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.
I’ve been repeating myself a lot lately, which I guess is better than repeating others, but still, it feels like I’m stuck in a spiral, a vortex not a closed loop, spinning round and round and revisiting myself at moments of minor variation. It’s mildly maddening, like missing your subway stop for malfunctioning doors. I wanna get off, but then it feels like I’ve tried that already. Maybe I should stick it out, things could get better. I think they get better. Have I tried that? I don’t know, it feels like I’ve been repeating myself a lot lately.
I haven’t felt too great lately, so it’s been a while since I thought about suicide. It always comes alive like a safety mechanism locking into place, you know, like how surge protectors work. I put it in play to kill vanity, but it bores me now. I’d like to blame Franny and Zooey, but if I started targeting my influences I’d simply be left in different shreds with nothing to enjoy. Usually I try to focus on not focusing on it, but even wallpaper can drive you mad over time. I only want to enjoy my misery more.
Hunched over the kitchen bench between a ream of baker’s paper and a pile of bush-grown reefer, the hair-wand in hand, Caleb looks lifestyle channel manic. His apartment is furnished in the same vein, modern minimalist meets mad scientist, patches of projects in nebulous progress and experimental discard everywhere, each an indication of interests sought at the time, abandoned as soon as their knowledge was won. Since Caleb keeps his head shaved as part of his ascetic aesthetic, things should have made sense as soon as I saw the straightener. ‘We’re trying dabs now,’ he tells me.
Four showers today and still so unclean, it’s not a smell but a state of being, a spectral odour on the spectrum between rotting meat and regret, secreted by my oblongata and sent to my senses, the stench of it lodged in the cavity of my humanity. I think about taking out the brain with pharmaceutical strikes, but that strategy already made me my own casualty. Better to scrub, rescrub and scour, become some skinless heroic villainess. Yet here’s a spot, again and again; and here’s the smell of blood still. Maybe I’ll bathe, soak and submerge my sins.
I dated Carla for a year after the abortion as a way to punish myself. She had no idea how much I was grieving or why, but she could see my pain and poured it over herself hoping to help. My agency dried up as she assumed responsibility, my expression along with it. I became a puppet husk and floated without purpose on the ebbs of her compassion. I couldn’t bring myself to explanation, to a declaration of desensitisation. I could never say I’ll never love you. I broke three hearts for stopping one but couldn’t hurt myself enough.
I tried kissing her, gently at first then slightly harder. Her mouth was there in all the right ways but distinctly empty. I pulled away, the taste of ash and resentment on my tongue. She looked at me with lethargic stability but I couldn’t keep it up, I moved my eyes away hoping to keep my soul to myself. Don’t you want this, I asked. Her voice was a pressed reed, pleas written on papyrus in a since lost language. We’ve become meaningless to each other, dead script. I close my eyes and wonder if she’s thinking about him.
Being absolutely floored. Summer storms, warm southern and soda. The strip of stomach showing between denim and cotton. Little topographic ranges that presage a hip-line, the slight dip at the equatorial belt and the geometry of promise. Lickable surfaces. Swift kindnesses, irrepressible joys, little innocences in everything. Silent understanding, comedic relief, taut volumes and enlightening speech. Socks in a tumble dry, hair fall and lost ties, interpersonal litter. Evaporated salt, waning scars, tussled sheets. Coy smiles, casual affection. Cliff faces and blind leaps. Naivety without ignorance. More time than can be held and memories that fail to fade.