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I Also Dated Zarathustra

(Complete Story)

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I Also Dated Zarathustra

by Sharon Wahl   


On the Dating Game  


It’s not the questions that count, and it’s not exactly the answers.  You ask a silly thing: “What kind of fruit would you be?” and you hope a voice on the other side of the dividing panel, one from the row of three men on stools the audience can see but you cannot, will reach through the make-up and studio laughter to give a sign that he knows, yes, this is stupid, but what we want is not stupid: who, after all, knows how to find the person he will love?

I had looked nearly everywhere else and decided that if necessary, and it seemed to be necessary, I would look here, too.  I would sit in a tight short dress with my legs placed at an advantageous angle to the camera, crossed at the knees with one high heel dangling from my toes.  It’s a favorite pose, and successful.  The men I was quizzing couldn’t see it but the cameraman was driven crazy.  With each question I asked, he returned to dwell on the ankle and bare heel.  

Well then.  What kind of fruit would he be?

Bachelor Number One?  “Something that will make a really great pie.  And that’s a promise.  I am one dependable fruit.”

Bachelor Number Two?  “I’d be figs, two fat brown figs.  And honey, I’m always ripe.”

Bachelor Number Three?  “I am a north wind to ripe figs.  I am a prophet of the lightning and a heavy drop from the clouds.  I am an intoxicated sweet lyre-- a midnight lyre, a croaking bell which no one understands but which still must speak!”

I didn’t move but I was suddenly aware of my thighs, of the insides of my arms.  Bachelor Number Three had a voice like a cloud speaking, traces of roar and thunder and waves held together with honey-cello.  But what did I know about him?  He might be ridiculous, a resonantly rambling fool.  But when a man is mysterious enough, when I have no idea which things will be good or bad or where the problems will be or even what will happen next, it makes me think that anything might be possible. 

“Num Ber Two! Num Ber Two!” the audience chanted during the Thinking Music.

Number One hugged and kissed me.  Number Two slipped a note with the number of his hotel room down the front of my dress.  Number Three stiffly bowed.

He was older than the others.  His eyebrows were shaggy and his mustache needed trimming.  He wore a long black coat, which would never, in the course of our acquaintance, be removed.

He bowed and shook my hand.  Then, lifting his eyebrows, he peered at it: a hand, yes, in his hand, a hand attached to other parts of a fairly beautiful woman with whom he was about to spend a weekend in Las Vegas.  That is where they were sending us, to the glittering neon desert, to try our luck. 

“Ah,” he said.  “What a long and beautiful hand!  It is the hand of one who has always distributed blessings.  But now it holds fast him you seek, me, Zarathustra.”


On Love of the Strange, and of Men    


Oh, it’s a love of aching things, not sweet things, a love of stars, long silences, birds that sing at night.  A love like an old Victorian house that is almost empty: a winding staircase to a room paneled in dark wood, its worn polish dimly reflecting light from a chandelier with yellow bulbs, a few notes of Chopin played in another wing of the house by an overnight guest who does not speak.  (I would love him, too, thin like a carved rail of the staircase, awkwardly holding a glass of wine at dinner so that you might think his hands hadn’t comfortably mastered the world; and yet, the Chopin.)  A love like stamps from a country whose name you don’t recognize, exquisite writing in a script you can’t read or a language you don’t know. 

I have never loved anything I’ve understood.

“All mousetraps of the heart have now again been set!  And wherever I raise a curtain, a little night-moth comes fluttering out.”  I was on the balcony, standing in the hot sun looking out over the Nevada desert, where the bare mountains were made beautiful by shadows.  Zarathustra, in the hotel room, stretched his hands to the blasting air conditioner and spoke to himself. 

The strange are often the best defended; that is how they have kept themselves strange.  “I am not on my guard against deceivers, I must be without caution,” Zarathustra said.  Their hearts are not guarded deliberately, but by being essentially impenetrable. 

It’s a love that is like loneliness. 


