“Depression is the soul’s way of letting you know it’s time to play another actor.”
The Instagram post was a photo of a grey-green misty forest, somewhere where trees grow, with a brown dirt road leading in, and with those words printed on it in a friendly but neutral font. Briefly he felt a flicker of connection. Besides his default introversion, he had been feeling more melancholic than usual and couldn’t quite put his finger on why.
He resumed flicking through his feed.
But now his subconscious was squirreling away at the new question, and he found his thoughts drifting as the parade of colours, shapes, places and faces spooled upwards beneath his thumb.
He thought of the awkward kiss, Saturday morning in the car.
Darren and Norma were potential new friends as well as being new residents in town, as he was. Although being new to the area, Darren was known in the region and painted frescos and murals for lodges and restaurants in the winelands and local towns, but it sounded more exotic than it really was.
Between the 2 of them, they had a crop of collected kids from a string of collective collapsed lives, and a newish one jointly of their own. Norma was a stay-at-home mom who picked up part-time admin jobs here and there.
Both of them were street-smart and had that steely killer’s instinct in the eye but they were also nice people and she had made an effort to bring the 2 men together, because although Darren worked all over and was in fairly high demand, he had no close friends in the new town either. So far, the only place he had been able to actually spend any time with Darren had been at the greengrocers, where Darren had been commissioned to do a mural depicting a local orphanage’s soccer team that had been sponsored to play matches in neighbouring towns. It was a thoughtful and touching gesture, he thought as the 2 men stood next to the rough outline of the infant project and jokingly discussed Darren spending unhealthy amounts of time on his back with this new mural being his sistine chapel. Their exchange was funnier in person, because it involved a complicated machinery for turning the earth roughly perpendicular, so that the wall, would now be the ceiling. He was secretly delighted that Darren was familiar with 1950’s BBC radio comedy.
Every other time he had been invited or tried to visit the couple, he would find Norma alone with the kids.
Norma was a very “fleshly” person.
He had felt an attraction to her that disconcerted him. He experienced her as being very much in her body in an earthy way he was not familiar with, and it made him feel awkward and uncomfortable around her, but weirdly, something about it paradoxically drew him.
His thumb lifted off the ignored digital lives below.
It occurred to him that perhaps it was this earthiness he was drawn to, rather than to her, specifically. That maybe it was this “earthiness”…
He led his life in a world of his own thoughts, and spent much of his time mostly in his own head, he realised. He wondered how it could be that he didn’t have a mental model for this desire to be in her company. It was self-consciousness, he realised, that made him feel awkward and shy around her, because of this unquantifiable, drive. Naturally he had no intent to intertwine himself with her beyond the friendship of a married couple. He was smart and disciplined enough to know and do better than that. But this earthy attraction troubled him and then made him stop going there altogether, even when the next innocent invite from her had come.
He had been too “busy with deadlines” the next two times she tried as well. But then their car had broken down. Darren managed to arrange wheels for getting to his jobs, but Norma was now stuck and unable to do emergency grocery hops, and so it was, that on Saturday morning he had driven into town and waited for her in the parking lot of the local supermarket, to give her a lift back home. She made her way, unseen to him, through the bustling weekend shoppers and arrived at the car, hot, weighed down with packets and infant on hip. He couldn’t help thinking she looked somehow more earthy than before, but before he could hop out and help, she had the packets on the back seat, baby on lap and was seated next to him, closing her door. Like she’d been doing it in and out of his car a thousand million times, all executed in one fluid, confident motion. She did all this while loudly greeting him in her typical explosive fashion.
Norma wasn’t one for softly spoken parries, for hiding behind toned-down behaviour and tactfully offered, neutral language, with the minimum of emotion revealed. All cloak and dagger and such. Nossir.
What was happening right now, in the moment, was precisely what you got with Norma. It fascinated him all over again. She was speaking words to him in the hot car but he heard almost none of them as he took all of this in, instead.
When she leaned slightly across the centre console of the car, he felt it as being perfectly naturally appropriate for him to kiss her on her cheek in provencal style, and inferred that it was this that she was offering, by her doing so. So he leaned in and did it, planting a sidelong kiss on her right cheek.
Immediately he sensed a change in her posture.
Perhaps he had read everything wrong. Maybe that was not part of her fleshy greeting routines, and maybe Norma was all about the big hugs and loud words, but that’s it. He desperately hoped he hadn’t crossed a line. They were not, not-nice people. Something in his eyes or body language must have reassured her then, because she softened her suddenly tense frame and carried on exploding.
His digit still hovered over the now dark mobile screen.
Perhaps it’s time for me to be a bit more like Norma, he thought.