We have seen them here before




We have seen them here before. They were sitting in the same place, last time. At the window, facing onto the street. On the high stools, too tall for her, so that she had to hitch herself up to sit. Inelegant movement, but she doesn't seem to care. Neither of them seems conscious of the body. They talk with the eyes, with the mind. Then he says something and her body springs to life, curls in on itself, defends. His eyes flicker down, take in the movement. He draws her attention to what she has done.

Like a video played backwards, she shakes off the defence, uncurls her body, opens herself again. Laughs and shrugs it off, takes up the position as before. Talks again with the eyes, with the mind. But she is further away now, same position, but further away.

What did he say? And who are they? Among all the people in the bar who come in night by night, why remember them? How many come through here, never the same crowd, travellers, occasional people, no-one regular. People like this man and this woman, middle-class, undistinguished. An hour, two, drink a coffee, drink a glass of wine. Hand over money, and depart.

THE FIRST TIME they sat in the window, but they didn't look at each other. They looked into the street. She saw friends in the street, walking past, and called them through the open window to come in. The four people shared another bottle of wine. She wanted an escape from the intensity, you could see that, in the insistence of her cry to her friends in the street walking by. Come in, come in and save me.

They hadn't looked at each other, the young man and the woman. But he had talked, on and on, fired by some passion; he would smile at some remark of his own, but she didn't smile. Sometimes she stole a glance at him, but mostly she listened, drank her wine. She looked into the street, desperate for escape.

Then she started to talk; she looked at him, hard at him, asked him hard things; his body retreated, shifted on the stool, but he kept on looking at her. They looked like enemies, hard, angry. Him talking, talking; her attacking, explaining, lapsing into silence, wanting to escape.

They talk about his beloved.

He: When I met her, I knew at once. Everything she said, everything she said was like something I'd thought before but hadn't put into words. When she mentioned a favourite film, it was a favourite of mine. And she is so beautiful, isn't she beautiful?
She: Many people are in love with her.
He: I don't want to know about them. Don't tell me about any others. I wish there was no-one in the world except her and me. I want to start again, wipe away the others. My wife, the other lovers, the parents, people who are looking at us all the time.
She: People like me
He: Yes, even people like you. If I was with her, I wouldn't need anyone or anything else. Her mind is like an extension of my own; and when she expresses delight in something, suddenly I discover a new pleasure. She took me to a puppet festival. I'd never bothered with puppets, but they were glorious. She opened my mind. She loves childish things, we went to the funfair, we went on the Big Dipper. She's so tall and beautiful and she turns herself into a child. Her smile - it's pure innocence. And have you noticed how she laughs all the time. She makes your simple little jokes seem wonderfully funny.
She: Yes, I love that about her.
He: I suppose everybody must be in love with her. I wish they weren't, though, though at the same time they ought to be. I don't want to share her with the rest of the world. I don't want her to have boyfriends. Or girlfriends. Or past lovers. I suppose she must have a job, must have workmates. But I wish there wasn't anything to distract her from me.
She: Is that your way of loving someone?
He: Isn't that how love should be? All consuming, living for each other. Never having to withhold a thought or cover the truth. I am an obsessive, I know that, but why should we aim to be lukewarm? Everything must be done with passion, what is the point of living. What is the point of loving someone mildly? It's a travesty of love. People who love in moderation, who mix love with reason - they're half-living.
She: People like me.
He: Do you? You're saying that to provoke me. You must agree with me. All of us yearns for the perfect, the complete love. Losing the self in another self. The desire and pursuit of the whole.
She: Are you so sure of that?
He: I knew it intellectually before, but now I have experienced it. I thought I knew what love was before. A pale shadow of the thing the poets describe. But the poets were right after all, the romantic ideal does exist. I freeze, I burn, she is myself. My beloved is mine and I am hers..
She: You want that to be true. You burn for the poet's vision to be the truth. That's what you burn for.
He: You are trying to provoke me. You don't believe that. You want that sort of love too.
She: No. I have been in love many times and I love several people deeply - have loved some of them for years. But I do not believe in your sort of love. I am myself, all alone. We are alone, calling to each other from island to island, you know...
He: But haven't you noticed, haven't you seen it in others, even if it's not your experience. I've experienced it. Now, with Juliet, I've experienced it.
She: No. No. That isn't true, is it?
He: What do you mean, what are you trying to say to me?
She: You know very well.
He: You asked me to meet you, you said it was about Juliet. She's gone away. She hasn't spoken to me, but I don't know why. Why are you keeping us apart?
She: She asked me to speak to you. I didn't want to. I don't want to. It's nothing to do with me, but I am her friend. I'd like to be your friend too, but you have to tell the truth.
He: I thought I did tell the truth. I don't think of myself as a liar.
She: Juliet will never speak to you again. Or so she says. I think perhaps she might, one day, when she gets back. If I intercede for you.
He: If you intercede for me? But she and I are almost one mind, how can we need a go-between. I don't want to be rude - I want to be your friend too, but I don't understand.
She: I think you do.

