The Exuberance of Loss

Deal with your loss while it’s fresh My Dears, before time and denial have withered it.

There is no meaning in the dried up husk of an ancient loss, mummified and irrelevant.  Loss, at its best, is warm and wet, roiling and thrashing. It is a monster, caught in a net, full of rage and dread.

Do not shy away, though you would rather, though every atom of your being screams ‘No!’

Do not shy away. Have courage My Dears. Courage is a flavouring, a garnish that enhances ones loss, deepening it, extending it, and, with luck, making it last for ever. Courage! Be brave.

Engage with the shadow, the shadow is the proof of light. Embrace it, dance a slow dance and revel in its cold-warmth.

Loss leaves a taste on the tongue, metallic and salty, with the promise of vomit yet to come.

I am not just saying all this you know. I am not just making it up. I know whereof I speak. I have …  experience.

I have waited for the phone call, hour after hour, through the small hours. I have re-lived and then dissected each and every moment of that interminable bank holiday weekend. That last weekend of my life. Before I became dead.

Be sure to set aside time, when all is quiet and there are no distractions. Set aside a regular appointment. So you’ll have something to look forward to. A rendezvous.

I find four in the mourning best, ‘scuse the pun. When ones circadian rhythms have had time to subside. When ones heartbeat is at its slowest, energy levels are lowest and all hope is gone.

Yes, a four a.m. appointment with an old friend. Give it time. Don’t rush. Never be miserly with misery.

I listen first for traffic noise. That is my cue. I listen for the distant sound of compression braking and squeal of heavy tyres on tarmac. And then I recall, as best I can, for everything fades in the end, the stink of vulcanised rubber burned by friction, and the slightly sweet after-scent of overheated tar.

The aroma is the trigger or course, the smell, most evocative of senses. The cousin of memory, midwife of recollection.

Loss has a distinct odour – you would’ve been aware of it. I never knew that before. It has its own sweet fragrance, one can wear it, slather oneself in it, like fine cologne.

The old fashioned ring-ring, ring-ring, ring-ring of the house phone catches me by surprise when, at last, it does come. Despite everything, I am unprepared.

I stare at the phone for several moments, while it rings and rings, and will not stop. Curiously, and I think perhaps for the first time, I encompassed its shape. Its plump elegance, form following function, flowing in its super-heated, injection moulded, mass distributed, meme-like perfection. A triumph of industrial design – the house phone. I am lost, momentarily in its smooth curves, impatient with that irritating, insistent jingle. What does it want? Why won’t it just shut up?

And then, that classic, inevitable sensation that accompanies and presages only the deepest loss, my blood runs cold, ice flows in my veins, and I grab, frantically for the phone.

‘Yes’ I scream, ‘Yes, it’s me. Who’s this? Who’s calling?’

I am straining to hear. At first there is nothing but the almost-silence of the open circuit. The slight hiss of interference, cosmic radiation from a billion light years off in time and space, taunting gently, a long dead radio audience, to our final Act.

‘It’s me’ a tiny, distant voice, thin seeming, stretched and distended, tight as band, nearing breaking point.

There follows, the Conversation. I shall not bother to describe it, anyone who has had it knows it, and anyone who has not, cannot.

Matters requiring no explanation are set out in detail. The particulars of the affair are flayed from the corpse and laid gently upon the ears.

Explanations are proffered and accepted. It’s not as though there is a choice. There is no room for negotiation – that has to be the starting point. The Conversation, is not about compromise. There can be no concession, intercession, conciliation, arbitration, mediation, discussion or diplomacy.

The Conversation is about getting it over with. Any decision has long since been made and acted upon.

The Conversation is about ending it, pure and simple. It is about getting out with integrity and self-respect intact, or whatever can be salvaged.

There are rules of course, but these are essentially instinctual, no one has read the book or done a course. In the end it all comes naturally enough I suppose, with chess-like precision, another game I have played from time to time without ever having really grasped the rules.  It may not be necessary, in either case. For all I know those supposed Grand Masters are pulling off some giant bluff. No one cares anyway, in the end.

