A Short Story by Daniel Verastiqui
She was sitting in her favorite chair, holding a Corona in her hand, when she looked over at me and with all the seriousness in the world, said in a low voice, “I am eternity.” I found this odd because normally she wasn’t given to such profound statements. As I searched for some hidden meaning, she reclined further into her chair and rested the Corona on her stomach. A small ring of water grew from the bottom of the bottle into her shirt. She was staring at the ceiling, with her head hung backwards over the arm of the chair, softly humming a strange tune. I was watching her chest rise and fall with her breathing and it seemed like at any moment it would stop entirely. Her glossy eyes came down and found mine again and she noticed I was still puzzling what she had said earlier.
“Well?” she said at length. “Well what?” I replied, unwilling to admit she had confused me. She was the kind of girl that enjoyed asserting her intelligence over mine. Not that she was necessarily smarter than me, but as most women do, she had a way. She supported her ideas, right or wrong, with a confidence I knew I could never match. For the most part, I never even tried.
She let out a groan and threw her body forward until she was sitting up and teetering on the edge of the chair, arms resting on her legs. Her low-cut shirt was hanging loosely off her body, but before my eyes could reach her breasts, she was standing and bumbling across the room. I rose to follow, but as I had downed my share of Bacardi Silver, I immediately became light-headed and relented to nature by sitting back down. Instead of sitting down in a controlled movement, I fell backwards, banging my head on the arm of the sofa. I heard her moving in the other room, running into the walls and doors. Shortly after that, she returned with her socks and shoes. My head ached as I watched her stumble back into the living room. The leather of the chair made a rude sound as she sat and looked over at me.
“Okay,” she said, “if this shoe is the world, and I am the sock…” Her voice melted into shades of gray as I slowly faded out of consciousness.
When I asked her about it the next day over a late breakfast, she claimed she didn’t know what I was talking about. Later, she suggested I write something on the event, but I couldn’t remember enough of it to really describe it in detail. Besides, I still believed I am eternity to be clichéd and arrogant. She disagreed and we got into a small argument. She was halfway through her fit when she screamed, “Oh sure, you’ll take Em’s suggestions and write page after page but God forbid I offer something.” I didn’t feel like arguing and didn’t feel like eating, so I just stopped moving. When she finished her rant, I left the table and went into the living room to start cleaning up the empty bottles from the night before. The coffee table was sticky with spilt alcohol. I heard her pouting in the other room. Yes, it is possible to hear someone pout. Especially her, she liked to throw things. Rather than confront her childish actions (thus making her cry and making me feel guilty), I took a walk. Once outside, I looked around for a direction to head. The sun was starting to set then, and the pink and purple pillows in the sky invited me towards the West. As I walked, I wondered what would happen if I never stopped. It was a nice thought, but somewhere I knew that I was fated to turn around.
A mile or two into my walk, it occurred to me that Shakespeare might not have been the genius we all accept him to be. For a couple weeks prior, I had been going over old writings of mine. More often than not, they looked as if someone else had written them. For example, I had been noticing unintended nuances in my writing that you could (in some way) interpret as intentional. Sometimes, my random jumbling of words produced a theme or common metaphor. I didn’t intend it to, and I figured Shakespeare didn’t either. No one man could be that insightful. I resolved the question by actually saying aloud, “You can find meaning in anything if you look long enough.” No one was around to hear it. Believe me; I checked both directions, twice. Maybe that’s what she was doing. Maybe she had been in the middle of a long train of thought and her conclusion was that she was eternity.
The sun has disappeared completely and I rushed home to write down the Shakespeare revelation. After she read it over, she looked at me and asked why I couldn’t pick one tense and stay with it. I told her that my ideas transcend time and therefore all notions of tense. She looked at me the way she always does when I try to bullshit her and then gave me a speech about how no one man is above the laws of nature and that if we were going to continue to have a relationship that I would need to start adhering to basic grammatical rules. Maybe I should have just written about the sunset. Either way, I was tired of arguing and decided that it was as good a time as any to take a shower.
