There is a rented taste in the air. All she remembered of the day was the royal sun beating down the texture of brown on her shoulders. It felt like suffering. Ethiopian children.
‘I hate the sun. Let us go. It is too hot here. It is too hot to swim.’
‘Rachel, come with me first. I want to show you something first. Get up lazybones; I want us to go for a walk.’ Ian held Rachel’s hand in his. ‘You are my girlfriend.’ He whispered in her ear. His hands were warm and sticky from the ice cream they had just eaten.
He threw a blanket over the backseat of his car. His eyes pleading with her. The beach was near deserted. His mouth tasted sweet and when he was inside of her, she looked at the scratched upholstery of the back of the front car seats, the back of his head. She looked through the window and blinked back her tears.
‘That was nice. Hey, why are you crying?’ he asked all sweetly. Tender. The whole world was realigned again.
‘You think I have loose morals. You think I am nothing.’
‘Okay, I am not up for this. This is what girlfriends and boyfriends do. They have sex Rachel.’
Not the way you do it. Rachel wanted to say. It hurts the way you do it.
Rachel the sum of oceanic patterns. Cheshire cat where is your tongue. Alice in her wonderland. Picture books from childhood. Waving to my dad at the hospital. Watching him wave back at me. Ignoring my mother as she told that, told me to sit down she had to keep her eyes on the road now or else there would be trouble. Would get a hiding. There is my tongue.
The ghost moth’s wings are snow white. A shepherd’s field. Ghost mouth. What pleasure is this in the arms of someone much older? A flicker of a flame. She dances towards it. Takes off her slip. This flesh must know pleasure now. He holds her by her throat but gently as if he is eating sky. Starts every sentence with, ‘Do you know what this is?’ He fondles her. ‘These are my hands. This is your throat. This known as pleasure.’ They went to the beach. Even the saltwater left scars. Clouds were shining for the woman who buries her affairs. Rachel is still a girl composed of a myriad of blue and gut symmetries. Rachel is a wreck but she does not know it yet. This birthday girl. This young trainee.
‘Why do you not try and wear some makeup. You will look older, wiser beyond your years. You will look more of a woman. A young woman on my arm.’ Then she did not feel enough for him.
‘You are whalebone. You are winter. You are flesh. You are clouds shining for the woman who buries her affairs, the woman I love. How old are you?’
‘Does it matter? I am old enough. I am old enough for hotels. I am old enough for dinners in fancy restaurants. Nothing compares to you. I have no friends.’ He does not care.
‘Am I your only friend?’ He does not care she tells herself repeatedly. Rachel comic girl.
‘Life is just fragments of silence. Fragments of gulls, of Wordsworth, of Shakespeare. You said you wanted to be a writer. It helps if you read. Read everything that you can get your hands on sweetie and then, perhaps you can call yourself a writer even if only one person in the world has read your book Rachel.’ Ian was full of charm, good advice, proper English.
I am alive. I am filled with oblivious imagination. It does not matter that Ian only uses me for sex. What Jean Rhys called the sexual transaction? He has not even heard of Jean Rhys. I let him use me for sex because I hate myself so much. If I had more self-esteem, I would have a proper boyfriend. Someone who truly cared for me the way my father cared about my mother.
‘I love you, Rachel. Do you love me?’
‘No Ian I do not love you.’
‘I do not really know why. I just do not think that I love you in the same way that you love me, Ian.’
‘Well, that makes me angry.’
‘I do not understand why it makes you angry if it is the truth. I do not understand why I have to tell you what you want to hear all the time.’
Telepathy. I am waving to my dad at the hospital again in my dreams. In reality, he is sick again. Been hearing voices. Calling out for me in the middle of the night. Midnight. The hour of blue. Rachel’s hour. My mother ignores him for me so it is my job to clean him when he has wet himself. I change the sheets. Cannot leave him to sleep like that. I do not want to leave him at the hospital. Nobody understands why I want him home. They want to put him in a home for elderly people where they will take his whole pension and leave him with nothing. Ian does not understand about ‘hearing voices’, ‘hallucinations’.
‘A girl like you thinks sex is shameful.’ Ian says. ‘I think it is the values that you have been raised with. Your father. Going to church from a young age.’
‘You did not go to church?’
‘I went to church. Born and raised a Catholic.’
‘You do not know anything about the values I have been raised with. You do not know anything about my father. I told you about my father already.’
‘What about him, that he is sick again? Well, I am sorry about that.’
‘Ian, you do not sound so sure about being sorry about that.’
‘Your whole family is crazy Rachel.’
‘What is that supposed to mean?’
‘Wiping your dad’s bum. Seeing him naked. Rachel you have to understand that is just so weird to me. I never grew up like that.’
‘Ian, grow up. Those are really hurtful things you are saying.’
