“Pickles and Tarts” — Chapter 10

Chapter 10

When Nicole reminded him of this, he knew the stupidity of his attraction. Turning this into a short story was, in effect, a kind of fetishizing, what he finally realized he could never have. The short story represented the shoe that would never fit even though he may have come upon it. The fact that he was in his room some unknown distance from her should have told him that the relationship wasn’t real. She was playing with him, even though she might have sensed he was a real person and although completely not her type, she sensed his humanity and didn’t want nor feel the need to hurt him. She was curious about what was happening. Frank hoped she had some daddy issue to work out, but then his intentions would still not be aligned with hers, since missing a father does not correlate to wanting to have sex with an older man. She might have wanted to feel protected, but not engaged in intercourse, unless she had been, and that was another thing entirely. Molested women had come to him in the past and sex was on the menu, but so was their desire to control the sex, whereas Frank was only interested in having it.

Frank picked up a clear glass mug of hot fresh vegetable soup that he had just made to clear his congestion. He raised it to his mouth just as the neighbor across the way was walking with a shopping bag across the second floor balcony. She was too far away for Frank to get a sense of her figure or what she looked like. Neighbors from that unit and the other one to the right of it came and went at least every three months. He had only seen her about three or four times over the course of a month or two. She came out again wearing a black coat that went to her waist and a magenta T-shirt with white letters underneath. She seemed tall, and large-boned. She wore black-rimmed glasses. She left her door open and went down the steps again. She was returning with things in her arms. Each time, it would appear that she knew he was looking at her, but he couldn’t tell she knew he was there simply because it was dark inside his apartment, the window was shut, and there might have been a reflection on the sliding glass door. He couldn’t see into her apartment. Her door behind the screen door was open, although the overhang didn’t cast a shadow over the door, where in his case his balcony was covered by the roof.

Frank finished the broth and looked at the vegetables that remained. Nearly the entire mug was full. He went to the kitchen, poured more broth and vegetables into the cup and grabbed a small plate and spoon. He returned to his desk and the neighbor’s door was still open. It was cold outside. What was she saying? Or was he imagining her invitation? He returned to the short story and Nicole.

“A short story would set up the scene,” he added, “It would describe Spark and go from there. It would describe the two people. You would have to do this on your end because I don’t know you. What is happening in your life? Who are you? What do you dream about becoming, etc.? People would want to know. They like to relate to others with common threads. Then there is me. What was going through my head? Didn’t I know it would be awkward? Wasn’t it awkward? Until you responded, I didn’t realize I had nothing to say, and then by intellectualizing the conversation, I was able to shift all of it into this story. Perhaps it is just about me.

“Last night I kept thinking I should just cut this off. It was risky. Still, as a writer and in an attempt to garner some semblance of virtue, I am interested in getting to the truth—is it a simple attraction to beauty and youth? I am interested in your feelings. I know they aren’t romantic. How could they be? I can’t sleep with someone I am not attracted to. How could you?”

“Anyway,” Frank said, “the short story might start as:

“‘Glenn saw Alexis’ picture. He pressed the green button because he wanted to. Alexis was someone he wanted and didn’t consider the other information that might have given him more to think about. It was a dare. What would she think about him? He didn’t know. He just pressed the icon and her picture went right. He wanted. Then, and he can’t remember this, she matched him. She said later that she only did it spontaneously. She said she wanted to make friends with other people. For Glenn it posed a problem. What would he say to her? He was attracted but reality showed its face as he imagined her doing this on a whim and then laughing at the audacity. She was already in love with David who would find this ridiculous too. Maybe it would also anger him knowing what Glenn was up to. She was going to tell Gretchen and Mimi, but she hadn’t seen them yet. Maybe she could write this as a story for class – what she thought of him. What was he doing at this moment? Where was he? He thought of her too. They were having a conversation that meant that they had to think about what was being said and about themselves and it was risky, at least for Glenn. He felt embarrassed but also drawn to it, as it was mentioned, everything is about sex. For Glenn, it was more interesting than the sunlight over the neighborhood outside that seemed never to move except as the trees blew faintly. Perhaps, they would meet for coffee in some urban coffee shop or in the suburbs since they didn’t know where the other one lived. She imagined the awkwardness of his attraction and the hopelessness of that having to translate his dreams into intellectualization. She just looked back at him almost as awkwardly as he felt. They talked about themselves and the story that was moving forward. It turned out that he was very attracted to her and she was just thinking about the story for class, about her life, and the risks she would take for something to tell her friends.

“It was awkward Mimi,” Alexis told her friend. “He was wearing a pair of seersucker shorts and a blue and white striped shirt. He was so informal. I could feel his nervousness. I guess he realized how old I was and it made him feel evil. I thought it would be fine, but I felt bad for him. I had no intention for any of this to happen, but there I was looking back at him. He was fidgeting with a Starbuck’s cup.”