They talk about his wife.
He: I swear I told her about my wife. Right at the start, when we first began to talk. Everyone else in the group knows I am married. You knew all the time, all the others knew. How is it possible Juliet didn't know? I am sure I told her - I remember telling her on the night of your birthday party, when we were all in that amazing cafe place, with the record covers stapled all over the walls and the threadbare carpet - when we were all sitting around that long table, and she was right across the table from me, and we talked to each other exclusively, all night.
She: Yes, I remember you excluded us all. None of us existed that night. I was irritated. I paid for the wine and the food, and I wanted everyone to join in. All the others did; it was such fun. Except for you and Juliet.
He: I mentioned my wife that night; perhaps she didn't want to hear. Perhaps I said it too quietly, perhaps she heard and then forgot at once. Perhaps I thought I had told her, when in fact I had not. I didn't want to talk about my wife, of course I didn't. I didn't want to suggest that anyone compared to her. I couldn't bear her to think that I had ever known anything like the bond between us.
She: You said that in your kind of love there is no shadow on the truth. You were living with your wife, sleeping with her every night. And never mentioning her name.
He: Our conversations were on a different level. We talk - we talked - about ideas, books, films, we talked about God and reality. We did crazy things, but we didn't talk about our lives. I don't know her boyfriend's name. I don't know if he lives with her or not. I don't know if she sees her parents.
She: What did you tell your wife? When you were out with Juliet, out with all of us, night after night, and after we went home you and Juliet went for coffee or to a film, what did you tell your wife?
He: The truth. She said she didn't mind. She said she thought it was good to have a friend. She was working. But then one night I came home and found that she did mind. She was waiting up for me. Pale, thin. She was so insubstantial beside the image of Juliet in my mind. She was so querulous. I tried to explain - but Juliet's laughter was in my head, and kept getting in the way. My wife needs to possess everything about me. My thoughts, my emotions, my friendships. She says she loves me so intensely that anything of myself I gave away is taken away from her. She says we must be everything to each other. But she doesn't share so many of my interests. She won't use my name. She wants to live her life, see her friends, and deny me the same. She won't go to concerts with me, or read the books I'm interested in. But because she adores me, she wants to own me.
She: Do you love her?
He: I thought so. But then Juliet.
She: Juliet doesn't return your love. You have made a mistake.
He: No. I know her so well. We're like two halves of a Chinese puzzle. Joined together the whole is so perfect that no-one can see the seam.
She: She is angry with you.
He: But why? We had such wonderful times. We have everything in common.
She: Did she say she loved you?
He: There was no need. How could there be need?
She: Did you go to bed with her?
He: I didn't want to spoil our perfection. But I asked her. But then she seemed to grow angry, cold.
She: It's funny, I was sure that you were lovers. Watching you I was sure she knew about your wife and I was sure that you had been to bed. How could I have been so wrong?
He: How could I have been so wrong?
She: And Juliet, too. She is angry with you. She refuses to speak to you again. She's gone away. She says she won't go any place where you might be. She asked me to talk to you, to tell you how angry she is, so she won't have to talk to you herself.
He: But what have I done?
She: If you understood Juliet, you would not need to ask.

Then the friends, the new bottle of wine, laughter, she becomes exuberant, drunk, making jokes; they move from the high stools at the window to a round table. The young man follows, he is introduced; he does not laugh at her jokes or join in the laughter. He waits for her friends to leave. His waiting weighs on them all; the laughter lessens. The jokes dry up. The wine is finished, and the friends move on. To another bar, another party, home to bed. Once they have left this place they cease to exist. They are off stage.

