Next day I was on my way through to the bar and Harry was there with Solly. I thought I might as well join them, to take my mind off things. Harry said ‘You still got that bloody handbag?’ Solly laughed and shook his head.
They hadn’t mentioned it before. I’d taken to carrying my things around in this canvas shoulder bag – just some paper and pencils, my book, some chocolate, the plastic fish.
They stood there, leaning on the bar and watching me, grinning and chuckling. Then they went back to what they had been doing, chatting up one of the bar staff.
Why shouldn’t I carry my things around in a bag? I used to when I was alive. Everything just got lost otherwise.
I went and sat in the library.
One of the men there noticed I was looking at a book on marine ecology and it turned out that that had been his field of research. He said the book was quite up to date, but not one he was familiar with, which surprised him. ‘I’ve been supervising some students for their doctorates. You have to know the literature, so...’ He paused and flicked through again, pausing here and there. ‘Of course, this is what you might call “popular science” but still... it’s pretty good. I’ll have to put it on their reading list, next term er...’ He realized what he’d said and looked up toward the portholes but without really focusing. Finally he took his glasses off and, squinting down at them, polished the lenses with a tissue. ‘I’m sorry’ he said. ‘Fergus’ he added, and held out his hand to me. ‘Gabriel’ I said and shook his hand. I was happy to notice he refrained from crushing mine. Why do men do that? He pointed at the book with his glasses and put them back on. ‘It’s an interesting book’ he said. ‘Probably not available yet, in the, you know, ordinary world. I expect publishing’s a bit different here’. He seemed a bit confused and upset so I asked him about some of the amazing things I’d read in it and couldn’t be sure were real; mid ocean ridges, larvacean houses, turbidity flows, spiral shit animals. ‘Yeah, they’re all real’ he said, and sat down and explained a lot of other things to me, some of which I frankly didn’t get, but which sounded fabulous. My science has never been very strong although I enjoyed biology and should have passed... But I told him that the thing I drew and painted most was the sea, or things from the sea, and he seemed really interested and said he’d like to see some of my work some time. I didn’t know if he was just being polite, being a scientist and all. My stuff must seem pretty woolly by comparison with all his instruments and equations and so on...
Anyway, Fergus must have been an excellent teacher. I learned a lot. He said he really missed his students. I said I was glad to fill in for them. He smiled and shook my hand again and headed up to the deck. ‘See you around’ he said in the doorway.
After that I spend a bit of time thinking about things. I glance at the pages of the book but I can’t focus on it any more. I look around at the other people sitting there. Some of them are chatting quietly and there’s a woman over in the corner reading. I sort of feel that other people would go over and make conversation. I keep thinking I could but I don’t know what I’d say. She doesn’t look like she wants to be disturbed anyway and the others already seem to know each other. They don’t need me, coming and making a nuisance of myself. I don’t really know how other people manage to make friends and so on. I always feel I might be doing something weird, or say something wrong. It’s easier just to keep to myself I find but I sometimes wish I could do it, fit in I mean, if I wanted to.
On the other hand, sometimes I used to look at them, the other boys at school and just think ‘Oh my God, look at them. What a bunch of wankers.’ Either they were obsessed with sports and just ran around the place yelling and hitting people or they were the nerds, and just looked weird and talked a lot of rubbish all the time. I wasn’t into science fiction comics or building model aeroplanes. I just didn’t get it. The only alternative on offer as far as I can see, if you wanted to be ‘different’, was being gay, like Mark Almond or Tom Robinson.
I suppose most people would have put me in with the nerds. Everybody said I read too much and was always ‘off in my own little world’, but they were wrong. It wasn’t a little world at all. It was enormous. There were landscapes and characters they wouldn’t even have come across in their weirdest dreams. I spent a lot of time getting it all down on paper – writing about it or drawing and painting. I did some huge scenes – part map, part landscape, with gargantuan shaggy beasts and archaic birds, engaged in incomprehensible behaviours among misshapen trees and alien fungi. Offshore, vast dead-eyed fish and primitive whales turned among forests of coral and kelp. I don’t know where it all came from. Nobody ever asked me about it. Dad and mum just shook their heads and tutted and went away. In my world there were settlements too; some of exquisite architecture and peopled by gentle and tolerant souls. Others bristled with armaments and dripped with pollution. And always there was a woman, and she looked past all the crap and saw me as I really was, and we’d be happy together. I always imagined that happening but it never did.
Everybody thinks, if you’re not one of the sporty types that you don’t really think about sex, that it’s just how you are; sexless, celibate, virgin, because the girls are never interested in you, because you’re ridiculous. They think it doesn’t matter to you because you don’t really care about that sort of thing anyway, so you don’t miss it. You don’t mind. Some people seem to think being one of the nerds is maybe sort of cute or funny, like Charlie Brown or that obnoxious weed Adrian Mole.
So the worst part, the final indignity if you like, is not that we are sexless and ridiculous, but that they imagine we’re happy that way, laughable, harmless nonentities. We just smile apologetically and go back to our wargaming and our comics, with our innocent minds and our greasy hair and our no doubt tiny atrophied penises.
But we don’t, we fume and rage in private and we fantasise of terrible things, pumping relentlessly on our immense engorged cocks, craving it, probably more than they do. And we’re desperate and obsessed and maybe that’s what makes us look weird because we’re just so cramped up with it, and twisted, having to hold it in. Sports guys can only look that cool because they’re not that bothered about it. They’d prefer to play with a football.
I don’t know. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do, given the chance. To have a woman there, beside me in bed, sharing that small space, with her heat and her odour and her moisture and looking at her and touching her... I’d never do anything else if I could have that.
I can’t believe it. I died when I was nearly nineteen and I reckon I’d been looking at the girls since I was eight at least. I fantasised about Donna Redmond even in Miss Williams’ class and I didn’t even know what sex was back then, so that’s over a decade of total frustration. Sometimes I looked at a girl and I had to stop myself just... doing something violent, just forcing her to... to just look at me properly and say... I don’t know what. Sometimes, the way they looked at me, like I was just a smear of something on their perfectly polished shoes... Sometimes, I just wish I could have talked to one of them properly for long enough so she’d understand.
Then I’d catch sight of myself in the mirror and I’d think ‘Yeah, right.’
Why would she want that? Why would anyone want that?
I’ve got tears in my eyes again. I need to find a tissue from somewhere. I wonder where they keep them. Maybe I could find Angie or Joe and ask them. That woman’s looking at me. I can’t really see her expression in the dark. I expect I’ve pissed her off. I’d better leave her in peace.
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