Sparkling water… no fizz
The telephone rang again.
‘I love you.’
She cut him short and then made sure her mobile was turned off. She had told him she must work. There must be no interruptions of any kind and especially of that sort. He knew she had lectures to write. He knew, or anyway she had explained to him, what an intellectual effort, what concentration was required to grapple with the problems of language and meaning. He was a programmer. He ought to understand. He wasn’t unintelligent. He had a sharp, analytical mind but he believed that science and technology had all the answers; or, at least, they had the only sure means of discovering them. There was empirical knowledge based on observation and experiment; from it were derived verifiable, scientific truth and that was all that mattered. Existential philosophy like she taught was no different from medieval theologians arguing about how many angels could stand on the head of a pin. Very clever, very esoteric but basically utter nonsense.
She sat chewing her knuckle and feeling wretched. She mustn’t phone him back. She had no reason to feel guilty. He was not the only one with a job to do even if what she taught was, in his words, ‘incomprehensible poppycock’.
‘I love you.’ The words kept repeating in her head. She couldn’t get rid of them. She heard them with the same inflection, with the exact timbre of his voice. It was as real as if he was there beside her; his voice was deep, slightly husky and most appealing of all, with a trace of hesitancy that made him sound shy. The huskiness suggested he was a smoker but he wasn’t. He kept himself fit and his body toned. The firmness and muscularity of his body sometimes provoked doubts about her own. Hers was soft. It didn’t ripple with muscles. He had laughed at her when she confessed the misgivings she had. He had pulled her towards him and run his hands under her jumper.
‘I love your softness,’ he whispered and she had wanted there and then to discard all her clothes and offer him all her softness, every bit of it, without reserve.
The monitor suddenly went dark reminding her that she had not touched the keyboard for several minutes. A little tap woke it up and a quick impatient shake of her head brought back into focus the last words she had written.
‘Language has given us a way to express our experience of ‘in-ness’, to objectify it and, by extension, to begin to describe the world by extending that experience to the world around us. In an expression such as ‘I am in love’ the word ‘in’ functions in a primary way; compare ‘the book is in the drawer’ where it is secondary and derivative. The human understanding of in-ness begins with our sense of being-in-the-world. Language makes it possible to extend this sense beyond ourselves and imbue the book with an in-ness which is a uniquely human experience’.
She tried to recollect her train of thought by re-reading the paragraph. The words conveyed nothing to her. Yet a moment ago they had seemed to express exactly what she meant. She wondered if any anyone else would understand them. Perhaps he was right. Perhaps it was all pretentious drivel. She found she was staring at the rose he had given her yesterday. She’d put it in a narrow glass on the table next to her computer. How strange that he had rung just as she had written those words, ‘I am in love’. She believed in telepathy but he didn’t. Had he ever considered what he meant by ‘love’. Wasn’t the idea of an emotion that couldn’t be described or analysed or even verified utterly at odds with his rational scientific outlook? She had challenged him to say what he meant when he said he loved her. She could have told him what the words meant for her, or rather what the words did to her when he spoke them. Because it was like he had cast a spell, a spell that had her immediately in thrall. That’s why spells are magic, because they weave an invisible web around their object. By doing this they define the reality the weaver of the spell wants to possess. She told him this with all the urgency of her conviction.
‘You have a weird way of seeing things!’ he had said this as he gently tipped her back on the bed and kissed her.
‘Why? Because I use a word like ‘magic’?’ she asked him as soon as her mouth was free. ‘Language is magic, isn’t it? Language casts a spell.’
‘So I’m going to cast a spell now.’ And he placed his lips on hers again.
‘That’s not fair,’ she said, as soon as she could.
‘Why not? It’s the language of love. Surely that goes beyond anything mere words can convey.’
She had wanted to object. She had wanted to say that mere physical contact could no more be trusted than words but his lips were on hers again and she gave up trying to use words, at least for the time being. It was infuriating because he could always beat her in this way. She desperately wanted to demonstrate the legitimacy of her intellectual stance and shakiness of his.
He was a bit sulky when he came that evening. He thought she was being unfair hanging up on him and turning her mobile off.
‘Yeah, yeah. I know you have work to do and it does your head in if I phone. But sometimes I just need to hear your voice. Then I know you’re real. If you slam the phone down on me it’s like you’re denying my existence.’
