‘Do you have anything to read?’ he asked her. ‘A magazine, a newspaper, anything?’
She shook her head. ‘Paper? Do I look old fashioned to you?’ she said. ‘You want the news, check your cell phone. Don’t you watch TV on your I-Screen?’
She wore a cream top on jeans that hugged her curves well. He wished it was a T-shirt. One with silly stuff written on it. I went to the 2020 Woodstock Concert and all I got was this lousy T-shirt...Smile, it’s the second best thing you can do with your lips…Two rights don’t make a wrong, they make an airplane… Or anything else. Just something he could look at and read up and down. His head had begun to ache.
‘You want to read a book?’ she volunteered.
‘You have a book?’ he gasped in relief.
‘Yeah.’ She pulled out a Kindle from her handbag and drew down its flexo-screen. Its surface glowed for a second and then lines of text flickered to life.
‘No, no!’ he snapped. ‘Don’t you have a paper book? I don’t read that crap.’
‘Paper? Which age are you living in, mister?’ she scoffed.
He stood up. It was getting a bit bad now. He walked around the waiting room, staring at the walls, bereft of paintings or posters. Nothing at all. He recalled the times he had been to a dentist with his father. There had been charts showing teeth in various states of disrepair. Dental plaque, gum erosion, periodontitis…and the names of pharmaceutical companies at the bottom of the charts, subtly advertising their efficacy. All in words, glorious text printed on paper that he read hungrily in the long wait for the doctor’s appointment. Even inside the clinic, as his teeth were being drilled and filled, he would crane his neck to peer at the posters, at the doctor’s medical degree certificate, anything to read.
Now here in this waiting room, there was nothing, just a TV set that flickered silently on the corner shelf.
Even the streets had gone dry. The bookshops had gone years back, replaced by computer and cell phone stores now stocked with plasma screens, projector cell phones and eyewear screens. Screens, screens and more screens. He felt maddened by all those glowing InterReactangles everywhere he went and studiously avoided looking at them.
The last paper he had read today was a chocolate wrapper tossed by the man walking in front of him. Kit Kat. Nestlé believes that proper nutrition and physical activity are important in maintaining good health. He read the list of ingredients and calorie values while waiting for the bus. Now he had to survive the wait at the dentist’s. He hoped he wouldn’t get a deprivation seizure, like the last time he was at the Social Welfare office. Once he got home he would be okay, he had his hoard of dog-eared books. ‘In broad daylight of our habitual memory the images of the past turn gradually pale and fade out of sight, nothing remains of them...’ Proust’s words foretold of the impending death of the very books that held his words.
She had begun reading her Kindle, pausing only to touch-scroll the virtual pages. She smiled slightly at times, moving in time to the moods of her fictional protagonists.
He envied her and it only made his own need worse. He pulled out his wallet in desperation and riffled through its contents. Credit cards, debit cards, petrol cards, plastic and more plastic! He took out a ten dollar note that he kept especially for emergencies like this. IN GOD WE TRUST… He turned it over. THIS NOTE IS LEGAL TENDER FOR ALL DEBTS, PUBLIC AND PRIVATE… Anna Escobedo Cabral’s scrawling signature, as elegant as the woman herself. She had surely been the sexiest Treasurer of the United States ever, in his father’s time. How he loved the facsimile print of handwriting! He touched the paper with his fingertips, running them over the numbers and Washington’s face.
‘What’s troubling you, mister?’
He was jolted from his reverie. He hadn’t realised the woman had been gazing attentively at him walking around. He kept himself in good shape and dressed well. He was after all a man of letters, of print, text, words…a refined man. A half smile cracked his tense face.
She crossed her legs and then uncrossed them. He read her. It was going to be a long wait for the dentist. And life wasted in waiting was ill afforded. She smiled back at him, wetting her lips and pursing them.
‘Relax, mister. You don’t like going to the dentist, do ya? Come on over here.’ She patted the seat next to her.
