… is there nothing left to say?
… is there nothing left to say?
You know what else is funny? How the ache is so strong, you think it will never go away, that something set so deep couldn’t possibly fade. Then later comes along. At some point – later – you no longer feel what you used to feel. And when you think about what you came through, you can’t remember just when that ache went away. It didn’t feel gradual; it certainly didn’t get easier one specific day or time. Two months in, you were just as likely to be sobbing on a Friday night as you were when your heart was first split open. Still. At some point it wasn’t there anymore. At some unidentifiable moment, it all slid off you. You were no longer sad. It … he .. was gone. What was the formula? What was the exact equation of distance and time to take you where he wasn’t?
I need to know this. Because I’ve carried this bright, new sadness across the ocean with me. I’ve put the distance between us, once again. So how long before time meets that distance? When? How long before I stop feeling like there are strings playing under my skin, a mournful dirge that pulls me down?
Back when it ended, I listened to that music on repeat, it was my constant refrain.
Am I really back there now?
~ El, What We Have Left
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
Real life. Spun into fiction. We are all better there. Right?
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
A quick bit of novel-ling before bed. It’s good to be back. If only in this way.
It is not an easy love, the way she does it. It reminds me – vividly, oddly – of the shocking red of a determined flower. A flower that lasts the winter, when everything else goes to grey around it. Is this you, Ben, over my shoulder right now? Sending me the image of a flower, when I think of Maggie? Because that’s not what I see for myself when I look at her, here beside me. I see something so much stronger than that.
There is nothing delicate to the way she loves, Ben. But as your mistress cries in my arms, I suddenly understand that this red flower of yours is something the fading flowers – the grey people, like you and me – have always wanted as our own.
~ Lucy, LOVED
“The world is little, people are little, human life is little. There is only one big thing – desire.” ~ Willa Cather
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.
A comment on a forgotten piece. News of a friend’s much deserved success. A restless night after too much wine and rain. And suddenly-
Third time has to be a charm, right?
(It was always about being loved).
“This story is about love, mostly. The kind of love you find in movies and songs, and also in quiet afternoons. This story is about a girl. A girl who loved a man. It’s about how this man knew she loved him because she told him. Once, and many times after that, because you only stumble with such words the first time. So she loved him, and he knew it, and it was then that the battles began.
Because love can so often feel like war, don’t you think?”