They talked on the phone every day, but not for long. Matthew didn’t have a telephone in his flat, he’d just moved in, so he called her from a public phone on the street or in the underground. Besides, they were still just strangers who wanted to get to know each other, they didn’t have yet the means to sustain a few moments on the telephone without saying a word, on the sole support of a past and of a present that were both shared and private. Their conversation relied only on the concrete facts they had to tell each other, which were pretty soon through: he would ask her how she was, she would answer ‘fine’, he would insist ‘what were you doing?’, she would answer, then Matthew would tell her where he was, on his way home or in front of the block of flats, he would also tell her he missed her, she would reply ‘so do I’ (which sounded to her much too unnatural, as it had been prompted by his statement and not a statement in its own right). She told him this too one day and he wondered,
‘Why does it sound to you artificial?’ and, under the pressure of what his exclamation implied, that is, that maybe it sounded artificial to her because she didn’t actually mean it when she said it, she kept quiet, confused, uneasy, too embarrassed by his suspicion to be able to explain herself.
Very often the telephones didn’t work right and she could only hear him faintly, which added to the strain of understanding his funny, kiddish way of pronouncing the words. The difficulty to understand him made her tense, talk very little, and that got him to insist with questions about anything new she had to tell him, sometimes even with a vague complaint that she wouldn’t find anything to tell him, and then she started searching feverishly for something to say, some story to tell, no matter if impersonal or private, but in vain. That is why such conversations usually left her with a rather bitter taste, like any failed attempt, and with the anticipation of the weekend, when they would meet face to face. They would look forward to these weekend dates, hoping that face to face they might be more natural and closer to each other than on the phone.
They would always go to his place. The way there had seemed to her long and complicated, but she remembered that his block of flats was on the edge of that part of the town. From his living-room window you could see no other window, only very far in the distance another district in a totally different part of the town, but between here and that place there spread the field, bare, idle, like a huge plateau descending from Matthew’s door. When she was there for the first time, she had looked at the field and Matthew had exclaimed with excitement,
‘I love it here! We’re in the last block of flats, on the last floor, in the last flat! It’s going to be so beautiful here in spring, when these bushes are going to be green!’ He had then shown her the flat, which indeed looked like a hangar, large and empty, as his parents hadn’t moved in yet. Matthew explained that the building had just been finished and had no heating yet, so he was living there alone, alone in the last block of flats, on the last floor and in the last apartment. It was only the living room that was more or less furnished, or so at least she remembered, his study room had an armchair, the desk, a miniature TV set, the magnetic tape recorder and some ashtrays – no, actually there was only one. In his bedroom there was just a bed and then large cardboard boxes, brushes, newspapers, cloths littering the whole apartment. She had left her overcoat on a chair and on stepping forward she had heard her footsteps on the bare floor.
He kept asking her if she was cold, adding that he’d got used to it, and his questions prevented her from being cold, even though the cold early March air was rolling in from every corner. She’d smile and answer she was fine and keep on quiet, cringing to herself with the cold and the silence of that place. To fill this silence of the place and maybe hers too, Matthew had played music.
Someone had started then to talk about the flags of impossible pasts, which were now lying in chains and in rags; about derelict sidings where poppies entwined and where cattle trucks were waiting for the next time; someone had asked then do you remember me and the voice had sounded high-pitched and lost; then She had appeared on the threshold, with the ghost of a smile haunting her face like a cheap hotel sign and someone had stepped forward boldly and said I was just a kid then, now I’m only a man, and then someone else asked whispering why Jesus was crucified, someone should tell him straight and open if it was for himself or for another or if he’d watched too much TV, and then went on to ask what have we done, should we shout, should we scream, what happened to the postwar dream? What have we done, what have you done to our world? And then another voice remembered when he was young and shining like the sun and now his eyes are like black holes in the sky, shine on crazy diamond! He was caught between the bullets of the childhood and of the stars, like a target, like a stranger, like a legend, shine on, crazy diamond, delirious, ghost-seeker, prisoner, shine on! Then she could hear the faint voice of someone behind a wall, wailing again and again hey you out there, feeling cold, feeling lonelier and older all the time, but screaming on hey you don’t give up without a fight! and he wailed won’t you help me carry my weight? But the wall was thick and cold and the guy behind it despaired hey you don’t tell me there’s no hope, together we stand, divided we fall!
