I called my best friend from the harbour.
‘He’s not coming.’
It’s not even that I was in love with the guy or anything, I was just sick of being let down. Another night on my own on the island. Usually I loved the dark sky, how the lights of the town weren’t bright enough to blot out the stars. You could stand on the pier and the cold air would cut into your lungs and the sea was always sucking and jumping under your feet, black and huge and unpredictable.
But this particular cold night was Valentine’s night – enough to depress me anyway, and the guy I’d been fucking had just called to cancel. It had been a glimmer of something, his coming out that weekend. To spend the night, to be with me for Valentine’s with all the nervous romantic trimmings. Maybe he was more than the guy I was fucking. Maybe he wasn’t entirely joking when he said we’d have really cute kids. Maybe despite the odd things about him, his funny soft accent and his perpetual solitude and inexplicable phone arguments with his Korean relatives, he might turn out to be a kind man.
But then he called at the last minute with some bullshit excuse and I hung up and felt the weekend collapse. I put on a short fringed lace skirt, a white shirt. I was thinking of Patti Smith. Monochrome. Lots of eyeliner. I messed up my hair and went down to catch the last boat out.
By the time I reached the mainland and took a train to my friend's house I was dry eyed. A couple of other women had turned up, Valentine’s refugees. We decided we needed good champagne, and fuck them all. Went out defiant and laughing, in a taxi, because we all worked hard and had money.
Of course we went to the Buff Club, where we always went. It had red walls and dim lighting and they played good music. The dance floor used to get so packed you’d be squeezed in tight and rubbing up against each other.
I remember us sitting sprawled and drunk at a table covered with empty glasses. And some guy turned up that my friend knew, and some guy hanging around with him was a stranger. He had a twisted smile and a checked shirt. He seemed kind of separate from the others. Dark and bitter.
‘I like this,’ he said, pulling at my skirt.
That was enough to know that we’d fuck within the next couple of hours. After we left, in the sulphurous mess of Sauchiehall Street, littered with the wreckage of Saturday night, he found a fabric rose on the ground and picked it up.
‘Be my Valentine?’ he said, passing it to me. He had that funny off-American accent.
We went to the aparthotel where the production guy was staying. The Canadian pushed me up against a wall and kissed me until I was dizzy. I pulled away and we went to drink more champagne in the next room with all the others. We sat on the couch and the Canadian found a hole in my tights and hooked his fingers in it and pulled until the nylon ripped.
‘What kind of fucking do you like?’ he asked me. I was embarrassed and turned on. ‘Do you want me to go down on you?’ I couldn’t answer. We were in a room full of people. There were lots of lights on and a huge, bad print of a flower painting on the wall in a gold plastic frame.
I felt a little sorry for the guy who’s aparthotel it was, who seemed nice and kept bringing out more booze when we asked for it, even though we were wrecking his temporary home. He just looked around with this dazed smile, shaking his head.
I don’t remember much about the rest of the night, after everyone had left and me and the nameless man were in a room on our own. It was black and hot and we tore into each other. We were just two bodies in the dark, again, and I knew it was a reaction to the Korean guy who’d made the bullshit excuses, and that he was a reaction to the American guy who’d stopped writing, and that he, also, was a reaction to the long, dusty years spent in a bad relationship, and that every man, eventually, was a reaction to the one before him so that all these dark, hot, uncomfortable fucks were joined together in a sprawling daisy chain along which I was strung, pierced each time, split and pierced by the next one.
I didn’t think too much about Martin after that. By that time I’d got my heart pretty well insulated against disappointment. I wrote a list of the things I’d keep from him and it was short. His recipe for blue-cheese pasta. How small his hands were. The drawing I did of him, those full-bloom lips and the high cheekbones and the swoop of his brown eyes against his cocoa skin.
He was brought up in Sweden where, apparently, people are open and frank about intimate things. He shaved his pubic hair. On our first date he sat on my bed and asked:
‘So what kind of sex do you like?’
He encouraged me to talk about what I wanted, although I never trusted him enough to be open, to tell him that truly I didn’t even know.
Late one night he put his hand against my throat to stem the pulse.
‘Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.’
While he licked me, he kept his fingers pressing there, light but firm. When I came I felt like I fell off the edge of the world and floated out into the black endless universe. I saw stars. They were silent and cold and still and distant and they went on forever.