It was snowing dirty, lopsided, broken flakes, desperate suicide-mission flakes, half-melted before they touched the filthy sidewalks littered with footprints in the sludge, liquefied cigarette smoke (I don’t quite see how the smoke litters the sidewalks, but if you want so, ok) and soaking wet, shredded cardboard boxes. The air had a wrong feeling about it, nothing seemed to be in its right place (this seems to overstate it, I think the first part would be enough here), and the murky car headlights looked cold and pointless in the sticky (do you want this? To me it doesn’t sound good) dusk light. Great night for a walk, really. It’s these days that make no sense and leave no room for purpose that provide for the most stimulating walks, since you’re almost certainly going nowhere, so that all is left in your mind is the actual “going” part. One foot in front of the other, eyes at a stiff angle, half-closed to keep out the grime pellets falling from all around, hands elbow deep in pockets, and a demented, completely out of context smile (composed attributes in front of the noun sound jarring in English) on your face. Well, a grin more likely … no, not even that … a crack, a fracture across your face, angled upwards at both ends, a vengeful little rictus, especially effective if you’re a mouthbreather, sucking in the grey snowflakes and spitting out river water, a charming, wide-open grimace of glee with your lips curled back so far they seem cut off. Good thing you’re probably wearing a hat, and the angle of your eyes is ever-so-steep-and- still, like you (this is a colloquial Americanism and seems a bit out of place in this elegant prose, an “as if you couldn’t” would be better) can’t take them off something floating just an arm’s length in front of you, taunting you to step on it, let the sole of your right foot tingle as it snaps and crackles under your weight, even though there’s a solid inch of rubber between the two of you (used more for persons, sounds a tad odd, perhaps: between it and your foot) – if you weren’t chasing it you might end up meeting eyes with someone in the street, and that’d be bad, very bad. For both of you. So you just chase, keep your face (eyes?) on it, never let it slip, you just let the flakes shower you and you think that your clothes will soon soak them up and then you’ll feel just how naked you are underneath, just how smooth and ripe your skin is for some frostbite, ready to peel away with a delicate “pop”, just like the skin of a grape after two days of intense rain. And then what wonders would ensue – how your muscles and ligaments would bloom into plant-like spires and how your very thoughts would solidify in the air, colored and sparkling, like the horns of a jester’s hat, so very long and slender … and you’d see that everyone around, toasted under the ashen snow, would popping open like sweet corn kernels, and their thoughts would shimmering, and the entire city would be covered by a network of tendrils with bells at the end, driving away the snow, driving away the storm and making the air cool (this sounds awkward, like non native speaker trying to write) and minty with their sounds. So you let out a snicker, a delicate, throaty giggle and somehow it ends up ripping waves of echo between the buildings and the people around turn around suddenly, like deer, their nostrils flaring and ears rotating toward the sudden gaping fracture in the silence. Bambi’s mother never looked so aware – she didn’t have the torrential downpour of snow (downpour not used for snow, maybe: blizzard?) as a dramatic background effect, she didn’t have a BlueTooth headset with a green light beeping on and off, she didn’t even have her jaw off to one side, too focused to chew her food anymore – but the red haired girl you just passed to your left, the 21st Century Mother, Broken Down and Emancipated, coming out of the building to the right and the schoolboy sliding towards you all do. For a second the frame freezes, you soak in all the imagery – in your mind they look like paper cut-outs arranged on a child’s cardboard stage -, record the deafening white noise of the snowflakes exploding on every surface, the subtle beat of your own blood is pounding in your eardrums (?), superimpose the frame to your hazy, almost faded recollection of Bambi and then everything moves fast, so fast, you’re beside yourself, looking at the cars zoom by in fast forward, at the curtain of relentless, choking snow growing and expanding all around, the girl trying to suppress a shiver, the boy catch a big glob of mustard dripping from his hamburger right on his chest and the Super-Mom adjusting her headset with one hand and her purse with the other, and you howl, you let out a bellowing cascade of laughter, vengeful, bitter, free, like a punch to the throat, like a final shriek, all sandpaper and broken glass, ready to burst right through your chest, taking your lungs with it (awkward sounding), your windpipe, your tongue, ready to turn you inside out and pulverize you in the air, aerosol you into everyone else, contaminate, cause a chain reaction, you HOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWLLLLL with laughter, feeling your throat become raw, feeling the abrupt and ominous pain in your chest, feeling the ringing in your ears, all like afterthoughts, drowned out by the snow and by the throbbing glee inside. Unless you move now, unless you lift your foot and leave another mark in the elastic sidewalk, you’ll never stop, you know it, IT will never stop until your very blood laughs with you, by your side. So you lift your eyes just a bit, you let your vision grab tight to the next traffic light and you pull yourself towards it, you reel yourself closer and closer to the green shimmer, and with each step the laughter subsides, turning into a violent cough, then an occasional hiccup and then nothing. Just the grin, the flakes and three very scared witnesses a few yards back. Am I getting any of this right?
