well, obviously

The waitress had no time to refill our coffee and the crowd as more loud than interesting. My girlfriend kept trying to tell me something, but over the music and everyone talking I couldn't hear her very often, and she'd usually give up on what she was saying after a few tries. She picked at her food, and scraped her spoon along the bottom of the mug. I could barely hear it but the sound started to grate. I just couldn't tell her to stop.

Eventually the crowd started to thin and she finished her food and stopped stirring, just staring at the empty plate. We sat there in silence for a lot longer than was comfortable. After paying the check, I tried, "You were trying to say something earlier?"

"Yes, I was."

"Do you want to try again?"

"Not especially."

The stirring started again and I tried not to wince. "Shall we, then?"

She stopped and shrugged. "I guess." She didn't follow when I left.



For B____, who noticed everything.

Some days I forget to notice all the little things. It will be cold or rainy or I'll be unhappy or both and I'll go outside and I just don't notice. But I'm working on it.

Sometimes it's not important. A scrap of paper or a notebook lying on the ground, or a wrench or something else out of place. Just some object that has a story I'll never get to know, and one I'll get to tell anyone that asks: "I found that on the street just today, actually." And other times it's something that really does matter: a boy carrying his girl down the street, laughing with each other. Two girls dancing in their corner booth at the bar, like there's no one else there. Or something less cheerful--a girl who's too drunk to get off the subway and whose boyfriend won't help her, those little quiet arguments in the street.

And every time I miss something like that it's like I'm missing out on the way the world actually is, and just living in the strange little fiction that we're all alone and that streets are there for walking and there's nothing else to see.


of hellscapes and other interesting places

You're not from around here, are you?

There is something very wrong with the sky here, but nobody seems to understand me when I tell them about it. They call me a city boy. They say I'll get used to it--big, open skies, not like the claustrophobic city skies like where I'm from.

The population is probably about two thousand at best, and that's including the farms on the outskirts of town. Problem is I can't find my way out and I don't know how I got here. I've tried the roads, and they just turn in on themselves and I find myself back downtown somehow.

Everything here is too bright. The sky is blue, like really blue--a rich and vibrant color that hurts to look at. The sunsets are more beautiful than I thought possible. They look like something out of a kitschy mass-produced painting. And it's not just the sky, I've found. Cars work like something out of a movie. Some of them--the locals say they've got "character"--only start up if you pat them on the hood and whisper "there's a good girl" to them. Some have lights that only work if you pound on the dashboard a few times.

And the houses are all quaint. The farmhouses look like the kind of things you see in children's books. The ones in town are all perfect in their own ways. Everyone is friendly in a weird, aggressive sort of way. And they just feel bad for me as I'm trying to run away, won't accept the artificial perfection--and just keep saying "he'll come around" when I come back.


you'll have to trust me

You know who you are.

She trusted me implicitly. Normally I abused people's trust; it was just something that you did, because all things end and it may as well be sooner than later. I'd get something out of it, and it's not like I didn't have the ability to make people trust me. But with her I felt different.

It went something like this: she started as a game much like any other, but then I actually liked talking to her, I actually really liked her. She trusted me, and I did nothing to earn it--I never did, but this time it felt different, like it mattered somehow. And I did what I could to earn it and warned her that she shouldn't trust me, and she said yes she should, that she knew I'd do anything for her.

It turns out she was wrong.

Normally at that point I'd have fled, like I always did. But this time I stayed. I listened. The worst part of it was she forgave me for everything. She was hurt but she still trusted me. She believed it was an isolated mistake.

Hell is living with someone who forgives.


a little musical number

I was waiting for the bus the other day on an otherwise empty street somewhere in Seattle Center. It was cool out and breezy and mostly the only sound was the occasional car going by and the wind rustling the leaves.

After a while though I started hearing, or imagining I was hearing, someone playing a song on violin, a tune I know I'd heard before, but only once. I could only hear the faintest wisps of it over the sounds of the city, but it conjured fleeting images in my mind: the first real day of spring, a girl playing violin barefoot on the lawn, a street corner on Pike.

