I am not allowed to forget

Is he dead?

I can see now that it’s a boy. He is lying on his back and his shirt is open, exposing a smooth, impassive chest that I see in glimpses between arms, legs, shopping bags, coats. I push through the crowd of people, going sideways against the throng, and then I’m standing right in front of him. Over him. I can’t tell if he’s breathing. His eyes are closed and his lips are pressed together. They’re not blue – I want to lean down and put my hand to his mouth to feel for air, just in case, but I can’t make my arm move. It’s as if my body wants to obey the same laws that keeps everyone else walking. Danger! Stay away! This is not safe for you! But up close, he looks like a child. If my arms won’t move toward him, then my feet won’t let me walk away.

And now it’s just the two of us. A young man laid out on his back, and me, hovering over his body, unsure what to do next. His feet are bare, dusky pink soles caked in mud. He must be freezing, I think this at the same time that I reach down, remove my sneakers, then my socks. They’re white, sporty, and now I’m thinking of Walter, of the way he tipped his hat at me when he first opened his front door, and how I knew I was going to be alright, even before he welcomed me in. I’m thinking of this gesture as I wrestle one sock, then the other, onto this young man’s feet. He doesn’t stir, but I can feel the warmth of his skin. I know what dead bodies feel like. Not like this. Emboldened, I kneel down and pull his shirt closed, fumble with a middle button to fasten the threadbare material across his chest. And then I lean back on my now-bare heels and start to cry. Is this all I can do? Give him my socks, cover his chest?

This is somebody’s baby.

Someday soon – it’s coming – I’ll think, doesn’t he know I’m somebody’s baby? Doesn’t he know that I was once loved? But right now I’m crying for this passed out boy, lying on a slab of concrete, halfway underground, that I can’t do much else for. I take the $10 emergency note out of my jacket pocket and gently tuck it into pocket of his shirt, and then I turn, run up the stairs and out onto the street, as if I am being chased. It’s dark, but you wouldn’t know it from how illuminated it is up here, above all of that grey below. It hurts my eyes. I walk a block with my hand up to both, trying to push back my tears.

I need to go home.

I don’t want to be in this world tonight. Not when it has revealed the true ugliness of itself so clearly. As if there are some things I am not allowed to forget.

~ Alice, What We Have Left

Subway

Real life. Spun into fiction. We are all better there. Right?

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I will remember what it means

The day I die.

Where do you want to start? What would you like to look at first? I get up, I have sleep in my eye. I make a bad pot of coffee, the water hisses over onto the element, spits at me. I can’t get the water temperature right in the shower. Sometimes I think the faucets are switched from day to day, just to confuse me. I eat a banana, the texture struggling in my mouth. I step around dog toys, kick them into the corner of the living room, and open the window to the day. The street is its usual mix of bloated rubbish bags and scaffold frames. You could swing down them, if they didn’t always seem on the verge of collapse. The sky is blue, there is dog hair creeping across my big toe. The day is light, bright, ordinary.

I get up. I have sleep in my eye. Bad coffee, water hissing. Temperature wrong. Banana slick on my tongue, and the squeak of a rubber bone. Rubbish bags and metal and blue, blue sky. Dog hair itching my toe. The day is light, bright, extraordinary.

The morning passes. I make a cheese sandwich, leave the plate and knife in the sink next to my coffee mug. I should do more to help Carl, I think. Thinking too, I have forgotten how grateful I was. I am. I press down on another post-it note and write the word Help, before a large bang outside startles me. My ‘p’ wobbles, shoots off the yellow paper as I drop my pen. I had intended to write this: Help more around the apartment but the pen has rolled under the dining table now, and I don’t want to reach down to find it. Help will do, I think, sure I will remember what it means, as I place my last fluttering debt on Carl’s fridge door.

I do not realise, could not have realised, I have just left my first clue.

I have made a mistake, by the way. This isn’t the day I die. Not really. But it is the last light, bright morning of my life.

~  Alice, What We Have Left

NYC Morning

A quick bit of novel-ling before bed. It’s good to be back. If only in this way.

The narrowing of distance

I mean, can you imagine? That a place can feel like a person? That a place can talk and sing, and make you feel that same bubbling under the skin that a lover can when you’re just one corner away from meeting? I love that feeling. That sort of pleasurable terror at what’s to come. He made me feel like that. Like this. But! This is a city of sensation, and I can push away those sad feelings, those reminder feelings, just by going for a walk somewhere new. I walk like some people drink, I suppose. Too early, too late, until my head is spinning with everything I’m forgetting.

I never expected to be happy.

Carl bought me a pair of sneakers. I came home and they were there in a box on my bed, the sticker with the price scratched off, so only the .99 part was left. Purple, thick-soled, smelling of rubber and dye, and so much newness. My size, too. It was like sliding my feet into the future. Into all the possibility ahead. That’s what I felt, and I may have cried a little, but I didn’t tell Carl that, or say thank you, because I’m learning he doesn’t like that kind of thing. I just wrote out another I.O.U on our post-it pad, and stuck it on the fridge door. They’re layered on top of each other now, all the little notes, and I don’t know if he ever looks, but there are a couple I’ve snuck into the pile that just say – Friendship. Or Loyalty. Things like that.