He starts to talk again. She plays with her empty wine glass. She looks at her watch. It's too late for her, she has to get home, you can sense the restless husband, the explanations. They have run out of talk. She makes pleasantries, looks at him, smiles. She comes to the counter and ask for the bill. He hovers behind her. He wants to go, now at once, without any more pleasantries. He doesn't like them, doesn't like idle chat and social laughter. The evening is over, he wants to go. But she holds on to him. She wants to be gone, but she wants to dismiss him. She loves power, she wants him to want to linger. She requires it.

She gets out her credit card and places it on the bill; he feels in his pocket, offers some money. O no, she won't take it, it was her idea, her obligation. He can't afford it. He demurs, caught between pride and necessity. You can see he's poor. He's got second-hand clothes, old shoes, carefully shined. He looks like a student, how a student used to look in the nineteenth century. He ought to have an old bicycle with a basket on the front. He follows her outside. They don't say goodnight like lovers. There's no love, not even sexual attraction, but there ought to be. There's that air about them, this intensity.

She goes off, swinging her car keys, a modern woman not afraid of the dark, trying not be afraid of the dark. He goes away quickly.


And they are here again. It's summer again, early summer. Last time it was the dead middle part of summer, when it's still hot but the pleasure's gone out of it. Hot nights then were wearisome, now they're exciting. And there here again, that young man and the woman. They walk into the bar with that air about them. You can see the walls turning into stage flats, or maybe it's a film set, yes a film's better. One of those sparse obscure French films where the dialogue means much more than it says. The spilt wax on the tables and the dirty glasses and the cigarette stubs all meaning more than themselves. Looking like wondrous works of art. And here are the actors, carrying their focus with them. You can pick them out at once, the cameraman's got them picked out. All the others in the bar are just backdrop, like the spilt wax and the glasses.

They're the same but everything's changed. He's wearing a jacket, a new one. And a tie. They're laughing; he tells her a tale which has started somewhere before, and he's still telling it as they stand at the bar, and she's laughing and using his Christian name, and laughing. They order drinks, he goes on with the story, and they go to the window; they laugh with glorious abandon.


She's been here all through the winter, but not with him, not in the window seat. She's been here with another man. A man of her own age, very handsome and engaging. A man who takes charge, orders the drinks himself, chooses the food with discrimination born of experience. He's a regular, we see him all the time, always with men, always the centre, always adored. And sometimes he comes with the woman, just the two of them, late at night, and they sit at the very back of the bar, he sits with his back to the wall and she sits opposite him. He is beautiful, adored, but he doesn't know it.

He talks about his fear of failure and rejection, his aspirations.

Michael: You see I have this fear that people will stop being my friend if I don't succeed at things. If I don't finish my degree, you'll think I'm stupid. I still don't understand why someone as clever as you are bothers to talk to me.

She sits opposite him, as close as she dares. Her hands almost touch his across the table. She wants him to touch them; she looks into his eyes, she's in love with him, but he doesn't see it. He's a homosexual; he reveres her, but he doesn't see that she's in love with him. When they leave the bar, they walk away together, arm in arm, she rests her head on his shoulder, but there's no sex in it.

That small pool of agony, like a spotlight follows her into the street, the love with which she rests her head on his shoulder. And he comes in often with his men friends, he does not touch them or look into their eyes, but you can tell.

And now in the summer, she's here, as if the winter has not been. And the young man. He's not been here at all, we haven't seen him since last summer when they sat in the window and looked at the street. You can tell he's been busy bettering himself. He orders his own beer, but lets her pay for it. It doesn't matter any more.

She sits up on the high stool. They engage each other with their eyes. It's hard to watch. You feel excluded, as if they have created a world of entirely their own which you are too insubstantial to enter. You could enter it, but you'd be a ghost. If you went up to them and asked for a drinks order, they'd look up and smile and thank you, but you wouldn't exist.

Some people come into the bar; they know the woman and look towards her. She hardly sees them, though she knows they're there. She doesn't take her eyes off the young man, but it's not love. It's not the way she looks at the older man, the beautiful man. She's not longing for his fingers to touch hers, she's not yearning to rest her head on his shoulder, but she can't take her eyes off him.

