20 November 2003
The smile I have just given the woman I slept with last night is a slight variation on a smile I first used in 1992. As a smile, it is intended to convey a degree of trustworthiness in combination with a slightly melancholic recognition of the imperfection of those parts of the world not intimately associated with the current companion and the current situation. It is a knowing smile with the suggestion of having known too much.
The first and perhaps most successful use of this smile occurred outside a school sports hall, in which a party was going on, and was used to interrupt a story I was telling about my parent's divorce, which was suitably traumatic and involved. The smile had been preceded by the manly choking back of a sob, which had lain fallow as a mannerism since the early teens, and was followed by what was intended to be a knowing, what-can-you-do shrug but actually came out more like a twitch or shudder. I've worked a lot on this movement since, and I have no idea what went wrong that time; possibly I was just trying to do too much. I was at the time trying to impress with my manly and stoic acceptance of suffering a girl, also 15, who was from a respectable Christian family and frankly boggle-eyed at the whole sordid tale. The realisation that telling people about my baroque home life was only going to get me sex with goths was released in its first iteration two years later, followed by a modification to the effect that, actually, having sex with goths was indoor work without too much heavy lifting and so should not necessarily be sniffed at.
But to return. The success of this smile at the first time of asking is debatable. At the time, it got me a concerned look and a brief hand-squeeze. Fortunately, being 15 and at a single-sex school, I was able to spin this off into weeks of tortuous and at times torturous self-abuse. Unfortunately, it also marked the beginnings of an utterly unsuitable crush based purely on the perceived likelihood of any other female getting through the barbed wire at the top of the gates.
On the whole, not a great success, ending as it did in mumbling confession of love, response of utter incomprehension and threats of violence from older brother. Hers, not mine.
Still, the process of development always requires a few hits and a lot of misses. Did Microsoft give up just because their first two or three dozen operating systems were puddles of shiny wank? They did not, and now we have Windows XP. So that's all right. A lengthy process of tweaking and examination ensued, eventually producing a versatile and powerful tool with a number of applications.
The recipient of this smile is tousled, half-asleep and has pillow marks on her face. Her name, of course, I recall, along with her stated preference for black coffee in the morning (already percolating - the vision of metropolitan perfection painted here need be moderated only by the fact that my kitchen is only slightly larger than I am, and has mice only slightly smaller than it is). She reminds me slightly, in fact, of the first person to whom I addressed this smile and also in a different way, based primarily around the way she wears her hair, of the fifth, by which time it had worked (in a limited and I now acknowledge entirely unsatisfactory sense) twice, once on a gothette and once on the proud owner of an equally disrupted and unhappy home life who shortly thereafter invited me to a musical celebration of self-harm and generally confirmed many prejudices about girls from Rodean that I had always held.
In five minutes or so, she will spill coffee over the shirt of mine that she is wearing in perhaps the most cliched possible device to express the fact that we had sex the previous night. I will struggle to suppress my irritation, and will have to explain in a stilted fashion on a stilted second evening that the shirt in question was a gift from my mother and, although it seems ridiculous, one of a fairly small number of things I have to remember her by. After a much less stilted third meeting, I will admit that, possessing though it does great sentimental value, it is perhaps one of the ugliest shirts on God's clean Earth. Later, I will try very hard not to associate her decision to sleep with me again with my mother.
But right now there she is, on the receiving end as she gets out of bed of approximately the same smile that signalled the desire to get her into bed in the first place. As mentioned, versatile and powerful.
Last night it meant something like look at that ridiculous crowd of fools. We are different. We are like each other. We will like each other.
Today, this morning, it means that we retain that understanding. We can share an exhausted but brilliant rejection of the conditions that less able minds might expect. Conversation. Conversation. Completion. Completeness. But we are too clever to ask for anything like that. We know better. We will know each other better.
In two months' time the same smile will mean we never promised each other fidelity.
In a year it will mean that I have no idea how it happened, but it happened. I love you, and there is no part of me that could ever not love you.
In five years it will at best be bitter, one of those coping mechanisms, a way to transfer feeling shitty by voodoo. I don't know who will cheat. If you do, please for God's sake tell me now.
Ten years and we only want the best for the kid. The smile is recognition that neither of us planned this. Neither of us planned this. And we both understand just how badly that fails as reason or excuse.
Smile. Smile. The same smile, and as I made love last night in a manner drawing from but not limited to similar incidences in 1991, 1992, most of 1993-1997 and some of the less recondite parts of 2002, what made me close my eyes and think about 1999 was the same smile, glinting back in the low mood lighting.