"Kissing Lying Down"
Arriving at the bar half an hour late I point out, “I’ve ended up looking sort of Russian,” and the two of them laugh. The garb is bootleg stretch denims with a dragon design down one thigh, and a silky knit v-neck in fresh wound red – sexy, of a kind, but neither classy nor current. There’s a comment from Alison that she’d forgotten how tiny I am.
I’d got dressed on a wave of overtired mania, after a week spent packing boxes, moving, then unpacking. I insist on champagne. When have I ever done that? But I’ve a home to toast. Am answerable to no-one. And emerging from the subway into gold evening air, the pavements teeming, it was apparent that while I’ve been indoors, Glasgow has been having a moment: a 75 degree hot spell and host to the Commonwealth Games. The bar is wall-to-wall with people making the most of it.
It’s ages since we’ve managed the same bar on the same night. Pouring. Cheers-ing. There’s a bringing-up-to-speed before the conversation turns to men. “Can’t remember when I last reached a third date.” Lianne looks deflated. “They come, they go.”
“At least they come before they go,” I offer.
Tipsy on fizz I put it out there, “Maybe not sleeping with them right away would make them more likely to stick around.”
She freezes mid-glass-lift. This could be the end of the evening.
“If the current model isn’t working,” I qualify, “no harm in reconsidering the model.”
Alison piggybacks my courage, “Yeh, make them work a little, so they appreciate it when they get it.” And we’re all laughing, not because her suggestion was that funny, but because it’s obvious to Lianne we’ve been waiting to say this, and she’s left the pit-bull in its cage and allowed us air time.
Lianne sets her glass down. “Fine, bitches. Can I kiss someone who buys me dinner?”
“Not for a few months,” I tell her. “Till you’ve gauged if he sees you as a keeper.” I am finding myself hilarious.
“If you’re worried his interest is dwindling,” Alison’s saying, “you can get involved in occasional kissing lying down.”
“You told me no sex.” “It’s just kissing. But lying down.” Which is the stage after upright kissing, according to Alison’s gran. “The drawback,” I warn, “is that once you’ve done that, no-one else will marry you.”
The bar doors are wide to the tail end of today’s heat and second-hand tobacco smoke. We’ve been sharing opposite ends of a sturdy table with another group of three but the group has gone; replaced by a guy with the weekend paper spread in front of him. There’s no weighing it up, I simply do what comes naturally and rescue the poor soul – he can’t read a paper on his own, not on a Saturday night. And that’s what I tell him, to bring him in, and when it’s achieved I glance back, head cocked; And that, ladies, is how easy it is to meet men. I excuse myself to the bathroom. When I return a second man has joined him. He hadn’t been a poor soul after all, he’d been a guy waiting for a friend.
Our attention is back on ourselves but we don’t find our rhythm, can’t seem to settle. Alison and Lianne talk towards me while their eyeballs dart. Alison was at the Games’ opening ceremony; she’s trying to persuade us it was better than it looked on TV. Lianne’s having none of it. She’d switched off at the singing janitor.
“My dad’s a janitor,” says newspaper-man.
We haven’t been left alone. I pivot to address the neighbour, and see that two have become three. A third guy’s in the seat to my right.
I’m calling bullshit on newspaper-man. “Is that right? Where does he work?” And he’s laughing.
Lianne’s mid-flow, “…I don’t have Tunnocks in the cupboard and I don’t country dance.”
“Shame,” the new guy replies. “Was going to ask if you wanted to strip… the willow.” From his lingering grin, I clock ‘pished guy’ and chuck in, “Anyone notice that a reeling drunk was missing from that jamboree of all-things-Scotia?”
I don’t do wasted and don’t care for wasted next to me. Booze alone or Class A side-effects? Or just the way his face works – blank, possibly guarded. One ear’s on him, one ear’s for the rest of the table. He’s been away. He mentions jet lag. He’s back to use his vote. He might stick around if Scotland becomes independent but if not, he’s off again.
The guy seated on the end is having to work harder not to be left out. He grabs his chance to play the chivalry card by asking our names, then informing us that he is Keith, the newspaper guy is Sean and the one next to me is, “A total knob”. He’s a man jockeying for top spot.
Noticing that each guy is wearing a washed-out cotton tee with a faded band logo, I flick my head in Keith’s direction. “What’s going on with the t-shirts – they ironic?”
“Ironic? Nope. Is your jumper an antique?”
“I was thinking it looks a bit Russian Brides dot com,” I answer, standing up to display the stretch-denim dragon.
“Right enough… pre-glasnost.”
