Issue 8, January 2011
Fingers in our Ears: Listen to Robert Eccles read this story
Fingers in Our Ears
By M.J. Nicholls
He returned to the exact spot he had his heart broken. The walls had been cleaned, witness statements taken, the grass swabbed for tears. It occurred to him ("him" being a shorthand) his heart had been broken in a series of venues like this: airless streets with one route to freedom. The women would block his escape, darting off a list of grievances, stating their cases clearly before making a quick retreat to taxi, car or bike.
It was ever thus.
What if next time there were no exits? Trapped in a cube? Sealed in a sphere? He could state his case, create a convincing rebuttal and steer the relationship back on course. To land! Because love is persistence. Or something. Love is an exact science. Or something. Three parts patience, four parts perseverance, one part time —a dash of cuddles! Maybe. Love seeps in slowly, it doesn't splodge out like spunk.
His next girlfriend happened three months later. If you are a man in your twenties and your face resembles refried haggis, you must first elicit pity from a woman. Fact. Lust requires a talent for timekeeping: be there, day in, day out, put in the man hours and the rewards will come! Maybe. The woman we are dealing with was there. Which helped. Came into contact with him on daily basis for one hour at a time. On three of these occasions, she was alone, and he went over, and yes yes yes, etc.
So it began: the humorous comments. This is the charming portion of our tale. Doesn't our boss look like? Isn't this work really? Don't you think that? Would you like to grab some? And so on. Two months later, a personal tone seeps into conversation. It is then the man must advance. You are the sunshine in her day. The friendly face she adores. You must be funny. You must make sure, for God's love, for Pete's sake, you are fifteen-times funnier than those handsome assholes, goddamn them, because funny is all you have, goddarn it, without funny you are NOTHING. Fact.
Remember: hard work is rewarded! It just so happens she was a woman who believes in the value of a free economy, group spirit, stickability, blah blah, fair day's work for a fair day's etc. There are women with kind hearts who can see past the physical. I promise. Graft is a turn-on. Romance, of course, is the ultimate graft: the endless nightshift, the futile rota of mutual affection. I digress. Our lovers are giggling.
Hee-hee. That remark demonstrates humour. Hee-hee. You are beautiful. I cannot believe we are talking. Hee hee. You are revolting but a distraction. Hee hee. Let us indulge in the pretence of connection. Hee hee. The pretence that two people, thrown together at random in a meaningless cosmos, could find each other, oh, isn't this perfect —
Ssshhh! Tonight is a night for romance. Tonight is a night for sitting in low-lit restaurants, watching two lovers do the nauseating dance, the dance of desire and desperation. "Isn't this food we are eating pleasant or unpleasant?" "Don't you think such-and-such about something in our workplace?" "I understand that particular cultural reference and share the awareness!" "Let us pause and let a small ripple of sexual excitement pass between us!" Think not these remarks cynical. This is what we do. This is life.
The evening eats them up. Could we have more water, please, waiter? The restaurants identical —the women different. The women identical —the restaurants different. Two people in their twenties have no concept of intimacy. They cannot appreciate the value of a moonlit night, how it comes and goes, its magic fleeting. Those moments when love —the real stuff, not this bullshit Xeroxed from books —pokes its snarling mouth from the gutter and vomits happiness on the innocent. It is rare.
No, she and he, they cannot see the stillness of the world, a black August night, a breeze blowing leaves around an empty car park, a million people sliding into oblivion.
They can't. They shouldn't.
Ah, well. The evenings are long for men in their twenties with faces like refried haggis. Poor diddums! No amount of affection can conceal flaking skin, red blotches, volcanic zits, purulent bumps. Tut tut. These, my friends, are the devil's work.
Women in their twenties are no mystery. Squeeze them softly, knead them lightly, roll them firmly. "I am allergic to cheese!" "I was abused as a child!" "This particular film or book means such-and-such to me!" Their deepest secrets will unravel —oh yes! —unravel like the humble condom, cast to the floor in a post-coital flourish. But they have no need of condoms tonight. There are rules to be observed.
