Paul Markevicius ignores Valentine’s Day this time around. But he can’t ignore his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend at a Clapham Junction flower stall. Can he?
From the earliest blossoming of sexuality, to the perpetually sorry-arsed singles place you may find yourself wallowing in, Valentine’s Day for many males can be deeply traumatizing.
Akin to the goalkeeper’s fear of the penalty: we are powerless to stop it happening and never quite sure where it’s going to end up.
The relationship with my girlfriend of five years had just ended and I was in that I-think-I’m-okay-but-know-I’m-not stage; random associations might still have triggered me to spew my vulnerability to complete strangers. I still couldn’t drive past where we used to live, and I’d go the long way ’round, always a bad idea in London.
At that particular time, I had been successfully fighting off the multi-million dollar advertising assault on my psyche and wallet. I’d found, buried deep in a subconscious chamber called you won’t sucker me again, not this year, a place for cherished regrets, abysmal failures and unsettled Valentine’s scores.
My resolve instantly evaporated on this Valentine’s evening as I got off at Clapham Junction, the busiest station in the UK. Hords of brain-washed commuters I had avoided looking at on the train had melted into a throbbing mass of rabid do-gooders. They were buying into Valentines day in various ways. It felt as if they were slapping me repeatedly across the face, coercing me to prove that here I stand with my everlasting love. Their love demonstrated by the heralds of bobbing and dancing red heart balloons.
Where was the specially commissioned train guard to protect forlorn, empty-armed, date-free, shoe-shuffling and miserable gits? Where were the blindfolds to protect chastened innocent eyes against such humiliating expressions of gooey, self-congratulatory vanity? None amongst the faceless crowd could stop the smug mob as they neared their objects of affiliation, bound by a lemming-like call of duty.
I watched the variety of humanity on display, differentiated by a sliding scale of affected affection-induced purpose. Leading the field, and taking no prisoners, were the hopelessly devoted men. They had a faraway look in their eyes, possessed almost, speed walking home to the promise of sexual decathlons. Behind them were the love-laggards, the ‘I’ll do it if you do it ‘ corps. Here was their subtext: “get me a God-damn worthy representation of your spontaneous idolatry or we’re finished. Oh, what a lovely surprise. You shouldn’t have…you’re very naughty, you know…” Oh, they know all right. Finding their own quiet, sly channels, and making their own wrist-reluctant statement in the melee, were other brigades: those too vain, too proud or too shy. Bouquets downwards, lest they might betray themselves as someone with feelings. The last thing you want to see in a commuter. And following along, earnest and true, really not giving a damn, those whose home-bound journey was patently no different than on any other day, except for awkward accessories protruding from pockets, like orphans in a home for conditional presents.
I emerged desperate to put some dust-chewed humbling pie distance between me and the dope herd, the other side of the ticket barrier. Only one exit. The gauntlet of last-chanced, Valentined retail shop shite was just a few pissed-off steps from me. I steeled myself. Focus. Eyes down. Don’t be taken in by the Piagetian early embracers, too impatient and mistrusting to wait and see what price-tagged-love has in store. Stampeding sycophants gagging me with unbridled pheromoans and blinding me with shocking pinks. Get behind me, satin. I move closer to the street where singles sanity and the numbers game can prevail.Where unemployed hormones are free to roam. I dared to hope. If I’m lucky, an alternative Valentine’s day crowd may appear, minus the disillusionment of fantasy relationships, laughing their faces off at the pantomime parading in front of them.
I looked up. It was a rookie error.
Ahead of me, no more than fifteen feet away, in front of a ‘gotcha now’ flower stall, cradling his bouquet of mixed flowers with a questionable degree of Bambied masculinity, was my very recent ex-girlfriend’s very new boyfriend.
What a testicle clamping disaster. Turner, Van Gogh, Dali and Attenborough had clubbed together to invest in a flower stall, arranged by Bunuel, so that boyfriend—haloed with a floral head-dress belonging to an alpha conqueror, transported from exotic, flower-flogged Netherlands—would have nature, nurture and girlfriend on his side. This was unknown, distressing testerone evaporating territory.