I lean across for a high five, chuckling. I could reel this one in but remind myself that’s not why I’m here. Having just separated, I’m on go-slow in a siding till I’m ready to pick up speed. “S’always a bit hit-and-miss with me,” I explain. “Lianne and Alison have a knack of looking gorgeous all the time.” I’m hoping my friends will jump in and build on this groundwork.
The total knob goes to the bar and returns with a large wine for each of us. Which we’d have declined if asked. The last-orders lights have flashed, and who could drink this much wine in fifteen minutes without vomiting in a side-street fifteen minutes after?
TK offers his glass to clink and I reciprocate with eyes averted, preferring to stay in the general chat. After a couple of minutes I’m sure I’m being looked at, so I turn and mirror his fly-catching face. He doesn’t twig, asking, “What’re you staring at?”
I answer like a ten-year-old, “Not sure, the label’s fallen off.”
Groups have started bustling past our table and a barman’s adding empties to his stack, shouting, “Time up! Drink up!” And in that second there’s a decision to make. Everyone knows it. Who’ll speak first?
“I’ll never manage to finish this,” says Alison, sipping.
“Bring it with you,” says Sean.
“Bring it…” she considers. “Take it, you mean?”
“No, grammar girl, bring, we’re heading to my flat, if you want to join us.”
The barman’s calling, “Do your talkin while you’re walkin, folks!”
“I’m not drunk enough to commit theft,” she says, and Keith tells her, “They know him in here. He always brings, takes, whichever, back the empties.”
“How far’s this flat?” asks Lianne.
“Yards,” TK responds.
It needs only a nano glance between us – We in? Aye, we’re in – and next thing we’re gathering bags and lifting glasses and tripping along the pavement like it’s Ibiza 2003. And it’s not fully dark because in summer, if it’s not cloudy, it never hits absolute night.
If only Glasgow could be like this more often. Too warm for jackets. New people into a gang. Spur of the moment.
We bundle through the tenement’s main door and Sean leads us up the stone stairs. Our quips echo in the tiled stairwell and it doesn’t occur to me we’re waking anyone. Who could be asleep? On the first flight I notice that TK has positioned himself alongside, he is accompanying me up and he bumps an arm against mine. His way of letting me know: claimed.
It bothers me that my response is to feel flattered. I’ve decided nothing, Sunshine. Can’t say his chat has impressed. Maybe he’d have talked more if I’d paid any attention.
Lianne and I sit on one leather couch. Alison, Keith and Sean are on the other. TK’s plugging his phone into the speakers to get the music sorted. When that’s done he takes the seat next to me.
I’m bantering with Keith about bringing women up here all the time, how handily Sean’s place is located and how it’s not too shabby a place. Keith is changing spot, perching on the arm by Lianne, equipped with what he’s about to reveal as his trump card. “Compared to what it was like when Sean bought it,” he says, “it’s a fucking excellent flat. Guess how much he paid. Three bedrooms, kitchen, living room. Guess.”
If I fancied him, I’d want him to win this, but I don’t. And Lianne isn’t fast enough. So I tell him, because I reckon I know. “Sixty-five grand.” He looks at me like he’d assumed it would take longer. It seemed obvious, somehow, from the way he asked, and from where we are: it’s a nice flat but only because it’s had work done. Not a great street. Not something to bid over the odds for in a downturn. He’s stuck for how to keep the to-and-fro going and my attention is drawn elsewhere, the music is demanding comment. “Bohemian Rhapsody? What is it with guys and Bohemian bloody Rhapsody?”
“If it’s a guys’ song, why’s a burd singing it?”
“That’s a woman?”
“Yer maw,” quips Sean.
“Naw, your skanky maw,” TK shoots back, as he walks over to his phone, not that I’d meant for him to check. “S’Pink,” he announces.
“Ah, so, neither of your mothers then.” A fart-in-the-wind gesture for gender respect, but something.
Maybe he’ll find talking less of an effort if there’s only one person to keep up with. I ask what he was doing abroad. He tells me, “Tattoos,” and asks if I’d like one. I examine his slack face for signs of lying and use my instinct. “What were you actually doing?”
Sean answers for him, “Working in a helium balloon factory.”
TK adds, “But I didn’t want to be spoken to like that anymore, so I left.”
Alison cackles. I keep it in. I’m waiting.
“Splitting up with my girlfriend,” he says, “then changing my ticket so I could visit friends in New Zealand on the way home.”
“Nice, you left her to travel back herself.”
“She started a job in Australia. I went over to see if I wanted to join her. I didn’t.”
It happens again with the music: a song I recognise with an unexpected singer. He tells me it’s my turn to check. I tell him I don’t need to. “Johnny Cash doing Redemption Song. Odd gems in your phone.”
