You’re on a bus; there is a couple in the seat in front punctuating rudimentary comments on the bland landscape with loud wet kisses. He breaks away from her leviathan teeth to remark on the posterior of a middle aged runner, not kindly, and you entertain yourself with those pixelated childhood memories of a youth spent at that post office, that pub, that house with a name. You remember how nice it was to move to a place where numbering a house would do, each place as innocuous as the next as if nothing saccharine or warm could take place there but everyone was okay with that. The woman across from you speaks on her phone as though in a hallway, fingers coiled around the wire shifting her weight from foot to foot as she delights in the speakers personal viewpoint on the whole situation. Everyone on the bus hates her but you… your jealous of her obliviousness to the man in the suit next to her loudly clearing his throat. This naïve selfishness is a wonderful gift, a personality defect you could do with but you are selfish with conviction, with the full knowledge of your spite. You sit three rows from the back next to a girl who could be beautiful and from out of your peripheral vision her lips appear comfortingly linear instead of thin and cruel and her wrists are tiny. You try not to brush your legs up against hers, the bus is filled to the brim, but you can’t help but notice the inward spread of her thighs in a A line skirt. You could tell her you work in fashion, congratulate her on the way she has put her outfit together, you could, but she is making a point to keep her body as rigid as possible. She is making a point not to notice you, and you are making a point to communicate “hey, im not one of those guys”. There is a man in aisle that reminds you of your cousin if he were ten years older and you want to take his photo to show him what he might become, sleep deprived with paranoid fantasies about snipers that stop him sitting by the window. You hate this journey, you hate coming home and as you press the button for your stop you’re sure you hear the girl sigh in relief.
Like many before him he made the mistake of thinking the book would change him permanently, call it a “romance enabler,” call it a “reflective arouser,” what it represented was a brief life line to a way of being that many aren’t built for but it’s effect is not permanent, a temporary osmosis…
He bought it before his first date with the girl who became his wife, and he thought it would teach him passion, lust and the art of intimacy but some people lie on condolers reciting poetry and some are always on time. He picked up a fair few hardback editions of dramatic proclamations before he settled on that particular one, poetry and philosophy and romance and memoir piled high in his arms as he approached an employee and asked which one was the most…
(at this point he couldn’t bring himself to speak, he simply hand clutched his hand to his chest and looked into the middle distance. )
She pointed at the grey cover with the slightly embossed font, something he could find in the dark.
“My fiancé bought me that a few weeks before he proposed,” and she waggled her finger for effect. Sold.
He sat in the bar they had arranged to meet at an hour early, his homework aided by red wine and his own sense of logic and workmanship. He convinced himself that he could learn from the great and the dead, the tragic writer whose love of a woman and alcohol killed them both, an autobiography of soliloquies, odes and aggressive sexual language to her ears, her perfect knees, thumbs, lips and tongue. He began to read, rapidly moving his eyes to take in all the adjectives put upon the loved ones brow, he was studying for his PHD and was considered by many to be a perfect academic but he had never felt love, he had felt little beyond mechanics and hormones. No heartache, heartfelt, heartbeat. Just perfectly rhythmic sex and a glazed look in his eyes. She had approached him, seen him in the library where he had been studying for his finals and she studying for her adult learning course in Spanish. She had sat next to him, calculated and confident and asked him if her assumptions were correct.
Was he a mathematician? No.
Did he cycle? Yes, but not well.
He liked the way she liked his unaware self and her face was shaped like an apple, her hair needed combing and her smile seemed ready. This might work. This might work. This could be a functioning relationship. Like many always on time types he had never found catharsis in films, comfort in songs and flings from the past had accused him of complacency. He regarded himself as intimacy challenged and apathetic, but some thought he was just a commitment phobe, he was not, he was just a line going from A to B. There was no gut wrenching push, the primeval thrust to love, possess, obsess over, yearn for this and everything else the eloquent dead writer described.
The daydreaming types tell him You must turn yourself into a romantic or die adequately, just an okay life with little trouble with matters of the heart. He knew his heart, low blood pressure, steady average heartbeat, tangible, objective.
The woman was this type, brave and confident and expectant of a leap of faith and this writer told him he wanted to walk with her spring in his step, and her head on his chest as he placed fingers in her unruly hair, counted her eye lashes, murmured her name as they both came in glorious unison.
In that congested wine bar he became to buy these words, began to have a epiphany of sorts, he felt a swell, a jitter, a burst of song and he wanted it, by god he wanted that, the terror and the hurt but the reward of eyes meeting, and the ache, the ache, the fourth glass of house merlot. She came in and her apple face was a vision, her smile a sunbeam, her hair pure pre-Raphaelite bliss and it was a click, he had a cure going from A to a Marriage.
He read the book every time they met, underlined the parts he liked the most, a quick pick me up before a coffee, a film, a walk in the park, a chapter before meeting her parents, a paragraph before their anniversary, he memorised it, repeated it, folded down corners of pleasure and tragic conclusions, dog torn, underlined again, another copy. Then they were in the midst of a whirlwind, his romantic gestures were flawless, he was a model student, more books, more passion, more willingness to devote himself to her flat round face and teasing smile and unkempt hair and then a proposal, the swift heading up the aisle and a life together.
He woke up with her, slept with her, courted her, married her and then… and then…
He made the common mistake his type often make, throwing away the guidebook before it is done with, he didn’t need the book he thought, but then, what was left without the book? That well-traced title a millimetre from the cover, the two faces pressed together on the cover, what would be left. He felt fine, he felt fine. He was a curve now with proud parents who loved his devoted wife, who made friends green with envy as she retold and retold the tales of his endeavours, his odes. He was a romantic.
He felt nothing. He began to hollow out again, her face was a squashed apple, her hair was everywhere, her confidence an illusion and her tears were becoming steadier, he had made her comfortable but he was not. This book was in an Oxfam shop, and his heart was an organism that pumped blood at a steady pace, it was no longer an extension of his unyielding love. He was alone, he didn’t remember anything and he missed the predictability of being a line. He did not want picnics at midnight on the roof anymore, and he missed his Sundays.
So there was this book, and she wanted a child, but this book had no answer to that. He re read it with desperation, thumbing through the parts he chanted like a mantra, trying to drink that wine again and pretend it was the first time he had ever seen those words placed next to each other. The initial successful experiment now failed and there was nothing left, or anything to begin with really, and although he sat and read and read he felt as if he were reading a language he could not speak and the sex became perfectly rhythmic and his touch was lighter and she complained about the cold.
It’s just work he said, just tired, just allergies, just your hair gets into everything, just your eyes don’t match, just my pulse not racing, just my heart wont stop and my head is tired and your tears taste of salt. It’s just this book, I hate that book, I am a line and I have gone off course. Forgive me.