In Which We Answer A Series of Pretentious Questions

Absolute Zero


I am thinking carefully about everything Eva told me the night before. The look someone gets when they have heard too much: I tried not to show it.

Eva asked if I had ever been to Marrakech. I thought: What a fucking pretentious question.

Once, many years ago, I was with someone I thought was too good for me. This one was not like Eva. She would ask terrible questions all the time, e.g. “What do you think Lawrence Durrell was thinking when he wrote Justine?” or “Can I get egg whites on a flagel?” (A flagel refers to a flat bagel.) I looked up what happened to her yesterday: she does PR for Maybelline.

I was telling you what my girlfriend said last night that so appalled me. Other thoughts keep intruding. Did you know that scientists brought a molecule down to absolute zero? It was a mitzvah.

There is this episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents where this hotshot business executive is driving on a long road trip, and his car gets totaled by a truck. He survives, but he is catatonic. Men come to take his bags and jewelry, never noticing that he continues to live. Other men come in prison jumpsuits and strip off his clothes. Right before they’re about to toss his body in the incinerator, a coroner notices a single tear dropping from the executive’s eye. That was basically the face I was making, last night.

I remember once, an evening like that not too long ago, she was asking me about my past. I felt like I had to reveal something, or else she might stop asking. “When was the last time you were in love?” she managed. First I said, “Murphy Brown.”

Just because Eva originates from something flawed, does not mean that she herself is wrong.

She did not want my real story, the same as I did not want her real story. But we had been together for about fourteen months, although maybe 1/3 of that time was long distance, while I finished a job in Seattle. It felt like she could not wait another moment. She brought out this old photo album. It took us right through her teenage years. We saw her dad, an intensely obese man who had been killed by a drunk driver when she was 14. He had not been around much before that.

I met Eva’s mother in San Diego, where she used to live. My girlfriend prepared me a lot for this meeting, she said she felt it was too soon, but that since her mom usually was overseas, this could be the only chance we would have to all get to know each other.

I have never been to Marrakech. I was in Bilbao once for a month. I met a girl online and she invited me to stay. The food is the only thing I remember, and how she never washed her hair. I told her I could not have sex before marriage, as a stipulation of my religion, but we could do whatever else she wanted. Eventually we did have sex anyway, but not until the last week I was there. By then, we both probably could have lived a lifetime on the anticipation alone, and I asked her to wash her hair, so that was no longer any kind of impediment. When I summarized this life experience to Eva, I stated, “I fell in love once in Spain.”

I attended a lecture last week by a man who wrote a verbose novel that numbered many leatherbound volumes. Someone asked him during the Q & A how he was able to be so prolific. He said that he had gotten divorced. The crowd gave a knowing laugh, but I felt my head get warm. It happens to me in these fast moments. Say it, I thought, say the real reason.

Last night Eva started talking about this ex-boyfriend, who I will call Max. You see, she loved Max dearly but he had some problems. I assumed the end of the story involved Max being the drunk driver who killed her dad, but this was sadly not the case.

Max actually did not treat her all that badly, until he got off drugs. He did not hit her or even yell at her or scream. He just made her feel really bad about herself, for like, years.

There is a compulsion among certain people who believe that others are “too good” for them. Over the years I have heard this every once in awhile, but not as often as some of my friends. It is apparently what her mother told her about me, after we spent an afternoon by the woman’s pool.

I looked in the mirror for a long time after that, wondering what Eva and her mother saw in me. They had both encouraged me to go in the water, but I shook my head and said nothing.

Max is married and he looks happy. His wife has the longest blonde hair I have seen since I used to go to this cafe in San Luis Obispo, where every single picture on the wall was of Max’s wife.

You are probably wondering aloud to your flatmate, I wonder what his girlfriend will think when she reads this! The answer is, she will realize I am the finest writer of my generation.

Tolstoy bought a villa for his daughter Olga in Marrakech. Before his marriage to Olga’s mother Sophia, he listed all his prostitutes, and admitted fathering a child with one of the women. Sophia Tolstoy took it in good stride. We always know the kind of person we are with, since it is the only meaningful way we can understand ourselves.

I told this to Eva just now, when she woke. She said, “Don’t act like you know me,” and turned over.  The woman on the walls of the coffee shop was actually Marilyn Monroe. She died of an overdose. The drunk driver who killed Eva’s dad died in prison from a brain tumor. No one else in this essay is dead.

I do not like knowing these hard stories, even if it is about a person I care so much for. But I would like them a lot less if I was the one telling them. I know we can’t forget what happened to us, even if a choice made now, today, projects itself backwards to change our past actions as Milosz wrote. From that vantage the past is as nebulous and alterable as the present. Taking the next logical leap, it means that the present is as fixed as what preceded it.

Bilbao had the most wonderful restaurants. San Luis Obispo is a great place to live. Seattle’s not so bad either, even if there is not much history. You can always make it up.

Ellis Denklin is a writer living in Los Angeles. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

Photographs by Hannah Collins.

“My Blue Supreme” – Interpol (mp3)

“Anywhere” – Interpol (mp3)


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