“Brother dumped his collection onto my hard drive. S’a voyage of discovery.”
I wish I had something to reach for instead of wine. Alison’s conversation drifts into the gap. “Never get too drunk to floss, that’s my rule.” Party on. I look round to smile at the overheard wisdom and see that Lianne and Keith aren’t here. The gang isn’t a gang. There’s a man and a woman on each couch. That’s the pairs decided. Well, it’s past two in the morning – are we here to debate, or to scratch an itch and go home?
I wonder if Lianne’s alright. Should I knock the bedroom door for a quick, ‘Okay lady?’ through the wood? But Alison seems unconcerned and if Keith had dragged Lianne we’d have noticed – maybe she dragged him.
“Who’s this then?” TK flicks a finger towards the speakers.
“I want to say, the Grateful Dead?”
I can tell from his eyes he wasn’t expecting that.
“Not just a pretty face.” I add a wink.
“Not even,” he laughs, “and that’s with beer goggles.”
“Beer helmet... fiver says you’ve been drinking since yesterday.”
“Oh mate, you must hate your life if you need to stay drunk for three days.”
“Wouldn’t be drinking if Sean kept anything better but he’s cleaned up.”
“Figures. You’re the sad case still partying when his friends have gone straight.”
And then I become the sad case who starts singing along to a song regardless of who’s in earshot. I’ve no choice, it’s those opening chords. Graceland. The ebullient tone, the skippity pace, and if you’re not careful you could think it’s a cheerful ditty but the chords are telling you something else, they are clawing at fragile scar lines, and whenever that songs starts up (shop, bar, elevator, wherever) I can never move. I have to stay with that song till it’s over.
As I sing TK is silent. Clasped hands on his knees. I wonder if he’s taking the piss but he’s listening, head tilted towards mine. “She comes back to tell me she’s go-one…” The notes ascend, curl and bend over the tappity beat and I don’t care who can hear me put feeling behind the words, “Loo-oosing love is like a window in your heart, everybody sees you’re blown apart…”
When the song finishes he shuffles to the edge of the cushion and stands, saying, “You’re one of those folk who wants to drink for three days but won’t give in to it.” He goes to his phone. Swipes at its screen. Young Fathers starts playing and I’m thinking, Who doesn’t hanker after a litre of gin and a locked door sometimes? He takes his seat. We spend several quiet seconds failing to find a route back into conversation. He’s watching me. “How about moving your hips with the music,” is what he says.
“Right. Like I’m going to lap-dance for you.” But he’s declared intent. He’s brought us back to the reason we’re all still here. If no-one’s phoned a taxi yet, why else?
I haven’t lifted my drink from the table since we arrived but I could do with something. “A glass of water would be good,” I say. He gets up. So do I. I don’t bring my wine to the kitchen.
It’s been a long time since I kissed someone who wasn’t my ex. And here’s this right-in-front-of-me chance to get back on the road of kissing people who aren’t him. Somebody has to be the first next person.
I reckon alcohol is making him more confident. Standing in the middle of the kitchen he compliments my lips. His hand is inside my v-neck, massaging over my bra. His other arm is on my back, keeping us close.
“Like my body, too?” I ask. He gives me the answer punctuated by mouth contact, but not eye contact. “Big headed. Full of yourself.” He’d started the compliments but is in no mind to keep them going. I lead him to the chairs beside a pine table tucked in the alcove. There’s a computer on it. I take the fleece cardigan that’s hanging on a chair and chuck it over the monitor, with its built-in camera. He snorts, and I say, “Well, I don’t know your pal from Adam. He’s not getting a free show for his collection.”
We bring our chairs closer, kissing, grabbing at breasts and thighs. I’d loosen something but there are people who could walk in. What a teen party flashback this all is. He makes an attempt to access a breast with his mouth, pulling lace aside to the sound of threads cracking. He doesn’t deviate from his mission.
“That’s what I get for winching a drunk brute.”
“Oh, this is me being nice, darlin. If I was a brute,” he says, lifting me onto the table in one movement. The monitor topples. “Shit!” I laugh and so does he, setting it right.
There’s a tap-tap on the door. I regain composure.
“On my way to the bathroom.” It’s Alison. “Having a nice time you two?”
“Yes. Dropped the kettle. In the sink. All good.”
As her heels meet the floorboards he lunges at my neck, presses me half onto the table and unzips my jeans. My hands are inside his t-shirt, touching his damp skin, pushing up material to work my mouth over his chest. And before I can decide whether I’d have gone that far, his hand has worked its way between my pants and my pussy. My wetness deepens our breathing.
