– It’s decades later and it still bothers me. I’m not one of those, you know. Never hit a woman. I’ve been hit by women, but never hit back…
– I’m not sure you were hitting me, as in really hitting… I’m not sure what you were doing, just that it was scary and ugly…
They were slowly walking through St James Park towards Victoria Station as the afternoon started to melt into evening. They could hear a distant argument, somewhere deep in the park. Many voices, escalating into shouts. Broken bottles. They couldn’t see the source of it. Raúl half-closed his eyes, like he always did when he wanted to pierce the distance or the darkness.
– London allright. I’ve been here twice before, and it struck me as one of the most violent places. Fights and drunks everywhere, just barely contained aggression.
Lily didn’t say anything. She was thinking about that night so long ago, about how vulnerable and defenceless she had been for a moment. About how it feels to suddenly become a plaything for an angry, drunk, big man. Not a good feeling, for sure. Yet, here she was, walking with him. They walked in silence for a while.
– Lily, are you still there? In the pub?
– Yeah, I’m there…
– Look, I wanna tread very carefully here, OK? As in, not for a second explaining or justifying anything, right. Just trying to understand what happened, because all it is to me is a blur, a blackout…
– Do you have many of those in your life? Blurs, blackouts?
– Not many, no.
– Are you a violent person?
– I am not. I am not. I have been in violent situations. I have been on the giving AND the receiving end. I’ve seen stuff. I am not violent, though. Look, I read Greek mythology for pleasure. I sit down in cafes and read The New York Times, and always say “please” and “thank you” to waiters. I don’t know how to explain.
– Let’s not talk about that pub for a sec. Tell me about a violent situation you’ve been in.
– Oh, there’s different kinds…
– Tell me one.
– Not the pub?
– Not the pub.
– Well, after Israel I went to Greece again. My first stop was in the island of Samothraki, where I started working for a couple of German junkies. A plot of land way inside the island, the mountains. This is not one of the touristy islands. Let me think, its claim to fame is the “Nike”, the Victory of Samothrace, which is I think in the Louvre, in Paris… a winged marble statue missing its head and arms… anyhoo… these guys had a plot of land in the mountains in the interior of the island, and there was this Greek guy working for them too, an older guy, very deviant and weird, who for some reason disliked me. And who this one very drunken night put his face about an inch from mine, and calmly said, “tonight, I’m going to fuck you… and then I’m going to kill you, and no one will ever find out, because no one knows you’re here”, which was true. “Unless you pick up your things and leave right now”. And I don’t know, something in the guy told me that maybe, maybe, he was the kind to do something like that. So you see, there’s no physical violence there, but it’s a violent situation. You asked.
– But what happened? That night, what happened?
– Nothing happened. I slept in my sleeping bag with a knife in one hand and a flashlight in the other. I said fuck it. I was too drunk to leave. You would say, in your unique and brilliant and beautiful and impossible to understand accent, “I couldn’t be arsed”. That’s the kind of person I was. Or am. I don’t know if I’m still that guy. I have a lot to lose now. I didn’t have anything back then.
– Mmmmm… OK, yeah, it is violent in a way… it is not what I had in mind though…
– You mean as in hitting women and falling with them to the floor and rolling on broken glass? And kicking anyone trying to separate us? I told you, there’s none of that. I’m not that kind. The kind that enjoys spanking a woman, hitting her, or anything of the sort. I love women. And I love one woman above them all.
– Tell me another.
– OK. This guy Bill showed up at my friend Enzo’s place in Naples this one time with tickets for Shakespeare, drugs and booze. He wanted to get high, and get me to drive him to Shakespeare, go to the theatre with him. He had a suspended license, you see. Repeated DUI’s, guy’s an alcoholic. So we get high, drink some bourbon, put on shirts and neckties and I get in the driver’s seat. It’s dark. I drive towards the main road to get out of there. I get to the road. I look one way, the other, put in first, second, step on it to get to the opposite lane. And I never saw this truck coming, a heavy pickup, going maybe 60, 70 miles. It got us right a bit ahead of the passenger side, just crushed the engine block and sent us spinning onto the median. That was brutal. I remember all the glass vaporizing. I remember Bill yelling “Now you’ve done it, motherfucker!!!!”. And the noise, the noise was something.
– So what happened?
– Oh, I was lucky, as always. Lady Fortune has always been on my side, Lily. No one died. Just cuts and bruises. The guy in the truck was an illegal immigrant, so he wouldn’t call the police or say anything. Our car was totaled, the other guy could barely move. We just moved the whole mess to the side of the road before the cops showed up, and somehow dealt with it later. Bill and I just stumbled back to Enzo’s house to drink and smoke and pass out. No Shakespeare.
– Are you still friends with this Bill?
– I’m not. He’s dead.
– So I should have known… it’s all romantic, literary stuff, that would look good in a Kerouac novel… the Greek guy threatening to fuck you, the American accident going to Hamlet…
– Midsummer Night’s Dream, since you ask…
– Right. You’re so pretentious, sometimes… nothing can be ordinary about you… no bar fights, no football brawls, nothing of the sort.
