She’s here again.
Perfect, straight hair. Expensive velvet jacket. Those trés moderne glasses. Her feet elegantly crossed at the ankle. Her biscotti untouched. Even her long black has left no ring as she takes those tiny, random sips. Her eyelashes are demurely lowered towards Jane Austen (it was Emily Bronté last time). She is pretending to be oblivious to the rest of the world. She is better than me. Better than all of us.
I really want to slap her. It is a grossly gratuitous display for a rainy Saturday afternoon – a thin-plotted and obvious pretension, with the side effect of making others feel inferior. Her act is simply pornography for the prudish.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think that there’s anything bad about reading. There’s also nothing wrong with being selective in your reading. There’s nothing wrong with passing on the doctor’s office gossip magazines. There’s nothing wrong with staring at the breast-cancer poster on the wall as if there was nothing else to read in the vicinity. And we can’t all get to the café’s solitary, crumpled newspaper in time. Some places are just screaming for fat books – places like airplanes and hospital waiting rooms – places of necessity rather than choice. Places where time is for killing and conversation is best avoided. Places where we may be in public but we are not, strictly, on display.
Yet this woman does not leave her “classic” literature in the private, cluttered pile beside the bed. Instead, she flaunts it on a street corner on a Saturday afternoon. The only reason why someone would read Jane Austen in public is because they think other people will be impressed.
This brand of flagrant exhibitionism is almost always the realm of women. I wonder whether she hopes that some equally perfect and educated man will swoon when he sees her reading choice and throw himself down prostrate at her feet. If so, it is a forlorn hope. It is as realistic as the dreams of those innumerable young men who seem to think a big exhaust pipe and a thumping car stereo will draw in masses of gorgeous and morally-free girls. There is no such thing as an uncomplicated but promiscuous woman – just as there is no such thing as a perfect man. Mr. Darcy never actually existed. Long Black Lady may as well be trawling for the Loch Ness Monster.
I wonder what she would think of some man reading Penthouse in a café on a Saturday afternoon. If she is entitled to display her naïve and unrealistic fantasies of men, shouldn’t men be allowed to display their naïve and unrealistic fantasies of women?
Maybe not. But this is why I want to slap her. I want to shake her out of her sense of entitlement.
The true irony of this is that none of it is really Jane Austen’s fault. Austen’s saving grace was that she was really a satirist. Her books were taking the piss out of precisely the same kind of prim, ignorant, dewy-eyed girls who now adore her. Far from being the prima donna of romantic fiction, Austen has had to suffer fans who are simply too dim to see that it’s all one big joke. She’s kind of like Alice Cooper that way. Alice Cooper is a keen golfer and the son of a minister. He studied theology in college.
Jane Austen died a spinster. However, I doubt that many of their fans would want to emulate the reality of their heroes when the fantasy is much more fun.
The fantasy is also something less than human. It is a two-dimensional caricature – good to enjoy for its own sake, but I’m frightened by people who take satire too seriously. Neither education nor ignorance should ever kill your sense of the ridiculous. Laughter is the best way to suck the juice (or the blood) out of life. And laughing at yourself is the best place to start.
In that light, all women have unrealistic fantasies about men, even (and, I might say, particularly) the women who don’t actually like men. Long Black Lady’s peculiar fetish may be the charming, handsome, adoring man with good table manners. She may be waiting for the man who can drive off rogues with a stout stick, yet still falls tongue-tied around her. She may be waiting for opera capes or pheasant shoots. She may be waiting for the year 1803. In any case, she will be disappointed. Mr. Darcy would still fart in his sleep and gripe about the traffic – and I’m sure that, even if she could get to 1803, she wouldn’t actually like the smell, the beds, or the food.
Which leads me to wonder about my own fetishes. I cannot deny my quiver when watching a handsome, chain-necked youth making his idle, lupine loops of a supermarket carpark. “Jesus of suburbia”. But I still know to watch my purse. He has no use for me, other than as a dispenser of money and receptacle for excess fluids. The romance of his anger is only in my head. I too would only be disappointed.
The trouble is that I am simply and exquisitely in love with men – with maleness. When I am alone, I miss the ephemera of men (and men have so much less ephemera than women). I miss the lonely black deodorant can by the sink and the random, thoughtless, upturned toilet seat. I miss the big shoes at the back door. I miss the smell of machine oil in the garage. I miss the pile of fat, hard-spined magazines on the coffee table. I miss the spicy brew of sweat and cut grass on a hot Sunday afternoon. I miss finding my stereo tuned to a sports station. I don’t miss the power tools, I have my own (real ones, not the prissy, little, girly ones) – but I do miss the bewildering talk about each tool’s torque and wattage and horsepower. On quieter days, I miss the equally bewildering talk about RAM and bluetooth and IP networks. I miss the necessity to wipe my spilt face powder off the dresser before he dumps a handful of change in it. I miss the choices and habits and activities of men.
Which is not to say that I am a prude. Men look and feel nice too. On warm nights, I miss the way their backs curl like a cobra when you push them away from kissing you. I miss the bristling feel of a hairy calf muscle. I miss the warm softness of their stomachs and their silly, tight little nipples. I miss their ugly, chisel-toed feet and their rough-skinned elbows. I miss their broad, hard shoulder-blades. I don’t miss the rash that appears on my upper lip when he hasn’t shaved (I probably never will) – but I do miss kissing that trail of hair that leads down from his navel. On warmer nights, I even miss their cold, strong hands between my doughy thighs. I miss the tickle of his breath in my ear. I miss that thin lacquer of cologne against my own flowery, floury scent. I even miss the snoring.
However, even though I wish to defend men from perverse romantic drivel, I can’t claim to understand them. If I understood them, I would be safer and happier.
I tried talking to men. It wasn’t altogether helpful. Men are often quick to disown the worst actions of their brotherhood, in a way that only the most vicious of women would do. But, on the flipside, a man might still be able to share a drink with the complete and utter pervert he just disowned, while women are usually more honest and unwavering in their disdain. A man’s verbal shoves may simply be an act of banter, while a woman’s are almost always cutting and personal. But I generalize here.
I have turned to my own writing as a means to make sense of things. I wrote some awful, blunt, carnal things. Carne in my rusty Spanish. It means meat. I wrote tender, velvety words to warm my bed. I wrote barbed and fleshy words, in order to punish, to torture, to flay, and to devour. I wrote icy, purifying words to wash myself clean. Some of those words are here.
When I’ve boiled myself down to glue, I’m really no better than Long Black Lady, clinging to my tatty fantasies and unable to find a more solid foothold in mankind. We both sit alone on a Saturday, with our coffees and our daydreams. Perhaps I am worse off – kept warm only by spite. At least she has Mr. Darcy to keep her company.