Diary 57: the Aftermath

Diary 57 pic

 

I have a different vision how this should end.

On a train track.

I’ve been there before. I’m still coming to terms with that mistake, with what happened on an empty platform all those years ago. She was whisked away, the girl from way back then. Down a train track. Then she married someone like me. A tennis player. That’s the second girl I lost to an ace-serving jock. If I played my cards right I’d now be a pilot sitting in a cock-pit alongside her dad somewhere over South Africa. She had it all arranged, the girl from back then, the one at the train station.

 

Divorce is on my mind. Today. Again. I’m skirting around the periphery of Lisbon as the traffic in front of me merges. Octopises. Slip roads appear from everywhere and bring everyone somewhere as roads fork off to little known places with grandiose names. But really, is there any difference to where we’re all going? Who cares about the destination? There is no apparent fear. Fear is not apparent as we slalom along to wherever-land. Touching bumpers at speed is ok.

 

I’m driving Susan to the airport. I’m sending her back. We’re not having a conversation. Sure there’s talking but only I’m talking. It’s one way traffic. She’s not engaging. She’s in a huff. This has become our theme of late. Being niggly.

 

In days past I confessed my latest upset,

on the beach,

as I suntanned her up.

 

‘It’s not like Jeff asked me to help Him write a song’ I say. ‘It just kind of happened.’

‘But the song came out of your mouth?’

‘Ya.’

‘So then it’s yours.’

‘Well, no. He modified it. A little bit. I was more a trigger.’

‘A trigger?’

‘Ya, a tip-off to inspiration.’

 

Susan goes quiet. Has she lost interest or is she snoozing? Tragic, aren’t we?

 

‘You listening?’ I ask.

‘To what?’

 

The sun does more to her than I can. I sing her the song. My song. Although it’s actually Jeffs song.

 

It empties,

the house,

lost love,

me here,

she gone.

 

Stale.

I sniff

myself

uncaring.

 

The cycle,

recycled,

loneliness

again.

 

Time

never can

stop

the end.

 

Now she’s snoring. Lying on the beach, in a bikini, and this is us. Call it our Arab Spring, a revolution of revulsion and mutual undercurrents of disgust. While she snoozes I do the maths and weigh up the pros and cons: my life with and without her. Susan comes up short on many fronts. For one thing, she doesn’t understand the off-side trap. Fuck it, we’re not a love story. Carnal memories about sums us up, consolidating any misgivings by fucking. But with the initial horniness gone, the fuck-fest over, I now see the truth. She and I: it’s a dead end.

 

Child-like I set to doodling as is my way as she sleeps.

 

‘Susan, can words touch you?’

‘What the fuck?’

 

Crushed. The inarticulate always trumps articulation: fuck. She is only half-awake, half-alert.

 

‘Susan, do you think you can find the best words that describe us?’

‘Love is not something you take but something you give’ she says.

‘I don’t know what that has to do with what I asked.’

‘Ok, you describe us.’

‘It’s a maze but the truth of us is in here’ I say.

 

I present Susan a slip of paper on which I built a word quiz.

 

F L I N G
L I E A L
U E C P O
T A S K V
E J O K E

 

‘You bastard’ she decides, balling up the page and throwing it at me. ‘It’s always theories and sex with you.’

‘Susan, did you ever notice that the words ‘theory’ and ‘horny’ look alike and have many letters in common?’

‘You must change’ she says.

‘I must? How about you!’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Don’t know what?’ I ask.

 

She goes on the defensive; talking in undefinables; unaccountables. I don’t get it. I’m a man of action. I need a course to steer. She changes tack.

 

‘Louis, you’re not going to write about me, are you?’ Susan asks.

‘Eh, why? Like, why would I?’

‘You write don’t you?’

‘Not about us people.’

‘Us people!’ .

 

She’s outraged we’re not other people or the kind of folk I’m paid to write about.

 

‘But if you had to write about this life.’

‘The right here and now?’

‘Ya. Who would you dedicate the book to?’

‘Nobody.’

‘That’s sad. Why?’

‘Because nobody would have helped me write it.’

‘You meany. But if you had to write about me, would you say I’m nice?’

‘Sure, and in real stylish prose too.’

 

Here goes: she’s nice.  But she isn’t. To write a character, you need to have some! Fuck building Rome, Susan better get character-building.

 

Back to the now. We’re back in the car, driving to the airport. It’s the same old, more of the same. Blah dee blah. Only it’s too late. I offered Susan the world, the world she scorned. Lets travel places together, lets sprog up, lets spend Christmas skiing. Everything wasn’t enough. Her depressed disposition killed all hope and adventure. She made Hollywood drama of minutiae:

 

  • my motorbike breaks down means the world is ending.
  • she doesn’t like the restaurant means the world is ending.
  • we’re late to the beach means the world is ending.

 

She often leaves me with images of burning witches. The heretic bitch, my lover witch.

 

‘I’m listening, go on’ Susan says.

‘Ya, but we’re not really talking, are we?’

‘What are you on about?’

‘Now that – what you just did – that was two-way communication. But other than that it’s me talking to a wall.’

 

Earlier this morning and with total recall, I can picture Susan’s frown as she reaches for her hairbrush and slowly brushes her hair (she winces when there’s a knot). I prayed for knots. We had a fight last night after she discovered condoms in my wallet. She’s on the pill and wonders who they were intended for.

 

‘It’s just’ I say.

‘Just what?’

