In the Mood for Love | by Adam Day

In the Mood for Love

by Adam Day

 

Before I stopped going out, the waitress at the café

complimented me

on my fine teeth. I read a book on the uses
and misuses of opium, waiting for my food. A tree
shed in the corner. “William Barret, a surgeon

who knew Thomas Chatterton,

described how the poet

had taken ‘a large dose of opium, some of which

was picked

out from between his teeth after convulsive death.’ ” A man
ate nuts in a booth behind me. On the floor
a scattering of fingernails, like some animal’s
lost teeth. I was disgusted by people

who bit their fingernails in public

just as I avoided public bathrooms. I have no patience
for other men’s urine. Women’s I can abide only with an otherwise

intentionally

~ ~ ~ ~

distracted mind. As a kid,

my great-grandfather called me

“Nancy.” I’d lie sick on the couch’s broken down

gold velvet, vomiting

under a gaudy landscape. Or only

pretending to. And he’d wait until his Agnes clomped out

to buy a loaf

of bread,

or egg noodles, and he’d bend down
with his brittle, yellow fingernails

rubbing an earlobe and whisper

“You Nancy. They spoil you. You’ll get all you want
You’re a Nancy, and who’ll pay is your parents now and you
later. A Nancy.” Then, he’d kiss me hard

on the forehead; the most

loving kisses. He terrified me. As nails went,
I bit them only

in the privacy of my car

~ ~ ~ ~

or home. There was real sensate satisfaction

in nipping a dimple

into the perfectly resistant nail. My food was brought;
I dropped my fork amid the span
of discarded fingernails, I realized
they were mine. There I was, lying on the floor

for a week’s worth

of patrons to see. “Don’t they sweep the place?”; the hairs on the back
of my hands laid down in sweat. I looked around,
as if to ask with my eyes, “Does anyone

know to whom these parings

belong?” It was this café—the key feature of which
was an outdated grandeur that had eased into kitsch — that led me to my

current place

of retirement. Late middle-age had become comedic. I was lonely;
I didn’t shop like I used to. I laughed

until I cried, and then I cried

outright. I had always
avoided sadness, and for the same reason that I felt that having a

favorite color

was potentially totalitarian: one might make it work

for them, might make it

mean.I struggled in my relations with women. So, I sought men
I was embarrassed

not for myself, but for them. Even those men

tender enough to fall for me were often disappointed I didn’t possess
the gastronomic sophistication expected
of an enlightened person. But last week

a woman and her

~ ~ ~ ~

autistic charge came into the place. I sat down
at the wooden table spreading my books

out before me.

It all seemed distasteful. I hoped
she would help me. I had a sense she might

understand me, clinically.

I drew back the pencil; it was as natural as shattering a plate
in a lover’s quarrel. It was a terrible thing to do

in public, involving

all of those people. After the first few furious strikes
nothing happened, but pain, which was

masked by the physical effort

of the active hand—just white flaps of disturbed dry skin. What
was I thinking? Somehow nothing

attached to that present moment.

I thought how recent school seemed, forty-five years later —
on my way

into the school office one day, I passed

an elderly, redheaded woman, in a short trench coat, mumbling
to me, “L’Chaim.” “Farshteyt

zikh, lady,” I whispered.

On the counter was a gift
for her granddaughter: humidity

ran the walls of a large plastic bag

of cigarette butts. The humiliation of the not quite

dead. Perhaps I should

~ ~ ~ ~

stop. You can imagine the rest. My fellow patrons

backing away, others

coming forward to restrain an old man. The poor woman trying
desperately to keep her keening

charge from destroying the place

in his hysteria at seeing what I had done. Spit

swung from the boy’s chin, and coffee beans

gave way under the heels

of customers as they rushed
around; I could feel my hand throb

but not the wet of blood

nor the movements I made. But heard the beans, and breathing
like the quick, incessant opening and closing of a supermarket’s doors. All
the goddamned breathing

of people. And their teeth

flashing with words

which I did not hear. Flashing

like the teeth of a boy who came at me, as a kid, and bending
in pain or evasion, I grabbed

his testicles and twisted

until their unique shape and density were perceptible, until his posture went
perfect and his eyes had the wide, wild shock

of a struck animal, his lips

drawn back to reveal the enormous glassine teeth

~ ~ ~ ~

that made everything go silent before I ran.

I didn’t want to die. I don’t have

the courage for that kind of thing. Finally, a woman of my own age, placed
a tan paper napkin
on hand, and two cool palms over that, as I stared

at my knees. I could

feel the pressure

of her gaze, and looking up, with kind and fluid eyes
she began to speak, and I knew

she would say something generous,

something

that might feel like first breathing

after you’ve had the wind

knocked out of you. She looked intently into my eyes, and said

loudly enough

for those nearby to hear, “Please,

do this at home.” I confused her words

with the birds barking in the trees. I wanted to say to her, “You
don’t understand. I find this as ugly

as all of you must. I am not a person

who does this. Come
have tea with me,” I wanted to say

to the woman, “You’ll see; I’m an

absolute bore!”


This poem was originally published in Issue 8 of H.O.W. Journal.