NICK – NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH

How do I tell him everything about myself? The truth. Nothing but the truth.

“Where you’re from?” He asks dazed by the commotion of the couple next to us. The minuteness of space in this tiny café, but maybe that’s the objective of this human experiment. Get everyone as close as possible and see what connections come to be.

“Here,” I reply with intentional vagueness. “This city,” the clarifying addition comes from necessity before he becomes cute and asks,

‘Here? As if this café? Or this city?’

I’ve been trapped into a familiar ploy before. “You?” That’s right. Answer and then ask the same question I’ve been asked. That’s how the conversations go. I give. I reply. I take. I ask.

“I transferred from Ottawa. Figured might start something new in a new city. New school. New studies. New people.” He pauses, leans back, and with a bright smile scans my face. I feel violated mostly because I hate being looked at. “What’s your major?”

“Undecided.”

“Okay,” he nods as his smile widens, “I bet it’s not Communications.”

I get the hint. My famous one-word answers. Everyone at some point brings it up, but he’s quite efficient in unscrambling my character. Maybe because he’s not self-absorbed.

So I give and answer properly, “Physics, minoring in music or psychology. Haven’t decided yet.”

“You formed almost a full sentence. I’m impressed.” He smiles and I don’t like it.

“I’m not good at conversations… and no. I’m not good in bed either. People tend to ask. A joke, I guess.”

“But, you’re a serious guy,” that mix of a tease and seriousness.

“Frightened might be a better characterization.” Nothing but the truth and for a moment my honesty stumbles him.

As he chips away at creating his next inquiry, for a moment I ravel in my victory. At least I kept my promise to myself. Nothing but the truth.

“But this,” pointing to the centre of the table and swinging his finger between the two of us, as indicating us, this date, “can’t be your greatest fear?”

He’s right. It’s not and my bluntness continues, “I fear that the vortex would just suck me in and I’ll be gone forever.” The funny thing about the vortex, it’s not even a metaphor. I do mean an actual vortex, a black hole.

“That’s your greatest fear?” That half damn serious, half-smirk kind of a question. But it definitely feels like he’s trying to get some secrets out of me. All planned and intentional.

“Yeah.”

“Okay. Unexpected. You know how to keep it dark,” and I’m not sure if he thinks whether this is a game he needs to keep up with, which to be perfectly honest I’m not even playing, or he means it wholeheartedly.

The funny thing is I’m not even trying to

‘keep it dark,’

because that is the most honest truth. I’m constantly surrounded by illumination and then the darkest pit. Or the darkest pit beneath me and the greatest brightness above me. Split into two. The happy and the sad. The falling and the frozen. That’s pretty much my life. I’m either falling or I’m standing still bewitched by light. The spell of it. My life as the days and nights merge and I grapple with insomnia. Falling asleep is a struggle because I’m wired. Getting up is another because I’m tired. I can’t get either activity right.

And I will fail to keep it honest. I promise you. My triumph will slowly fade. My victory. There is so much to tell but how do I choose? Who deserves the truth? Nick is another stranger that I have met and his attempt to get to know me is nothing but a playful ordeal.

“Is that what you’re into? Some occult?” He asks.

“No,” but how do I tell him that I have visions, illusions, hallucinations. Whatever you want to label it, it’s never easy to utter and conceive. How do I tell him that the vortex to me is as real as the table between us? If only I was able to distract him and ask whether he wants to make out but even that I’m not good at.

“You’re a strange one, aren’t you? Complicated.”

Complicated.

I hate that word because ‘complicated’ is never good.

“I’m sorry. I don’t want to be,” and I force myself to open up, to be honest, as promised. “No. I’m not into the occult or any of those sorts. I do have an extreme fear of hole opening up beneath my feet and me falling into it.”

“Oh, you mean like those unexpected sink holes that are the size of a car or larger. Yeah. Those are scary.”

Sure, why not. It’s easier to explain and for the receiver to digest as an explanation and reason.

The meeting lasts a mere thirty minutes, but I kept it as honest as possible. After all, he did smile a few times through the conversation and his eyes are kind but I know this will lead nowhere.

