1. An HP Laserjet 4 Plus with fluorescent light yellowed exterior and strange clear grease stains on every printed page.
2. Meetings at DirectInfo meant exactly three things to Clare, in the following order:
3. Her mindspace roars a maelstrom, spinning the past back up from the slipstream into the presence of the present. Wounds unhealed by the cliché of time, Clare sees the gyre widen at her feet—a past spiraling endlessly to ending after letdown ending. When will it end?
4. Officially, Clare’s title entitled her to Resource Management, which meant basically glorified baby-sitter and data-entry slave. Unofficially, Dana made her the office’s code fairy, tech goddess, and second-in-command FG (FG=Freakin’ Genius). It is this unofficial title that Clare eradicates.
5. Copies (3) to be distributed as follows:
1. New [bitch of a] Director, Ms. Clark’s desk.
2. Employee Relations Esther’s Desk.
3. One copy to the break room for the operators to enjoy.
6. A tiny crown made out of a Post-it note; Dana’s original title: “FG, goddess DirectInfo.”
7. Ms. Clark,
There exists under the sullen vein of the corporate behemoth a virulent Gloam--a cancerous agent. One that lurks behind bodies, antibodies. One that blackens, boils, seethes. This septic invader mas-quer-ades across business units, trickles down through the systemic channels, branches into all aspects of the behemoth. Festering, it grows quarterly, fattening upon the greedy intake of valuable nut-rients, discharging its waste directly into the bloodstream—strangling the very en-vironment in which it breeds. This sepsis of Gloamish growth drives decay and rot like flies to putrid flesh, coating every-thing in thick mucous green until the bodies and antibodies no longer recognize their host surroundings; until all of the behemoth falls under the baleful attrition of the Gloaming in unified entropy.
Ms. Clark, you’ve failed me, as a super-visor and as human being. Greed and rubber-spined management has driven this company into a disheveled, broken state. Your apathy, inattentiveness, and inability to stand against the Gloaming has cost this office its reputation, future, and morale.
And because of this determined state of entropy, I am willfully severing my connection to your terminal institution before I too am irrecoverably corrupted by your greed-inspired actions. Please send my disrespect to your superiors, and remind them that there is now no support for any of the automation that Dana and I built. Perhaps now in this most extreme of situations, you will finally realize and understand my usefulness, dedication, and importance to your business. But unfortunately for you, this understanding comes far too late; by the time you read this, I will have cleared out my desk, and disappeared from your system.
8. RIF (Reduction in Force): Gloam-speak for involuntary permanent layoffs
9. A pet term, and conscious misspelling due to its obviously humorous homophonic state.
10. Clare and Dana are very attentive to the layout of their desktop clutter; and as such, moving army men and ninjas signified multiple unspoken things between the two—a miniature language founded in action figure posing.
11. As she inhales, she thinks of what might-have could-have been. Of what would have happened if, once, after a long Saturday night of karaoke, Clare and Dana did slip into more than an embrace. Dana’s clove smell still tingle-numbs through her stomach every time she inhales it, but now the numb turns to ache as she breathes it in for the last time—the past’s possibilities closing doors on her present, leaving only a bleak grey streak to the future of nothing, of entropy.
12. From: “Suzuki_Makiko8848”
Sent on 10.30.2003 14:51:33
Subject: Re: Happy Halloween!
Clare-chan, Happy Halloween to you too! I am glad to hear from you it’s been so long! (and I miss you very much too, and so does my mother. She says ‘ollo!) ^_^
I like your original costume very much (kind of like mine)!! Did you see the new Gothic & Lolita Bible? <0.o> I thought of you!! Maybe that’s where you got the idea? I am sorry that J-san is not liking the haunted houses. She sounds very bad to be with. It is not fair to you that she is cheating on you. My friend, Arisu-chan had a bf that did that controlling to her, and at first it was OK, but then he made her pick out special clothes and made her not hang out with friends unless he said OK. Arisu-chan listened to him, but one day she caught him with a girl that works at the MosBurger by Saiin station. And worse more, Arisu-chan found a blog by her ex-bf that boasted how he took a normal girl and made her into his play-doll that did what he wanted whenever he wanted. Arisu-chan cried for days and days. I don’t want that to happen to you any more. You don’t deserve that!
Be careful with J. You caught her cheating before, so be 100% that she is dedicated before she can move in. OK? I am thinking that maybe you should not let her move in. You can find a better girl or boy for you? J seems not like the person that makes you the happiest. Why not come back to Japan? Father says he would still get you teaching job in Kyoto. Come soon, OK? <o.0>
Forever your Friend, M
“Tears aren’t a girl’s weapon. It’s her smile.” -Gackt
On 10/25/2003, "PaleMoon1331" wrote:
>Happy Halloween! What are you doing this >year for Halloween?
>I took J out to the haunted houses in >Painesville, OH last weekend (remember >them?) Granted, they weren’t as good as >the year that you and I went (coffin >rides!), but J hated it. I shoulda known. J >has a low tolerance for the general >public, so I guess we’re lucky that we >didn’t get our asses kicked out.
>For actual Halloween, J got us invites to >the Art Council’s Fundraiser Masquerade. >I’m really excited, because I’ve been really >thinking about finishing my Ashen >Graveyards collection, and maybe I can >meet some people who will give me some >gallery space (something like that would >get my creative fire going for sure)...
