Whitey — Chapter 2
I met Gen at a party when she was still a stranger, still someone’s girlfriend, just a face to dissolve into the miasma of a thousand ruinous nights. We’d come to the party fucked up because we barely knew the hosts, a bunch of French new-in-town girls about twenty-one years old and their moodier-than-thou male friends with neck tattoos. I wasn’t even sure I could make conversation by the time we got there, even with my girlfriend who was chatting quietly with the other girl in our wolf pack. We’d decided that every bad idea was going to make for a better time and so the dealer arrived around the point that the communal Jägermeister had begun bothering my insides. I avoid the stuff because it makes me do things like interrupting a conversation with a girl talking about her history class to ask her to type her number into the yellow notes on my phone below a line with “you’re cute [smiley face]”. During some colossal headache the next day, these black memories of my own misconduct* seem to emerge only to exacerbate the poisoned stab wound in my forehead.
The following weekend, I was desperate to do something that reminded me of my old ways before I had become domesticated. So I told my friends I was going to a gig, some American guitarist few of my friends knew or liked, and then my fellow ex-pat Rachel told me she was going too. Who else, but this girl with the face and name I’d forgotten, would be on Rachel’s arm when we met outside the old theatre?
Inside, I left Rachel waiting attentively near the stage while I bought us drinks. Genevieve came with. Over the opening chords of the set, she shouted, ‘So, you don’t remember nussing?’
‘I told you, it was a messy night.’
It was: my girlfriend ran home shortly after Jay told her we’d ordered a gram together and I’d sworn I was going to behave myself so that Sara could drag me around the flea market the next day.
‘You’re such a bastard. You don’t remember nussing about me, really?’
Genevieve stood facing the stage beside me with a gin-tonic in a plastic glass. She was tall, with a thin face, a diamond or rhomboid jawline, thin yet finely-cut lips, dark, thick eyebrows under a high forehead, fine chest-length blonde hair in a chignon the straw colour of which gave her dark eyebrows the effect of seriousness. I could see the grey-green tendrils of a tattoo snaking up her back above the top of her high-waisted jeans. I don’t know how her perfectly-straight long nose or neat white teeth had escaped me at the house party.
Oh, wait. Yes, I do.
Talking to Gen at the concert had kicked up a few recollections from the party. I remembered now: Sara had gone home early to concentrate on being depressed and I had immediately struck up a conversation with a serious girl whom could hardly be bothered to raise her voice above the music to talk. I can’t remember what I said to her next, but one of my posse grabbed me to come and share the spoils from the dealer and I turned to the girl and said something and she, this bored-looking girl, just exploded into brilliant laughter and I remember looking back at her before walking into the bedroom where my friends were sitting in a pow-wow on the bedclothes with their shoes still on, gathered around a Marvin Gaye record sleeve with racked lines over the dead man’s face itself. I remembered making this faceless girl laugh, but I had no idea what her name was or what she looked like, possibly because she’d pulled out the boyfriend card early enough in our conversation as to render it fruitless. I have no use for more excruciatingly-unavailable hot straight female friends, thank you very much.
Well, I noticed her this time. She told me I’d actually caused her to piss herself, and that’s probably when the magic happened. Phase Two: that’s when you notice the person. By Phase Three you’re doomed because that’s when you’re aware of your attraction to them. A friend says that for him, phase two is when he wanks over a certain new girl and phase three is when he starts engineering excuses to be in the same room as her. That’s probably how it works for me too. But the idea that I had caused her no-doubt spotless vulva to become wet, spoken with her erotic French accent, shoved me straight into Phase Two and I simply don’t have the self-control to not start obsessing. I was still calling Sara the woman I loved, but it’s not like I would phone her for no reason just to hear her voice.
We had stayed near the bar at the back of the venue after we got our drinks, just out of range of the sound system. Rachel had to come find us to get her drink that I’d forgotten I was holding. Rachel wanted us to return to the gig and flashed her eyes at me when I begged a minute’s more conversation with Gen. I couldn’t remember to keep my voice low and focus on the man sat in a spotlight on the stage, with his drawling growling voice and his old hands and his greenish, bleeding tattoos, because all I could think about was trying to make Genevieve laugh. We missed every cue for applause. Rachel came back to tell us that we weren’t being respectful, that we weren’t even listening to the music. But the music was in Genevieve’s voice, her words were the goosebumps that the old man on stage was denied from giving me. Genevieve and me moved to the outside smoking area, where the evening was getting cold, and we damn near stayed there the whole set. Rachel found us about ten minutes before the guy bowed and shambled off-stage. I made some stupid remark about him not sounding like the album anyway.
As the crowd cleared, Rachel suggested that we three go to a bar, seeing as she was the only single member of our group. I thought that was a deliberate thing to say. Sara was, in my view, making the case to break up simply by boycotting all sexual activity and refusing to make any plans that consigned her to a future shared with me. Maybe I just wanted to throw a bomb under that relationship, kill it dead. Like I say, when you’re with a German, you can’t complain too much or let on that you’re down. Because they’ll kick you. No, I didn’t want to get revenge on Sara, nor did I want to behead our relationship so finally. It had nothing to do with Sara and everything to do with this young, springy-limbed French girl with sparks in her eyes. I just felt, and still do, that if your partner demands exclusivity and faithfulness, then they better be making some kind of an effort to deserve your faith.
Genevieve and her boyfriend occasionally lived together in a top-floor flat looking over the river with vintage guitars hanging unused on the walls and a tasteless array of taxidermy in glass display cases mounted above head height. I was only up there with Rachel waiting for Genevieve to pick up some cash for the bar. I could detect that Rachel was starting to get annoyed at the way Gen and I had already started to make up our own in-jokes and handshakes while she had been listening to the concert. Rachel and I sat silently in the huge living room, while across the river Sara fumed over her laptop in our freezing bedroom, sending me messages that I never remembered to reply to.
