Short story by S. Narayanaswamy
Originally Published on Sulekha.com in 1999
He was spirited. That was the one quality which attracted her to him more than any other. In fact, it would be fair to say that she wouldn't have been attracted to him if he were not so spirited. Whenever she saw him -- at private parties, at public gatherings, or in coffee shop groups -- he always stood out. He was like a big waterfall: loud, inundating, unstoppable and full of energy. First, she was fascinated. Then, she was interested. She spoke to him quite candidly about it. She wasn't shy nor did she mince her words. He was a bit taken aback -- no woman spoke to him quite like that. Whatever happened with whomever, it was always he that took the first step -- made the first move -- whether it was to hitch up or break up. So, he was a bit taken aback. It did not turn him off, though, her making the first move. He even thought this was good, her making the first move and everything. Everything that followed.
Before she made the move, they met only occasionally, and always in the company of others. Now they began seeing each other regularly and exclusively. She sure was different from all the girls he had gone out with before. She'd just call him up at work, they'd meet at their favorite coffee shop. He'd order a mocha grande, she a pot of green tea. They'd just sit there and talk (thank god for flex-time). Talk about anything -- and everything. She'd turn up at his apartment with Chinese takeout just around the time he was debating what to do for dinner. He'd bring out the half-bottle of Scotch, they'd drink, eat and talk. He was amazed and quite pleased to note that she always drank Scotch neat -- the way it was meant to be drunk. Sometimes they watched a movie on cable or made love. Even that was different with her, the lovemaking, he found.
He felt exhilarated in her company. All the usual games were out; games he learnt to play since he began dating years ago; games he knew all the women expected their men to play. There was no need, they were equals, well-matched.
They became partners.
The final credits were rolling, and they got up.
As they stepped out, she asked.
"Did you like it?"
"I have never seen such a visually grand packaging of such pure nonsense."
"How come? I mean, why do you say it is nonsense?"
"What else? There is very little story. Screenplay is pathetic. And the characters... the less said the better!"
"Just think of all the hard work the whole cast and crew must have put in."
"That's what I'm saying! All that hard work is just wasted... if you don't have a story... to begin with."
"I liked it!"
"Yeah? Tell me why?"
"Why do you have to harp on a few shortcomings?"
"Aha! So you agree that there are shortcomings!"
"That's not the point. Why can't you see all the beautiful things? Why can't you see the big picture?"
"It sure was a big picture -- ninety minutes too big, if you ask me."
"Stop using those disgusting one-liners. I think it is Oscar-worthy!"
"You gotta be kidding! For what? Cinematography? Yes. For a couple of other technical stuff? Maybe. If it wins for acting, screenplay, direction or god-forbid, the best picture... I'll never watch Oscars again!"
"You just wait and see."
He never watched Oscars again.
The band took the final bow. The little nightclub was flooded by the standing ovation of an enthusiastic audience.
They stopped at the coat-check to collect their jackets when she gushed, "Wow, that was fantastic. Thanks for dragging me along."
"Oh, it was okay."
"What do you mean it was okay? It was great!"
"No, I don't think it was great."
"For one, the drums were too loud."
"Well, may be. They should have put them up at a larger venue. But the saxophone... 'twas soooo smooooth!"
"Yeah, it's smooth, but smooth ain't great. You see, when I went to Vanguard in the Village..."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. You went to all these cool jazz clubs, hung out in the Village, rubbed shoulders with all the musicians, critics..."
"That's not what I'm saying!"
"Then, what are you saying?"
"It's just that, when I heard him before, he was... he was very refreshing, you know... he was developing his own style!"
"Now? I think he has become too complacent. There is no more spark... you know what I'm saying? He is just imitating himself."
"That is the most pompous thing I ever heard. So, you are the big jazz critic now, huh? Mr. Connoisseur, huh? What the hell is imitating himself anyway?"
"I mean... he is not creating anything original. Those two new compositions he played, you know, one blues and one ballad... they are nothing different from his previous work. It's just the same shit."
"Well, excuse me for enjoying the shit, anyway! What do I know? I am just a stupid new-kid-on-the-block... a goddamn novice."
"I didn't say that! Did I say that?"
"You don't have to say it!"
