Friday, July 6, 2012
(this story is nearly ten years old. And in someways it's the first story i've ever written, even though i wrote lot before this one come out. But i consider it the first because this is one of the only two stories that were ever published and it's the first time any of the stories i had written before that sounded like my "voice". This is the flagship that started my near 10 year obsession of finding my "voice".)
The Dying Prime Figure
She was sitting on top of the backrest of the bench sipping beer from a glass bottle; she swayed as she leaned back to get the last drop. I smiled as she regained her balance and looked at me. “How long have you been there?”
“Not long,” I sat down next to her.
“You don’t feel…comfortable?” she breathed that last word in my face on propose. The sweet, sour reek of beer and potato chips.
“No, I’m fine,” I said. Her question meant more on the situation than the chair. She hadn’t done anything wrong, but I felt she could’ve done something a little different then this. “Why?”
Ignoring me she picked another beer from the box at her feet, “Want one?”
“No thanks, why?”
She shrugged and opened the bottle with her tooth. “That’s dangerous, you know, don’t ever be stupid like that, okay James?”
“Fine I won’t, why this?” I pointed at her face.
“I like it this way, don’t you?” she leaned in close once more.
“I don’t know, I knew Matthew to well,” I turned from her.
“Oh,” was all she said. It was the sigh of someone who gives up, the ultimate fuck it.
“Matt and I were good friends. When he went away, things changed; I changed to help him but it didn’t work,” I said turning to her sweet, smiling face. “Kate, some room please.” I eased her over to her side with my elbow.
A visible frown I didn’t think she meant to show peeked out from her smile. “I always liked you.”
“I know, but I am truly sorry. You have to understand its weird for me,” I stood from the bench. “It’s like he died but he came back. Like reincarnation.”
“Reincarnation,” she smiled as she said it, as if the word tasted like something honeyed. I liked the way it sounded from her voice.
“You understand, right?” I said and stood in front of her. The sun was going down behind me, the red gloom of the vanishing daystar made her face hard and sharp. The shadow of her nose shown on one cheek, the jaw jetted a smooth calm outline, her face was hiding all her secrets. I felt like crying, but the cold wind that picked up made me shudder in my jacket, my tears forgotten for the moment.
She ignored my question and sipped her beer; her neck revealed remnants of the old Matthew.
“I gave that name up,” she said as she put the empty bottle down.
“When do you think you’ll stop loving me?”
“I can’t. I’m a woman because of it,” she stood from the bench. “Look I’m sorry for coming on too strong. My feelings won’t let me do otherwise.”
She had hidden her feelings for years; agony was all she could feel. I’m surprised that she lived through it. Sighing, about the past, this person had been my greatest friend.
When was it that I noticed the change?
They came gradual, that much I knew. The mascara one day in fall, it rained, it ran onto his face. Lip gloss, but that was all the time. And the one day on a surprise visit I catch him wearing a blouse. At the time it was weird for me, but being a good friend I looked the other way.
Wait…now that I think about it maybe he let me catch him. Dismissing all of those events, the one I can’t deny was the last day I saw him.
It was last year on his birthday. His mom answered the door; she looked worried from the beginning.
“James, hello, come in,” she said her voice shaky.
“Thank you,” I muttered walking into the house I went to almost everyday as a kid.
“Oh good, you’re here,” Matt’s voice shouted from the top of the stairs.
“Yeah, I would’ve been here sooner but there was…traffic…and…” For a second I thought maybe Matt had already came down and this was a new girlfriend, I mean he did say he had a surprise for me. With each step down the stairs vivid pictures of his features shown through the mask of this pseudo-woman.
I remember leaving in a hurry, don’t remember what I felt. Was I shocked, disgusted, did I feel betrayed, or did I know about it but just wasn’t ready?
I left for college the next day. Matt wrote a few letters to me, I read them all hoping that it was all a joke that I overreacted to. But it wasn’t a joke, he meant to do it, to show me his secret, put trust in me in a time that was most critical for him. I ran away. Why did I run away?
Most of his letters were apologizing to me about the love he had for me changing him to “this”. Never did he use “her” or “she” always “this”, I would have liked it better if he used her or she, because it meant that “she” was a phase. An alternate ego he made to help cope with his love.
I wrote a few letters in return, some were angry, others sympathetic. I still wanted to be friends, expressing the word “friend”. I wrote my letters as if it was a game that he was playing; I think some of them came off a little bitter, which in turn hurt both of us.