One is left with a residue, the detritus of Love. With luck one is left in denial and isolation, to be followed swiftly by anger, or in my case, rage. There is no bargaining, no negotiation stage, we’ve talked about that, but you might get a period of grand rationalisation, which can equally enjoyable.

When at last one is exhausted you may sink into a profound still pool of depression, blood temperature and comforting. I am told one finds acceptance in the end, but bugger that.

Loss ignored is love denied My Dears, and love denied is the greatest sin.  Wouldn’t you agree?

Understanding

I have gone mad.

Or I am going mad. In any case I have lost my mind and am now behaving rashly, incoherently and with apparent indifference to the true state of affairs.

The true state of affairs! What bullshit! What utter pompous bollocks. Those middle aged men in suits who think they know the true state of affairs, those men like me, know nothing.

Why am I throwing away my marriage and most of my personal relationships and friendships? Why, after a quarter of a century or so am I chucking it all away? I have no answer.  There is no answer except the peace on the line after she hangs up, before some automated nanny system starts beeping at me to hang up too.

Am I in love with the woman who now shares my bed? Am I merely infatuated as my wife says? Will it all come crashing down on my head one day? Will I come crawling back?

What is love anyway, exactly? I thought I was in love before but I realise that was mainly for convenience. My life was comfortable. Work was ok, home life was ok, and sex was acceptable if perfunctory.

If I went back home now. If I threw myself on her mercy and begged to be taken back. If I said she was right all along, it was just an infatuation, a middle-life crisis or nervous breakdown, would that actually fix things, would it solve the problem? Is going back a solution at all, to anything?

I have glimpsed blue sky and sunshine. I have been provided with an image of another life, perhaps a better life. Is it a lie, a mirage?

Is she real, my lover? Is she as I see her or is she a perfectly pleasant woman in early middle age who, like me, is just not ready to give up? Is she the Angel she appears to me to be or is that an illusion which will also fade, revealing just another woman fighting the effects of gravity and disappointment.

I met a mad man once. A man whom I now recognise to be myself, or who might as well be me for all the difference it would make.

That man told me he had walked with angels and talked with demons. Who else could say that he asked me?  Why would he give that up for the drab, mundane greys of everyday life?

‘No son’, he said, ‘give me my madness any day, and the transcendental joy and despair that come with it.’

In the end it is better to have suffered every moment of every day of a long and extraordinary life, than to have lived comfortably in mediocrity.

I have won the freedom to experience a little joy in my life, alongside the pain.

There is no going back, ever, for anyone.

Connivance

I am lying on my bed enjoying the early morning sunshine pouring in thin golden bars through chinks and gaps in the curtains.

The bed is still warm. The room smells of warm bodies. The shape where she slept still visible. I can still feel her soft kiss on my lips.

My body stretches and writhes unbidden with the pleasurable memory of pre-dawn lovemaking. Reflexively I reach towards her, towards the place where she lay. I pull my arm back, disappointed.

If I were to examine my feelings, which I will not, I would have to say I do feel triumphant. I have been pursuing her for over a year. As, for that matter, has a friend/close acquaintance, from the pub.

If I were to further examine my feelings, which I am definitely not going to do, I would realise that, for once, maybe for the first time, my feeling of triumph is not attended or interpenetrated by any predatory feeling of victory. I have succeeded, no one has been vanquished. It is a new feeling for me.

I leap out of bed, energised, happy. It is 9:05am. I call her at work. She has a weekend job in a West End Theatre Box Office.

‘Box Office’ she chants. I don’t understand how she can sound so chirpy at this time on a weekend.

‘Hi’ I say, ‘It’s me.’

‘Ooh hello.’ Her voice has a wonderfully gravelly tone to it, ‘I told you never to call me at work.’

‘Why’d you give me your work number then?’

‘That was for emergencies.’

‘Well this is an emergency. I need you to come back to bed immediately.’

‘You’re so bad’ she giggles, ‘Look I’ve got to go. I’ll see you tonight, ok?’

‘I miss you’ I find myself saying.

‘Awe, you’re so sweet… Boss coming’ the phone goes dead.