‘The condom was always in my wallet, since time immemorial.’

‘When’s that?’

‘Fuck knows. Since day dot. What of it?’

‘It means you’re up for sex with strangers’ she says.

‘You think! Ok, how about last night; what you said in your sleep? Yes, Sean. You. Explain that!’

 

That did it.

When I awoke this morning it still rings in my ears.

 

‘Yes, Sean. You.’

 

We had a showdown.

As she was brushing her hair.

Blah dee blah.

She played denial.

Then, know what she says?

 

‘Maybe it’s a good idea’ she says.

 

Oh, yeah?

Yeah.

Lets take a break.

There’s more.

Blah dee blah.

Shit.

The things she knows about me!

Then

Blah dee blah.

There’s fear of you.

 

‘Me?’

‘Ya, you.’

 

Then

More of the same.

Then

Stuff this.

It’s too much.

 

‘Susan, too much is only around the corner.’

‘Ya, well, I’m already at the corner.’

‘Oh ya? If you want to go, then go.’

 

Now she’s going. Around the bend. She said she felt pushed; that I pushed her. Constructive dismissal. Fair enough. Now she’s sat in the car like a stranger. We’ve grown apart and I’m unravelling and pissing on myself and undoing all my gains.

 

A truce, is it possible?

 

I wonder about making another go of it, of us. But how many times have I wondered this? All too often and it’s always the same. There’s no synthesis, no glue to fasten us tight. Anyway, after last night, it’s too late; we’ve found each other out. Sure, I wanted meaning and even wondered about trying to shape her. Only it’s too big a stretch, a character-lift too far. A beauty she is but there’s no personality at home. Plus, there’s no common ground. I’d rather be alone than live a lie. I must see us through to the end.

 

‘Susan, you say I play on your nerves but don’t you think that’s a bit rich given your rant last night?’

 

There’s some fessing up that needs doing. But Susan just sulks.

 

‘You know, there’s a big cost to being with you’ I continue.

 

I throw her a sidelong glance. She stares back. Then she buckles. I hear sniffles.

 

‘I’m trying’ she concedes.

‘And I’m trying too, but don’t you think there’s too much of that, of trying? It should flow naturally.’

‘Or what?’

‘Or not at all.’

 

I don’t tell her that I read somewhere that ‘trying is lying’. Now she’s in a hump. I’m on to her tricks. She’s no lamb. Although her back is up, I don’t deviate from the plan and remain steadfastly uncompromising and remain on track to the airport.

 

‘I never asked to be LOUISified’ Susan objects.

 

Maybe poison does flow from me. Louisitis! She’s saying that I’m brain-washing her and doesn’t want to be under my tutelage. She doesn’t want to be accredited by the University of Me, no PhD in Louis studies.

 

‘I’m a relationship virgin’ I chance.

 

Now that her own virginity is out the window she shows me little sympathy. But it’s true, I’m not up for shared bonds. It’s another retardation of mine. Plus, I’m not in the way of holding my hands up. Nowadays my fighting is done more on page than out there in the real world. You got beef then either kill or maim the person or write it out of your system. That’s my take on it.

 

We’ve arrived at the airport. I retrieve her bags from the boot. We square up. Susan makes a final effort to explain our short-comings which naturally implies my disability.

 

‘You’ve no morals’ she accuses.

‘I used them on the soul of my shoe! They wore out so I threw the shoes away and walk barefoot. Soulless me in a moral-free world.’

‘Louis, I never could tell if you really were odd or just pretending to be!’

‘And the verdict? A mental health test would settle it. But only pilots have to do them. I hope the guy flying your airplane passed his. I mean, I’d hate if he nosedived into the sea and you disappeared.’

‘Louis, you once told me to only listen to 20% of what you said. The problem is I didn’t know which 20% to listen to. How was I supposed to know? I think I’ve been listening to the other 80% all the time.’

‘Shit, if only you’d listened to the correct 20% you’d have felt totally different about me.’

‘How do you manage it, to listen to yourself?’

‘I don’t. Never. It’s my golden rule.’

‘We tried’ she says.

‘We did’ I say.

 

We’re talking around the houses and avoiding the point. The crunch. The dread. The end. We hug. We kiss. A peck on the lips. Goodbye is a stilted affair. False. Fake jokey.

 

‘Susan, you know, I’m not the devil. I’m actually a decent guy.’

‘I know’ she concedes.

 

She never was one to big me up. In all our time together I only ever received a compliment if I chatted myself up.

 

‘I’ll be at sea without your hairbrush’ I say.

‘Buy your own one.’

‘If I was a millionaire I’d commission a yacht to be built in the shape of your hairbrush. I can see it now, the hairbrush sailing into port…’

 

It’s old hat. We know I should be saying I’ll miss her but there are no final declarations. Love it’s not. It’s over. My hairbrush infatuation. Her. Us. What rattles me is her blithe acceptance, that she doesn’t object. Lambs to the slaughter!

 

‘Did you really dream of Ronald last night?’ I call out.

 

I can’t help my curiosity. I have to ask. She gives me a smirk before marching off. Over her shoulder she responds:

 

‘Louis, the universe could keep sending you the same message but you just wouldn’t get it!’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ I shout.

 

She stops abruptly and turns around. There are tears in her eyes.

 

‘Louis, you used to say – hi, sometimes and goodbye never!’

‘What does that mean?’

‘Just what the fuck are you!’

