On the way into the office I briefly caught the scent of cigarette smoke, and the combination of that and the feeling of my skirt bounced off a bit of memory. (It's an objective correlative jungle out there, and things often affect me [pun intended] like that.) It reminded me of when I was working at Templeton College Library, during my abortive first attempt at a finals year. I had to dress smartly, and I tended to go in for short skirts, because I could cycle in them. I remember looking down at my neat little skirt and flesh-coloured tights and black court shoes and thinking "I look like a 20something temp", before realising that that's exactly what I was, I was playing the part of myself. I have a permanent job now, and lots more pairs of shoes, including the slightly square-toed black patent high-heels with the narrow buckle which I'm wearing today. They pinch if I try to walk on them for more than about 200 yards, but that reminds me I'm still alive, and besides, they make my feet look like something I'd like to own. But I'm straying from the point, if there is a point.
There was a boy in the IT department at Templeton -- I say 'boy', he was in his 30s but still had the wide-eyed enthusiasm and idealism (not to mention inexperience) of a 17-year-old -- whose reaction to me was amusingly obvious. Not so much in the physical sense (it's not polite to look at a gentleman's crotch, and besides, he tended to wear baggy combats) as in the fact that he was clearly reduced to babbling incoherence by the proximity of a real woman. I'd like to be able to say that I was considerate and professional about the whole thing, but I'd be lying; I wore shorter and shorter skirts until you could practically see my knickers when I stood on tiptoe to shelve a book on a top shelf. Which, of course, I made quite sure to do several times a day. What's the point of being a librarian if you can't set the bookstacks on fire with desire even while you're filing the world away in neat little boxes?
He smelled of cigarettes and rebellion, and he was awfully devoted in a touchingly hopeless way. The poor guy didn't stand a chance. When I want to wind somebody up, they stay wound up, like a tightly-coiled spring. He took me to punk poetry gigs, and bought me pints of ale and taught me to roll my own cigarettes (a skill which I've since forgotten), and ranted about how anarchy was the only answer, and made me compilation tapes, and let me wheedle free network cable out of him. In return I let him have a little of what he wanted. Hungry kisses in the stationery cupboard; hasty fumbling behind the bike-sheds; you know the score. It's such an easy part to play. So easy.
And it's all just an act, a sketchy mask of lipstick and sideways glances; but they're too busy trying to unhook your bra to notice the scars. And sometimes it takes the edge off the hurting, and sometimes it sharpens it to the point where it gives you a clear point of self to focus on.
Sometimes I feel like I've narrowed my existence down to a handful of body parts and a slow-burning fire, a furnace that doesn't know what it's powering, a drive to do something, anything. It's just fire, it doesn't destroy or purify except that we place that interpretation on it, it doesn't care either way. And sometimes it's so wearing to be cared for; sometimes you want somebody who won't care, who won't ask, someone who'll just stoke the flames and watch you burn.