A man experiences existential angst over dinner
|One evening a man in conversation with his wife forgot the punch-line to the story he was telling her. It was the story of a boyhood triumph of his and the fact that he had forgotten half of it disturbed the man so much that he stared into the middle distance, brow furrowed, the fork he had been gesturing with trembling in mid-air. His wife went on eating salad expectantly. When it became clear that the end of the story wasn't going to appear, she talked about pesticide instead.
The man didn't listen. He was running through his anecdote: he saw himself as a boy entering a classroom and – nothing. A blank. He could see nothing of the teacher he felt ought to feature in the story, could remember nothing of what he had said to this teacher or why. He knew he had said something bold, something he had always looked back on as important, a break-through in who he was, how he saw the world and his place within it. Now it was gone. A boy walked into a class room – and disappeared.
The man scrambled after another memory, in case all his brain wanted was the exercise. There was something – wasn't there? – about a girl he had known. His first love. There had been something urgent, vital, he was sure, about this girl. He had a vague recollection of beauty. His heart constricted painfully. But he couldn't see her face. He glanced at his wife as she swallowed another piece of tomato and began dissecting what the radio had told her that morning about the government's economic policy; she shook her head angrily. There were no clues in those working jaws. Was it her face he dimly remembered? He wasn't sure. How could he not be sure?!
A sudden fear gripped the man. He put down his fork and sat up in his chair, concentrating fiercely. He racked his brain, blundering through a morass of half-memories like a man running in the dark, hands out-stretched for something concrete to bump into. He knew his name, he knew – after a moment's thought – his age. He knew his wife's name, his dog's name, the brand of ice-cream his wife now placed before him. But these weren't 'concrete'. They were wisps that evanesced under his touch. Who was he? Where were the deeds and thoughts that had shaped him? How had he become the man sitting at the table staring at a bowl of raspberry ripple?
Did he even exist without these memories?
The man's wife talked on. She licked her spoon appreciatively. So unaware are we all of the internal lives of others, even those we love, that she had no idea the man sitting opposite her, frowning and blinking into his bowl, had disappeared completely. That he was nothing more than a stop-gap, an abbreviation or a lie.