Alright, I have three short stories to share with everyone. I started writing about a year ago, and so far these are three are the only things I have to show for it. Still, I'd like to think that I'm getting better. Also, I'd like to apologize in advance for the length of this post.
“Why do you avert your gaze from mine? Do I frighten you?” her voice flowed toward the opposite end of the still seats, where blue shadow rippled over the unadorned attire of a man. His head clasped between his hands, his sole response was to lift his face to the soft light, revealing the deep pools that were his eyes. “You still haven’t looked at me. Are you a coward?”
He glanced upward, peeking past the tips of his fingers. He saw her then, smouldering in her impatience. The air coalesced about her in swirls agitating the ringlets that collected around the nape of her neck. A satin dress clung to her body, scarlet and shimmering, spotted from the penumbra of raindrops spattering on the sunroof. The waxing and waning of the glow of streetlights washed over the features of her face: recherche expression; delicate, high cheeks; brow furrowed in interest; cruel, roseate lips; powdered nose and dainty chin; imperious, arched eyebrows; willowy, long lashes; gossamer skin.
She was beautiful. The most striking feature, however, were her eyes. They were a pair of fiery orbs gleaming in the undulating half-shadow, like candles piercing the gloom of night. The sight of them thrilled him, for they were exhilarating eyes. The fire danced within them as they stared back, peering form the edge of the abyss. Time slowed, until she broke the silence then, “A brave one I see!”She slightly smirked at her sarcasm, and she tauntingly continued, “Can you speak at all? All this time you’ve not uttered a word, never made a sound. I think it’s rather rude for a stranger not to introduce themselves to a lady; think of all the time we could have been grand companions! So tell me, do you have a name?”
The man that she had addressed sat in silent wonderment. For a few seconds, he could not speak. With hesitation he answered, “My name is not important, but I am pleased to meet your lady’s acquaintance.”
She smiled sweetly and said, “Well hello to you too, sir. What a pleasant surprise to meet you here, tonight. After all, here we are, two lonely travelers on a lonely road in a lonely country traveling toward our respective lonely destinations,” her lips morphed into a wicked grin, “Tell me, where are you going, or is that unimportant as well?”
He responded disinterestedly, tilting his head to look out of black-tinted windows, “It is unimportant.”
“So you won’t tell me?” her lip curled into a mock frown.
“I would prefer not to tell you. I do not enjoy speaking of myself.”
Disappointed by her failure to elicit a satisfying answer, her face twisted into chagrin. Dissatisfaction lasted but briefly though. The predatory twinkling soon returned to her yet, the fire dancing furiously in the darkness. “If you don’t enjoy discussing yourself, then perhaps you would prefer to talk about the weather. You do, after all, seem rather focused - intent even- on watching those tiny liquid drops streak across the sky. Personally I hate wet weather like this. It’s so dreary, so depressing; the rain I mean- all it ever does is crash parties (who ever invited it to come in the first place), especially those fabulous open-air affairs, leaving you drenched and wet to the core, ruining the fantastic outfit you were wearing, with the hair and the makeup and the jewels and the dress, vying for the comfort of a heated hearth, along with all the rest of the despondent partygoers. It just ruins all the fun. Don’t you agree?
“I find the rain to be beautiful.”
“Really? How so?”
“I suppose... I suppose that the sight of raindrops glistening on the sharp leaves of summer trees, the spring blades of grass splicing memory, like the glory of dawn on the final flowers of the year, rejuvenating after the wilting heat, soothes me. It is, to me, serenity, a refreshing, a reawakening of life that brings the bulbous bulbs to bloom, freshly flowering as the rest of the world crystallizes into clarity, Yes, the rain is beautiful.”
Her lips barely moved as she shot back, “Perhaps, but for beauty’s sake I prefer fire. The way the swift flames race over man’s pride. We spend so much time in fear of it that we never realize the boundless creativity in the destruction it wreaks. There are a finite number of ways to build a building, but there is no end to the number of ways that it may be knocked down. A fitting metaphor for human existence I suppose.”
“You have a macabre fascination with death?”
