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Jonathan and Poppy

Vist Kafka's Profile

Jonathan and Poppy

Two young people in the heart of the progressive town; they ventured in their comfort, loved in their minds, and drank above their pace. The town they settled in, or were settled into, was excitingly fast moving – always there were innovations waiting to surprise them, waiting to impress them. Strangely modern buildings enclosed the waterside in blocks, all supporting architectural styles indefinable except as ‘modern’. Excessive modernisations surprised them – and on occasion angered them.
They were not new innovations though, but ones seen elsewhere. ‘This machine can be seen at the airports! Oh and they use these on the tubes in London,’ they would say. The council had received a stroke of domination; the town’s music, they believed, could soon be found in the record shops – the art would be shown in London. So they sent architectural spies into the cities, looking for fashion and technology. They were creating the new centre of the world – the buildings grew tall and brittle. They poured their money into this.
But the place was not new; it only had some catching up to do. Alas, our two young cynics had been there too long to appreciate the opportunity, the convenience. They loved the world beyond, and could never see their birthplace as anything more than home – and one’s home, though comfortable, passive, is shameful. Always things were like the cities; this sign resembles another; they have this shop in Cambridge. The form of these places always dominated their home and their perspective.
Jonathan was what may be called an academic Bohemian – that is how he began. Entirely liberal, he wanted to move away and support the most obscure minority he could find; perhaps found the Society Promoting the Welfare of Homosexual Dwarfs, or become enraged and mad over legislation. He watched the news, became angry and mocking, arrogant and shocking.
He changed at eighteen. He read, and discovered his dependencies; he learnt logic. No sooner had he understood how capitalist the world was than he had lost his hate of it. Certainly it was cruel, obsessive and cold, but it was art too. Who indeed bought his paintings but the capitalists? And the musicians he admired – they were nothing but the producer’s assets. ‘Alas,’ he resigned, ‘it could be no other way.’ Would the commies have invented the internet, or the hippies? Certainly not - they were too busy indulging in ideals to bask in technology. Jonathan gave up ideals, they were nothing, and instead went into logic. ‘Yes you are cold, logic,’ he defended himself, ‘but you are so important.’
There was however one make-believe that he retained, one intangibility he could not lose. Freedom! No, not the freedom of the Americans; they may not know it but they are chained to everything they lay hands on. And who were they, those white patricians, to talk about being free, when they had known nothing else. Jonathan wanted freedom of mind – a freedom so traitorous that logic would quench it rather than find it. He stopped buying and indulging, he learnt to treat music instrumentally, and slowly became immune to attachment.
He sat oblivious in a fissure and tried to make sense of the cliff-faces crumbling around him. He deduced what was best for him, writing ideas in a square grid notebook, using mathematical symbols in place of words. He spent some time there.
He had met Poppy at this time. His interest in her was not immediate, but her insistence seemed to be in itself an attraction. When they left school, both simultaneously, it seemed natural that they should live together, but though each desired the other there was an intellect that kept them always a foot or more apart. It was this wise ostentation that led them into one of their most foolish endeavours; Poppy’s unemployment. But Jonathan did not resent her for this; he knew how parallel his life was to her actuality, and the sympathetic repulsion that he felt each day returning to the flat served as a muffled monument of the sacrifice that she had made for him.
Her commodities would be exchanged for his – and neither one gained or lost for some time. There was only a thrill to indulge in; change was a pleasure, and in an expectant irony this changed, and it was not enough. Nothing changed, and they walked together side by side into their new flat, towards their mutual isolation, interests and ambitions. 

*

Jonathan found the heat of the day overwhelming; his walk through the town which should have been idle and empirical was weeded with the sweat and self awareness of solitude amongst the living. ‘There is always a cure,’ he thought, ‘always something to relieve the bodily symptoms.’ There was no escaping the climate however.
    Errands began always with optimism. But he soon felt absent against the pursuing echoes of his surroundings, always when one called another answered. Even the shop assistants - they were not the mindless drones that one might expect; they were alive and interacting, elated by their own tone and movement. No, he, Jonathan was the machine, the mindless consumer, insignificant in the grand schemes of the surrounding commercial community. He was the most important, the most necessary, yet the most common and least valued.
But still there is always the knowledge that an event of great excitement and spontaneity may entrance a man at any moment; he tried to entertain these thoughts, but little became of it. He dissolved into his own psychology as he melted under the sun. 

