Strange, I think. When he was here I never took the time to properly study his face, to really remember the details of every angle and feature. Oh, that’s quite normal, somebody tells me in a vain attempt to bring comfort. To take something for granted is normal. Utterly, obnoxiously, normal.
I fumble with my cigarette, blushing into the cavernous expanse of my room. The same as a first date, too nervous to eat with any sort of gusto for fear of appearing sloppy and boorish. Social anxieties are weird like that, even privately inarticulate moments becoming drawn out self-interrogations in dimly lit rooms with black walls and shoddy AC.
My eyes scan the room, looking for that silent, ghostly audience. The one I can feel studying every move and blunder. As if I’m trapped in some sort of hellish, poorly written sitcom. Every other station is static.
What a glum place, this room I find myself in most every day. Blinds drawn, lights off aside from a single desk lamp, laundry overflowing, and bedsheets swirled into a makeshift nest. Every surface is scattered with an amalgamation of writing. Chaotic piles of papers and notepads like ancient burial mounds coat the surface of my desk, each adventure into their masses an archaeological dig of malformed ideas and half-hearted assignments. Crumbling towers of books dot the landscape, the compiled knowledge and imaginations of countless authors rising like the bleakest of mountains.
I should probably get out, go do something. This room has become more of an echo chamber than a home. My lips flatten out, tightening my cheeks as I tuck my cigarette back into its box, then that in turn back into my jacket pocket. I feel unbalanced as I stand, clumsily knocking into the chair. I sigh, taking a moment to silently hide my awkward motions, and then reach for my phone. How can all these things feel so intensely vibrant, yet so impossibly out of focus?
I scratched behind my ear, tired eyes waving listlessly over an assortment of cheap snacks and dyed drinks. Some vapid pop ballad, overused acoustic guitars and all, played too loudly over the convenience store’s fizzling speaker system. I didn’t particularly want anything I looked at, but I knew that I wanted something. Something to chew on, hoping that maybe needless mastication would somehow distract my mind.
“He’s such a poet!” the young woman next to me gushed, putting the full weight of her body into a romanticized swoon. I hadn’t noticed her beforehand, the outer world had melted away just long enough for her to drunkenly stumble into my periphery. She seemed to sway with the song overhead, but each motion was ungainly, different limbs jerking in different directions out of sync with the music as if each body part were unsure of itself and suspicious of its peers.
“Do you read poetry?” I asked, a single eyebrow raised, leaning my head tentatively into the conversation. Hands dug deeper into my pockets, body tensed awkwardly. I normally gave a terse nod and smile in situations like this, but it seemed as if my tongue had decided to work of its own accord. Bastard.
“Oh no, never. I’ve never quite seen the point,” she laughed as if to wave me off. As if it were my question, rather than her lackluster answer, that was soul crushingly absurd. I chewed the inside of my cheek, debating whether or not I should keep talking or just grab a random item and go pay.
“Well, how can you call this poetry if you don’t really care for poetry?” I questioned without really thinking about it. As soon as the words left my mouth I began mentally kicking myself over how snide and pretentious I felt. You’re fussing at a drunk girl’s taste in music in the middle of a convenience store. Classy.
“Everything is poetry!” she loudly proclaimed. I felt like her voice projected over the entire store, “and everyone is a poet!”
Not at all the answer, I was expecting. I suppose I should have been touched or amused by her girlish optimism, that hopeful twinkle in her eye should have charmed me despite its alcoholic origins. I never responded. I simply gave my typical smile, my typical nod, and hurriedly left the store. As far as I know she’s still giggling and flitting through the aisles. The fairy queen of the convenience store.
It was just before midnight, the streets choked with intoxicated revelry when I decided to duck into a bar. I kept thumbing the slight protuberance of the lock button on my phone as if some half-dreaming version of myself were about to text or call him. I knew I couldn’t do that anymore. I knew I’d never be able to hear his voice again, or even see a newly typed response. Even the most meager of interactions had been stripped away. One lifetime split into two, only to be cruelly subtracted back to one.
“Aging is nothing but the retraction of beauty,” the older woman began. Her eyes stayed low, as if trying to keep level with the rim of her glass.
“There’s no grace to it, like so many love to say. To wisen is to rot. Your beauty peaks in youth, and only collapses in on itself the longer you last.”
“That’s a limiting view on the subject, don’t you think?” I asked, glancing down into my cigarette box as if to refill its contents through sheer will alone. My thumb absently flipped the box top back and forth.
“Limiting? Oh no, not at all. It’s a bit freeing actually,” she offered me a weak smile before knocking back the last of her whiskey. She closed her eyes for a moment to savour the roiling drink, her crow’s feet more apparent than before
“Free to accept the death of beauty?”
“Free to accept death itself. Once you’ve lost your beauty you’ve lost your identity, your face,” she uncrossed her legs and leaned forward for this, “Beauty is youth, youth is vigour. Once you’ve used up your vitality, you’ve used up your worth.”
I didn’t have a rebuttal to that, though I had already mentally upturned my nose, I remained silent. Maybe I figured I looked thoughtful, quiet contemplation as cheap character building. The older woman simply pursed her lips and tutted away at my silence, likely disappointed in yet another younger person who didn’t understand the great melancholy of life.
I wanted to stand and orate, to deliver a speech of Lenin-esque fervour and Morrissey poetics that would communicate my true knowledge of that great melancholy. Instead I wallowed in the disconnection.
“It was a French author who said that the meaning of life is whatever you’re doing that makes you not want to kill yourself.”
“Yeah, pretty much.” I half shrugged and glanced over at my friend. A being of pure mousy innocence and incomprehensible charity. His stick straight blonde hair fell over his glasses as we walked. I couldn’t help but smirk at his offbeat answer to my pretentious musings.
Midnight had passed on by then, the city’s bloated form decompressing. Lungs resting momentarily before their next bated breath. That strange pause where the quiet dignity of the world reveals itself, if only to reassure those ambling souls awake long enough to appreciate it.