The bus came about the time I almost figured out where I'd heard it before, or rather, why it stuck in my memory like that. It was getting late and the music wasn't showing any sign of stopping and the city was going to sleep so it was getting quiet enough I could hear it more clearly--but the buses don't run very often this late at night and I was getting cold and it was starting to rain.

Another secret I'll never learn.


check, please

She is silent as she eats, and she glares the whole time. I've done something, but I honestly don't know what it is. It could be anything. And I keep trying to tell her stories or ask her questions that might engage her, and she just shrugs or nods or shakes her head. I haven't even touched my coffee. My voice is hoarse but if I can't stand it if I stop to take a drink. It revolts me in ways I can't describe.

I know she's listening. She isn't responding and her expression is unchanging and she isn't looking at me but there is no doubt in my mind, she hears every word. I'm driving myself mad looking for little patterns and signals in her body language. There's nothing there. But anything is better than thinking that I'm talking to a wall.

The waiter comes around and she asks for a refill on her Coke, and she smiles and says thank you. He asks me if I need anything else and I just shake my head, and take a drink from my coffee. It's cold, but I've decided to let the silence wash over us both. Maybe if it's bad enough she'll break it herself.



My girlfriend came from the ocean. I was living in a house by the shore and I walked along the beach every night at sunset, usually alone, singing to myself. When the sun set I'd find a rock or some driftwood and sit there for what must have been hours. Sometimes I'd make a fire, but mostly I just sat and listened to the waves.

I thought maybe I was drifting off when I saw her, because there was never anyone else out here. She came up, all pearly white and dripping seawater. She said she liked my singing. I didn't ask questions. My life isn't the sort where I get to question the things that happen. We talked for a while. It was one of those conversations where it felt like I'd known her for years and years, and on some level that I didn't really understand, I think maybe I had.

She said she would stay with me so long as I'd walk with her on the beach every night and I'd always sing just like I always did. And at night we'd go swimming in the cold water, and it was perfect for a while, and then without warning it hadn't been perfect for a long while, and I never understood when that happened. I wanted to do something besides walk the white sands at night. I wanted to do something besides swim. She just said I'd promised, and it was true. But I was often late about getting home, and some nights I very nearly didn't get home at all.

One night, one of those nights where there are no choices, a friend was in town and she invited me to her hotel room and we had lots of little drinks, and I kept saying I had to go home, I had to go home, but she didn't seem to understand. "You are home," she said. She poured another drink. She kissed me, and I understood then that I had a choice, somewhere before I even knew she would be in town, and I didn't make it then.

I kissed her back. We had more drinks, and then I was in no position to walk back home. I tried to call my girlfriend but she took the phone from me and tossed it on the floor in the corner of the room. She kept saying how good it was to see me, and I kept trying to explain that I needed to go home.

I stumbled home after she passed out, and ran out to the beach, calling my girlfriend's name. I tripped over the driftwood and fell to my knees and lay still for a long while. She'd gone back to the water, and I never had a choice in the matter.


did it always look so grey?

In my childhood I remember springs being bright and vibrant times, full of storms and sunny days where there was nothing nicer than going outside or keeping the windows open inside and just letting the fresh air and the sounds of spring wash over.

Lately it's just been grey out, and not the stormy kind, or even the rainy kind. The sky is just a dull grey and the only color is the green on the trees, and it's windy and just cold enough that everyone's still in their jackets. It's spring. People aren't supposed to be wearing their jackets.

While I was out earlier I felt a few scattered raindrops and I hoped the sky would go dark and the rain would pour like it does sometimes, like I remembered it doing, but it never did. My hands got cold and I buried them in my pockets and stayed inside with the windows closed and the blinds drawn. I tried to read but it was hard to focus, so I just put a movie on and drifted off.


what's wrong with you?

I was never one to admit fault out loud, but I made mistakes. The kind that you can't forgive, not without a lot of time passing. She knew it. We both did. They were the kind of mistakes that she'd probably talk about later, and the kind she'd never call a mistake. There would be other words used. They were terrible things.

