I’d like to preface this story with a bit of explanation. I first started writing it around April, 2015. It was my first time really trying to write something serious and of value and it took me about 6 months to write the first draft. At the time I was listening to copious amounts of King Krule/Archy Marshall, reading wordy books like Infinite Jest and was suffering from a late onset of teenage melodrama and love-sickness. The writing was taken very seriously (it was my magnum opus after all) and only done when in the perfectly depressed mood.
It’s not great. It’s too wordy, slow in the middle and the ending feels rushed. I realized this soon after I had finished it and ended up not doing anything with it. I’ve axed some of the more clumsy, long sentences from it and tweaked a few other things but other than that, this is it. What I admire about it though, is it’s earnestness, I remember trying so hard and feeling so much writing this. Reading it stirs some of those old feelings.
I’m still listening to copious amounts of King Krule, I’m still reading wordy books (the last one was Hemingway but Joyce is next), and the year-end melancholy has crept up. It’s quite nice to look back.
He sat with his eyes held at a distracted angle, their movement interrupted by a pervasive thought. He almost-recoiled and shifted his gaze to the other side of the dimly lit room. He was aware of the slouch that seemed to descend heavily upon his posture. His shoulders were tensed in feeble resistance. The dull clinking of ice in a glass came from the bartender’s stirring, shadows had pooled into the indents of his face.
He had walked past a group of children playing in the street on his way to the bar. The road was still wet from rain and glimmered metallically in the cloudy light. The manner in which they played was rougher than that of his own childhood. They were comfortable in their environment, running through the coarse-edged street with an apparent disregard that could only be developed through childhood familiarity. Their entire focus was reduced to the game’s objective and the enforcement of its rules, rules which every child seemed to both acknowledge as sovereign and yet willingly bend and break when given the opportunity. He had felt a fleeting sense of admiration for their innocence, the world was still to them irrelevantly big. They were blind to the hardships that would inevitably alter them and to the bleak perspective that they would develop with age. They were yet to be trapped in the predicament of a bitter reality, forced to decide between soberly facing it or numbing, drowning and distracting themselves in it. This haunting premonition, this knowledge of the world that they would soon enter into gave rise in him to a tragic sense of power. The power’s concept was vague and cruel and involved a replacement of their blossoming innocence with his own sad and hateful perspective. When had his mind become so rotten? He had thought.
He waited for the bartender to look up before raising his hand, pointing at the empty glass in his other hand and mouthing “Another”. He completed the performance by raising his eyebrows and pursing his lips in what could at the very least be interpreted as a polite attempt at a smile. The bartender barely nodded. His eyes returned to the table with a sigh. You didn’t have to be so pathetically explicit. He acknowledged the insecure inflection in his thoughts with indifference. It often loudened and became more pronounced when he drank. It made for loathsome company.
He tried thinking of why she had taken a liking to him. He smiled at her sometimes and she probably ascribed some depth to the stoic expression he adopted when he was boredly scrutinizing the patrons of the café she worked at. In reaction to the strained politeness he affected during their brief conversations she would respond with a quiet air of understanding, as if to console the tortured artist she imagined to exist beneath his polished surface. In reality however, the innocuous topics of transit and weather were used by him to forensically probe her for information. He chose this bar because it was close to where she lives. There was something sinister about it all. The premeditation, what he was willing to sacrifice for the hollow gratification he barely expected to receive. You chose this bar because it was close to where she lives. Compassion and laziness had prevented him from behaving so sociopathically before, something in him must have corroded with time and loneliness. You’re still fucking lazy, the voice jeered. His sinking exhale was muffled by the refreshed glass he had brought to his lips. The brandy’s fumes stung sweetly at his eyes, beckoning him to cry.
The door opened, the outside light casting a silvery haze upon the drifting smoke and dust, and she walked in. She smiled immediately and brightly. Her long hair descended behind bare, glowing shoulders. She was wearing a blue summer dress. He was quite sure, in that suspended moment, that she was the only source of light in the entire gloomy room. He wasn’t sure whether or not to take note of how her smile faded as she made her way to his table.
He rose to greet her, tugged out of his chair by a dreamy force that could not have originated in himself. He drifted through their greeting in a daze until once again he was sitting in a heavy slump, the only evidence that the moment prior had actually occurred was the lingering sensation of her cold lips that she had delicately pressed into his cheek. And yet there she was, across the table, before his eyes. Her slender arms, traced by fine, blonde down, bristled with goosebumps. She was shivering. She smiled again, as if through it all. He shuddered. The dress was clearly not worn for her sake.
“You look lovely.” He said.
“Thank you.” She beamed.
His smile back was involuntary, a flinching response to a sharp ray of light.
“And you look..”
“Tired?” He offered with what sounded like far less conviction than he intended.
She looked at him directly and quizzically, earnestly evaluating either him or what to say next.
“How was your day?” He interjected hastily.
She began to cheerfully recount the daily struggles of her job at the café with what was for him an impossible amount of enthusiasm. She paused to recall an exact minute detail. He might have considered this endearing had he not been so preoccupied with trying to look pleasantly engaged in the conversation. Each moment of eye contact was a searing, white-hot flash, a surging discomfort that clenched his jaw and tightened his face into an exasperated wince. He took the opportunity to look away to a spot of emptiness diagonally behind her. He allowed his face to slacken slightly. Breath. He tried to swallow and became aware of a lump in his throat. As if emboldened by his awareness of his current instability, the lump grew more resilient. He released his hands grip on the armrest and lurched forward, grabbed his glass and gulped.
He placed his glass down with deliberate firmness in an attempt to disguise his trembling hand. His eyes had fallen once more. His head throbbed. He was crushingly aware of his own worthlessness. The sense of dark omnipotence he had desperately tethered himself to was gone, he knew it was merely the sum of the bitter rhetoric he had told himself as he floundered and wallowed in his puddle of mud. Scum. He couldn’t look at her. His head lolled forward and he closed his eyes. Worthless. Worthless. You disgusting fool.
Cracks of lightening in a dark sky revealed with horrifying lucidity his own wretched soul lying crippled and ashamed at the bottom of some abyss, held down by fear and sadness masquerading as resolve. He had grown cold and numb down there and it was dark enough to delude, to willingly mistake himself for a part of it. Yet he was not the abyss, the absence of light and love, he was just a boy, drowning. He felt a fluttering in his chest, it felt like fear, it felt like air. An upwelling of helplessness began to tenderly lift him. As he rose he felt the cool light, shattered and mottled by the surface dance on his body. She had taken his hands. He raised his head, his eyes welling and his breathing shallow and what stared back was the concerned face of innocence, soft and beautiful.