Monday, October 10, 2011

The Crucible of Love and Relationships


I normally rise at five-thirty, disembark from bed at seven and swim across a lake close to my home. The exercise usually fills me with elation, and gives me time to think. Imagine my surprise and indignation to discover the lake no longer existed, and had been replaced overnight by an out-of-town shopping mall.

In fact, I was swimming by the entrance to the House of Frazer department store before I realised there wasn't any water. I walked sheepishly back through the mall with the sound of mocking laughter in my ears. My only consolation? I was naked and wouldn't need to wash and dry my 'Arctic White Casino Royale' swim trunks. I'm sure Dr Freud would find my predicament, my defining act, of colossal interest.

The second eye-popping experience happened on Saturday evening. I was standing under a restaurant awning; the rain coming down unremittingly. My partner, Eleanor Winchester-Rifle, was beating me about the head and torso with twenty inches of rubber tubing. 'To think I missed bingo for this!' she bleated in a cracked, decaying voice.

I studied her face and found myself amazed by her aged appearance and skill in wielding large rubber tubing. We quarreled; she left. (I never see her again. She dies, aged seventy-one, from a broken fingernail while abseiling in the Sahara Desert without a rope and harness.) I remained in the entrance watching the vile weather and light fade, careful not to meet the gaze of whispering bystanders.

A man's voice, toneless and steady. 'Every relationship has its highs and lows. A couple like you require homeostasis.'

I try to resist talking to strangers. I'm abnormally self-absorbed and a fervent collector of patterned wallpaper. Conversations tend to turn into complex jigsaws with too many pieces. Any pieces above ten and I want to run, soil my pants, or buy an umbrella; usually its all three. My hands became clammy, my voice thin and strained. 'I can't go near a doctor without suffering post-natal depression. My nose and mouth turn stale, metallic ... And I have an aversion to small, tanned faces.'

His silence filled me with dread. I felt like crying or weeping, and I wasn't wearing my fake glasses. The guy could be a psychopath, or worse, full of jovial indifference. His body and face were both heavy and round. I jumped when he put a strong, swollen hand on my shoulder. 

'I learned my first wife was a lesbian after twenty years of marriage. Imagine that, if you can? I was suicidal for all of two minutes. Then Jane and I sat down and openly discussed the situation. The prospects of our relationship surviving after such a thunderbolt, you know?' He glanced at me. I tried to put on a fake smile but it didn't fit my sagging face.

'Your wife! ... Jane! ... Are you still a pair!? ... A couple ...!?' My voice sounded as if my vocal chords were squinting.

He moved closer. 'It's a question of attitude. I wish I'd handled the whole situation with more maturity, you know. With more care and love for my wife and children.' My mouth was as dry as bones residing in a museum, or in a microwave with a broken timer. His gaze penetrated each muscle of my face. He seemed to enjoy watching me squirm.

'Jane had a laissez-faire tendency. It was hard for me seeing her leaving our home on a stretcher. But then I was always the pragmatist. We had a yin and yang type of thing going, you know?' He leaned forward and whispered, 'We all tend to act differently in times of crisis than in times of ease. I risked everything when I shot her.

My heart pumped faster. My knuckles turned white in concert with my hair. 'Your wife?!' I gasped. 'You?! You shot your wife?!'

He put his fingers to his lips. 'Talk quietly,' he whispered. 'You never know who may be listening. Our marriage wasn't great before my wife died.' My fingers trembled so much I felt a French accent coming on. With his voice flat, and devoid of emotion, he stared directly into my face. 'Do you think I'm making this up?! That I didn't kill my wife?! Getting over an agonizing break-up isn't easy, you know! Especially for the partner left behind!'

Life and death shot before my eyes. I pictured myself walking around on sticks for months if I didn't escape his company. 'I've just remembered I have two children to launch! I mean, two children to take to lunch! My children and I have a shared history! It goes back years! Decades! Centuries, in fact!' I longed to be invisible. 'I've just remembered I'm someone else, and my job has been outsourced to an untuned, plywood violin! Catch you later!'

Without batting an eyelid I jumped into the rain and entered the city's sewage system by the nearest manhole.

*         
Reflections: Family, lovers and friends - indeed, ourselves - change over the course of a lifetime. It may be due to the death of a loved one, illness, redundancy, debt, addiction, family secrets, broken dreams, or trepidation. To successfully survive expected, or unsuspected, experiences one requires strength; room to breathe to discover who we were always supposed to be, and strive to become that person. 

