Look Through

Original source material

Short story

You must understand that it is a mistake to believe there is much kindness in the small towns we run to.  No history, no sins.  We are all sinners.  To mind your own business, get on with a good life is never allowed.  I talk to few, Maximum being my only friend before you, yet everyone knows everything.  We feed off one another and accuse each other of the appetite we share.

Through the hot days I heard whispers, they were about you.  In the dead streets in the afternoon, dry leaves skitting across my path (what trees we have were dying), I walked and the whispers followed me, about things they thought you had done, things they had decided you had done.

And it is not as if I didn’t try to fight you in me.  Because I did, I reached for memories of before you, to find there was nothing to hold on to.  I was as vapour, breath on a cold morning.  You gave me substance and misery.  However I thank you for taking my ignorance.  I like to think of those times, it makes the present even sweeter.  What sad creatures we must have been!  Did we know how sad, how pathetic?  There is no permanence, we feel it most when we are happy I think.  We are sage enough to know and to cherish – my gift to you, to remind you we are so very happy now.  Let’s think this way everyday, let’s try not to dislike the rest so much, though we may feel sorry for them, for they will never be as beautiful as us.  And in our deep and unique love we can forgive them the rumours, envy is a terrible thing and after all, it was what brought us together and no man shall put asunder.   This joy shall have no end and in that we are unique.

The stories grew around us, fuelled by the heat.  Maximum is no innocent yet he was privy to them like everyone else.  ‘They say that feller, he killed someone.’

‘Someone?’  We sat in the soupy night, too dark to play cards we had resorted to the smoking of cigarettes, homemade, butcher paper and chunky leaf tobacco.  We drank too, but my belly, it ached, unhappy with the dry alcohol.

‘Not just someone, a family.’  Maximum was screwed up in a swinging tyre echoing his runtish beginnings in the world.  ‘How were they killed?’

‘They died in a fire.  He set the house on fire.’

‘Why would he do that?’

‘C’mon, you can tell just lookin’ at ‘em, it’s in his eyes.  He’s bad.  Remember that day we sawed ‘em?  Remember?  I never liked the look of ‘em.’

‘The eyes?’

‘The whole package.  There’s evil there.’

‘It’s rumours, you know rumours Maximum.  We of all people should be wary of words round here.’

The night was noisy as always, there’s always something to be heard, dogs, insects that come out every night but I’ll be damned if I know what they look like.  Where were you then?  I know where you are all the time now, but then?  When I lay in my own miserable desire burning from such longing as to rival the summer, what were you doing, with some slut maybe?  While I defended you, championed you, who were you giving it to?  Who was taking my entitlement?  I know, I know, it doesn’t do to think that way now.  I have you for all time, but don’t think I’m not hungry sometimes.  I’m greedy, when you sleep my stomach rumbles, when you look out the window I get so loathsome, I want to board up every peep hole out onto the world that rejects us, and it does reject us, daily.  We’re better off, you have to see that.

I was like a pendulum then, fighting with myself on indulging every pathetic fantasy I had and burying it all, burying any hope.  What gave me a right to you, merely because I had desire?  I had no clue as to whether you felt the same, I was so sure that you didn’t see me, like the rest of the tiny people in this tiny town.  I could have been drowning in that stewing sea and no one would think to rescue me.

Sometimes I felt I was drowning with talk of you everywhere. You burnt a house down where a family lived by accident while you working there, on purpose after stealing money and valuables, there was a mother, father, a baby girl, there was a mother only whose husband had long gone, you raped her and burnt the house, you had an affair with her and she ended it and you burnt the house down.  It depended on who you talked to and on what day, it depended on who you might’ve slighted or attracted.  You with those eyes and strength, lugging wood around, there were many who saw you, not just me.  I felt indignant and a little proud, as sorry a creature as I was, I resented fighting for you.  In the end I did not have to.  In the end it was beautiful and more so because it was one fantasy I never had.  Like a birthday surprise.

Another unquiet night, Maximum in his usual spot, curled up, swinging.  I think I was dozing, dreaming of shouting and barking and woke to hear it for real.  My heart beat in me as it always does when I am woken suddenly.  I was sweating from heat and some kind of fear, the thumping in my own chest could not erase the sound of feet though it was quite a competition for a while.  I did not move when you burst through our back gate.  Maximum was roused and yelled in a confused half sleep voice.  You looked so desperate as you panted before me, one arm cradling your belly the other holding Maximum round the middle like a fractious toddler.  ‘You will be quiet and you will help me.’  Why am I going on so?  You know all this of course.

But you do not know how I watched you as you slept in our house, the first person to sleep there for so long.  What else was there to do?  Barricaded in, the chaos seeming ever closer.  You sleep like you’re dead, did you know that?  There’s been many a time since when car exhausts explode outside in the street, lightning cracks, even an earthquake once and you did not wake.  And just so, you did not wake when I put my hand through your hair, scraped over the stubble on your chin and becoming bolder the more you slumbered.  Faces in sleep are so slack usually, Maximum’s looks like some old doll.  I envy those that sleep, I do it so rarely myself.  At least now I have you to keep me company.  Down from your face to you shirt, to feel your chest through you green lumberjack shirt, taught muscle, down to your stomach.

I have not felt the bodies of many men, but I knew without a hesitation that this was different and familiar.  No smooth abdomen was there, something protruded that was not a solid mass but more like a hose pipe.  I lifted your shirt to see and just then the voices came closer.  The next step was easy, it’s what I was born for.  Every pain, every hurtful happening, every disappointment and broken heart was for the pure joy of this moment.

I swallowed your line like my mother had done to keep me ever near and I was at one with you and the only other to have loved me.  I swallowed love for all time, and when I saw you no longer sleeping and with tears in those eyes, I knew I should remind myself of how beautiful this was, everyday.  The horrible outside world was gone in an instant and I cradled you as you sobbed as I have cradled you many times since and will again and again.

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Copyright: Elizabeth Watkin

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