23 June 2015

Our first "Communion" as we came to call it happened at the third meeting. I was in the flat on the Southbank, the one with the wall of windows overlooking the river. I never quite got over how they'd managed to make the area posh, or tried—despite my swanky surroundings, it still felt off somehow, like it was trying too hard.

This was where I was staying, and it was our workspace, the place he came to be quietly interviewed. I was only writing his biography, but more than half the time I felt like a therapist, prodding him through his childhood, the good and bad memories of his life. He brought handfuls of photographs to illustrate, and I selected a few for possible use in the book.

It was oddly exhausting work, plodding through someone's life like that and trying to arrange it in a cohesive yet pleasing bouquet, something people would want to read. He was popular enough people would read it regardless, but I wanted the book to be something I could be proud of. He was a perfectionist, too, so between us we were creating something quite fine, though it was going to take a long time to do it. Fine, I was patient enough for it, and so was he.

But it was getting late, the windows over the river turning lavender grey, and all at once he offered to cook dinner. "Oh," I said because I'm eloquent like that (it's why I write rather than do public speaking). "Shouldn't you go home for dinner?"

The look he gave me voiced quite clearly his doubts. I could read it on his face: Does she want me to leave? Yet what he said was, "But then you'll be eating alone."

Ah, he was fishing. It was a lopsided relationship, to be sure. Per the nature of our work, I now knew a great deal about him, but he knew very little about me.

"I don't mind," I told him, which was true.

"I feel responsible for you," he said. He was in the kitchenette by then, pawing through the refrigerator which had been stocked for me. I wondered then if he'd planned it, having had all the provisions placed. There was even wine . . . hence the forthcoming Communion.

He was a good cook, and I said so as we sat at the tiny table. "You don't have to sound so surprised," he said.

"But where did you learn?" I asked. "When? Why?" I was looking over my shoulder at the sofa; had I left my notebook there?

"Just eat," he said to me. "Stop being a writer for a minute and . . ."

I settled and returned my attention to the meal, though I silently promised myself I wouldn't forget to write it down later.

"I like food is all," he went on. "And I find it, what's the word? Cathartic to cook."

That was worth exploring, but I clamped my teeth together and made another mental note. The rest of the meal passed in wine and pleasantries, with him doing some prodding of his own now and then as he tried to get a bigger picture of me. At the time I would have likened it to him blowing dust off ruins, excavating, but now I see it more as the laying of a foundation. It was like creating a breezeway between two standing structures. Or—more cliché—building a bridge.

I have no head for wine, but he kept refilling my glass. And it was very good wine. I'm no connoisseur, but I know what I like, and this wine I liked. I have a terrible feeling I may have gone a bit Belloq from Raiders, but then he never pulled a knife on me, and I was clearheaded enough about everything as it happened. We went from the table to the sofa and eventually to the bed, where our yoked patience paid off in the form of a very long night.

To say two halves of a whole is also cliché, but the first time he stopped and his breath caught, and that was it exactly—we were puzzle pieces that had found our mates. Neither of us was inclined to move for a moment for fear of losing that feeling of being completely whole, a feeling I'd never had with anyone before or since. But then nature took over, and we quickly found a matching rhythm. It was after that he said it had felt like Holy Communion. Not laughingly, though it sounds silly now, but quite seriously.

After that night we became devout Catholics.

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