Friday, 24 May 2013

The Restaurant

File:Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec 001.jpg
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Synopsis: H. is out to dinner with the woman he loves. As the night progresses, H. begins to realise that his previous perceptions of his dateas a physical, flesh-and-blood beingare changing. Coloured by his love, he sees her now as a juxtaposition of memories and emotions. However, circumstances shift and his date begins to change in front of his eyes; however, has his date has actually changed, or have H.s perceptions of her changed?

The restaurant bustles with energy; people giving orders to waiters dressed in formal black suits and white shirts, noise from the kitchen ebbing and surging—a clatter of pots and pans, a bellow of commands, a hiss of water—as the swinging doors open and close. A delicate fragrance of rosemary fills the air as a waiter passes by with a chicken dish: H. can almost taste it. A lingering taste, an array of chemicals forming a pleasurable physical sensation, rest on his tongue; the catfish had been delicious. The plush chair molds itself around his buttocks, a sensation of sitting on a cloud. 

A small drip of sweat slides down his nose, the bead falling to the table with a minuscule ‘thwack’; his date fails to notice it. H. breathes a sigh of relief, mops his face with a handkerchief to prevent another disaster. 

Black hair, green eyes and scrumptious red lipstick hang off his date’s face as he stares at her, the wig of hair shifting and swishing in the spice-scented air. Her entire face seemed to hang off her face, if that were even possible. Something has switched in H.’s brain; a short-circuiting, possibly neural in nature, is causing him to see her in an entirely different, delicious, ravishing light. Straddling dual realities, H. observes his date simultaneously as a physical being and as the woman he loves. The physical being has eyes and ears and breasts and legs and all the usual machinery that allows a human being to interact with the dimensions of the world. The woman he loves, however, has none of these things; the woman he loves is an idea in his head, a series of memories and beliefs and small gestures of kindness. His mind is beginning to deconstruct this corporal creature in front of him, stripping away her sensible assets; the intellectually bizarre experience of concurrently witnessing her as physical and non-physical is allowing him to look past her appearance and see her in the same light as his emotional side sees her. The alien sense of seeing this woman—this emotionally stunning creature—reduced to a kaleidoscope of emotions is liberating, euphoric. 

Her eyes move independently of her self, flicking around in their sockets as they swept the across the gorgeous menu, widening at irregular intervals as she observed the price. Expensive. Caffè macchiato (spelled with the grave accent: one was in a fancy restaurant, so one was): fifteen euro. A crescendo of violin music—the chamber orchestra in the background—coincides with one of her eye dilations. Nice pathetic fallacy, restaurant; really, bravo. 

Those eyes look up towards him from the menu, and her lips move up and down; a reddish tongue inside her mouth arching and bending and pressing itself across her pallet in order to produce sounds to pronounce whatever words she was saying. Again, that disconcerting sensation of seeing her tongue as both part of her, and independent of her. The woman he loves—that confluence of memories—remains unmoving even as her tongue wags in her mouth. H. isn’t really listening; she seemed to be talking about someone at work or a yoga class (did she even do yoga?) or something of that sort. H. nods agreeably, faking consent to her unheard sentiments. Everything physical about her just seems so alien, not attached to her body; her hands dancing like a puppet’s in front of her small breasts like pears, luring his eyes deeper into her heart, past the mannequin chest. A delicious sense of depth flows across his soul. 

A penguin appears abruptly beside them with an immaculately trimmed Van Dyke beard, mumbling something or other about coffee or desserts, or blah blah blah. She orders the caffè latte, and H. orders something or other. Probably arsenic compound. Or was it apple crumble? H. doesn’t know, or particularly care. The penguin asks something else. 

‘Do I want stones in my coffee?’ blurts H., confused. ‘What a strange question to ask! Why in the Lord’s name would I want that?’ 

H. turns to her, laughing wildly and expecting her to join in so that they could cackle in conspiratorial unison at the absurdity of this yabbering penguin’s question. The laugh strangles in his throat, becoming a gurgled sigh of dismay, as he sees her face. Hold on, it did seem a bit strange for the penguin to ask that question. Maybe he’d asked something else? 

‘Ah, sugar!’ The grip-on-reality engine comes roaring back to life in H.’s head and he grasps what the waiter had probably meant. ‘Yes, my good man, I would love some sugar with my caffè.’ Pronounces this last word with an Italian twist—spent two years with the embassy in Rome, don’tcha know. Pretentious twit. 

Sweating profusely, his heart hammering and mind screeching at the narrow miss with the men in the white coats. Did she still think he was sane? He glances at her. Her eyes and hands and all the rest of her corporeal possessions seem unchanged: that makes sense, he hadn’t cut any of them off or noticed her do anything to alter them. Her second self—his true perception of her, that indefinable self which couldn’t truly be observed but was merely a figment of a fevered thought process—seemed different. A shadow standing in front of a mirror. A glimmer of dismay on an otherwise placid lake surface. Her less-than-positive memory of his febrile gibberish had altered her in his mind’s eye. Must be more careful in the future to appear sane. 

A cog turns in his mind, triggering a bewitching thought. If his perception of her changed because her memories had changed, did that mean that they had reached some sort of emotional congress? Had their minds met on an interminable plane of infinity? 

‘Interminable infinity? Thanks for the banal tautology, moron,’ his brain sarcastically berates him. 

