You were there, then. You sat in a director’s chair by the kitchen window, the canvas worn and frayed at the seams, and sipped nervously from the cup of coffee I had brought you. The table was painted green and purple; we had stayed up until four in the morning the week before putting the finishing touches on, carefully. And you had laughed shallowly, like I was pointing a knife at your throat, and had said, It’s enough to make you sick. It’s perfect! And it was perfect. Everything was perfect back then. We were young, artistic, easily impassioned, and though not altogether athletic, able to hold our own when the ass-holes from downstairs took their game of hall rugby a bit too far.
(Did you know there’s still a hole in the wall, outside our old apartment’s door, where you spiked Lester Jansen’s head through the plaster?)
All in all, though, they were good, formative years. Adulthood crept upon us with slippered feet, but we took those pains in stride, paid our bills when we could, and never missed the opportunity to seize life by the throat and shake it violently.
Maturity, you said, is like death. A state of mind, really.
We studied philosophy hell, we lived it; transcendentally, existentially, never suffering the ego for the id. You recited poetry, wandering from room to room in your piss-stained briefs quoting e.e. Cummings with a voice of tar and sandpaper. I played the guitar, though not well, and you listened and fed me dreams like chocolates. I was going to be someone, someday, you said. I was going to drive the women crazy with my thin build, wispy eyes, and torched songs of betrayal.
The world spread her legs before us. And it was, I was to discover, a lie.
Everything went wrong, then, sometime around Christmas. Maybe it was before then, though I can’t be sure of the exact date. It snowed constantly, though. Every morning I awoke to find another inch or two having drifted in through the open window. It’s too hot in here, you would say. It’s either too cold, or too hot. Never just enough, you know? And you sat there, an ashtray the color of bloodshot eyes staring back at you, letting the phone ring off it’s hook, cutting your own throat with a finger when I asked if you were taking calls. Shed only call between classes, you knew, rushing to the nearest pay-phone, always getting my lies in response to her wasted quarters. No. Sorry Sevin. He’s not in.
But youll claim you don’t remember, I know. Honesty, with yourself that is, has never been your greatest trait. With her, you were always brutally truthful; with yourself, with me…? I guess some lies are meant to save us from ourselves. Yet, no matter how white they may be there is still the taste of darkness to them. Muddy words. Fecund.
I can see you, even now, smiling that impish, devilish grin of yours, running your tongue across your teeth, saying: But it didn’t happen that way, I promise you. I swear on my dear mother’s grave that it was she , and not me. You must believe this.
The truth lies deeper than words can reach, I know. Of this, and few other things, I am certain. I was there, too, or don’t you remember?
The first night has stayed with me like a virus. Maybe I never told you this, but I was still in love with her when you brought her back to our apartment. Sure, you asked if I was all right with this. Did I mind what you were doing? But, truthfully, I guess I was too in awe of her to ever think that she could be mine again. She had, after all, never been mine in the first place. I wanted to repossess something I had never held before. It was a riddle, surely. But tragic, nonetheless.
Im probably repeating myself here, but she and I met on Halloween, my sophomore year. The air was chilled; dead leaves twirled in whirlwinds of excitement beneath my feet as I walked from my room in the dormitories to the Union, drunk and stoned. There was a costume party there and I had dressed myself up like a transvestite hooker, hoping to scare a fight out of some leather-headed jock. The need to be bruised, violently, filled me then. It was an anecdote, really. Far less painful than falling for some bubble-blonde cheerleader who would never have me. Rejection was a fact I somehow never quite came to understand, or had the power to rebuke.
And so it happened, there beneath the swirling lights of an overcrowded dance floor, that I met her. She simply walked up, took my hand in hers, kissed it lightly, then walked away.
What could I say? My tongue failed me.
Two weeks later I learned her name. Four weeks following I found myself lying on her mattress, bed sheets spun like straight-jackets around my waist and legs, her watching me from across the room, smiling. Months passed, pleasantly. And then, two days before I met you, she walked away.
The first night you brought her home, though. That’s what this is all about.
You sipped your coffee, pulled thoughtfully on your chin, willing yourself more intellectual, more beautiful, more desirable. This, above all else, really, is what you sought. To be desirable. You wanted to be loved. I couldn’t blame you, though. None of us could. It’s what we all sought in the dark of night. Maybe that’s why you left her calls unanswered for two months. Maybe you didn’t want to take the chance. Then again, maybe this was one of those ancient secrets you had culled from that book on Oriental love-practices. You know the book. The one that was always seated on the edge of the sink, it’s pages damp from bath water and sweat.
