I like lists. To start us off, here is a list of things I say but don’t mean:
– Life is meaningless.
– Love means sex.
– I don’t like junk food.
This story is not about lists. Though I do like to use them. Lists give me the illusion that everything is in place. That my thoughts have some kind of structure. Coherence. No. This story is not about lists. This is a story about Louise. With Louise I don’t feel the need to say things I don’t mean.
I quickly realized that if I want to have the pleasure of spending time with Louise, it would have to be early in the morning. Before her phone starts ringing. Louise is in a toxic relationship with her phone. She hates it and needs it.
The morning I’m set to talk about wasn’t any different. I woke up half an hour late and chances were that I’d be at her office by 9 and not the ideal 8:30. Louise’s phone starts ringing at 9. I managed to get there by 8:45 with two coffees in hand.
Louise was sitting at her desk. Calm before the storm. She was listening to a podcast as she drew sketches on a piece of paper. During the podcast a young woman was interviewing an older man. The man’s voice sounded familiar. Deep and friendly. He talked slowly, as if preparing for every sentence. I got it in my head that I wanted to recognize him.
I put a coffee in front of her and sat on a chair on the other side of her desk. I asked her not to tell me the man’s name, but the more I thought about it, the more I drifted away from finding it. My head was going to explode so I gave in. “Its Vedder man, c’mon” said Louise. Of course, Eddie Vedder, the lead singer of Pearl Jam.
Before I met Louise, Pearl Jam to me was just one of those bands. I knew of them but had never actually listened to them. Now their first album ‘Ten’ has to be one of my favorite albums of all time. Here’s a list of my favorite tracks from the album Ten:
– Even flow
Louise is obsessed with Pearl Jam. She’s been going to their concerts for over 20 years. She just may know everything there is to know about them. I imagine she fills any gaps in her knowledge with theories of her own. She often listens to their tracks at work and is always ready to talk about them. She even named her dog Pearl. Her dog is old. When it dies, Louise will be sleeping alone for the first time in over a decade.
Louise works more than she needs so that she can think less about death. I find it astonishing how one can seamlessly carry out such highly technical work. She’s like a robot. Ironically enough, she is not entirely sure that she is not one. I wonder if robots think about death. Whatever the case, the thought of death is the story of her success.
Louise told me that the young interviewer was Lily Cornell Silver. Daughter of the deceased lead singer of Soundgarden Chris Cornell,who took his own life in 2017. The podcast was dwelling over the subject of mental health. At some point Lily asked Vedder whether he had any advice to give to the audience. Vedder cleared his throat, perhaps to give himself time to think, and said: “My advice is to take advice”. I thought that was sound advice. Suddenly I was curious as to what Louise’s advice would be. I looked at my watch. 8:59am.
“What would be your adv…” The phone rang and Louise answered it instantly. It felt like someone had overtaken me halfway through my order at McDonald’s and that suddenly I had to go to the back of the queue.
‘My advice would be to take advice’, I repeated in my head. As I looked at Louise talking on the phone, fidgeting with her pen, I asked myself what my advice would be. ‘I’ll have time to think about that one soon’ I concluded as I got up. I waved goodbye and made my way out.
My time is sand, piled up unevenly in the bottom half of the hourglass that is my life. When I got home after work the day of the podcast, I sat down and made a list of things I planned on doing before I die:
– Travel around the world.
– Read Proust’s ‘In search of lost time’.
– Take an IQ test.
I’m in the card business. Well I was. I’m retired now. Retired at the age of 33. Never would have thought. For 5 years I operated at the most convenient of office blocks. Great location. Cheap rent too. I could have just done the work from home but having that office allowed me to sit back and watch my client base build itself.
A complex mind needs simplicity. This is the message I will try to deliver to Louise before Ι meet my fate. Soon all the people from the surrounding offices came for my services, and so did their replacements. Then came their friends. I’ve made cards for all sorts of professionals. Here are lists of some of the most interesting and least interesting jobs I made cards for over the years.
