A Trustworthy Man
by Matt Knight
Sample runs from pages 34 – 42
Noah got off the tube at Waterloo and walked from the station toward the river. The Thames was rowdy with muddy waves. Flecks of it spiked the air and stung Noah’s cheek. He walked across the bridge and was overtaken by a train pulling into Charing Cross. On the other side of the water were inchoate structures, cradled by scaffolding as if they were delicate. Red warning lights hung off the metal, searing bright against the dark, newly night sky, glinting low above the half-constructed buildings like fallen stars. After taking the path above Embankment he walked along the high street. He saw a homeless man in fingerless gloves playing a traffic cone like a trumpet. From it echoed a sad, loose sound without any weight. Noah had only to take a few steps before it faded away altogether. He pulled out a cigarette and tried to light it, but couldn’t because of the wind. He stood still, stepped into an alley and the flame wavered less. On his right-side two chefs stood on their break. One of the men turned to face Noah. The skin on his bald head was dented and mottled. He had a hugely pronounced cleft lip, a triangular chunk missing from his face. The chef stared at Noah through thin, creased eyes and slid his cigarette through the gap without opening his mouth. Smoke blasted from his nose as if he were a bull. It unsettled Noah deeply. He lit his own cigarette and rushed away. As he walked down the street he felt the eyes of the chef still upon him, boring through the bricks of the buildings in between.
Noah walked up to the restaurant where James had agreed to meet Izzi. It was a neon noodle-bar with big window in the front. He peered at the couples and individuals inside whose faces looked slightly melted through the raindrops on the glass.
He saw Izzi. She was leaning over a cup of coffee, looking at a book on the table. Her cheeks were covered in uneven tides of smooth and rough skin – souvenirs from her teenage acne. She had a skinny, unmuscular figure. It made her arms look brittle and because of her small breasts you could make out the sternum pressing against her skin, creating small, horizontal shadows in her chest. She was wearing a cardigan over a plain vest and faded blue jeans. A baseball jacket hung off the back of her chair. She was, of course, beautiful.
Noah extinguished his cigarette on top of a bin and walked inside. He caught Izzi’s eye and walked to the counter. After ordering a green tea he sat down opposite her.
“Hey Izzi. They bring it over right? I mean, I wasn’t given anything.”
She sighed, unimpressed.
“I hope you don’t mind that I’m here instead of James.”
“You came in his place, you stole his reservation. I hope you don’t plan on fucking me later, too.”
“You don’t need to reserve here,” he said. “And I don’t think you were planning on fucking him tonight either, were you?”
Her lands lazily coiled around her mug. “I suppose not.”
Noah’s green tea arrived in a metal teapot. He thanked the waitress and poured himself a cup right away. The warm steam was pleasant against his face. As he sipped he felt the familiar sensation of his mouth drying out.
“So, why are you here exactly?” she asked.
“I was hoping we could talk.”
“Talk about me and James. What, are you the authority on relationships now, Noah?”
He tried to mask his hurt at the sleight.
“Sorry.” Izzie reached into her bag and pulled out an electronic cigarette. As she drew on it the end glowed purple. The vapour she exhaled fused with the steam coming off Noah’s tea: redolent notes of lemon and blueberry. “So, what did James tell you?”
“He feels like you two aren’t talking enough. That you’re… drifting apart.”
“He’s blaming me.”
“That you’re both drifting in different directions. He’s worried about you.”
Izzi was trying to avoid his eyes and smell only her drink. “He’s not wrong. I’m feeling less close to him by the day.”
“Well after all that shit with his Dad…” She flashed her nervous, green eyes at him. “It made me realise how little I cared. He’s been there for me in a way I would never expect from anyone. I think now that I didn’t expect it because I knew that on some level I could never do that for someone. Turns out not even for him. Anyway, damaged people don’t owe anything to the people that helped them. He gave me what I needed and accidently fell in love. I feel sorry for him.”
“You love him too though.”
“Might have. Probably did. But if so, I think maybe it was a brotherly love. I would like him to hug me still, if that’s all it could be. But I know that’s impossible. He’d get a hard-on instantly.”
“Are you seeing someone else?”
