Why?

We got into the water. I’m in my underwear and she with her bra and panties. I told her I never got into the water at night and she suggested we’d do it. On the first date. Two weeks ago I spent the whole evening looking at her. She was with friends. Before they left, when she was alone for a moment, I approached and told her she was very cute. She smiled. I asked for her phone number. She said she was just coming out of a relationship but would be happy to take my number. I thought it was just an excuse but gave her the number anyway. I wasn’t expecting a call. She called a week ago. Said the relationship was over. I said I hoped I would be an adequate substitute. We set a date for today. I suggested going to the beach.

Both of us in the water, on a hot and sticky summer night. Just us and the Jellyfish. I kissed her. On the first date. We kissed passionately. We hugged, almost naked, in the water. On the first date. Didn’t think this could still happen to me. I’m not young anymore. At my age you compromise, settle down to raise a family. And here I am, my heart racing, like a kid, in the middle of the night with my underwear, in the water, hugging her, not wanting to let go. On the first date. Me, who carries the whole damn country’s problems on my shoulders, who doesn’t understand how people can be so selfish when so much evil is around us. Here, in the middle of the night, in the water, I was thinking only about myself. Is this how love feels? I don’t know. I think this is the first time I feel this way. And I’m not young anymore. Recently, a friend asked me if I’ve ever had ‘love’. I said no. She looked at me with amazement: How can that be? At your age? I said that I either loved and wasn’t loved back or was loved and didn’t love back. This can last a lifetime. For married people too. Tonight it was symmetrical. Finally. The look in her eyes, I can’t be wrong. The sarcasm I was so proud of, that is part of who I am, was gone. I felt normal. I stopped being angry at the world. Me, in love. Receiving love. Real love. I joked about our cloths being stolen from the beach. She said that even if they were, we would manage without them. I smiled. Of course we would. We got dressed. I only just noticed that I didn’t even check her out when she stripped down to her underwear. Is this how love feels? All of a sudden her body didn’t matter. Me, who always says to my friend that if they introduce me to someone, she has to have large breasts. Didn’t even take a look at her breasts.

Second date. She was waiting for me on a bench by the house. I sat next to her. She examined me closely. I told her I had many faces. That someone once told me that every day I looked like someone else. She smiled. And kissed. I told her we could hang out right here, on the bench. She smiled. And kissed. Is this how love feels? You can spend a whole evening on some bench, in the street, because the location really doesn’t matter. We kissed. Passersby were sneaking looks. It was me sneaking those looks at couples in love, until today. Rushing, to yet another meaningless place. Slowing down for a second, just to see the kiss. My heart pinching. Why? Why doesn’t it happen to me? Then I would go on. Because I have some meaningless place to get to in a hurry. A girl with a flat tyre on her scooter stopped, asking with a smile if she could bother us. If I was alone, she wouldn’t have smiled. Worrying it might look too inviting. Probably would have turned to someone else altogether. Why ask for help from a lonely guy sitting on a bench? Maybe he is the one that needs help? Is this how love feels? People feel more comfortable approaching you. There’s this aura around you that says: come, be around me, it’ll make you feel good. We gladly agreed. I couldn’t help her but it didn’t make me feel any less good about myself. I don’t need to please others. I don’t need to prove my worth. I am worth something. We offered to help her push the scooter home. We’re in no rush. We have all the time in the world. She turned us down politely. Seemed she felt uncomfortable interrupting a couple of lovers. We went to a nearby pub. Holding hands like kids all night, kissing all the time. I always said I had a problem holding hands with a girl. I feel constrained. But with her I didn’t. The waitress came to take our order. If I was alone I would have felt obligated to look at the menu and make a quick decision. That’s the way I am, obedient, even with waiters. But now, I told her we needed more time. Is this how love feels? You get this sort of power. It’s like being drunk, you stop worrying about other people’s reaction. Your happy with who you are. Don’t have to prove anything. You can relax. Breath. Kiss. She asked me:”so what’s your story?” with anyone else I would have been defensive. Would have felt the need to explain. I don’t have a story. I just go with the flow. Don’t know where it’s going. With her I just smiled. This is my story. I’m with you and I’m having fun. I suggested going up to my place. She was unsure. I promised we wouldn’t do anything. I didn’t want to do anything. I wanted it to stay pure. Sex could pollute it. Could make it into just another relationship. I didn’t want it to be just another relationship. I wanted it to be it. We kissed on the couch. And on the rug. And stopped. We looked each other in the eyes. And kept going. I said she better go. She said we didn’t want to do it right now. That we want it to be different. Yes, we want it to be special. I want to drag this moment on. Don’t care what they say about sex when you’re in love. I know that as soon as we’ll have sex it won’t be perfect anymore. Sex is about our primal instincts. She’ll be just like all the others. But here, now, on the rug, she’s different. I looked her in the eye and I knew I couldn’t be wrong. Me, who was always proud about my intuition when it came to women, that can always tell what they feel about the relationship, can’t be wrong. Here, on the rug. Hot. The air conditioner isn’t working. I hugged her and felt her hugging me back. Symmetry. Finally. Like placing the last piece in the puzzle. When it happens, it seems so simple.

