Short Story: Combining

“Combining” by Nick Alexander © 2008 – All rights reserved

Sleep evades me. The wind is hurling itself, invisible battalions crashing against the shutters. I imagine that the subsonic thuds are the lines they show on weather maps, smashing to smithereens, cartoon style, on the walls of the building, hopelessly, pointlessly.

Tom sleeps through it all, dreaming it would seem – his mouth is working constantly, his tongue clicks occasionally against the roof of his mouth.

I can feel the warmth of his body or maybe something more than just warmth – his aura? – jumping across the gap where our thighs nearly meet. From the waist up our bodies curve away into separateness.

Another subsonic wave collides with the bedroom window. I can feel the air inside the room move too. There must be a gap somewhere.

I roll onto my side and study Tom’s features; he looks beautiful. He’s no slouch when awake, but asleep he looks younger – peaceful, neutral somehow.

I know he’s still asleep precisely because our bodies aren’t touching. When awake Tom always positions himself so that there is at least one point of contact – unless we’re at war. In winter he hugs me like a koala, hot and comforting against the cold extremities of the bed, while in summer it can be just a heel, or a shin; the simple contact of a finger, a toe, his dick… but whatever the season, there’s always a spot where our bodies meet. And then sleep takes him and he rolls away.

I sigh and smile at the contented look on his face and wonder if he is truly happy. He’s so hard to read when awake – he gives so little away. And then I roll onto my back and wonder what the day will bring.

I think of a song by Holcombe Waller – my current musical obsession.

“Hey oh hey oh hey oh; who controls your emotions?”

For Tom will wake up soon and the nature of the day will begin to crystallise, like some complex mathematical result of putting his star sign or biorhythms, or whatever controls our emotions, together with mine. Or maybe the day already exists somewhere over the horizon, and we just have to sit and watch as the weather of the day – sunshine or storms, cold shoulders or popcorn – slides invisibly into place.

A few drops of rain lash against the window revealing at least one aspect of what’s in store. I move myself an inch to the right so that our legs are touching. It feels so good, that soft human warmth, magical, mystical almost. Tom replies with an “Umh,” sound and then with stunningly crisp diction, does his sleep-talking thing – answering, I reckon, a dream telephone.

“Hello? Yes?” he says. “One moment. I’ll put you through.”

As I start to smirk he raises his knees and breaks wind – a vibrating two-second whoopee-cushion number.

“Jesus!” I snigger. “Tom!”

Tom clears his throat. “Uh?” he says, maybe to me, maybe to his dream caller.

I study his face and see the smoothness slip away, see the brow wrinkle, see him change from angel (ok… farting angel) to human being as something slips into and possesses his body. Ego maybe? His face takes on a recognisable configuration: bleary, slightly irritated.

“You woke me,” he says.

“You farted,” I reply.

“I was asleep,” he says, groaning and rolling away. As he turns he pushes a foot out backwards to find my leg – all is not lost.

I yawn and stretch luxuriantly, then curl towards his back and think that no matter what the day brings – rain and storms or sunshine and laughter, fifteen hours from now we will be back in this bed, cuddled together in animal comfort, for the simple reason that we have decided that, from now on, this is how it is going to be.
We duck, laughing, into Monoprix. It’s raining hard now, and still too windy for umbrellas – water is trickling down my back.

Tom runs his fingers up through his normally spiky hair. “Wow!” he says. “You never warned me about the joys of the Mediterranean climate.”

I shrug and shiver. “It’s October – at least when it rains it rains… And it never lasts more than a couple of days.” I pick up a shopping basket.

“So,” Tom says pushing through the turnstile. “Where’s the frozen stuff?”

“You’re gonna be disappointed,” I say, pointing the way. Monoprix is like a New York supermarket, sandwiched into the available, ancient space, aisles not big enough for a full-width trolley. The frozen food section is about three square meters.

I follow him – intrigued and determined not to say anything, just to see what he buys. I’m thinking about this strange mutant entity that is coupledom, not Tom, nor I, but a pick and mix of both. It’s surprising and intriguing to watch the boundaries fade, the compromises form, as this third entity that is us appears.

In French law, legal associations or companies are called a Personne Morale – those thus joined together create a new legal “person,” with the same legal and moral requirements as an individual, and it strikes me that coupledom is similar. There is Mark and there is Tom, and there is a third person called us. A third person that likes this but not that, that hangs out with him but not with her… And right now we’re in the process of deciding every aspect of who this new being will be. We’ve been together a while now, of course. But when we lived apart, though there were moments when we formed an us, ultimately we still had very individual identities, habits: the books I read, the TV Tom watches, the friends Tom sees, the shopping that goes into each refrigerator – in my case vegetables, cheese, butter, in Tom’s frozen pizzas and oven chips. Now we’re living together we’re slowly whittling away at the individualities to get to a common core. It’s not less… for every friend I stop seeing because Tom doesn’t seem to like them much, I usually gain one from his side, and for every meal I stop cooking, something else replaces it. But it is different. And that process, of negotiating common ground isn’t dull, and it’s not entirely without pain.

Tom drops two frozen pizzas into the basket, and says, as an afterthought, “Two of these? I love these spinach ones.”

I used to make pizza – with flour and yeast and mozzarella cheese. Frozen pizza somehow feels naughty, hedonistic even. “Sure!” I say, grinning and following Tom on through the store.

He grabs a bag of washed salad leaves and despite myself I intervene. “Can we just get a lettuce?” I ask.

I’m sure someone, somewhere in the world truly doesn’t have the time or energy to rinse a lettuce leaf, but that person isn’t me.

Tom hesitates then drops the bag. “Sure,” he says, then, looking perplexed, as if this is maybe a challenge, a trick question he thinks he might get wrong, adds, “You choose.”

As we leave the store with our hybrid shopping – Tom’s pizzas, my lettuce, Tom’s Molten Centre Chocolate Pudding (!), my eggs and flour, Tom says, “So… A film?”

I frown. “A film?”

Tom smiles. “Yeah,” he says. “Shall we go see what’s on in English?” He nods in the direction of the cinema, not two hundred yards away across place Garibaldi.

I smile and nod. “Sure,” I say. “Why not?”

“Not much else to do on a rainy Saturday afternoon,” Tom says, pulling his collar up and heading off. Not much indeed – it’s a great idea, and strangely, one that would never cross my mind, for no reason I can think of except that it isn’t something I do on a Saturday afternoon.

“Will the frozen stuff be OK?” I ask, trotting to catch him up.

“We’ll just eat it when we get back…” he says.

So, it’s a pizza and cinema kind of a Saturday then. I feel like I’m living someone else’s life. I push my lip out and nod approvingly. It feels just fine.

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