“I see the tables are turned on me. The answer is no, I’m too busy living life to the fullest extent. If I don’t like the rain, it’s merely because it interrupts my plans for the day, and finding a bit of irony in life only makes the day a little more pleasant.” She reclined against the cushions, languid. “Wouldn’t you say that I’m beautiful?”
He shifted uncomfortably, and with trepidation he answered, “Yes... I mean that yes, you are beautiful.”
“Surely you have more eloquence than that. Tell me what you truly think of me, in all of the florid detail you can provide.”
He choked on his heart, and swallowing it, he breathed in an anxious sigh. He began, “Your face is radiant, absolute beauty; the teeth you flash with your smile is the moonlight that maddens and soothes by turns, provoking passion to a feverish frenzy. The slight wisps of air you exhale are far more intoxicating than even the cool, clear beers of Vienna, than effervescent bubbles of champagne, then petroleum fumes in the sickly, sweet summer sun, than dark lotus blossoms lulling Odysseus’ men to slumber, than the exotic extract of all the poppy fields of the East. I feel as though in your eyes as vast as oceans that I could lose myself for eternity.”
“And if you drowned in those oceans, what then?” she queried.
“Then I would die happily, slowly sinking into rapturous bliss.” he retorted.
“You know, you’ve got quite a way with words. Do they slip as gracefully from your tongue for every pretty girl you chance to meet? Or should I feel special?”
“To be honest I have never been alone with a lady before, and certainly not with one quite as lovely as yourself.”
Her jaunty grin sent his heart racing. “So I’m lovely am I. Is that an admission of love? Honestly now, do you love me?”
“Well I-“ he stammered.
“Just to let you know, I think you’re rather charming. You were just sitting there in your corner , shy, and I had to pry you open like a pearl diver, and when I finally forced open the shell (and admittedly the clam is just a bit out of fashion on the outside) I found a lustrous pearl, waiting to adorn my wrist. You know I think I’ve fallen for you, fallen quite madly in love with you. You wouldn’t break a poor girl’s heart, would you? Tell me that you love me.”
“Yes,” the staccato pounding of his chest syncopated with the beating of raindrops throwing themselves against glass, “ I love you.”
“If you love me then why are you so far away?” sight shrouded by steam she said, “Come closer.”
Shakily standing, he cautiously stepped toward the other side. Exultantly, she rose to meet him. The vast gulf which had separated narrowed, focused. They stood near yet apart. “Don’t you wish to be romantic; hold me in your arms.” He embraced her, and she embraced him. “Now,” the words streamed into being as steamy mist, “kiss me.”
“Kiss me,” she affirmed.
They kissed, worries melting in the cold of night. Their love lasted for an eternity, though eons may pass by in the blink of a second. Even as their warm lips pressed together, winter settled over their heads, two heat bodies huddled in the dark. Painfully, eventually, they broke apart. By then, the frost had glazed over the iris. Distance enveloped them once more. The vehicle lurched to a halt. “This is my stop,” almost regretfully she began, “It’s time for me to leave you, so forget about me. It’s for the best, I promise you.”
Angst, anger, bitterness assailed him. “Forget about you- but how could I possibly forget about you? I love you, I said that I love you (and you must have heard my admission with your own ears), and only moments ago you said that you loved me too. Did you mean what you said? Did you mean everything? Anything?”
“I meant every word that I said. But I never told you that I would love you forever.” The cabin door slid open, and the shadowy outline of the chauffeur appeared, waiting outside silently. She swiftly stepped out into the outside world, her feet sinking a bit in the damp grass. She briefly turned around to say, “Goodbye now, sir, I believe this is my stop. And please, don’t follow after me. I’m no damn dame in the midst of grave danger, and I don’t need some knight to stain his armor with blood for me. So save your chivalry and forget me.” She blew him one last bittersweet kiss before dancing off into the dark rain.
His vision failed him. For he could only stare blankly at the black horizon, the peace vacant from his eyes. “Chauffeur,” he spoke, “do you know where she went, the lady who just left?” The figure nodded yes. “Will you tell me where she went?” Again yes. “Well then tell me!” This time, the figure pointed in the inky night; whether East or West or North or South he could not tell. He did not care. Almost forgetting to murmur a few words of thanks to the chauffeur, he exited the limousine and ran through the winter shower.
