Thursday, December 24, 2015

Notes from a Cast-Iron Bathtub

The landscape has disappeared behind a curtain of silent, glistening snow. The wind is fierce, chilly, full of mischief. It's approaching dawn. I'm sitting in my small, well-groomed living room. The Christmas tree partially fills the room with a gentle, greyish-blue light: a timeless stillness.

The streetlamp outside glows soft like a distant fire. The cars are all white and the trees are dressed in snow. The pale winter sky protects the silence: a silence that permeates the snowy, icy depths. The scene is compelling and delicate. I think of my mother and father's grave covered in snow, the sparse trees nearby eloquent in grief. My parents lie in cold, unimaginable silence.

The weather forecast confirms the snow is causing mayhem. That is how it must be. I shake my head. One should not dread snow, it gives warmth and deadens the monotony of pale skies. Such days are not lost, for they are tenderly captured by one's measureless, evolving memory, to be evoked perhaps on a warm afternoon, or evening, when peace and quiet abound. 

I decide to take a bath. The fact that I bathe in my neighbour's cast-iron bath tub with his girlfriend ensconced in its interior causes me little concern. Her warm green eyes, soft hands and calm smile beckon me to join her. I do so with profound pleasure. A hot scented bath with a young woman hardly accrues to bitter disappointment so close to dawn. I make a preposterous effort to shroud the flight of years which has ravaged my body. 

Nicole, her long, silky blonde hair spread over her shoulders, tells me she is about to take flight with another man. Indeed, it is her intention never to be in this part of the world again. We drink champagne to celebrate her good fortune.

'I always leave a man in December,' she ventures. 'I must be alone each January. I adore the fresh air and sunlight. It's vital I recharge my batteries before embarking on each new love affair.'

'Of course,' I reply. Her exceptional beauty justifies my response.

'Anyway, I dislike being in love. The thought that a man would believe I could love him day in, day out, forever, is frankly horrifying.' Nicole understood her power over men, or women for that matter. Yet I knew nothing about her.

'I see a look in your eyes I've witnessed a thousand times.'

'Really?' I say, murmuring, trying to smile.

'There are few moments of true passion and exhilaration in one's life. In fact, most of one's time is illusory and wasted.' Nicole leans towards me. 'How old are you?'

'After sharing this bath ... Talking to you, I'm not sure? After thirty I stopped counting. To do otherwise ... Well, it seemed pointless and tiresome.'

Her wide green eyes stare at me. They sparkle with desire. 'Everything must come to an end.' Her lips part in a sweet, delightful smile. 'Maybe we should just embrace this moment. I'm a woman, which I see you've noticed, and life is always too short.'

Nicole enfolds my hands softly, pulls me towards her, and kisses me. My body gives itself up to pleasure and rises from the dead.
Reflection:  Even though Christmas Day is tomorrow some people are looking forward with rash eagerness to warm spring mornings, roads without snow, trains and planes running on time, and going to work in heated offices and shops.

An injudicious yearning to embrace the brash, fast world is visible in their cold eyes, bored faces, and weary demeanour. Some people fail to notice the immediate radiant beauty around them that will soon fade. I have no wish to sound overly eccentric, but it appears that human folly remains fashionable and contagious, and dominates, to a terrifying degree, the eternal mind of human life. Quite pitiful, really.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

The TruthTeller and The Idiot (Hard to tell which is which)

A GP surgery. Doctor Wilkelfield Finkelfukal is sitting behind his desk.

Doctor: (sighing) Take a seat.

Long pause.

Doctor: Do you know that one thousand individuals dictate the thoughts, opinions, customs, trends and fads of our entire world of seven billion people? What we eat, wear, read, watch, talk about, do, think?

I: Well ... No.

Doctor: I thought so. You're an Idiot!


Doctor: Do you know I was beat and bullied as a boy. Of course not! Furthermore, my head's too big for my body, my body's too big for my trousers, and my wife sounds like a squealing fiddle! The stink of boredom is everywhere. I'm dead and so are you! A trivial matter, you'll agree.

I: I'm sorry ...

Doctor: To hell with your damned, "I'm sorry". What are you here to whine about?

