“Pickles and Tarts” — Chapter 16

Chapter 16

Nicole hands the portable computer to her friends and they laugh at Frank. It’s still too early for them to sense the sadness, but Nicole tells them it has been going on for days. “Watch this,” she says, “how I write a single word and he comes back with a myriad of interpretations, camouflaging his desire. Luckily, he hasn’t gone there saying something about roses. Yes, this whole thing is a fetish. He is probably home in a dark room just waiting for me, and I ignore him.”

“Alex says a man’s fetish begins at a moment of conjoined anxiety and stimulation when, for some reason, the man is made to feel that if he expresses his sexuality at that precise moment, he will be breaking some rule and love will be withheld from him.” – Perlman

“I know he is there, I can feel him,” Nicole says, “Can’t you? Don’t you know men like this?”

“There was a scientist,” Frank sends to Nicole, “Edward T. Hall, who described a box of rats. There were two alpha rats that would mate with all the female rats and the female rats would coyly wait for them or follow them around. There was another hierarchy of male rats that would try to mate with one or two of the females, but they were not usually welcome. So, these second-tiered male rats took their shots when the alpha males weren’t looking. There was another tier of male rats that cowered in the corners. They were quiet, almost invisible and completely ignored.

“On occasion,” Frank continued, “the female rats would find themselves ignored too or bashed by the other females or left brokenhearted by the alpha males, and as they felt sorry for themselves the cowering males saw opportunity. Each time as a charity intercourse or to cause jealousy, the females would allow themselves to be played with, touched, and penetrated by the lesser males. It never ended well for them. The ostracization always began immediately as the female rat saw her mistake.

“Weakness and isolation were not good signs for the health of the brood,” Frank continued as if Nicole were listening in her house in her room. “If the alpha males knew of the weakness they would have ripped the outcast apart, except that even alpha males need their sleep. The conniving rat saw his chance and took it hoping that the uniqueness of his circumstances would allow him what he wanted more than anything, but of course these things never really happened unless they are rape or charity. Rejection always follows this and honesty is the only way out.

“So, in this case,” Frank said, “I told you every stop and reminded you often what my intentions were and you saw it for the joke it was, a novelette, more like a novelty. I wrote instead of lived. You told your friends, thinking for a moment, what was wrong. I even had the audacity to tell you that my friend had said that our maturation levels were almost too far apart. We both know my maturation is childlike. I just couldn’t embrace the truth that you would never allow this chronological breach and even if you did, society would not allow it. If we appeared in public, it would be as father and daughter. Otherwise, it was the indication of something horribly wrong.

“I waited and wondered,” Frank said, “and she cringed from what she had started.”


  1. I really like to follow your chapters. It feels like I’m getting started with the flow in the text and then I’m at the end.
    I’ll be back for more.
    I wish you a wonderful day.

  2. In some ways, it’s quite sad, you made us form a relationship with Frank and it saddens me to see him treated this way. You’ve brought out intelligence in Frank, his way of thinking, his responses then, on the other hand, I have to disagree with you, Frank’s maturity isn’t childlike, it’s more foolish and immature. A child sees clearly the good and bad in people and they know better while Frank seems to ignore and keeps going back for more. Is this what he enjoys? Is Frank so blinded by the beauty he cannot see the beast inside Nicole. If this was a reality, Frank’s mental health would be an issue, if not at the present moment, it will be when the gravity of the situation is absorbed. Nicole isn’t a nice person and the ugliness of her actions, putting Frank on display to her friends, so they can all laugh at him, in my opinion, does not make her beautiful. I will not defend Nicole or the nature of women or people in general. I have seen this kind of action many times and it sickens me. Belittling isn’t a noble action. What stumps me is Frank cannot see her ugliness.

    True beauty cannot be seen with the eyes, it’s only felt with the heart. I love the way you have stirred emotion into this chapter. Well written, you are a talented writer. Cheers Susan.

    • I am glad you are witnessing all the nuances of affection and repulse, the batting about like a cat with a mouse, the external referencing by Nicole to her friends in a kind of validation of youth over stumbling age and it’s loss of perspective and self-reflection. The Johari Window talks about the self that sees itself as is obvious to itself and the world, what no one sees, what the person knows and no one else does, and what the person cannot see that others can see. The point is to be exposed completely to oneself and the world to be most healthy. Frank suffers from an inability to see himself as Nicole sees him or at least he denies that his affections are clearly unrequited. He fantasizes. He cannot or will not look into the mirror, which is what is wrong with patriarchy/capitalism. It senses no self-damage, no isolation of self. It is an emperor with no clothes. It tries to recover some kind of intimacy, but it isn’t real. It’s paid for at best, and laughed at if the object of desire is free. See
      Luis Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire
      and the interchangeable object.

      I think Frank is at the stage, where he sees himself as undesirable. He accepts his place. He knows about the conversations others are having and he intellectualizes what is clearly unavailable. He becomes a father to the truth of the circumstances. Both child and responsible party not to cross any lines.