 

She runs indoors to departures. Gone. Vamoose.

 

As I drive home, I feel cheated; I’m cursing lost time. I’m embittered that my ominous tidings are realised, that all along I was simply her coach, ironing out her flaws, training her up for her next boyfriend so that she’ll be better relationship material. I bet she wants to get hitched. To anyone. Don’t they all? I don’t know why I think that, I just do. I can’t figure out what it is with her and I keep telling myself not to care because I’m back on the highway and disappearing from the her life at speed.

 

Back home and I’m back to meaninglessness. I’m more curious about discovering new kinds of beer than making any kind of female acquisition. I get to thinking about changing my life. Look at all the things I can do now. There’s freedom to go bowling or rock-climbing. That’s it: I’m going to do everything you’re hindered from doing when you date a girl with French nails. J

Diary 58: Reflections

Diary 58 pic

 

Perhaps you’re a crumb curious about the trail I left behind. You’re right, there was some Q-jumping along the way. I best reorder things and put Her back in Her place.

 

So.

 

We’re back to Q. You remember Her, the Hollywood actress I’m ghosting for? You remember I took Her for a drink in a dodgy bar in LA and that we had to flee?

 

So.

 

We’re outside the bar when a hood emerges from the shadows. He was waiting. Tipped off. As he approaches I see his youth. Twenty. Then there’s his slouching walk. It reveals lots. He’s plucky. He can clearly bench press a 100kg. The pimp from the bar is on his tail. That’s two of them. Fuck! I’m made. Instinct says run, run, run. Louis, run. Over 100 metres and I’d be away and out of danger but I have Q to consider. I’m stuck. Rooted to the spot. I’m Her bodyguard now and I don’t feel too strong. There’s not enough rage in me.

 

Look at the fix I’m in. Life. Women. Death?

 

I screwed up. But just then I notice that the hood is holding a camera and not a gun. It’s not all bad. He aims the camera. Q paws at Her face. With both hands. I don’t follow.

 

‘Stop him. Stop him. Not here.’

 

Q is screaming like She’s being raped. So I behave like She is.

 

‘Hey, man, back off man’ I say.

 

It’s deliberate, my voice, my words, I’m sounding American. Nobody wants to be exotic on a dark street.

 

‘Just a photo man. Then we’re gone’ the hood says.

‘Fuck you’ Q spits.

 

I didn’t know Q had such venom in Her. It makes things ugly. Something is going down and I don’t exactly know what. It appears I’m the only one not in the know.

 

‘You want to play it that way – fine!’

 

It’s the pimp talking. Q has backed up behind me and a hand to Her face. I’m Her shield. I feel like Kevin Costner in ‘Bodyguard’ only he got a zillion dollars to make that. The hood is snapping pictures. The flash burns my eyes. I’m dazed. I wave my hands at him and slap the camera out of his hands.

 

‘Oh bro’ he says. ‘Not good, not good.’

 

We keep backing away. The going is tough. Q is in high heels. Running is out. The camera is back in his hands. A brief inspection and he’s back to not being happy.

 

‘Dude, you bust it. You fucking jerk.’

 

I’m not sure I can put him down. Dump him. He has the physique but has he the heart? I go to see. Is there fire in his eyes? I read something feral, feverish. I recognise it. It snaps me awake.

Man up, Louis.

Man up.

Get big!

Quick.

Only I can’t.

 

The man I once was is gone. Atrophy has hit. The fibre in my being is limited – there’s only so much muscle in every muscle. Every time I throw a punch there’s a cost. My dwindling energy reserves. Exertion drains me. I’m wasting away. There’s a dawning: I can no longer hold my own. It cuts me in two, reality does. I’m no longer the man I once was. This pup is almost half my age. I’m old. I can’t stomach it. Come on, Louis. There’s still fire in my belly. Ok, maybe a little less.

 

‘Dude, not cool. Not cool.’

‘We’re leaving. Just back off man,’ I say.

 

The hood is complaining while shoving me in the chest. I’m holding up my hands. We’re retreating my hands are saying. I even untense to let him read my peaceful body language. Now I’m 4 inches narrower.

 

‘You insulting me?’ the hood asks. ‘Oh yeah, big money types coming around here like we don’t mean nothing to you.’

‘Man, we got no beef with you. We don’t have to do this’ I suggest.

‘We don’t have to do this – you hear that?’

 

It’s the pimp laughing.

 

‘It’s done now. You gone and spoiled it’ the hood says.

 

He’s jutting his chin out at me, offering me a pop. I resist punching him as I still think I have a grip on the situation. After all, it’s only a camera and not a flick knife he has. As for the pimp, however looked at, he’s just an opportunist keen on some theatrics to carry his day. And me: oh, I’m just a middle-aged guy who has lost his edge.

 

The hood gets the drop on me. I’m not expecting to be busted by a camera. My hands go to my face and then I receive one in the nuts. I don’t know who from, the hood or the pimp. I crumple. I’m rolling on the ground, clutching my face in-between cupping my balls. Suddenly Q is standing over me.

 

‘There’s a thousand in here. The bag’s worth another five thousand. It’s Hermes’ She says.

 

Q is holding out Her bag. There’s a confused second. It wasn’t meant to be this kind of shakedown. They didn’t start out as thieves. They look to one another.

 

‘Take it man’ the pimp instructs the hood.

 

The hood snatches the bag and is looking in it and checking to see if the money is there. He nods to the pimp.

