A waitress greeted us at the entrance to the restaurant. She wore a plain black dress cut short to accentuate her sensual body. Black stockings covered her long legs like a lover’s caress. She was tall, graceful and lithe. Her resplendent blond hair fell to her shoulders like a honey waterfall. The overall effect was devastating. I stood there gaping shamelessly.
“Good evening.” The words slipped from her red lips like two pearls rolling across a silk sheet.
I looked into her sapphire blue eyes, “We have a reservation for two.”
I left my wife to extricate herself from her Burberry coat while I stood motionless gaping at this Christmas nymph. My artist’s eye devoured her flawless facial proportions, her perfectly sculpted legs, and the sensual line of her neck. The hand that stretched out to take our coats was translucent. Scarlet fingernails gave the impression of blood on milk.
She hung our garments on a rack and then she turned back to me. Her blue eyes looked directly into my soul. She smiled. It was the smile young girls reserve for lustful old men, “Follow me.”
I smiled the smile of a man who wished he was thirty years younger, and followed her like an obedient puppy. I would have followed her across the city, the country and the oceans as long as I could watch that long sleek body undulate in front of me.
We had a corner table. I sat facing the room, and my wife facing the big open fireplace. The waitress seemed to add just a touch to her natural sway as she walked away like a model on a catwalk. I was sure that she did it deliberately. She must get a sort of erotic pleasure in taunting old men, I thought to myself.
My wife and I both took out our cell phones. I made a selfie and pasted it to my Facebook profile then scanned the room. The décor was traditional Dutch; exposed oak beams gave the ceiling a sturdy feel and a wide, open hearth fireplace dominated one wall. A bar stretched along the other wall. The six tables were all occupied. Behind my wife, a family of six were debating the state of the economy while directly opposite me a party of five were studying their menu’s. To my left a lady of Indonesian descent sipped a glass of water and spoke softly to her teenage son, dressed in his Sunday best. Behind them a large family with two young children.
I turned to my wife, “I hope they keep their little darlings in check. I hate it when parents confuse a restaurant with a playground.”
She pounded away at her illuminated screen. “What?”
“Nothing.” I said, and continued my examination of the couple at the next table. From where I sat I could see only his back. His pale blue jacket looked old and cheap. Wispy strands of oily black hair tried unsuccessfully to cover his shiny dome. On the table lay a box of Marlboro’s and a hotel room key. I had a better view of his lady friend. She was fifty something and looked as if she took good care of herself. She wore a lacy black dress with a deep neckline that showed just enough breast to attract attention. Her jet-black hair was cut in a bobbed Louise Brooks style.
I followed the waitress’ every move, dreaming about her perfect body, and the contents of those stockings. She stirred within me a longing for love. Not the love of adults, or worse even, the love of married couples. No, the love I dreamt of was a hybrid between mature love and teenage lust. I imagined the two of us sitting on a summer hill watching the sun set over the ocean.
Something at the table across from me, the table of five attracted my attention. It was the single girl at the table looking directly at me. Looks like two couples and a fifth wheel. Probably got jilted at the last minute. Don’t know why, she is stunning. Too old to be the daughter of one of the couples. I held her gaze for a few moments. She turned back to face her friends, and slowly shifted her hair backward to expose her slender neck. Is it just my amorous mood or is that a sign? I asked myself. Just then the gorgeous waitress appeared with our foie gras and champagne.
I looked into her blue eyes, and she into mine. “Thank you.” We both smiled. I think I saw her wink, but I was not sure. Could have been my imagination.
She walked away with that same strut that a woman uses when she knows she is being looked at. I sighed, “Bon appétit.”
My wife looked up from her screen, “What?”
“Oh, nothing.” I lifted my glass. “Cheers. Happy Christmas.”
The balding lover at the table next to me got up to go and have a smoke outside. With him gone, I had a better view of his companion. She returned my smile. I lifted my glass and made an almost imperceptible toast in her direction. She smiled again, and a delicate rouge crept over her cheeks. She took a cigarette and went to join her mate. Her swagger as she walked away was that of a mature woman, desperate for someone to look at her. I was not interested but I looked anyway.
The waitress was back to take our order. I ordered from memory, not wanting to miss a single second of those beautiful eyes. She held my gaze throughout. She stood close to me. I was not sure if my nose was playing tricks on me but that clean flowery smell of soap could only be my personal favourite, Calèche by Hermes. My heart beat faster. I tried to stall as long as I could. Not only was she gorgeous but she also had taste.
Loverboy and his girl were back. The pungent smell of second-hand tobacco obliterated the delicate fragrance that was sending me into a lovesick trance. The spare wheel at the table opposite looked at me for a long time then leaned over to the girl next to her, and whispered something in her ear. I could feel the effort the friend made not to turn around. They continued to talk and steal glances at me. I could not help looking back at them.
“What are you looking at?” My wife asked.
I took a sip of wine, “Nothing.”