  1. I like the idea of a short story representing “the shoe that would never fit”. This is an original comparison, very visual to the reader.

    In the second paragraph I have enjoyed your unique and characteristic photographic eye once more when you make accurate and detailed descriptions. The neighbor is perfectly described making special emphasis on the clothes she is wearing and on her body complexion.

    This part of the chapter is also quite significant of the American way of life where neighbors hardly see each other as the following lines clearly indicate:

    “Neighbors from that unit and the other one to the right of it came and went at least every three months. He had only seen her about three or four times over the course of a month or two.”

    As a Southern European this strikes me most. I do not see my neighbors each and every day but, in general, we do not live as isolated as farther up in Europe or in the United States. I think you also noticed this when you visited Barcelona. Thus your story also speaks of this isolation that I firmly believe Capitalism promotes. As I told you, Frank is a prototype or, better said, a victim of this situation. I think you play with a bit of ambivalence in this novel where sometimes the reader doubts whether Frank is writing to Nicole through the Internet, or he is just imagining a possible conversation with her. I like the stream-of-consciousness technique you use. Thus you keep us readers entertained and highly intrigued when I think most of us are longing to see a face-to-face meeting between the two characters.

    The following observation has left me thinking again on the issue of sex viewed and experienced by men and women:

    “Molested women had come to him in the past and sex was on the menu, but so was their desire to control the sex, whereas Frank was only interested in having it.”

    I think not only molested women feel the urgent need to control sex with men. It is in many of us because the greatest fear is always this damned issue of the possibility to get pregnant.

    Finally, to have a story within a story is also a great idea at this point of your novel. I like the way you have included it.

    • I am glad you are getting all of this. Your idea about familiarity among neighbors and the idea that Barcelona is not capitalist made me stop and think. Are we all not prone to this type of behavior? Well, maybe not. I loved Barcelona because I felt safe there. I felt the people had no airs. They are “normal,” everyday people. I loved them. I was sad to see a block of homeless people living in plywood shanties or to know the pick pockets were absolutely successful.

      I will always want to describe someone or something because I believe that only in doing this the reader can make their own decision.

      I actually know my neighbors fairly well. But, I tend to like a lot of alone time, and of course I am a messy person and am ashamed of having them over, less of course the beautiful Ourane, who is willing to sit in my only chair with the head-oil stained cushion and among the sprawl of never-opened professional color printer, the box of tools, wood slats embedded with nails, the white blankets, the amplifiers, speakers, box of shoes, and so on.

      She never judges me.

      And does Frank really know Nicole or is this all fiction? Will we know for sure?

      I love that you say women do control sex simply because it is a question of getting pregnant. That’s so true and this is what ultimately endears them to me and the reason they are in control of men. They have to deal with the reality. Women are ultimately stronger than men. They have to be. But, this also makes men wonder why women question their power over them. #MeToo!” is about sexual assault and violence against women. Such behavior is unacceptable. But, on a non-violent level, where I like to feel men like me are, we just marvel at how powerful women are. We are in love with that maturity and practicality. As someone, who has no idea of what to be when I grow up, women are constant reminders of having to do so. My mother, who was just like me, had to raise two children on her own. She lived with a limited income and eventually in poverty. I understand your point viscerally. I think my mother died ultimately very sad. She was the most beautiful woman, but also the most tied down by reality.

      I miss my mom. I failed to provide her with freedom, health and happiness that so many men have done for their mothers.

      The story-within-the story has always been for me like an inner courtyard in an Eichler home. It is the place we stare at from any point, where life in the elements manages to take root and grow. It adds a layer to the story that often contains the essence of the story. My favorite works have these chambers of meaning: A play by Ingmar Bergman, a movie by Atom Egoyan, the movie Sex and Lucia.

      • I like your neighbor never judges you. I would rather say prejudges. There is too much prejudging among human beings instead of getting to know them first. I always try to accept people as they are, unless they have abusive behaviors towards other people.

        As for your mom I really think you did the best you could. You have no reason to feel guilty. It was rather the circumstances she found herself in, not you.

        You are idealising Barcelona though you might be right about the people having “no airs” in general. However, these people also exist and the city is not as safe as it apparently looks. Besides you were there for a short vacation. Well, come back any time! And now you know about pickpockets. Sadly enough, Capitalism is a contagious desease worldwide. You saw homelessness among us too. Perhaps you hadn’t expected to see any? I got one of the greatest shocks in my life when I saw homelessness in the Bay Area, on the streets of San Francisco, especially in the Tenderloin, but also in many other places: around Lake Merritt in Oakland, on a mai street of Berkeley, etc. The amount of homeless people is at least three or even four times bigger than in Europe.

        I look forward to the further development of your novel and of the story-within-the-story. Hope you have a happy weekend.

