…of the non-physical and non-actual and non-sensical universe
Rather than go to work, Helen decided to spend the day going nowhere in particular – she had things to do. Things had to happen, fall into place. Oscar was to fall in love with her, and today was the perfect day to fall in love.
There was a preponderance of yellows and reds on the shelves of the supermarket, colours which for the moment didn’t appeal to Helen, didn’t call out. How can colours call out? I’m being silly, thought Helen. I expect too much of this world. All the calling out has to be done by me. I have to beckon. I have to command. What would I command? I would command everyone to fall in love with me.
Helen wasn’t sure why today of all days was the perfect day to fall in love with her. She looked exactly the same as she did yesterday and the day before. Her hair hung down on the right hand side of her face with just the right gentle curve, though a curve which was almost indistinguishable from the curve it formed any other day. Her eyes caught the light yesterday, as they did today, as they would tomorrow and every other day. Of course, her clothes were different; she wasn’t wearing a suit, not being at work. But her clothes were always different. Helen was always wearing something different from one day to the next. She could hardly be expected to wear the same thing each day, for two or three days in a row. At least, she didn’t expect that. Helen had expectations for herself. She certainly did. High expectations. The highest of expectations. And how could she expect less?
Walking down the cereals’ aisle Helen’s expectations were stubbornly unfulfilled. What cereal would have fulfilled her expectations? What indeed? reflected Helen. And such gaudy colours, such reds and yellows, and so much writing, and such garish pictures… how utterly unsatisfactory.
And her expectations for that evening began to form in her head. She would buy a bottle of wine and cook a nice meal. She would break one of the lights in the living room in order to ensure the right atmosphere. Oscar would see her at her best – what would she wear? She would wear something and she would look great and she would appear the perfect woman, red lips gashed across her face, and legs clearly leading somewhere, and breasts – she would have breasts, and a neck, a long neck, and white teeth, and a smile, she would smile, she would smile a lot, but not laugh, just smile, and she would move her head slowly, move slowly, not move about jerkily and appear all hard angles and bones and erratic movements – she would be soft and full and rounded and generous. What else? She would be that too.
But there was a preposterous flow of bread coming out of the bakery, so much bread that it couldn’t all be eaten. Impossible. How could so much bread be eaten? When a drably uniformed worker walked through a swing door it was revealed to Helen that there was even more bread on its way – bread wrapped in white and blue plastic wrapping, bread which looked sinister under the dull light of the storeroom. Sinister bread. Helen chose a warm crusty loaf from the back of the shelf.
From considerations of bread, Helen skipped on to the affirmation that she wouldn’t seduce Oscar. She would let herself be seduced – but only so far. There’s nothing worse than consummation. She wouldn’t let him touch her. Certainly not. He would feel her bones and hard angles and the roughness of her skin and the dampness at the small of her back and the way her hair bristled near her scalp – a feeling which even turned her own stomach at times. She would be everything to Oscar. Though she would be herself. But only up to a point. Helen wouldn’t lay herself bare for him to feast upon – break his teeth upon.
Which recalled Helen to thoughts of dinner. What will we have for dinner? We should have something nice. It should be a nice dinner, first and foremost. It should appear nice. Because appearances are everything. Apart from everything else. How it looks on the plate. Helen tried to imagine what she wanted the plate to look like, but she quickly lost interest in that, and her attention veered off towards the top shelves of the spices from around the world – how many there were. So many spices. And then she was absorbed by the glowing frozen food in the chest freezers – strong white light, from the fluorescent lights running along the rim of the freezers. Strong white light glaring up at her. And the pure white fluorescent light glaring down at her from above. She took out her mirror to see how so much strong white light affected her appearance.
Her face was pale. Her skin had a faint cold glow about it. Not the glow of warmth. Her cheeks were almost white. Her eyes’ darkness was stark. Her lips were stark – the red of her lipstick harsh against her colourless face. Her well shaped eyebrows strong lines. Her hairline sudden. Her hair black. Her eyes black. Her eyebrows black. Around her head a pale glow – a halo. She was all whiteness amongst black lines. She was unnatural. She was beautiful.
“Excuse me miss,” a voice sounded very near her ear. A voice sinister like the bread. “Excuse me.”
The man, pale also, except for his neatly trimmed beard, his round glasses, his bushy eyebrows, a weak head of thinning hair, his stubble grey, his eyes magnified by his glasses, his mouth hanging open for another word – “Can I ask you a question?”
Now Helen knew what this question was, what every man wished to ask of her, if he dared. And this rather unassuming man did dare. How dare he? And just as Helen was about to utter an unadulterated rebuke, she stopped. It wasn’t that he dared, this man. It wasn’t even that she saw in him some saving grace – he was utterly mundane looking. And there was, apart from his voice even, something sinister about him – he looked at her in a sinister way. Helen remembered the bread. Was there some imperceptible dissymmetry in his face? One eye a little bigger than the other? Did his nose twist one way or the other? Was there an irregular pigmentation of his face? Were his eyes of two different colours?
“Yes?” Helen said archly.
“Where could I find the pickled beetroot?”
It was then it dawned on her – what it was that had so enamoured her. It was this picture of the two of them, bathed in the white light from the rows of chest freezers either side of them, and the fluorescent strip lighting glaring down at them from above, each of them pale, almost translucent, phosphorescent – they were glowing.
They stood there looking at each other for almost a minute, neither of them saying anything, until Helen managed to reply to the question which had been asked in a distant past. As they parted, the white light seemed to dim. The chest freezers emitted only cold. The noise from the supermarket returned. Reaching the end of the aisle, walking with an almost imperceptible lunge, not a lunge but a slight discrepancy, the man turned to look once more at Helen Andersen, and she was still stood there looking after him, entranced by the picture she was in.