I make a cup of instant coffee. There is no milk in the fridge, in fact there is barely anything at all in the fridge. The coffee is too hot and too bitter. I wander out onto the tiny balcony and survey the city skyline. I light a cigarette and contemplate the day ahead. I really am feeling very good about things. I imagine phoning the acquaintance from the pub to gloat.

He says, ‘You two seemed very cosy last night.’

‘Yep, got even cosier later.’

‘You didn’t?’

‘I did!’

‘You jammy bastard. How’d you pull that off?’

‘Persistence and charm, my man. Persistence and charm.’

‘Did she stay over at your place?’

‘She most certainly did. Left early to go to work.’

‘How was she?’

‘None of your business mate.’

‘Oh come on, was she a wet fish or was she gagging for it?’

‘That’s for me to know, and for you never to find out.’

‘She’s got great tits!’

‘She has very fine breasts, that, I can confirm.’

I am finding the imagined conversation oddly complicit and enjoyable. No surprise there then.

‘Does she give good head?’

‘That really is none of your fucking business mate.’

He is silent at the other end of the line. After a few moments I say, ‘She is very good to be with though, that much I can say, and very nice to wake up next to.’

Why would I imagine talking to him like this? Why am I entertaining this kind of conversation with him at all? Odd moments from last night keep popping back into memory. Slow dancing to some late night radio music. Spilling red, red wine on the carpet.

My cigarette has gone out. I light another.

I really am looking forward to seeing her this evening. I’ll iron a shirt. Looking round my apartment I come to a swift decision. I will tidy up and do some shopping.

I am not going to mention last night to anyone.

 

Catastrophe

I crash like a mighty wave, smashing myself on the unscaleable precipice of your regard.

I lap against your body, tiny innocent ripples seeking some private way.

I harden, stalactites of ice between your thighs.

I explode in superheated steam.

Yet there is no escape.

I coalesce, I return.

I fall again as gentle rain upon your face as we shower.

I expend myself upon you and in you, holding nothing back.

Is there no end to your capacity?

You are insatiable in all that you do, all that you want, all that you take.

I curse the day, the hour, the moment that I met you.

You are catastrophe!

You are the meaning of ‘world without end’.

You are the alpha and the omega.

I will leave you! Now! Today! This instant!

I will go and you will never see me again.

Avid whore.

And I will not see you.

Will not hold you.

Will not hear your voice.

Will never again caress your soft skin.

Will never again feel the warmth of your body lying next to mine in the pre-dawn when dark is darkest and doubts feed.

I will never feel your sleeping breath on my cheek.

Unquenchable, unappeasable mistress.

Loose my chains, let me be.

Ravenous, wanton lover.

Hold me once more before I go.

Take me in your mouth.

Consume me one last time and I’ll be gone.

If you love me let me go.

Let me stay.

Let me be.

No. 31 Embrace Me

There is an entire universe of hope in a single flash of her smile.

There is a golden sultry light in her eyes,

like late afternoon in the tropics.

I am drawn to her, willy-nilly,

As she sits crossed legged on the old rattan sofa,

Propped up by large squashy cushions.

If I could just hold her in my arms.

If I could feel the warmth of her body next to mine.

Were she to breathe gentle sighs against my cheek.

If I could feel her sensuous curves.

I would be perfected. Entire.

I would inhale her glorious scent,

In that moment of completion.

All my cares would simply fall away.

If for one moment she would accept me.

I would be realized at last and made whole.

 

No.30 Dependence

I know what they say. I know how ‘common opinion’ judges me, judges us.

I ask you though, to consider, to introspect and ask yourself, who knows what is in a man’s heart, or in a woman’s heart for that matter?

Who can say, from a distance, from outside, what deep spirit rules in another man’s relationship.

Who can say what passes between lovers when they are all alone where none may pry into their oh-so-private intimacy?

And even if one could see, who is to judge?

Loud shouting can be heard in the piazza below. I pause my letter writing to watch an argument exploding between a little man on a bicycle and a taxi driver. The driver, a bear of a man two meters tall at least, gets out of his cab and lifts the little man into the air by his lapels. The bicycle falls into the road.

