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Hidden Qualities

Updated on December 5, 2009

There are the free flows, the tiny raindrops that come down in a strange stream, so slow at first, then unpredictably accelerating. Hard to make a pattern out of this. We regret not this sight, this is the reason we are here right now, we have been waiting for the rainfall because we like the little drops. "Be my guest!" says the drop, or so we imagine, they will behave the same regardless of our presence or absence, they have a life of their own.

Which may be more than can be said for the lady who owns the house. She has an inner world so rich that it has taken her away from most things of this world, while letting her dwell upon immaterial matters that are to us thin and elusive like air. Seemed like she had a choice at some point, so say those who know her really well, but as she took that road and increasingly became isolated from reality there was no turning back.

The deceptive element is that smile that greets us welcome; that plus the first few minutes of conversation while drinking tea on the covered terrace. She seems alert, appreciative, and this is when we think that maybe there is hope of improvement. This doesn't last very long, soon she disappears inside the house for something we have got to see, no mind her tea getting cold, and once she returns she never regains her focus and we become objects like those raindrops on the glass door just behind us. This saddens me, in a way, not so much because I pity her but for my own sake; she has deprived me of someone to communicate with, isolated me, and turned me into a numb insect on her spider's web, a nodding doll on her mantelpiece.

We cannot afford entirely to ignore her hidden qualities, if these do in fact exist. Her faults are readily visible for all to see, at least we perceive it that way, but there must be something about her that keeps us coming back, or else why would we bother? We find it amusing to some degree, at other times bemusing, no matter, it is like she can always provide fodder for us to discuss afterwards - in the car going home and sometimes awhile longer. Could be that she can perceive that by her unconventional ways she has the ability to keep us on edge, and this is her mission. Clearly, she wants to take the moment and make all of it that she can, then excitement or whatever it is takes over, she sort of loses any sense of proportion and becomes so very self-absorbed and dominating. That is when time becomes long, an hour on the clock above her precious mantelpiece may easily seem like three.

As we have endured this repeatedly, it is perhaps only natural that we have gotten the impression of ourselves as the well-doers, who are sort of doing her a favor by keeping her company for a long afternoon every once in awhile. But then I got to think about the extent of her preparations, the tea and abundance of cookies, her obvious excitement when seeing us, and I was overwhelmed by dark conscience. What if she could read our minds, hear what we were saying? Wouldn't it break her heart? Or would she merely shrug it off, saying: "I know I'm too much of a talker."

But there is more to the issue. We tend to socialize with people our own age and class, and at work relationships evolve around patterns that are relatively settled and predictable. We know how to deal with those folks, our children too, the pets for that matter. It is all organized in a way so that we cope with what we must, and gradually we have come on top of the situation, making most of these encounters pleasant enough. This is different, it is something that brings us out of habitual comfort zones, bringing up sentiments of anger and frustration. And now, what I am thinking is that could be we need that unsettled feeling from time to time, we do not like to be upset, but we need that as well. Because it brings our thought to the point of acceleration, the speeding up of thoughts pushing us into uncharted territory. All the more reassuring the arguments that go with the analysis, all the merrier the tranquility that settles in once one of these visits are behind us.

The boxes are piled up atop her kitchen cabinets, and more are available inside. It is a world that is to me incomprehensible, one filled with objects and memories. I see one, she opens it and passes it around for our inspection: a bow tie, strangely enough, who would want to give this lady a bow tie? Supposedly, an explanation comes with that, and that is what I’m waiting for when she stumbles over her own words, interrupts herself, and rushes out for yet another box. Soon, the coffee table is half-filled with boxes and wrappers, she speaks of each and every one of her objects affectionately, but little does it matter to me now, not anymore, I’ve lost any sense of purpose. All I want is for her to put all those things back in the boxes, then bring these back inside the cupboards where they belong. Oh, I am thinking, how humans know the art of disrupting perfect peace and harmony. It was all about tea and cookies, wasn’t it? And now look around us! How will she ever figure out what belongs inside which box? If she cannot do it right, will this not insult the spirit of those brought these gifts to her, will the givers not rest uneasily ever after?

Torah, my wife, handles the situation much better, of course. She seems oddly capable of understanding what this entire showcase is all about, has no apparent difficulty in picking up on our hostess’ explanations for who gave her what, when, and why. Certainly, she takes it all in a stride, even smiling and nodding, commenting briefly. Those comments are to Rebbecca, our hostess, like fuel on the fire, she brings even more boxes and now starts cross-referencing the explanations for each and every one of them, because somewhere inside her clouded mind she must know that she has already told us all we need to know to make sense of it all. The old clock has reached 4:15.

The problem with lack of fulfillment and unmet expectations is that the mind is longing to go back for more. This is in the car going back, the time is approaching 6 p.m., and we are exhausted, taking deep breaths as we move along. Rebbecca has a very distinct, slightly metallic voice in a rather high pitch, it is now scrubbing inside of my ears, overcoming the faint hum from the engine. Too damn many issues were raised this afternoon, I am complaining to myself, trying not to say anything in an attempt to delay the unavoidable post-visit discussion.

“Why do we come?” my wife protests. “Why do we keep going?”

“You seemed to be enjoying yourself,” I say mildly sarcastic.

“Was I? Must be quite an actress then. You seemed absentminded at times.”

“Now that you mention it, my mind was elsewhere for part of the time,” I say. “It is like the inner dog needs to be unleashed, or else I’d go crazy and do god-knows-what.”

“She appreciated our visit, no doubt,” Torah says. “All she wants is for someone to be around, she has so much to tell and so many things to show.”

“I think you could say that,” I agree. “But don’t you think she could be a little bit more self-conscious? I mean, she comes onto us like a tornado.”

“Of course she should!” my wife says. “But she just can’t control her urges. Or maybe nobody ever talked to her about it before, could be I ought to have a one-on-one with her someday.”

“That would be a waste of time,” I say. “She might tone down once or twice, but soon she’d come back like a tornado that has been adrift at sea, stronger than ever. Or she might blame us for being ungrateful and rude.”

“Grateful for what?” Torah asks.

“Rebbecca is obviously the giving sort, and probably feels that she is giving us all she’s got, sharing with us her entire world – now that we come visit so seldom,” I reply.

“Obviously, she’s not quite relaxed,” my wife says. “It’s like she’s afraid time will run out before she has the chance to share with us everything. Maybe we ought to stay for dinner the next time around.”


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