Simone Antsbe lives alone. She can hear them say it through the window.
In her wall is carved her wavering shadow, as it marks her way from dawn to dust. Leaning itself over a hard scraped wood desk, chipped spray paint peeling off the edges. Short breathes catch in and out, and an intermittent scribbling, like the burrowing of a rat in a wall, sounds from the desk piled high with paper. Plato’s Republic, the works of Simone Weill, Wittgenstein to keep her grounded, Socrates to lift her up; Stein to excite her passions, Pynchon to map them; Ballard to paint them; Dostoyevsky to challenge them.
A desk of dead words. To be honest with herself, pained her though it did, it was mainly a desk of men’s words.
Simone Antsbe scribbled on; she was lost in a different time and place. Long ago, or soon to be, time and over thinking had distorted the order of things quite so, she was doing battle with love.
Love can only be self-love. She scratched that out. Love for one is love for all things. That went too. She sighed and sipped at her ice lemon water. To love is to know madness is to know humanity is to know love.
‘I feel Simone, you are always testing me. I can feel your passion, but it’s like a fire behind a grate, restrained by your will’
‘My will for what?’
That same place, so much further ago, it reverberated back around her.
She swooped and darted and hid and danced in her stomach, sickly, sickly. A familiar comingling of bile and butterflies. Curse him, curse him, fuck you fuck you, stop it stop it. My Will is all my own, I am no household fire behind a grate no more than any man or woman, creature or arbor – not your amori
He was still looking at her, trying to pry her out, make the silence so stifling she had to explain, to flounder, to attempt to prove herself. She couldn’t decide if it was challenging or insulting. Her veins ran either hot or ice, but she held steady until he replied. She was no fool.
‘I don’t know. That’s what I often wonder’. He looked at her. ‘I do often wonder about you Simone’.
She looked away. Cold, instantly. Ashamed for him, she would never dare to say something so transparent and ridiculous, and to say it as a throwaway compliment, very possibly a lie, she wondered, what does that say about him? He is a fraudster, a pathetic pseudo intellectual player. She doubted whether she was the first girl he’d seen tonight.
‘I wonder whether it is your reluctance to enjoy what some cannot, as I see it hurts you’
Simone looked up, distracted from her logical building of his opposing self by a horrible glimpse of the self between them.
‘Or perhaps, if you are genuinely afraid. You’re not a timid person, and I know you’re secure in your mind in so many things that most minds don’t even consider, But you’ve spent so long talking about the grand picture, the world as whole, your neighbor, your brother, your mother, because it’s easier to fix everything for everyone when you’re afraid to confront something you deem unfixable. Did something happen, Simone?
He looked at her, the look of concern in his eyes stinging her, razor hot knives in her flesh, hatred bristled out of her. Her bones turned brittle, and her muscles pulsed. She rose, slowly, looking at him, lightly, all over. A new cynicism judging every aspect of his being. Had she noticed that ridiculous, expensive looking, jumper he was wearing before? No, but now it was a clear symbol of his blind ignorance and pretention and all of the reasons she hated him so strongly in that moment. Steadying herself on the side table, she gathered her jacket, her backpack, her bag, her scarf. While doing this she looked down away from him. The air shivered jagged. He watched her, tentative. He wasn’t so secure as he had been when the fire had been warm and the conversation agreeably distant. Nevertheless, he couldn’t have just left it, no.
She didn’t stop at the door as she let herself out. He got up to help her too slowly, she had moved swiftly to deter him, and skillfully positioned the door between them before he had made it within a meter.
He found himself alone.
He itched to read from one of the notebooks, or loose strips of paper and packaging on the desk, filled in her spiky scrawl…
No. He had done enough today. He had upset her, and scared her out of her own room (for he did still believe she was scared) and he must leave with as much dignity as he could. He didn’t want to scare her, she was the sweetest and sharpest of the women he knew, he craved her presence, even if he found her strange and disagreeable.
Should he leave a note? Would that be weird…?
In hindsight, he decided he couldn’t really be sure she had been angry, so maybe a friendly note would be a good idea, to show he knew she wasn’t angry really?
