CLOSER THAN BREATHING
A Light Gay Odyssey
First Published in 2009 by Gayles Books
Isleworth, Middlesex, United Kingdom
All rights reserved
Copyright © Alan Keslian 2009
On Thursday night, as usual, I called in at the Give and Take, a West London gay bar a short walk from home. Obvious shadows under my eyes, caused by lack of sleep, might have invited comment, so I put on a pair of sunglasses. They were the kind that magically darken in bright light. I had bought them that summer, and I wore them hoping, even if it was now the middle of October, that they would conceal my tiredness. Sunglasses go well with thick, dark hair like mine anyway.
The Give and Take is not a late bar. I go there to chat with friends rather than to pick someone up - an activity the barman Miles calls 'looking for take-away'. His nickname is Smiles, because he can flash one that would cheer up a funeral.
'You okay, Ben? What's with the dark glasses?' he asked, pouring me a lager. 'Been clubbing? Too much take-away?'
'Neither. Neighbours kept me awake. Should have known the dark glasses wouldn't fool anyone.'
'The bastards. You hear some terrible stories about nuisance neighbours. Mind you, hiding your black eyes behind sunglasses is a bit transparent,' he said, flashing that smile. 'Glasses... bit transparent... get it?'
'You can laugh. Perhaps I should stay away from the bar lights, and hide in the dark corners.'
'We don't have any dark corners - anyway, that's not your style, is it? Let me know if you're interested in moving. I know someone who's looking for a flatmate.'
Another customer arrived and Smiles went to serve him. Offering to put me in touch with someone who wanted a flatmate was typical of Smiles, who always knew someone or something that would solve everyone's problems. However, the earplugs I picked up during my lunch break promised to be a less drastic solution than moving home. Anyway I had shared a flat before, after university, a couple of years ago, when I first came up to London. The flat share was good in some ways, but eight months had been long enough. My current self-contained little place might be cramped and two floors up, in what my boss, Jeremy, described as a dreary Victorian terrace, but it was my release from taking turns with four others to use the bathroom and kitchen. Sharing had meant not needing to go out in search of company, but having more privacy - a few quiet hours to myself whenever I wanted - had been a big improvement.
Until the previous weekend, that is, when new neighbours moved in upstairs. On Monday night the noise of heavy objects being shifted around continued until after midnight. The next night a series of rhythmic thuds hammered through the ceiling into the early hours with nothing that, from below, sounded like a tune. I guessed that they had unpacked and were celebrating their move, so I put the covers over my head and tried to sleep, but soon felt too hot. I pushed the bedding aside, put my head under the pillow, and dozed uncomfortably as the minutes dragged by. Wednesday night, with their noise again in my ears after midnight, the racket annoyed me so much that sleep was impossible. I went up to ask them to turn the music down, banging ever more loudly on their door until a young woman wearing garish lipstick, her eyelashes also plastered with make-up, answered.
'I'm from downstairs...'
'Oh, you're one of the neighbours. Nice to meet you, like. Come on in for a drink.'