The waitress appeared with our meal. I studied her hands as she arranged the plates in front of us. They looked soft and well proportioned; like that of a concert pianist. I imagined holding that hand as we walked along the banks of the Seine, an accordionist playing softly in a doorway. She turned around. I looked at her behind. Her underwear was clearly outlined against the cotton dress. “God she’s beautiful,” I said under my breath.
My wife looked up from her phone, “What?”
“The food. It looks delicious.”
Spare wheel was looking at me again. I must be at least twice her age, what the hell is she up to? I forced myself to look away. Anyway, it is impossible to make contact without my wife catching on. She got up and walked towards me. With her every step, my heart beat faster and heat rose from under my collar. She was only a metre away. I had to do something. Is she going to cause a scene? I fumbled with my napkin. Just as I thought that she was going to bump into our table she turned sharply and headed in the direction of the bathroom. I’ll give her a minute then I’ll follow her.
The waitress appeared and cleared our plates. “Did you enjoy that?” She asked.
Did she see me starring at the spare wheel? Does she think that I fancy that girl? I’ve gone and spoiled my chances. “No. I mean yes, it was delicious.”
Loverboy left to have another cigarette. Louise Brooks looked at me and smiled. I have been around women long enough to know that smile. It was the ‘come let’s escape together, lets leave our partners here and go live on a desert island’ smile. I looked away. The waitress was standing at the end of the bar enjoying the scene. No. No. No, its not what you think. I don’t want to run away with her, or with spare wheel. I want you. I would give anything to be with you. She left her station and walked straight toward me. I thought that her steps were more determined, more angry as she neared our table. I started to panic. She stopped at my side. I turned my head. All I could see was the top of her nylons and the rim of her skirt. She stood directly between me and Louise, then she leaned forward. Hermes overwhelmed my senses. She took the bottle of wine and filled our glasses.
“The main course won’t be long now.” She said as she replaced the bottle on the table.
I felt like flinging my arms around those perfect legs and holding her. “There’s no hurry, we are enjoying ourselves.” As she turned to leave I felt her bottom brush against my shoulder. “Very much.”
Spare wheel was back at her table. I forced myself to stop looking at her, or even in the general direction of her table. I did not want any more misunderstandings with the waitress. I was going to be a good boy.
My wife was talking to me, but I never heard a single word. I just nodded and grunted now and then. She kicked me under the table.
She leaned forward and whispered, “Did you see his shoes?”
“His shoes? Who’s shoes?” I said a little louder than I meant to.
“The man next to you.”
“No. Why should I look at his shoes?” I looked anyway. They were blue coloured canvas loafers with a gaudy floral design. They were the most awful shoes that I had ever seen, but they somehow complimented his cheap suit. I laughed out loud. The entire restaurant turned so see what the joke was. My body shook as surges of mirth rolled forth like waves on a beach.
Louise leaned forward and said something to lover boy. He banged his hand on the table, stood up, grabbed his box of Marlboro’s and made his way toward the door. I looked at Louise. I wanted to apologise. She sniffed, and wiped the corner of her eye with her finger. She starred at me for a long while then got up and ran to the bathroom.
I turned to my wife for support, but she was busy with her phone.
Spare wheel was looking at me again. I shook my head as if to say that it wasn’t me. She smiled as if she understood.
Waitress was watching me from her station at the end of the bar. I did not know what to make of her look. I thought that she was frowning, that her eyebrows had turned to storm clouds over her volatile eyes.
She doesn’t love me anymore.
Inscribed on the pediment of the temple of Apollo are the words “Know thyself”.
Who am I? To find the answer to this question, I first delved into the murky waters of philosophy because throughout human history this question has sent philosophers to the agora and seekers to the oracles. Two stories in particular helped me to solve this existential problem; Plato’s interpretation of Heraclitus’s “river fragments” and the paradox of Theseus’s ship.
“Heraclitus, you know, says that everything moves on and that nothing is at rest; and, comparing existing things to the flow of a river, he says that you could not step into the same river twice” (Cratylus 402A).
I am not who I was just a second ago; the water in which I stepped in at that moment in time has flowed downstream and if I step into the water again it will be a different bit of water that momentarily surrounds my feet before continuing its journey to the sea. Everything changes yet it seems to remain the same. So is it with me; everything changes yet everything seems to remain the same.
“The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.”
Am I who I think I am? My rotting timbers have so often been changed by fate and circumstance that on the outside I look brand new. But is this really me? And what happened to the putrid planks that were replaced? Have the decomposed remains just been reassembled into their original configuration, and is the “new” is nothing but an illusion?
And if the rotting composition was not real, but in fact just the soul of the new ship? Or are both just an illusion and “self” does not exist except in the image that others see? I am who I think that you want me to be. The mirror reflects a reversed image and I believe that I am really you.
