They said to me: "Meeting girls requires effort. If you just sit at home and don't try to mingle, they won't come to you, you know! You got to get out more."
So, I got out more and made an effort.
I work as a consultant to small enterprises and desperate entrepreneurs, a lonely kind of living, not the type of job teeming with feminine prospects. I wake up every morning, advise my clients, return in the afternoon to a flickering microwave oven. Some television and a tachycardiac awakening in alien surroundings, my tenebrous living room and the chill. Then, soiled underwear, I sink into my unkempt bed and doze off, drooling thick saliva diagrams over sheets and crumpled pillow, like the two-dimensional rendition of a layered archeological excavation. Come morning, I sniff my art and recoil, only to be captivated again by its monotonous aesthetics.
Again the morning race abreast the crowded bus. I contort myself to glance through the driver's expansive windshield: Am I there yet? Did I arrive? I have customers everywhere, an ostensibly desirable state of affairs. I climb stairs and wonder: Maybe this time? They are bound to have a secretary, aren't they? Perhaps even a woman business partner, or an accountant!
They said to me: "There are all kinds of classes, why don't you register, it would be worth your while, these are the best places to pick up girls." But I do not. I just sit at home, anticipating. It is inconceivable that this deafening silence goes unheard, that my distress is not discernible, trapped though it may be between these walls.
And, still, this solitude.
Noon time, I boil some tea and lubricate a frying-pan with margarine, carefully held amidst its greasy wrappings. I empty the contents of three shattered eggs onto the seething outcome. A woman could have done all that, I know. What is a woman?
A naked foot, a thigh, waving its way into an ankle.
Her breasts, of course. I hallucinate them with a residual and diminishing ferocity. I give up and masturbate.
Evening time, I visit with my friends some neutral places, where we do not compete for female preference, nor are we graded for our attractiveness (or lack of it). Still, I resent their ability to dictate my choice of venues. Such indignation can easily fester into hatred and thence mutate into a sick haughtiness that says: They are powerless over me, I am resistant to their charms, truly, I do not need them at all.
One night I went on a blind date. I invested 49 shekels in a 9 words classified ad in a widely circulated rag. I wrote: "Blind man looking for blind woman for blind date" and my PO Box. Inevitably, I received a heap of Braille letters from the truly sightless. I briefly considered their cloistered seclusion, locked in their private darkness with their awkward typewriters, etching the regular protrusions of their pain into the thickset paper. I didn't respond to a single one of them, of course. They failed the test of deciphering my ad. Besides, I don't read or write Braille. Nor am I blind, I am merely lonely.
Some letters indicated a modicum of understanding of my situation. All manner of sensitive women who reacted with undisguised arousal to my veiled challenge. They desperately clung with manicured nails to the vestige of a hope that I may choose them from among the hundreds and the thousands of respondents. I could feel the effort that went into the razored folding of the paper, experience the panic in the curlicued letters.
At the end, I did pick one. I sat there, ranking them by traits that I deemed of indispensable importance as far as I am concerned. I scored them with meticulous objectivity on a scale of 1 to 10, added the points each had received and came up with Jezebel (9 points in all). Unusual name - nay, unforgettable. At any rate, with the Bible on her side, she struck me as a safe bet. Besides, I consoled myself, what could go wrong with such a name?
Partly to find out, I left my voice in her answering machine. Her message served only to enhance my interest. She sounded like a femme fatale, the kind that makes trouble merely by momentarily flashing the snowy and wrinkled confluence of her armpits and her breasts. That's how she sounded, like lots of smoke and lots of mayhem, or like an alcoholic, I wasn't really sure. But I sure wanted to be. So, I picked up the receiver and there she was, at the other end of the optic fiber, at the speed of the focused light that bonded us in real time. Well, almost.
The pleasantries that we exchanged were starkly contradicted by the hoarseness of her voice. We argued half-heartedly about the venue of our first encounter, nothing serious and she graciously succumbed, registering a point in her favor. Already I am in debt and we haven't even met.
