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.
After Selena it was hard to maintain my humanity. A great many of my daily processes disintegrated without their sponsor. My desire to socialise dwindled. I found my routine becoming that of a time-lapsed decomposition. I felt like a conveyor belt driving into a void, all progress lost at fulmination, a Sisyphean attitude that was probably the progenitor of my circumstance anyway, but my tread was indelible and never ceased to pursue its destination, despite contrary desires. It gets lonely still, but I hope to find comfort knowing wherever I end up, it’s me that lead me there.
Apparently it’s only terminal half the time. I haven’t told anyone yet ‘cause they’ll make it about them, they always make it about them, and then I’m gonna have to get treatments, take meds, talk to psychiatrists, and let everyone air out their platitudes, only making me stronger one day at a time until I’m too weak to tell them all to get fucked. Truth is, I’m glad I got sick. I’ve wanted something like this for the longest time, the end result if not the symptoms. I deserve what I got and I hope I don’t get better.
I keep trying to talk to my dealer about getting my life back on track. It’s the wrong avenue, I know that, but he’s such a good guy I have trouble believing I’m part of his self interest. Still, you can’t keep giving somebody money and expect them to convince you to stop, guy’s got his own habits to attend. I furnish his like he furnishes mine and we both go around the symbiotic circle, I can’t just get off and expect the ecosystem to stay balanced. Maybe I could pay him for the truth, another service in demand.
Jenny drops some hardcover pulp on the table, making my cereal flip its milk. ‘Did you annotate my book?’ She demands. I stare at the little bits of white chaos on hardwood. ‘Did you annotate…’ I got it, I tell her, it’s just a weird word to hear out loud. ‘Well you’ve heard it twice now and missed the point both times.’ Or circumnavigated it for purposeful effect? Which is increasingly her ire. You’re about to be angry with me, huh? ‘There’s no about about it, I’m angry with you already.’ Hold on, I say, let me annotate that.
Celia talked with pinched nasal certainty from behind her back teeth, the sound of concrete bees trying to make honey. There was always a distinctly petty greed underneath her boho-pharaoh eyeliner, a slakeless stare that manifested in morose mannerisms. She was always trying to dig things out of people. ‘Tell me about your dreams,’ she’d say. ‘How did you grow up?’ Not where but how. ‘I bet that hurt.’ A twisted harrow’s smile. Always digging. Sentimental treasures to be unearthed and polished into parsimonious jewels then wagered against the owners esteem. People were terrified not to love her.
Voices on the fringes of frustrated rage, accusations and concessions until we reach the calm inside an argument, not quite impasse but exhaustion. We haven’t shared eyes in some time and the absent contact crests about us as both shield and threat. Are you going to leave me? I say. She takes my hand and flattens it between each of hers. Twenty-four carats settle in the curve between knuckles, calculated frisson in an occupied hollow. ‘I could never do that,’ she tells me, sighing with the piquant firmness of an avalanche, ‘it’s going to have to be you.’
Sarah never shat with the door shut. The whole time we dated it was a debate. Well, I say debate, but it was just another grain in the shifting sands of unease and argument. ‘I get claustrophobic,’ she’d say from her seat. ‘What if there’s a fire and I still need to wipe? An open door saves time and lives.’ She had some kind of condition, multiple unlabelled and laboured conditions, really. In some ways I admired her neurosis, I always prioritise insecurity over my insanity. It must be hellishly freeing to let yourself be governed by those voices.
I go there because she always lets me cry afterwards, passively lets, and her detachment is a beautiful thing. She sleeps more often than not, reads if she’s still wound up, but never asks me why. Not once, not even after that first time. She doesn’t ask me to leave either, or stop. It seems cruel and isolating, it’s not, she isn’t shaped that way, her lack of action is acceptance. I don’t love her, but I love her for that. In the dark, after I’m done, we hold hands beneath the covers and dream separately, lying isolated together.
‘That was fast,’ she says. I tell her I’m sorry, but she just laughs. ‘I meant me.’ I hadn’t noticed, or I had but I’d been so concerned about being good that I didn’t realise I’d done so well. I just want you to be happy, I tell her. She twists around and kisses my forehead. ‘I’m totally content.’ I really want to believe her and stop hating myself. When we’re together, I very nearly feel like a good person. We can go again if you like? ‘I’d love to,’ she says, ‘but my boyfriend will be home soon.’
Thick in a handsome way, Greg from customs makes forceful eye contact and doesn’t smile. His voice is a well trod boot. ‘Anything to declare?’ He says. I had a great time, I tell him. I’m not sure how I’m going to go back. ‘I can have you detained,’ he tells me. ‘Searched and otherwise inconvenienced, right?’ Worn leather pressed liberally. Sorry, I say, you don’t get much chance to be funny when nobody speaks your language. Greg chews the skin of his inner cheek and arrives at a grimace. ‘Seems to me you didn’t miss much being away.’
I like watching the old men smoke on the Shinkansen, there’s a certain furtive elegance to it. Not quite nonchalance but something akin to devil may care. ‘Nationality doesn’t matter,’ Tanaeda-San says, ‘culture is only the tiniest artefact, it’s a trait that grows over time or is embedded in youth.’ I’m not so sure, I tell him, our elderly carry themselves differently, almost fearfully at times, their retirement seems almost a gamble. ‘So so so so so,’ he says, and turns to watch his country sliding by the cabin window. ‘Then perhaps they need to consider not stopping.’
Kaori looks at me with abject innocence and something wistful I can’t pin down. I wish I knew how to talk to you, I tell her. I wish I could share something of myself with you and you with me. ‘Wakarimasen,’ she says, but I don’t understand. We listen to the cicadas chirrup for a while and I can’t help laughing at their joke. She smiles and pats my hand, a gestural lament that carries something I still can’t grasp. I want to speak, but Kaori presses a finger to my lips and opens her palm beneath the horizon.