Closing our eyes and mind solves or achieves nothing. Embrace the 'kiss of life' while it exists, and handle your inner emotions with sensitivity and care. Treat others' with genuine and profound humaneness. Life is neither predictable, nor a fairy tale.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Magnificent Silence & Place des Vosges


It's a fine sunny morning in Place des Vosges. Today, without warning, R.K. died in a half empty flat. My name is Lid (spelt without the L), a phony professor, of sorts: well aware of R.K.'s successes and failures, but not my own. I was first on the scene. His last words? 'Milo! Come in out of the rain! You'll catch your death!' Some might say, 'Poor R. K.' Others may say: 'He was due the alternative.' 'Was he juggling carving knives? Not that he had any.' 'He was born with a face you longed to thump.'

Was he a dark-eyed tomboy? No. Blue eyes, blond hair (until he was born), with an amicable anxious face. His humour could make a deceased person breathless; carry one to a place of exclusion, where nothing exists except a magnificent silence. The occasional tear, but no self-pity. A suggestion of despair, but no fresh disasters.

He was once dismissed as a mixture of repressed emotion and personable; it can never be said he was an actor; that his life was built around performance. His life was unactable. He once admitted, 'Life is a hateful comedy. If only I had been a character in a book I should have remained unseen, unheard, implausible. I pleased many people by being elsewhere. I openly scorned charm radiated by others; though I softened my abrasive edge prior to my demise.'

'My happiest time? The mid-1960s. Why? Without exhaustion I was loquacious, a loose cannon. I recall talking to people about matters I knew little of myself. The absurd conversing with the absurd. Deliberation. Animation. Vanity. Inescapable.'

His father (short on humour, long in the leg) was a nun. He died in 1998 after falling off a donkey in the family home and swallowing the donkey's false teeth. The donkey died in jail after being caught interfering with a hen. R.K.'s mother (short in the leg, long on humour) was a recluse who enjoyed walking the fields, lanes and roads near her home with her dog, Plato. A woman fond of reciting Aristotle's Law of Non-Contradiction to those she encountered.

When R.K. reached seventy his world moved progressively inward. He moved to Paris in 2006 and lived in a fish tank in a French Restaurant on the Rue Saint-Marc. A year later he relocated (with two fish) to a soup bowl in a café on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. The fact that neither R.K. nor the fish spoke French did not provoke despair, tension, or yearnings. For entertainment they listened, and danced, to a gramophone recording of barnyard noises.

*
Reflections: A blind man once told me he could tell by my voice that I had never observed or understood anything in my life with any degree of clarity. When I asked him, 'What does it mean to be a good person?' he smiled. 'That is hard to define. But one should know, and not need to inquire of another human being.' 

Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Two Workers

The Two Workers

In the suburbs of a city two men stand talking.

John:  I took pride in the job. I was as happy as the day was long.

Paul:  I wonder what the 'Good Fellow' up there thinks about all this?

John:  It's a sad freedom we face. 

Paul:  I feel a madness descending.

John:  They say I had the smile of a saint.

Paul:  I'm frightened of the young. Splitting themselves laughing ... Riotous behaviour. Were we ever boisterous like that?

John:  I inspired confidence.

Paul:  You were well known for that.

John:  A fine open laugh, and a firm handshake. I was smart. Played them at their own game. 

Paul:  No one better.

John:  All I see now is the end of the road. What will I tell Mary? And us living in a crumbling, dark house.

Paul:  I could do odd jobs if it weren't for my rheumatism.

John:  When I was young I thought I knew my mind. But events, personalities, guilt, changed all that. I'm not one for bearing grudges. All I desired was a warm home for Mary's sake. She has stood by me in thick and thin.

Paul:  As beautiful as pink linen raised to the sun.   

John:  Victims of mismanagement, ineptitude. (Pause) There have been others like us, and there will be others' long after we're gone. What matters is what they want. They'll wreck the place. But it will be replaced. As sure as hell, it will be.

Paul:  We devoted our lives to their demands. Do you think anyone cares about the daily existence of ordinary people?

John:  The silence is deafening. We've been cold-shouldered. Now we're a burden. (Pause) There's no denying nature has dealt us a mighty blow. How are we to move forward? Stay on our feet? Regain our self-esteem?

Paul:  We were caught asleep when we should have been wide awake. Those loud-mouthed-good-for-nothings conspired behind our backs. Nothing but "touts and traitors" to the real workers! Every one of them!