Though I doubt you would remember, you put on a great show. We both fell for it. She immediately into your bed; me into a wasteland of shattered dreams that have never quite mended, still. You were so perfect then. The perfect gentleman. The perfect host. You slid a hand between the top and bottom buttons of your dinner jacket like some bourgeois Napoleon general and talked about the rise and fall of Western Civilization like it were a movie you had recently rented. The moment she walked in the door, dressed in a short black skirt and tight, form-fitting ribbed top, I was reduced to an apparition. I simply vanished, into the next room, where I scribbled madly on a pad of yellow, legal-sized paper, scribing the name of each angel I knew to have fallen to you charms.
Number twenty-three was labeled, but the space where a name should have been written remained blank. I prayed I wouldn’t have to write those five precious letters: S – E – V – I – N.
Then the door to your room shut closed with a crack like thunder.
It was then, at that moment, that my ledger of her sins began.
Cast from heaven, her wings scorched by passion’s flame, did I really have any choice?
The sins of woman and the sins of God; they all weighed evenly upon my scales that night. Never one greater than the other. All sins were the same. Sins were passion. Passion was love. It was all the same. But that’s the cost of living, isn’t it? Like beauty and forgiveness, it carries a price that can only be paid by heroes those slick-faced totems we worship with money and fame, dumping our desires around their necks like personalities, praying theyll continue living the dreams we dare not dream. We need our heroes. They are the markers by which we rank our normality. They define us; they are the sum total of our misery, inverse, to the nth degree. You were her hero, you lucky bastard, just as she was mine. And as you tore her down, brick by insulting brick, my vision of her crumbled. Only a dusty mess remained.
But you don’t remember, I know. So Ill remind you.
It was Saturday. She sparkled like a field of twinkling stars. You took her chin in your hand, kissed her lips roughly, then led her into your bedroom. Youre going to like this, you said, smugly. She only giggled, awed by your self-possesion, your mastery over an unknown future which she could only guess about.
I couldn’t stand it. I crept to my room, pulled out my guitar, then thought better of it. A serenade was not for me to do. Not that night. Any other night, maybe. But not that night; not with her lying prone in your bed. So I lay, instead, in my own bed, listening to the springs and sproings of your mattress groan through the thin wall. I wanted to kill you. Even though I listened to you impale her on what Anais Nin would call your glorious, glorious masthood of man, I fantasized that it was me in there. That it was she beneath me, and not you.
I confess: I wanted to be you that night. I had always wanted to be you, or beneath your skin when you were within hers. But fantasies leave me wanting. There is nothing so lonely as loneliness. So, sheets sticking to my stomach, I instead fell into a frightful sleep.
You haunted my dreams.
Around two in the morning I awoke to the sounds of you two arguing.
This isn’t right, she said. You need to slow down.
Silence, you whispered, harshly. And she was. You killed the bird’s song.
Later, when the sun stole over the window sill, I heard her crying in the kitchen.
Sevin was radiant that morning, her pale skin glistening beneath her tears. Like Italian marble, meant to weather the elements, her surface shone brilliantly despite the anguish brought on by your clandestine departure. She sat on the couch, dressed in an old shirt of yours, kicking her slender pink toes idly against the calm, satiated air, anticipating resistance. When she saw me, she laughed. It was a melancholy hiccup, really, meant to give her courage.
I never knew his name, she said, twisting the front corner of the shirt around her finger. He was a tall guy, lots of hair. Didn’t talk much. Played the guitar and the bongos. Pulling her finger free, she scratched at her chin then bit her painted nail. Takes quick hands to play the bongos. Hands much quicker than mine, you know? Luminescent flakes of red polish clung to her lip, bouncing nervously as she spoke. A hundred dying stars clinging to the edge of space, fighting for survival, I thought. She then licked her lips, swallowing would-be civilizations without a second thought. He was the one the one who showed me the art.
I thought of her ghost this man whom she spoke so reverently of, as if he were a prophet giving him flesh, brooding eyes, a mopish head of gun-metal hair and a wiry goatee. Id known her longer than you had, so I knew hed come right before you. And let me tell you this little secret: his portrait was a simple one to paint. You see, he was the same man as you; the same as all the men who would follow you. Countless men, these fallen angels. All with identical attributes and no names. Tall and thin. Intellectual. Like yourself, each of them wore their impoverished, romantic souls on their sleeves like paisley-painted Nazi arm-bands. Each of them had meant the world to her, in their own way. They had been everything shed ever wanted. Everything I wasn’t.
And, like you, every one of them took what they wanted from her, kissed her lightly on the lips, then departed, leaving her to collect the pieces of her self.
