lost: boyhood élan.
no reward possible.
lost: boyhood élan.
no reward possible.
I wrote a poem for Lara and she looked at it, said nothing and dropped it on the bed.
What do you think of it ? I said.
“Buono,” she said, shrugging. She was Italian, you see.
“Buono?” I repeated, a little taken aback, if I’m honest.
“Buono?!” I said again, this time picking the scrap of paper from the bed and waving it in her face.
“Do you have any fucking idea how long this took me to write?” I tried to keep a lid on it, I really did, to not much avail.
“Do you?! No, of course you fucking don’t, do you? You just look at for half a fucking second and tell me it’s… it’s… “buono”!”
“Three hours, Lara, three fucking hours it took me to write this. And you’ve got the fucking nerve to dismiss it like it was nothing! I toiled over every fucking word and yet, no, it’s not good enough for you, is it?! No! La-di-da fucking Lara wouldn’t wipe her shitty little ass on it, would she?!”
All the time I was shouting, she had said nothing. She only stared at me, emotionless.
When I’d finished, she snatched the paper from my hand and held it by its corners, turned toward me.
This was, without doubt the piece of paper I had written on, I recognised the watermark, but there was no poem on the paper she held to my face. I had spent three hours writing a poem, hadn’t I? Was I going fucking mad? Three hours poring over every last phrase, desperate to express myself love for her perfectly and searching to find the mots juste to describe what she meant to me.
Yet, this sheet was all but blank apart from one word, almost a doodle in the top right hand corner. If I hadn’t written a poem, what had I written? I leaned forward and squinted, then I saw it. Now it made sense. There it was, as plain as day, my handwriting, black ink. Fuck.
January 1876, Basel
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche is sat in an armchair by the fire, pensively stroking the long, coarse whiskers of his prodigious moustache. Without breaking his middle distance stare, his left hand suddenly reaches out to the table next to him, palm down, patting the table in a jerky left-right motion.
He is searching for the source of the ringing he can hear. A slow intermittent, high pitched “briiiiiiing briiiiiing”. It takes a little while for him to realise that the sound must be in his mind, as the telephone had only just been invented and wouldn’t be commercially available for several more years to come.
Elisabeth, his sister, bustles in, destroying the moment.
“Thinking again? You’re always bloody thinking, you are. It won’t do you any good, Fred, I tell you.”
Elisabeth, Friedrich’s junior by two years and a right brassy old mare, had been looking after him since the “incident”.
She insisted on calling him “Fred”, a situation he secretly loathed but tolerated out of love for his sibling.
The “incident” had lost Friedrich his tenure at Basel university and he was therefore currently unemployed.
The general public, it would seem, were very sensitive about the welfare of their horses.
Elisabeth had noticed that Friedrich had become very quiet recently, barely moving or speaking at all, and if he did speak, it was incomprehensible muttering. She had become inured to the silence and was shocked when, out of the blue, he broke it.
“I have something I need you to write down,” he mumbled, hardly audible above the crackling of the logs on the fire.
She stopped herself making a flippant remark on him losing the use of his hands, just in time; remembering the near catatonia of her brother’s state.
As much as she may have resented being coerced into his being his secretary/carer, she knew her brother was a brilliant man and she managed to calm herself before reaching for her fountain pen.
“Go ahead, Fred, I’m ready.” she said, waiting expectantly. She licked the nib of the pen and placed it on the parchment.
“That which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger,” this utterance coming out halfway between a whisper and whistle.
“Sorry, Fred, I didn’t quite catch that. You’re going to have to speak up a bit.”
A chestnut log issues a whistle and a loud “snap”, causing Elisabeth to jump.
Friedrich doesn’t react at all.
“Could you just say it again, dear?” she asks, hopefully. His magnificent moustache bristles almost imperceptibly as she says this; Elisabeth pretends not to notice.
Friedrich clears his throat before saying angrily but still no louder,
“That which doesn’t kill us, makes… us… stronger…”
The scratchy nib on the parchment is the last thing Friedrich hears before falling into a comatose sleep.
