“Pickles and Tarts” — Chapter 14

Chapter 14

Frank responded to her: “I assume this is an answer to the questions about what you tell your boyfriend, mother, father, and friends. I read an article yesterday about how a man making time on the Internet was trying to pick up an underage girl and the police were contacted. He said something lewd and he was drawn in and arrested. Any parent or boyfriend wouldn’t want their loved one predated. I question my own motives, thinking of Wilhelm Stekel’s Sexual Aberrations: ‘He is a Don Juan without having to commit sin. The female appears to him devoid of any fascination because the seductive qualities have been violently passed on to a smaller object, the rose. It is no sin to kiss roses. Nor can the rose put his potency to the test.’”

Frank had been touched by her response. It made him warm inside and hopeful. Maybe Nicole was interested in the sexual play that he was inclined to want and she seemed so aware, playful, sarcastic, and therefore it reminded him of the fact that IQ was present early and awareness of ulterior motives could be felt and understood certainly by nineteen, which is what Nicole was, but now he saw another side of her. She was even brighter than he imagined and she was clearly in control.

“You would tell the family and your boyfriend to eat pickles and tarts,” Frank said. “Intelligence is apparent very early. If you are as you say you are (nineteen), then your brain is where it will be. This does not explain your motivations, your intent, your experience. I told an editor-friend about you and he drew his hands in the air comparing maturation levels. He assumes we’ll have nothing to talk about. We live in different worlds. I agree with him in the sense your intentions are not mine. This is just a game for you: The batting about of an indefensible mouse by a cat. For me, it is the churning of emotions and desires, hopes and dreams, and perhaps a death march. ‘In the very middle of the court was a table, with a large dish of tarts upon it: they looked so good, that it made Alice quite hungry to look at them — “I wish they’d get the trial done,” she thought, “and hand round the refreshments!” There seemed to be no chance of this, so she began looking at everything about her, to pass away the time.’”

“When my friend spread his hands,” Frank said, “I wanted to hug him. I exploded with compliments. It reminded me of why we were friends. He is brilliant, nonjudgmental, and so many other people I have known are negative and whiny. I knew the lack of commonality would be a problem. What would we talk about except the truth, which would be both linguistic and visceral? Any relationship is about the truth whether expressed openly or condemned to silent, nonverbal remarks. I refused to be miserable in this. I would tell her everything and I had hoped she would do the same. Why else would two people be so engaged?”

The question remained, Frank thought, why was she in on this? Was it an experiment? Was I a potential sugar daddy? Was she real, was she interested in what I had to say? Was she just interested in this man, who clearly was interested in someone much younger, at least on paper?”

The conversation would go on, it seemed, just as they all had until the truth was known. Her lines were so short as to be without the trace of gender or investment, that soon enough if she didn’t bite, he would cut it and that would be the story. After all, the reader wants the truth. Yet they might also hope that this led to something.

Nicole was quiet on the other end. He could only imagine what she must be doing or thinking.


  1. I think you have hit on a really key point here – every single thing that ever happens to us is subject to our own individual interpretation. For both Frank and Nicole their relationship has a different meaning…and yet they may still be the same. Sometimes over-analysis can lead us to ignore the obvious.
    This continues to be a fascinating story.

    • Yes, Chris, the key I think is that we bring ourselves to the party, whether as readers or as observers, and we forget that we are responding to something. I believe we cannot or may not be able to separate ourselves because we see things in terms of our biases and fears, our beliefs, attitudes, and values. Frank and Nicole are involved in the same event, but they are not parties to the same intentions or reactions. What I think is important, which is perhaps the theme of the story is that while they enjoy their truths, both are cognizant of the other’s right to be free in their own interpretations and safety. They are two people on an elevator telling each other the truth but not to hurt the other but to share their authentic selves.

  2. I am awfully interested to read Nicole’s reaction to Frank’s extensive disclosure of inner feelings, thoughts and life account. As a reader I keep empathising with him because I inevitably do this with people who feel vulnerable, lonely and excluded.

    Frank seems to be someone with low self-esteem, which is normal after traumatic childhood experiences where a person has been abused by (an)other person(s) and disenfranchised.

    Indicative of Frank’s lack of self-esteem is his comparison with Nicole as if he were a mouse and she a cat playing with him.

    In the eyes of a reader like me Frank seems to be made of an unmaterialistic non consumer self as opposed to advocates of ferocious global Capitalism. At least that is my impression till now. I can gather this from what Frank reads and says about the books that interest him, and, if it be so, I like that because I can identify myself with people who are critical of Capitalism, who are labeled as antiheroes and losers.

    I think the structure of this chapter and of the previous one follow a circular way reflecting Frank’s mind, his obsession with Nicole, who remains an enigma to the reader.

    Who is she? What are her interests? Will she keep engaged to the virtual conversation with Frank? Will any of the two stop this or, instead, suggest a face-to-face meeting to write a story together, which seems to me the only possible reason so far?

    Nicole could be anybody. She could be the girl Frank supposes she might be or she could even be a fake identity out of some dark interests that usually have to do with money and power over other people.

