Continuing our series of short stories set in, or influenced by, London. This month's theme is 'sexy, sensual, saucy London', and Heidi Scherz is our first story, with a tale of 21st century love-hunting.
So this is my life now: speed-tindering as I dodge tourists down Tottenham Court Road.
In the movie of my life, this will be a montage — a set of flickering frames, time running at double-speed over a quirky soundtrack laced with double-meaning and inevitability.
And yet here I am in real-time, swiping left-left-left across the screen of my phone while avoiding a head-on collision with an entire brigade of khaki-clad Germans with deftness and alacrity born of several impending deadlines and an alarm that didn’t go off this morning.
This is it: life on the edge, living in the fast lane. This is me: a strong, independent, twenty-first century woman exercising her right to self-determination, holding her sexual liberation in one hand and her satchel in the other.
Less than a second to decide the fate of a face — left swipe them into the ether? Or right swipe them into... well? Into what?
Screw love at first sight — what about love at first tinder?
Last night, a man I’d right-swiped told me if I were a vegetable I’d be a ‘cutecumber’.
In the movie of my life (I’m played by Jennifer Lawrence, natch), ‘cutecumber’ will be a throwaway punchline punctuating the endearingly pathetic state I (aka JLaw) find myself in. Jennifer, as me, will laugh ironically and reply with something scathingly witty, having finally found it within herself to make the last, necessary change on her path to perfect happiness and self-actualisation. (Actually, I stared grimly at my phone for ten seconds before returning dutifully to the paper I’ve been writing since approximately the dawn of recorded time.)
Oh, but it is empowering though. My thumb on their faces, deciding their destiny. Left-left-left-right-left. A line of men, one after the other, all vying for my attention — for me. The thrill of the swoosh, when you’ve mutually right-swiped each other. And then... well. And then what?
Sex, presumably. Wouldn’t that be handy? To go from right-swipe to (hopefully brilliant) sex without the horribly messy fuss of talking in between?
Predictably, just after my first right-swipe of the morning, London (spiteful wench) decides to defy the BBC’s very best weather boffins, and the sky opens overhead. My phone goes back in my pocket and I play a game of ‘how many tourists’ umbrellas can I share before I’m noticed?’
For the sake of my hair, I dart from cover to cover. It’s like an urban assault course — with flashy cameras and soggy guidebooks and waddling Americans.
Mum called last night. She wanted to know if I’d been on any dates lately. I nearly fell out of my chair, I laughed so hard. Who has time to date any more?
Okay, so I know people who date. I’ve met them, in the flesh even. But the thing is, they are also the ones who find time to stay late at work, go to the gym, read five different newspapers (for fun), visit the theatre, go clubbing, keep themselves and their immaculate flats clean and get eight hours of sleep every night. I’m not entirely convinced they are not, in fact, cyborgs. (I think I’d feel better if it turned out that they were.)
The umbrellas have thinned out, but the rain, alas, has not. My hair is utterly doomed — as is the likelihood of my ever making it to this meeting on time. I refrain from thinking about the state of my mascara, as it might actually break my heart. (Jennifer Lawrence, in her critically acclaimed performance as me, would be wearing waterproof mascara.)
In my pocket, my phone buzzes. ‘It’s a match!’ I’ll check it later. Maybe I’ll even message the lucky winner while I’m making dinner, watching QI and reading the news simultaneously.
The rain continues, but I’ve made it to Oxford Street. Lumbering tourists are thick on the ground; umbrellas no longer scattered safe-havens but sharp, jostling weapons of mass destruction, to be avoided at all costs lest you lose an eye — or worse, catch your hair in the spokes.
Waiting for the green man to let me cross, I can see my building. I’m so nearly there (and so very late) — so it’s extra ironic that it’s now that a man walks right into me and sends me sprawling into a puddle the size of a small ocean. Some very graceful flailing indeed saves my satchel from drowning, and the bulldozer man in a flurry of apology scoops me out and pours me once more onto my feet.
In the Oscar-award winning movie of my life, Jennifer Lawrence looks through her rain-soaked fringe into his glittering blue eyes and laughs, charmingly carefree. He sweeps her into Zara and insists on paying for a new, dry suit, and that night they meet for the first dinner of the rest of their very healthy sex lives.
Here, in real-time, I am flustered and embarrassed and annoyed. My suit is muddy, my shoes are ruined and blue-eyes has gone stammeringly, unhelpfully British in his flapping attempts to ascertain I’m not hurt and won’t start shouting at him.
If I saw him on tinder, though, I’d definitely swipe him to the right. “Please, let me — my number, I can give you my number, for — for, dry cleaning, or... Are you sure you’re...”
“No, it’s — I’m sorry, I’m so late, it’s fine, really, don’t worry about it, I have to dash, really.”
I swipe my satchel from his hands and hurry across the street.
It’s fine. It’s all fine. I am an independent, self-sufficient twenty-first century woman. I don’t need meet-cutes or Tinder or, or men, even. Who has time for sex and dating anymore, anyways? I’m fine by myself.
What I do need, however, are more triple A batteries and a new Mills & Boon. Anyway, who knows — maybe one day bulldozer blue-eyes will swipe right on me.
Please continue to send submissions to email@example.com. As well as general London stories, we’re now looking for tales with a 'sexy, sensual or saucy' theme. Entries (whether general or sexy) must be no more than 1,000 words, and must be set in London, or strongly inspired by the city. Full details here.
Previously in this series
- Amelie: Narges Rashidi considers the interactions of three people on a District Line tube.
- Old Nichol: Jill Fricker evokes the woes of the old East End.
- Compatibility: Stephen Lynch conjures the awkwardness of flat hunting.
- Two Four Eight: Lance V Ramsay envisions an Orwellian dystopia in the lingo of future London.
- Shelter Drawings: Stuart Snelson’s tale of a mysterious Circle Line artist.
- Harvest Festival: A spooky Halloween tale in the London suburbs by Helen Craig.
- Jazz Code and the Tube: The ambivalence of dating, by Jenny Mackenzie.
- Bishopsgate: Oliver Zarandi visits the site of a bomb.
- A Free Man: Melanie White’s flash fiction piece considers a recently single guy at a bachelor party.
- Tracks and Albums: Richard Lakin attracts the attentions of the British Transport Police.
- An Extract From the Diary of Kay Richardson, Actor: The surreal tribulations of a washed-up London thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- Seeing Red: Anthony Fitzgerald on the woes of a cab driver.
- You Were Not In When We Called: A Christmas tale from Megan Toogood.
- The Perfect Gift: A Christmas fairytale in which London’s statues come to life, by Katherine Wheston.
- The City Inside: Tom Butler has some curious metropolitan anatomy.
- The Do: Alan Fisher gets party phobia.
- Clean Living London: Ursula Dewey rolls her sleeves up for some housework.
- Clissar: Grazia Brunello dips into the future of north London, through a glass darkly.
- Ordinary Days in London: Madelaine Hills on a Docklands disturbance.
- Instant Karma on the 263 to North Finchley: one seat left on the bus. Next to you. Raving drunk gets on. By Ronnie Capaldi.