ISSUE 4 · SPRING 2010
This is Not a Love Story
When I was twelve I broke my back. When I was fifteen all the bones sliced through the skin. But it was okay. It was the first year I ever laughed.
One day I couldn’t take all the hiding and cut through all of my shirts. I cut the same shape into each material. Each sweater, each dress, now held a rigid circle that perfectly reflected the rigid opening there was behind me. I didn’t mind the blood after a month or two. I thought the bones added something to my intellect, and, well, the muscles brought out my eyes.
In my 23rd year I moved into my sixth apartment. Life had played games around me for some time and I just wasn’t skilled in winning. So I kept moving, looking for a room full of new strategy. My strategy at this point held one lamp, a bed, a kitchen with no real contents, and a TV. A couple of old jewelry boxes also made their way into my hands over the years, though I only kept the ones with the ballerinas that spun around inside them. If you pull the tutu off they keep dancing . . .
I learn from the best, you know.
Walking towards the convenient store every day I needed cigarettes was always my favorite. It was when I walked down Rochelle Avenue, the true main street of the mediocre land in which I lived. The sidewalk and sides to the road were dug up in some areas, and in the cleanest parts sat the city’s defeated. They occasionally would ask me for change, but most of the time seemed so taken back by my features that they would actually offer me their own possessions. I constantly declined, pushing past them to get to my destination.
Fourteen dumpsters down, right next to the abandoned warehouse. He stood there six days out of seven, hoping to get thrown some change to get the cheapest thing in the store.
It was a Tuesday, and the week before I had been too broken to walk, so I had missed him. He brought his own character to the street. He was loud. Too loud for people driving and walking by, not loud enough for the other souls living alone. He would talk, he would yell, he would sing.
He was lost.
He wore one silver ring on his thumb, and handfuls of disappointment on his shoulders. We never once spoke of these, (he didn’t have faith in my ears) though I knew they were present and looking for a fight. I heard from the man around the corner that he lost everything in a fire years ago. And that he stopped giving out his devotion when he was ten. He believed that humans were meant to live, not love and get tied down with heartache and hands ripped out of your own. When I heard all this—from the man with the coat of pigeons—I understood the tears in my eyes. I wanted to touch him, to make tea out of his troubles. Deep down I knew he just wanted answers, like the world’s inner child just wants peace. I wanted to make love to his deepest fears, but you know there was never any room for that.
. . .
“Do you always have that much confidence?” he asked me once.
I had dropped a couple of bones when I tripped on the steps of the store. I didn’t think I needed them anyway.
“Yes,” I said, tucking one line of vertebrae back into place with my chipped red nails. “Don’t you?”
I blinked hard to get a piece of hair out of my eye. And to quickly draw his outer frame with the dusty glory I used for charcoal in my mind.
“No,” he replied. “I think I may only feel it from what you drop when you walk away.”
He may have been sarcastic, though I hoped he was not.
“Well then, isn’t it so nice to have?” I said to his temple, slowly breathing in his insecurities.
. . .
One night I was on my way to buy a box of toy soldiers. I had been thinking about them in context to my childhood all week. I got to one street light, as the generous orange hand told me not to walk. Putting my shoes next to a trash can, I looked around for a breeze of entertainment. I walked up to a light post that was flickering on and off. I put my hand on the warm outer body. The metal kissed my fingers, but when I lifted my hand I noticed that I had wiped away its high speed florescent tears. While people walked around us in ignorance and frustration, I stood with it and whispered the only words I held.
If you have too many things on your pretty mind, we could all go along without light for awhile. Maybe someone will hold your hand and help you make the decisions no one wants to make, and start the day over without pain.
After a couple minutes of buzzing, it turned off in silence. I inhaled the redemption.
You won’t regret this darling.
I hoped it never did.
The friendly white man in the sign told me it was okay to walk through his street, so I followed the breeze towards the store. I looked down the avenue, seeing if he was there. With a section of newspaper that had blown past him, he had laid out all of his belongings. As I got closer I could see he was mouthing the numbers as he counted.
“You have more than me,” I said quietly.
As he looked up I realized in all the times I walked past him, I had never seen him at night until now. I jumped a little at seeing his skin against the moon. The creamy complexion reminded me of something. I tried not to focus my attention on remembering, but the dew drops around him formed walls in my brain. I didn’t have the courage to jump over them. The store was about to close, and the man with the red apron yelled at me to come in if I was going to buy anything. When I got back he had stopped the count; he had his head between his knees.
“It’s windy tonight,” I said. “Better hold on to those.”
He looked up at me with a blank face, though somehow I still felt disgust lingering.
“The wind has more things to do with them than me.”
“Oh I don’t know about that, everyone needs something in their life,” I said.
“Why didn’t you ever get that fixed?” he asked me.
“What fixed?” I blinked.
“Your fucking back. You’re fucking everywhere. Don’t you want that fixed?”
“What would that change about this day?” I replied. “My bath tub might get a little shinier; my walls might get a little cleaner. My ash tray will still be just as dirty, and my religion will still be drifting away.”
I gave him three cigarettes from my fresh pack and a sandwich I stole from the store, and looked at his hands. They needed to be bandaged.