“Keep in touch,” he leaves it in my corner, which means he won’t even bother. Neither will.

I wave a faint wave and we part. Him walking away. I standing for a moment questioning why do I keep on doing this to myself?

THERESA – THE SONG

Theresa’s hair keeps on covering her beautiful hazel eyes as the wind picked up this early afternoon. Embarrassed, she brushes her runaway strands for the tenth time. But I’m distracted by the seashells glued to the wall. The whole exterior wall of the restaurant looks like an underwater world.

“You sing or play an instrument?” Her meek inquisition is somewhat a welcomed change.

“Both,” I answer as gently as possible, mostly not to scare her. Not sure why I do that, mimic people. But therapists do that to make their patients feel safe. On the other hand, mimicry makes me feel like a creep. “You?”

“I’m horrible at both but love to dance and just hearing upbeat music makes my day.”

“Yeah. Music does have that effect. Mood tuner.”

“Yeah,” and she smiles as if we had a moment there, something we both agreed upon and understood. And it made her happy. The simplest of things. Finding something of similarity. “Any particular music you like to listen to? Genre?”

“I’m open. Something with a good message.”

“Yeah,” and for a moment she rethinks her answer, “No. I’m not really into heavy rock or anything with harsh tones.”

For me at times the louder the better; but, she doesn’t need to know that. With her, I like to hide everything that is wrong with me. So ridiculous, all so she could like me. But, what’s the point? Nothing will come out of this ridiculous attempt of a date.

She has a genuine smile and I like that she doesn’t blurt out things rather she takes pauses to think before saying anything as if being scared that what she might say might be rude or hurtful. Or maybe it’s all not to appear stupid. Can’t figure it out. Not sure if she’s being concerned for my sake or hers.

It is easy to talk to her. I feel less judged maybe because the questions are not to provoke me, or test me, something a spy would do to get to know my weaknesses and then exploit them. She seemed too innocent for that and genuine, as I mentioned before.

And we have talked for almost an hour. I walk with her after our meal. It’s not even to be gentleman-like but because I enjoyed her company. She has an ease about her and seems to float rather than walk. Even her steps are gentle as if not to harm the ground or any pesky tiny bug that might be crawling or resting its wings on the pavement.

I don’t like prying or loud people. Noise in real life, like huge crowds, or busy streets filled with thousands of cars seems to pollute my mind and the illusion tends to flare up. But the noise from a speaker seems to drown them. Go figure.

Theresa’s voice is like honey, liquid, soft, and sweet. I can listen to her talk for hours but even that reality has to end.

“I had a nice time,” she finally concludes her speech. As she spoke most of the time during our walk.

“Me, too.”

“So, you know how to reach me,” somewhat bashful but yet with pride as if she for once took bold action and laid her feelings on the line.

I hate to crumble her expectations because it’s the end of the rope for me here. After all, she knows nothing about me, especially all the secrets I so desperately avoided to spill.

And she waits for a moment for me to lean in and kiss her but I hesitate. The disappointment and hurt in her eyes are too unbearable to dismiss, so I give in to her quivering plea and brush her lips with mine but she pulls me and the kiss lasts longer than I intended it to be.

“Bye.” The tone soft and the word stretched, lingering as if to indicate her delight.

I, on the other hand, feel riled. Neither honesty nor dishonesty makes a difference. Nothing comes of these dates and it never will.

LEE – HIGH ON ME

The theme is casual lux, whatever that means, but I wear my only blazer and a white tee. I hate themed parties and Lee’s invitation was odd. For one, I just met the guy two days ago and after a wink and a grabbing my just ordered coffee, he handed me a flyer saying, “Meet me here”. Well, that’s not exactly how it happened. We did converse but very briefly. And why the hell not try new things. After all, Bowe keeps on replaying the same message to me. “Don’t dismiss an adventure. Try something new for once.”

So, here I am in some warehouse basement with tons of people and wailing music; I already hated; waiting indifferent and with anticipation for Lee. Well indifferent to cancel out my nerves and eagerness. Need to find a balance somehow.

