Open Topic

Nov. 10th, 2014 05:04 pm
talonkarrde: (color)
He looks out at the audience — one thousand three hundred and twenty six seats, every one filled, bankers and politicians and schoolteachers and children. They're sitting on the edge of their seats, eyes darting between the six cameras that follow him around, waiting for him to speak, to surprise and entrance and delight them.

He is, after all, the world's preeminent magician. And this is, purportedly, his last show. And where another performer might be thinking of the audience, of the show, of the tricks that he should be pulling off — all he can think about is the last time he did this trick. It was for an audience of one, and it ended much sooner than he meant to.

And without meaning to, his fingers give the slightest tremble as he holds the deck of cards in his left hand, remembering the motions, playing through the actions in his head, the illusion, the turn, the finale, where a card was left on the table, face down.

But that was then, and this is now, and he made her a promise. He remembers the oldest tenet of show business, and he takes a deep breath and starts the speech — the patter, as they call it, the story that both distracts and enhances the performance.

"Fifty-two cards, ladies and gentlemen, fifty-two separate, distinct cards. Four suits, thirteen cards per suit, the ace through the ten, the jack, the queen, the king. I'm sure you all know this, but just in case one of you hasn't seen something like this before, I want to start by assuring you it's all real."

Roll up the sleeves, spread the cards out, get to work.

-

He first got into magic at the age of eight — his big brother had seen a Youtube video, bought a book, and took a coin out from behind his ear. He was excited, and asked for more, and got to see a few more tricks; clumsy and unpracticed as they were, it opened up a whole world to the little boy. For a few weeks, they were an inseparable pair, teaching each other and showing each other and practicing with each other, trying to spot the sleight of hand. But his brother was older, and thought of this only a diversion, and soon a girl came by and the older brother lost interest in spending time with the younger brother, preferring to spend time with the girl, instead.

But Jay, the younger brother, he kept at it — practicing with cards, and coins, and toys, and small knickknacks, under the encouragement of his mother and amused interest of his father, and soon started attending magic shows, studying the local magicians and trying to add their tricks to his repertoire.

He brought his skills to school after a few months of practicing, and demonstrated his skills at the talent show. He didn't win — that went to a singer, a girl with an incredible voice — but he got attention, and curiosity, and the admiration of his peers, and that was enough for him. It became a way to break the ice, to make friends, and to pass the time, and that was enough for him.

Then, when he was fifteen, a girl transferred in to his high school from California, and she had apparently seen the greats at Vegas — Ricky Jay, Lance Burton, Penn and Teller, Jeff McBride, and Copperfield. He tried some magic in front of her, and she watched him carefully, and then told him — and everyone else — where the coin was hiding, when the double-lift happened, and how the pencil was tucked into his pants when no one was looking.

Everyone laughed — but no longer with him — and the magic was lost, and he wasn't asked to do magic again for months. When he offered, they just shrugged casually, as high schoolers do, and said things like 'but it's all just sleight of hand', and 'are you just going to deal the second card again'?

"But— I have new tricks!" He said, but they weren't interested anymore — it was passé. And he realized how much he had been doing it for the admiration of others, and without the admiration, it became harder to practice, harder to shuffle the cards over and over, knowing that no one wanted to see him master this latest shuffle, or hear the stage patter he was memorizing.

It got to the point where he almost didn't want to do it anymore, but one day, out of the blue, the girl — Rachel — asked him to do a trick for her. He almost declined, but she insisted — just a few, she said, because it had been a while, and if he didn't have any prepared, how about the next day at lunch?

"So you can take them all apart?" he asked, quietly enough that no one else would hear.

"Only if you're sloppy," she said, and smiled at him.

It was a challenge — and one that soon spread to others around them, as everyone heard that the school magician was going to perform again, for the critic that saw through all of his magic as soon as she arrived. What would he come up with? Would she be able to see through him again?

There was a crowd there at lunch, gathered around the center tables, where Jay sat patiently, deck of cards in hand, his fingers trembling only a bit.

"Nervous, Jay?" someone called out. "Your hands are trembling!"

"Absolutely, Winston," he responded, and then smiled, offering a challenge. "But not nervous enough to guess a card that you picked."

The crowd pushed Winston forward, and he obligingly took a card.

"Okay," Jay said. "Shuffle the deck." And Winston does, and then smirks, handing it back to the magician. But right after he touches it, he frowns, looking down at it — his hands have only covered it for a moment.

"Did you hide the card, Winston?"

"What, can't find the card now? Magic failing you?"

"No, Winston," he says, and gestures to the deck. It's actually right here, the top card on the deck. Why would you leave it on the top?"

"I didn-" Wilson doesn't finish, snatching the top card and revealing that, yes, it is indeed his card. "How did you—"

"Easy," a voice calls out, and the crowd parts for Rachel. "He lifted the card when everyone's attention was on you, when he asked you if you had hid the card."

The crowd claps, grinning, as she takes a seat opposite him, and everyone crowds in.

"So, Jay," she continues. "Have a trick for me?"

He gulps, and then smiles and takes three cards from inside his backpack.

"Sure," he offers nonchalantly, and battle is joined.

"I have three playing cards," he says. "This card" — and he flips over a card, labeled 'this'. "This card" — and another card labeled 'this' — "And that card" — and flips over a card labeled that.

"All you have to do is keep your eye on 'that' card, and tell me where it is." he says, and as he says it, he moves the top card to the bottom.

"That's easy," Rachel says. "It's on the bottom."

"Well, no," he says, smiling, and flips over the bottom card. It's a 'this' card.

"It's on the top, then!" Someone yells out, and Jay shakes his head.

"Nope!" he says, and he flips over the top card — also a 'this' card. And he pauses for just a moment, and just as someone's about to say that it's in the middle, he spreads the three cards out, flips over the middle card, and it's also a 'this' card.

"Well that's cheating — you're using three of 'this' card." He shakes his head, again, and flips over the bottom card — 'that' card. And then the top: another 'that' card. And then the middle, and, yes, 'that' card it is.

Rachel prods him.

"So you have three of this and that cards?"

"No," he says, and lays them down one at a time. "In life, you get a little of this" — and he sets down a 'this' card — "A little of that" — and he sets down a 'that' card — "But not much of the other" — and he sets down a card that hasn't previously been seen, with the word 'other' on it.

There's silence for a moment, and then the room erupts in applause — one that's held for three, then five, then ten seconds, until everyone is silenced again by Rachel standing up. Jay can see the focus on her — is she going to tell them all how he did it? Does she know?

"That," she says quietly, "was very good. I think I know how you did it, but I can't be sure. Double-lifts, maybe...but I couldn't see them happen."

And another cheer goes up, as Jay allows himself to smile for real. He shakes her hand, and is subject to many claps on the back as the crowd disperses.

"You're one of the best that I've seen, Jay," she said to him afterwards, when it's just the two of them on the steps outside, waiting for the bus. "Promise me that you'll keep going, no matter what, okay? You're as good as my dad, and that's something."

"Who's your dad?" he asks, his interest piqued.

"I'll tell you later. Promise me you'll keep it up, okay?"

"Okay," he says, and then blushes as she slips her hand in his.

-

Jay goes into and through the audience, asking for volunteers here and there, performing close-up magic but with a large crowd, counting on the cameras to display his work to the masses, as he successfully guesses eighteen picked cards in a row, deals himself four aces after dealing someone else four kings with a normal shuffle, and flicking a king into a wooden board at the center stage, and then having an audience draw that same card from his deck. He does a bit of illusory magic too, producing coins and wallets and watches from audience members after a simple handshake or hug, each illusion building on the previous one.

He's chattering throughout, telling a story — his story, in fact — about how he got into magic, about how he learned to do this and that, and he weaves the tale deftly with his tricks, with references to the real world, references to friends and fellow magicians that the audience may have seen. He even spoofs their tricks, once or twice, improving on them subtly, or adding an extra flourish on top.

He earns smiles, and laughter, applause and astonishment in kind, and he seems perfectly content, a master in his element, a ruler watching over his domain, dispensing magic, at will. He's building them all up, slowly, to the conclusion, the finale, the prestige. He's looking for someone special, though, someone he can bring up to the stage, for the finale: he's always been a close-up magician, and he knows what he wants his final trick to be. He's looking, and then he sees her.
-

He stands there in the semi-dawn darkness, watching as the clouds slowly turn pale and rosy, as the sun peeks over the horizon and breaks free from the mountain ranges. The sound of slow, steady breathing comes from behind him, a sound that competes with the soft riffling of a deck of playing cards that he shuffles from hand to hand, steadily, slowly.

Every so often, he picks out a card — and then resumes shuffling, resumes listening, resumes watching the light creep down the wall. And then he shuffles it back into the deck, and picks it out, again and again. Often, he smiles, one practiced but still convincing; every so often, he frowns, when the card isn’t quite what he was hoping for.

The breathing pauses for a moment, and he stops shuffling, waiting for her to release her breath, holding his own as well. Then she yawns, and he relaxes, and a genuine smile appears on his face.

“Jay?” she asks.

“Pick a card, Rachel,” he says, softly, coming back and taking a seat on the bed.

“It’s seven a.m., you prat,” she says as she rubs the sleep out of her eyes, but she’s smiling and she does as he asks. A seven of hearts, and she kisses it before handing it back to him, facedown.

He shuffles, slowly, deliberately, watching as she watches him instead of the cards, and then throws in a flourish, a completely unnecessary bridge that they share a grin at. And then he finishes, and spreads out the cards on the fluffy bedspread, gesturing dramatically.

“One of these cards is your card!” he says, and then, “Flip one over.”

She does — and it’s a four of clubs. Before she can even shake her head, he’s started to speak.

“Oh, looks like it’s not that one. Huh. Flip another one?”

And she does — and it’s a six of spades. Now she’s grinning. “You messed up! You messed up the trick!”

He arranges his face into a confused expression, and then starts flipping over the other cards. Other hearts, clubs, diamonds, face cards, everything but the seven of hearts. Only after all the cards have been flipped does she realize that this wasn’t a coincidence, that this was deliberate, and she scowls as he looks innocent, though she can see the beginning of the grin on his face.

“All right,” she says, with a huge eyeroll. “Where is it?”

He shrugs, looking down. “I dunno, Rachel. Under one of the other cards, maybe?”

She just crosses her arms over her chest, knowing that he’ll give in sooner or later, and after a few seconds, he throws up his hands. “You know, there was more patter! Maybe, well, maybe we just need a bit more light—”

And she can already tell where he’s going with it, and reaches over to the lamp to turn it on. A tug on the chain, and the light illuminates the room — a light that just happens to hit the opposite wall and include the shadow of a card: the seven of hearts.

