They say that when a sinking ship goes down, a whirlpool is formed, sucking everything around it down to the black with the scuppered hull. I'd like to call it a vortex, but I don't think that that would be accurate. Now I don't know whether I 'd like to figure girls like Her as the ship or as the iceberg here, but I think you get the idea. Whichever way up you want to stand it, someone has to be the flotsam.
I'm somewhere in the second world with a choir. Each tour is a discrete entity into which your life cannot stray, and which you cannot let stray into your life. It's obvious that the kick of playing to the biggest concert hall in Latin America is shorthand for a closeness that is neither natural nor synthetic, just unlikely and mayfly fast, between you and one or two or twenty other people.
In the succession of sights or a foreign country all you gather is a collage of colours and smells and feelings and noises and it collect untidily in your mind, unacknowledged in its whole, unexamined state. When you leave, and when you turn off the TV pageant of otherness that has made up your holiday, all you're left with, burnt into your retinas, is a hazy afterimage that will eventually shrink to one or two images. I hope that's why as we wander around we look at each other and not the city.
You know the type: she is glacially, almost sublimely, unconscious. Quietly, she knows that by relying on her own magnetism she will never lose her way; she is implacably beautiful. People like her orient themselves by other people's efforts to be more than another tangent to their charismatic progresses. It is like this that she is negatively defined.
We are wandering around a vast market, a real Aladdin's cave of a place, and looking at the produce. It's funny; I feel privileged now to see fresh fruit and vegetables that I don't recognise. Almost as confusing are the enormous and lurid papier maché cartoon characters that loom over every tiny passageway between stalls. I know a guy who fell in love with a girl who sang California to him. I can hear her humming Strauss, almost too softly for the person next to her to catch.
We buy, for all of twenty pence, a pomegranate to share between us. The flesh is obscenely ripe; a pert, succulent purple which at the slightest touch of a fingernail spills its messy sugary juice over your hand. Rounding a corner, we're unexpectedly confronted by a hulking Hulk, a clear 12 foot high. She whips around, her fine yellow hair sticking to her cheeks and forehead and almost masking her eyes which she has narrowed in a childlike glee, and her mouth purpled and wet with burst pieces of pomegranate resting on her lower lip, and she laughs so hard that I can just make out the dark pink of her tongue. It is at that moment that I am truly stranded.
We go to the city's cathedral. We talk about the vaulting, and the choir stalls and the organ cases and the saints and votives and Catholicism and then High Mass begins and suddenly, we two Protestants scamper meekly away from the bishop's shakily standing mitre. Outside we buy peeled guavas and laugh about the seeds and pick them out of our mouths together and find a twenties confectioner and buy marzipan (me) and sugared violets (her) and are disgusted by each other's choices. She is a little too close to my real life and because the reverse applies too, sometimes we slip into a quiet intimacy. What betrays us is we are always watching each other; gauging, measuring, checking. Dispossession is frightening. We tell ourselves that there is nothing organic, nothing is growing here, in the space between she and me, only what we have put there with incautious deliberacy. We are both young enough and inexperienced enough that something that can be this easy hovers by force of our will somewhere between important and trivial.
Later, we go to the ambassador's. I've never seen her wearing make-up before and seeing her painted makes me feel so vulnerable. I have to spend a little while studying the canapés. To paper it over I mingle aggressively with the crowd of expatriates, who conform deliciously to stereotype. There's a certain cruel, puerile joy in patronising these people by fooling them into thinking that you are interested in them and that they amuse you. (Which they do, really). We share in this arrogance and we both excel at it. She is wearing a miniskirt that flares and a top that is almost transparent, and I am wearing evening dress trousers and shoes and a black jumper and together we work the throng of elderly retired barristers and colonels. We never smile in a way that is not obsequious, but we do laugh at their jokes.
Around midnight, we head back to the hotel in drink tequila in a self-congratulatory way because we are twenty and untouchable. We sit at a table together, slightly apart from the crowd which goes unnoticed because by now it has become the norm. Because of the way the tablecloth lies, no-one can see that I am slowly running my fingers up and down her leg, from ankle to hip, invisibly tracing her sinuous geography. I make myself know every syncline and anticline, where she eddies and pools, where her skin lies impossibly cold soft and flat, and where, in nooks, it is warmer and harder to navigate. She occasionally presses her leg gently against my hand. Otherwise she pretends not to notice. Her skin is mostly soft and cool to the touch.
Still later, the party reaches the point where the people who were drinking have passed out, and the people who weren't drinking have gone to bed. She beckons to me, minutely. Perhaps she doesn't actually beckon at all, perhaps she just looks at me in a way that is tiny and definite, like a raindrop that finally hits the earth that has been expecting it for days past. I don't really notice how cold it is outside. Our breath gathers and disperses and although the moon isn't particularly bright I can see every fine blonde hair on her cheek. I wonder if she can see my cheeks, which are flushed with alcohol and with wanting. Her hands hang by her sides and she shivers. 'Goodnight' she says, and her lips brush by my cheekbone, almost touching my eye. Then I am standing alone in the watery moonlight, and the acuteness of the thing washes over me like warm brine in my mouth. As I watch her walk inside, the only sound is a roaring in my ears, like the gurgling of water as it carries you to the bottom.