He went to her and sat down, sighing heavily. The escaping breath tinged with a hint of tobacco and the cover-up Wrigley’s peppermint mingled with the scent of his body, wafting across to the woman. She patted his thigh in reassurance and turned slightly closer to him.
‘My name is Vanessa. Vanessa Taylor. I’m a writer.’
‘A writer, huh!’ he warmed up. ‘I’m Johann. You write with a pen and paper…’
‘Nope, who does that anymore, man, I key in all my stuff, or use voice-recog programs.’
‘I’m a reader,’ he said with a wistful look. ‘I like to read.’
‘Okay,’ she nodded. ‘That’s why you are so restless. Haven’t had your fix today, right?’
He laughed nervously. ‘You bet. It’s getting bad. You don’t know how bad it gets.’ His hands had begun to flutter now. He drummed his fingers on his thighs and took another deep breath.
‘Easy,easy,’ the comforting pats on his thigh turned to a sympathetic caress.
‘What do you read?’ she asked him.
‘Anything. Really. Books, newspapers, posters, wrappers, menu cards, anything. I just need to read. All the time.’ His voice was strained with a melancholy urgency that stirred faint old memories in her.
‘Not TV, I don’t watch TV, no cell phones. I need paper, cloth… text… print, you know…’
‘I understand,’ she nodded. ‘My Dad was like that. He was an old timer like you.’
‘Not that you are old, I’m sorry,’ she blushed. ‘You don’t look old. Hey, I’m no spring chicken either.’
He looked at her warm, upturned face and down to her taut, crossed thighs. The fabric of her blouse fell easily over the curves of her full breasts and flowed down to just cover where her jeans met. He wondered…
Her breath quickened at his contemplative gaze and she blushed again.
He turned and put his hand around her shoulder. She snuggled closer and closed her eyes. He kissed her slowly brushing his lips over hers to the left and right before gently pulling on her upper lip. She slid her hands inside his jacket and hugged him, running her fingers over his back. They both sighed in relief. This was a far better thing to do than sitting stiffly alone, keeping each other solitary company. A far more natural state to be in. Why did strangers sit frozen still in waiting rooms, when they could be holding and loving each other for those long hours instead, he wondered.
Zipless hug. It would be a natural corollary to Erica Jong’s zipless fuck. A usually spontaneous sexual encounter between strangers with little or no personal information exchanged.. The highest plateau of casual sex.
His hands traced the contours of her lower back and sides gently but firmly. They rose up to her shoulders. She kissed the side of his head, flicking her tongue into his ear. Her body exuded a heady scent as her deodorant kicked in with the rising warmth. He pulled her collar upwards hungrily, his eyes roving over her skin with glazed curiosity.
She moaned softly, nibbling at his neck and pushing her fingers inside the belted waist of his trousers. He turned the inside of her collar outward and upward. Nothing.
He ran his tongue across her neck, leaving a wet trail as he moved his head lower to her cleavage now hot and moist with sweat. One hand cupped the smooth curve of her belly and moved on to free the solitary button holding fort at the rampart of her jeans. The top of her zip eased open by itself, parting slowly until halfway down.
As she lay back in her chair with eyes closed, her hands urging his head down her body, his hands explored the rim of her jeans, his fingers running on the inside, searching relentlessly.
And then, all of a sudden, he found it. He froze in relieved shock. His eyes ran hungrily over the text on the little tag. Fine text in Arial font, or was it Verdana…
She sensed his pause and looked down at him touching the tag, running his fingers lovingly over the text. She smiled and ran her fingers through his hair, remembering a time and a man who once ran his fingers over the newspaper lying open on the breakfast table, breathing deeply of the fresh newsprint even as his coffee steamed at his side. She too had once loved the smell and feel of print, like her father, like this man whose head nestled at her belly, hungrily reading her body, in a printless and soulless world.
He gazed at the slightly uneven letters, half faded with numerous washings, still warm from her body… printed text…solid and real―
Always wash separately. Do not bleach. Use warm iron. Wash inside out. Do not dry in direct sunlight. Do not soak in detergent for long time. Waist 32. Made in India.