Moving Pictures, part 2 of 3
Thursday 14th June 1990
Paul rested his head against the steering wheel and closed his eyes. He was probably about halfway between the office and home - the office with its mounds of work that he had only been able to make a small dent in and the home with Helen and all her coursework, demands for quiet while she worked, and his dinner eaten on his own.
Soft jazz music was drifting out of the car's radio, even though he had the volume low, the music seemed to be filling the car. The sudden glare of a passing car’s headlights made him look up, but the other car passed away rapidly, and he returned to resting his head on the steering wheel, closing his eyes. On an impulse he’d pulled the car into the layby and stopped on his way home. The idea of Helen and her coursework waiting at home for him filled him full of dread, so much so that he had stopped the car, not wanting to return there. It was the idea of Helen waiting for him though that caused that feeling of dread. That afternoon in the office, as the computer screen had flickered away in front of him, as Angela chattered away about her own disastrous love-life and her brother's failed attempts at starting a family, he thought about finally leaving Helen. Of course, he didn’t discuss it with anyone, but he would never have done.
More and more, Helen’s presence filled him with guilt. He had not touched her, not even a casual touch of affection, for months now. The sexual side of their relationship had died away long before that. When they were still having sex, it always felt as if they were performing a set of scripted exercises, no passion to them: he would reach for her breast, she would reach for his shoulder, he would lift the hem of her nightdress, she would stroke his thigh or his cock, he would mount her, she would sigh, he would close his eyes. Inside a minute or so it would be over. He would roll off of her and fall asleep, in silence. With Craig it was all different, never the same pattern to their lovemaking. Their joyful, passionate kissing. The way they gleefully removed each other’s clothes. The excited way they explored each other's bodies, the different ways they found to give each other sexual pleasure. Then, when their orgasms were spent, they would lay together, wrapped up in each other’s arms. It was the most perfect love making he’d ever experienced.
Paul sighed to himself. His body felt so tired. His limbs and back ached with fatigue. His mind, though, wouldn’t settle - it was filled with moving and searching thoughts. At three forty-five that afternoon, Angela, with whom he shared an office, had suggested that they stay behind late to finish their joint presentation together. She claimed they could mark it down as overtime. She had caught him off-guard and he had said yes without thinking. It took them nearly three hours to finish their presentation. Only when it was done did he remember that he hadn’t telephoned Helen to tell her he was going to be late. Would she even have noticed? She was always so busy with her own work: true, he had been the one to suggest she return to college for her own studies. Her studies seemed to occupy almost all of her time - her lectures in college, her coursework and reading, her group of new friends. But her new life took some of the pressure off of him, she now had a life away from him and in a way that was good, for him at least.
He’d been twenty-one and Helen twenty-three when they married. He’d been studying for his own degree, so for two and a half years as he studied, Helen supported him, working as a secretary. He was incredibly grateful to her for giving him that chance. She was the first person he’d ever had a relationship with. The rush of excitement he felt with her, the excitement of having someone taking an interest in him, the excitement of his first real sexual experience, the excitement of another human needing him, had carried him easily through their courtship and marriage. Those first three years of married life they had spent together in their tiny flat, at the top of an old town house, had seemed like bliss. Their lives were almost completely wrapped up with each other. He would search on his way home from university for tiny and silly little presents to give her. Watching her delight in them had been pleasure enough. Sex was always a high priority back then - they never fell asleep at night without making love.
Their life had changed, fallen into a domestic routine, when they left their flat to move into their house. His first-class degree had landed him a first-class job and they could afford the mortgage for their house. Unfortunately, it was there that the slow rot that set in between them began. A domestic routine took over their lives. Meals were eaten in the dining room, TV was watched in the lounge and sex was reserved to their bedroom and once a week on a Friday night. Once a week they’d entertain friends or accept a return invitation from different friends. On a Saturday night they would go to the cinema together to usually watch one blockbuster film or another and have a meal together afterwards. He told himself he was happy - he had everything he thought he wanted. Then Helen lost her job.
