Bittersweet

July 25th, 2017

When sitting down with Sandy for dinner at Il ristorante del Luca, I didn’t expect us to be face to face all the time and have continuous conversations about bullshit upon bullshit that neither of us really cared about. We both had our new iPhones out, taking photos of each other and laughing, before the laughter began to fade and we just ended up sat scrolling through Instagram and Facebook looking at what other people were doing right in that moment while we waited for our food. I could see that she ‘liked’ the photo my friend put up of himself, I mean, I wasn’t jealous as such but it does make me feel a bit insecure about myself when I’m dressed in a suit and tried to look as handsome a possible for her, and this date, and she’s still looking at other men. I tagged her in a photo on Facebook that reminded me of her, she laughed and looked up at me and caught my eye and smiled at me.

“Thanks, Oliver.” She said, still smiling. I’m glad I can make her smile, even when we aren’t really talking. When the waitress came over with our food, we both put our phones face down on the table and began eating and giving each other bits of our food that the other one didn’t want. We made slight conversation but I knew it wouldn’t last when we left the restaurant. I’m not blaming her, we’re both to blame for getting so wrapped up in that world. I just wish we hadn’t. We got up, leaving our shared check, with a tip for the waitress, and thanked the hosts of the restaurant. I could see her hand outstretched waiting for me to place mine in hers, “Wait a minute, I’ve just got to reply to Josh.” I explained. I could see a flash of disappointment cross her face, before she quickly hid it with a slight smile of fake nonchalance. I finished my text and slipped my hand in hers, the heat of the mid-summer evening making our palms and fingers clammy.

We passed the usual bars walking back to mine, only to see people in blue high visibility vests trying to coax strangers passing by, in to a church with the words ‘Volunteers Needed for REAL LIFE SIMULATION’ that were written on a big, bright, yellow sign about the entrance. “Hey, Sandy,” Her beautiful face turned to me with wide brown eyes that practically screamed with curiosity, as they always did. “Do you want to check that simulation thing out?” she nodded to me. We went over and a man dressed in a blue vest came over and he explained to us that it was new technology which would temporarily transport us back in time to 1956 for the night. I glanced at Sandy in question as to whether she would be interested in this, but she didn’t even turn to face me, instead she immediately answered “yes” to the simulation.

Bryan (a name that I read on his badge, assuming it was his), opened the old, heavy, brown doors of the church for us. When leading us through the maze of hidden, intricate doors, I saw about ten other people in different rooms in our passing. Volunteers, I presumed. We were told to take off all of our clothes, lie down on separate doctor’s surgery-type beds, while they connected a number of colourful wires to almost every inch of our naked bodies. I don’t know about Sandy, but my heart was beating at such a rapid pace I felt it would almost certainly burst out of my chest at any moment. The door closed, and it was just Sandy and I left in silence, engulfed in the darkness that surrounded us. I knew that Sandy’s bed was about two inches to the right of mine. I lifted my arm slowly, to make sure that I didn’t interrupt or complicate the wires that were attached to it, and felt for her body to give her some reassurance that she wasn’t alone. I was stroking her thigh when I heard a soft, female voice from the speakers that encircled us. “When I count up to five, both of your bodies will be in a deep sleep, whilst we connect your mind to the simulation we have made specifically for the two of you. Say ‘yes’ if you understand what I have said and are ready for me to begin.” I squeezed Sandy’s thigh, and in unison we replied that we were ready. I kept my hand on Sandy’s body, as I heard the woman’s voice slowly count up from one.

“Oliver!” I heard a woman’s voice call me, from what felt like a distance away. “Oliver! Wake up.” I opened my eyes and the first thing I could see was Sandy’s big, brown eyes looking down into mine with concern written on every inch of her face. I was lying down with my head positioned on her lap. “You’ve been out for about fifteen minutes.” I sat up, in a daze. I felt my thigh for my phone, only to remember that such technology wouldn’t exist in this day and age. I was nervous to be spending the next couple of hours with Sandy without one, but I hid my anxiety and smiled weakly at her. Looking around me I saw that we were in the garden of the church that we stepped into just one hour before, except that was 61 years later in the future. I stood up and after helping Sandy up, I looked properly at her. Instead of wearing her usual black skirt and colourful blouse with her long blonde hair falling over her shoulders, she stood in front of me completely changed. Not in a bad way – she could never look bad. She wore a blue and white polka dot halter neck dress, with laced white gloves and wedged red heels. Her hair shorter, fashioned similar to Marilyn Monroe’s, still blonde. She looked mesmerising. “Stop staring at me, Oli.” She said in an irritated tone, but the smile across her face told me she liked it, really, so did her charming giggle. “Look at yourself. You’re almost as average as you were before.” She liked to jokingly bully me (I liked it too). I looked down at myself and saw that I was dressed in a smart white shirt, a bootlace tie around my neck, with a brown drape jacket covering me, matching the narrow trousers that met the black crepe soled shoes at the ankle. I was a fucking Teddy Boy. Why couldn’t they have made me a greaser?

I looked around the street and spotted a record store that was open opposite us. I grabbed Sandy’s hand and pulled her in the direction of it. I opened the door and we were greeted by Eddie Cochran’s classic Rock and Roll voice. I looked at Sandy who was standing behind me, and we grinned at each other. We went over to the record player and put on some Elvis, and since there wasn’t anybody in the record shop except for the shopkeeper, Sandy and I, I took her hand and began dancing with her. I sang into her ear whilst we danced, too. I wasn’t a good dancer or singer, which is probably why she was laughing the whole time, but intimate moments like this were rare. If we had our phones we would taking photos of the records and the aesthetics of the shop for our Instagram followers, but in this moment we can just live it and enjoy it. I felt a tap on my shoulder. “It’s time to go, I’m closing up now.” The shopkeeper told us. He apologised and stated that we were a good couple, and that we should never stop courting. We thanked him, and apologised for staying such a long time. I took her hand in mine as we walked down the street and saw her smile, the most genuine smile I had seen in a long time. For once, I wasn’t too busy texting somebody else to initiate such a gesture, and that was the moment that I realised – after all these months with her, I had overlooked the intimacy that holding hands could create because I was too busy thinking about other things.

We took a walk down the pier and sat down on the wooden floor, with our legs dangling over the almost black sea. When she spoke, I felt like I was really hearing her this time without wondering at the back of my mind if people had messaged me back on Facebook. I found myself asking her questions that I had asked months ago, only to not have properly listened because I was too distracted. We lay back on the floor and looked at the stars, laughing about how stupid it can be to see images in them. We faced each other, discussing our complicated lives and got to know each other again. I had never felt so close with a person in my life.

November 6th 2017

So. Much. Pain. My head was pounding and my mouth was parched. I should not have gotten that drunk on Bonfire Night. I lay on the side of my bed and automatically picked up my phone and began to scroll through my unread messages, and through what I had missed on all social media apps. I felt a hand on my back. It took me a moment to remember that Sandy was in bed with me too. I rolled over to look at her and saw that even though she had her hand on my back, she was on her phone too. She put her phone down and reached out for my hand, only to see I had my phone in it so couldn’t. I saw that same disappointed reaction I always did. She got out of bed and went for a shower, and I continued to sit on my phone. Every so often I would remember that one night in summer where we had just a couple of hours of pure intimacy and connection together, but the pressures of the 21st century immerses us and it’d be just stupidity to imagine that such a relationship could exist without the bittersweet constrictions of social media. But I would never forget her laugh when she heard my terrible singing in the record store, or when her face was lit by the moonlight on the pier, and how no amount of Facebook ‘likes’ would be worth taking those memories away.

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