 

‘We done?’ I moan from the ground.

 

They’re already on their merry way. I hear them laughing as they walk away. Although I’ve forever lost some of my self-worth I think Q might show me some credit. Compassion. Loving. Instead:

 

‘Get up. We must go’ Q says.

 

I ignore her and lick blood off a finger. I cut my finger as I fell. But Q keeps nagging. Big shit, I’m indifferent. The world can do to me as it likes. See if I care. But now She’s tugging at me.

 

‘Louis, I’m talking to you.’

‘Whoopie!’ I say.

‘Get up.’

‘I can’t. I’m hurt.’

‘Be hurt later’ Q says.

‘Why not now? They’re gone!’

‘This is crazy!’

‘Why didn’t you just give them their fucking picture?’ I ask from the ground.

‘Because they’re scum.’

‘And?’

‘I don’t like feeding the beast. Rag fodder. We can’t be seen.’

 

People start to materialise. To mill about. And stare. Yes, we’re drawing a few spectators. So what. But then I get it. I think. But I need to hear Her say it.

 

‘I don’t follow. Why can’t we be seen, Q?’

‘If another photographer… you can’t be seen. Come on. Don’t you get it – there’s no reason for you.’

 

Oow.

 

I’m in the doldrums as I’m led to the car. An eerie echo rings through my head. A fog. The truth hurts.

 

It’s true I was turned over too easily. He had the measure of me, the hood had. All my life long I competed for a living: sport, business and law. It’s what I do and who I am, much of my being always hung on my physical presence. Now, for the first time, there’s a sign of waning. Wilting. Of the game coming to an end. And so, I’ve given up a bit of life. I’m less alive. Yes, I was humiliated. And there was me holding out imagining that there was still a little time left to play the hero.

 

Know what?

 

And here’s the weird thing.

 

I had a premonition that something might happen. Not necessarily here and now, just, you know, sometime soon. Something big. You see, I’m the kind of guy who is always figuring out the possible moves in a given situation. It’s the gangster in me. I never walk into a building without spotting a different exit and always sit with my back to the door. So, as I was saying, moments, every moment, is like a chess move for me. I’m not saying playing chess with life will stop me getting knocked over by a car but it can’t hurt. Predicting scenarios and possible outcomes. Ok, it plays on my nerves a little; the way I always forecast life. But isn’t that what two Xanax are for?

 

Anyway.

 

Q has laid bare the facts: there is no reason for me. It reverberates around my head. There is no reason for me. Bloodied and gored is when I have the truth. It cuts. Deeply. The premonition I’m now having? That I’m too messed up to care. It’s too late for a come good. My life is over.

 

A hatred of Q is suddenly in my chest. I’m imagining my airplane home. On  the drive to my hotel there’s a silence. Q insists on driving: it’s the least She can do She said. A courtesy drive; a reward of sorts. For standing up for Her; me, Her stooge. She said I was great. Its a line. Camera, lights, action. Then say the line. You were great Louis. A Hollywood star is selling me a lie. I ignore it. A frigid feeling settles between us.

 

‘It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have dragged You there’ I finally admit.

‘I shouldn’t have let you.’

 

Polite banter. But we both know that we’re at stake. Yes, us. We’re at an end. Almost. This is just another corridor I’m passing through. But if that be so, I’m getting what I came for.

 

‘Q, if this thing – our thing – doesn’t work out, You know, well..’

‘Not now, Louis. Just keep the tissue to your nose.’

 

What Q really means is don’t get blood on the car or She may have to keep it. It’s a black Porsche if you’re interested.

 

‘You remember … Q, you remember asking me why I write?’

‘Louis, not now.’

 

How quickly we fall apart.

 

‘Then when?’ I ask. ‘When’s a good time?’

 

A silence lingers. I slosh my tongue around my mouth feeling the damage. My lower lip has swollen, my upper gum is bleeding and when I push my tongue against my front teeth they aren’t as solid as I hoped. I start wondering why now, in my newly realised middle-aged weakness, why I don’t carry a knife. Then the next time I could slash my adversary’s face.

 

‘You heard of the case in New York; the consent to murder one?’

‘Louis, stop talking. Put your head back.’

‘So this guy asks another guy to whack him because he’s bankrupt; lost everything. His family can live off the life insurance. That’s his plan. So, this guy holds a knife to the death-wish bankrupt guy. Then the bankrupt guy jumps into the knife and dies.’

‘So?’

‘Well the dead guy actually has 20 stab wounds. Fishy, no? It doesn’t add up. He only jumped into the knife once! So it’s not really assisted suicide or entirely self-inflicted but still it isn’t quiet murder. Or is it? You see, there’s a grey area.’

 

In the retelling of the facts I’ve become a little bogged down. Q throws me a scowl: what does She care about anyone else’s troubles Her look suggests.

 

‘And the point?’ Q asks.

‘Q, things don’t come around that often for me. My life of late, it’s like the last bite of a cherry.’

‘I have no idea what you’re saying. And tonight, what, it has something to do with someone being knifed in New York? How? Are you sure I shouldn’t drop you at the hospital?’

‘No, really, I’m fine.’

‘Fine! Louis, you do talk a lot of shit you know?’

‘Twaddle, yes. I’m a chatterbox. Codology is my area of expertise. Maybe. I have a habit of looking for meaning in things where maybe there’s none. Us Irish, it’s what we call the gift of the gab. Plus, I go all legal when I’m stunned. It’s in my blood.’

