Keep Going

Go go go don’t stop don’t look back. If you look back they can get you, the demons, the shadows, the ones who never slow down. Keep running they’re catching up. They’re always catching up. You said to me once that the truly terrifying thing, what makes you prickle cold with sweat at night and shakes your bones all day, what scares you is that you can go a long way pretty fast but they go slower they do they plod on but they never ever ever need to sleep. You slowed down and they got you.

If I keep going fast enough they won’t get me. If I keep running I’ll be okay. That’s what you told me. Your words go in my head keep going keep going keep going run run run and one syllable with every time a foot hits the ground so I’m saying the words as I go even when I’m walking because my legs might fall out from under me. Those words keep my feet forward, keep my bones working and my blood churning and my face turned up and ahead of me so I don’t look at the ground so long that I just sink right onto it. Sometimes the dirt looks so inviting.

There’s no way I give up, you have to know that, you might be gone to me but I can still talk to you in my head. It’s not like there’s anyone else to talk to either and I’d always rather talk to you than anyone. You know. You always know. Now when I have to do all the knowing when my brain has to work all the time and my body has to go go go all the time and I’m without you and all I have is your words that keep me going because I have to keep going. Now that it’s like this, I still talk to you in my head. I always did and always will. There isn’t anyone better to talk to. Even if there was someone they wouldn’t be better couldn’t not possibly because you’re always you even though you’re not here you’re not with me you’re still you. When I ask myself questions because I’m so so so tired sometimes I can hear your answers because I know what you would say. Sometimes I ask just to hear the answer you would say come back to me and I can pretend for a little minute there that you’re telling me how to survive how to be how to live and it’ll work and because of you, your words in my head, you’re gone but I have your words and so I’ll be okay.

Do you think I’ll ever be able to rest? No don’t stop run run run never stop.

A Moment of Everything

Dan stopped to stand still on his way to the grocery store because he was enraptured by everything. He’d been walking quickly, but then he’d glanced up and his feet had slowed. Now he held still and watched the world. The buildings stood there on either side of the street just as they always did, but did he always notice the way the crack in the paint on the side of the old restaurant swooped and wiggled across the wall? People walked on the sidewalks, ignoring him, but he usually ignored them too. Now he saw.

Look at the woman following her husband, chasing him before her with words! She talked without thinking about the miraculous movement of her lips, the sound issuing forth, the little wrinkle that she was carving into the space between her husband’s eyebrows. Look! The two men sitting outside the convenience store leaned ever so slightly toward each other, and their whole faces crinkled up when they laughed. They were in the path of the sun, so it painted a shadow on the wall beside them with crisp edges, the shape of their heads and the intricate little wiggles of their ears and collars skewed on the surface behind them. The little girl across the street was dragging behind her mother. Her hair was working to escape its ponytail and she looked around her, mouth pursed and eyes unblinking. She was like Dan. They were trying to see the whole world at once.

The tree that grew in the space between the sidewalk and the road had noticed the breeze skulking through the street, and was dancing in it with a timid flutter, as though it was afraid somebody would notice. The middle-aged man with the bushy mustache was leering at a girl passing, and she kept her eyes fixed straight ahead. His face was red like the paper underside of an autumn leaf. Her straight-ahead eyes were ringed with smeared eyeliner, but in between the black smudges they glittered. She bit her lip, he could tell from the dip in her mouth right then, just a little. She was annoyed, or trying not to smile. She held enough of the expression out of her face that Dan couldn’t tell what it could have been. He watched her pass and he looked down the street.

An old woman pushed a cart full up with laundry. The wheels squeaked a little bit. She was furrowed in concentration, navigating the sidewalk, fitting herself around the man smoking a cigarette. He stepped back, not even looking at her, just automatic, letting his body move without asking it to. Somehow Dan wondered that he could move without thinking about it, that he could move his whole body on his unthinking feet without listening to the signals run from his head down the fibers of his muscles and through the building of his bones, until the whole mess of a body in its scrambled complexity just shifted over half a step like it was nothing.

There was music coming from inside the convenience store, and the plump lady behind the counter was singing along. Her voice was thin, as though she wasn’t entirely sure what it was going, but she was following it along anyway. It was not a beautiful sound, except for that it was sound being made. Dan listened to her as if it was beautiful. How amazing that she could make sound! It was something beautiful just that she could open up her mouth and a song would come out, that the elaborate scroll of notes and tones and pitches and melody that is written out in black symbols on white paper with lines and curves and circles across pages and pages and pages could just spill out of her mouth while she wasn’t paying attention, as though it didn’t matter a bit. So Dan listened.