  Poppy, Jonathan’s young and freelance spouse awaited his return, sitting in a wicker chair, smoking a cigarette to its end. She wore clothes of a subtly blended, matte fashion, choosing each morning whether to be innocent or seductive, the two styles being largely the same. Today she was a self-aware nymph, and had more cleavage to signify it.
She had positioned herself to be immersed in reading for the time of his entrance, and though her eyes marked off the words of the pages, her thoughts revolved around the endeavours of a more immediate and meaningless reality. ‘He does not need acknowledgement,’ she thought as her beloved closed the door behind him. She suppressed the natural inclination to turn her head, resorting to turning a page of the book. She thought, ‘how strong and yet subtle our agreement is, that I can ignore him in peace.’
Jonathan’s impression of her was obscured, not so much by the smoke, but by the cigarette itself, even though she had taken to smoking years ago. It consumed itself between Poppy’s pale lips. ‘This is a certain fashion,’ Jonathan thought, ‘this astute silence.’
‘Would you like a drink?’ Jonathan asked, indulging in the question’s controversy.
‘It’s a little early isn’t it?’ Poppy said aloofly. She was looking at a young man through the window; the sun had started a spring rain and people were jogging through the street below, all dressed in suits, using their briefcases as shelter. ‘Do they all really have places to be? Or is it just the rain?’ she thought, ‘There must certainly be some kind of superstition amongst the commuters concerning rain – it is an economic handicap.’
  Jonathan resented her indifference, her judgemental passivity; she had been taught to pay attention to her company, yes, but only to her superiors, and this superiority came in age. How he hated those solidly old, obtuse characters that both envied and puzzled him; those professionals that had long since devoted themselves to opportunity in a country that digressed with economical growth and fault; a mismatched nation of diversion and progression. ‘Which was the first thought,’ he wondered, ‘what must we do, or what can we make of it.’ He had felt for years that they had something missing – that they lacked some integral thought process, yet they lived so efficiently that he decided to give this inclination up for jealousy.
Jonathan poured a glass of wine and planted himself optimistically on the chair beside Poppy. Once his body relaxed into a lounge however he exhaled the inquisitive smile from his face. Poppy remained at the chair by the window; this was her chair. Wicker was largely all they could afford – Poppy had covered all the furniture in drapes to hide this. Jonathan however found it satisfying – he liked how translucent and light the place was. He was bound to nothing unseen in that room – no piece of space was obscured, and no object held mass greater than his own. Jonathan avoided the chair even when he was there alone, he could not bear to fill the outline of her curved body. Occasionally he dared to consider his lover at home when he was working; these thoughts gave him a perverse revulsion, the saddest part was his ultimate ambivalence towards the entire situation. He wished to be there in her place, but hated the idea of it. Poppy, like all women, had once seemed so marvellous – there once seemed to be perfection in each action, an attitude that made foreign men both love and hate her.
  ‘It was so warm earlier, the rain is refreshing,’ Jonathan said, in desperation. Poppy looked outside; the streets were already almost abandoned, and the origins of a rainbow could be seen like a band of translucent paint trickling in two perfect curves from the sun.
‘You could do with some more sunlight - you’re so pale,’ Poppy replied. She was indeed very pale herself, but a tone of objectivity in her voice made her hard to contradict. A manner of illusive truth came out of her in a method of dismissal rather than proposition, and as such any notion of fantasy was lost in her; religion was a cultural inheritance to her ego, and literature had value only in its entertainment and renown. She tilted her head with half a smile - the awaited invitation for Jonathan to sit by her chair. He sat reluctantly by her feet, taking care not to smother her legs. She wore shorts that barely covered her thighs. Jonathan rubbed them up and down, feeling the imperfection of the tiny hairs shooting through. ‘There is such a degree of fantasy in attraction; I should never have known the razors she uses, the characters she admires. But what was I to think; that her legs were naturally seamless, that her tone came from her own brain?’
‘What are you thinking about?’ she said.
‘Oh what a stupid question,’ he exuded, ‘I’d never have believed that thoughts come consecutively, like the words in a book.’
‘You make everything so ridiculously profound,’ she said, and this was perfectly true.
    ‘I was thinking about your legs,’ he replied in dismissal.
‘Yes, that’s more like it.’ She continued to read, as if she had no thoughts herself. She would marvel at that idea – the simplicity of it would entice her.
    ‘Do you want to watch some TV?’ Jonathan asked.
‘Hmm, okay then.’
‘We don’t have to.’
‘No really it’s fine.’ Jonathan lent over the floor and turned it on. He indulged in the news; there was, he believed, a strange escapism in a sadder, more exotic truth. Poppy continued to read, and the rain continued to fall.