But then he looked at the table. It’s heavy, dark, stolid form. Simone’s shadow. Simone’s book’s. Simone’s nibbled pens. Laying waste among the words of dead men.
He was breathing a little too much in her face, and the whiskey on his breath wasn’t helping her, the way she felt it usually should. Who was this too sharply dressed man, more than a few years her senior, not bad in appearance, but exuding a tainted confidence into the air. A confidence she didn’t trust as she felt it, but she was angry, and masochistically drew herself to this him. A too curious mosquito, lit up in neon. The incident in her study had riled her, and she did not intend to return to the premises for at least this evening.
When she had left the flat earlier she had walked, mind and feet on auto pilot, for some while. She had wandered through the calming, clean and light off whites of Brunswick Square, along the seafront for sometime, not even thinking this time to stop and watch it licking the stones.
Suddenly she surprised herself by turning off back in land, and soon she’d been on the downs. It was still light, but she knew as she finally stopped, atop the park, looking over the idyllically, and insanely, she felt, ordered fields, that she now had to find somewhere to go. She had made a couple of calls and here’s where she’d end up. The Fishbowl, propping up the bar with this sleazy confidence trickster who she couldn’t help but find interesting. He was fascinating if he was what she suspected, and if he was the counter option, honestly, he was even more of an oddity. Her body felt loose and warm now, she felt comfortable to watch her customized self, just for such occasions, as it took the reigns, while the rest of her reclined back into that around her; they would worry about what they were watching later.
– The elder Simone, bent at her desk, had watched these films a thousand times. She knew how it always ended. –
He made jokes about current topics and politics. She alternated between laughing and side baring them entirely, often to ask some question that would make him look at her, as if he’d been caught out. She had noticed this look on many people she’d met, in many places, many times, every time it confused her, as evidently her questions did them, but they were so simple?
‘Are you happy?’
So simple, so complicated too, she knew. But so simply, essentially, complicated, so necessarily simply vital, so simply representative and intriguing, a simple curiosity in another human being. Even just ‘why?’, ‘why not?’, seemed to often make her partner in conversation look at her, as if tricked. More with people she didn’t know, more with people caught up in their pretence selfhood still, as she was now, with this man. Did she ever look so shocked?
Probably. Probably all the time. Now she thought about it, she imagined she looked confused or amazed at most things, as she generally was, and others reactions to this interest of hers had made her aware of its abnormality. She laughed to herself a little, thinking of it like that.
He fingered his phone in his pocket, until he noticed and pulled his hand out, hoping she hadn’t noticed. She was laughing, so it was going well. She was pretty, in a heavily featured way. He looked at her in furtive glances away from her eyes when he felt she wasn’t aware. He found her sexy, she was odd, and though he couldn’t imagine sticking around, he did want to bring her home. He rubbed his little finger. He’d only broken up with his girlfriend of 7 years 2 months ago; he’d thought they’d be getting married. She’d brought him a ring, a small, joke, one, for his little finger, and he hadn’t been wearing it of course. Now the finger itched, and he felt this dark, strange woman would know why. It wasn’t like she broke up with him, he reminded himself, but he was still sad. He still missed her. He’d slept with another girl since. A messy one night stand. He wanted something wholesome, and there was something in this woman’s heavy set eyelids, thick lips and strange shifting smiles that made him feel comfortable.
Steadily getting drunker she grew bored, excused herself, and left. Honest, and kind, but no challenge. Not sexually, she didn’t imagine he wanted her in that way, but in risk and dare and questions. Did she need F’s questioning, skin crawling, scream summoning, challenge? Not need, F had died.
Kinds of Love are needed, familial, whether biological or not. Simone felt that was important.
Looking through the pictures she laughed again. Seeing herself laugh, as her self when she was with him. The hair she hated and body she despised that she would kill for now. Self-love has some problems with time too, she laughed. Maybe it had never been love, then.
Simone didn’t miss out.
They were all still there, keeping company, while Simone Antsbe lived alone.