Sitting some metres away, two table lengths, it’s barely even interesting that they didn’t notice me cutting. They were discussing football, the oval kind. I used a new craft knife, not knowing how much pressure would apply depth to its sharpness scared me. I have often been meek in this way, tender beginnings with irresolute ends. If they had noticed I would have stopped because of them instead of myself. Funny how cowardice has strains, they called it yellow, differing shades. I wanted to see red and couldn’t commit. They kept talking about football, it was barely even interesting.
I don’t scream and it only feels like everybody is staring at me. The rational part of my brain tries desperately to talk my id off a ledge, says there’s no such thing as spiders living under my skin, but I’m unsure how much I’m willing to trust me and have to check regularly. I don’t peel myself apart and scrub at the itch from beneath, I sit there and don’t. Everybody walks past me wrapped in comfortable realities. If I looked at the ragged stitches of my own I would scream, I don’t and nobody continues to look.
I cancelled my date with Ashleigh because I didn’t want to shower. The idea of putting effort into myself on behalf of another person seemed as repellent as the cavalcade of odours gentrifying my being. Easier to keep rotting awhile than resort to self-esteem. I texted to tell her I wouldn’t make it again, I’d had a mild emergency, some family trouble, a soft sell she returned by telling me to go fuck myself with firm creativity. I spent the night wallowing in the pit I’d dug, a bad choice made right, and never did have that shower.
The girl asks how old I think she is but that’s not what she means or it is and I’m just reading an under layer that’s asking how old I think she wants to look. It’s a brain trick people don’t know they’re using, maybe a brain tic I think I’m using, so I bet high, gambling on her lust for maturity. I shouldn’t be looking at the slow creep of red flush corrupting her décolletage. She’s beaming at me, ‘People always say I’m sophisticated,’ a real woman with too much sibilance, ‘but I won’t be nineteen for months.’
Carnival lights break the night open like geologists smashing geodes while fireworks scream against the skyline, exploding with purpose. I can feel the neon and sulphur settling on my skin, battling particles of deep-fry, grease, and humanity. Dana looks into my eyes and runs her hand down my flank, smiling from that hidden place she keeps. A streetlight corona blooms behind her back, shading her in an ikon’s light. Divine, a thin thread of fairy floss still clings to her lip, an innocent corner vestige of gossamer pink filament. I put my tongue there and feel its dissolution.
Jonah keeps a small part of a large fire in a jar on the dresser. He calls it his lust for life but that might be irony, like saying not owning a bed is the reason you get up every day. I’d be wrong to say I understood how the caged passion of a quelled man can fuel anything. I wonder how it keeps burning, if it feeds in the lonely hours. I asked him once, what it eats, and he said, ‘Questions like that,’ quick and cold. I watched the fire flicker and knew knowing no longer mattered.
We bowed below the Meiji Jingu gates, held hands as we threw our wish in tandem yen into the well. I wondered long after if I’d prayed hard enough, revenant or pious enough. Now I look at photos of then, see her absence, and know prayers aren’t answers and wishes won’t build horses. I know it. I have gained knowledge through action, gnosis in practice. I know it. But what I wouldn’t pay to wish again, pray again, wrap the facts in faith again and fling them far as hope can go. What I wouldn’t pay again for love.
Squat in the street with a sign that reads, Bet U $2 U Keep Walking, the kid looks Hollywood homeless, definitely lean but too clean for the gutter, sullen eyed with a certain kind of cunning leering out from under the lip of his beanie. He must be freezing, only wearing a threadbare sweater and denim jean scratchings that seem more like stitch testing for a seamstress. I like your sign, I say, it’s really legible. The kid tucks his knees beneath his chin, folding up on himself and watching me not going anywhere. ‘Double or nothing,’ he says.
She’s got one of those out of date names like Claudette or Glenda but I miss it for the lipstick on her teeth. Staring herself, she asks if something’s wrong in the style of spun yarn. I lay a finger to the bruise on my cheek and say I might not be coping. She smiles, sharing that porcelain stain again, and tells me she might have some literature about the possibility of help. I think about practicing origami in school when they still thought an education might help. I tell her I’m grateful and leave her to her teeth.
I can sense a rime of salt caked into the upper rim of my ears. After tears. I shouldn’t cry on my back but I like the way it feels, a milder misery than the wracking hunch or mirror stare manoeuvre. The tears run of course, down my cheeks and into the auricles, crusting, sometimes for days, as though the sandman had missed his mark, wept and moved on. I do feel tired though, which is different from sleepy and accrues an internal kind of crust. I cup my hands around my ears and listen to the ocean die.
I tell her I feel like the inferior pillow. Casual, she says, ‘What now?’ You know, the other pillow on the bed that get’s used for everything but cradling your head. The fucking shit pillow, taint and pit mashed into shapes to fit. That’s how I feel in all this, like you’ve decided I’m the one who should mould my skin to suit and should never want appreciation for it. ‘Come here,’ she says, pulling me to her chest. As she strokes my hair I can feel myself soften, supple in supplication. ‘Calm down, isn’t that a bit melodramatic?’
I don’t want the confrontation but she needs it, so I go out there and put the kettle on. She doesn’t say anything at first, just overpacks her bag and triple checks the unnecessary. Looking beyond her reflection in the buffet mirror, she asks, ‘What are your plans for the day. Busy?’ Two sugars, one of coffee, seven eighths water, top with milk. Things taste so sour. Through the steam I tell her, I’ll probably play it by ear. One last lick of eyeliner goes on and a small tut comes out. ‘I won’t be home later,’ she says.
I think back on the invisible deaths of Shakespeare’s two great ignored outsiders while Graham flips his coin over our heads, catching it palm cupped down upon his forearm. ‘The result is not important,’ he says, ‘whichever side is facing was deemed so.’ His eyes are surprisingly dull behind the spectacle’s glint. ‘What matters is how its face came upon us. Why would it be so and what does that mean?’ I feel like we’ve been here before. I ask if it’s fate. Graham tells me I’m still not seeing it and continues expounding on the nature of change.
I break the silence when I tell Sarah I consider myself an enpeecee. She doesn’t play many games, so she says, ‘What the fuck is that?’ A non-player character, I tell her, some badly drawn sprite quietly polishing shields and waiting for the hero to purchase wares or whatever. ‘Well you’re definitely no hero,’ she says, ‘but you’re no catalyst or passive assist either.’ A quest giver at best and scene colour at worst. ‘You could probably just be backdrop if you stopped trying so hard.’ All I need is lack of purpose and obfuscated off-screen thoughts.
You know how when someone you love, someone you’ve shared everything with and you trust and respect and have complete faith in but also enjoy that passive acceptance bred out of total familiarity, when someone like that says I love you and you say I love you back in a totally rote fashion, not disingenuous but so automated through fidelity that it becomes an ignorable key structure in your day to day? You know that feeling? That voice tells me I deserve to die and I always say, of course I do, in a totally rote fashion, of course.