Knowing she will not be able to wake him for hours, Elisabeth remains standing next to her brother, soaking up the warmth of the fire and squinting at the candlelit parchment.
She reads out loud to herself the sentence he dictated, which, strangely, reads more like a shopping list-cum-stage directions than a philosophical master work:
“Sandwich dozen pillows, place it on her?”
The same log snaps and hisses as Elisabeth mumbles under her breath,
“Well, Fred, it’s not one of your best.”
The telephone rings. Zelda Fitzgerald thrusts herself from her armchair to answer it, nudging the table next to her and spilling her fourth pink gin of the day. It is 9:22am.
She knows it’s Francis. She’s been waiting for his call.
“Hello? The voice on the other end declares tinnily, “ Zelda, can you hear me?”
“Yeeeeah, I can hear ya…” Zelda says, the gin liberating her Alabama drawl.
“How you doing over there?” she manages, one eye partially closed.
Zelda was vaguely aware that Fitzgerald was staying with one of his Princeton chums after a class reunion at the university.
“Yeah, yeah, it’s going great here. I’m thinking of staying over at Biffy’s a couple more days. Is that OK?”
Without waiting for a reply, F. Scott barrels on,
“Listen Zelda, my love, I’ve only got Biffy’s typewriter over here and the ribbon’s just busted. Could you write something down for me?”
“Sure, honey,” Zelda slurs into the receiver, tongue on her cheek as her chubby fingers wiggle grotesquely in the pen pot before eventually retrieving one.
“Okay, honey, goffforrit…” she dribbles, pen poised over the baise of the telephone table.
“Okay, here it is… “In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.”
“Whaaat?! Honey, the connection’s terrible, say it again, will ya?”
The line is crackling like an empty pack of Luckies.
At this point, the free hand she’s using to support herself slips from the edge of the table and she just manages to stop herself from falling over, skilfully using her forehead and the nearest available wall to save her embarrassment.
She looks round sternly at the empty drawing room, challenging the furniture to make comment.
“Hello, Zelda, did ya get that?”
“Not quite, honey, just s-say it one more time, the line’s really bad.”
“Chrissakes woman, will you just listen for once? This is really important and Biffy and I are gagging for a martini. You ready?”
“Yeesssh…” she replies, twirling the pen between her fingers to facilitate the more traditional nib-down approach.
“In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.”
The static on the line becomes so loud, Zelda holds the telephone away from her ear. By the time the static has passed, all that can be heard is the dialing tone.
Zelda, benefiting from her self-imposed best-of-three rule, finally returns the receiver to the cradle and looks down at the table.
She stares, baffled, at the sentence she has scribbled directly onto the green felt of the table top.
“Inner ear star light often sold, kisses honestly a cloth into mourning, stay outta jail?”
“Sheesh,” she turns and addresses the furniture again, “it sure ain’t one of his best.”
The telephone rings. Simone de Beauvoir rushes to answer; edging a table with her thigh and knocking a porcelain vase to the floor.
She knows it’s Jean-Paul. She’s been waiting for his call.
“‘Allo?” the voice on the other end declares tinnily, “can you hear me?”
“Yes, yes, of course, my love,” she says. “How’s it going over there?
She was aware that Jean-Paul had been working all week at the Sorbonne with Camus and that they felt that they were on the brink of something extraordinary.
“Oui, tres bien, merci. ‘Ave you got a pen, my love?” Jean says impatiently and she mumbles in the affirmative whilst scrabbling for un stylo.
“Write this down. It is the greatest summation of existential philosophy since the dawn of modern thought….‘allo?
Simone, are you there?”
“Yes, I’m here my love. Sorry the line is very bad, Jean, I can barely hear you.”
“No matter, Simone, just get this down, we haven’t got much time, it’s very important and Albert and I are gagging for an absinthe spritzer. Are you ready?”
“Oui, mon cher, I’m ready.”
The line crackles badly but Jean continues,
“Hell is other people.”
