The Temptation of Saint Anthony – Part One

Superstition_Mts1939Gray is lovesick, deranged. He has fallen for the wrong woman. They work together, in the same open plan office. It is part of the game of their relationship to maintain the decorum of professional courtesy, but desperate confessions remain always disguised behind their email signatures. Gray realises that for his entire life he has loved the wrong woman, that he has followed the wrong woman as slavishly as an ideal. But he has no feeling of recriminations or bitterness; this is obviously no one else’s fault but his own. He is hard-coded: forty four years old and the essential part of his life expended upon mistakes.

To escape this mess, Gray decides to take a holiday. Actually, he decides to visit a desert. The vast open space, the savage orange rock. Of all spaces, of all environments, this seems to be the place for him. A geography to retreat into; a wilderness. He finds himself dreaming of the desert in the open plan office at work. The computer screens, the sound of printers and photocopiers and air conditioning, the harsh little coughs of colleagues, their arid conversations about football, television and pensions. His lover’s emails; the paranoia he feels whenever she handles her mobile phone. Over the internet, he books a room in a motel in a small town in the middle of Arizona. He buys tickets for the Greyhound bus. He talks openly about the expedition around the office.Gray’s Desert Trip. It becomes a popular topic of conversation. In the days building up to the trip, he loads his music player with songs that speak to him of desert places. He packs his luggage with books. These are books from his youth, not books that he did read, but books that he had always meant to but somehow let slip. Mostly, these books consist of the later works of Jack Kerouac. They have occupied his shelves for years, they have grown yellow and warped the way Gray himself has grown yellow and warped; they are emblems of his defeat. He intends to stay in the desert motel for a week. To delineate the lost pathways of his youth. To be isolated, lost. To appreciate survival. To go mad, in a way. Films occur to him: Wim Wenders, John Ford, Easy Rider. He realises how the desert has always been a part of his psychic geography, how he is finally immersing himself into a cinematography of the mind.

But the flight, the first night in the airport motel, the sleepless night, a nervous, irrational fear of contracting legionnaire’s disease, the awful boredom of the bus journey, how tedious and unreadable he finds the later work of Jack Kerouac: all these things remind Gray why he has always disliked travel. He is tired, constipated, bored, frustrated, depressed, morose. He is homesick, and lovelorn, utterly lovelorn. The night before he left for the holiday, he slept with the woman from work. They stayed up until the early morning, with nothing in common but their desire. The night had been convoluted, disappointing, intense. And even hundreds and hundreds of metres above the sea, a single tenuous point above silver cloud cover, he misses her. Sipping from a warm whiskey and ginger ale, he offers words to her almost in prayer. I love you, he says. I have never wanted anyone else. You are the person I have aimed for my whole life.

© Daniel Bennett

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