To what exact end did he say, “You have a nice night”, emphasis on the You, unsmiling, as he pushed past me, stinging himself, I reckon, on the rubbernecking nettles? And what, exactly, was he so afraid of in my mouth? Gonorrhoea? Or the taste of his own cock?
It’s not sour grapes to say it tasted of sour something. Though maybe, to be fair, from someone else’s mouth. Shudder.
Maybe he thought I might stay and finish myself off.
In the event I just carried on running.
I was still afraid, then, probably. It’s hard to be sure in the duststorm of feelings (both senses) such a thing kicks up – is no doubt designed to kick up. But maybe I was most afraid of just bumping into him again, on another path. I am nothing if not British.
I do know, actually, the answer to Rob’s question, when I unburdened, later: what I was thinking, when I went jogging there at night. I know because I remember the words in my head, not because they were anything, really, but because memory is a quixotic thing, even, as Shae would tell me, if I decide to talk to them about this, when it comes to trauma. (They love that word. Everything is lived experience and trauma now. But I suppose I’d rather that – wouldn’t we all? – than the ’90s and shit happens). What I was thinking was:
Homeward. It sounds like homeward.
Well he did ask.
It works if you talk like the kids in London these days: I’m going Tesco. I’m going Holme Wood. Though the emphasis is wrong. Besides, it wouldn’t work in an Irish accent. That’s another of the privileges I’ll have to check if I ever want to talk to Shae about it. They do at least have a flare for self-parody. They’ll raise one eyebrow and say with a mock-frown:
‘Now, do you want to just check your accent privilege there?’
They can hold it, too. I’d undermine the comedy by laughing.
Like how you sometimes like to undermine trauma by laughing?
Fuck off, Shae.
The real answer to the question, though, is the one I told Rob: I don’t know what I was thinking. I really don’t. If we could read ourselves like manuals we wouldn’t need Shaes would we? I think – I really do – that I was just curious to know what it looked like, felt like, after twilight. But then my sister really thinks she only married Jim because he makes me laugh (when? how?!) and mum thinks she only cleans more maniacally when she’s got guests coming round because I want it to look nice.
I have been reading a lot lately about early humans, wanting to reconnect to the elemental. Alright, Shae, I’ve also been watching a lot of those weird walking-in-the-woods-at-night TikTok Live videos.
Or maybe I just put one foot in front of the other one too many times. I don’t think strategically when I’m running, I’ve never been good at multitasking. Like I said, it was mainly homeward.
What I can say is that I saw him at the beginning, in the clearing where you go in, if you abandon the main path. It wasn’t that dark, really. There was a gibbous moon, and there was, of course, the fog of light pollution that descends, at that hour, from the city.
And yes, the second time he crossed my path (literally) I suppose I did guess what he was doing. And yes, I did get surprised by horniness then, because I’d glimpsed his face and he was moon-light handsome. And yes, I did stop running the third time. I could still pretend I was just cruising for breath.
I’m not an idiot. I had my mobile phone out, yes, aglow, but it’s worth nothing. And I had to do something.
‘So you’re just running round?’ Eastern European.
‘Yeah. You’re just having a little walk?’
‘Yes.’ And a confused pause. ‘So you just stopped for rest?’
I suppose he was nervous too.
I looked at him, head on. Much bigger than me, and with a Slinky-like quality, like he really might unfurl, one way or another. There was no getting away from it. He was almost-handsome.
‘So where do you go?’
I glanced at the bushes.
He didn’t smile. ‘Follow me.’ And he took us well and truly off the beaten track.
Where was I now? Where, exactly, does thrill end and fear begin? Is it even possible to live in these moments, or is that not the point, are they for later? I almost wanted to ask him.
Did I want him to know I was a first timer, that I hadn’t a clue? Would that add to the frisson, or take away?
But then it was out.
And then his T-shirt was unsheathing too, a big convex belly-button, and so much hair, and an unmistakable smell, and it was too late to ask questions.
I’m not going to tell Shae about it. They don’t need to know everything. They disguise prurience as process sometimes. There’s another universe, somewhere, where people pay the patients to be allowed to know their every thought, not the other way around. In fact, that’s this universe. I saw an ad in the LRB classifieds last week:
Had an affair? Writer and psychoanalyst keen to interview – strictly anonymously – for doctoral thesis. Generous inconvenience allowance.
‘They gave the game away with “Writer”,’ I said to Rob.
I almost wrote in, but on reflection I didn’t think I had anything that counted. Maybe that’s the trouble with open relationships: it’s impossible to get the full charge of real promiscuity.
Maybe I’ll go back one night, jog round slowly at twilight, same pink T-shirt, same short shorts, see if I can’t find him again, see if I can’t get an answer: to what exact end? I mean it. Maybe I will.
Sam Saxton is a writer, TV producer, climber and queer. They have previously had stories published in various magazines, including Litro, Storgy, and Short Fiction. They studied English at Cambridge and live with their partner in North London, England.