Me and Celine, this was a few years ago when I was still living in Rome, went to the Goose and Crown in Camden Town for a few drinks to cleanse ourselves after seeing a second-rate strip show in the East End that Celine wanted to watch for her research. It smelled like a bowling alley and the men stood there quietly like they were still learning how to be men. I was amazed that the women had taken their underwear off, I thought that there were laws against that. But I’m not a prude or anything, I was just surprised.
“You can be so innocent sometimes,” said Celine.
Celine is cool, she’s got long, long legs, so when she sits down she always taps your toes with her feet. I like that. Celine tapping my feet while we drank cold wine.
“It feels like I live inside a movie,” Celine said. “All these people around me are always copying something that they’ve seen a million times on TV. They have to prove to themselves that this is the way it’s done.”
My teeth bit the edge of the wine glass. “I remember a friend in Rome told me he went to a strip club and a Ukrainian stripper took his glasses off and stuck them up her cunt. He got mad.”
There was a big group of Slavic men in the bar. When we walked in, I looked in the eyes of one. He was wearing a green cap like he was a communist or something and a bit of hair was crawling out from under the collar of his t-shirt. He didn’t look away and my cunt made a little heartbeat. Then I turned towards the table to sit with Celine.
“‘No one talks!’ I shouted and smacked my hand on the table. Celine looked at me seriously.
‘But you didn’t want to talk to them. You didn’t want to be talked to.’
‘But I want to be pushed. People are too afraid to push.’”
The Slavic men were watching us and the air was thick with their eyes. They were different from the men in the strip club because they wanted you to look at them. It was like they were seeing everything and they wanted to show you what they saw.
“Do you think dark and seedy can be hot?” I asked.
“Like having sex in an airport hotel?”
“Yeah, like people being stuck during a snow storm and meeting over dinner at the complimentary buffet and having sex on dirty sheets.”
“Dark and seedy is dirty and lonely.”
“Shooting seeds on the floor and you don’t care where it goes.” We laughed. “Sometimes sex can be hot when you’re disgusted by it, don’t you think? ” asked Celine.
We got quiet, then Celine said, “Sex that’s only for pleasure, just each person takes what they can. Sex that goes nowhere.”
That made me depressed. I slumped a little in my chair. I thought about the animal part of us, the fucking where you don’t worry about the aftermath. Fucking without fear, but is that ever possible? At the strip club, there had been two men sniffing around us at the club, wearing Adidas track suits, but too afraid to talk to us. They smiled and made jokes loudly to their mates, but they didn’t have any balls.
“No one talks!” I shouted and smacked my hand on the table.
Celine looked at me seriously. “But you didn’t want to talk to them. You didn’t want to be talked to.”
“But I want to be pushed. People are too afraid to push.”
Is that the female of me? Being all passive and shit, wanting to be pushed, convinced, fucked? It’s like the men know how strong I am even if they won’t admit it, so instead they run away. They never fuck me hard enough, push me to the edge. It’s like they’re worried about getting me pregnant. But that’s a teenage fear, like the videos they make you watch at school. By now you’d think people would know how it’s done, how difficult it is to make a baby, and even if you do, you’re old enough to deal with it.
“They quickly made room for us and I could feel their virility, like I was breathing in sweat, dirt and bitter beer while rolling around in the garden with my white underwear still on. “We are from Kosovo!” they announced and I raised up my arms and we all cheered.”
Anyway, while me and Celine were talking, one of the Slavs came over to us. He was skinny and had friendly eyes and his belt was pulled tight and long across his jeans. He invited us to sit with them and me and Celine looked at each other for a second and we both got up. Celine was all sleek in black and I felt like my corduroy dress smelled like the carpet in the strip club. We look and move so differently, like I’m the little mutt wagging his tail next to the big yard dog, but we’re always hanging around each other as if each of us needs the other to show how big we are. I suddenly got excited and I almost skipped to their table.
They quickly made room for us and I could feel their virility, like I was breathing in sweat, dirt and bitter beer while rolling around in the garden with my white underwear still on. “We are from Kosovo!” they announced and I raised up my arms and we all cheered. The skinny guy sat next to Celine and I saw her smiling. A greasy man from the group that was hanging out at the bar came over to see us. He looked at me and snarled subtly and I smiled back big. He went back to the bar.