>For costumes, I wanted to do a Malise >Mizer inspired Victorian Vampire couple, >but J said we’re going as the puppeteer >(J) and her puppet (me). J’s wearing a >really creepy pinstripe purple suit to with >fingertip extensions that have cables >attached to my costume, and a top hat. I’ll >be in a tattered Victorian dress and >corset with those witchy side button >boots (the ones you bought me). and >she’s rigged all the wireworks through >long transparent latex gloves so that I’ll >look more doll-like.
>In other news, J’s been talking about >moving in with me! I never thought that >she would want us to live together, but >I’m glad that I was wrong. She’s so >beautiful, and strong. It’s almost like >being in Japan again—all my sadness and >regrets just melt away when I’m around >J. I feel so safe.
>OK, well take care! Love, Clare
>“I think music in general, and all types of art really, have always been about escapism-escaping the norm and asserting your own reality.” -Shirley Manson
13. J’s apartment is small, and shared with another—someone Clare’s never met, someone that J never identified. But due to the shared status, J spends most of her time in her room, leaving the pitiful living room for the anonymous roommate.
14. In a surprise visit, Clare enchanted J with a black satin ensemble complete with garter belt and stockings. She even prepared a little strip-tease for J. J told her later that “it made her very happy.” To Clare, that sounded a lot like “I love you too.”
15. A habit that Clare wishes J would quit. A habit that leads to weekly arguments, all of which end with J threatening to leave, Clare apologizing, and makeup sex.
16. Burned in her brain, Clare can’t not notice the imbalance between ordinal styles—it infuriates her all the more that a man this dumb could hurt so much.
17. A pang that registers deep in the back of her head; a tiny voice that asks in miniature politeness for her to forgive and forget, for her to reestablish a bond, to someone, anyone before all of her blood has spun-flown to the grave without her.
18. Over a thousand years old, Kiyomizu-dera crouches in the mountains of southeast Kyoto. Clare and Makiko shared Mr. Donut breakfast on the entryway steps before too many class trip photos pushed them upward, inward. Clare’s travel guide remarks how the main building was built without nails, but Clare is more impressed by the very extensive “Charm-Mall” behind the temple. Here, Makiko shows Clare several kiosks dedicated to selling more charms than any other temple Clare's visited thus far. Back here, amid the chaos throng of cram-school hopefuls buying luck for tests, Makiko makes Clare try the Love rock challenge – walk from one of the famous marked stones to the other with your eyes shut. If you make it, you’ll find true love. Almost there, and a sly Japanese teen slides in for a free kiss; Clare sputters and eyes open: test failed.
19. A temple built by Nene in dedication to the memory of her husband, Hideoshi Toyotomi—one of the feudal lords responsible for uniting Japan in the 1600s. Makiko says that she likes Kodai-ji so much because she and her boyfriend, Daisuke, kissed for the first time there. Clare liked it because, while walking through, they could hear a nearby high school marching band practicing “My Sharona.”
20. Harajuku Station is the trendy on-the-edge cultural center of Tokyo. The attraction for Clare and Makiko is the counter-culture influence there. Harajuku is the place to find all the latest gothic lolita trends, and it is here where Makiko took Clare for her total makeover.
21. Kore wa sumaranai mono desu ga dooz
<?xml version=“1.0” encoding=“utf-8” ?>
<!-- *****************************Everything Ends*****************************-->
<!-- ******************Or, The Story of My Life up till Now******************-->
<!-- *******As recorded by Clare Lackovic, Corporate WageSlave********-->
<!--****************Copyright 2007, PaleMoon Productions****************-->
<Version= “4.0” Type= “Workplace”
Title= “The End of The Gloaming” />
<Release_Date= “Sunday August 12, 2007, 18:50” />
Black fingernails clatter the keyboard with a twist-twinge-lipsticked smile. Sunday night and alone in the office, Clare types to the glow of her three monitors and the hum of dust-ridden case-fans. Satisfied, she CTRL+Ps: grinding cogs into halting motion on her kludgy fifteen year old printer1; its last print job moans, vomits onto the paper tray.
Distilling, she reduces her cubicle to a cardboard box starting with the picture of her and Makiko together in Japan nine years ago. Smiling, she turns to her wall of drawings2. Underneath a drawing of Everyman hanged by the rope of Capitalism, Clare finds a small forgotten photo, folded in half so that it only shows Clare standing outside Ink Assassins, squint-eye smiling, and new-ink arm-bandaged. She unfolds it and snarls, seeing J Right-profile facing, viva-Rock screaming into Clare’s photographically reproduced ear. It was the first thing she hung in her cube after landing the tech job four years ago.
Clare closes her eyes, drop-grinds it with her boot-heel, and accelerated by anger3, she deletes her network drive shares, usernames, email archives, and source code. She deletes her account from the server, and bears teeth smiling as daily automation scripts unravel into binary oblivion. She deletes her Job title4. She edits her contact information out of existence, and cancels her direct deposit.
As her printer grind-halts, she grabs, signs, staples her letter(s) of resignation5, and stops at Dana’s old cube on her way to deliver the letters, resolve heavy in her heart. Barren, yet many artifacts remain: Sponge Bob Square Pants calendar, FG Crown6, salt packets, three army men, a spork. She takes a deep breath and with slow determined steps, walks forward in darkness, sheaves of white resignation to be served in triplicate7 upon dark-scattered desks.