“Hi,” Lee’s voice comes from behind. “You came,” I turn to meet Lee’s lit up face.

“Yeah.”

“Now let’s get out of here,” and without hesitation, he takes my hand and pulls me out of the crowd and through the exit door. “That was awful. Don’t you think?”

“Very loud!” I shout because in the five minutes that I stood in the deafening music seems that I have lost my hearing. At that Lee smiles.

“Yeah,” he nods and continues to widen his mouth. For a moment he’s struck admiring my face. At first, I didn’t notice that he is shorter than me but now as he’s examining my face, I realize he has to look a tad up to meet my eyes. He’s not a bad-looking guy but he definitely doesn’t spend all hours in the gym as some of the other men I have met. Average dude. Not as intimidating and I like that. I like average dudes. “I’m sorry you just look very familiar. Have we met before?” He asks.

I don’t think so. “No,” and that is to my best recollection.

“No, I’ve seen you somewhere before on the campus.”

Is he playing a trick on me?

“Atomic and molecular physics. You sat in the second row, left corner. I was four rows above you leaning to the centre.”

That’s oddly very specific and that could be true. I barely remember what I had for lunch let alone where I sat in the classroom a semester ago.

“C minus. What did you get in that class?”

“I don’t remember,” although I do remember. I got an A but I didn’t want to make him feel bad.

“That class was torture but looking at you made it worthwhile,” and as suddenly stops catching his words, “I’m sorry that was cheesy and creepy. I was too nervous to ask you out then but running into you days prior, I was like ‘fuck it, take a chance’, you know what I mean?” My silence seems to make him more nervous as he asks, “Too forward?”

“No.” I scramble for an answer, “just astonished that anyone noticed me.”

“Yeah. It’s that mess of your black curls. Do you ever comb it?” And he attempts to touch the mess on top of my head playfully and catches himself again staring at my face. With that gaffe, he retracts his fingers from my curls and smiles.

I grin and reach to comb the back of my head missing his fingers by a millisecond. “I try.”

As much as I hate when people stare at me, I don’t mind Lee admiring me. It’s refreshing to captivate someone with the right reasons. Not feeling as odd as usual and we fall into a casual conversation.

Lee’s chatty but that could be his nerves. I never know when I make someone nervous plus in my head, I believe that that notion happens very rarely. At the same time, I don’t mind because it means I don’t have to speak as much. He has a comfortable and relaxed approach to life. He doesn’t believe in the big scheme of things or that there’s an ulterior motive to the whole universe thing. But he likes the wisdom of stars and planets and how everything seems to have a place and no place at all at the same time. And that all of this is new to humanity and how long we still got to figure it all out, if that’s even possible. I guess we have that in common, the physics of things.

In the end, he initiates the good-bye kiss, maybe for the heck of it and to see if he’d like kissing me. I comply and like it. He’s not rough, or slobbery, or brief. Rather it’s warm, soft, prolonged, with a grit of meaning behind it. I guess you can say, sensual, that to some degree it leaves me wanting more and knee-weak.

But I don’t call him either nor do I return his messages. I am a horrible human being.

KENDRICK – THE MEASURE OF A DICK

The rain has stopped its assault by early morning as it played in intervals throughout the night. Sitting at the only lost souls and sleepless joint that’s open 24 hours on my street, I watch Kendrick’s fingers blur. That’s how insomniacs congregate. Kendrick, the other body that vacations every other day at the eatery for a coffee and plain toast at wee-hours of four hundred. At least I don’t feel like the only one in the ghosted establishment.

Infused with aromas of grease and stale brew, I wonder whose loss it is. The loss of all the souls I meet. In agreement with self, I would say it’s most likely mine.