Behind her song there was the music of the street. A siren whistled and bellowed in the distance, its voice soaring and dipping, soaring and dipping. The cars grumbled and wheezed as they passed by. People’s voices blended and lifted, tangled and burst, wheeled and murmured together. The tree had stopped dancing with the wind now, the breeze gone away to wander somewhere else. Its leaves were trembling to stillness. A car blared its horn.

Dan started, blinking. He couldn’t waste the whole day just standing and looking at things like this. He’d never get anything done if he didn’t move, anything at all.

Misplaced

I put down an idea somewhere, and now I can’t find it. I checked the bedroom already. I checked the living room. For heaven’s sake, I looked in the toilet bowl, but if it was there I already flushed it away. The stacks of paper on the desk and threatening to topple just as always and the books on the bookshelf lean rakishly against each other, nonchalant as they support the ones piled on top of them because I take them out and them am too lazy to put them back properly. The clothes on the floor haven’t moved for a week. The idea isn’t in any of those things. I almost remember it, almost, can very nearly taste it on my tongue. It’s no use. It’s gone. Wherever it is, maybe I’ll stumble upon it sometime in a year or two. It’ll have gotten quite dusty by then and I won’t even recognize it.

Perhaps I might have twisted it into the wires and chips in my phone or computer, pressed the buttons that spelled out the words that held my idea. If I did it’s lost in the silver tangle inside technology, because I can’t find it there either. Somewhere in cyberspace, where everything is a glowing orb or square or something that looks futuristic in a way that’s hard to picture. Somewhere there, my idea might be lurking. I won’t find it there. I absolutely just do not know where it is or what it was and it’s driving me bonkers. Really. You’d think that it would be okay, that if I plucked something from out my head it would be okay. My mind is a renewable resource. Ideas are still growing. That one was ready though, ripe and round and I was going to slice it up and let the juice drip just everywhere. It obviously wasn’t that ideas are fruit, that’s a crap idea. You see? The one idea gone is of course the best one. The ones that are left, the ones I can find, they’re mediocre ideas. The bottom of the barrel, more or less. My brain is the barrel. They get grimy down there, bent out of shape. You see me getting dragged away by my words? It’s better when there’s a good idea at the reins. Otherwise it’s just plain nonsense I’m spouting, spilling over, and it’s puddling on the floor filling up the room and we’re drowning in it. A good idea is a boat. Or a scuba suit. Something like that. A good idea means that you don’t drown, you swim, and without a good idea I’m suffocating on nonsense, flailing and splashing and I hope to God nobody can hear me because this is absolutely completely ridiculous. If you’re still following along then good on you, I’d have stopped listening to me by now. Good grief.

Anyway, I guess without an idea to write about or talk about or to sing out as loud as I can, I’m going to stop mumbling and go do something mindless to drown out the nonsense. Maybe watch TV or play one of those games on the computers that makes the sparkly dinging noises when I win. Those are nice. Annoying, but nice. Maybe tomorrow I’ll find the idea. It’ll show up eventually, right? What happens when you lose an idea? Does it wither, die, turn into a brown shriveled rotten thing and cause an odd smell but you don’t know where it’s coming from? Does it just disappear, poof, until you can only sort of make out the space where it used to be? I guess I’ll find out, won’t I, I’ll see what happens to me without that one good idea. Maybe nothing at all will happen. Yeah, that’s it. Probably nothing.

When Clara Meets the Man of Her Dreams

The walls are made of aluminum and Clara is sure that they will rattle with a hollow metallic ring if she brushes against them. She knows she is looking for somebody, but she doesn’t know who. When she steps her feet sink slightly into the floor and lift out of it with a slight sucking sound. Her skin tingles. The walls are rising higher around her like a maze and then they melt away into puddles at her feet and he’s there in front of her. She won’t be able to describe him later. His face is beautiful, but it is indistinct. Clara walks toward him and he reaches out a hand toward her. She brings her fingers to touch him and jumps a little as though it was an electric shock. He catches her up in his arms and kisses her, taking her breath away. She wakes up gasping.

Her bedroom is square and sharp after the soft edges of her sleep. She blinks bewildered eyes at the walls that only go up to the ceiling and the mess of clothes she left in the corner last night. The breeze from the window brings a musty smell into the room and a car alarm is going off in the distance in the relentless beep-beep-beep that she’s almost learned to tune out completely. Almost. What a lovely man, she thinks.