Of Balancing on Four Legs  


It was a warm night, with lots of neon.  It was one of those nights when the world seemed to be made not of people, but of couples.  Everywhere I looked bodies were paired together, connected at the hands or more tightly around the waist, awkward animals walking with a tilt and lean, off-balance, unsymmetrical.  They reminded me of those children’s books with the pages cut in three, each section the top, middle, or bottom of an animal, so that the normal old heads and legs and bellies could be made into sillier creatures: a salamousowl, a girelephish, a pandazebrogator. 

And yes, I wanted to be part of it all.  Of course I did.  Oh, to be damply interlaced at the palms.  To be affectionately leashed, tethered in the crowded streets, appended.  To make a wider obstacle on the sidewalk, a wandering self-absorption that others had to navigate, rather than this narrow thing that darts and slips politely by. 

But Zarathustra understood nothing of this.  He would walk between or duck under the arms of people clearly together, something I by instinct could not do.  It was impossible to truly accompany him, to predict and accommodate his walking speeds or stopping places.  He seemed to resent being tied down, even by gravity.  He walked with high fast steps and frequently bumped into things.  Really he couldn’t see very well; until he was at arm’s length he wasn’t completely certain what he was looking at.  This meant that everything out of reach was immensely interesting, and the things close by merely obstacles. 

We just didn’t look like we were on a date.  If there were a Couple Game, a prize for the oddest match on the Vegas strip, we would have won.  Zarathustra could have been my father.  Or crazy.  Perhaps he was extremely wealthy-- something the casinos had flown in.  And surely I was being paid.  Madmen don’t get girls with legs this long.  The casino had hired me, to raise the stakes.  Or he had hired me, for much the same function.  Oh wasn’t he a lucky man!

I wondered if this was why the show had assigned us a chaperone-- to give Zarathustra a backup option, and to let me off the hook.  Surely this odd man couldn’t be my type?

“Perhaps you would like a game of poker?” the chaperone had suggested after dinner.

“I have played dice with the gods at their table, the earth,” said Zarathustra.

“Oh, really? And where was this?”

The chaperone was a motherly type.  She was a mother-in-law on a honeymoon who wanted desperately to be a fairy godmother.  We had tickets to a show, coupons for free drinks, a hundred dollars in betting tokens, all of which she had bestowed upon Zarathustra, all of which had entered the pockets of his coat, never to be seen again. 

She had tried to take the coat from him back in the hotel room.  It was thick black wool, buttoned from his chest to his knees, and must have felt like wearing a portable oven.  Still, it seemed possible that he had simply forgotten it was there.  The chaperone suggested, coquettishly reaching for the top button, that she would make him more comfortable.  Zarathustra said to her, “This is the tarantula’s cave! Do you want to see the tarantula itself?”  She didn’t.  She never mentioned it again. 

I had said nothing.  By then I’d come to enjoy the prospect of removing the coat myself at the end of the night.  I pictured my long arms snaking from behind, my bare skin on his black wool, undoing him button by button. 

And what was Zarathustra thinking, when he looked at me?  Did he like tall redheads?  Did he wish I was wearing more?  “You have the most lovely shoulders,” as the chaperone put it, winking at Zarathustra, who missed his cue for a courtly compliment.  It was difficult to imagine either of them on a date.  She needed to have always been married; he needed to be taken by the arm and gently steered, directed this way or that with no mention made of the change of pilot.  Or so I had thought; that was an innocent time, early evening.

“Try your luck!” the chaperone said, giving each of us a quarter as we passed a row of slot machines.  They jingled and blinked happily among themselves like well-fed babies in need of occasional burping. 

Zarathustra fed the nearest one his quarter, and I dropped mine in after, doubling the bet.  The dizzy smile started up, spinning to lock on cherry; cherry; cherry.  Quarters poured out.  It was a good sign, I thought. 

Zarathustra picked up a quarter and gave it back to the chaperone, then walked on.  The chaperone had a wordless fit: sputter! etc.  She saw that yes, we really did intend to walk away.  This was her chance.  A thousand quarters: she looked hungrily at the pile, thinking that among so many there must be others that would win, she had only to find them, to kiss each frog and find the princes.