I wanted more than anything to take them back, but I couldn't say anything. It was better that she thought I was a monster than thought I could make mistakes. So when she said she was leaving I packed up my things. I offered to pay for the moving company. I think that hurt her even worse--I didn't ask her to stay. I didn't say anything at all, just that I'd help if she wanted. She declined. She looked at me like I was the worst person she'd ever known, and maybe that was true.

She sent a few nasty emails after that and I didn't respond to any of them. She called me a sociopath. She said some other things. But how could I do anything besides sit there and take it? I probably deserved it anyway.



I've discovered I can no longer drink water.

Or rather, I can't derive sustenance from it. I don't mean just the specific beverage--anything that's a drink fails to do anything but make me even more thirsty. I've tried. I don't know if it's actually dehydrating me or if it's just a feeling, but after a few days it's all I can think about. I've tried everything. Tap water, coffee, tea, alcohol, juice, milk, soda. It's all the same: I end up even more parched. I still want another glass, and no matter how many I've had it goes down just as easy.

I'm not sure how much longer I still have to live. Every little ache and twitch is a sure sign of my impending death, now. I'm walking the streets like a ghost, gazing longingly at the happy couples with their iced coffees walking down the street. I'm not sure what else I can do, but at this point I'd do anything.


sudden storms

We were caught in a sudden storm walking around downtown last night. It's been hot out lately so we didn't even have jackets. The clouds were covering the stars but they're hard enough to see with all the city lights so it doesn't matter anyway--it was still beautiful out.

One of us said something like "oh Jesus" and we started to run for cover. Then, without either of us saying a word, we stopped, and she looked at me and I smiled at her, and she laughed, and kept running--but not for cover this time. She ran into the streets where the mingling glow from the streetlights gave the rain that perfect otherworldly quality as it beat down all around us in the abandoned city.

Then lightning struck and she said something I couldn't hear over the thunder, and I didn't dare ask her repeat it. Instead I joined her in the street and we danced to the rain's impossible rhythm, and I whispered something in her ear that the thunder also swallowed.


lollipops and crisps

This is what love is: to be completely willing, years later, to drop everything just to be with someone again. To write this fact down, to say it when you're drunk and maudlin to your friends--to the girls who you'll kiss that same night, not even thinking that maybe they're hoping to be more than a placeholder. That perfect devotion to someone when you know they don't even know you're still waiting. They probably don't even think of you. And if they do, they assume you're fine.

I even told her I was when she called me last. I told her about the girl I'd been seeing, about how we'd stay up late and drink coffee liqueur. How I'd quit smoking. How happy we were. I didn't tell her that I still think of her sometimes. I didn't tell her we broke up a week later. It's not something you do.

It's not that she was good to me. She was manipulative. She lied and cheated and said terrible things to me. But I put up with it. I had to. I promised I would, and I made that promise because I knew I'd keep it, for as long as it would take. I put up with it--her abuse, her lies, everything she demanded of me. She took advantage of everything I gave her, and I still gave and gave until I had nothing left to give.

Then I told her to leave. I have made my mistakes, and I am suffering for them.

But I'll wait. That's what love is. She will return to me one day.


hello there

Now the weather is warm, I've been going out at night to the school playground by my apartment. They fence it off at night but sometimes they forget to lock it, and even if they don't I can vault the fence easy enough. It's quiet there. It's empty. It's the only place in this city I really feel alone.

I mostly just sit on the swings. There's something perfect about swings. We've built airplanes and helicopters and all sorts of flight, lighter and heavier than air, but this is how humans experience flight. Little simple motions, higher and higher until the chains go slack and you're sure that you'll fall out if you keep going but you do it anyway.

When I was a kid I'd shut my eyes sometimes, to see if I could. It made it exciting like nothing else in the world was exciting, but it was terrifying, too. Last night I finally tried it, closing my eyes so I could only feel--the wind, the shifting weight, the chains going slack. And about when I got to the point where a younger me would have opened my eyes, I heard something--like footsteps in the gravel.