He and she. She and he. He invites her into. She is not keen to. He uses flattery to. She won't be seduced like. And so on. This sort of thing is beneath the reader's dignity. Nothing was beneath his dignity. Upon seeing his reflection, shame fled him. The mirror is an unpleasant little shit who doesn't know when to shut his trap.
Let us speak briefly on matters carnal. Or let's not. Sure, we could go there, beneath the sheets. Hark! A penis! Hark! A vagina! But this couple were not willing clichés. Said she: his looks were "a problem". She was nothing if not honest. She was nothing if not rude. Still, she was kind, she had a heart. Somewhere. It is hard for the heart to trump the head. Our hearts burn, yearn, pine, bleed, cry, mourn, stop. Our heads observe the young man in his twenties with refried haggis for a face and say: "Hmm. No thanks".
Says you: alcohol!
Of course! Pump that bitch full of gin! Get that hussy all liquored up! Did you know there are forty-nine varieties of gin distilled in this nation alone? Or is it more? Does it seem like more when rat-arsed? Well. He of all people knew the value of alcohol.
Men ply women with booze. This isn't to be laughed at. Often, though, free will is forgotten. Our old nemesis. No one made her down those ten gins in quick succession and dance around the flat in her pants. Sure, his prod didn't help. But no one made her throw up in a vase. Or phone her mother and call her a whore. Or send abusive emails to colleagues. Or sob for an hour over the death of an ant. Or tell him that he was the best man that had ever lived and that he was beautiful, despite looking like a dog's arse.
Free will and alcohol are a match made in hell.
Still. Abusing our freedom is part of the fun. Why be free if we can't exercise our God-given right to humiliation? Doesn't booze bring us closer as a people and blar-de-blah? Doesn't it? No. To see women we love being sick into priceless antique vases? No. Where would we be without alcohol? A better place. Honestly, how do you expect us to loosen up? Scrabble.
Let's be clear on this: he was a man of principle. He helped out, gave donations to, raised money for. But ethics mean nothing to the grotesque. Bring on the booze! Get dem womens all lathered up and take off dem panties! OK. That's a bit much. Still: the winters are harsh in our nation. Young men in their twenties wear their women as scarves, women their men as beanbags. Necessity outstrips morality.
Oh! But poor confused she! Of course she had Problem X and Problem Y. Why else would this woman date him? I mean, she has eyes, right? She wasn't blind, right? Do the vulnerable attract the vulnerable? Is there a scent or something? A sonar message? PLEASE HELP ME MY LIFE IS A MESS I NEED SOMEONE TO LOVE OH GOD IT COULD BE ANYONE JUST MAKE THEM HUMAN OR AT BEST AN APE.
Fear can wait. He knows the right moment to strike. And he loves it, the little beast. He sees you. Look, there he is! Peek-a-boo! He spies you, on your knees, the smallest creature on earth, begging to the stars. Forget those dreams, he says, leave those for the dogs. The dogs will make light work of those dreams, and let me take control, let me do ma thang.
Let him push you into that river. Go on. Let go. He knows what he's doing. Let go.
The film nights! Who would have thought she would like Bergman? The ice skating! Who would have thought he could stand upright on frozen water? The music! Who would have thought Sting could bring anyone pleasure? She even stopped drinking. He even wore a bag over his head. This is what we might term a "relationship". Though this ship of relations was iceberg-bound. For a moment, though, let us pause at commercial. Perhaps love is learning to appreciate the intermissions. Tonight's main performance is a three-acter: resentment, frustration, abandonment. Please —a round of applause!
Act one begins in the bathroom. Why don't you ever. I hate the way you. Why can't I. Well, I'm not. Look at each other! Look into her eyes! Look into his plastic bag holes! Don't do this! Well I don't want to. Fine then let's. I don't care, you. I'm not speaking to. Well: if people were born with unlimited patience, we wouldn't have a civilisation. Fine then. Good then. Fine. OK by me. Me too. A ripple passes through the audience, signalling they understand. There is a second ripple that wishes they didn't.
