“Pickles and Tarts” — Chapter 17

Chapter 17

Nicole wrote back before he continued: “I haven’t told them,” she said, “that I am talking to you. They don’t even know what Spark is. Why are you on Spark?”

“Well, as you might have guessed, under the veil of my intellectualizing,” Frank said, “I want to be with someone who turns me on. I’ve written pages in a state of absurdity attempting to seduce you knowing full-well that even with reverse psychology or honesty, the truth of this is obvious. What could I ever hope would come of this? Absolutely nothing. I have settled for process and you’ve given me kindness. This is the wisdom of the female, who tries out of kindness to wake the dreamer. I hear you. You’ve been kind. Thank you. I want you to know I appreciate you. Such a lovely name, such a lovely person.”

“Aw,” Nicole said, “I like talking to you too! I love to meet new people. It has been a pleasure getting to know you. Do you hope to get married, or have kids?”

“Nicole,” Frank said, “you always surprise me. I write what I feel, listening to Damien Rice’s ‘My Favorite Faded Fantasy’ and it seems to be saying what I had hoped. He sings, ‘What it all could be with you.’ It is beautiful and I had written him that since his split with Lisa Hannigan he might never achieve the beauty they possessed when singing together. I was wrong, the cut is as radiant as light. I like talking to you as well. The pleasure was all mine. I do hope to get married, but I do not want kids. You’ll make a good mother given how you find the good things in people. I believe in your latest response that I may have what I need to complete the story. I will let you know when I finish. Thank you so much for listening. I have learned much from you and I have gone through a passage in knowing myself.”

“Show me the finished draft!” Nicole said, “I would love to read it. I am glad you have personally benefitted from our encounter.”

“The word ‘personally’ is telling,” Frank told her. “That is what this whole thing is about. It is about me. None of this has been valuable to you. You have no investment in this. It was merely a spontaneous act in choosing me. It has been interesting listening to me express a position, but the truth is just that. I was watching a documentary about the Belle Knox story. The young woman who went to Duke University and ended up having to do porn to pay her tuition. She was outed and has since almost regretted it. She said that when she showed up for a shoot, her agent didn’t tell her that she would be having sex with an older man. When she did, she said she was nearly in tears. It was not something she wanted to do. I think this is what this is about. There are certain lines drawn in the sand that cannot be crossed naturally. You were never thinking of meeting me and I knew that it wasn’t correct. There is a maturity in knowing that. If you don’t listen and trust your instincts you only face ruin.”

“I will show you the draft,” Frank said. “I have to orchestrate it so that it continues to tell the outside influence as well. I hope you may want to add something, like how certain correspondences made you feel, what they made you think as you were reading them. I am still not sure how I am going to do this. I want it to be well-edited. I love The New Yorker for that. It is transcendental in its ability to communicate because there is no noise in the communication, only the importance — the truth.”


26 comments

  1. This is a fascinating chapter which, in many ways, sums up the crux of the story: that we never truly know how somebody else feels, despite what their words and actions might imply. Part of me longs to kmow exactly how Nicole felt and what she thought – but the other side of me loved the mystery. Besides, even if we heard het version how much could we know was true.
    Excellent writing.

  2. I think this chapter marks a turning point in the story. You could end it here and just leave as it is for us readers to ponder everything. If you do so, you will let us still cherish the part of us, as Chris has pointed out, that loves the mystery around Nicole. However, part of the mystery has already been resolved. In chapter 16 we were left by the impression that Nicole was playing a cruel game with Frank. In this chapter you made her kind, instead, where my friend Lourdes was right: Nicole was just acting spontaneously, not giving it all as much importance as Frank for obvious reasons: she is not attracted to him sexually. And I definitely agree with Chris that your writing is excellent, and so is his.

      • Is it really the last one? So as a reader I am left with two important mysteries:

        1- Is Nicole really telling Frank the whole truth or is she playing the role of kindness when she talks to him? In the previous chapter you clearly wrote about her showing her friends Frank’s responses. All of them laughed and seemed to ridiculize the whole thing. Or did that not really happen except in Frank’s mind?

        2- What would Frank’s final draft of his story look like? I would like to know as a reader.