The cold numbed him, and in his haste he tripped and stumbled and fell on the slippery, jagged paving stones. His will never failed, but when he glimpsed those magnificent spires poking over the edge of sight, the wellspring of hope within his breast flooded, the floodgates of uncertainty and doubt broken. As he neared the graceful towers he saw the fairy tale citadel glittering under the moonlight like a castle in the sky. It shone with many colors, an aurora splayed awkwardly against the night. The glow tried to rival the sun in radiance, splendor, glory.
Heedlessly he approached the colossal monument. He climbed long rows of stairs, a mountainside of crystal and clear glass, and at the summit lay paradise. Two tall, arched doors greeted him, the great hinged knocker inviting. He lifted the heavy weight and let fall his fate. The entire structure vibrated, singing out in pure strains from its foundation, descending into mindless wailing as the oscillations of air columns traveled toward the apex of lofty minarets. As the air became still once more, ceasing its sound, the great doors on their hinges opened, ponderously, screeching as they scraped against the jeweled floor.
He went inside. He spotted no doormen, no life, but only the alluring architecture, beckoning him deeper inward. He followed the calling, venturing up spiral staircases of clear glass, down long hallways of mirrors. He did not stop to admire, or to notice even, the brightness of the place; the light flowed in from everywhere, and the lucence twisted and turned in countless gyres of pillared prisms and translucent columns. It was a marvel to behold. Yet he stopped only when he found himself outside again, in a grand crystal garden under a tenebrous night. The flowers themselves seemed to radiate light, gem buds of plentiful color and joyous variety glistening at his feet. There were roses, blood jet; and chrysanthemums, canary topaz; and bluebells, azure sapphire; and orchids, violet amethyst; and hyacinths, cerise ruby; and sunflowers, argent quartz. The leaves of the water lilies were fashioned from purest gold, the stems from coldest silver. Amongst emerald knives of grass danced silhouettes, pirouetting in their endless spectacle. They wove in and out of the arboreum, where the ghost trees shielded all from the rain. They drank of mock ambrosia and artificial manna, fresh from the tendrils and vines, staining them shadow.
He walked through this visceral panorama, and his eyes enchanted the mind. He stooped to smell the petal, though they held no scent. He tried to touch the silvery stems, but they pricked him with steel thorns. Every so often, the figures would congregate in small groups, whispering in hushed tones about some unknown subject, dispersing as pollen clouds in afternoon wind as he neared. It was across this verdant wasteland that he spotted them through green panes.
They were two: one was a man dressed in vestments of resplendent yellow, golden top-hatted, with a jaundiced eye that observed nothing unfailing, and the other was a face from recent memory. She was the same lady from before, with the same, wicked smirk and the same, elegant brow, but her hair lay in resplendent design twirling above her head. And the dress she wore was woven with the finest silks of crimson. And she was with another, her fair arm entwined within the propped elbow of the yellow man. Her other arm glided along the florid balustrade down which they walked.
The yellowed man strolled along with his cane, and with stilted strides he reached a balcony and addressed the twilight gathering assembled in clusters beneath him, “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to this little moonlight soiree.” Formless bodies stopped, featureless heads
turning in rapt attention to the creaking voice. “I hate to disturb all of you, so I’ll be brief. It is my simple belief that it is only proper for a host to properly greet his guest. Now with that being said, I entreat you to return to your revelry. In this, my daydream demesne, eat drink, dance, and partake in the debauchery all round.” He flashed then a decadent smile, and as his decayed teeth turned from view the shadows resumed their eternal motion.
Across the field the man wrapped in blue semblance trembled with anger and heartbreak. With desperate footfalls he flew to her. The umbral beings he pushed through dissolved into ashen mist; the brittle flowers cracked and chipped and splintered under the impact of his harsh heel. He cried out “Lady, I have found you at last!” The two glowing embers of her eyes faced him, tinged with a hint of fury and surprise.