She tries — she really does — to keep the smile off her face. But as she thinks through it - the fact that the light shining through meant that he would’ve had to cut the hearts out of the card, that he would’ve needed to plan this while she was sleeping — she can’t help but be at least a touch impressed. Her smile only broadens as she looks towards him, at the hoping-but-trying-not-to-show-it expression on his face, and she reaches out and grabs his sleeve.

“Okay, I’m impressed. C’mere, you,” she says, and draws him down to her, and the cards are brushed aside, carelessly.
-

It's been years since he's seen her, years since they mutually agreed to part, each understanding that wasn't working out, though they couldn't quite articulate why. And yet, to him, it feels like it was yesterday that he was sitting in that hotel room with her, watching the sun rise, and the day before that when he was fifteen and performing for her the first time. And in an instant, he knows what he's going to do, has made up his mind on the finale, and signals the assistants that he's made a choice.

It's fitting, he thinks, as he remembers the old story about the magician and escaping fate only to find it again. And so, as his show builds to the finale, he steps back to the center stage, looks around, and then asks for a volunteer.

Rachel raises her hand, and he makes eye contact only briefly, making a show of looking around, of going through the entire audience, before he chooses her, as she knew he would, as he knew he would.

She takes a seat opposite him and the cameras swivel down low as he takes a seat as well, and spreads a deck of cards out on the table before shaking his head and taking out three cards from his jacket pocket.

"You know, I do a lot of tricks with a pack of cards," he says, starting the patter, as they both smile, lightly, tightly, keeping their secret between them, two conspirators acting on a stage for an audience of a thousand, "but I've found that my favorite trick is one that you only need three cards for. It's about simplicity, I think, about boiling things down to the essentials. Like in life, you know?"

"You see, in life, you have some time for play" — and he puts down a card marked 'play' — "and some time for work" — and he puts down a card marked 'work', and they smile at each other, for the briefest of moments — but there's still a show to put on for everyone else, even though the two of them know that this is now a show for one.

But Rachel obliges, and says all the lines when Jay expects her to, and he goes through the trick beautifully, fingers perfectly steady, double-lifts completely invisible. She sets him up for the ending:

"So life is just about balancing work and play, then?"

"No," he says, shaking his head, and she indulges him in a tilt of the head, one that they both smile at, again.

"In life, you're going to have a lot of work" — a pause, here, and a card set down, face up, as the cameras focus on it.

"And a lot of play, as well" — and with it, another card, another moment as the cameras display it to the audience.

"But the most important thing of all is something that can be hard to find, something that may be elusive, something that may disappear if you're not careful. The most important thing in life is to make sure that there's a lot of love." — and this last card he flips over and then hands directly to her, as the crowd rises to its feet and starts clapping, as the curtain falls, as the two of them stare at each other from across the table, as she reaches out to take his hand once more.



------------------

A/N:I don't usually do author's notes, but I wanted to add a short one here, given the heavy card-trick-action at some stages. This is an ode to magic as something that I've always enjoyed as an amateur: I am the older brother of this story, someone who briefly experimented with it whereas my younger brother is the magician in the family. The tricks described are all real tricks, most notably the this'n'that trick; which is one of my favorites. Others described are mainly from the incredible work of Ricky Jay, particularly this show that he did. Thanks for reading!
talonkarrde: (Default)
For [livejournal.com profile] beautyofgrey

-

I had been sitting quietly by the bay windows for some time, watching the world go by, when my grandchildren brought the package forward. They had been playing around in the attic for the last half an hour, after their mother — my daughter — encouraged them to 'find some old things' in an effort to have some peace for a bit. Apparently, they had rummaged through enough of the dusty old boxes to come up with something that they couldn't explain. 'Mommy didn't know what it was', they chimed in together, so here they were, an eight year old boy and eleven year old girl, perched on each arm of my favorite rocking chair.

And on my lap were the crown jewels of this expedition, the source of the mystery, the secret of the adventure that apparently only I knew. It had been unwrapped, but with care — I was sure that it was Erin who had slowly tugged the strings apart, simply because Allen would have shredded the paper to get to the insides. On top of the spread wrapping paper was a small, dark wooden box, with a sliding door as the top. And lying on the box was the remains of a rose, though the years and years had turned it into something that crumbled upon being touched.

"What is this, Grandpa?" Allen asked me curiously, reaching out to touch it before Erin swatted his hand away.

I sat there for a moment, thinking of past lives and careful choices, and then responded simply — "A memory," I said, and left it at that.

But Allen wasn't satisfied with my answer — what ten year old boy would be? — and reached out for the box again, though his sister's glare was enough to stop him from actually touching it. Still, unable to contain himself, he asked again, "A memory of what?"

I looked at Erin then, who simply looked back at me curiously. She was mature beyond her years, and knew enough about life to know that this was something that could affect her grandpa more than a little, and would not press. Still, though, I could see the curiosity in her eyes, and it was that, more than anything else, which led to me actually telling the story.

---

The box was a gift to me from a girl called Terry, I said, when she was twenty and I was eighteen. Yes, she was older than me, and yes, this was well before I was even your mother's age. It was given to me on our third anniversary of being together; we had been dating for quite some time and had started thinking about long term plans.

She had been thinking about what to give me for a while, I suspect, to teach me a lesson; she had complained once that I wasn't very subtle or romantic — at least not with keepsakes — and tended to discard things the minute that I didn't care about them anymore, whereas she was the opposite and kept almost anything that had ever meant anything to her — a ticket from her only airplane ride, wedding invitations from her friends, the letters we had written to each other, her childhood toys...the list went on and on, as did the amount of stuff in her family's attic that was hers. It was a side effect, I suppose, of her being a creative artist and me being a logic-driven scientist; I saw value in the present and future, whereas she drew inspiration from the past.

Regardless, though, we spent our third anniversary eating at a nice diner and I took her home just before nine — yes, this was indeed a million years ago, when nine was late — and just after I pulled up to her house, she stopped me and said, "I think we should give each other our gifts now."

Allen, here's a word of advice — always, always prepare a gift in advance when you meet a girl for any special date. Especially if the girl says not to prepare anything; this just means that you have to think long and hard and pull out all the stops to prepare something. Our third anniversary was a special date, and I had nothing at all... so me, being the quick thinker that I was, improvised — I did an immediate running inventory of the car parts that I could break off and give to her. Somehow, saying 'you are my driveshaft' didn't sound right, even to my not-very-romantic ears. Instead, I reached to the rear seat, and picked up a single rose, and handed it to her.

Her face dropped a bit. Not, I think, because I handed her a rose, but more likely because the rose had suffered some damage — I had run over it, as a matter of fact, on the way to picking her up, due to a bit of hurry on my part, and I had simply tossed it on the backseat instead of throwing it out immediately. So she had a rose in front of her... just one that was a bit dirty, and a bit squashed, and a bit dying.

No, it wasn't the smoothest thing I've ever done.

But I suppose the gods were watching down on me, because the next thing out of my mouth was this: "The rose, Terry, symbolizes my love for you. It may not be perfect, and it may not look like much, but what it means is that I will persevere through any trial, overcome any obstacle, simply to make you happy. This rose has seen better days, yes, but it's still alive, and I promise you that if you give it some water, you will see it stay alive much longer than any perfect rose you could pick out from the store."

And then I held my breath for what was seemed like an hour while she turned the rose over in her hands and observed it closely, her face absolutely devoid of any emotion. Just as I was about to apologize for everything I said and everything I did, she smiled, and leaned in to kiss me, which I took as a success.

"And here I thought you couldn't be romantic," she said. I mentally cheered...until she followed up with, "Even though that was the biggest pile of crap in the world, you get credit for trying, and for improvisation," and kissed me again. You see why I fell in love with her?

Anyway, afterwards, she reached down under the seat and brought out this exact box, in the exact same form that you see here now. When I asked her what it was for, she simply said, "It contains a little bit of the past, and a little bit of the present, and a little bit of the future. Don't open it until you can tell me what's inside." She looked very serious, and asked me to promise her that I wouldn't, which I did. I didn't understand at all, but she knew me well enough to know that I would keep asking questions until I figured it out — something that we seem to share, Allen.

I recall that the first thing I did with the box was shake it — always the scientist, I intended on subjecting it through a rigorous series of physical tests to determine the attributes inside. Of course, Terry was always one step ahead of me, and all of my actions yielded nothing. It wasn't light, but it wasn't heavy; it didn't smell like anything while it was closed, and shaking it produced absolutely no effect. I began carrying it around with me in class and at work, and would play with it absentmindedly while I was thinking of other things, but I never tried to open it — I had promised, after all.

It took me about two weeks, or maybe three, before I really entertained the suspicion that nothing was inside. It was always at the back of my mind, but I think it was after accidentally dropping it — yes, that's why this corner is a bit dented — that I wondered if she simply gave me a box, with absolutely nothing inside. It couldn't be, I thought... or could it? It struck me as something avant garde, which was like her, if a bit cruel, which wasn't, and came up with a null hypothesis.

So I asked her, and she simply shook her head — and then asked for the box. This was new, and I readily complied, only to watch her tilt it towards her, slide it open, and... talk into it? I moved to change my angle but she had already closed it, handling it back to me, and I was left with just as big of a mystery as before. But it led to one major change — every night, when I would set the box by my bedside, she would perform that same ritual before she went to sleep. She always covered the face, always lifted it to her mouth, and always seemed to say something before setting it back down.

And it looks like you've already figured it out, Erin. No, Allen, she wasn't eating, or spitting, or doing anything like that; she was speaking into the box, speaking her hopes and dreams and memories to store, acting as a modern day Pandora, without any of the bad things. It was indeed a little bit of her — and our — past, and our present, and the future she hoped we would share.

It was completely sentimental, and completely emotional, and I finally understood why she collected what she did — everything she kept had a bit of the person who created it in them, and now she was giving more than a little bit of herself to me.

I kept the box by my side for ten years, up until the day that she passed away, giving birth to a wonderful little girl called Marie — yes, your mother. The week before my Terry died, she was going through her collection of memories — in the attic you were just in — and brought out the rose, which she had kept all this time, and hidden from me. It was our thirtieth anniversary.

And afterwards... after it happened, I couldn't bear to have the box by me anymore, so I wrapped it with the rose, and set it up here, where it's been for thirty-four years now.

---

With that, I lifted the rose up by the stem, wondering at the forces that had kept it together for the last third of a century, and finally slid open the box to reveal — as expected — nothing tangible. But of things that couldn't be measured by science, one might imagine the wisp of a good life rising from the box, a slight smell of cinnamon and nutmeg, never to be recaptured again.

"And now that I've passed the story on to you," I said, "I think I'd like to pass these gifts on. Would you like them, perhaps, to keep and think about?"

I could see that both of them were a bit intrigued and a bit put off at the same time — it was certainly unlike any gift that they had given or gotten before. And yet, the story had changed them, at least a bit; they understood that there was signifance in these ancient relics beneath my wrinkled hands, and appreciated them for more than what they appeared to be.

