Monday, June 25, 2007

Chapter 24 : I bet you look good on the dancefloor

Promises are always complicated and tricksy things.
It’s a double-edged sword, and you can never tell which one is the sharpest.
We all make promises to someone, sooner or later, and like as not, we will end up failing them.
The worst bit isn’t the fact that we keep on making promises, not really; it’s the kind of promises we make that make a difference.
We promise we will love someone forever, when in our heart of hearts we know that what we say is but a half-truth, at best.
We promise we’ll never leave them, we promise we’ll always be there, and time and time again we say that if things don’t work out, well, we can still be friends.
Small words, small lies, that hurt: they hurt a little bit at a time, today not so much, tomorrow just a little bit more, until the day words end up killing us, and they tell us it’s over.

And I made you a promise, Jon, and I kept it.
I did what you asked of me, and I think I am a changed man.
This year I spent away from all this was very good for me, you know?
Away from all, away from the same places, the same people, the same situations…
All those words, ideas and different arguments made me lose sight of who and what I used to be.
And today I think I’m ready once again.
I think I managed to become someone normal once more.
But there is still a great test waiting for me, and perhaps it’s better sooner than later.
If I do it later, I might lose my resolve.

I went to the bathroom, and looked in the mirror. I’m getting older, I didn’t use to have these lines in my face, or whatever you call these wrinkle thingies near my eyes.
And when I smile, more lines appear.
There are also a few more white hairs than I seemed to remember, or maybe I never noticed them.
And white hairs in my stubble, too. Curious.
I decided a shave was in order, and cut myself a number of times.
Something tells me this razor has seen better days.
I brush my teeth, maybe with excessive force, because when I spit, some blood comes out.
I shower quickly, and I’m good as new.

I get dressed, and the cold outside makes it so I wear something very warm.
No perfume tonight, I think.
I’m hungry : I go to the kitchen to see of there’s something in the fridge, but I only find scraps of Chinese I had a week ago.
I smell it, and I’m barely able to keep from throwing up.
I see what cash I have, and see I’ve got enough to eat something somewhere.
It’s still a bit early (21:40) when I leave, and on my way to the subway I decide where I’ going to eat.
It’s not a long journey, but it’s a dull one, and after a long absence, though much still seems familiar to me, there are also things I no longer recognize.

On my way to the restaurant, quite a few faces that I regarded as familiar cross my way, and I look at them, doubtfully, to try and see if I knew them from some other place.
They, too, look at me, but no word is said, no greeting given, just the cold courtesy of looking the other way when we reached the conclusion that maybe we just mistook each other for someone else.
I thought briefly about that, and wondered if those familiar strangers were people to whom I once mattered, or the other way around.
I was so lost in my own thoughts that I didn’t even notice when I got to the restaurant, my feet having moved out of their own accord, slaves to other past memories.
I got in, and sat down. The waiter said hello enthusiastically, long time no see, where had I been all this time.
I said I had moved abroad.
How well he understood me, he guaranteed, for he also had done it in his youth, but like the prodigal son, we always come back.
I returned feeling like I was the son of nothing, a boundless void, the nothing that could be the whole.
I asked for a steak, over-easy, please. And some salad.
He asked me if I’d like to have the usual to drink, and I wondered how a stranger knew what I usually drank.
“Water”, I said.
“Still water”, I added dryly.

The water came before the meal did, I drank a bit, and like a child, I played with it for a while in my mouth, sloshing it this way and that.
Soon after, the meal came, and I attacked it promptly.
God, but I was hungry.
It felt like I hadn’t eaten in decades.
The steak was a bit more on the rare side than I would have liked, the salad just perfect.
I drowned the potato chips in the sauce that came with the meat.
Too soon I had finished eating, I asked for the bill, paid, and left.
The food had left me stuffed, but satisfied.
I would have gone to bed gladly, it was past midnight.
But, all things considered, it was still early, and was assailed by a desire to wander for a bit.
I went to the nearest ATM, withdrew some cash, just in case.
I walked, and I walked, and I walked a bit more.
Ok, I thought, this one’s new. And so’s this. How quickly things change.
And this one, I am positively, absolutely sure was here a year ago, but looked different, had a different name, and played a different kind of music.
This I know for sure because it was here that my life began to change.

I wandered a bit more, without aim, without soul, occasionally interrupted by a handshake that asked how I was, or a couple of kisses on my face from people who guaranteed they had missed me so.
Some guy who I think I had never seen before hugged me bear-like, and asked how things had been in Russia.

