The Longing (1)

We open our columns to talented new voices, who can send in (short) stories. We’ll publish them in episodes.

The first one, starting today with a long episode, is a short story by Eduardo Riccardo. It’s some 30 pages, so it’ll take about 15 episodes. Eduardo would appreciate it if you’d send him your feedback. This you can by using - subject: Eduardo. We’ll forward your comments.

You can send your own short stories to the same email address– we’ll give feedback in less than 14 days.

(Painting by Tito Merello Vilar.)

The Longing (1)

The Hague, a bar. The westerly gale they’d announced was breaking, rain gushing against the large front windows, people in the back leaving their seats to have a look. He was sitting at the counter, alone, devoting his attention to the menu written on a blackboard against the wall; he was narrowing his eyes.
     It had been the way she said it. “Nothing to see. It’s only water.” As if it was an important statement, somehow, and she was waiting for his point of view on the matter; a point of view she expected him to give, but wouldn’t interest her at all. She had bumped against his arm, it could have been undeliberate. At first he refused to pay attention to it, almost having decoded two of the main courses, but there had been this husky, distracting tinge in her voice.
     “The cigar-club,” she added, the moment he turned around, as if there was a connection, somehow, with the rain pouring down. She pointed towards the rear; a group of women, maybe six or seven, sitting in Chesterfields; one of them waving in her direction. “Don’t pay attention to her,” she said, “she’s crazy.” “Do you happen to have any matches?”
     She might have been drunk, or that was at least what he was thinking, but when he had a closer look she seemed quite sober. Maybe slightly tipsy, one or two glasses, maximum. While she was addressing him his eyes were searching for some resting-point, a mole perhaps, an incompleteness in her face, even a temporary pimple would do, but he found none. Maybe something about her nose. He was wondering how it came to be that a cigar-club had ran out of matches.
     “Sorry,” she said, touching his arm again - he hadn’t even been able to answer, he didn’t have any. Ruffling her blond hair, then casting it to the left side of her face, she walked to the rear, splitting the crowd like Moses the Red Sea.
     His hand went to his breast-pocket, searching for his pills. Where were they when you needed them? Slightly irritated, he looked around. This tremble in his left hand, he had only become aware of coup of days ago, when he had to put his credit card into a terminal and the shop assistant was gazing to the small groove where the card had to be slid in. Never had a groove seemed that ridiculously narrow. He’d managed somehow to get it in though, and the pin code didn’t cause problems either, but, taking the machine out of his hands the assistant in an oily tone, even winking at him, had sighed: “Terminals… Nothing beats good old cash.”
     Once he had laid his eyes on the tremor it had been as if it had always been there. Maybe it simply had, maybe, busy as he had been, he had lived for fifty years without recognizing it. He was intending to write a note about it to doctor Schlauerbach; not about the tremor itself, but about how it had been possible he had been overlooking it for fifty years.

The next day the barkeeper told him the cigar-club happened to gather every other Tuesday at nine, so two weeks later he was sitting there again, same stool.
     “Hi,” she said when she came in. She was dressed in a half-length woollen coat, grey with a mishmash of tiny squares and rectangles printed on it in the most wild colors. The coat unbuttoned, showing tight jean shorts, and a slim fit, thin, high collared, black pull. She didn’t look in the least surprised. When afterwards he pointed this out to her, she asked, “Did you expect me to be surprised?” Big eyes full of disbelief, reminding him of the young schoolgirl in this movie he’d once seen, Hugo – this girl running through the huge old library, pulling Hugo with her, then suddenly turning towards him: “Don’t you like books?” The same expression on that face, same phrasing too.
     “Well… in a way, yes…”
     “Of course you would be here.” She ordered fizzy water with lemon and ice.
     Three of the founding members having caught the flue, the meeting of the cigar-club had been cancelled. She only knew this just before entering, she said, otherwise she wouldn’t have shown up.
     “Of course,” he said, “I understand.”