– Private detective
– Cruise ship entertainer
– War Correspondent
– Music therapist
– Film director
– Real estate agent
– Loan Officer
– Bank branch manager
– Personal trainer
– Energy healer
– Event promoter
– Life coach (same person that asked for the clown cards)
Louise gives out cards of the least interesting kind. A few months after I moved into the office, the office next to mine was vacated. The old accountant that worked their retired. That’s how I met Louise. An old man retired, and she took his office. Bless the cycle of life. Within a week Louise came to me for new cards. She wanted a duo-language card with English lettering on one side and Spanish on the other. As she talked, she noticed a few books of literature on my desk. We have been exchanging books ever since.
I decided that I didn’t want to travel the world alone. There was only one person I could ask to join me.
I like to impress. Perhaps more than making lists. It’s a curse. Once during a wine dinner, I thought it was a good idea to combine the two, so I suggested to my date that we make lists of the things we love and the things we hate. My lists were as such:
Things I love: Things I hate:
– Life – Hate
I lied when I wrote “hate” in the ‘things I hate’ list. I couldn’t bring myself to tell my date that the list of things I hate was actually the same as the list of things I love. To make things worse I can’t remember a single word from the lists that my date made. Come to think of it, I can’t even remember who my date was.
Typical me. I wish I’d remembered. You know, so I can feel a little bit better about myself. I’ve had too many companions and none. Unequal relationships of a farcical nature. Women who have heard too much from me and I from them too little.
Spectators of my tragedy. Ascended by flattery, the audience overlooked the absence of clarification. As they lay in bed alone, doubt would keep them warm. And doubt would stay with them, until the next time we met. Until my next performance.
I didn’t look for fragile spectators. I think everyone is fragile. I drew a hopeful audience. Women that would jump like cats onto my string of hope. I find it sad. But now I am feeling happy.
I often said to women I’d want to spend the night with: “Life is too short to wait around”. I realize that I didn’t mean that. My whole life I’ve waited around. Sleeping around was waiting around. Women have been my refuge. The rare warmth in my world of ice. And I, the frosty thief of time.
Try and imagine yourself loose in an undefined place. Stimulating. Now put yourself inside of a small box. You feel suffocated and you can’t breathe. What do you do? I remember when I put myself in that small box. Instead of getting out, I made tiny holes.
Look at me now, lying on the sand in a warm faraway land. Me and time finally entwined. The best part of it all is that am not alone on this Peruvian beach. I turn, and I look at Louise. She is on her back gazing at the clouds above the lucid sea. She is expressionless but I can tell that she’s smiling.
I thought about the advice I’d give. It would be not to wait for someone to get you out of a box that only you know of. Don’t wait for your expiry date in order to start living. There is too much to see, too much to feel. So much absurdity! There are clever animals out there. Like the neighborhood cat. Funny animals, like Donald Trump. And then there are amazing animals. Like Louise.
I moved on with fulfilling my bucket list. I decided that I wouldn’t be reading Proust’s ‘In search of lost time’. You see, like Louise, I’m a fan of small books. Proust’s book is 4,125 pages long. By the end of it, I’d be the one in search of lost time. Instead, I would focus on taking the IQ test and planning the trip.
For a long time taking an IQ test was something I was very reluctant to do. Then came a time where I couldn’t care anymore. What does it matter If my IQ is not as high as I would have liked?
Truth be told, I encountered difficulties during the test. I found myself arriving to multiple answers at times when questions clearly asked for one. I finished the test with faded optimism.
The results arrived in almost no time. To my surprise my IQ turned out to be much lower than expected. 63. They told me that I’m certified for an inability check. A fleeting dream! All that time I was too afraid to take the test, and then I was too late.
Anyway, I’m glad I never lived the inability check dream. It only took one smile from Louise to get me praising life for not having taken the IQ test before I met her.
I moved on to the ‘planning the trip after solid research’ bit. I felt that I had to go to Louise prepared. If I were to propose travelling, I’d have to have some sort of idea as to where we’d be travelling to. A trip around the world in twenty days sounded impossible, so I was willing to make do. I doubt that I was ever interested in going to every single country in the world anyway.