    In this chapter I like the reference to Lewis Carroll’s Alice. This is one of my favorite books and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass. The comparison between Alice’s hunger and Frank’s with the symbolic meaning of the tart is well-found.

  3. This chapter gives insight to another side of Frank, so philosophical. Personally, I think Frank is wasting his time with Nicole. Yes, she is pretty, sexy but I believe he needs a woman to also stimulate his intellect. Once the chase is complete, whether he woos Nicole or not he’ll be back to step one. External beauty fades in time but adoration to another being lasts forever.

    I just watched Beauty and the Beast with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens with my daughter and Frank in this chapter reminds me of Beast. Always thinking, always wondering and at times frustrated at Belle before realizing there is so much more to a relationship/union than Beauty.

    • I agree with you, but there is an intelligence in realizing this perpetual problem with male and female relationships. Frank is at a place, where he sees the frustration, but this piece related to what he needs physically confronts the truth. Nicole will never be interested in him unless by some external force, which makes him appealing, but only for a moment and nothing more. There is an ugliness in that. A distortion. But, Frank wants just this moment, his life is an empty wasteland otherwise. He won’t settle for less than the beauty and charm of Nicole, but he also knows he has no right to it because not only does she have no interest but society also knows it is wrong. The relationship would have to be based on Nicole’s needs other than Frank himself. This is where I am referencing capitalism and how poor or suppressed people are taken advantage. Nicole, however, appears to be financially solvent or at least protected financially by her parents and has a good home. But, there too hints at how women are generally protected by someone else at least that is how it used to be in our paternalistic society. We need to break away from that and equalize all people. People have to be made free. I think Frank is also not free. He must suppress his desires. He is quietly self-contained but loves the fluttering butterfly that is Nicole. I don’t think he believes in anything other than beauty. He seems to have everything else. I have also referenced Maslow in other pieces, where Maslow says needs arise and fall according to attendance and satisfaction. Once one is met, another comes to the fore. Sex, however, is a basic physiological need, that does not seem to get addressed, and so Frank is warped reaching self-actualization but stunted by the missed need. I think this is where Freud and such come to play. Our society is filled with distortions of desire. Anyway, you bring up a great point. I have never seen the beauty and the beast.

      • Yes, I also see Frank has distorted desires for Nicole as a consequence of his traumatic past, which you describe with stunning authenticity. Love this!

      • I just read in Sexual Aberrations by Stekel that a man was not deluded by his illusions, but he felt he had to obey his impulses. This “morality” of desire is at the crux of the argument by men caught by the #MeToo! movement’s demand that men quell their drives and listen to their better judgement or at least wake up to the fact that there are two people with equal rights in the room. Power screws with desire and submission is tolerated and forcibly worked within a capitalist world. “Although he was not for a moment under the influence of illusions as to the criminality of his acts, he felt that he had to obey his impulses,” (Stekel).

      • The problem arises when a man obeying his sexual impulses ends up raping a woman. That man is clearly ill. I want to believe Frank would never do such a thing to Nicole. He would rather keep his fantasies alive until she dismisses him if it should come to that.

    • I love your great insight, Susan, and I agree with you. I think Frank is so blinded by Nicole’s external beauty that he becomes inevitably obsessed, sexually speaking. Once such a thing happens to any person (also to us women), we can no longer get the person of our infatuation out of our minds. If we finally can, it will have taken time (waste of time as you say), and great effort before.

      I think Frank is prone to repeatedly fall into impossible love relationships such as this dream with Nicole because of his traumatic past.

      I love the authenticity Mario uses in his writing, in his deep psychological analysis of Frank. As you say, it is profound and philosophical. Also, I like the comparison you establish between Frank and the Beast. After all, Mario is writing about a basic animal instinct, sexual desire. The problem he presents in this story with Frank is that of a distorsion of desire.

  4. Frank in this new chapter, continues and continues to deal with issues in which he refers to sex and age difference. I think he tries to make her clear about whether or not she feels sexual attraction to him.
    As a woman, personally, I think Frank might have a more enriching relationship with Nicole if he took those ideas out of his head. I can understand that a sexual attraction can not be controlled but, from my point of view, if she has not been clear yet about whether she feels sexual attraction towards him it is surely because she does not want to hurt him.

    I look forward to a new chapter, maybe I’m wrong …

    • That’s a lovely statement: “If she has not been clear…it is because she does not want to hurt him.” And her not wanting to hurt him is beautiful enough for Frank. He is a truth-seeker. As I may have said a person once told me No one wants to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with them. Which is why relationships based on anything but true love are doomed to fail and where a patriarchal, dictatorial, etc. society is evil since its prime motivation is to exert control over The People inherently against their will.

      • Yours is a very important comment for me. It brought to light or connected what is really going on or was hidden from me. Our society affects our relationships. Who, for example, can have a normal relationship if they have debt, for example? As Freud defined, previous treatment as with children affects the child for their entire life. Frank is wading around in some long-lost pool. He looks for a certain type of beauty and response and I think he is tortured by it. It’s not normal, but as I said, what is “normal” is distorted. Capitalism creates an animal that survives, but it is not a healthy animal.

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