Under the circumstances, I could not approach his bunch of flowers and not react. For a millisecond, I hoped he hadn’t seen me. I stood as small-shouldered as I could; my arms, save for a rolled newspapers, were conspicuously bare. Of course he had seen me. I was right in front of him. It felt like, Lovesong, the Ted Hughes poem, where we wore each other’s faces and knew so intimately what hell the other was going through.
Nothing else for it. All I could do was Brit the thing out, in true gentlemanly, cojones-free pretend-style. I had to speak first. Be the one who doesn’t hold grudges, can still make eye contact, and is not crushed. And can still, lest he forget, be a man.
“Hi, and how…are you doing?” I said, borrowing a Telly-tubby’s voice.
“Oh, hi. Yeah, you know. Ok. Real good.”
I ran this reply through forensics. ‘Ok’ revealed generous goodwill. He could afford it. It was dripping off him, gallons to spare. I didn’t want him to offer good will, because nestling ever so close, in that unspoken language that eyebrows teach eyebrows when the pupils aren’t looking—was the feeling sorry for me look. I couldn’t take that. Anything but that.
And just like that, I smelled victory. I noticed a nuance of body weight shift from one foot to the other. Then—a biggie—the clear downward movement of the flowers. First to his side, then to a place behind his back. I’ve really won. This totally confirms it. The hiding of the trophy emblem. It was a dead give-away.
I too could be magnanimous in victory, I decided. It’s what a gentleman would do. “So, got any plans tonight?” What a fucking moron. Of all the things to not say, this was the one to throw in front of a speeding train. In the face of my capitulation, he stood astonished.
“You know…the usual,” he replied, confidently. Great. I had gifted him ‘usual.’ It would always be his usual and my nothing. My nothing usual. Not tonight. No. Buggger-all in fact. I looked to the flower vendor for some salvation. He must have sold a squillion-sunshine’d-worth of flowers while I’d well and truly fisted myself for Clapham High Street to see.
“Alright, mate. Some luvverly flowers for someone special on Valentine’s? Go-on. You know you want to…”
It arrived. Warming its hands on the folly of gentlemanly necessity: his feeling sorry. For me. I even saw the flowers go further behind his back, to demonstrate how sorry he really was. At that moment, I knew he so did not want to be me for anything in the world. And he didn’t have to. I was being me for him. And right at that moment—because the ground had not opened up to swallow me, and the hidden flowers behind his back were not actually for me—I noticed out of my peripheral vision, the only other visitor to intensify this architectonic catastrophe.
My ex-girlfriend was standing next to us in the most unequal of love triangles.
“Oh? Er…hi.” How much time had she to prepare for that greeting? One that had started life pumped up full of Valentine’s love, from way back in the happy place called ‘before you faking showed up to piss on our chips’, but emptied out, having been upstaged by possibly the most awkward moment in at least three people’s lives.
More forensics: “Oh”, was definitely open to interpretation. Maybe the start of an extended ‘”Ohhh, you shouldn’t have,”’ or ‘”Ohhh how nice, you came to meet me.’” “Er” however, was not. “Er” was the sword poised between him and me that she was assessing incredulously, that had not been driven through me. “Hi” was about me, but not really to me. It was the blade begging for balls. Finish them now.
A bastard being in the moment appeared. It stretched till it bled and stripped our pretensions bare, as now we all played the Ted Hughes-face-wearing-poem game together. A kind of you’re it without touching. Just looking without reading eyes.
“Well.” I think was mentioned eventually. The well that was just about the only well worth having, as a punctuation to crystallize the moment. I’d been in a haze of embarrassed confusion and can’t recall who said it. I just remember sloping off into the night, feeling the size of an emasculated ant who had just been punched hard in the stomach by a small girl.
Photo by psigris