ILLEGAL LIAISONS
excerpts

Jonathan seldom thought back to he and Andrea's first meeting. More space in his memory was occupied by the later moments he and Andrea immersed themselves in. Moments they plunged into with an intensity neither of them had ever previously experienced.



Jonathan's memory turned out to be a cunning device that never offered up "comparative images". Or at least never when he was with Andrea. She was his goal, his air and his titbit. He climbed over her, lived her breath and passionately licked the nipples decorating the dark globes of her breasts. Images of women he'd been with before – including the pale memory of his wife's body – lay forgotten at the bottom of his memory.
Jonathan took nothing with him when he climaxed with Andrea, aside from the essential equipment of his ego, the physical manifestation of which had never let him down (a source of pride to him). The time they spent lying side by side afterwards were short minutes of pure happiness which vanished as soon as they pulled apart, when Andrea, in feminine fashion, would throw in something like, "I remember when I first saw you." She wasn't capable of thinking about anything else during their blissful post-coital stupor. She – so smart, witty and bright– didn't want to refer to anything else but the two of them. So Jonathan, whose mind was just as blank following the love act, veiled himself with cigarette smoke and murmured, "Yes, yes, I remember it too."
The cat was out of the bag when it emerged that "our first time…" meant different things to the two of them. Andrea counted their days together from their first meeting, and he – from the first time they had sex.
"Two different calendars!" yelled Andrea, furrowing her dark eyebrows. Did they really share anything at all? She was furious but forgave him soon after, making Jonathan conclude that this "gulf" between them – pointing up his male insensitivity – somehow turned her on.
In reality, Jonathan did remember the first time he'd seen Andrea, but didn't tell her because he didn't want her to have any power over him. He already knew she could be cruel if she caught the scent of attachment. He wouldn't have wanted her to wave a bloody sheet – stained with his blood – in front of his nose, which is why he let her remind him of that "forgotten" memory.
When she spoke about their first encounter, Andrea would always add something new: an element she'd previously overlooked. In this way, she constructed a mythic "beginning". Meanwhile, Jonathan silently struggled to keep his own version intact.
In fact, he was afraid of her myth. He felt that by repeating her version, Andrea was weaving a web around him. And he was afraid of that; as every man is afraid when he suspects he's being ensnared.

