The pressure drops and I have the painful sensation of wind over wet ears. ‘You’re more when you’re around other people,’ she says. More what? ‘I don’t know… just, more you. It’s like you become some hyper realised version. I wish you got like that when you talked to me. Why don’t you?’ Because that’s what they want, I tell her, a fictional model full of charm and eloquence, twisted to sate their tastes. ‘So, what? You don’t want to be better for me?’ I thought you liked me for me, I say, but I’ll change if you like.
I lean in quick and kiss her unevenly, a grossly affine plane. Pull back and make eye contact and feel like I know less than ever. ‘Are you going to do it again,’ she says. Standing in her pupils, I tell her, I’d like to, and touch my own face lightly. Her patience extends into the street, mingling with the fog and neon city vapour. ‘Will you do it again?’ I lower my guard and let the back of our hands dance at waist height, seasoned amateurs practicing excitement. I will, I tell her, I’m pretty sure I will.
This time it was a bee with a broken wing doing tumbles on my patio, trying vainly to make flight. I told myself it was a sad metaphor for the world so I could feel bad, emotional colony collapse. It’s bullshit of course, not every broken thing has purpose and meaning is a monocular myth we spend entire generations failing to prove. Tumbling and stingerless, it’s poignant to a point and obviously sad, though its wrongness is utterly wrong. They’re meaningless, all these melancholic analogues, but I can’t help it, I desperately want to be miserable for a reason.
I put my arm into a bucket of needles because it said Prizes in glitter on the side. My fingers probed the corners, scraped the bottom, contracted around nothing. Though, in retrospect I should have known, it seemed to take months before I felt the first pricking and longer still for suspicion to congeal into knowledge. Even then, with a thousand undeniable sharpnesses embedded in my skin, I kept standing there, honing my dull bewilderment like a cactus growing peyote. I couldn’t believe it, the bucket had said prizes, had promised fulfilment. I was meant to be a winner.
We pull into a station and I think, maybe I could kill myself, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad. The family a few seats up and over the aisle chatter over each other with the high pitched nasal wonder of northern tourists. I wish I didn’t care. My body starts feeling conspicuous so I wrap an arm across my stomach and say an invisibility prayer. If I don’t look I won’t know if they don’t see me. Somewhere past central I stop not crying and ready myself for the end of my trip. Maybe it won’t be so bad.
He puts his bullshit hand on my shoulder while she smirks into my face. ‘You look tired,’ she says. You know me, I say, shrugging, but she doesn’t and his hand stays on my shoulder. ‘We’re looking forward to seeing you up there,’ he says. ‘Really seeing you,’ she says. They’ve got eyes like cocktail onions. I just wanna do my best, I tell them, and they laugh, one of those chittery things. ‘Don’t worry, dear heart,’ she says. ‘You’ll be marvellous,’ he tells me. Some part of me hopes I’m not, knows I’m not, worries I will be.
Mikey puts out the roach and reaches to roll another. He must have seen me watching because he starts to extrapolate. ‘It’s not the drugs, you understand, it’s the habits. I could lose one if I could keep the other but they’re part of the same whole and there’s wholly nothing good enough to replace them.’ I don’t know what to say, I’ve been here with him for every high, I understand the restriction of want and banality of restraint, I just don’t get why he’d think I’d care. I tell him, I’ll roll the next one after this.
I’m just trying to ride the bus when some fucking droog starts offering me an ice cream. When I do the polite decline thing he starts angling to pay it forward. I watch the whole bus circulating this cinema style, plastic wrapped choc-top, a wave of a pained bewilderment passing over the patrons like belligerent children playing pass the parcel with a melting sack of increasing obligation. Nobody appeared to eat it, but the cone eventually disappeared, the driver unaware, the passengers returning to states of awkward passivity and me just trying to keep my peak-hour calm.
Jo’s standing in the kitchen with a paring knife and an expression of torpid decimation, not vacant but vacated. I call out his name and hear the inside of a seashell, the frightening hush of unmeasured depths. He doesn’t move while I slide the knife away, the stillness of it more dangerous than the blade and intrusive in a way that an incision could never be. I stand with him for a time, horrified and curious, enraged by my own inability and actively drawn into dark and quiet introspection. If someone calls out my name, what will they hear?
I took myself to the cinema, the ‘Walk-ins,’ Colt calls them, alone. It’s always seemed like a group thing, a date activity. I didn’t visit the snack bar. Sitting in the semi-dark, aisle lights threading bloom up the stairs and the screen yet to silver, I felt less than isolated. Several couples, a few threes, and half a dozen odd numbers were scattered around without sequence. I could hear pre-melted butter congealing in the seats, the crunch of stale fabric under ripe asses, and the calculated murmur of impatient purpose. I don’t remember what I saw.
I wear a mouth guard now for most of any given day. Doctor Kwan, Chantal when you’re close, calls it nervous clenching, which I thought was only buttocks but apparently as part of my anxiety I bite down on myself. Hairline dental fractures from wear in the daily grind form slivers of fault line in canines and co. I tried to not but it never worked, now my mouth’s been silicon moulded to carry the stress in my jaw. Sure, it makes it hard to talk, but I find it helps my condition if I don’t chew the fat.
Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m talking or not. The vocalisations in my skull can be just as vivid if not more so than their acoustic consequences. It’s led to countless skewed comedies of error, a petty handful of fist fights, and a brace of sore hearts. I understand the why of each of them perfectly well, the circumstantial insanity, but I’d like to get a handle on how come my brain so often doesn’t know when I’m doing what. The problem is I’m not really sure who to ask or if they’d even hear me if I did.
I didn’t realise I was digging until I felt the blisters. Once I knew what I was doing, the pain was all that kept me going. I was in over my head before I realised I wouldn’t be able to fill myself in, too deep to provide the hole purpose. I’d wanted a dirt cage to die in but found myself in a horrifying stasis chamber with slim chance of success. I thought if I approached from another angle I could tunnel to oblivion. I didn’t realise I’d dug myself free until I felt the glaring of the light.
Julien lowers his lens and looks for long enough to make me feel truly uncomfortable. ‘Something isn’t right,’ he says, the sound of scree tumbling. I tell him it’s the subject not the artist, hoping levity will save me. He doesn’t say anything, for long enough to make me feel truly worthless, then the lens is back, a thousand shuddering frames. As I lean into it, loosen up and smile again, Julien tells me, ‘No. You’re only beautiful unhappy,’ and looks for long enough that I can truly believe it. I stand there and let his aperture devour me.
I ask why she didn’t call the cops and she says, ‘Are you kidding?’ Just sucking down a cigarette and huffing smoke out of her nose. ‘I’ve seen Law & Order, I know how this works. Manslaughter, easy. Involuntary maybe, I don’t know. Anyway, I thought you’d be more helpful.’ I wonder if I could kill her and leave. I doubt it would be that hard. Get a knife and murder-suicide the whole place up. Wipe a few things down and be done in time for dinner. I wonder if I’d miss her. ‘What are you going to do?’