Sunday, August 17, 2014

Silver Screen Daydream

(c) Lee Bemrose, obv.

And just as suddenly as she had come into his life, she was gone. For a while Ewan was in a mild state of shock. He felt the way you do when you walk out of a movie into the real world but your mind is reluctant to leave the movie behind. He was stunned that the whole thing had happened at all. Things like that simply didn’t happen to him. He was Ewan. Loner. Loser. He was not without some off-kilter charm, and he was not entirely unattractive, and at least he had a job, but he was still just Ewan.

They met in a bar. Only unlike in the movies, Ewan was drunk and alone, his mind some place he would never go to, playing out some scene that would never happen. Reality had dissolved. Ben had left but Ewan had decided to stay for one more drink. There were loud people all around, normal people with lots of friends and good jobs and interesting things to say. A B-grade comedy was playing silently on the wall-mounted television, and Ewan could pretend he was watching it, if he needed to. But he was thinking about this place, Paris, thinking about being an artist in Paris. He wondered what the air smelled like in Paris, wondered what the sky looked like, wondered what it felt like to stroll down the Champs Elysee at night, wondered how the sun felt on your skin sitting on the grass by the Eiffel Tower. He imagined a whole life where it was okay to be alone, where he didn’t have to speak, where his art justified his existence. He spent a little time wondering what kind of artist he might be. He thought about Lucy Jordan. He liked that old song, “... at the age of thirty seven, she knew she’d never...”

That’s when she sat down at his table. She spoke to him like they were old and comfortable friends.

What are you thinking?” she asked him.

It was only then that Ewan realised he had been smiling. How long had he been smiling like that? Jesus Christ, he must have looked mad. Alone and smiling at a sad song. And drunk. How did he get so drunk?

Sorry?” he said over the noise, desperately stalling for time, wondering what was wrong with her. She looked normal enough, even a little on the attractive side. She was thin, serious looking, was wearing a scarf because scarves were fashionable this season, and a soft leather jacket that he would later learn she had bought in Portobello Road. She pushed her thick-rimmed glasses back up on her nose and sipped her red wine, then asked him again.

What are you thinking?”

Ewan shrugged and sipped his beer and wished he had been drinking wine. What was going on here?

Nothing.” Ewan replied. “Nothing really. Why do you ask?”

You looked, I don’t know, far away, like you were dreaming of another life, in another place.”

Ewan looked at her properly then. He wondered how he looked as he smiled at her. He hoped he looked friendly and not just creepy. She was sitting at the table, her elbows resting on the table top, arms folded. She was looking right at him. They could be good friends, Ewan thought. Mates. Maybe more. To anyone who looked. Ewan wished that Ben would come back now. God that would be perfect. He wanted someone to see this. He looked around the pub as though there might be someone he knew.

I was thinking about... I’ve been thinking about going to Paris,” Ewan said. “For a holiday.” And thought what? He’d been thinking no such thing. But he sounded so convincing he almost believed himself.

She folded her arms tighter, scrunched that cherry red leather. “Ah, Paris. I like Paris.”

It was then that Ewan noticed she had a slight accent. She sounded Australian, but British too. He liked that. It made her exotic. This was too good. Where the hell was Ben? Ewan thought about texting him and asking him to come back. But no, that would be stupid. She would end up leaving with Ben. Ben could fuck off and find his own exotic girl.

You’ve been? To Paris?”

I go all the time. I used to live there.”

Ewan swooned a little. He’d never had anyone this cool talk to him like this. She had lived in Paris and she was talking to Ewan. Ben’s not going to believe this...fuck Ben, stop thinking about Ben. Think about her. Don’t lose her. Don’t scare her off. Act cool. Play the role. Be cool. Can you be cool? Yeah, yeah, I just need to relax. Offer to buy her a drink... holy shit, why did you get so drunk? She finds out you’re pissed she’ll be out of here. Fucking hell, how do I keep this going? What do I say? She’s lived in Paris and I’ve been nowhere...say something and say it now or she’ll get up and go to another table...

