The Semi-Detached Man

I drive through the streets at night. Steam rises like ghost-breath from the bitumen. The city is uneasy. Full of impending violence and back alley rituals and signs that say Wrong Way Go Back.

I wish I could. Go back. Reverse.

Cars and vans and trucks slide past like frames from some strange movie. I wonder if perhaps somebody could paint the walls of a tunnel in the underground so it would appear like a cartoon to passengers in the trains as they move past at speed.

I collect these thoughts like some men collect beer labels or stamps or memories of lovers. One day I will place all my thoughts in little vases and I will give them to the Mayor in exchange for the keys to the city.

I drive between the towering buildings. Buildings burdened by bureaucrats and democrats, boomtown rats and heart attacks and elevators that plunge like heat-struck birds.

I sneeze and spray blood onto the speedometer and windscreen. I reach into the console for a tissue and find a dozen photographs of Claire: Claire smiling, Claire at the beach, Claire signing the registry.

I leave my car in a disabled park. A car without a driver qualifies.

I walk past girlie bars and candy bars, Irish bars and police cars. No holds barred.

The kerb-side restaurants are full of people who are afraid of the suburbs. The cool cafes are full of café lattes and city dwellers who have learned the aromatic language of coffee.

Greek waiters look like little Elvises – all greased black hair and snarling lips. I picture olives, pitted and pierced, and placed beside backgammon boards, and a young Greek man approaches and asks me what I’d like.

 “I’d like an end to war and famine. I’d like the Miss Universe contest to be treated with the respect that it deserves. I’d like Judge Judy to publicly soil herself. I’d like an obscure African soccer team to win the world cup. I’d like a short white guy to be Nike’s next superhero. I’d like a girl who sucks my cock without wanting to kiss me. But I suppose you’d like to know what I want to order. A latte in a long glass would be great. Thanks.”

Oh yes. I can be funny. One day I will wrap my laughter in lettuce leaves and leave it in some Chinese restaurant among the fortune cookies and the Peking duck. We’ll see who’s funny then.

I sip my coffee, careful to appear oblivious to people checking me out – careful to appear natural and relaxed and full of my own importance. I do this well. I have practised the art of pretence in every mirror, in every glazed shop front. I have even fine-tuned my skills in the reflective sunglasses of hidden passers by. Bolle are my favourites.

A young gay boy stares at me too long.

I hear him willing me: “Look over here.”

He thinks he says this telepathically. It is the privilege of the young to always believe the incredible. But I believe in Chinese Whispers…

“Look I’m queer,” is what I hear.

I look at him. Long enough to appear vaguely interested.

“Kiss me,” he says, telepathetically of course.

And I reply “If I were to kiss you I would only be kissing the emptiness in you.”

Young gay boy leaves with his tail between his legs. His black turtleneck sweater, his black crotch enhancing pants, his black bomber jacket; this is the armour of the night. Like smoke in smoke. He blends. He fades. Beneath the neon signs on the high-rises he is just another form of darkness.

He is young enough now to survive the nuances of the night but the city will swallow him. By the time he is thirty, surgery will be the only option.

I build little floor plans from sugar cubes and toothpicks. Two fat women at a nearby table talk of calories and colon irrigation while they stuff their faces with sticky toffee date pudding – so close and yet so far.

I contemplate having a tube put up my ass and wince as I remember an old girlfriend’s straying finger. I am not an animal. I am a human being.

I’d like a girl with no fingers who sucks my cock without wanting to kiss me.

I pay the bill. “How was your coffee?” the waiter asks.

“Wet and warm” I say.

I walk a few blocks. One day automatic teller machines will read your palms while you wait for your cash. If they detect a short lifeline they’ll call in your mortgage and all the other loans that make your borrowed life. They’ll cancel your credit cards and refuse to renew your Death benefit.

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