And so we left her.  We didn’t need a chaperone; we had his coat.

We walked for hours.  The signs, the palm trees, the cars, the casinos, the people he passed on the street and the things they carried, all seemed to Zarathustra equally there for entertainment.  The boy whose cotton candy he sampled (gazing in rapture at the pink cloud, plucking a wisp from it, licking tentatively at the barely there) had no right to scream at him, no, not when one possessed an object so delicious! Not when one possessed an object he wanted.  I wasn’t able to explain this to the boy or his father, but bought the boy another cone and a small teddy bear, hoping he wouldn’t notice how much it resembled Zarathustra.

When I caught up again a uniformed chauffeur had handed Zarathustra a vividly illustrated brochure of a desert brothel and was offering to drive him there.  Zarathustra seemed confused that the pamphleteer was not, as he had naturally (so he insisted) assumed, a philosopher or revolutionary.  Clearly anyone distributing printed material deserved his full attention. 

“Ah,” he said, standing in a bright spotlight to study the pamphlet.  As he considered the transcendent ideologies of Daisy and Trixie, his shadow roamed over the side of a building across the street.  He raised his arms and the shadow tried to climb through the window of a hotel room much too small for it.  Two blonde teenaged girls approached and the arms went after them, straining for a squeeze, wiggling fingertips poked their knees and tried to trip them, the pamphlet waved madly over their bodies as they escaped unclutched.  The shadow shrugged.  Zarathustra shook his head at it disapprovingly.  “I must keep it under stricter control-- otherwise it will ruin my reputation.”

I pulled him away by the arm, and found a moth hole in the outside of his coatsleeve, which fit my little finger like a ring.  Z didn’t seem to notice, so I kept it there.  By this time it was becoming quite clear how much he needed me. 


Of Dancing Things  


“Listen,” said Zarathustra.  “It is night: now do all leaping fountains speak louder.”  We were sitting side by side on the low concrete ledge of the fountains in front of our hotel. 

“And what do they say?”

“They are deep but without thoughts, like little secrets, like after-dinner nuts.”  Zarathustra had his hand in the shallow water, plucking it with his fingers, a soft plink-plink, plink-plink.

I slipped off my shoes and stepped in.  My legs were a watery blue in the reflected light.  The pool was ankle deep, gently swirled and bubbled by the fountain spraying and tumbling in the middle.

Zarathustra scooped some pennies from the bottom of the pool, a few of the good luck pennies that were everywhere, and dropped them in again.  They plopped straight back to the bottom, shy as frogs. 

“Everything is asleep,” Zarathustra said.  “Even the water is asleep.  Its eye looks at me drowsily and strangely.  But it breathes; I feel it.  And it is dreaming, look how it tosses and turns.”

The air was warm, the water was warm.  My feet were delighted.  I walked through the shallow pool to the other side of the fountains on my blue legs, nudging pennies with my toes.  Which felt better, stork steps, or fish steps?  Which felt better, going from the air to the water, or the water to the air?

Zarathustra couldn’t see it, but I was dancing.  The water’s hands slipped teasing through my fingers.  My tall partners the palms swayed out-of-reach above me.  The desert breezes came in now and then, stretched across us like a chorus line.  Each of us with our private shivers. 

I thought it would be nice, on a night like this, to fly.  I left the water in a balletic leap, toes neatly pointed, one arm up, one to the side.  But when I came down, I slipped on the pennies then slid into a sharp pain-- a bottlecap.  My foot was cut.   Zarathustra, in his brown leather boots and thick coat, came striding through the water to see what I was swearing at. 

The cut wasn’t deep; a small bleeding gouge on the side of my big toe.  I dried it with tissue, and found a band-aid in my purse.  But Zarathustra was at war: there were to be no more bottlecaps among the pennies.  He went down on hands and knees to search them out.  His coat settled into the water reluctantly, floating and full of pocketed air, then sponging and swelling and sinking.