Wow. That must have been good. Living in Paris.” Ewan was a little impressed with how calm he sounded, and soon they were talking. Just talking. They told each other their names and she told him about Paris and he listened and nodded as though he were taking notes for his planned holiday. They had more drinks, and lost themselves in talk, and Ewan was funny and she laughed and she made him laugh, and somewhere in the back of Ewan’s mind was the realisation that this was possibly the happiest he had been in his entire, uneventful little life.

But it got better. In the following weeks there was more laughter and more drinking and more talking and more sex than Ewan had ever imagined. Well perhaps not more than he had imagined; he had a lot of imaginary sex. But it was more sex than he had ever really expected to have with the same person. They even fucked in the park a couple of times, in broad daylight. But mainly they did it at his place or hers, on the couch or in the shower, sometimes in the middle of cooking a meal when their mouths tasted of wine. It was delicious, raw, dirty sex and Ewan couldn’t shake that feeling that he was living in a movie. It was all just too good. It made Ewan feel like a different person. It made him feel like the person he always should have been. It made him feel like the lifetime of bumbling fuck-ups and mistakes had never happened.

And then she was gone. She went back to London, back to her life. And Ewan went back to his life, back to being Ewan. They both agreed that it had all been fun, but that was all. It was just one of those things. Ewan hoped that the manner he adopted indicated that this kind of thing happened to him all the time. Like, hey, I’m cool, whatever, it’s been a blast, have a happy life.

But that feeling lingered long after she had gone. Did that really happen? Had a woman really walked up to him in a bar? Had they really had what would have been referred to in a review, if it had been a movie, a torrid affair? How had it happened? Why Ewan? Was it ever going to happen again?

For a while Ewan tried to make it happen again, but it just didn’t work. He took to smiling at strangers in bars and pubs, but they didn’t see him. Or they ignored him. Just as they always had. In time he stopped trying to catch their attention and just accepted that it was never going to happen again. The world was simply too preoccupied with itself to bother with Ewan, just as it had always been. And in any case, the truth of it was, when he dug down deep enough and forced himself to look, the truth was that he didn’t want it to happen again. Not with someone new. Cora, it seemed, had taken something of Ewan away with her.

Ewan went back to his mundane job and his small group of misfit friends and getting quietly drunk with Ben, and dreaming of another life, in another place.

Ewan laughed when the first postcard arrived. It was so kitsch. A red double decker bus, a London Bobby, Big Ben and London Bridge, some stupid line about London. He flipped it over and read and smiled to himself. It was just a short note saying that she had been thinking of him and hoped he was well. He smiled until there were tears in his eyes. He had not really expected to hear from her, but he was glad he had. He went to the newsagent and bought the worst postcard he could find. It was so tacky it was brilliant.

Over the months he built up quite a collection of awful postcards from London and Paris (she had to catch the train to Paris from time to time for her job. Imagine!) and he visited all the tawdry souvenir shops in town to hunt down the ugliest of them from Sydney. It made more sense, of course, to email or instant message, but somehow they knew that this was better, that they both enjoyed this little game, the suspense of checking the letterbox each day and the small thrill of receiving the postcard. Ewan even enjoyed, in a strange way, the disappointment of the empty letterbox. It meant there would probably be something there the following day. Or the day after that. They had such a similar sense of humour that he knew she would be doing the same. That was the thing; they had clicked. And it got Ewan thinking.

Ewan looked at the ticket. He couldn’t believe it. Who would have thought? And his passport. His own passport. He shook his head in wonder. He looked at the photo again. He should have held his chin up a little more. Slight double chin. Never mind. He smelled the passport. He looked down at the blank pages. He smiled. “Thank you Lucy Jordan,” he said quietly.

