“No can do. I can’t go for that.” The man’s voice had a hard and steady edge as he spoke those few words. The woman sitting across the table from in had been pleading her case, tears in her eyes testified to her plight. I had only heard his part of the conversation since his voice carried to my booth. The two of them were sitting at a table across from me, it was late night and I was having myself a nightcap while scribbling thoughts that sprang to mind. It’s an old habit, a way to ease the tension of the day and put my mind at rest when sleep nears. “Please, Red, please, you’ve got to do this for me. I’ve nowhere else to turn.” The intensity in her voice grew as her need became stronger, overwhelming, almost unbearable. I have been surprised by how far emotion can travel in a room. I tried no to look at them, I was not fearing they would find me rude, my fear was that I would know more of their pain that I wished. I prefer that slight insulation from the emotions of others that only anonymity grants.
She continued her plea, “Look, Red, it’s as much your fault as mine. Don’t you understand? Can’t you see that?” She was looking at him with that stare women use when searching your eyes for answers, for the slightest response. The intensity of a cat stalking its prey, the stiffing of the muscles before the release of all the power the body and mind can command in striking. Red only shook his head in defense. To commit his thought to words too soon meant that he has lost the battle, lost control of the future, of any course of action he might muster. I could see that his body was near that fight of flight stage. Still, I wished they would take their problems elsewhere. I tried to write a few lines but my pen only left blots on the paper, irritating me all the more. This couple, these two individuals, had invaded my consciousness, my serenity of thought, my most private recesses. I was becoming victim to their asinine argument. How dare they drag me into their fight, put upon me their emotional displays. And for what? I ask you, for what purpose?
Again, that non committal phrase issued by Red’s lips, “No can Do. I can’t go for that.” He tried to put as hard an edge as possible on those words. Like armour thick enough to withstand the strongest possible armor piercing shell ever fired. He wanted her words to bounce off, harmlessly, leaving no mark. It was an expression of blood, and iron, and guts. He proposed to be unconquerable, like a mountain that can never be scaled to its top, nevers surrenders it secrets. Yes, that is what is needed. I shall not be conquered, I shall more that hold my own, I will prevail. Yes, yes, yes. I shall remain in control. She shook him out of the reverie with the simple words. “Look at me.” She had met his challenge. Like a dagger to the heart, words that cut so sharply, pierced so deeply. You remember when your mother used that tactic. “Look at me.” she’d say, daring you to make eye contact, making you fear that the simple act of looking her in the eye would reveal your cosmic soul, lay it bare for her to see and judge. I’ve never known a woman when in the heat of battle, did not mortally wound her opponent with those words, “Look at me” and ‘Look me in the eye and say that.” No other phrase puts the fear of god in a man quicker than those words when issued by a woman. Even when he is in a psychotic rage those words will stop a man at fifty paces.
“Why do you pretend, Red? Why? Don’t you know this hurts me so much? How can you do this to me?” She was closing in for the kill now. Would Red break and run? Would he try to lash out in some hopeless defence? But what if he stood fast? What would she do then? What gambit will he offer? How will he gather advantage over her position? Perhaps there is some ray of hope after all. I would cheer him on is silent solidarity, the comradeship of men. Yes, the roar of applause, the shouts of approval, all that approval a man can muster for another man. A smile crept onto my face. I had to look away until that smile passed. The proprieties will be observed, no patty fingers, if you please. Now I try to write my growing apparitions of evil spirits in my book as a means of diverting suspicion from my role in their dialogue. Finally I break down and start doodling, compact figures with little meaning, ink that fills space without benefit of thought, unconscious or not. Still, the intensity of their emotions consume them. I am safe for a little while.
“Red, we can’t go on like this. We must do something. We have to act.” She was laying out her case as if she were the prosecuting attorney, going for the throat. Her voice now had an edge that could slice tomatoes cleanly, perfectly. Ronco could never patent that, but if they could, we would all have that kitchen device at our fingertips. “What do you want from me? Damn it, Rhonda! What do you want?” Red spat the words out so quickly and with the force that measures at least a two on the hurricane wind scale. Did this signal surrender? Would she emerge victorious? This calls for a cooler head to decide. The outburst had taken her aback temporarily. But then he continued most unexpectedly. “Damn it Rhonda, you’ve got my body and my damn heart. Now you want my soul. Is that it, Rhond?. Is that what you want? What do you expect?” Red had practically hissed the words between his teeth. Snake like, they slithered out, circled like the coils of a python ever encircling its victim. Eight, two, and even the snake wins.
It was not that he played his trump card. “No can do, Rhonda. I can’t go for that.” Red rose so quickly that Rhonda has no chance to reply. In a few seconds he was gone, gone into that black night. Rhonda looked stunned. Then the tears started to stream down her face. “Bastard!” was the only utterance she produced. I ordered another brandy and settled into the silence of the night.