These silent moments of contemplation and exhaustion also bring upon the hallucinations. The sound of the clock ticking becomes a sound of clucking. The man in the poster behind the counter begins to breathe and the neon letters above him begin to flicker, all coming to life. But these are not scary. They’re momentary and fixed, so, I ignore them and return to my untouched red like blood tomato soup that has started to boil. The bubbles pop but I spin the spoon to make them disappear. The scariest however begins to materialize. Like fog a black cloud spills into the room from the kitchen and carries with it whispers of phone conversations all taking place at the same, playing over each other. Why it’s scary? Because the cloud is thick and it’s black and when it fills the whole room it’s hard to see through the dense vapor and the voices make it hard to hear. I lose time because nothing is visible or heard.

Exactly like at the moment when Kendrick slides over to the seat next to me and I don’t take notice. Even when starts speaking, I’m all caught up in this black fog. Not until a flash of light shines to my right I make out Kendrick’s face that’s a little bit too close for my liking.

“Do you want to kiss me,” Kendrick asks so bluntly. Not a care or reservation in the world. “How about sucking my dick?” The confidence in him. I mean, why would I surprised. Guys probably line up to fuck him. But, I give him half disgusted, half disbelief run down. “You got to ease up, body,” he advises through a mouthful of bread. “I don’t get what’s your kink with sex. You walk here all Waspy and uptight. You need to lose it up and give in to your carnal calling. So how about it? My dick?”

I mean he’s hot and has a casual air like ‘I don’t give a damn about a thing’ and one night fling wouldn’t hurt. After all, it’s not like it would leave Kendrick in any form of despair. But, I cannot bring myself to do it because I know that type of night would leave a stamp on me and haunt me. Besides, I’m already dealing with the black fog that slowly begins to evaporate.

“Yeah. Something to consider, I guess.”

“You bet.”

And I rise from my chair and leave without looking back. I don’t need to see the man that makes me sick to my stomach or the small amount of fog fearing it may follow me out. The only thing I give Kendrick credit for is that the fact he knows what he wants and he goes for it. But, it’s not the thing I want. None of it.

MICHELLE – THE STOP

“Hi,” I say astonished due to the booming music in the background as Michelle opens the door.

“Hi,” she says it pretty lively matching the atmosphere behind her.

“Are you ready?”

She looks at me puzzled. “Where we’re going?”

And I realize that she probably doesn’t even remember my name.

“The party’s already here,” and she pulls me through the door. “Come in. Come in. Have a molly.”

I decline for the fact that I’m already on too much medication.

“Raise the roof? Right?”

Raise the roof.

Who the fuck says that? And without warning Michelle’s tongue gags me. After a few intense seconds, she releases me from her grasp, “You’re cute.”

Thank you, I guess? I mean what the fuck.

“You’re Michael… Yeah… Yeah… Now I remember. We’re supposed to be on a date or something.”

Or something, indeed, but that sentiment seems to sober her up.

“I’m sorry but you don’t mind if we stayed here? Do you?”

What the heck? I figure might as well go with the flow minus the molly. “No.” Every experience is an experience.

Despite the noise, the group of attendees seems quite small. Two dozen or less.

“It’s one of my roommates’ farewell party. She’s getting hitched or engaged or something.”

Or something.

“Nonetheless, she’s moving out to her boyfriend’s.” She dances as she moves across the room. I follow. “I’m just so in the air right now. You know? High on life. Sorry about the molly thing. We don’t actually have any drugs. Maybe weed, but I don’t like that stuff. I thought it was just catchy to say it, you know. Molly.”

And I can’t tell if she’s telling me the truth or is lying.

“It rolls so easily out of the tongue, you know. Molly. Mooolllllyyyy. Like a girl’s name,” as we end in another room with couches and people making out and dancing, she finally turns around and faces me somewhat breathless from the dancing and moving. “You have such beautiful eyes. I’m not usually generous with that compliment… Michael. Right?”

I finally reply to her, “Yes.”

“Yes,” and she jumps getting a new idea in her head, “Let’s go upstairs. It’s quieter there.”

I freeze.

“No. Don’t worry. We’ll talk. Get to know each other. That kinda a thing… I just don’t want to abandon my roommate. You know. On her last day. Get me?”

I nod.

“You can call me Misha,” she says before leading us up the stairs.