      • Nicole. Is she just being kind? I think she is kind. I gave her the conversations with friends to express the study done where people tell the truth to computer screens what we would qualify in person. Or the whole idea that qualification is lost when we speak to a screen, it being the technology that determines our behavior (McLuhan). We don’t say the same thing the same way with different people, in groups or one-on-one. So, this again is in Frank’s mind, but it is not necessarily what I want the reader to think.

        I think Frank’s final draft is a desire to know how people like Nicole really think. The story addresses unrequited love. It addresses the JoHari Window, which says the more we all know about ourselves, being able to see ourselves from the outside the more healthy we become. Whereas denial and actions moving from that point forward, as Stekel discovered, creates parapathia or moral insanity. Frank’s final draft is to find love and keep it. He is wrapped up perhaps immaturely in physical beauty. But, he feels strongly about crushes that seem to be delusions. But, he has been in love with women, who seemed to have reciprocated. For whatever reason those relationships fell short. He still loves those women and hopes it will finally click for him, but of course there is his ill adaptation to Capitalism or what determines attractiveness in society both personally and socially. His getting older and falling short. Life really just becomes this question of personal satisfaction or regret. How do we succeed or fail? Frank judges himself in terms beauty’s response. And I also wanted to deal with the ideas of a psychologist who said a mother’s beauty is the child’s role model, where, for example, my mother was a runway model and television model. How does such a high standard affect Frank’s chances of success? Is nature kind to short people? To artists? What is mate selection and how is Frank a victim or beneficiary? The final draft should have a happy ending, but maybe real life is different. Maybe men and women simply become irrelevant. How do we have and hold from this day forward? How do we choose? Maybe that’s for the reader to decide, to ponder.

        I don’t know how Nicole would react to the story, but I think she did. Didn’t she? Anyway, the story is what it is. I think I wrote something good in all the nuances of that word and as a writer, I think that’s good. I am recalling a statement by Hemingway who said we can make things up for a while, but if we do so, we are bound to fail. The reader knows the truth in their heart. Which, given the current political landscape, I am hopeful. There is beauty in the world and hope. I mean I have written a story. Imagine that! We have the capacity to engage each other by spending time and attending to our imaginations and experiences. Tolstoy talked about an emotive communication that artists tap into and express, like electricity, that unifies us. This is the plane upon which we shall operate in time, a kind of Age of Aquarius. I think as artists, we seek to create beauty, because it is valuable and we want to be among/within it. There is an elitism in this, but there is also a Marie Kondo simplicity. I have spent my free time doing these kinds of projects, my passion. At some point, I hope our economy is based on passion and desire.

      • Yea! Love the idea of the Age of Aquarius and people working in things we feel passionate about. That is the way it should always be! Also, I like your idea of people like Frank falling short in their ill adaptation to the Capitalist system. In this respect, I think Frank would be an antihero, a loser and a misfit. Wow, I so love people like this because they question the system, its evil-doings and failures. Reading your novella (I think that would be the genre it best fits in), slightly reminded me of Franz Kafka’s writing, talking about people feeling excluded and having experienced abuse as Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis. He wakes up one day and appears inexplicably transformed into a huge insect, an “ungeheures Ungeziefer”, in German meaning something like “monstruous vermin”, perhaps like a sort of cockroach. Anyway, Gregor ends up having to cower in a corner of his bedroom as the male rat Frank identifies himself with in chapter 16 when he tells Nicole about the scientist Edward T.Hall’s experiment with the box of male and female rats. I think this is a clear parallel between both novellas (yours and Kafka’s though their plots are completely different. I already saw this parallel with Kafka in your short story of The Palace Bouffant where the protagonist “felt like the rat that was held underwater and went limp”. That story is, by the way, so well written, the oppression and suffocating feelings, also similar to reading Patricia Highsmith’s descriptions of psychological terror in her thrillers. I think all this tells that you are not only an excellent writer but also very versatile.

    • Yes, the last chapter as far as I can tell. I might want to continue later. I am not sure what Nicole is doing. As a man, I have my limitations as to what women think. Men can be mean too knowing that someone is attracted to them. But, is Nicole really that mean or even mean at all? Frank is really at the base here. It’s all his wild imaginings. Frank’s final draft is to go to the absolute end, but at this point, he cannot. As his life seems to imply, he remains unrequited. This too is an indictment of romance. People are blind as to their potential partners. Maybe society is like this. We are constantly trapped unable to see ourselves from the outside even though we occasionally look at ourselves in the mirror. Do we actually see ourselves as we take selfies? Anyway, I had hoped to make my contribution to this genre. I hope I have succeeded.