And then: "Hello there."

I jumped, only opening my eyes once I'd left the seat. I was ready to grab my bag and run, but I landed in the gravel and skidded to a halt right at her feet. "Oh, hello," I said. She gave me her hand and helped me up, and I brushed the gravel from my jeans. "Would you like to join me?"

We stayed there for what must have been hours, eyes closed, talking, laughing, flying, falling. And then we left and went home as the birds started singing and the sky started to lighten.

I'm not sure who she was. I don't know if she'll be back.


no place like home

Before I left, we had this little knock that we'd do when we were visiting or whatever. It was a little thing and we never talked about it but she'd always know it was me and I'd always know it was her.

I still remember everything about when I left. I was wearing my old green Converse and we were drinking coffee liqueur on the porch of a party she was having. She was smoking; I'd just quit but I figured she could use the company. I was feeling restless and it wasn't the kind that was going away. The more we drank, the more we talked, the worse it got, and it never happened that way. Before then she was always a calming influence. Whoever else was on the porch went inside and there was a pause. Then I said, "Hey, I've got to go." I kissed her on the forehead and said I was sorry. I shouldered my bag, went home, packed a few things, and hit the road.

After a while I got new shoes. I started smoking again when I stopped drinking. I did a lot of traveling, on bus, on foot, with my bike. I worked a lot of jobs that didn't go anywhere and I was losing money--not fast, not exactly, but fast enough. I found myself back in the town where we used to live and I didn't know who else to call.

I knocked on her door just like we used to, and after a while she opened the door and looked at me like she didn't know who I was. And I don't think she did at first. "It's me," I said. "I'm back."

She let me in. Everything was different inside. I don't think any of the furniture was the same. I sat on the new couch and watched her. She was the same person but there was something different about her mannerisms. She made tea. Apparently she was drinking tea now. She sat down across from me.

"You know you can't stay here."

"I know. I just didn't have anywhere else to go."


seasonally appropriate

When we were young we'd burn fires in the fireplace, in winters at her cabin in the woods huddled together under a blanket as a shelter against the world, in summers on the beaches by my house. The seasons were set and so were our routines. In the spring and autumn there were sometimes bonfires and sometimes fires in the fireplace, but it wasn't set. We didn't have a routine. We did everything imaginable. Those were the seasons that changed us. When we were older our routines burned less bright and even in the mercurial spring and autumn we were less adventurous, less inclined to flights of fancy, and without our traditions to fall back on, I started feeling like there was a fire missing.

It's spring now. Everything is green and bright and beautiful, and it's hot out, but like all heat waves this early in the year everyone knows it won't last. It's not languid like the summer. And this is a spring like the ones when we were young. This is a spring that will change me. So tonight I started building a boat. The ocean is perfectly calm for now, but I know that will last about as long as everything else in the spring. It will be done by summer, and unless something changes I'll set out by the solstice, over the ocean, because I've been on its shores for too long.

And unless something changes, I'll be traveling alone.


empty rooms

For S___, who became unexpectedly unfamiliar.

A few weeks ago my girlfriend's house suddenly stopped existing. It was just a formless white mist trailing into nothingness. Everywhere I went, the mist would retreat a little bit. It was almost impossible to detect while I was in a room, except out of the corner of my eye there would be some little detail missing, something that was just that solid white mist. Even looking through the windows, there wasn't a world there, just the white mist. The house existed in a weird sort of vacuum. Even the streets I walked on to get here only stretched for a few yards before the white mists arrived.

It was easy enough getting back home, but I started noticing, or thinking I noticed, little details missing, or bits of reality where the mist took hold once again.

When it stayed that way when I came back to visit the other day I finally asked her about it. It wouldn't have been so bad if she said she saw it too, or she didn't see it, but she didn't understand the question. I took her into the study to try to show her the mists as they unfurled and she just stared and asked me what I was talking about.

I wasn't planning on going back home that night, but I did, and tried to take her with me. She wasn't having it. I slept alone, dreaming of clouds that swallowed everything.