I want his head.
It’s full of all this knowledge I don’t have, all these stories and texts I’ve never even considered. I want him to recite Beowulf to me and tell me about the differences between this translation and that. Tell me about scribes sitting up into the night, stroking delicate brushwork onto illuminated manuscripts by candlelight. Read me Chaucer in his cool rich voice, all beautifully enunciated and casually callous in all the right places.
He’s a massive lit!nerd and I’m the sparkly social media girl. He probably sees my Tumblr dash every time he passes my computer, me scrolling through arty pix and feminist rants and gorgeous movie gifsets.
Does he know that world? I bet he doesn’t. I bet he’s one of those tediously paranoid people who doesn’t even have Facebook because it’s evil and invasive. Of course I’m on Facebook but I don’t live there. I live on Tumblr where I’m surrounded by all the books and movies and shows I love, where they speak my language of fandom and yes, social media.
I bet he doesn’t even have a smartphone.
No, he does. I saw it yesterday in the lunchroom, lying beside his plate while he told the IT guy that he studied tenth century literature onwards at university.
I nearly annihilated my easy crush water bottle.
He’s not even cute. But there is something about him. First I thought it was awkwardness, that certain social retardation of people who don’t know to enter a workplace and be friendly, make a joke and small talk until the company accepts you and you can reveal your unique snowflakeness.
He didn’t say two words to anyone for the first three months after he joined. I saw that and thought it was arrogance. That he was the sort of asshole who thinks he’s above the nice human decency of warmth and conversation. Just there to do his job and walk out at the end of the day without the slightest acknowledgement of the people around him. That’s so fucking rude. You don’t know how interesting the person at the next desk is, that they do archery on the weekend or made a film or just started on their brown belt for karate. Everyone’s got a whole world within them and the least you could do is ask if they’ve got plans for the weekend.
But turns out he is actually capable of conversation. He’s still quiet and keeps mostly to himself but now I’m looking at him in a whole different way and my imagination is going into overdrive.
I bet he has a favourite Brontë. I bet he prefers Persuasion out of all six Austen novels. Does he like Heyer as an exceptional writer of technique and dialogue or does he think she’s just some hack of romantic drivel not worth his time? I wonder if he can’t stand Joyce or if he goes misty-eyed with love at the mere mention of Ulysses.
I wonder what his favourite Greek myth is.
Do I ask?
No, I can’t. Not just yet. I watch him from behind my computer and my iPhone and I dream these feverish scenarios of tea and cuddling on the couch in a book-lined apartment. Of reading Dylan Thomas and Anne Carson to each other in bed.
It’d be a wide warm bed, all rumpled in self-striped smooth linen of sandy shades. With comfy pillows of just the right soft/firm balance and golden lamps on either side casting shadows on the wall and warm light across us. And it’d smell of books and tea and our bodies, that certain alchemy of scent two bodies create when they’ve slept together, lived together. And fucked.
I said he isn’t cute. He isn’t. He has this strangely handsome face hiding in unassuming ordinariness. His hair is a nondescript brown, his eyes an unexceptional shade of blue grey. He doesn’t have knife-sharp cheekbones or dramatic angled brows, no fierce sensual mouth.
But his chin is cleft and it makes you notice the sharp angles of his lips. It is a cruel mouth, not sensual at all, and he has this way of compressing it into a very prissy Austen shape. I like how neat and perfect his nose is, the line of it. And when the light from the street windows hits his eyes just right, they’re a clear sharp blue.
There’s so much intelligence in his face. And when he talks to our boss, there’s a clever curiosity in his expressions. I like it so much, that sense of an alert appealing mind.
I would kiss that mouth.
This is my fantasy: some well-kept old English estate. Sunshine on green trees and grounds outside, sunshine spilling through tall windows onto the warm wooden floorboards of a comfortable room filled with leather armchairs and cushioned sofas and tasselled lamps. Every wall crammed ceiling to rug with books, all kinds of novels and biographies and every subject imaginable. The smell of tea and chocolate biscuits. And he barefoot in jeans and a thin worn blue shirt, open at the collar, rolled up to the elbow. He turns from a shelf with an open book in his hand, glances up at me.
He probably doesn’t even know my name. It’s an indifference so complete I could be offended if I wanted. Maybe I am on some level, ego insulted. But then again he has that air of complete preoccupation, so wrapped up in his own thoughts that it’s almost endearing than arrogant.
Then one day I’m in the staffroom, reading while I’m having lunch. It’s one of those rare times when everyone else is either out or still at their desks. He has the day off. So I’ve got my book open beyond my wonton soup and my music plugged in.
“How do you like it?”
“Mm?” I’m still in the page, half in the song.
And I realise he doesn’t have the day off. He’s half-turned at the burbling kettle, his eyes flicking from the book cover up to my face. “How do you like it?”
I take my earphones out, unable to answer just yet. It’s probably his most favourite novel ever, elegiac and profound and all sorts of reverent superlatives. Oh god.
“Honestly? I can’t get into it at all. The characters don’t interest me, the story bores me, and it just feels very, very shallow. Really not the deep intense thing I expected.”
I never could lie.
And he is surprised. I know the look, see it often enough on people when I unleash an opinion. Usually these are people who have never spoken to me before. The rest are used to it.
“Do you love it?” I ask, trying not to sound apologetic.
He grins quickly. The kettle beeps and clicks off. “Not that much, no.” He pours out the water into his black mug. The curved bone of his wrist gleams against his watch strap. The smell of tea rises, sweeps through my mind like a summer green breeze.
“Like” — he glances at me, sort of measuring — “like Catcher In The Rye.”
“Oh god, totally underwhelming!”
His face lights up. “Yes! I don’t know why people go on about it.”
“I figured I was too old when I read it. I should have read it when I was thirteen.”
That grin again, slightly wicked. “When we were emo.”
“This is a very hipster conversation,” I say, unable to stop myself, “talking about books we hate rather than books we love.”
His smile deepens, gets a little conspiratorial. “All right, then.” He brings his tea over to the long table and sits opposite me. Something goes through my chest, seems to expand. This is happening, it’s really happening. I don’t even want to know what my face looks like.
“We haven’t been introduced, have we?” he says.
“No.” I pause. “Hi, John.”
His eyes glint. “Hello, Salome.”
Inspired by, yes, those two pictures up there by Raphael Kirchner.