This club is packed, the smoke machines make it hard to breathe. I babysit a bottle of Henny while Julia holds her new girlfriend’s waist with an all too familiar tenderness. The music is loud and nondescript. It cannot stop me from thinking about the inside of her mouth.
When I first met Julia, we went to see One More Time With Feeling and I wept through the entire thing. It was snowing when we got out of the cinema. I didn’t even know I could love someone like her back then. The shape of our breaths swam through the air in unison. Julia’s hair was dyed orange. When she kissed me, my eyes were wide open with surprise.
“Do you still have Xanax?”
“Depends on how much you’ve been drinking.”
Eric tries to find someone who could haul me off, but there’s no one. In the end, he sighs and hands me the pills.
“Don’t fucking get me in trouble”.
I show him the glistening ring on my middle finger. It was a present from Julia.
I used to hold on to her so tight, I thought she might stop breathing. My palms pressed on her back as if it was my Hollywood walk of fame moment. She smelled like toffee. I told her I’d never leave her alone. I liked to think we shared fear as one would a tub of popcorn, crunching in unison, getting kernels stuck between tooth and gum. Nowhere felt safe unless we were together. We sat together during classes. My hands always searched for inconspicuous places to rest on her body. The dean slipped and fell while delivering a lecture on Doctor Faustus. The religious bitches in the back all snickered. Her mother was dying of cancer.
The new girlfriend is British. She met her after leaving for the UK with her family. I see them kiss on the dance floor. The disco ball sends a million soft shimmers on Julia’s cheeks. How should I begin to snuff my heart?
“Why can’t we tell anyone?” I realize I’m screaming, but it’s too late.
“I’m scared we’ll get assaulted, or humiliated, or…”
“But what am I? Am I even your girlfriend? Don’t you love me?”
“Love has nothing to do with it!”
“Julie, I’m not scared, I’ll never be. ”
“So fucking easily said! What about when Toby and Peter got a fucking fine? For kissing! The police just showed up on the rooftop behind them. Neighbors reported them.”
I remained angrily hidden. Julia gave me her mother’s black opal ring to make me feel better. I put it on and never took it off.
One pill is not enough. I’m sitting with a foreign exchange student from the Conservatory. He talks about the violin and composers and smiles like he knows me. I’m always looking over his shoulder. She never acknowledges my presence. Another couple of pills go down. Knowing that she’s near makes me utterly miserable. I smell toffee. I want to touch her with the tips of my fingers.
In my head, I walk up to Julia and kiss her. Her hair is made of flames. Every touch burns, but I do not falter. She is the goddess Amaterasu, a million little mirrors dangling from a weeping willow whisper secrets to me. My dance lures her out into the open and the sun is lurched back into the sky with her return. Now I am shaking the devil’s hand. She appears by my side dressed in ancient Greek garb, her hands and neck glimmering with the softness of gold. I have called upon her from beyond the veil. Her eyes are devoid of feeling. She hands me a flower crown, but when I try to put it on my head it drops to my chest. I’ve never seen such a beautiful noose.
Now her mother is next to her. They look so much alike. I am introduced as a friend from university. This makes me want to walk out of her home and never talk to her again. I stay where I am though. I’m deathly afraid that Julia might one day be dying too. I smile. I say “Your daughter is extraordinary”. They vanish. A red kimono is gently shaking in the Kanagawa wind. I feel light. There is no longer any music. I watch myself pick out her body at the morgue, I recognize it immediately. She is wrapped in the Union Jack. I try to speak to her, but every other word is poetry by Leopardi. It might just bring her back.
Eric called an ambulance. They’ve told me this story many times. There was nervous whispering. There was silence. There were complaints. I left the party without my body, a brash exit, a broken bottle of Henny. Doctors steer my thoughts back into my head. I see the letters making up each word, they’re all on fire. Ash has started pouring out of “I love you, Julie…” Her body floats, cradled in a million silk scarves. She’s sleeping next to me. I put my arms around her. She is beneath the disco ball with her new girlfriend, gnawing on her face. She is made of Xanax, we make love. Starving polar bears walk across my sclera. I love you, Jules, but there is only fire. Blue light. Red Light. Doors swinging me back and forth. I never want you to die. I can’t snuff out my heart. I giggle and flames come out of my nostrils. I was always starving before I met you. Blue Light. Red Light. She’s sound asleep. I cannot let go. I will not let go.