As soon as they can see eye-to-eye the little man punches the taxi driver on the nose. The taxi driver drops the little man and then lifts him again, shaking him. Once again, as soon as he is within reach the little man punches the taxi drive hard on the nose. This goes on and on for several minutes until a tiny woman in a black dress and a white apron (the cyclist’s wife perhaps?) comes tearing out of a shop doorway brandishing a broom and whacks the taxi driver hard on the back of the head.

The taxi driver bellows with rage (the sound is easily discernible from my fourth floor balcony). He turns like a cat with unexpected agility, seeking his attacker. At first he does not see the tiny witch woman who is swinging her broom with considerable force at his knees.

There is a resounding ‘thwack!’ and a bellow of, were it possible, even more maddened rage. Now the Taxi driver does see the woman, and her broom, which is whistling down in the direction of his forehead.

The taxi driver fends off the little woman’s broom, jumps into his taxi and speeds off. The little woman waits while the cyclist regains his bicycle before giving him a pretty good whack with the bristly end of the broom and sweeping, like a miniature battleship, back into the shop.

The lift pings on the landing outside my apartment.

I hear Her key in the door. Quickly I close the letter I am writing. I slip my phone into my pocket and hurry towards the door hoping to open it for Her.

Too late. The door opens and two lovely tanned arms appear, encircling a large brown paper bag stuffed with treasures.

‘Take these! Take these immediately. My arms are breaking!’

I take the package and place it on the table.

‘I thought you would have met me downstairs. You knew I was going shopping. You always leave everything to me. I bet you’ve been staring out of the window or spying on the neighbours again.’

I start to say something but She cuts in.

‘Don’t make excuses! You know I can’t stand it when you make excuses!’

I start to unpack the shopping bag and put things away.

‘Well? Aren’t you going to answer me then? Don’t I even deserve an answer when I’ve been out in the heat of the day to shop for your dinner?’

I start to say something else but She cuts in again.

‘Well the least you could do is put the shopping away!’

I continue to put things away, waiting for the inevitable, heavy sigh that will signify that She has moved to phase two of Her homecoming ritual.

She flops theatrically onto the comfortable old brown leather sofa.

Everything has been put away, I have set the enormous, ancient espresso coffee pot on the gas ring and placed two tiny bone china coffee cups on the counter and begun to steam the milk before, finally, the sigh comes.

‘Why don’t you love me?’ She asks, quietly, in the voice of little girl who has been lost in the Alps for a week.

‘Why don’t I matter to you at all?’

I start to say something but She cuts me off.

‘I should leave’ she says, ‘I should simply pack up my things and go!’

I finish making the coffee and place one tiny cup on the coffee table next to Her, within easy reach.

I sit on the floor, at her feet, and one-by-one gently remove her fine Italian high heels.

I begin to massage her feet and calves. She stretches, languorously, like a cat, and wiggles her toes.

I continue to knead the soles of her feet and her toes. She lets out a low moan, almost a groan, and leans forward to stroke my hair. Her strong fingers ruffle the spiky short cropped hairs at the nape of my neck.

I begin to stand, crouching, and lift Her from the sofa. She leans back in my arms, wanton and vulnerable.

I carry Her to the bed room and fling Her unceremoniously onto the bed. She lies limp, apparently submissive, across the quilt.

She opens Her eyes and regards me with the frank open stare of a child.

‘Are you going to undress me?’ She asks

For a moment I am uncertain if I heard Her correctly. Did She say ‘Are you going to undress me?’ or ‘Aren’t you going to undress me?’

‘Would you like me to undress you?’

‘Well not if you don’t want to.’

The waspish tone has begun to edge its way back into her voice.

I lie down next to Her and kiss Her, very gently, on Her broad generous, lips. She smiles, stretches, wraps Herself around me, and begins to kiss my neck, slowly. I caress Her back and begin to undo the tiny hooks and eyes that run the length of Her dress from the nape of Her neck to the small of Her back.