‘Stop talking shit.’

‘I’m not.’

‘Then what are you saying?’

‘Q, I have this really hot story.’

‘Story?’

‘A script?’

 

A sideways glance. I think Q is curious. Are Her ears heading north or is it just me?

 

‘I don’t believe you, Louis. You’re pitching me, right? It’s about this stabbing, your screenplay?’

‘The New York murder thing? No, it’s not. I swear. It’s just I thought…’

‘God you’re green’ She blurts.

‘I’m Irish if that’s what you mean!’

‘What is it with you?’

 

She gives me the same look She gave those guys back in the bar. Full of scorn. Disdain.

 

‘Stop the wisecracks, Louis. So you’re smart with words but did you ever think to lift your nose out of yourself, out of your little world and…’

‘And what? Buy an army?’ I suggest.

 

The niceties – they’re over. Q is now raging.

 

‘Louis, did you ever think that there just might be different kinds of knowing things? ‘Cos about the movie business you know jack. You’re just another wanna-be screenwriter pissed off that nobody is reading you. You’re not unique.’

 

And there it is again: there is no reason for me. A high cliff is all I need. Or a bridge. How far is it to the Golden Gate? Instead, I make a feeble stand:

 

‘So shoot me cos I got ambition! This is the thanks I get for defending you… from what? Rape? Murder? No. No, I get busted protecting you from a goddamn photo.’

‘Get real’ Q snaps. ‘How many times have I heard it: everyone thinks they have the one that got away. What makes you any different?’

‘I got a story’ I say with steely determination. ‘Q, the moving pictures, nowadays they’re not so moving. They’re shallow. You follow? And I’ve the cure. Three-dimensional characters. An action movie. And it’s inspired by real events.’

 

She considers a moment – moves her lips about – then turns to me and untenses Her face. I try a softer tone:

‘Q, acting fed-up was last year’s look!’ I say.

 

She gives a tight smile.

 

‘ETA to your hotel is one minute. That’s 60 seconds, Louis. Hit me, give me the one-pager. Shoot.’

 

And I do. I give it to Her. The summary of my screenplay and all the while looking at Her face for signs, for answers. When I finish; Her verdict:

 

‘You think you’ll go far’ She deadpans.

 

I cant tell if it’s a stab at irony or an endorsement. What of it, She’s already gone, wheeling around the Porsche and burning off into the night. I’m left standing outside the hotel unsure if Q was saying that I’ve unshakable resolve or simply a lot of neck.

 

At the hotel bar, and caked in dry blood, I begin to doubt myself. Can I make an impression on people or do I ooze doubt? I’m unsure if I’m the sure-fire thing I think I am. Have I fooled myself all my life long? An alcoholic beverage puts my thinking on ice.

 

I go to bed not stopping to wash the blood of my face. I know that in the morning I’ll need verifiable proof of the madness, the madness unfolding in the real life outside my head.

Diary 59: Veritas

Diary 59 image

 

Sometimes I think about her, about my ex, Susan. It gives me a bad few minutes. But over time I think about her less and less and there’s less time lost and less indigestion.

 

Ok, there’s a down-side. I’m back to nothingness. Emptiness. I’m made up of midnight strolls, staring at passing airplanes, and wondering if I should be on one. Left to my own devices, I’m directionless. I’ve no destiny. To beat the nostalgia, I consider getting a pet. I love animals. For friendship. Instead, I get a plant as I can still travel and it won’t mind my absence. And anyway, before I came along Susan had a plant and they used share morning tea together, she and the plant. She used feed the plant cold tea; said it was nutritive or some such.

 

‘What is it about plants?’ I ask the attendant at the gardening shop.

‘Think of it as a starter course in caring’ he says.

 

A feeling of liberation trumps my loneliness. I’m free! It’s just the plant and me. Whoopie.

 

There’s no more kowtowing to Susan’s whimsies, no more nagging. I return to our haunts of old – bars and restaurants – and smile at the hot waitresses with impunity. But, strangely, I still fret over senseless things. Although I’ve expunged Susan from memory in a cosmetics store I still scour aisles for the same shampoo she used. It added more volume to my frizzy crop, the shampoo did. I ask the sales assistant and she looks at me like she doesn’t understand why I’m desperate to have the same brand of shampoo.

 

Then I find myself retracing places we’ve been together. Then I have a dawning: everyone we meet in life we only share for a while. Nobody is for keeps. It’s only the memories of shared encounters we keep forever.

 

I’m knocked from my slumber as something hopeful happens.

 

One morning I wake up and its St Georges Day which is the Lisbon equivalent of Valentine’s Day. I didn’t see it coming. What to do? I text Ana – do you remember her, Young Ana from back in the nightclub? I invite her to dinner. To get over Susan. And if Ana is up for it I’ll surprise her and whisk her off to the theatre and a romantic restaurant in London. And a night of memorable passion.

 

I must play it cool to hide my current predicament: desperation. Cool the jets, Louis, play it cool. I text Ana. Coolly.

 

‘Hey Ana, if you want to meet someone lovely he is available for dinner. J’

‘Who is this?’ comes the reply.

‘It’s me – the Irish guy? Fancy dinner tonight? Fun promised. J Louis’

‘I can’t. But I could do lunch.’