‘It hurt me when you told me that you did not love me.’
Ian says I am born to write which makes me feel special in a way. At first when I met Ian, I thought that he was my reason for living. When I lay in the dark in his bedroom listening to him tell me about how his father neglected him, abandoned his mother. How his mother moved from one relationship to the next looking for a father for her son, how he watched his mother have a nervous breakdown. He would tap his fingers on my bare arm. I would lay in the dark and know that he was my reason for living. He would go to the kitchen in the early hours of the morning and make us grilled cheese sandwiches. His mother would yell at us to keep it down in there, and that she was resting. She had a migraine. She always seemed to have migraines. Ian told me that once his mother called him, ‘an inconvenience’.
He went to his room and cried. Telephoned me that night and asked me to come over is the first time we did it. I needed to feel special, wanted and needed. My life was unravelling again. Dad was sick again. Ian had begun to make me feel cheap. It began to feel impossible for me to feel otherwise.
One day I walked over to Ian’s house. His mother answered the door.
‘Ian is not here.’
‘Oh. Will you tell him Rachel was here?’
‘I will tell him crazy Rachel was here. So many Rachel’s, so little time.’
I felt a thudding in my chest as I walked away from the little house. What was that supposed to mean? Crazy Rachel.
Ian was a Catholic but to Rachel it seemed to her as if he had no set religious belief. There was only room for a girlfriend and sex. She remembered him making signatures on her bare leg, fighting for love. I realised it is a waste to fight for the material things, for possessions in the world at large, society. There was a lifetime ahead of them.
‘I wrote a letter for you, Rachel, since we have not seen each other for weeks.’
‘Ian, why would you write me a letter.’
‘Because I love you, that is why Rachel. Just read it.’
‘I will read it Ian but I am not making any promises of being your girlfriend anymore.’
I closed my door, slipped my shoes off, made myself comfortable on my bed, and opened the letter.
‘I love you Rachel Bloom (that is original I thought to myself). I cannot handle my mother anymore. What she does and says is her business not mine. I am leaving. I want you to come with me. I have a car. I have some money. I know you are still a trainee and one day you want to be a cinematographer or a director. I hope your dreams come true even if we are not together anymore. In your teenage years, you always have a hunger for life. Maybe I can become a photographer or something even though I am not as clever as you are. I am a hard worker. The first few times we were together it was good and then I started to hurt you but it was because I was so full of anger but mostly angry with my mother and I had to hurt the one person I truly loved in the world. She is the black dog in all of this.
I wanted to marry you. I thought that would be the right thing to do by you. I do not think your parents would approve of me because I am poor and uneducated. You on the other hand have such a great future ahead of you. You are bright and exceptional and sometimes it just perplexes me just what you are doing with a person like me when there are plenty of other fish in the sea. I think you should always keep a diary by the side of your bed. Diarise your dreams and your goals. One day there will not be any diaries anymore, any dreams, any goals, and any photographs, anything that is frozen in time. Can you believe that? You still believe in the illusion of innocence. I remember the first time I touched your mouth. I built a survival foundation around you and perhaps I should not have done that.
I mouthed your name a thousand names in the darkness when I watched you sleeping in my arms, my mother in the next room, and I thought this is as good as it gets. I fingered your hair, the earring in your lobe, traced your cheek and already felt everything shrinking away from me. I felt guilty. I felt the evening sky. I felt the darkness as if it was a presence. I felt my mother, who was now an alcoholic, breathing down my neck. You just have to tough it out, you told me once. You have tough guts, you told me once. You, Ian, are the bravest person that I know and I slowly began to believe in myself again. There were other girls. I love girls but you were different. Now you do not want to talk to me and I do not know why. You say I hurt you when we make love. You say I do not matter to you anymore but all I want is you.
All I want is your shiny, perfumed hair in my hands. I do not want to lose you but I have already lost you in a way and all I want to do is a chance to explain. To give my side of the story. I already know that you have your mind up. That is the kind of girl you are but I wanted to tell you that I am leaving. I am leaving for good and I am sorry for that day on the beach. I am really sorry for that day on that beach. You felt sad and I should have fixed it. You felt cold. I could have fixed it but I did not because I was selfish and only thinking of myself. Confusion at the core and personality of it all. Imagining destruction, sabotage by saboteurs. You taught me all of those words. I need to contemplate you again. You the most beautiful thing in my world.
Only you can understand what it means to wake up to hear the sound of your mother retching into the toilet bowl. I remember slipping inside of you, your voice on the telephone, your laughter, but also sadness. My sadness. Your sadness. You are a hero. This letter is a tribute to you. I am leaving but I wanted to say this to you. Words standing at attention. A marriage of words. There is luck if life turns out happy.
IMAGE: Craig Cloutier