Third date. She’s on her way to a gig. A singer she likes. Stopped by my place to see me before the gig. She called last night, after we already spoke in the evening, to wish me good night. I told her it warmed my heart. She said it warmed her heart that it warmed my heart. She said we’ll be in touch. I said that when we stop saying “we’ll be in touch”, it’ll mean that the connection is growing stronger. That it’ll be so obvious, we won’t have to say it anymore. If I saw this in a movie I’d be constantly looking at my watch. This kind of kitsch doesn’t exist in reality. But it does. Now. So what’s the real reality? I’m banal and predictable and all the things I thought I wasn’t. I’m in her car. We look at each other and kiss. I feel confident. I came out f the house wearing an old t-shirt, unshaved and after eating some onion. I told her this is me looking my worst and I want her to see it now. She laughed and kissed me. With the onion breath. Is this how love feels? When you don’t care how you look, when you break cultural barriers, marching, head up high, into the abyss. And not fall. Games become pathetic. Don’t look too eager, don’t call too often, don’t and don’t… now you can do anything. I started talking a lot. About life. About how I think it should be. I wasn’t afraid of anything. This is me, I told her, and this is my story. She looked. And kissed. And I kissed. And I dove into her. And I touched her legs. She said she had an issue with her legs. She doesn’t like them. I didn’t even think about what they looked like. I just caressed. I didn’t feel as if I was operating under standard, reality based criticism. I’m in an alternate reality. In a dream. And in this reality I don’t think whether her legs are pretty or not. Common sense was irrelevant. Emotion took the throne with great pride. So this is what it looks like. This is the world of emotions. Everything is beautiful. Everybody’s smiling. I hopped over to her seat. Said I was really glad we didn’t sleep together on our last date. I suggested we should only sleep together after fifty dates or after six months, whichever came first. She laughed and said that we better start going on a date every day or several times a day. Is this how love feels? When we make future plans together we hint to fate that it is out of his hands now. We took the reins of fortune. She rang her friend who she was meeting, but the friend couldn’t make it. She’ll go to the gig alone. Not the first time she goes alone. I liked that. I said if you’re confident you go to gigs on your own. Few people can do this. She asked if I wanted to come. I said no. It’s her singer. I said each of us could have his own special ‘loves’ that he could do on his own. Only a few days ago I was alone and today I’m making all these rules about what a healthy relationship should look like. She said she tried hitting on the singer’s keyboard player once. I asked if he was going to be there, smiling. She’s already late. But it’s hard to stop. One last kiss and then another. She said:”hug me” and I did.

She’s at the gig. I’m with a friend at some party. There were girls, a lot of them. I scan the room the way I always do, just without the emotional aspect. Purely physical. Our radar, men’s that is, is always operating. Only now the information I’m receiving means nothing to me. The friend went home early. I stayed to dance alone. I don’t care. Is this how love feels? You can dance alone, surrounded by people and feel at ease. And I danced like I never did before. I turned and bounced and flew and fluttered and closed my eyes and was at peace. Finally quiet. I’m surrounded by girls and I’m at peace. The male instincts are resting. No hunting today. I’m here to enjoy and what perfect enjoyment when the hunter is resting. I looked girls in the eye and was not embarrassed because I didn’t feel like I was attacking. The party was winding down and it was left with a handful of other people. Dancing and dancing. I barely drank. Didn’t need to. I was dancing wildly and felt serene. Outside, a group of older men asked me about the location of a club. When they walked away I stared with intent. Growing older, wrinkly, lonely, trying to preserve a youthful spirit. I’m not there anymore.

I went home alone. Checked my phone for messages. None from her.

Lunch, Friday. Just finished some laps at the pool. Called her cellular. She’s not picking up. I remembered she had a shift at work today and perhaps can’t pick up. I wanted to know if she enjoyed the gig. I left a message.

Afternoon, Friday. Finished eating with friends. She still hasn’t called back. Familiar emotions from the past started infiltrating the walls of defense. Am I back in the game? To call or not to call?

I called her cellular. She’s not answering. I left a message that I was concerned. Who am I concerned for? Her or me? Do I care about her or about this feeling I have that I don’t want to stop?

Afternoon, Friday. I rang her house. Her mum answered. Said she was at work and probably couldn’t get to her phone. I relaxed. Or not?