Clare severs all ties with the Gloamish state. Emancipated, she exits the building into a new tomorrow, a tomorrow yet unwritten—something glossy, unimaginable, yet tangibly close, a new self-borne out of bridge ash and recalcitrant anger. A new self-seeking to burn the current self to the keelhauls and start over where things last left off in a happily ever after sort of direction. Start over with a one-way ticket and no looking back. Reset to nine years ago; forget the future that has already happened. Forget the Gloaming, Dad’s death, J’s lie of a relationship, Davy’s death, and Mom’s petty bullshit. Forget while flying high over the Pacific, destination Kansai International Airport, Kanto region, Japan.
<Title= “Preparing for the end” />
<Compiled= “Saturday August 11, 2007” />
Late night, laptop bound, she types: “Dana, Dad, Davy: Gone. So too is J. Erie is a vacant carcass, but Mom’s you-are-dead-to-me pact survives.” Sighing, she looks around at her barren apartment; “The end is near—Erie. Is dead.”
“It all started ten days ago with the RIF8.” Pausing, sweat stick-slides across her back as she twists, reaches for her tepid water. Nothing is cold in her apartment. Nothing but memories. Turning back, she deletes much of the line, rewrites: “It all started three and a half years ago when J left me.” Staring at the screen, she knows the sentence still isn’t right; delete, rewrite, “It all started
She sets the laptop next to her and lies back on the barren carpet. Two days ago, she thought that maybe, Mom’s pact would go the way of everything else in Erie. Two days ago, Clare swallowed her share of the pride, called Mom and said “Hi” for the first time in years. She said, “Hi,” hoping that their silence would shatter before she had to repeat history by standing over her mother’s deathbed, watching the sunset on her—silence breaking only for the last few precious seconds. She lost Dad before she could apologize. In the silence ( ) following, she twirled the phone cord between ruby fingernails until, “What do you want?” came across the faint static of ten miles’ distance. Two days ago, she wanted to call Mom. To make amends, to maybe sit down for dinner. Two days ago, those wants dissolved back into the barren reality of truth: she was calling to say goodbye.
One day ago, Clare loaded her American life into a one-year pre-paid storage garage.
Today summer heat soaks her skin, stain-darkening her shirt as she stares at her ticket. Her escape plan. Her salvation.
Tomorrow, the chapter of her life in Erie will end with the Gloaming. Tomorrow, the story of her life will begin. Again.
<Title= “The Sixth RIF” />
Sullen and silent save for the swish-chunk of generators and the hiss-buzz of the electrical closet, Clare stares at the speaker phone blinking back tears. Dad died a few weeks ago, and Clare is sure that today is the killshot—the last straw on her hope of happiness in Erie. Today in the boredroom9, there is no food. She does not doodle, but yet, life at DirectInfo still takes a turn for the worse. Somewhere in the back of her head, she thinks she should rejoice for still having a job after all of Ms. Clark’s departmental slashing. But such a triumph is as shallow and pointless as DirectInfo’s aimless grab to increase profit by reducing the headcount. In addition to losing six rounds worth of co-workers, Clare has lost her Pension, 401k match, a week of vacation, yearly bonus, and her preferred medical insurance. To add insult to injury,
Across hundreds of miles of telephone wiring, somewhere in the Caribbean, Ms. Clark (on vacation) tells the office the condition of the times compassion-free and with perfect abject business acumen, punctuated by seagulls and crashing waves in the background. She says “kudos” in lieu of “thank you.” She talks about the next round of layoffs, coming either Thanksgiving or Christmas, as if it’s something to look forward to. She reminds the team to “buckle down and win faster,” and to “not talk about the RIFs, because it will damage the morale.”
Walking back to her cube, Dana’s desk already empty. Clare runs a hand through her hair and tosses her pad and pencil into her own cluttered workspace. Her ninja stands over an army man, ready to stab it dead—cube language for Clare to meet Dana outside behind the pillars10.
Outside, Clare walks into Dana’s aura of clove cigarettes. Dana’s eyes reflect the steely grey lowering clouds over Erie’s crumbling cityscape. Heavy sighs on both sides. Clare reaches out, “Gimme one of those, Indy.”
Dana raises an eyebrow, “You sure, Shorty?”
Clare fumbles to light up, the cigarette awkward between her fingers, but tasting and smelling of Dana11.
Clare runs a hand through her hair and then smooths out her skirt, “Well fuck. I never thought they’d RIF you.”
“Yeah. I’m a little surprised too, but” Dana lights another, takes a drag, “it’s time to move on. You should, too.”
“Yeah. I dunno what I’d do though.”
“Go back to school. Go back to Japan. Anything, unless you’re getting along with your mom.”
Clare laughs, shakes her head.
“This town’s dead, Clare. You need to get out.”
Clare looks away. Looks at the graffiti’d brick wall of the tiny empty strip-mall across the alley. Looks at the narrow space off the alley where she and J used to go on their breaks to make-out for fifteen sweaty-summer minutes before returning to the desktop monotony of 411 directory assistance. Clare looks back at Dana leaning against the pylon and looking at her shoe. “No more ninja vs. army man.”
Clare inhales. Coughs and hacks into silence.