I turned to the man next to me, but he got up really fast and in his place came the hairy man with the green cap. “We asked you to come sit with us for him!,” a Kosovar said majestically and the new guy looked slightly embarrassed but told me his name was Vingar.
So Vingar sitting next to me was a solid brick of a man that oozed sex and I immediately knew that he wasn’t scared to fuck a lady. Because I was a lady at that table. Like a New York lady that takes her time jaywalking and holding up traffic, so that some guy beeps his horn and shouts, “Hey lady, who do you think are?” Ladies that aren’t apologetic about being feminine, ladies that are as powerful as drag queens.
“I’m a piece of meat,” I thought at the table and then laughed out loud and no one noticed. I was a piece of meat in the purest, most positive, celestial sense. I bet they heard the scratch of my pubic hair against my stockings when I crossed my legs.
Vingar had his body turned full towards me in his chair, his knees pressed against mine. I looked at his straight nose, his beard, his messy brown hair. He was compact, like things had happened to him. He looked like he could put his hand up my dress while being gentle and serene. I wanted to dream while looking at this dark heavy man as we spurted out the words.
He started first and told me that he was a political refugee that made documentary films about the Kosovo War and I told him that I was an American that lived in Rome.
“Ah yes, Italian cinema from the 1950s and 60s,” he told me as if I had just told him I was Gore Vidal living in a mansion with my typewriter. “It was an explosion.”
“Like a New York lady that takes her time jaywalking and holding up traffic, so that some guy beeps his horn and shouts, ‘Hey lady, who do you think are?’ Ladies that aren’t apologetic about being feminine, ladies that are as powerful as drag queens.”
“Didn’t it explode because television was censored by the church and government and they needed an outlet for all of that aggression?” I said, repeating something I had read while looking at his mouth.
“No,” he said quickly, “T.V. was like that everywhere.” He leaned closer to me, his knees pressing harder into mine. “It was because of the war.”
BOOM. The word ‘war’ and his breath on my face turned a spell on to me. That word brought me back to Italy, hypnotized by the smell of the past, of dust and illiterate poor people like my parents. I saw the heat of the sun burning the sea, my dad selling cigarettes to American soldiers in Napoli, ladies with red toenails luring sailors at the port, my mom and her sisters suffering from hookworm on the island, the lady neighbour sweeping bits of broken spaghetti from the back of her cupboard, who then it for my pregnant grandmother who refused to eat so she could feed the rest of them, children upon children starving and weaving dried grass to sell as baskets, but no one wanted that peddled crap.
“War pushed everyone down,” he said. “All those young people, their lives were on pause so when it ended there was all this desire for life. Yes they were angry and destroyed, but they wanted to create. And when you push people down long enough and then finally let go, they burst upwards like a spring, there’s violence and strife, but there is also life!”
He spit when he said spring and a spray of it landed on my cheek. I left it there.
And I realized that one of the reasons that I was living in Europe was because of war, because it happened to people here. It’s still alive. In London you can see empty lots in the city where the bombs were dropped 60 years ago and when you go for walks people are always quick to point out the bombsites, the places where the new buildings meet the old.
“You have to realize that there were mass graves, entire villages were razed, families were obliterated. But there was all this desire for life, for sex, for love. I remember there was a group of men in the square in Pristina, they held up signs that said ‘We want sex.’”
“When the war in Kosovo ended, everyone talked about politics. We were so angry, millions of us had been destroyed by the Serbs and it wasn’t being acknowledged internationally. You have to realize that there were mass graves, entire villages were razed, families were obliterated. But there was all this desire for life, for sex, for love. I remember there was a group of men in the square in Pristina, they held up signs that said ‘We want sex.’”
His eyes were intense and we were mirroring each other’s body language. His knees pressed into mine; his occasional tap of my leg with his hand to make an emphasis, and his enthusiastic sprays of spit pushed my arms apart. I was sitting there with my body wide open, he could have picked me up and carried me off like a big brute. What would it be like to have a companion like that? Of being taken care of? Of no longer having to walk home alone at night, of not being conscious of dark doorways and vans parked along the sidewalk, of not watching shadows and listening to the pace of footsteps? To have a man that is proud of my tits, of a tight cotton dress around my body, of my sweating armpits? A man that makes me feel classic? I’m sick of being modern, I’m sick of being with men that are too afraid to ask for more bread when the waiter walks by the table. I want to be treated like I came from the earth, like a statue dug out of the ground. These were men with big balls, they’ve lived through war and so they know what it is to be afraid and they weren’t afraid of someone like me.
