“Twenty-two” by Rhys Leyshon Evans

And I guess when you’re in your early twenties it’s easy to fall in love or lust. But hopefully love. Especially when you don’t have much money and living on a diet that would make a doctor shudder.

I am twenty-two and work as a doorman in a non-descript city centre apartment block. I work most of the night-shifts with my colleague, Jarrett. We wear matching doorman outfits: blue blazer’s with a blue blooded emblem above our hearts, grey slacks, and white shirts with navy ties. Jarrett is pitched somewhere between thirty and forty-five and is obtuse and in his spare time sells illegally downloaded films for minimal profit.

Tonight, Jarrett sits behind the foyer desk and I stand beside the main entrance. We are kept company by a couple of potted plants, two longing paintings that plagiarise the high-part of Edward Hopper’s career, an expensive carpet, two couches, the snorting engines of stray taxi’s, and the aforementioned desk. It is just after three a.m. During the week, very few residents return home later than midnight. Outside, the odd drunk stumbles home, ensconced by an aspiration that can only be fuelled by alcohol and a clear, star-filled evening.

Since early September I have been dating a girl called Ada. She talks in spontaneous unhinged sentences that run-on like one of the world’s great rivers. Last night, for instance, I told her that I missed my childhood and pine for those supposedly simpler times. “Reminiscing is fine, I guess,” Ada said. “You just shouldn’t do it for too long because if you reminisce too much now you’ll have nothing to reminisce over in ten year’s time which will ultimately scupper any hope you have of creating a story; that’s all we have really, our own personal story; and you don’t want yours to be jammed full of banal words about how you made yourself more depressed than you actually were…”

Ada never wears make-up.

Like me, she hardly has any money.

Earlier on, I mentioned to Jarrett that I had started dating Ada.

“And?” he replied.

“Just making conversation, I suppose,” I answered.

Sometimes we hardly talk.

Other times we talk too much.

Once Jarrett told me in great detail about an abcess he had on his big toe.

And while the description was gruesome, I was surprised by the metaphors my colleague used. For instance, he referred to the pain as being like having your heart locked in a freezer for a couple of hours.

“So have you hooked up with her yet?” enquired Jarrett with pure disdain.

“Ahh I don’t really…I don’t want…like to talk about those kinds of things.”

“Then why bring it up in the first place?”

“Did I bring it up, though?”

“You brought it up.”

“I just wanted to talk about something I suppose.”

“What’s her name?”

“Ada.”

“A-i-d-a?”

“A-d-a.”

“Ridiculous name.”

“You think?”

“It’s a child’s name.”

“What do you mean? A child’s name?”

“She’s your age, right? You’re not dating a child?”

I often have conversations with Jarrett about names that he perceives to be “ridiculous” or “outrageous” and though I’ve never asked him, I’m pretty sure this attitude stems from the fact that Jarrett thoroughly dislikes his own name and feels it does not adequately work as an “adult” name.

“So are you two still dating?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, sport, are you a couple yet?”

“I don’t know. We’re sort of at that stage where neither one of us want to really jinx our thing, you know?”

“Your thing?”

“Our thing. Yes. The thing.”

“Suit yourself.”

“I’m pretty sure if you asked both of us privately whether we were a couple yet, we’d both agree we were. Except the problem is, we can’t quite tell each other that yet.”

The conversation reaches a lull.

I am never sure of how much to reveal with Jarrett, prickly as he is. Not long after I began to work here part-time, shortly after leaving university, he abruptly told me where his first child (from his first marriage. He’d been married three times now) was conceived. The conception had occurred on a cruise ship tour of the Carribbean. Jarrett considered the whole thing a mistake and informed me that he’d never have sex at sea again as he believed the waves managed to unsettle whatever protection he and his new wife used.

It is late and sport-talk has now been exhausted. I want to talk about Ada and the fact that while walking down Abercorn Street last week, she held my hand, claiming the cold, even though she was sporting hand-knitted gloves. What did this mean? I really needed a second opinion from someone even if it meant that someone was Jarrett.

“Why were you out walking so late?” he asks, wholeheartedly believing this response to be suitable.

“I told you why.”

“Why?”

“Because we have no money, Jarrett,” I respond, aghast.

“And?”

“We have no money. So we can’t go out on proper dates.”

“Like to the cinema? Or a restaurant?”

“Right.”

“Download a movie or something?”

“Both our apartments are so small though. And I can’t really spend that much time at her place ‘cos she shares a room with this born again girl who is very nice and all, but I think she pretends she’s more born again than she actually is; like she’s only doing it to be different from everyone else. But that doesn’t stop her not letting me visit.”

Jarrett thinks about my answer for a couple of seconds. He returns to his newspaper.

The thing is Jarrett has never experienced these late night ambles, where the streets brim with cinematic vigour. A gentle waft of marijuana waltzes on the tired stoops; conversation free of vodka anger mingles diligently with laughter and footsteps. The other evening on Abercorn, a sympathetic wind teased its way up the hill from the river and momentarily I thought I heard Ada say: “I think I’m about to be very controversial and tell you I really very much like you.”

I mention this to Jarrett.

He gruffly replies: “And what do you want me to make of this? Huh? Kid?”

“You’ve been there haven’t you?” I protest.

“There are a lot of there’s.”

“The love there, then.”

“Love there, lust there. I’ve seen plenty of there’s.”

“Love there is all I need to know about.”

“I don’t want to talk really about love there.”

“Not even a little?”