Clara falls asleep that night half-smiling, wondering if her brain will produce the same man again. She wakes in the middle of the night to stare at the white shape cast by the window and to feel a vague disappointment that he has not returned to her. She dozes again, skimming the surface of sleep and finally sinking beneath it. He is there, and he folds her into his embrace. When she wakes in the morning she can nearly feel the burning imprint of his lips on her skin. Her ears seem to know the sound of his voice, for all that it never sounds in daylight.

The next night, Clara does not see the man at all. She wakes in the morning and her stomach is filled with acid and disillusionment. Sleep is nothing but black when she has no visions of love. The night after, though, she falls asleep bitter and she wakes up delighted, for he came back to her. He’s in there somewhere, she thinks, huddled in her mind until she sleeps when he can come to her. The following night she knows she will see him, and there he is. When she wakes she is shivering from his hands, his tongue, his skin on her. She drifts into reveries during the day thinking of the softness of his hair in her fingers and the glint of light that dances in his eyes.

Clara begins to resent mornings. When she opens her eyes it means she no longer sees him. Her days are long and she counts the hours until she can be in bed again, with her lover again. It never comes soon enough. Everything bothers her in the daytime. The stairs are too steep and the muscles in her legs strain likes strings pulled too tight. Work seems to freeze time, and when she gets home she is impatient to be tired, for her body to soften enough that she can go to bed. She tries sleeping earlier and waking right before she has to leave for work, but it doesn’t work. She has trouble falling asleep early and when she succeeds she jerks from slumber in the middle of the night and cannot return to it. The rest of the night is a long gray block of longing.

Occasionally there is a night that she does not see him. On the mornings after uninterrupted sleep she wakes livid, angry at her brain that it did not produce her lover. She spends all the day in a quiver of irritation until she can rest her head and close her eyes to see him. She has started to notice the process of waking up and the sluggish drag out of the cling of sleep. Her eyes are still closed and her lover still before her, but she can feel the morning come. The light creeps into her room like a thief and robs her of her sleep. She bemoans its loss. Her days are dry and long. Her nights are too short and too beautiful. Clara lives to slip into sleep, where she is loved.

Don’t Tell

I’ve never told anyone this before. It’s one of those stories that’s been locked up in of me, tucked into some crevice behind my heart so that nobody can ever get to it. I don’t open up easily. Nobody sees what’s in my insides, and usually I forget to look. It’s much easier that way, if I just pretend that all I have in me is the dark twisting coils of intestines and brains. There’s nothing but blood and guts in there. No truth, no hurt.

When I was thirteen my best friend was Ann who lived three floors up. She was two years older and I followed her around everywhere. I’m sure I was like a little puppy, just tagging along hoping for a rub on the head and an affectionate word. We’d been friends for ages, and it didn’t used to matter as much. That is, she’d been the cool older girl but when she was younger she had played mother, pretended to take care of me and laughingly protected me from the terrors of the swing set or the fire escapes. When we got older she didn’t want a kid to take care of when she was hanging out with her friends. I would tag along, yes, but I sat and tried not to be a bother while she did whatever it was that cool older kids did. She got these new friends in high school, Eric and Jay especially, and she spent a lot of time with them. Something about them made my skin cold and my shoulders hunch.

Eric seemed to have a thing for Ann right away, and she almost but not quite teased him about it. She would give him that sidelong glance and her eyes slid right over to him and her lashes curved in just such a way that they only did for him, but for ages that was all. He pined after her, putting an accidental hand on her waist and absentmindedly playing with a strand of her hair, while she demurred. I think even she got bored of flirting with him like that. Anticipation can run on so long that you’re not tense with it anymore, you’re just tired.

Once she had the boys over, Eric and Jay, just like always, and I left to go downstairs and do some of my homework. I knew she didn’t really want me there because she sent little jabbing glances at me. I stood their pricking for a while and then, stung, I left. When I got into my own apartment my parents were out and my little brother was at a friend’s, so I really had to do homework. I sat and did my math problems, itchy with anger, until I gave up because I couldn’t concentrate. I went back up to Ann’s and her mom let me in and then retreated back to the kitchen. She always did hide from her daughter. I walked down the hall and then I froze.

