In the ebb and flow of life's tidal pools, there's probably nothing that has ruled my life more than lust. I'm unique in that I share this with, oh, 6 billion other people.
I always supposed that lust would fade as I got older. It hasn't. Certainly, it's not as sharp: lust no longer has that totally involving stupidity to it that it used to have. But it has merely changed. The leopard's spots are becoming stripes.
James Carter, that most maligned and mis-understood of US presidents, famously said "I have lusted in my heart." He was pilloried for that statement, possibly because of its bland honesty. As I recall, the statement came about because he was trying to explain that while he had never cheated on his wife, he understood those who did so. And, honestly, what individual hasn't, at some stage, looked at an attractive other and thought "Well, cor, I can sure imagine doing the horizontal two-step with you.."? Of course we have. Jimmy's problem was his gee-whiz peanut farmer honesty.
There have been times when I have given in to my lusts. I've been a true, if rueful, surrender monkey. Let's be clear on this: I'm not only talking about sexual lust, although that is a bright and shining star on the firmament of desire. Some lusts, I think, are forgiveable. The simple yearning for a dish of boysenberry ripple ice cream on a steamy summer's afternoon: a lust that's easily given in to, even though I have to acknowledge the down-side - that of an extra ten minutes on the exer-cycle. Other lusts are things of fantasy: the cherry red E-Type Jag or midnight blue 1960 Chev Corvette that I will never own, but remain in the back of my mind, skittering insects, informing me of days gone by when such things were not only desirable, but guilt-free. Today, of course, they're simply desirable, but oh so totally carbonny sinful.
Today, with my hair greying and thinning as fast as my waistline thickens, I think of the various women I have truly lusted for. All unattainable then and now, of course, and there is a certain wistful nostalgia in my recollection of those pulse-pounding moments when I thought "if only...".
Such, of course, is the nature of lust. Satisfying it can be such a disappointment. But then, one is not to know that until one has taken steps to scratch the itch.
So today I find my lusts are travelling in different directions. Physical lusts are still there, no doubt: but they are tempered by more intellectual desires. The idea of rubbing brains instead of groins is starting to take the ascendancy.
The flip side is that, oddly, the meeting of physical desires (Yes, sex. I was trying to be elegant. Bull in china shop, you say? OK...) is far more gooderer now than it ever has been. This has an awful lot to do with my wife, who - well, she's worth a lustful thought every now and then. Like any day with a "y" in it.
Lust is, I think, an allowable sin. Acting on the lust is usually not so easily dismissed. Succumbing to the seratonin-stirring blind ambition of lust will almost always bring pain to someone. Lust is, at core, selfish. It's an "I want it, and I want it now!" shrieking that starts in the gonads and bypasses the bits of the brain that ask "Yeah, but what if?".
So, like Jimmy Carter, I have lusted, and will continue to lust. Probably not in my heart, because I gave thast away some years ago. But certainly in other parts of my psyche, there'll always be a gibbering little monkey leaping up and down saying "gimme gimme gimme". The thing is this: will I continue to keep it chained? Ah, sweet mystery of life.
READING: The Robert J Parker western, "Appaloosa". Brilliant. Sparse, spare, dry, laconic... and as good an acerbic comment on nihilism, anarchy, fascism, and Rousseau's social contract as I've ever read. Back to the library for more, please.
LISTENING TO: Peggy Lee "Golden Greats", simply fantastic. And Russell Morris, "Fundamentalist". The greatest unknown Australian ever.
WORD OF THE DAY: Discipline.
The horse stood at sixteen hands, and was jet black from fetlock to crupper, from crop to crapper. Henry knew next to nothing about horses, and Mary knew even less. She, at least, appreciated their beauty. Henry derided their stupidity. Where they stood the desert stretched away from them to all points of the compass in a dun broadsheet. The air was drier than Henry could have imagined: it scraped his nasal passages like a fine sandpaper, so he wrapped the scarf around his face, leaving only his eyes uncovered. They glinted as grey as wet steel, and Mary’s mind fled to John Mills at the bridge of a destroyer on an Atlantic convoy, grimly shepherding defenceless cargo ships to safety against an implacable foe. Her fancy made her smile.
They were in Tunisia, and were leaving the next day, to start their American adventure. They’d come here from the stark beauty of Greece, where heartache, courage, grief, love, despair, and hope had been released and reclaimed in equal measures. Gabby, all silks and harrumph, had flowered over the pair of them, while Norman, her Etruscan potter, had been a stalwart column for Adam to lean on.
They had arrived at Gabby’s whitewashed villa shortly after midnight, just three days after receiving the confirmation of diagnosis from the whitewashed medicos in the Auckland hospital. All clinical smiles, bleached hair, and clicking stainless steel instruments, their verdict had been as dry and dusty as they would find the Tunisian sand to be. “Sorry, Mr. Talbot. But your doctor was right.”