She shrieked. The palace of light collapsed. A hail of crystal shards fell into the soft embrace of wet earth. Everything was falling, and suddenly, they found themselves alone again, dripping under Autumn rain clouds. Now her hair in pleated strands framed her face, not even stirring in the wind. He said to her, “Lady, why did you forsake me?”
“I haven’t forsaken you. Fate forsook you. And fate whisked me away from you. I told you not to come after me though. Only fools trifle with fate.”
“You have my apologies for disobeying your wish, but I felt such a tugging on my heartstrings as to muddle my senses. I could not think clearly, and my heart was filed with longing for you. Is there nothing that I can do or say to win you love again?”
She smiled sadly and told him, “Valiant fool, the words you wield so beautifully, they mean nothing. You’ll tell me anything at love’s simplistic bidding. But what will you do when words fail you?”
Her quietus said, she walked away into the dark rain. He again could not speak, watching her disappear to all senses except memory and desire. He drowned then, under a deluge of water and feeling, sinking into sleep, serenity.
A skeletal wind scraped the barren branches hoarse dragging with it a rattling bag of bones through the night. By the pale light of the harsh moon and the wan glow of a lamp a man stood in the twilight between the wrought-iron gate and the ivy tendrils that clung to its miniature minarets of shadow. He stared at the graveyard beyond, the silhouettes of grave markers jutting into the air reminding him of countless petty principalities squabbling over elbow room with dinner knives to the others’ throat. So reminded him the tangled protrusions that scarred the ridge line in the dark, and he wondered if the dead realm held its own ruler and court, a noblesse oblige under a dread demesne.
And then the bare wind reminded him that he did not wish to be here tonight. He had not wished to return here, summoned by a missive from the dearly departed, someone he once deeply knew and desperately wished to forget. He had accepted the bequest to attend the funereal ceremony some days ago, but his distant duties had kept him away from attending. He wasn’t sure what compelled him here now. The procession had long since ended and the grave-goers had all dissipated back into the mist of uncertainty. Perhaps the Viscount wished to sever the ties that bound him to the earth.
The Viscount shrugged off his reverie and forced his shoulders into a regal bearing. With a metallic whine he pushed past the gate, trailing the leafy detritus in his wake, and he followed blindly the pathways that sliced through the night. He recalled this cemetery well, even though it had not been among his favorite haunts of childhood. The wispy stalks of grass remembered him too, tugging longingly, urgently, at his feet. They had waited many years for his eventual, inevitable return, and now they sought to embrace him once more as they once had, the soft strands lashing at his legs. The fields he had frolicked in were now full solely of desolace, and the memory of children’s laughter ringing in the forest. He had hated, still hated those children. Their cruel amusements at his expense he had never allowed himself to forget, and he always resented them for their malicious viciousness towards any sign of higher ambitions in life. They were closed-minded and short-sighted, tormented him for daring to want something more than red dirt coalescing between calloused toes, yet they were the ones who were ignorant of even their own ignorance. A thin smile pursed his lips as his eyes flickered in recognition at their names. There they were, little Johnny, savage Robby, wraith-like Debbie and Judy, Will with the myopic eyesight and the other one dull lacking any features of note; all the names etched there in crude stone dimly revealed by the magnanimous light of the moon. The Viscount could well imagine them now, skeletons strung from a dreary sky dancing macabrely like marionettes directed by a sadistic puppeteer. He hoped this prince was having fun with his fools.
One name, however, the Viscount glimpsed not amongst the rest. Hers was the only name he cared about, and he had made certain that he would not find it with the others, setting aside a plot on the rise of a nearby hill. He wanted her to be placed above those commoners reeking of that loathsome miasma, a queen above paupers. He had placed what little faith he had into her humanity, her closeness. And now she was dead, as dead as the meanings in the stars they had once watched under the night as looming as her eyes. He always failed to see the portents that they held, but she would interpret them for him. One fine morning she clasped his hand in hers, head bowed, and told him, “You are going away today, aren’t you? I can tell. We’ll never be together again you know, at least not as long as we’re alive.”