 

Some slime-bag must have booked her for dinner. Still, it’s a challenge. I’ll make sure her head is in a spin after lunch so the next guy won’t stand a chance. I take a (scalding) shower, shave (twice) and force a shit (slowly). Red jumper and matching sneakers and I suddenly have hours to spare. A coffee shop here and another coffee elsewhere and I’m suddenly running late as I rush off to the rendezvous.

 

As I’m driving my fantasies know no bounds. There’s expectation. I’m imagining how Ana will change my life. Yes, I’ll confront my commitment issues. Yes, there’ll be no more going to lingerie shops to ask sexy attendants to try on items for my imaginary girlfriend. My life will become real and reality will be enough to play with. And as for my investment in her; it’ll be complete. I’ll support Ana’s every whim. And our children: they can be as Portuguese as she likes on condition that if they’re good at sport they play for Ireland.

 

It’s raining. The drizzly sort. The wipers make the windscreen mucky. I’m late. I’m lost. Shit. Where am I? Oh, there she is. Ana is on the kerb waving. She has on a coat and is wearing a woolly hat to hide her luscious locks. I can barely make her out and would pass her by if she wasn’t smiling at me. I smile back and chance a small wave. She waves back. I give a bigger smile – the killer one – but my cheeks still ache after throwing myself looks in the bathroom mirror earlier on.

 

I pull over. It’s not Ana. Or rather it is Ana but it’s the wrong Ana. Its Old Ana, the 40-something Ana with the rock on her finger. What the…! I’m stumped but my smile is frozen. Old Ana links her arm in mine, swings me about, and we make down the street, splashing through puddles and acting like new lovers. What the…! My head races as I try to work out what’s going on. Calm Louis, calm I urge. Maybe we’re on our way to hook up with my wife-to-be, Young Ana. After all, Young Ana and old Ana are work friends.

 

We enter a cosy restaurant. The clientele are largely professionals who sport a mix of reading glasses, sincere looks, gauche beards and ties. I smell their education. Portuguese Oxbridge. Wine glasses chink.

 

I’m practically presented to everyone; me, the tamed lion. A dawning: I’m being outed as Old Ana’s lover. Her toy-boy. Then she bursts that bubble.

 

‘Louis, you must be in your mid-40’s what with all you achieved’ Ana gushes.

‘Are. You. Taking. The. Piss?’ I ask through gritted teeth.

 

She doesn’t understand and persists.

 

‘47?’ she chances.

 

Old Ana is hoping on a similar vintage to herself.

 

‘Me, 47? Subtract a decade Ana’ I say.

 

We’re seated centre-stage in the restaurant so I try not to spit at her. This is my life, I say to myself and yes my life is pathetic. Here’s me, having a romantic lunch with a 47 year old shrink who is bold enough to think she might get me into the sack.

 

As if.

 

The drama continues. At times Ana lowers her voice, draws close, throws me eyes and whispers some inanity. He is so-and-so she might say. Or Miss X over there, she slept with the butcher. I avoid Ana’s conspiratorial gaze and throw my eyes around the room and am met with looks. Yes, at other folks tables we are the gossip. I return to us, to me, and find my mouth frozen in a false smile. I feel like a prostitute on her last legs.

 

Soup arrives. It’s a root vegetable and red. Ana explains something about it. I’m not listening. I don’t care if it’s silage they serve. What catches my eye is the virginal cream floating on top. It spells ‘LOVE’ in honour of the romantic St George’s Day. The word ‘tragi-comedy’ springs to mind. A shotgun and one bullet and I’d end it now; I’d end me. Yes, I’m on a date with the wrong girl and can’t share it with anybody and there’s just enough breeding in me to hold my tongue as I don’t want to do her down any more than she already is; the old bag.

 

‘Ah, that’s so sweet’ Ana says of the soup.

 

I feel her eyes on me and keep mine fixed on the soup bowl. I think of nose-diving my head into it. A fact springs to mind: you can drown in an inch of water. I consider it.

 

Our conversation tutts along. Eat and smile, eat and smile, I urge myself. But she won’t let up. Fat chance! She’s at it again, exploring our lives and looking for common threads. I urge myself to accept this sacrifice so that one of us has an enjoyable lunch. I’m  reminded of women who fake having orgasms. Fake it. Fake it, Louis.

 

‘I’m getting a divorce after 20 years marriage’ Ana confesses.

‘Oh, I’m sorry.’

 

I try to improve the sentiment; upgrade it to a degree of caring.

 

‘It will pass. Ana, these things need time to heal.’

 

I’m talking about things I don’t understand. Then I think, maybe she thinks I’m divorced! For a second I feel a little guilty that I’m not. I mean, at my age I should already be done with my first marriage.

 

We’re shrink and patient in reverse. Ana gives me a warm smile. Then her hand is on mine. I reclaim it when her phone rings. It’s her 16 year old son wanting to be brought to karate.

 

‘Should I let him go?’ Ana asks me out the side of her mouth.

‘Who?’

‘My son. To karate. Will I let him go?’

‘Sure.’

 

Fucked if I care. What am I, dial-a-dad? To all appearances she thinks I care although I’m more curious about who her ex-hubby is banging than whether or not her stupid kid gets maimed at karate.

 

Old Ana smiles at my thoughtful reply. I’ve entered their family life. Her kid owes me one. She hangs up with a knowing smile, considering me a more suitable partner than only moments earlier. She mentions her son being frail. I fight her paltry concerns and try venturing into my field of interest.

 

‘So Ana, do you and the other Ana work in the same hospital?’