She didn’t argue with him about ‘slamming the phone down’. She didn’t want to score cheap points about telephones. She thought it was rather sweet that he used such an old fashioned expression. Instead she said, ‘You don’t understand how tough it is what I’m doing. And it’s even tougher when you tell me it’s all rubbish and airy-fairy metaphysical nonsense.’
‘Oh, come on. It’s just that I don’t understand that stuff. But I do know I love you and that isn’t metaphysical nonsense.’
‘How do you know that?’ she asked. ‘You only believe in things you can verify scientifically. How do you verify love? How do you prove it exists? Can you measure it? Weigh it? Put it under a microscope? Subject it to tests under laboratory conditions? Perhaps you think brain scans would give the answer. Oh, yes, it’s clear he’s genuinely in love because that little area of his brain lights up when he is shown a picture of his girlfriend.’ She was aware that her voice sounded sharp and unsympathetic.
‘You are just being perverse.’
‘I’m not. It’s just that you can’t have it both ways. Denying the metaphysical and yet wanting me to believe that you believe in love.’
‘I know what I feel, for goodness sake.’
‘And what you feel is sufficient evidence to prove love’s existence?’
‘It’s enough for me.’
‘Well, it oughtn’t to be. It’s completely at odds with your rationalism.’
‘Why are we having this argument?’ He sounded weary.
‘Because you make me feel ridiculous. As though my intellectual work is just a kind of frivolous girly thing like… like… writing about make-up. Whereas yours is real manly stuff, only dealing with the brute scientific realities. And I want you to examine your beliefs and see where love fits into them. I want to see how you demonstrate, scientifically, the existence of love.’
‘Don’t you believe I love you?’ He looked so upset, she almost relented. Stubbornly she said, ‘What I believe doesn’t prove anything. In any case this is precisely about the differences in our beliefs. I have no difficulty believing in a transcendental state like love. I don’t need scientific proof of its reality.’
‘Neither do I,’ he said gallantly. ‘I trust my feelings and you should trust yours as well.’
She could see he was making a huge effort. He moved towards her with his arms extended and an expression on his face that she read as conciliatory. She evaded him by moving round the table. She wouldn’t let him scupper her by allowing him to get his arms around her. She knew only too well that the next move would be them pulling each other’s clothes off and after that…Well, their intellectual differences would be forgotten in the excitement of a different kind. Worse, he would be smugly convinced that her intellectual pretensions always evaporated when sex was on offer. Women were so biological. Motivated by their wombs.
‘Aw, come on,’ he said his arms invitingly open, ‘Don’t be like that.’
‘No,’ she replied, ‘this a matter of principle.’
He dropped his arms and shrugged.
‘I’m too tired for this. I’ve had a shit day and if I phoned you it was because I needed to hear your voice. I know I’m not supposed to phone you. But don’t you forget I’m not supposed to make personal calls either during work.’
‘Of course, it doesn’t occur to you that I too can have a shit day because I’ve got a series of lectures to deliver and I’m already behind on them and when I get telephone calls from you it completely throws me off my stride. I got nothing done afterwards. Sometimes the themes are so complex my head feels like it’s bursting and on top of that I’m under pressure to publish. My academic review comes up shortly and it’s make or break for me. I could be on the dole at the drop of a hat. At least you’re on a contract. I’ve got nothing. So when you phone me to whinge about your shit day it shouldn’t surprise you that I don’t want to know.’
She was as surprised as he by the anger in her voice. They stared at one another until he said, ‘I’m going. You can get on with your very important work. I won’t bother you anymore. You’ve won your argument. I thought I knew what love meant. But you’re right; I don’t. In any case, what I thought it meant is obviously different from what you think it means.’
‘Walking out. That’s just too easy. You’re being childish. She won’t let me win, boohoo, so I’m going to sulk on my own.’
‘Sometimes you’re just horrible. Just look at yourself in the mirror and you’ll see how ugly you are.’ In a final gesture he snatched the rose from its glass and flung it on the floor. ‘I won’t ring. You might be too hard at work.’
The door slammed. She stood, shocked, in the empty room. Why? What had she done? Is this what happens when a man loses an argument? I understand nothing, she thought. I shouldn’t be teaching. What do I know? About being, or love; as for being in love… All I understand is what it means being in a bloody mess.
About the Author
Nick Sproxton is a writer and painter. He writes short stories and is in the process of creating a website to promote his work. He can be found meanwhile on Facebook. He is about to publish a fantasy novel aimed at the young adult market.
Published March 8 2016