There are many hooks and eyes, and occasionally I fumble. I am attuned absolutely to Her mood, acutely aware of any impatient shifting or irritation. It’s ok, so far so good.

When the dress is completely undone I run my hand down Her back from her shoulder to the top of her panties. I allow my hand to continue on over her full round buttocks to the tops of her thighs. She is wearing old fashioned stockings. With one index finger I caress the elasticated tops noting the thin line they have made in the otherwise perfectly smooth skin.

I turn to kiss Her again, but She has fallen asleep. Her breath is peaceful and shallow, like a little girl.

I embrace Her very carefully and kiss Her again. She stirs in Her sleep.

‘I love you’ she murmurs, ‘only you, always.’

My heart aches and there is a sudden lump in my throat. With extreme care I disentangle myself and return to the balcony and my letter.

She loves me, I write, She is my Goddess.

No 27. Chimera

I want to tell you of my love.

I want you to see what I see, to feel what I feel and to understand what I understand, when she is near. I want this more than anything in the world, but I cannot.

There are not words enough to describe her. She cannot be encompassed by mere expressions. She cannot be circumscribed, defined or contained in any way. She is beyond classification, she cannot be constrained or limited by a mere label. To attempt to classify her in any way would be a sin.

She cannot be known, that’s the problem really. She can never be understood. She is ceaselessly new. With each passing instant she is renewed, remade and original. There is no predicting her, each evolution from one moment to the next is utterly unforeseen and unexpected.

But perhaps I gush.

We can never be whole, together. We are doomed, from the outset, to misunderstanding and loss. There are times when I fear that she is not real at all, that she is a figment of my febrile imagination. I am afraid then that I have lost my mind completely and that I am in fact secured in a strait jacket, cocooned in a nice snug padded cell, quietly bashing my brains out against the softly upholstered walls.

She is more than a passing fancy though, of that I am certain. She is a universe in and of herself. Perhaps I exist inside her. Perhaps I am the passing fancy, a solipsistic figment of her imagination.

I see other men with their women sometimes. Pale, emaciated shades, their blood tepid, the flow turgid and without vigour. I feel sorry for them of course, but I keep my own counsel.

There is no doubt that she is to some extent a fantasy. My friends tell me so, subtly, obliquely, not wishing to offend. She is a construct, my construct. My imagined perfection realised in a woman. But I cannot see it. I cannot distinguish the fantasy from the reality. I cannot say where reality leaves off and fiction begins. I can see what they mean though, my friends, I can recall past loves from whom a veil suddenly fell, revealing them as ordinary, unremarkable people. I can remember the exact moment when the glamour was cast off and cold, hard truth revealed. But what has this to do with my love? It is a false comparison.

My friends put my feelings down to some kind of eccentricity, some caprice or whimsy on my part. Nothing deliberate, and certainly nothing depraved, but perhaps a little wilful. Perhaps a little lacking in rigour.

They say I manufacture illusion, that it suggests perhaps a neurotic need on my part. A need to have found the perfect woman. To have found perfection somewhere, something or someone. Some have suggested that it is nothing what so ever to do with the woman herself, that her apparent perfection is entirely my projection. Further, some have suggested that I am placing too great a burden upon my woman. That I am placing her on a pedestal and thereby setting her up to fail.

Some of my friends, the kinder ones, suggest that my loves are a kind of daydream. That they progress under their own logic irrespective of the woman involved.

I can, for the sake of argument, accept that in the past the women I have fallen in love with have indeed turned out to have feet of clay. None has lived up to their early promise. But this is certainly not my fault. You can’t blame me for that.

No. 26 MSG

Sacrifice is good. Self-sacrifice is better. Self-punishment is best.

That is my mantra. Those are my beliefs. I don’t care what you think.

Having said that, I suppose I should clarify; it’s not sacrifice in and of itself that is good. It is not sacrifice for its own sake that matters, it is sacrifice for the sake of another. I make my sacrifice for love. I make my sacrifice to love.

