Short Story: Hers and His
Reality is overated thought Jane as she dipped her brush into the dishwater. Tim was telling her about his trip to Bunnings and the screws that the girl at the checkout had tried to overcharge him for.
"It might be on special but it doesn't always register at the checkout...that's if you can find anyone at the checkout..."
"Mmm, I know" she said dully, but her mind was already wandering to the study and the computer desk and the wondrous machine that her been her entry into a new dimension.
"What's for lunch? Jane?"
Bliss is only a click away. She would have liked to go there now, to that place where longing had found expression-----a bodiless world where her her ideal lay, the young man who had revived in her what she thought had died. She had keenly felt the painful absurdity of it; she forty, he twenty-five, he in San Francisco, she in Melbourne and married. So very married.
"What kind of fish...?"
It would be evening before she could get away and close the door on the normality that was constantly crushing her. Tim would be down in his workshop, pottering---he was always pottering. So was she, only her pottering was of the abstract kind; imaginative, deeply sexual and to her, utterly compelling. If she closed her eyes she could feel him upon her now and replay his last email, translating text into voice--- The perfect place, an old hotel room where sounds enter the walls, a room with blue sheets and a chandelier...Jane..read Artaud into my ear as you touch me all over…
"I said WHAT KIND OF FISH? What's the matter with you...you dreaming?"
Yes, I am. Oh I am. She felt irritated, yanked from her fantasy.
"I don't know...FISH. The kind that comes frozen in the blue cardboard box."
"Oh, how perfectly bloody delightful."
A pang of guilt; she couldn't be bothered cooking anymore. Who wanted to cook when you could close your eyes and make love to a beautiful young man on an island in a sea of blue?
Tim would never know who Artaud was, she reflected, back at the sink after dinner. Although she hadn't heard of Artaud herself until she inquired, at least she could appreciate the idea of Artaud, even before she knew who he was. 'Antoine Marie Joseph Artaud, French playwright, poet, actor and director' - it had given her a tingling sensation to read that in Wikipedia. As a girl she had loved Baudelaire, or perhaps just the idea of Baudelaire. Whichever it was, he understood what Tim could not. He had sent her poems by writers she had never heard of but couldn't forget once she had read them. Pulling the plug she sighed as she watched the dishwater twirl down the sink.
Later, at her chair in her secret realm in the dark, the flickering blue of the monitor illuminated of her face. Her expression was fixated and her pupils were huge and dilated. She was as alert and alive as an animal in the wild...and immersed At such times no other reality existed except the one she could reach through her keyboard.
I myself have been caught in moments of dread thinking about you,
in the shadows with your skirt up, on a Parisian street, your lips....
Who would have believed she could be so moved and so immersed in love just through the power of words? Once Tim intruded, poking his head around the door to ask what she was doing and she had to hastily position her body to cover the screen. Narkily she told him to mind his own business and he disappeared back to the bowels of the workshop, enabling a return to fantasy.
I’m a foolish whim, a mere wind that explores
you Jane...I can not be anything to you,
your bourgeois conviction knows that
..as I have already sensed.
Later, in bed she lay awake in a kind of anticipatory dread, wondering if Tim would reach across and run his rough carpenters hands across her breasts and when he did it took all her self-control not to cringe violently. She wanted to shout get off me! I can’t bear it! but instead edged silently away, curling up into a tight, tense ball, aware of the pain she was inflicting but powerless to dispel it.
Jane reclined on her bed and opened the letter. The letter long anticipated and received with such heightened pleasure in the morning post. Her lover had promised her a letter and a photograph through the mail, something real between them and now it had finally arrived. She hadn't opened it right away, wanting to savour for longer the promise of what it held. In the privacy of her bathroom she had wrapped it around the curve of her breast and secured it beneath her bra. Throughout the day sensuously enjoyed the hint of crispness and the slight, crackling whisper of moving paper, too soft to be heard by any but her. Hanging out the washing, wheeling the trolley through the supermarket, drinking tea with her mother, she had felt the exquisite thrill of a dangerous secret. Occasionally people would remark on her unconscious smile, as cryptic and sensual as Venus.