I decided to be me and put on a T-shirt, the taut promise of virginal flesh with hints of silky and occult hair. A T-shirt is kind of an ad proclaiming: this is what I am like under my scant clothing, it may be worth your while to undress me. With this attire I attended our first assignation. And with summer footwear showing only the merest intimations of tiny, sculpted toes. Oil-slicked mane, part shaven stubble and I was ready.
In the fashionable cafe, no one reproached me for my sartorial transgressions. I leaned my back on the humungous glass entrance. It provided for a perfect observation post. I liked to pose as a Mossad agent, or something equally intoxicating, now embroiled in the mission of a lifetime, adhering to the regulations and procedures that will extricate me from this inadvertent hell. Real spies probably hate all these well-rehearsed, automatic, wearyingly familiar motions. So what? Do they improvise instead? Could be. I, not being a veritable spook (people's counterfactual perceptions notwithstanding), simply wouldn't know. But my posture sometimes misleads. Especially the girls. Nothing explicit, mind you: an imperceptible tilt of the head with an almost-wink will do.
So, now I stood like that, in my secret agent posture, scanning the place through my nearly computerized eyes (imposing a conjured digital square rangefinder on my field of vision). I couldn't see her. Couples and whole families took over the entire space, tables possessed by businessmen in the throes of lively arguments coupled with intimidating body language.
Small wonder she joined me from behind. If she were really a ravishing Russian spy she could have easily stabbed me in the back, for instance, or popped me with a silencered gun, or wasted me with a weapon I never even heard of.
What she did say stunned me so that I neglected to notice her looks. She uttered: "I also play this game sometimes".
I mumbled back "What game?" because I was shocked and I didn't dare to believe it. Well, alright, she didn't get it one hundred percent. She expounded: "Cops in pursuit of dangerous criminals" and that was a miss, as I was playacting an intelligence officer, matching wits with foreign spies, each of us fighting for a cause we believe to be both good and decent. But it was still nice that she noticed the make-belief at all and, coming to think about it, cops and robbers was not that far from rival espionage rings.
So I took it as an impressive omen. My fucking brain that doesn't let go of me even when I climax, revved into instant action. I was amazed at the extent of information buried in her impoverished six-words sentence. Cops and dangerous criminals inhabit a hostile universe of constant struggle, violence, and terror. This must be her world as well, I am a great believer in the revelatory nature of first utterances.
And what were my first words? Silence. I said zilch, nada, nothing. Having deconstructed her introductory syllables, I began to survey her, limb by limb. It goes without saying that she was perfect. Her single, dazzling pronouncement rendered me momentarily half-blind. No one - and I mean no one - ever offered me such a penetrating insight, definitely not in the first few seconds we have met. Relationships with most people develop unexpectedly: they start off wearily. This anticipatory tediousness causes separation and excites the energies of dedicated love that the fear of loss provokes. Where are these passions when needed to prevent the breakup in the first place? I moved to contemplate her feet.
Nothing interests me in a woman more than her feet. Jezebel (it was she, I presume, even though we weren't formally introduced yet) rested with perfect equipoise and let me scrutinize her semi-nude feet at length. She wasn't embarrassed at all by the fact that we were blocking the only entrance and were being pestered and shoved by people who then apologize reproachfully. She didn't show the slightest inclination to shuffle one millimeter from her obstructive spot until I am done with my inspection.
She was wearing thongs of Japanese delicacy. Her curvaceous, pearly feet broke out of this nearly emblematic confinement, voluptuously maddening. I could fall in love with a woman just for her feet and Jezebel had a perfect pair: not too mannish and not too infantile.
When I recovered, I looked her in the face and she smiled thinly but not haughtily, her eyes rising with her eyebrows firmly affixed and this, too, was a novelty because usually it is the other way around with eyes and eyebrows. This subtle pantomime was more expressive than any question and I motioned expansively and followed her onto a vacated table for two.
We were seated (I offered her the chair) and she grinned once more. I was dazed by the vocabulary of her smiles. She liked my chivalry, but I expected it. Women's lib and all that jazz aside, they love it when we evince our servitude. I let a ripple of hostility sweep over me and then it's gone.
