Pluto and Mercury

It is a day in May where half of the flâneurs wear scarves and the other half have their shirt sleeves rolled up. Some of the summer hungry have gathered on the sun deck in the canal, where I will be one, and she another. She who is she in this story is no one I know, but we will soon spend an hour together, she with hers, I with hers. At first she thinks it’s better to sit on the shadow side, to create a buffer zone, since she’s not alone but has two moving and boisterous girls with her, but then she decides that the best place is probably a few meters next to that one the guy who reads Marcel Proust’s Kring Guermantes with a pencil: the same person who will write this text in an attempt to understand himself and everyone else. She wears the features of a country school teacher, breaks in French, wears a sun hat and sometimes loses her words when addressing the children. Her manner is nervous, the kind I’m often drawn to and paralyzed by, because it forces me to calibrate in real time. The children have an even safer way, running around unhindered past us sunbathing. I have to turn up the volume in my headphones several times to even take in a few lines of the book. Then he comes, the man they’ve apparently been waiting for. It turns out that he is the father of one of the girls and the French’s new boyfriend. Unfortunately, my first thought when I see him is not a very kind one, namely: Can middle-aged divorced women really consider anyone to not feel like a divorced woman? Not because the man now sitting next to me is ugly or untalented. He just comes from another planet, and this time it’s not just Mars and Venus but rather Pluto and Mercury. ”Oh, you shouldn’t have waited for me”, he says without meaning it, and that is what I soon understand is the distinguishing feature of his language: a subtext invisible to him to everything he expresses, but visible to everyone else. He therefore does not have the aura of a country school teacher, rather that of someone who spends his days in an office, leases his car and can easily become sneaky in the sauna. Now I was mean again, and not because he deserves it, but to mark a dissonance, which everyone notices except the poor loving couple. A kind of non-existent inward sensitivity in both of them, which leads them to feelings and impulses that dot all targets except the only right one. The elephant-in-the-room-big one. Since there is no longer any point in even pretending to myself to read the book, I start taking notes in the margins instead, because what is happening around me has clear Proustian qualities. He begins to speak, in that tone again, which seems only to impress an environment rather than the daughter herself, to whom he says: ”Now I want you to eat your sushi”. He tries to sound gentle, but also firm, letting the stresses dance on each syllable. A way he uses to signal that he is both masculine and a present parent, but underneath is also that invisible pressure of: why do I have to find myself in this? A question he probably doesn’t hear himself and is therefore not aware of. Being a man is complex, he surely thinks. He is obviously right about that, just as it is obviously difficult to be a divorced woman looking for a decent dude who has read a book other than Zlatan’s. The Pluto Man is now joking with the children. He tries to adapt to their slightly more childish vocabulary and first talks about fist bumps and then goose bumps. The latter goes over their heads, but the jokes were never meant for them. The girls eat quickly and start running again. It becomes possible for me to continue reading, but then suddenly the mother begins to cry, French and noticeably extroverted, as if she wants one of the rest of us to move in, but of course we pretend to be deaf, because we are Swedes. The Pluto man now knows that he needs to show emotion, but he also understands that he needs to do it nicely because there is an audience. ”Breathe calmly,” he says, apparently more focused on effect than cause. ”Now you’re thinking too much,” he says, and with that explains that, according to him, she feels wrong. When that doesn’t help either, he adds: ”Can I do something for you?” Like people say when you really didn’t intend to do anything for the bereaved, but didn’t completely rule it out, because it would make them feel like bad people. She doesn’t seem to understand any of this. She doesn’t even understand why she’s crying, putting forward explanations like being stressed out by the girls’ dynamic. That they show no gratitude. That she doesn’t feel respected. That she can’t find her place. That she no longer knows if they should celebrate a holiday together this summer. He says: ”So yes”. But what she really feels, but can’t figure out, is: Everything just feels completely wrong all the time and I don’t know why. It feels like I am constantly being forced into a set of rules that are foreign to my inner being. As if I can never be seen and appreciated for who I am. That in the end I always become hysterical, when all the disparate emotions flood me. And what that really means is: We don’t fit together in any way. My body, my soul, my psyche are asking me to get out, but I can’t understand it. She says instead: ”I will be the nagging mother and you will be the funny father.” He says: “Don’t build a narrative.” She of course continues to cry, because nothing gets resolved, and he sits next to the handstands, like he only has a hammer when all he needs is a Phillips screwdriver. The girls run lap after lap with a new crazy frenzy. Now it would even be impossible to read even the back of a milk packet. He understands that he should go, that sorting is the only solution. When he has picked up his daughter, he asks: ”What should I have for the sushi?” The mother gathers herself and says: ”It was five hundred.” The moment he leaves the sun deck, there is a calm of the kind that occurs when a copier stops working in an open office landscape. All that remains are our thoughts. Here we have time to think that it is still logical that a man with such a different nature could also have a child with the same temperament and rhythm of life. That it is just the way it is. That energies either match or they don’t and so many still try to combine their hammers with screws. Now the mother is finally at peace both in mind and body. Her daughter too. They hug tight symbiotically, talk calmly and in French. A few more tears fall. Maybe out of relief, maybe out of resignation. She probably still doesn’t understand what’s wrong. And it is true that we always see everyone else but ourselves, thinks the person sitting next to him, before he wanders home alone.