Now in the evening, the moment of climax had arrived and she pulled the paper triangle from its gluey strip. Even as the letter slid from its sheath she felt an urgent throbbing between her thighs and the rising thud of an almost unbearably rapid beating heart. She held up the photograph and peered at it; an indistinct portrait of a young man in a black overcoat, dark and moody and so like what she had imagined that she wondered if it could really be true:
I want to dismantle your bourgeois intuition Jane. I want to make
hard love to you because you are fearful of it, because you think
age separates us...I want to have your naked obsessed body against
me, urgent for more desire, for more chaos...
Downstairs she could hear Tim rattling around in his workshop----an occasional hammering, the harsh wail of the cordless drill and it's abrupt stop. Solid, practical Tim, building a sideboard for the sun room extension.
Reliable Tim, handy in every way except the one she most desired. A spasm of pain and she returned to the letter.
Why not in reality? Do you want to shield this
behind iron doors Jane? What can passion do to you...?
We can wear masks when we meet if that is what
you want Jane,. You can wear an elegant ballroom
gown and a feline mask and I will slip the dress
off you and kiss your body all over...do you want
to be anonymous to me....?
I want to see your naked body Jane. I want to hover
over you as I lay you upon the top of the mattress.
I want to touch your shoulders and cling to your
breasts and to make love sing in the darkness that is ecstasy.....
Lying back on the bed intoxicated, she held the letter up to her face. It was real, an object she could see, smell touch and hear as it moved between her fingers and it had been touched, perhaps fondled by him as he had put pen to paper-a small exchange of reality between them.
It was, as it happens, the only tangible thing that had passed between them. He was as unreal and ethereal to her as she to him; a numinous idea floating about in her imagination and the thought of his flesh and blood both thrilled and terrified her. They couldn't meet because the ugly realities of the real world would intrude upon their ideal and shatter it. Besides, she didn't want to lose Tim, her best friend and her security...she couldn't really see herself running off to San Francisco to be with a twenty-five year old student she knew nothing about. Better the agony of unfulfilled longing and the ecstasy of imagined meetings than reality. Ultimately the affair between them was as fragile and illusionary as an image in a passing cloud and she understood this perfectly as she refolded the letter and held it to her heart with closed eyes. She could have course, have escaped into romantic literature but the contrived, trite romances held little appeal for her -this way she could be part of the action, co-write the dialogue and be the romantic heroine of her own novel.
The drill and hammering had ceased and the familiar and homely rattle of coffee cups from the kitchen gradually displaced her reverie. Securing the letter beneath the green velvet tray of her jewellery box, she checked herself in the mirror and went downstairs to watch television with Tim.
Tim went to pay for his screws but there was no-one at the check-out. A small queue had begun to form and the lack of service caused a sudden dip in mood, giving him time to think about his situation.
“Hopeless isn't it?”
Startled by the voice as well as the sentiment he spun around and was confronted by an almost mirror-image; a sun-damaged fortyish man in weekend wear, exuding forced cheer and stocking up for some household project. Momentarily united in the spirit of disgruntle, they exchanged gripes for a few minutes. By the time he turned around there was a girl moving toward the service desk, clearly in no great hurry. He was about to give her a serve when he saw that she was only an adolescent and so fresh and pretty he was taken aback; she looked positively edible. Would she become another one of his fantasies- those untouchable girls he drifted off to sleep with every night after his wife rejected him? Checkout girls, schoolgirls -wherever he went it seemed there were luscious delicacies beyond his reach.
“Sorry about that” she said with a generic smile.
“Oh no problem sweetheart” he replied meekly, aware of his own lameness as well as a certain disloyalty to the look-alike behind. What he really wanted to say when he handed her the screws was I wouldn't mind giving you one of these! But how could he? Mr. Burb....it would be absurd and base. He didn't even complain when she overcharged him for the screws but merely shoved them in his pocket and walked to the car with his hand tensing on the hard little bag, wondering what it might be like to sleep with a young woman.
At home Jane was standing at her fixed position at the sink, vacantly staring out to space. Of late she had become so vague and unreachable he had wondered briefly if she might be suffering from an early form of alzheimers but he knew he was grasping at the perimeters there and that the real reason was that she couldn't stand him anymore. He wanted to shake her violently and say, I saw a teenage girl at Bunnings I wanted to fuck! Should I find another woman Jane? but found himself complaining about the service instead. To push things from his mind he asked about lunch but could garner no enthusiasm for the frozen fish that was on offer. After a dull meal where few mouthfuls were consumed and even fewer words exchanged, he took his bag of screws and went out to the workshop.