He swore. He shouted. He stormed out the doorway. And now he had returned, and she was right. The Viscount threw himself onto the freshly turned plot of dirt, still damp with the tears of mourning. He added a tribute of his own to the offering, unburdening himself of all the words he’d withheld for so long. He whispered to his queen below all of the expressions of longing that he had always meant to say.
Slowly, slowly, the Viscount regained his footing, his composure. He reprimanded himself for this outburst of emotion, this lack of control. He turned away; it was time to go when he heard a voice. He heard a voice in the ground. In the ground the voice was coming from. In the ground he scratched with his nails until the red earth stained his hands to monstrous claws, bloody talons digging into the ground. From the grave she was speaking. From the grave his queen was speaking. Long live the Queen!
With a final frenzied shout he found the dull thud of a silent coffin. Where had the sound gone to in the world? Where was that murmuring from beneath? With trembling fingers he stretched towards the edge, feeling around the unsealed cracks. His breathing ragged, the Viscount pried open the heavy and flimsy lid in a breathless moment. He thought that he might have let out a frightened laugh then, and he giggled in hysteria.
There, in peaceful repose, lay nothing more than a corpse. It held her face, her body, to be sure, but it still resembled more than anything a corpse. Still though, the Viscount thought, unlife had not treated her fairly. Death had transformed her into an exsanguinous husk, the mottled and splotched flesh belying the beauty which had once made its home there. Suddenly disgusted, the Viscount rose to his feet again and began to lift himself from the earthen walls that enclosed him.
“Good evening my love.” His head turned in a snap towards the sound. “What is the matter dear? Don’t you recognize me?” a raspy, tortured voice escaped from those rotten lips.
He screamed and scrambled out of that hellish hole, back down the crumbling cobblestones, no thought remaining save to flee. He crashed into that ancient gate, rattled the bars in terrified vexation. The gate wouldn’t open. The gate wouldn’t open, and he felt a chill touch upon his shoulder. A breath of ice passed over his neck, “Come lay with me, lover.”
The following morning the gravekeeper wiped the red dirt from his eyes. He had a terrible hangover, as he usually did after a heavy night of drinking. He thought the wind had sounded of a man’s screams last night, a phenomenon which he was sure could only have been accentuated by a copious consumption of alcohol. He sighed wearily of the work in front of him. Someone had been moving bodies around in the dark, and they had left quite a mess for him to clean up. In the upturned plot two corpses lay in a lover’s embrace. It was a fitting image, the gravekeeper decided, and he covered them from the cold morning under a warm blanket of earth.
i. the girl
(or someone like her)
The girl awoke to the sound of an alarm clock radio blaring music in the crisp morning air. In a languid torpor, sprawled across the sheets, she craned one slender arm over to the bedside night stand and ran slender fingers over the smooth-sided switch. With a flick, the angular sound waves in the air smoothed themselves out, leaving only thoughts reverberating about her head. One by one she stretched her lazy limbs before slinking out from the blankets and to her feet. She’d been dreaming, she decided; she just couldn’t remember what about. Then again, she couldn’t remember much of last night or even the week preceding it, and for that matter her entire life may as well have just been a blur.
She remembered a little girl who had been an avid dreamer. She had gone to great lengths to understand them, to try to find some meaning in her frenzied childhood nights. During adolescence she discovered Freud, and for a while she worried obsessively that every image represented some repressed desire, a hidden lust of sinful flesh. Then one day, the dreaming ceased coming with any regularity, ceased having any significance, and she stopped thinking about it. It reminded her of Sunday school; for a while it had come with great frequency and meaning, and then it stopped.
