I bought a second cup of coffee. My head’s flushed slightly and sweating but I’ve got off lightly. I remember as far as finishing a bottle of Bells with Yasmin by ten o’clock, but between then and five in the morning is any one’s guess. So here I am sitting idly in the supermarket coffee bar where it started yesterday, composing this maybe for Yasmin or maybe for the other woman who is looking at me as I write.
I left Yasmin half an hour ago, she had the look of a cold corpse but was snoring. I picked up a parcel from the post office, the complete poems of Cavafy and came here to caffeinate. I opened the book at a poem about Cavafy leaving his one night lover asleep in some crumpled bed in a sordid room down a sordid alley,
He’d ended though by writing:
But the life of that artist had gained.
Tomorrow, the next day, years later, the vigorous verses,
will be composed that had their beginning there.
Yasmin, or maybe her name is Jasmin, wanted the verses all neat and respectable but only maybe after our brief encounter will she have learned that the heart that makes them is a fierce place, fierce as existence unadorned by niceness.
I guess when she sees me again, in the continental cheeses aisle maybe or perhaps by the shelves of organic preserves, her half eyes split second glance at me will be dark with pain and disappointment, deep distaste and the bile of broken pride. All this I will see in the fleeting diagonal of recognition beneath the hoods of her eyelids. I’ll not return the look.
Listen, Yasmin or Jasmin. I don’t know where you came from, and I don’t remember a word of the morbid monologue that treacled for hours through your heavy self preoccupation. I don’t know where you’ll go when you wake up to the dark hard wall you’ll feel you have smashed into. But I do know this. You had a special moment last night that will destiny you under your pretty thoughts, something that will cut clean through the soggy membranes of repeated stories that have jellied your days.
You were happy to be my Greek boy, you raptured to the exquisite pain that stabbed feeling into you. You served my lust but I served you with something greater.
Listen. See how now I stick my pen onto the paper, pour my ink. See how I curve the shapes of letters, commas, like I am painting the leaning shape of a ship with crimson sails panting and bending into a ferocious storm, heaving against the dreadful waves with the ballast of its weighty precious cargo. See how, Yasmin-Jasmin, how you mean nothing to me but we shared everything, see how though I will not, cannot, love you, I can and do give you Love.
Go back, go back less than 24 hours. I have seen you in the supermarket aisles these many weeks, looking at me and tracing my steps, leaning across me as you reached up to a shelf. I have left you alone. Do you see? I had some decency left in me, and the kindness to let you be.
But yesterday, as I drank espresso in the Supermarket coffee bar, I was aware of you as I read my book making pretence of looking at the large tacky photographs of Rome and Athens that hung around the walls. Had you actually followed me up there? Was your desire for me that great? You stood in front of my table as if absorbed by the picture behind me. I looked straight into your immaculate fashion jeans and leather belt, and read so much of you from that neatness and cleanliness. I knew you were going to speak before you opened your mouth. The usual gambit, a shared interest in an author.
You know the rest. You should. You designed it.
I recall your sad flat you’d be happier calling an apartment. Somewhere among the faded bits and pieces of your history that lay around, and in your desperation to repeat the sad tale of your life, I witnessed the story I had heard so often before, have in fact written about so often. Failed poet, misunderstood artist, inadequate philosopher, betrayed woman, mother and friend.
If you read this Yasmin-Jasmin, you will feel pain beyond endurance, most absolutely alone and abandoned. It is a pain that will heal you though, as much as any of us ever can be whole among this tragic mess. Perhaps you will never read this. You will grow from this act of Love in any case.
The woman who has been looking at me has brought her coffee to sit at a table a few yards away. She is opening a copy of Justine from the Alexandria Quartet. And I have Cavafy, the poet of the City of Alexandria. Coincidence? I think not. Perhaps I will give this story to her tomorrow when I leave.