Later in the evening, when the rain had ended, Jonathan left the flat alone and walked excitedly through the humid town to the point where his and an associate’s neighbourhoods met. There was no excitement in the occasion but the green liberating smell of the rain inspired in his mind dozens of memories of another person’s youth. He had not to wait when he reached his destination. He and Samuel loitered and then left the comfort of their proximity to reach their destination.
The bar they visited was loud with the music of clashing cultures, which, though neither man now much appreciated, was most becoming on their ideals. They both sat with drinks outside – to smoke and talk. The garden was near silent, though every now and then the back door would open and a wave of Caribbean sounds would echo muffling around the fenced off enclosure. Samuel smoked thin, cheap cigars that never left his mouth – he held them always in his prominent, smooth teeth and often talked whilst one resided there. The look was now quite becoming on him, Jonathan thought, though it hadn’t been when he had started at seventeen. Jonathan rolled his own cigarette with precision before lighting it with Samuel’s silver lighter. Their conversation had grown fluent over time, though they both knew that they could never fully understand one another – this did not matter. Their friendship was a web of mutual need and exploitation, impenetrable until the end.
“I have news for you,” Samuel said with teeth clenched.
“Is this real news or a mundane attempt at news?” Jonathan replied, not the least bit stirred.
“Real news,” Samuel retorted with sincere calm. “I’m going to America.”
“Oh; when, and for how long?” Samuel’s presence in the expanse of the New World was inconceivable to Jonathan. Anyone he knew, or even glanced at on the street, appeared unfit for that cinematically glorious, politically despicable nation.
“You misunderstand me – I am moving there for good.” 
Jonathon said nothing, and again the door opened as a group of women left the bar, and with them leaked the sounds of a European rebellion.
“My cousin owns a business in San Francisco,” Samuel continued. “He is looking for workers and invited me to live with him; I’ll apply to the university there and work for my keep.”
“I – I don’t know what to say.” The long awaited, little expected push had finally come – that involuntary stride towards freedom that so often comes in abandonment.

’I should sleep for days,’ Jonathan said to himself. He wondered, during the walk home, whether he would ever see that pub again. ‘Of course I will.’
  The weekend began sourly, and the weather blazed free from the pleasantly dominating clouds that had hovered low the day before. Jonathan awoke with an optimism that existed only to be transformed into listless adversary. He made to arise and make coffee only for his efforts to be thwarted by a sighing, “Hey… don’t get up.” The necessity for obedience was obvious – his longing repulsed him, though no more than his fear of losing it.
  He made his coffee whilst Poppy remained in bed – there is something about unemployment that robs a person of all initiative. She spent days mastering her hobbies and knowledge – though always beaing lifetimes away from completing her vast intellectual collection. Her most recent assignment was the violin, which frustrated her so, it being so different from her usual concrete accomplishments. The world, to her, was a laboratory of developments, and to understand them all would be to predict the future. Like the schools, she believed education to be a good that rivalled Romanticism.
Jonathon loved this initially; her rush to knowledge was admirable and surprising.
  It was during that morning that the despair of his friend’s departure was fully actualised in Jonathan, and his minds extension cut dramatically yet easily from the celestial bond that it had formed within Samuel. At this moment of late dawn his social part did not linger, but flew immediately to Poppy, whose own atoms would choose to resist or accept the new bonds. He brought her tea in bed, which she drunk whilst he sat watching her conflictingly. She was abashed by the attention, though still neurotically pleased.
“What is it?” She asked in the image of defensive anger.
“Nothing,” Jonathan replied, “It’s just nice to see you in the morning, before you’ve had time to prepare yourself.”
“I don’t see why, I must look awful. In fact I feel slightly nauseous.”

