Friday, 13 September 2013

The Sum of Those Parts

The flowers on the Asian styled placemat always faced the window.
It was a little rule she had, one which was of utmost importance to her, succeeded closely by salt container to the left and pepper to the right. Her pride in maintaining a house even a '50s suburban American housewife couldn't beat, was on display most days. But today, you're sitting at the table slowly fixing the placemat. The flowers on it were facing the kitchen. 
She hurries over with burnt toast, a coffee pot and a gaze you couldn't have drawn to yourself even if you'd broken into mid-air splits at this very moment. You leave the table while she butters the toast carelessly, bits of blackened crumbs flying around the plate in silent submission to her furious knife-action.

You hurry towards office, your car zipping through traffic making absolutely no difference to either the time you're making or how the rest of the day will look like. You contemplate stopping the car, right there in the middle of the road and giving up. But the sheer drama of the action weighs you down, so you press harder on the accelerator and the horn.

Really, that man in the Prius up ahead must run his own business, what else explains why he's driving so slow?


She's driving so slowly that it almost breaks your heart. You want to undo your seat belt, clamber over to her side and envelop her in a hug. This is her first time driving your car and since you've shown little faith in her skills she's earning it by being irrationally cautious. You're thinking of retelling this story to the boys, over a pint, at the pub.
They'll rib you about it but they'll also look away. One will signal for the waiter and one will check his phone. They're your best mates and they'll know after just this one story that you've struck lucky. You know that nothing can make you feel as acutely lonely as one of your best friends finding someone. And you won't grudge them that either.

The brakes come to a screeching halt. Your daydream made you forget that she was a new driver, and you can almost feel the asphalt sticking to your tires. So you do the one thing that makes sense- you unhook your seat belt, lean over and kiss her.

So much needs to be said about kisses. The way two people kiss each other can tell a story more vibrantly and honestly than words. There are the kisses in the beginning when the world comes undone with each brush of skin. Wars are fought and lost in a single kiss. Tender, fleeting kisses are 140 word versions of an epic saga and then there are those where the intensity of the act scares you and you respond with surrender hoping for a light, air and promises at the end of the tunnel.

You're kissing her softly and passionately, because she is new and can do no wrong. She is everything those before her could never be. She is going to save you, you decide that as you kiss her, never letting her know and setting her up for an inevitable fall.


She's sitting on the couch weeping. 
News of her best friend's death makes her slim body rock back in forth in sobs. You're so focussed on the sounds escaping her throat, that you forget why you're there. They start off as a low groan, somewhere in the middle of her chest, slowly rise in pitch and escape her mouth as wails. Completely offbeat and resembling an animal whose leg has been ensnared. It's uncomfortable and in pain- you're unsure if its wailing to be set free or because its frustrated due to repeatedly failed attempts at escape.

No one can construct contempt and resentment for each other like lovers can. You notice it right there behind you, a hint of a black shadow. This is the first time you've seen something like this, so you shake your head and envelop her in a meaningless hug. She leans in to soak comfort where none exists. Yet the way your chest smells soothes her and your perfunctory moves reassures her that all is well. The black shadow under the bed perhaps visible only to you.

You brush a fly-away strand of hair off her face, tell her it will be okay. That you will be her best friend for life. You tell yourself
Maybe this is a lie. But she wants to hear it, so what else am I supposed to say at a time like this?

Today is different than all other days. She's made up her mind about him today. Her girlfriends mill around telling her she doesn't have much to go on other than a glorious feeling and general good manners that any man dating a beautiful girl would display.

She shakes her head, almost pitifully at them. If only they understood.

Yes, sometimes feelings weren't enough but sometimes they were all one could go on. And sometimes feelings required work. Heck, life required work and she was ready to get to it. Remembering her childhood friend she's determined to confront life on the lack of permanency. A fool's errand, her mother mumbles but today is different than all other days. Today she is young and beautiful and nothing seems more permanent than that right now.


You remember the way the wind blew that day. In pockets of inaction and violence, a representation of your conflicting feelings towards most of your life. You stand there digging your hand into your pockets and letting the cool edge of the rock brush against your finger. The whole evening had been designed as designs are- to perfection of someone else's vision. Dinner came in courses and you remember staccato fragments of conversation.

You look beautiful, baby. Red really is your colour.
I'm so happy we did this, we haven't been to dinner in a long time. But did I tell you what that woman at work did?
Do you want some salt with your duck? It's awfully chewy, in a good way right?

Yes, another bottle of wine will be perfect.

Oh. My. God. Yes, darling, I will marry you. Of course. Oh. My. God. We're going to be happy forever. Oh, excuse me, hi, could we get a bottle of champagne please?
Baby, I'm so happy. I have to tell my friends right now. They're going to say I told you so. Oh, baby, come here and let me kiss you. You made me the happiest girl in this room. I'm sure people can tell.

You could too. But happiness was a drama queen. It made such a showing of each entrance and exit. Happiness was the drug you could watch someone do lines of , and convince yourself that if you got a whiff of what they had you'd get high too.
Happiness refuses to be your bitch at this moment and this is making you very, very bitter.
You drink a lot of champagne to compensate. You know you've made the right decision. Where else would a guy like you, find a girl like that?

That night she kisses you. Passionately and drunk. Each kiss is a promise wrapped into a plea tied up with ribbons of grand hopes and the sheer expectation of this tires you. You push her away gently, tell her that you are lucky to have her in your life and tonight you just want to fall asleep next to her.