  2. I like the idea of a story within a story as, for me, it hints at a blurring between reality and fiction. This, combined with the elements of fantasy already constructed, gives it a quite surreal feel. I also like the element of not knowing, yet wanting to know, much about those living close by. Very easy to connect this to modern day life in the UK. Great work.

    • Thank you so much for commenting. I too love the story within a story feature of literary and creative works. I am excited that I have created surrealism. The UK is a fascinating place. There is an openness in those who cannot afford modesty in England, a kind of balls out, shirt unbuttoned, sitting on the concrete rebelliousness that can appear, but generally the English don’t talk about themselves. It’s “rude,” they tell me. And so, as a writer and artist standing naked in a well-lit place, not only am I unhidden, but I am also embarrassing myself. At a poetry reading in England with Marta, I noticed my confessional style to be rather embarrassing, and yet I had spent my life perfecting it. Talk about complete exposure. Ultimately, modesty is the better part of valor. I love England for this reason. “Grow up!” they might say. Thank you for the compliment.

      • You sum up the personality of the British people (particularly the English) very accurately – ten out of ten for your observational skills! I am not sure whether things are the same where you live, but here, in what is a relatively small island, even different areas of the country reflect different nuances. For example where I live, in the Midlands, there is a general air of pessism (about everything).

      • Thank you. That selfless personality trait makes the Brits sublime. I read a Best New British Novelist series or the Britain themed Granta and also felt the absence of the first person narrator. The prose was spare, non-reflective, surgical, sterile, and therefore delicious. Not only is talking about yourself rude, but it makes for bad writing. Pessimism is also, however, a sin or at least the fear inherent in pessimism is a sin, and while I borrow that from the idea that fear presumes God isn’t going to take care of you or a lack of faith in God, pessimism also fails to note the beauty in adversity. Life, however, may not be extended beyond death, and thus to assume the great by and by is to withhold (not deal with regret) in life itself as a hold-out that does not exist. This is the problem of religion. It defers, cheats people out of the here and now of all rights and equalities. I believe governments must ensure the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of all. Or else, the strength of our chain is broken, our priorities are flawed.

  3. Your novel, in general, makes me think about all that inner world that we create, in our completely subjective perception of people, of events ..
    Would not it be easier to be clearer in our relationships? Communicate more instead of imagining? Make the difficult easier? Why do we get so complicated? Maybe it’s the nature of the human being …
    Do you know Mario? Your story generates me many reflections, you are a good writer!


    • Thank you. Our inner worlds are perhaps chances to imagine the realities we want. But, often as I believe, we play out the intuition we feel is the correct outcome. A woman recently said to take what you want. But, I know that’s not right. We end up taking what enfolds. And yes, as I also thought yesterday as you do, so many of us are looking for love. Why in the hell don’t we find each other? I will be calling back this woman I absolutely love later in the day, and I have known the answer. She doesn’t love me. Though she may try or even remind me. In the end, I love this type. The black widow. Can you imagine a black widow to the smaller, insignificant male? He is like, “Hell Yeah, I’ll die for that! She’s high gloss black with a red hour glass (It’s only a matter of time/time’s up!) What an ass on that one!” As men, it’s only about sex. With women, it’s about things. No wonder nothing ever works. One is simple, one is scheming.

      • I do not think you’re anything simple, I think you have a lot of sensitivity and deep thoughts. I suppose that each person is a world, regardless of whether he is male or female, is conditioned by his character, his experiences, his culture …

        And I do not think many of us are looking for love, at least not as a couple.I was thinking about relationships in general. In my case, I am hurt and I distrust men, in the last thing I believe right now is in passionate love, I assure you.

        It has made me smile to imagine your terrible black widow.


      • I think you are correct. But, I think nurture is less important in that I believe it only works in the environment, where the creature was persuaded and not in say a healthy environment. I am referring to Ofshe and another person I studied. Persuasion can only be affected when people are pulled away from general society or if they want to, the latter of which hints at predisposition.

        I am sorry to hear you were hurt by a man. Men like me cannot save you because at a point we think women must be allowed to make their own decisions although we know or at least sense morally uncompassed men. These men are usually so unsavory that we keep far away, men like the President, who appear to be thugs, but who also appear to be validated by supporters.

        I am sorry for what you experienced.

  4. I like this chapter, Frank is finally starting to move forward, or maybe not! I love Frank’s thinking and how he twists his inner desires into the short story. Like you said in the previous comment, “Say Hello”, yet Frank continues his procrastination, and I wonder how deep Frank will dig the hole of despair. I never thought I would say this, but ‘Poor Frank’. 🙂

    • Forward. I like that idea. I am glad that Frank comes alive and that you appreciate the technical aspect of including his inner desires. Frank is a procrastinator, but as I mentioned in another comment, I believe his procrastination is tied either to his introversion and/or his intuition that the whole thing is hopeless. So yes, Frank is poor in that he is deluded in fact.

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