By the time we reach her room, Michelle provides me the whole spiel of her life’s history. She’s in her second year majoring in political science. But her ambition in life, at least for now, is to get to know herself and the ‘you know’ experiment. She’s completely pro-sexual freedom and expression. She dated a girl before but that didn’t work out because the girl wanted ‘a permanent attachment, Michelle’s words, and she’s not into commitment right now. The legality of her terms is to pin me to the door as soon as closes the door to her room and unbutton my shirt. For a brief moment, I let her slobber all over my neck and my ear and go with the flow. As soon as she reaches my trousers and thighs, I freeze and take her hand. But she persists in kissing my neck and mouth, removing her hand from my and pressing it to my groin.

“Stop,” I whisper. “Stop,” a little louder. With that Michelle freezes her stare on my terrified face.

“Are you a virgin?” She asks with a flicker of confusion. “I thought this was a booty call, you know.”

“It’s not… I’m gonna go.” With my back to the door, it takes me a moment to locate the knob and open the door. I escape from the room shuffled and empty fumbling to button up my shirt as I run down the stairs.

BOWE – MY LAST FRIEND

Bowe walks in and I am but one island. “We will build a life here,” Bowe declares moving his arms through the air, scooping Nayla up with ease, and kissing his beautiful fiancé.

I’m jealous and at that precise feeling, a pit beneath my feet opens up and swallows me. I manage to spew one shout and collapse to the floor closing my eyes. My worst nightmare is happening. I’m disappearing.

Bowe’s voice comes through faintly. “Breathe buddy. Breathe,” and his fingers feel like icicles running down my back and I fall to the pit. Everything’s dark.

MICHAEL, I – MY SKIN

“So, how did it go? Any potentials?” My mother has been waiting patiently for me to stop chopping the onion so she can add it to the heated oil.

“Yes,” I answer too preoccupied with the chopping to realize the lead of her questioning.

“Who?”

“Theresa and Lee.”

“Then what’s the problem? You got to get over this one date per person thing. It’s not healthy. At some point, you will have to stop playing the field, take a risk, and hopefully settle down. Isn’t that what you want?”

Of course, but who would love me if they knew the truth? But I don’t say, I simply nod and sigh, “Hmm.” That’s all the answer she’s going to get and I remove myself from the chopping board as my mother kept on reaching for the knife pretty much saying that’s enough of chopping. I don’t understand why she could not have just told me to stop. She always does that. Takes over by pushing her way into space instead of telling someone to move or stop doing what he’s doing.

“You’re a beautiful boy,” she includes between sweeping the onions to the frying pan and laying the chopping board to the sink.

But I don’t feel beautiful. “Is there anything else?” I ask pointing to the oven.

“No. That’ll do.” She lifts her eyes from the frying pan, “Michael,” and breathes out heavily, “before you ran off to hide in your room… I love you.”

Those three words hurt every time because it feels like she says it out of pity, to make me feel better, to let me know not to give up, to let me know that someone does love me. “I love you, too,” and I echo the same words every time feeling worse than before.

The silence and the string of lights glimmering faintly at the top of the headboard make my room seem welcoming and depressing synchronously. I sink to the floor and try to navigate my feelings. My innate drive tells me to curl up at the feet of my bed and cry myself to sleep. My skin feels like it’s on fire and that’s the glitch in my brain. As much as I can’t tell the reality around me, at times I can’t sense the reality within me. I swipe up to activate the screen and look at the notification and risk my heart.

“Hi. It’s Nick.” It reads. Surprised to even hear from him, after all, it’s been seven days since we met up, I linger on opening the full DM and answer. Rather I scroll down to Theresa’s name and pause on opening the message. My mother’s words however make me cave and I type, “Hi, it’s Mike from Thursday.” Then I move and open Lee’s Insta page and scroll his posts of planets and stars with short scripts of wisdom or info about the star. Only a few images seem to be of him.

“Yeah. I like the sound of the ocean, too,” I reply to Lee’s last message after scanning through the two long messages he has sent and an image of a horizon. Words underneath it read, “to the horizon I pursue”.

© Jacob Greb — 2020

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