The first few pages...enjoy!
I am not prepared. You know you’re in for it, really in, when the familiar mantra starts up in your head: I am not prepared. I am not ready. This is too much. I will fail. I am not prepared. Tomorrow night, when I take off my shirt and find beneath it that my chest is scratched with the last demands of another human body, I will understand what it’s like to realize, with a great deep sinking feeling, exactly when it’s too late to turn it back. Right now the truth is that, after twenty years with my head underwater, I am not prepared for any of this.
My father’s middle name is crazy. It should be mine too, according to my mother and Greg, my mother’s husband. My first name is Sam, short for Samael, not Samuel. It’s biblical, but not in a conventional good-lad-goes-to-church sort of way. It’s the kind of name that polarizes you enduringly, without reason or intent. I couldn’t have cursed myself better, though damned if I don’t try. I don’t live in this body, but I am temporarily resigned to it. For the record, being cut, being beaten – for me, it isn’t about the pain. At first, it was about salvation. And selfishness. Now, it’s about being human again. Amazing that it took the most inhuman fucker I ever met to convince me of it.
So if the police come asking you questions, don’t answer. It sounds simple, except that when he gets frustrated with me, he tells me everything he said was a lie just so I don’t repeat it. When you’re embarrassed, you’re less likely to want to relive the scenario of your humiliation, your mistakes. And nothing is more embarrassing then having the whole world pulled out from under you, not once, not an honest mistake like the first time he did it, but a second or third time, over and over, like a little beat in the back of your mind.
I know all of this because he tells me so at 3:45PM, under the awning of the crappy diner near the train station in Storm King, where we meet. This is the first time we meet in public. It’s the first time we eat dinner together. It’s the first time for a lot of things. And the last time too, he reminds me. I mark the occasion because it feels like a date. I’ve never had one of those before either.
He stands next to me, wearing slim black pants held up by a simple black and silver belt. The lissome muscles of his arms are disguised by a white dress shirt, neatly pressed, and a dark outer coat that’s too long to be respectable but too short to appear sinister. It’s not very warm, but fashionable. He’s thin, not gaunt like I am. It isn’t as if he hasn’t tested his limits in this respect, however.
As we wait, I try to imagine what sorts of questions the cops might ask me:
What color was his hair?
Shoulder brushing my shoulder, the dark hair curls just below his copiously ornamented ears.
Black. It’s always black. Natural, no dye.
And his eyes?
He drags the heavy silver pocket watch from his pocket and checks the time. It tells him the same thing as the bank across the street, except he isn’t looking up to notice. One perfectly manicured eyebrow, pierced with a double line of silver bars, is raised in an unspoken question. Two above, two below, and the anti-eyebrow. The jewelry is not an afterthought. It’s foreshadowing. The only other place he looks is at me.
They’re green. Especially when he’s angry. Or high.
And yes, before you ask: the piercings, they’re all real.
When I was 7, my mother started talking about my moods, like the kind kids suffer from because of the dense clouds of weighty emotions cast on them by faceless adults in pediatricians’ offices and medical manuals. I was everything she dreamed of in a son, the perfect test subject for chatter with a psychologist, the unwitting control in her intense search for a deep, spiritual truth. I gave her a renewed sense of purpose. She gave me a shitty name. Her career as the town’s leading waitress had apparently fallen flat after too many late nights spent tending a colicky infant, all alone in her shoebox apartment. Night school yielded the untold possibilities of self-diagnosis, a GED, and a career in real estate. If she didn’t have me to talk about, the doctors would be led to contemplate her weakness of character or her poor life choices. No high school dropout’s ego could withstand that. My tantrums became staged rebellions to attack her new age sensibilities, when in actuality she had packed up my father’s baggage and strapped it over my shoulders before I could haul around a Curious George backpack. I was overwhelmed; I learned to let my voice be undermodulated.
Cocooned in blankets and unable to breathe, the left side of my face rubbed raw by the gravely carpeting of the therapist’s office, I gave up on normal. No one born again before the age of 10 can ever hope to be normal.
He gives me instructions, like I have never constructed a lie in my life. He begins with simple rules, the bare bones of a fabrication, and then fleshes them into more esoteric demands: Introduce a protagonist, someone likeable. He doesn’t have to be sensible or even make any sense. He just has to be nice, because you can’t be. When you’re gone, when you leave the room, it will be his story they remember. They’ll forget all about you and the questions they should be asking you. They’ll forget that it’s you in front of them. They’ll want to know what happened to him, how it happened to him. Fall in love with your protagonist. That way, neither you nor they can shake free of him.
Remember Sam, that the protagonist can never be yourself. If it is, the questions will never cease. Besides, he smiles just enough to avoid looking bored, look at you.
His hand on my back steers me around to review my reflection in the glass window of the diner. Inside, old men guzzle bitter concoctions of coffee and cream while the white aproned waitress, lone mistress of tonight’s ceremonies, shuttles plates of meatloaf, pie, and turkey drowned in murky gravy from the kitchen to the diners. I stare past them, trying to focus on the more obscure image, my own face in the hazy glass. In the corners, the window is coated in a light frost. I appear at the center, a figure in standard black and weathered grey. My dark hair hangs in my eyes in jagged strands; in the wet winter, I give up trying to give it any unnatural lift. I am not as sexless as I am androgynous. The light coming from inside the restaurant clashes with the streetlamps so my eyes do not look like eyes at all, but two small pits, shaped by kohl and powder. There’s a splash of concealer under each eye to cover up the latest bruise and the hangover of sleep.
The ash colored coat disguises the grey and black striped hoodie, one of the few embarrassing articles I preserve from my childhood. The green t-shirt doesn’t belong to me and the thermal underneath that is probably Danny’s, a shack prize I’ve worn for months; the blood stains are mine or were put there by me, so I might as well claim it. The sleeves ride up my wrists, but black leather bands cover that fashion faux pas quite nicely.
The threadbare cuffs of the coat brush over my knuckles as I pull up the collar. He fixes it neatly around my neck as I hitch up the new, slightly too tight pants. The boots are new as well or new to me at least. No one could claim to recognize a man by his plain black size 9s. The laces are my own addition, but his idea, silver shot through with more black. I am a few inches shorter than he is. I have fewer piercings too, and wear less jewelry. The small amount of silver makes me seem icy pale next to him. The way the hoops, bars, and captive beads light him up, decorating but not dominating him, is an artful deception, a skillful legerdemain I have yet to master with my own form. Still as a photograph, snowflakes begin to speckle my hair like tiny white stars.
Comments and feedback, as always, are appreciated
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