When he thought of the first time he'd met her, Jonathan tried to recall specific details: the perfectly maintained apartment building with a stained glass window in the stairwell and the huge hall opening onto a garden. The size of that Brussels flat was stupefying to think of, even now. Unfortunately, the drawing room brought to mind a lavatory bowl soiled with dried-on shit, and what Jonathan wanted most was to clean off the trinkets and excrescences of memory with a scourer.
He took a glass of champagne a waiter offered him and merged into the crowd. The people standing in small clusters in the centre of the room were dressed in suits. Some had on jeans, though Jonathan felt there was something out of kilter about their casualness. He was just about to share his observations with Megi, who had come up to him holding a glass, but didn't have time to, because she linked her arm in his and led him towards the nearest huddle.
"This is my husband, Jonathan," she said, introducing him.
"Pleased to meet you." Jonathan shook the hand of a slim man.
"This is Ian. He liaises between an employers' organisation and the European Parliament."
"How nice."
"This is my husband, Jonathan. Jonathan, meet Peter. Peter's a spokesperson for..."
"I see..."
"I'm Megi and this is my husband, Jonathan. We've been living in Brussels for about a month. No, we haven't seen the Atomium yet. Jonathan, have you met Margit? She's deputy spokesperson for..."
"For?"
"For the European Commission."
"In the European Commission..."
"To the Commission..."
"Excuse me a moment, I have an urgent phone call to make." Jonathan moved away, making as if to take his telephone out of his jacket pocket.
He leaned against the table laden with snacks. This was some kind of social overdose. A private apartment and a waiter; people in jeans, but uptight; a host with a limp-fish handshake; and a hostess who looked like one of the Ugly Sisters. Were they there to have fun or to work?
He seized a carrot and ate it quickly.
"You aren't from the Commission, are you?" came a question, the intonation expecting an answer in the affirmative.
A young woman he didn't know was standing beside him.
"Is it that obvious?" he sighed.
She burst out laughing and extended a hand.
"Andrea."
He noticed much later that her hands were different from the rest of her body. They were broad, with signs of age which she masked with careful manicure. He didn't notice it then, as Andrea was only just emerging from the mist of anonymity. Tall and slender, she turned to take a canapé. She had neat, round buttocks and he suddenly felt the urge to fondle them.
"Don't worry about them," she smiled, pointing to the undulating ring of humanity. "Look. The outer circle are trainees."
Jonathan looked at the young people looking towards the centre of the circle.
"The ones nearest the centre are high-ranking officials. See the bald guy on the right?"
"With a head shaped like a missile?"
"He's got his eye on the post of ministerial adviser. And that fat one with the unruly hair is poised to snatch the post vacated by a colleague of his who's just been promoted."
"What about the one they're all looking at?" asked Jonathan, pointing towards the centre of the circle, where a tall, slim, grey-haired man stood. Jonathan could feel the charisma emanating from the man even from a distance.
"He's the Head of Cabinet to the Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security," smiled Andrea.
"Is he the boss?" asked Jonathan, confused.
"He's their god."
The circle had begun to break up; the Head of the Commissioner's Cabinet withdrew, shaking hands as people said their goodbyes.
Andrea glanced at her watch.
"It was nice to meet you," she said.
Jonathan felt an unexpected tug inside, a childish voice calling, "I want you." Was it the trace of a Swedish accent he could hear in her almost perfect English?
"What do you do?" he blurted out in desperation.
"I work for a Swedish TV station. And you?"
"I write."
"Journalist?"
"I write books."
"Oh!"
Jonathan put his hands in his pockets. He liked that kind of reaction. He knew from experience he should make the most of it, because it usually preceded a less desirable one, which began with the question:
"What do you write?"
"Children's stories."
He usually endured the feeling of deflation manfully, but this time added casually: "I was recently invited to run a creative writing course in Brussels."
"Oh!"
"But for financial reasons I feel I ought to try and get a permanent job in the Commission."
"The course sounds much more interesting."
"You wouldn't want to know how much they pay."
"You wouldn't want to do something you don't like."
He glanced at her and saw more of Andrea: her brown hair and beautifully shaped mouth.
"Look at that pâté," she said, and his gaze moved unwillingly towards the table. "Some people really like it."
"It's foie gras."
"Working for the Commission I imagine you'd feel like those force-fed geese."
He looked away from the pâté and once again at her. They could hear the final promises to telephone drifting over from the group of EU officers, and he was suddenly lost for words. The silence between them grew oppressive.
"Would you…?" began Jonathan, but just at that moment, someone came and stopped by them.
They both turned. The Head of Cabinet to the Commissioner was standing beside them.
"Simon, meet Jonathan," a professional smile had appeared on Andreas's face. "Jonathan's a writer and teaches creative writing. Jonathan, this is Simon..."
The man's handshake was firm. Although Jonathan was not one to judge men's looks, he immediately saw this man would put most others in the shade, even though he was in his fifties. And his elevated position had little to do with that.
"Andrea, it's time we left," said the man, in an impeccable English accent.
"British, Eton," Jonathan instinctively noted.
"…Simon," Andrea finished. "My partner."

Jonathan sought intimacy with Megi that night, but her lips had lost their sweetness. They finished quickly; Jonathan got up and went out onto the verandah to smoke a cigarette.
He looked up to see clouds scudding across the great sombre mass of the sky. He had liked the Brussels weather at once: warm and tinged with moistness. He couldn't stand southern climates, the constant sunshine and stubborn, searing heat.
"Simon. My partner." There wasn't one woman at that bizarre party who wouldn't have looked at him, and that included Megi.
Jonathan crushed his cigarette. Once again, he felt that childish anxiety, that sulky "I want you", as he had when Andrea was leaving with Simon, and Jonathan had taken advantage of the opportunity to look at her beautiful bum one more time. Now the movement of her hips nagged at him, like the hook a foolish pike had allowed itself to be caught on. And he was that pike.