‘God no. Ana is a nurse in an old folks home.’

‘Oh, really! I thought she might have worked as a psychiatric nurse with you.’

 

Perhaps I failed to mention but that was the bonus: Young Ana is a psychiatric nurse. I thought she and I would be a perfect match; patient and lover.

 

Why do I say nothing about being tricked? Why do I see out the lunch?

 

I’m asking myself these questions as I sit in front of Ana stirring the lies out of the soup.

 

Is it because it’s easier not to cause a fuss?

Is it because God now owes me one?

Is it because I’m repaying surviving the tooth extraction?

 

Whatever it is, I’d still like to know how Old Ana got my phone number. See, in a private moment, I slipped my card to Young Ana so how the fuck did Old Ana get it?

 

I’m not pass the parcel.

 

It angers me that I’ve been played; me, the soft option. The two Ana’s must be in cahoots. I haven’t being so disappointed in women in a long long time. Nevertheless, I maintain a modicum of respect. I continue to lunch like nobody is the wiser. I listen to Old Ana rant on about her husband and kids and wonder if I’d make a good counsellor. No, I wouldn’t. Instead I advise Old Ana to consult a fellow colleague or to self-medicate.

 

As we leave, a horrifying truth dawns on me. The mother’s of girls I fancy will have me easier than their daughters…

Diary 60 – in the chair

Diary 60 pic

 

Down, down, deep down.

I plummet down.

To the depths.

To unearth the underground.

To get to the root cause.

To gain a foothold.

To get a grip.

On me.

 

It’s all I can do to try and return to the surface: yield to it in order to stop losing the ground beneath my feet and dodge the bullets I’m cracking off indoors.

Inside my head.

I’m fragmented.

In fragments.

In bits.

Broken up.

Not altogether in one piece.

I’ve cut off bridges.

There’s no pipeline left.

Vocation it’s not.

Suffering.

Suffering.

Suffering.

 

Right now I can’t live off the pen yet I can’t return to the herd, to the marching masses. There’s no in-between. All I’ve achieved by running away is become an outcast, adrift in the world, a shipwreck marooned in nowhere land, my mission dashed. I cry like a struggling artist yet admit that what I do isn’t art. The pointlessness of me gets to me.

 

I played out all the what-if scenarios. The outcome: I’m unfit for the confines of respectable society. They say the same about alcoholics: that admitting the problem is the first step to recovery. It’s why I’m splayed on a couch. Why I’ve released my grip. Why I’ve released control. Salvation is around the corner. They say. They all say it. They say it plenty; the do-goodies do. Do it. Go on. Get help. Still, I stall. Why? Easy, because I’m miffed. How the fuck did it come to this? I try remembering, recapping, plotting the course, how I arrived here, in crisis. There were extenuating circumstances.

 

The summary:

 

Phase 1: I almost drove my life off a cliff but some-why took a step back.

 

Phase 2: As though from afar, I saw myself standing on the edge of a cliff. I had a bird’s eye view; there I was hovering above and looking down at me as I stood on the cliff’s edge. It was a weird out-of-body experience. From above, I studied my languor, my body as though I was looking at my full-length reflection. Reality dawned: maybe I have myself too much in focus sometimes.

 

Phase 3: So that’s why I’m here; clinging on as I try to recognise myself. I’m letting go of the reins and going that extra mile by getting expert help. They said to do it, the do-goodies did. And do you know what the expert sitting in front of me wonders?

 

‘So why was the tooth pulled?’ Dr. Bernard asks.

 

Jeff referred me here; that’s Mr Global Pop-star Jeff to you. Dr. Bernard is also His shrink. At first I’m a little nervous, shy even, afraid that I mightn’t have as many complexes as Jeff. After all, to be a worthy artist means being messed up, right? When I used attend confession in church as a kid, I often made up lies as I felt my crimes insufficient of Gods pardon. Yes, I raped a girl when I was 12 years old. Yes, when I was 13 I held down the baby-sitter and jerked off over her. For the first crime, the priest gave me 10 Hail Mary’s, for the second only 5. But now that I’ve grown up, my crimes are all real.

 

I told Dr. Bernard about Susan’s allergy to muscles and my own bruising encounter with one that lead to the tooth extraction.

 

‘But’ Dr. Bernard says. ‘The tooth didn’t need to be pulled.’

 

Its wordplay; he’s differentiating between the words ‘needs’ and ‘wants’. He’s precise in a lawyerly way which doesn’t inspire much confidence. He’s niggling at something; he wonders if I’m playing on the same team as myself. Meanwhile, I’m wondering what he’s wondering about as I figure he’s trying to add things up. Two plus two and, looking for a quick-fix, he gets five. I’m not Humpty Dumpty! Or else, perhaps on a deeper level, he’s harping on about my being a fruit or gay or some other cod.

 

‘Doctor, what do you mean when you say the tooth didn’t need to be pulled? I couldn’t eat at that side of my mouth!’

 

It’s not like the shrink can compare a tooth ache to a phantom pregnancy. Don’t pin that easy fix on me for a thousand pounds an hour, fuck you very much.

 

‘It might have been repaired, no?’ Dr Bernard asks.

‘Filled you mean? The dentist put in a filling a few times. Anyway, don’t dentists take the Hippocratic oath?’

‘How do you mean?’

‘Being ethical and having a patient’s best interests at heart’ I say. ‘You think the dentist went along with my suggestion and pulled the tooth for fun and money? He spilt a pint of my blood in pulling my tooth! Come on, I could get rich off such negligence.’

