Something Sweet, Something Tender (The Move)

“And that’s the last one.” I say, releasing a lengthy sigh of relief.
“Fantastic!” she says merrily. “Could I get you something to drink?”
I ask her for a glass of water. While she’s in the kitchen, my attention is caught by a box labelled ‘Vinyls’. I reach into the box and retrieve the vinyl record on top. A copy of Eric Dolphy’s ‘Out to Lunch!’

“Here you are.” she says, handing me a chilled glass of water.
“Thanks.” I gulp down half its contents.
“I’m making supper. It’ll be ready in a little while. You’re not in a rush, are you?”
I shake my head. “I’ve got time.” I say with a smile.
“Great. I know there’s not a lot to do, but feel free to rummage through whatever. Or have a look at the rest of the house if ya like. The garden’s pretty decent, too.”

The afternoon summer sun spills its rays through the Venetian blinds and smears a handsome orangey hue about the almost empty living room. All the room encompasses is two small mahogany sofas, a coffee table, and in one corner, a stockpile of hefty boxes filled with her belongings.

I was introduced to her two days ago. She works for the same company as me, but I’d never met her until then, as she’s much further up the employee hierarchy than myself. The company produces high-quality household furniture and products, and sells them to luxury brands. I began working there almost four months ago as a Sales Administrator. She, on the other hand, is one of the supervisors, and is in the process of moving out of her old apartment to this one. My supervisor, Hector, was helping her with the heavy lifting and transporting, but could no longer do so when his sister was hospitalised two days earlier. I’m sorry to bail out on you like this so suddenly, but hey, you know what? he said, I’ve got someone on my team – a youthful and pleasant fella who I’m sure wouldn’t mind giving you a hand. I’ll introduce you to him at the end of his shift.

She asked extremely politely and even said she would pay me; I couldn’t bring myself to say no – I had no reason to, even. And besides, I find her very beautiful. She must be in her early thirties but she could pass for twenty-five. Clear skin glazed with a natural tan, a longish but nicely chiselled face, silky black hair trickling down to her shoulders, and a comely build. Her eyes are an unmissable stark green. Gorgeous, beguiling eyes. She has this pleasantly jubilant air about her. She immediately appealed to me when I was first introduced to her.

The smell of her cooking begins to waft in from the kitchen like a friendly ghost, and only is it then when I realise how hungry I really am. She opens up a box and pulls out a painting of a tiger crouched majestically by a tree. Her eyes slowly pan around the room as she looks for a suitable place to hang the painting.

Once the food is cooked, she serves us both and invites me to the table. The kitchen is on the small side, and she has all her furniture installed already. A little but very opulent, contemporary-style dinner table rests in one corner with two matching chairs.

Grilled bonito, spiced potatoes with peppers and caramelised onions. It tastes just as good as it looks. “Feel free to help yourself to more if you’d like. I know how much boys your age eat. Besides, I’ve made you lift my heavy stuff all day, you must be starved.” she says.

“This,” I confess to her. “is delicious!” She laughs and thanks me.
“Oh! How could I forget?” she says suddenly, rising to her feet. “Drinks.” she pulls out a bottle of red wine from the fridge and pours us a glass each, then places the bottle on the dinner table.

A brief silence dawdles between us.
“So, Lance, right? – Tell me about yourself! You know, other than that you work for HCS, too.” she says, then laughs a little. I’ve never been any good at answering this question. For a moment I feel to lie about some things to try make myself sound like a remotely interesting character, but I don’t.
“Well, I’m 20 years old. Dropped out of university after my first year.”
“Really? What course were you doing?”
“I was doing Law in Journalism.”
“Journalism, eh? How come you dropped out, wasn’t for you?” she sips at her wine.
“Nah. Far too much law involved. I don’t know what I was expecting, really.” I guess I just wanted to do a course which made me sound somewhat clever, I almost say aloud. She lets out a small, monosyllabic laugh and says nothing.
“After that, I managed to hitch a job in a Turkish restaurant, but I got fired within two months of working there.” No, I didn’t get fired, I quit. That’s basically what I am, a quitter. When things get a little hectic or heavy, I run away and find something else to give up on. Again, I don’t say this out loud (for fairly obvious reasons).