At first he was amusing, almost gallant.  The eradication of sharp edges, the world made safer for toes.  But.  He kept on and on, crawling through the water, attacking nickels then releasing them, puzzling over gum wrappers and bits of palm leaf, banishing all manner of suspicious things to his wet pockets.

I wanted to go.  I wanted a drink, and I said so.  I wanted a cold, numbing, double margarita.  Zarathustra ignored me, or maybe didn’t hear.  I said this louder.  Putting on my shoes made my toe hurt more.  “Come on,” I said.  Zarathustra tucked another bottlecap into his coat pocket.  Probably they were falling back out again as he crawled.  “This is ridiculous!” I shouted. 

“All fish talk like that; what they cannot fathom is unfathomable,” he said. 

“I’m going inside,” I said.  At the hotel entrance I turned back to see if he had followed.  He hadn’t.  He lay in the fountain stretched full length, legs spread, arms wide, his hands flapping and spanking the water, cooling his overheated addled brain and burbling.


On the Compassion of the White Tigers  


Sometimes it helps to be drunk.  One stiff margarita and I remembered how much I liked being wet, how charming I would look with my hair thoroughly soaked and shaken into ringlets.  The fountain would tell me so itself, really, I was ready to hear all sorts of things.  I was ready to sing along.

But Zarathustra had finished his bath.  I found him wandering the main corridor of the hotel, waving his arms and spraying drops like a wet, happy dog.

I preceded him at a safe custodial distance.  He didn’t notice me; being human was sufficient camouflage. 

The corridor led past a large white room, the mountain-kingdom throne room of the resort’s white tigers, and there Zarathustra came to a sudden, astounded stop.  Two white tigers lay on the floor not far from him, gazing into a distance we were certainly no part of. 

“Ah, my brothers!  If only my lioness Wisdom had learned to roar fondly!”

Zarathustra sat down on the floor of the marble walkway and spoke to them, earnestly and at great length. 

Their heads went slowly side to side, looking at everything as though they already knew it in their painted kingdom of empty white spaces and artificial things, snow in their minds.  They had beautiful intelligent expressions and seemed complete, resigned to a stable satisfaction, not requiring further enlightenment. 

He told them everything.  I leaned half-behind a marble pillar and listened. 

“I have always wanted to caress every monster.  A touch of warm breath, a little soft fur on its paw-- and at once I have been ready to love and entice it.  Love is the danger for the most solitary man, love of any thing if only it is alive!” 

With my eyes closed, without the dreadful evidence of the wet coat, without the spreading streams of water the other casino-goers were gingerly stepping around as they passed him, looking at him and also trying not to look, not to spoil the night’s glitter, not to wet their shoes, but especially not to hear him, surely this was gibberish, a language they didn’t share, an animal speaking to animals, they pretended he was grunting--

With my eyes closed there were only his words, his words like little spotted night moths, and his low voice.  The most enticing sort of monster is a soul aching with ferocious tenderness.

“To be sure, I am a forest and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness will find rosebowers too under my cypresses.”

Did I think I could change him?  Yes.  Did I care what the others thought, the tip-toers, the avoiders of puddles?  No.  Did I think he would escort me through the dark cypresses into his rose bower?  Yes.  I pictured pale yellow climbing roses, a weathered bench strewn with fallen petals.  I thought he had made the bower with its little bench so that I would have a place to sit. 

“Ah, my friends, it is the evening that questions thus within me.  Forgive me my sadness!  We were made for one another, you gentle, strange marvels.  And we have already learned so much with one another!”

He left them, much cheered and quieted, though still dripping, and followed me into the nearest bar.


On Learning to Drink from All Glasses  


Zarathustra was fascinated by the little white-and-red-striped straw that came with his margarita.  It made slurps in such a nice assortment, hollow air sucks, loud bubble-burble, liquid squishes.  It suffered lime-pulp obstructions, it poked under cubes of ice, it vacuumed the last stray drops.  He kept the straw in place between his lips and sipped liked a bird, lowering his head to the glass, tilting side to side, poking and hunting. 