Allen spoke first, as usual, and claimed the rose, without giving a reason why; Erin didn't object, but reverently lifted the box off of my lap after Allen had taken the stem from my fingers. And that was that.

---

I didn't see my keepsakes again after that, but Allen came by a few years later and told me that each one of his girlfriends received a rose — crushed — and the story of what it meant, and that apparently he had quite a bit of success in deviating from the standard. And Erin, a few years after that, told me that she had given the box to her first boyfriend after two years of being together, and expected to marry him. I gave her my blessing and attended the wedding; it was a beautiful one.

And now, at the end of my days, I simply wait until I can see Terry again, and tell her how much Erin looked like she did at our wedding.

Move

Oct. 25th, 2011 01:57 pm
talonkarrde: (Default)
My first memory of him is at our youth group on a Sunday night, when we are in a circle, talking about how we can apply the day’s lessons to our lives. It was like most youth groups, I’ve come to realize — there more to establish our circle of teenagers as part of the community than to inspire God’s spirit within us, though there was no shortage of that. I had said something very boring about living humbly and abstaining from all manner of vices, and the youth leader — a curly blonde named John — cuts in on my explanation to remonstrate this boy named Peter, who has been fidgeting endlessly throughout the conversation.

“Why?” Peter asks. “The only things that don’t move at all are dead, and God isn’t dead.”

I was amazed then that he was able to render our youth leader speechless; I am amazed now that he said something so insightful, even as a boy.

-

We see each other every day over the following fourteen years, but always as two ships passing in the night. He has his soccer buddies, and I have my lacrosse friends, and by and large, our circles have little intersection. Even when they do intersect, especially in high school, where most female social circles overlap fairly heavily with most male ones, we still flit around the edges, flirt with others, but never concede that there’s anything more than a childhood friendship between us.

Something keeps us apart, even as it keeps us together.

-

“Why me?” he says, only ever once, a few years later, once our orbits have finally pulled each other into a stable binary star arrangement, no longer wandering the galaxy at large. We are looking at the stars, as it happens, and I am detailing the path of the planet Mars when he asks.

“Because of how you move,” I say, drawing a lazy, smooth sideways figure eight in the air, the symbol for the infinite. “You weave, and duck, and dodge, and float, on the field, between classes, in your arguments, wherever.”

He’s quiet for a moment, and I take it to study his face, the curly brown hair that always falls into his eyes when he doesn’t get it cut, the faintest hint of laugh lines that will eventually suffuse his face, and the line of his chin, which I reach out to trace.

“It’s how I feel closest,” he says, the quietest that he’s ever been. “There’s a feeling of weightlessness when I’ve just pushed off of one foot, a moment where everything’s suspended, and I feel...close. And everything I do is to try and feel that; there’s a moment of that suspension, of that moment, in everything.”

Even now, he’s moving, his hand playing with my hair in lazy circles, his leg bouncing slowly, but not distractingly. And as I open my mouth again, he continues.

“There’s the same spirit in you,” he says, and kisses my fingers, one at a time, before finally meeting my eyes. “The spirit in what you do, in your exploration, your fierce curiosity, your need to explain the word and fit the facts into a theory. You’ve spoken in class, to me, and something just feels right about it, something rings for a second and I can feel that it’s right, you know?”

I do, but now I know that he knows, and that makes a difference.

-

I am pushing as the contractions come, and it hurts more than anything that I've ever felt, and I need more drugs now, now to the point where I'm not sure the words are in my head or being screamed from my throat, the constant where is it, damnit, it hurts, and then through the pain he's there, speaking very urgently to the nurse and not letting go of my hand and finally, finally the burn of another dose comes and the pain recedes to the distance, to the corner of the room. It's not gone, no, but it's manageable and I whisper a thank you to him with a parched throat, and he brings me water without even asking.

And even here, even now when there’s so much movement, I focus on him and how he’s moving still, still never letting go of my hand, but regularly weaving, tapping his feet, watching me with care, and in this moment of moments and I see him clearly, wonderfully, the spirit rising in him that I have always loved and I push and the baby comes out, easily, smoothly, as if she were waiting for me to come to this realization.

And then she is ours and I look up at him, wordless, and down at her, and it is a miracle.

Nimbus

Feb. 26th, 2011 04:59 pm
talonkarrde: (Default)
Without fail, when I think of rain, I think of one small moment in time, one that ends with a kiss, outside a restaurant.

This isn’t going to be a story of foreign lands and far off places, of heroes and heroines slaying dragons, of magic or science, though maybe there will be one next week. This isn’t grand enough to be in the history books, or even, perhaps, recorded in a journal somewhere, though maybe it is, because there is one other person that played a part in this story.

This is simply a memory, one that I’d like to share, of a boy and a girl.

-

The memory starts on a night with a boy - about seventeen, I think, waiting for a girl, in front of a restaurant.

Now this, in and of itself, is hardly special. But their relationship was different - it wasn’t one like the ones the others in his school was having, certainly, and this made it slightly awkward to explain how they had met.

You see, there was an 18 hour drive (about 1,100 miles, according to Google Maps) between the two of them. They had met in on a website for a series of books that they were both interested in, a few months back, and had struck it off. The website, you see, had a chatroom, and he was often on it, as was she, and it wasn’t long before they discovered that they had things in common. Everyone does, of course, but perhaps they had a little bit more than most. With the help of her friend, they started dating each other.

Well, sort of dating - how many dates can you really go on when you’re literally a thousand miles away? But they spent time together, and called each other, and talked online as much as they can. It was a relationship by any measure of it, even if they had never met.

Until now - she had told him a few weeks ago, with no small amount of excitement, that her parents were taking a trip to the east coast, and it would be conveniently be by him. A chance to meet, to spend time together, for at least a weekend, and actually see each other, hold hands, and go on an actual date.

It was ‘taking the next step’.

And it was frightening. Because the difference between talking - or even webcamming - online and seeing each other in person was incredibly different. What if there wasn’t attraction? What if the jokes that worked over text fell flat? How was he supposed to show emotion without emoticons?

But here she was, in his town, about to be dropped off by her parents for a date, just the two of them. And he, of course, could not have been more nervous in his life. Unflappable was what he aimed for, but the waves of energy that he couldn’t contain were making him physically tremble.

And then she showed up, and...well, I think he realized that it was going to be alright. He cracked a joke, and she laughed, and they stared at each other across the table, and it seemed like everything they had been online was the same way it was in person. They talked, they joked, and I don’t know if either of them remember what they said now. It didn’t matter; it never does.

She taught him something, though I don’t know if either of them realized it at the time. It was that long distance relationships were possible, that there were people on the other side of the country, or the world, that had the same interests, that a person didn’t have to be stuck in a five mile radius of where he lived or worked to find someone that he could be with. They had met online, and then in person, and it wasn’t awkward, or tense, or wrong; it could work - it had worked.

The food came and went, and eventually, they realized that they couldn’t spend too many hours there, that she had to go outside to get picked up. And so they made their way outside, closer now than they’d ever been, and, of course, it had started raining. Her parents weren’t there yet, and he met her eyes...

And whenever he think of rain, he thinks of that moment where he leaned down and kissed her, the girl who lived a thousand miles away, who came and visited him for a weekend and proved that anything was possible.

Leaves

Dec. 27th, 2010 08:54 am
talonkarrde: (color)
For Siyi

---

A picture of a post-apocalyptic library, with books still on shelves but trees growing through the floor

He was finally starting to think of the library as his, as a place of sanctuary and refuge, when she appeared, sitting there as if she owned the place.

It was a day like any other; a long ride around two in the afternoon to twenty-seventh street, a diversion into an alley to hide his trusty one-speed titanium-alloy blue Schwinn — his most treasured possession — and finally, a short crawl through a break in the wall to enter the structure (it wasn’t really a building anymore, per se, what with not having a roof) itself.

Though his mother complained about the hour long ride into the ruins of New York, the library being so far away from the camp meant that no one but roving stragglers would be in the area. It meant security and safety, a place to hide when things were bad at home, and because of that, he was always very careful when he made the journey. He watched for shadows that weren’t his and took a more roundabout path when he even had the slightest suspicion that anyone might be following, and it had worked so far. The few times he had seen figures in the distance, whether following him or not, he made sure to lose them before sneaking into the library, trusting that the locked, barred, and rusted metal doors would hold, and that no one would be able to find his secret entrance.

And the library had always stood against intruders, even that one time when it seemed like the biker gang knew he was inside, and tried to force the doors open. He had curled up under a table, shivering, his eyes flitting from the door and his secret entrance, wondering what he’d do if they came through either. In the end, though, they gave up and he resolved to be twice as careful, and nothing like that ever happened again.

But for all his plans of secondary routes and hidden alleyways and loopbacks, he had never thought about what would happen if someone had found the sanctuary and was waiting for him inside. Certainly, he had never even come close to formulating a plan for anything like her: a girl who looked about about his age, blond hair in a ponytail, calmly sitting there with a book in her hands, reading as if this were before everything fell apart.

So he stared.

After a few moments, she looked up at him and smiled.

“Oh, so this place belongs to more than just the trees.” She patted the trunk of the one next to her, the one that had sprouted right in the middle of the library floor and climbed all the way to the ceiling, where its canopy filled in some of where the roof used to be.

“Wha-where-how’d you—” he sputtered, gesturing behind him and around him, coming up short for words. Her voice was musical and teasing and something else he wasn’t quite sure he could put a finger on. Happy, he realized later, something that hadn’t been familiar to him lately.

“The same way you came through, of course. The doors certainly weren’t going to open, and even if they were, that wouldn’t be a good idea, now would it? And I’m even smaller than you, and so I fit through just fine, and you didn’t even notice that someone had moved the bush and—” And then she suddenly realized that she was talking a bit too quickly, speaking without thinking about what she was saying, that somehow, she had started babbling. To a complete stranger, no less.

Her teeth clicked together as she stopped mid-sentence, waiting for him to respond, suddenly less confident than she had been. And still he stood there, still surprised, and she noticed, still staring.

“Um. I hope you don’t mind that I started in on your collection,” she said, lifting the book and showing him the cover. A story by Robin Hobb, one of the ones he had read. A very good book, actually, and he wondered if she had picked it by chance.

“No, that’s fine- I mean- it’s not like it’s—” And then he fell silent as well, trying to figure out what to do. She wasn’t here to use the books as firewood, certainly; it didn’t look like she was here to rob him, either. As for what she was here for...well, there was only one way to find out, wasn’t there?

“Did you like it?” He asked.

#


The next few weeks were much like the ones before, except that from two to five in the afternoon, the two of them would meet and read, and most of all, talk. They talked about their lives, their hobbies, and their favorite authors and books, and there was something in the ease of their bickering, their teasing, their flirting, and their talking. Back when the world had six billion people, these two finding each other would’ve been special; the fact that they existed in the three million people that were left — and met each other — was a miracle.

