The Ghosts of Loves Unfinished

“Know this thing for certain,” these the first words he forms in his mind as though they could be spoken when he wakes in the dark, though he does not actually speak, “Dreams will always betray you and how you think things are going.”

When for weeks life was workaday, now those things whose constance was assured and assented to have been summarily brought back under review by the subconscious committee and rejected for fitness in one decisive motion.  In a meeting held as he slept, no less.

His compromise with life is to operate on scale.  His new job could be worse than it is.  The fact that it is better than his last job gives him a solace that will, for a time, function in lieu of success.  His wife is loyal and loves him honestly.  When he imagines his wife’s love and the love of the woman he had let come before as neutral red foam bars rising up from the ground beside each other as though they are part of a bar graph quantifying and comparing the two varieties of intimacy and relationship, the sum total of his wife’s kindness and honesty stands very noticeably taller than hers, the one he had committed to before,  she who was brilliant but prone to boredom, who had been very adept at digging him hollow like a native’s canoe when his jokes and drinking were no longer funny and paddling him ably up shit creek.

Dreams will not re-read the pages of chapters written to their finish and ask what might have been.  Here the length and breadth of the betrayal of a dream is limited to wistful remembering, a fresh taste of the variety of loneliness that that one left you with unameliorated by time or rationalization.  The worst these dreams can do is sit on your chest like a succubus until you’ve shaken their weight off.  But that weight will always come off.  Demons you have exorcised will drop in for tea now and again, after all, but abide by a politeness not observed in that first breaking and entering.

When dreams team with the phantasms of loves that end by no impetus more robust than circumstance, however, there is the formula that dissolves the palliatives binding prosaic life like an enzyme, a perfect equation suited to the task of digesting the patchwork of acceptance of the way things have become until it appears ragged as resignation.

The dream brought her to him again, she whom he had been happy enough to see off, in whose bon voyage he carried little enough outward culpability, in the acceptance of whose departure he bowed to finance and a nascent career he wasn’t particularly interested in.  She, too, young as she was, shrugged off the blow, apparently.

“I’ll never know.” he speaks aloud this time, lying on his back.

Greater than the hunger that is now awakening in his belly, and harsher than the weird lack of the caffeine his waking mind is beginning to crave, he feels the want to stop the feeling that he’s been absolutely thorough in his life only in the pursuit of the wrong thing.

Almost all of his regrets begin with ellipses:

…and that’s why I have to go to work in an office every day.
…and that’s why I’ve never been published.
…and that’s why I’m not free now to do what I want.

Only one of them, this morning, begins with gold blonde hair and eyes as big and blue and portending of a coming lack as they were once present and tangible in one summer in his life.  Only one of them makes him crave to hear French spoken to him early in the morning as he heard again as he was sleeping that night.

“J’embrasse, mon petit coeur.”

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Surrendering to the Lure of the Great Known

The meeting occurred like every moment that changes life. It began as though it had been planned. No one was aware it was happening until someone lost an eye, or brushed a nipple, the gist being that it resulted in that deformation of a moment commonly packaged under the nomenclature “impropriety”.

So, in the moment after he had glanced at a new placard pasted up on the plywood shell of some new scaffold, overcome in that moment of marketing genius when the second and third glances at the shirtless girl photographed there, while failing to produce a better or more substantial view of the breasts she so provocatively managed to cover with an arm while still granting the voyeur full access to the knowledge that her breasts were very significantly present (very significantly), in that moment when he was contemplating the contradiction that had arisen between his desire to understand why he would be driven into a state of limitless potential action by this particular variety of beauty despite all that he knows that he has already and his awareness of his knowledge of the sudden object of his desires in reality (the Russian is no more than a girl, her beauty is cold in its perfection, her eyes are round and staring, bold but lacking the investment to care enough to know they are bold, her cheeks- the perfect skin is so new- are high, and fear of want and early, perpetual envy have made her limitlessly cruel in her new and weaponized beauty-it’s clear!) and his surrender to this evoked desire, in that moment when he is overcome by the urge to fuck an attractive stranger, the woman who is not his girlfriend recognizes him.