First, I wrote a list of countries I didn’t want to go to:
– Saudi Arabia
– United Arab Emirates
– North Korea
Then a list of countries that I wanted to go to:
– Costa Rica
– Trinidad and Tobago
– Sri Lanka
– New Zealand
Finally, I wrote a list of countries that I never heard of:Tajikistan
– St. Vincent and the Grenadines
– St. Lucia
– St. Kitts and Nevis
– Sao Tome and Principe
All in all, there were 7 countries I didn’t wish to travel to, 32 countries I did wish to travel to, and 9 countries I never heard of. The other 145 UN States and 9 non-UN States such as Taiwan or Somaliland were to be left out. First, I would look into the countries I never heard of to see whether any of them interested me. Then I’d give my extended shortlist a nice haircut.
Here is a list of the criteria that my final shortlist was to be based on:
I really hoped Louise would say yes to the proposal. Things never get boring when I’m with her. Because of our flawed egos we can argue about anything and still not find something to agree on. Even so, every time we argue I get a warm feeling that deep down we agree on everything.
Onetime Louise showed me a documentary about penguins. The video showed the hatching of a large number of eggs close to the beach. The newly born penguins started running toward the shore where they would find water and fish. All the baby penguins but two. Those two little penguins turned to the opposite direction and started running in the way of an endless desert. If someone were to turn them around, they would just turn right back and keep running. The lost penguins. I didn’t feel sorry about them running to exhaustion and certain death. There was something soothing in their madness. I turned to Louise after the video ended. She was crying. I thought to myself that she and I are those two penguins’ reincarnations.
The day had arrived. Once again, a day like all the others. History was having coffee as it prepared to repeat itself. This time I was to be patient. I was not to leave Louise’s office without having asked her to go on the trip with me. The clock above Louise’s head read 8:50. My watch: 8:52. I would start off with some brief conversation. Maybe ask her what I hadn’t managed to ask the last time I was there.
“Louise I was wondering. What advice would you…” Coffee-time ended predictably abruptly as I was interrupted by none other than my sworn enemy.
Louise answered the phone: “Good morning your holiness” she said. I laughed. I have never made a card for a priest. Do they even get cards made? What if I need an exorcist?
The phone-call with his holiness was long. When it ended, Louise looked at me and said: “I’m sorry. This guy is by far my worst client. Seriously! You were saying?” I couldn’t remember what I was saying. I had gone there with a purpose. The rest was foreplay.
I lied to her with artless honesty. “As I was saying, I think you are incredible”. I paused. It felt right. She deserves to hear such words. “You are the smartest, strongest person I know.”
She looked at me and smiled.
“And you have a lovely voice” I added.
Louise laughed. “You just had to ruin it didn’t you?” Sometimes I mimic her voice and she will never fail to react. I think it’s adorable.
“Look Louise, the reason I came here is to ask you whether you’d like to come on…” I was interrupted again by the phone. ‘Fucking hell’ I thought. I had to keep calm. She looked at it and then back at me as if to say, ‘be quick’.
I sped up my tempo. “I was wondering whether you’d like to come on holiday with me. Take Pearl and leave everything else behind for twenty days. Twenty days of travel. How does that sound? Me you and Pearl, cruising around the world!”
“Ha! So that’s the reason you’re saying all these nice things to me!”
“Louise”. I sighed. “I have cancer. Its eating me whole.”
Louise sat still. Expressionless. The phone stopped ringing momentarily, making way to silence.
I continued. “I have just over a month. I’ll be hospitalized in twenty days.” The ringing resumed. Louise slowly turned to her phone. I started to feel uncomfortable. ‘Please don’t answer it’, I thought.
She answered it.
“Your holiness? Go fuck yourself!!”. Louise threw the device against the wall.
Trying not to cry she got up and walked towards me. She got on her knees and hugged me as I sat on her chair. She sank her face in my chest and sobbed quietly. “It’s going to be ok” I said to her as I stroked her hair. My eyes were hooked on the broken pieces of the phone, scattered around the floor. She picked her head out of my chest and looked at me. I stared into her sore eyes as her lips moved to form the present.
“Where are we going?”
by Andreas Tzionis