Back at his apartment, the controversial ballad from the CD she bought at the show played on the stereo as they made love and made up.
He put the book down, and slowly rubbed his face. She looked up from her magazine.
After taking a sip of her green tea, she asked, "So, what do you think?"
He took a moment to answer, "Frankly, I can't see what you saw in this."
"Tell me what you didn't see."
"How can I tell something which I didn't see? If I saw something..."
"You know what I mean...Tell me what you didn't like?"
"The whole thing. The plot is inconsistent, the characters are weak and undeveloped..."
"But the style..."
"Wellll, the style was interesting, but... don't you think it was a bit put on... you know, artificial? All that jumping back and forth? I couldn't connect to any of the characters. And then, those chant-like repetitions...a viable diable age!... ughhh!"
"May be you hate it because you are just that age."
"You know, it won the ____ prize?"
"Yeah, I heard. So what? It probably helps the book sell -- doesn't make it great, though!"
"Okay, tell me what you liked in it."
"I can't explain it to you when you already have so much negative attitude to it! First, you got to have an open mind. Second, you got to feel it -- it is something you feel!"
"Please, don't start with that 'it is a feel thing' lecture! Look, all I want from any fiction is simple: a good strong story and well-defined characters. In my view, that's what makes good fiction."
"You said the same thing about the movie too, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember. Because that stupid movie won all those Oscars still doesn't make it great. Same thing for this book too... it winning this prize... I still stand by my opinion."
"I think it's a pig-headed opinion."
"Very well, so be it!"
"Why do you have to be so pig-headed? Why can't you open up your mind to what the book or the movie has to offer?"
"But I am! When I pick up a book or walk into a theatre, I am opening my mind to receive what they are offering. It doesn't mean that I have to like what they're offering. I judge their merits strictly on whether they meet my criteria or not."
"That's exactly what I'm saying. Your criteria are prejudiced and narrow-minded, to begin with. It seems to me that you read books or watch movies not so much to enjoy what they offer, but just to criticize. As if they don't know what they are doing... all the people who spend their money to buy the book or see the movie... all the experts who give them awards... are all idiots. You are the one Mr. Big-Shot... everything has to meet your narrow-minded criteria!"
He became silent. And thoughtful.
They walked out into the cool night from the hot apartment which was bursting at the seams with people and loud chatter. His face was flushed from the half-a-dozen Glenlivets, from the heat. Or maybe from the excitement, -- she wondered. The party was thrown by her old friend. Most of the guests were new to him.
"Boy, that was a great party!" he blurted out.
Excitement, she decided. It was not the drinks or the heat.
"Did you have fun?" she asked coolly.
"Yup. You bet!"
"I thought so."
He caught the chill. This is not good.
"Is something wrong? Did I..."
"I can't believe the way you were.... you were going on and on back there cutting people off. As loud as a foghorn, not caring what others are saying..."
"But, I was always like that, you know it! Why is that suddenly a problem now?"
"I was just dying of shame. They are my friends, you know. What they'd be thinking..."
"About the way you were carrying on! Bragging 'Oh, I did this, Oh, I did that'... and then, the way you'd buttonholed Priscilla... poor Priscilla!"
"Poor Priscilla? What the hell, she seemed to enjoy my conversation..."
"She's just being nice. How can you be so insensitive? She's just got a new boyfriend! That poor guy was hovering on the fringes while you had her cornered for forty solid minutes!"
"What is this? You're my official timekeeper, now?"
They walked some distance in silence.
"You know what I think? I think you're not having enough social interaction these days, you know, since we started seeing each other. You suddenly meet this group of... all these new people... it's like... it's like a whole new experience for you. That's why you got so excited, I think."
"Thanks for your analysis!" Sarcastic.
"Oh, baby! Is there... am I not fulfilling all your needs?"
"Are you saying that I talked to Priscilla because... because I have unfulfilled needs? Are you jealous of her?"
"Look, you are still sulking!" She stopped and faced him.
"You look sooo cute when you sulk. Just like an overgrown little boy! Come, let's make up!!" She hugged him. Suddenly, he was tired. She whispered in his ear, "I'm always here for you, sweetheart! All of me... all for you... just for you... for all your needs."
They got in the car. She held his hand.
They remain partners. She just has the controlling interest, that's all.