“Pardon, Jean. you’re breaking up, I didn’t quite get that, could you repeat it please?” Simone squints into the receiver, as if somehow that will help.
“Mon dieu, woman,” Jean yells down the line. “Just write it down, will you, before I forget…HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE!”
The static on the line peaks just before the line goes dead.
Simone slowly places the receiver back in the cradle and picks up the notepad from the desk.
She says aloud to herself, puzzled, “Alice tofu treacle?”
“Well, I have to say, it’s not one of his best”
Rose is a tricky flavor to work with; it is usually applied in its distilled liquid form and a few drops is all you need. It overpowers quickly, consuming your palate and, if you’re not prudent, it can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Giddy, even.
The carriage is redolent with it’s scent. It’s particularly pungent for me because I’m next to the source.
She is sat, leaning forward, head bowed, over the flip down tray in front of her. Every thirty seconds or so, with a delicate flick of her little finger and a pinch of index and thumb, she hovers, selects and then delivers a nugget of Turkish delight to her impatient plump tongue; each gelatinous cube leaving a trace of icing sugar on her lips.
“Mmm.. I lo-ooo-ve pistachio…” she fires across my bow, before swilling her mouth with mineral water and smiling, a fragment of the aforementioned nut lodged resolutely in her front teeth.
Framed against the miserable grey suburbs rolling past the window, her beauty is illuminated.
Natural, unpretentious and laced with the merest promise of decay. Although, I notice her perfume is unpleasant; a strange, sour blend of spray tan and samosas.
Her hands are exquisite. The graceful lines of her wrists don’t disappoint, leading to slender, tapering fingers tipped with a burgundy polish.
Oddly, her every other anatomical feature possesses a most intriguing quality. In fact, one similar to the very confectionery she is consuming now. Turkish delight is always fashioned into slightly misshapen, bloated cubes and she, too, has this burgeoning, retentive design. It’s commensurate with her youth and her glucose consumption, I guess.
Her pert, full breasts strain against the cloth of her top, imprisoned against their will by a black lace bra.
They would release themselves, if they could, I know it, in a riot of common sense.
I journey to the lowlands, the prairie of the ego and begin a sojourn familiar to most males of a certain age when faced with young flesh; a place where time slows to a frame per second or less, where myriad fantasies gallop unfettered, like wild mustangs.
“Would you like one?” Again, the smile. The nut still presiding.
The house of cards tumbles down right on cue.
But I collect myself, shifting my weight in my seat to better face her.
“Yes. Yes, I would, thank you.” I say, smiling and managing to briefly lift my gaze, first to her eyes and then to the hexagonal box of rubbery nubs she’s wafting in front of me.
In a turn of events that I can’t truly remain blameless for, my hand reaches toward the box but skims over the sweets, diving purposefully between the light white cotton of her top and her warm soft skin. Soon, I feel the coarse webbing of her bra grating against the back of my fingers.
I don’t break her stare, her pupils dilate and her jaw slackens, moving almost imperceptibly up and down as I squeeze, her nipple hardening between my thumb and forefinger.
After just the right amount of time, I slowly remove my hand, returning it to my lap. We are still locked deeply, eye to eye.
She looks down and arranges her clothes in silence; time has slowed again, she is being deliberately deliberate, playing with me.
She places the box back on the tray. The elegant crane hovers again, eventually choosing and delivering a piece to me this time.
The soapy skin taste of her thumb works well, I think, supplying another dimension to the orange blossom flavor; she then slowly withdraws it, allowing me to suck clean the powdery residue. She feeds me a few more, delicately, in her measured way.
It’s a memorable experience, particularly fun. At one point, whilst demolishing a dusty lemon blob, she kisses me and for a moment I can’t tell what is sweet and what is tongue; the flavors intensifying with every laborious chew.
Together, we finish the box and sit for a while, licking our fingers and lips.
With a giggle, she lays her hand on my knee and leans in and whispers,
“Hi, I’m Rose.”