Brief inner-monologue interlude aside, the engrossing idea that their minds had reached out from beyond the self and were touching across the infinite divide of personhood takes root in his mind. Fireworks of celebrating neurons arc across his brain as he achieves semi-nirvana. Full nirvana, of course, being reserved for later when he would ask her if she, too, had felt their consciousnesses unite for a brief second in the ink. Of course, it is also possible that his perception of her had changed because of his own memories; after all, it is entirely possible that his memories of her are not shared memories in any sense, but are part of the fabric of his own identity—possibly differing wildly from her own interpretations of identical events. Maybe, then, she had changed because he had changed. 

Jolted out of a reverie, H. looks up to see the zebra standing politely at his elbow, poised to place the arsenic or crumble or whatever in front of him. His elbow is resting in between his cutlery, and he has been muttering lowly to himself. 

Wait a minute! What if it was arsenic? What if that bastard zebra had planted some sort of sinister poison in his dessert in a dastardly attempt to bump him off and confess his own undying equine love to H.’s scrumptious date? Squinting his eyes, H. tries to stare past the zebra’s outer layers and scrutinise his inner mechanisms for hints of dastardliness. None, apparently. The zebra arches one eyebrow aristocratically, as if to ask whether sir would prefer him to return at a later stage. Warily, still watching for signs of dire intentions, H. withdraws his elbow from the table. 

He looks at her again, her hands move slowly to draw the coffee cup to her mouth, inhaling the rich aroma through dilated nostrils and only slowly flowing the coffee down her gullet in order to savour the bitter taste. Her second person, his favoured conception of her, barely moves. Still that ghost before the mirror, an annoying smudge in an otherwise perfect tableau. If he looks closely enough, her second self—so indefinable, and yet so much more tangible than her physical form—dissolves completely. 

In place of her lips, he can see the time that they held hands walking along Dún Laoghaire pier, trembling in the cold and sneaking sips of whisky from her tartan-coloured hip flask. Where her eyes used to be, her intellect—a slippery, sliding cluster of mathematics, books, empathy and slicing humour—vibrates gaily. In place of her hands, the deepest secret that she holds—that she had been physically abused by her alcoholic mother—glistens with a secretive wink. Her whole physical being collapses into a single instant, replaced by the threads that make her, her. Or, at least, the threads that make her who she is, to him. 

The deep hues of the mahogany walls, the crimson of the postmodern painting hanging beside the antique lamp fade to nothing. Everything becomes dark, removed to nothing, and his eyes rivet to this locus of impressions that forms the chassis of his beautiful woman; engrossed in her beauty, he sees nothing else. 

His hands move the fork mechanically from plate to mouth. Metal on ceramic, metal on enamel. Chew, swallow, repeat. The crumbling crumble dissolves into a sweet sticky mess in his mouth. Slowly, he realises that his mouth is hanging agape; he has forgotten to chew (forgotten, even, to check for tastes of arsenic. Wait! What a fool he has been! Arsenic has no taste.), forgotten to swallow. She can probably see his tonsils, and the desiccated remains of what was, admittedly, a delicious dessert. 

How long has he been staring at her? A minute? Five? Sirens trigger in his brain, and his brain enters into lockdown mode in an attempt to stem further damage; a reptilian instinct, more suitably adapted for pandemonic situations, gently pries the wheel from his panicked consciousness which has, in its mania, moved the gears into neutral and floored the accelerator. The reptile slips itself into the driver’s seat and takes control. H. lowers his fork to the plate, shovels on some crumble and heaps it into his mouth. His date looks down at her coffee and he is safe for the moment. Daring to glance at her again, She—her real self—has changed. Octopus ink clouds the water; shoals of iridescent fish dart across his vision, obfuscated by a nameless shadow. 

His heart hammers as he switches between her and Her. The switching process gets easier each time, his mind gliding with ever-greater ease between her twin personae. Vertigo floods his mind, like he is standing on top of a giant needle; the slightest wrong move would send him plummeting to his death. She stands below him, arms outstretched and welcoming, begging, him to jump into Eden. 

A panda—different from the zebra before—plods over, gathers up the plates and grumbles something or other. 

‘What? Do I look Czech?’ barks H., tired now of these absurd questions. He really must talk to the maître d’. Not only were there questions absurd, but they were downright rude.

A surreptitious look at her to confirm his suspicions about the dreadful waiting staff. Disconfirmed. What could the man have said? 

‘Oh, the check! Yes, I’ll take the check please. And add on fifteen percent for yourself as well, my good man.’

A gracious bow, and the panda retreats.

Is she worried at his behaviour? A furtive look at her; She has changed. More so than last time; she might be getting seriously worried about his mental status. But how can he possibly relax when his brain is malfunctioning and he was with the world’s most beautiful women, about to ask the most important question of his life? Does she not understand that? Probably not, in fairness: she doesn’t know about his planned proposal.

The panda approaches with the check, presented in a fancy wooden box. Box or no box, the final bill would be enough to halt the Queen of Sheba. It doesn’t matter, in any case; tonight, this conjuncture of experiences and feelings and revelations has been sublime enough to be worth any price. However, his bank balance probably couldn’t care less about sublimity, so H. crosses his fingers that the transaction will clear. It does. A sigh of relief—definitely a mistake, since when did the people who frequented this restaurant worry about money? The waiter glanced at him. He was definitely on to him; H. couldn’t eat here anymore, they’d definitely put something in his food next time to bump him off, he just knows it.

With the waiter moving away, H. shifts his eyes back to her and Her. Still breathtaking in every possible way. His eyes watered as his brain quickly shifted between seeing a physical being and a confluence of memories.

This was it, now was the time. His mind recalled the words, so carefully prepared and crafted so as to evince the greatest feeling. A crescendo, a climax, thunder in his brain and he opens his mouth to speak, to utter the scariest words that it had ever occurred to him to voice.

Will you…’

I’m leaving you.’

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