He asked her to come in. She’d walked all the way to his flat under the rain and the wind had broken her umbrella half way through. Her name was Melisa. She’d seen Brian perform an impromptu poem in a bar and, although she’d liked his melodramatic poem, she’d liked much more his eyes of beaten horse and his completely hopeless countenance. And there she was, six months after their first encounter, soaked to the bones and shivering from the cold October whether. He ushered her in, but he didn’t ask why she didn’t have an umbrella or raincoat. To him, it was all part of her charm and it didn’t need any justification. He just gave her a towel as a towel dispenser would do: with no signals of empathy or forethought about her immediate, sore throated, sneezing future. But she knew his ways already and she wasn’t concerned about her future; she was focused on her immediate present. He asked her whether she liked spinach croquettes, and told her he didn’t make them often, but he liked regaling his guests. She felt more flattered by his words than by the actual food, which wasn’t something she would call a delicacy but it was rather similar to the potato fritters she ate every other day.
“Will you toll for me today, my bell?” she said to him and he cleared his baritone throat as if to sing, but instead he started reciting the only worthwhile poem he’d come up with since they last saw each other:
“Dancing eyes before the fire,
dancing flames, my heart’s desire,
was to see the day again,
but now it’s simply merry making.
This moment’s ours for the taking,
strip off your clothes to the song,
but leave your haughtiness on,
while we play out our tune
for the decadent moon.
Stars shine down on you, their shimmer
mingling with the firelight flicker
across your skin, my rickety voice,
funky with no good encore.
You want the bed or prefer the floor
to let the moon glint white on white
with all the coolness of its light?
Won’t let the moon shine off your skin?
Its envious beam, a parody.
Will your radiance have some leniency
on the moon with all its jealousy?
While covered by the veil of night,
it steals your robe and on the floor,
spent and unconcerned at all,
we start this song all anew,
and shut the curtains because you
won’t let the moon shine off your skin,
its envious beam, a parody.”
“It’s a song;” he said, “a tuneless song for you.”
“Thanks, I really like it as it is,” she said. “I think a tune would actually spoil it.” She’d taken to saying “toll for me, my bell” as a cue for him to recite her a poem. It came from a phrase he’d once said to her, when she was insisting that he recited her a spontaneous poem. He’d said: “You make me toil, my belle.” She’d retorted: “I make you toll like a bell? That’s exactly my goal.” And he’d laughed with all his heart. Since then it had evolved into the catchphrase “Toll for me, my bell” which she used to encourage this shy poet.
Because the day they met, he’d left the impression of being eccentric and reckless when he just started reciting an uncalled-for poem in the middle of a dumbfounded audience. His otherwise low voice had suddenly become stentorian and he’d started throwing raw imagery to his improvised public. The poem was romantic, but full or irony and with just the necessary amount of cynicism to make place for existential doubt. And it turned out that he was eccentric, but not reckless. That night at the bar he was drunk with cheap wine and disappointment and there was a poem he needed to get out of his chest. The jazzy background music had teased him with its inanity for more than one hour till he couldn’t take it any longer and he stood up and filled the void with his poem:
“You can’t stand the fire, you say,
but fire you are, inside,
you burn, you choke, you breathe out,
and where does it bring us again?
You aren’t ready, you say,
but there’s no such moment, you see,
it’s all make-believe, just believe
and it becomes real today.
You don’t have the courage, you think,
to slay or be slain, but too late,
we’re only here to buy time
while death lies always in wait.
You can’t stand the fire, but I
don’t know such a thing, this flame
is all yours, in me there’s just wind
to carry the dry leaves away.
You won’t stand the fire, I went
and blew somewhere else, while you
keep glowing for new wind to come
and glaze just like you were meant.”
Melisa had interrupted her chat with her childhood friend when she saw Brian stand up in a portentous way. He’d glared in her direction and fixed his eyes on a random point just beyond her. He’d subconsciously gravitated towards her and this was the only reason why she paid any attention to him. Anything outside her orbit was irrelevant to her, because it meant just more things to arrange in their perfect order. But there he was, breaking into her intimate circle with his pathos. Maybe because she was kindhearted and selfless, or maybe because she didn’t have the courage to be mean, she stood up to go to the bathroom just a couple of minutes after this talented guy’s gush of melancholy had been left devoid of applause and she passed by him.