John:  As the body grows sadder life gets harder. I have my wife and son to worry about. What shall I say? Mary will be upset. She'll think I did something dishonourable. How will she look at me and see the same man again?

Paul:  We're victims of gamesters content for us to play their game with their rules. It never crossed their minds we have opinions and ideas of our own. They shrugged their shoulders and laughed. Fraudsters, plunderers, adulterers, riffraff, the lot of them.

(Pause)

John:  Today the earth feels empty except for the two of us standing here. We're suffering because of their indifference, lack of imagination. (Pause) There's more than one reason for anything of importance that happens in life. Disharmony, disorder and disaster do not happen by chance. We worked under the illusion they were principled, honest, intelligent, of high virtue. Who will judge their transgressions and insincerity?

Paul:  I achieved great pleasure carrying out my work. Today I view it all with contempt and misguided loyalty.  In truth, I despised them. Some of their directives and beliefs went over my head. I'll not lie. Why should they escape personal judgment? Are we to remain passive to their back-room politics and intrigues? What about the decisions taken while we were understaffed and overworked. (Pause) Their stench pervades the wind. I can hardly breathe. The 'name' will be sullied forever.

John:  My parents lived with ease in hardy, rural surroundings without the clitter-clatter of unnecessary worldly goods. They didn't have the extremes of anxieties that beset those who have lost touch with the world and nature. Yet, they were happy. We took long walks through the fields and forests, up and down hills accompanied by the sun or dark-blue clouds. I remember looking up at my father and mother with love shining from my eyes. I remember squeals of laughter, teasing, listening to my breath.

(Pause)

You and I have families to support. Callousness and careless actions have closed our workplace, without prior notice. Yet our ideals remain the same. The hard light of the sun has waned for now. That's the way it is. We must open the doors of disillusionment soon, otherwise our lives won't hold water.

(Pause)

Paul:  I can no longer believe in the future. I'm old and the world is going to hell! They should be condemned to death!

John:  A thing is beautiful until it is perfected. Then it becomes ugly and, worse, arcane. The fiasco of life is that the search for perfection is illusory. That's how it must be for the moment.

*    
Reflections: Until today I wasn't sure what the most dangerous thing was in my home. I thought it was my drug-addicted, hatchet-waving son, running around in the sunken hours of the morning screaming 'Enter Sandman!' I was wrong. Recent research has confirmed that 'all' dishwashers  contain 'black tough fungi'. This 'fungi' is known to survive heat, salt, strong detergents, acid, beatings with baseball bats, and missile attack.

Since this information came to my attention I sleep in a wardrobe in my bedroom. I constantly smell of mothballs. In fact, during one period of severe trembling (on hearing objects moving in my kitchen) I swallowed four or five mothballs. I hallucinated and became a hair in Einstein's nostril. As to how and when it will all end I have no idea.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Dozing Doctor


My doctor has dozed off. His breathing is disorganised and the stale scent of alcohol hangs in the air. I've noticed his patience has been waning lately. Perhaps it has with other patients, too? As I entered his consulting room ten minutes ago he looked pale, wriggled his fingers, yawned, and with a cheerless, lethargic voice enquired, 'And how are we, today? Still ill and dying, I trust?'

The Doctor is normally a rational human being with a determined face and intelligent eyes. This morning, however, he seems paralyzed by emotional trauma, sarcasm and indifference. I notice that his wedding ring is missing. His tormented face and toneless voice make me ill at ease. 

'What are you here for?' he barks, as if worn out from asking questions.

'I'm worried about the side effect of a drug you prescribed last month. While I sleep my left leg goes for walks without me.'

'How do you know it goes for walks if you are sleeping?' he asks, sighing deeply.

'Sometimes I pretend to be asleep. Then a short while later my left leg gets out of bed and leaves the house.'

'So what?' he says wearily. 'Do you think it's having an affair with another leg, perhaps? Are you frightened it will run off with some other leg and leave you after all these years? Stand up to your left leg! Demand your rights! Wear ladies tights to keep your legs together, if necessary!'

I sit in silence, stunned by his outburst.

'Patients don't understand that doctors get bored listening to them. Yes, bored. I see you are shocked by my confession. So what! The staff in this place don't even say 'good morning', a simple 'hello', 'goodbye', 'safe journey home' to me. Can you believe that? This place is a cauldron of disorder, disharmony, and accusations!'

