by Christopher James
Marek spoke like a poet, not like an insurance agent. He told me the stars fell from the sky the first time we met. I wanted to make it funny. “Really? Could’ve put someone’s eye out.” But Marek didn’t like humour. I don’t think I ever heard him laugh.
My Pop told me to watch out for three types of men. Men who talked sports with other men, men who talked art with beautiful women, and men with dry lips. The first were cows who thought they were bulls. The second were paper boxes, ornate without substance. The third were oatmeal.
Marek was definitely a paper box. It showed in mostly everything he did. He smoked hand-rolled cigarettes made with liquorice papers, and he looked up at you with puppy-dog eyes when he licked them closed. He had incredibly long eye-lashes, longer than any girl. It was supposed to be a meaningful gesture. It certainly looked attractive. But it was empty. I saw him pull the same move on seven different girls the first night we met. This must have been before the stars fell.
“You could’ve been a model,” he told me.
“I’ve never heard that one before.”
“I don’t mean for the fashion industry. I mean a painter’s model. Modigliani would’ve loved you. Your eyes, your long features.”
“Klimt too. Klimt kept three models in his home at all times, in case he was ever inspired.”
“Is that why?”
“You’re luminescent,” he said. He was staring down my top. He looked up at me now, with those long eyelashes, with that puppy dog move. The cigarette-roll move. I looked at his lips, expected his tongue to zip out as if I were a liquorice rolling-paper.
“He had sacrificed his sense of humour, for what? For art? For seduction?”
I asked my Pop, “what kind of men does that leave me with?”
“The fewer the better,” was his instant reply. “No dating till you’re thirty-five or I’m dead, whichever comes last.”
I sighed. “Marek,” I said. “You’re not a poet, you’re an insurance agent. We work in the same office. You write your name in tippex on your stapler so it doesn’t get stolen.”
“A wit, too. Byron would’ve adored you. Byron was the last really great romantic poet, I sometimes think.”
I sighed, took his hand. He was a smart man, and educated too. The allusions to poetry and art weren’t vacuous, he knew what he was talking about. He must understand jokes, but I think he chose not to find them funny. He had sacrificed his sense of humour, for what? For art? For seduction? For something weightier, something more serious than a giggle. Whatever it was, it made me feel like the insubstantial one. It’s disturbing to tell jokes and have someone not laugh at them. Even if, you know, they’re not that kind of joke. Perhaps this was why he didn’t laugh, to put people off balance.
“You’re a paper box, Marek.”
That raised a smile, at least.
“You’re a wooden balloon, Liz,” he said. Not really funny, but it would do.
“Come on, then,” I said.
Thirty-five and still alone, Pop long dead.
Tonight I wanted to think the stars really had fallen. If I closed my eyes hard enough, maybe Marek could pretend enough for the both of us.
Christopher James lives and works in Jakarta, Indonesia. He has pieces forthcoming in Smokelong Quarterly and Bartleby Snopes Post-Experimentalism. He sometimes blogs HERE.
© 2012 – 2013, Metazen.