Or maybe, as the stories told, it was fate.

#


As he pedaled to the library two weeks later, he looked down at the basket in front of him, at the carnations inside. It was a gesture from before the cities fell, when flowers were rare enough that there were specialized stores that sold them. Nowadays they were everywhere, mixed with the weeds, and much of the meaning had been forgotten. Even so, he knew that she’d appreciate them, and rose early to get his scavenging shift done with enough time to pick the flowers for her.

She was waiting for him when he arrived, wearing the aviator shades he had found a week ago, another book in her lap; it was almost a deja vu of their first meeting, though this time, she was sitting on a rock in the alley outside. She looked up and waved as he pulled up.

“Hey,” she said softly, closing the book she was holding. Robin Hobb, again.

“Hey - waiting for me to go in? You didn’t have to, it’s not locked,” he said, smiling, as he leaned the bike against the wall.

“No, not...quite,” she said, looking up at him as he came over but not meeting his eyes, not matching his smile.

A guy leaning over a girl, a bike in the background.

“What is it, then?” he asked, hearing something in her tone of voice. He stopped in front of her, flowers forgotten, and then, reached out, slowly, to take the glasses off.

Her eyes were red and the tear tracks were obvious.

“I- I have to go. My parents, they’re...leaving, they’re taking the car and looking to head out to the West, see if there are bigger pockets of civilization left. They told me that we’re leaving at the end of today and that we’ve already been here longer than we should have, and that if I needed to say goodbye, I should do it now. We’ll be back in a year, they said.”

And like when they met, all he could do is stare until she broke him out of it.

“So, I was hoping...” she started, lifting the book in her lap weakly. “That you could part with some of your books, so that I could take them with me, and read them on the way, and...” so I’ll never forget, she doesn’t quite say.

“And then you can bring them back to me, and we’ll talk about them, right?” It was, they both knew, more a wish than a statement, but it was the best he could do. He tried to smile, and mostly succeeded. “Take anything you want, but promise me that you’ll be back within a year — otherwise, I’ll have to start charging overdue fines!”

She nodded, glad that he was playing along, and took his hand, leading him to the secret entrance. She walked into the library with him one last time, taking a few books here and there — a book of short stories, a history book, a love story — and finally came back out, ending up where they started.

“A year,” he said to her, taking her hands and putting a carnation in them. “I’ll see you here, inside the library, next year, okay? I’ll be here every day between now and then, in case you decide to come back early, if you’ve finished all of them.”

She nodded slowly, staring at him, trying to memorize every last detail before she left. And then she did leave, backpack over her shoulder, flower in her hair, and he turned to go back into the library, to find a very specific book — a calendar. Every day, he would draw a mark through the day on the calendar, counting down until she’d come back.

And every day, he would look forward to the afternoon he’d find her sitting there again, a new book in her hands, waiting for him to show up.
talonkarrde: (Default)
“And then what happened?”

Wordlessly, I turn the book around and show him the next page.

“It’s empty!”

I nod and take my father’s fancy old fashioned pen, dip it in an inkwell, and present it to him.

“And then,” I say, finding the room suddenly a bit blurry, “the father passed the book down to his son, who wrote the next chapter, and the one after that, and the next half of the book.”

“But I don’t know how to write, dad!”

“Start, I say,” remembering what my father said to me. “with the basics. With the noun and the verb, the person and the place and the action. Start there.”

#

Next week, he asks for me to read the story again, and I do, from the very beginning. It’s my story, one that I’ve written for him from the time that he was born, and it explains about his mom and I, writes out our dreams and wishes and desires. It explains our lives and our hopes for him, and the second half of the book is for him, his dreams and wishes, his life.

When I finish reading though, he simply thinks for a moment, and then he nods, and says, “Thanks, dad!” and rolls over, without writing anything. It goes like this for three more weeks, and I start to wonder. Did I ask him too early? When did my father ask me? What if he doesn’t want to do it? It’s enough that I do the only thing that makes sense to me.

#

I show up at my dad’s doorstep the day after, looking uneasy, and he reads me like — okay, I won’t say it. But he sits me down, and he asks me how things are going, and it all comes out of me in a hurry, about how nervous I am, about if I did something wrong, about the tradition and if there was anything I forgot.

He says nothing, simply takes out an old, beautiful, leather-bound book, and flips to exactly halfway through the book. And then he waits, and finally, after reading the page over three times, do I get it.

“...You wrote the first line!” I exclaim, and he nods.

#

The next night, I read my son the story again, and finished where I normally did. And then I paused, and took a pen, and I wrote, ‘His story starts here, with the dream of becoming an astronaut.’

And then I passed him the book, and watched, and waited. And he takes a pen — a space pen that we got from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum a year ago — and puts it to the paper, and starts to write.

#

When I turn sixty, I get a phone call from my son, who invites me over for my birthday. When I get there, all my friends and family are there, and we have an incredible time celebrating the years and reminiscing on old times. He asks me to stay the night, in the guest room, and I do; it’s there that he breaks the news.

“She’s pregnant, dad,” he says, and I smile, and pat him on the leg. And I ask, as gently as possible, “Do you still have it?”

He nods, and reaches over to a chest that is on top of a bookshelf, and he brings out the book. Our book. And he pages through it, and he smiles, and I wait, and then he asks.

“How do I teach him, dad?”

“Start, I say,” remembering what my father said to me. “with the basics. With the noun and the verb, the person and the place and the action. And don’t be afraid to help him with the first line — much like you helped him with the first part of his life.”
talonkarrde: (Default)
"Hello," he said to me, taking a seat next to me at the bar where I was busy drowning my sorrows, "My name is Jason d'Aubergine, and I have a story to tell you, Charles."

I was far gone enough that I didn't question him, his name, his knowledge of mine, or, most distinctly, his fuzzy blue hair.

"Okay," I responded. "Hit me."

And then, brother, let me tell you, he did.

In distant HarSalot, where the men and women all have exquisite geometric patterns on their faces, those searching for mates will only accept others with the exact same pattern as themselves. They spend decades single and despondent until their vision declines to such a point where they can no longer see well enough to judge, and only then pair up, and find that they can only enjoy marriage in old age.

Somewhere between 'in' and 'distant', a light snapped on in my head, and the drunkenness packed its bags and left in a hurry, the door slamming it on the way out. By 'HarSalot', I was well enough aware to be keenly following everything he was saying, my ears curving, I swear, to catch the sound waves as they were formed.

And then he was done, and my mind was trying to figure out why my ears  weren't picking up sounds anymore, and it took my eyes a few seconds to realize that his lips were no longer moving. And that he was looking at me with a half-smile on his face, and the expression of someone who had seen my reaction a billion times.

I suppose I came about two or three minutes later, by the clock; my first word was, "What—"

He cut me off. I suppose he had done this enough that he didn't really want to give anyone a chance to recover, so it was just a, "You wouldn't believe me if I told you. Just...go with the story, okay?" and then he left. Just like that.

I nodded dumbly into the air. Really, now, for all the people that said I should've shook him by the collar and asked him what the meaning of life was — well, I'd like to see what they'd do when they hear the Word of Truth from a story that turns you stone cold sober after drinking enough to tranquilize an elephant.

Well, maybe not that much;  I'm a lightweight. But still.

-
 
Four weeks later, I had gotten completely over Vicky, broken up with Margaret, had a fling with Phédre, and was in that same bar again. Drinking, of course.

Clearly, my memory had failed me, or I would've picked a different bar. As it was, though, Mister Blue-Hair walked up again, and patted me on the shoulder, and said, "Charles."

At which point I responded with, "Oh, God, no, I want to stay—"

In the elder days a crow fell in love with a peacock, but her plumage was too dark and she fed on the dead and dying, and was not admitted. so this crow followed after the flock and collected their feathers, and so disguised herself as one of them. But when she tried to fly the rainbow feathers fell off, so although she was with her lover she could never spread her wings.

And again, the light, knowledge, the acceptance. All it was missing was Jesus, unless he had Fuzzy Blue Hair, and the Shout and the Trump and the Four Horsemen.

On second thought, I wouldn't mind skipping the Horsemen.

Anyway, this time, I came out of it faster. My ma always told me that I was a slow person but a fast learner, and I proved it by reacting much quicker the second time — I was out and had a fist in the air launching towards his face before a full thirty seconds had gone by.

I think he dodged. Or maybe I was rusty; the last fight I won was in third grade. Against Marcia, now that I—

I woke up on the floor with the bartender snapping at my face with a wet towel and an uncomfortable tenderness on my cheek. And then, as I got up, I noted the bruise on my right side, the crick in my shoulder, and the strange feeling that someone had tried to choke me.

On the upside, he was sitting there: we had our first conversation.

It went something like this:

I glared at him.

He looked back at me, eyebrows raised.

I glared at him some more.

"Okay, okay," he said. "I'm sorry, I've had some training, and I wasn't sure how you'd react. Or how, um, fast you'd go down. Might have gone a slight bit overboard."

I nodded, and reached out for my strawberry daiquiri.

"Who are you?" I asked.

"Erm," he said. "Jason D'Aubergine, of the fami—"

"No, no, no," I gestured in the air, miming lights and horns and understanding and sobriety. You know, with my fingers going really fast.

"Who are you?"

"Oh," he said. "I'm a raconteur."

"A...rah-counter? I don't get it."

At this point, he may have looked at me like I had three heads.

"I tell stories," he said, really, really slowly, miming opening a book and flipping through the pages. "To people that need them. I have a gift for foresight, and I know that you're about to—"

And then She came on TV, and I don't think I've ever loved anyone that bad.

Oh, baby. I had a plane ticket to L.A. in an hour.

-
 
So, six weeks after that— yeah, I like that bar, okay?

Anyway, I was pondering on how Fuzzy Blue might have been right, and was sort of getting over Lisa Kudrow (because, no, I wasn't an actor, unfortunately. I had been this close, really.) And Danielle wasn't quite right, and neither was Jasmin, and Michelle, definitely not. Oh god no that was a bad choice.

And he taps me on the shoulder and I did not deck him in the face.

I told you I learned fast.

Instead, I turned around, finished my Miami Vice, and said to him, "Jason, of the Eggplants! That must have been where you got your hair color from!" (See, I looked up Aubergine. It means eggplant.)

He scowled.

Okay, so, on second thought, I recognized that I shouldn't irritate someone that knows the future. My future, to be precise. So I tried again, you see.

"Sorry! Sorry. I just...you know, I was wondering if you had anything, in terms of, well," and I looked up, mimed a sunrise, and then looked expectantly back at him.

Nothing.

"I mean, look, it's just, you caught me at some bad times, and I appreciate the warnings, but you know, I'm just. Something right now would be nice." I pointed at the six Miami Vices. "I've drank six of them already, you know. Well, five and a half... Still, it's a record; I'm drunk! You should sober me up!"

