There was a girl lying on her front on the grass a few feet away who was wearing these short shorts that only just covered her arse cheeks and I thought it was a nice arse, good and round and everything, and her thighs were white and sweaty. She reached for a packet of Mayfair and I saw that she was reading Proust. She rolled over onto her back and lit a cigarette. The whole of her face was covered in smoke.
I wondered if I'd ever read any Proust. I tried to picture a Proust book on my bookshelf. No. I said the name over and over in my head but it didn't make any sense to me. I didn't know who he was. He? Maybe she, I thought. Maybe Proust was a woman.
The smoke cleared and I saw the girl's face. Big eyes.
There was a cough. I looked up and the man who'd been cutting the grass was standing next to the bench, leaning on his mower. He gestured to the seat and asked if I minded. Not at all, I said. He sat down next to me on the bench and stretched his legs out and his arms up and back. His bones and joints clicked. He opened a red box and pulled out a sandwich wrapped in cling-film, then looked over at me. We both nodded.
Do you know where those flies are coming from? he said.
I hadn't even noticed the flies before but now I did. They were tiny little things humming around and about in front of my face, midges, baby mosquitoes or something. No idea, I said. The man leant over and pointed under the bench. I copied him, bent forwards, looked. There was a dead bird right underneath where I was sitting, half rotted away with maggots crawling in it, feathers black and waxy.
Jesus, I said.
The man nodded. Sometimes they get caught up in me mower, he said.
We both sat back upright and I looked out across the park. It was hot, there was a shimmer on top of the grass. A woman was pushing a pram around the perimeter in a colourful dress, young, early thirties I guessed, still hadn't lost all the weight she should have lost after having the baby so podgy around the middle. She was looking down into the pram and making faces at whatever was inside. I thought it was a nice dress. It was black but studded with bright red and white.
I looked at the grass-cutting man just as he took a big bite of his sandwich, so I could see right into his mouth. It was like being at a urinal. His mouth was bigger than my mouth. His sandwich was bigger than my sandwich. It looked like corn beef. Mine was chicken salad and it needed salt.
I looked at the woman with the pram passing by. The white bits were skulls and the red bits were crowns made of roses on top of the skulls. Her calves were fat.
After lunch I walked to Costa through the centre of town. The high street was stuffed with cars, bumpers glued to bumpers. I kept pace with a grey Vauxhall Astra as it ticked along the street, window wound down with a hairy arm hanging out against the door. It had Radio 2 on mid-volume, the sounds of the sixties. The air was heavy, a collaboration of words, breath and mumbling engines. The Kinks were leaking from the Astra and someone was singing along. A woman. Or a man with a high voice.
At Costa I sat in the corner with an iced mocha and got talking to an old guy on the table next to me. His hair was all ruffled and he had red stains on his trousers. He said he couldn't handle the heat. I said I couldn't either.
I'll be back home in a cold bath before long, he said.
I sipped my drink.
Be in the cold ground before much longer than that, he said.
I didn't know how to reply
I've been here all my life, the man said.
I focussed my attention on a copy of the Daily Mail that someone had left folded up on my table. There was a dark brown circle in its bottom left corner.
Always been round the bend, the man said. I looked up at him and he was staring at me. Used to box, he said, holding up his fists in a boxer's pose. Used to box in the street with all the kids, he said. He put a finger to his temple and moved it in a circle. Shot me, he said.
I looked back at the Mail. A picture of a policeman in riot gear.
The man's chair scraped as he stood. He took a while to get straight, then he left the Costa. I left shortly afterwards. I caught up with him walking past Foxton's and followed him through some thin streets until he walked up the path of one of those four storey town houses I always thought celebrities owned. I stood for a while and stared at his front door.
I walked back into town because I had to go to the bank. I had jobs to do. At the bank I stared at the blonde behind the customer service desk, at her chubby face and pale skin, while she served a customer.
Hello Mr. Taylor, she said, when it was my turn.
Patti appeared from behind her with her hair all pulled up high on her head and her creased skin tugged back into a smile.
Shall I take your cheque Mr. Taylor? Patti said.
I handed the cheque to Patti and she disappeared. The blonde asked what I was up to for the rest of the day. I said I wasn't sure. I wanted to look at her name badge but I didn't want her to think I was looking at her tits, so I waited until she glanced across the room and I looked, and I saw her name was Dawn, and when I looked back at her eyes she was staring at me like I'd been caught in the act, and I could feel my face heating up.
Then Patti came back and said everything was taken care of. She handed me a receipt. I stood in front of the pair of them holding the receipt.
I went home. I closed all the curtains and blinds in the house, sat on the sofa and closed my eyes. The blonde was naked and bouncing on my lap. Her skin was all white apart from her cheeks which were flushed red, and I was gripping them while we fucked. Eventually I opened my eyes and turned on my laptop and watched videos of young couples having sex on webcams. They were all smooth and the men had big dicks that curved up at the end. I came into the palm of my hand and then stood up. I ran upstairs to the bathroom but slipped on the top step, semen spilling onto the carpet. I swore. I wiped my hand on my thigh and sat on the stairs looking down.
Later on TV I watched men in white boiler suits marauding through the yard of a city-farm in Hackney. They were grabbing chickens by the neck, loading them into a large cage on the back of a trailer. A young guy in an open-necked shirt told the camera that the farm had been sealed off to the public as of that morning. He was standing in front of a strip of yellow tape. I flicked channels and watched a quiz. It was Anne Robinson. One of the people playing the quiz was from Eastenders, I think. I flicked channels again and a new Big Brother series started.
I turned off the TV. I got some beers from the fridge, went into the garden and sat on the patio furniture. It was warm and the plastic felt bendy. I rolled up the legs of my jeans, put my feet up on the table, opened a beer. I pressed the cold can against my forehead. The book I'd been reading was laying open on the table. I forget which one it was. It was probably from the Bs, I think. I'd been trying to go alphabetically. Maybe it was Balzac or something like Baudelaire or Bronte. I stared at it and I thought about Proust. I thought about the girl at the park with the sweaty thighs. When I tried to picture who Proust was, I could only see the girl. I wondered what life would be like if I associated everything and everyone with girls I wanted to fuck. Books would be the sweaty-thighs girl. If someone said to me “Dickens” then I'd see her naked, flicking through Little Dorrit on the grass. Anything to do with money and I'd see that Dawn from the bank. I'd see her covered in money, like in American Beauty when Mena Suvari's laying in a bath full of rose petals. I'd see Dawn rubbing herself with five pound notes. I'd see her licking coins. I remembered the taste of a coin being kind of like blood.
That night there was a storm. I sat in bed and tried to read but I couldn't focus on the words, they were just blurring together. I turned off the lights, lifted my laptop onto the bed and googled for the most disgusting thing that I could find on the internet. I found a CCTV video of a man being brought into a police holding cell then left on his own. He took a sip from a water bottle, pulled a gun from the waistband of his jeans and shot himself in the head. His whole body straightened out and slumped in the chair, and you could hear blood dripping onto the floor. I turned off the laptop. I turned the lights back on.
When I finally got to sleep I had a dream about flocks of birds leaving the country. Then a dream about sitting on a bench in the searing heat next to a man too tall for his clothes. Then a dream about the blonde from the bank in my lap.
My lap in the blonde.