They talk about appearance & reality.


He's wearing jeans this time. A denim jacket, quite expensive, and jeans which cost him some money but he's worn them in. His shirt's open at the neck. They come in together, very late. It's a hot night, they've been to the theatre, they're feeling the heat, enjoying it.

They haggle about the coffee, who's paying. it's a joke, a skirmish. She lets him pay for her coffee. Their voices are low. They don't want the audience, the lights on them.

But they bring their world in with them. The other people in the cafe fade, as they did before, their reality shrinking when it comes in contact with the two.

The young man and the woman don't sit in the window this time. They take one of the tables at the back of the cafe, dark shadows, secret walls. He hesitates before he sits down, should he sit opposite her or next to her. He chooses the seat next to her. Close to her, his whole body turned towards her, but his face averted. They do not look at each other now.

She dips her finger into the foam of her capuccino, round and round her finger chases the tiny bubbles, distracted.

They are talking, but in slivers. A vivid interchange of words, a flash of sharp light, and then silence. Her hand is next to his on the table. For a moment. Then removed.

He takes off his watch and puts it in his pocket, rubs his forearm. It is so late now, the dark people have taken up residence. The all night people with hair died black and pale faces, who linger in groups afraid of parting into the night.

The young man and the woman do not belong in this world, though they have strayed into it. Their eyes are bright and their bodies charged with some sort of force. The night people exist on borrowed energy, and their eyes are dull.

She touches his arm, fleetingly, a whisper in the shadow. He looks hard into her face but she is not looking at him. His eyes are piercing blue, but the shadows have turned them to black. Their heads incline towards each other, but they do not touch.

The bar empties, only the true night people are left, set in for the duration of the dawn. The man and the woman sit on. They are unable to leave each other, but unable to do anything but sit.

Their hands cannot touch, though they are drawn together by a force which defies words.

She: It is too late. There is nothing to be done.
He: How can you go away, how?
She: I have no choice. Eveything I care about, everything takes me away.
He: Everything.
She: No. You know that isn't true. The most important thing of all. But how could I live with myself if I allowed... How can I live... I cannot bear these choices.

There is silence.

She: It is impossible to talk about, impossible. I talk all the time, to others, in my head. I don't talk about the things that matter. Not even in my head. I don't dare. But you know.
He: I know.
She: There is nothing to say.

He nods his head. They are silent.

He: This half life I lead. You are banishing me to live a half life for ever.
She: You will forget. I will be like Juliet, one of your memories. We will both be part of the pattern of your life, woven into the tapestry. You will not forget either of us, but you will live none the less.
He: You are cruel. You are making light of my feelings.
She: If I said the opposite. If I said what we both believe, how would it be possible for us to go on? We would have no choice but to destroy everyone around us, and so we would destroy ourselves.
He: Perhaps destruction is better.
She: There is only one thing to cling to, and that is the necessity for life, a life lived without hurt to others. That the only thing and the greatest thing of all. There are so many ways to damage another human being, to withhold love, to withdraw love, to promise and not fulfill, to speak and not to feel, to feel and not to speak. To expect too much, to expect too little. We punish our children too much or we punish them too little. We bind our beloved to us too strongly or let her go too free. Every act we make has the potential to hurt and destroy. Every time we are offered a gift and do not acknowledge it; every time we fail to praise a small achievement; every time we fail to listen, every time we prefer the conversation of a friend or the rattle of the television to the words of the child or the lover. Every time, every time, we are bruising that tender creature, another heart. We do it all the time without knowing, to do it knowingly is the worst sin. No, the second worst sin, the worst sin is to despair. When you despair you have given up on the possibility of grace. You must not talk of destruction.
He: I do not care to live without love.
She: Love has many shapes. The truest love is the love which renounces love.

There is silence.

She: We are alone. Each one of us. Loving another person gives the illusion that we are one half of a whole, that we are not alone. It is an illusion.

They walk out into the night. They walk in the same direction, parallel, but not side by side. Between them is an cold corridor of space as wide as an arm is long. Their hands gesture as they talk, longing to touch, but kept apart by the volition of the heart. They fade into the darkness, together and alone.