Later they would order something to eat and were taken to a table by the window. She insisted they would share dishes. “We can put them here, in the middle,” she said, removing all objects, creating space for the food to come. While she was doing so she told him she worked in a kind of psychiatric institution – not really a hospital, but sort of a home, she said, so people suffering from psychotic dysfunctions could get a grip on themselves before entering society again.
     “So you’re kind of a shrink.”
     She shook her head. “I take care of their papers and stuff. And they need a roof of course. Landlords are not exactly kicking their heels to take these people in, you know. That’s where I come in.” “I have talks with the patients too, but then always a therapist is present.” Only couple of weeks ago the father of a boy suffering from chronic depression, had asked her out. She was still wondering why she had approved of it, she’d known right from the start it was against the rules, and yet she had done it.
     “Sometimes things just happen,” he said.
     “Yes,” she said, looking at him, “that’s true. The crazy thing is that at the very same moment you’re absolutely aware of the dangers; it’s not that you’re sinning unwittingly, no, it’s nothing of the sort: you know that you’re doing the wrong thing. ‘Okay,’ you say, and the next moment you’re chin-high into the bath foam. On his roof  he had a jacuzzi. The view was amazing.”
     “It’s evil,” he said. Those big eyes again. “I mean, that one is doing the wrong thing while knowing very well that it’s wrong. It’s just evil taking over. I’m not talking about you, not about this specific case. I’m talking in general.” His palms felt slightly sweaty. “Let’s call it Satan. He’s everywhere.” At this point he didn’t know what he was talking about, he felt he just had to keep talking and everything would be all right again. He hoped so. Subjects weren’t always easy to find though.
     “Did you have sex?” he asked.
     “In the jacuzzi he touched my knee, but I made clear it wasn’t what I was after.”
     While she’s depicting the view they’d had on this rooftop he’s looking at her, the curls of her hair falling on her shoulders and deeper, her slightly upturned upper lip, the almost transparent sky-blue shade of her eyes.
     “Then we went to a restaurant and what a jerk he was. A Jekyll and Hide type.” Sending back almost every dish and the wine too, just to impress her. No wonder his son had gone manic.

Only recently she had started visiting her father again. She opened her big brown crackled leather purse, taking her smartphone, showing him a picture. He recognized the arched eyebrows, the bright, almost luminous eyes. He was standing in shorts in front of a veranda with a big palm tree on it. His second wife liked palm trees. Thin, short legs under a tall, lean upper body. “I’ve got my mother’s legs and my father’s character,” she said. She had wiped her mother out of her life. She was a schemer, constantly plotting against her. She, her daughter, for god’s sake! It was clear she was getting a lot of fun out of twisting her words, stretching the truth. She felt sorry for her; a pitiful, pathetic woman.
     “Look what she did,” she said. She bent over the table, pressing a finger in her upper lip. Her breath warm, soft, clean, her teeth white as snow.
     “These are the most beautiful lips I’ve ever seen, in all of my life,” he said.
     “Don’t you poke fun at me,” she said, slapping his shoulder. 
     “I mean it,” he said. He felt his thorax widening, as if he was breathing love. If it continued he would simply explode.
     “Well, maybe they are now,” she said, pulling out a hand-mirror, inspecting, “but they weren’t after i was dismissed from hospital.” Her mother had accused her of something she hadn’t done; for once she had shouted back, cursing, running away; her mother chasing her throughout the house. She’d fallen over a chair, her mouth banging against the floor, the next thing she’d seen had been the big lights in the operating theater; then someone pushing a mask on her face, putting her to sleep.
     The food is brought. The deep concentration she displays, bent over her plate, blond curls hanging left and right from her busy fingers.
     “You see?” she asks, pushing her upper lip towards her nose, exposing her gums. “They had to stitch inside, almost into my palate and the back of my nose. You have no idea how I looked when I woke up. Wait.” Digging in her purse again, swiping, searching for the right picture.
     “Your meat is getting cold,” he says, pointing to the rim of her plate, where the piece of squab lies waiting.
     “Are you interested or not?” she says accusingly. “Fuck the squab.” “Here it is.”
     “Is that you?” On the picture is a woman he doesn’t recognize. “How long ago is this taken?"
     “Six months,” she says. He can’t believe it. Thick nose, thick lips, mouth like chewing an enormous tennis ball. Beauty is always only a brief moment in time. One had to catch it before it slipped through one’s fingers.
     “Incredible,” he says. He cannot look at it for too long a time. It’s not her. “You’ve got such a pretty nose,” he says.
     “It isn’t mine, mine was even sharper. But, I’m happy with it.”
     “Darling, it’s perfect,” he says.

(to be continued in couple of days)

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