Look at that clock. Does it ever stop? Man, what a bore! Wouldn't you, at least once, go the other way? Act two is quiet. Most of the audience fall asleep. She asks him to pass the. He prods it not near enough for her to. OK, enough! Bring on the comic relief! Two adults behaving like children is tittersome shit. Listen to the big man do a girlish voice! Listen to her do a gruff male voice! Ho-ho-ho! Hee-hee! Men and women are the same. They only think they're different. If this secret ever got out, nations would collapse.
He is Nazi Germany. She is also Nazi Germany. A nation divided against itself can't stand each other. The phone rings. Something awful has happened in her family. This moment is pivotal. If he is "there" for her at this "difficult" time, she will remember. Stood by her mother's graveside, or something, her father's deathbed, or something, he is the hero. No one can explain the connection between love and bereavement. Squirrels don't mourn. They hoard nuts for the winter and move on. They are wise.
He doesn't "get" death. Well, he's not alone, the shmuck. There isn't much to "get" on a rational level. People keep on expiring and being born. The dead ones don't get about much. The alive insist on having "relationships" and "meeting their needs" and "finding contentment" and "having a good time". Well, fuck them! What about the dead? Are they "having a good time" six feet under as you sob on their graves? I think not.
Still, he shouldn't have worn his plastic bag to the funeral. He thought that if she turned to him, her heart taut with pain, and saw that revolting mug, well —things were bad enough. The problem with funerals is their tone. Goddamn it, a person has DIED! Send them into the void with a bang! What is this morose organ crap? Where's KC & the Sunshine band? Get naked, lard up, do the love boogie for this beautiful corpse!
No. You cannot escape the procedure of life. Unless you happen to be dead. When you go, people you never knew, nor cared for, will glance upon your coffin and give great booming whimpers. The people you loved the most, who you did the whole thing for, who let you touch them anywhere, will throw dirt on your mortal remains. The cheek! The nerve! You never liked dirt, did you? You liked Diana Ross and Lionel Ritchie. Why don't they throw CDs down there? Sometimes there is no explaining people.
He was "there" for her. It means something. OK, so he just stood there, gaping. But he was there. It means something. I think. It's easy to be a hero when someone croaks. Not so easy to keep it up. The knowing ones in the audience see where this is going.
Act three. Who can say why he reminded her of her dear departed mother or father, etc? Why was it that every time he looked into her eyes, she saw the lifeless body of her mother or father, etc? She didn't, of course. She was grieving. Grievers always get their way. And damn right, too. You never get your way in life, unless you're an asshole. Assholes never grieve. They go insane in country homes and rape their secretaries.
When a parent dies, a part of ourselves is buried along with them. Ha-ha-ha-ha! Only kidding. When a parent dies, you become a grown-up. This is the only qualification required. And two grown-ups can hardly be expected to sustain a long-term relationship in this day and age, can they? Not while there are ambitions to be achieved. Cynical remarks to be made among friends. Not while the stupid fat face of ironic distance drools everywhere. The only thing standing between a person and love is —
"Woah! Put the cup down! Don't be insane! Goddamn it, that almost hit my head! Look, I know you're upset about losing your mother or father etc, but don't take it out on me! I know you loved her or him etc, but it's time to move on, it's time to put that behind —"
"Put her behind me? How dare you! Do you think I can just forget her like that? What kind of a heartless prick are you? Have you ever lost a mother or father etc? Do you have any idea how I feel? You don't lift a finger around here to help me! It's not enough to just be there, you have to —"
There are no exits in this room. He scans the area for possible escape routes. But what's the point? This is what love feels like. Trapped in a room, pain in your pores. The claustrophobia of circumstance. In this room now, two mad, sweaty people are hollering at each other for the fourth time today, letting their bile take over, the hatred so raw, so brutal, so careless.
Aww. Aren't they cute?
No. We won't see this. We turn away. We won't hear this. We have our fingers in our ears. We're not listening.
BIO: M.J. Nicholls is a bediveled imp clacking out experimental fiction in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is currently undergoing creative irrigation. His works have been published in numerous anthologies and small press venues, which is very nice for him, I'm sure.