"I am Jezebel" - she said and her voice had qualities obscured by telephony. It was deep, nearly masculine, and, usually, I didn't find such voices appealing in the least, but hers I loved. It occurred to me with startling immediacy that - for a first date which haven't yet begun - I fancied too many of her qualities. I also found her face to be exquisite and I decided to tell her that, what have I got to lose. In general, I settle on a stream of consciousness. I articulate the first things that come into my mind. I am tired of the masquerade of "Listen, I am the catch of a lifetime, successful, perfect, smart and so on". I told her that as well.
She threw back her head (where did this mane come from?) and chuckled wholeheartedly. And when I say "wholeheartedly" I mean that everyone must have heard her, the way people were gaping at us. It filled my heart with pride that I can make such a gorgeous girl laugh and I was reminded of studies that prove that a sense of humor is an important part of interpersonal attraction.
"I love the texture of your skin" - she blurted, staring unabashedly at my shoulders and how they slope away, in gentle folds, into my armpits. I felt self-conscious and I thought to myself that I wished the conversation, if there were to be any, would be a trifle more cerebral.
"You want to talk" - she sighed and leaned back, making me aware for the first time of the proximity she just abandoned - "What do you want to talk about?"
I glared at her, desperately recalling everything I ever read about mind-reading and telepathy. Either my face is see-through translucent or she was a witch. Her fiery hair made the latter option by far the more probable. I didn't want to consider the third possibility: that she had been on many blind dates and that all males react the same. And I mean the exact same way.
"You study anything?" - I enquired and she made a show of unclasping a black purse, pulling out a box of cigarettes, extracting one, diving for a lighter, and failing to make it work. Finally, her cigarette ablaze, she exhaled a measured puff of smoke. She weighed my query for awhile and then responded:
"Depends what you mean. I learn all the time, even in this meeting."
I tried to counter when, suddenly, she violently crushed the butt in the fancy metal ashtray.
She glowered, lids lowered, at the smoldering remnants until they embered and then looked at me again. I could literally see the clash of various considerations in her mind, her indecision.
"Look,"- she declared- "I am a great fan of clicking and chemistry. I even believe in love at first sight. What about you?"
I told her that I, too, am a believer in the power of biology. She swept aside my intellectualization impatiently: "What does it matter, why it exists as long as it does!" We agreed on that.
"So, I would say that in our case, it is love at first sight" - she summed flatly, as though she were reporting the outcome of an inordinately complex chess match. As though this "fact" had equal standing with all others (for instance, with the fact that we have ordered nothing to eat or drink).
It all became so clear. Some sentences possess the power to rearrange reality and abruptly illuminate the scene. You see things you haven't known even existed. They call it "explanatory power" in philosophy of science. Her words had such an effect on me. Hitherto, it has all been so opaque, the way I felt and how I regarded various parts of this tryst.
But when I examined the sentence "I am in love", it shed light all around. I have a predilection towards "key phrases", the kind that, not unlike some magic spells, capture the entire world in its embryonic state.
I am in love. Yes, this could serve as a sufficient explanation for what was happening between us and inside me. But, was this also a necessary one? In other words: couldn't there be another interpretation that arranged the universe so that it acquired meaning, cause, and a goal - without resorting to the assumption that I am enamored of her?
An organizing principle, this is what I really needed urgently - either this, or an all-consuming infatuation, the kind that Jezebel was clearly offering by employing plural pronouns. She didn't say: Look, you are in love and that is why you take in reality the way you do. No. She said: "In our case, it is love at first sight." In our case. Evidently, she found this choice of words equally enlightening.
So what can one do with a girl who confides in you this way? We rose from the table without ordering and with no bill to pay. I left a crumpled note to the baffled waitress and we went to my place to fuck.
In the silence after (the clocks ticking louder that usual), Jezebel lit a smoke and so did I. It had the hallmarks of a dead end because fucking is supposed to be the culmination, not the opening act. What can two people do after sex that is as potent and as telling?
They cohabit, I assume. Time is as powerful as coitus. So, I offered and she accepted and she bent towards me, her breasts dangling but firm, pressed into my flaccid chest, and butterfly-kissed my eyelids, licking my bushy eyebrows and the bridge of my prominent nose into the bargain. That was her way of saying "I do."