I have an irresistible urge to scream. I feel nauseous. My stomach starts to churn.

The doctor bows his head, sighs, and in a tired voice says, 'If I were at home right now I'd be on my own. Life is a simple story. It's not the same story for everyone, but it's a story all the same. You fall in love, get married, have children, and you work. You work so goddamn hard you forget about love. You forget it's the most important thing in your life. My wife suffered a long time without me knowing about it, and I'm supposed to be a doctor. She left me a note saying she was tired of me, tired of our life, tired of being unhappy. To tell the truth, I, was unhappy, too. She took off with a rich sweet-talker who, like every other human being, has within themselves the potential for destruction, treachery, delusion and deceit.'

Another prolonged period of silence descends. The doctor's voice softens. 'I see your left leg is back. Treat it with love and respect. And don't be too tired to tell it you love it. Everything meaningful that happens in one's life has many meanings, not one. Take time to heal yourself. Take back control of your life, your body, your left leg ... '

The doctor's head drops between his knees, he begins to snore.

I lean back in the soft black chair, and think: 'How precious time, love and health are. Would the doctor take his wife back if she returned to him? Would he still love her? Is it possible to love someone more than once, or is that delusional? Could he trust her again? Perhaps his time has come and gone. Perhaps his life will now be one of immense sorrow and anger? His nights long and full of false, painful memories.'

The image of the dozing doctor's posture will remain with me. I wish I could say (with absolute confidence) the same about my left leg. 

*
Reflections:  It's remarkable how unperturbed some people feel about living in a hermetically sealed world. Ear phones are a definite deterrent to a meaningful conversation, unless you happen to have a XL megaphone at your disposal. On a recent visit to London I observed many people on the underground, on buses, in restaurants and at a concert (?!), sitting in isolation wired to iPods, cellphones and other technological gadgetry, totally unaware of the natural sounds and vistas or friends and lovers in their company.

Some passers-by walked swiftly along the pavement: eating, drinking, talking on cellphones, listening to music on iPods, charging through people and displaying limited understanding of good manners and etiquette. This increasing trend is not unique to London, however. The number of gadgets are increasing, and becoming smaller and cheaper. In fact, I have five: one in each ear, one in each nostril, and another in my belly button. It's a losing battle . . .

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Trials and Tribulations of Milford Frankfurter


This morning, a neighbour, Milford Frankfurter (part-time astronomer and searcher for extraterrestrial life in the skin of fish at weekends), emitted a cry from his house resembling a three-spined toadfish suddenly intolerant to salt. I suddenly realised that my house has inadequate sound-proofing, and the upstairs toilet is too well-concealed. The possibility that the toilet might have been stolen crossed my mind, slid down the side of my face, and made for the kitchen to make breakfast.

Milford's hideous cry unsettled me. My mouth, throat, and left leg were bone dry. Suddenly, my stomach ulcer flared up. Luckily I keep a bottle of mineral water at my bedside in case I speak in German during the night. I took a quick drink and doused the flames emanating from my stomach. The smoke and increasing darkness made me quiver. Someone rang the front door bell. After much agonizing I went downstairs. It was Milford. As he spoke I glanced anxiously at his burning car.

'My one remaining pleasure! I've killed my darling Nissa!' cried Milford, crossing and uncrossing his hands above his head. 'I've destroyed her! My life is over ...' He began to pace nervously up and down the cedar tree in my front garden. He begged me not to tell the police. 'It was an accident! If the truth comes out I'll be ruined! My wife, Lola, will never forgive me!' 

'Where is your wife?'

'Lola's in the car! She was jealous of Nissa, see? And you can't stop people talking ...'

Milford had sent a message by smartphone to preheat the cabin of his car. Due to a typing error he keyed 300°C instead of 20°C.  Tragically, he had fallen asleep in his house. What seemed like a few minutes had, in reality, been an hour. I listened in horror.

'My wife must follow ever move I make! Is it any wonder I suffer from iPhone and car tracking angst! I pay a colleague at work to exchange shoes. My wife has chips in the heels of mine! Imagine! And I have to do a little business here, and a little business there, during the day, you understand?!'

Milford sounded like he was giving me advice I didn't want. Suddenly there was an explosion. An object flew through the air and landed on the street lamp opposite my house. It looked wrinkled and shriveled. I rubbed my eyes. 'I can see a woman's face! Dressed for mourning! If I weren't so tired I'd say it's your wife, Lola!'