I looked over at Celine and she was chatting with three men. Probably telling them a dirty joke.
But FUCK, it was then, just then at the height of this sex and earth spell that I was under, that I got up to pee. And changing the environment so quickly was the worst thing to do in that moment, to go from the dark mustiness of men to the clinical spruce of the empty bathroom. I took a piss in that fluorescent light and then looked at myself in the mirror all wet and humming with hormones. I saw the hope in my eyes and then I killed it.
“I’m not Gore Vidal,” I said. I told myself that I wasn’t living some romantic literary life in Rome, that I wasn’t made up of cinema, seaport prostitutes or murdered Kosovars. I told myself I was stupid for hoping, for thinking that those men really saw their fantasies inside of me as if we were thinking the same thing. I took the dream life out of the reality because I was afraid of the afterwards. I was afraid of getting attached. I was afraid of what I could do to myself.
I pinched my face in front of the mirror. The last thing I wanted was to want something more. My body was responding to the moment, but if I responded to the attention then there would come the inevitable depletion.
I walked back to the table and they all looked up at me. I never see a table of white men look at me like that.
“I really liked what you said. I’m still thinking about it. I want to write it down,” I said to Vingar as I sat back down. He looked pleased, but maybe he didn’t understand what I meant. I meant that I was going to take his desire and just keep it that way before it changed and went away. He gave me his email address.
“I don’t know, I don’t get it, I’m telling you this story because we are so quick to let sexual energy and sexual tension go.”
I looked over at Celine. She looked bored. Another man told us a joke about a horse. Something a nerd in middle school would say that wanted to pretend he was a 50-year-old stand up comedian in the Catskills. Neither of us laughed.
“In my country, I am a funny person,” he said. “Here, nobody laughs.”
We got up to leave and thanked the men. I looked over at Vingar, but the light was gone in his eyes now that he knew nothing was going to change. I felt deflated.
Why didn’t he push me, why didn’t he try to bring it back? Why couldn’t he have still pursued, so I wouldn’t have had to believe everything I had just told myself in the bathroom mirror? I told myself at the time that it was because we are a species that feeds; we feed off of each other and he felt the mood shift, the tension broke. Now that I think about it again, maybe he was simply sad that I was leaving.
“You shouldn’t have told him you lived in Rome,” Celine said as we walked back to her house. “You should have told him you still lived in London, at least he could have asked you out again. And you could have seen him the next time you were here.”
“He just wanted to get laid,” I said.
“He liked you.”
I don’t know, I don’t get it, I’m telling you this story because we are so quick to let sexual energy and sexual tension go. People go to sex clubs to conjure it, to arouse themselves, to release themselves with no consequences and next day analysis. But when you feel it naturally, what do you do with it? Do you act on it right away? Do you have the story, do you leave the country the next day? Accept the toasted-seed moment flicked off the lip, a warm memory of something pleasant, digest it, shit it away, maybe meet it again years later? Do you say to yourself, ‘”That was a nice memory, I haven’t forgotten anything, but I’ve moved on with my life”?
This energy that arose between me and Vingar is sex that goes somewhere, sex that creates. Sex that creates is mysterious and unfamiliar which is why it’s scary and why I ran away from it. But that energy that arises is an energy of possibility. We can do so much with it.
I keep telling myself this story, dreaming about some Slavic hairy man that has seen war and knows how to rip my top off and fuck me like a lady. This energy can change my life. And I get scared when I think about it, when I come across it, because I don’t know where it’s going to go. Most of the time it just leaves me tattered, tarnished, and disappointed. I don’t know who I will be once the desire has passed.
“I think people always have something to say, but they don’t know how to say it. I wish people talked more,” I said to Celine.
“Maybe people have sex because they don’t know how to say what they want to say.”
“Maybe somewhere inside they always hope that the sex will be enough to make them talk. But I know that sometimes, even if I want to talk afterwards, I’m scared. I don’t want to be that stereotype, that role of a talkative, cuddly girl while the silent man is looking at his watch, waiting for the right time to go away.”
We got back to Celine’s and I went to bed and had dreams about aggressive dogs pinning their bodies to my legs. The next day I flew back to Rome.
Giovanna Coppola is a writer and poet living in London. She holds degrees in Liberal Studies and Contemporary Art from The New School for Social Research and Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London. She is currently working on her first novel about a stinking nun.