- Rachel Cusk
- My last highlight
- Number of highlights
We passed a café with tables in the shade of a large awning, and the people sitting at the tables looked superior, so cool and watchful in the shadows while we toiled incomprehensibly through the heat and turmoil of the
‘Are any of these beers,’ he said slowly, running a tutelary finger down the list and glancing at her frequently, ‘non-alcoholic?’
Clelia’s bedrooms, of which there were two, were surprisingly spartan. They were small, box-like rooms, both of them painted pale blue. One of them contained bunk beds, the other a double bed. The bunk beds made it evident that Clelia had no children, for their presence, in a room that was not a child’s room, seemed to suggest something that otherwise might have been forgotten. The bunk beds, in other words, stood for the concept of children generally rather than for any child specifically. In the other room, one entire wall was taken up with a set of mirrored wardrobes that I never looked inside.
My neighbour from the plane was a good foot shorter than me and twice as wide: since I had got to know him sitting down, it was difficult to integrate these dimensions with his character. What located me was his extraordinary beak-like nose with the prominent brow jutting out above it, which gave him the slightly quizzical appearance of a seabird, crowned with his plume of silver-white hair.
A woman who was certain to be Angeliki – since there were no other diners, and no one else had entered the restaurant in all this time – had come in and was interrogating the waiter quite energetically; a conversation of inexplicable length ensued, in the course of which the two of them went outside and shortly after came back again, whereupon it continued more energetically than ever, the woman’s tawny well-cut hair swishing with the rapid movements of her head and her lovely grey dress – made of a flimsy silk material – swirling as she shifted from one foot to another, impatient as a stamping pony.
being there without my husband caused me to feel, in an entirely new way, what I actually am.’ I replied that I wasn’t sure it was possible, in marriage, to know what you actually were, or indeed to separate what you were from what you had become through the other person. I thought the whole idea of a ‘real’ self might be illusory: you might feel, in other words, as though there were some separate, autonomous self within you, but perhaps that self didn’t actually exist.
The waiter came to take our order, which was a lengthy process, as Angeliki appeared to be discussing each item on the menu in turn, asking numerous questions as she moved down the list which the waiter answered gravely and sometimes lengthily, never becoming the slightest bit impatient. Paniotis sat beside her, rolling his eyes and occasionally remonstrating with the pair of them, which only served to make the process even longer. Finally it seemed to be concluded and the waiter moved heavily and slowly away, but then Angeliki summoned him back with a little intake of breath and a lifting of her finger, having had, apparently, a few afterthoughts.
There was an atmosphere of uncertainty, almost of unease, in the anonymous room. I reminded myself that these people wanted something from me; that though they didn’t know me, or one another, they had come here with the purpose of being recognised.
I could smell his breath, and feel his bushy grey eyebrows grazing my skin. The great beak of his nose loomed at the edge of my field of vision, his claw-like hands with their white fur fumbled at my shoulders; I felt myself, momentarily, being wrapped around in his greyness and dryness, as though the prehistoric creature were wrapping me in its dry bat-like wings, felt his scaly mouth miss its mark and move blindly at my cheek.
The bar was on a narrow side street so steep that the chairs and tables slanted and wobbled on the uneven pavement. I had just watched a woman, a tourist, fall backwards into a planter, her shopping bags and guidebooks flying out to all sides of her, while her husband sat startled in his chair, apparently more embarrassed than concerned. He wore a pair of binoculars around his neck, and hiking boots on his feet that remained punctiliously tucked beneath the table while his wife flailed in the dry, spiky greenery. Eventually he put out an arm across the table to help her back up, but it was beyond her reach and so she was forced to struggle out on her own.
What she couldn’t stand, she said, was pretence of any kind, especially the pretence of desire, wherein someone feigned the need to possess her wholly when in fact what he wanted was to use her temporarily. She herself, she said, was quite willing to use others too, but she only recognised it once they had admitted this intention in themselves.
She closed the wine list and put up her finger to summon the waiter. Elena said something to her in Greek and a brief dispute ensued, which the waiter joined halfway through and in which he appeared conclusively to take Melete’s side, taking the order from her with much brusque nodding of his head despite Elena’s continued petitions.