Nothing.

"Look, I'm just, I'm really sorry for making fun of your weird blue hair and name, okay? Just...I'll do anything, anything at all."

Nothing.

Well. It was worth a try, I thought. I slumped in my chair, sighing, and reached for the last drink (with twisty straw) when I felt the tingling. The light. The voice.

There was once a person in a faraway land who was told that love was a butterfly, the prettiest one of all. And so he tried to catch it in a butterfly net, going out day after day, swooping through clouds of butterflies in the forest, catching many but never finding love. Day after day he does this, until one day, he's on the verge of giving up, feeling betrayed. On that day, he takes all of his nets and catches as many as possible, and keeps catching more and more and more.

And what happens is that he catches so many actual butterflies that he gets lifted away, and while he's floating, he sees a woman — someone who is also being carried away by butterflies, and lo and behold, in the end, he found someone who was just like him..

And then I came out of it, and saw Susan at the bar, drinking her fourth Pina Colada.
talonkarrde: (Default)
The soft 'hi' we exchange as we meet reminds me of something I can't quite place; only much later do I realize it's the greeting my parents give each other as they wake up in the morning.

There's a pause as we look at each other and smile, happy to have been able to make this work, and then she says, "Come on, let's go, let me show you the souk I talked about. It's in the Old City, in the Muslim quarter. Did you do your research?"

"Of course," I respond, smirking a bit. "Rabbi Silverstein says I'm a good student. Though as it happens, in our last conversation before I flew over, we were dicussing — or maybe it was arguing — the finer points of derech chiba. I think I won, actually."

She purses her lips, looking at me skeptically as she tries to figure out whether to take me at face value. I give her a few seconds before saying, with only the slightest bit of sarcasm, "So, are you just going to stare at me, or are we actually going to this market of markets?"

I get a snort from her — and perhaps a hint of a blush — before she sets off, confidently threading her way through the streets. I follow the best I can, trying not to look like a clueless foreigner, though even with as much international travel as there is today, a Chinese person in Jerusalem isn't quite a regular sight.

We pass through the Sha'ar Shechem and thread our way through alleys that can barely fit three people standing next to each other. On both sides, there are merchants plying their wares - silk scarves, jewelry, gilt vases, purses, rugs, even a few lutes hanging from a crossbar above our heads. Every few stores, though, the handmade wares are interrupted by tourist traps — a display of t-shirts, for example, that's simultaneously familiar and foreign, dispaying the Coca-Cola logo or the Chicago Bulls icon but with Hebrew text instead of English.

The souk is in full force all around us, and I don't think I've been anywhere more alive. The air is filled with the sounds of shopkeepers and bargain hunters, each forcefully trying to get the better of the other, treating every bargain as if it were a matter of life and death. The smells of various spices rise from large canvas bags where they sit, buyers taking pinches to judge the quality and then buying by the scoop; there is bread and honey rolls and fruit and everything anyone could ever want, fresh and ready. In the massive crush of bodies, it becomes impossible to get where we want to go without jostling someone; politeness as the West understands it would mean standing still for all eternity, here.

An hour later, she taps me on the shoulder as I'm 'negotiating' with one of the shopkeepers to lower his prices on a couple of the t-shirts for friends, a few postcards, and a particularly nice looking scarf. It's more akin to debate than any bargaining I'd ever done — I open by commenting how I'd like the things I picked out but they're just a bit too expensive, he counters by saying that he needs to feed his family, I respond with the idea of him offering a bulk discount because I'm buying multiple things from him. His rejoinder is that he's already offering cheaper prices than the others, which both of us already know is not true, but it's just an opening for the next round. And just then she comes back, which is a marvelous opportunity that I can't pass up. Sorry, I say to the shopkeeper, but these prices just won't do, and now I have to go. Checkmate, delivered perfectly, and it's no surprise when after I take a few steps away, he grumbles and then yells at me, "b'seder, b'seder, you can have them at that price."

"You," she says to me as we walk down the HaShalshelet towards the Western Wall, "didn't really want those, did you? You were just bargaining for the sake of bargaining."

"Weeeeell," I say, drawing the word out. "The sticker price was so absurd, and one of the others I was watching got the price down to, what, one-fifth of the original asking price? It was a challenge, and I do need to get some souvenirs for my friends and family, you know." It's undeniably truthful, even though both of us know that she was right, and her eyeroll confirms it.

And then we're at the Western Wall, and I hesitate for a second, looking at the penitent and wondering if I can really count myself as one of them. But faith is rarely black and white, I've come to learn, and I walk through the gate and take a few steps forward, careful to avoid those in prayer, and find a small empty section of the wall. I have a few prayers — some for others, just one for myself — and I press a hand against the wall, briefly, feeling a surge of empathy of being but a tiny particle in an amazing world, standing where millions of others have stood and will stand for as long as man exists in this world.

Later, we find our way to a cafe, each sipping at a limonana, and we make light conversation, cheerfully, by unspoken agreement, avoiding the topic that's been lurking since we first started talking to each other online, seven months ago. We talk about the Middle East, and the Far East, and science and technology and topics that flow and turn and we complete each others' sentences, or, more often, interrupt each other with the logical counter to what we're not done saying.

But there are topics that can't be avoided forever, no matter how hard we try. Eventually she asks, "How are your studies going?"

I know what she's asking, the real question hidden behind the one that she already knows the answer to, but I choose to answer only what she's asking. It's part of why we do this, I think, because it allows us to express intentions and feelings without saying them directly, without saying a truth that the devil might twist to his purposes, some might say. I don't know if I can take the final step, commit to a life that is nothing like I would have ever considered, and so I keep my response short, superficial.

"Good," I say, and then turn the tables. "But not ready to be quizzed by your dad, I think. How is your family?" In this too, there is another line of questioning, and I wonder at how we speak so freely otherwise, and yet when we return to this seemingly impenetrable wall that divides us, we fall upon half-truths and misdirections to communicate.

"They're good as well," she responds, but it's the look in her eyes that's the real answer. And then, like moths that realize their danger right before they go up in flames, we backpedal and drift away again to topics of no importance, enjoying each other's company and wiling the time away. It's so easy to drift from exhilaration to despair, and back.

"When will I see you again?" I ask, at the end of the day. I can see her hesitate, perhaps to give the not-quite-the-truth, not-a-lie answers that we're so good at. But this is something I'm unwilling to fish the truth out of, and so I stop her, shaking my head. "No, please. Not for this question."

She pauses again, and I crash from exhilaration to despair. But then she speaks, and the recovery is just as swift.

"Soon."
talonkarrde: (Default)
In my years tending bar, I've found that there are a few reasons people will drink out, and they fall into some pretty distinct categories.

When people go to a lounge, they're there to dance, make friends, maybe get lucky for the night. The guy with way too much gel in his hair will buy something fruity for the girl and she'll giggle and flirt and maybe go home with him, if he's smooth and she's lookin'.

When a guy heads to a seedy bar and slaps a twenty down, ordering the strongest thing you have, he's there to drown his sorrows away, and most likely doesn't want any attention or company aside from the liquor. Those ones need to be watched, now - you never know if they're gonna drink themselves to death, start a fight, or otherwise turn a perfectly fine night upside-down.

Then there's this third group of people, the interesting ones. They'll pick a respectable, decent pub (as I'd like to think mine is, the Rotor n' Prop — we get a lot of pilots, being right by the airfield), order a few strong drinks for courage, and keep looking around at the others, occasionally trying to break into their conversations. I figure the 'friendly bartender' tradition started because of people like this — there's a lot of downtime and you want your patrons to keep coming back, so you might as well jaw a bit. And, sometimes you can even help out.

So I talk with them. Or rather, most of the time, they just want an ear and can't find one elsewhere, and drying glasses means that I have plenty of attention to spare. So they'll talk their bit, I'll nod sympathetically, and they figure things out on their own, and everyone's happy. Their stories run the gamut of problems at work, problems in their relationships, bad sex, homicidal relatives, everything you can think of. I've noticed one thing, in these years — the details may be different (hell, there was a story last week that was just insane), but the human story is to find meaning in some shape or form. Always a quest for the meaning of life, you know?

Every once in a while I'll get some whiner, and there's little to do but tell the boy to man up and take some goddamn responsibility. Sometimes, they even come back after growing some cojones, and become pretty regular patrons — I like those guys. The ones that come back will have pretty decent lives, I figure, because they can take advice when they need to. Not saying that nothing bad's ever gonna happen to them, but they can at least roll with the punches.

And then there are those on the other end of the spectrum. Cocky-ass flyboys that think they're invincible because they've just gotten their wings. Don't matter much what they're flying; Cessna or Beechcraft, or even the Learjet pilots or Navy jocks, hubris is hubris. They think they could land anything with wings after a minute in the cockpit; they think they could fly through a tornado and come out unscathed.

Sometimes, there's a senior airman that will lay it on them, tell them what flat-footed incompetent pants-on-head SOBs that they are, give them the sound verbal ass-kicking that they need. And sometimes, there isn't anyone around to bring the strutting rooster down, and I figure it falls on me.

So I tell them the story:

-

About twenty-five years ago, there was a twenty-two year old rookie pilot named Sean who had just earned his pilot's license. Sean had wanted to fly since he was five or six and saw his first air-show, and pretty much ate, breathed, and dreamed planes. When he got his pilot's license, he thought he was some hot shit. Granted, his pride wasn't entirely unjustified; the instructors had praised him often for his quick learning and fast reactions, and agreed that he'd probably make a hell of a pilot in ten years, if he kept learning. But Sean took it as meaning that he was a hell of a pilot already, and strutted around with aviator glasses, a pilot's cap, and a bomber jacket, despite the fact that he had never flown a military plane.

There was one thing that Sean cared about other than flying, and that was his fiancée, Amber. They'd been childhood friends and after getting over the usual awkwardness of youth, they started dating their junior year of high school. They loved each other, and rarely for a young couple, recognized what they had. Amber had reconciled with the fact that Sean would be in the skies for most of his life and didn't hold his dreams against him; in turn, Sean made sure that if he wasn't flying, he was with her as much as she wanted.

It was to no one's surprise when they got engaged at the end of college, a few months before their five-year anniversary. Sean wanted the day to be something special and called the small airfield, pulling a few strings, and given that he had more or less grown up there, they let him have what he wanted. A Cessna 152 would be waiting for him that Saturday for a two hour flight.

Saturday was bright and sunny and the couple headed to the airfield at about ten in the morning, ready to spend a few hours flying. Sean wanted to get them into the air as soon as possible — and yes, you guessed it — skipped the visual walk around and most of the preflight check. That was his first mistake, though when he taxiied out and took off, the plane responded just fine. For the better part of half an hour, they cruised around, the 'captain' keeping it steady at first, and then trying to impress Amber with his skills. No loops or spins - he wasn't that stupid. But he rolled side to side, took a few dives that were completely unnecessary, and generally behaved like a young idiot with a toy that he didn't fully understand the limits off. Luckily for him, the plane held together...

