Authors: Elizabeth Haynes
Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Contemporary Women
And I kept seeing Eleanor, each Thursday evening. Each time I saw her I wanted her a little bit more. The hardest part of the process, of course, was making that initial contact. Having the guts to go up and talk to her. I asked Nigel, making subtle changes to the situation since the whole point of the class was not soliciting for sex but rather for business. So I asked him about cold calling (which I’d cleverly worked out was probably the workplace equivalent).
He told me that people buy from human beings. Make the initial contact personal, open and friendly. Think about how you talk to your friends, Nigel said. Think about the tone of voice, the posture, the way you smile at them.
Easier said than done, of course.
If you don’t ask, you don’t get, said Nigel. Quitters are never winners. The only thing stopping you is you.
In the end, I just sat down in front of her one Thursday in the refectory. ‘My name is Colin,’ I said, offering her my hand.
She looked startled, but shook my hand nonetheless. ‘Eleanor,’ she said.
‘What class are you taking?’ I asked.
‘Italian,’ she said. ‘Room six.’
Up close, she was even more attractive: dark eyes, a clear, pale complexion. I cleared my throat. ‘Is it any good?’
It wasn’t going particularly well so far. She was holding her coffee cup with both hands, as though she was cold. I mirrored her position, even though I didn’t have a drink to hold. I searched around desperately for something to say, something intelligent, something engaging.
Il miglior fabbro
,’ I said.
‘Eliot. It’s his epigram to Ezra Pound, for
The Waste Land
Il Miglior Fabbro
” – he made it better, he was the better craftsman. I believe that’s what it means, in any case.’
‘Oh, right,’ she said. Then, ‘We’re still on “Please can you direct me to the railway station?”’
I smiled at her. ‘Well, you can keep Eliot in mind for the future, then.’
She seemed to be relaxing, if her posture was anything to go by. She moved one of her hands under the table and I did the same.
‘Do you live locally?’ I said. It sounded lame. Why was this so bloody difficult?
‘Just in town,’ she said.
‘Will you come for a drink with me, after class?’
The question, so carefully prepared and phrased – no ‘I wonder if you’d like to’ or ‘I don’t suppose you’re free…’ – just a definite, firm, confident question. She could only say no, after all.
She looked startled. I thought she was going to refuse, so I tried again. ‘I’ll meet you outside, at half-past nine.’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Alright, then.’
That was the moment when I knew it was going to work. You can’t have doubt when you’re trying to bring people around to a particular way of thinking using NLP – you have to at least try to believe what you’re saying or else the message will be diluted and might not get through. I knew I had a long way to go and that I needed to refine my technique, but that ‘yes’ from Eleanor gave me the confidence to work at it. If I could get a woman to agree to meet me, the possibilities that opened up were beautiful and endless, a warm sea lapping against a tropical island.
The classes were due to begin and the refectory was starting to empty, chairs scraping noisily on the tiled floor. We both stood up. What was I supposed to say now? How could I reinforce it?
‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘See you later, then.’
‘Sure. See you later.’
Dammit. ‘Thanks’? How lame! Still, she went off to her class and I went off to mine, and all through it I could hardly keep still, writing notes in my book about what I would say to her, topics to keep the conversation flowing, and notes in the margin… ‘own it’… ‘be the message’.
The situation with Eleanor was I believe what they call a good start. It’s hard to pinpoint where exactly things went wrong, and I’ve considered all the possibilities many, many times in the months that followed. I did not rush things with her; I thought about everything I said to her and the implications. If I met her again tonight, I doubt I would do anything differently. I have refined things since then, of course, made adjustments to my technique because of what happened, and I’m certainly much more skilled in adapting my responses as required. Of course, it’s worth considering that I did not achieve my desired results with Eleanor because, at that time, I did not fully realise what they were. I had this clumsy, eager desire for an attractive woman to find me cartoonishly irresistible when in fact my calling was an altogether higher one.
Perhaps Eleanor was given to me for just such a purpose. She engaged with me without being interested. She and I connected but we did not kiss or touch or become intimate in any sexual way. Instead she threaded her soul through mine and met with me in a far more intimate place than we could ever have achieved through physical contact.
I suppose what happened was that she was already too far down the path.
I read a lot of Eliot and Rilke after my father’s death, attempting to achieve an understanding about this process that we all endure eventually and to which he had been called earlier than might otherwise have been expected. Eliot’s perception of birth and death as being essentially one and the same resonated, and I twisted my way through the
night after night, looking for my father’s soul and occasionally feeling I was catching a glimpse of him, his shroud a wisp of smoke behind a door, his scent in the air like a warm current in the sea.
My favourite poem of Rilke’s was the one where Orpheus heads off to the underworld to reclaim his lost love Eurydice. He is charged with looking only forward, trusting that his wife and her companion are following behind; when he cannot stand it any more and chances a look at her she has already turned back – what was it he said? ‘Her sex was closed, like a young flower in the evening.’ Orpheus’ So-Beloved was inaccessible, her virginity retrieved through death. She was rooted in death. She was heavy with her great death (birth and death again, inextricable, as with Eliot) – as though she was pregnant with it, pregnant with sweetness and the dark.
And so it was with Eleanor. She was too far gone, rooted in death even as she was still alive, still walking and talking and carrying on with it, day after day, heading towards the end without any desire to turn back.
I recall standing with her in the car park behind the pub. She seemed uncertain, dazed, as though the night spent in conversation with me had dulled her senses and made her oblivious to the world around her. ‘I can take you home,’ I said to her, my hand gently resting on her arm. It was quite dark, the only light from the windows of the pub. They had a security light that kept coming on and off every few minutes. I thought about what I was doing all the time, listening to her, trying to tune in to her thoughts and hoping that what I was saying was having an effect. She listened to me and heard my instructions but for some reason she was not responding in the way I’d hoped. There was a barrier between us.