Finally the ice was sucked tasteless.  But Zarathustra hadn’t had nearly enough of the straw.  Here and there on the empty tables were glasses left behind, some with enough color to be more than ice melt.  Come to us, they called, we are diluting.  The straw perked like a lower appendage.  He couldn’t resist.  “He who does not want to die of thirst among men must learn to drink from all glasses,” he said as he left me.

But most of these abandoned drinks were only drowned remains, melted ice and cherry stems and gnawed wedges of orange or pineapple.  They were insufficiently alcoholic.  He saw a fresh cocktail with a pink umbrella on another table, and with his straw, went directly to it.  The woman who had ordered the drink was horrified.  She stared at the glass as though a man had popped out of it, not into it. 

The couple at the next table said that someone really ought to call security.  So I told them, leaning over confidentially, that Zarathustra was a paid comedian.  “Yes, it’s part of his act,” I said.  And truly, this was a stroke of genius.

“Oh!” they said, of course, it all made sense, and then they excitedly told the next couple.  The world is so much nicer when it’s making sense.  I could see the rumor navigate the bar, who had heard and who hadn’t, by the shift from flinches to smiles, then even to competition for Zarathustra’s attention.  Men called him over to shock their wives, a giggly, safely titillating little shock, and women offered up their drinks to him as he passed. 

Zarathustra was delighted.  Here was the world as he had intended it to be, here he was understood!  Drunk, he was the perfect entertainer, a cross between a host and a clown, offering toasts and renaming all the drinks.  The Death of God! he pronounced.  The Will to Power!  Live Dangerously!

The names were a bit mystifying to the drinking folk, but they loved him.  He leaned over to suck another drink and lost his balance in a plump, elderly lap.  The plump woman laughed and tried to grab him.  “O Earth, you have grown too round for me!” he cursed.  “Live Dangerously!” they toasted.  And to me, “He’s good, isn’t he? It’s very clever.” 

Finally he came back to our table.  He was merry and elated and fidgety, reaching out when fresh drinks passed, glazing over with alcohol and exhaustion.  It was getting late.  I was ready for a little gratitude.  I moved my chair around the table very close to his.  He still had the perky little straw in his mouth.

“You haven’t yet tasted me,” I said, and sucked on the end of his straw.  It pinched his tongue, and he spat it out.

“Oh, your straw!” I said.  It had fallen to the floor on the other side of his chair.  I leaned over to get it, full across his lap, and while I was there I took the time to undo the two lower buttons of his cool damp wool cocoon.  He was absolutely still.  Inside and out.  But he thanked me for the straw.

“Zarathustra,” I said, sort of snuggling up to him but distracting him by pointing to a young couple kissing vigorously in a dark corner of the bar.  “Look.  What are they doing?” 

“They are discovering new words.” 

“You mean, speaking with different tongues?” 

“Before long they will be devising festivals!” 

“I like it when they smile between kisses.” 

“Like cats they arch their backs, they purr.” 

“Well, look where his paw is. . .” 

“You must not want to see everything.” 

“But I do.  I think I do want to see everything, don’t you?” 

“For that you must have long legs.” 

“Let’s see.” I hooked my foot under his and stretched our legs out, to measure them side by side.  “Mine is longer! I thought so.” 

“You are making this cave sultry and poisonous, you evil sorcerer!” 

“Sorcerer!” 

“If I may tickle you with this name.” 

“I would prefer fingers.” 

Someone had left a marble in the ashtray on our table, a milky blue color, which Zarathustra began to roll across the table.  I said it was the moon’s right eye, sent to spy on us. 

“He is lustful and jealous, the monk in the moon,” Zarathustra said. 

“And what about you?” 

“I am invulnerable only in my heels.” 

“Are you lustful? Do you like the girl over there, kissing?” 

“One should speak about women only to men.” 

“Why? Tell me! What do you think of women?” 

“They know how to blow horns and to go around at night and awaken old things that have long been asleep.” 

“Zarathustra,” I said, “what are you hiding under your coat?” 

“It is a little truth that I carry.  But it is as unruly as a little child, and if I do not stop its mouth it will cry too loudly.” 