In November of my sophomore year a letter from Matt came. In the summer that passed I avoided him, a stupid thing to do but I wasn’t ready. Wasn’t sure how I was going to handle my own awkward feelings to this odd situation. There isn’t a handbook or a 1960’s educational video on this kind of stuff. The letter smelled of perfume and it was typed. All of his letters were handwritten. Ignoring this minor detail I read:
“I’ve done it. The operation was a success. I was nervous about it for a long time but I finally done-“
There was more, a lot more; I crumbed the pages between my shaking hands. Surprisingly I found myself crying. Tears fell down my face onto my desk, they continued for another hour.
So here I am nine months later standing in an open park in late August on a dying day looking at a person I never met, but know so well. A bizarre question raced behind my eyes, was it her love for me that brought me here? If that’s true then how strong is her love? Strong enough to make me forget the past?
That thought frightened me.
I mean I'm not a kid anymore nor am I an innocent high school student. I'm just a man.
Her gentle kindness felt like the adoration of a pet. Even though I didn’t think anyone would reject her physically, I mean he really did look like a woman, but a part of me wanted to give up on Matt and continue a life with Kate.
But the smell of the past sat too heavily on her. Behind the scent of mellow perfume, dusty face powder and the dark odor of hairspray, was Old Spice, sweat from thousands of baseball games and car grease.
Underneath this sparkling beauty was an old friend, who spoke about his secrets to me, consoled all his feelings to.
Everything was already obscure.
“I’m not asking you to love me. I’m just looking for your approval or something to that. I understand the strain this is putting you in. But what I really want is not to lose you. At the end of the day all I want is your friendship. To turn around say your goodbye and smile you sincerest smile and move on. Don’t worry about it so much, I’m not asking you to love me forever. Please still be my friend that’s all I want. Tell me we’re still friends.” Her words were slurred but within her drunken state I believed them. At least I wanted to believe them, more than anything. Even if she was lying to hide her feelings, this was the way it was going to be, this was the way I was going to treat it.
As I mulled over my answer she said, “If there is one thing I learned from all this it has to be, somewhere in the world someone is sick of being happy.” Standing from the bench she stretched her back. I must of given her a puzzled look for she asked, “Come on, tell me some days even you don’t feel like smiling.”
“There are,” I said looking away.
“Is today one of those days?”
“I don’t know.”
“So this is it, I guess,”
“Huh,” I spin around to look at her walking away.
She stopped, “After today you’re going back to college and we’ll never see each other again,” Picking up an empty bottle to throw it away she looked at me with a profile glance.
I wanted to shout no it isn’t, but I felt the same way. A feeling that this was her one shot at getting me.
But it failed; can she really give me up that easily?
“No it won’t,” I muttered not really believing my words.
“Really?” she smiled.
“We’ve been friends too long just to give up on each other,” I sat down on the bench. Her back was to me; her face hidden from view, I wondered about her expression. When a silence gripped us I broke it with, “Am I right?” Nothing. “Kate?”
Tears fell down her face ruining her mascara, cutting tracks in her face powder.
At that moment I knew there was nothing else to do. My words: useless, my actions: without thought, then I was crying too. For in that instant I saw a woman and she was crying. Weeping for the loss she felt for so long.
“Don’t cry, please,” I said hugging her. The small body I held became tight then relaxed and hugged me in return. We were continuing something extravagant but I’m not exactly sure what.
The light, this situation, my life and my future death, hung on my heart like an askew clock. It made me dizzy.
I knew the past, knew it all too well, but I could forget it. It’s as simple as letting go, everyone knows that.
She eased off a little but I grabbed her again, “A little longer, we both need this.”
Her body started to tremble, she was crying again.
I didn’t want to be there right then, in a moment that was so full of ambiguities. But I didn’t want to forget it, for at the time my feelings were real. I guess I could stay here, in this marred young woman’s arms. Here with my lying heart, in a place when time lead us astray.
In a time when we all thought death was the only way to handle oppressive situations. We live for knowing that we exist for a reason, to know that we are dying for a cause that we have to make up on our own.
Kate’s is to find happiness in another, to love and return to her dying life, knowing that she completed her task. I, on the other hand live a dying life to find a motive for love. To know when it’s all right to love another. I’ve done that today with a girl that isn’t what she thinks she is.
But I think I understand now. It’s like I said before.
I didn’t want to be there, but at the time I knew my feelings were real. So I’ll stay.
Love is something that’s real. No matter how abstract it may be.
I then decided that today was a good day.