I live alone, in an empty apartment. I like to describe it as my ‘cell’. I enjoy being thought of as ascetic in my austerity. My frugality is semiotic. I have a table and a chair, a bed, a malfunctioning cooker and a neurotic fridge. I have a copy of an old Russian Orthodox tryptic on the wall. It’s not very attractive, that might be part of its charm, if it had any.

There is a certain smell to it, you would expect that, a sacrificial smell as of meat left out too long. Not yet charnel, but gamey certainly, toothsome to some.

One cannot sacrifice the unimportant. A trivial sacrifice is no sacrifice at all. I live and die by that. If you’re going to make a sacrifice, make it a self-sacrifice. Sacrifice of self, of something deeply personal, is what counts, and after that, always, inevitably, there comes self-punishment.

That’s where the rubber hits the road. With the kiss of the lash comes submission, and pain of course, and ecstasy. Payback.

I eat sparely. I am parsimonious in my use of ingredients. For a long time I survived on tinned sardines or pilchards and a large sack of Bulgarian cracked wheat. I do not invite people to dinner. I do invite people to meet at my place just as I am finishing dinner, before we go out to some hedonistic hell hole. I have become something of an expert in one-pot cooking. Self-denial and abstinence add zest to my epicurean experiments.

The taste is good, no matter how subtle the castigation or chastisement may be. The flavour rolls around on the tongue, redolent with penance and the penalty to come. It is a flavour enhancer, Monosodium Glutamate for the soul, the promise of a reward.

There is a certain flamboyance to sacrifice, done right. My beloved must know of my sacrifice. Whether the object is to trigger guilt, to witness even for an instant the downward curve of her lip or a sudden widening of the eyes in recognition of the gift, or even if, instead, the intention is to impress the beloved with the sincerity of the offering, either way, my beloved must know, and I must know that she knows.

She knows. I know she knows. I revel in it, her knowing, in the invasion of her mind with the certainty of my pain, the corruption, if you like, of her self with my pain and disgrace.

Sacrifice has a certain look though. You would be aware of that. Whether as an heroic attempt to maintain self-respect, to keep up appearances when all is lost, like a Salaryman long since terminated, or as an oh-so-subtle demonstration of rights waived or advantages foregone. Sacrifice is down-at-heel, definitely. Reproach veiled.

I dress plainly, in a manner evocative of some early protestant sect. I do not overdo it. One does not want to look like a caricature.  Sometimes people think I’m a medic of some kind, perhaps a palliative care nurse. Well she is my ‘charge’ in a sense, and I am her ‘carer’. I presume I must give out signals. Maybe it’s the mark of Cain. Whatever.

Sometimes she bites her lip. The gesture is ambiguous. I am uncertain as to its meaning. How should I interpret it? Sometimes she will stand, pale and fragile, sweet scented, a camellia blossom, browning visibly, threatening to swoon for want of sap.

Perhaps she is impressed. Perhaps she realises the depth of my commitment, the totality of my vow. She should do. It is plain enough to see – if she would just look. If she would just for one moment open her eyes and take a really good look. There it is. Laid out upon a fresh clean damask tablecloth for all to see. There is my love. There is my sacrifice, and there, and there.

Does she look? Does she see? I am in an agony of self-doubt.

Perhaps she is ashamed. That could be it. Perhaps she knows what she is putting me through and is wracked with shame. Or guilt – better still. Perhaps remorse fills her. Perhaps she is mortified by my pain and suffering.

I do not know. I can’t tell which.

Perhaps she is disgusted. She is sickened by the growing realisation of her part in my misery.

Well I hope it is guilt. I hope she is drowning in a lake of repentance and regret. My torment, a throbbing stigmata in her mind.  Occasionally I glimpse the shade that lives forever behind her eyes.

No. I cannot say that. I must not. I cannot be the author of her suffering, although that would not be the worst thing.

Even more hateful than the stigmata is the cicatrice, the sign of healing, the scar tissue forming over a closing wound.  Sacrifice entails injury of course – injury to both. It is not enough that the priest should suffer, the deity must suffer too. That knowledge is evidently secret, no one must ever know.

