…a kind of a gap or hole or crack or split or opening
She had an elegant sort of strange, a little long, humorous, almost good-humoured, not quite jolly, but with a hint of mischief, with a trace of anxiety, over-wrought, under-impressed, faintly beautiful, weirdly strange, never quite there, nearly always present, with a pinch of something indefinable, quite likeable, moderately symmetrical, somewhat familiar, relatively strange kind of face. It was definitely the face of a woman he could fall in love with, Oscar told himself. He reminded himself of this several times during their second meeting. This was love. It could be. It might be. It must be. What else could it be?
Her name is not important because it was a relationship doomed from the start and never likely to last longer than a month or two, depending on how often they met. And Oscar wasn’t unaware of the fact that this relationship was going nowhere. Indeed, he knew it had no substance. He knew it was founded on nothing. He didn’t even find her attractive. But in his attempt to engage with the world at an un-before-known level of intensity and without the irony which defined his relationship with the world up to that point, Oscar was willing to label this feeling “love”, even “his only chance of love”, “the real thing”, “something indefinable”, or “something special” or at least “the distinct possibility of love”. However he labelled this feeling, it amounted to a very faint tingle of interest on his part and a hypothesised corresponding, though flickering and unsteady, interest on hers.
“Yes,” she said. “Yes. I find you intriguing.”
Oscar took her at her word, and feeling “intriguing”, he acted the part. And for a few days, maybe even a week, Oscar enjoyed being “intriguing”, as well as variously “funny”, “strange”, “odd” and “handsome”.
It was in fact the “handsome” Oscar who met her for a drink after work. Oscar worked too – “I’m a writer.”
That also was “intriguing”.
Looking into her eyes Oscar lost himself, he melted, lost his shape, but he was quickly reformed. He was what she saw, a “handsome”, “intriguing”, “funny” man. And Oscar enjoyed being such a man. Really enjoyed it. It was great. He went to get some drinks.
Standing at the bar waiting to be served, Oscar looked at the scene he just left. From this distance, everything looked well. He could easily place himself in the seat facing her, across two empty bags of crisps, an empty pint glass and a half empty glass of red wine. He belonged there, as much as everyone else in the bar belonged in the seats they were sitting in, the conversations they were involved in, the laughter, the shouts, the whispering, the smiles, the offered cigarettes, the brief lulls between interesting stories and humorous anecdotes.
Of course, there were dark shades in this picture – the shadows behind discarded coats, behind people’s bulk, the darkness under tables and chairs, the night against the window panes, the shadows inside jackets, under skirts, the carpet disappearing under the condiments table, the shadows of men’s arms and women’s hands. But Oscar’s vision could bounce between the sparks and gusts of light, the warm brightness of flesh, the flicker of wide open laughs, the glint of glasses rising and falling. And there was the noise, the sound of everyone, the laughter, the talking, shouting, calling out, scraping of chairs – the atmosphere.
“There’s a great atmosphere in this place,” was Oscar’s opening gambit upon returning to the table. And it was enough to set them to talking again, and as long as he was talking, taking care just to talk, and not tell her anything, Oscar couldn’t go wrong.
He didn’t know if he was lying or telling the truth – he wasn’t thinking about it. When he was thinking about it, when she went to the bar to get another packet of crisps, he told himself that he wasn’t saying the kinds of things which could be either true or false. And then she was back and they were talking again. It was as though he could just talk. Never before could he just talk. Never before could he just open his mouth and out would pour words, words and words and words. Words he never heard before, never said before. Exotic combinations of ordinary words. Words about everything. There were words about the weather, the traffic, the city. Words about people. Himself. People he knew. Things he did. Where he went. Where he wanted to go. What he wanted to do. Where he would be in ten years time. The funniest thing he did when he was a kid. What someone he knew said. About a friend of his. This friend of mine. Breakfast cereal. Last week. A very good restaurant. Yesterday. A film he saw. Tables and chairs. What it says in the papers. Now. Right now. Yes.
And soon she was talking about him: the way he opens doors, the way he scratches his head, the way he does everything, the way he speaks, how he signs his signature, the freckles on his ear, the colour of his eyes, his teeth, his accent, where he went to school, the back of his head, what he thinks about that, what he has to say, the way he opened doors for her.
“Yes,” Oscar replied several times. But he was now caught by the gap in her teeth, the briefest of gaps, a gap once or twice obscured when she slowly passed her tongue over her front teeth, but a gap nonetheless, a gap which, when stared at long enough would overwhelm him, would swallow him up.
She stopped speaking and looked into his eyes. Oscar could do little else but look into her eyes, lurking beneath her heavily applied eye shadow and mascara, a pupil swimming in a watery pool of white and blue, a perfect circle, a perfectly round black disc, an aperture, a hole, the darkness inside of her. Oscar couldn’t look away. He was lost in her left pupil.
Only when she blinked several times in quick succession did Oscar succeed in finding himself again. Here he was. He was right here. He could see her again. See himself. He nodded. He agreed with whatever it was she said. But now he was having trouble with his ability to open his mouth and drop words out onto the table. Nothing came out. He could only say yes and no.
This is love he told himself.
She said they should go after this one. She said something else as well. Then she started talking about something else. Fearful of loosing himself in her left pupil or her right pupil or the gap between her two front teeth, Oscar confined himself to looking at the reflections of the lights on the glossy surface of the table, and at her cleavage, which was not quite hidden by her shirt collar. He could loose himself in the sight of this woman’s, any woman’s, cleavage. This was safe. This was comfortable. This was what he wanted from a woman. The fullness of her breasts on either side, and in between the faintest of shadows, the lightness of which gave way to a sharper darkness further down, a deeper darkness, an absence, a break, a fracture, a crevasse, a deeply black line opening out, spreading, crack, hole, tear…
“I have to go to the toilet,” Oscar stated, as though he was declaring a fundamental truth about himself, about the world.