The man and the boy
“Be a man,” the man said, and the boy listened, because that’s what he wanted, more than anything or anyone in the world, to be a man.
Oh but the man was desperate; he knew the boy was already a man, likely more of a man than he himself was, than he would ever be.
He was also angry; he knew that men like the boy always got what they wanted, for it was always already theirs. The truth burned, like a red-hot dagger thrust between the shoulder blades.
“A real man has honour,” the man said, “and acts for the good of the ones he loves, no matter what the cost to himself.”
There. The good of the ones he loves. The boy felt it deep inside his belly, the thought that had been haunting him, eating him up from the inside out.
“Yes, Sir,” he said, and tears began to well in his eyes. Men don’t cry, he said to himself, and swallowed them hard - like a man would - while the man looked on, a mask of calm concealing a storm of envy and guilt.
Jeremy Johannesburg was tall—not the sort of tall that qualifies as “taller-than-average,” but the sort of tall that says “in-another-life-I-was-a-tree.” And he was handsome. It’s really too bad that he’s dead. Some of the women in his building were really hoping that he’d get those little blue pills. Well, he’s dead now. It was in the paper last week. And he was still handsome at ninety, but the sort of handsome that says “I’ve-worked-hard-my-entire-life-but-I-was-a-pretty-boy-once.”
When he was in school, he had all the girls at his beck and call. No one knew that he was gay. He never showed it. Of course, he wasn’t interested in any of them. But that just made him more attractive. And he didn’t die of AIDS, heavens no. He died peacefully in his sleep of a gunshot wound to the head. And his apartment was ransacked. Everyone assumes that it was a bugler, but no one can say what they took. Or why they didn’t visit Mrs. Johnson down the hall, who walks around all day with her pearl necklace and diamond wedding ring.
But, yes. Jeremy’s school life. He got his first boyfriend when he was a senior—not in age, but in grade—and the boy, whats-his-name, had just moved to the city. He was a farm lad, homeschooled most of his life, and he was absolutely smitten with Jeremy. They met in the locker room, though it wasn’t a physical thing. It was actually Jeremy’s voice. He sang so beautifully in his younger years. It was this soft, sweet tang—always under his breath. And he was singing this old blues song, something by a woman, and whats-his-name heard Jeremy and fell in love. Jeremy didn’t know until weeks later, when the farm lad accosted him in an empty hall, half-molesting him with a terribly rough kiss. And Jeremy had been swooning over the boy, so he didn’t mind. They started going steady after that.
No one knew, but they shared these longing sort of looks when no one was looking. People are so oblivious sometimes. And then, in college, they lived together. Roommates, they called themselves. That’s when people started to guess about them. But they were two imposing boys—Jeremy was tall and the other boy had been working on a farm since he was six—so no one bothered them about it. And they lived together for seventy years. But the farm lad had bad genes and got cancer about two years ago. It might have been in his lungs. And he wasn’t a farm lad anymore, but an old man. Everyone in their building knew about them, but they were too old to care, so the farm lad got support from them all, but he died anyway. A little more than a week ago, actually.
And Jeremy got himself killed by a robber not too long after. Even though nothing was stolen.
One Word - Lullaby
My father spent his last few months in hospice care, where he’d spend all day in bed, except for the brief period where they took him for his bath and changed the bedding. I don’t know how conscious he was of the whole process at that point. He kept mumbling, the same thing, over and over as he stared into space. I’d visit him twice a week, ever the dutiful son, but I wouldn’t pay any attention to his ramblings. I’d sit down, say hello, and get to work on some things that I really should have left back at the office. But I didn’t so it took me months to notice the repetition. It wasn’t until the day he passed that I recognized it, a basic melody that dredged itself up from the most primal parts of my memory, the quiet lullaby that he used to sing to me to get me to sleep as a baby.
You plagiarized love.
