donald Duck beaker, now set on a side table, appeared to be empty.

  What? I said, not understanding a word of what she had said.

  If you were wondering what all that was about, I can tell you, if you like, said Carol, her tone neutral, the carrot disappearing in small, jagged shards through her slightly pursed lips.

  What are you talking about? I said, trying to shake some clarity into my head, and feeling obscurely annoyed with the compact, shrewd-eyed girl in front of me.

  That’s what Sharon does. It’s her hobby. You’re just today’s hobbyhorse.

  After four minutes in the box room, I was in love with Sharon Smith and I wasn’t going to hear her badmouthed, even though I had the sickening feeling that Carol Moon was right. It infuriated me. Oh, be quiet, Belly-flopper, I blurted out. Be quiet.

  Oooh, said Carol, teasingly, and slightly drunkenly. Spiky, aren’t you?

  I felt the heart brooch in my hand, and it seemed to burn there, seemed no longer to be a love token but an emblem of humiliation. In a single movement, and before she could protest, I reached out and affixed it, a broken heart, to the neck of Carol Moon’s dress. Why don’t you have that? I said nastily. It suits you better.

  Carol Moon simply smiled pleasantly and said, Very spiky.

  She looked down at the brooch, then walked back to the friend she had abandoned by the food table and began talking again, while I shot angry glances at an entirely and incomprehensibly indifferent Sharon Smith.

  As Carol had pretty much predicted, that was the last time I got anywhere near Sharon. The following week she began what turned out to be a two-year relationship with a sixth-former called Thommo Briggs, who had a meat-packer’s slab of a face and the inevitable 50cc motorbike. She might even have mentioned something to him about our little moment of frottage, because shortly afterwards he took me to one side near the school water-fountain and told me he would insert a cricket bat up the full extent of my colon if I so much as looked at her again.

  Carol had been right, which made me dislike her almost as much as I now loathed Sharon Smith, who, by my pubescent lights, had led me on, then spurned me. I saw Carol from time to time at the swimming-pool, trying to do backstroke as unsuccessfully as she had tried to dive. The other club members still laughed at her, but I had forgotten to find her funny. As I examined her tight, almost skinny body struggling through the chlorinated water, I felt, through my own anger towards her, a vague, complementary sadness. A fish out of water.

  That date with Juliet Fry is tonight. Iris and Sharon Smith are as far as I’ve got with my self-therapizing. It’s not even the prologue for The Love Secrets of Don Juan. However, it’s all I’ve got to go on. This is my sentimental education in its entirety.

  My mum was sometimes unkind. So I seek women’s approval more than I should.

  The discovery of the contents of Sharon Smith’s pants was my personal Copernican Revolution of 1970.

  It’s not really enough to turn round a lifetime of failure. I’m just going to have to do the work on the job. I’m going to have to wing it, keep things as simple as possible while I try to work it out.

  Work what out? What’s it?

  Currently ‘it’ is about me trying to get it right with Juliet, whom I haven’t yet met, and certainly haven’t slept with – indeed, sleeping with her is not my main intention. Achieving intimacy is my main intention. Not being alone is my main intention. Connecting is my main intention.

  The date is in one and a half hours’ time. I am getting ready. Which clothes to wear? A blue shirt, obviously. She will wear black. That’s how it works. Each sex feels that these colours flatter them. Aftershave, yes, Egoïste or CK, though I tend to overdo it or underdo it. It’s like getting your trousers the right length – more complicated than it looks.

  Conversation. What topics will I rely on if things go flat? I’m not good at dates. There are certain kinds of men who are good at dates, and I’m not one of them. It’s that talent for genuine fraudulence, for pumping yourself up to being more than yourself without actually being fake.

  It is very clear to me that some role is required of me, that it isn’t sufficient just to be myself. Be yourself– where did that insane idea come from? Just about every Hollywood movie ever made, I suppose, most specifically those starring Robin Williams. But what if you’re hopeless? Should you be yourself then? Even if you’re not it seems to me that the first rule of dating is don’t be yourself under any circumstances. That comes later, when you’re in a relationship. A date is market research. A date is above-the-line advertising.

  I wish I’d had more time to introspect about my past relationships but I keep forgetting to do it: it doesn’t come naturally to me to turn inward. Living, until now, has always been about being hurled around inside the spinning wall of the hurricane, never at the still eye. I keep getting lost in life. It throws me around, sucks me up and puts me down in the desert.

  Should I have a drink before I go? Possibly. But one leads to another, and it’s hard to be charming and seductive when you’re dribbling down your shirt. I think I’ll stick to tea.

  What should my strategy be? Who am I going to be for this date? This permeates everything: how I comb my hair, which trousers I choose, which aftershave I apply.

  If I arrive early, I should be reading a book. If so, which one? She likes literature. What will she go for? Obviously a female author. Perhaps a female author with some sexual overtone – Anaïs Nin, perhaps, or Erica Jong even, very retro, an intellectual frisson. The cover’s important – it speaks volumes about the reader.

  How will I sit, as I wait for her to arrive? I will wait for her to arrive, as I have already decided to get there early. Cross-legged and louche, smoking a cigarette, or straight-backed, intent on the fourth chapter of Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry (because I think, on reflection, that’s more contemporary, more impressive and, given the Sapphic overtones, not too overtly suggestive).

  What will I be drinking? A pint of lager? Too common, too laddish. A glass of dry white wine? Poncy, not sexy. A girl drink. Something short and on the rocks? A Dashiell Hammett detective drink. Not bad, especially if I wear my forties-style double-breasted pinstripe.

  Condoms. Of course it’s pointless carrying them, as I’m not going to ask her to sleep with me on the first night. This convention persists, don’t ask me why. Some residua
l sense that an early proposal indicates lack of respect on the part of the male party remains. I don’t think that’s true. I think a woman who’s self-confident enough to go to bed with you on a first date commands respect. It’s impressive, not slutty. Anyway, what I glean from the ads – I understand the world through ads, not newspapers or the radio, it’s where the truth lies, believe me – has shown me that slutty is OK now, so long as it’s on the woman’s terms, whatever that means: how can you voluntarily have sex with someone on someone else’s terms?

  No, I’m not going to carry any condoms. Not because it’s pointless, although it probably is. I’m not going to carry condoms for a purely superstitious reason: it’s tempting fate. If I carry condoms, it will predetermine that sex will not happen. The gods punish hubris. And the truth is – call me a slut if you like – I’d like to have sex tonight.

  It just seems better than the alternative.

  Half an hour to go before my date with Juliet Fry. I’m rather proud of what I’ve been doing in the intervening hour.

  I’ve been introspecting. Just sitting here in this chair, shirt partially buttoned, aftershave unchosen, pub pose unselected. This introspection has led me to a surprising conclusion, a radical, frightening and entirely novel course of action.

  I’ve decided to take the high road, the Robin Williams road. I’ve decided to be myself after all. Not, obviously, that I’m sure who ‘myself is or what is involved in ‘being’ that person. But somehow the word ‘trust’ surfaced in my mind after I’d sat there for a sufficient amount of time. It’s a word Terence is fond of, and it’s not my strong suit, apparently. Not that I’ve decided to trust Juliet Fry – that would be ridiculous. I haven’t got a clue who she is, even though I really, really like her, so trust would make no sense. The trust I’m talking about is more abstract. It’s about trusting the moment.

 
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