Spitefully, I dressed her reflection of the remembered god in baggy clothing an over-sized blazer that fit too loosely around the chest, a turtle-neck and jeans, a leather belt with an ornate, though tarnished, silver buckle, a scuffed pair of wing-tips and a beret. I dressed him in black the same shade of night you always wore hoping to diminish his significance. Instantly, he became a shadow, lurking in the darkened corners of the room. Waiting patiently for the moment when my back was turned, he counted cars in the passing train of hours.
Knowing what awaited, I immediately seized him; like I wouldve done if I could have wrenched my thick fingers around your slippery neck. Christening him Joseph, in recognition of the name she would eventually choose for your child before nature pulled the plug on his still-born life I plunged him beneath the baptismal waters of jealously. Holding him under a minute more than necessary, I watched him suffer. I watched the reflection of my suffering. Confused, his mouth opened then closed again. His goldfish-eyes widened, grew wild, as his thin lips broke from their bindings. Dying quietly, a slight quiver against my fingertips as his last heart-beat rode unknowingly through my grip, he lay still. Limp. His lifeless eyes rolled back, draining their crystalline blue into an oil pan skull.
God, how many nights did I spend wishing I had the courage to condemn you to this very same fate? Too many nights to fathom, to even count….
Satisfied, I kicked the chair on its heels, leaned against the wall and lit a cigarette. I had killed the memory. Finally. Her memory of him, Id thought. The memory of all the others who would come after; the memory of you. Sadly, I was mistaken.
Sevin rolled onto her side, shifting uncomfortably as the shirt clung ardently to her naked skin. Holding her hands in the air above her, she admired their chiseled form. Her’s, you know, were the hands of an artist. Hands of a sculptress. With deft accuracy, she could carve away at a man until the hidden outline of his soul revealed itself.
They were all ugly carvings, really.
It’s an art-form, really, she said, oblivious to my presence. Because art requires passion. It’s passion that drives a person. Like an insatiable hunger, it consumes you body and soul.
Sitting in the ragged rattan chair remember the velvet sheen of those arms; a thousand splintered reeds rolled over on themselves? I became her guard, then. Watching dutifully as her breasts rose and fell with each breath she took, I anticipated your return. There would never be peace in the house, not as long as the possibility of your return remained paramount in my mind.
Inhaling deeply before speaking, her back arching slightly as she filled her lungs, Sevin became a wave of desire. With every word she spoke, her tidal-body swelled. She was the ocean, her chest swelling, crashing down upon itself after the momentum of conversation had passed. Relentless, undulating over and over, her coastal breakers crashed repeatedly upon the sands of my mind. Unstoppable. Swelling. Cresting. Crashing. Regardless of previous oarsmen, men who had drown beneath her rough waters attempting to navigate against her undertow, I remained. Feeling myself accustomed to her depths, I remained. Yes, shed always been too violent to sail, and maybe that’s why all of you jumped ship when the weather turned rough, but I have never claimed to be anything more than a merman.
Passion has to have principles, said Sevin, assertively. Parameters. A guiding force. She twisted her hands above her, one over the other, watching their movements with growing interest. Otherwise, were left with emotional chaos. Abstraction. Art can’t survive in the abyss of illogical whims. By definition it has to have purpose. Reason.
She regarded me curiously, as if I were a swallow-tail that had flown through the open window above her bed, alighting on the bed-post. Stretching my wings before her, I revealed the tender fur of my underbelly.
Counting my colors, she smiled, pleased with herself for not having plucked the wings from my body when shed first had the chance.
I remember the first day we met, she laughed, her fluidity rippling from the tremors of her amusements. Her stomach flattened as her breasts rolled. She tucked her arms behind her head, revealing their pale clam-skin. I hated you. You said I was too slippery.
I said you could slip through loose fingers, I sighed, tapping an ash onto the hardwood floor.
Well, you never did have the strength needed. Weaving her fingers together, her eyes sparkled. You have to clench them together like this, she said. Tightly. Otherwise I can escape.
You always could escape … if you wanted.
A wane smile creased her lips as she let her hands fall with a splash onto the couch beside her. Buoyant, they floated atop the surface like a landmark a beacon to guide lost sailors by. Oh, how I loved to torture you then when there was still innocence in our movements. She sang her siren-song, her mouth curled devilishly. No matter what I did, I could melt you with a single word.
There was truth in her declaration. You know this, but only now. Perhaps you even knew it then. Maybe it gave you pleasure, second only in intensity to that which you found when wedged within her body.
In the beginning, before you or any of the others came, she and I were one. She had eased herself in drop by drop over the span of many languid months, until she became everything I knew, all that I desired. She became me, filling every pore to the brim. Overflowing. Then the first in your troop of traitors arrived. As silently as the out-going tide, she receded, flowing out of me as stealthily as she had entered. In conjunction with the waxing moon-faces of your men, she leaked through the dams Id constructed against her. Without a whisper. Drop by drop.