Ewan had everything planned. Mrs Thompson, his neighbour, would call in and water the plants and feed the cat. He had considered asking Ben or his mother but they would snoop; Mrs T, he felt sure, would not. But he hid his stash of porn in a locked suitcase just to be sure. He said goodbye to Owen, trying, he knew, to load the moment with more drama than was reasonable. He just about conjured tears, but it was no good; the cat quite clearly did not give a shit. One last look around his neat unit, and it was time to go.

Ewan knew he shouldn’t feel as excited as he did as he swung his suitcase into the boot of the cab. But he couldn’t help it. He closed the boot and walked to the side and hesitated before taking the back seat.

Domestic or international, the driver asked in a thick Mediterranean accent and with little interest.

Ewan paused a beat before intimating “International,” as though it was the kind of thing he said all the time. The taxi driver grunted as he pulled out into the traffic. Ewan looked at the security camera mounted above the rearview mirror. He did something subtle with his mouth before turning to gaze out the window. Three quarter profile. Perfect.

This is no good at all, Ewan thought as he took his new woolen coat off and wiped the sweat from his brow; he was trying to get into the spirit of things, but the London weather was not co-operating. 26 degrees and sunny? He wanted fog and frost and bitter cold, not summer heat. Didn’t fly half way around the world for something I could have at home. He considered saying this out loud so that a passerby might realise that we was an international traveler, but he realised he was being foolish; he was not here for the weather. He would save this line for another, more appropriate time. An uttered complaint about the food perhaps. Or the wine. Yes, he would peruse a wine list and mutter “Koonunga Hill?” And deliver his line and the waiter would be suitably impressed.

Ewan walked and walked that first day, eventually taking in too many tourist attractions. He had not intended to walk so far, nor see so many tourist attractions. He had actually intended to go for a bit of a stroll, wait for the tiredness to set in and go back to his hotel room for a sleep. But he got lost. Each time he thought he knew where he was it proved to be a trick, and there was another tourist attraction which he decided to see in case he never found it again. Eventually, hot and tired and unable to take in another single piece of historical information, he placed his fate in the hands of a London cabbie, a nice enough bloke who didn’t have the decency to ask where Ewan was from. Back in his hotel room Ewan lay down on his bed, his body aching, and closed his eyes on the blur of centuries of history.

And woke confused. Such dreams. But what is this? This place? These dreams. This room. What time? But day or night? And why don’t I know? Oh god, they were beheaded on this very spot? What? What? Beheaded? Who beheads? Who got beheaded?

When his world came back into focus, Ewan giggled a little; he was already looking forward to being home and telling anyone who cared to listen about all the things he had seen.

On the second day Ewan decided to deliver the postcard. He hadn’t wanted to visit on the first day; that would have seemed odd, he knew that. He had hoped he might bump into her in the streets of London. But no such luck. So it was back to the original plan. And here he was, standing on her doorstep thinking yellow, her door is yellow. As yellows went it was not bad, but yellow was not his favourite colour. In fact it was probably his least favourite colour. Sometimes purple really bugged him, but purple was usually in some sort of context, like hippies or something, and it could well have been the context and not the actual colour that bugged him; what use had hippies ever been? But yellow... yellow needed no context, and in fact it was doubtful yellow even had a context. Certainly there was no connotation or implication that sprung to mind... canaries perhaps, although it’s not like you always look at yellow and immediately think ah, canaries... why do you do this? Just knock on the yellow door and get this started. She will laugh so hard when she sees you... but what if she doesn’t laugh? Or worse, what if she laughs too hard? It should be okay. Waited two days. Wait on – flew half way around the planet and waited two days and that makes it all right? My God - is this not a case of stalking? Am I a stalker? She will let you know soon enough if she thinks you are stalking her, now will you just knock on the yellow door please?

