Wednesday, 26 May 2010

The joys of self denial 2


The old man of the high peaks could hear them coming, thousands of feet below in the sun-kissed valleys, where meadow flowers fluttered in the warm breezes. He could hear their feckless chatter, already truncated by breathlessness. By the time they got to him, they’d be panting for air. They would, of course, expect him to make their travails worth while.

It was cool up in the heights, but he never elected to notice. He had the truths to contemplate, the way of light, the ground of being. Heat, hunger and thirst were rather impertinent interruptions in the light of revelations gently being made known to him, if only he could keep his mind out of the way.

Throughout the day he followed their ascent, the stumbling, the cursing, the swigging of water bottles, and the controlled desperation of it all. He neither moved nor declined to move. He simply listened. He had drunk some water and had eaten some nuts and fruit in the recent past. He had no bodily needs to attend to.

They arrived in the late afternoon. Two hot young men, bursting with philosophical enquiry and ontological need, staggered up to the entrance to his cave and stood, bowed over before him, gasping for breath and enlightenment.

“You know, don’t you?” said the first young man, mopping his face with his scarf. “You know what life’s all about.”

The old man shrugged a careless affirmative. The men’s faces lit up.

“Can you tell us?” asked the second man eagerly. His eyes were popping in the altitude.

“Yes I can,” replied the old man with a small, open smile.

The men looked at each other in delight and relief.

“But I’m not going to,” continued the old man, and he crawled back into his cave.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

The joys of self denial 1


Celia stared into the window of the Patisserie. The cakes were piled up on silver stands and trays. Exotic fancies, delicate tarts, sumptuous gateaux, a cornucopia of temptation. Celia rubbed a flip-flopped foot against the back of a fat calf, and contemplated the generosity of it all. Here was plenty; sugar-coated, rum-soaked, cream-cascaded, fruit-heavy plenty. She confirmed her selection with a podgy forefinger, the nail varnish chipped but every bit as bright as the cherries on the Black Forest gateau in pride of place. Having toyed with some macaroons and discarded them in favour of the almond butter biscuits, just to set off the more creamy indulgence of the fondants and √©clairs, she finalised her choice and then turned from the window and walked away. Today’s ritual completed.

By the time she’d reached the car park behind the library and squeezed herself into her little runaround, the cakes were far behind her. She looked down at herself. The weight was coming off. Not so you’d notice perhaps, nothing dramatic, but slowly and steadily.

She watched a woman unchaining her bike from the railings. In a lilac plastic helmet and tight, vivid cycle suit. Not much younger than Celia, and not at all concerned about her body shape being so explicitly displayed.

Celia looked at the bike. And wanted one.

She would be a lissom streak of lycra, cornering at breathless speed, her nimble fingers working precisely through the gears. Head down, elbows in, high-toned legs pumping, her wasp waist firm, her bottom high in the air, taut, flexed and proud, ogled by men about whom she simply did not care. Couldn’t be less bothered, frankly. They’d had their chance.

Tomorrow she’d abjure the Patisserie for the bike shop. Just for a look. A look couldn’t possibly do any harm.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Memories are made of this 5


The scent wafted through him as Robert was half way up the stairs to his flat; a blend of baked chlorophyll, flint dust and salt sea. Mediterranean. Coastal mountains, from the strength of the chlorophyll over the salt air. And then he caught the olive trees, and a hint of cypress and he knew he was back in the Midi.

As he passed the flat on the floor below his, the smell intensified; he drew in the warm aroma of a fresh caf√© express, the acrid smoke of a forbidden and therefore furtive Caporal and the persistent buzzing of straining mopeds in the small square where he’d spent so much time that particular summer. Back came the sunlight dappling through the trees fringing the square, the bustle of the fragrant little fruit and vegetable market and the complete absence of Jessica, who would be up in the villa, seething quietly beside the pool, sleek with expensive lotion.

Mrs Alford was probably serving up something Provencale again for when Mr Alford came home from the office. She was occasionally adventurous like this. She found recipes in the supplements or on the television.

And if Mrs Alford found something Provencale and Robert was passing, he would return to that sun soaked yet distressingly turbulent summer when the love of his life found out he was not at all the man for her. Jessica could barely manage three weeks with him in the land of Matisse; to spend the rest of her life with him would be utterly beyond her.

Even so, despite the tears, Robert appreciated these little return visits, and with a little sniff he found his key and let himself into his flat. He’d planned on spaghetti, but somehow he didn’t feel like one now. An herb omelette, perhaps.