Afternoon, Friday. She calls. Just finished her shift. I said I was worried. She said nothing. I asked about the plans we made for that night to go to the movies. She said she’ll probably be too tired. She’ll call me later.

Brain: “something’s up. She didn’t initiate anything during the entire conversation. Completely passive. She couldn’t get back to me all morning? She’ll be tired to go to the movies? Really? Something is wrong.”

Emotion:”nothing’s wrong. Can’t be. Just last night we said goodbye like two lovers. Not a hint. If there was a sign I would have noticed. Nothing happened.”

Brain:”maybe it was something I said yesterday?”

Emotion:”but I didn’t say anyth… or did I? What did I say? I was calm, relaxed. Spoke naturally. Maybe I touched on a nerve? Maybe scared her? Can’t be. She asked for a hug.”

Brain:”maybe she’s just not into it anymore.”

Emotion:”why?”

Night, Friday. I’m back operating according to the rules of the game. Decide to call, but at an odd time so she doesn’t think it was planned. She picks up. Sounding detached. As if she just woke up. Maybe not. Heart pounding. Yesterday’s butterflies have turned into blood-sucking bats. The magical feeling has been replaced by a dark, painful, stabbing feeling. I feel weak. I ask if something happened. She’s fine, she says, but, yes, something happened. Anything to do with me? I ask. Something I said? No, she says, not at all. It’s about her. I’m falling. Nothing to stop me. Heart pounding. Throat choking. I always said that when one side ends a relationship, the other side is better off not asking why. The answer will always be unsatisfying, unclear and unpleasant. Matters of the heart are better settled without painful explanations. But now the brain is in charge. Got to hold on to something. Need an anchor. Need a reason. It can’t be just like that. I must have a reason. Need to know why. The brain is asking for a logical explanation to relate to, maybe counteract, but emotions don’t have logical explanations. They just happen. Did you meet someone at the gig? I ask. I meet a lot of people, she replies callously. But the brain keeps leading the way. It wants an explanation. It’s like poking an aching tooth. It’s no good, but you can’t help it. The emotion doesn’t care for the reason; it’s going to hurt either way. It’s the brain that’s looking for some peace. The logical circuits in my head keep getting stuck. Like a scientist making futile attempts to solve an unsolvable equation. If this conversation ends now I’ll collapse. Something must have happened. Between last night in the car and this morning, something happened. Or didn’t happen? So, what? Just like that? Can’t be just like that. Did you meet someone at the gig? I ask again. Say yes, please, I think. It’s only to do with me, she replies. I sense her backing out. Curled up in the corner while I’m attacking. In love with myself. Oblivious to her suffering. But I keep falling. I have to take something from her to save myself. Can’t stop, not now. Did you meet someone at the gig? I ask, or conclude, with a threatening, scared, shaking tone. Yes, she answers. Quiet. The brain circuits are relaxing. There’s an explanation. The brain got what it needed. The emotion still hurts. Refusing to believe. But how? Why? Just yesterday you asked for a hug, I think. I guess he was more impressive than me, I say. The Cynicism is back. Renaissance era, over. Were back to the darkness of the Middle Ages of the soul. Cynicism rules again. No, she says, not at all. Like a mother consoling her son after failing an exam, I feel her hand stroking my head. It’s just that, it shook me, emotionally, she continues, and… Enough! I don’t want to hear any more. Enough! I got an explanation. More than I bargained for. Just like in a casino, better get out now. While I’m ahead. If we go on, I’ll lose everything. Her every word is like a whip on my back. I think we should end this conversation now, I mumble. She tries to say something. All I hear is a blur of syllables. Everything is foggy. Painful. Very painful. I raise my voice, trying to maintain some dignity. Like a condemned man on death row committing suicide so the executioner doesn’t get the pleasure of doing it, I suggest we end the conversation. Goodbye. That’s it. Storm over. Quiet. The town is in shambles. Residents are starting to emerge from between the wreckage. Cool breeze of sadness in the air.

Night, Friday. I’m on the beach. Staring at the same spot we were at. In the water. Hugging. The air hot and sticky. It’s bugging me now. I’m off the Olympus and down here, amongst the mortals, the heat is annoying. I’m not crying. I can cry from a sad movie but I don’t cry about my life. I think I’m afraid. Don’t want to sink. I look at the sea. The look in her eyes, I couldn’t have been wrong. Why?