By the time he had finished talking, I was in a panic, the skin on my back felt covered in paper cuts and my throat was so dry and hoarse I couldn’t even whimper, which was all I wanted to do. My mind went “There is nothing to fear and nothing to doubt, there is nothing to fear and nothing to doubt, there is nothing to fear and nothing to doubt…”, over a broken, limping rhythm, unconvincingly, and the feeling that this person in front of me, without knowing me at all, had reached a bare hand through my mind and grabbed the single most scary strand without even having to look, something so deep and so twisted I had never had the courage to pluck it myself, and then danced with … him. .. with IT … in front of me, like holding a mirror … it was more than I could comprehend and handle at that point. I had to get up, lift myself out of the armchair, find balance on my feet and learn to walk, and then to run, just to get out of his office. It was all wrong, I had done something terribly wrong, poked a part of me that should never have been stirred, and it had nothing to do with what I wanted, it had never crossed my mind, not fully at least, there had just been this itch at the back of my skull, this scraping, crumpled sensation, I had just wanted it to go away, I needed to talk to someone neutral. As I was walking, my skin began to feel dry like parchment, I started hearing it rub against my clothes with a whispering, unnatural sound. I had to get home, I had to wade through the crowd on the street, try not to touch anyone, try not to look at anyone, pull my hat as low over my eyes as I can, try and paint on a smile, anything, just blend in, don’t look at the shop windows, don’t look at the puddles on the sidewalk, one foot in front of the other, steady, easy does it, lean forward but don’t lose balance, walk faster, slide between the bus doors and stick to the basics, stick to the windows, never sit down in a bus, keep your eyes half closed and your senses sharp… Oh no, that’s Lucian at the next stop, he’s coming on the bus, I need to hide, I need to disappear …
“Lucian!… funny bumping into you, old friend! Oh, come now, really? That surprised to see me? I know I haven’t been calling, but that’s no reason to act like that now, is it? Come closer and hold on tight, this bus is a regular roller-coaster! Hey, everyone, this is my good friend Lucian, he’s a surgeon of sorts, single, makes good money and never, ever steals candy from babies – yes that means you, you splendiferous young, ripe thing with the raven hair and ample bosoms, there by the oafish t-shirt clad gentleman with the territorial glare. Why don’t you step forth and introduce yourself? No? Oh well, my friend, it seems the pickings are slim today, but never mind, there’s time enough and Cupid shall not outwit me yet, old as I may be. Hush now, no need to make a scene, Lucian old chap, we’re guest here, you’re not at the meat market, are you? Oh, is that it then? Really? You dare pour unto me this dribble of thoughts with such shamelessness, in front of our audience?! Sir, you are no friend of mine! Farewell!”
