Wednesday, December 24, 2014

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 but 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 unimaginable silence.

The weather forecast confirms the snow is causing mayhem. That is how it must be. I shake my head. There is too much talk about the melancholy of snow, not its beauty, its mystery, its fragile existence. 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, in truth, 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 an effort to look younger than I am, of course.

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, exhausting.'

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 feels as if it is rising from the dead.

Reflections: Even though Christmas Day is tomorrow some people are looking forward, with an eagerness bordering on frenzy, to warm spring mornings, roads without snow, trains and planes running on time, and going to work in heated expensive offices and shops.

An ill-considered yearning to embrace the brash fast world is visible in their cold eyes, bored faces and weary demeanour. They fail to notice the immediate radiant beauty around them that will soon fade. Why such hurry? It takes a long time to grow up, but not to grow old.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

In Search of a Different Existence

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, but 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 to the edge of the sea. The world seems captured in the slight, silent waves and our pool of thought. These moments of contentment only last 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. At times, he lamented: 'Why is my hair snowy-white?! I don't even like Christmas?!' And while I was driving, 'A fine boat you've got 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".

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Narcissism & 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 while debating whether or not it is indiscreet to run during a moonlit walk. 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 the same old underwear, which, in their simplicity, remained tight, just like my finances.

After we shook hands and said goodbye I missed her.

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, the 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.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

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, I feel sad ... yet happy. Sometimes, the scales drop from my eyes ... yet I am blind to everything I see ... 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.

Reflection: Most people, if not all, are acquainted with the clenched fist, ill-temper, malice and oppression. The "stinging wind" that falls at random: broken furniture, broken hearts, broken dreams. Few individuals confess to such vile deeds as they pursue their inexorable actions with eager energy and ominous determination.

Misplaced pride, insensitivity and inertia are the playthings of "embalmed deluded gods" whose minds are dominated by thoughts of self-love and immortality. A person's rise to fortune, however, can rapidly turn to failure irrespective of their gifts, personal charm, high intellect, eloquence and passion. Sometimes all it takes is the public display of one fatal defect, or more perhaps, and their true undesirable intentions are laid bare for all to see.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Smells Like Literary Spirit

It began with a letter addressed to the man of the house so my wife read it first. The letter instructed that a car would pick me up at eight o'clock that evening. No reason, no signature. Mysterious, even dangerous, yet I waited with eager anticipation. I watched a black car with tinted windows arrive and stop outside my house. The driver, roughly my age, stepped out of the car. He was well dressed and told me to sit in the back seat. He then asked me politely to place a black hood over my head. After that the driver didn't speak. I shrunk deep into the seat, stayed silent, and regretted wearing tight alligator underwear.

We drove for about an hour until I heard the tyres hit gravel and the car stopped. The driver held on to my arm as we walked silently along a gravel path. I heard a door bell ring. A door opened, and a male voice politely invited us inside. When the door shut I was told to remove the hood. I was standing in the reception of a large stately house. A portly, red-faced man flashed a smile and greeted me warmly. 'Splendid! Glad you could come. I'm Maxwell. Welcome to The Book Sniffing Club. We've been expecting you.' He led me to a large, round table where six people were sitting, and introduced me. The table contained a pile of books in various stages of decay.

'As you can see dear fellow,' Maxwell continued, 'you are in the prestigious company of fellow book sniffers. Decaying books are wondrous. The chemicals ... the volatile acids and emissions combine to make a vivid musty smell!' His face became redder as he spoke. He immediately lifted a book from the table, raced to a chair, sat down, and buried his nose deep inside the book jacket.

A woman flashed a smile and indicated a place at the table for me. I was struck by her beauty and husky voice. Her name was Rachel. 'It's open seating. Here, sit beside me.' I liked her. She described how her habit had developed through different stages; sniffing newspapers, pamphlets, then progressing to the slicks: Elle, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, then Horse & Hound. I paused, and though how ludicrous, yet profoundly beguiling, the whole situation was.

Some of the group were using straws to delve deep into the spines of books, and took long deep sniffs, then sat back in exhilaration. Rachel said fresh books were all right for beginners, but nothing could beat an old crusty book. I asked if they had ever been raided by the police. She crossed her legs, then she laughed. 'No fear! Most members have influential positions, or connections, within the police and judiciary.'

Rachel handed me a straw, smiled, and pointed to the books, 'Now get sniffing!' I placed my straw deep into the spine of an old book. I believe it was a first edition, a first issue copy of Grimms Fairy Tales. The last thing I remember is inhaling, feeling drowsy, melting in a blue haze, and losing consciousness.
Reflections: Throughout my life I have sought good advice and fallen supremely beneath it. I have often, undeniably, encountered many good creatures whose talk and laughter meant nothing. Each day these creatures performed a motionless, timeless dance; their eyes glazed with tragic emotion. 

There were eternal problems, of course. What to fall back on during telecommunication downtime? How to deal with such a loss? How does one communicate with dispirited creatures who have nothing to confide? Their bodies trembling, their minds discarded to avoid engagement, misapprehension, the chance to escape. To get out. Is it a triumphant option to remain a shadow on a page, never daring to look away from a screen? Each and every day? Like a cat watching a bird? They didn't see it that way. Did they see it that way?