Cognac

“Cognac?” I looked at the salesperson in disbelieve. Such a color actually exists? He snickered. I guess I’m not the first to wonder about this. “Yes, Cognac. It’s actually quite a sought after color. In any case, you don’t have that many options, so don’t stress. We have this wardrobe in black, brown or Cognac. Take your time,” he neared me and winked, “let the lady decide. They’re good at it.” He went off. I looked at the ‘lady’, who’s actually my girlfriend, Karen, whom I am moving in with. She knows what Cognac is. She was laughing through the whole thing. Enjoying my innocence. “I think Cognac is the best. Goes well with your shirt, too.” My shirt? I was wearing this red-crimson-Bordeaux or god knows what color. “But I change my shirt every day,” I said with a smile. “Every week you mean,” she was poking me, “besides, all your shirts are in this style.” Why does a wardrobe need to match a shirt? Never mind. “I have to go to the toilet,” she said, laughing, “you have five minutes to decide. And I don’t want the black.” She disappeared.

“Hello there.”

Where did that come from? I looked around. The store was gone. I’m in a bubble of silence. Just the wardrobe and me.

“Nice to meet you,” I whispered.

“Pleasure is all mine,” it replied pleasantly, “so, are you excited?”

“Excited? What’s there to be excited about? It’s just a wardrobe.”

“Don’t be a wise guy,” it smiled in a fatherly fashion, “I’m not just a wardrobe. I’m a Cognac colored wardrobe.”

“So what?” I was trying to ease the tension, “Cognac is just a color. Just like black or brown.”

“Nonsense. You know it’s not just another color. After all, you didn’t even know such a color existed before you came here. Right?”

“Big deal. Now I know. Just another meaningless color. A sort of brown.”

“A sort of brown”, it repeated mockingly, “you are so naive. Or at least you pretend to be. I’ve seen your sort. Patronizing me. Sort of brown…”

“I didn’t mean to, I was…”

“Don’t worry about it”, it cut me off, “so? Are you buying or not?”

“I don’t know”, I stammered, “It’s a bit much. I never bought a wardrobe. I always moved into places that already had wardrobes. And even if they didn’t, I just threw my cloths in a basket. But to buy a wardrobe…”

“So what are you doing here?” it was impatient, “wasting my time?”

“No”, I tried to appease it, ”I’ll probably buy in the end. It just might not be you. You see. Cognac, this color, it’s new to me and…” I couldn’t find the right words. I looked at it. It was rather nice actually. But there is something about the sound of that word. I don’t know. It put me off.

“Are you afraid of new things?” it asked.

“No. I’m actually really into variations and adventures and all that. But Cognac is not just a new color. There is something absorbing about it, restricting, something…”

“Like a couple?” it asked quietly.

“What?” I responded quickly, “What did you say?”

“Like a couple. It’s a couple’s color. Between you and me,” it gestured for me to approach, “you wouldn’t come in to a store like this if you were alone. You said yourself, you never needed a wardrobe.”

“Yes, I think I know what you mean”, I mumbled. Boy, was it right. That’s exactly it. After all, the color itself didn’t intimidate me. I have no problem with it. And it wasn’t the sound of the word either. It’s the meaning of buying a wardrobe in some color that you wouldn’t even be aware of, if you weren’t in a relationship. If you weren’t a couple. It’s the meaning of buying a couple’s wardrobe. Declaring: “I’m a couple.”

“So?” It was calmer now, realising it hit a nerve, “afraid of being in a couple?”

“Afraid?” I’m confused, “I wouldn’t say afraid. Just. You know. I’m happy with Karen. She loves me a lot and I love her, I think. And that’s what matters, right? Love. And I like being with her and we’re moving in together and all that, so we need a wardrobe. I think. No?”

“You’re asking me? I’m not sure you know what you want.”

“About the wardrobe?”

“About the relationship,” it replied monotonously.

“What are you talking about?” enough, what is this? Psych 101? “Karen is my girlfriend. You understand? We’ve been together for three years. All we’re doing now is move in together. That’s it. She was already hanging around my place all the time, so what’s the difference?”

“No difference”, it smiled, “is that why you are so nervous?”

“Me? Nervous? You’re imagining.”

“Fine,” it backed off, “I must be imagining. Anyway, I don’t want to stress you out, but, Cognac is just the beginning.”

“Just the beginning?” I could barely pronounce the words.

“Exactly. After the wardrobe there’s the bed, a washi…”

“We already have a bed.” I felt triumphant.

“Washing machine,” it kept going, ignoring me, “refrigerator, dresser, iron, ironing board, rugs, coffee table, chairs, big screen TV, garden, porch, outdoor furniture, stove, microwave oven, drill, curtains, tool box, kitchen cupboards, another wardrobe, because I won’t be big enough, pots, pans, plates, car, jeep, D.V.D player—”

“Most of this stuff I already had when I was living alone,” I tried invalidating what it was saying.

“But now you’re going to have to buy it all over again,” it said abruptly, “and this time,” pause, “as a couple.”

