I don’t believe in love at first sight any more than you do, Anatol. I well recall your saying to me, as we sat drinking seven franc wine beside the grave of Jean-Paul- that ‘love’ was but a meta-sign, that articulated the system of emotional absurdity, and as such, offered little opportunity for self-transcendence. That remains as true for me now, as then. But when I saw her, with her mint-green overall, with her hair tied back by a mint-white kerchief, slicing cheeses, I freely admit I was stopped in my tracks. There was Red Leicester, and there was Blue Stilton, and there was Sage Derby, and Rutland with garlic and beer, and Roquefort, and Emmentaler too, alongside whole truck tyres of creamy Brie … and even though the very thought of cheese overwhelms me with nausea, I was arrested by this maiden of those shining wires (Miss Julienne Calvary, said the name tag on her sweetly defined breast). I make no bones about it, Anatol; don’t be disappointed in me. When we crouched below Karl’s beetle-brow, and passed a flask of schnapps, while you tamped the black shag into your ancient briar, you told me that the system of commodity production, characterising late free-market Capitalism, defined itself as the freedom of choice between commodities, whereas real freedom, you contended, lay in the self-authentification of the human spirit (the words you used were of course somewhat more elegant – I paraphrase). I agreed then, as fervently as I agree now, sitting at my distressed old escritoire, my heart cranking out a future as best it can, under the circumstances; yet there was something about, how can I put it, something about her buoyancy, her lightness, as though her flesh were merely a gauzy bushel enwrapping a dancing flame, that made me pause on my way back to the checkout. Fatal pause! The dart flew! Although I knew myself to be in the grip of an overwhelming attack of bad faith, coupled with false consciousness, I took a ticket from the ticket dispensing machine, and awaited the inevitable.
Anatol, you and I have sung L’Internationale on the midnight streets of the Generalissimo’s Madrid (your stirring baritone, anchoring my more wayward tenor); we have thrust the red ink through that screen mesh – MAI 68!; we have filled with petrol those Mateus Rosé bottles so recently emptied in many a fierce toast; we have, in short, staggered from decade to decade, from defeat to defeat, preserving our independent line like some bejewelled tapeworm. But let me assure you once more, my dear friend, as I sit here typing these words, into my Amstrad PCW9512, that my heart is overflowing with our past, in all its party-colours, just as it overflowed with Julienne, and her clean white fingers, as they cut me a quarter of mild Cheddar, then opened, to receive my ninety-seven pence in laboriously counted copper. Did her eye stray to my shopping basket, with its seventy-five centilitres of Old Haig, finest blended scotch whisky, and its economy size bottle of aspirin? I cannot say.
Ah, History moves in a mysterious way! Do you recall when we shared out a meagre ration of pumpernickel and Silesian sausage, alongside the final resting place of George Friedrich, and how we gaily swapped dialectics ,while you waved the manuscript of the ninth draft, of your still uncompleted masterwork (The Historical Progress of the Idea of Historical Progress) in the frosty air? You were full of physics that afternoon – the Law of the Conservation of Momentum in your hands was a lambent passepartou. I won’t therefore bore you, with the details of how the purchasing of Cheddar necessitated the non-purchase of the economy sized bottle of aspirin, nor how discreetly aided happenstance gained me the role of Julienne’s companion (and off-peak sleeping partner), nor, since you despise the inheritance of wealth, of my emotional reconciliation with my dying father. These things happen.
What has stayed with me, from that last sad conversation of ours, Anatolski, my oldest friend (and I don’t mean that cruelly), when all about us were losing their heads and blaming it on the ouzo, is not so much your waving the marlin spike under my nose, nor even your demolishing of the harpsichord with a case-bound edition of Heidegger’s Being and Time, but rather, how grey your hair had become, and how you stumbled over those extracts from Gramsci, you had wont to quote backwards in classical Greek. The memory still pains me, redolent as it was with transience, and galloping mortality (a film of moisture has formed across my eyes as I type, blurring my view of the young, gay lovers, kicking over their various traces in the autumnal detritus of Hampstead Heath). What is to be done, Anatol? Dolphins are threatened by extinction, and in Central America, health workers have been issued with firearms. Dark toxic flood waters lick ever higher at the great cities of Europe, and sometimes, on quieter nights, I hear the silver coins sobbing in my pocket.
Story by Dave Rogers
This story was first published in Dig Magazine, #7 (Q4, 1990)