- Ewa Mazierska
It took Laura over three hours by train, tram and foot to reach the place where Alex, her lover-to-be, lived. He lived not far from the centre, which Laura still remembered from her student years, but his street and his block of flats were difficult to find. She wandered among the houses with seemingly random numbers, getting more and more disappointed that he did not meet her at the station. The wind was blowing dirty, late autumnal leaves into her face and it felt like rain would start at any minute. What a depressing ambience for a first date, she thought and was on the verge of turning back, but this would be silly, given the effort she made to travel so far and the fact that he apologised in advance for not being able to meet her to bring her to his home. At least she found the block eventually. She climbed to the third floor, rang the bell and he opened the door, smiling. Alex was clearly good-looking, even if a bit older than on his photos (while she, people told her, still looked like a girl, despite hitting thirty the previous year). He lived in an apartment with two rooms: a small bedroom and another, quite large room, a kind of sitting room, but with a double bed, covered in a plastic sheet. He invited Laura in there.
She didn’t know much about him apart from the fact that he seemed to be more intelligent than the other men she acquainted online, despite not going to university and working in a call centre. His grammar was good and he knew about a lot of things. He told her that he acquired knowledge through collecting things. Looking around she saw there were hundreds of fossils locked in special cases with transparent covers, and he told her with pride that this was only the tip of the iceberg – the bulk of his treasure was at his parents’ home, two hundred kilometres from where he lived now. Then there were the records of some obscure 80s star and toy soldiers, all vintage, and again ‘the tip of the iceberg’, because the rest were in his family home. He told her that some were worth thousands of Euros and most were worth hundreds. There were also postcards showing his birthplace, dating back as far as the beginning of postcards in Europe. It turned out that Alex could not meet her at the station because that day he was attending a postcard collectors’ convention and he had just enough time to get back to his apartment before her arrival. On top of his collections or rather below them were piles of yellowing newspapers with articles relevant to his interests. Many of his treasures were covered with plastic bags, to save them from dust, as he explained. The collections took up a third of the room; another part was unidentified clutter and finally there was a living area: a small table, two armchairs and a bed. There was nothing to eat or drink in his apartment, not even tea, only coffee, as he drank black coffee in the morning and the rest of his meals he took in the city. He proposed to go to a nearby restaurant.
When they finished their meal, it was already dark, even though it was not even 5pm. Laura thought that they could still go somewhere, to the cinema, a gallery or a club, but she had no courage to suggest it, especially as he complained about the November weather which caused him to get ill easily (in fact he was unwell the whole of the previous week) and how he was missing his apartment after a day spent at the call centre.
When they got back to his, he just asked: ‘Shall we get on with it?’
‘I suppose so,’ answered Laura.
To make space for lovemaking, he took off the plastic cover from the bed. Below there were clean sheets, but it occurred to Laura that they could have been there for weeks if not months. Although he assured her that he covered them in plastic so they stayed fresh and clean, they were yellowing, like his ancient newspapers. She took off her clothes and jumped under the duvet. He also took off his clothes and folded them with fastidiousness contrasting with the occasion. This allowed Laura to examine his body. No doubt he once had a good one, slim and muscular (he was once the captain of a local football team), but it wasn’t well preserved. As he admitted himself, he was not into sports nowadays, being prone to colds and he did not even own a bike. Not for the first time it occurred to Laura that once the people from the countryside move to the city, they are worse than townies, spending whole days indoors and avoiding physical exertion. But at least he was slim.
Once naked, he started to kiss her, complimented her body and asked about her favourite lovemaking position. To Laura’s relief, the sex was unproblematic, albeit somewhat mechanical. When it was over, he went to the bathroom and when he returned, he began smoking a cigarette. Then Laura asked: ‘Who was your last lover?’
‘Her name was Sabrina. I also met her through the internet. We played Pokemon together and then kept meeting during weekends. She was divorced and wanted no relationship, just sex.’
‘How was it with her?’
‘It was good, we could shag for hours. But after some time she found it too repetitive. She wanted a change and I did not stop her. Why should I? People should always do what they want. Don’t you agree?’
‘I suppose so. When did you stop seeing each other?’
‘About seven months ago.’
‘And who was before her?’
‘A woman with whom I exchanged stamps.’
‘And before her?’ Laura kept asking.
‘I don’t remember. Shall we carry on? Seeing as you’ve come from so far away, we’d better make the most of it,’ he said, touching her breast.
‘For me once is enough,’ said Laura.
‘Okay,’ he said, withdrawing his hand. Laura thought that she must have offended him, but he didn’t show much emotion.
‘How was it with me?’ she asked.
‘It was good.’
‘Better than with Sabrina?’
‘I do not compare women. Each one is different. What about you? Who was your last lover?’
‘It was many years ago. I do not have much experience.’
‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘Experience will come, well, with practice.’
And then he smoked another cigarette, took an aspirin and fell asleep, and slept till the morning. Laura, by contrast, could not sleep for most of the night. She got up, took a shower and went to the kitchen. There were more boxes there. She opened one, full of photo albums, showing him in his childhood and teenage years with his parents, mostly in foreign locations: Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Hungary, Canary Islands. It was strange to think that he used to travel so much and now was so stuck.
In the morning there was nothing else to do and still no food. Laura said that she must hurry home for an important engagement. He accompanied her to the station and they had breakfast in a bar. ‘Why don’t you cook for yourself or at least make sandwiches?’ asked Laura as they ate their croissants.
‘It’s too complicated,’ he replied. ‘Once you have food at home, you have to collect more food, because this item does not go with that, and you end up with a fridge and cupboard full of stuff which you do not really need. And you cannot collect food like you can collect fossils, as it goes off. So I do not like food at home.’
‘But a home without food is weird,’ said Laura. ‘It is unlike home.’
‘It is not weird for me,’ replied Alex.
‘Why do you collect so many things?’ asked Laura. ‘You seem to collect them for the sake of collecting.’
‘Maybe I’m waging a war on the virtual world?’
‘If so, why do you meet women through the internet?’ she asked.
‘This is a good question,’ he replied after the while. ‘Maybe I’m a knight who wants to rescue them, bring them back to the material reality.’
There was a long silence, after which he asked: ‘Would you like to visit me again? Or maybe I can visit you?’
‘Sure’, she replied. ‘When the weather is better.’ Then they kissed and she boarded the train. On the way back Laura began thinking how embarrassing the whole experience had been. She’d never felt so disposable in her life. She took her mobile phone from her bag to check who wrote to her in the meantime, but it was only Alex. He was sending her a picture of them two against a row of toy soldiers and her bracelet, which Laura left in his bathroom, with a question: ‘Do you want me to add it to my collection?’
Ewa Mazierska is historian of film and popular music, who writes short stories and nonfiction in her spare time. They were published or are forthcoming in ‘The Longshot Island’, ‘The Adelaide Magazine’, ‘The Fiction Pool’, ‘Literally Stories’, ‘Ragazine’, ‘Shark Reef’, ‘BlazeVox’, ‘Red Fez’, ‘Away’, ‘The Bangalore Review’ and ‘Terror House Magazine’, among others. Ewa is a Pushcart nominee and her stories were shortlisted in several short stories competitions. She was born in Poland, but lives in Lancashire, UK.