I'd bet you couldn’t imagine that I once had a house
With so many rooms you couldn't count them all
I'll bet that you couldn't imagine I had fifteen different boys
Who would beg and beg to take me to the ball
And I know you couldn't picture me
The time I went to Paris in the fall
And who would think the man that I loved
Was quite so handsome, quite so tall
[SOMETHING COOL : Bill Barnes 1954, as performed by Tierney Sutton 2002]
I don’t yet know what it was, but my eyes looked at my hands, and only then did I recognise myself. Time stood still, I stopped breathing, head gently tilted on my right. My eyes, my hands. My eyes, my hands. My hands.
Someone must have called my name because I suddenly woke up from this time-gap and returned to the Body. Where had I been?
I observe my hands as for the first time. My veins as snakes around my tendons and a handful of cappuccino shaded lentigines tossed on my right hand only; the hereditary vertical ridges of my nails. I stretch my hands wide in front of me, as if ready for a virtuoso movement on an imaginary piano. The dry hands and thin long fingers of auntie Anna, neither of us a piano player. They say you can love only with your hands; who said that?
Now, it’s me, the real me, the thinking me, who is looking at them. But before? I was suspended into a different vacuum, where neither time nor rhythm exist. My Self is questioning whether I was having a stroke. I raise my right arm, I touch my mouth, I hide a pretended smile, just to check my lips. No, everything is fine.
Simply, my soul nudged me into a realisation I can’t easily grasp now. I felt I had been catapulted somewhere where everything is clear and then whipped back here crossing corporeal boundaries; not remembering a thing. I can only imagine it was my soul. Or was it the Universe? God? Was I summoned to reality or to the holiness of future emptiness?
Someone is still calling my name, if only for the second time. I turn my face, smile and mumble something like: “sorry, I was away with the fairies…”
I look around and see the people sitting at this table, with me. They are talking, yes, but who are they? I have just woken up.
I do recognize him, and he is checking from the bar if I want to have another drink. I smile, nod, and point at an empty glass in front of me, trying to remember what it was that I drank before. My buds prompt me with a relic of some sweet white wine. I don’t remember enjoying it but I still nod, and smile, and pretend that everything is fine; just fine, just perfect.
I sit there, an inane sad smile on my face, a vacuous look, the one I lately surprise myself using when I stare at something into the distance while still wearing my reading glasses and, at the same time, not understanding what is being said. Basically, an idiot. This fleeting thought makes me smile, and I feel entitled to justify my idiocy to myself. Wearing this face, tonight, an idiot becomes the Fool.
Which deceit did I choose for this evening? I gaze briefly, hopefully unobserved, at my legs, covered by a pair of tight black jeans: oh so, this evening it was jeans, a white shirt sufficiently open to reveal cleavage and bra, just enough to scare the possible contenders, or simply future nominees, away. That look that should say: “look at us, we are just so happy”; but as of now it screams: “he has me for as long as he wants, and then when he will leave me, I will disappear engulfed in cellulitis, menopause and forgetfulness”. My wittiness and knowledge are a show I seem to put up for his coeval peers: I am shown in public and I wonder why I am not paid a fee for my performance, tonight, like every other Friday night; or maybe his sex earlier is to be considered enough of a payment on account, for me.
“You are so wise; how do you do it?” someone chirps at my left, her flowless mascara winning against my mellow cheeks.
I sense that whatever I cannot give name to, that which was there (here?) before, is now broken, and cannot be mended. The virus has spread and multiplied itself, overhauling; I easily become a puppet in his string-less hands performing in a replica of a 1930 Berlin cabaret, where on this stage, sick and pale, I sing to no audience. Surd in voice and reduction.
A wave of nausea fills me. It’s quick, but it leaves behind its marked conduit, for me to fill with… nothing.
I look at my masked face, reflected: it says thirty; or maybe forty, to a stretch. I look at my hands: they don’t lie and confirm fifty.
I feel the impulse to answer with words and not just condescending smiles.
“Do you really want to know how I do it - I think - I am 17 years older than him, that is how I do it, bitch”. And I stop a smile from turning me into a devilish shark.
I feel rapidly very tired and it is not anxiety. I feel I’m progressively sagging, turning into a wizened week-old retirement balloon. Deposited there. Its purpose already fulfilled and forgotten. My only hope is that I don’t turn into ridicule, the poor man’s me.
And then I look up again, at my face reflected in this fake aged mirror and I see my mother’s empty eyes, recognise the wrong shade of lipstick, a vane hint of sweat under the new perfume. My left hand shakes slightly. He comes back, with two glasses of wine, sits and puts his arm around my shoulders, such a darling. I smell him, I want to remember this moment so close to death.
“How did I end up here, Mother?” I ask the reflection.
She doesn’t really reply. But, suddenly, I recognise it for what it is.
Desolation. Deep slowly rolling misery. Thick like molasses, it doesn’t allow itself to be cried out. I feel like drowning, while still trying to reach the banks which could secure my safeness. A place to rest and breathe. But I can’t. He talks and I gasp for air; his thigh touches mine, oh! so not fair, and I drown in my own sporadic wetness; I look at his lips and I let go. The golden thick syrup turns into a black rolling river of regrets and I feel slurped into this swamp. A second wave of nausea and I feel urged to choose between public sadness or solitary death. Or both, lucky me.
Maybe it all started this afternoon, when in the shop I was trying on new jeans, breaking in new shoes, smelling of an incoherent combination of eau, and in the mirror I saw these punctured, deflated and humiliated boobs, there, in the cubicle, humbling asking for acknowledgement.
I now converse in Converse while this new sterile me is judiciously discerning the words to use: shall I match the topic or shall I match the show? I am constantly assessing the act, the requests, the performance: not so much that I’m overdoing it, never not enough that I am found disappointing (tz tz…) and hence easily forgettable.
Still, what am I doing here? For the second time in a week he did not grasp a reference from a Seinfeld episode. How could he, he was only 10.
At times I am wondering if, between him as a very private fornicator, and him misplacing a subjunctive right after the act, I ever felt the urge, the animalistic impulse, ever, to smother him.
“Look, we are wearing matching shoes and jeans!”, I blurted out the other day. “Twins!”.
“Well, not really twins, coz you are older than me”, he laughed back.
We both laughed, open mouthed, one overstressing and the other one underlying the unbelievable fun we were having.
And I recognise now that my puppeteer has never become the puppet. My peers look at me as if asking: “really?” I don’t react: brainwashed, unsensitised, lobotomised. I am, in unwilful wonder, drawn into this downward spiral I am only part consciously aware of.
I could break the falling, I could stop. I could leave.
I could ask for help.
I am zeroed.
I see them, the old happy ones all going shopping on Saturday afternoons, carrying meaty Sunday newspapers to National Trust properties for which they have paid the annual membership, filling up flasks and enjoying the squeakiness of leather boots.
He now kisses me on the temple, which is so ‘grandmother smelling of lavender and wearing powdery pink cardigans’. Staring into nothing, I am wondering where I have left my hypothetical flask.
That connection, that connection of before, that realisation, is right here, right now. I raise my eyes, look in the mirror, and I see me: a mischievous smile I cannot stop, slightly impish; and I feel a bit of a lonely rascal. If I have to do it my way, I need to smile, I need to be me. I will be blunt.
I stand up, adjust my shirt, grab my bag, smile at him. I really don’t know how to put it but I am filled with an impetus given by the realisation that the real me doesn’t actually give a shit.
I am out.