BY WHITNEY PASTOREK
The door to the roof swung open so silently she hardly noticed, but she caught the flash of his blond head. When he eventually came all the way out and sat down, she pointedly flicked her cigarette ash in his general direction.
“You’re a really good friend, Jill,” he said, after a time of sitting quietly.
This was his opening line? Jill sighed.
He pressed on, defending himself: “I like you. I like hanging out with you. But, I mean, if you knew me better, if you knew half the shit I do and think, you wouldn’t have these feelings for me...” He trailed off for a minute, and watched her light another cigarette. “...and I --”
Not having this, no, no, cut him off. “That’s crap and you know it,” she snapped. “What makes you think running yourself down is going to help you break free from my affections? And hey, is it really that horrid to find out that I have a thing for you? ‘Oh god, not that, anything but that,’ huh?”
She was starting to whine; check it, and start again: “I just hate being the poster child for unrequited love.”
He sighed and his chin dropped to his chest. “I find it hard to believe that you have always been a poster child.”
“No, it’s true.” Flying downhill now. “Do you want to compare relationship statistics? I guarantee you cannot be worse off than me. No one could.”
“Well, I mean, I go for a long time between relationships, Jill. Everyone does—you can’t expect that you’ll always have a--”
“I’ve never kissed anyone when I wasn’t drunk. I’ve never gone out on a real date. I’ve never been asked to dance.” Take a breath. “And I’ve never--”
The edge of the cliff loomed in front of her. She did not make the leap. She instead became very conscious of her whole being: every fold of her clothing, every strand of her hair. He was silent for a moment, and as the wind picked up, both of them focused as attentively as possible on the squirrels running across the neighbors’ trellis.
“Never?” he spoke softly.
Nothing more to say, she simply shook her head.
“The right person is out there for you, and when you find him, it’s going to be amazing,” he stated with the confidence of indisputable fact, but still keeping his eyes from her and on the squirrels instead, as though they were the ones who needed the advice.
As she took this in, she watched the smaller of the two squirrels nip the tail of the other, and flee in a zig-zagging streak to the opposite side of the roof. Then she realized that at least the squirrels had each other. And at this, she found herself enraged, restless, wanting nothing but to kick this boy very hard. She lashed out with her voice, biting, uncontrolled, forcing him to look at her again, forcing him to hear her say, “I am so sick of people telling me the same goddamn thing! What the hell kind of--”
That wasn’t enough. That wasn’t it. Think.
And then it hit her, what she really wanted to say:
“Why the hell can’t you be that person? Why the hell can’t you even try?”
The girl keeps casting her heart into the canyon of affection, only to hear it, weeks later, hit the river below with a feeble kerplunk. Her dreams are filled with visions of her truest self lying submerged in that river, miles of rock—crumbling, unforgiving—making escape impossible. She sits on the edge and watches herself float underwater, wishing she had some rope. Whether she’d use it to haul up her heart or to climb down and join it… well, that’s not clear.
Silly, she thinks. Unnecessary. You are you and you are whole and the need to be defined through someone else’s eyes, when you watch it in others, deeply disgusts you. How could you exist if you ever allowed yourself to-
Fuck, this is retarded, she thinks. Sitting here wasting time going over this in my mind, the easiest and oldest question in the book. The answers are many and different for each so what the hell is the point?
Talk to him. Show him the strength you keep for yourself and-
No. Boys don’t like strong girls. Strength is a boy thing, and if the girl does the boy thing, what’s left for the boy? If the girl is the girl and the boy at the same time, where does the boy fit in? Should he perhaps dance? Knit? Cook? Cry? You sit there and ignore the rules governing who you’re supposed to be; how can anyone from outside ever understand?
He can’t see the inside of your mind, you know.
He can’t see how it calms you, how he calms you. He can’t know that when your knuckles wrap white and hard around a beer, it is to keep your hand from reaching out and touching his face. He’ll not understand, though you speak it with your whole body, that he is the one, the first one that’s kept you from yapping and spitting and moving and lets you just be: straight and still and firm and quiet.
Yeah. I can’t say that to him.
You shouldn’t say that to him.
You heard me. I swear there are times that I’m with you when I can, only then, hear the beating of my own heart. It is not beating out of lust or fervor, it is simply there. Unencumbered for the first time. It is glorious in simplicity. There is a hush as you speak to me - your stories of travel and air and horses and fires and generosity and things that can’t be true not all in one person as though you were sent here to give me the real meaning of unattainable because I obviously didn’t understand it before-
Jill’s inner soundtrack is failing her miserably. She knows something will be over soon of course and another something else will take its place, but oh how she had loved this one song, when it began. When it began, breaking through the ending fade of its failed predecessor, its chords were clear and bright as sun through rain. But then the melody unwove and the lyrics simply repeated over and over, as though there were nothing more to say, ever, about anything, and now she is trapped in its clutches and cannot see how she’d ever put any faith in its tune. The tune is crude, she knows now, it is one dimensional, it is pedestrian and it changed no lives except her own and that not even so much. Things are almost exactly as they had been when the song started, and neglected possibilities have vanished into the music so quickly it’s hard to remember they’d been there in the first place. She is alone, and as the simple melody of her days continues, it suddenly strikes her that she always will-
The needle lifts, the record shifts. The next song begins.
The wind whistled outside the apartment, and she zipped up her thin sweatshirt before opening the door. Clumping down the front steps, she looked up into the gray sky and fought to hold back tears. The leaves on the sidewalk crunched under her feet as she shuffled towards her car, fumbling for the keys in her back pocket. She barely heard the door open behind her, barely heard the crunching footsteps following her, until a voice said, “Jill.”
Reluctant to turn around, she kept her back to the sound until it repeated itself.
Head down, she examined the concrete under her feet as she turned. Shoving her hands deep into her pockets, she looked up through watery eyes to see him coming towards her, white t-shirt flapping against his arms as he hurried to reach her.
“What?” she asked, when he finally stopped in front of her.
“Where are you going? I mean, do you have to be somewhere right now?” he asked, awkwardly.
Jill kept her gaze steady and did not reply. The wind blew leaves around her feet and she began to play with the keys in her right hand. They jingled, the sound sharp against the white noise of the wind.
He took a deep breath and averted his gaze as he asked, “Can you stay?”
Feeling the lump in her throat threaten to overtake her well-practiced composure, Jill coughed and felt the residue of too many cigarettes rumble in her chest. Burrowing the car keys into her hand, she swayed left and right, finally lifting her chin and closing her eyes before saying, “Why.”
It wasn’t a question, really, but there was no answer for quite a while. The two stood at a silent angle on the empty sidewalk, both shivering, both uneasily keeping their eyes from meeting. When at last they did meet, there was a moment of incredible.. something. It lifted Jill’s stomach into her mouth and nearly threw her off balance. Losing the battle not to cry, she held his gaze and waited.
At long last, he took another deep breath and replied, “Because I need you to.”
The wind blew quieter then, and she heard his words lift, catch on the breeze, and float to a soft landing at her feet.
Her heart bent to pick them up.
B R A V E S O U L S R E C E I V E
BEWARE OF PROCEEDING WITHOUT READING THREE OF THESE
Zadie Smith's "On the Road:
American Writers And Their Hair"
Keith Obadike's Blackness Is For Sale
The Plot Revealed: "The Others"
Interview With An Autofellator
Archive of Recent Activities