With a mental shrug, she slipped out of the comfortable afterthoughts of last night before discarding them into the laundry hamper. She proceeded then to sift through a closet overflowing with the many-splendored articles of clothing that had accumulated there over the years. Her hands passed over the delicate threads of lace and silk, the cushiony touch of cotton and cashmere heavy and light to the senses all at once, the taught clinginess of nylon and polyester plastics, the savory dyes of scintillating electric blue current arc and the melting yellow sound, and above all the industrial fragrance of fabric softener sticking to the strands of cloth and air. On various occasions she had tried to put her wardrobe to good use and in so doing perhaps instill a sense of order to an otherwise meandering, grasping existence. Once, she decided to wear a completely different outfit every day without repeating, but she woke up late one morning when her alarm stubbornly refused to work and she was forced to give up. She went to school in the same outfit that she’d gone in the day before. Another time she tried dressing in a way that embodied the profound emotion of her spirit, in the sad blues of serenity, the flashing passion of reds, the blistering celebration of orange pouring into yellow, the pristine green of pestilential jealousy, the erotic power of the plum purple, the dainty whimsy of pink. However, as time wore on she began to feel more and more the same every day, so she abandoned the project rather than relegate herself to wearing dull slate shades of grey. Her last endeavor began when she woke up on a morning just like this one with the aspiration of becoming an aesthetic. She had packed every piece of clothing that she possessed, save for the ones that she was then wearing, into dozens of cardboard boxes that lined the walls of her room in cavernous fashion. Her grand plans of transcendental self-deprivation came to a crashing halt when she was stopped in the doorway by two rather furious-seeming parents.
Today, she simply flung a few random hangars into the bathroom where she attired herself with a wonderful randomness which defied all customary logic of fashion. She paused a moment to examine the face that stared out at her from behind the mirror. She studied the pair of indolent eyes peaking out beneath a mess of hair that had been dyed, bleached, cut, curled, straightened, for so often for so long that even she was no longer cognizant of what its true form may have been. Listlessly, she dragged a brush through the tangles with the vain hope of ploughing neatly arranged furrows on her head. The exercise never failed to disappoint her somewhat. She was in turn heartened by the fact that her face was pretty enough in its own right to never have warranted any great application of cosmetic enhancers. She wasn’t quite sure why she bothered with the routine of putting on make-up anymore. It always made her feel cheaply synthetic, and the distinctive discomfort would wear on as the days grew longer and the shadows shorter.
Suddenly the red numbers that streamed into her vision screamed that it was time to go. Long strides pressed into the plush carpet and a canvas messenger-style bag slung across her shoulder swung across her hip in pendulous motion. The click-clack clatter of high heels down the stairwell signaled her descent into the kitchen. From the cold metal of the toaster two scorched pieces of toast greeted her arrival. Her father at the far end of the table mumbled a groggy “good morning” from behind the daily edition of the newspaper. With the pair of toast stuffed in her mouth the only response that he received was an unseen wave of the hand as she hurried out of the house and across the street to where her friend sat in a car, waiting.
“You’re late again you know.”
“I know, I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m not a morning person.” She spread her legs along the passenger-side interior.
“Yeah, well you wouldn’t know it by looking at you. God, I can never get my hair to stay way in the morning.”
She stared aimlessly out of the window.
“How do you do it?”
“I guess some people are just lucky that way, huh.”
“I guess so.” She continued gazing through the thin pane of glass. She saw the reflection of her own bored expression, her curiously lifeless eyes looking past it all. The whitewashed houses rushed by in the bleary morning light, the white streaks blending into the black asphalt of crisscrossed lanes until the world resembled nothing so much as the concrete grey of the sidewalk. Her eyelids fluttered, and her retinas strained at the sensory influx. To what purpose her eyes endeavored, she did not know. To her it seemed rather pointless, actually. Everything she saw seemed somehow the same, and it was the same sameness that she saw every day. She felt as though she could have rattled off the names of all the states and of all the presidents simply by strolling through these streets. The sunlight rebounded off of the green, reflective rectangles and the steel-pressed white letters that they bore: Van Buren, Nebraska, Lincoln, Pennsylvania, Nevada; one by one they passed by.
A sudden urge seized her. “Hey, I’m putting on the radio, alright?” She half-asked, her hand already on the tuning knob.
A yawning “Sure,” was the answer, “go ahead.”