...until he started the descent for landing. The engine stalled and shut off as he was parallel to the runway, about to make the two final right angle turns to land. "Shit," the tower heard, but that was it. The official report commented that the Cessna acted like it could still make the runway, cutting in and taking the turns early — too early, according to what should have been done — and was going too fast when it approached the runway.

The report stated that with radio silence, it was impossible to tell, but it was likely that the pilot was panicking, especially with someone else in the cockpit with him, and due to that, forgot about the crosswind. A strong gust came in, one that could've been compensated for under normal conditions. The left wing hit the ground, dragged the Cessna to nosedive into the ground, and the plane lost the other wing and ended up rolling about a hundred feet from the point of impact, shedding debris along the way.

Sean woke up from a coma two weeks later; two days after Amber's funeral had happened, and never flew again.

-

It's not a happy story, and I watch their faces as they slowly lose the confident smirk. When I get to the ending, they're somber and reflective, a staggering reversal from the loud and obnoxious 'captains' that came in. They see, I think, a bit of where they could have been and what it means, and take off their pilot's caps, put away their aviator glasses, shrug uncomfortably in their bomber jackets.

And then they shuffle off, their attitudes changed for the afternoon, at least, hopefully longer. Every once in a blue moon, before he goes, the hotshot will ask me a question.

"What did Sean do with his life? Was he ever happy again?"

And I pause for a second, wondering myself, before I respond.

"Well, life goes on. He stumbled around for a while, lost in his guilt, and almost drank himself to death before a friendly bartender set him straight and told him to take responsibility and live his life in a way that Amber would've wanted him to."

And then I pause again, making sure I meet their eyes as I continue.

"Eventually, though, he found something that he could be content with, and became the bartender of a small pub on the edge of an airfield."

Adored

Mar. 17th, 2010 07:43 pm
talonkarrde: (Default)
My lady,

It is with a weak will and unsteady hand that I write this letter, but even I understand why it must be done. I am not strong enough to meet you face to face, to see your tears and take your anger and pain, but I can provide, at least, the shadow of an answer. This, then, is my compromise: I will leave this publicly and hope that, out of all the others, you will see it.

It is possible that you will miss this because you do not read my writings, and that this will never reach the one person it must; knowing you, though, I find it more likely that you will simply never give any indication of having seen it, since you were always the more subtle one. Whichever it is, though, I will take the coward's way out, and leave a message for you after I can no longer be contacted.

I confess that I write this for both of us; I want to explain my actions in hope of bringing you some peace, but I also seek forgiveness. You've told me time and time again that you have forgiven me, but I am not sure I believe you, perhaps because I do not think you really know what happened. I hope that this will help, even if you take back your forgiveness. At least you will have done it with open eyes. 

While the younger, more naive me would have said that the circumstances were not under my control, I know now that I was simply deflecting, an attempt to weasel out of the responsibility of my actions. However, truthfully — and I know it will make you angry to read this— I would not be who I am if I had acted differently. It may be fatalistic, but I think that once we started on the path, it was inevitable for us to end where we did.

Our beginning was beautiful, as courtships are when those involved know where the road will take them. Looking back at our first words, the secret jokes, the longer conversations, it seems perfectly natural — we were listening to nature's song from the first date, as together as a pair of swans. It is a progression that has never ceased to surprise me; one day, we are but friends that seek each other's company often, the next day comes and we have become essential to each other's happiness.

I remember the hours that we spent on the phone, hours that told us what we already knew, but let us discover it for the first time. The questions that bordered on absurd, the secrets that we had shared with no one else, the common and the unique. "Ask," you said, and I would; "Ask," I said, and you did, about anything, about everything. I remember looking at the clock, and wondering how it had been four hours already, and not caring about school — and later, work — the next day.

I remember as we fell asleep on each other, your phone obediently transmitting the sound of your breathing as it grew soft and slow, as I would say your name softly to make sure you were asleep and not just quiet, as I would smile to myself and hang up after whispering good night, sweet dreams. And once, I love you, but only after you were asleep for sure.

A month in, and it was just the two of us alone in the bedroom, my fingers tracing over your palm as I asked you questions about your parents. My singular purpose to be able to see and remember every detail of your beauty, to be able to hear your radiant laugh in my head, to know you as well as you knew yourself. You were beautiful, and in that instant, my entire life's goal was to convince you of that indisputable truth.

I remember consoling you when you failed the math test. I remember glancing over as I drove home, squeezing your hand softly, telling you that it would be okay, that it didn't matter if your parents were disappointed in you. I said you were a beautiful, intelligent girl, and you smiled as the tears stopped, sniffled as you kissed my cheek.

In that moment, I knew I loved you.

But I also remember wondering if it was because you didn't get enough sleep, because we were talking so often, for so long. But I didn't want to stop, so I didn't mention it. And that night, as we got on the phone again, the day's events were forgotten, and everything gone but for the two of us.

Two months later, I defended you against two girls who said that you were cheating off of them; I told them, I think you remember, that you would never do anything like that, and that they were just jealous of your talents. And then I turned around to hug you, but you were in tears, and you only pushed me away. Away, as if you couldn't stand my touch.

But what happened wasn't just one-way — when I abruptly dropped my plans of medical school, you never once told me that I should have kept trying. You never told me that I should have worked harder in school, when I told you about the poor grades. You just said that I would still be fine, as long as I was happy with you.

Do you see it now?

In the end, our love was beginning to affect, negatively, our actual lives, and it should never do that. Perhaps our courtship was too perfect, and we fell too hard; perhaps we didn't love each other as much as project perfection on the other person and worship them. Together, we believed that we had no faults, that we were perfect and it was the world that had to change.

In a way, we were perfect — those were the happiness times of my life, and it is a darker, drearier world every morning without you. But that happiness cost us our dreams and ambitions; it was a happiness that put blinders on how we saw each other and how we saw our futures. And if nothing else, I have learned that sacrificing the future for the present only works if you intend to live for a very short amount of time.

And so, when you asked me to run away with you, I could only say no.

It broke my heart to see the tears in your eyes and watch you walk away, knowing that I couldn't catch you this time, hug you and tell you everything was going to be okay. I caught the look in your eyes, I think, when you realized that I was only human; it was a realization that I only came to a week before.

.

Many describe love as a fire, but few mention that it must be tended and kept, or it will burn out of control, consuming everything. What we shared burned more brightly than any I've seen, but it would have consumed us before long.

And although it had to end, I do not regret a second of it.
talonkarrde: (Default)

“She cheated on me because she didn’t think I loved her any more. And I didn’t, but she shouldn’t have done it. I still regret…” The man sighs quietly, looking down and away.

I nod, scribbling notes in the little notepads that I’ve used now for ten years. I mull over the man’s actions in my head, weigh his deeds carefully, and come to a decision. It’s a good decision, one that means everyone will get what they need, even if it's not what they want, and I start talking to him about how circumstances could make many good people act rashly and incorrectly, but that second chances are given. There would still be repercussions, but they are not as bad as he thinks, and I see in his eyes understanding, and thankfulness.

And then, for a second, my mind drifts to Eden and the certainty in my thoughts crashes down around me. I almost open my mouth to say that what he did afterward was justified. But I stop myself, clear my mind forcefully, and dismiss him from the chamber before I do something disastrous.

It’s the third time in two weeks that I’ve hesitated on a decision. I sense that I’m on the knife’s edge, veering away from balanced, impartial judgments and towards rash, emotional outbursts. Today only proves how unbalanced I’m becoming.

I’m affected by her behavior, which is exactly what she wants. But she doesn’t know how much I can’t let myself be affected by anything in my life. Her nights out, her dress, her actions — it hurts me, but I can’t give her what she wants. I can’t give her the secret passion of stolen kisses, the daring of our youthful escapades.

Nevertheless, I need to talk to her, I need to tell her that I’m worried that we’re not quite as close as we’ve been, that maybe we should go out together on those nights where she now comes back at three in the morning. It’ll be okay, we’ll work through it, and then I can go back to sorting out the good lives from the bad.

And then I get the call. She's out…with a guy. Alone.

Together.

---

I was eighteen when I first got the offer; they were looking for level heads that could quickly understand and analyze complicated situations. It was just a relatively small job at first, figuring out whether or not crimes were blameless, whether compensation should be paid, and if so, how much.

Somewhere along the line, my assignments changed: I started seeing people and talking to them about their lives and their actions. I spoke to those who had done horrifying things but maybe had good intentions, and at the end I was asked to judge whether or not they were still salvageable. What happens after, I’ve never asked.

I always thought it would be a solitary journey that I would make, that at the end of my time, there would be just a few friends and the undertaker standing around my grave. Then I met Eden and everything changed.

She was everything I wasn’t, merrily dancing through life, a joie de vivre that set her apart from everyone else. She needed someone in her life that wasn’t going to disappear on her, someone who would be her anchor and her castle.

I loved her quietly, slowly sharing all of my life with this woman who was more spirit than flesh, who wanted everything the world had to offer. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, and when she accepted, I was happier than I had ever been. I knew that she loved me as deeply as I loved her, and I believed that it would last.

Still, I was careful not to let my emotions get the best of me, careful not to let my experiences with her damage my intuition and my impartiality. In the end, I loved her more than anything else in this world, but there were still higher powers I had to bow to, responsibilities that could never be abrogated.

We were happy for a time.

But as three years turned into four, and five to six, she began to want the part of me that I couldn’t give her. She wanted me to live as she did, to stay in the moment and damn the consequences. She wanted me to let go, but she didn’t know my secret.

I could never let go.

---

The first time that Emma calls, I shrug it off, casually. It’s just an old friend Eden’s seeing, and it’s not problematic at all, I reply, and then hang up.

And then I pour myself a double of scotch and sit outside in the forty-degree weather, waiting for Eden to come back to me.

An hour later, I get another call from Emma, one that tells me that they’re leaving together, his hand on the small of her back, escorting her, holding her. This time around, I am bereft of any words to defend her with, except a weak, she’ll be back soon then, even as my heart starts to crumble.

I wonder, like they all do, how I didn’t see it coming, why I couldn’t have found a way to make things better before it came to this. At the beginning, I was everything she wanted. I held her when she was disappointed by the world and I shared her joys when she stood on top of it. Our dates were lovely, our dinner conversations interesting, our lovemaking tender and fulfilling.

But then she stopped wanting a rock and started wanting someone who could be with her in the clouds instead of waiting patiently on the ground. But there was always work, there was always the crushing responsibility that meant I could never indulge her. So I pretended to be apathetic as her behavior grew wilder; I became ever more of a prince as she wanted ever more of a pirate.

And now it’s been another hour and she’s still not back.

