By: Guy Preston
My friend Arthur bought a dog. In the beginning, things went well with his dog: they would spend time together and, over time, Arthur grew fond of his dog. They would go to the beach together and Arthur would throw a ball long after his arm was tired.
In Arthur’s neighbourhood, people came to know Arthur and Alfons, which is what he named the dog, and they would stop them to tell Arthur just how beautiful Alfons looked on that particular day. They would pat Alfons, and Arthur would look on with pride at his beautiful dog.
After a time, though, Alfons became inly, anxious. Arthur told me, ‘I don’t know what to do.’
‘Have you been to the vet?’ I asked.
‘Yes, of course I have been to the vet. What kind of question is that. Have I been to the vet? Look at this beautiful dog.’
I looked at Alfons.
Arthur went on, ‘They said that he’s anxious, that he’s unsure of his place in the world.’
‘Have you tried reading to him?’ I asked.
Truthfully, Arthur had tried everything. One day, as the final straw before he admitted waterloo and gave Alfons Xanax or something, Arthur bought a bunch of candles. They were huge floral candles that threw off flames like small campfires and filled the room with the smell of fresh baking rosemary. They came from a shop that smelled like acetone and vanilla packed into a tight space with 15 other herbs that it was not on good terms with.
Arthur lit the candles and ran a bath, thinking if he was as calm as he could be, then it would help Alfons. Arthur dozed off. When he woke up, the candles had been extinguished and Alfons was in the room. Arthur looked down in the dim light. Wondering what had happened to the candles and thinking they must have burned out, Arthur noticed that there were no candles. Alfons was standing over a hunk of wax the size of a small fist.
Arthur hurried out of the bath and held Alfons’ head in two hands.
‘Are you ok?’ Arthur asked.
Alfons did not reply. But behold, hello, you would not believe and get this, he was back to normal. Alfons was back in control of his life. He went back to being his normal self and continued joining us at the bar. The only thing missing was one step in 15 when they went to the mountains, though you would only notice if you were counting.
The point here is that I do not intend to eat any number of candles to take control of my life.
Something drastic happened in my life, and I must say it was one of the first times that things truly went wrong. For not wanting to admit it, I cannot seek the usual, the obvious, the straightforward path to its correction. And so I am torn between eating candles and the obscure.
I bought a mattress, you see, that is a work of art for a torturer or a sadist. It is simultaneously too hot and too cold, my feet emerge from under the covers even when I tie the covers to the mattress and to my feet, which I do to prevent succumbing to the angle at which the mattress lays despite spirit levels all reading zero. The mattress is simultaneously one large lump, and one large sunken area, my pillows are bags of frozen vegetables, and my sheets are always wet.
I could not go back to the mattress store, it would be admitting defeat, admitting that I had taken a wrong turn. I was not about to do that.
Instead, in a stroke of strange clarity, I had been thinking a lot about love lately, and how it was something that was pointedly absent from my life. I took this as a sign that now was the time. So be it.
Her name was Bethany. I met her in a sauna. I don’t remember the rest of the context or why I was in the sauna, which is something that is not very characteristic of me. We weren’t made for eachother, Bethany and I. I asked her what she wanted from life and she said that it was all about having enough time to watch television.
The next girl I met was Katherine. She was attractive, which is the first thing I look for in someone that I have never spoken to and know nothing about. I met her at a bus stop.
‘Is this your stop?’ I asked.
‘No,’ she replied.
‘I see,’ I said, and I walked away. The next time I managed to take it further and I asked her on a date. I was sweating out of my palms more than any other part of my body had ever sweat and I wondered what the evolutionary advantage was of having sweaty palms and surely if you were throwing a spear or something that would be an enormous hindrance and if you had to climb a tree or something if anything that was a disadvantage but luckily I didn’t need to throw a spear and wow were my hands sweating.
Despite that, I managed to keep it together and be a little bit charming. We were having a nice time and I went and stayed in her bed that night.
We kept seeing each other, and I continued being into her. We spent a night in my bed once, and I looked at her in the morning, both of us bleary eyed and bruised, and she asked me politely if we could never ever stay in my bed again. Fine by me, I said.
After a while of sleeping in Katherine’s bed, I started waking up in the middle of the night. There was something about her, like she was too beautiful for me, like she was a beautiful machine that I had no idea how to maintain. I remember watching her do her makeup for 45 minutes one day, and at the end thinking that there had been no change in her appearance or her beauty, but knowing that it was an important process for her. When at first I started waking it was just for brief periods, though after a time I was awake for an entire night, bewildered and unable to sleep, tossing and turning in her too-soft sheets on her too-soft mattress with my too-hard body and feeling self-conscious and, quite frankly, alone. I liked her, and I told her so.
She said, ‘I like you too,’ from the top of a cliff that I could not see a way to scale. It was sad, but I left.
I met another girl in a daze after Katherine. People call them rebounds, but everything happens after something, so I don’t think of it in that way. Life is a rebound. This girl took me to her house, and she had lights strung around her bedroom. It was tranquilizing and mezmerizing and a few other -izings. She had obviously taken a lot of care and it was really a beautiful bedroom, especially after spending a few weeks on my mattress that had given me cramps in my upper, lower, left and right quadrants. After a while, though, it became clear that it was where she wanted to spend all of her time. Not just her idle time, but every part of her time. This was her sanctuary. And I think she was conscious of me being in it, because she started to insist that she would come and stay at my house. I told her ok and we went to my house where we slept in my bed. She slept like a log. I suspect she had nerve damage.
After a while, I realised I didn’t feel comfortable in her house or in mine, and I needed to stop or I would continue in this non-existence and really, truly disappear. It was sad, but I left again.
I was expecting to learn something from all of this. I think the lesson that I took away from these three lovers is that love is not an emotion. Love is a state of being. Love is a series of characteristics, activities, interests, and requirements. The more you try it, the less you care about the emotions and the more you are trying to tick the boxes on your list.
In any case, the final romance, my most recent attempt at love, was full of rocks. I met a man in a bar and he told me he was gay. I said that was neat but it did not interest me. We kept talking and I thought, in actuality, he was cute. History does not dictate the future and we slept together. He was around my height and build, and when I showered at his house I found out we used all of the same products. He used a slightly different conditioner to me, though it was floral and I enjoyed the difference.
The sadness entered six weeks later. I found out that he, Harrison, was into rocks. He would break them down and say, ‘Here, come and look at this.’
And I would, and I would say, ‘What is it?’
‘I’m not sure,’ Harry would reply.
‘Where did you get it?’ I would ask.
‘From a place with loads of them. Look at all of these,’ he would show me more of the rocks.
‘Amazing,’ I would say, smiling.
‘I know,’ he would reply, also smiling. He would work on his rocks until late at night and they would stick to his thighs because he worked on them without any pants on. He was very passionate about rocks, despite knowing absolutely nothing about them. Anyway the rocks filled our bed and I asked him about it, because I thought otherwise things were going really well. He said he would change, and he did not. I tried and I tried, and other things started emerging. I did not like the way he drank his coffee, I did not like the way he wore socks no matter what was happening. I did not like the way he grabbed my hair while we were performing the act. There were too many things, too early, for me to be confident in Harrison as a lover forever. I did not want to think that I was ticking boxes on a list, I wanted to think that I was a romantic person, that I was acting on feelings alone, that I was being guided by some higher power that understood love and romance, the wind that the cherubs flew on, but I was now facing the reality that this was not the case. Harrison was tearing up my list.
And so here I am, I am not sure what I have learned. I am lying in my bed. I cannot sleep, and I am alone.