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Authors: Adam Thirlwell

Lurid & Cute

BOOK: Lurid & Cute
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For Alison



Why should I be the guinea pig for the caprice of fate? There was, after all, Pascha the second-hand book dealer, & Hennechen, the steamship agent …

Knut Hamsun,
, 1890





in which our hero wakes up

When I woke I was looking upside down at a line of velvet paintings on the wall above the bed. Jesus was standing on his halo beside a very bright Madonna – I mean the religious kind, not the disco version. In between the two of them was a tropicana beach – it was a palm tree, a palm tree, a palm tree, some blue sand. I thought perhaps I liked them, these velvet paintings. I liked the very bright vibe. But also I knew that although I liked the vibe it was not the vibe of my usual bedroom, just as the girl who was sleeping beside me in what seemed to be a hotel room was not my happy wife. It was that kind of problem situation, and while I acknowledge that some people would not feel that this is after all so bad – and that waking beside a person who is not ethically your own is just the usual way most humans enter the moral realm and therefore, kiddo, live with it – still, I could not be so suave. For a long time now there had been problems in the atmosphere – small cracks and fissures, like butterflies emerging in autumn, a light tropicália everywhere and it made me a little afraid. Just as now I felt like my head was somewhere else and I also felt very sick. I knew my phone must be beside me and I knew that I should look at it but I really also didn't. If at this point you had placed me on a chat-show sofa and asked me how I was feeling, I'd have told you that I basically was feeling very sad. Because I really am no big shot, or hoodlum. I am no
. Always girls have made me shy. In this role of high-speed macho I was about as authentic as the white chicks doing gang signs for photos. It really wasn't normal for me to wake up and not know how I got there. For me a normal pastime was to be intent on mathematical problems, or models of voting systems – my pastimes, I just mean, were always sweet and meditative. Nevertheless, this new thing went on happening and I was powerless to stop it. My head was definitely very bad. In Brasilia they were coming off their night shift, in Tokyo they were having a first whisky sour. Four thousand miles away there were drones just very noisily hovering in formation above the mountain passes and valley gorges, and down here on the quiet earth a girl who was not my wife was lying there beside me. Her name was Romy, and she was one of my favourite friends. She was blonde and when you saw her in a bar her hair was this gorgeous listless mass to one side of her neck but now I had this inner knowledge that she wasn't a natural blonde. She almost had no hair between her legs but it turned out that the hair that was there, a tuft, was definitely dark. That's what I tried to concentrate on while the light began to fry the nylon curtains and Romy continued to sleep. Because even if you're bewildered or sad you have to carry on. I remember one bodhisattva phrase –
keep cool but care
– and that phrase is never wrong. It's most certainly a rule to live by and such rules should always be treasured. I hope that if I prove one thing in the writing of this account it's the importance of rules for living, which is perhaps why in this story of my moral life I have decided to begin with this episode of blood. It was I think the place where my usual categories disappeared. I got up and dressed and stood there just considering how I was going to go back home – I mean in what state and with what explanations. But it was also very early. It was both way too late and also very early so I thought for now I would start with getting myself some breakfast, because sometimes the only correct way to act is to take care of the ordinary things. You have to think things through in stages. So I walked out into the car park and along to the hotel restaurant where I sat myself down. From the booth in which I sat I had a very bright view. It was nothing special. Insects rotated slowly in the green dawn, they just kept developing from nowhere, from the bright and granular air. My car was in the parking lot outside our door, and beside it there was what looked like a Caddy Hearse but I ignored it. And maybe this was a mistake – to ignore what other people might consider a definite sign. If you're used to the unfranked letters arriving at your house, or phone calls where a man asks if he's got through to the chapel of rest, I mean if you're alive to the mafia ways of telling a man he's marked or savaged or doomed, then maybe it could be said that I made a mistake. Had I known then what I know now, had I been able to understand the full ranges of terror I would come to know, the gore and ballistics, had I been able to perform the kind of loop-the-loop this manner of talking now allows me, I might well have argued in this way. But I always missed the obvious. I don't know why. Other people appreciated the ordinary things like shopping-centre car parks and cafe parasols, or whatever – the coffee-machine coffee. But me, no. I was much better at my own ruminations. It was very bright and very sad inside this restaurant. The radio was talking to itself but I had nobody to talk to, so I sat there in my booth with a view of the empty signscape and read through the laminate menu. I waited. I looked out the window. I kept looking at my watch and then the landscape for ten minutes: my watch and then the landscape, my watch and then the landscape. I really don't like waiting. Finally a waitress emerged from the kitchen. Her name was on her breast pocket. This name was Quincy. In another font, another badge was wishing me a nice day. And it was a nice day, no question. It was CGI nice, if you had not woken up in a state of oozing anxiety.

