Say that you’re kissing a strange girl. Yes, things like that do happen. Say that you’d gone to a bar, you’d drunk even more than usual, say that you hadn’t gone along with your colleagues this time, remembering your wife sneering as you picked up your briefcase: “Do all these meetings have to end up in a strip joint? Couldn’t you go, I don’t know, pick up used needles down by the train station instead?” So you’d thought of her and told your colleagues you wouldn’t be coming with them today, and then you’d ended up in this bar. And when this girl joined you at your table because all the other seats were taken, it didn’t feel wrong. And when you paid for the drinks and she thanked you and lightly touched your arm, it didn’t feel wrong. And when you leaned close to her and spoke into her ear because it was getting noisier and noisier and her skin was nearer and nearer, it didn’t feel wrong. You thought: If you look down into an abyss, there’s a force that pulls you in, you can’t help it, there’s nothing wrong with that. But when you caressed her knee, sort of inadvertently, and then a bit more and a bit higher, you felt that there might be something there, something possibly slightly wrong. That things might not be what they seem.
Sure, you’d read that funny dating-advice book. How can you tell the gender of your date in advance? In men, the ring finger is longer than the index finger, the knuckles are hairy, the Adam’s apple is prominent, the shoulders are broader than the hips. That sort of thing. But the bar is dark. Too dark. And you don’t know if perhaps something might be terribly wrong.
These things happen, things that are terribly wrong. Your wife doesn’t like you going to strip clubs, you think. But there, in a strip club, things are clear. They are what they look like. Everything’s in plain sight. You’re told the prices at the bar. But what about now? What now? You reach for your cell phone. No, your colleagues won’t give you advice, they’ll laugh at you, they’ll say: “Go for it, go the whole nine yards. If you can’t tell the difference it doesn’t matter anyway.” But it does matter. There is definitely a difference. Who can you call? What would your wife say if you called and said, “I’m not at a strip club, and I’m not picking up used needles either, I’m kissing someone and I’m not sure –”
No, this isn’t acceptable. That’s why the warm lips moving up your neck fill you with dread: It’s nearly closing time, and maybe even then they won’t turn up the lights, maybe you’ll both just rise to leave and probably that’s when that little question will be posed: “Coming with me?” What do you say then? There are, as always, two options. But which one’s the right one? You wish you were in a strip club with your friends, you’d know what to say, you’d say, “Check, please!” and leave, everything would be all right. When they asked you if you were coming along, you should have said yes. Soon now the same question might get asked. And what are you going to say?
(Translated by Tamara M. Soban)
“Say That” first appeared in You Do Understand by Andrej Blatnik, Dalkey Archive Press, 2010 (in print)
IMAGE: Rene Magritte “The lovers” (Les Amants), 1928; Oil on Canvas, 54 x 73.4 cm Museum of Modern Art, Manhattan.
Andrej Blatnik (1963) teaches Publishing Studies at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. He has won several major literary awards and his stories have been translated into 40 languages. He has over 30 books in translation in fourteen languages including four books in English: Skinswaps (Northwestern University Press 1998) and three published by Dalkey Archive Press: You Do Understand (2010), Law of Desire (2014) and Change Me (2019).
Andrej Blatnik has been a featured reader at international literary festivals such as PEN World Voices in NYC, Toronto International Festival of Authors, and Jaipur Literary Festival. He lives in Ljubljana, Slovenia.