Then there was an ocean of sounds and nobody was saying anything, the sounds were just flowing amid asteroids gone mad with the secret of the void, amid giants that could barely carry their desertedness. And in this flow, the sounds picked up the song of each sphere, songs of loneliness, for though the endless space is full of shapes of all kinds, numberless and infinitely replicated, between them there flow rivers of loneliness. Now and then they will collide, they feel for an instant, on their one-way journey, each other’s taste, crust and only little of their kern, then they drift further apart, never to find each other again in this vast ocean of bodies and this infinite of probabilities.
And in an empty flat on the edge of the field she was receiving these codes coming from nowhere, that is, from every atom surrounding her that was casting helplessly, desperately its message to the universe, as in an empty bottle in the sea.
She suddenly heard Matthew’s repeated questions.
‘What are you thinking about, Adriana, please tell me, what are you thinking about?’
She gazed at him slightly intrigued by the new and unexpected feeling that Matthew and his begging eyes were far far away, right on the other bank of a river of solitude, she even seemed to hear her and his tunes, their encoded messages melting into that sad song, and could see herself and Matthew as two worlds in the ocean of solitary worlds.
She stared at him without giving an answer while the music flowed on, and what could she possibly answer, for she herself couldn’t understand what was going on and she wished too she could tear herself away and from his arms point to him ‘look Matthew, that creature has terrified me’, but the music dripped on, endless, keeping her locked within its sounds.
She suddenly started to hear Matthew, hear his words and see his eyes, closer and closer, although she could still discern the music in the background. She could see then that Matthew seemed to be like her, captive, she could hear him saying sad things and she wondered what they had to do with the two of them, what underlying connection there was between those things and Matthew, she then saw him trying hard to smile and pursing his lips in resignation and then she wished her own smile could be full and true, only to make him smile truly too. Usually they would change the subject then to a factual one that was easier to deal with, he would then look almost cheerful, like a kid that is trying to come to terms with what he has if he can’t have more, which was making her ache, she wished again she could work wonders and he would watch her amazed as she was turning that box into a wardrobe and that newspaper into a carpet, and those cardboard boxes into a warm stove, and the cloths into curtains, filling his life in a second with one wave of the hand and one word. O god, she would say to herself, what was she supposed to do and say for this Matthew? What was the word and how was she supposed to wave her hand?
He walked through the flat singing a familiar kids’ song, she couldn’t remember what exactly it was, but she could hear his voice echoed by the walls of the flat and the words, improvised by Matthew, for all the gaiety of his joke, made her still sadder: ‘nobody cares about me, nobody cares about me, nobody cares about me…’, Matthew would sing again and again. Then he came to her with a piece of cake and told her ‘here, if you won’t have it I’ll sing again nobody cares about me’ and then she would have the cake, even if she didn’t like it, only to stop him from singing again.
She would come to herself only back home, sometimes a few days later and it was only then that she would have been able to say something to him. Not being with him, she would try to write. She would do her best to peer into herself and articulate something, but the result sounded phony, beside the true meaning, which she failed to capture. She had once said, quoting her favourite writer, that writing helped her think. Everything would settle down more meaningful on the paper, everything became clearer and could be explained better. It was just that now the doors wouldn’t open and she would go on peeping through the keyhole in an attempt to see something. The pen would put to paper only stereotypes that had no connection with the truth within her. She would end up talking about herself in useless generalities that failed to bring her closer to Matthew nor to her own unknowns. She would think hard about how different Daniel had been from Matthew, but then what was the big deal about this difference? The question would gush out from between her unconvincing and too elaborate lines.
Our ego made us both pretty suspicious. It seemed to me time and time again that you would have me see you were better by all means – or that I was not as good as you. You treated me very often like a child and when I did say something childish you looked at me in some kind of reproach, as if I’d embarrassed you in public. I realized I sounded immature, that you were comparing me often to my disadvantage. That’s why I’d get still angrier when we had a fight, mostly angry with myself for letting all that happen. Once you tried to explain to me why sometimes you were so hard to be with.
‘Every day when I get to work I feel like flipping the papers from everyone’s desks and making all sorts of crazy things. Then little by little I get into the routine, the continual hassle bugs me and I get home grumpy and tired.’
I was listening almost piously for that human side of you, with your intimate reflexes and patterns, with your ebbs and flows.