“So what? So we’ll buy them as a couple. Karen and I will buy everything together and it’ll be fun.”

“So this is what you look like when you’re having fun?” it mocked, “keep having fun then.”

“That’s enough. Stop it. Why are you enjoying abusing me this way? It’s hard enough as it is,” I withdrew, “hard enough.”

It looked at me quietly. Letting my internalization sink in. It didn’t need to speak any more. I don’t know what I want. I was used to living alone, being the master of my own time. Being able to change the course of my life at any given moment. The ultimate freedom. A drug. You don’t have to be nice if you don’t want to, flatter someone if they don’t deserve it. You only need to be in touch with yourself. Master of the universe. But you’re alone. And you also want to feel loved. That’s the only thing you’re missing. Love. So at first you fuck. As much as you can. But it’s not enough. You start to feel insecure. Growing older. Vulnerable. Free, but fragile. Freedom is seen as a lie. You don’t take advantage of it because you’re waiting for love to arrive. And it arrives. And you’re ecstatic. God. I love and I am being loved and it’s great. Now everything is perfect. Perfect? Not exactly. Love means your freedom is restricted. It’s just like what we were taught at school. If you add to one end of the equation, you have to subtract from the other. So I subtract from freedom. But I do it with joy. What do I need freedom for? I’m in love. You scorn freedom. It’s seen as dangerous. The world of the lonely. You’re living within a shell. A love shell. But time goes by. Love becomes somewhat dull. You’re still in love. After all, you wouldn’t dare say you’re not. But the sex isn’t what it used to be. The excitement of seeing her is gone. It’s a habit now. Love that has matured. The equation is out of balance again. You have to add to one end of it. It can’t be the love end. Love can only fade. You put some more effort into the relationship. Going on a holiday. Flowers. But whatever you do, say whatever they will, this is not love. You’re only reinforcing the habit. Gluing it tight so it doesn’t crack. Because that’s all you’ve got. And everybody is busy persuading you this is what being in a couple is. And they’re right. Each person compromises for the other and together you create this harmony that… that what? Harmony that will lead you to family? Children? And you want children. Can you not want children? Little rugrats that look like you, running around the place and you look at them and realize the meaning of life? Can anyone not want that? You’d have to be crazy. Everyone keeps saying. Get married already. Not for the wedding. For the children. You don’t want to be an old dad, do you? Using a walking cane to walk your child to kindergarten? And what about the equation? What equation? Does it still exist? It’s not there anymore, buddy. It was in your head. Freedom is down to a minimum. Only what you need to live, breath, eat and go on your yearly mini- vacation. But freedom doesn’t matter. What do you need freedom for? What are you, a child? You’re a family man. Kids. Work. Structure. Model citizen. What the hell are you talking about? Freedom? Do you even remember what that is? It’s an illusion. An illusion you’ve built, until love came along. At first you refused to let it go. Tried convincing yourself that you’re going to do it your own way. Not like everyone else. You’re going to decide what this relationship is going to look like. So you go out with friends to a pub once a week, you take a philosophy course and you convince your girlfriend that it’s really important that she would have her own thing just so you could have more freedom to yourself. As if you care if she her own thing or not. I want freedom. I want to be within a structure, but free. That’s impossible. Everything collapses. The equation collapses. You increased your freedom by a couple of inches but the structure, the habit, the family, that whole other side, grew by miles. So you stop dreaming. You’re a maintenance guy now. Living your freedom vicariously through others. You survive in order to allow freedom for others, so they can fit into a frame, grow bigger and survive, so others can have freedom to… and so on. You do all this with your partner. You love. Your habit. You’re an alchemist. You’ve done the impossible. You’ve traded in your freedom for a basket full of goodness. This is what you live for, isn’t it?

“Is this what you live for?” asked the wardrobe.

Oops, I thought this was just in my head. I guess it can read minds too, the bastard.

“Yes”, I answered, trying to sound decisive.

“And there isn’t another way?”

“Another way? What are you talking about? What do you know about life? You’re just a wardrobe.”

“Not just a wardrobe,” it declared.

“A Cognac colored wardrobe,” I was mocking it, “Cognac, Cognac, Cogn-“

 

“So?” it was Karen, “have you decided? I can hear you mumbling Cognac so I guess I don’t have much left to say.”

“Why? Would you prefer a different color?”

“No, it’s a great color. I also like the sound of the word.”

The salesperson approached. “Well, have you made a decision? Going with the Cognac?”

“Yes,” Karen replied with a smile.

“Good choice. Most couples choose this wardrobe. I guess there’s something about it.” He winked at me, “well chosen, dude.” Yes, well chosen.

“By the way, would you prefer the wheels the same color as the wardrobe or black?”

“Does it matter?” I asked naively. Karen and the salesperson laughed and looked at each other knowingly.