Well, time to get the hell out of here. There’s nothing here that attracts me still, I confess, and I can no longer see what this place had that attracted me so in the first place.
I was leaving when I get a text message from you.
You were in a bar where we used to go, once upon a time, and before I text you back, I thought long and hard on what I would do.
I sent you a message telling you I’d go and meet you.
It didn’t take me long to get there, maybe less than ten minutes.
Once more, I was so lost in my private reveries that I didn’t even notice getting there.
The bouncer is a guy with very long hair, huge earrings, and a very fine moustache that earned him the nickname of ‘Athos’, the musketeer from Alexandre Dumas’s books.
He looked at me, eyes half-closed, and said, “As I live and breathe”, he patted me on the shoulder, I shook his hand, and got in.

I find you in the upper room of the bar drinking a beer.
You had your back to me, so you didn’t see me coming.
“Boo”, I said, putting my hands on your back, and you turned white as a ghost.
You stared at me for a few seconds, as if to make sure that it was really me.
You laughed a laughter that I so dearly missed, and we hugged for long moments.

You wanted me to tell you everything, but I asked you if we could have that talk another time, please.
You agreed, ordered another beer for you, and asked me what I was going to have..
“Water. Still. Very cold, please”
You smiled, and I knew why.

“Hey, do you remember that time you were in the hospital”, you asked.
“Of course”, I replied. How could I forget.
“Well, I don’t know if you’ll remember that nurse that was there too? The one we even met in a bar some night?”, you asked, and by the excitement and emotion in your words, I start to see something.
“Of course I remember! Hah, nice way of bringing me down to earth, she had”, I said, smiling, and we both giggled like little children.
“Don’t tell me… You and her?”
I didn’t even need to finish the sentence, I already knew the answer.
“Well…”, you said. “Yeah. Yeah. Mind you, it was very complicated, even now… but it’s good. Real good, you know?”
I looked at you, and by God, I hope you didn’t notice the sorrow and the jealousy my eyes betrayed.
“I know”, I lied.

“And, huh, where is she?”, I asked candidly.
“But let me tell you, I’m not drinking anymore shots she comes up with…”, and we laughed once more.
“Nah, she’s working night shift”, you said.
“But it is her day off tomorrow, we could always hook up. What do you say?”
Before I could answer, you say, “Who knows, you might get lucky and find some girl here to keep you company. I see your charms remain intact.”
I measured your words.
What the hell kind of words to say, especially when you consider what happened over a year ago?
You don’t believe in me, is that it?
I’m disappointed in you my friend. You should know better.
But… wait.
Because this comes from you… particularly you…
I’ve got it.
“Heh”, I finally answered, “you know, the last of the famous international playboys has become the last of the famous international misanthropes.”
You smiled, with such pride in your face, and hugged me again.
“You remind me of someone I once knew. One of the best people I ever knew, bar none.”
I blushed, and said, “I’m back, Jon. But it’s still very hard. I hope I can count on you to help me. Sometimes I still feel weak, and falling seems such an easy thing to do…”
We stood in silence for a while, and after that we started talking about what had happened around here in the past year or so.
We talked about books and movies, and the music I no longer seemed to recognize.
But this one I do! ‘There is a light that never goes out’ is a classic.
“This one always hits the spot, mate”, you said, and we celebrated pain and misery as sung by Stephen Patrick Morrissey.
Good old times, I thought to myself.
After the song ended, you told me all about you and Natalie, and after that we started to talk about sadder things.
“3-1”, I said.
“At home, no less”, you added.
We drowned that sorrow, you with another beer, me with some more water.

I confess that I was getting somewhat sleepy, and so I asked if you were staying, or if you wanted to go.
You looked at your watch, saw what time it was (3:30), and suggested that we stayed until four, and then we’d go.
I agreed, and before we knew four had already come and gone, but not by much.
As we were going down the stairs that lead to the front door and exit, you took me by the arm, motioned for me to stop, and turned me to the dance floor.
“Now tell me the truth”, you said, “and look all around you.”
“Of all the girls that are her, is there any that attracts you?”
“It is a test”, I said.
“It is a test”, you repeated.