I climbed out of the bus with my back to the exit, a finger pointing accusingly at a frozen and dumbfounded Lucian. Just as the doors were closing, my left eye winked the mother of all winks, and the corner of my mouth stretched in such a way as to mangle the single black tear that was oozing down my cheek. Spinning on my heels I let out a snicker, pulled my hat over my eyes and proceeded, with a spring in my step, to glide down the street – admired by all, a choreographer of crowds, screenwriter of smiles and guru of grins, flamboyant and finally, fully, free. Oh, sure, he was still there, banging away on the insides of my eyelids, panicked and pathetic, trying to hold his balance on that single shard of dignity he calls a personality, but, at least for now, I was more or less alone in this body. Or at least unique, which is by no means a small matter. Oh how I had missed the gazes of by-passers upon me, drawn so naturally, without effort or choice… Where should I start? Introductions, I suppose:
“Sweet puppy, I see you’ve managed to find a lady to accompany you, and might I add she’s at least as adorable as you. My name, you ask? Just call me P.H., everyone used to, and everyone should. May I ask what her name is, then?”
“Talk to me, if you must. I’m…”
“Oh, she talks! Wow, puppy, you’re really got a keeper here! How d’you manage to find a talking one?! Is she potty trained as well?”
“Ok, this isn’t funny anymore you clown. What are you, some kind of freak? How dare you?!”
“Now, now, puppy, I do hope her bark is worse than her bite. Or was it the other way around? I could never really decide which I’d like more.”
She was turning a rather pleasant shade of purple by this time and I heard the distinctive shrill of a kettle boiling. But this had been intended as a simple warm-up, so I just darted my eyes over and like a mittened hand grabbing the steaming kettle, I removed all tension with a deep, silent, disciplinary look.
“No need to be a bitch about it, I was merely joking.” I do so love it when I leave them feeling guilty in my stead. “It’s one thing not to enjoy my brand of humor, but calling me names? Isn’t that both infantile and a bit excessive? And such unimaginative ones at that…” I gently placed my hand on the dog’s head… “So anyway, what batteries do you use to power it? I don’t mean the stick up your ass, I mean the dog.”
There was a great pause in the air, as if the spaces had suddenly increased. Something was off, I was being more vicious than I had intended. There was something in at the back of my mind, a nagging memory of some insolent fool with the arrogance to claim he understood anything about me, and I was taking it out on her and her puppy – meager comedic material on the best of days. And to make things worse I had to keep my eyes open because he was banging away more and more persistently, and it started to sound like a migraine. I turned on my heels and headed back. I had to … congratulate the psychiatrist, he was only a couple of bus stops away. It was worth the effort and I was in dire need of a rush that only dancing with a shrink can give.
It had seemed to sunny when I stepped off the bus, but every stride started feeling like wading through a swamp – the sidewalk was covered in an uncomfortably deep layer of dirty snow, I had to lean forward, against the wind, just to keep going, nauseatingly slow for my tastes. There would be no dancing on these streets, not for a few months still. My patience was running thin, I felt irritated and moody … this was not a good day to put on a show, or at least nothing more than a soliloquy, one of those accursed monologues Will had used to put me through, dead or alive. “Alas, this crowd is nothing more than a gathering of … people. Glamour is almost faded here, no sparks, only dull flames licking not soles but palates, and even those geared only towards taste and not wit. Indeed I have come to see my theatrics as something long forgotten – they had known them, though … infinite jest, most excellent fancy … they’d borne me on their backs a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in their imagination I am … The time is ripe, nay, festering, for me to set this right.”
The snow mound I was perched upon while saying this chose its timing well when it caved in, causing me to tumble forth and regain my balance by effectively grabbing the sidewalk with all the might of my grasping hands and poking knees. And even this failed to incite more than a couple rather annoyed glances from pedestrians … perhaps more pathetically inclined psyches would perceive me properly … for now, I was feeling rather pathetic myself, and I so hate playing the Pierrot.
Stepping through my psychiatrist’s office door, I managed to mutter “Doctor, I feel like a bone, and I’m getting boner by the minute, and I mean that in the <alas, poor Yorick> sense. I need help.”
Of course, I knew he knew me, or rather him, so his answer was rather unexpected, and quite welcome at that.
“Yes, well, first of all, who are you? Do you have an appointment?”
The gleam in his eye as he said it, was very revealing. He did indeed know a thing or two about me. Perhaps his Insolent Foolishness was more aware than I had given him credit for. Mirroring his gleam, I sat down, or rather sank, into the empty armchair in the room, and drew breath.
“Call me P.H.. Everyone used to, and everyone should. Should I begin with my mother? …”