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.
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.