I: (uncomfortable) Well ... Sometimes, I hold two thoughts at the same time. For instance, my life has purpose, yet it is without meaning. Sometimes, when I'm in a room full of people I feel I'm in an echo chamber listening to myself. Sometimes ...

Doctor: Sometimes! Sometimes! Sometimes! Me! Me! Me! Get a grip on yourself! Can't you talk without bleating?! You live in a dream world like most idiots. (Shouts) Wake up! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?! WACH AUF!

Long pause.

Doctor: There's no point in telling you lies. I'm a hypocrite and a wretched doctor. What impelled me to live in this multi-coloured hell escapes me. Don't be fooled by certificates, diplomas and expertise. A day comes when all men and women are proved wrong. (Thoughtful) Even a professed 'genius' like Einstein will get his comeuppance one day. I believe he never took his hands out of his trouser pockets, even in bed. What a strange man?! (Pause) A few inescapable truths - I see I'm overwhelming you - something like genius cannot be measured. What's more, excess of wealth, or natural ability, do not ensure happiness, success, or freedom from diarrhea.

I: (timidly) Indeed ...

Doctor: I'm sorry to say there's no medication for your condition.

I: Really?

Doctor: Yes. Really. You appear to me to be a person who is holding on. Old and weary before your time. A mixture of anger, tenderness and shattered visions. In short, you're carrying a perpetual burden. A million shapes and sizes of shadow beleaguer your mediocre mind!

I: I see ... Well ...

Doctor: Isn't it good to fit into society. However that may be, I once aspired to be a farmer's wife: my parents were livid, of course. Instead, I'm a faceless false dummy who has to listen to dreadful boring people whining and sobbing all day about large dark clouds and the absence of clear blue sky. (Thoughtful) One can only guess, of course ...

I: (timidly) Really ...

Doctor: You're not the only one with a neurotic fear of growing old. We're bombarded daily with images of smooth faces like 'Thanksgiving Day' balloons, pert breasts, lineless mouths and full lips. (Pause) Here's my prognosis. You've taken stock of your life and realised how little you've achieved. You are leading a factitious life and not going anywhere. Welcome to the club, old chum!

I: Oh …

Doctor: (writing) Have you heard of euthanasia?

I: No … I don't think so?

Doctor: Excellent. Take this confidential letter to a doctor friend of mine. His name and address is written on the envelope. He'll show - sorry - tell you all you need to know about the subject. (Pause) And good luck with the rest of your short life.

I:  You said short?! ...

Doctor: It did sound like it. I said, 'Good luck with the rest of your sport life'. You must learn to be less anxious. Goodbye.

The Idiot walks out into the sun and faints.

Reflections:  My wife is besotted with her in-car digital radio which she listens to in bed at night. My thoughts become hindered as I gaze at her lying in bed, bobbing her head, and wielding her feet aloft in time with the racket from her radio. When she exists in this 'self-induced' exile I am forced to confront my own neglected thoughts: a dreadful and precarious position for a dull, exaggerated creature such as myself.

When language runs dry the mind is derailed. I walk around the old town square several times without seeing a living soul. They could be hiding perhaps, or pretending to be woodpeckers. I sit on a stone sculpture, brood, and doze off.  Not good for the piles, not good at all.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Lovers in a Dry Month

I always ignored my late maternal uncle's irreverent greetings as I had no wish to quarrel. He was a widower with years of richness, unhappiness and loss buried deep inside him. I silently sat in a low-backed, wooden chair taking care to sidestep his intense gaze. As he lost himself in his layered memories I often permitted my mind to wander in search of a different existence. Nothing too extravagant, something more than memorable, something entirely unforgettable.

I imagine a completely perfect man in the company of a completely perfect woman. This calms me. It gives me time to forget what most preoccupies me. The woman and I are both high in spirit and wander in a place where sweet flowers grow. Uncertainty, anxiety, painful surprises and evil cannot creep up on us and destroy our exquisite nature. We candidly grapple with existential questions: 'Why does a species such as ours not possess a well-shaped head similar to that of a camel?' - 'Where are we going?' and perhaps the most taxing question of all, 'Can I afford to pay?'