“I loved you poem,” she said. “It was touching.” She didn’t mean it. She actually meant that he was touching in his whole attitude, even in the way he was staring at her at that moment, in deep silence, contemplating her in a tacit invitation to make him a part of her life. She didn’t even own a pet because her meticulousness couldn’t afford the responsibility over a sentient being, let alone a human being. But she was trapped by his odd reaction. She could see through him as if through glass. In his silence she could hear the reproach of a man who pours his heart out to someone and gets only a pat on the back as a response. She knew nothing else would satisfy him. He hadn’t even waited for the applause when he’d finished his poem. He’d just sat back and assumed the same despondent attitude he’d had during the whole evening. She said: “I’m Melisa,” and she discovered the sweetness of his smile.
If he’d asked her out bluntly, she would’ve had a way out. She would’ve remembered that her life was too full of responsibilities already and she would’ve simply told him that she wasn’t looking for a relationship at the moment. But he never gave her the chance to bail out. He would seek her constantly and for no apparent reason; just for the pleasure of her soothing company. He had no ambition, no aim in life, and this made her feel self-conscious. She was so full of goals and interests, and he had no anchor but her. When they talked, it was evident that he cared about what she said only because she said it. Were someone else to tell him the same things, he would completely ignore them; such was his apathy to everything in life but literature. He wasn’t interested in facts or in how the world works, but he found solace in reading other hopeless people like him. Once she tried to draw him out of his world by inviting him to a concert she was going to with friends. She knew he found concerts boring, but it was one of her favorite bands, so she insisted. “I need to finish reading a book,” he said, just to give her any semblance of an excuse. “I guess the uncertainty won’t let you sleep” she said and he answered “Books are certain and soothing; they always end full circle and if they don’t, I imagine a good ending for them. Life doesn’t let me sleep; that’s why I don’t take much of it in at once.”
Everything happened too surreptitiously for her to realize it. She was well aware of her magnetism over him, but she had never been faced with any existential burden until the time when he told her casually: “Because I slept with a girl last week.” They were chatting about his momentary lack of inspiration and she was too concerned about him, because he was a prolific poet, in spite of his lousy attitude towards life. She asked him “What happened?”and he answered: “Nothing happened; I’m just contemplating life for the moment. Suffering is the source of all inspiration, but happiness is an end in itself.” This answer only worried her more. She didn’t dare to guess where this passive contemplation of his could take him. “Why the contemplation? Any particular reason?” She asked. And then she got the unexpected response. He wasn’t careless at all, but he was extremely passive and he didn’t believe in distorting reality. The reality was that she had shown no sexual interest in him whatsoever and he didn’t know how to deal with it. He was the romantic, idealistic type, not the understanding, persevering one. He was completely sure she knew he desired her, since he could never hide a single feeling in his whole life, but, as every poet, he mastered platonic love. He believed in it, but he also believed in all those minute decisions that make up life. He was too aware of every step he took to be surprised by his own feelings. Yes, he’d fallen out of love many times, and yes, he hadn’t been able to prevent it, but it never caught him off guard. He knew the odds were against any relationship. Actually, he didn’t understand people’s amazement at failed relationships and marriages; the miracle is that there are relationships that endure through a lifetime. “Till death do us part” sounded like a cocky thing to say to him, and he didn’t understand how people could be so arrogant. Yes, his parents and grandparents had lasted, but so what? That didn’t make it any easier for him to find someone whom he’d never get fed up with.