“How are you feeling?”
The man in front of me is all scrubs except for a pair of dark eyes that can’t help but judge me.
“We had to pump your stomach. Please take it easy.”
I wish he wouldn’t speak. The sheets smell clean, but feel worn.
“I’m going to tell your friends you’re awake.”
It doesn’t take long for Eric to barge in like an angry parent.
“What the fuck did I say to you? Should have known what you were up to when I saw Julie… I can’t believe you would do something so stupid.”
I close my eyes. I think of myself as an old bike abandoned on the side of an Irish country road. I sigh. Eric stops and grabs my hand gently.
“I’m sorry. You scared me.”
This makes me laugh.
“Cut it out, Eric. I miscalculated, that’s all. Don’t get sentimental.”
“You’re a cunt. She’s outside, smoking.”
“Will she come by?”
“Nobody’s told her you’re up yet. I might, once I stop hating you.”
“I’m not sure I should see her.”
“She doesn’t seem to have doubts.”
“She’s always kept me out of sight, but not the new girl.”
“I… I just…”
“I’m never selling my prescription again.”
“I’m sorry. I’m honestly not sure I would have minded dying tonight.”
“I think she would have. Very much.”
The man in scrubs shuffles in again suggesting I should rest. Eric says he’ll be back tomorrow and goes out looking utterly defeated. I am injected with liquid sleep. The dean’s fall lasts forever. I see it on repeat until the end of consciousness. Darkness overtakes the pastiche matrix. I smell toffee. I smell the earth that was once Julia’s mother.
She is standing by the door, a charred little clay girl, a worried pout that needs kissing. Hello, Jules, I do not say to her, but think so hard I feel I’m on my way to a brain aneurysm. She pushes a screeching chair next to my bed. Little mirrors dangle on the branches of a weeping willow. I don’t know why you’re in my dream, please, let me sink.
“You fucked up, Julia.”
“This isn’t my fuck up.”
“I don’t mean this. I mean your big fat English coming out. You can’t have a person be a secret. The whole point of being alive is being acknowledged… you fucking cunt.”
“Get off my ass. I’m beating myself up as it is.”
“Like hell I will. You just crossed the fucking channel and left her here to sleep on my couch. Do you know I used to hide all the sharp objects in my house because I was afraid she would do something stupid? Did having money feel so good that this never crossed your mind?”
“Shut! Up! You gave her the pills!”
“Wouldn’t it be nice to shut up? She sure did shut up for you and now look where we are. Isn’t it grand?”
I open my eyes and look at their faces. Eric’s half smile is terrifying. It reminds me of how I imagined the populace that guillotined Marie Antoinette would have looked like.
“I’ll let you talk.”
He pulls a Lucky Strike out of his pack and lets himself out.
Julia looks at me. Her face is damp and her hair is sticking to her cheeks. It is the first time our eyes have met in 7 months. They are the same eyes I fell in love with. Blue-green, speckled, almond shaped, kind – even when she is enraged. The air feels so dense I could choke.
Outside, leaves are falling from the branches. The park is golden. The ducks dawdling by the casino are probably bickering over a piece of popcorn. Why aren’t I dead? Why must your tongue hold my name with such beauty? Every sound you make is a shuriken star flying into my brain, cutting up our life together and feeding it to the ducks. They are always in pairs.
“I’m sorry. About this… and about Eric.”
She wails and it is the perfect ullaloo of an old keener. She folds into herself and drops to the floor. I cannot get up. I cannot touch her. I’m afraid I’ll burn again and then I will be nothing. Her mascara runs. I love her, but the words are ash and I can no longer say them.
“Please… I never meant to hurt you.”
“I hurt you. I hurt you because I was scared and now it’s all fucked.”
I look at her face. I’m sure she’s planted daisies on her mother’s grave. I see the clay beneath her fingernails and I know that is the woman I used to talk to a year ago. I also long to be the clay beneath Julia’s fingernails, but I do not tell her. I am pointless without her, but I do not tell her. Fear, the big black dog of fear, keeps me in my bed. I feel like she could make me fall apart with a smile. Please Julia. Please. Our life together is in another world, a world of our making.
She gets up and lies down next to me in the hospital bed. She’s so close, this can only be a dream.
“What would your girlfriend say if she saw you?”