Raúl stopped and looked at Lily. The park was in silence now. There was very little natural light left, it was almost night.
– Lily, we’ve known each other a long time now. I am an ordinary guy in many ways. Average in many ways. I decided to live my life in a certain way and I don’t apologize for it. I took some unusual decisions as to what to do with my youth. That led to some, let’s say, rich situations. Literary situations, you call them. Fine. Adventures. Whatever. Let me ask you this. You were never a salesgirl at Harrod’s, right? Not that there’s anything wrong with being a salesgirl at Harrod’s. But it’s not what you did with your life. You gambled and lived high on the rock’n’roll horse, touring, being this impresario woman or whatever it is that you were doing. You took your chances. Lived the life you wanted, that not a lot of people live. Same here, in a way. Different, but somewhat similar. We’re both strong characters, strong wills. My youthful adventures were Mexican Army guys aiming M16s point blank at me in at roadblocks in Chiapas during the Zapatista thing, mistaking me for some Che Guevara when all I wanted was to score mushrooms… story of my life…
– Or pushing and hitting and generally being an ass to the woman of my life in Israel…
– Do you really want to call me that, “the woman of your life”?
– You are, you know. Like my adventures and travels, my story with you is very unusual, highly literary and odd to the extreme, but that’s me, all the way, and I suspect that’s you too. We are of the same kind. And oh, by the way, I’ve been in bar fights and that kind of stuff. Random common garden variety violence. I hate it. I avoid it whenever possible. And I really wanted to say something about that ugly scene in Israel…
– What is it?
– … and please don’t think for a sec I’m making excuses… my grandpa, a figure I always loved and admired, and an Anglophile of the first order, who actually served with the British Army during the War, always told me, in English, “don’t complain, don’t explain” when I messed up. Just accept the responsibility. Which I did, and do. But I think maybe I know where that came from, that whole scene…
– Sexual tension.
– Oh come on…
– So you’re saying it was my fault.
– Nope. It was mine.
– Sexual tension… how?
– Like I said, I need to be careful what I say here…
– Go on
– I think I was very attracted to you during that whole initial stage, and ready to go to bed with you, but it never happened that way. There was an element of flirt, and tease, but never the real thing. We were young kids. Playful. Then all of a sudden a situation developed where you were ready to have me, and I was not ready for some reason, was caught off guard if you will. So you have that buildup of the initial days and weeks together, and the frustration that comes later, and you add a sizeable amount of booze, and maybe some drugs… I’m not really sure if this guy Curro had already made his appearance by that night, if he had, then it’s a fact that I was on speed and pills, I’m pretty sure I had already scored some weed from this guy Judah… or was that when I was in Purgatory already… maybe it was… Xavier and me got some weed from this kibbutznik, we’d get high in the morning and go to work in the avocado fields or the plastics factory, but in my case it wasn’t a good high, I was really hating life because you wouldn’t speak to me… but I disgress… at some point this whole repressed energy and frustration, of a 24-yr old guy who loves a young girl and is not finding any ways to show it to her, and is keenly aware that he has failed sexually for the first time in his life at the precise moment when he needs to be a great lover, snaps. Just snaps. And you know, shoot me, but while of course I don’t blame you, or that old version of you that I knew, I hesitate to be too hard on him either… I mean, he’s shit, there’s no excuse, he should have gone home and jerked off or found another girlfriend that he felt less intensely about, or waited for another opportunity, whatever… but he doesn’t know any better. He was too young and inexperienced. He didn’t know what to do with the energy. He’s in love with you, for fuck’s sake, and he doesn’t know the right moves to get you hooked, to get your attention… you’re slipping away…
– The right moves?
– Feign indifference. You know, it always works. On the contrary, he has all this intensity, he just can’t let go of you. And when we got in touch again, later on, in our 30’s, still couldn’t pretend like he didn’t care. Still can’t now that we’re old birds. He’s not the same guy anymore. But is still crazy about you, will never be able to pretend he doesn’t care. He’s given up on that, never tried in the first place. You know…
– Oh, man… what’s to say to that… if things had been different… it’s so late now….
– It’s not late. Dead is late. We’re alive.
– Oh, dude…. kiss me…
R. embraced Lily, standing right there in the park. They stayed like that for a long time, kissing, not giving a hoot what anyone would think.
– I’m sorry it ever happened, L. I paid for it. I paid with many years of exile from you. A lifetime, really. There were some fun times after it happened, but your mind was made up already. Who knows, without that night, the story might have been different. It set me back weeks, and I didn’t have weeks to spare. Added to the pressure of being a good lover and a fun and considerate partner when you finally took me back. Messed up the whole thing. The time was too short to start with, without shenanigans like that. I never recovered from it. And I’m sorry. It’s not me, and it’s not how I feel towards you. And there’s no one to blame but myself.
– It’s all forgiven, R. – It was forgiven back then. But we didn’t have much time, it’s true. I had my mind elsewhere. What’s to say….
– There’s nothing to say. We don’t have much time now, either. Let’s go back to the hotel, yeah?
– Yeah. Let’s.