Full Moon Picnic
Art by Paul Rios
The winter makes my condition even harder. The nights are long. The water is cold. I cannot remember why I chose London as a place to pause. It made sense back then but now I cannot remember. I guess I ran out of places.
I go to Tesco just when the sun starts to set. That is around 3.30pm. I buy the usual. The usual is a bag of Sea Salt Crisps, a 2l bottle of Coca cola, a big towel and a Tesco Value family pack of ready to eat prawns. The boy in the self checkout service has got braces. He looks as bored as I feel. I always wonder about the point of a self checkout service when they always have to be monitored by members of staff. It seems to me that the point is somewhat lost. But what do I know. I haven’t worked a day in my (too long) life. The air is icy when I come out on the parking lot. I don’t want to think about ice.
I take a bus east. When I touch in with my Oyster (what a suitable name) card, the sides of my neck splits open. It is not very comfortable, but I am getting used to it. I sit down with my recyclable Tesco bag and wait. We drive along the river. The motherfucking river.
I press the stop button when we have passed the Thames barrier. When I first came to London, I didn’t realise the importance of this. My ignorance almost killed me. I’ve learned from my mistakes. At least that mistake. About the others, well, I’m not sure. I guess we never learn.
The sun has set and it is almost dark. I sit down on a bench in a park by the river and I unpack my Tesco bag. It is a nice little full moon picnic. I drink half of the coke and eat a few of the crisps. I’m not very hungry but it helps with restoring the salt balance. I sweat a lot during these times. It is freezing cold. I burp loudly. The prawns are for afterwards.
My skin is starting to go gray and I am struggling to breathe. I take my clothes off slowly, my fingers are a bit numb and I am not sure they are fingers anymore, they are thicker, shorter, they disappear, come back. I fold my clothes with great difficulty and put them in the Tesco bag next to my food. The bench is white from frost. It has never been this cold in London ever before.
I go down to the water. I dip my feet. The water is dirty and cold and it feels like a warm bed after a long, cold, hard night out. I should know.
I don’t dive in, I more stumble and the thin layer of ice softly cracks when I go through the surface. Under water, I take a deep breath and start to swim. It is cold and comfy and I swim fast, liberated by the water, blinded by the darkness, navigating by sounds bouncing off the riverbanks. Out towards the ocean before I grow too much, before it is too late.
I come back at dawn. My mouth is full of seaweed and krill and oily water. I start to feel the cold now, and I am smaller. I struggle to breathe through the cracks in my neck and I know I need to hurry. I recognise my spot, I’ve been here if not a hundred times, so at least 24. Two years in London. I know my way.
I’ve got feet again and I put them on the slippery bottom, hoping I won’t step on an old beer bottle or a rusty bike. I did once, a long time ago, in Portugal, and got blood poisoning. It was not a good time in my life, I can assure you. I try and stand up, I cannot breathe any longer and I try and stand up to get my head above the surface and I try and I try but I can’t. There is something there. Something hard.
I didn’t want to think about ice but I should have. I knew I should have. The coldest winter in the history of England. I should have thought about ice.
I swim further out, because the ice will be thinner there. It is cold. It is so cold my skin is turning blue in the pale grey morning light. I am getting desperate, and at the same time, I am not. How ironic would it be if I drowned? The answer is: Very. Very ironic indeed.
The ice cracks easily in the middle of the river and I gasp for air, it hurts, it is too cold and I haven’t used my lungs for a good twelve hours and it fucking HURTS. The nights are long here. They hurt.
I try and get out of the water, knowing I will freeze to death in a few minutes if I stay in. The ice breaks under my weight and I half swim, half crawl towards the shore.
I am almost there when I see her. A tall, skinny girl sitting on the bench where I left my clothes. She is naked, drinking from my bottle of coke, eating handful after handful of Tesco value family pack prawns. She does not seem to mind the cold and I know why. She looks at me and waves. I wave back. She smiles. I can see her teeth clearly because they are so white and her skin is so dark. She picks up the towel and throws it in my direction. She won’t come down to me and I know why; she has learned from my mistakes. At least one of them.
Then she gets up, quickly. Like she is in a hurry. She leaves the little park just as the sunlight hits the bench and melts the ice upon it. Funnily enough, the ice hasn’t melted where she was sitting. I am still halfway out of the water. I try and reach for the towel, but I can’t, it is too far away and I am so cold and I am so tired. I rest my chin on the cold ice and see the sun go up. I am so tired of this.
Lisa Bouvier is a musician/writer currently living in London. Apart from her solo project, she is one of the main characters in the music/media project Satan & Megastar, and she also plays with The Proctors, The Flatmates and The Medusa Snare. When she doesn’t play or write, she likes telling people what to do and ride ponies around Hyde Park.