“Oh, darn. That’s a shame.” she utters whilst covering her mouth, chews, then says, “Then?”
“Then I did virtually nothing for a few months. I tried to learn how to play the flute. My uncle owns one. But I was no good at it, and I figured what’s the point of learning to play with no one to play to, you know?” I take in a mouthful.
She smiles. “You shouldn’t have quit! I would’ve listen to you play. I like the flute. It’s relaxing.”
“I guess so.” I say, glass in hand. “I also started teaching myself Spanish.”
“Ooh, no way!” she interjects with a degree of elation. “Teach me some, too.”
“Uhm–”
“Wait, let me guess – you gave up on that, too, right?” she laughs.

Her turn. She tells me about her fairly ordinary upbringing, and how she moved to New Zealand and lived with her sister for a year after she’d finished university. I hated it, so I came back, she says. Everything’s all different over there but in a subtle way. If I’m gonna go live abroad, I would prefer a tremendous change, so that way I could adjust to the difference in culture, climate, language and such. Somewhere I could basically start over. In New Zealand, though, I wasn’t quite sure what I was meant to adjust to or how to react to anything. It was like being invited to the house of a friend of a friend. Weird, I know. I can’t explain it all that well.

We sit at the dining table for a while longer, drinking wine and sharing a conversation about nothing in particular. We talk about various things; work, family, TV, books and life in general. It comes to a little after nine in the evening yet still the pair of us have not moved from the table. She gyrates the remaining sip or two of wine in her glass and says, “I’d better stop myself there if I’m going to be driving you home.”
I laugh a little. Peering at my watch, I tell her I can catch a taxi back. “It’s not far from here, and on a Thursday evening it shouldn’t be expensive. It’ll spare you the inconvenience of having to get out, too.”
“No, no, no! It’s no problem at all. Besides, I owe you.”

And I Smile

A faint breeze fluxes eastwards briefly. The majestic sun sets calmly behind the far-flung mountains and daubs the sky with brilliant hues from amber to red, to magenta, through to the deep blue which darkens with each passing minute.

She’s sat placidly beside me, enamoured by the superb sunset before our eyes. She says nothing, though her mouth remains very scarcely agape.

After some two minutes, she reaches into her small shoulder-bag and retrieves a pack of Purple Clovers. Edging the pack towards me, she says, “You want one?” I take one and thank her. She then passes me a lighter after lighting her own cigarette.

“You’re too pretty to be smoking,” I say with a smile
“Bullshit!” she says, then exhales. “What are you going to say next – that I’m too beautiful to be swearing?” she says in jest. I laugh.
“Well.”
“I don’t usually smoke.” she continues. “Never, actually, but I’m on holiday. So why not? Anything’s allowed when you’re on holiday.” she says with a small laugh. Even when she smokes, she looks so pretty and graceful. Her attire is a simple, black sundress and yellow flats. Her dark shoulder-length hair flutters gently to the wind’s motion. 

“So, what time’s your flight tomorrow?”
“I’m leaving at two in the morning,” she says, staring at a fixed point in the distance. “but my flight is at five.”
“You’re off again so soon.”
She looks at me and says, “I know, it sucks. I’ve finished school now, though. I’m going straight into work. I’ll work for one or two years then I’ll move here for good. I’ll come see you before then, of course. But once I’m here, we won’t ever have to be apart from each other again.”

I smile. I ask her what kind of work she’ll be doing. She tells me she’s going to be an assistant Veterinary Technician or something like that. I was too lost in her eyes and in my imagination to catch the details, but she seems excited about it all. A loose silence descends between us. We’re laid beside each other, glaring wordlessly into the now blackened sky. The cool, summer-night air carries the scent of freshly cut grass.

“Have you ever been in love?” she asks suddenly, almost automatically, with her gaze still fixed at the empty sky. I mull over her question and try to answer as transparently as I can.
“I don’t think so. I’m not entirely sure what love is.” I say after pondering. “Looking back, though, all I see is a series of short-lived infatuations and meaningless compromises.” 

