Bread and Coffee and Cigarettes
Earlier, she kissed you goodbye and gone off to buy bread and coffee and cigarettes. The windows and the blinds are shut and it is dark. You will let the air in later, when it is cooler. For now, the room smells of bodies and old furniture and the shadows move in funny ways. This is an old house with old souls too tired to say goodbye.
Outside, you can hear the girls screaming as they are chasing each other and the poor cat. There is always that one cat in the neighbourhood who belongs to everyone and no one in particular. You think then you are just like that cat and not at all what you had said four years ago.
She had asked you one time what animal would you want to be if you are ever reincarnated.
Why can’t I be a human?
I guess you can. I really meant an animal.
Then, an elephant.
Elephants remember everything, she says. Imagine not being able to forgive and forget.
Maybe it’s not the worst thing of all.
They go crazy for no reason.
People go crazy for even less.
You don’t want to be like that, do you? You don’t want to just go crazy. Her eyes plead, but you know it is too late. She takes your hand in her hand, but it is too late. People who are truly crazy have a reason, like a leg blown off. Else, they have been crazy all their lives. You have a nice, decent life and someone who cares about you. Promise me that, if it ever gets really bad, you will be strong enough to remember the person I met that night in the uni bar.
Horny, foolish and very drunk? You joke because you know it is too late.
Innocent, with great ambitions and terribly hurt.
That night. It had rained during the day and the air was cold and smelled of promises.
That night you notice something glide in the periphery of your vision. You are not that drunk that you do not notice the slow movements of beauty. But you are unaware then that she will be the first thought that morning brings. Knowing this changes everything.
You turn around. Her delicate hands grasp the glass like a soldier hugs his girl. Either a natural alcoholic, you think, as she sips her drink and watches nothing and no one in particular, or someone who will never drink again until her wedding.
You introduce yourself, don’t wait for any sort of reply, slide your glass, sit across from her. I am a wreck, she says. You tell her you like your women like that, vulnerable, breathing so tightly that the chest barely moves. You would know since your eyes are on her breasts and if she minds she doesn’t show it.
When you feel like you know her more than your own hung-over reflexion in the mirror, your hands are claiming her body. Her lips form a small smile, this is what she wanted, you think, perhaps not quite like this in the bathroom of the now empty bar, but she is taken away and that’s a rare good thing indeed. You tell yourself how good it is to have finally connected to another human being.
You pour yourself a glass of water and sit outside in the garden where the cat is still being chased in circles. What is it that happened then, so quickly and without warning?
When you graduated, you did so as an aspiring journalist wanting to cover war, do good work. You: academically great, but full of fucked up ideals and illusions of grandeur. She wanted you to stay home, to get a secure job, to start a family. You went to the world and she stayed in your footsteps.
You soon realised that the world is a horrible place and that you knew nothing about anything about life. Paper work, administration, more paper work, war is a game of strategy people in expensive suits said, meaningless assignments that made no difference, even more paper work, lucky to get five hours of sleep a night, gunfire. So much fucking gunfire, so little to write about, until one day you are lying in a hospital bed with an oxygen mask over your face. Wondering if she became a nurse like she said she would. Wishing you had her number or a way to contact her.
You glance at the clock in the kitchen. You met the girl who would come back any time now with the bread and the coffee and the cigarettes when you were shelving boxes at Coles. It was a time when a great many were feeling sorry for you, but only a few would offer you a job. She asked you what you did and you told her you were a writer. She was quick with the boxes and strong.
I always wanted to write a book, she said, I just never got around to it. She is different to the girls you have known, down to earth. But not passionate, and this is a fault you can do nothing about, nor forget.
Many people say that. How long have you been doing this job?
Three years. I may be getting a promotion soon, assistant manager. Pay would be enough for me to fix the old family home. The place is a ruin. I need fifty grand at least.
That’s a good dream.
Mine is a nightmare. It’s been like that a while. Maybe if you punch me you will wake me up?
Instead, she brings you coffee, cigarettes and bread. After she climaxes, usually never earlier than midnight, before she falls asleep, she tells you she is lucky to have someone who knows so much about life and things in general. You laugh a little inside.
Much later she is asleep and you crawl out of bed and sit down at your old Dell and listen, really listen to the silence. For some, perhaps, there is an expectation. That with it comes the wisdom of the creatures of the night, struggling to live, more so than the little effort it takes to punch at the worn out keys. But you are not foolish like that.
When you realise you can’t put ten good words together, you drag yourself outside. By this time, usually, your brain begins to unwind and the pain comes back stronger than you remember. Cigarette in mouth, you grasp at the thigh. There is almost no flesh below, but that’s where it hurts the most. You try to think about things, people and places, but mostly about her. You can see her at the end of the street. When you get there you show her your leg, you say I have a reason now, but baby I think I’m okay. The craziness is almost entirely gone.