      • Yes, I think you have fully succeeded for those of us who like stories with plenty of psychological and philosophical insights. However and so far, your brilliant writing will not reach those readers who only enjoy “real action” with blood, violence and murders. Also, those people who always remain superficial in their lives will not enjoy your writing. Sadly enough, the vast majority of potential readers are like this and so I see you as a writer for minorities I am so glad to be part of. And that should not worry you. It is rather a sign that you are an excellent writer. You write beautifully, in a non-conformist way regarding the capitalist system, as deeply as possible, and get to the heart of the very truth. Just keep doing so, my friend!

  3. A well written novel, Mario. I have enjoyed it and agree with Marta’s 3 mysteries for the readers.

  4. Yes, Frank is the antihero, the loser, and misfit.

    You would love Deleuze’s Anti-Oedipus reference to insanity, where the insane are those actually aware of subtleties. Today, I got a long response from a woman who said that she thought it was fun to write HR disciplines. I scolded her and said she was like a secretary at a concentration camp, who was proud she could spell names. She asked her friends if she should respond to me. They told her she was wasting her time.

    Yes, novella. I was going to say something. It’s only 10,000 words.

    Frank feels like a rat. He must tell the truth. And even when he tells it, he must face it. If you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.

    Thank you so much for the compliments.

    • You are welcome but no compliments here, plain truth Mario.
      Deleuze’s book sounds right for me. Catalan philosopher Marina Garcés talks a lot about him in her work Ciutat Princesa (Princess City, referred to Barcelona’s process of gentrification, etc). Love the pig with lipstick comparison, haha, but, yes, you are right. Heading to Strasbourg in a few hours. Please watch news about the constitution of the European Parlament and the Catalan peaceful rally planned.

  5. Finally Frank is growing up. Bravo. Your writing is brilliant, so many twists and turns. I hope you continue, if not with this piece, with another. The truth, I’ve learn’t so much from this experience. I love the way you pull readers into the story, and excuse me for saying this, twist their perception of the story, then surprise them with a different twist to the plot. Sorry for the late reply, I’ve been away.

    I have to say, during this time you have quoted so many good people, and they do tell a story, but it’s not your story. I am learning about ‘the voice’, in the written word, and believe me I’m not an expert, but I can tell a brilliant writer from a novice. What I have noticed, you have a powerful voice, it’s so bold, and the images you paint are so vivid, and characters authentic, it leaves me wanting more. If I had a wish, I’d like to read more of your work, especially pieces which send shivers up my spine. Mystery? or Horror? Maybe another chapter story like this?

    Waiting for the next piece. Susan.
    Cheers. 🙂

    • Thank you Susan. Frank always had to grow up. I think that is the lesson in these times. I think it is best men take a breather and find out about the truth of love and longing. After the romance is gone, there are two human beings. Strip them of their gender. Ask them where they want to go. What they want to do. How will society react to them being together? How will they react when what truly brings them together is measured against what they each have in mind?

      I am so glad you like my writing. I wanted to see if I could get away with what Nabokov did. He presented a horrific story in an eloquent manner. It honors writing. It talks about truth. If the only thing is age between two people, then I wonder. As I did in the story, I wanted to share the internal dialog, at least of Frank. Nicole is free to be anyone she wants. That too is an important point. Men have to be much more in touch with what is now known as their privilege. The most important point is that desire is not grounds for behavior that does not consider the other person. All this time, men have been taught to chase. And while I must admit, I am an introvert and I have never been able to chase someone I was infatuated with, I understand that there is truth in that women do want someone who takes things in their hands. Women love strong men. Everyone likes confidence and certainty. Someone like me is going to refrain. I will wait for the end of my life for love. I believe in the innocent beginning. I like to think there is an invisible force that brings people together. My friend Ourane calls it “Spirit.”

      I am not sure I understand the quotations not telling my story. I will have to review that.

      I am glad my voice is powerful. This particular story took a very long time. It went through so many editings and was around for a long time before I felt it was finished. I almost can’t remember the process anymore. I sent it to many publishers, The New Yorker, Granta, and others, but none would take the bait. I am working on something that is only an idea, but it will be more like an essay. I don’t know what to tell you at the moment. I am working on my place and I need it to be done before I can clear my rooms of clutter and begin again.

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. It means everything to me.


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