  Come afternoon Poppy had persuaded Jonathan to go for lunch with her. She took him to an English pub, bare bricks showing both inside and out. The menu was categorised into the dishes of different nations; Jonathan started with a plate of sushi (which was, Jonathan believed, in fact cooked, only served chilled), followed by a dry steak.
As they ate a duo of Irish violins hung in the air - the loudness irritated Jonathan, though Poppy seemed reluctantly harmonious with it. She swayed her head as she looked around the room, looking and listening to its pale inhabitants. Poppy recounted aloud a time when she had been there previously, how she and her friends had been courted by another party, the result of which being a free meal and a lot of drinks. The story sparked jealousy in Jonathan’s eyes, though he feigned a consistent indifference that Poppy took as a show of stoic ostentation.
By the end of the meal both were tired of the other’s company; Poppy wanted to leave him for a while. Jonathan on the other hand maintained a determinate conception of salvation, and took the discomfort in his stride as he pushed and interrogated her. The two walked home, alongside the clash of busy roads to the quiet activity of narrow pathways.
Once home Jonathan immediately yawned and made to go to bed, pausing to wait for Poppy’s opinion. She declared that she would do some reading and join him later. Lying awake, Jonathan soon heard the television turn on, and a hot pulse of adrenalin filled his stomach. It was his effort that had always been lacking; this he knew. She had, on several occasions, become distressed by his continual lack of care and sincerity. And he had tried for a brief time, but could not understand – why should he try, above his own will, to satisfy the demands of a relationship, the purpose of which was, surely, to satisfy him. He tormented himself, fighting for his ideals and autonomy whilst her expectancies and berating lashed him, far more painfully than he would let her know. In the end he won – whether due to his just cause, or her dependency, and his mind became at rest; the verdict had been made, the terms of their mutual exploitation arranged, without hope or need of vindication.
The blow was hard on Poppy. She knew, deeply, that she had been wronged in some way; robbed of an inherent right; though the words she wanted to cry never came, “But you are a man!” Her soul screamed it, but she could not voice it, believing with all her education that he owed her nothing, that he was not a man, but an agent like any other. Since this time the occasional gestures that passed between them were, more often than not, treated with hostility. A spontaneous gift of earrings was, for her, a sign of hypocrisy, and when she surprised him with a book he took it as revolt, not generosity. 

He was still awake when she came to bed, though he made no sign of it. She undressed and crept under the single cover before curling foetally with her back against Jonathan, being careful not to touch the sword that lay between them. 
They slept together formulaically – always, when one was out for the night, a craving of passion seeped on their reunion, as one expelled unto the other the night’s frustration, whilst the other yearned for the cold odour that the wanderer brought with them, the marks of the moon and music that shone pale from their cold skin. They rarely went out together, though they always shared all of the outside contact that befell them – of course, in total supercilious modesty.

Come morning Poppy rose before Jonathan. She dressed and left the bedroom as quietly as she could – she did not want to wake him. It was only when she had left him that she discovered how musky and grotto-like the place was, and now that she knew it she insisted without resistance that she should not be there. ‘I do not belong here’.
She had nowhere to go however, so she went to buy some unnecessary essentials. She bought the newspaper and a chocolate bar that the packaging insisted was ‘All New’. It was early, but Poppy was a sceptical and insinuating girl, and could find fault in anything. ‘Nothing is all new,’ she said to herself. ‘It might be new but it cannot be all new.’
As Poppy made the short walk home she looked up at the sky, where hung a pale, almost translucent moon. She had adjusted her glance to her feet before she realised the strangeness of the moon being apparent so early in the day, she let it go.
By this time Jonathan too had arisen to find himself in a humid state - he noticed this before his eyes had opened, and knew the inevitability of it. He turned and saw that Poppy was not there, wondering whether she had ever been there, he closed his eyes again. Some time passed before he heard the front door open and close, ’Has she been out all night?’ he asked himself. Poppy made to open Jonathan’s door before a rush of nausea took her – she ran to the bathroom and vomited. Jonathan followed her, still largely asleep, and comforted her as she leant over the toilet.

Jonathan left the apartment an hour later – it was Sunday, and the rural streets were blurred by a draining, humid light. He mused on Poppy’s unprecedented sickness only for a moment as he left his neighbourhood, ‘Perhaps it’s the flu,’ he thought.
He had left her in bed, all the panic and affection of the last night had swam through him whilst he slept, and he was mature again, mature and proud. There was little shame on his part for having left her in that state. Though he knew it upset her, he knew also that any protest was taboo.
He knocked on Samuel’s door, twice. Samuel had called him here to present to him some personal effects that he had rather leave behind. Jonathan expected the house to be littered with crates, each one filled with a decade’s worth of unmovable, useless technology; devices that could not keep up with the flux of commerce, or the swelling demands of the owner. He was surprised then, upon being let into the building, that it was vastly the same as he had last seen it, which coincidentally had the appearance of being quite ownerless. Never before had Jonathan noticed how few possessions his friend displayed. Years before the place had been littered with books and music, the genres of both varied almost every other month. Now however there was nothing in the first room to give him away; he let nothing, no thought, and no image, escape his reason. Samuel had finally grown tired of climbing those stairs of self-portrayal. He had climbed them until he tired - there was no one left who cared to watch him, and now he had finally become himself, faceless and organic.
  Jonathan made coffee and tea whilst Samuel collected some things from upstairs. He came down with a large, full cardboard box – it seemed that he had kept those fragments of past identities stored away. He emptied the box object at a time onto the kitchen table – a number of books, some music, a CD player, until he was able to remove the last of the box’s contents, a weathered anglepoise desk lamp. ‘This thing has cult value,’ he said. ‘You should check it out on EBay.’