The things I can pay back sometime.

I’ll be 25 one day. And 30 and 40. By then I will have accumulated so much, and I’ll buy Carl a farm, or an animal shelter, or a farm that is an animal shelter, somewhere in upstate New York, where I’ve never been, but people go, and I think it must be beautiful there. I haven’t put that on a post-it note, though. I’ll keep it as a surprise for Carl one day.

I have Carl, and I have my sneakers, and my camera. And I have this place. This city that runs in straight lines and sprawls, so you can’t ever get too comfortable with one or the other. Sometimes, when I’m crossing the street up here, I stop in the middle and look both ways, just to see the avenues run on in either direction. I love the perfect lines they make, the narrowing of distance to something you can see, understand. But I ventured further south yesterday, and one street turned into another, right under my feet, no warning, just a little veer to the right, and I wasn’t where I was before. That happens a lot, too.

It’s amazing how little I mind getting lost.

I’ve been taking a lot of pictures on my walks. People sometimes, but the city mostly. Like I said, a place can feel like a person. Sometimes more like a person than the strangers blurring past in their sneakers and suits. I do not like this by the way. The quick legs and stiff arms of people in a hurry. I do not like the way they look unfinished. When I am 25 and 30 and 40, I will not wear a pencil skirt and sneakers. I will learn to stride along in lovely heels, or maybe never wear pencil skirts at all. This is something I haven’t yet decided.

~ Alice, What We Have Left

Just 500 words, someone reminded me. So I wrote these 580 or so before breakfast. I may even keep a sentence or two, ha.

nychome

The corners of her name

That’s Jane, and she’s polite and she fits right into the corners of her name, and it isn’t my name.

It isn’t my name.

I want my name back. I want the news stories to say that Alice Liddell was a girl who lived in New York City, and she was just starting to fit into the corners of her own name, her own life. Alice Liddell was 18 years old, and she had long blonde hair that her lover used wrap around his fingers, forcing her neck back so he could bear down on her skin with his teeth. Alice Liddell loved that, and she loved taking photographs with the camera she stole, and she was starting to love Walter and his quiet kindness, and she loved the Chrysler Building, no matter how many times she saw it.

Alice Liddell was someone who missed her best friend Tammy, and once, when she was six, a man pulled up in front of her house and tried to get her into his blue car, beckoning from the driver’s seat, saying he had a special secret to share. Alice Liddell was the girl who froze for a full minute before she ran inside, and she was the girl who never told anyone about that minute and that man in the blue car, ever.

This was Alice Liddell. She never broke any bones and her teeth were straight and strong, and her mother was murdered, and so was she. Not the same way, but not so differently, either. She liked fish tacos and fairy lights and hated the taste of licorice. She hadn’t read nearly enough books yet, and she was busy falling in love with the world, when she was yanked right out of it.

Time’s up. Is that what he said to her, just before? Or during? There were sounds he made that she couldn’t hear, wouldn’t hear, but she’d made him angry, hadn’t she. By not answering his question. She froze instead, just like that day when the strange man in his blue car tried to tell her a secret. She knew not to go toward him, could smell the danger between them, but for a full minute, she forgot how to move. And this time, she remembered too late.

chryslerbuilding

Drafting, drafting, drafting. Alice is my new Lucy. The secondary character who has stolen the whole story. Maybe it’s because she thinks/speaks in run-on sentences, just like I do 😉

Not what I imagined

Jane

So this is what it is like to be dead. It is not what I imagined. Though imaginings seem very limited now, the things one can dream and feel when we are alive. Now that I am dead.

I am dead.

What a strange distinction. Between me before, and me now. Before I was one thing only – I was alive, I was breathing and pumping blood around my body, into my limbs, and all through me. Now I have no blood and no body. No fingers to wriggle, and no toes to curl under. I am just air now. I am what I used to breathe in. Only, it isn’t just. There is no containment. I am air and I am everything. If I think of something – say a wave crashing, then I am that wave, I am the pulling back, the curve and swell, and the pounding against the ocean floor. Then, if I am reminded of fish in the whitewash, I am suddenly the slippery, silver tail, I am the rushing school of gill and scale.

I only have to think it, and I become it. Not just feel it, but I am it. Anything and everything that exists.

Except me. I don’t exist anymore, and I cannot feel me. That girl, the one they call Jane. They still don’t know my name. And I, too, have forgotten. I don’t know who I was, what I had. When I think of me instead of oceans or fish, it suddenly goes black. I am dark matter, a rent in the fabric of the universe. Easier to be the wave, and the darting fish, flying.

But still I wonder, in the spiraling – who was she? Where did she come from and where did she go? When he did those things to her. When she died at his hands.

I am dead. This is what it is like to be dead. Imagining never once came close to this.

Wave

Very, very early character drafting for “Into the After”. As usual it has gone in a different direction than where I first pointed my pen. The body keeps the score – I keep thinking of this saying, and now I have met Jane, who is everything but herself, who can inhabit every thing that exists, but her own body. So many metaphors. Now to the hard part …