You took its idea and created an effigy. Place it adoringly inside your eyes and offered it vicariously to any foolish romantic——gullibility on a platter. You kept your hands idle by prowling damsels into such stupor while you siphon their control and justify it by saying you love them. But as you do, you tarnished the very sacristy, that is of Love, that it should be kept pure and unyielding, selfless and selfish at the same time. You masked yourself as a jilted pariah, a handsome nomad with dreamy eyes and a loquacious mouth. Naturally, you are a bait amongst the crowd. Women swooning over you. You and of your self-deprecating claim to your brute charms and artistic genius. They all fall victims as you lure them into your captive. You cause them seizures, with your sob stories about your imaginary lovers leaving you, and yet you still believe the paradoxes of love and of its complexities. You ignite their loins by your guitar-strumming and nouveau artworks. You numb their senses by your dogmatic way of love-making, hours spent dwindling what never seem enough. Then, as you tire away their bodies and mind, you keep their hearts in a jar——-lovely trinkets. And then conspire with your own greed and find more hearts to steal and bodies to collide with.
My friend, don’t you ever get tired?
Granted, such indiscretions seem to be fruitfully delicious and temptations are bound to nail us to our crosses. But why use love, as your excuse to exploit humanity and of their vulnerability?
I have been loving you, regardless of using love. I have been loving you, without tampering what it should invoke. I have been loving you, even if it seem such a lost cause.
You plagiarized love, and made it into something more worst than death itself. Because you have to keep living the proof of your downfall and tell yourself you have loved, but never loved back.
On reading of war atrocities
I’d rather avoid this entirely. Rather leave the capabilities and true accounts to the unfathomable black hole that war is to someone who has lived without it her whole life. Truth be told, even reading 30 pages in and the tears fall profusely soaking my cheeks; they fall silently. Not that my emotions matter to those who have died in such horrific manners. Tears can’t bring back the dead. Tears and grief from those you’ve never known can’t relieve the shattered hearts of the survivors. I cry because we have done these things. Name a nation or a region and we have killed those who are not us. All that separates me and those with the guns are the time period and culture they and I were raised in. Kid ourselves to think we wouldn’t have done the same. Strip us all down to the soul and we are the same. I have looked into the abyss and it has recognized me. So why do I read on? Because I need to know. For some perhaps it’s a violence fix or a balm to appreciate modern life with. Because I don’t want those piled up in mass graves to be forgotten. These were consciences who loved and lived. These people the world has lost are not expendable. We are missing their effects on the world we live in. And because I need to understand the logical insanity that takes place gradually to cause us to be okay with collateral damage at all. To combat my own inherent out of sight, out of mind tendency of existence. I read on because people are living like this even now. And they shouldn’t have to.
“Stay away from me! Just stay away from me, or I will hurt you!”
Frankly, I wanted to. I was really scared. Her eyes were glaring at me, as if she could smell my fear two meters away.
“I won’t”, I responded aloud.
May be she could feel my hesitation. May be she could feel the fast beating of my heart. I knew I could die at that very moment. I knew she could kill me.
“You don’t have to be here. Just runaway!”
But I couldn’t All of my strength was on the steel tube I was holding too hard in case I had to defend myself. My legs were shaking weakly. I was going to die.
“I will just hurt you! You don’t have to act brave.”
Her voice was louder, bigger now. I did not have any other reason to stay. But then as the moonlight touched her face, I saw her eyes clearer. Tears were flowing down. She was crying. As the cold wind hushed my heart, I whispered calmly, “What’s on your mind?”
She heard me. I never thought she would hear me. The growling disappeared, my hands fell on my side, dropping my only defense. She then stood still from crouching, could not look me in the face.
“I am scared to lose you in any other way.”
The Cab Driver
It seemed that that the cold white flakes that fell from the dark chocolate of the sky wasn’t snow, but a million tiny love letters. The cab that danced through the lonely streets left it’s yellow light behind, it seemed as if though everyone it passed suddenly felt the warm, burgundy beating of a stranger’s heart.
