That, Dakin has come to think, after years of Totty’s lessons, years and wars and empires passing page by page, is more or less the truth, but it’s not exact. History, in its making, runs quietly on as it has always done – the hands of the clock move, things change, they stay the same – but, Dakin has discovered, it is possible to put your foot out and trip History up a little, not enough to make him fall, or to turn round and go the other way, but enough to make him stumble and then carry on.
He’s down at the pub a few days after Hector’s memorial. Fiona’s off doing something with her mum, and the other lads are fucking around elsewhere – Scripps is probably off thanking God for his acceptance, Posner’s writing poems about him, no doubt, and it’s likely that Lockwood is hiding from the rain with some dim and pretty bird, his cigarettes, and his Clash records. No matter – things have been strained since Hector went off to the great motorway in the sky. It’s good to have them around, but too long and they get melancholy, and Dakin begins to consider punching Timms in the mouth every time he spouts one of his (theirs, Hector’s) bits of poetry.
When Irwin shows up, Dakin is melancholy all by himself, and half-drowning in his pint. They haven’t planned this, though of course they have; they’d decided to meet after all, but left to themselves to the details, the way Irwin still smells, somehow, of schoolrooms, in addition to the wet wool of his coat, in a way that makes Dakin think sourly, fucking gerunds; how his glasses fog over in the warmth and have to be cleaned on his sleeve. How bloody awkward this is when it doesn’t have to be, after all that talk of surprises and sucking off. He lets Irwin buy him another beer and then returns the favour. They smile. “No euphemisms here,” says Irwin, and swallows.
It turns out that the flat Irwin’s renting is only a few blocks away, and while they walk he talks about neutrality clauses, as if he’s still testing Dakin. And of course he is. It’s what he meant about Poland all along – he can’t make the first move, so he’s edging around for the truth, complicit, but having to wait to see what happens.
Except that when Irwin fits his key in the lock and ushers Dakin into a narrow, badly lit corridor, it’s Dakin who’s surprised, Dakin who’s pushed backed against the blue-striped wallpaper, finding his way into a kiss that comes as less of a surprise, but which is still a revelation.
Turns out Poland has a few tricks up its sleeve.
It’s dark when Dakin leaves, and though the spinning in his head has subsided, he walks for a while with a cigarette unlit in his mouth. He doesn’t want to go home still drunk and encounter his mum.
It’s stopped raining, but the streets are shiny-slick, and every tree he passes under shakes droplets of water down the back of his neck. Some of the houses have lights on inside, and the windows glow pleasantly, casting long beams down in front of his feet as he walks. There ought to be a poem about nights like this; there probably is, but even though he learnt those Hector taught them, line by line, Dakin’s never been much of a poet himself, and they slip away far too easily.
So Dakin walks on, feeling as if he’s stolen something, or else been robbed.
Four weeks later, and it really is an accident this time. Irwin’s at the corner shop, picking up milk and bread at the same time Dakin’s in buying another pack of fags. The sight puts Dakin in mind of the phrase “gourmet meals for one” – he never does decide whether it’s pity or curiosity that makes him follow Irwin home.
“Sir,” he gasps (it’s Irwin on his knees this time, and he’s still got his glasses on), “shit, sir, I’m gonna….”
Hector would have liked this, too – sex in the subjunctive. Dakin’s hands falter nearly as often as his voice does, but his mind follows each uneasy little movement, mapping out all the possibilities, all the things that could have happened, all the ways this might go differently. He could have touched here, and made Irwin come sooner, or kissed him, and drawn it out longer. The whole scene is a knot of possibilities and routes unfollowed, but it ends the same way, every time, with Dakin pulling on his trousers and his shoes and going.
The third time is also the last; it’s neither an accident nor a plan. Dakin finds himself standing on the doorstep, staring at the ugly brass knocker on the door, and Irwin finds himself pulling the door open. Dakin allows himself to be courted, to have his jacket taken and a cup of tea poured. It’s the first time he’s seen how Irwin really lives. It’s also the first time he’s seen this flat with the lights on. Somehow, perhaps just because Irwin’s smart, and a teacher, he’s always imagined that he listens to the sort of fruity orchestral music the BBC is always going on about, but Dakin realises with a smile that the record Irwin’s playing is Bowie. There are photographs and posters and unframed paintings on the walls, and squat shelves everywhere stuffed with books.
This time it’s almost funny, because Irwin leads him to the bedroom like they’ve never met before, and there are condoms waiting on the bedside table. “Been waiting for me, have you, sir?” Dakin jokes as he shrugs off his shirt.
It’s different than with Fiona – Irwin’s body is different, and he makes noises like Fiona does, but they’re deeper and softer, and the whole time Dakin is reminded that he’s with a man. He stays for a while, until Irwin has fallen asleep, and then he goes and hauls Lockwood out of bed and they drink cheap whiskey until the sun comes up.
He went to school. He did the work even though he never had to try too hard, because that’s the way it’d always been. And it went on. Being a tax lawyer isn’t what he’d always dreamed of, but then he’d always been a practical lad, and taken what came to him. Suited him well enough.
He never marries, but there are women enough in his life, and he’s content just dropping in on Timms and Akhtar and their young ones, so he never really thinks about kids of his own.
He catches Irwin on the telly now and then, graying, slender, and as quick as ever. Dakin doesn’t have much patience for the television in general, but he watches now and then, and finds himself wanting to argue back, or chew over some interesting thing Irwin has said.
They never meet again, but Dakin is sure that if they had, he would have called him “sir”.