‘And all of this doesn’t sound like much. If in a few years’ time someone asks me if they should do evening studies I’ll tell them yes, go ahead, because these things are easily forgotten. I’ll tell them yes, it’s hard, but it’s not impossible and you do make some money by working at the same time. But right now it’s a bit tough and whoever I’d tell this they wouldn’t understand. Because no matter how much someone knows about you and no matter how good their intentions are, they can only understand you up to, say, forty percent.’
‘OK, Daniel,’ I said, ‘ that forty percent understandable I understand, you’re tired and busy and grumpy. But you settle things with everyone the same, no matter who they are!’
‘That’s right. Isn’t it normal to repay tooth for tooth?’
What could I reply?! Everything was logical and correct, but I was proud of a few illogical and incorrect things I had done for you. I believed that when you care about someone you take account of more than the tooth for tooth formula.
She stopped reminiscing. Why was she indulging herself in these memories? Why would she still want to cry on Matthew’s shoulder over how much Daniel had hurt her? Why, since the problem now seemed to be not Daniel’s ruthlessness, but what she could possibly build between herself and Matthew? And in fact everything between her and Daniel had after all only little been about hostilities and fights, but on the contrary, an unhoped-for harmony of temperaments. Why was she now faking even the past, which means highest certainty and clarity?
She tried hard to recall precisely one of those moments of harmony with Daniel, so she could retrieve that past, but there came no story, only a warm feeling. She saw herself waiting for him in a bus station on a dark late-autumn night when he was coming out from his school, and then he’d show up with his cap on and his familiar bouncing gait. Or his penetrating look at her smiling, even if from behind his glasses, or his seducing kisses and his firm touch. They could eat a takeaway pizza on a bench in a park and then kiss and kiss and… soon it was time to go, when can they meet again. Once he had kissed her hand and put it to his cheek with simple tenderness.
She suddenly remembered the lonely and disconsolate Matthew, the Matthew whose life was a long row of days and nights. The Matthew that would force himself to smile and whose forced smile made her terribly sad. This Matthew had told her while holding her in his arms that he had once believed in a true love, but not now. She then started to cry and he kept asking her why are you crying Adriana, and she found in astonishment and despair that she had nothing to answer. Apparently there was no reason for her to cry, it was him that might have shed a tear on his graves, but she had cringed at the realization that she couldn’t fill his life, couldn’t work any wonders for him simply because he didn’t believe in wonders any longer and most of all didn’t believe in her. It was anyway sad to hear of someone who was living his life so dryly, every such piece of news would insinuate doubts about her own dreams, but it was all the more disheartening to know that person was the one who claimed to be by your side.
She could only articulate
‘It’s all so sad’, but that was too little. Too little to answer his questions and too little of what she was actually thinking.
Unsuspectedly there was another reason for her crying. Matthew had seen in her the robust, no-nonsense person and this was making her want to show him that she had her own inner life, her own need for support. This phony princess she was, was annoying her. She wanted to be a woman.
‘Will you be mine, Adriana?’ you asked.
‘So you get bored of me?’, I teased you.
You laughed, as if you’d expected it.
‘That is all up to you’.
‘And what should I do so you don’t get bored of me?’
And you kissed me. Lovely answer. Not so satisfying though.
Remember when you told me very earnestly that I was supposed to trust you because you had given me all your trust and it was my turn too, otherwise we couldn’t go further? I smiled to myself then. You were amazing claiming my trust so directly and categorically as if trust was a matter of voluntary decision. Of course I trusted you and loved you that second for your transactional style.
She had tried being with Matthew what she had been with Daniel. The malleable person, ready to compromise and let go, but it was nonsense, since Matthew wasn’t trying to shape her according to his will. On the contrary, he kept asking her what she wanted to do, if this or that was possible or if she allowed him this or that. She had no will to bend to. What she found as an alternative was to be the lovely fragile creature, the playful girl indulging herself and claiming indulgence, but one day he said
‘O no, it’s me I want to be the kid!’
So she had nothing else at hand. Matthew had settled her in the only role she could play – the warm understanding motherly creature, but she found that to be an unimaginative role, which allowed her no side developments, no sparks.
However, she would have taken that role too if only she had been aware of it. If in the first days Matthew had found sadness in her eyes when there was none, had dug out her sensitivity when she had thought it in perfect health, now instead her sensitivity was running amok but he was expecting her to master the whole ship and had subtly changed his own role. They had started their story as knight and princess, and now he wanted to rewrite it claiming her ailing heart and handing over his helmet instead.