Sitting by the bench on his self-constructed ergonomic chair, Tim contemplated the new depression that was seeping into his existence. The bulwark of his life, his marriage, was collapsing and both he and Jane went on day after day as though nothing was happening. Less husband and wife than polite room mates Jane spent all her time on the internet, escaping his company, while he, in turn, escaped to the workshop to distract himself from a creeping despair. He loved Jane or he thought he did...she was his raison d'etre, yet her rejection of him was deepening and now he was having fantasies about young girls....girls he could never possess! Lowering his head to the floor he felt an involuntary gasp and wept into his hands.
The crying provided some relief but exacerbated his sense of helplessness. He despised his inertia. Looking around the workshop, cluttered with masculine debris, he tried to focus on a task. A battered number plate from his old fiat, saved from the wreckers and sentimentally kept, had partially fallen from the wall and now dangled provocatively in his line of vision, mocking him or so it seemed -GIT 056. All enthusiasm for the carpentry project that had inspired his morning trip to the hardware store had evaporated but he forced himself to get to work, wondering how it was that he could extract such little joy now from the things he loved.
Tim worked through into the night, stopping only for a meal and a cool exchange of conversation with Jane. Once, in the late evening he had thrust his head into the study to see what she was up to but she had snapped viciously at him. Bitch! The exchange had angered him more than she could have realised and though he said nothing, at that moment he forged the resolution to free himself from the relationship. While he knew it would be difficult...agony even and financially catastrophic...it had to be done. He was only forty and could start again; find someone who could love him and appreciate all he had to offer. Perhaps even someone younger, better than Jane, who was not, after all, as physically appealing as she once was. Fine, harsh lines had began to appear around her eyes and mouth and layers of ugly, extraneous fat were gathering around her once slender waist. Running through an internal filo-fax of the available women he knew, he could picture no suitable candidates -he would have to go out and look and the thought filled him with a strange excitement. For the first time in a long while he felt positive.
Later when they were in bed, he reached across to embrace Jane, knowing he would be rejected but wanting to hold her and their long past together for just a moment. When the inevitable recoil appeared, he thought to himself, I'm doing the right thing.
Tim felt some of his old cheerfulness returning the next morning but it was tempered by a pressing anxiety at the back of his mind. Jane would be gone for the day, shopping and visiting her mother but he would tell her in the evening, after dinner. Sunday night was one of the few occasions they ritualistically spent together, watching television and the perfect opportunity to release his cluster bomb. The shards would fly out everywhere but he was prepared. In the meantime he decided to finish the sideboard for the sun room. Jane would want the house, he knew that, so they would either have to sell or he'd try and borrow money from his parents to buy her out. There was a long road ahead of guilt, pain, recrimination, haggling over possessions and god knows what else but what sustained him was a new, fantastic vision of domestic happiness with an attractive young wife and perhaps even a baby. Why not? he thought. The fantasy drifted to a small terrace house with azaleas lining the path to the door. He saw himself happily clipping a hedge while a slim woman pushing a stroller walked down the street toward him, her eyes lighting up with adoration as she approached his gaze.
Perhaps he would even enjoy himself a bit first, play the field for a while, catch up with old male friends, especially the divorced ones; a shift in gear and the fantasy turned to a moody night club where he sat on a leather couch sipping a chardonnay while on either side two bookend beauties draped themselves across his shoulders, mesmerised by his inaudible conversation. In the meantime however, there were looming hurdles to jump so he set about finishing the sideboard, unconsciously whistling as he worked.
With his fresh enthusiasm for the future, Tim worked alike a beaver that day and into the night, drilling, hammering and screwing. At 8.20 the sideboard was finished and it was a beautiful job; the rich, expensive timber had been worth the expense and for a moment he felt a pang of regret for the loss of the house he had put so much of himself into. He looked at his watch -the moment of confrontation had arrived. For a few seconds he stood frozen to the floor, as though not sure how to proceed. The sudden cessation of his work had created a vacuum in his thoughts, allowing anxieties to jangle his nerves but he forced himself forward. In the kitchen he pottered around clumsily, rattling cups and saucers as he made coffee for himself and Jane. He hoped it would steady his nerves but he could feel his heart thumping against his chest, competing with the sound of her footsteps coming down the hall from the bedroom..thump, step, thump, step. In a moment she would be in the living-room settling herself to watch television. When the coffee was done he carried it on a tray, along with a plate of ginger-nut biscuits, into the living-room to join Jane.