This Australian Gen was living with seemed permanently away, sitting in recording studios with a famous Swedish producer or an up-and-coming nineteen-year-old mixed-race singer with a septum ring and a rotten attitude and I’m trying to work out how exactly the guy in whose apartment I am sat makes so much money and he is obviously right now getting a blowie from Zoe or Chloe or whoever. This boyfriend was some important music guy who was pretty much always on aeroplanes and whose oblivious role in my life seemed to be to make me feel chaotic, adolescent and unsuccessful by comparison. I snapped out of these musings when Gen appeared in the doorway of the living room, fresh from the bathroom with this coat with a fur collar and sexy little leather boots and leggings. Genevieve did a twirl for us and zipped back into the bathroom. Rachel was sitting next to me on the couch below the stuffed polar bear (yes, exactly) and I noticed her looking at me looking with a look that said, ‘I know and you know what you’re thinking.’
What she actually said is this:
‘She has a boyfriend. Stop looking at her like that.’
I can’t; you try going out with sexless Sara, I thought.
‘Rach, I have a girlfriend. She’s hot, come on. Don’t get jealous.’
‘I’m not jealous,’ Rachel snapped. Meaning she was totally jealous.
‘Don’t you dare,’ she said.
‘What?’ I say, with that boy-smile on my lips that meant we were both referring to a similar mental image of me bending Genevieve over the basin and peeling off her leggings like a ripe fruit.
‘She is off-limits, John. Stop being a twat.’
At this point in time I definitely had an erection. I could even imagine grabbing a fistful of Rachel’s hair and dragging her into the bathroom to relieve the mounting pain behind my balls. But she’s family and you need a few neutral female friends around that haven’t seen your cock in order to maintain social harmony, a lesson learned centuries ago. Genevieve appeared, we left the living room, I finished my bottle of beer and we all left to go to some popular pre-Mauerfall gay bar downstairs.
In the bar, we hunched around a table by the window which meant that every time the door was left open I’d get a taste of winter right up the back of my bomber jacket and I’d have to intone my last sentence dramatically to allow a pause while I got up from my stool to close the fucker. Why other people aren’t taught to close doors or hold them open for others, I don’t know. We were there a little over three hours, making jokes that didn’t quite connect, trying to have fun, but the dynamic of the three of us wasn’t quite working. I knew, Gen knew, and most pointedly, Rachel knew, that the conversation would have flowed like liquid gold if only Rachel wasn’t there.
Gen had school the next day and sensible Rachel, of course, had a job to go to so we all quit the place around eleven. I kissed Genevieve on the side of the mouth when I said bye, thinking and fantasising that it had been deliberate on her part. Maybe girls are like guys in the respect that even if they can’t or don’t want to fuck you, they at least are insecure enough to want to know with absolute certainty that all of the straight men in their acquaintance actually want to fuck them. At least, girls, that’s how men all think. That’s how I think, and I hate how transparent that is to someone like Rachel who liked me despite having a morality so fucking straight-edge it was like a razor-sharp metal ruler that she would use to chop off my black tentacles every time I tried to sleaze on her friends.
I say liked, past-tense, because what happened next was so obvious and calculated that it caused Rachel to reassess our friendship. I could see it coming, you can see it coming. So this is how it happened:
Rachel, in her eternal quest to cockblock me and therefore protect my girlfriend Sara from the inevitable, was pretty much always present and seemed to appear at any moment that would have allowed me to ask Genevieve for her number. Rachel could sense when I had inclined my head just-so or had pretended to be all cute and shy and approachable-yet-distant. Rachel was aware that I was the wolf playing Goldilocks, a shark in lipstick, a typical bastard pretending without being ever so convincing that he was a dedicated boyfriend, a curious human being, and a potential confidante. Rachel has seen me pull this a million times.
Genevieve invited us to a little party at her flat she was having the next weekend as we were leaving the bar to walk down to the station. After a tiny hug Genevieve saw us onto the train and then left to walk down the steps and back to her big, ritzy apartment that was probably by now cold and empty. Rachel disturbed the waters of this mental image to get my attention.
‘Hey, I’m talking to you. Are you going to invite Sara or shall I?’
‘Yeah, sure. She’ll say no anyway and then turn up at the last minute. Or she’ll say yes and flake out at the last minute. Or she’ll turn up for an hour and then pretend she’s falling asleep and get me to order her a taxi.’
‘She’s not that bad.’
‘You haven’t noticed how flaky she’s got? It’s like taking a bloody rock for a walk sometimes.’
‘Maybe you’re not helping by walking around with your eyes bulging out of your pants at every single woman you pass when she’s clearly suffering some kind of self-image crisis. Don’t be cruel to her when she’s down.’
‘Rachel, you’ve just described what she does to me! I’m the unemployed one, I’m the one she tries to undermine just because she’s got her job and life plan. She’s trying to bring me down to her level, if anything.’
‘So why don’t you two break up?’
‘I have tried to break up, many times.’
‘She refused. She thinks she can whip me into shape or something. But I’ll never take the shape she wants me to.’
‘Because that’s impossible to expect from any partner?’
‘No, because she wants me to be straight. A man with a future and money to spare who takes care of everything.’
‘That’s totally unfair.’
‘I’m not the one being unfair, Rach!’
‘I’m warning you. Don’t do it,’ she said.
I kissed Rachel on the forehead, swung a leg over my bike and swam through the dark, glass-gritted streets to my home.