The Builder’s Merchants, where she was employed as a secretary, went bust and she was unemployed. Rapidly, Helen seemed to slow down in herself, unemployment taking its toll on her, that and her failure to find a new job. At almost the same time he received the strongest shock his life he had ever received.
He’d spent the morning at a client’s offices presenting yet another presentation to senior managers who couldn’t make up their collective minds. To lift their moods, he and his three colleagues had retired to a nearby pub for a long liquid lunch. Finding himself needing to empty his full bladder after his first pint, Paul had hurried to the pub's toilet. He was stood at one of the urinals and quickly became aware of a man standing next to him and watching him. The man wasn't urinating. Instead, he was stroking his full erection. Slowly, the man had reached over and taken hold of Paul's own cock. Paul hadn’t stopped him. Instead, he felt a shudder of delight as that strange man’s hand took hold of him. Quickly Paul had come over the back of the urinal, barely after a handful of strokes from the other man’s hand. Then he had rushed out of the toilet.
That night, he had made love to Helen. As he reached orgasm with her all he could think about was coming into that unknown man's hand.
The soft jazz music had changed now into the sound of a woman’s voice singing of her unsuccessful love life. Paul straightened his back until his head rested against the head rest. It was a change his position but still his body ached from fatigue.
Paul closed his eyes again. He knew if he turned the car around, he could be at Craig's home inside half an hour. Craig always spent his Thursday evenings alone at home. He knew Craig would be surprised to see him, maybe a little irritated. He was sure, Craig and he would soon settle down together, their bodies wrapped around each other on Craig’s sofa. Perhaps they would talk; perhaps they would fall into making love, and even later, perhaps he would tell Craig that he loved him.
More and more Paul had been finding himself, at the most unexpected moments, just thinking about Craig, wondering what Craig was doing at that moment, planning what he and Craig would do together when they next met. The realization had come suddenly: he loved Craig. It was more than just a sexual need, it was love. With the realisation came a moment of fear - surely there had to be a next move. He had to tell Craig his feelings. He had to explain everything to Craig, explain everything about Helen. He had to make Craig see how things really were.
The hand rapping on the passenger window made him jump and snap his eyes open. A policeman was looking in through the window. In his rear-view mirror, Paul saw a second policeman sitting in the parked police car. Why hadn't he heard them approaching? Slowly Paul lent across and opened the window.
"Excuse me, sir, but are you all right?" The policeman lent in through the open window as he spoke.
"Yes," Paul answered.
"It's just we noticed you're still parked here. You were parked here when we passed half an hour ago," the policeman said, his tone as if explaining something to someone very stupid.
"I'm fine. I wanted some time to think."
"Are you sobering up or something?"
"No. I'm fine," Paul said.
"Then why have you parked up here?"
"I said, I was thinking," Paul said. He felt his agitation increasing. He hadn’t been hurting anyone.
"Must be some very big thoughts,” the policeman replied.
"Look Officer, I’m not breaking any law, I'm not illegally parked or anything, am I?" Paul felt the annoyance pushing up the sarcasm into his voice. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he knew he shouldn’t antagonize the police.
"There's no need to get like that with me," the policeman said as he straightened up and stepped back from Paul's car.
"I'll be moving on in a minute, okay?
"Fine. Make sure you do," the policeman said as he turned back to the police car.
Paul watched the police car pull away and move off down the road.
Paul stared at the road ahead and then at the road behind him, in the rear-view mirror. Home was straight ahead or in the opposite direction, was Craig’s home, were he really wanted to be. He took a deep breath, he couldn’t just there and be indecisive. Then he decided.
He put his car into gear, pressed his foot slowly on the accretor and pulled hard on the steering wheel, turned the car around in one hundred and eighty degrees, turning the car in the opposite direction.