Tuesday, October 29, 2013

At Heathrow

When I was a kid, he tells her, fourteen, younger probably I suddenly became conscious of what my face looked like. What? she says. He laughs at himself, What I mean is, look obviously I'd stand in front of the mirror when I was brushing my teeth, and I'd seen photos of myself but I never really disassociated, until that point, the me that I thought about, from the me in the mirror. So I'd stare hard into the mirror, maybe it was when I started to shave, with my face covered with ludicrous amounts of foam, like a skinny Santa, so just my eyes were visible and I'd stare deep into my eyes until there was nothing there I recognised as me, or even as something human. If you stare at a word long enough its meaning dissolves and I was trying the same thing. Maybe.

Sometimes people see her on the tube and then recognise her later and they give her a look which says, Well, how interesting that we ended up in the same place! But of course they're flying onwards and she's still here and she'll get the same tube back from the airport.

A blur cannot be accepted or understood as what it is. Slowing into the platform other passengers, scarce at this hour, try to read posters or pick out faces. Flickering eyes you never see elsewhere. The train emerges into a blueblack dawn at Barons Court, westering over flatlands, gulped below ground at Hatton Cross. Her long fingers tapering about an old paperback chosen from a banana box under Waterloo Bridge. Standing on the escalator still reading, might as well finish the chapter, p. 129 her womb was coming open with rosy ecstasy. She tuts at Mr Lawrence, replaces her bookmark and moves into the great low sweep of the Terminal, where everything is gleaming. It is still early.

She is x-rayed and patted down wondering every morning if they go easy on her because of her face, her eyes reflecting mountains and her skin like a desert at dusk. The boy from the portable electronics shop who she sees some mornings eating his breakfast at same time that she does says it's no worse than working outside the airport where they search you if you're going out of the building for a fag – he doesn't smoke himself – at least in his trade. She thinks they're in the same trade though it doesn't look like it, him in a short-sleeved shirt, polyester tie, and her in her preposterous lab coat. Beauty is a science, of course, and while she doesn't know a great deal about that science, biochemistry presumably, the boy does know about cellphones and laptops and other media devices. Perhaps he should wear the coat. Milkmen wear white coats too, he reminds her, but she doesn't necessarily remember this to be true. And butchers, too. It's all the same trade, she thinks, no matter what you're selling. But the boy, in a white coat, would look more like a butcher than a scientist. She doesn't tell the boy this.

He is talking, he has good teeth, she concedes, straight at least and not too yellow. He needs a haircut, his hair veers undecidedly about his ears, and he needs to look into her eyes. Her hair is hidden so it's all she has, her gaze. When he looks at her he looks away immediately, and it seems more like guilt than shyness. Perhaps he has a girlfriend. He wears a ring on the third finger of his right hand. Like an almost married ring. Too young, parents don't approve. Maybe if you made something of yourself.

A flight is announced, the same flight that prompts them both to finish their breakfast and start work, which has prompted them separately, five mornings out of seven, to finish their tea or coffee or juice, to dust pastry crumbs from their uniforms and walk slowly to their respective retail positions, via the loo sometimes, and the same flight that she acknowledges they will never take together, or apart.