After flexing in the cruel light of the bathroom mirror for ten minutes and feeling worse for it, I stepped into the shower. I was washing my hair when she appeared through the bathroom door, naked, removing one of her many earrings. I could see her through the clear shower curtain, standing with her bare back to me, examining her ears in the mirror. I rinsed my hair, hoping to be finished before she got her last earring out. Water ran down the front of my face as I tried to imagine each of her earrings and estimate how soon she would be done. She stepped in when I stepped out and I ignored the look of reproach on her face. I barely finished drying before I was in bed and asleep. I figured it was no big deal to sleep now and save the problems for tomorrow. Once more.
The next day, I was at my desk in my bedroom, conjuring new stories from the notes in my notebook. (I can see the look on your face. Stop that.) Only once in my life had I written a complete story on those pages. That story never made it out of there. It was likely that it would remain forever entombed in cracked leather. What I learned from that experience is that the great ideas only come out in a flurry of activity, a stampede of words and little dots and exclamation points. I could always add the commas later. I turned to a random page in my notebook and found the words, “green hill”, “jack and jill,” and “sun dress.” So I typed into my computer;
She was off, running quickly down the green hill, on the very edge of self-control, her arms outstretched to hold her balance and her long hair flowing in the artificial wind. Her dress billows and folds, briefly revealing her legs in a flash and then gone again. The speed is too much for her as she reaches the bottom and she falls. I rise to help but before I can move, her laughter penetrates the blue sky, echoing off the clouds. I start down the hill slowly, having given up running to when I was younger. The grass is soft between my toes, supported now by her quieting laughter. I stop above her, looking down onto her face. Her hand goes up to block the sun while she looks at me. A smile rests on her face and her eyes…
She stopped me mid-sentence to inquire about the sexual innuendo of the passage. I told her there was none and that she should try not thinking about sex for at least a couple hours every day. She huffed (if you can imagine that) and I turned back to my computer to write more, but I had lost my train of thought. Also, it just so happened that the remainder of the page that held my notes had been overwritten by a series of concentric circles that had started in the middle of the page and that I was not man enough to stop. The circles had grown bigger, devouring the words from the page and purging their existence from my memory. She laughed at my carelessness, saying I shouldn’t doodle in class anyway, that finding out why Updike liked cats was far more important. I left the room, telling her I was going to find a dictionary so I could look up “incarnadine” and “concentric.” She burped as I shut the door and for some reason it reminded me of Throne of Blood even though it wasn’t in black and white and she wasn’t Japanese.
“Any day now,” she said, “the hand will fall from her breast and you will find yourself sitting in the middle of a group of 40-year old men writing sleazy letters for next month’s Penthouse Forum. Your words dance around the curves of my chest but your readers want more than just a faint impression.”
She was stretched out on the couch, in Kate Winslet’s classic Titanic pose. However, she had her breasts covered, one with a blanket and the other with her hand. My hand though, continued to stroke across the paper, curving lines gently around themselves, until they took the shape of a young woman’s body. My fingers were seven shades of gray from the charcoal I was using to draw. She knew I couldn’t draw (especially with charcoal), but she didn’t mind. I think she enjoyed being naked.
“Recite.” She was giving orders now. “Recite something old.” I stopped mid-stroke and said aloud;
tender are the bonds, frayed at the tips…
“No,” she barked, sending ripples down her body. “How dare you recite that one, I know who you wrote that for. That’s her poem.” I tried to explain that poems are not about anybody, and therefore could not belong to anybody. I quoted Rich, “[poetry, an artifact] created as experience, not as a reaction or defense against experience.” Obviously, she had no clue who Rich was, but I felt good being able to bring another person into the conversation. She yawned in reply and I continued to sketch. “Recite the first thing you ever wrote.” I told her that it, too, was for a girl. She asked if I had ever written about anything not pertaining to women. I replied, “On occasion, given the right persuasion.” She didn’t find it as clever as I did, so I recited;
imaginary pain and pretend regret,
living the fate I haven’t met…
She was struggling to keep her eyes open, but I continued through all four pages of the poem.
