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.