A brown path. I know the brown path. [i]Dancing head to head, nose to nose, arms outstretched, I can feel her breath, taste her exertion, our eyes are almost inside each other.[/i] Soft under my feet, completely clean, dusted with fragrant earth and slight drops of rain from the leaves who stretch their necks in such beautiful arches. Waxy [i]sweat[/i]. Walking through silence – [i]the ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in, meltdown expected, the wheat's growing thin.[/i] Emerging from the forest, a babbling stream [i]lalage[/i] on my left, a horseshoe of trees on my right, in the distance purple headed mountains [i]baptisms of fire[/i] rise from a flat, green plain. The Georgian temple sits squarely, resting on its columnic elbows, a smiling dias inviting approach. Wet grass. My feet are immaculate. Small fronds push through between my toes. Ticklish. Cool. It feels like cucumber tastes, sparkly, summery. I climb four stone steps, grey, warm from the sun, and turn to face the door, inset under a masonry crown, above it “Know Thyself”.
He's here and I can't see him, not now, not ever. I retire to my room, a long, high ceilinged affair, mostly wood, some of it painted white, some of it not. The bed is too soft and still unmade. Crumpled linen looks tired. I draw some water from a jug and wash my face. It doesn't help. My skin is too thin. I can't dilute the salt. My cheeks start to come away in my hands. I don't know whether to rub more vigorously or stop. What if my whole face falls off? Surely that can't happen.
There's a knock at the door. I'm worried it's him. I could hide. Where? I look around the room. There's nothing in it, apart from the unmade bed and a rug. Such a pretty rug, old, like a magic carpet. I could try ..? No, that won't work. Another knock and then the door opens. I stare at the moving wood in horror. He can't see me like this, my face burned, my cheeks red raw. Dust, I could be dust, if I tried hard enough, if I wished fervently enough, I could disappear, slip between the floorboards, into the banqueting hall below, where they're serving pigs heads and mountains of red cabbage washed in vinegar. I can hear them singing, banging their tankards on the tables, there's a man with an accordion.
I hear my name, a name, the name I haven't heard for many years. It rolls across the floor like a million ball-bearings. “Christina,” she says. There are rain diamonds everywhere, tinkling to the ground, striking the wood, bouncing back. I can't move. I'll cut my immaculate feet. “Christina,” she calls, and I recognise her voice, even though it's been seventeen years. Seventeen years, old enough, young enough. “Ah there you are.” She steps in confidently. I stare at her. That hair, she still has it, thick, black, licking her back. That skin, she still has it, honey blonde, and almond eyes. Perfect. She holds out her hands like a lady greeting a friend. “It's been so long.” Yes it has, hasn't it Rebecca. “How the hell are you?” Much as you left me. “You look well.” I could never tell when she was lying.
And then we're in bed, underneath the damp, creased covers, and I'm gazing at the wall above the fireplace, desperate to lose myself in the pictures. A large oil dominates, its single yellow fist reaching up and repelling. Next to it a small, red print of a man's face perhaps. He looks back at me, entirely unconcerned. A watercolour sketch is pinned at the base of both, some sweeping lines and statements that I don't understand. “Oh, it was terrible,” Rebecca says, crawling up to me, wrapping her skinny limbs around mine. “He … and he … the locks changed … months and months.”
“But you learned Japanese,” I cut in, “not everything's negative”.
“Japanese. Who cares about Japanese?”
“You lived in Japan.”
“Yes,” she says, as if my statement of fact is irrelevant. Her legs have become vines and they're squeezing me now.
“Perhaps we could be friends,” I concede.
“Oh yes, I'd like that very much.”
I feel the leaves cover my face.
We booked the tickets some time ago thinking maybe they'd sell out. The theatre is dark, the audience arranged on steep stepping inclines furnished with large cushions, but they painted the interior with gloss and everything's slipping around. I'm uncomfortable. My elbow won't bend so that my head fits comfortably into my hand. And I nearly didn't make it. Took a wrong turn. Can't see anything at night, especially when the road's not lit. We settle back. I should relax. This is something I might enjoy, want to explore.
The film bursts onto the screen. A big room, perhaps the inside of an old warehouse, whitewashed walls, empty except for the people. They're naked, attractive and naked. A young woman with long, dark hair is laughing. Her breasts are most perfect. I fidget. And there's a man, with a bottle of champagne clamped between his thighs. He's pulling at the cork. The joke is most apparent. Sure enough the cork gives and he sprays bubbles over the woman. She's laughing happily, completely uninhibited.
They look like fleshy gold against the shadows. Her arms and legs move in generous co-ordination. Her nose is just the right shape. Her wavy, shiny hair falls over her rounded breasts. There's not an ounce of fat on her. After ten minutes the film is over. Now I will be able to see what I came to see. I do not care for the poets on parade.
A surprise, a treat, the compere for the evening is flushed with enthusiasm. They're all here, the cast, and they're going to perform for us. This is not what I was expecting. I want something anonymous. I've been looking forward to it. I begin to frown and bite my lip. The parading poets trip onto the stage from the wings. They're laughing. I don't think I can stand any more and then a woman appears, walks up to me but looks past me. She starts talking to the person on my right. I feel frustrated, angry. I used to know her, once, not that long ago; we were best friends and then we fell out, rather spectacularly. I want to slap her. She's deliberately ignoring me, talking over me, which is why we fell out in the first place. I sit up, interrupting her line of vision. I turn to the person she's talking to and say “Tell her to go away”. He smiles at me, but continues the conversation. She pushes my shoulder. I move backwards and face her.
“Your problem,” she starts, “is that you're rigid. You find it impossible to adapt to a situation”.
I don't know how to reply.
“You simply don't have the intellect, and this makes you defensive.” Her lips curl back. She has lipstick on her teeth. She always had lipstick on her teeth. I try to sneer, but instead I'm fascinated by her teeth. They're perfectly set, very white and her tongue's moving around behind them, rolling words out of her mouth which float into the air like bubbles, each one containing a well formed and wonderfully constructed idea. These baubles bounce around her, deflecting light, projecting little blasts of colour and laughter. “And another thing,” she continues, “you're not interesting. You like to imagine that your anger is passion. It's not. People get bored of you. You have nothing to back up your bluster. You're just one big rapturous fart, amusing for two seconds but then rather stale and unpleasant. You fill a room in all the wrong ways”.
I'm still staring at her teeth, her hair, so straight, utterly blonde, her jawline, a perfect right angle between her neck and chin, her cheekbones, set just so, pointing an exquisite line to her nose.
“But you're biggest problem is your jealousy.”
“It eats away at you.”
“Like a maggot at an apple?” I want to say, “or cancer at a bowel,” thinking more slightly more creatively, “or love at a heart”. But I don't say anything, instead I hang my head and dull bubble tears slip down my face, landing with exhausted plips on my folded hands. They feel warm, my hands, the tears. I remember the green leaves, the brown path, the fresh grass …