You’re in a faraway nightclub. People can barely hear each other. They have to shout in others’ ears. You weren’t shouting. You were quiet. Letting the others around the table scream their heads off, deafening each other. In the space of the hour you had already spent there, your distress had intensified. Your exasperation, perhaps. But can one tell distress from exasperation, from melancholy?
Seated next to C, you weren’t looking at her. You were simply feeling the presence of her body to your left. Sometimes her perfume, in waves.
You were attempting to measure, minute by minute, the tightening stranglehold of an exasperatedly physical desire, which you feel minute after minute becoming all the more unbearable, astonishing in its ability to grow, in its paradoxical ability to nail you there in a near-complete paralysis. You didn’t, and still don’t, remember having ever felt such a tyrannical desire. You were tracking its progress, its ascent. It had split your body in two: an abstract, imperceptible body, doubling another that was strained, steeled, exacerbated, a paradox of petrification and pulsation. You couldn’t steer your thoughts away from it, so much was this other body invading you. You witnessed, powerless, motionless, your own colonization by an inexplicable and obscene desire that your willpower was failing to keep in check, to contain, to purge.
This wave of inhuman desire was mounting, against you, against your better judgment. A night with C was not at all your intention. Hadn’t she already once made a pass at you, which you had declined? For you simply did not find C appealing at all. You had even sometimes felt repulsion toward her body.
But desire, like repulsion, is without reason and defies explanation. Nor does repulsion cancel out desire.
How can you feel such a pressing, devastating desire for a woman you don’t even find attractive? A woman who does not fit any of your types… Hence your distress.
You were now intent on looking at her, scrutinizing her, identifying all of the reasons to lose your hard-on. You told yourself that her mouth was unappealing, that her features were too coarse for your taste, that her body, though supple, did not have the naïve delicateness or the energetic grace that usually excited you, that her manner, her gestures lacked the neatness, the discretion capable of seducing you.
You sought out the defects, inventoried the adjectives that might vanquish your desire. But this damned desire remained recalcitrant to all your curses and even to your denigrations.
Therein lies your melancholy: this desire is not yours. This desire cares nothing for you. Unrelenting, blind, deaf, brutal, offering no way out. A desire rising against your body’s will, and your body itself the traitor thwarting its own defense.
Then, maybe, could you divert it? You had started cultivating the hope that C was only the accidental object, not the source, of this desire. And even then, still interchangeable. You had looked around for other women. Asking yourself, of all of them, which would hold the greatest likelihood of being attractive to you. None. So pick at random, any one of them. Then you could begin to think of this other woman, to apply yourself to this task, to draw this unknown woman toward the center of gravity of the desire preoccupying you. So that her image would be caught in its magnetic field. But no, nothing. Not the least pull of attraction. The gaze and the flesh do not belong, it seems, to the same body: the image of the unknown woman and the pulsing of desire, each the center of different galaxies or parallel universes.
Anne Garréta, Not One Day, trans. by Emma Ramadan and the Author, 2017.