All these feelings had played an important role the day he wrote to that stranger on Facebook: “Do you like Woody Allen’s movies?” There was actually no Woody Allen’s movie in the cinema at that time, but he was used to abusing of poetic license. It was the first icebreaker he could come up with, since “everyone likes Woody’s movies,” he thought. And in the case this girl, oddly, didn’t like them, or pretended not to like them just to antagonize him, he actually had the best punchline: “Luckily there’s none in the cinema right now, but let’s go and see any other one whenever you’re free.” In the most probable case that she answered affirmatively, he’d simply say: “Me too, let me know when one is released.” It had taken him just half an hour to come up with this master plan, and he put it action. To his question she answered with a simple: “Yes, why?” and to his second message she answered: “Of course. I’ll keep you posted,” with a winking face, making him suspect that maybe what he’d just done wasn’t so original after all, since she’d answered him so matter-of-factly. But this didn’t threw him off balance; on the contrary, he digged it. They were cruising together through the phases of romance and now they were already coming up with make believe together. They were both pretending to know each other already, thus skipping the most boring part of any relationship: The formal introduction. Of course Facebook had already introduced them and were they to be curious about each other in the future, they needed only check each other’s profiles. A single accepted friend invite did the trick. It didn’t take long till they met and had sex, and during all this time not a single doubt crossed Brian’s mind. In his mind, he couldn’t be more in love with Melisa, so now it was time for him to give himself a chance to fall in love with someone else.
Melisa didn’t pretend not to care when Brian told her; she was above pride. She was hurt and she showed it. She asked him: “Why did you do that?” and he had a premade answer: “Because I didn’t know whether to wait for you or not.” “You could’ve asked” she said. “You would’ve told me not to wait for you,” he answered as if he knew her better than she knew herself. “And then I would’ve been damned because I would still wait for you in case you changed your mind. In this way I just decided on the go and at that moment, when I was with her, I forgot completely about you and there was nothing to think about. There was a simple option: To be happy.” “You call that happiness?” she said, enraged by his cynical words. “I called it happiness back then,” he answered, “though I know what I want and what would make me happier. What do you want from me, Melisa? You don’t feed me but won’t let me eat anywhere else either?” By this time she was maddened by his choice of words. She couldn’t believe he was a poet and for a moment she felt his mask had fallen and he’d shown his real, hedonistic pig face. “Eat whatever crap you want!” she said, and she didn’t know why, but she started crying.
It was only then, six months later, that she could express why she’d cried back then. She told him: “Remember when you made me cry?” and he stared at her in silence. It was a sensitive topic to him, since it represented a blemish to his unrelenting adoration of her. He wished it could all be erased as he did with the poems he disliked or the verses he fixed. He wished he could say “April’s fool” to her and tell her it had all been just a joke that had dragged on for too long. But it wasn’t, and he felt he should break up with her on principle, so he wouldn’t have to tell his children that he’d cheated on their mother just when they were starting to know each other, thus endangering their lives before they were born. She’d explained more times that she could count to him that she didn’t consider it cheating, since they weren’t a couple back then, but he would hear no reason. His male mindset didn’t stand that technical bullshit. For a male, purpose is very relevant. He knew what his purpose was when he said to her in that bar: “Nice to meet you, Melisa. I’m Brian, a poet.” He knew he’d betrayed that purpose when he’d slept with someone else and he knew his consistency wouldn’t hold a bunch of overcooked rice together. He could as well say that today he was called Mario, tomorrow Andrew and so on. It didn’t matter; his credibility had been ruined forever. He took it with a little of humor, since credibility isn’t really relevant to an artist, but as a man in love, he was scared to death that he didn’t deserve Melisa anymore. But it was her who had chosen him. It was her who had continued their relationship as if nothing had happened and who hadn’t turned away her mouth when he’d tried to kiss her a couple of months before.
“You know why I cried?” she pursued the topic, not pitying him at all for the memories she’d brought back to his mind, but forcing him to man up and accept what he’d done. “Why?” he answered, full of anxious expectation. “Because I realized how flawed I am. At that precise moment, when you told me you’d done the most disgusting thing a man I’m in love with could’ve done to me, I realized I cared. I always hated that stupid phrase: You never know what you have until you lose it. I hadn’t lost you, not if I decided not to. I’ve never been jealous, but at that moment I was aware of a killer instinct in me. I wanted to obliterate her from your life: our lives; pretend she hadn’t existed. All my hatred towards you was channeled towards her. The same as sportsmen channel their energy towards the defeat of their opponents, I channeled mine towards her demise. I was a fair player: I gave her two weeks of handicap. I didn’t talk to you at all during that period, making sure she had enough time to take the trophy home if she exerted herself. But she didn’t; she couldn’t. She wasted time and blundered and, in the end of the second half of the match, I came in and scored the winning goal.” He knew she’d only made a football reference because she knew it was the only sport he watched whenever his country played in the world cup, and he smiled full of joy.