“I’m sorry to say I will never understand you,” he sang.
“I’m just sorry there’s nothing in this world worth your time to understand,” I danced.
. . .
The television hadn’t been working for eleven days. I hadn’t paid for it, so I never really thought to complain about it. I left the channel on with the picture beeping at me and the color strips showing off.
White, yellow, light blue, light green, magenta, red, dark blue.
When I got bored I would imagine that the lines were leaking into my apartment. I put pots in front of the screen and sighed heavy sounds, telling it I was disappointed. But then again, who was I to tell it to stop?
I crawled into bed and pushed the pointy things back inside so I could get comfortable. The pillow had no energy to lift my head, so I placed it on the floor and told it it was beautiful anyway. I thought about my day, my days, and the people that walked through them. Their eyes were blinking on the nape of my neck. Their eyelashes danced on my hair line. His eyes weren’t there though, they never were. He would never let them dance for me.
My hand went numb, like it did a lot. I waited until I could hear the needles tap all around me, through the skin and on the cement floor. Once that happened I knew I would be able to sleep.
And I realized . . .
One day I will die.
No one will ever know how we get to where we go after we take our last breath. Or if we will hurt anymore than we hurt now. I just know I’ll never run faster than how fast I run now. And this snowy path of bones will never make people scared. Only their souls will make them cry. I will never know how to hold them. And they will never think to hold me.
. . .
I walked through the street, fourteen dumpsters . . . no sign of life. I circled his spot, like a lost puppy with three legs that was just left without a tag to be returned. No sign of life. The woman two steps away with the big pearls and the jumping heart told me that he was gone.
“Gone to where?” I asked.
My face was burning and my back bent towards the west.
“He’s on a truck somewhere. Well, some of him is on that truck,” she replied.
She pulled down her fur scarf. The head of the dead animal was still on it. Maybe a fox, or some kind of mink. It looked at me and told me it wanted to go home.
“Me too,” I said. “Me fucking too.”
I moved towards the store, but turned around when too many birds flew past me, and walked backwards to my starting point. I was dropping more pieces than usual; I must have been walking fast. I looked to my left and saw a girl picking up a slice of me, and smile up at her mother. But the angry woman slapped her daughter and I fell out of her little grasp. It started to rain, and my sweater got wet. The wool was sticking to my inner muscles.
I looked up towards one cloud and told it to place its fingers on the button to make it yesterday, and if it had the time, to bring all my loved ones up from the underground and wrap me in a blanket. Make it rose-colored, and soft, like the face of my mother. But make it strong, and hearty, like the good will of my father. Wrap it tight enough for my body to be squeezed, but loose enough for the movement of my lungs to be apparent. Just show me I am still alive.
I told the other cloud to make sure this wasn’t acid rain. His hands were so cut up.
. . .
I took a shot of vodka and imagined it was a satellite. It was on a mission to tell my insides secrets. I whispered, Tell them good things about me please. Lie if you have to.
I wondered if they could hear me through my open back. I felt bad and hoped I was good to them.
The door creaked and light shoved itself into my desolate room. For the first time in months, it wasn’t opened by me. It was a figure no one else could have drawn, a circus of black cats and crayons, drawing on children’s faces.
Shadows had never made love to me before. As he walked in, my eyes dripped into his. Without a word, he sat down onto my bed, taking his bloodied hands and moving his bum leg over to the rest of his body.
I leaned all my pearly insides against the cold wall and gently pulled him into my lap. I studied the top of his head and followed the slits on his skin all the way down to his left foot. He finally looked up at me, but I pushed his head back down and began to stroke him. My hand made its way around his skull, gently caressing his follicles with my fingernails. He moaned the only pleasure he could sing and slowly moved along with my touch. If I were any smarter I would have counted the hairs that were left on his head. They were important, crucial to my body. Yet my mind didn’t count, it mumbled inside me to just keep going.
Feel him, it said. Twelve times over, for every hour it took for him to find you.
I used to want to change his mind. I used to want to put my fingers on his heart and roll it around in my palm until he loved me. I used to imagine what his insides felt like, if they were anything like mine. I could have taken my hand off of the top of his head and put them into his brain. But I didn’t. I stared at his bruises and took in a deep breath of his naked bones. I could have snorted the pieces; they would have been in my blood stream. But I didn’t.
I could have wrapped my hands around his heart. But I didn’t have to. I held his body. He was never so beautiful. We may have spoken, but what we said was of no importance to the air that blew around the rusted bed. In the corner the ballerina was spinning, watching its reflection in the mirror and receiving applause from the sparkling plastic treasures under her stage. I squinted to see if the tutu was there.
I guess it didn’t matter anyway.
I moved my head down and kissed his wet lips. The taste of honey and truck fuel penetrated my whole body, while my open back shivered at its first taste of freedom.
Laura Spencer was born, grew up, and started writing in a city with echoes of old factory life. She recently received her BA in Creative Writing, and is the co-founder of Big Lucks, a literary journal that has quickly been added to the five things that make her happiest. Surprisingly close to the random sounds of Joe Strummer.