She must not recover. There can be no recuperation. I do not want to see her ‘on the mend’, ‘recuperating’, ‘getting better’. I want her impaled like some stupid English tourist in Pamplona, gored, naturally, but alive.

She has good days, when she wants to, when it suits her. She has days when one might suspect there is nothing wrong with her at all. On these days she will make some comment or other, some explanation will be forthcoming to explain her unexpected perkiness.

‘People have been so kind’ she says, ‘on days like these I feel I really may be on the mend.’

‘Mend-schmend’ I think to myself, ‘by evening the bitch will have had drifted back into a decline.’

I do not mean that. I am overwrought, that’s all. I would never hurt her. I could never hurt her.  She is everything to me.

My apartment is silent, other than the hourly chiming of a plastic East German cuckoo clock someone once gave me. It may have been a joke. I’m not a good judge. It keeps good time.

There is a grittiness to my reality, like fine sand on concrete under bare feet or the high contrast black and white of some old found-footage from before the war. She is complicit, you knew that. Whether consciously or not, she aids, even if she does not directly abet. She has seeped into the fine grain of my life. Every sensation burns when I am with her, corroding the nerve endings, there is fire in the softness of her breath on my cheek – when she sleeps.

She is my cilice, and I hers – though she is unaware of that.

No. 25 Consecration – An Ode to Truth

For a gift to be properly accepted it must first be properly given.

The Japanese understand this instinctively. Even the most minor offering must be beautifully wrapped and presented. There is a formal perfection that accompanies, and even supersedes, the mere content of the gift itself.

This is how it must be with a gift of love. The form, the moment, the ritual of the presentation itself must be planned, thought through and designed in detail to achieve the maximum effect, the deepest truth.

It should not be fake or, false in any way. The rite of giving must be real, the ceremony must be genuine. Ultimately what one is seeking is a natural sacrament. I know all this theoretically.

One must avoid some predictable, customary, habitual or routine formal procedure devoid of meaning.

There is natural flow to the dedication of a gift wherein the outer expresses the inner. There is a harmony of form and content, essence and appearance, where language and movement merge into one single stream of being and consciousness and love is expressed completely.

It is like a Hindu dance, performed to perfection where all the movements are known and understood, steeped in tradition and a common symbolic language, yet the specific performance is always fresh and new and exquisite.

These things I know full well, but they are beyond me. I cannot pull it off. Or rather, to be strictly accurate, I very much doubt I can pull it off. I am not the creative sort. I am analytical, and reductionist and logical, lacking in flair.

She is the opposite of course. She is wild and Celtic and auburn haired. She is the embodiment of the music of Pan, played to the syncopation of a cloven hoof, in a hidden dell, deep in the Wicklow Hills, one star-bright summer’s night.

I am not for her. I know that now. I am not of her ilk. She is out of my league. I do not understand why or how we became lovers. I have no idea what she sees in me. These things, you will appreciate, are an impediment to a really good gift-giving. I am shipwrecked upon the shores of emotion. There is no logical way out.

And yet, I may have found a way for all that. A reasonable, common-sense, rational solution to an irrational problem. If, as the man said, the heart has reasons reason knows not of, then surely reason must be afforded the same privilege – whatever that may be.

The truth is the key, finding a truth that unlocks both doors, to the heart and to the rational mind – that is the solution. And in truth, I know the truth already, all too well.

She is an idealist of course, full of causes, opposing everything and anything that deviates one scintilla from the one true path. I am a realist I suppose, I see many paths. I am not a joiner by nature, I am an observer, not a man of action, a yogi rather than a commissar.

Yet even the most died-in-the-wool theoretician, can, at need, take up the sword. Even if I am not worthy of her, who is to say that I cannot become so. Even if not by my own lights, then at least by hers? Who is to say that I cannot become a better person for her? At least by her criteria, if not by my own.

I will take up a cause, something muscular, something that invites an inference of machismo, even if it does not necessarily impart it in fact. I will invest in khaki clothing and stout boots. I will buy one of those large-faced watches with lots of dials, waterproof to fifty fathoms, or whatever the apposite measure might be. I will strike poses.