“I see many people. But I’m not fucking anyone, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Is that what you’ve been doing with your time, seeing other people?”
“Je-sus. Give me a break. Yes, I’ve been going out. Yes, I have been meeting new people. Yes, I know James is home alone, pining after me. And no, I don’t care.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“Obviously. But that relationship, it makes me feel trapped. He’s so needy and when I’m with him I get needy too. I don’t like that. Listen, I was walking in the rain one day-”
Noah raised his eyebrow questioningly.
“I don’t like umbrellas,” she said dismissively, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. “-and I saw this nightclub across the street. It was midnight and I’d told James I was staying at my place, so I had nowhere else to be. I saw a crowd of people outside, chatting, laughing, touching. It made me ache, Noah. To see these people enjoying whatever it is about this life that I’m missing out on. I often think other people see the world in a way that I’m incapable off. This group, they were drinking and smoking and it all looked fucking lovely. Bass was vibrating the puddles in the street because the club was underground. Then one of the guys caught my eye. Winked. Said, ‘come over beautiful’. I don’t think I’ve ever been called beautiful. No, I’m serious. James always calls me pretty.”
“So you joined these people.”
“I did. Partied all night. Danced in slow motion. At least that’s how I remember it.”
Izzi admitted to going out regularly by herself. Meeting strangers and dancing in crowded, dark spaces. Of course men were the most accommodating strangers, she said, but she hadn’t cheated on James. Though there was one time when a man came up close behind her and she put her hand back instinctively. She felt the distinctive bulge of his penis through his jeans and it excited her with an electric thrill she had not known in a long time. Something that shimmered through her body. It made her clitoris tingle and she’d had to fold her legs.
Izzi widened her eyes. “Oh god, I’m doing it aren’t I?”
“It’s okay. I’m sorry.”
“Whatever, you’ve heard worse. You should know that it’s not just the dancing and the drink. It’s the people I enjoy meeting most. I always talk to them and it’s so interesting to find out about these people’s lives. You realise how inward we look, when other people’s problems are always way worse.”
“That’s just how it seems because you lived through yours.”
“Don’t you think London is great for that though, the variety? I’ve met filmmakers, travellers, models and bankers. Politicians and policemen, too. You can just walk from your doorstep and encounter the most fascinating people.”
“I don’t agree. I think everyone is trying so hard to stand out here – to look interesting or say something unique – that they all pretty much blend together.”
Izzi smiled sardonically, electronic cigarette still pinched between her fingers. “Typical. Do you think it’s cool to hate everything so much?”
“It’s not forced cynicism. I just think it’s quite a disappointing city; it’s not what I expected.”
“Well it sounds forced,” she said.
Izzi put her electronic cigarette back in her purse. “I just want to enjoy myself, okay? Don’t you realise that being around James only makes me think about all the shit I’m trying to leave behind? He helped me in a way for which I’ll always be grateful, but our love was never going to last forever. You must know that I’m right.”
They were standing in the shower. Her skin squeaked as he painted his fingers across her skin. He had begun to lather her back but she turned suddenly and kissed him. She looked into his eyes as if about to apologise, then those words slipped out. Whispered because so innate. He smiled and got in close to her ear.
“I love you too.”
Izzi looked at him expectantly.
“I’m not sure,” Noah said, his head softened by memory.
Her face turned sympathetic. She knew where his mind had gone. They had all been friends once.
“I’m sorry. I haven’t spoken to her in ages. How are you feeling?”
Terrible. Torn-up. “Fine.”
“It was quite a while ago.”
Noah looked up at her pale and scarred skin. Her dark, beautiful eyes. His body acted autonomously in the way it always did when he felt vulnerable. He rested his hands on hers, and they stayed like that for a moment. Then he advanced. His fingertips brushing through the fine blonde hairs on her forearm. Izzi could not react, she was frozen like prey before a hunter. She wanted him then, she thought he could steal away her pain forever. She closed her eyes –
Then he stopped.
Noah pulled his hand away and stood. Izzi looked up at him sheepishly and crossed her arms. He spoke with his eyes closed, frustrated with his behaviour.
“Look, just go and speak to James alright? He cares about you very much.”
Without a response, he turned and left.
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