“No.” I hold his wrist and remove his hand. A little fun, fine, but who wants anything smacking of intimacy with an inebriated stranger?
I sit back down. He lowers his head to my crotch, inhales, brings his face to my neck, gnaws it and works at his own buttons. When he sits up his dick is on display.
“Lick it,” he says.
“I don’t know where it’s been.”
I put my hand round it instead and he groans as I kiss his mouth. But it’s territory I wish I hadn’t crossed into so I find a way back, drawing his attention to the voices in the living room. “Still talking. How civilised.”
“Get on with it,” TK hollers, and we’re ha-ha-ing.
He guides my eyes downward. I shake my head.
“What d’you want to do then?”
He has a point. Sitting across from one another on dining chairs, at the cluttered end of a tenement kitchen. Play I Spy? But I won’t be changing my mind. I stayed sober enough to know where I am, and to know what I’m doing. I’m not sucking him off.
I hadn’t looked at him directly before. “Got a name?” I ask. I tuck his hair behind his ears to observe his face, because it’s an attractive face and I’m just noticing. He doesn’t tolerate that. Shakes the hair back out. Fair dos, it must have been a slight mothering gesture.
Now we’re standing. I’d gone to the tap for more water, gone for a break from the alcove, and he’s pulling at my waistband and we’re kissing hard. The sensations of what could be happening flood me – that thing I’ve given up indefinitely, by making myself single. I turn my back to him and lean my forearms on the work surface, reach a hand behind and pull him closer till he locks his pelvis on mine. But he doesn’t make more of the opportunity, won’t get involved in dry-humping.
“Tease, aren’t you?”
I turn round, rest against the cabinets, and he lifts my top, lifts my bra, takes a nipple between his thumb and finger, stretching it as he plucks his fingers off. I link our hands, not wanting to risk a repeat of that sensation.
He presses me against the counter and grabs at the apex of my open zip. “S’not happening,” I tell him. “Anyone could walk in.”
“What then?” That question. Right now? I’d choose a comfortable seat. To get lazy and have a laugh. It must be after 3 a.m. and if we could share a couch, he’d pass out. These bodies haven’t slept enough lately and his doesn’t know its time zone.
With his weight against mine, his knuckles grazing my pubic hair, he says, “I could if I wanted.”
Men have shown me this before. Shown how little purchase I can achieve to shift their bodies, the comparative strength of their muscles to mine. I’ve hated that sort of play and have growled at them to quit. And because they were boyfriends, they obliged. I’ve no goodwill in the bank here: I was disdainful of the drunk guy, then chose to take him rather than leave him.
I wriggle away from his hand to fasten my clothes, thinking of something to say that will refocus this. He’s walking towards the chairs. Maybe best to phone a cab. He’s lifting the keyboard and monitor off the table and setting them on the floor. Making room so we don’t have to stand? Wouldn’t the chairs be comfier? Then one arm drags hard on the pine table, moving it enough to cover the doorway.
“Just ’cause you’ve found a way to lock the door I’m not getting naked,” I joke.
He approaches with his empty expression. He covers my mouth with his left hand and sweeps a foot beneath mine so I go down in his grip to the floor. He keeps his hand on my face and positions himself so he’s kneeling astride, shins on my forearms. I’m yelling under his palm. Struggling to bite flesh. I’m able to reach his back with my knees but not with any force. When my shoes land loudly on the kitchen floor he moves down to my thighs. The noises I’m able to make could be stifled laughter.
He can’t get my jeans down with his free hand. He knows he’ll need both. I am waiting for him to move the other hand. He knows this. Holding me in position he reaches for a dishtowel and fits as much as he can in my mouth. The dry weave welds to my tongue which is against the back of my throat, cutting the air from my nostrils. Terror takes hold in my chest.
“S’up to you,” he says, pulling my jeans and underwear down and off one ankle, “going to stay quiet?”
I nod as well as I can. Desperate for breath.
He’s removing the towel. Finding a way in.
I turn my gaze from him.
Mute. Because I don’t want more men in the room.
“You need this,” he’s saying, “Naughty girl.”
Kate Tough’s novel, Head for the Edge, Keep Walking (Cargo) has had five stars on Amazon since 2014 and its revised 2nd edition, Keep Walking, Rhona Beech, is out with Little, Brown in 2019. Recent short fiction is in The Brooklyn Review. Her poetry pamphlet, tilt-shift, was Runner Up in the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award, 2017 and highlighted in the Times Literary Supplement’s notable pamphlets, 2017. Kate’s slavery remembrance piece, ‘People Made Glasgow’, was selected as a Best Scottish Poem 2016. She gained a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow.