Details of the mind // short story

You wouldn’t believe it: she said yes. We’ll be meeting next Saturday at the The Mirage. She was telling me all about her love for the Italian cuisine (and how, coincidentally, her name is of Latin origins). Indeed, by a generous whirl of fate, we share a common love. Oh, I do not know what I have done to deserve this good fortune!

I shall have to get myself some new clothing. My wardrobe has become too stale for her tastes – she is very much fashionable herself. Also, I will need some better perfume than the sweat-sticks I have at home. I remember reading an article about the powers of scent. It wasn’t entirely convincing, but, nonetheless, it’s better to be on the safer side. Shall I have to plan for the time after the dinner as well? Romance is often bred in the twilight and birthed in the night. Perhaps I will have a look at the area tomorrow. A quiet little park would be terrific. Like that one right there! What time is it? Six. No wonder the children are all out playing. But they are not at the see-saws or the monkey-bars, the slides or swings. Golly, they’re gathered around a phone, staring into its candy screen and exclaiming collectively at intervals. Alas, the children of the warped new age.

Anyway, where was I? I don’t remember. How old age poisons the memory. Yes, old age. The lady watering her junipers must surely know of this. The water hose shudders like a wild serpent and her frail hands quiver. Should I offer some help? Hold on, isn’t she that lady from church – the one who sits at the front most pew? I am quite certain of it. Furthermore, it is only chivalrous to assist.

A loud horn, a screech, a blinding flash of the light. The tarmac seemed to rise up towards me. That was close – all too close. The car vanished at the turn before I could regain my calm. I should probably buy a lottery ticket for today.

The lady is gone. The water hose wriggles and writhes on the garden grass. Perhaps an urgent call from the bladder had her rushing in. That was funny – “urgent call from the bladder”. I’ll use that next Saturday. That might coax a little laugh from her.

Did I tell you how I made her laugh the other day? She said that her health wasn’t well. I thought for a while then replied her, with a sort of feigned perplexity and jocose sarcasm, that the expression was something I have never heard of before. And then, slightly embarrassed, she chuckled. I parlayed my winnings of course. Attempted at a couple more jokes, at coaxing out a couple more of those dainty laughs. Not all the bets succeeded. I had to explain some, but tried always to meander around those awkward rocks. I do hope, and very earnestly, that next Saturday will go as well as it did on that day. First impressions are usually important, aren’t they?

I never knew that this house had a guard. I suppose its majestic size and diligence in decoration has always been an effective distraction. The guard looks ferocious, as if at the sight of an intruder, he would rip off his sleeves to reveal a canvas of tattoos and then proceed zealously in his duty. Wait, what’s that behind him? Not a thief, no – he would know. A snake – slithering silently towards his feet! And behind the snake, that old lady who was just watering her junipers. What was she doing there? No time to reason; I have to warn the guard. Hurry now, before the snake sinks its venom into him!

I wish to call out to him. But I am without a voice. What has happened to my strength? And why won’t my legs move. The tarmac rises once more. I hear the guard shouting out to me indistinctly. No, I’m not the intruder. It’s the old lady! She has let her snake on to you. Please, you have to listen. A blow; great and unforgiving in force. I don’t think I can escape this time.

The light sears and the air smells sterilized. Who is this blurry figure that stands before me? I hear her, slightly muffled: “remember me? I spoke to you just last week..” Of course I do, Klara. Of course.

A problem of trust // short story

“Neola left me the other day, you know.”

“I heard from Pete. Did she give a reason?”

“She wouldn’t. Just kept apologizing, kept saying that things weren’t right, that she wasn’t good enough for me, that if we stuck together, it would only end in a mess. I pleaded of course, crying. Not much of the man you supposed I was, eh?” He chuckled for a moment, then sank back into gloom.

“Things were going so well, you know. I mean, heck, they weren’t perfect – she wasn’t perfect, but I could really see a future with her. The loving housewife, scurrying kids, nice pretty house with a huge yard, the occasional trekking trips. She loves trekking. We were down at the orchards just by Eschacia Lane last week. Sat beneath an apple tree and waited till the sun set. I don’t know what -”

He fell quiet, tipped his head forward and sank it into his hands. I rested mine lightly on his back. A slight quivering was gaining momentum; I could feel it. What could I say – what should I? What if my words betrayed me and made the situation even worse?

Thankfully, he sniffed and shifted himself in the way a person does when he wishes to speak.

“There must’ve been something, right? I mean, people don’t just leave all of a sudden. Something must have happened; triggered something in her, I don’t know. We had years of memories behind us for goodness sake! Some trifle couldn’t have the strength to heave it all up and dump them into a vacuum. What was it then – what was it? And she keeps telling me this and that and this, but never the bloody truth.”

Just then, something struck me. “Look, if she would leave you now, and without a damn reason, then who’s to say she wouldn’t leave you in the future? She isn’t a good girl, Jimmy. Let her go. Let her mess up somewhere else and then regret that she ever left you. She’s a skipper – it’s pointless trying to get her to settle.”

I was strangely convinced was of those harsh words even though I had known Neola for almost as long as Jimmy did, and known her always as that sweet, charming girl whom everyone knew would eventually settle in a nice family portrait. But how wrong I was, how wrong we all were; deceived by daintiness and an innocence of demeanor, and made the sorry fools of her great escapade.

I faked a glance at my watch and began inching up slowly.

“I have to go now, alright? That old geezer’s chasing my tail again; wouldn’t rest till I’ve finished the piece on Regine Olsen. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It wasn’t your fault. But let out the steam if you have to. Just remember that you deserve better. Take care, Jimmy.”

Swiftly, I collected my bag, patted him once more on the back, then hurried out of the bar and onto the bustling tarmac beyond.

Traffic swallowed the next thirty minutes, and in the next moment, I removed myself from the tarmac. Reviewers have been raving about this restaurant – the “finest Mediterranean cuisine”. I had intended to try their baked lobsters – if only my appetite were not punctured.

“Reservation for two, under the name, Young.”

The sharp-suited receptionist guided his pen gracefully down the list, then finally exclaimed: “Ah yes, Mr Young, a lady is already waiting for you. If you would,” gesturing towards the paradise of aroma. I thought to tell him that ‘Young’ didn’t belong to me, but then felt too languorous to engage in such trivial corrections.

Following closely behind, I passed a table whose occupants were gaily lifting artichokes to their mouths, and immediately I recalled the time when I first tasted artichokes. It was with a friend. The artichokes had come grilled, with a special green olive sauce, and upon tasting them, we both thought it was the most delicious thing ever. Naturally, naively, insouciantly, we devoured plate-fulls of them. On the next day, however, I learnt that my friend had been beset by a hearty fever and some really stubborn rashes, and had to convalesce for a day in the hospital. I never dared eat artichokes again. Quickly, I made a mental note to not order them later, that is, if I had any appetite at all.

Upon arriving at the table, I was immediately received by an eclectic embrace. I inhaled deeply – the usual, redolent Chypre. She has always been fond of that. And so, recently, have I.

“How is he?”

“Not good.”

Her gaze languished and fell to the floor, as if the optimism that held it up had too lost its will.

“Let’s leave that aside now. I’ve only just placed an order for some of those lobsters you were so excited about. Shall we?” She beckoned me to the cushioned seat opposite hers.

I stood still for awhile, contemplating the words I ought to begin with.

“Neola, I don’t think this can go on any longer. I don’t think it should.”

“What – What are you saying? We’ve been through this before. And you said it yourself that – ”

“I’m sorry, Neola. It just has to be.”

I left before she could say another word.