Later Jonathan and Poppy rendezvoused and went into the town. It was important, as Poppy insisted, to buy new clothes every season – even if none were needed. Poppy relished in the town’s activity; the life and vice of the streets were reassuring to her, and she imagined her own position in the crowded streets with a modern idealism – she ignored the crowds to fit in. Though more fluent with the flow and rhythm of the moving idle high street, Jonathan was at a loss for speech or thought, the blazing sun obscured his opinions and left him frustrated and thoughtless. He only wanted to sit down, to shop another day.
‘What do you think of this dress?’ Poppy asked him, holding up a black and white, poke-dot and striped piece before his eyes. He did not approve, but agreed nonetheless. The aura of the shop, the intense reflecting of dim yellowed lights on white walls, the clash of beauty on ugly, men, women and children all united in the conquest of underpriced fashion, it was all too much for Jonathan to voice an opinion in. He left Poppy in the store to catch an unscented breath. Leaning against the place, Jonathan found it hard to exist idly in the chaos of shoppers. He stood out, he knew, for his purposeless. He watched as the elderly went in and out, as foreigners went in veiled and left in jeans. He watched frustrated children, already more familiar with the scene than were many adults. He did not know what to believe – was he better than these functioning characters, did his awareness give him a right to ostentation, or was he simply a more subtle part of the scene – significant in the eyes of the scholar, but meaningless to the casual observer?
  The walk home from these trips was wearisome for both Jonathan and Poppy. The violent light gave so much to the empty space in the suburban streets, and the surroundings that had once been filled with walking talking distractions was left as an active abyss, consuming all the gentle passivity that remained. They spoke little. Poppy was annoyed at Jonathan’s indifference – this he knew – though he insisted that she should not care so. He was a singular entity, only one moving parallel to another, and so had no responsibility for her. Besides, how could he control his moods?
  In some regards Jonathan was a romantic through and through. Though mostly happy, when he became depressed he relished in his trapped state, the door out of which he would refuse to see. He did not become angry, or tearful, only kept to himself, perhaps reading or going for walks. Poppy knew then to leave him be, though she grew angry at his selfishness. Pity was something she had never needed, having been brought up with a parental shield, defending her from the less glamorous aspects of life. If she spied a homeless man, why, he was probably using.  She donated money to a third world charity every month, as had done her parents, who were in fact good friends with the charity’s director. Her upbringing had been almost mechanical, entirely simplistic due to the confident self-awareness that her parents maintained. They understood the task at hand – to raise this young girl to their liking. Parenthood was, for them, something of a lifestyle rather than a challenge. They would continue at their activities habitually, with the added responsibility (though they would not feel the weight of it) of an odd scolding or semi-praising, always telling the child that they could do better if they tried. The moment they came home with their first child, they were parents. They would not forget this, for they knew now nothing else. They neither knew nor cared of what could or would have been. It was too distant, and had purpose only instrumentally, for the cause of some after dinner supposition.