Everyday life became a routine. Jonathan unpacked box after box, until it seemed to him his days had become cubic in shape. Take another box, open it and empty it. Finally, the vision of a trip to IKEA to buy a cupboard took on the air of an escape, and Swedish meatballs – a ticket to the wide world. As he sat at a table in the IKEA café, he was filled with a sense that the jaws of his Brussels home, so hungry for equipment and accessories, were snapping open and shut at a safe distance from him.
On the way home, he stopped to buy some rolls. Megi couldn't get used to croissants and preferred normal bread, while the children loved small rolls with a cleft down the middle, which they had immediately termed "bums". Jonathan asked for six bums and a coffee to go.
As he was moving away from the counter, something in him shuddered. Ever since their first encounter, he would occasionally "see" Andrea: running across the street, looking at her watch or getting off a tram. But it was never her. He was not concerned by the effect she was having on him, since he often fantasised about women he hardly knew and constructed scripts he would never have the time or courage to play out in real life. It was one thing to let his dick have a wander inside a tasty thirty-something, and quite another to grapple with the question of whether the fucking had a future.
Jonathan's principles also acted like a bucket of water. He was too young for a bit on the side. That was OK for old-timers wanting a little fling or bored men with thoughts straying towards retirement. Women found him attractive; he'd had plenty before Megi and knew he could have them again at any time. Moreover, although monogamy wasn't easy, when fantasies about other women – or the women themselves – become too persistent, he would repeat Stefan's maxim: "You can't shag around; don't be a fool." In his case, inability represented a choice. When it came to taking an honourable approach to the issue of other women, he had to admit that the abstract concept of male honour was no less real than the fear of catching HIV.
The sight of the real Andrea, large as life, made him feel pleased to see a friendly face. As a traveller, he knew that a new place starts becoming home the moment you start bumping into people you know. And here it was – a few weeks had gone by, and he'd run into a familiar face.
She noticed him and came to an uncertain halt.
"Jonathan," he reminded her. "We met..."
"I remember. Children's stories. And the writing course."
She was wearing a light-coloured top and a skirt with a split that excited the imagination.
"I'd like a croissant." She leant forward towards the shop assistant.
"A croissant at noon?" Jonathan asked. "Isn't it time for something more filling?"
"I'm just going for lunch. And I have to eat something first."
"Seeing you have to eat before, you must be dining with leprechauns."
"I see you're already writing stories!" Little wrinkles appeared around her eyes and disappeared. Jonathan thought he'd like to spend more time looking at that smile. There was something exciting in it: at once sexy and smart.
"I'll write it, if you promise not to touch the poisoned apple," he murmured.
Andrea looked down at the croissant suspiciously. When she bit into it, crumbs dropped down over her top, a few falling onto her cleavage.
"Just in case, I have some rolls for a rainy day," he said, lifting his bag of "bums". "Would you like to take one with you, in case it turns out the leprechauns only serve airline helpings?"
She shook her head.
"My leprechaun is in the Commission, and I want to get him involved in my programme. When I talk business, I don't eat much."
"When I don't eat, I get irritable."
"That's amazing. Me too. Other people can handle hunger in a civilised way, but I just get mad. I've got something of a complex about it."
"You shouldn't have," said Jonathan, calming her down.
"We're predators, after all. A wolfish personality in sheep's clothing."
"It sounds like the description of an illness," she frowned.
"In Latin, it's homo homini lupus."
She smiled again, and he remembered the coffee he was holding. He drank a little, keeping his eyes on Andrea. She brushed her hair from her forehead, suggesting she had nothing against his looking.
"Do you live nearby?" she asked.
"A few blocks from here."
"How's your writing course going?"
"I'm still on a survival course, in post-move mode." He pointed at the jeans he'd been wearing to assemble the cupboards, beds and bookshelves.
"Aren't you looking for work in the Commission any longer?"
"I didn't even begin. After what you said about me feeling like a goose…"
This time she didn't smile, as though his joke had left the road and was bouncing awkwardly around among the potholes.
"I must run," she said, glancing at her watch.
"I went too far," he thought.
And then something happened that made the hairs stand up on his hands. Andrea straightened up, shook the croissant crumbs from her top and stepped forward to say goodbye, pecking him on his cheeks in French fashion. But Jonathan forgot how many times to kiss, and after two leant forward for the third. Then she, disorientated, stopped moving her head in mid-flow and, instead of offering up her cheek, brushed his lips with hers. Jonathan reacted by moving his forward a centimetre (something inside him silently shouting "I want you") – and the conjoined mouths, urged on by the warmth and moistness, began searching…

The next day, after dropping his children off at school, Jonathan found a café and checked his email. The organiser of the course from L'atelier d'écriture had invited him for an interview the following week. Megi said he ought to try, as long as he could juggle work with running the home. He couldn't expect anything of her: she had heaps of work. He congratulated himself on having found an au pair.
He had just opened a document with notes he had made about the course when Andrea appeared in his thoughts. The film of their encounter began to run again, the memory of the warmth of her mouth sent a hot shudder through him. It was unusual that this "film" didn't have any later scenes, as had been normal with his passing fascinations about other women during his last, monogamous decade. What would have been the beginning of the screenplay leading to an explicit consummation stopped with this innocent kiss. It kept him in a state of bliss he no longer remembered, or maybe had never known. He flicked the outside of his laptop. There was something narcotic about that woman: for example, the fact he was dreaming about her fragrance and not her bum was a bad sign.
Jonathan's mobile rang. He twitched, immediately anxious.
"It's me," he heard.
"Megi?" he tried to calm his voice. "Your number didn't show up."
"I'm calling from work. Listen, I won't be able to take Antonia to her riding lesson. I have to finish a report by tomorrow."
"Don't worry. I'll take her."
"Thanks, darling."
Sss...! The air began to escape from his fragrant image of Andrea.
"Are you there?" asked Megi.
"I love you," he heard his own voice saying.
"And I love you too," came her hurried response. "I have to go. I've got a meeting."

Translated David French
Illegal relationships (Nielegalne związki)

Copyright © by W.A.B. Publishing House, 2010
1st Edition, Warsaw 2010


© W.A.B

 
photo by Stephan Vanfleteren