FOUR STATES • by Simon Paul Jenkins

I.

In Edinburgh the bagpipes are for tourists. I’m sorry but it’s true. I don’t mean to be a snob. But in Stirling they’re more genuine. They roll over the floodplains and you never see who’s playing them. You can hear them as you walk down the long road into Cambuskenneth, the village that’s nestled in an impossible tangle of river bends that only makes sense when you see it on a map, but goes back to not making sense when you try to understand it from the ground. It was on that road that I told you I couldn’t imagine being with anyone better. I haven’t seen you in eleven years now.

II.

Birmingham had that richness that you only feel when you move to a big city for the first time. But if you’re the wrong type of person then it chews you up and spits you out. A great place to be gay and single if all you want is sneaky sex — a huge underbelly of closeted men hiding from their families, because being yourself, if you’re one of us, means going into battle every day. But after I met you I wanted more than “quick, get in here before my housemates see you” and “I don’t want to wear one, it makes me feel it less, is that okay?” Instead I wanted to make that tiny proclamation of togetherness that is holding hands in the street. But somebody didn’t like that, didn’t like it at all, and eventually you and I turned on each other like prisoners of war fighting over rations. I still see you on my feed sometimes; it says we’ve been friends for nine years, which is weird because I’m sure that friends sometimes talk, and back when you and I talked we were certainly not friends.

III.

I’ve never been to Northern Ireland, but I’ve been to the Republic. I know, I know: it doesn’t count. But what happened to me there definitely does count. The day I arrived was the day they announced the gay marriage referendum results and I went — alone — to the huge party at the castle in the middle of the city. On the way back to the hotel, the taxi driver clocked what we were up to and complained that gay people drink too much. But the joy of the day was too strong and his bigotry was watered down more than a pint of fake Guinness at a touristy pub. Then I got food poisoning from those noodles and spent two days vomiting. You fucked off after the first thirty minutes or so.

So Dublin is you — a firework of passion and a lifetime of sickness. You’re one person and some few dozen people, both at the same time. I’ve lost count. I guess I deserved it because I said to you — a different one of you — that I wanted to communicate more before having sex and then twenty minutes later you were on your knees in front of me in broad daylight in the park. We must have been mad. That version of me is gone now, even though I keep tiny mementos of him in my heart and my blood. I guess the battle is now happening inside of me as well as outside.

IV.

When the tide comes in, the causeway gets swept under the sea and if you’re still out there on the rocks you get stranded until the tide goes out again. As we sat on the mud I told you the story about how it had happened to Dylan Thomas and he’d had to spend a freezing night on the Worm’s Head all by himself. You asked who Dylan Thomas was. You didn’t know who The Smiths were either. Could I put up with that? It was December but kids were still skipping around us in the rock pools, looking for crabs, shoeless in and out of the water like it was a summer’s day. That’s Wales for you: if you wait for the sun to shine, you could be waiting a lifetime.

There were some boys clambering around the side of some perilous rockface out above the ocean, and a couple of older women, also sitting in the mud, were commenting. “They’re coming up to the hairy bit,” one said as each lad tiptoed in turn around the precarious overhang. We could only understand the women because we were in south Wales and not north Wales. Then one kid slipped and bashed his teeth hard onto the barnacled rocks beneath. We heard his face hit the rock even from all the way back on the mudbank. He didn’t wail out loud in front of the bigger boys, just sniffled a little and then skulked away. He was a man now, young teeth swept away forever.

As soon as he was gone we went over to look with the other boys at his blood swirling in the rock pool. I felt like maybe if I drank some of that sea water with the Welsh boy’s blood in it then maybe l could stop dying.

But then you were hard like the Welsh in your own way, walking shoeless on the cold sand, carrying me in your arms over a stream of water on the beach. I said it was liminal, but you just laughed at me and called me pretentious.

You never do take any of my bullshit. Down to earth. Just like the Welsh. And now that you’re here I don’t ever worry about being stuck out on the Worm’s Head alone like Dylan Thomas was.


Simon Paul Jenkins writes in Oxfordshire, in the United Kingdom.

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