I check myself for a moment. I become aware that I am on the verge of pleading for a philosophical answer from a man who cannot work a washing machine and learnt about romance from the debased vision of Russ Meyer.

You see, no matter how hard I try, it is near impossible to describe adequately Ada’s eyes. If only Jarrett could see them: eyes which seem to always shine like sparkling wine. Or the way she scrunches up her hair and lets strands fall loose around her head like some ravine that couldn’t be constricted by man; or even how she often uses grammatically incorrect words (has instead of have for instance) and says like an awful lot and how much I like that she uses like and doesn’t follow the conjunctive up with a simile. Which is absolutely fine because, ultimately, similes will never ease a forlorn or longing heart, or indeed settle disputes of the soul.

I want to tell Jarrett that most of all, the thing I liked about Ada the best was that when around her I felt comfortable. Comfortable with myself; so much of life seems to me to be about being everything to everyone yet with Ada I didn’t need to be anyone else; for the first time since I was a child aloof to social etiquette and cliques and fitting in; I was not somebody else…

Of course to even attempt to explain these irrational hyper-long sentences to Jarrett would be a doomed task.

“Do you think I misheard what Ada said to me?”

“That name really kills me pal.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Could you not go out with a normal girl or something? With a proper name?”

“What would you suggest?”

“Rebecca? Victoria?”

“I’ll mention it to her.”

“So you reckon she said she likes you?”

“I don’t know Jarrett. I guess so. It was windy. Kids were playing loudly in the street. She could have been asking where is worth visiting in Luxembourg for all I know.”

“Hmm. The state of mind you’re in, she could say anything and you’d probably think she was proposing marriage.”

Five a.m.

A couple argue on the otherwise achingly serene thoroughfare. The street-lamps run down the avenue aligned like distant moons, each with a story to tell, each imbued with their own sorrow, their own ecstasy.

I try to think about Ada some more but Jarrett starts complaining about his current girlfriend. She is eight or nine or ten years younger than him. They always seem to argue. One night she visited the building to give him a sandwich and they ended up arguing in front of me. They live in a large apartment in the suburbs with, I think, three other people. I can never remember the exact figure. And when Jarrett and his girlfriend argue she insists they leave the apartment to do so. Jarrett tells me his girlfriend is very conscientious about how she is perceived and is adamant they never argue in front of their housemates or friends or family. Jarrett always ends up arguing with his girlfriend when they go out for a night drinking. This, I am informed, is because she wants to go to expensive nightclubs and dance and maybe avail of two for one cocktail offers. But the problem is Jarrett only wants to drink in the few remaining dive bars that exist in the city. Bars where he most likely knows the whimsical bartenders dressed in shirts one size too small; and if Jarrett doesn’t already know them, he will do so by the end of the night. Jarrett also prefers bars populated by countless men you nor I could ever believe thought about love, or contemplated rejection for too long.
During the course of his reasons for preferring such establishments, it never once crosses Jarrett’s mind that this may be the source of all his public confrontations with his partner. And I consider telling him this but find myself more interested in reminiscing about the last night I spent with Ada.

A brash autumn evening held us in her forgiving arms.

It was past midnight.

I had my hand in her jean pocket.

I grinned like people grin at the start of summer.

“People say that young people are too apathetic,” said Ada. “And people say that and it upsets me.”

“It upsets me too,” I replied, lying, thinking all I want to do is kiss this girl. But we had only kissed a couple of times and both of us shared a hesitancy to initiate another for fear of forcing the other to kiss when the mood wasn’t right.

“Does it upset you?”

“It does.”

We were struggling to try and form the embryo of a relationship that was based on more than clear physical attraction, a conundrum that failed to acknowledge that it was (at least on my part) physical attraction that brought us together. After all, was it not Ada’s elfin features that so gripped me as I saw her flit across the room of a party clutching a warm glass of red wine? A face bereft of make-up that seemed to always sing some sweet song, even if she was frowning, deep in thought. This was the face that told me that night her drink was “like, very, very salty which is a surprise considering, like, it wasn’t the cheapest bottle available.”

She continued to talk.

“It annoys me because I know and you know and our friends know that we should care about things. Whatever things. And I really want to care more. I really do.”

“So do I, Ada. So do I.”

“I know you do,” laughed Ada and leaned her head into my neck and I thought for a second that she was going to kiss me.

But she didn’t.

That was okay.

I could listen to her talk in her lilting, homely sentences all day and all night, reassuring in the spontaneous way they were weighted.

“But all I keep thinking is I hate myself for feeling so passive. I really do. And I’ve been thinking about this too much, but maybe, the most important thing for us is to try and find a way to remember how to be fucking human beings again.”

I had never heard Ada swear before. At the time that was what struck me. But as the birds begin to rise, squawk after squawk, and the sky turned a lush and protective purple, I really tried to consider what she had said. Jarrett keeps talking about his girlfriend though and how they are unable to properly communicate with one another. Jarrett says that in the text messages they exchange, they both use exclamation marks at the end of each sentence so their messages cannot be misinterpreted.

“So how long have you been going out with Ada?” Jarrett asks, pronouncing her name with outright suspicion.

“About three weeks maybe,” I say, too lethargic to remind Jarrett that I have told him this hours ago.

“And what makes you think this, this Ada girl is so special?”

“Because…” I trailed off. “Because when we’re together, alone at four a.m., I look into her eyes and I see her looking directly at me and I feel all the burden removed from my shoulders.”


Profile: Rhys Leyshon Evans

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