I met Finn outside the BFI. It was my idea to go there; if he turned out to be incredibly unattractive or boring, at least I’d have seen one more Derek Jarman film, which would give me something to talk to my dad about.

I stood at the entrance, eavesdropping on a conversation between two women smoking at an outdoor table, coats clutched close against the cold.

‘Michelle did it with Joe last night.’

‘She never!’

‘I know! Apparently he asked her to piss on him.’

I felt a bit sick all of a sudden. Maybe the rules of sex had changed since my encounter with the twenty-one-year-old. What if Finn wanted me to piss on him, but I had performance anxiety or an empty bladder?

I took out my book, a collection of essays by Nora Ephron, but I couldn’t concentrate. I read the same sentence three or four times: Never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from.

I glanced up, looking for Finn. Would he recognize me? I was pretty certain I’d have no idea who he was. I tried to remember if he had any distinguishing characteristics. Nice reddish hair, according to Alice. Abrasive stubble. A distinctive unwashed smell.

I looked back down at my book. Never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from, I read again. I was getting a bit ahead of myself.

And then there he was, calling to me.

‘Julia!’

It felt like he was giving me a compliment just by saying my name in his malty, barrel-aged voice. He walked towards me, hands in his pockets, hips thrust forward, smiling. He leaned in to kiss me; he was wearing cologne. He’d made an effort. This was promising.

‘How are you, then?’ I said.

‘Not bad, not bad,’ he said, looking at me and smiling. ‘I’ve been thinking about you all week.’

‘Me too. You, I mean.’ I really was very bad at this.

He didn’t reply. He just grabbed my hand and led me into the cinema. It was so nice to feel that I belonged to someone.

We sat right at the back with our knees pressed up against the seats in front, like teenagers on the bus to school. I’d smuggled in a bag of Maltesers and he had a hip flask full of whisky – a delicious combination.

The film seemed to go on forever. I couldn’t follow the plot, which might have been because there wasn’t one, but I’m going to give Jarman the benefit of the doubt here. I couldn’t concentrate on anything except the fact that I was on a date with a man, a man who was sitting next to me, a man who had his actual hand on my actual knee. I’ve never been much good at mindfulness but I was fully present in that moment. I remember the way the seat fabric felt through my trousers; the sound of Finn’s breathing, so close to me; the musty, sweet smell of popcorn and other people’s perfume. My body seemed to be one throbbing nerve ending.

After about an hour, Finn looked across at me and said, ‘Is it me, like, or is this film a load of shite?’

‘I don’t think it’s you,’ I said. I smiled to myself: we agreed about something. We had something in common already.

Finn put his arm around me and pulled me closer. I put my head on his shoulder as an experiment. He put his head on mine. I began to get a crick in my neck. The film wasn’t any better from a ninety-degree angle.

On the screen, some punks were getting beaten up by the police, which was probably the most exciting bit of the whole film. I’m not sure, though, because by this point I was considering Finn’s eyes, and he was staring into mine. His eyes were green when the light from the screen flashed bright across them, then brown. And then he closed them and I closed mine and we were all over each other, hands up each other’s T-shirts, leaning over the armrests to get closer, ignoring stares and disapproving tuts from the other cinemagoers.

We pulled apart and grinned at each other. ‘Want to get out of here?’ Finn said.

The abrupt change from warmth to cold made me self-conscious suddenly. It felt like coming down from MDMA and realizing you’re sitting in a cat basket, stroking a stranger’s face.”

We practically ran back to the Tube station and stood all the way to Leyton, kissing messily. I felt reckless for the first time in ages – reckless, at least, in a way that didn’t just involve spending the last of my overdraft on two bottles of corner-shop wine and drinking them both myself.

The teenagers opposite us laughed at us openly. ‘Ooooh, you’re going to fuck. You haven’t fucked yet, have you?’

The youth of today are very observant, I thought. And yes, I fucking well hope I’m fucking going to fuck. I felt like I might explode. Nothing seemed to matter any more except coming, coming in the presence of another human being, being made to come by someone else.

***

We nearly missed our stop. We lurched out of the Tube carriage onto the platform and the abrupt change from warmth to cold made me self-conscious suddenly. It felt like coming down from MDMA and realizing you’re sitting in a cat basket, stroking a stranger’s face.

‘How far is it to yours?’ I asked, as we tapped our Oyster cards on the exit gates.

‘About fifteen minutes,’ he said.

I nodded. ‘Cool,’ I said.

He nodded back.

As we walked, I became increasingly aware of the echoing of our feet on the pavement and of Finn’s hand in mine, large, dry, unfamiliar. Increasingly aware that I knew nothing about this man other than his first name and that he had unpredictable grooming habits. I considered texting Alice to let her know where the police should look for me if I didn’t arrive home the next day, but I didn’t want to break what remained of the pre-sex atmosphere with the light from the screen. At last he slowed, stopping in front of an unremarkable Victorian terraced house.

‘This is it,’ he said, fumbling with the key. ‘I think my flatmates are in, so be quiet, yeah?’

The flat smelled of mildew. There were T-shirts drying on the radiators and a curling Clockwork Orange poster Blu-Tacked to the wallpaper. ‘My room’s up here,’ he said, running up the stairs two at a time.

He opened his bedroom door and ushered me through. ‘Welcome to my spacious abode,’ he said, shutting the door behind us and leaning against it.

‘Great,’ I said.

‘Great,’ he said. ‘You need the toilet or anything?’

‘No, it’s OK.’

There was a silence.

‘Nice room,’ I said.

‘No, it’s not,’ he said.

‘Yeah, all right, it’s not.’ The room was barely big enough for both of us to stand in. It was entirely taken up with a single bed and a clothes rail, crammed with jumpers and jeans in shades of brown, green and grey. The only attempts at decoration were a few moody photos of arm creases, knees and foreheads pinned to the walls.

He sat on the bed, grabbed my hand and pulled me down next to him.

‘Did you take those photos?’ I said.

He nodded, looking me in the eye now, still holding my hand.

I looked away, back at the photos again. ‘So is that what you are, then? A photographer?’

And then he licked his lips, which made them look sausagey and wet all of a sudden, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there any more.

‘Julia,’ he said, stroking my face. ‘You’re beautiful.’

I felt the urge to push him away; I was fully sober now and very aware of him entering my personal space. But I managed to pull myself together and stared meaningfully back at him. He leaned in slowly and kissed me. I closed my eyes and tried to enjoy the sensation, but kissing felt ridiculous all of a sudden; someone breathing all over your face, licking the inside of your mouth. Why do we do it?

I’m kissing a man, I thought to myself. He is kissing me. This is sexy.

He drew back and looked at me in a way that made me feel very aware of my own face, not necessarily in a good way.

Then he started to kiss my neck and leaned in to pull my cardigan off. I had to shrug to help him. Neither of us spoke. I became aware of some kind of gurgling noise coming from the pipes. I wished he’d put some mood music on; I was nostalgic now for the ‘Late Night Love’ playlist my ex-boyfriend used to play. At least that had helped me get into character as a person who enjoyed sex.

from In at the Deep End (Borough Press, hardback, £12.99)

 

Kate Davies was born and brought up in northwest London and studied English at Oxford before becoming a writer and editor of children’s books. She’s also a screenwriter, and had a short-lived career as a burlesque dancer that ended when she was booed off stage at a conservative club while dressed as a bingo ball. She lives in east London with her wife. In at the Deep End, her first novel, is published in hardback, eBook and audio download by Borough Press/HarperCollins.
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katedavieswriter.com
@Katyemdavies

Author portrait © Idil Sukan

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