<Title= “Once upon a time, work didn’t suck” />
<Created= “April 2004” />
In the ancient annals of the behemoth, before the seed of hope was left forgotten and rotting, Dana pulls Clare out of the operator ranks and puts her to work building servers and developing software. Brokenheart-tragic, Clare throws her all into making Dana’s work work, and soon she finds herself with a friend in the gloom. They spend a Harrison Ford weekend together and walk away Docta’ Jones and Short Round instead of Dana and Clare.
Inseparable, Indy and Shorty become the FG goddesses of the DirectInfo world, and make their office paperless, automated, and all around cushy for the two of them and the rest of the operations team. They save the behemoth time, money, and keep the Gloaming at bay, brandishing their techy knowledge like swords of truth against corporate stupidity. Untouchable. Life is indeed good, and during this time of innovation and day after day of a job well done, Clare forgets the heavy black gloom left over from J’s cold-shoulder departure.
<Version= “3.0” Type= “Relationship”
Title= “The End of Clare and J” />
<Release_Date= “Thursday, December 18, 2003, 23:21” />
Dark-night-homeward-bound. High-gloss patent boots swish-sink through drifting powder, kicking it onto the thick warm of her grey wool skirt. Swish-sinking, slide-stepping through snow covered sidewalks and subzero wind. Smiling, singing, to Switchblade Symphony and stair climbing to the second story.
Her fingers, cold in grey-black mittens, jerk-jitter. Her teeth clatter from behind gravedigger red lips. Salt-tears melt snow lingering on eyelashes: J stands before her: combat boots, fishnets, short black pleated skirt slung with chains, “Been there, Done that” T-Shirt, flak jacket, finger gloves, a garbage bag full of her clothes next to her boots.
J’s eyes, hard like the freezing metal of the lone lamppost outside are lined in unsmeared black and magenta. Her lips, taut, thin, deep purple, suggest a scoff behind her slight smile—a smile that sloughs into a Sid Vicious sneer.
“Clare, I’m bored of you and your shallow, fairytale idea of love,” she says spit-throwing words with machine-gun precision, “I don’t love you. Never have.”
J up-slings the garbage sack, and still sneering says, “All your vanilla mundane bullshit makes me sick. At least now you have a reason to be tragic.” She shoulders past down the stairs door-slamming and out of the story forever. Her last words echo through to the end of the paragraph: “You should thank me.”
Clare sinks, eyes wide, shocked. Inside, as her exterior shatters into tears, snot, and knotted wet hair, she sees J’s sneer behind every memory. She sees condescension and revulsion with each kiss, touch, fondle, fuck. But she also sees herself, insincere and saying the same when she was twelve walking out on her father, and again at twenty three storming away from her mother. She feels the burn of history repeated. She collapses into a spiral of snot-tear-misery. Her mind spins, catches, recalls Makiko’s last email12.
<Title= “Naked Lunch” />
<Compiled= “Friday, September 12, 2003” />
Sunny and warm outside on her day off, Clare walks the thirty blocks to J’s flat for a little midday surprise. Once there, and hearing music blaring from J’s bedroom window, she lets herself in and beelines to the kitchen, where she reassembles the lunch she brought along using the throb-thrashing of Skinny Puppy to cover her ancillary food preparation noises.
With lunch ready on black plates, she smooths her skirt and pulls a twist of hair from her face before sliding tray-in-hand to J’s bedroom13. The door gives way revealing flesh, sweat, the fizz-crunch of dying speakers, and the stink of sex.
The door gives way. Clare’s knees give way. The tray gives way. All three crash. Hard.
Startled, J rolls off, sits up, stares sweaty and unconcerned while the other girl, puffy-faced and panting Oh shit’s into the pillow in a piss-poor hiding attempt.
(Simultaneously) Clare cries, while
(Simultaneously) J backhand-rubs the sex from her lips and stares at the mess in her doorway, while
(Simultaneously) The other girl keeps her head buried into the pillow despite the fact that J’s sitting up has thrown the sheets from her naked-red-splotched quivering ass.
After a moment, J shatters the shock of the scene, “What the fuck are you doing here?”
Tear-choked-sobbing still, Clare smears wet-run makeup with the heel of her hand, buying time until the throat knot relaxes enough for her to croak, “I wanted to surprise you with lunch.”
“Pretty bad fucking timing.” J’s bony foot grinds into the other girl’s hip, flopping her to the floor.
The other girl, an obvious tattoo shop pickup with her new-ink bandage over her right shoulder wears scrunched-torn remnants of the lingerie14 set that Clare bought and wore for J just two weeks ago. Clare sees too the empty bowl, smells now the acrid stink of J’s weed15.
World-crumbling ache pans from Clare’s stomach as J’s tattoo slut pulls jeans over her tanned assets and escapes into the warm September sun with puffy face intact. Bile washes back all those forced down past moments of pain. Anger rides atop, along the current of green, throbbing Clare’s hands into fists, floor-punch-ing, pushing feet forward, lunging fists to pummel to punish J, but heart-tearing can’t face another empty-dark of heart-torn, so instead she feels the pain of shattered china worming through blood into knuckle bone. And she cries.
And J, naked still, stares at her and the growing stain in her doorway, “You’re making a mess on my floor.”
Clare smears snot with blood and shards of plate onto the back of her hand as she starts collecting chunks of glass, lunch, and dignity, blind-love holding on to all she can.