I clumsily down another glass, spilling some in the process, and can’t figure out whether the wet spots are from the alcohol or my tears.

Eventually, I pick myself up and slip into bed, to start the long, lonely, damned wait. A part of me wants to fall asleep, wants to wake up tomorrow and kiss her good morning as if nothing ever happened. A part of me wants to chase after her with a shotgun.

It’s sometime in the morning when I hear the garage door close, the footsteps on the stairs. I listen as she comes into the room, as she sets those lovely heels down and heads into the bathroom. I count the seconds as the water runs, as she changes out of that gorgeous dress that she wore for him, as she comes to the bed and hesitates before getting in.

I reach over and take her hand, but not with the gentle squeeze that's my usual greeting. I take her hand and hold it, letting her know that I’m awake. That I’ve been waiting.

But I don’t say a word, I don’t incriminate, I don’t rage, I don’t despair. I just let her know that I know, and we stay like this for God knows how long.

---

When I wake up, our hands are still touching.

She’s asleep, the peace on her beautiful face almost enough to make me forget last night. I want hold her, to kiss her lips and whisper I’m sorry... and at the same time, I want to scream at her for betraying me, for this emptiness that I feel when I look at her. Instead I slip out from under the covers, my hand pulling away from hers, and I hear her stir.

Afraid of what I might see if I look at her face, I head for the bathroom, waiting for the sounds to confirm my suspicions. A deep breath as she first comes awake, a soft, hushed gasp as she remembers. That’s it, then.

She’s silent for a bit, a silence only broken by the buzz of my shaver, by the sound of the running water as it splashes in the sink.

I hear the covers shift as she slips out of bed and comes into the bathroom, and I stare at the bottom of my cup, trying to recall what I was doing. After a few seconds, the shower starts and I remember — I was going to brush my teeth. But every second is another opportunity for conflict, so when the fog starts to cloud the mirror, I leave.

We can’t keep this up.

I dress quickly and finish off a bowl of milk and cereal in record time. And yet, even after I finish, I sit at the table, staring at the cereal box, wondering if it comes with both a toy car and the answer to saving our marriage.

She comes down stairs after a longer shower than usual and pauses briefly behind me, perhaps wondering why I’m still here. I’m wondering myself, but I can’t leave, yet. Not without saying something.

Then she stretches up on her toes to grab a plate, and I watch as the silk nightgown shifts on her hips, caresses her sides. She’s still lovely, even through the tension, even though I know that she feels my eyes burning through her. And again, I’m struck with mutually exclusive desires, and again, I resist both. There is still work, and I must still fake my apathy.

I rise then, heading for the garage. The doorbell rings, and on a normal day, I would hang around, just in case. But why wait? The worst that will happen is that she’ll cheat on me again.

The words come unbidden to my mouth, in a whisper that I don’t know if she hears.

“I love you, Eden.”

---

I try and clear my mind as I walk up the marble steps, nod to the guards, and enter the circular chamber, taking my place behind the dais. The lights dim except for the bright square in the middle, illuminating where the judged sat, and I open up my notebook, waiting for today's assignment.

The door slides open and I write down today's date and time, waiting for him or her to step forward so we can begin. In the back of my head, I build a wall around the thoughts of how Eden and I are going to make it through another night. I attempt to wrestle my emotions back under control.

And then I see who it is, and the walls crumble.

"Eden?" I whisper, the truth spreading through my body like poison, rendering me unable to move, unable to breathe.

She whispers my name in return and I wonder if He has a sick, twisted sense of humor, to force us to go through this. In response, the door behind her slides shut, and I tell myself that there's still a job to be done, still an evaluation to be performed.

I cough a few times, trying to find my voice, and then, haltingly, I begin the questions. I would usually begin by asking if she knew what she had done to deserve this, but we both knew.

Cut to the chase.

"Where were you last night?"

She tells me that she went to dinner... with a friend, and I look down at the notepad, watch as my fingers can not, for some reason, hold onto the pen properly. I scribble a few words down before giving it up as unnecessary; her words burn themselves into my memory anyway.

Nothing short of a lobotomy would make me forget.

"How long were you out? How long was dinner? What did you talk about?" My questions come harder, faster, without pause between. I should be more even, more measured, but I’ve lost my balance on the razor’s edge; she’s lucky I’m even letting her answer.

What I should've been is a solemn judge, asking level questions and making rational decisions. Instead, I find that I've never been more lost, more angry, more.. emotional, all at the same time. I set the notepad down and stand up, a shadow in the darkness, towering over the love of my life.

She draws back, slightly, and answers the questions… narrowly, avoiding telling me any more than exactly what I ask. If that’s how she wants to play it, then I’ll ask the question straight out.

"What happened after dinner?" My voice breaks a bit as I realize I don’t want to know. When she answers, I'll know that I've lost her, and it will be time to pass judgment. But I've lost my impartiality, at this point, and I just want some answer, any answer, so I can... I don't know. Hurt her. Run back to her.

I start to wonder, dimly, whether this is a test of myself, as well.

She pauses for a bit, wetting her lips, and I think of those lips on mine right before we sleep. I think of when she used to model dresses for me and I would buy them simply because she looked beautiful in them. I think of how I can't be impartial on this, how no one can, and I think of how I have to decide whether the love of my life gets a second chance.

And then she tells me that the two of them simply walked together, and I can't help but snort.

"For three fucking hours?!"

It's the first time in this chamber that I've cursed like that, and I know with growing certainty that it will be my last. I can't bear this anymore, and I jump the dais and stalk up to her, my face drawn, waiting for her lying defense.

And then I stop waiting.

“I was called, did you know that? She called me once, in the beginning, when you were making your way through the restaurant and turning every fucking head in thirty yards. And I said I trusted you, that you were just there with a friend, that it would be fine.”

“And then she called me again, when you left with him, his hand on the small of your back, leading you away. And I waited for you, three fucking hours, waiting, wanting to hear the garage door open, praying that you had just gotten a little bit delayed on the way home.”

“What did you do?!” I scream at her, a vicious, hoarse, lost wail.

“Nothing!” She swears that it was nothing, nothing at all.

And I raise an arm, ready to do whatever it takes to get the truth. Ready to cross a line that I’ve never, ever crossed, ready to beat the truth out of her.

Until I remember, suddenly, that she’s never lied. That she has flirted, that she’s been a free spirit, but that she has never lied about anything that was serious. But then...

“Why, then? What was the point of it? Why would you do something like that? Who was it?” I fall to my knees, looking up at the fear in her face, trying to find out where the girl I married is, trying to figure out who I’ve become.

“Eden,” I say. “Eden….why?”

And then she breaks my heart, again, telling me that she just wanted me back. Of course there was never anyone else, never anything that she wanted except for me, the part that was drifting away from her. All she wanted was more of me.

"I was never...gone, Eden. I was always here, always loved you. There wasn't a day that I didn't think of you, that I didn't cherish the thought of sleeping by your side... I gave you everything. Everything except for... this." I gesture around the chamber, but my eyes stay on her. They've never really left her, ever since she came into my life, I think; if only she understood.

"I needed to be good at this job, to not make any mistakes. And that meant that I had to hide some things away, that I couldn't always be what you wanted me to be. But I can’t…I’m not willing to be anything without you." I throw away the impartiality that I've worn like a cloak for so long, and hope she understands.

And then she tells me who it was.

"Brendan," I repeat, numbly.

Her half-brother. I had seen him a few times before, but not well enough to know what his cologne smelled like. Of course it would be Brendan.

"Brendan," I say again, in some version of shocked disbelief. And then I look at her, and I see the fear recede, and she’s mine again.

In an instant, I have her up against the wall, my hands attacking the buttons on her blouse, my mouth on hers, hot and wet and wanting to make up for all the stupidity we just went through.

A brief tug on her lower lip and then I pull away, briefly, fire burning brightly before I lean in again, trailing a line of kisses up her jaw, taking her earlobe between my teeth and waiting for that soft gasp. I tug the blouse off, my fingers dancing across her sides, teasing over the silk that covers her breasts.

We fall on each other, lips touching, eyes locked, a dance of passion. Thank the gods, I think, for a few things. That the rooms are soundproofed, that the floor is warm, and most especially, that I didn’t lose her. And that she didn’t lose me.

And then we are lost in the afterglow.

Eventually, I gather our clothes between kisses. I help her slip on her blouse and brush my lips across her skin before it is hidden; she ties my tie with fingers that I steal kisses on, buckles my belt. We almost look decent.

And then a door slides open.

Light shines into the room from behind my seat. Emma comes in; something I wasn’t expecting. Here to fire me, perhaps? She looks at us for a moment, and together, we look back. Eden’s fingers tremble in mine, but we lend each other strength and stand firm.

“Peter,” Emma says, “you are released from your duties.”

I expected to be disappointed; I expected to feel the shame of failure. Instead, what washes over me is mostly a wave of contentment. There is satisfaction, the knowledge that I have done my duties well and that it is time to pass them on to someone else, and only a hint of regret at not doing more. But in the end, my life doesn't belong just to me, but also to Eden; I can't be someone who steers other people past their problems and decides who gets second chances without making sure my own life is whole first.

I turn to kiss the love of my life once more, as a reminder of the past and a promise for the future. And then, with just a hint of hesitation, we leave the chamber.

Perhaps one day the flame will die down, on my side or on hers, and I will return here, ready to take up the mantle once more. If it doesn't, however, I will be content, living my life wholly and fully, denying Eden nothing.


//

A/N: This was a wonderful collaboration with my partner [livejournal.com profile] crimsonplum for intersect week; her entry is here. Please read it as well — the way we structured our entries means that while they stand alone, they connect together very tightly.

It comes in at about 3200 words, which is significantly longer than anything else I've seen so far on Idol, or anything I usually write. But this is down from the initial 3800, which is, I suppose, a sign of how much fun it was to write; I do hope the story keeps you interested all the way through.
talonkarrde: (Default)

We had one of those wonderful marriages where every little thing was meaningful to us — the first time that I told her she was beautiful was in the hallway of our old high school. She didn’t believe me then; she thought that I was saying it just to be nice, or worse, to tease her, but I meant it honestly. It was my fumbling way of telling her that I wanted to us be together — not that she took it that way at the time — but when we actually started dating, she told me it was the first time anyone had said that to her. I think that’s why she married me.

But it wasn’t just about the first time that I said it — when I woke up on a lazy Saturday morning and whispered it into her ear, when we finished dressing to go out, that day that we got married…I saw that small smile, just for me. And in response, she would say she loved me; the little exchange always brought a light to my eyes. I soon learned that using those words could defuse many of the arguments that we got in. Not all of them, of course, but I know that there were more than a few times where we almost started yelling at each other — about the bills, about the unplanned pregnancy, about a lot of things — and I stopped, took a deep breath, and said "I think you’re beautiful," and we both calmed down enough to work it out.

