Every evening I slit my wrist and pull out the little failures. I am a party magician and their spool is never ending, it is the realest illusion in my life. They stream from me in ribbons of degraded earthen shades, bled terracotta soldier, and I use them to bind my unhappiness. Abraded clots in braided knots, woven tightly to the psyche. I keep my eyes open and try to see it all unfurl. When I fall asleep, I hold the knife to my throat and tell myself this will be the last time, I won’t be tricked again.
Running elbow to wrist, clinically straight but raggedly hewn, faded though it was the scar always confused. ‘I did it to know I could,’ he told me once, ‘after that I knew I could do anything.’ I was jealous of his relentless confidence and experimental certainties. ‘Life is a trick,’ he went on, ‘it’s not about what anybody thinks, their reality is irrelevant. Despite our ability to share, create, and converse, we are all in our own way forever isolated. You’ll only ever be you, so striving for something other is pointless.’ But I still wish I was him.
Women always see something other than me in me, some autonomous projection they each assimilate differently. Sarah shut me down because she said I was too cool. Amelia knew I was knowledgeable but boringly nice. Danika didn’t commit and labeled me nonconformist perfectionist. Selena isolated points of my draining potential and soldered them to my esteem. The beautiful awful that harries my innards allows only such slivers of self that cursory inspections are easily marked for discard, yet, in some way the superimposition of their idiosyncratic slices saved them. None of them ever got to know the real me.
I pace the floors counting milliseconds in macro until a reaction. Her passivity winds the little key in the back of my head that makes every increment ache. When I stop her stillness escalates, frozen in poised defence. I feel the itching shiver of churning gears in a grist free mill. I try and force my pacing into patience, sit, try waiting, but my skin is so coiled I can sense the life vibrating out of my grasp. Finally, her voice is pendulous and flat. ‘If you’re restless,’ she says, ‘maybe you should do something.’ A metronome in vacuum.
I keep thinking I’ll just be able to go home. I’ll open the door and she’ll be smiling at me. We’ll hold hands and talk about nothing like we used to, it’ll be easy, we’ll lock eyes and laugh. Later we’ll watch some rubbish cinema, I’ll lay my head in her lap and she’ll pat me absentmindedly while I let myself drift. The years will be a comfort that we share in, its lightness and its strength wrapped around us both. I can still feel it, refusing to be absent, and I keep forgetting what I no longer have.
I remember when we broke into that under construction building. We made love with my jumper as a buffer between the concrete and bare skin. I was disturbed by the structural skeleton we were in, the lack of romantic amenity and the fresh awkwardness of pre-acquaintance, not to mention the fine-grained grit of unpolished workmanship appearing in every crevice. She was very careful to show she didn’t notice and voraciously attentive in her caring. I was in pain for so long afterwards. They never did finish that building, I hear it’s still empty, incomplete and totally fitting.
I had my suspicions there were a couple valium tucked under the couch. They were either party relics or comedown figments but I had to know. So, I was on hands and knees when she found me, wrist deep in mystery. I turned up my charming face and met a Botticelli gaze far from grace. For a moment I saw her on that pedestal, it was right for her to be above me. ‘I can’t keep watching you destroy yourself,’ she said. So, don’t look, I told her, and kept fishing under the couch, hoping to find some relief.
I think I caught my brother crying today. He was watering his hydrangeas, so you could pass it off as moisture probably, but I often wonder how deep the distance between us goes, then I see his face like that, some carved fountain masonry, and I feel paralysed knowing I’ll never know what put that expression on there. A rime of superficiality grew up around us that makes getting underneath it all feel taboo. I asked if there was some way I could help, something I could do. He just shook his head and moved to wet the roses.
Carla not quite looking at me over the ridge of her glasses. ‘You know, not everybody makes it,’ she says, then waits as though I’d never considered my failures. ‘Maybe you’d be less depressed if you stopped trying to create something. Maybe you could get a trade, just be happy being normal.’ But I’m not, I tell her, happy or normal. I don’t know how to be either. Carla nods her head, the lenses in her glasses shifting sun rays up and down the table like searchlights without prey. ‘Maybe you could try,’ she says, ‘you know, for me.’
I wonder if you’re asleep by now. Probably a pillow curled against you, defence. Maybe one of your stuffed friends. It’s getting cold now, about the right temperature for you to want a hard spoon. Makes me wish you were here, though I’m sure you’d just get all elbows as usual. I picture you tangled up like you get, somewhere between hot and cold in a pollock of blanket. You look, well, rested I guess. What I wouldn’t give to be there, beside you, sharing air. Makes me wonder what it was like for you, that first night alone.
I’m on the couch considering my choices while Mikey watches one of those adventure chef shows. This one is roving Italy, north into the home of romance and risotto. ‘Ah, fair Verona,’ Mikey says, giving a little nudge and a large wink. ‘Good place to lay a scene that.’ I don’t want him having it, I’m still mad from before and not in the mood. Seems a bit tragic, I tell him, gorging yourself on empty imagery. Mikey twists his lips into a premature post-win grin. ‘Love,’ he says ‘looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.’
We discovered it together, a chasm and a crossing, a tenuous bridge of rope and will. She was so excited, told me of every beautiful thing she believed we would find, and ran forward. I tried to follow her as best I could, but I’d barely found my footing before she was looking to cut the cords. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘but if you’re not prepared to take that last step, then I need to move on.’ I looked into the ravine, told her I was coming, and didn’t move. ‘I can’t wait anymore,’ she said, always looking ahead.
I picked up a new secondhand book, which was great until I found the notes. Seeing someone else in my space like that, someone dissecting a piece of my illusion, it was jarring. I’m not sure you can trust people who write in books. There’s a lonely madness to it, but also something self righteous, insistent, a conceited intellectualism that reeks of loneliness manifest as external criticism. Also, it feels sacrilegious to deface print like that. But since it was already marked, I left a little note in the flyleaf for the next reader, ‘Some jerk ruined this book.’
I spent that winter building retaining walls for Alex, that’s when I started seeing Clementine again. We ran into each other outside a cafe and remembered our immediate attraction was more important than the problems it would bring. Mornings I’d lay concrete slabs, evenings I’d lay with her, sharing the gaps in our lives as if knowing there was no threat of connection. ‘I love how rough your hands are now,’ she’d say, and I’d force them on her until she was satisfied. As the year warmed up, the work ran out, my calluses softened, and Clem faded away.
Of course she embodies that glorious life, both of us recast as sheet nymphs, sustained by wine, fucking, and fancy, feeding each other tales of ennui to fat the iridescent yearnings that occupy our meat. Where the joy of creation is in the presage of destruction, each frivolous mise en scène is exquisitely constructed and rabidly dissected. In this way we are known to be voracious livers, heading hedonist first into nihilism. We revel in it quietly, lying in the little pools of stolen sunshine that bloom around us, and having taken all else, we turn to each other.