“Words are overrated. Please. Let me have this.”
“No, Deedee. You’re awake. You’re alive. I’m happy you’re here.”
“You’re going back to England, aren’t you?”
“Yes, in a while…”
She puts her nose on my neck. Her eyes are shut. I am shaking. I am spinning out of control.
“I’m sorry I told my mom you were my friend. I’m so sorry. I don’t think I could ever fix it.”
“You know… When I was staying with Eric, I started playing with clay because he had a lot and didn’t mind me making a mess in his kitchen. I always tried to make little figures of people I knew, you, your mother, him, you were all small and nondescript and you broke easily. Your little clay lips said the words I put between them and my life suddenly felt so laughable. I like to think I laughed myself into this room.”
“I wish I was a little clay doll with a little clay mother.”
She puts a hand over my mouth and whispers:
“Listen. I didn’t leave because I stopped loving you.”
“That’s what made it difficult.”
In my head, she and her girlfriend are still dancing in the shimmering lights of the disco ball.
“What’s her name?”
“How did you meet?”
“She would come by the coffee shop I worked at. I learned her order. She gave me her number.”
Oh, I see her head floating in a coffee cup, her cheeks have little hearts on them, she’s a Sky Dancer doll ready to fly away. Eve comes in with a butterfly net and dances ballet until Julia sits herself down on her shoulder, murmuring “You’re allowed to love me.” into her ear. Yes, no kimonos, no ancient goddesses playing with mirrors, no snow, no fire turning everything to modest ash. I do think the Julia in my bed is a dream, a flavored sweet, a memory as unstable as a shard of light on a glass office building. Yes, she couldn’t be here, she wouldn’t be here.
People are afraid of me, as if what’s going on inside my heart is contagious. My harsh gestures mean nothing. I long for things that can never be because I’m greedy and selfish. White rabbits run across white plains. To startle them is to kill them, most certainly. They have heart attacks before you can actually snap their necks. What if I could have done the same? Wouldn’t it have been gracious to lay down and die after she left for the UK? Eric kept me alive with diligence. He never left me alone. I wanted to be alone. Her nose is glued to my neck and I swear, I swear, I swear, I feel her breath.
“I’m sorry about your mother.”
“O, hell, you know… I can’t get over it. I just can’t. I walk into rooms as if she might still be there.”
“I expect her to still be there. It never changes. It never lessens.”
“You ever wonder if she knew you were gay?”
“No. I don’t know… It hurts to even consider that she might have been sad.”
By the time I tear away from the sweet smell of Julie’s body, the doctor has walked in. He tells me that a psych evaluation is in order and a couple of days in the ward are customary. I stare at him and nod. I know how this goes, enough people have told me. Julia’s orange head of hair darts up the second he walks out the door and she says:
“You stupid bitch, shut up, I brought you a change of clothes, you’re not going anywhere.”
And she drags me up by my armpits as if I’m a child and dresses me in neons – is the psych ward a rave? She keeps muttering shut up shut up shut up and puts sunglasses and bangles on me. I feel like a Christmas tree. She paints my face something crazy, high class drag queen couture, I’m contoured and highlighted in all the wrong places and I look like I rolled out of the grave the 80s are buried in. She takes me by the arm and says “Speak English like you live in Bristol, god fucking damn it” and I’m chocking on every word like a cockney princess. I’ve never been to Bristol.
We clack our heels past every white coat in the building and before I can form a sentence that doesn’t sound like carpet munching we’re in the park watching the ducks and I’m wiping down my face.
“I was ready to stay, you know.”
“I know. But I also know what it’s like there, on the inside. I’ve been there when I was younger. They put you in with the dangerous ones and take away your phone. Trust me. Not for you.”
“When’s your flight?”
“An hour ago. Eve went along.”
“Never should have come down to the damn party. But I couldn’t stop myself. I wanted to see you. I wanted to look like a badass bitch.”
“Oh honey, you missed that mark by a mile.”
“Where are we going?”
“Back to mine.”
She serves me a look that’s all lightning and mischief, but most importantly… She holds my hand while we walk the crowded streets. Every diligent nine to fiver gives us a glare. Is it my makeup, is it the fact that she can’t help but press me against the wall and kiss me until my eyes water? I guess we’ll never know.
Fotografie: Alexander Popov via Unsplash