If you missed Part 1 you can link on the link here:
The Things That Leave Us Cold
Part 2 of 4 (Audio version available to listen to; link at the end of page)
I didn’t go looking for him, if that’s what you’re thinking. It wasn’t like that, well, you know me. I’m not what you’d call the outgoing sort, as I’m sure you remember. It was you who’d found me all those years ago. God, it seems like a lifetime and not just a few years that have whittled away. You’d seen me while standing by the bar with your beer, perusing the evenings prey while I sat, tucked away at the back, blocked in by a group of lively fashionistas, a timid dog feeling older than I should have, trapped and probably terrified.
But you came to save me. You, with those blond curls. You, in that brown sweater. You, with those pale blue eyes. You, with that look, that brazened determination to push your way through the dimly lit bar, the crowded tables and floor filled tote bags. But you were never one to let anything stop you, you never minded being looked at, being seen, being heard. You remember that time on the metro, someone got on and sang a dreadful rendition of La Vie en Rose, the one song that every beggar, talented or not, thinks every tourist wants to hear and they’re probably right but do the rest of us, the ones who were born here or the ones, like me, who came here looking for a new life, need to hear it also, day in, day out? It was the fourth time we’d heard it that day and it was by far the worst attempt so you stood up and sang it, full voice, full force, trying your best to drown out the accompaniment, much to the applause of the tourists on our carriage and to the dismay and utter horror of every frenchman on board.
But that was so you, right there and then, just like it was you back then in that bar, The Open Cafe, mecca to all Parisian men of our persuasion. You, coming towards me, sipping your beer as if nothing stood in your way between you and I, and me, helpless to do anything but be mesmerised by your stare and then, as you came closer, your perfume, but again, it wasn’t the perfume you wore but the scent you oozed all by yourself.
I met him also in Le Marais, of course, where else do gay men go. I wasn’t looking for anyone, like I said. I wasn’t looking for anything lasting at all. I was looking for something that was nothing. Something that was temporary, no, shorter than that, minuscule, momentary, forgetful. It had been so long since anyone had touched me, caressed me, kissed me, that I was almost choking. Like I was becoming a frozen form of what used to be. A body deserted of all tenderness. I know what you’d say, I can hear you staying it, I’m skirting the issue, trying to make something dirty seem more romantic, less sexual, more visceral but acceptable. I know, I haven’t changed at all it would seem. I went looking for sex. Is that better, does that make you happy? Can that make you happy? I can’t even believe I am here telling you all this. I tell you I’ve come back for you and, in the next breath, I seem to be this sex starved old man willing to find whatever he needs under the cover of night.
Okay, anyway, I’m telling you what I’m telling you. He was there. This time he was in the back of the bar, another bar, that other seedier bar, with the staircase that I hadn’t been able to bring myself over to yet and if I’d had anymore to drink I probably wouldn’t have made it up those steps anyway, so it was probably a good thing that he touched my arm just as I took the first step and stopped me from going any further. He started to talk and tell me things about himself, I have no idea what it was at the time. I was thrown. I was touched, literally. His hand had not left my arm since that first touch and I realised that it was all I needed. Not just to be touched, as exciting and arousing as that was, but, more than that, I’d been seen. Someone had seen me. Do you know what I mean? Christ you have no idea what I mean, do you? You were never, not for a single day, never seen, not by me, not by anybody. Everyone saw you, no one could ever miss you or want to. But I wasn’t like that, ever. I was more a reflection at times than an actual living person. Not with you, of course, Jesus, not, never with you. But before you and certainly after you when friends stopped dropping by, at first just to give me space and then later it felt like they’d just forgotten that I existed. We had existed to them and then we stopped existing for them and then afterwards, well afterwards I think they put me into the non existent box too. But suddenly on the verge of finding a moment of nothingness, fast friction in a dark room, someone reached out and took my arm and I couldn’t move, could hardly breath in case it all disappeared too quickly. I wanted to remember the moment for as long as possible so I could recall it again when it had vanished.
I know he was speaking to me because I saw his lips move, lips a touch fuller than yours, eyes a shade of blue darker. He wasn’t blond though, dark hair, slightly receding which was surprising as he seemed so young. Your height, give or take, slimmer though, not that you were in any way fat, I just mean he was less built, less muscle, less gym I guess, a bit more of a bookworm, not geek but not far from it either. I think I suggested we go upstairs but he wanted to talk, I didn’t want to talk but I didn’t want him to take his hand away from my arm so I let him tell me what he wanted to but the words never sunk in, only the touch, only that tenderness he’d placed on my right arm until eventually I felt it leave me and I shivered, actually shivered. It was august, I’d been back in Paris for over a year, the entire city had taken its usual month long vacation and it was almost midnight and still 30 degrees and that was just outside the bar and yet, when he took his hand off my arm, I shivered. Funny that, the things that leave us cold in the middle of so much heat.
But he didn’t leave me. He came back with a drink, two drinks actually, one for him and one for me and suddenly I heard him speak for the very first time. And I listened and he asked me questions and I found myself replying and, as I spoke, he put his hand on my leg and I shivered again. It’s silly, I know, silly, trivial, tiny. I don’t think in all the time we spoke that first night that he had any idea what it meant when his body connected with mine, how beautiful it felt to be touched once again and how painful that it wasn’t you.
To be continued…
All Words and Photographs of Paris by Damien B. Donnelly