“Well,” he said, in a business like demeanor, “to the painful matter. The wallet. Shall we?”

They walked off. I was left by myself, next to the wardrobe. I looked at it.

“Is there no other way?” I asked.

I went to pay.

 

 

 

 

 

The Knight

It was past Blake’s bedtime but he had to finish his drawing. It was a knight with all his armor. Tomorrow is the art competition at school and he must submit his picture to the teacher. His brother was already sleeping so he tried to work quietly. He didn’t want his mom and dad to wake up. They, again, had one of their fights. They were so mad at each other, they even forgot to check on him and tell him good night. He hates it when that happens. The knight didn’t look happy. Blake tried changing the mouth, the eyebrows, the nose, but nothing helped. Well, too late now. Maybe in the morning he will fix it. Time to sleep.

“Hey! Hey!”

Blake jumped out of his bed.

“What?” he looked at his brother across the room in the other bed. He was sleeping.

“Hey! It’s me. On the table.”

He got up and reached for the table near his bed. The only thing on the table was the knight picture.

“What took you so long?” said the knight.

“I was sleeping. How can you talk? You are my picture.” Blake was surprised.

“So? Does that mean I can’t talk?”

“Never mind. I am tired and I am probably dreaming. What do you want?” Blake just wanted to go back to bed.

“I need your help,” said the knight.

“My help? I can’t help a knight. I am only a kid.”

“You are the one that drew me in the picture. You didn’t draw a helmet on my head. I need my helmet.”

“This is my picture, not yours. I drew you holding the helmet in your hand. I wanted it to be a smiling knight. Not a knight with a helmet that covers his face. ”

“Well, I am not smiling now, smart guy!” the knight said rudely, “I lost it. I need you to draw it again, and this time on my head.”

“I need to go to sleep now. Maybe if I have time in the morning before school I will add the helmet,” Blake just wanted to end the conversation.

“You can’t go to sleep now!” the knight almost cried, “The joust is about to start. I need my helmet!”

“What is a joust?” Blake had never heard of it.

“How can you draw a knight without knowing what a joust is? Jousting is a sport in which two knights on horses fight with lances.”

“And a lance is a kind of sword?”

“Not exactly. It is a long wooden shaft, which we use to knock down the other knight from the horse. I must win the joust and I can’t do it without my helmet. Come, “ a small hand stretched out of the drawing, “Help me look for it.”

Blake looked at the hand. He didn’t move.

“My mom told me to never go with strangers”, he said.

“I am not a stranger. I am your knight!” the knight screamed. “Please help me”, he begged.

Well, Blake thought to himself, he has a point. I drew him, so I might as well help him find the helmet.

“I can come but I have to be back in time for school tomorrow morning”

“Don’t worry. You will not be late for school,” smiled the knight.

Blake reached for the hand. His room disappeared. He found himself in the middle of a big field surrounded by hundreds of cheering people. The knight was near him on the horse. On the other side of the field was the other knight, ready for the fight. Suddenly, the crowd got quiet and sat down. Only one man with a long white beard wearing a red and white robe remained standing.

“This is the king”, whispered the knight.

“I am calling for the beginning of the joust,” announced the king, “are you ready?”

“I am not ready!” said the knight quickly, “I am missing my helmet.”

“Your helmet?” the king was surprised, “where is it?”

“He drew it in my hand instead of on my head, ” he pointed at Blake.

“It’s not my fault”, screamed Blake, “You lost it.”

“Calm down, you two.” said the king, “Now, Blake, can you please describe what the helmet looks like?”

“It is a blue helmet with a red rose on top of it,” said Blake.

“Are you sure about the rose?” the knight didn’t like the idea of a rose.

“Yes, I am sure about the rose!” Blake didn’t like questions about his drawing.

“Did anybody see a blue helmet?” the king asked the crowd.

“With a red rose on top of it!” yelled Blake.

“With a red rose on top of it”, the king smiled softly.

A woman came out of the crowd and got closer to the king. It was Blake’s mom. She had a blue helmet in her hand. “Here it is,” she said handing the helmet to the king.

“It is blue,” said the king, “but I don’t see a red rose. I am not sure it is the right helmet”.

“The rose was there. I am sure I drew it just before I fell asleep”, yelled Blake.

“Maybe you just dreamt that you drew it?” said the king.

“No, I didn’t dream about it. I did draw the rose. Besides, how could I have dreamt about it if I am dreaming now?”

“Are you sure you are dreaming now?” smiled the king.

“Well…” Blake wasn’t so sure anymore.

“I am sorry,” said the king to the knight, “I can not give you the helmet if Blake says it is not the helmet he drew.” He returned the helmet to Blake’s mom.