“Ah,” I said.  “Oh.” 

“You want to call it by a name and caress it.  You want to pull its ears and amuse yourself with it.” 

“Yes,” I said, “you’re right, I do.”  I suggested that it was time to go back to the room. 


Of an Introduction to the Ideal Woman 


I led our trek from bar to bedroom through a small dense jungle, under waterfalls, over a green and gold wooden elephant, through beaded curtains into a dim red room painted with a harem scene.  We leaned against the wall of bare-breasted dark-eyed women and pretended to choose a favorite, whispering to each other in the opium light, bumping and brushing hands in the purple shadows. 

And then I found the perfect finale.  On a pedestal advertising the week’s performers was a classic chorus girl mannequin, leg kicked high, arms wide.  What a fetching pose, I thought.  I could do that, too.  A private Vegas floor show for Zarathustra.

I climbed up and danced a can-can with her, kicking my equally long legs, my arm across her shoulders.  She was so cute.  She was terribly sweet and happy.  Zarathustra gave us just the look I wanted, he gazed adoringly, ecstatically at the two of us intertwined.  He said exactly what I wanted him to say: “Something unquenched, unquenchable, is in me, that wants to speak out.  A craving for love is in me. . .”  Oh yes, finally, yes yes yes.  I let her go, and he walked up and reached out his arms and took her face in his hands, and kissed her. 

He kissed her again, on her nose and her cheeks, her chin, on the corners of her smiling lips.  He kissed her very nicely, too; sweet lingering little pecks.  “Who could behold her smile and not dissolve into tears?” he asked me.  Ah, yes.  Indeed.  Tears.

Then he stepped back to admire her, to take in the full measure of his luck.  That this, this, should be waiting here, just for him.

She had those long showgirl legs (well, so do I), enhanced breasts (mine are real) set off by feather boas, and she had big unblinking blue eyes that said you were just exactly what she had all her life been waiting for (mine blink).  Furthermore, you knew immediately that she would always look at you that way.  In fact I think it’s safe to say that most of one’s first impressions of her were entirely accurate.  Her behavior was in no way misleading.  She might disappoint you, but she would never let you down.   She was impeccably calm.  Here was a woman who could face life’s batterings and joys with the same unwavering expression: Oh, how big and strong you are! J’adore!  She would never complain.  She was patient and always willing to listen, but never intrusive.  She was never jealous.

Now, I have softer breasts and better legs, and I am warm, I bend and squish and lick and sing, my mouth opens, my hands grip and stroke, I can dance a tango in spike high heels.  But I couldn’t compete.

Zarathustra whispered to her, something I couldn’t hear, then looked into her eyes as if she had agreed, yes, between them there was perfect understanding.  Well, perhaps there was.  I am only jealous of perfection when I see it taking a man away from me.

“I will rescue you from all corners,” he said, gently pushing down her kicking leg.  “I will brush dust, spiders, and twilight away from you.” 

He hoisted her from the platform, knocked over everything, and dislodged most of her feathers.  After some fidgeting they fitted together with her stiff welcoming arms hooked over his left shoulder.  He grasped her by her sequined ass and carried her toward the exit sign.  She smiled at me over his shoulder, apparently delighted, as she was with all things.  She went with him into the night with her eyes wide open. 

“Come, cold and stiff companion!  Let me show you my nocturnal world and the big, round moon and the silver waterfalls by my cave.  The dog howls, the moon is shining.  Here are caves and thickets: we shall go astray!  Give me your hand!  Or just a finger!  Where now do you take me, you unruly paragon?” 

I never saw him again.  Though I still hear his voice from time to time, at night, when the ocean mutters to itself.  Perhaps this was to be expected from a man who spent ten years in a cave, whose best friends were a serpent and an eagle.  What other things could reach him on his mountaintop?  Even the serpent had to be flown there in the talons of the eagle. 

Perhaps if I had grown wings and thick talons, Zarathustra would have let me carry him away. 


____________________

Note: All lines spoken by Zarathustra were assembled from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in the translation by R. J. Hollingdale.