When I write free verse, I often wonder how it would work as prose. Sometimes it’s interesting to experiment, so I took my poem “heartbreak tapas” and turned it into a story instead. It gains some things, but loses others – I’d be interested to know which people prefer:
Between us a blank expanse of table stretches out like a winter beach. A space where hands do not reach out to each other, but fidget alone.
The restaurant is loud and bright with other people’s chatter, but we are silent at first. Until a few weeks ago we could talk effortlessly for hours. Now when conversation begins it is hesitant. And without either of us seeming to want it that way, our discussion turns sour. He tells me I am being dishonest – I tell him he is putting me in an impossible double bind. We hurt each other as only lovers can – deliberately, vicariously and without intending to – all in a jumble of pain.
It’s almost a relief to be interrupted by the arrival of the staff, so politely neutral. (Later, he said how terrible he was feeling, believing that the waiters and maitre d’ were judging him, thinking of him as a bad person because I was crying. They didn’t realise that he wasn’t a bad person, that I was crying so dramatically because I was trying to embarrass and manipulate him.)
The waiters set out an embarassment of food which had somehow lost its ability to tempt us – our appetites were numbed by misery. We had ordered happily and hungrily – but now found our eyes had been bigger than our stomachs. Or rather, more than our hearts could bear. (He didn’t seem to see that I was trying not to make a public drama of our distress. Between distress and hormonal chaos I couldn’t stop myself crying, but when the waiters came I looked down and away, trying to hide my swollen eyes, appear normal and happy.)
Our mood drains the food of all its flavour. The patatas bravas aren’t particularly fiery. And as we argue, we neglect the dishes and they grow cold. A forgotten salad melts under the weight of its dressing, growing limp and grey. His fingers attack a prawn, ripping the fragile carapace from its tender flesh – then he winces and licks his fingers as the salt, chilli and lemon coating stung. As if the prawn was to blame for hurting him.
Conversation going nowhere. Words left unspoken. I try to reach out with my words, find a way to heal our differences, but he keeps throwing all the fault onto me, telling me my problems are unreal and caused only by my fears. No wonder the tears just keep streaming from my eyes. I just can’t find words that reach him.
We leave uneaten the feast which is laid before us in the present, as well as the feast of pleasures that we once hoped to enjoy in the future. Finally they realise that we will not be eating any more, and come to clear the table. Between us the tablecloth is stained and rumpled, scattered with the fragments of our argument. And salted with the tears that I had not been able to stop crying.
Did we want a dessert? God, no. By that time there was no more reason to wait – nothing left to say that could heal the chasm between us. Both of us were keen to leave the place where we had been locked so publically into a bitter, unwanted fight. He pays (as he always liked to). And we leave together, but a thousand miles apart.
Later in the car, my tears flow more freely, unconstrained by spectators. I think we are both appalled at what had become of our relationship, not knowing how to regain our earlier happiness or, indeed, if we would ever be able to. The fear that we will never be able to recover from this suddenly washes over me and I can’t help sobbing in a wild storm of tears. Outside my flat, I turn to him, with one quick hug – and a kiss on the cheek whose brevity has nothing to do with the passion and pain that inspired it.
“Be well, my love, until we can bear to meet again.” I say, and flee to the refuge of my bedroom.
There in private, in the weeks and months to come, I will cry and sob and howl and curl into balls as I come to terms with the agonizing truth that we will not meet again. Far more dramatic, in private, than the weeping in the restaurant which he described as “major drama”. Which he claimed had traumatised him to an extent that justified refusing to speak to me.
I wonder if he will ever find himself wondering why he reacted so strongly. Why my crying in public was so much more of a betrayal than his previous girlfriend’s unfaithfulness that he could be friends with her, but not bear to speak to me. I think I’ve finally worked out why…. but I’m not sure he ever will.