The hallway was long, with the rooms all branching off to one side. Ann’s room was at the very end, and the door was ajar. Through it I could see a sliver of her bedroom, and in the sliver I could see her and Eric. Jay’s laughter was snaking through the crack in the door so I could tell he was in the room, but I didn’t even think about that until later. I could just see Eric, leaning over Ann where she was against the wall, his hands pressed against the wall on either side of her, his face close to hers. She was smiling in a funny sick way, her mouth in a line. Eric slid his hands down to her shoulders and pressed closer, put his face into her neck. Ann said no, Eric, come on. Look Jay’s right there. Stop it. He didn’t stop. He just pushed closer to her.

I was standing in the hallway, my whole body cold and my face hot. I burned and froze there, unseen, until my mind came crashing back and I turned and ran. I don’t know if they could hear my feet pounding away but I didn’t look back, I just left. I don’t know what happened after that. When I saw Ann the next day she didn’t act like there was anything wrong. Eric and Jay ignored me like usual.

I could have interrupted them, maybe. At least the annoying kid from downstairs might have made them stop, but I didn’t. I stood frozen until I ran like I’d been scalded and I had to get away and never go back, but I could have done something.

A List of the Reasons He Didn’t Go After Her

1. The day before she left, he walked into the bedroom to see May shoving books and clothes into her big overnight bag. She didn’t look up when Brian came into the room, and he didn’t ask what she was doing. He had a lurching feeling in the tangled mass of his gut that if he said anything about what she was doing, she’d have to tell him why, and her words would unravel him completely.

2. The day before that, Brian had mentioned that someday he wanted to move out of the city. It would be nice to live somewhere quieter, or at least to live somewhere and stay awake at night because of owl calls and crickets instead of sirens and car alarms. May loved the city. He said he wanted to live somewhere with more trees than buildings, and she scoffed. She said, “Yeah, and go to bed at 10 pm every night, and have a handful of kids and a minivan. Yeah, right.” He had shrugged. She started to say something, and then she stopped. Finally she shrugged too, but not in the way that meant she couldn’t be bothered to argue about it. He was well versed in her shrugs, in the flow and jerk of her body in all its expressions. She shrugged in the way that meant it really didn’t matter to her what he did with his future.

3. Three weeks before, she had gotten angry at him. They’d gone to Emily’s party together and sat like a good little couple at the table, commenting on how delicious the food was. He’d had a nice chat with Patricia, who was sitting next to him along because Neil was on a business trip or something like that. Everybody knew that Neil screwed around; he practically bragged about it every time he saw anyone. Brian smiled at her a lot, wishing that she wasn’t dating such an asshole. She was a perfectly nice girl. When they got home, May had rounded on him and accused him of flirting with that pasty-faced simpering little twit all night while she was sitting right there next to him. He had protested, because that really hadn’t been how he thought of it at all. He was just being nice to her. They went back and forth for an hour. She asked him tearfully how he thought it looked to everybody else there. He shouted that he didn’t know what she wanted him to do, just ignore the person sitting next to him for two hours, because he wasn’t about to do that. May walked into the bedroom and slammed the door. He waited seven minutes–he knew this by now, five was too short and ten was too long–and then went in to talk to her. Usually they argued for another few minutes and then they both apologized and had make-up sex. Now he went inside, sat down next to her on the bed, and she turned away from him. He tried to talk to her, and she turned back. “Whatever,” she said. “Let’s go to sleep already.” She seemed tired of the argument, tired of caring, and tired of him.

4. The day she left, May didn’t do anything dramatic. She didn’t write a letter, left on the living room table for him to find later. She just sat down next to him on the couch, where he was reading a magazine. She said, “We have to talk. This isn’t working out, and we both know it. I’m going to go. I hope that eventually we can be friends, you know? I’m really sorry.” Brian had nodded, numb, while she hefted her bag onto her shoulder and walked out of the apartment. In her absence, he melted onto the floor and spread out in wisps, a sprawling puddle. He didn’t know how to pull himself together without her.

5. When she left, she kissed his cheek in a polite sort of way. That’s what undid him the most. Her lips touched his cheek as if they had never been anything other than casual acquaintances. He didn’t know how she could kiss his cheek and walk away from his life as if they weren’t already entwined and impossible to untangle from one another. If he had gotten up and chased her down the stairs, what could he possibly have said? Already he didn’t matter to her. He could tell.

6. He didn’t know that she wanted him to.

A Fairy’s Tale

If I tell you a story, will you go to sleep after? No more snacks or trips to the bathroom. You have to promise. Crossed fingers don’t count, it’s a promise anyway. You can’t fool me.