Ewan raised his hand to the yellow door and paused. He thought about the thing, the part of him that Cora had taken. It was a small thing. He imagined it sitting in the palm of a hand, so bright you couldn’t see it properly. But it was the most important thing. The single most important thing. Whether she laughed too hard or didn’t laugh at all, he was going to tell her. He was going to say the words just like they do in the movies. And if it was wrong it would hurt, but he would turn and walk nobly away –

The door swung open.


An expletive apology tumbled from Ewan’s mouth.

What are you doing? Almost gave me a heart attack.”

I’m... er, I’m Looking for Cora,” Ewan said. He realised he was speaking in a slight British accent, similar to this woman’s accent. And he realised that he was blinking rather a lot. He resisted the urge to run his hand through his hair; a little bit of Hugh Grant went an awfully long way.


Yes, I was, erm, I... I was in the area and thought I’d pop in and... is... is she in?” Ewan asked as he squinted a little. He wasn’t sure where this Hugh Grant business had come from, but he was committed now. The accent stays, he told himself, so does the stammering and the blinking, but do not touch your fucking hair.

No. No I’m afraid she’s not. She’s staying with her boyfriend for a while. Can I giver her a message?”

Ewan felt everything stop. He wanted someone to say cut! He wanted someone to say no no no that’s not the line! First positions everyone, get ready for another take and let’s get it right this time people. Aaaand...action.

Boyfriend,” Ewan said flatly as he felt the postcard being screwed into the palm of his hand. “Ah.”

The woman stepped fully outside and locked the door.

Yes, bless her. Think she’s in love with this one. Who shall I say called?”

He almost said Owen, but it was too close to his own name. Under no circumstances must she ever know that he had been here. Cora had not known the clumsy part of him, the stupid version the rest of the world knew. So instead he said that his name was Grant, told her twice so there could be no mistake, and said they had gone to university together and that he had been in the area, and that it had been several years since they had seen each other, and that he would call again soon.

Ewan had never been so embarrassed and depressed as he was for the rest of his stay in London. He stayed in his hotel room. He ate little. He drank a lot. He sent postcards back home. He berated himself and fabricated fictitious versions so that no one would ever know what a fool he was. For Ben and his friends, he had spent a wonderful month with her but it had not worked out. They would expect photos - he had lost his camera, and in any case did not want reminders of this beautiful thing gone wrong. His mother would be saddened to hear that the position he had applied for at the BBC had given to someone else - never mind, the company had paid for the flight and it had been an invaluable experience. Mrs Thompson... oh God, why had he told her he was going to Paris to get married to a woman named Lucy? Why had he done that? He would tell her that poor sad Lucy never made it, fell ill and didn’t make it. He had attended her funeral, not her wedding. Yes, that’s what happened.

As Ewan stood in the line amid the chaos of Heathrow Airport, shuffling closer to the check-in, he knew he had everything covered. He knew that no one would ever know the details of this mistake. He knew they would never guess the stratospheric level of his stupidity. His shame would be forever his own. And he knew their correspondence would cease.

What Ewan might never know was the turn his life might take. He might never know that if the story had been in the hands of another director, Ewan would have been told look up, look up now. Look at the passengers streaming through the arrivals gates. See the tired ones and the happy ones, all these lives streaming through and branching off into their own worlds. Look up now Ewan, look at the faces, find that one face in the crowd, that one in a million. There. Yes. That’s her. She’s the one. Read her face. She looks tired, yes, it has been a long flight, but there is more, so much more. Your reaction? You piece it together, you realise the misunderstanding. You are relieved and amazed, and somehow frightened by how infinitesimally close you came to missing each other. Go to her now, this director would have said, that’s what you must do, Ewan, before it’s too late, before you lose each other forever. As she turns and heads to the baggage collection area, that is your cue to go to her. You will not have to say anything. You will simply know, both of you will know and you will move into each others arms hold each other like you never want to let go, and it will be exactly like it is in the movies, the happiest of endings. But you must look up now, Ewan. Stop looking at the blank pages of your passport and look up...

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