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” they replied, mis-understanding his question. It could have been quite the joke, one for the cocktail hour, but not for these boy-oes. So unctuous, so false. Mary had a sudden image of black-cloaked ravens, hunched shoulders, green teeth. Well, in Mary’s mind, ravens have teeth, and they are, by golly, green. Give a little, would you? She was sure, at some visceral level, that these men and women drew strength from the dying, and the knowledge they had of their patients’ mortality. She wondered if they knew as well that they too would, one day, be dust.
Tunisian dust, perhaps.
Gussy had become an old lady in the three days of waiting for her son. Her vibrancy was gone, and she wafted her silks and chiffons more from habit than desire or pleasure or a need to cock a snoot at you, buster, you in your black suit and black furled umbrella.
Norman looked at her son, this Henry to whom he had spoken so many times but never met face-to-face, and momentarily hated him for the pain he was causing, then he took himself off, and cursed himself for a fool.
Adam’s bewilderment was total. He had always and ever known his father to be a strong man, a tower, a bastion, a rock against which his happiness and delight and joy and fears would dash, to be tamed and returned with that gentle smile.
He had never had cause to stop and consider the love his parents had for him, or the love he held for them.
Love ya, he’d say to his Mother. Hey, Dad, he’d say to his Father. It was all very well for them! They’d only known him for nineteen years, while he’d known them all his life! God damn him, the stupid old bastard! He had no right to die. Had no right. He’d said little that first night in Greece, bewildered by this stranger who’d turned up. This Henry Talbot wasn’t his father: he’s an impostor! His father isn’t going to die: this man was. Adam resented the grim cloak of mortality this man had brought with him, this spectre of death that arrived, gibbering and shrieking, promising pain, tattered robes fluttering on a bitter wind. He had said little to Henry, a little more to Mary, and had been a sullen spectator at the evening meal, taking himself off to bed early.
Then, the next morning, he woke at dawn, and found his Father standing there in his room, looking at a picture he’d taken, and the painting he’d made from it. His Father, standing there, the pride he felt for his son the artist obvious in the way he stood. Adam looked again at his Father, at this man called Henry Talbot, and in that heartbeat understood love and the death that would take his father away from him.
“It’s good,” said Henry to his son. “It’s very good.”
“I’m not happy with it yet.”
Henry smiled. He knew those words, all too well. He said “Your Mum and I were at the Harrison’s a couple of months ago. Do you remember that painting they bought? The blue skiff on the yellow ocean? Your mother wanted to take it back and finish it.”
“It wouldn’t have been the first time.”
“No,” said Henry to his son, and turned to really look at him. Such a fine boy. Long limbed, with the beauty of Mary’s face imprinted over the squareness of his. He had the Talbot hair, the thick brown mop that would only surrender to heavy artillery. And he has Mary’s eyes: vivid green, with a golden speck in the iris of the left eye.
Silence. Then a deep breath from Henry. “You know you’re better than your Mother was when she was your age?”
Adam smiled. “Where you really going to say that?”
Henry stopped, the said “No. Thank you. You’re right - I don’t have time any more to prevaricate. I’d like it if you’d come with us. To wherever it is we’re going. I know I’m asking a lot –“
“I don’t think it’s going to be easy. I just want to take the chance to be with you and Mary for the time I have left. I don’t know how long it’ll be. The doctors say six months, but it could be a year. This thing that’s growing in my head – well, I am long way away from understanding it. But in a way, I think that it’s given me my life.”
“I don’t understand.”
“No. Nor do I. Not yet, anyway. But I want you with me. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but –“
“Dad, it’s all right.”
Henry sat on the bed, and turned his face from his beautiful son, this young Adonis who looked so much like his uncle but who behaved like his mother, this lad who represented all that was fine and good in Henry’s life. “No.” Said Henry, “It’s not all right. I’ve spent most of my life with your Mother, and never known a real day’s unhappiness – well, except for when your sister died. I’ve been content to stand in my Mary’s glory, and never once have I stopped loving her. I tell her every day that I love her, and I never grow tired of it. I think I’ve told Miriam the same, every day. But I don’t think I’ve ever told you, face to face, man to man, Father to Son, that I have always loved you, too. That –“
“Dad. Some things never need saying. You remember when I scored that try against Southridge, the one that stole the game from them?”
“If you’d seen the look on your face then, Dad, you know that I’d never have any reason to doubt your love.”
Henry sighed, and wondered from where his son had got his wisdom. He‘d certainly never chopped the wood! “But I still should have told you.”
“Perhaps you should,” said Adam. “But you didn’t, and I’m not harmed by that lack. Let’s go somewhere, you and me and Mum, and have a party.”
“What do you say to Tunisia?”
“Well, that’s where they shot the first Star Wars movie, and where David Lean shot big chunks of Lawrence of Arabia. I think, anyway. And I’ve always wanted to get all dressed up like a Bedouin, like some Sheik of Araby, and ride a horse in the desert.”
“Tell you what: it’s a deal, as long as you let me take you for a ride on a motorbike first.”