J stares, turns up the stereo. As Clare finishes cleaning up, she apologizes for barging in. J, Sid-Vicious sneering to the Sex Pistols, says, “Forget it. I’m sorry,” and grab-pulls Clare out of her shirt, skirt, into bed to pick up where she left off—makeup sex to make up for Clare’s unannounced walk-in mistake; 100% unapologetically J’s style.
Afterwards, as Clare catches her breath and J slides off into still-high snoring, Clare, half-numb, stares at the dusk-lit ceiling, shudders another sob. She has to make it with J. She tells herself that J’s the best thing she’ll have in Erie, and that Japan is the only other thing that could be better. But she knows J and Japan are not as mutual as their opening consonants betray. She wants to make it, here in Erie without running away again, without turning her back on another tragic postmark on her past. She knows the way things have to be, so with a heavy sigh, she turns to her lover; tries to stretch the ache out of raw knuckles.
<Title= “The way of J” />
<Compiled= “August 28, 2003” />
Thunderclap lightning lights sweaty-silhouettes sleeping post-coitus. Clatter-clap rain bullets into the roof plink-dripping into pans where J’s ceiling sags. Clare shutter-jumps awake from a house-shaking crack. J, Sex-weed-high, sleeps. Hot-sweating, Clare gasps and twists onto her back. The sheet drag-sticks to the latex stockings biting into her thighs. In this heat, everything sticks before it slides. Sex appeal over, she wants out. Sweat pools between her toes; her wrists are numb from too-tight straps tying her to the headboard. Hours ago, it seemed like such a good idea.
That morning, J calls and says, “I called in sick, so I can spend the day with you. Come over. I have something for you.”
That morning, Clare feels full of love; she is loved. Today she will tell J that she loves her. Today she will cement their relationship.
That morning, Clare says, “I never realized you liked kinky lingerie,” staring at the contents of the once black wrapped package.
That morning, J says, “Naked bodies are boring. Tattoos help, but I like my women dressed for the part.”
That morning, Clare comes out of the bathroom glossy black, and while Betty-Page posing says, “J, I love you.”
That morning, J says nothing when it counts the most, and in said silence ties Clare’s latex gloved hands to the bedpost.
That morning, Clare loses count. That morning, pleasure becomes pain, and while sweat pools, and lips chap, Clare remembers the moment of silence punctuating her “I love you.”
As morning drifts into afternoon into thunderclap evening Clare sees a softening in J. She sees in that moment of silence, a watery edge to J’s eyes, an upturning, genuine smile starting to form before squashed into a sneer. Clare sees hope of a new life. Hope that will break her out of this depression. Hope for a Goodnight Moon night after night with J. And in her mind, this hope is as good as “I love you too.”
<Title= “The start of another regret” />
<Created = “May, 2003” />
Skin crawling, itch-aching for J’s fingers, Clare, back arched and heave-sighing, bites her lip under J’s touch. J, purple spiked hair, full-sleeve tattooed, and nipple pierced, traces paint crusted fingers over Clare’s pale chest. This is the way things are to be from now on—Clare’s new definition in post-Davy life; her new isolation. All of it starts
Three hours before. Clare writhes under another’s fingers as tiger eyes appear from buzzing ink and a needle induced bamboo thicket--the buzzing chills, sending twitch signals everywhere, trying to draw focus from the pain. This moment leads to
Two hours before. Clare still sits in the shop, dehydrated and recovering. She sees J, an unfamiliar coworker who becomes familiar as she smiles from another chair while stars solidify out of tracers. Tattoo stories are shared over low partitions and the buzz of three artists’ needles, conversation starts until
One hour before. Clare and J walk out together intending to get a drink after pit-stopping at Clare’s nearby apartment to drop off her bag. At the apartment, other things drop off as well: shoes, skirts, shirts, panties. For Clare, each layer an experiment, an excitement, an “Are you sure you’re OK with this?” from J. And with each layer, Clare falls more in love with long curves and inked flesh and the sharp spike of gelled hair. She forgets the loneliness of Erie, of men leaving by morning, of dim light drowning in gin, of mundaneity, of Davy’s death, and her still standing feud with her parents.
As J becomes her life, Clare shoves the world away, working to kiss and grind behind the pillars on break; imagining not a world of distance and solitude, but one full of J and her smell, her essence. She seals herself in a world of selfish isolation, forgetting her roots, her history, and her self.
<Version= “2.0” Type= “Individuality” Title = “The End of Self” / >
<Release_Date= “Monday, March 19, 2003 02:30:27” />
Tonight. What happened tonight? Stumble stepping in the dragging cold wind freezing off the still frozen lake, Clare stops to lean against a still barren 9th Street maple. One stocking slides groundward while its striped sister struggles to stay aloft by just one garter clip. She closes her eyes, straightens her back against the wind, breathes. Once, not so long ago she was someone. Not someone famous, or important, but someone. And she was respected. In Japan, when that bold boy kissed her off course of the love rock test at Kiyomizu-dera, she punched him, and gained an apology and the idolatry of several on-looking schoolgirls.
Locking the world behind her, she stares at herself in the full length mirror. Corset strings hang loose, limp, dead. Half-fallen hair obscures the slap-sting marring her right cheek. Her boots are scuffed. Her left stocking sags, falls again. “Sorry state of affairs you are,” she says to her self, says to herself.