Do you remember the word? I asked, testing her soiled waters.
Do you know what passion is? she responded, flexing her fingers in the mottled light that fell from the dirty window.
Her fingers danced a minuet, perfectly, with the dust motes hanging in the illuminated air. They were conductor, orchestra, the belle of the ball; they were an entire entourage of romantics who sought solace beneath the spiraling lights and melodic tunes of the evening, bound tight within the embracing arms of their truest love. Her eyes, fixated upon their graceful movements, receded into shadows, awaiting an answer.
Wafting thoughtfully, I thought of the sickly boy who lived next door. Behind the peeling, olive painted door and slurred, lipstick kissed curses of his drunken mother, he had, somehow, found the answer. Confined to a wheelchair since the age of five, he knew the true meaning of passion; the given, intended definition.
I had, on occasion, glanced up at his window only to find his illuminated face peering from behind dusty yellow curtains that had grown old and stiff. It was the face of God, as a child. The face of all gods to follow.
Gazing from the confines of his greasy bedroom, out onto the litter-ridden street, he dreamt of his created art-form daily. Enthralled, he watched countless, nameless birds flying up and down the sidewalk. Cartwheeling over one another, squawking loudly, their liquid silver cries and beating wings kept pace with each of his faint and frantic heartbeats. Without wings, without mechanics of his own, he flew with them. With only the aid of his wondering eyes, he sailed through the thin air, among the clouds and angels.
Freedom was his passion. It was his definition; and a good one at that, I thought.
Freedom was the same excuse you, and all of your men, used to escape Sevin’s arms.
It’s sad to think of you perverting this boy’s aspirations to suite your own selfish inclinations.
Sevin marveled at the sound of her voice, still hanging like a book-mark in the heavy-paged air between us.
Passion is consumption, she said. Absorption. Passion, in it’s very essence, means to become completely devoured by someone or something. That’s what it’s all about.
She closed her algae eyes, as simply as if shed drawn a lazy cover over a rain-filled pool, when autumn has come and the leaves have collected in deep drifts near the edges.
To become utterly, totally lost, she sighed. Non-existent, non-extant. Pausing she regarded my chair thoughtfully. You don’t know what Im talking about, do you?
With an oily grin, Joseph resurfaced. His sapphire eyes rekindled into a spark that sputtered before blazing brilliantly. He stood in the far corner the resurrected ghost! juggling three phantasmagorically painted words in the air. Each one tumbled over the other, spinning dizzyingly. Passion Presumption Perspicacity. Twisting, fragmenting, disintegrating, reassembling; they became a kaleidoscopic blur. Imagined reality. Regretfully, I wished I had held him beneath the drowning water’s surface for at least a minute longer, when Id had the chance.
You don’t know what Im talking about, do you? said Sevin, again. She waited, biting the corner of her lip.
I struggled with priorities. Her question, Joseph, the boy next door; all would have to be dealt with in time.
A sad truth hung in the air between us like a blimp with poor timing. Flashing its neon-painted spiritual dogma upon a congregation of whores, it didn’t stand a chance of escaping unnoticed. The silent distance between Sevin and I grew, as Joseph continued juggling near the fringes. Bordering the frayed edges of insight, he grinned devilishly. I knew the answer. And despite my wanting to be anything but honest when honesty was demanded, I had to tell her. I did know passion. I had, in fact, desired intimacy with the predator.
Passion had a face and hands and lips that once kissed my cheek forgivably. Passion apologized repeatedly for any pain she may have caused me. Passion had a personality and movement; a gently sway to her walk that could ignite pacifist countries, urging them to wage ceaseless bloody wars in defense of her honor. Although she was a panderer of souls selling nightly the bodies of her lovers to exhaustion and fatigue she was the reigning god, raining her power over me like a water-shed. Whenever she spoke, a flash-flood of emotions would be brought to boil beneath my skin. Yes, passion had a name it was Sevin.
Oh, how I wanted to tell her. You wouldn’t know how desperately that need filled me.
But then we heard you fumbling at the lock, your keys jingling a merry tune.
Sevin smiled and shook her head. That’s too bad, she said. I was starting to like you , you know?
And, maybe this is what this letter is all about. This simple statement, and you coming back to our apartment just a minute too early.
A spark had been rekindled. A flash of remembrance for what might have been if you and your men hadn’t happened upon our quiet country of two.
Six months later long after you had left her to the fate of the men who followed you she moved away.
I think of her often. Daily at times.
And I blame you for your actions within her arms. I blame you for every tear she ever cried.
I still blame you for coming home too soon.