“I don’t care about the red rose! I just want my helmet!” the knight was very frustrated.

“Wait!” a man came out of the crowd and approached the king. It was Blake’s dad. “I found the red rose. It just fell off the helmet. “ He approached Blake’s mom like he didn’t know her. “Can you please give me the helmet to see if the rose fits?” Blake’s mom handed him the helmet with some suspicion. His dad pushed the rose’s stem into a hole in the helmet.

“So, what do you think?” He asked the king “Does it fit?”

“I am not the one who drew it,” said the king “we need to ask the boy. Blake what do you say?”

Blake got closer to the king, took the helmet and checked it. He looked at his mom and dad. The crowd was silent. Everyone was waiting for his word.

“It fits! This is the red rose I painted,” he said. The entire crowd cheered. The king and the knight smiled to each other. His mom and dad hugged and kissed.

The knight got down from the horse, gave Blake a hug and took the helmet.

“Do you want to stay and watch the fight? You can sit near the king”, said the knight.

“I really want to but I am very tired and I don’t want to be late for school,” Blake was disappointed.

“I understand,” the knight was very friendly now. He hugged Blake and jumped on the horse, “Don’t forget to check for the rose when you wake up.”

“Wake up?” asked Blake.

“Wake up, Blake. Wake up. ” It was his mom, “you don’t want to be late for school. It is the big art competition today and you drew a beautiful knight”.

“The knight!” whispered Blake. He jumped to the table. His drawing was there. A knight with a blue helmet in his hand. And a red rose sticking out of it.

“I like the rose.” It was his dad behind him. “Goes well with the blue helmet.” He winked at Blake’s mom. Blake looked at them and smiled. The knight looked happy.

Loyalty

Betsy and Bruno sat quietly in the back. Leah looked at them through the rear view mirror. They seemed strange. Quiet. Any other day they’d be jumping up and down with joy, probably disturbing Leah’s driving. But today was not an ordinary day. Today Leah is getting married. Leah was certain that Betsy and Bruno sensed her tension. After all, she believed, cats possessed special powers. Traffic light. She looked in the backseat, moistened eyes, and caressed Betsy. Betsy gave herself willingly. With her thick coat, she was always happy to receive human touch. She licked Leah’s fingers softly. Bruno was still curled up in the corner, like a pensive philosopher. It’s so like him, thought Leah. Even at home he only wandered away from his spot once every few hours, so why should he be any different on my wedding day?

A beeping sound disturbed Bruno’s peace. It was from the car in the next lane. “Congratulations” said the driver, winking at Leah, most of his attention still given to the traffic light, ready to accelerate as soon as it was green. Leah regretted being so noticeable. Her balloon filled car and her wedding dress were not making it any easier. Leah gave an obviously fake smile. This was not a good time to strike a conversation. “Thank you”, she replied, turning towards him only for a split second, hoping he will get the hint. “So, getting married then?” he continued. Leah figured she had about fifteen seconds left before the lights turned green. She could handle him for a little longer. It’s not nice to be so unfriendly on your wedding day. He’s a young guy and could get the wrong idea about the whole concept of marriage. She smiled at him, more pleasantly this time. “Yes”, she replied. “It’s a bit late isn’t it? Shouldn’t you be standing at the altar? And where is the groom?” he persisted. “He’s at the venue. I’m on my way there”, Leah answered him, not really believing she’s having this conversation with a random driver. “Can I help?” he asked. Green. Leah stepped on the gas pedal and leapt forward. No, you can’t, she thought. I wish you could.

She was supposed to arrive at the wedding venue within ten minutes. She was already around thirty minutes late to her own wedding. She glanced at the invitation thrown on the passenger seat. “Guests are kindly requested to arrive on time”, it said. No one bothered to mention that the bride should be on time. She heard many stories about girls disappearing on their wedding day; but had no intention to vanish. She had a hard time not thinking about what is probably occurring at the venue right now. Ben, in his groom suit, standing by his parents, who are standing by her parents, who are standing in front of hundreds of guests. All of them waiting for her. She tried focusing on Ben. He must be on the verge of crying. He would look so cute, standing there with his long curly hair and goatee. What is he saying now?

“White Ford, pull over.”

What?

“White Ford, pull over immediately.”

The police car was behind her. Well, this’ll make a great story for the grandchildren one day. She pulled over. A chubby policeman stepped out of his vehicle.

“Good day to the lawbreaking bride. License and registration, please,” he said with a fatherly smile.

“Look, Sir, I need to get to my wedding. I don’t even know what I did.”

“Even on your wedding day, red lights stay red and the law says you have to stop when you see one.”

“Can’t you find someone else to give a ticket to? I’m sorry, but—“

“Lady, I don’t care that you’re sorry,” he began losing his patience, “and I don’t have the time for all this whining. License and registration!”