We cohabited. We transformed our bodies into dual playgrounds, each day discovering new installations. Our brains fused and rarely did I have to complete my sentences. Or hers. We strolled, hands clasped, rubbing shoulders, thighs, and hips on every opportunity.
I thought this must be happiness and most probably it was. We did everything together but knew how to feel alone. We shared the same tastes and generally agreed about most issues. We took old-fashioned care of each other when we were ill and did the same when were not. She, for instance, surprised me with my favorite flavored teas in the most unexpected moments and it felt like receiving a gift on a non-birthday. I couldn't see enough of her - though, as time passed, I loved her more like one does one's childhood books and intimate, time-worn furnishings. I believe that she reciprocated, that's what her eyes communicated when we made love.
Perhaps I should not have been so taken aback when she announced that she is leaving, that she has someone else. Perhaps I really wasn't. I think that the problem was less the element of surprise than the all-pervading hurt.
I sat on our crumbling leather loveseat, a puppet without its master, the strings torn from my skin, bleeding their way out. I cried a lot and begged, but, all that time, I knew that this is leading nowhere, that it is only a question of time, and not a lot of it.
I was like a cancer patient whose nights are numbered. I would wake up and gaze at her asleep for hours. I knew she was making it with someone else and I replayed their torrid copulations over and over again. Her part was easy to imagine. I knew what she liked done and I saw no reason why he would not oblige, if only to make her entire edifice moan and purr. Whenever I think of things I did or got wrong, I shut tight my eyes and pucker my face. Sometimes I whistle or repeat a mantra or say something in Nazi. That's how I exorcise my shame and guilt. I did it often now.
Solitude again. It is far more onerous after togetherness. Coming to think of it: why was it so easy being alone before? Isn't it strange? Togetherness probably has an elusive component that is addictive. Loneliness feels like the panic of a patient whose medication ran out and there is no way of obtaining more or substitutes. Every object and every sound and music and the occasional street cry are like handles attached to pain-stuffed drawers. I drowned in their content.
My friends embarked on another round. I started to feel like Job. They said: "Listen, if you don't circulate and meet girls ... They won't just come here, you know! You've got to go the extra mile, literally and figuratively. You've got to make an effort if you don't want to be lonely!"
When they departed, I boiled some tea and, admittedly, it didn't taste the way it did before. There is some ingredient in loving hands that alters the very attributes of the world. But it was still tea and it was sweetened with low-fat milk. I drank it hesitantly at first and then more avidly and then gulped it down voraciously. When I was done, I wiped my lips with upturned hand and inspected with mild interest the moistened outcome. It reminded me of a woman.
I think I already knew the answer. Thus, that lonely night with a flaming sword which turned every way inside my guts, I recognized my truth. I went over to the panoramic view torn in the living room of this once-cohabited apartment. I looked down at the grayish, indecisively truncated street. All manner of figures crossed it, clad in T-shirts and denims. Fossilized in pain, they were beyond the reach of even the most loving and well-meaning.
And this is precisely what I came to understand: that love is no insurance policy. It's not even a promise. It can't predict a single forward move. Salvation is only one of many options, not the inevitable outcome. This realization did not make me happier, it really didn't. But it sure made me stronger.
I dimmed the piercing halogen light, placed a Brahms in the DVD player, sprawled on our tattered leather armchair, letting its coolness penetrate me. Eyes shut, I counted the times I listened to this oeuvre. I soothed myself: "Listen, you have known yourself for many years now. You are an OK guy, all considered. Don't you think we are going to make it?"
And I added: "Actually, why involve others in this love affair between me and myself? Entre-nous, who will love me like I do. who will spoil me unconditionally and with whom can I be so open? And if these are not the determinants and dimensions of true love, what are?"
The more I contemplated this, the more I knew I hit upon the quintessence, I stumbled across the right decision, I faced incomparable attachment.
I hugged my shoulders with my own, dry, warm hands and tilting my head to one side, I kissed and gently bit one rounded hill and then another in tender foreplay.