'Are you waiting for me to die?!' came a deep, harsh voice from the top of a lamp post. 'Thought I was wiped off the face of the earth! I won't forget this in a hurry! Get me down! Hurry up, dammit!'

Lola's words made Milford's lips move, but this time they weren't saying anything. He was arrested by the police and charged with the manslaughter of an all-electric vehicle (EV). The ambulance and fire services arrived, attended to Lola, and Milford's burnt-out pride and joy.

I drank strong coffee to calm down; mindful that Milford had senselessly succumbed to lunacy. Wearing a blue check dress and a turban, I sat on a small camping gas stove in my living room, as the 'debris of the day' lay in wait for darkness and silence.

*    
Reflections:  If you stay silent long enough, your lover, spouse, sibling, or friend, will reveal their innermost thoughts and secrets. Their eyes will impart the truth; their words and sighs will unveil the lies. Some people consider themselves to be interminably virtuous. They normally wear a uniform, or behave as if they do.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Art of Regurgitating Furballs


During a recent stay in hospital I was thrown out for impersonating a general anesthetic. A patient, Mr M., ninety-eight - who claimed to be partially deaf in one nostril - accused me of infiltrating his memory during an operation to have a pinprick removed from his finger. Mr M., was in surgery for an hour and remembers nothing. In fact, that missing hour of his life is a dark void bereft of sensation, feeling, and emotion (uncannily similar to when my wife and I attempt sex). 

My defense includes the following:

1)  I am addicted to the smell of warm metal. In fact, I've blacked out twice sniffing my TV.

2)  I believe the word 'chopsticks' should be hyphenated.

3)  It is difficult to remain calm while the world of Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, iPods, iPhones, and texting collectively destroy the human race. The facts are undeniable, uneatable, uncalled-for (just like marriage). They poison our freedom. Can an individuals life be so bad it must be supplemented by gadgets offering a faster, smoother experience. In the meantime, I'm sticking - literally - to massages with cool coconut oil applied by skilled, smooth female hands. It is therapeutic, relaxing, and I don't have to engage in meaningless, mindless conversation unless I so desire. Adorning a different disguise each day has its downside but it's worth it just to be enveloped - albeit temporarily - in the scent of mint, basil, lavender, marjoram, and to step once more among the throng feeling crisp, calm, refreshed.

4)  Sometimes I go away for several days and I am left alone at home with a bottle of hair dye. Why would someone close to you do such a thing? I'm forced to sit by the telephone and computer to receive confirmation of my whereabouts.

My solicitor believes I may get a light sentence: a dose of chloroform, or be forced to sniff ether from a begrimed medicine bottle. He advised, however, that I may be asked to explain the title of a film, for example: Duck Soup, Reservoir Dogs, Quantum of Solace, or - heaven forbid - Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

*
Last week a neighbour, Kant Sitwell, was struck on the head by lightning. He was standing in his garden disguised as a ship and shouting: 'Smallpox Aboard! Smallpox Aboard!' I remember Kant once told me he could locate buried treasure just by looking down his wife's throat. Anyway, he appeared, at first, to have sustained no serious injuries after the incident. Then, unexpectedly, he experienced an intense craving for cat food, walking about on "all fours" with a can opener between his jaws, sleeping on a cat-hammock on a radiator in his living room, and entering and exiting his house via a cat-flap. 

When Kant began to use neighbours gardens as litter trays, and to loudly meow from his roof in the middle of the night, tempers frayed. He wanted attention, reassurance that his family and neighbours were still around; that he was not alone. Yet something had to be done for the sake of the community's [sic] sanity. With strong support, and little logic, it was agreed he should be boxed and shipped to Oxford to sing, or play organ, with the New College Choir. I'm sure Kant still enjoys climbing trees, grooming his coat, and hurling fur balls at unsuspecting passers-by, when choir duties permit.

*
Reflections: My house is still and the street outside (which reflects a ghostly layer of life) is moving. Perhaps I should ease my intake of nitrous oxide? I gaze at my 'new' wife. In most aspects she appears not to have aged since we first met three days ago. Except for grey hair and a white beard she still looks youthful, agile, hairy.

However, her stubborn habit of nail-biting is driving me to distraction. This afternoon a neighbour complained that my wife's 'infuriating habit' had caused the boundary fence between our houses to collapse. When he asked for all the nails to be returned I honestly said my wife was about to finish them off. In fact, she is swallowing the last six inch steel nail as I type.