I looked at Mirah, who was sitting not three metres away from me. The distance could occasionally get even shorter than that, but that’s if I tilted my head forward a little, or if Mirah cared to look in my direction for a second or two. Not necessarily me – just the general direction inhabited by moaning ladies and handsome gentlemen loosening their ties. However, at that instant everything was fixed, frozen. Precisely three metres, I knew I could not be wrong. Mirah’s immaculately trimmed profile made her look like some Egyptian queen from an ancient coin or a black-and white picture of Virginia Woolf from a book sleeve. She was just so perfect. I liked that, and could stare at that profile for ages, waiting for it to turn into a majestic full face eyeing me with surprise, delight, contempt. I thought I could take anything from her as long as I didn’t have to make the first move.
However, that was not to happen, not then, because Mirah was watching Trev. I could say ‘looking at Trev’, but that would be misleading. Much to my irritation, this was full-on ‘watching’. Her pupils, flaring up and flickering down, were literally erupting in sensual joy. Which was horribly wrong, because this was a rough equivalent of a Snow White staring at a dwarf and undressing him with her eyes. Trev was indeed a sexless dwarf, and my only explanation was that if Mirah raised her head from the desk, opened her eyes and looked into the distance in front of her, she was bound to bump into this strange little idiot who seemed to be constantly buttoning up his shirt. I had to wonder how he managed that, with only a small handful of buttons at his disposal. You just knew he never changed it, it stayed the same black shirt every single day of his miserable little life. And Mirah, she… she couldn’t really, could she?..
Trev was blind to Mirah’s attention, and good for him. Mirah’s gigantic eyelashes would have been enough to give him the biggest boner of his life (still awfully small, of course). One that could render a few of those lower buttons quite useless. Trev looked like an office clerk, and he knew his limits, so he stared at Jorg’s Adam’s apple. For all his shortcomings, Trev had one hell of a stare. His stare was vivid, visceral, and if only Jorg knew he was not the only gay man in the room, he would have torn apart his purple V-neck sweater and let Trev’s tiny fingers run all over his well-lotioned, well-shaved chest. Admittedly, though, Jorg had his doubts about whether he was gay or not. Yes, he no longer felt attracted to pretty girls or women (well, those who were officially considered pretty), but during his constant soul-searching Jorg always took ‘no’ for an answer. “Am I gay? No”. It was not a well-known fact, but a week ago he reread the pages describing Leopold Bloom’s experience on the beach and successfully tossed himself off to a rather dolled-up and very approximate image of Vajda taking a bath.
And that’s why Trev’s stare was ruthlessly rebuffed by Jorg. In particular, Jorg’s Adam’s apple. And some Adam’s apple it was; not especially big in size, it looked powerful due to its constant twitching, twisting, twerking. It had nothing to do with Trev the midget though: it was directed at Vajda, Jorg’s last and only chance at salvation. At staying a normal man, one whose genitals could not be considered an effrontery towards the Eastern world. Vajda, who should have considered anyone’s attention a good sign because her plainness was causing panic attacks on buses all around the town, was hopelessly misguided and, having read most of D.H. Lawrence, was currently setting her standard as high as Xen. And there was nothing like lust or seduction in her eyes, it was brutal, hardcore self-confidence. She was looking at his smug hair, at the side part, thinking he got it all wrong and that the Ivy League bullshit would have to go the day he overcomes his shyness and starts sleeping with her.
Xen! Apollo, Casanova and Henry VIII all rolled into one. What did he know about a demented Polish immigrant trying to get into his pants. What did he care. Xen’s gaze was firmly fixed on Helam’s crotch carefully exposed at the other end of the room. My God, he could see it all. And he could picture even more. And what he could picture now, he could fuck tonight. Not just that: there was all this equipment in his garage that was begging to be used on something as shameless and delicious as that. Everything was starting to click into gear, get structured into a tight plan that would begin with an hour long and perfectly innocent combo of cunninlingus and fellatio and then climax with a sixty-nine and then lead to a logical denouement of him tying her to the huge bed in the attic. The smell of dust, the creaky sound, the rubble of broken toys – the cheap sluts just love it. He could smell them a mile away. Eyes not blinking for one tiny second, Xen thought of the possibilities. Henry Miller would have blushed to pieces. The possibilities were endless.
All the lip-licking and all the leg-spreading, Helam knew she would be noticed. Some girls think baring your neck and stroking your hair is all it takes. God! Poor lambs. At some point, just to be on the safe side, she took a pencil from the desk and started tonguing and sucking in it in a way that was almost loud. To her inner ear, it sounded like a forest brook washing over soft pebbles. But mostly it gave off carnal vibrations, not something you could hear in Samuel Beckett’s play. To her inner eye, it seemed like someone was ogling her, and she would have been flattered to know it was Xen, but she herself had long got her eyes set on Fark. Fark, a stoop-shouldered mannequin of a man who was basically here today, gone tomorrow. His sneering grin was directed at anyone fixated on just one gender. Fark liked sex and despised gender. So whichever way it happened, it always worked. It just caused terrible anxiety – the fact that humans were such bloody ignorant apes.
So while Fark’s eyes were supposed to close in on me (to complete the perfect combination), they were instead rolling all over the place like children’s toy train gone mad. And only stopped, and got calm, and found their prey (too late, too late) the moment the door opened and Sarah came in. With a big American smile, with a folder full of research, with a huge black projector. We turned to her, all eight of us. Clearly the moment was lost forever.
“Sorry”, she said. “I’m late. Straight off the plane from San Francisco. Mark and Eric, right? Could you help me with this thing? It’s heavy”. She looked at her watch. “Gosh, just kept you waiting, didn’t I? The coffee break shouldn’t have been this long. Speaking of which, where’s coffee?..”
I looked at the conference programme carefully printed out in front of me. This was the last presentation; Sarah Peterson, professor, University of San Francisco. We met half a year ago in Geneva, where she gave the world's first lecture on The Original of Laura. Presently, the coffee break over, I spread out blank sheets of future notes around the desk and prepared to listen. We all did, shaking off something fleeting and undesirable and smiling to ourselves in solemn anticipation. It was hot, really stuffy in the room now, and I loosened my tie – just a little.
Outside, it was a clear blue sky. Then clouds came. Then soft summer rain.