The blue blanket, in its role of makeshift curtain, clung to the surface condensation of the window. It bore an archipelago of stains, imaginary worlds where the non-sleeper was able to cruise ... during those endless hours at dawn and dusk, when his thoughts woul otherwise have slipped back into the viler self-made geography of his mind.
Only yesterday, he had met the one person who would ever mean anything to him, if indeed people CAN have a meaning. He still heard her voice in this very room: “It’s time to say bye bye, Tom.”
There was no reply he could summon.
He had found her in the small supermarket down the road, where the few cans left over from the last rush looked lost amid the empty spaces among the shelves. He was after tomatoes which, in cans, were so different from those of a fresh variety ... in their blood soup looking for all the world like bodily innards. He told her that he was making lunch for himself and that he already had more than enough to go round two mouths.
As they left, the checkout man said, “It’s a rum old do, innit? Nobody can eat nothing, these days, with all the scares.”
Tom smiled knowingly. “People’d rather starve than risk an unknown disease that can eat away at their bodies...” he suggested, after an enbarrassing silence.
“Yes, I’ve had to put Government stickers on everything ... It cuts into the profits so.”
They left together, hand in hand ... for what had people in common but companionship in such times? They carried on a fitful conversation until they reached his flat. Realising that the key had been left unintentionally inside, he forced entry, at the same time trying to conceal the ease with which he did this. He did not want her to know that his occupation was tantameunt to squatting. These days, nobody did anything to to earn a living, for even money could not buy what one really needed in life.
Lunch was to be from a casserole he’d had simmerring for months. She turned up her nose as he revealed the churning brown gruel with unrecognisable lunps floating. He took the ladle fran the wall, stirred it noisily and then returned it to the oven.
Even sex was out of the question, because she’d watched the news, the same as everybody. Nothing was safe, he agreed. They did take a few nibbles at each other in the kitchen, which was almost erotic.
“Dad’s told me that Mum died from him you know?” she said, as she walked over to inspect the blanket. Towards the bottom, it was fraying, each teased-out fibre ending in a slowly forming bubble of dew.
“Have a go, if you want. I don’t need any till tonight,” he suggested gratuitously. The water authorities had long since been privatised and it was said in some quarters that they had pumped undiluted acid rain to the taps, in the hope that nobody would end up noticing.
Tom then understood that falling in love was not a lost art. How could he have offered her a suck of the blanket, otherwise?
“Come in...” He lifted aside the grubby lip of sheet, demnonstrating how dark and warm it nust be within. “We don’t need to do anything dangerous, just cuddle and comfort...”
“No, it’s too late. How do I know I can trust myself?” Her voice shook with emotion. She recalled the exploratory nibbles in the kitchen, still sucking on the bit of spare ear-lobe which she pressed against her bare cheek-lining with the tongue.
As Tom picked his teeth with a fingernail he’d only cleaned out fully that very morning, he could hear the distant wail of sirens. Ambulances steered clear of starvation cases, because the drivers wanted to avoid both the temptation and danger inherent in near-dead bodies. Thus, irrhythmically, they could be heard on their endless course on the ring-road ... their fuel caps open to the streaming air ... for when the pandemic chemical stews filtered back through the ragged rainless clouds of black smoke, everything but everything buzzed and honked.
The terrible tragedy was that she kissed Tom goodbye, tongue to tongue. Tragic in more ways than one, since he then couldn’t say how much he loved her before they separated.
He slept soundly for once and dreamt of man-made disasters, himself on the point of becoming unmade man ... only to be woken by the blanket flopping to the floor, too heavy for its hooks.
And the light flooded back.
Published 'Peeping Tom' 1995