Unlacing, she loosens her stomach; her corset thumps to the floor. She shrinks five inches as she tosses one boot then the next to the corner. Soft and short, she strips her shirt, skirt, other stocking staring at the pale curves of belly, breasts, hips. She closes her eyes against herself. How could his slap hurt so much? She grabs at the fat of her stomach, squeezes, releases, “I’m not fat,” but her reflection stutters her confidence. Shivering, she crosses tattoo ink stained arms over her breasts—too small for her hips. Her mindspace aggressive and angry high-speed free-spins, identifying each flaw, punctuating with Mark’s commentary:
l “You know why she’s wearing a corset? Two reasons: One: It hides her beer-gut and B16: it’s a desperate attempt to know what it’s like to feel hugged.”
l “She’s goth because she knows that goths can dress like sluts, and she dresses that way hoping that someone will give a shit enough to pick her up.”
l “I can’t believe you showed up here tonight. Oh. You thought I was serious. No, Clare. You’re an embarrassment, and I’m sorry we fucked.”
She hit him for that; some satisfaction washes her mindspace free of some of the gloom in her mind, but her lip is still split and throbbing with a bulbous ache. Smolder-anger has nowhere to go because she lost tonight. Lost her cool, her peace, a piece of herself. She thought he liked her; she thought his bullshit come-ons were romantic; she thought that the last month with Mark was an invitation to start feeling again, in the wake of Davy’s death. She thought she was smart enough to avoid being played, to avoid being a hashmark on an ex-frat boy’s fuck-list: the I-did-a-goth-girl merit badge with an I-dumped-a-girl-that-I-played-in-front-of-my-friends distinction.
Twenty-three, and just as alienated as she was at eighteen, Clare stares at her size twelve American-average self. Twenty-three and her art has dried up—her paint supplies still packed, blank canvases doing nothing but warping in a stack. She’s a shadow of herself; her image is all that remains, but even now she sees the fissures, fractures the mundane self breaking through. Her operator number becomes her: 1213. No family, no friends, no lover, she descends, embracing her number, an artificial addition to herself.
She “So what,” slides into bed, knowing that sleep won’t relieve her, that a Goodnight Moon won’t be happening this time or anytime soon.
<Title = “Haircut and a real job” />
<Compiled= “Friday, November 15, 2002 16:30” />
Two months in, and her call time has dropped from post-training 50.2 seconds to 28.6. She’s only a few seconds away from her supervisor set goal of 26.0. As her black fingernails clatter the crappy keyboards of her spent out Pentium II piece of junk PC, she tries to focus on giving a shit about the customers.
Two months in and she still dresses up for work. She’s not like the single moms who stumble in po-jama’d and in slippers. She doesn’t wear track shorts, baggy t-shirts, or bedhead. Keeping her appearance, she clings to the self borne in Japan, her new self, and though she aches-empty inside, she still looks the part that she and Makiko extracted from the depths of her own desire.
Two months in and she knows he stares at her, sits near her, smiles when she looks back at him. Mark. He looks like a frat-goon, but his smile makes her want to paint, so he can’t be all bad, can he?
Two months in, and several thousand City-and-State-Pleases at work haven’t eased the hurt of the upcoming one year anniversary of Davy’s death.
Two months in, and Clare feels nothing, is nothing.
<Title= “Return to mundaneity” />
<Compiled= “Saturday, June 6, 2002” />
Six months ago, she thought summer would have been spent still in Indiana, freeloading art supplies and equipment from the school until she could secure a space in Pittsburgh, or maybe a Grad school acceptance. She thought she’d be anywhere, doing anything, but standing on her mother’s doorstep. But still, that’s where she stands for the first time since Japan. Unwelcome waves ooze from behind the screen door, but Clare steels her stomach, steps inside.
Mom’s face is expectantly sour. Clare solid-jaw stares back; her coffin-heart tank top dampening in the small of her back, as Erie’s everwet starts catching behind her knees.
“That kilt belonged to your great grandfather. He’d turn in his grave if he saw you wearing it like that.”
“Like what? Like a skirt?” Clare smooths the wool against her knees and takes a wider stance, proud to have pissed off Mom so quickly.
Mom snaps shut, eyes hard-sneering; she turns back to making her macaroni salad.
Already, she knows this is a mistake. She knows that Mom doesn’t really want her here. The repeated late night drunk calls pleading for Clare’s return, clearly forgot the stone-sober rift between them. She sits at the table and stares at her mother.
Back turned and still mixing, “Did you find a job yet, Clare?”
“Mom. I just graduated. You don’t just get a job immediately, you have to find one.”
“Well, maybe if you chose more wisely in college, you’d already have a job.”
Clare knows where this fight is going; Mom stopped assisting her in her sophomore year once Clare declared her dual art/English major. Clare clearly remembers, “Liberal arts degrees are for the weak-minded. You’re smart enough for a real degree, chemistry, computers, physics. I won’t pay another dime until you switch to a more appropriate major.”
That’s when the silence began, and it broke only for Davy’s funeral, and now today. But Clare doesn’t feel half the disgrace that her mother deems. She’s the better person; she’s agreed to move back to Erie, a dying city, a city that is artless, crumbling and full of only service industry jobs. She’s answering her mother’s moment-of-truth pleading for company for her to be a daughter, for her to replace the void of Davy; as if Clare could somehow wrest the title of favorite from his death-curled fingernails.