Or maybe not. Perhaps I shall take up the pen in preference to the sword and write swingeing polemics. I shall vanquish her opponents with crushing argument. I will deny them even the very possibility of rebuttal. I shall overcome with cogent argument and fact-based analyses. I shall marshal the proof, the facts shall be my friends and I shall master the science. There’s always some science or other to master nowadays.

Environmental issues are always great when it comes to the science. There are always alternative interpretations of facts, the failure of computer models to predict, or indeed in any way to match objective observations taken in the field, and the wonderfully besmirching effect of funding on professional integrity.

On the down side, environmental issues can be a bit lacking in the human element. They are by nature somewhat objective, left wanting when it comes to true human interest and the inevitable, insoluble human condition.  They are more about crisis than cruelty, cockup rather than conspiracy.

Perhaps something more visceral, accompanied by sound bites and TV news packages. The masses, starving or in flight, famine and war are good, refugees, tent cities and the harried looking representatives of non-governmental relief agencies.

Whatever, I’ll think of something. She’s bound to jump on some new cause soon.

I will write a letter to the editor, or a blistering article, something that will get quoted a lot, responded to angrily by politicians, or positively by those self-same harried NGO workers, and syndicated across the news rooms of the world.

I’ll need to find a new angle of course. Something original and creative. Some line of reasoning that will appeal to her simple take on things. Nothing too convoluted, and certainly nothing too dependent upon a single, or potentially easily refuted argument. Something that hinges on human frailty, pride and the denial of truth.

I will dedicate the work to her inspiration and vision. I shall position her as my muse. Never underestimate the aphrodisiac power of a well-constructed compliment.  Our love making will be consecrated by the justice of our cause, blessed by the virtue of our actions and hallowed and made holy by the goodness and love that will inevitably flow from it.

This will be my dedication and devotion to love.

The down-trodden shall be lifted up and the meek shall inherit the earth. Yup.

No. 24 Perfect Curve

My fingers yet remember, now that I have long forgot.

My fingers trace still the lines of her lovely face. My hand yet cups her overflowing breast. Even now, down all the folded years, my skin recalls the softness of her thigh and my dry tongue, all but lifeless now, still tastes her sweetness.

My eyes have grown dim. My eyes no longer bring to me her smile when I am sad. My eyes no longer replay those crazy, happy moments, before things changed.

I cannot say, now, when hope is lost, why I did not tell her how I felt. Immediately, then, there, at that exact moment when we were, however briefly, complete.

I do not recall, what miscalculation, or flash of silly pride, or simple act of stupidity, sealed my lips. I cannot piece together the minutiae of that awful moment, that chasm, into which I allowed my silence to fall.

I am old now, and full of regret, the very regret we said we would never feel. That same regret we told each other we would not permit. I wallow in it now.

I know I should have told her I would return. It’s obvious, you do not need to spell it out for me. I know I should have said to her all the things that lovers say. I should have sworn to her that I would return, no matter the distance, no matter what trials and tribulations befell me, I would return for her. To be with her. To be complete again, with her, for a little while.

My ears, occasionally, when least expected, will hear her laugh in the laugh of some other girl, and bring it all tumbling back into mind, into the cruel light of day.

But memory, that overlay of hopes and dreams, associations and betrayals, memory itself, fails.

I cannot tell you why I left, in the pre-dawn, when all was at its darkest. Before daybreak could bring new hope. I cannot say why I left no note. I can only rage, and when rage fails, as rage inevitably does, I can only sigh.

Sometimes, in the spring, when the snow melts even up here, high in the mountains on the very top of the world, I sometimes catch the tiniest scent, or hint of scent, of her perfume.

Then I see her once again, touching the merest dab onto each wrist and behind each ear. Throwing back her hair, casting one last fleeting look into the mirror before taking my arm and sweeping out of our tiny apartment into the rich, black tropical night.

Then I see her dance, and laugh. I see the love in her eyes and the promise of her lips, and I remember! I remember, fleetingly but full, and visceral and raw. I remember my love, and loss, and shame, and guilt.

And through it all, for a moment, in my mind’s eye, I trace once again, her perfect curve.