Max L. Feldman

Playing the Catalan Opening Against the Goddess of Love (2022)

He was in his early thirties when he became a believer. But he didn’t turn to any specific religion, or doctrine inside one, or unwritten and basically-made-up esoteric lifestyle. He was instead convinced that, three times in the height of summer one year, he saw the very face of God.

He saw some multi-limbed ancient deity dance nimble down the Euston Road. A gaggle of teenagers tramped the pavement in big boots. Baggy trousers swayed with each stride. Ripped tights showed a little bit of untroubled young skin. Each wore a t-shirt with the name of a band that produced music long before any of them were ever born: Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, Kreator, Morbid Angel, Angel Witch. As above, so below. They swayed in time to the sound of a Bluetooth speaker. One of them hugged it tight to his chest like an old boombox. It played ‘Alive’ by Pearl Jam. They all sang along together, earnestly doing their best sonorous Eddie Vedder impression.

He played tiny magnetic travel chess with Aphrodite on a budget flight to Barcelona. A man whose age could not be guessed was stuffed into his seat: belly, neckbeard; long, unwashed ponytail; sweaty black t-shirt showing a Space Marine blasting a massive weapon of immense but totally imaginary power, faded and ratty from the wash. He was next to a tall, elegant woman who was probably in her mid-twenties: resting wry smile face, verdant eyes, shining brown hair, maxi dress, sensible plimsoles. The man was reading a book called How the Love Poetry of Rumi Can Bring YOU Success in SEX and BUSINESS. The woman was reading a book called Dragondoom. The front cover showed a big, fearsome dragon perched on the edge of a rocky cave, surveying some wasted domain.

He saw the planet Melancholia crash into Earth on Goodge Street. A young woman trembled, grimacing, in the morning sun. Her eyes rained grief but couldn’t cool the misery burning through her puffy red cheeks. She leaned against the wall in between a ramen place and an overpriced hair salon, panting, staring at her phone, her lips silently mouthing the words of the message on the screen. This was not the look of someone who had merely received bad news—flood, fire, burglary, a sports team losing; others’ miscellaneous, undeserved suffering; not even death—but of a unique public ordeal: the feeling of being flayed alive when someone tells you they’re in love with someone else, or just that they don’t love you at all and maybe never did, by text message.

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