In the city, at Tom & Hardy:
“You don’t want any food, today?” asked Tom. “Only coffee? Aren’t you hungry, boo?”
“No, not really,” said Merlyn as she leaned down to pat Tom’s little dog, Hardy. “Anyway, it’s Ekadashi.”
“E-Kardashian?” repeated Tom.
Merlyn laughed and said, “Ekadashi – the 11th day after full moon. Guru Gadubanud said that we should fast. Usually, I don’t deliberately fast but, some days, I’m not hungry so I don’t eat much.”
“What does the fasting do?” asked Tom.
“Rests the system,” said Merlyn. “Resets the body.”
Although Tom wasn’t familiar with Ekadashi, he was a conscious eater. You only had to look at his body to see that. Not a kilo of extra fat. Lean muscle. He instinctively followed his own body rhythm of only eating two meals a day, and those during the latter part of the day. He was essentially fasting his body every day. As a result, he was rarely sick.
Merlyn thought about the many bad habits people have which support their unconscious eating. Eating while watching T.V. was one. Eating while conversing with people was another. Although family dinners can be a good way for people to connect, they can also be the reason for a great deal of heartburn.
“I like eating alone,” said Merlyn without explanation.
One of Tom’s best qualities was that Merlyn could say any weird thing to him (and often did) and he never wrote it off as being stupid. He might make a joke, but then he put it in the back of his mind as something not understood, but a possibility. A possibility – that made all the difference. He wasn’t opinionated. That is probably what made him good with lots of different people. He listened to their stories without giving his opinion unrequested.
Eleven days ago, in the Wurt Wurt Koort Tearooms:
As planned, Merlyn had returned to Waldmeer, from Borderfirma, before Purnima Passage closed. She spent the twenty-four hours, of being in Borderfirma, in the palace with Aristotle and Indra trying to make sense of it all. When it was time to return to Waldmeer, Gabriel told her to go back without him and that he would come back next full moon as he had “stuff to sort” in Borderfirma.
As Merlyn was now part of the inner circle who knew of Borderfirma, and Rybert was another in that circle, she visited him, the next day, to talk about her interdimensional trip. He listened carefully and then told Merlyn his own news that Tom wasn’t coming to the Wurt Wurt Koort Tearooms anymore. What Rybert didn’t tell her was that, on Purnima evening, while he and Tom were gazing at the full moon, they had their own little drama which entailed a lot of swearing.
“You know I appreciate you coming to the tearooms to help me,” said Rybert to Tom, “but why?”
“Why what?” asked Tom.
“Why are you still coming?” said Rybert. “I’ve been back home since the end of summer and we are almost into winter.”
Tom shrugged. Rybert knew that Tom’s lack of engagement was an unwillingness to pursue the conversation, but he had already decided that he wanted to pursue it.
“It’s not like you aren’t busy, in the city, with your own cafe,” said Rybert. “What is it you get from coming here? I don’t think you are that fond of me that you can’t keep away.” He smiled, but Tom was still unengaged, so Rybert continued, “Is it someone else?”
Tom now looked at Rybert with eyes that said, Stop talking, buddy.
Rybert didn’t stop. “Is it Merlyn? Is that why you were so hot under the collar about Merlyn and me?”
“That’s f***ing stupid,” said Tom. The swearing had begun. “I don’t feel like that about women.”
“Do you feel like that about anyone?” persisted Rybert.
“Of course, I do,” said Tom. “You, of all people, know that.”
“I know about me,” said Rybert, “but I don’t think you do. Know about yourself, that is. You avoid relationships. For sure, you can flirt your arse off, but you avoid real relationships with mastered precision. Essentially, you are flirting your life away.”
“You’re no better,” said Tom tartly. “I don’t see no lovers keeping you company in the middle of Woop Woop.”
“No, Tom, you are wrong,” said Rybert. “I am better. I am better than that. I know what I am doing. You don’t. My life is by choice. Its conscious dysfunction. You are unconscious dysfunction.”
Tom didn’t laugh at Rybert’s joke. Instead, he said, “You know what? You are right. Why am I here?”
And that was the last Rybert saw of Tom.
Back in the city, at Tom & Hardy:
After Tom took her order, Merlyn sat down and took off her hat.
“I like your hair,” said Tom as he brought her coffee over.
“I thought you would,” said Merlyn.
Her buzz cut had nearly two weeks of growth to soften it.
Tom then looked at Merlyn’s clothes as she took off her coat, and said, “Why have you got dancing clothes on? I thought you were here to see me?”
“I am here to see you,” said Merlyn, “but I’m going next door to the State Ballet, for a class, while I’m in the city.”
Tom rolled his eyes and started walking away.
“I’m only here once a week,” said Merlyn, “and it’s a long drive from Waldmeer.”
“Whatever,” said Tom. Then he added, “I don’t really like your hair. I lied.”
“Oh, right,” said Merlyn. “I thought you’d like it because…”
“Because what?” said Tom caustically. “Because you look like a boy?”
Merlyn supposed that that was probably correct.
“I’m a traditionalist,” said Tom irrationally. “Long hair on girls. Short hair on boys.”
Merlyn screwed up her face and looked at him. Traditionalist? she thought. What in God’s name is he talking about? After a moment, she concluded, He has a high level of jealousy for a very low level of what he is willing to offer.
She remembered some of the Thomas Hardy quotes in the bathroom of Tom & Hardy. The walls of the toilet were filled with Thomas Hardy quotes. They were all pasted on, along with magazine pictures, to make a messy sort of billboard effect. When she was in there, she sometimes wondered how many people would have sat there, far too long, thinking about the evocative quotes while a queue assembled outside the door. A section of the toilet wall was dedicated to Thomas Hardy marriage quotes:
“It appears that ordinary men take wives because possession is not possible without marriage, and that ordinary women accept husbands because marriage is not possible without possession.” T. Hardy
Yes, thought Merlyn, most men do want to possess what they value, and most women do want the relationship that comes with marriage. So, men tolerate marriage for the sake of possession and women tolerate being possessed for the sake of the relationship.
Another marriage quote was:
“All romances end at marriage.” T. Hardy
Brutal, thought Merlyn, but unfortunately relatively true.
One quote, above the mirror, brought out Tom’s drama queen side:
“You have never loved me as I love you–never–never! Yours is not a passionate heart–your heart does not burn in a flame! You are, upon the whole, a sort of fay, or sprite– not a woman!” T. Hardy
Tom said that his favourite Thomas Hardy quote was:
“You ride well, but you don’t kiss nicely at all.”
Then he would wink and strut off. Today, there was neither kissing nor winking nor strutting. Merlyn decided to leave and warm up early for her dance class.