Summary: No matter how fast you run, you'll never outrun the memories. "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?"
Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand?
No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.
By himself he was nothing. By herself she was nothing. They were a match made in heaven and together, they meant something. Maybe only to themselves, because everyone else was too busy with their own lives to notice two nobodies but... but it was enough.
He'd been acing every class since kindergarten but what did that count against the fact that his motor skills were par minima? She was the school freak, a walking, talking encyclopedia of what-not-to-do-if-you're-a-teenager. And that more than outweighed everything else about her. They were just next door to wearing 'Talk to me at the risk of your social position' tees. And then they bumped into eachother. Well, more like crashed. Binders and books fell, people swore and in a flurry of flying papers, their eyes met. Their gazes locked.
She met him at the cafe because he'd asked her to - he wanted to say sorry. Over mocha lattes and strawberry frappes, he said sorry and she said, no don't mind... and they lingered till the old ladies, armed with knitting needles, began shooting them more than just perfunctory glances of curiousity. They lingered till the chesty waitress in the too-short skirt - and it was the first time he didn't sneak another glance at her well-endowed appendanges and promise himself that he'd fuck her when he was rich - shooed them away. They took a walk in the park. Just like any new couple, they threw bread crumbs to the ducks and awwwwed at the chipmunks. Girls smiled at her, accepting her as part of the blissful little world of coupledom, and for the first time she felt like them. Normal. Loveable and... loved perhaps.
He kissed her at her front door and she kissed back, giddy with fear that they'd be seen, questioned perhaps, scolded. But no one saw them and he waved goodbye once, twice, thrice and she blew him airkisses while he was leaving (walking backwards, so he could see her, standing on the porch, hair flying around her face, just for a little longer). Just like they were boyfriend and girlfriend and had belonged to eachother from the beginning of time. After that there was no going back and when he stammered out his request for her to be his girlfriend over the phone, a short week later, she didn't think twice before screaming, "Yes!"
They've come out in full force for him. Black here, black there, black everywhere and faces she dimly recognizes from school. A hello, once, maybe twice, in the corridors and they've come to see him for the last time. Why? Maybe there's just something appealing about funerals, about seeing your rivals being enterred once and for all. The goths'll get a kick out of this of course - more fodder for their poetic Muses. It's a dream-day for the emos of course, they're drawn to angst like flies to shit. The preps are there so they can take more pictures and upload them on Facebook and change their statuses to 'R.I.P' - like they care. Like they won't forget about this next week. Like she won't go back to being invisible even before that.
The geeks, the nerds - their black shirts and jeans (inappropriate for a funeral, but they don't know that, poor dears) hanging off their thin frames - are the only ones who care. They're the ones who aren't afraid to go up to her, to hold her hand for a minute. They're the ones who don't say anything and for that, she's grateful.
He liked gaming and graphic novels (the slightly more mature version of comic books, as she later found out). His bedroom walls were a violent orange, in contrast to his personality which she'd privately classify as 'cream, bordering on beige'. She liked cataloguing people and storing them up in little boxes, for future reference. He told her mindset was in desperate need of a paradigm shift. She moaned about how mean Trish and Sandra and the rest of the plastic-blonde brigade had been to her and he told her that she was a baby. She thought she'd found a shoulder she could cry on, with the added benefit of having a pair (someone she could make out with, without having to feel guilty that the Church didn't approve of sodomy). What she did get was a fourteen-year-old boy who wasn't going to morph into Prince Charming for another ten years.
She slips a note with I'm sorry this just isn't working out. Can we just be friends? written on it into his locker and crossing her fingers, hopes for the best. He calls her up. She cries. He whines. They make up - and out - again. And that's the pattern that establishes itself over the next three years.
"I'm sorry," she whispers to his mother. She is a little woman with brittle, glassy eyes and the look of someone who has lost a lot of weight in a short time about her. She smells like him - pencil shavings and detergent and salad dressing, all rolled in one. Not too pleasant, but not too bad either.
"Don't be, dear," the mother whispers and for a brief moment they hug. Then she draws back. The mother tries to smile, but she can't. Her face draws tight and she wears the pained, pinched look of an old-fashioned woman who's just found out that her adolescent son has been buying porn with his pocket-money. It's almost comical. "It wasn't. No, it wasn't your fault."
Her eyes say it all, even as she tries to smile.
Yes. Yes, it was all your fault.
After three years, they've fallen into the 'friends with benefits' phase. They lose their virginity to eachother in his bedroom and she comes out, stinking (as she firmly believes) of unwashed socks and chips - the cream-and-onion type - and... pencil shavings. It takes a day to wash the smell of it off and after that, she begins to classify him as 'persimmom orange' instead of beige. When he finds out - after reading her diary on the sly - he has his walls painted beige, just to spite her.
He's all grown up, class valedictorian, the sweetly geeky Ivy-League type who's going to make it big one of these days. She loves him like a big sister, feels absurdly proud of his achievements, makes him go to the school dances and establish some sort of a social life and that... why that's it. She assumes he feels the same about her and he, for one, does nothing to corroborate the idea that he regards her in the light of a sister he just happened to sleep with, once upon a time.
And then she meets someone else.
The funeral is over and everyone who wanted to has taken a last look at the casket, before it's lowered into the earth. She doesn't, she can't bear to look at the face, so tenderly, so lovingly cleaned. Because she can remember the last time she looked at it, blood streaming down a gaping hole in his forehead, down his white shirt...
He loved white and he loved those collared shirts. Black was for retards, he used to say.
Her parents want to drive her back home, but she says no, she'll walk back. It's fall. Crisp red-and-gold leaves crunch under her boots and she buries her hands in her pockets. She's remembering a walk...