So I thought for a while, then said, “Any that I fancy?”, I wondered aloud.
“Sure, plenty of them. Maybe even all of them.”, I confirmed.
“But I got the question inside the question, Jon. And the answer is : no. There is no one here with whom I’d like to get involved.”
By now nothing could hide the joy you felt inside, and the fierce pride you felt.
“Welcome back, man. Welcome back.”
Before we leave, I had to make a pit-stop in the toilet. All that water I drank was bursting to get out.
I had to wait a number of minutes in line, but finally, finally… ah, what a relief.
I got out of the toilet, had to dodge about three thousand people, my fault, coming through, sorry, no, it really was MY fault, and so on and so forth.
I fought my way up the stairs, and saw you by the exit.
Just as we were leaving, I took one final glance at the people there, and my eyes are suddenly fixed on a girl I see in the floor below, and some part in me I never noticed I had (or at least I hadn’t recalled it for the longest time), beat fiercely, then stopped.
I imagine it all didn’t take more than five seconds, but as I saw everything in slow motion, it seemed as if it went on for hours.
In good ‘Matrix’ fashion, you know, those bits where the action slows down and the camera pans around, you put your hand in your head and do something with your hair that made me swallow, and my heart beat again.
Your voice woke me from this slumber, Jon, when you asked me if everything was ok with me.
“Yes”, I lied again, and we left.
We both got a cab, and since we were going in opposite directions, we got different cabs too.
We said goodbye, with one final hug, then you told me to give you a ring soon.
I said ok, and asked if you’d be alright.
You smiled the smile of the truly happy and replied, “I will. Will you?”
“Of course”, I lied one more time.
I got in the taxi, and wondered what the fuck was wrong with me.
It can’t have been the girl. No, never. Nothing of the sort.
I’m through with that, no more of those stories for me.
The cabbie asked where to, and I mumbled something.
I couldn’t stop thinking about her hand moving through her hair.

I’m asleep before I hit the bed.
I woke up trying to remember a dream, that wonderful dream I was having, where I felt so good, so alive… but the images, the sounds, the feelings, the memories where fleeting, fading to never return.
I sat down in the bed for some ten minutes or so, and out of nowhere, the dream comes to me.
Oh Jesus.
I did NOT dream this.
“Well, I said to myself, “that’s it. I can’t go back to that place.”

And so time went by, slowly at first, a bit painfully, but it went by.
A month, and then four more, another long two, and to guarantee that there could be no surprises, another four were in order, I decided.
It was hard, yeah, I admit. But finally I learned that greatest of virtues, Patience.
And after almost a year of barely going out of my house, and seeing the smallest amount possible of people, I decide to go out.

"No, man, sorry... not tonight, I can't", you told me when I called you.
"But go anyway, go and have fun. There's that club we always used to go, yeah? Just go, ok?", you concluded.
Ok, I can do this.
I can do this.

I got to the bar, tried to look cool, asked for a very cold water, looked around, and you were nowhere to be seen.
"Woo-hoo", I thought to myself.
I knew you wouldn't be here.
I can't even begin to describe how relieved I felt at that.
Even the water tasted better.
So i stayed until closing time, and you never showed up.
Just because of that I opted to come back again next week.

Life was good, I had a new job, one that didn't slowly kill me, and had moved to a new place.
Fact is, I was so busy that only after a few months was I able to return there.
One more, I ordered my favourite drink in the whole wide world, a bottle of spring water, just to celebrate the fact that you weren't there.
I drank it quickly enough, I was very, very thirsty, an unquenchable thirst, and I asked for another.
No water ever tasted this good.
I said hello to some people I met on my way down to the bathroom.
Oh god.
Ah, sweet relief...
I came out flashing a huge grin, and as i was making my way back to where I was I saw you.
That grin of joy turned into a grin of desperation, and I found myself just standing and staring at you.
You noticed, and smiled at me.
What do I do what do I do what do I do?
I looked the other way, pretended you were looking at someone else, made my way up the stairs, and up to the upper floor bar.
I need another water. In fact I need... No. Water it is.
I promised you, Jon. Among other things, I promised you that much.

"I am an adult", I thought, "And I can deal with this."
"After all, how many people have I been with in the past?", I asked myself.
A tiny voice I hadn't heard for ages speaks from the my very depths, and says, "Yes, but how many like this one? Ask yourself when was the last time you thought non-stop about someone for more than a year", the Angel on my shoulder said.
The Devil on my other shoulder said, "She's just one more, why get sentimental?"
"I did NOT think about her every day", I said.
"Right", the Angel said, "the other two times were because you were worried about Snow".
"And by the way", the Angel asked slyly, "How many times did you masturbate thinking about her?"
"I never!", the Devil and I answered.
"Touché", concluded the Angel, disappearing with the Devil.

What to do, I thought.
Suddenly I knew.
I went down the stairs, and made my way to you.
I paused for a few seconds to gather my resolve, and looked at you.
"Right", I decided, "It's now."

"I'm so sorry", I said.
"Only... you sometimes do that great thing with your hair, you know, just like you did right now? And that drives me crazy... and I don't even know your name", I said.
You looked at me, and you smiled like an angel fallen from grace. You said, "Marcia. My name is Marcia."
For some reason you laughed, and I laughed with you.

And your name is Marcia.

"From the back of the room I saw her there
I said she wants to be alone, and I shouldn't dare
but then she noticed me glance at her
I had no choice but to dance with her."

She Wants Revenge, Out of control

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