“I'll never risk my neck trying to save you.”
“Like I asked you to!”
“No, I'm just saying, you should know that about me. See, I find life a lot more bearable when I know that I can share a cup of coffee and cigarettes with you, but... What I am trying to say is that like every other love, this too is rational and conditional on wish-fulfilment.”
Theo looked at the cold eyes that stared blankly at him and braced himself for the impact, for the realization to sink in. Iris is no more. Dead. 'Suicided'. The only unsettling fact about that weighty observation for him was its grammatical inaccuracy. “Committed suicide”, he murmured as Miss Fey scowled at him. Could we read a tinge of accusation into the way she regarded Theo? What does she know, anyway? No one knew, except Iris and Theo, of the simple promise (or was it an agreement?) they began their 17 year long 'romance' with. Reassuring! Never in these many years had he ever had to rethink the choice of words, never did he think that it would matter. It did not matter to her, for she had shrugged then, turned away and went to sleep. Or did it?
History is always in the process of being written and right now, in Theo's mind several editors were highlighting lines in red, one kept punching the backspace key over and over again with professional boredom. Vinyl papers were being bought and imprints were being made. The aim is to preserve the memory, to hallow Iris' hollow name. Vintage filter, Monotype Corsiva, brown ink. Theo hated such projects, but what could he do? He could feel the glare of every eye in the room hit him only to be hastily averted. Theo, despite all his convictions and surety was shaken too. How easily had she become dust, like a bitter dispersible pill being ravished by water. There is no doubt that she was mental, positively ugly, could not string together a coherent argument, let alone creative writing.
So Theo found himself obsessing over the one line that he chose to utter, lying next to her, satiated, when it came crashing down on him that from that point on, she would be part of his life. It is too important to omit altogether. It would not be ethical to alter it. He never had a penchant for lofty words or emotions, but how rash can a man be? He could have sighed, turned over and slept. He could have told her that he loved her? Theo scoffed. Nobody can love Iris. One chooses to put up with her irrationality. You succumb to the fatality of the filling up of her innumerable gaps and attempt to find peace with the inevitable failure that accompanies every such attempt. A slippery-slope if there ever was one. The ladle-shaped bruise on his shoulder whined.
Witness statement: “I solemnly vouch for the fact that Iris was an abusive life-partner who could never get a grip on theory. In fact, my origins can be traced back to the day when Theo tried to explain a bit of Levinas to her. She made me his enmeshed other.”
Dumb and ugly is a bad combination. You would feel irritated just by looking at her frizzy unkempt hair, the unwaxed arms, the wench-stache, the pitiful, dead grey eyes. What was her one redeeming quality? Theo could only think of one – she never apologized for being who she was. It is like how you never get used to a tablecloth until it gets a coffee stain.
Yes, Iris was the stain that signaled that Theo was home. The unmistakable and near-lethal conflagration of odors – nicotine, coffee, dairy, paint and deli meat. Theo could not think of a time when she did not irk him. He ruled out proclamations of love and admiration. “Thanks”? For opening him up to the possibility of being wounded or for subjecting him mercilessly to all the whims and fancies of a hysteric, manic-depressive sadist? Theo often wondered what people meant by the 'wonderful journey that had embarked on and managed to survive'. Survived, yes. Atleast he did. The month Theo had been posted at Cairo, she had managed to send a mail every day of the first week. The last one began as a lament on his neglect towards her and escalated into a suicide note. (The emergency phone call that pulled him out of the conference did not leave much room for suspense, though.) He had cared then, to worry, to mop and plead. Then he learnt how to tune Iris out until she became a shapeless blur that emitted static.
'Coming home to your wife'. It was not a rosy picture for Theo. Her recumbent form would quiz him on his day at work, ask for things to be explained, contested it with her half-wit and uninformed postmodern blabber. Then it would become physical. She would tug at Theo's hair in a way so crass that it was unbecoming of a human being. (Of course, Iris would wail about how he had hit her first, but who can tolerate such ignorance, such hideousness?) And her art! Ribot, Rosseau Manet and Millet would bleed paint and die again if they were to chance upon the atrocity that she termed art. Eighteen blotches of brown- she called it 'Desire'. It all made sense to Iris, of course. The pretentious snob! What killed her was the fundamental contradiction in her- an egotistic praise-junkie who begged to be critiqued. Theo could have saved her. Motivation capsules: dosage- as frequently as required; to be administered with extensive suction of the bottom. Theo had a dick, self-respect and a life. So he let her paint her monochromes in burnt sienna.
The rhythm of the tambourine-manacles and the accompanying chant “I'll never risk my life trying to save you” That had always been the truth and it would anchor Theo. That was his hope. He had to believe. No, there was no element of coercion, it was his choice. Damn choice! Why would he have to choose? The truth was essential and inherent, it was not a question of believing, but of being. Being for Theo meant drawing lines to guide Iris by. Those coffee and cigarettes encounters where sage-like he would dispel her uncertainties, her ignorance, transform the tabula rasa she was into a work-in-progress masterpiece: that was the space he had excelled at, had come to define himself by. A space that was factually hers but belonged more to his prowess than to her agency.
“I'll never risk my neck trying to save you”. Yeah, Theo stands by that. But at some point, there was no Iris. Every explanation, every word he uttered for her benefit was only enhancing his brilliant features. Project Self-Actualization. Slaving away among molded books waiting for someone to abandon their googling for a while atleast, Iris was his only hope. Charity? No, it was more than that, it was the excitement of living a life of informed mediocrity minus the boredom, minus the angst and with the addition of the pleasure of seeing something crumble in shame at the face of Intellect. A god-parasite. Yes, that was Theo. Everything was him, all meaning was by virtue of his existence which was incumbent on his exploitation and celebration of her lack, her innocence. The vacuum that Theo perceived and fancied to contain his boundless knowledge.
Iris had to go for she had questions that he could not answer. Iris could not bear the thought of being in a world that failed to fit in his grasp. Even in death, she had no grace, Theo thought. Marble, alabaster, snow... No. Pastel – that was her; an air of sophistication which is just a bland excuse that makes stuff of backgrounds. Iris would not contest nor question. The one favor that she had done for Theo in 17 years, in exchange for his forbearance – absolute silence. Theo was thankful. But there was something in the silence that penetrated and lay him bare, pinned him and cut him open, spread-eagled and flattened; a frog with a still-beating heart waiting desperately to be sown back up. The chant that reverberated now, choking him, was her last word - “Why?”