      Frank cannot help but dabble. It is hard for him to face facts. There is such great hope in him that he can attract beauty. He doesn’t want to die not having been in a love relationship, where all have thus far failed. I think he can only be in a relationship that is bordered by physical beauty and this is where his immaturity remains. He may sense pointlessness or be embarrassed by the fact that he cannot attract Nicole, who is only one example of someone who is physically beautiful, but who would never be caught dead with an older man. She doesn’t have to be. She is in a crowd of movers and shakers. They rule the world, while older people die or are discarded for their delusions. See how ageism pervades the workplace. How older workers are unable to keep up or unable to be around in a culture that disposes of the aged. Coders must be fast in thought. Manufacturing was what “men did,” now there is a 60/40 ratio of women to men graduating with upper graduate degrees. Men are like bumbling idiots, who have no place in a world that doesn’t value physical strength.

      Yes, belittling isn’t noble, but it’s a form of taking control and waging power. Frank sees her ugliness, and just as Americans who support Trump and his treatment of immigrants or how as I mentioned Americans will support Saudi Arabia as it kills Yemenis, or the reporter and dissolve his body in acid, just so we can have access to oil, we will live with our lies. Frank gets nothing out of his contact with Nicole, except perhaps the truth as we are made aware of it. He knows he is wrong to think Nicole will ever truly love and want him. Society would not allow it.

      Stories have take-aways, are food for thought. I am so glad I have stirred emotion and made you so conversant about the story. It means I may have succeeded. I wonder if all who read it are so affected and nuanced as you are? I haven’t heard simple condemnation of Frank and I am glad for that. I have created, it seems, empathy for Frank, as there was for Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert. But, then in this story I am really interested in Frank’s plight and why he must have physical beauty.

      Thank you so much for reading. It means I have succeeded. It validates me as a person, who loves to review life and try to explain what’s going on at the deepest levels. I think we are blind in many ways, even as writers. And that is a whole other point. The point I think is to include and validate everyone. And that is where we must go as a society. We cannot operate unless we see that the weakest link of the chain is our strength.

      Again, thank you Susan!

  3. A fascinating chapter, Mario. At first I felt waves of sympathy for Frank after Nicole’s actions, but, as the chapter progressed, it became clear that the relationship between them, which often appears almost telepathic, is stronger than that which exists between her and her friends. It is almost as if she is trying to make light of and mask what is really going on.
    And, then again, perhaps Frank truly is living out a fantasy.
    What is clear, though, is how intriguing this story is and, as their relationship develops, fragments and grows again, it merely becomes more and more fascinating.

  4. I do admire your amazing ability to write a novel where there is no “real action” in the typical way we understand it. Nobody is murdered, there are no weapons, no massive killings, no blood shed everywhere, no adventures in jungles or dangerous places, etc. The action of your novel is in the account of the evolution of Frank’s cyber relationship with Nicole and in the back and forth of his life journey. The reader basically enters Frank’s thoughts, feelings, desires, delusions and past traumatic experiences. About Nicole much less is revealed to us except for a little bit about her family, background, previous sexual abuse experience with a high school boy and her playing with Frank’s feelings.

    It is very difficult to write 16 chapters with this sort of “action” that I would qualify as an observant kind of action. I think if someone observes, contemplates, describes and analyses a person’s psychological, physical, emotional, sexual actions and reactions, and past traumas this is already action. And you do this brilliantly dealing with many topics like bullying, sexual abuse, fetish and reality versus delusion. You really get to the deepest levels and that is fascinating; in this respect, your novel is deeply philosophical and existentialist.

  5. Frank is very insecure because he had bad experiences with women before. He should really forget the whole thing about Nicole. As you have written so well in this chapter, for Nicole this is just a game. She does not give importance to what is so important for Frank. He has made a film about it all.This is why it has also become a novel. A very well written chapter, Mario.

  6. I like this insight Lourdes. Insecurity wrought by experience. You would think he would learn by experience. I think the emotion derived from the repeated experience provides him with a reliving of the pain that both reminds and comforts him. It becomes the sense of “love,” as Frank knows it. If we were to look up the word “love” in Frank’s internal dictionary, we would find the names of previous crushes, to which Nicole is now added, but of course, she is not even actually known to him. She is a picture, an avatar, as most women are in our culture, seldom actually meeting those they have contacted in cyberspace. The reality has become the relationship we have with our screens. The technology dictates how we live.

    Yes, Frank should forget about Nicole and go outside. He’ll get no play on a screen that is not a true connection. It allows him to tell the truth. But, he cannot tell what Nicole is really thinking. Only her actions and bare minimum contact alludes to her real motives. I think this too is important. Reality is not cyberspace except that cyberspace remains a symptom of real life, a cog in the wheel of what originates our true desires for intimacy.

    Again, I am happy this is a “novel,” where as Marta has said, no one was murdered…

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