Night Lights – Part One
PLEASE LEAVE ME THE WAY YOU FIND ME is printed on a notice stuck to the back of the mediator’s toilet door. Under this someone has scrawled, “Wow! A talking toilet.”
In this toilet you stand up and flush the empty bowl, then wait before strolling back out of the cubicle – as long as it would take you to pull up pants and fasten your belt. You do this in case the man washing his hands in the sink doesn’t know what you know: That everyone here is just delaying the inevitable confrontation they are about to have. Then again, even in here there’s a family planning poster.
On the notice, someone else has crossed out talking and replaced it with the word printing. If I had a pen I might replace toilet with foetus.
A poster in the waiting room claims that when used correctly the withdrawal method leads to pregnancy for only 4% of couples in a year. Yet for typical use it is 19%. For the rhythm method the numbers are 8% and 13%. It reminds me how I ended up here.
I first spoke to Sarah at school, where every Friday a new woman is stood at the front of class waving her arms and talking about contraception. This is at an age before sex has almost – but not quite – become a four-letter word.
The woman that told us about the rhythm method, she joked that it isn’t about quantity or quality – it’s about quandity, as they don’t say in France. She said if we have any questions we should feel free to stop her. Only she didn’t mention stats like the poster does, just talked about cycles and mucus, periods and lining. At the point where the woman was saying how because she’s religious, she uses the rhythm method herself, that’s when I first mumbled something to Sarah.
At least the woman was honest. At the end she went, yes – I do have children – three boys. Someone had to ask that. You see, however well they tried to teach us, those talks always made our class stick to wax jackets and girl sweets. But maybe that’s how they wanted it.
These days though, me and Sarah, we’re moving on to a more advanced contraception technique – a form of coitus interuptus of our own – we no longer see each other.
It happens all the time.
Take my best friend. He was married, well, still is. But his wife’s take on I do changed after doctors sucked the third child out of her. They live together, but they no longer smile and ask how their day was. To the children, though, they are still as happy as the day the dog fell over chasing its tail.
Some relationships die slowly like a plant: Something poisons the roots and the rot spreads. It’s unnoticeable at first to those outside, but the plant knows it is doomed. And even if the flowers look ok stuck in a vase for show, touch them and you’ll find they are brittle, potpourri memories.
You could say my relationship died like a butterfly, right after sex. The funeral has left me wrapped up in a blanket alone at night, hiding from the light that shines through my window and keeps me awake. The only escape is pushing my face into a pillow and covering my ears.
In nature, butterflies can spend months as a pupa, then just get a day of fresh air. How’s that fair? Think about having spent all that time cocooned and alone, then waking up in a place you think you’ll spend forever in. You have a house, a home even, and another to share life with. Imagine being that butterfly gliding happy, blissfully unaware that the world is about to end.
The words go like this, stop me if you’ve heard them. “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.”
But it happens, friends say.
On the other hand, some relationships die much faster, in a car crash of realization. See those couples that think nothing can harm them as they speed along at a hundred miles an hour – moving in one month, getting wed the next. What they take for granted is the action of others. They forget that no matter how good your driving, all it takes is for someone else to plough into you and it’s game over.
No one is ever truly dating the most beautiful person in the world.
Well, I was, right until last month’s repayments cleared. See, in London these days, all you can afford on your own is a room. If there are two of you then your total wage can be multiplied by a handful of the bank manager’s fingers and put towards a mortgage. You’ll be in debt for a long time, but at least you’ll have somewhere to start a family, that’s what you think. After all you are going to spend the rest of your life with this person. Right? And house prices can only keep going up.
My new bedsit, I found it before my tears dried. Looking at it and being told I could move in whenever made me smile for the first time since I care to remember. The problem is my place loses value once it gets dark outside. Each and every night, the security light on the outside of the building beams in through my curtains. This feature wasn’t listed alongside shared kitchen and bathroom.
Imagine living like this: you shut your eyes and suddenly the super-senses that comic book heroes get when they go blind stop by for coffee. The traffic drives in your corridor, horns blare out, drunken screams. Your blanket itches and tickles. The urine puddle making the toilet smell creeps towards your door to say hello.
The landlord says, yeah that security light often causes a problem on the ground floor. Get a sleeping mask. As you walk away he mumbles that he can’t move the light as it is there for everyone’s safety. Worse, the night before Sarah sends a text message saying she’s missed her period, the light begins to turn on and off, on and off, laughing through the window.
When I see her name on the phone’s screen my insides squeeze up to my throat then back down. My haggis wrapper, it beat like a heart. It’s as if all the nights staring at the phone may have paid off. All my dreams of being back in our shared bed answered. But the message reads short and unsweetened: I’m late. I might be pregnant. We should talk.
No how are you, or, I miss you.
So we become a statistic, like the other 0.1% of perfect couples who get pregnant while the woman is on the contraceptive pill. Or the 5% for whom, typically, it happens.
Photograph by Nina Matthews