They knew one another in earlier days, and the two were strangers then- both to each other and to themselves. They ended as strangers, and only strangers, can end. They parted vaguely, and on good terms.

So it was a few drinks later, she was telling of trying to make it as a writer in a bar he had chosen and, until then, had kept familiar only to himself, and they were distracting themselves by faking wonder at the truths, witnessed or passed to them through hearsay, that were so much stranger than the fiction they churned out- the fiction that they secretly felt revealed how paltry their talent, as well as the world’s real need for writers, really was. That’s what they were doing with all those words. Faking wonder and keeping secrets, dancing a long white lie and spending time with an extravagant wastefulness unbefitting of their station.

She, being a woman, beautiful, had the more interesting story.

“I had a friend, someone I had met through the club somehow…”

He knew about the loose association of drunks and part-time recidivists to respectability she mingled with from before, from when it could be said he knew her, the changing cloud of bleariness and impressions of social memories she referred to as the “club”. He had been a droplet in one of those nimbuses at some indeterminate time in the infinite before, himself, around when he met her, though it wasn’t how he had met her.

“She was a “dancer”,” she spoke so that he could hear the quotes, “and she just lived to have fun. She had tried going to school, she had moved around, she had “serious” “relationships”,” again with the audible quotes, “and eventually she learned she had to live with herself as someone who realized she only enjoyed one thing or hate herself for the rest of her miserable life.”

“I can imagine the conversation you were having. The cockfight of sincerities, I call it. I’m trying to work it into a story. It’s where two drunks meet and try to out-sincere each other with vasty declarations of common bonds. Always amusing. Always amusing in hindsight.”

At the word cockfight, her eyes raised at the same time as her glass.

“I suppose we’re having one of those right now?”

“No, but I think we’re moving in that direction. So, finish your story.”

“So, she realizes that, for better or for worse, and she knows it’s shallow, she knows there is a world of depth to be reached just by acknowledging one iota of the contrivedness and eventual emptiness of the life she is living… the only thing she enjoys doing is stripping, being sexy in a totally contained environment set aside for nothing but. All she cares about is having fun and that’s all she thinks is fun.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it. And then one time I run into a friend of hers, she comes up in conversation, and all anyone can say is that they think she moved home. Or somewhere equally conceptually far away from here and now.”

The warm reciprocation of description, of aiding in adding to the narrative was kicking in, so he threw in,

“Forever. That’s it.”

She used it.

“Forever. That’s it. And do you know why?” She ended her sentence like she was sharing a secret. She was getting a bit sincere.

“Pregnancy? Death in the family? Nervous breakdown?”

“Nope. One day, for no reason, she started to get nauseous when she was cold. Not even cold, really. She’d get nauseous when she had a chill. At goosebumps. And that was it. She couldn’t parade her terrific tits out in front of anyone anymore.”

She, the attractive stranger, the woman who was not his girlfriend, had had really terrific tits. She still did. He had always remembered them and her own fondness of them and awareness of just how terrific they were with a wistful sort of sentimental horniness. He liked that she was letting it happen that the two of them were able to share that memory together again, finishing the story like that, with those words and with her terrific tits right there at the table with them as a visual reminder.

She put her glass down. She had those lips that were red without lipstick when she was a little flushed, a little excited. She stared a little past nothing, pursed her lips and blew.

“And then one day you stop being able to enjoy the one thing you love,” she said as though writing it down. Speaking in the expository style.

They both sat still for a moment and really thought about how lousy and undeserving they were as writers, then about their age, and then their peers.

“Stupid.” He said.

Stupid that someone would live so willfully shallow a life, stupid that life would reciprocate by demolishing the foundations of that contrivance. Stupid how the two of them suffered for their romantic ideas of success as writers among their small professional circle of the envious.

They reserved a split second of guilt and reassurance for crimes as yet uncommitted, then the teenage gameshow wash of surrender to pounding hearts and mystery outcomes hidden in boxes. Mystery mostly hidden in shaved boxes, with a trim of light blonde hair.