Luke Lewin Davies
Jennifer watched the ending of the film, with the man we had been told to hate surprising everyone by saving the child. This followed by the sequence of trees shooting past a train window.
Its language had been clear to her. She hadn’t enjoyed the film that much – but the message was plain: to hate the man for his narrow-mindedness is to replicate the very hatred that is disapproved of. There are trees – they come before and after us – they should enable some perspective.
From this she derived the lesson that tenderness and compassion, that these things sit alongside narrow-mindedness. The lesson, also, that the kind of hatred this man succumbs to is something of which we are all equally capable. The lesson that the only mistake – the mistake that the man in the film was initially guilty of, the mistake that we in turn are made to feel guilty of – is to forget our essential sameness in the light of the fire.
These things, then. And Jennifer reflecting, sitting next to Mark. Reflecting on them, and concluding that it seems very unlikely that Mark will have seen or thought any of this.
That he won’t have done the homework, either. Closing the laptop screen on it with the semi-comic closure of a hungry hippo.
I mean, look at him. Sitting there spooning the pink stuff into his droopy jaw like a mechanical cow.
And the thought that if she had tried to explain – well, she wouldn’t have been able, because that too would have been brought at an abrupt halt. Brought to an abrupt halt with nothing more than a raised eyebrow and the twinkling eye of the smug empiricist. Brought to a halt, perhaps, with a seemingly cheery breezy knowingly cheesy ever-so-slightly sleazy inquiry into how exactly she knows this, the twinkle-eye shit-for-brains. Asking her how she knows this as if she’s being wildly speculative even when everything in the film is pointing in this direction: when every single fucking shot and scenario is pointing in this fucking direction.
And, for sure, her reading isn’t final. She knows that. She isn’t saying she’s grasped the film in its entirety. Her reading isn’t definitive. She knows this. But to see the film as if it at least might mean something, at least to view it as an entity that has been deliberated over, that very likely has been thought about by human beings at some point. To see it as something vaguely directional rather than as a heap of images and sounds for them to mindlessly consume. To at least try to do what the film is clearly asking them to do. To at least try.
But not for Mark. No, not for Mark. Mark isn’t for trying things, turns out. Mark isn’t for trying to answer questions about things, turns out. Questions like what is this in front of me? Questions like hi Mark what’s that you’re doing with your time oh nothing that’s depressing you’re a very depressing guy.
And so Jennifer goes to bed hating Mark. Hating, even, his guts. Hating his guts as she watches him mooch his way slowly up the stairs. Hating his guts as she senses him tugging on the cover a little, bringing it towards him. As she feels him kiss the back of her neck, grazing her back with his stubble, forgetful of the times she’s mentioned how it tickles, how it irritates her skin – your kisses, they’re nice, but watch the stubble, it’s like sandpaper.
And now Jennifer, staring at the hairy back of Mark’s hand. This hairy hand that had once appeared to her, somehow, like a kind of sexy thing. Lying limp across her body like a dead arm out of a hoodlum’s boot. It’s awful thin black hairs centimetres from her face, sinking into that white fleshy forearm like harpoons into the belly of a whale. And then the thought of this vast white arm’s naked underside, those blue-green veins swimming underneath the skin like snakes beneath the water.
Everything like something, and nothing like anything even remotely nice.
And so, Jennifer, lying here listening intently as Mark slowly shifts his weight. As Mark slowly, clumsily edges himself towards her. And another image unbidden to her mind, forming somewhere behind her eyes, open wide – another whale, this time a beached one, this time writhing on the shore. The image forming as she listens to the sound of Mark’s sad and yellowing t-shirt as it rustles against the sheets. As she listens to the sound of his body shifting across the springs beneath. As she listens to the mouse-like fissle as he carefully encases her, nestling her broken body into the deep interior of his stinky cave. Nestling her inside until they are two frames gently touching, one inside the other – Jennifer like a desperate message inside a curvingly indifferent fortune cookie. Help me someone please to break this outer shell. Jennifer the message, listening to the sound of stale breath rattling through Mark’s body like dank and dusty air gushing through the underground.
Everything like something.
And as Jennifer thinks these things, staring blankly at the wall in front of her, wishing for someone, for anyone else – wishing for someone who doesn’t provoke her to think these thoughts, wishing for someone able to intuit – as Jennifer thinks these things, Jennifer finds herself picturing Pinar.
Pinar who used to lick her nipples in her parent’s bathtub. Sensitive Pinar with his wonky penis and his perspiring upper lip.
And at the same time, Jennifer recognising the thanklessness of the fantasy. Recognising its overdue-ness. Recognising the narrow-mindedness of it, to boot.
And then a temporary but complete reversal as Jennifer wishes, for a moment, that she could be more like Mark. Wishing, for a moment, that she didn’t have to stand beneath the roll call of their individual and collective failures and to testify, day on day.
Jennifer wishing, in fact, that she could bypass the entire process in the way that Mark does – lying there silently farting, silently drooling onto his side of the bed.
Jennifer feeling in turn that there is something inherently ungenerous in her pincer-like interrogation next to his dog-like unthinkingness.
Feeling in turn, eventually, that she has failed to learn the message of the film.
Not that if she had learnt the message, Mark would give a fuck.
And the thoughts, then, circular – as Jennifer wishes she would fall sleep. As she registers to herself the fact that she can smell his breath, even from here. The fact that she can smell his breath because he hasn’t brushed his teeth, even after eating all those prawns.
Luke Lewin Davies was born in Bristol. He currently teaches English Literature at the University of Tübingen in Germany. He has published journalism and book reviews in the Times Literary Supplement, Literary Review and the LA Review of Books. His first full length book will be published by Palgrave later in 2021.
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