The gentleman inside this cab, he sighed the content coffee sigh of a man in love. He held the hand of the bloom beside him gently; as if he were afraid his strong hands might crush her porcelain. She smiled at him, feeling warm despite the fact that the cold had painted her nose and fingers. There were apples in her cheeks, and roses on her lips. It was in this scarlet state of happiness that she stepped out of the cab, once it had reached her blue doorway.
The gentleman, he also stepped out; not with juvenile hopes, but with the need to walk her in so that he’d be sure that she wouldn’t slip on the ice. But she turned to him, with her tea lips and petal skin, and she held him. Her nimble fingers, they found his collar and she pulled him in. His arms, firm but soft in his black coat, found her waist and back. The white love letters, they sparked in his dark hair, and he found himself leaning willingly in.
Their lips touched, and she blossomed; and opened like a rose. He broke open as well; filling the flower-like folds of her heart with the moon’s soft, salt white light.
And the cab driver, he moved on, leaving behind yellow; wanting a love of his own with every fiber of his being.
Even her red hair had faded like the petals of a rose in the blistering heat just before they wither. It had turned a shade of pink, and begged to blend with her cheeks blush. She had changed in the high sun and so had I. What was love yesterday was only regret today. Her pale skin was adorned with bruises, and I knew why because I was the designer of her marvelous constellations. I painted her black and blue and purple and yellow. I turned her blank canvas into universes with kisses.
She wasn’t like other paintings I had painted before, though. I could not toss her into the street and wait for a passerby to pick her up. There was something about the way her knees turned towards each other as if to say hello, and how her two front teeth had a small gap in between them where her tongue would sometimes play. This wasn’t love, and it never would be again, but there was just something I could not describe even as a woman of many words.
Time passed by and her bones peeked out at me until my heart began to break because I was never enough to make her want to eat. I couldn’t stop her from smoking, and I couldn’t get her to eat her breakfast. I felt, for the first time in my life, as if I had nothing to offer. There was nothing i could do or say that would bring back the soft curve in her back or her dimpled chubby cheeks. She was withering away, again like a rose. We left off the way we started. Her red hair fading to pink, and her porcelain skin tainted with galaxies that might never be explored again.
Woke up afraid of my own shadow, genuinely afraid
The steady dull roar of the air conditioning creates the melody above which the rapid, irregular “tap-tap”-taping of finger to keyboard practices its chaotic dance. The soft glow of the screen is the only source of light within the walled off chamber. The outline of a bookshelf upon the northeastern intersection of the walls is barely visible. A steady green light shines to the east of the glowing screen. Upon the southern wall, an elongated shadow is eerily noticeable. The sporadic tapping stops. A faint, shallow breathing crescendos; hyperventilating, the only visible human figure knocks over the chair it was sitting upon. Bent over the table for support, the sound of nails digging bloody into the fake wood, its breathing reaches fortississimo. Then, silence swallows the chamber. All movement is undetectable. The dull roar of the air conditioning unit has quieted. A grimacing, contorted shadow grins with arms extending east and west almost as if to enclose this panicked figure. An unintelligible whisper escapes the creature. Followed by another, just as unintelligible but louder. The words “Who….do…me?” are caught, more clearly. Then a resounding screech, “No!” pierce the suspenseful silence. “No! No! No!” His hands grip upon his head. Fidgeting, he stumbles around the room chanting at varying volumes “No! No… No!” The shadows upon the walls dance menacingly.The sounds of his footsteps echo haphazardly, almost as if there were whole units of men running too and fro in the rooms above and around him. “Devils she called us! The fuck does she know! I ain’t no damn devil, nor a human, nor a god. I ain’t no damn servant or master. I’m a fucking amorphous Lovecraft figure destined to bring forth all the fear in your mind. But then they found me! Those fucking bastards found me! They found me and the bound me to this god forsaken hole. They feed me and keep me alive with no remorse. The shadows now condemn me, for no longer can I roam. Now does my devil turn against me; fuck you, you took away my home! They’re coming! They’re coming! The shadows have found me! Leave me the fuck alone!” He cried to the four walls, as the shadows crept in close. He screamed as they bound him to a torture bed. The shadows whispered under his vehement cries, “He’s lost it.” “He’s dying.” “We did the best we could.” “This poor guy.” At last, a shadow cries “Light!” A florescent white light illuminates room, as the figure loses consciousness. Upon waking, the figure sees, white padded walls and a bolted down bed. His breathing is calm as he looks the room over. “Which form could I be in? Which hell am I now to endure…”
it’s raining and it’s lovely. the world is a wet canvas and everything smells like earth, like how it’s supposed to be. the dripping symphony is a lullaby and if i squint hard enough, i can hear the voices of the rain spilling out all their secrets and untold fears. i can even imagine that i am lost at sea. i could fall in love with the way you crane your neck to catch a glimpse of the things you want to see and i could kiss all those troubles away like how the raindrops refuse to stop kissing the earth right now, as thunder rumbles in the far-off distance and lightning paints the sky in bright white streaks that are hotter than the sun. i love you with the burning passion of a thousand suns but i want to fall in love with you like the rain.