She looks at me with an easy expression on her face – an expression which doesn’t say much, and so I decide not to ponder on the topic. I simply let the question float off into the distance and allow the silence to take its rightful place. 

“I better get going,” she says. “I don’t want my dad to worry, and it’s getting a little chilly.”

I walk her all the way to her doorstep.
“Well, here we are.” I say, somewhat sheepishly.
“It’s been wonderful to see you again after all this time,” she says. “I’ll be back as often as I can.”
I smile. I can feel my chest recoil and contort. I can hear all the unvoiced promises trying to disengage from a very specific region of my heart. I want to confess a million and one things to her right now at this very moment, but all my vocal chords decide to utter is, “Best of luck with your job. I’m sure you’ll do great.”
“Thanks.” She brushes a few strands of hair behind her left ear and kisses me on the cheek. “I’ll call you.” she says.

I smile.

That’s all I can think to do. That’s all I ever do. All these desperate, unsaid words remain trapped behind this otiose smile.

Tenacious Memory

I saw you the other day. I’ll be honest, I was taken aback by that whole moment in time. You looked me right in the eyes and smiled. I noticed how those exquisite eyes of yours retained their alluring glimmer even after all these months. The very same eyes which made me fall for you the second I peered into them. They really are magic. And your smile, delicate and graceful, still seizes the power to make my heart gallop and my stomach to writhe with elation.

You walked passed me, looking as beautiful as ever, and smiled. How I long to clasp you within my embrace once more. How I desire to feel your slender arms slung around my neck as we stand beneath that streetlight, with no words between us, just a sublime silence. How I yearn to make that radiant smile bloom across your beautiful face and to stare endlessly into the superb greyish-blue horizon in your eyes.

That moment when I caught a glimpse of your eyes and smile will more than likely stay etched in my brain for the next few weeks, possibly months. To you, it was probably a short-lived happening which won’t amble back into your mind again as a tenacious memory.

Sometimes I don’t know whether I try to brush feelings off too quickly because I’m looking for something “real”, or if I ponder and dissect every feeling I get because I want to translate it to art and assure myself that I am a genuine breathing, feeling human being.

It’s like sometimes I’m afraid that I may never feel again, but then at times, I’m too careful to not feel ‘too easily’.

Whatever the matter is, whether or not I’m reacting too much to that glance I caught of you, I still wrote about it, knowing full well you won’t read it. But I wrote regardless, with some bleak hope that you’ll someday find it and read it.

And what would happen after you read it? Well, most likely nothing. It’d probably be too late by then. It has been for a very long time.

Gnossienne #1 (Leaving)

“When you were still little, maybe eleven or twelve, I kept having these dreams about you. Dreams in which I just remember you causing me so much stress and grief.” she said to me. My mother was laid on her back, glaring at a point in the ceiling with a pallid expression pasted on her face.

“These dreams kept reoccurring, over and over again.” she continued. “I kept having the same kind of dreams and I had no idea what they meant at the time. But this is it. This is the grief I kept dreaming about.” As she says this, she releases a heavy sigh and turns to her side, pulling the duvet to her neck. A few seconds of silence followed before she closed her eyes and said, “Turn my light off and close the door behind you.”

This was the last conversation I had with my mother. Well, it wasn’t much of a conversation – I kept my mouth clamped shut the whole fifteen minutes she talked at me. What she said of course remained and settled. In a very dark, gloomy district of my mind. Like an unpurgeable internal ghost, what she said lingers and reverberates through my soul every now and then. And that’s the last time I ever saw her.

That night was the night when everything changed. I went into my room, locking the door behind me. I crawled in my bed fully clothed, not really knowing how I felt. ‘Empty’ might have been the right word. I couldn’t feel anything – no sadness, no hurt, no anger. No emotion at all. I just laid there motionlessly for about an hour or so. The point was to stay quiet long enough for my mother to fall asleep. It came to around 1:30am. I gingerly slipped out of my covers and sat at the edge of my bed for a few moments, listening to the deep, relentless silence which ran throughout the entire house. I took a few deep breaths and mechanically began humming the opening to Erik Satie’s ‘Gnossienne number 1’ hushedly.