The woman and I are not fools. We speak of the complexity and stupidity of many things including the question of human love, of fate, of creation, of renewal, of desire. Our walk from the garden leads us to the edge of a splendid lake. The world seems captured in the slight silent water and in our pools of thought. Such moments of contentment last only a few minutes, but are worth hanging onto while they last for they bring me a bolt of happiness.

'You're an odd one. Why can't you make a clean sweep of things? Two children by two different woman and still not married! Your behavior is reprehensible.' Osbert's vitriolic voice jolts me from thought; I sigh, acquiesce and turn my eyes towards his gaunt face. 'I'm senile, worn out and have savage dreams,' Osbert exclaims. 'There's nothing left for me to discover in this world. Nothing.' I like Osbert: his intense thinking, his distaste for human ignorance, his mood that can toss like a leave in spring, his contempt for pity, his acceptance of growing old.

Osbert remained active until his demise; sometimes taking a bus into town and a taxi home: the downside being that he stole the vehicles and picked up passengers on route for no charge. I usually had to post bail and collect Osbert from a police station. He lamented, at times: 'Why is my hair snowy-white? I don't even like Christmas?!' And while I was driving, 'A fine boat you have here. Goes at a good pace. In this mist it's hard to tell where the shore starts or ends. How can you see?'

Reflections: I was the only boy to drop out of college because I was pregnant. The psychoanalyst said I was obviously starved for attention and fabricated the pregnancy to skip class. When I give birth she jumped from the Brooklyn Bridge. An observer believes her last words were: 'I'll never eat kangaroo meat again'.

Friday, October 24, 2014

How to Dine with a Noisy Eater and Survive

I met an ex-girlfriend yesterday afternoon. At first I thought it was a stranger who had approached me, then I discovered it was Arabella. We eat in a sleazy bar where the women drank beer and the men danced. The longer I gazed at Arabella's face the less I understood what I was looking at.

Life doesn't prepare you for instant confusion, how to think rationally under duress, or how to dine with a 'noisy eater' without wishing to push their face in whatever they are eating. Arabella looked weary, her face damaged by alcohol. She kept flipping through missed calls and messages on her mobile. This tore me up. And to think she was once the prettiest girl in the village.

Appalled by her appearance and behaviour, and devoured by my incessant need to naively judge others simply out of boredom and conceit, my mind went into overdrive. Recalling our short romance reminded me how irrelevant it was.

After some small talk she turned to me, her hazel eyes ready to shed tears, and said, 'Do you remember the afternoon by the river? What images and sensations does it provoke?'

'A fear of rats.'

'You're teasing me. It's the passage of time, emotional currents, fish, men in nylon thigh waders, fishing rods ... '

'You have a great memory, and, if I may say so, a great imagination.' Her self-inflated snobbery and constant preening made me wonder how we had coexisted in a past now entirely dissolved.

'Do you notice anything about me?'

'You still radiate mindless malice when you're not the subject of praise.'

'No, silly. I'm wearing the same skirt!'

'But you were nine, I was ten! You must be approaching sixty!' (I knew Arabella was fifty-two now.)  

'How do I look, and be truthful?'

I lied as best I could. It seemed to satisfy her desire for assurance regarding her appearance. For a moment I saw the smile of a young girl when she was nine, who enjoyed picnics, butterflies, cats, playing the piano, inventing funny nicknames, and mimicking teachers. I didn't disclose to Arabella that I was wearing charity shop clothes and shoes, which, in their simplicity, remained tight, just like my finances.

After we said goodbye I waited a moment or two. I watched Arabella walking slowly towards the town square, her head slightly drooped. However hard I tried, all I could think about was her face covered with wrinkles of anxiety, regret and weariness.  

Reflections:  Scientific experts believe that human beings have about 7,000 facial expressions at their disposal. My wife wears an incessant expression and her resemblance to Colonel Rosa Klebb, a fictional character from the James Bond film From Russia with Love, is uncanny, let alone disheartening.

I try to forget that my wife keeps her 'cocktail party' face (along with other faces) locked in her dressing table. Sometimes you can hear the faces talk for hours: mostly about make-up, beauty tips, parenting, and irritable bowel syndrome. Thankfully I have my Sooty glove puppet and the darkness.