Maybe the plane will crash, she said. There was an eager look in her eyes that I pretended not to see.
It won’t crash, I told her, don’t worry.
It might, you don’t know for sure.
When the announcement was made that our flight was boarding she was the first in line, ticket and passport thrust out in front of her.
After take off she fell asleep almost immediately. At the first sign of turbulence I gripped at her arm with my hand.
Grow up, she said, shaking my hand off.
Not so sure now, are you?
What’s your problem?
She sighed, closed her eyes and pretended to go back to sleep.
Later, at the hotel, she told me that maybe it would be another flight going down with us in it.
I dreamt about it, she said.
I’m sick of hearing about this, I told her.
One of the wings will break away, burning fuel will cover us and when we scream the flames will eat the sound.
This is insane, this is bullshit.
Why is it bullshit? It was in a dream I had - your eyes were two black holes in your skull and even then you were trying to look at me, trying to find me with your hands, trying to hold me.
Even then, burning up, I couldn’t be free of you.
Stop talking, please, just stop talking for five minutes.
But as it was happening, as my skin was melting off my face and your hands were flailing about trying to find me, I was completely calm. I wasn’t afraid. Even though my mouth was open, screaming, I knew that this is how it was meant to be.
I’m going out, I said, I’m getting out of here.
I was calm, she explained, because it was what we deserved. It was what I knew would happen all along.
I dream that the French boy in the bunk across the room slips into my bed in the middle of the night. I’m sorry I fall in love so easily. I wander through bright city streets and want to kiss every second person we meet. Down at the harbour I breathe in salt and sapphire. It is as if autumn fucked summer and gave birth to today. I feel alive. I catch the sunlight like cheap jewellery around the neck of a beautiful girl. I’d rather be cut glass than expensive diamonds. I’d rather be worn every day than only on special occasions. I’d rather be silver-coated copper than solid gold. There is something inside of me and it isn’t precious. (There is something inside of me that I want you to see.) I’ll stain your skin if you wear me long enough. If you wear me down to the centre, if you find what’s underneath. I am all lust and confusion and chemical reactions that leave their mark. Love me like I contain every rare metal known to man. (Love me even when you can only see unstable elements.) Strip me from empty warehouses and carry me away in the dark of night. Steal my sorrow. Ankles and fingers and collarbones and earlobes. Let me kiss all your loneliness. I might not shine but I glint like the hard edge of a sword and I have learned how to fight – there are things like me and you and people and poetry. There are things worth fighting for. I’ve had knuckles in my mouth too long. I turn my head and open my eyes and in the bed across from me the foreign boy sleeps, smiling in his dreams. It is early morning and the sun is bright. I am alive and so are you. I’ll adorn my wrists with French kisses but I won’t wait for anyone anymore.