As I ran off into the school building, I turned to wave, and saw a small dark-haired girl with a pale complexion standing at the gates. I watched her hand my mum a small yellow envelope.
I wiped away a tear and when I looked back they were both gone.
Three years after Mom died, on a typical snowy Helsinki evening, I found this letter in her personal effects. HP
Dear Mrs G,
Hey! Whadda y’know? It’s HP’s first day at school!
Aww, sad, isn’t it? Watching the little fella running along, turning around and waving at ya, a tear in his little blue eye! So sweet.
How d’you think he feels, huh? Excited? Happy?
Looking forward to making a loadsa new friends, I bet, right?
Wrong! He hates it and, right now, he hates you.
He thinks you’ve abandoned him; he’s in disbelief, he’s terrified and lonely in there.
And you wanna know the kicker, Mrs G? For him, all the days are gonna be like this!
Every single one. Now, there’s a heads up for ya! He’ll never get used to it.
He’ll always hate school.
“But hey, chin up kid, you’ve only got another eleven years to do!”
It’s easy street for the little squid. huh?
So, anyway, that’s the skinny, whadda y’gonna do? Them’s the breaks.
What? Alright, alright, quit snivelling. Jeez, look, I can help you; I’ll cut you a deal.
There might be two conditions in his adult life where he’ll feel similar to today.
He knows nothing of them now but maybe he’ll meet divorce and serious illness at a later date? Who knows, huh? Maybe you already know their work?
Although they’ll feel very stressful at the time, he’ll have grown emotionally and will be able to deal with them. Probably. Believe me, Mama G, they pale into insignificance against the decade of misery and pant-wetting torment you’ve got lined up for him here in this hellhole!
OK, OK, don’t get your panties in a bunch because…spoiler alert! He never gets married and gets knocked down by a snowplow in Finland! Jeez, I’m having too much fun here! Phew!
Anyway, it’s not all doom and gloom, here’s what I can do for him. How about I arrange a peaceful school life for him, with no bullying, no failed grades, no mandatory showers after PE.
Sound good to you? Of course it does!
Naturally, you gotta help me out too. No such thing as free lunchbox, am I right, sister?
A word in your shell-like first, please, if you don’t mind…
Listen, HP’s only young now, but you can see he’s a good kid, right? He’s gonna be OK.
I don’t really need to help him at school, he’s bright enough and he’ll get by. Kid’s as soft as putty though and I will have to step in to stop Daniel Dixon vomiting Kitkat in his mouth in year ten. Maybe.
Home won’t be such smooth sailing for him and you know why? You.
You and I are gonna make his hell life home, sorry, home life hell. I always get those two confused. Beg all you want, I can’t change it; that’s just how the cookie crumbles.
You’ll lock horns all throughout his childhood, you’ll dance an endless tango of distrust and misplaced designs. It’s gonna be hard and they’ll be long moments when you won’t see eye to eye.
But he will always respect you, know matter what, because you’re a great dancer, Mrs G, one of the best.
Oh yeah, I nearly forgot, there’s just one other thing I’d like you to do.
It’s so simple, even a mother could understand.
About thirty five years from now, you’ll be on your deathbed. Oops! Spoiler alert! I love my job…
Oh I know, I know, boo fricking hoo. It. Happens. Anyways, listen up, HP will be at your bedside a few days before you pass away.
You’ll want to tell him that you love him but by that time you won’t be able to speak.
He will tell you he loves you but you won’t be able to reply.
I need you to promise me just one thing.
When you hear him say “Mom, I love you…I forgive you” I want you to squeeze his hand.
That’s all, just that. It’s all you’ll be able to do.
But you squeeze it hard, woman, I mean it. Really make it count, because he’ll carry that moment with him and remember it the rest of his life. Capisce?
Of course, I’m gonna need your signature; no souls or crossroads this time, honey, it’s not that important.
If I could ask you to turn your attention to the dotted line at the bottom of the page.
Sign it, Mrs G, you know it makes sense. Oh and have a nice day, y’all.