  Poppy was sick in the morning again. They both knew the insinuation of her illness but made an involved decision which was not to speak of it. It was a Monday and Jonathan had left for work again before Poppy had arisen. Poppy did not know why she spent her days at home, or whether she loved or detested the place. She loved the homeliness of their flat – it was their home, the mark of her economic autonomy. Her parents did not want her to move in with Jonathan, and this was her first mark of conscious disobedience. Though she loved her parents, she had felt a guilt nagging at her. Her unconditional obedience was her guilt. Her meeting Jonathan only exasperated this feeling. He had told her about Kant, Rousseau, and freedom. Freedom was now not, as she had supposed, a mere political incentive, but a constant struggle that effects our every decision. She was overwhelmed by it, overwhelmed by her new desire to be totally free, and so she moved in with Jonathan. Still though, she could not quite see herself in this scheme. She wondered when the last time she had made a moral decision was. As for now she closeted the feeling that she was in fact not a moral agent – that she still had no impact, even after her emancipation. 
  Poppy spent the day again reading, mostly on her bed. She read until she tired, and then watched the television until her intelligent desire had remounted itself. By the time Jonathan had returned she had accomplished both much and little. Another novel was in her understanding, and another art movement was known, but the dishes had not been done, and the bills had not been paid. Jonathan had been invited to call on a friend for a drink, and as result of his new found dependency had invited Poppy along.
When they arrived Nancy Sinatra was playing, and a group of his friends were circled around a space on the living room floor, talkative in a game of cards. The hostess was a women in her forties whose son Jonathan had been close friends with before the subtle ignition that had separated the fragments of his teen years a decade before. She was found sitting in the kitchen as Jonathan and Poppy passed through the flat, in a deep conversation with someone Jonathan knew only vaguely. They were both smoking hand rolled cigarettes. Claire did not rise when Poppy and Jonathan entered but said welcomingly, “Oh Jonathan! Come, come and take a seat.” At this point her companion took the opportunity to leave, leaving two white metal framed chairs which Poppy and Jonathan took their places in presently.
  “Jonathan – how are you?” She had a certain musky voice, one beyond her age, but rough enough to be comforting and reliable.
“I’m well thanks. I’d like you to meet my girlfriend Poppy.” Jonathan loved introducing her in this way. It sounded so young and romantic, and screamed of possession.
“It’s great to meet you Poppy,” Claire said in her rushed manner. Claire was not at all judgemental, she allowed any to prove them to her, and she would be a perfect listener if the subject interested her, but Poppy had not yet earned a very glamorous welcome. In this way people seemed as if only instruments to Claire – methods of which the purpose was only to spark her interest. But she acted kindly, and could surprise one with spontaneous personal gestures, as well as with sound, critical advice, that left the subject feeling, truthfulness aside, quite diminished. She and Jonathan exchange some greetings before the door opened and Jonathan was requested of by the group in the living room. He rose, and Poppy made to join him before he told her, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll see you in a bit.”
  Claire and Poppy, left alone, began to converse. Any awkwardness passed oblivious to Poppy, she was young, and Claire had a manner that consumed social uneasiness.
“How are you then Poppy?” She said.
“I’m good thank you,” and although she felt no awkwardness Poppy cursed Jonathan for leaving her with this unknown woman, “How are you?”
“I’m wankered. So you and Jonathan have been together for awhile?”
Poppy yawned and replied, “Yes, we’re living together now.” She did not want this topic to pursue. She was, after all, an individual, capable of conversation without her spouse’s indirect, looming assistance. And she knew the cause of it – the breach of contract that Jonathan had committed in her introduction.
She saw a Bible spread open and face down on the table, and took it for surprise and conversation. “You’re reading the Bible?” Poppy had taken Claire for a modern revolutionary – she was an artist after all, and the Bible surprised her.
“Yes, have you read the Bible? There’s some really great stuff in there. I’m not at all religious, but there are some incredible ideas on the soul and consciousness.” Poppy had always scorned religion. It was, as it seemed, the cause of all war and conflict, a mass teaching of elitism and hypocrisy. But no – her parents had never taken interest in the Bible either, so she had not read it. She found it unbelievable that any good could be derived from that book. It was all, to her, catechisms and false preaching. Still though, she did believe. She looked at the eastern religions with admiration; Karma, yes, it was true, it made sense. Yes there was something more, something beyond the cold empiricism of enlightenment. But she called herself an atheist, and was proud to scorn God and praise natural law.
The two were talking quite animatedly once Jonathan returned, with a beer in his hand. Poppy rose to his entrance with a “hey you,” and linked her arm stoically, flirtatiously to his.
The night continued in conversation; an irregularity of time made Jonathan confused, but always to his pleasure. When he wanted it late it would be, when things were too fast, he slowed them. It was not long before Poppy began to eye him obsessively, though when he glanced at her she forced some words at another member – always she was struck between the two situations. She so wanted him in her drunkenness, but could not bear to exclude herself from the congregation; it was he, after all, who was the awkward one, the social inept. Jonathan hated the inconsistency, what a fool she made of him sometimes!
They were intimate when they returned, clutching each other to the point of pain, pressing jaws rather than lips. It was not long however before Poppy fell asleep, and Jonathan followed suit.
There was again a morning of nausea, to which Jonathan left Poppy to buy painkillers. He took his time. Although he would have loved to stay with her, to treat her as his and comfort her, she would not allow it. She became ashamed and proud, holding up her own hair. So he left her to it, and fulfilled the honourable role of gatherer.
When Jonathan returned Poppy was lying in bed melodramatically. “I haven’t had my period for more than a month,” she told him, face pointing to the rough, architectural ceiling. Jonathan was not surprised, but still hated her to say it. He had been so careful. No, he had not been, but he was so sure – how could something so trivial, so televised befall upon them with wisdom on their side.
“Yeah, I thought that might be it,” he said.
“What shall we do?” She asked, without desperation, shame or fear.
“I don’t know.”
There was a pause and Poppy turned on her side, with her back to Jonathan. Then quite suddenly a rage pulled her upright, and she yelled at Jonathan, “How can you not know! This is your fault; you have done this to me!” Jonathan was shocked, and found the outburst incomprehensible. Her face filled with the scorn of a child. He had known people to act like this. An educated person would suddenly feud about something spontaneous and blameless, or worse would trial him for his own rationality, and he would stoically spend a day or more in darkness, emerging when his hormones had shifted finally in a way that thoroughly secured his self, and he remembered how people are so ridiculous, so self-involved. He would apologise but not mean it, and return, and blame everyone and their ignorance for the darkness that he inevitably brought with him, though it became illuminated that people are foolish. He had thought Poppy different though, he thought she could match his sterile reason; he had plucked her from the mechanical tree of her parentage, thrown at her quotations and left her to find in them some sustenance, expecting much and seeing little.
Jonathan would have none of this. He knew she was wrong, but still her tone hurt him, still he knew he must have wronged her, and an isolated guilt grew in him – his conscience had been deceived. He laughed, high pitched, defensively. Whatever was unreasonable was amusing, amusing and not funny. “Sorry then!” he said sarcastically. He could be just as melodramatic in his guilt as Poppy in her anger. He left the room, left the sick Poppy to her nausea, left the flat, left Poppy for a celestial, infallible reason. How quickly then did he become the chaste villain, and she the irrational victim.

