PEP TALK

“Sometimes I miss my urban lifestyle. Then, I think about it a while, and realize that I really just miss her.”

“Here we go again,” James said, not looking up from his tablet.

“Really? It’s been months since I’ve mentioned it.”

“Not long enough,” he muttered, and flicked past another article. “You’re never going to get over her at this rate.”

“Maybe I don’t want to.”

“No maybes about it.” He sighed, and locked the tablet. He drummed his fingers on the table. “You should go out.”

“And do what? Pick someone up? Get picked up?”

“Why not? You make it sound so horrible.”

“That’s because it is horrible.”

“Not if you manage to get lucky and score with someone on the same wavelength. Stop thinking about yourself for one second, get out of your own head, and open your eyes. There’s a billion people out there, just like you: mopey and hungry for someone else’s arms. Or more. All you’d be doing is facilitating. Don’t look at me like that.”

“You’re not really selling me on this, James.”

“Okay, okay. Maybe facilitating makes it sound too… prostitutional. How about ‘fulfilling a shared need’? Does that make it sound any better?”

I stared out the window. The morning was right there, just beyond the cloudy panes of glass, with its bright beams of golden spring sunshine beckoning like open arms awaiting a reciprocating embrace. “I think you’re right on the part about going out. As in, outside. It’s a beautiful day out there. Maybe instead of waiting for night to fall and slinking through the bars like some kind of starving predator it would me some good to walk under the open sky for a while.”

He frowned. “Right. Go for a long walk. Find yourself thinking of her, and all the things she meant to you. Think about all the times the two of you used to go on walks, and how much more of a complete person you felt. Then come back here and mope around until we have this conversation again. I know exactly how that goes. No, I’m not going to stand for it. What we’re gonna do is go out and find you a decent outfit, hit the gym, and then I’m gonna play wingman to your sad desperation until you find the medicine you need to cure what ails you.”

“James, you’re a great friend and all but I don’t think that she-”

“Don’t think that she what? That she’d approve of you actually getting on with your life, instead of pining after her memory? Because that’s all she is now, you know. A memory. She’s moved on and become someone different, possibly someone you wouldn’t even recognize, let alone love. And meanwhile you’ve stayed still, stagnating and growing stale. And frankly, I’m bored of it.” He reached out and gave me a playful slap on the cheek. “It’s time, Jack. You’ve got to cheer up and get on with it, because she’s never coming back.”

He was right, of course.

ACCEPTANCE

In the end, she was right: I had fallen in love with an idealized version of her, and not her herself. Confused? Don’t be. This is one the most natural things around, and there’s every chance that you too are currently engaged in this kind of loving with someone or something.

THE DRUNK

“I never was very good with women,” he said. “I faked it pretty good, though.”

The bar was empty; it had been for the better part of an hour. I’d hoped to close early, but the man who was holding himself up at the counter had put an end to that. He was blind drunk, that much was obvious, but he held himself with perfect composure which made it difficult, if not impossible, for me to toss him out. He was dressed in a three-piece beige suit that looked like it had been cut from the same bolt of cloth as a cheap livingroom sofa, somewhere between burlap and low-pile carpet, with a faded plaid pattern. He had both arms resting on the countertop, framing a bottle of expensive single-malt that had maybe a shot left in it. His head bobbled ever so slightly, in time to his heart beat. His face was a blotchy red, a kind of old drunk’s pallor, but he was clean-shaven and a pair of round gold-rimmed spectacles sat pinched on the bridge of his straight and narrow nose. I continued to polish the same tumbler I’d been polishing for the past thirty minutes, and hoped he wasn’t fishing for a response.

“I said,” he began, and seemed to stifle a belch, or perhaps hold down a bolus of vomit, “I said, I was-”

“-never very good with women, yes. I heard you.”

“But I-”

“-faked it pretty good. Yep, caught that bit too.”

“It’s all about money, you know?” he asked. I pretended not to hear. He didn’t care. “And not in the sense of, well. Not in the sense of her getting a hold of it, I mean. In the sense of you having enough of it to make the time with her matter.” He smiled a creepy, inward-facing smile and reached for the shot glass. I decided that if he fumbled the drink I was going to toss him. The bottle was paid for and if he spilled the last of it on the counter that was the end of that part of his evening’s adventure. To my dismay, he locked an expert grip on the little glass and tipped the remainder of the whiskey into it, filling it to the brim and then just a bit further. I watched the flat bubble of liquor sit in suspension, rising just off the top of the glass and shimmering there, a golden load held in check by surface tension. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” he asked, locking his bloodshot eyes on mine. With a movement that was almost too fast to follow he knocked the shot back and clapped the glass on the counter. He stared at the empty bottle and let out a thunderous belch. “That’s that, I suppose.”