She goes out in the mornings and doesn’t come back until late in the afternoon. I don’t know where she goes. I tried following her once but I lost her while waiting for an opportunity to cross the street. Scooters sped all around me, horns beeping, and I couldn’t keep my eyes on her without the possibility of being struck down.
What do you do, I ask her.
Look at things, she says, shrugs her shoulders, not interested.
Do you meet people?
She shrugs again, just people.
I want to ask more but I know it will go on like this for as long as I ask. There will be no answers, not really. She looks at people. She had Pho for lunch. She drank ice-tea in a park and ate a nice pastry.
Sometimes she buys things. Dresses. A jade Buddha she keeps by the phone that never rings. A small conical hat made for a small child. She places the hat by the TV. It stays there for days and then one morning, when I wake, it is gone.
I want to ask her what happened to it but I don’t. I remain silent
Already, I know that there will be a day when she doesn’t come back. When she just wanders out too far and it’s too late to turn around and she will be lost to me. I see it in her eyes. Her drifting, further and further. It’s a look both vacant and confused. She doesn’t know it herself, but she is going and soon she will be gone.
It’s something that should scare me to death, but I’m drifting away too. I feel it in my skin. It’s in the way I get out of bed in the morning and wander downstairs and smoke with the concierges and drink Vietnamese tea and just watch the traffic go by. I stay in the same spot but I am drifting, drifting.
I watch her back as she walks past the table where we sit on the sidewalk and we don’t even acknowledge each other. I watch her walk away and she never looks back. Never glances over her shoulder at me. And know it will come soon, any time now. I will go to sleep without her and will wake in the morning and know that I will never see her again, my wife. Gone forever.
It will seem to me that I was always heading for this place. That I was meant to be here. Soon I will be just another part of the scenery, here every day, smoking, drinking green tea in the morning and beer in the afternoon, going to bed drunk, someone who belongs here. Someone who might have been here forever.
I’ve always heard others say that they sleep better with someone next to them. But all the times when I was sealed in your arms like a fragile package, it seemed like all of the contents were running amuck and wrecking havoc in the dark. I never did figure out why I couldn’t sleep on those nights.
Then there was that one time in March. Maybe it was springtime blessings or spontaneous happenstance. Maybe it was just accumulated exhaustion that had caused my eyes to shut like heavy stage curtains after a finale. I swore I could hear the clapping in my dreams, but that might have just been my brain’s misinterpretation of your heart beating against the plain of my back.
I remember it was the birds that woke me the next morning. Usually they would croon as if they were serving honeyed dialogue for dawn’s first steps into the day. I could feel the sunlight sneaking in through the windows, but the birds didn’t sing.
The stage had no audience that morning. There was no clapping.
And all that the spotlight could fixate on was the imprint of your silhouette on my mattress.
I woke up last night to fear. It clung to my legs and to my chest, binding me with so much strength that it ripped my throat and I could feel my breath catching in the stillness of the dark clouding around me. I was scared. I was afraid. Alone. My hands reached out and I did not know where I was. I saw the faces of shadows lined up over the sheets, I called out if there was anyone there. No response. I was scared. The pressing dark was only a taste of what I had known before but I did not know where I was, who I was. I had thought for just a moment that everything was okay, that I would live through my fright. But all I did was shake and call for someone. I was dreaming of nothing beyond the dark. I am emptier than the dark. If I remember something, I cry in silent calls that echo inside of my mind. This is a lucid dream, it speaks to me. Perhaps I never fell asleep. Perhaps I was walking around and screaming at the highest octave with nobody to listen. I woke up last night in fear and now I can only think of the scrubs the angels wore in the ward, how her hair flowed when it went over a black shirt and the smallness of her waist. But I was lost, I was lost and I still am, still here in the dark with nothing but my mind to destroy me. I am falling beyond the existence that I can handle. My irritation is growing and I am triggered, a gun never having a safety. I am ready for the light, but I can not stand the way it eats at my eyes. I woke last night in fear, and I kissed death on the lips when the sheets turned red.