She started crying. That’s it. All the pressure that was mounting during this crazy day started to come out. The harsh conversation with Ben at the bridal salon. Running to the car and driving like a madwoman home to take Betsy and Bruno. She wasn’t built for that. She’s usually so quiet and eager to please. She loved Ben so much. But before the wedding she felt like he was changing. As if trying to show her that once they were married he was going to control things. He was going to set the tone. Must have taken advice from one of his weird friends. And she wasn’t that bossy or overbearing. She was always there for him, with all his impulses.

“The cats are also attending the wedding?” the policeman smiled in slight awkwardness.

“Yes!” she replied, “and I don’t care that Ben doesn’t think they should be there.”

“Ben? Is that the poor guy waiting for you right now?”

“Poor guy?” she was upset now. “He knows just how lucky he is to have found me. What did I ever ask for? Three years I haven’t said a thing. I said yes to everything. I get depressed after every argument with him. But what does he care? What does he know about relationships? I’m his first long-term girlfriend. His first.” The tears were pouring out now, “but I love you Benji. Don’t you get that? They’re just cats. I love them too Benji.”

“I’m sure he’s not miserable,” the policeman apologized, “but what do the cats have to do with it?”

“They’re my guests. You understand? Mine.” She was pointing at the policeman as if he was Ben, standing there in front of her, “I want them at my wedding and I don’t care that you think they’re just stupid cats that should stay at home. If it were a dog you’d probably have agreed, right? But cats – no. Absolutely no cats. Why? Because cats are not dogs. Because cats are stupid, disloyal animals, which care about no one but themselves and just lie around all day. What do you know about loyalty?”

“I actually think cats are pretty cute,” the policeman didn’t quite know what to say. “They do shed all around the place, scratch the furniture, but…”

Her phone rang. It was Ben. She answered and started yelling.

“Let me tell you what loyalty is. Loyalty is a human trait. You can’t judge an animal with human standards. What are you afraid of? That you’re going to fall into a pit in the middle of the night and your cat is going to look at you from above, say ‘meow’ and walk off? Cats are cute. Accept them. Learn to accept. Stop judging. What did I ask for? For two cute, cuddly, fuzzy, quiet cats to be with me on my wedding day. I love them. I love you, Benji.” She was finding it difficult to continue talking. “I want you to respect me as a human being. I expect something from you that I don’t from Betsy and Bruno. I expect you to understand me. We’re in this relationship together.”

“Leah, you know I’m crazy about you, ” he paused, “I didn’t mean what I said at the salon. I just didn’t understand why you were making such a big deal about the cats and why two hours before the wedding. After all the wedding preparations I was stressed out. I can’t handle the uncertainty. I’m busting my ass, organizing this whole thing and you suddenly ask for those two creatures to—”

“I’ll tell you what you can’t handle,“ Leah calmed down, she was focused now, “you can’t bear the fact that I decided to bring Betsy and Bruno along, two hours before the wedding. That this time, I’m the one who made a decision that could jeopardize the whole operation. I’ve been talking about them for a month now and you’ve done nothing but laugh at me. You didn’t believe I’d do such a thing, right? You don’t get that it’s not about Betsy and Bruno. It’s about me. I want you to know we’re together in this. I love you Benji, but—”

“No buts,” he cut her off , “and I’m really not in the mood for one of your relationship speeches when three hundred guests are sitting and waiting for the lady to arrive at her own wedding. You have a gift for pissing me off at the worst times. I look like an idiot in front of the guys from work. You realize how embarrassing this is? Get down here. For me this is loyalty, nothing else.”

“Is loyalty also fucking your ex, Ruth, behind my back for a whole year?” she blurted quietly.

“What are you talking about?” Ben’s voice was lower now, his usual certainty vanishing.

“You know very well what I’m talking about. I know everything. I also know it’s over, but only because I stepped in and spoke to her, without your knowledge, because I didn’t want it to spoil our wedding.”

“Leah,” Ben was trying to regain control over the conversation, “I want you here in two minutes or I’m calling the whole freaking wedding off!”

“Well, I’ve got news for you,” Leah felt as if she was about to make the most significant act of her life, “you’re not calling this freaking wedding off because I am.”

“Look, if you’re going t—”

Leah hung up. She felt a sense of calm washing over her. A feeling you get when you make the right decision, after long and agonizing deliberations. She smiled at the policeman. The policeman, who listened to the whole conversation, smiled back at her, “I’m not so sure I actually saw you driving through that red light” he said.

“And I’m sure you are very sweet,” she laughed.

Betsy and Bruno were jumping up and down with joy in the back seat. Cats can sense things. One last pat. A U-turn. She’s going home.