Monday, 6 September 2010

Chronicles of Sexual Non-Awakening

“Have a happy, hepatitis-free New Year!”

Evan stopped in the doorway and turned back to the nurse, whose beaming face reminded him of the mischievous grandmother that TV had promised but never delivered. “Happy New Year,” he replied, doing his best to match her smile.

“I almost forgot,” she said, picking up a paper bag from the windowsill and proffering it like a packet of sweets, “do you need some condoms? Something for the weekend, sir?”

He shook his head; no TV grandmother had ever said that. “I think I’m alright,” he insisted, “it’s only Monday, after all.” Then he stepped into the corridor and made for the exit.

The temperature outside was a little below freezing, and the pavement in front of the Caldecot Centre was coated with ice. Evan had to pick his footholds carefully, hopping between islands of exposed concrete and baby-stepping across slippery patches, which kept him from thinking for a while. It was only when he came to Camberwell Road, where the ice had thawed under the onslaught of a million heavy footfalls, that he had the opportunity to redirect brain power to his higher faculties.

Good news, he thought, without feeling anything either way. HIV: Negative. Syphilis: Negative. Gonorrhoea: Negative. Chlamydia: Unknown. The nurse had paused before announcing this last result, as though she was about to say, “but I’m happy to report that you do have chlamydia, congratulations,” causing Evan a moment of anxiety. He’d fantasised at length about contracting HIV; how glorious and doomed it would make him appear; how mysterious. Rock stars and closeted matinee idols had HIV, not to mention porn actors and French philosophers. Syphilis was an enticing prospect, too, evoking Romantic poets and libertines, although it was presumably treatable with 21st century medicine. On the other hand, he had spared no thought for the less fashionable disorders. Ordinary people had chlamydia. Ugly people had chlamydia. It sounded like the sort of thing you’d catch as a result of a drunken shag in a nightclub car park; not at all what he was looking for in a sexually transmitted disease. “At least I know I don’t have gonorrhoea,” he said to himself, enjoying the sound of his voice as it articulated this exotic phrase.

Evan drifted into a charity shop, failing to register its name, and spent a few minutes browsing dog-eared paperbacks. It was strange how much the selection of books in a such a place could tell you about the local area, he thought. Here it was all popular crime fiction and conspiracy thrillers: Dan Brown, John Grisham, Ian Rankin. Back home in Bramhall, an affluent suburb of Manchester, he’d found books by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Stephen Hawking and Siegfried Sassoon. The things that poor people had read versus those that wealthy people pretended to have read. Or maybe he was being cynical.

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