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Imperfect Stranger September 1, 2000
Adam thinks all relationships are doomed
Granted, it could have been an airport, say, or any other point of departure - not necessarily a railway station. A place where men and women chance-meet for the first and last time. Then again, I would not want you to go thinking that his choice had been totally arbitrary, although he was, admittedly, no stranger to acts of random behavior. It did not have to be an overcrowded railway station, but it made sense somehow.
Imagine this: your train is due to leave any minute now. You look up from your book or paper, check the time on your wristwatch and peer out of the window. Now is when it happens. For a few split nanoseconds, another train pulling into the station tricks you into believing that your train is pulling out.
Adam Horton - 33, Caucasoid, 5'6'', under-endowed, thinning on top - viewed this sensation as a perfect metaphor of his life going nowhere fast. Hence the choice of a railway station. But which one? Paris offered un embarras de choix.
After a great deal of procrastination, he plumped for Gare du Nord which houses the Eurostar terminal. Adam's grasp of French had greatly improved over the past twelve months, but he was looking for a lady who spoke the mother tongue. Besides, the word 'terminal' had a certain ring to it, the finality of a full stop.
Entering the station was like walking into a pub back home for a game of darts with the lads. The air hung heavy with Chaucerian expletives; dropped aitches were strewn about his feet. Here and there, young men sporting crew cuts were reading tabloids from back to front. If I should die, Adam muttered, think only this of me: that there's some corner of a foreign railway station that is forever England.
And there she was.
Sweet Fanny Adams and no mistake. It was love at foresight.
Although he had never actually seen her before, he recognized her at once, and once he recognized her, he knew he would never see her again. After all, not being there was what she was all about; it was the essence of her being, her being Fanny Adams and all that. As he walked towards the bench where she was sitting pretty, Adam missed her already. Missed her bad.
'How do you do?'
'How do I do what?' The imperfect stranger looked up from her slim, calf-bound volume and flashed him a baking-soda smile, all cockylike.
Their eyes met, pairing off at first sight. The earth moved, orbiting at half a kilometer per second around her celestial globes - a couple of scalloped cupfuls with peek-a-boo trimmings. For the first time since Mrs. Horton's belabored parturition, when he was forcibly sprung off into the world, Adam did not feel at the wrong place at the wrong time: he was back in the bountiful bosom of Mummy Nature. A gaggle of gurgling putti glided overhead to the strains of syrupy Muzak and departing trains. All in all, it was an auspicious overture, fraught with the promise of an inevitable conclusion.
'Adam,' said Adam, extending his right arm.
'Margarita,' said Margarita, giving it a hearty shake.
Still reeling from that initial, blinding smile - let alone the handshake - he struggled to regain his composure.
'Have you read The Leaning Tower of Pizzas by N.E. Tchans?'
'Is that the one which ends with an epic battle between gangs of pre-pubescent herberts bouncing around on orange space-hoppers?'
'No, but I read a review at the time.'
'Well, it's all about this Mr. Soft Scoop geezer, right, who comes from Italy and settles down in South London where he falls in love with a girl called Margarita.' She was fiddling with her umbrella, a faraway look on her face. 'Like you, like.'
'Oh, I see, yes. Sorry, I was miles away.'
'I know: that's the attraction,' he sighed sotto voce, before getting a grip on himself. 'Anyway, you should check it out some time - if you're into lolloping lollipop ladies, lesbians from Lisbon, the romance of ice-cream vans, that kind of thing.'
'Sounds right up my street.'
'I see it as a contemporary footnote to Dante.'
'Talking of contemporary feet, mine are killing me.'
'Dying on our footnotes are we? One footnote in the grave, eh? How long have you got left?'
'Long enough to grab a bite to eat - or so says my chiropodist.'
'There's an Italian just round the corner that might tickle your fancy.'
'Sounds great. I feel like a pizza.'
'I'm not surprised, love, with a name like that.'
Adam caught a fleeting glimpse of the dark, gaping twilight zone between Margarita's parting thighs as she uncrossed her legs to get up. He picked up her bulky suitcase, l'air de rien, but in his mind's X-ray eye he could see her neatly-packed unmentionables. He was big on smalls, was old Adam Horton.
'It's a burden I feel I've been carrying all my life.' He turned to face her, fair and square. 'This may sound potty, but you are the hollowness inside. At last, I have found my sense of loss.'
'I'm flattered,' she said in Estuarine undertones, blushing a little. Her dimpled cheeks resembled two squashed cherry tomatoes, only bigger. 'I always like to be of assistance to strangers.'
'After you,' said Adam, bowing theatrically and showing the way with her suitcase like a truncheon-toting gendarme stopping the traffic for pedestrians. He could not help noticing the shaft of light that fell on her top bottom - proof positive that the sun shone out of her behind - before leaving the station, hot on her high heels.
They repaired to a small, dingy restaurant nearby (which Margarita praised on account of its 'atmosphere') where Adam poured out his heart and a couple of cheap, albeit potent, bottles of plonk. Whining and dining, in medias res.
'We are all post-Denis de Rougemont.'
'Couldn't agwee maw,' said Marwgawita, probably making a mental note never again to shpeak wiv her mouf full. Frankly, she did not seem to have a clue what he was going on about.
'We know full well that love doesn't last, and yet we cling to the ideal like shit to a blanket.'
She turned up her already-retroussť nose. How much more retroussť can it get? he wondered.
'Maybe it's just me. I was taken away from my mother at an impressionable age. This whole thing's very Oedipal, I know.' Adam cringed at his attempt to laugh it off.
'I could spank you, free of charge, if you think that might help.'
'I'd rather not if it's all the same with you,' he replied rather primly, his flushed face a slapped-arse crimson, 'but thanks for the offer. Might even take you up on it some other time. Except...,' Adam paused for effect, '...there won't be another time.' He sighed, staring into his bowlful of miniature bow-ties, topped up their glasses and cleared his throat. 'Love stories are like fairy tales...'
'Aren't they just ?' she interrupted, a trifle too eager.
'...in that we know the end from the start. Only it's not 'and they lived happily ever after,' is it ?'
Crocodile tears welled up in her belladonna eyes.
'You know, someone should write a different kind of love story for the new millennium. It would start with the foregone conclusion and work its way back towards the unknown: how it all started in the first place.'
'Will you write this new-fangled love story?'
'I'm writing the first pages even as we speak - with your assistance, of course.'
'I like to be of assistance.' She smiled a wet smile. 'So that's it, then?'
'Yes, in our beginning is our end.'
He saw the light now. God may have made woman out of Adam's rib, but he also planted her in his heart and mind. This is where she had always been. This is where she would remain, a figment of his imagination.
It was raining when Margarita stepped out of the restaurant. Adam watched her amber umbrella disappear from view, a Belisha beacon of hope on a dimmer switch. He scribbled a few words on the paper tablecloth. D'elle, il ne reste que ses tagliatelles.
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