‘You’re a consenting adult. You asked him to remove the tooth and he complied.’

‘Doctor, are you saying that you think I wasn’t in my right mind?’

 

He’s not interested in getting bogged down and refuses to argue the point. I think he thinks I’m dotty. He imagines the tooth problem was all in my head. Meanwhile, I’m thinking about dentist-torturers. The history books are littered with them.

 

‘You think this affected your relationship with Susan?’ the shrink continues.

‘A tooth? Surely that’s a bit of a leap, no?’

 

I recoil at the truth and unwilling to let him know that he’s scored a point. Ok, maybe there is some reason in his perverse logic. It’s technically true that I didn’t have to have the tooth pulled. Maybe, just maybe, I imagined my toothache. Happy now? But believe me, it’s a strange thing to pick a fight with ones teeth. It’s like punching yourself in the balls for fun. Now that Dr Bernard has put it out there – suggesting that I wanted to have the tooth pulled due to the tenuous connection to Susan’s past and her break-up with Ronald – I think he’s saying that I’m self-deluded and that’s no small matter.

 

‘You were both in a transitional period were you not?’ he asks.

‘Footloose, Susan and I, in our relationship? Maybe. But so what?’

 

I’m munching on my words, mulling them over. The truth of them. Of words.

 

My memory jogs. It’s true Susan was out of work and the recession in Ireland had all young hopefuls looking abroad. Was I Susan’s lunch-ticket? It comes to me in a flash: I fucking hate know-it-alls like Dr. Fucking Bernard. I give him a stony look. Fuck you, my look says. I’m unwilling to allow him steal an advantage without cost so I parry and try to get under his skin.

 

‘And you, Doctor? Rosy relationships and happiness personified?’

 

He chuckles. It’s pointless. He’s used to patients trying to rattle him. It’s an occupational hazard.

 

‘Louis, the muscle analogy is interesting if you will allow.’

‘Sure, go for it’ I say.

‘Carl Gustav Jung – the famous psychiatrist – you may have heard of him.’

‘Ya sure, Freud’s ex-girlfriend.’

‘Jung was treating a patient who described a dream about a beetle. Jung spotted this unusual insect outside his window and caught it and presented it to his patient.’

‘So what? It was a coincidence, right?’

‘That’s just the thing. Jung cares to suggest it’s more a case of a meaningful coincidence – ‘synchronicity’ he called it. Louis, you will surely agree that all meaning is subject to both conscious and unconscious influences. Your unconscious mind may have brought on your desire for punishment. A desire to have your tooth out.’

 

Do you know what I’m thinking? Who’s the fucking crack-pot now? Shouldn’t he be seeking meaning in something else, like in my underwear?

 

‘Ok, and?’ I ask.

‘Well Louis, remember the incident when you were in a bar with Susan and that you told her you were considering selling her to a group of hooligans?’

‘They were rugby jocks! And it was a joke! My point was that I didn’t feel any sense of propriety over her. All the same, and bizarrely, she threw them a look and considered it.’

‘And?’ he asks.

‘Susan said that I was rude. It’s the result of centuries of inbreeding, I told her. Then she huffed. She was like that, she always had a unique way of making a grand production out of minutiae. She was overly dramatic.’

‘You think that maybe you both considered expulsion? Expelling each other?’

‘I don’t follow.’

‘Maybe the muscles are the same for you. Susan broke up with Ronald and…’

‘I just called him Ronald after his look alike, Ronald McDonald. His real name is actually Sean.’

‘Ok, Sean. So Susan broke up with Sean after getting sick over his car due to an allergy to muscles. And now you break up with Susan after you have a tooth extracted over an incident with muscles.’

‘And?’ I ask.

‘Expulsion. Extraction. Maybe having the tooth out is your way of vomiting’ he deadpans.

‘Wow! But I had the tooth out first and only afterwards broke up with Susan.’

‘Yes, but maybe all along it was a subconscious desire.’

‘To break-up?’

‘Perhaps.’

‘And the tooth out?’

‘To excoriate the past.’

‘Her past?’

‘Who knows?’

‘To rid memories of her ex-boyfriend?’

‘Maybe.’

‘But he wasn’t much of a threat. You should see him – you’d laugh. He was a an ugly weed.’

‘But worth considering nevertheless.’

‘Lets explore a different avenue’ I say. ‘Maybe my lips are attached to my teeth!’

 

And with that, I touch a finger to my teeth and lips and give a chimpanzee smile.

 

‘Meaning what?’ Dr Bernard wonders.

‘The Chinese: they say a close relationship is like that between lips and teeth.’

‘Oh?’

‘And maybe I simply wanted to shut me up for a while and let actions speak for themselves.’

‘Interesting’ he muses.

‘But then again maybe I’m over-stating.’

 

The shrink considers. And just when I think I’ve shut him up, he’s at it again.

 

‘Or maybe having the tooth out was to stop your lips kissing hers.’

 

Approaching the hour mark and I’m thinking that there are a lot of uncertainties in him for a thousand quid a session. Money well spent? No way.

.

‘Louis, maybe you can try to remember your dreams and bring them here.’

‘I don’t know that I dream.’

‘Everybody does. You just don’t remember them.’

‘I used dream when I was younger.’

‘It’s common.’

‘To dream more when you are little and less now?’

‘More or less’ he chuckles.