— I was waiting ten minutes, I said.

— You said what? said Quincy.

— I'm not making a formal complaint, I said. — I just think you should know that I came in I think ten minutes ago. It's really nothing.

— Uh-huh, said Quincy.

I don't think she really cared but at least I'd tried to help. I ordered my vegetarian breakfast. My style of eggs was sunny side up, to use the outmoded term. The colour of my juice was orange. I did want the hash browns. I ate my fries with gusto. I added the ketchup and mustard. And when I'd finished, having dragged some toast across the red-and-yellow plate, I rubbed my glasses clean with a wipe that Quincy had provided for my fingers. It was kind of her because people's hands are often covered in germs. It's always good to be conservative. The wipe made my glasses smell pure but they now also stung my eyes. I looked out over the horizontal electric lines, then the horizontal lines painted on the tarmac. Then I looked out over the vertical road signs. The world was as empty as that. I felt very trapped and very sad. Although of course in retrospect I was nowhere near as sad as I should have been because
in retrospect
Fate was about to juice me even more than it already had. Fate was all around me, like the crimping on a beer-bottle top. But then, it's never obvious at what point you can use this language of
in retrospect
too late
, for although they seem like normal phrases they conceal much more than is useful, so that one major problem with living is that at every point of dejection you generally think you have reached the lowest depth, and so like everyone I tended to imagine that this frazzled state in which I found myself was the very worst state possible, just as when indeed I was inside something much more damaging to my ideal as debonair and open-hearted, as inside whatever ride of death you enter at the funfair, a ride in which I came to know grotesqueries and savagery I never imagined I would need to consider, at that point I no longer cared about this previous knowledge at all. Whereas here, in this hotel, I was stricken.

to discover his transformation

Because I do not like to do things that are wrong. I am totally against it. And one thing that does seem wrong is to wake up in a bed beside a woman who is not your wife. Or let's say, no, because in fact there are better or worse ways of doing the very bad thing, and in general as I examined this situation with as much scruple as possible, I had to admit that to do this with a woman who was in many ways your best friend was an extra mistake, because I think I would happily argue in whatever saloon you put me in that sex with a mutual friend is probably worse for your adored wife in the hierarchy of wrongs than sex with a momentary stranger. Or at least I would say it was possible – but I wasn't thinking about these moral issues as methodically as I would have liked, a distraction which is so often a problem in this busy reckless age, because also I had a heaviness in my bowels and it was preoccupying me too. As I walked back to this hotel room where Romy was presumably waiting in some sleepy spaced-out manner, with eyeliner smudged in a way that would no question be appealing, I was suddenly regretting not using the bathroom in the restaurant. Because while on the one hand I didn't like going back inside the restaurant just to use the bathroom, on the other hand the thought of returning to my room and sitting down and exploding in the small hutch next to where Romy was sleeping … This didn't please me at all. But then I thought of a solution that made me proud. Before going back to the room, I decided, I would do the necessary checking out, and then silently take my backpack – for I am rarely without my backpack, partly because there's no end to the possessions I need to keep on my person for luck or voodoo or habit but also it's just the most useful method overall, I think, for taking objects with you if you're thinking about your future health – and then steal away. And afterwards I would go and get a coffee in a diner somewhere else and use whatever bathroom they could offer me and that was where I would more charmingly plan how I would return to my wife, Candy, in such a way that she didn't entirely hate me. This wasn't obviously usual for me – to leave a girl in bed without saying a proper goodbye. I would definitely admit that it seemed perhaps impolite. But in the end you have to choose among politenesses – and after all, I saw Romy very often. We would have many moments to discuss this and other aspects of our history. And also although I was in a very dark panic there was in me a sense that this manoeuvre did have a macho charm. It's not easy to admit it but as I stood there at reception, reading a calendar for the wrong month and the wrong year, I allowed myself this grizzled moment of glory. You, I was thinking, are paying for a girl to sleep. OK, she was no narco moll or Latina pop star, but still, it was something. It also occurred to me that if this was definitely happening then I might need more sustained medical attention. I needed more consideration applied to my pills. But that was only a parenthesis. And I would like to also assert at this early high point of pause and idyll that while it had its perhaps reprehensible machismo, this way of thinking, it surely also showed concern, for what can be kinder than not waking someone up when they don't want to? – and this concern was always something that my mother and father liked me to develop. They liked it when I thought about other people. They had a theory that one should work hard in this life.
You are so impatient, booby
, my mother said to me on many occasions in my life, like wanting to be more glorious than I am.
Why do you never do things slowly?
This was how she always talked.
Wake up, darling
, my mother would continue!
If this is what you want, then you need to take your time to get it. What did I do wrong to make you so impatient? You want things always to be the big bright blue sky?

BOOK: Lurid & Cute
7.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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