…I’ve lived too long under the sun,
and now I miss pain’s sweet embrace…
She was asleep by the time I had finished and I’m glad she didn’t hear it. Some things are better kept to ourselves, if only because the method is often not worthy of the message. I decided then that I would never recite anything aloud again. Live in the now and experience it for a day only, and tomorrow forget what little we said and what less it meant. We are better suited to looking forward towards experiences that will push the past out of memory.
Her hand had slipped from her breast. I penned a short letter to Penthouse and went to my room. She slept in the other room until three or so in the morning. When she came in, she got in bed next to me, pressing her warm body against my back. Sensing I was awake, she told me that I hadn’t finished the drawing. Without opening my eyes, I told her I needed no record of her beauty. She was too tired to chide me for the sappy retort. There was silence for ten minutes or so until she leaned closer. When her lips were practically resting on my ear, she told me that no one should ever feel contempt for happiness, that when I was on the other side, I did nothing but pine for a simple existence and that now that I have it, I should be happier. I told her she didn’t understand me, which meant, of course, that she understood me better than anyone. She whispered, “Don’t tempt the fates with your good fortune.” With that piece of advice, she rolled over and put her back to me. I told her she should be a poet. She replied, “They locked me out of Paris long ago…” I fell asleep feeling more insignificant than ever.
“Inspiration,” she said, “is what you get before you get what you could never know you wanted.” She was sitting at the piano as she said this. Striking an E minor chord, she continued, “I wrote this song for you, before I even knew you. Could you believe that?” It was a sad song and I told her so. “I wrote it before I met you. This is how I will feel when I lose you.”
I asked how she knew she was going to lose me.
“I see it in your eyes; they never look at me the way you looked at her.” She had never seen me look at her; I don’t know how she would know the first thing about it. She went on, while continuing to pound the E minor, “I know you don’t love me, I’ve known for a while now.”
I stood up to leave.
“That’s okay,” she said. “Go ahead and go.” She struck a G minor and the somber notes filled the house. I stopped at the doorway and turned to say something. Before I could speak, she stood and faced me. “Play me a song, play your song.”
I said nothing, hoping my silence would be a sufficient answer.
“Play, now.” I sat at the piano. I had played the song a million times before, but I never guessed that she understood its meaning. I struck the A minor and I was off. She stopped me halfway through.
“That’s your sad song. But that’s not the way you will feel when you lose me. You feel that way now. You never played that until you lost her.” I took my hands off the keys, feeling guilty and angry at the same time. She didn’t know anything about it; she had always been oblivious to the true meaning of things.
“You don’t think much of me, that’s why you still play it. I know you think about her all the time. I can’t stop you. But I also can’t stay here, if you can’t get over her.” I stood again, barely missing the keyboard with my knees, wanting to escape from the truth, from its suffocating odor. She wasn’t crying, but I could hear the pain in her voice. She was crying on the inside and I could imagine her tears colliding with the backs of her eyelids. Any moment now, I was sure she would break down. I heard my song playing in my head and I saw its grief in her eyes.
“Fine,” she said, turning away from me. “I’m leaving, I can’t listen to that song anymore. I know what it means. It’s not about sadness, I would be okay with that. That song shows nothing but how much you loved her, still love her. Your love for her is your inspiration.” She was halfway out the door and I had not moved or said a word. “Just remember,” she said, turning back to me. “Your inspiration will never hug you or kiss you. It will never let you rest your head on its shoulder or make you feel better when you’re down. It’s nothing; it’s an abstract, less tangible than love and half as fulfilling.”
She was gone. The door was closed and time returned to normal. I sat down at the piano again, pinky on the A, middle on the C, thumbing the E. I pressed the keys; a familiar sound filled the room. My other hand moved, struck a higher A. Then. Nothing. I started over, but the notes would not come. Over and over I tried, A minor, high A. Nothing. For the first time in a while, my eyes began to water. I looked down at my hands, whose fingers betrayed me and would not let me hear the song that gave me such comfort. I had lost something and it had nothing to do with either of them.
A sickening feeling gripped my stomach. I knew, always knew, that I would lose her someday, both of them, and the many more that would come my way. But through all of it, I thought there would be some things I would never lose, could never lose.
I turned off the lights. In the darkness, I fingered the keys lightly, with soft touches that danced on the ivory, making no protest against the empty silence.