Jenny makes a play of detaching her head and putting it on the table to face the rest of the group. ‘Sorry,’ it says, giggling, ‘I just get a sore neck from watching everyone talk. It’s like spectating tennis, sometimes.’ We weren’t forcing an exclusionary point, so the move feels brattish and the LOL in Lolita manner is disturbingly forced, those mealy blue orbs bouncing back and forth between us, watching smugly while her body crosses its legs and folds the hands on top. ‘Don’t let me stop you,’ the head says, but, as usual, Jenny’s killed the conversation.
When I was young I might have called them butterflies, now I don’t know. It’s an anxious swell, the jittery presage of a panic attack all twisted up with ideas about love, lust, and loath, like being tickled to the point of pain. I want to dive in deep and run away far, I want all or nothing. I can’t seem to resolve myself and the wings keep beating a goddamn maelstrom in my stomach, a tattoo on my heart, and emotional tinnitus wringing in the mind. When I was young I might have called it potential for happiness.
There’s part of a dead cat rotting in the corner. Nobody wants to talk about it. An off-brand noir loops its whodunnits weakly on a modest LCD TV. Everybody stares and stays the same. The natural cycle of entropic tropes thins the plot. The air is derelict and the grounds are green but wasted by weedy creepers. There’s no wildlife bar the tomcat, an alley male bastard that flickers at the edges, Schrödinger’s yin to the rancid yang growing rigid in obscurity. Nothing always changes predictably. Something is born, something is dead, between them is everything’s eventual horizon.
It’s good and bad, you know. I like that his parents are dead but he’s always going on about it. Not them exactly, just general parentness, I guess, admiring people’s kids and shit. Cooing, he sorta coos, which is gross. Also, the situation makes him kinda needy, nesty, but that’s nice in its way, I kinda like it, the abandonment thing. Hell, my parents weren’t around enough to do me any real damage, it always seemed weird to get worked up over something that wasn’t there. Anyway, I really like this one, I could see us having history together.
I step on little pieces of you all the time, the pain is immediate and travels from sole to brain with sharp familiarity. They’re strewn everywhere in stealth, tiny daggers wherever I want to be, lingering with benign viciousness in the path of my life. Once upon a time we dreamt of building something grand and enduring together, though we always found the most fun in the revels of destruction. Eventually we stopped planning anything together. Now you’re just a wistful ache, a stubbed-toe ghost, and all these leftover pieces that no longer fit together like they should.
I often think that I should come with a disclaimer, a funhouse mirror waiver stating the quivering nature of reality brought out by factual distortion in transitive communication. Objects may not be as adjective as they appear. Though that too bears its own linguistic issues when knowing that language is based on an inadequate expression of isolated experiences, mere slivers of a spectrum that should have their own indecipherable disclaimers: The things you think you know are true based on outside influence and you but both being bred to meet in isolation means certainty of understanding is always insecure.
I cut through the wrong alley on my way to an interview and hit a wall, business district grey rendering with small white type at its heart. ‘Reject Liminal Messaging,’ it said. The phrase sloshed around inside me like water in a drum. I couldn’t get it out. Everything started making no sense. I wandered aimlessly through concrete tributaries, purpose misplaced and destination forgotten. Was I the water or the drum? Was I either? By the time I hit the water’s edge the question had churned me to mist. It wasn’t until sunken that I realised I was nothing.
I found a porno on the internet. Eight minutes long, some business lady, starch white collar protruding from sensible cardigan, not plain or pretty but deviant in the field, pulled over by the roadside to rub one in. ‘Regular women squirt who you wouldn’t think,’ the caption said. Eight minutes, four driving, considerate, checks her mirrors and doesn’t look at the camera. Eight minutes, four driven, concentrating, opens her legs and closes her eyes. After she comes the screen fades, an intertitle displays ‘To be continued…’ but it’s proven empty. Below, the footer claims, ‘There is no relevant content.’
My fear of mirrors goes back a long way, but it wasn’t until I reached intellectual maturity that they really started to terrify me. Thoughts are food and fear grows fat on supposition. At that point in life, I could look into my own eyes and see I wasn’t there. I realised the emptiness inside was a real thing that wanted me dead. I began avoiding all reflection, all I could do was look outwards and listen inwards. A walking cage forever closed, a jailer bound by duty. I try now not to see myself as other people might.
A gift for his sister, I sold my first book to my dealer and had him put it on tick. Every artist starves in their own way. I don’t eat much as it is, so I may as well feed the beast. Well, the urges at least. Creativity’s not some raging monster quelled by contraband, nor are narcotics a siren song shorthand for the muse’s work. Anyway, my inspirations are as vaporous as their progeny and so far cost me less than the pursuit of my dreams. I’ll see if I can sell the next one to my psychiatrist.
It’s thirty seconds at best of the most picaresque sunlight and soft, fleet rain. The heart in my mind yells at me to embrace it, throw my arms out, tip my head back, find my epiphany moment in that dichotomous display. The extreme power of not showing force is nature’s voice screaming at me in the softest possible way. Gentle is not weak. Restraint is not relent. We can be all things. I reach inside, down deep to the pain and anger and hatred and hope, close my hand around it all, and wait for the weather to change.
I was standing over the corpse of my last relationship when the detective walked in. The world deconstructed under her gaze, a breed of aggressive disapproval that begged every inch of information from the scene. I felt compelled. I’ve been drawing conclusions, I told her. ‘Well then,’ she said, an iron reed, ‘show me what you’ve got.’ I passed her the little notebook I’d been carrying around. Taking a look at the cartoon heart I’d rendered, torn in two, she smiled from the inside. ‘Classic,’ she said, ‘I see it all the time. Obviously suicide.’ I’d fallen in love.
I press my forehead to hers and don’t say I love you. The scent of grape bubblegum lingers in the threads of her cotton summer dress. For a minute I’m five again and I don’t know anything, joy and pain are base and unaccounted for. I sense her skin is warm and smooth, but my nerves are inverted, all my efforts scrape against bone. The more I press the less I feel, every sensation dissolves in the search. Soon my flesh will melt entirely, I’ll be stood naked in garrulous detail, and she won’t say I love you too.
Standing there, back to the wall, drawing slowly on a cigarette, watching her laugh. Watching her, sat there with that stranger. Nicotine and cut grass molecules intertwine like entropic time. The stranger leaning easily against her, arm around frame, around dame. Dropping cigarette on concrete, pressing boot into cherry, approaching the bench. Recognition paints a colour, she smiles to introduce a stranger. ‘I’m Jack,’ he’s saying. Shaking hands with continuities trembling. Forgetting what was and knowing what’s next. ‘Old friends,’ she’s saying, writing new histories, drawing shares in the same empty frame. Walking away, everything confusing comes into relief.