I walked up the hill to the Halls of Residence, not quite sure what I was going to say, but rehearsing the things I wasn’t sure about it my head. It went round in circles and sounded like much the same thing to me, but I was hoping for some inspiration, or that she’d get it right away and I wouldn’t have to go through the whole spiel. I went the long way, down by the rusted wire and remains of the broken wooden fence. I checked that nobody was about; it was difficult to tell with the hedgerows and the waist high grass. I watched for birds suddenly taking flight. I’d seen that in some movie, but there was nothing, apart from a dot in the sky, that might have been a peregrine falcon, or maybe a flapping pigeon. The birds were hiding. I didn’t know what that meant.
‘I like you. But I don’t like you enough. Let’s be friends?’ I mumbled. I wasn’t sure how Gillian would take it. I just hoped that she didn’t get teary and make a big scene, grab at my feet and knees and beg me to stay with her forever, or even worse turn up at my house again, and try and get all pally with my mum. That was embarrassing. And I didn’t want her phoning me at work, in Ailsa ward, either. I might not see her much, apart from in classes, but we could still be good pals. I realized that I kinda hoped that she wouldn’t be in. Then the next time I saw her, at least I could truthfully say that I’d been up to hers, but, unfortunately, she hadn’t been in.
The Halls looked less foreboding during the day. But I sneaked up the stairs just in case I bumped into James Munn, or perhaps even worse, the matron woman that stayed on the ground floor. I’d only met her once. And I’d been pretty drunk. I think I tried to pee somewhere or other, but she was like a madwoman; a harridan. You’d have thought I was trying to rape her. But she was old. I don’t know why she would have… It was just one of those things that could have happened to anybody. I tried to explain to her, but there was spittle coming out of her mouth and I think I fell asleep listening to her diatribe. In any case I woke up with the imprint of white chips in the cement harling on my face, creating little pot marks. I’d thought that was funny, that Gillian would also find it funny when I showed her, because she had little pot marks, so that we’d be the same. I was drooling and somebody had pished in the undershot underneath the stairs. I don’t think Gillian had seen the funny side. She hadn’t let me into her room that night. ‘That’s right,’ I said in fury, ‘she hadn’t let me into her room then. She hadn’t wanted me that night.’ I felt a renewed sense of justification.
I kept close to the wall and took the stairs two at a time. But just when I thought I’d made it, James Munn shuffled down the next flight of stairs, smiling his usual false smile. There seemed to be some kind of law at work, the equivalent of Murphy’s law: Munn’s law, when I didn’t wan to see him he’d pop up, but when I did... then again, I didn’t ever feel the need to see him. So maybe it was better at the hypothesis stage and wouldn’t make the law stage. But it did prove that if there was a God, He contrived to make my life miserable. And it wasn’t fair. Another ten seconds either way and I wouldn’t have seen him.
‘How are you?’ said James Munn.
‘Fine.’ I said, ‘Fine,’ shaking my head to show that I meant it.
‘That’s good,’ he said, smiling even more if that was possible. But he made no move to hurry away. ‘Going to see Gillian?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ I said, looking down at my feet.
‘That’s good,’ he said, ‘she needs all the help she can get at this stage.’ He slapped me on the forearm, nodded solemnly, and continued down the stairs. ‘Tell her I was asking for her,’ he shouted up.
I chapped lightly at her door. A chair scrapped back and I heard the shuffle of footsteps. ‘Oh, it’s you,’ said Gillian, trudging away and leaving the door open.
Her desk was stacked with books and papers. She sat side-saddle on the chair, her hair obscuring her face. Her thin body bent, weighed down with breathing, like a cairn, holding the bones of her childhood.
‘I thought I’d pop up to see you,’ I said, stepping into the room, wondering how long I’d have to spend there.
An ashtray on her desk was filled with stubbed out roll-ups, but the smell of dope caught on my throat. She caught me looking so I looked away, over at her bed. And she caught me looking at that as well.
‘I suppose you came up to fuck me,’ she said, looking at the floor again.
‘No,’ I said.
My face ballooned out red and I’d a knee jerk response to her words; only it wasn’t my knees that jerked as I fished for the right insincere words.
‘I just thought I’d see how you’re getting on.’
She didn’t look up, didn’t move, for what seemed like eons. ‘Fine,’ she said, rooting in the ashtray for one of the bigger roaches. ‘I’m fine,’ and she looked at me.
I’d been holding my breath and breathed out with a sigh. ‘Well, that’s ok then,’ I said
Her long fingers played out a staccato beat, drumming on the desk, as if she was waiting for me to say more, or coming to some great decision, but she just shook her head and reached for her roll up tin.
‘That’ll not do you good,’ I said, ‘you’ll just become some kind of dope fiend or something’.
She laughed. ‘That’s the worst kind of crap I’ve ever heard in my whole life. Drink is involved in everything bad that ever happens: murder, rape, car crashes, and theft. You name it… And, the other thing is,’ her voice took on a gritty quality as if she’d scarped her voice box with Brillo Pads, ‘I’ve never seen you up here sober. So this is a first. And you just come up to lecture me!’
‘I didn’t mean it that way.’
‘What way did you mean it?’ she rolled a joint and lit up, blowing the smoke into the air, giving extra weight to her argument.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said.
She let out another sigh, as if all the air in her had been deflated. ‘You’re always sorry,’ she said, ‘that’s your problem. ‘What are you doing? Staying or going?’
I wanted to leave, but the thought that she might let me fuck her forced my hand, pointed me in another direction. ‘I’ll stay,’ I said.
She nodded. That was enough to give me a hard on.