You can't sleep tonight. You keep replaying the earlier part of the day when your boss told you how a man two levels your junior snagged the promotion.

He had vision.
That was boss-speak for, he kissed my ass. You look at your beautiful wife, successful at her job as an architect, funny, smart and frustratingly light-hearted. Her sheer optimism annoys you. But you can't say it out loud. How was it supposed to sound, after all ?

My wife looks at the bright side of things. This makes me love her less.
You reach for her and turn her over, rubbing your hands over familiar places. She responds with a carnal desire, available only when you're roused from deep sleep. Later, you kiss her forehead and hold her close.

You don't need to work so hard, honey. I provide everything we need.

You wanted a baby, you said. That's a full time commitment. Why don't you stay at home for six months? Take a sabbatical. You always wanted to do the place up and the maid never sets the table right.

You feel her body tense and she says softly

I guess work hasn't been challenging enough lately.
Ok, let me give this a try.


The clock needs new batteries but for right now it reads fifteen past two. Saturday lunches had turned into a project with starters and “courses”. You'd happily settle for home delivered pizza but you don't care enough to pick a fight. The asparagus and wilted spinach lie pathetically on your plate, mocking you. You tell her the salad looks beautiful and how glad you are that you're finally eating out of better china. You can hear her faintly in the distance explaining why the flowers on the placemat must face the window. It balanced the yin and yang energies or something. She is happy, she says repeatedly. She feels fulfilled.

The pigeons on the window are doing it. You stare at them transfixed, wondering if the courtship rituals of birds came with the male bird having to listen to stories. Or did he go,

I'm busy now, shoo.
You smile at your joke and fortuitously it is well-timed.
Thank you baby, I knew you'd be proud of me.
You hear her say in the distance.

She's telling you about her work friend who is coming over for dinner. It's 'game night'. You remember the first time you'd heard about 'game night' and had been so excited because your girlfriend was the coolest, you told your boys over a pint at the the pub. Pumped for an all-night Wii marathon, you were left staring at finger foods, yoghurt dips, other couples and board games. You don't care enough to pick a fight about another game night, plus you knew that her work friend coming tonight was a looker.

There she is, the work friend, right on time with her 'cousin'. Which means that she is single. You know of course that you are married, but her being single means the universe is offering you a chance. These labels always mean more to girls than to men.

She walks over to the sofa, which now had a throw artfully draped across its back. The first time you'd seen the throw, you'd assumed it was a fancy shawl your wife had left out. Playing the part of the considerate husband, you'd hung it neatly back into the wardrobe. A story that tickled her till today and one she insisted on retelling every chance she got. Today is no different. Her friend looks over at you and winks,
You're a keeper, aren't you?

And you've been poured into those black leather pants haven't you, baby? But you smile shyly, instead. And once again, six years into your marriage your game face is on. You are shy, funny and attentive to your wife without missing a beat.

Are you trying to play with fire?

Sure, all armchair psychologists will take a lot of money to come to that obvious conclusion. But this isn't about you, you'd crossed this line in your head the moment you saw her friend walk across the room. This was about making someone else cross the line. Making them join your band of bad boys or your religion, if you may. Any evangelist worth his salt knows that you can never attack anyone upfront. Preach to them too furiously the virtues of your cause and you'll drive them away. Show them your cause instead. Show them who you are and let them come to you. And what a show you're putting up tonight.


You're lying next to her, back in her studio apartment . Her black leather pants lying in a heap at the foot of the bed. You look back at the mating dance and remember it as being fairly obvious. Once she'd been convinced of her desire to cross to your side and your compliance to meet her there, it'd been fairly functional. Her cousin left suddenly mumbling an excuse that no one cared for. What a dull fellow, he'd turned out to be.

She asked you to drop her back to her apartment. You were bored of it before it began, missing your wife and despairing the sheer unoriginality of this. But she played that jazz record you'd heard when you were a kid.

Back at home in your bed later that night you feel sick. Waves of nausea wash over you and cruise through your body. You are sick at the lack of remorse you feel. At how easy it'd all been, and you silently cry yourself to sleep.


It's been six months since you'd told her. A fire has gone off from inside her.

Does that upset you? No.
What upsets you is that she oscillates between wanting to work on it and a crazy belief that something better was out there, waiting for her. Something that could last forever.
Like she is different and special. You want to shake her and tell her that we are all the same. You want to get really angry at her, but you don't.

She crawls into your sofa bed at night, sobbing softly. You hold her close and tell her it will all be ok.
She wants her promises back, she says casually.

Accountability in love was always a dubious act. You had more hopes of the economy recovering than there being a way of compensating broken promises or hearts.
She is reminding you of how wonderful you were when her best friend died. How safe you made her feel and how she knew then, in that moment, that someone who loved her so much would always be by her side.

Her body is rocking back in forth with animal sobs again. She's whispering urgently in a hoarse, barbed voice.
Demanding you tell her what went wrong, at what precise moment did they die?

You know there was no such moment, just a black shadow working its way upwards.
You and her died in small increments. So tiny and lost in the details of the everyday that no one could tell when. That's how death was. Sometimes sudden and all-consuming but mostly comprised of several mini-deaths; a staggering number of blows spread across time. Sometimes it took sustained indifference, and sometimes things died because a placemat could never find its rightful way- flowers facing the window- again.
                                                        Picture Credit: Here

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