Okay, listen. Sorry, yes. Once upon a time, in a land far far away, up in the mountains lived a fairy. She wasn’t the kind of fairy that sits around on mushrooms or swoops in to sew for a god-daughter. She’d always been a fairy. You could tell by the wings that rose like stiff lace from her shoulders, and the fact that she was four inches tall. Most fairies lived in forests, not up mountains, and that was exactly the problem for this fairy.

Hush, darling, I’m getting to the important part. Don’t you know that in order to learn the heart of a story, you need patience? You must be able to hear your own breaths if you ever want to find the pulse of a tale. Listen.

And the fairy was very lonely, for she had no friends. She had lived with her mother and father on the mountain, but they had gone and she had lived for a long time by herself. She was still almost a child, because fairies live so very much longer than we do, but for us her lonely childhood would have seemed a very long time. The mountain was cold for a little fairy by herself, and when it snowed she huddled in a crevice between her favorite stones and imagined that the flurries of white were warm. She had no friends, and so she had a very good imagination instead.

Of course, you can have both imagination and friends. It’s just much harder to live if you haven’t got either.

The fairy had enough one day. She was tired of wedging herself in a crack in the rocks and pretending she wasn’t shaking with cold. Living alone and lonely was exhausting, and she wasn’t going to do it anymore. The mountain was very tall and very steep, but the fairy was determined to start flying. Her little lace wings held her up as she hopped and skipped from one crag to another cliff. She took a leap off an edge and beat her wings until they blurred in the thin air, and she drifted until she settled on her tiptoes and jumped off again. Finally, after long days and long nights, the fairy reached the bottom of the mountain.

I don’t know what country the mountain was in. Sweetheart, it’s a story, so probably it’s in a country that doesn’t exist on this planet. While I’m telling the story it exists in your head, and that’s the place you should look to find it.

The fairy was so glad to feel the crunch of gravel and the satiny shush of dust on her feet that she walked after she left the mountain. She walked through a valley and a plain, and she swam across the river. The water was cold and bright against her skin, and she thought in a lovely delirious blur that she’d never felt anything so beautiful and pure. Once across the river she was in a field. She walked through the field and found herself in a meadow. At the edge of the meadow—her breath caught—she saw the furry edges of trees bristling on the horizon. The fairy loved walking. The grasses brushed against her feet like friendly cats. But now she was impatient, for she knew that fairies live in the forest. So what do you think she did next?

No, even if you could guess the answer would be the same. Some stories change shape to fit around you, but this one has its shape already. If you close your eyes you’ll be able to see it better.

She tried to fly. Running wasn’t fast enough. Only wings could take her to where she knew friends were waiting. The fairy leaped upward and felt the air catch under her wings, and then she sank back down to the ground again. Her knees folded under her, and the little fairy crumpled on the grass. She didn’t understand. What was wrong with her wings? Stumbling, she pushed herself to her feet again, and she walked across the meadow. She almost didn’t notice the grass brushing against her feet, because she was so worried about her flying. She entered the forehead with a creased forehead and an anxious stare. She almost tripped over someone, who let out a cry and asked who she was.

“I’m a fairy,” said the fairy.

“Yes,” said the stranger, unfolding wings from her shoulders. “I can see that. In fact, I’m a fairy too. My name is Lianet. You look upset. What’s your name?”

“I don’t know,” said the fairy. “I never needed one before. I used to live on the mountain alone, but now my wings don’t work.”

“Ah,” the stranger smiled. “Wings only work on the mountain, in the cold. When you hop down from on high you have more space to fly in, and the frozen air can keep you aloft. Lacy wings like yours won’t work in the forests or the meadows, the fields or the valleys, over the river or through the plains. Sometimes to fly for a minute you just have to climb a tree and jump.”

I know you’re very tired, and so we’re almost at the end. Do you think our fairy will give up the glory of flight to live in the forest, where the trees crowd one another and the squirrels chatter at everything that moves? Yes, I think so too.

The fairy thought about it for a while, and then she shrugged. Her lacy wings rippled in the air with the movement. There are worse things, she thought, than jumping out of trees with new friends. She could be flying alone. And so the fairy lives in the forest now, with a new name and a new friend. Sometimes she climbs to the very top of the tallest tall tree, and while she’s there she can see the very tip of the mountain where she used to live. Then she jumps into the air and lets her wings carry her down. She knows that there will be somebody to meet her at the bottom.

Good night, love.