Art Pact 266 - Routine

He shouldn't enjoy it, but he does - the brief sting of pain as the tweezers find purchase and the rogue hair is plucked out of his eyebrow. He examines it carefully, brushing the base of it and feeling the wiry texture. He wonders why they grow like that, when it started. That's being old, he thinks to himself: when even your hair forgets what it's supposed to be doing. Thick beard-like hairs growing out of your eyebrows, sharp black hair in your nose, tufts of white frosting your tragus.

His evening face, in the mirror, is the one he remembers when he's out and about. He looks better in yellowish lighting - night handsome, his brother used to call it, half an insult half a compliment. When he's talking to people this is the face he imagines he has, softly lit and slender. His morning face is deadly, pasty white skin lit by the unforgiving daylight and puffy through lying down all night so that the tides of his body have the opportunity to spread out.

"You're an arsehole," he tells himself experimentally. It does not sting. Not the way it did when she said it. He feels that this is wrong somehow - that insulting yourself and tickling yourself should not operate under the same rules. Self-insults should be more powerful than those coming from others. Perhaps it's because I don't truly believe it, he thinks, although the very thought serves to make him feel like more of an arsehole. He's so out of touch with reality, so self-obsessed, that he can't even bring himself to see how awful he is.

Perhaps it's the routine that damps it all down, he thinks. There's a sort of machine-like Zen calmness to the whole process of getting ready for bed. There are no decisions required - none more complicated than whether to pluck out a rogue hair, that is. If his work was so clear-cut he'd skip out of bed in the morning and straight into the office.

When Geraldine walked out, he couldn't help staring at her legs. That, surely, was the act of an arsehole - to be called out for your behaviour and to skip immediately to some equally gittish way of being. What did it get him? There was no point in thinking about the legs of other women. It wasn't going to make him happier, wasn't going to resolve the situation between him and Chrissie. He stares at himself in the mirror again, at the pleasant evening face, purses his lips, puffs out his cheeks, lets his eyelids droop until he thinks that he can see himself as other people see him - grim-faced and unattractive, stern like a judge. If only I could see myself talking, he thinks. All the time, a mirror over my face or some sort of camera feed. When everyone has those glasses with cameras in them perhaps that will be an option - to see yourself from the point of view of the person you're talking to. He shudders, thinking what a horror it would be to have other people seeing what he was looking at. Geraldine would certainly have stopped then, turned and called him an arsehole again.

He brushes his teeth, vigorously on the top teeth and the left ones, gently over the ulcer beside his right lower pre-molar. When he's finished he spits out the paste, cups his hands under the taps to rinse but then remembers what his brother told him - that you aren't supposed to. He pours a capful of the mouthwash, swigs the burning liquid around his mouth. It's painful in his cheeks, under his tongue, and when he risks gargling it stings the back of his throat and causes him to choke for a second - pink liquid erupting from his upturned mouth like a volcano and splattering on his cheeks, his chin, over the surface of his glasses. He coughs, spits it all out into the sink and then pulls of his glasses to clean them, feeling like an idiot.

Without his glasses the evening face in the mirror is still more handsome, soft-focused out of all its imperfections, the scars of his childhood acne completely invisible, his eyes larger and friendlier. There is another solution to his problem, he thinks. He needs to ensure that everyone he talks to is short-sighted and has lost their glasses. That should be his thing - stealing glasses when people take them off for a moment. Quite lucrative, he thinks, remembering the cost of the frames when he'd last got a new pair.

He splashes a little water on his face to clean off the worst of the mouthwash, then puts his glasses back on and grimaces in disappointment as the normal evening face reappears in sharp focus. It's still better than the morning him, but contrast is everything. He thinks about Geraldine's legs, about the stinging silence as she walked away. It was as though her outburst had exhausted the air, rendering it incapable of carrying any new sounds. The other people in the bar weren't really watching him, he knew that intellectually, but it had been hard to avoid feeling like the horrid centre of attention. All of those people seeing his evening face looking like it had been slapped.

"You're an arsehole," he says to himself - more forcefully this time, as though he means it. And again: "You're an arsehole." He embellishes: "You're a fucking arsehole. You're a solid-gold dick, a cast-iron fuckwad."

None of it works. He can't replicate the sensation of being attacked to his core, of someone generating a truth that is a little too close to be withstood. The apartment is empty, his neighbours unlikely to be home yet from whatever strange job it was that led them to come home all chatty at two in the morning, so he lets his voice go a little louder: "ARSEHOLE!", but all that does is catch in his throat so that he coughs up the alcohol-mint smell of the few drips of mouthwash that had escaped into his lungs.

If there were more routine to go through he thinks that he might be able to get there - to reach that orgasm of autoinsults, that peak of literal self-abuse. But everything is done - a piss, handwashing, plucking, teeth, mouthwash, there is nothing more in the machine's to-do list. He glances through the open doorway from the bathroom into the bedroom, where an irregular but straight-edged section of the bed is illuminated, hills and valleys on the duvet cover thrown into sharp relief like the end of a day, the electric sun setting on the dust mites that must live there. He imagines them lining up in their twos, holding hands and sitting on the sides of one of those hills, staring at the yellowish glow far in the distance. Perhaps my face is like the moon to them, he thinks: pasty, pock-marked, remote. But they are all moonwalkers, no doubt. The uncomfortable juxtaposition of his own apparent cleanliness and the reality of the millions of microscopic creatures ready to crawl all over him makes him shudder violently, so badly that he almost cricks his neck when the spasmy wave reaches the back of his head.

He might sleep in the spare bed, he thinks for a moment, but then that is no less likely to be covered in the harmless little animals. Perhaps it's for the best. Perhaps I need something to concentrate on, to worry about, to take my mind off Geraldine.

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