I remember the endless nights when we used to cuddle in bed, or raid together, or browse the internet and share links about stupid news stories, laughing at them. The little smiles and gestures we shared persisted much longer than our friends' had, I learned, who said they ‘grew out’ of that stage of their relationship. One of them said that it was just a slow change where the gestures don’t mean that much after they kept getting reused. I never understood how that was — every time I told her she was beautiful, it was positive reinforcement for both of us.

Maybe that’s why I never saw it coming.

I don’t know if it’s because I was oblivious or because, according to her, it never happened, but I never felt her drifting away. She tells me that she never stopped loving me, and as much as I wanted to yell bullshit at that, at the idea that you could love and be married to someone and then lie to him about another lover you had, a part of me wanted desperately to believe it. All I know is that during her affair, our schedule never changed. We kept on alternating getting food from Subway and McDonald’s when we didn’t feel like cooking after work, kept on putting the baby to sleep and then staying up all night to game or snuggle, she kept on saying she loved me and I kept doing the little things that made her smile.

Then the phone bill came in, saying that we owed another $70 on top of the usual rate, because we were hundreds of minutes over what the plan covered. I thought it was a mistake until I called them, bitching about how we were being overcharged and that there was no way this was a legitimate charge. I remember the customer service rep’s voice — polite at first, then defensive, and finally, after he told me what the minutes were from and we both realized what it meant, soft and apologetic. I remember him saying, "I’m sorry,” as if it had any meaning, and then asking if he could do anything else for me, as if he could fix anything by lessening the charges.

I was angry… but much more than that, I just wanted to know why. I wanted to know what it was about me that made her seek someone else, what I, her husband, could change to be as important to her as someone she had never met, someone she had met online. I wanted to know what the fuck I did wrong, and why she never told me so I could make it better. I confronted her about it that night, after we put our child to sleep, and all she could say was that she was sorry.

So I asked him, the person who my wife had been cheating on me with, I swallowed my pride and asked him what I did wrong, and all he could say was that she always said she still loved me — as if that made what they did okay, as if that meant our marriage was going to go back to what it was before.

I am staying with her for the sake of our child, because he deserves to be raised with two parents. It took time for me to even talk to her anymore, but we’ve restored some semblance of what we had. We still game together, even snuggle sometimes, and go out to dinner together.

I still tell her, from time to time, that she’s beautiful, and she still responds that she loves me. That little smile isn’t there any more, and those words don’t mean anything to me anymore. Perhaps it had never meant anything in the first place. But I’m afraid to stop, because even though they are empty gestures, they keep our marriage together.

---

Edit: Author's Note:
I'm sorry, I forgot to add this in before I submitted it. The speaker is not me, though neither is it fiction, and I would like to leave it at that.
talonkarrde: (young wizards)

For Rose

---


Nita said the five words and took a careful step, and then another, dodging the breakers and running over the water towards the Made Rocks. Kit had said something about investigating a hotspot before she fell asleep, she thought, but
she didn't quite remember why she had to be there.

As she got closer, though, she realized that it was getting a bit lighter with every step she took. The sun wasn’t getting brighter, exactly – it was more than everywhere was getting brighter. And once she she realized what it was, she smiled and doubled her efforts to get to the old fishing platform. She hadn’t been here in awhile – but the trip, when the Powers granted it, was always worth it.


In the distance, on the platform, she would’ve sworn that something was even brighter yet, even though everything was reaching a level of luminescence that would have made the sun dim – and Nita would know, having been up close and personal with it more than once. After experiencing Timeheart a few times, Nita had learned to stare into the brightness instead of away from it. But this brightness was something else – it kept moving, for one, which is not something most lights did.

Nita suddenly realized who it was and broke into a run, sliding a bit on the water but ignoring that, grinning madly and shouting a greeting, almost tempted to try and hug the spark, the white hole that accompanied her first journey as a wizard.

“Fred!”

(Dear Artificer,) Fred said, doing a figure eight in midair, the equivalent of a grin. (I've blown my quanta and gone to the Good Place!)

“Freddd!” Nita said again, drawing the name out in response to the teasing as the white hole bobbed a tight spiral in what was a big smile.

(You're here too soon again, you know,) he said kindly to her, the words coming across as light, dancing across her skin in a way that was almost ticklish.

"I know, Fred. I’m just visiting; something Kit said last night drew me here. Remembering, I guess, what I used to be. Maybe it will be important tomorrow?”

(There are no accidents, you know. Even back then – you were so young and eager. And you cared very much - about that pen, about doing the right thing, about Kit too. You’re older now, but no less caring.) Fred wove tight circles around her, pulsing happily against her skin.

She blushed a bit, not sure what to say about that, and then looked around them. She could see for miles under the sea and across the sky; in the distance, Manhattan was a pristine crystal palace. Then she looked back at him and frowned a bit, remembering all of their losses and repeating her question from the first meeting. “Was it worth it, Fred? You told me to find out, and we’ve…we’ve changed things for the better. But was it worth it?"

He laughed and emitted light that went across through the entire electromagnetic spectrum, a pure whoop of joy. Nita felt her hair stand up and grinned; he always did forget about the high frequency radiation, though it didn’t matter here.

(It's always worth it, Nita. Look.) And Fred bobbed towards the surface of water, where a sharp grey fin much larger than normal was making a wave more commonly seen behind motorboats.

Normally, Nita would've started saying in her mind the three word spell that would've created a physical wall, protecting herself from the mindless hunger of the shark, but this was Timeheart, after all. And even if it hadn’t been, she knew this particular shark very well, and dove into the water without second thought, canceling her water-walking spell as she went. She wasn't surprised to find that it took only a thought and she had transformed into a humpback again; the eyes on opposite sides of her head, her binocular vision reduced to a couple degrees.

But humpbacks didn’t need to see: Nita didn’t dally as she sang an effusive hello to Ed, rolling on her back and offering her belly in a greeting that only held for a few seconds before she surged forward, singing constantly in her giddiness.

"Hello, Sprat," his voice came, dry as always, his eyes still as dark as night and yet alive with the light that was all around them.

"Ed! What’s it like, Ed?" She even nudged him a bit in her mix of relief and worry, feeling the rough shark skin against the her smooth
rubber of a humpback like the handshake of an old friend. "Did we do right? Do you ever regret-"

"Sprat, you almost sound distressed." His sandpaper voice against her skin was a feeling Nita hadn't felt for years, a feeling that she desperately missed. "You've been here many times now, and you still ask?"

"Well," she fluked backwards rapidly, a whale's embarrassed gesture. "I'm just...asking, Ed. I'm…worried."

Ed bumped her in the snout then, harder than Kit would have, a reminder as to who he was. Timeheart or not, the Master Shark still had and performed his duties. He swam in a circle around Nita, his passionless eyes reminding her that he never changed. And yet…"Before we sang, Sprat, I remarked that I would never hear that which the Blues sing of - the Voices of the Ocean, the Tranquility of the Seas. Now I have."

"Did we-" she started to ask. But this was Timeheart, and she was thinking it so hard, so desperately, that he opened his jaw, showing her the teeth that could have ripped her apart and reminding her again of his creed. "The Sea tells me the price was paid by willing substitution, Sprat. And willing it was. You, young and now loving; I, old and now loved. I am not sorry for what happened." He swam under her and nudged her again, upwards. "Timeheart waits, Nita. But there is still distress out there, distress to be cured."

"Thank you, Ed." She said, singing gently and quietly. She fluked downwards, once, twice, to brush against him one more time, to remind herself of the price - and the reward - of serving the Powers That Be. Ed drew away and then stopped, rolling to display his belly to her - only
for a second, of course, but it was done. And then, calmly as always, he turned and swam away, a dark shadow that grew lighter every moment as he returned to the Sea.

When she could no longer see him, she swam for the light above, heading towards the surface as it got brighter, and brighter still, and finally woke up to the morning sun on her face and the sound of her dad and Dairine downstairs, arguing about what soil composition would be best for Filif.

She smiled, grabbed her manual, and paged through it, feeling the buzz and already knowing what she'd find.

Delayed Temporalspatial Message from Rodriguez, K. Accept?

Yes, she thought, and the notice cleared, replaced with two lines.

Hey, Neets, I was thinking we'd go over some of the undersea samples again -
There's weird power signature in it. Maybe get a chance to talk to S’reee again?”


She got dressed in a hurry and then opened her bedroom door to listen to the conversation - apparently they had moved on to the behavior of Spot...which meant they wouldn’t miss her anytime soon.

Nita smiled to herself, dropped her manual into the otherspace pocket, and disappeared in a clap of air.


talonkarrde: (Default)
These are the things he tries to think about.

The booming voice of the superintendent echoing across the field. “Upon the recommendation of the faculty and by the power vested in me by the Board of Education, you are now all high school graduates!” He cheers with the others, of course, screaming himself hoarse and hugging everyone in reach, but the true moment of passage is when he looks up and sees his dad crying in the stands – and then a wave of mortarboards hides him from view.

The feel of her hair against his face, one arm cradling her body close to him, the other growing numb under the weight of her head, though he hardly minds. He tilts his head, whispering into her ear, and he watches a smile grow before she turns to kiss him. He tries to recall the way they fit together, the way he watched the moonlight fall on her skin.

The smell of chorizo soup wafting through the house, a savory mixture of garlic, basil, and tomatoes that distracts him from the work he was doing. His fingers pause from their typing and he pushes the keyboard back, heading into the kitchen and leaning against the doorway. She stands there, biting her lower lip, concentration wrinkles across her forehead as she stirs the soup. He tiptoes in, trying not to distract her, until he wraps his arms around her and kisses her on the jawline. He remembers the shiver, the smile.

These are the things he tries not to think about.

The panic growing in him as he looks at the newest bill, warning him of a late fee on top of the already crippling bills. He doesn’t know whether he should tell her; she was in the hospital just a week ago, and she might not be ready for the news. She comes into the room, laughing at something a friend sent her, and he guiltily slides the bill under a pile of work papers, turning to smile wanly back at her. He’ll sell the manuscript, he thinks, and get them out of this.

The day that he comes back from the store and sees the Ford Explorer in the driveway. He didn’t know that Jason was going to be there; though their neighbor had been over often recently, he usually called ahead a day or so. Stepping into the living room, he shakes his head at the mess of clothes Jason had left on the couch, and heads upstairs. At the top of the stairs, he stops, hearing the voices. The sounds. The silence when the door swings open, his hand falling limply from the doorknob.

The moment in time he is in, sitting in the chair, the cold metal of the cap chilling his bare skull. The hard rubber of the mouth-guard is abrasive against his tongue and gums; he wonders how many deaths it takes to chew through one of them. The prosecutor stands and reads off the names of people he killed; he does not listen.

“Do you have any last words?”

He shakes his heads, numbly, and then, as the electricity courses through his body, he thinks of everything.

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