She dialed the radio to her favorite station, broadcasting from New York, and soon the cabin was filled with noise blaring from the speakers. The sound surrounded her. She felt a wild sense of exhilaration at its oddly undulating direction, the sharp turns and razor blade twists, the jagged cacophony of white noise. Just when she thought that she knew what to expect from the music, it would take a sudden change of course; it would begin traveling toward a different destination, almost as though it couldn’t make up its own mind as to where it was headed.
She sympathized with the music. She liked to think that it was a rebellion against the world of right angles and stop lights that she lived in. She imagined that if only she could turn up the volume loud enough, she might demolish that world. As it was, it barely served to dull the sharp edge of her terrible boredom. In her heart, she hoped that the tiny notes floating in the rhythm contained salvation, perhaps redemption, or at least a hint of what that might be. For this reason, she turned the radio on day after day, listening for the airwaves.
“Girl, I have no idea why you listen to this stuff, but it sure as hell wakes me up in the morning.”
“But are you really awake?”
“Nothing,” she answered, the tiniest of grins strung across her lips.
The sound stayed with her through her classes as she doodled over her notes and half-heartedly attempted to focus on the droning voice of the teacher all the way until halfway through a routine lunch as she in a circle sat with her usual clique, when the music stopped.
ii. a boy
(or somebody like him)
He was drowsy. The flat sound of the teacher’s voice made him want nothing so much as to lay his head down on the flat wooden surface before him and fall into sweet, blissfully empty, sleep. He shifted uncomfortably in his too-small school desk, which protested with its own plastic groan against a weight which it was not meant to bear. How profound, he thought in the span of a second, and wondered why he found an object that he used almost every day more interesting than history. It’s not like he didn’t like the subject. If absolutely had to pick one, history would be his choice, but he still hated the class. He hated school in general. It was so damn boring.
He didn’t understand. He didn’t understand why he was here. What more had he to learn from dog-eared books and pages glazed in dripping hot pink. Wasn’t the point of history that humanity was stuck in a colossal hell hole from which there was no escaping. Or was it simply that we never learned. Or maybe there was nothing to learn at all. So many possibilities.
He was thinking too much; time to go back to watching the clock, counting the minutes, staring at the back of the seat in front of him: his usual routine. Every so often he would instead cast a quick glance about the classroom, absorbing the combined boredom of everyone else in the room. The mild lethargy was contagious. His bored eyes seemed always to fall on the shock of multi-hued hair in the opposite corner of the room. It was a symbol of defiance, he knew, and he wanted to wonder about who she was. He decided that he didn’t care enough, even though he knew that he should care. He couldn’t help but feel that sometimes she would look at him too. No matter, it wasn’t important. It was never important.
“...so the Germans gambled that the Schlieffen Plan would result in a quick victory and solve the threat of a two front war. However, as we see, things didn’t quite work out that way. Germany would actually defeat Russia, severely wound Britain and France, yet still lose the war. Any questions?” The teacher usually never allowed anything more than the briefest, flashing, pause before continuing, however, he today noticed one thin hand poking out from the overgrown rows of adolescents.
“Yes, do you have a question?” the teacher addressed the hand from atop the slick, wooden sides of the podium.
The boy from his short desk simply answered with a question, “Why exactly was there a war in the first place?”
“I thought we went over this already. Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, Austria went to war with Serbia, Russia then declared war on Austria, which caused Germany to declare war on both Russia and France, and Great Britain declared war on Germany.”
“Yeah, I know, but why was there a war?”
“Well, everyone allied,” the teacher began with some frustration, “and Europe was like a powder keg waiting to explode, and there were mobilization time tables and standing armies and arms races.”
The boy felt the impression of a broken record. “But what do those have to do with war?”
“Haven’t you done your reading?”
The bell rang, shouting its monotonous whine through everyone’s eardrums.. He didn’t feel like going on. He’d get no answers anyways. Besides, his stomach urged him on to lunch, and even though he knew that his hunger would subside altogether at the sight of whatever the cafeteria happened to be serving, he could also go to hang out with the same people that he saw each day and called his friends. He guessed that they were his friends, even though he could never say exactly what friendship was. He had seen just about every film out of Hollywood where the main character ended up rejecting just about everything in life except for his friends, whom he had previously abused repeatedly and learned gradually to appreciate over the course of the movie. Be content with what you have, they all seemed to say. Hollywood endings always disappointed him.