But your shoes chafe at my heels and crush my toes. I hanker for the water that has long wedded the sea. I yearn for my old familiar rotting timbers. I cannot be whom I was, so my existence is bedevilled by my aspirations to become someone else.
So, I am just an illusion, or a reflection of an ideal. Moi perfide.
I have found the answer yet now I speculate how different my life would be if I accepted this illusion for what it is and engage life without envy, expectation or desire.
But then I would be someone else.
For .... you
The bitter pain, time
The broken heart, mine
Tears fall like rain
To be one again
The distance great
The heart to wait
For the pain
To be gone again
The rose may die
And all may wonder why
The plant still grows
And my heart still knows
The one that holds the key
That knows the real me
Is the love that lasts
The wounds of the past
I read your lines,
And I cried
I cried for the moments we spent together
and for the years we did not
I cried for the promise I kept
and for the others I did not
I cried for the love you gave
and for the love I did not return
I cried for the kisses you gave
and for those I missed
I cried because I was a fool
to leave you
I cried because I made mistakes
that hurt you
I cried because I left you
without saying goodbye
I cried because I can’t
be with you
I cried in frustration
because you are far
I cried in sorrow
because I am distant
I cried in pain
because of what was
I cried in agony
because of what will be
And then I cred in happiness
because there is hope
And then I cried in joy
because there is hope
And then I cried in hope
because there is love
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. Howard Phillips Lovecraft
I think; therefore I am. I am; therefore I am afraid.
Fear has become a kind of culturally determined magnifying glass through which we consider the world. It shapes us, our behaviour; we see everything from a perspective of fear. But this “social fear” is a mere derivative of the brutal sensation that descends upon you and putrefies your very soul; that extreme brain spasm that robs your face of blood then malevolently transforms it into a vile exudate that oozes from your every pore when faced with imminent danger.
There is no absolute fear, the thing that makes your face turn ashen and your hands clammy is always the fear of something; death, pain, loss, loneliness….
Pavidus brevis; transient fear.
Within me, there lurks a more reclusive form of fear. The fear of self - timor domini sui.
Somewhere in the deepest recesses of my soul a drum has, since my earliest innocence, beat an incessant rhythm -not unlike that of a death march. It is a monotonous, incomprehensible noise; the sound of a demonic affliction that resonates its dictums of reproach and remorse from deep within my cursed entrails.
Innocence sequestrated by misfortune inexorably paints a sullen image where hues of grey seduce the blackness of despair. Anguish born of doubt and mistrust, like the coils of a python’s embrace will progressively eclipse the beatitude of life until there remains only fear.
Unhappy is he to whom the memories of childhood bring only fear and sadness.
Because of fear, life is the most profoundly dramatic and terrible thing in the universe. Because of life, fear is the most profoundly dramatic and terrible thing in the universe.
Death becomes the uber-fear.
Death is the ultimate unknown; the dark abyss into which all life eventually flows.
But as the drum resonates its first muted beats -grave and forte, heavily and majestically laden with its a prophecy of doom- I do not fear death. Death will be a reprieve from a life lived in fear. Timor domini sui.
But unlike the purity of innocence, the epistemic darkness of the fear of self cannot be cleansed. The stains of anguish remain forever indelible.
Rat-a-tat-tat. I grope in the gloom to find an exit. Rat-a-tat-tat. My vision is blurred. Rat-a-tat-tat. I try to run from this place. Rat-a-tat-tat. There is no exit. Rat-a-tat-tat. Fear, fear, fear is your eternal companion. Rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat.
But as the clangour of the drum subsides, the question remains -who is this self, this demon that plagues my days and torments my nights?
Don’t be fooled by my angelic countenance, my pseudo-intellectualism, my cultivated cosmopolitanism or my friendly demeanour – it’s all ersatz.
Scars, deep scarlet welts lay like Mikado sticks upon my soul. Each one an eternal reminder of some past suffering, some past torture. None can be extracted from below without disturbing the others and resurrecting memories best forgotten.
Scars inflicted from without and then from within as self-confidence crumbles beneath the constant onslaught of admonishment followed by rebuke and castigation. And profanities.
Scars that when roused, incite indiscriminate violence and undiscerning vehemence. And hate.
Scars intimately bound by deceit and dishonesty. And lies.
Covering the scars, a blanket of desolation, like fallen soldiers on a battlefield, are the wounds. They ooze an unrecognisable, but noticeably impure substance, evidently in the process either of coagulation or of decomposition.
Wounds of frustration at being different, incapable of assimilation. Of loneliness.
Wounds of longing for acceptance, approval and recognition. And love.
Wounds of vexation at pretending, hiding and deceit. And isolation.
Wounds of weariness of constantly fleeing, running away. Of exhaustion.
The throbbing of the drum rumbles like Thor’s thunder. A warning of caution. In the negative transcendence of madness, my world becomes a relentless trial, its everyday rituals and objects, beacons of desolate horror. And as the darkness looms, I fear that I will never sing life’s joy in iambic pentameter.