Dancers in Violet (Tristan Foster)
First time I left her home, it was an autumn afternoon or looked like autumn or is autumn in my memory. The next time, it was morning and bright or maybe I thought it was bright because I’d barely slept and so the light seemed sharp, polished, like after rain.
We got talking over drinks at a series of gatherings organised by mutual friends which I only kept going to, really, in the hope of seeing her. First time we met was at a bar on the 36th floor of the Shangri-La Hotel, overlooking the lights of the city and a dark harbour. It was quiet and, at first, we spoke in whispers, leaning in close; I smelt her perfume, tried to place its sweetness. She told me she didn’t come to places like this, that she seemed to be going to parties she didn’t usually go to, that the night before she’d been at one where people were having carefree sex out in front of everyone. ‘Who are these people that can just fuck in the open like that? Do they go home afterwards and brush their teeth and hop into bed? Do they have regular jobs? I’m disgusted, but I’m envious.’ I smiled at this and she liked that I smiled, I could tell. I don’t think we touched on this first occasion, beyond, maybe, a quick handshake, and, anyway, someone else came and joined us and conversations meander and criss-cross and soon we were no longer talking. But I found myself thinking of her later, when I was in the passenger side of a taxi going home, and the way her eyes moved from my eyes to my mouth and back. Before the end of one of these get-togethers, she asked if I wanted to leave with her.
There was a room in her home that could be called a study. It had bookcases filled with books, and on one wall was a framed photograph of a building reflecting the clouds in a distorted sky and on the adjacent wall was a print of dancers by Degas that I remember thinking looked faded, maybe from being in the sun. While she was in the bathroom I took my glass of wine into this room to see what the book spines read as I held the glass by the stem; on one of the shelves was a small ship in a small bottle. She found me in here and I was about to ask about ships in bottles and where the building in the photograph was, but she pulled me into the hallway by the wrist. Next time I was in her home, she said, one of the few things she actually said to me then, that the room and the things in it did not belong to her.
The first time I was at her home, I saw her nude. She undressed in front of me as if I wasn’t there, fixing her glasses after she’d bumped them with her forearm as she let her hair out and leaving them on till the last moment. The second time, she was careful to hide her body.
From the first time we met, he spoke in a kind of harsh whisper.
She said things to me I didn’t quite understand. That was the next time I went to her home; the first few times I spoke to her I understood well, as well as I thought I’d ever understood anybody. That’s what I remember thinking, anyway. It was during the next time that she spoke of things I didn’t quite understand. She spoke about a boy-man, asked, I thought rhetorically, ‘How sure of himself can a boy-man be?’ The boy-man, she said. The boy-man, the boy-man.
She asked me to leave and I would have. Of course, I would have. She didn’t ask me outright, didn’t say those exact words, but that was what was implied, and I would have. But there was what we’d had before. Had we not have had that, I would have left immediately.
So I didn’t leave, I hid. I sat in a leather couch worn soft, I think, through age and use, let myself sink into it, trying to stay out of the way. She began to play music, CDs, none of which I knew or even thought I knew, guitar and drum-heavy music, ambient and nearly voiceless, the rhythmical sound of industry. She spent most of the time going through the albums, turning to me only occasionally, maybe to see if I was still there, seeming to, at one stage, put the CDs in some sort of order.
It grew late and her housemates came home, a couple I thankfully didn’t know. She turned down the music when the front door closed. The guy wore a cap and I barely saw him but the woman was blonde and round-faced, beautiful. She stopped in the doorway and said hi to the both of us and I knew immediately that, yes, the Degas print was hers and the photograph of the building was his. Or they were both hers, or both his.
The next time I saw her room, two or maybe three weeks after the first time, was when she stopped playing music and gestured to me to follow her. She put away the CDs and we moved out of the living room to her bedroom, where I pushed some clothes off the chair in the corner and sat again. The moon was in the part of the sky framed by her window.
This next time I, in her room, asked her, ‘Should I go?’ She came over to me so I stood, but she hit me, slapped me on the arms as I covered myself. I reached out to her, touching her on the shoulder, but she pushed my arm away, thumped a fist on my chest, pushed into me, then turned for her bed.
At one point, briefly, deep in the night and after a long while of sitting in the room together as if the other wasn’t there, I fell asleep. When I woke to shift my weight in the hard seat, I saw her on the bed, still awake. She glanced at me, saw me see her.
The first time I went to her house, I stayed until mid-afternoon. We woke late and she made me a breakfast of olives and tomatoes and cucumber which I watched her carefully slice over the kitchen sink, and bread that she pulled apart with her hands. She made me black tea and we spoke as if we might be friends.
Next time I woke from another short sleep, the bed was empty. I sat up and listened for movement in the house’s halls, listened for the creak of a floorboard or the sound of running water. I stood and peered out the window, into the dawn, as if she would be there.