The fight continues in much the way that Clare imagined it to go: Mom’s lack of respect for Clare’s passion leads to a thrown salt shaker and followed by a half empty bowl of macaroni salad. Clare again leaves her mother behind, stalking away from her house, flicking noodles and chunks of carrot to the pavement; sealing the contract on another mutual mother/daughter you-are-dead-to-me pact—the only thing the two of them can ever share.
<Title= “Gravelight” />
<Created= “December 2001” />
Snow flakes, fat and slow amid December’s quiet glow. Moonlight, streetlight reflects from the muffled-white cold. Winter break, and inside, a radiator ticktick hisses. Moonlight, streetlight glimmers through into the dark abandonment of the room. An answering machine blinks, angry, with one unheard message. Paint, grey, black, and white dries—half-realizing a snowstorm graveyard in triptych.
Eight blocks away, analog cell phone signals signal the end of a life. Leaving the graveyard shift behind, crying Clare crunches through plow-tossed snow, her signal dying now dead. Her brother already dead and cold, victim of an I-90 blizzard pileup.
Under the snowfall calm, Clare’s last shreds of Japan-borne peace atrophy into a swirling squall of chaos and sadness punctuated with her brother’s pale blue eyes looking at her in the airport. His pale blue eyes asking silently for a little companionship, for a few minutes, for highlights from her trip. A last moment sacrificed so easily for the sake of her new self--her last moment with him.
<Version= “1.0” Type= “Self Discovery”
Title = “The end of finding her self; the end of Japan” />
<Release_Date= “Sunday August 16, 1998, 14:35 EST”
Lock-dropping landing gear crash-skidding onto the tarmac, a forgotten past comes rip-roaring back into the presence of the present. Taxiing to the terminal, summer spin-flies away into distant nook and cranny spots of memory between ugly barrels oozing and seeping with local history and the need for conscious attention:
· College starts tomorrow.
· Mom’s last words: “If you go to Japan, you’ll never step a foot back in this house. Do you hear me Clare? Clare! Don’t walk away from me when I’m talking to you!”
· Davy’s watery-sad eyes looking on and silently saying, “Please don’t leave me alone.”
· Sneaking deep underneath, her father peers between barrels reminding her of the day six years ago when she told him, “I hate your guts and I never want to see you again.”
These spin-swirling memories crunch-churn her gut, dragging up nausea and bile—threatening to betray the calm exterior to her chaos.
Eighteen and alienated black platform boots, black skirt with splotched bloodstain pattern, Jolly Roger red tank top. Eighteen and alienated black hair, eyes, lipstick, fingernails, Clare stands apart from her fellow travelers. She returns to Erie only to catch the bus to school; her new self doesn’t belong here with these mundanes; her heart soul and all the rest long for freedom flung far from the gloom of the Peninsula’s bacteria-laden beaches and the fading stink of Hammermill’s imminent plant closure. But yet, familiarity pokes through, peers through the brown and grey masses of ignorable people. Thirteen year old blue eyes unsteady, unsure look into her browns, lined in black, and recognize Clare’s envy—for his blue eyes (this is the only faint recognition flickering across those filmy pale blues) that remind her so much of everything Dad17. Davy, thirteen and alone flag-waves, half-frantic, crossing his lips somewhere before smiling and imminently to the left of crying.
In Davy, she sees the pain, regret, and remorse of her past past. Davy, the quiet, crying kid-brother that stood silently taking all the weather of warring parents and the desolation of the divorce. Davy, the symbol of everything she did wrong: she took him from Dad six years ago; she watched him run to his room with tears streaming every time she and Mom screamed and threw cups and clothes, brushes and combs at each other; she ignored him, tossed aside his aspiring-to-be-like-his-big-sister drawings and scoffed at his interest in D&D. In Davy’s watery blue eyes, Clare sees failure. Her own. But,
I am a different person now, Clare’s mindspace says to herself, iron-hardening her resolve to walk out the revolving door into another life full of Goodnight Moons and free from wide awake three AM toss-turning over all the things that shouldn’t have been. But feeling the warm sweat, the everwet of Erie humidity in August slide-catching behind her knees, and the heat air pushing doubt down her throat until even the squinching of toes inside her Japan-bought goth boots don’t bring her back to the warm-fuzzy of two hours ago (taking the time zone shift into effect), a part of her, tiny and plain calls for Clare to close the distance with her brother, to resolve the silence between them before sliding out of sight.
But this new Clare, forever focused upon her new self suffers only seconds with Davy, unknowingly losing her brother ultimately forever to her own apathy. Losing him, forgetting him for four years until his car crash inferno scorches memories of this day front and forward—their last moment together as brother and sister. Forever in hindsight, Clare stalk-steps up out and away from humidity, family, Erie, and the past. She bus-rides away from all of it, hoping to never look back as the warehouse workers in her mind churn and fill new barrels of memory made in Japan.
<Title= “Cementing herself” />
<Compiled= “Sunday August 1, 1998, 11:00” />
Too hot in the sticky summer sweat, Clare in twin pig tails and flip flops, tank top and cotton shorts twins Makiko’s style for today as they lick quick at grey fast melting black-sesame ice cream while cobble stone winding along Kyoto’s Higashiyama trail. Kiyomizu-dera18 tourist trapped behind them in gridlock, Makiko smiles and remarks how twin-like they look with Clare’s newly dyed hair and borrowed outfit.