Jonathan wandered for some time, immersed in thought as the shadow of Poppy’s blame seared him, and the silhouette remaining when the subject had left. And as he thought he gave it vibrant colour, and voice. He returned to the fading comfort of his friend Samuel, a comfort now perverted with foreboding loss, and the two went for an early drink. The only open place they could find was a public house - in the truest sense of the name. It had the impression of a quiet country cottage, only equipped with keg and glass. They sat far from the bar, occupied by bearded drinkers, and far from the window, exposing them to the earth’s charisma. A drink each, Jonathan was shamefully glad that Samuel had accepted his company, the two shared a slow and guilty conversation.
“So how is the packing going?” Jonathan inquired.
“Well,” Samuel, abrupt and ostentatious, dragged on his cigarette, “there isn’t much stuff; it’s a bit depressing.”
“You’re better off, I think.”
“You might be right,” said Samuel. “And what are you going to do? You can’t really go on as you are forever.”
“Can’t I?” Jonathan said, a resistant grin overcoming his face.
“Ha, I suppose you can.”
They soon drifted off into escapism, and continued in a round of satire and solace. Jonathan was pleased at how calm, detached he could be. And he felt guilty too; guilty at how easily he could acquire this unproductive, delusional escape. And he felt afraid.

  Poppy had cried silently for some time before finally willing herself out of her misery. She acquired instead a state of apathy that took all her will and pity to maintain. She went into town and found a chemist in which she could expect to venture in undetected. She was mistaken however – a boy, or man, with a tufty, thick black beard had found her, “Poppy!” He did not yell, but made a sound as if to dare. She, although deep in herself, was still prepared for any intrusion, and responded with an awkward defence; she widened her eyes before readjusting herself, and answered promptly, “Hello Jack! How are you?”
  “I’m alright thanks, and you?” he seemed suddenly to be suffering under the saturated light of the place.
  “Yeah I’m great thanks!” The two continued in an obtuse manner, and Poppy began to feel impatient. She was, after all, on the verge of enlightenment; though already she felt the burden of the reality captivating her, without verification her consciousness would not settle, could not settle on the present. There was then only a false concentration available for this acquaintance to possess. He felt this not though, in his own excitement.
  “Well I suppose you’re busy. If you’re free later though, I’m having a small gathering.” On a normal day she would have rejected the request, perhaps using Jonathan’s intimidating denial to conceal her own, but a mad surrealism had affected her. Passing home a half hour later, she posted the plastic chemist’s bag through her flat door before being guided by Jack to someplace better.

