A Lover’s Discourse

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942. Public Domain

The bartender was a bald man in his early 40’s. His ears were pointy and seemed to take away all the attention from his round face. He wore a white cap. He eased the drinks into people’s hands just as easily as they welcomed him into their conversations. He was just the right kind of friendly for a bartender. He wouldn’t pry, he pretended not to see tears when there were tears and he smiled. A lot. I kept watching him over my copy of the Dorian Gray every now and then. I watched him serve drinks to a couple, a gang of noisy boys and a middle aged woman sitting alone. He chatted with them all. When he wasn’t serving, his eyes were fixed on the game and the clock. Was he waiting too?

I was just nervous and he was my distraction. I didn’t want her to know I was nervous. I didn’t want her to know I almost broke my ankle trying to get here in a hurry even though there was plenty of time. To calm myself down, I had downed a bottle of wine at home and read Barthes’ ‘A lover’s discourse’, the chapter on waiting, especially, over and over again.

“There is a scenography of waiting: I organize it, manipulate it, cut out a portion of time in which I shall mime the loss of the loved object and provoke all the effects of a minor mourning. This is then acted out as a play”

The lover’s fatal identity is precisely: I am the one who waits

I would have been calmer had I dragged the book along to the bar. But I didn’t want her to think I had been obsessing over love for months now so I picked something neutral. Dorian gray seemed neutral. I have no idea what Dorian gray was about. Midway between waiting and assuming she is going to look at what I was reading, I wondered if The picture of Dorian Gray was the story of some painter named Dorian who is miserable because his lover married some rich guy. I freaked out because my hypothesis seemed believable. Under these tiring circumstances, I did what anybody sane with a smartphone would do. I looked up the Wikipedia entry for the goddamn book. It was a long entry so I skipped to the end. Some kind of tragedy it seemed like but I would do anything to not get caught reading ‘Lover’s Discourse’ today.

I waited. And I waited. We had agreed to meet at this bar, the very one that we frequented a lot as lovers in the months of May, June and July. After she left, I just couldn’t come here anymore. The last time we were here, we sat in the booth and drank all evening. She was wearing a white blouse and an olive green skirt. Whenever I sketch this, I never change the colors.

I looked at the clock again. It was 2:00. A full hour had passed after the agreed time. My restlessness was growing so I walked towards the entrance and turned. This was where she would see me from soon as she entered. I went back to my seat and positioned an angle that wouldn’t let her see my face. I rehearsed everything, even the way she would walk up to me, put her hand on my shoulder and the way my face would look, having been caught unaware because I was so absorbed in my book.

2:15: She hadn’t come yet. I went back to the telephone call she had made earlier in the day. I tried to recollect if she had really said 1:00 at the bar. It seemed natural not to ask which bar. I had started to rearrange my miseries when from the corner of my eye, I saw a blotch of red take a seat by the bartender. It was her. And she wasn’t alone. She was with a man and it didn’t look like a formal meeting. We looked at each other for 5 seconds and unknowingly I had pushed my gaze towards the man she was with, as if to ask ‘Who the hell is that’?

She didn’t say. And I could never find out. After 30 minutes of waiting a different kind of wait, one that was new in both measure and pain, they left.

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