She walks with the guy she met in the library. He's so tall that her head barely reaches his shoulder and he stoops and his cell is, for some indecipherable reason, neon-pink. But he's read - really read - Proust and James Joyce, not just skimmed over the summary, and that's what counts. He waves his hands wildly and his eyes - sea-blue with flecks of gold if you look hard - sparkle when he gets excited. His breath smells like mint when he kisses her.
"So you're going out with Daddy Long Legs?" he demands in home-room.
"Don't call him that!" she insists fiercely and his eyebrows rise.
"You'll get over it," he says with aggravating cockiness. "And then you'll run back into my arms like you always do." He laughs though, to soften his words.
"Whatever," she mutters. "Go study for your S. like a good little boy."
She doesn't get over it. Later, she'll wonder whether she should have. Whether it would have been better for everyone if she'd just run back into his arms like he'd expected her to. She tells herself no, it was her life, her decision, that if it wasn't because of her he'd probably still have pulled the trigger...
She keeps telling herself no, but she doesn't believe herself. It's hard to after you've had your friend's blood on your hands, smelt it - that metallic tanginess - as it gushed over your fingers as you tried to plug the wound.
The results are out. She'd expected him to bounce up and down, to hug her, to scream. "How much?" she demands. "Don't give me that look, I know you did brilliantly."
He shrugs noncommittally. "1306 flat."
"Oh," she says, softly. "Oh, that's..." She reaches out to touch his hair but he grips her wrist roughly, twisting it sharply enough to make her yelp.
"That means," he snaps, too high on emotion to even swear. "My chances of getting into any college worth the name is nil." He drops her hand and stalks away. She ought to have told him that this wasn't the end, that the first score was not the priority with every college, that he could retake it... but no, she just stood there and rubbed her wrist.
The next day she has to lie to her mother to explain the bruises on her wrist.
Once upon a time they'd played Spin-the-Bottle. They'd got royally smashed as a matter of course but when it had been her turn to ask him a question, he'd still been on the socially acceptable side of coherent. "Um..." she'd asked him, inhaling smoke from someone's cigarette, peppery dance beats from the party downstairs resounding in her ears. "What scares you the most?"
He'd been a little drunk, which was probably the reason he'd been truthful. He was a very private person, had been conditioned to be after years of bullying in school. "Failure," he'd replied without a second thought. Had he ever told anyone else? Should she have done anything about it? But no, she'd been tipsy herself and she'd forgotten his answer until it was too late to do anything about it, except remember.
Maybe it had been too much for him. Her - the stupid one, the bimbo as he often called her - getting into Amherst, while he couldn't make it. Her new boyfriend. Maybe it really had been her fault.
She is back home from college for the summer vacations. It has been a quiet year. She has kept to herself, shuttling between classes, gently but firmly disencouraging anyone who might try to befriend her. In the library, she keeps her eyes down. She has safe crushes on men who will never notice her - dowdy, happily-married professors with children in high-school. She throws away her cell-phone - wondering how she could ever have liked neon-pink mobiles - and disables her online accounts.
She doesn't want to be noticed.
Back home, she walks to his house one day. She knocks at the door and a little woman with brittle, glassy eyes and a gaze locked in memories of a time past answers. There is no hostility in the woman's face, only a weariness that seems to permeate everything that she does. There is not much to talk about over tea. Her eyes wander to the black-and-white photo of a little boy, his arms around his mother's neck. It is in a gilt frame on the mantelpiece and around it a garland of tuberoses. Homage to the dead. His mother's eyes meet her. Their gazes lock and once again she is reminded of the boy she met in high school.
They go up to his room. It has been left untouched, she realizes, startled. He'd once been the typical teenage boy and she'd been the typical mom, nagging him to make his bed, take out the garbage, put his clothes in the laundry basket...
She's left it as it was on the last day. From the year-old chips packet stashed discreetly under the pillow to the dog-eared reference books piled on the carpet. There's only one thing missing - the photo of him and her on the desk.
This is a shrine to his memory and she, the villainess, has no place here.
She never returns.
She is the lady who orders alone in restaurants and dines with a novel for company. She watches movies by herself too, but never, never anything that might feature a love triangle. She volunteers for Church events. In place of the happy little family she'd envisaged for herself in preschool, she keeps a bevy of cats. In college, she'd signed up for suicide helpline but after a day of calls she'd been too depressed to continue. There was nothing she could do for them and the sooner she realized that, the better it would be for her. What was that her English professor in sophmore year had once said?
"Hell is yourself and the only redemption is when you put yourself aside enough to feel deeply for another person."
Lies. She knew better. There was never any redemption for those who felt. There was never any way to forget. The very act of trying to forget would make you remember and then your mind would work grooves down the well-thumbed memories and it'd go on and on and on...
No, you could never forget.
She is no longer the sad-eyed young woman with puckered frown-lines, too old for her, over her forehead. She is a little old woman herself now. She pins her hair on top of her head and wears shapeless sweaters. She carries knitting needles and an identification card - just in case she should fall dead on the streets - in her purse. While she wandered back, to old times and old places, to what might have been, what should have been, life passed her by.
A new family lives in his house. His mother is dead, his father has left for the country he was born in. She hobbles past one day and stands on the curb for a long time, looking up. From there, she can just glimpse the room that used to be his.
The walls, she notices, are no longer beige.
They're orange again, like they were when she first saw them.
She might have taken that as a sign, when she was younger. She might have thought it meant something. But now... now she is too old to care. Silently she hobbles back home.
to cause to be the blood-red colour of raw flesh