I’m going to do it, I’m really going to do it, I remember whispering determinedly to myself as I got up. I opened my wardrobe door slowly and, reaching into the top-right of it, I retrieved a normal-looking shoebox. The shoebox encompassed a wad of good, hard cash. £5,000 in total.

No, I hadn’t stolen it. I hadn’t even worked for it exactly. I’d won it. In an under-25s short fiction competition. Yes, I’d entered and won the competition a year before. The prize was £5,000, a certificate, and a couple features in small literature magazines and local newspapers and such. Nobody knew, though. My family didn’t even know I entered. They never had any interest whatsoever in anything I was capable of or enjoyed doing. They just didn’t seem to want to know. My family had always been like this.

As individuals, we’re very decent, friendly people – but together as a family, as one unit, we’re a complete mess. We hardly ever spent time together, and whenever we did, there was always a stubborn heaviness and discomfort. This same heaviness and discomfort was alive in the house. The walls breathed it out, the carpet stunk of it, the doors were painted in it, each room was stuffed with it. Every moment together was like walking on eggshells or trying to disarm a complex bomb which would detonate at any wrong or reckless movement.

My mother had to singlehandedly spearhead the family, and so was always too busy and too stressed to have any idea what kind of characters her children really were. She didn’t understand them. She was trapped in a bubble. A bubble in which she would live whilst taking care of all of her issues, responsibilities and endeavours. A bubble in which she could not see or think beyond. This bubble allowed no room for other perceptions or insights. Only her own. Whatever she thinks, is right, whatever she says, goes. All she saw was problems she could fix. When she saw something she didn’t like or agree with, she had to fix it – using only the tools and methods she had inside that bubble of hers.

My family grew accustomed to this characteristic of only seeing problems. And so we adopted an instinctual habit of seeing only each other’s faults and pointing out each other’s wrongs (expect for me, I tried to stay out of the house as much as possible and kept my mouth shut whenever I was home. I turned a blind eye to whatever went on in my house, and generally didn’t get involved with anything that happened).

She was very difficult to live with. She only saw things through her eyes, and as I was under her roof, she could impose her perceptions (and the decisions she made as a result of her perceptions) onto me. And I had to take it. Right on the chin. Without a word. Even when I didn’t agree, even when I knew she was wrong, I simply had to shut up and accept it. But there came a point where I could no longer keep increasing my tolerance threshold. I didn’t hate the woman, no, not anything remotely close to that. But we were very different, and would often disagree. This was the case with my entire family, too. I believe we truly did feel a degree of compassion for each other, but we just never learned how to express it – and in knowing this, we all kind of dispersed and sought after expressed comfort elsewhere.

Whenever my family were together, without fail, at some point someone would weave in something totally unnecessary into the conversation. Say, for instance, a mistake or bad decisions one of us made months, sometimes even years ago.  Or someone might have taken things too personally, or someone might have confessed harsh and hurtful utterings about someone in the family (again, needlessly).

It was all a heavy, burdensome disarray I just had to find my way out of. And that was it. I took the money, slung on a big coat and filled a rucksack with a few items I figured would come to good use: ID, a change of underwear, two T-shirts, a pair of shorts and 3 unread novels. I slipped off the elastic band which held the wad of £5,000 together, counted and placed £2,000 on my bed, banded up the rest of the cash and pocketed it. I crept down to the kitchen and downed three glasses of water, then went back up to my room one final time. I left my phone along with the rest of my belongings. Looking at the pile of £2,000 by my pillow, I took one last deep breath, and then closed my bedroom door quietly behind me.

And that was it. I left.

Where I was headed to, I had no idea. But all that didn’t matter. As long as I’m out of here, I’ll be fine, I told myself. As long as I take the step, the wind will carry me safely. I remember feeling as though this was the right thing to do. You know, ‘destiny’ ‘n’ all that.