absence of title | By: luis filipe baldaia correia coutinho | | Category: Short Story - Other Bookmark and Share

absence of title


“Absence of title”


 Clad in sarcasm and dripping with guile, he sits alone at the corner of the room carefully ignoring everyone around him. To betray his stance or his posture by idle talk seems unbearable, seeing as he is much more content in smiling nonchalantly as he lets himself be lulled to higher ground by the clinking of glasses and the syrupy flow of strangers’ talk.

 He sits up straight on an uncomfortable chair near the window and watches patiently the cloak and dagger of human interaction that can only be witnessed in an alcohol fuelled party.  His legs crossed, his right hand nestled in his pocket, his left clutching a vodka glass, his reddish eyes darting back and forth while his ears register whatever seeps into his auricular pavilion and survives the cobwebs of his earwax and fickle attention span; he is muted by isolation. Whatever scant attempt to exchange pleasantries has been short-lived and innocuous, a sort of template put to effect by years of textbook fondness and niceties. Now he is a firm rock on the shores of human contact, a Man-made sculpture carved by time to emulate the fleshy conglomerate that is Man.

 He takes another sip of the vodka, becoming palpable the difficulty he has in keeping his expression as seraphic as possible as the transparent liquid scrapes the sides of his throat. The first few were mitigated by the fact that the ice made it fresh, cool, refreshing even. But now, the tepid air infected by the by-products of breath and motion of the group of people he has been a part of for a few hours now, alongside his own sweaty palm that insists on producing heat, have turned the once pleasant sips into oozing, bitter pills to swallow. He feels like he is slowly drinking embalming fluid, preserving himself into eternity. Perhaps that is why he sits so still with a knowing smile stubbornly on his lips. It’s as though he has the opportunity to choose his final pose in this world and has possibly chosen one of the least favoring.

 Through the window one can behold the city, the great giant that everyone in this party inhabits in parasitical pleasure. Time passes and London keeps everyone on their toes, it controls the space and time it thrives on by continuously changing into different things. As it tortures with traffic and crowded underground subways, it also pleases with sunsets on Hyde Park or the silent ostentation of Piccadilly Circus. While it pats your back and caresses your cheek with multiculturalism and the hustle and bustle of things getting done it also rakes your chest and pours salt on the wounds through indifference and frigidness. By morphing from saint to whore and from fun cousin to weird pederast uncle London keeps its inhabitants with a constant lust for life, an undefined hunger for whatever they can drain from its cement teat.

 This party was no exception. From the early onset everyone could feel that this was going to be a hard night. There was a certain predisposition to joy that could only lead to trouble. He remembers walking through the door with nausea and nervousness by his side, the inevitable side effects of his strange decisions. To no avail were the various warnings issued by his sister and mother to not attend this party, for she would be there.

 He was married once, well, not exactly married as he would put it, definitely not married as she would state but definitely on a definite exact point of uneventful limbo. He lived with her for four years, although for dramatic effect he would sometimes say it was for four years, seven months and three days. The fact is that he has no idea the exact month or day that they began sharing quarters but finds that the chronological accuracy seems to add to his misery and, consequently, to the sympathy he is granted.

 The four years they spent inhabiting the same flat were as miserable for him as they were for her. They were obviously mismatched and let their differences fester under the cloak of captivity until resentments sprouted like fungi and spread like magma: scorching. She was merely the first to realize that the solution to their problem was a simple pursuit of happiness and satisfaction. They sat down, had a long, tearless and necessary talk during which they were engulfed by such rationality and seriousness that overflowed peacefully to a hall turgid with her luggage and an empty bed devoid of any indentations for one week. That was the grace period given to her bed, at the end of which, his drowsed rolling populated Sarah’s cot with creases and occasional pubic hairs, as he had taken to sleeping in the nude.

 She invited him to this party as an act of good faith, as a careful offering of peace, possibly an attempt to take him by the hairs at the back of his head and grind his face to a bloody pulp on her new found living arrangements and happy life. He opened the email with anxiety and answered it with fiery determination. He would not be the lesser man in this game of keeping up appearances. He decided to go to the party and proudly display his indifference towards the gaping continuous hole that her leaving resolutely left behind. What gnawed at his insides was that despite her absence being the problem, the tiny remembrances of her that were sprinkled around the flat only dribbled acid toilet water onto an already infected wound. To be beaten down by her absence and her presence at the same time only simmered his psyche to new bitter lows.

 He hates her for leaving, for being the one that took the necessary step towards appeasing the rampant flooding that was their inability to coexist. Now all his energy and breath just bounce off the cheap paint that she had advised him on until they find him again, often sitting and watching television, brooding and immersed in silence.

 Sullen, he let the feeling of abandonment cook him slowly until he felt as oppressed by her memory as by the cat she persuaded him to buy’s various routines and neediness. She insisted the flat needed more life and always made a pungent point do advocate cats as interesting and cute animals. He had adopted it through a co-worker, a cat lover that found himself with quite an impressive litter do distribute after his female cat wasn’t guarded enough to keep her pulsing hindquarters out of feline reach. When she left, the cat stayed behind, a constant reminder of her influence over him, of his spineless nature, of his hypocrisy towards her.

 Tonight, he walked through the door with a peaceful smile on his face and an uncomfortable glint in his eye. He quickly made his way towards the host of the party, whom had the nerve to greet him with a joy and effusiveness unforeseen, at least for him, as she had been in high spirits all throughout the night. After the pleasantries, he secluded himself in his inconspicuous corner and froze in space and time.