I did not want to ruin things. I did not want her to walk away from this without me by her side. I wanted to take her to her house, shut the door behind us and lock it so that we were not interrupted. I wanted to take my time and to explore everything she had to offer – beautiful Eleanor. The girl of my dreams.
There was an element of nerves to be taken into
. Maybe I had dulled the message by my hesitancy. One needs to be so careful with this, so sure of oneself and one’s intentions. To listen, to observe. ‘Home?’ she asked, as though she’d never heard the word before.
‘Come with me,’ I said.
I started to walk back towards the car but she didn’t follow. I think this was the moment I lost her.
‘I’m not sure,’ she said, her voice low so I could hardly hear what she was saying. ‘I don’t know where home is. I don’t know what you mean.’
I knew it was too late. I was agitated, disappointed, and as hard as I tried I wasn’t going to be able to stop that coming out in my body language, my posture, my tone. ‘Go home,’ I said. ‘Go home, shut the door and don’t come out again.’
‘Yes,’ she said.
‘Fine,’ I said.
When I drove past her a few moments later she was still standing there. I spent that evening going over everything I’d said to her, everything she’d said in reply. And I made notes and thought about how I would do it next time.
I didn’t intend to cause her death; after all, my plan had been simply to try to find a girlfriend. So it wasn’t my fault that she killed herself the day after our date. She had given no indication of her intention when we parted; she was quiet, yes, but this was not so very different from her normal demeanour.
A few weeks later, I saw a news report that Eleanor’s body had been found at her home by a concerned relative. The body had been found at the foot of the stairs in a state of decomposition; nevertheless, it was clear that she had hanged herself from the banister. They suggested it had happened at some point between her leaving her evening class on Thursday, and Saturday. I wondered for a while whether anyone would come and interview me; surely people had seen us talking in the refectory – maybe someone had observed us leaving the campus together, or at the pub. But, although I prepared a benign story about considering taking Italian next term, nobody ever troubled me to hear it.
Drinking my third whisky the same evening, lips already numb, cheeks warm, I wondered what might have happened if I had gone to Eleanor’s house with her that Thursday night. I wished I had been there when she’d done it, watched her take that final step. Been there as she made that decision. And then I realised with a glow of sudden arousal that I had been there after all – because she’d made the decision that evening, in the pub, when I was with her. At the time, I believed she had listened to my instructions and taken them on board, but that something I’d said had been misinterpreted… when I was telling her she should go home, shut the door and not come out again, she had accepted it. She had not chosen her path at all. I honestly thought that I had taken the pain of the decision away from her. So many tiresome decisions, so much to consider, to think about: and in reality there was only one she needed to make. I thought I had helped her with that. I’d told her to do it – and it was done.
With the benefit of hindsight, of course, I know now that it is highly unlikely that anything I said to her that night made any difference. But either way, the end result was that she followed a path to quick, savage self-destruction. She was dead even as I drove away from her that night. In the car park, breathing, heart beating, but a corpse all the same. The transformation had already begun.
By then, however, I had other matters to attend to – I had moved on to Justine.
I wished they would leave me alone.
In the morning they would make me get up and dressed and then they would sit me in a chair. Every time I closed my eyes, someone would come along and wake me up.
At night when they should have left me to sleep I would hear people talking in the corridors, shouts from the others, footsteps walking backwards and forwards.
Maybe this was how they wanted me, permanently in a state of semi-consciousness.
They wanted me to talk to them, but I could not. There were no words left. I had no time or patience for this. I wanted to sleep and be left alone.
Justine came to me via that most prosaic of meeting places, an internet dating site. It was all made so much simpler after Eleanor’s death, when I let go of the idea of a relationship. Why had I aspired to it, for all these years? There was nothing of any value in it for me. No, what I really wanted was sex, with a woman, preferably an attractive one, who would do everything I required of her and would have no expectations of anything further. Having had limited success with Eleanor, I went back to the books and worked out a refinement of my technique, which I thought had the potential to work. And, if it didn’t, then having made contact via the internet would facilitate a severance with the minimum of awkwardness.
It took no time at all to find one. I created a fictitious profile, inventing myself as Mark Baxter, an IT consultant, single; spent a frustrating evening working my way through hundreds of female profiles looking for one that might at least be tolerable, and nearly gave up. The next evening I tried again and this time I spotted Justine. She was single, no children, and lived in north London. She said she was looking for ‘no-strings fun’ and listed various bland characteristics that I neither possessed nor fully understood. What the hell was a good sense of humour, anyway? What was a ‘kindred soul’? Her image showed a woman in her early thirties, shoulder-length brown hair, a smile which showed white, even teeth. She was looking at someone to her left, out of the picture. Maybe it was the lack of eye contact that I found particularly appealing.
I sent her a message. Within a few minutes she replied. For half an hour or so we corresponded using the messaging system on the website, and then she asked for my email address so she could send me a picture. I hadn’t anticipated this. I messaged her to say my phone was ringing and I would be back shortly, then I went to create a Hotmail account in the name of Mark Baxter.
A couple of minutes later I was back and she was still there, waiting for me. I messaged her the email address and said I was breathless with anticipation.
Hope you like it
When the email came through I was half-expecting a picture of kittens or some awful artwork or something, but it turned out to be Justine, wearing a pale blue bikini, sitting on some rocks, yellow sand between her toes and a foamy wave to the right. I was looking at her belly, tanned, not tight and muscular but a little loose, a small roll of flab just over the top of her bikini pants. Her hair was dry on the top, the wind lifting her fringe, the ends of her hair wet and hanging in rat’s tails.