Clare stops, pigeon-tip-toes one foot and covers her giggle while melting grey dribbles her free hand, saying “Watashi wa Makiko no....” she pauses pulling out her phrase book, looking up ‘sister,’ “shimai desu yo!” This garners bobbing pigtails and infectious dimpled crooked tooth smiling continuing to the gates of Kodai-ji19—Makiko’s favorite temple in Kyoto.
Flip flops flop off feet and into clear plastic bags as they step onto the tatami of Nene’s house, and instantly summer heat and cicada chirp buzzing fades out of importance amid the pall and silent heavy air of this main room. The 400 year old screens belay ancient hardship and with pinprick hairs on the back of her neck, Clare feels Nene’s heavy somber presence serving tea to ghostly samurai retainers, faces drawn grim, eyes grey and unseeing staring towards the raked garden before them. Fear and uncertainty still claim to this room. The hard slap of history spin-yawning deeper wider blacker than anything she’s known hits Clare. She thinks of bonds broken: her mother, her father, Davy. Pain of the past creeps into her throat, fueled by 400 year old tension.
“Clare-chan, are you OK? You look so sad.”
Clare breaks away from her sad staring into space, “Sorry M-chan. The air here is just so heavy.” She smiles, “I’m OK.”
As they stand, Makiko hugs Clare. A shocked moment passes, punctuated by Makiko smiling, “I am glad you came to visit, Clare-chan.”
Tension broken, past memories spin-fly back to the past as they walk onward. Clare smiles back, “Hai Hai, M-Chan, Koko wa...totemo ii desu...?”
Makiko raises her eyebrow at the strange sentence, but nods, smiles “I think you mean, ‘koko ga daisuki desu.’ It means you love it here, yes?”
Nodding, smiling, “Yes! I do love it here.”
Hours later, the two ride window-squished on a crowded bus through Gion. Clare pulls a twist of black hair away from her face and looks out the window into her pale reflection. She sees her day in Harajuku20 three days ago surrounded by blood red curtains and sputtering candles debuting her new image. Herself reflecting over busy streets, she sees ladies in Yukata carrying fresh produce, school girls with cell phones laughing, and businessmen straight-backed and all business with dour scowls and stiff steps. Eighteen and alienated, she feels more at home here among foreign faces and foreign places than she does in Erie. Her new self solidifies twinged in sadness and tempered in silence.
This is me, she says to herself, Kore wa watashi desu. She wonders if her translation translates correctly; wonders when she’ll be fluent enough to answer her own question. But she smiles knowing that she has four years to learn the answer; four years to temper herself at college before coming back home to Japan, forever.
<Title= “Finding Home” />
<Compiled= “Friday July 24, 1998”
The night before Harajuku, Makiko and Clare stay up getting ready for the trip to Tokyo. As Makiko dyes Clare’s hair black, they listen to Garbage and Malise Mizer. They paint their fingernails black. They paint on makeup luscious thick. They wear tank tops and panties (black of course) against the July heat. They dance, sing; smile and laugh. Until, Okasan pokes her head into the room.
Both stop, stone solid; Makiko cuts the music. Clare, terrified, covers her face and turns from Makiko’s mother.
“Clare-san, are you OK?” asks Okasan with a hand on Clare’s shoulder. No fighting. No yelling. No telling Clare that she looked like a slut in that makeup. No. This is Japan, and this is Makiko’s mother, not her own.
Clare looks up, makeup smudged on the palms of her hands, “Yes I’m alright, Mrs. Suzuki. I’m sorry if we were being too loud.”
“No. You OK. I came to see if you wanted tea and youkan,” Okasan smiles, “And please no Mrs. Suzuki. Okasan.”
So at 3AM with four hours until their bullet train to Tokyo, Okasan brings in three cups of tea, some sweets, and the three of them sing along to Shirley Manson until the black of night turns into the grey of dawn.
<Title= “Runaway to open arms” />
<Created= “June 1998” />
Plane landing and hard-swallowing while sneaker-stepping away from all things American, through customs stutter-stumbling foreign statements earnest in appearing more educated than her compatriots, Clare lands into a queue of uniform black heads heading for the train.
Eighteen and alienated. Brown hair and blue jeans amid business suits and briefcases, Clare’s 7,000 mile from home reality bubbles into panic for exactly one minute before three waving arms penetrate the uniform mass en masse surrounding her. Three arms connected to three smiles, with the shortest of them holding a sign in her other hand, “Welcome Clare!”
Surrounded by the Suzukis, Clare tries to bow and present small gifts from America, but before her oft-rehearsed statement21 can rattle-chatter free from nervous lips, they crowd in and hug her, with the mother clucking happily in choppy English, “Ollo, Ollo! Clare-san. How are you?”
It takes Clare a minute to realize that Makiko’s mother is saying, “Hello,” but the happy moment sends the dark days of her past spin-flying off into the back recesses of her mind. Here in Japan, she doesn’t have to dwell on her past. Here in Japan, she can reinvent her self, again.
Drew Lackovic is a fiction writer and native of Erie, PA, where he recently clawed his way out of Corporate WageSlavery into academia where he teaches English Composition at Penn State Behrend. Drew holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University, and graduated Summa Cum Laude from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a BA in English. His fiction has appeared in many journals including: Human Voices, 94 Creations, Word Riot, and Alligator Juniper.