 So, in fact, the relaxed and superior posture he displays is nothing more than a poorly constructed façade. He is prey to his own tachycardia, his forehead is sprinkled with small beads of sweat and one can easily spot just how forced his smile is. For you see, he is waiting, he is poised to stand attention to the inevitability of events as it has been half an hour now since he excused himself to no one and left for the bathroom. He took his satchel, his frequent companion through the unpredictability of life that had sometimes been referred to as his purse by Sarah. It was always with jesting intonation but the twists and turns of his cogitations had turned the insipid comments into frontal attacks. After a quick glance at the mirror, he opened his old friend and with a level of care that surprised even him placed the dead cat he had been carrying all night long in the bathtub. He didn’t mean to kill it, restricting his influence in its fate to a hurling of a book towards the wretched beast, instantly breaking the small neck so often craned towards him as a trick to beg for food. Now it lays lifeless on the coldness of its frigid coffin, buried under the sweet smell of Sarah’s bath salts and impeccably white towels.

 He removes his right hand from his pocket and rests it on his lap. He takes a deep breath, reveling in the knowledge that while filling his lungs he is robbing everyone in the party the opportunity of equal access to oxygen. This party is clearly not a socialist utopia, as every person here seems to be boasting or speaking highly of their own achievements. He sees himself more like a stoic sage, a benevolent father blissfully sitting by the fire whilst listening to his children’s playful power struggles.

 Ten minutes after he trudged away from Sarah’s welcome and found his seat, Meg waddled over to where he had just made his base camp. He never liked Meg’s sycophant laugh after each of Sarah’s jokes and had never been truly at peace with her way with words while dispensing what she always thought was useful advice to anyone willing to listen to her, who were, honestly, only Sarah, as he only managed to disguise his dislike of her while under the influence of alcohol or marijuana. Meg is also fat, a fact nor unpleasing on its own but, somehow, it made a point to rear its head every time he cared enough to make fun of her, or maybe insult her. She rolled over to where he was sitting and said:

-       What are you doing here?

He looked in her eyes, struggling to not spit on her and replied:

-       Hi Meg. I’m just sitting, enjoying the party. How are you? Enjoying the buffet?

-       You shouldn’t have come here. She only invited you to be polite. You really hurt her, acting like a prick, like you did.

Meg’s tone was serious but, at the same time, she made sure to keep her voice at a reasonable tone, so as to not disturb the quiet waters of her friend’s pleasant party. Unfortunately he was still at the top of his game

-       Meg, please, I’m not here to start any trouble, I’m just honoring our host and trying to have some fun. I’m not even here to bury any hatchet as it’s already been buried. It’s true I threw a bit of a tantrum, threw some books around, but I’m fine now and perfectly civil to Sarah. I even brought a house warming gift.

He kept his eyes fixed on her, as if contemplating the chance of Meg frisking him, and opening his satchel to give her security clearance to his gift. She just uncrossed her frankfurter arms and said

-       You are weird. You were only her flat-mate, that’s all. You became obsessed or something, but you are just the guy that paid part of the rent.

 Then she orbited around her own axel and walked away, leaving in her wake the sweet smell of aggressiveness and whatever fried food she had been stuffing down her thick neck earlier. As she avalanched away, he placed his right hand in his pocket and stared with a content smile to the peacefulness of the world.

 It was amazing to him how everyone around him insisted on calling Sarah and him flat-mates, like they were nothing to each other. The truth is they never had the slightest of romantic entanglements, but that didn’t produce any doubt in his mind as to the nature of their relationship. In fact, he hadn’t become obsessed with her, restricting his more intrusive romanticisms to smelling her undergarments, setting his genitals on her towels in the hopes of her cleaning her face using the exact same one and making sure to use the bathroom right after her so as to feel the warmth of her body in the toilet bowl or fully soak in the myriad of smells and the vivid picture her bowel movements and urine painted about her habits. The thing that didn’t really make him obsessed is that he could mourn her when she left, he didn’t cling to her. Also they couldn’t stand each other; their relationship was one of apparent passive-aggressive hatred.

 But now, as he takes his hand out of his pocket he decides it’s time to go. He grabs his satchel and enjoys the familiarity of its fabric in his hand as he places it on his shoulder. He distributes nods and discrete smiles as he heads to the door. He feels like the pope, humbling himself to his subjects and bidding his farewell to everyone and no one. He is walking down the stairs and contemplating his feet as they grapple each step as best as they can when he hears a shriek from the vicinity of Sarah’s apartment. He smiles as he is almost certain that someone found hatchet blissfully asleep in the bathtub.

Greeted by the white noise of the city, he slightly recedes into his jacket when confronted with London’s chilly night and its moist pavement. Tonight the whore seems pleased with its child because she made the stars visible and rain unlikely, which facilitates his journey home, at least the bit he is going to spend above ground, out of the underground, London’s innards. He is not without some sort of regret for not being present for the discovery of the wretched beast but he had to leave. He needs to clean himself and change his clothes as the whole time his right hand had been in his pocket, he had been masturbating. The immediate chill he felt when reaching the street was not so much caused by his exposed ears as by the humid stain on his trousers. When he reaches the underground station he looks one more time to the stars, bidding farewell to the cold breeze and the freeing open air and releasing Sarah´s memory to the wind, to let the city have its way with it, because London always claims a percentage of its occupants’ souls.  


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