  Poppy was high as a socialite, her concentration could not digress, and she was so happy. The room she was in was the centre part of the occasion; loud music that filled the house came from an expensive stereo. It was some dance subgenre, and Poppy imagined the middle-aged man that had composed it, sitting for hours at his desk, nodding his head to the synthetic rhythms. She had been talking to a tall young man with patchy facial hair about the afterlife.
  “I think you just can’t feel anything – it all must be dark,” he said.
  “Well that’s not very optimistic!” she replied. “I think you just go through all of your memories, either that or you’re reincarnated.”
  “What would you like to be reincarnated as?”
  “Oh definitely a human; I’d be so ashamed to be a sloth or a mole.” The young man laughed and touched her arm; she was interested by the development, but not reluctant. She loved his simplicity, his laughing and his careful recklessness. And how preferable this was to Jonathan’s darkness. Jonathan was right, always right, but it was not enough. And suddenly the potential unrealities hit her – she was dazed by the blow! ‘It does not have to be real!’ she thought in triumph. ‘Always I’ve believed him, because it is all true, yes certainly. But must it be real? I feel free, after all; I am here of my own accord – I am bound by nothing!’ and, as she said this in her mind, she felt bonds loosen around her; her once pregnant womb lightened. ‘Even history,’ she thought hurriedly, ‘even history. It may be so that Napoleon ruled France – but what should I care? It is nothing to me. It only part of his lonely fantasy – an escape into logic and history. Not only does he live in the past, but he lives in the deceased’s pasts.’ She had been sitting in silence, forging an obsolete look completely unmatched to her thoughts.


  Jack was sitting at the kitchen table playing cards with four other men; the music in here was indistinguishable from that of the living room. Poppy placed her hands on his shoulders, greeting him, and, after pulling a chair from the opposite end of the room, sat beside him. Her previous excitement was still rich in her, and her confidence interrupted the men seated around the table.
  “What are you guys playing?” She asked.
  “Poker.” It was not Jack that replied, but another of the solemn figures. She took this opportunity to measure him up, and decided that he was not worth her.
  She took this position for awhile, sipping from a beer bottle she assumed to be Jack’s, ignoring the glances he gave her. Finally she resigned, taking a silent exit, her mood somewhat dampened. She found the man with whom she had talked to earlier – he was in the same position but alone. She sat next to him and turned, laying her steel legs over his lap, embracing him, and then kissed him. He showed no resistance, none at all; no question of how or why. He took his surprise in his stride as he tried to compete with Poppy’s hugely opening mouth.
 
    Jonathan stayed with Samuel for several hours, until the late end of the night. When he finally stumbled home, drunk on both alcohol and esteem, he saw the pregnancy test just inside the door. He picked it up, keeping it thoroughly enclosed, using the creases of the plastic bag to obscure its contents. He took it to the bathroom where he slowly placed it in one of the drawers of a wicker chest. He could still see it through the transparency of the furniture. He returned to the living room and sat silent for some time – too tired to be entertained and too mean to sleep. The esteem he had painted was fading as spilt water on paper. He was absorbing his satisfaction, replacing it with sense. Again his conscience tormented him, and for all the wrong reasons. The pregnancy worried him little at this point; it was far off, and scientifically manageable. But this was the first major symptom of his degenerate freedom. He had ignored all others – overseen them as some minor flaws in the otherwise brilliant social contract that he had devised and enforced on his Poppy. But the slight window of mutual advantage between them was closing – how could he, after all, take an even piece from his pregnant wife; yes, if it were to continue then they must marry. But he had no use for a child, and could not bear to bring one into the restrictive world that he had somehow crafted unawares.
  No; he could not commit to this mad arrangement. He would have to love her, he would have to love her to give this selflessness meaning, and he did not; could not, perhaps. The result would be the child, but would this suffice to balance the score? Through the child he might achieve something, some dominance and therefore freedom, but it was too risky – too risky an investment. What if, after all his tolerance, all his work on Poppy, the child rejected him, became hers – or even its own? How confined this would make him, how tethered it would make him, to be at the mercy of his own seed.
 
  Poppy returned in her utmost silence, assuming Jonathan to be asleep. Tears distorted the already obscuring makeup on her face – she glanced in the living room to find it deserted, and, moving to the bedroom, realised that he was not to be found in the flat.

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