With his tray filled with a lolling substance only dimly recognizable as food, he returned to the long rectangle table by the long rectangle window through which he had watched passively the seasons of the last four years pass him by. He was a spectator in life. He sat down, and everyone was talking about the events that comprised each of their individual days. He never had much to say on his part. Life never seemed that interesting.
“I don’t really remember much after that.”
“I don’t think I’d remember anything after that either.”
“What’s so funny?”
“Did you really do that?” Laughter continued.
“Did I do something?”
“Should we tell him?”
“I don’t know, maybe we should let him find out for himself, might be funnier that way.” The conversation continued along the line envisioned for it before the first word was ever uttered. The boy listened. He laughed, jeered, added in a comment of his own from time to time. He found it easy to follow the lead of everyone else, to be just another nameless voice of pointless banter.
“How about you?” the friend he had known the longest of all asked.
“Come on, there has to be some girl that you like, or at least find attractive.”
His eyes somehow fell on the shock of hair from across the room. “Is that what you were talking about?”
“Stop ducking the question already. We’ve known each other since middle school, you can tell me at least that.”
“I guess so.”
“So there is someone then.”
“Yes.” He thought of th what her name could be.
“Well, who is it?”
He turned his gaze to his friend instead. He wasn’t used to this, this acknowledgment of his presence, his very existence and substance. It was a distinctly unsettling experience, reminding him faintly of those awful experiences of stage fright that he had experienced when he was younger. The attention was unwanted; he hated it, and he hated his friend for placing it on him. “Does it matter?” he told him, flatly.
“Yes, it does. I’m your friend, and as such, it is my duty to advise you in the conduct of your social life. Now tell me who she is.”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you know her name?”
“Have you ever even talked to her, at least?”
“Not a bit.”
The boy only shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, do you think that she likes you?”
“I’m not sure if she’s ever actually looked at me before.”
“You have to talk to her.”
“You do. Go now. It’s your chance.”
“A chance at love, just shut up and do it.”
“I don’t want to,” he pleaded. The face of his friend held no sympathy, just an idiot smile. The room around him spun on its head, just as his own head was spinning in a daze, and his gut churned and tumbled down his throat. His hands pushed him away from the table, his legs propelling the rest of his body toward that distant spark, that rush of hair whose name he didn’t know. Faceless faces peered at him from the crowd as he walked unerringly past them. Too late to go back, he approached the girl, his world caught in a gyre of swirling indecision. He wasn’t sure if he was moving forward or the room was moving by as the gaggle of girls among which she sat inched ever closer.
“Hi,” he said.
They giggled. She smiled.
(or something like it?)
A sheet of silence hung between the clear crystal cups on the laminated tabletop. The boy aimlessly stirred his shimmering ice cubes in a circle, the liquid long drained from it’s vessel. Across the table, the girl gazed through her own glass, admiring the distortion of the warm light from the ceiling lamp, the servers moving past in rapid succession, the glum expression of the boy’s face, the reflection of her own. She watched as the boy would open his mouth as if to speak, only to think better of it and go back to thinking about what to say; the action amused her.
“It’s ok,” she pronounced, “you don’t have to say anything. It’s comfortable like this, all nice and quiet, almost like we could sit here forever not saying anything and still be perfectly happy.” Why did she feel so unoriginal?
“Of course.” He didn’t mean it.
“Unless you have something to say that is.”
“You’re very pretty tonight.” dissatisfaction dripped from his voice.
The silence resumed.
“Hey, I have a question for you,” her glassy eyes were pleading, “What do you think love is?”
“Yeah, that thing.”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh, right.” she acknowledged her disappointment. Why did she ask such silly questions?
Suddenly, her ear picked up the notes of music coming from a far off radio. She recognized the tune, and apparently so did he, as they both picked their heads off of the table.
“I don’t know the words.” he said.
“I do,” she murmured, “... Is this it? Is this... it?”