Mirrors Of Home
I can't sleep.
The clock on my wall says 1.35am, my watch says 1.40am and I'm locked someplace in-between.
I turn on my radio and listen to a talk show and wonder why all night time announcers have that same lazy, beat up languid style.
"Hi. This is Jefferson Robbins and I'm your night-time companion through this long LA night..."
"Where would you rather be now?", he asks in a voice that is as smooth as a crème caramel chocolate. I look out at the rain and think anyplace but this.
"I mean you Roy". he says, "yeah you! Don't turn me off Roy because we want to know about you".
This geek does this all the time. He mentions a name and pretty soon, every Edith, Mike or Roy in the tri state area calls in. I guess a row of flashing lights on his monitor tells him that there are a lot of Roys' out there and I thank the Lord that my name is Dan.
Roy from Tulsa says he'd rather be anyplace but Tulsa. Wouldn't anyone. Another Roy this time from Tupelo tells everyone that he's the reincarnation of Elvis and he'd rather be in Vegas. I listen and think to myself that there's a lot of Roys' out there and I try to recall any Roy's that I've come across but I can't think of any.
I look at my face in the mirror. It doesn't get any prettier. I need a shave. My skin is loose. The mirror tells me it's too late to change my ways.
Outside the rain stops and I think of life someplace other than downtown LA. The guy on the radio plays a slow dreamy tune that sets the mood for the night. My life is held together by four walls and a dumb assed voice on a radio station that only comes alive at night. Over the road the neon light flickers every few seconds and illuminates my room. I've asked the landlady for new drapes and she promised to get some last July. It's March now. Life is slow.
I look out but there's not much to see. My reflection in the window is distorted by raindrops. It's a better sight than what the mirror gave me.
I read a book that I read last night and the night before and make a note to buy a new one. I think Hemingways' a pretty cool writer but there's only so much of a fishing story a guy can take. I light up a cigarette and promise myself that someday soon I'll give up another bad habit.
My life is full of those; bad habits. A half empty glass of cheap whiskey remains on the bedside cabinet from yesterday. I look at it and blow smoke rings. Another bad habit.
The guy on the radio asks if we know our neighbor. He thinks society is selfish and greedy and we've all become our own little islands. Very profound. I can't recall if I've ever seen my neighbor although I hear them often enough. I ask myself if that's enough to call in but then I remember that I don't have a phone.
I walk over to the mirror and wonder what I'd look like with a beard. I don't have a razor so my options are halved.
Life sucks. Night in LA carries on regardless and I wait and wonder and close my eyes and hope for sleep that never comes.
I live a long night.
snatch seconds away,
stop us from seeing
anything beyond ourselves.
Take that awful etched-glass thing
left like a curse in my bathroom.
It drives me mad playing tricks
showing me a face
only I can see, a reversal
of the reality, not
the world’s view of me.
That old gold-framed thing
Dad helped me lug from Rye.
Did it steal his hand-hold,
did it suck him inside?
Is that why I think of him
every single time I pass?
That one you left behind
creates endless pure images
of your face, but just in my mind
as its surface shows the yellow wall.
So why do I hear your laughter
when I look at it, suspect
it sunk you thousands of times
in its silvered depths?
With its clusters of freckles that had once been traced with the soft pad of my index finger. Brilliant blue centres and hazel edges, those colourful eyes I had carefully studied, too far away now, but I could still picture each subtle change in hue I had observed when our faces were inches apart.
Now, feet apart, in the World Food aisle of a supermarket. The artificial lights aggressively illuminated her form, the great landscapes of her body hidden under the folds of her favourite coat that I had bought her in Paris on a lazy mid-June day. I remembered how it used to sit in a crumpled heap on my comfy red chair, set in the form of her waist and lower back for an entire weekend if we decided to stay in.
I had not let myself think of her for weeks. To the relief of my friends I had stopped going on about how things ended; although grateful for their support, I could tell they were growing tired of my pining and never-ending realisations. But now, as if by some twist of ambivalent fate, I found myself staring at her as she frowned over a can of coconut milk.
Did she think as I did? Or was she moving on as though nothing had happened? As though I had never explored her skin, her lips and darkest trenches of her mind with our wasted hours of examination and debate? Moments before, I had veered around the supermarket shelves to find pickled olives when the bliss of mundanity was violently ripped from me. The feverish optimism of olives vanished, leaving me shaken by a cascade of white water memories, my inner monologue pulled and twisted and thrown about by this living, breathing token of the past.
Her hair was short again, above the shoulders. Last time it was that length, it had grazed my collar bone while she confided the reason for her low self-esteem: the childhood trauma of losing her mother, and the fear of never being able to live up to her memory. It was the half-light of dusk, our flesh pushed together, whispering thoughtfully as though keeping secrets from ghosts.
What would she do if I reminded her of that now? I wondered if she was sorry for all we had shared. If those exotic beaches and strange cities we had together explored were now tinged forever with regret; I imagined falling to my knees, confessing that no matter how things were now, no place or photograph or happy memory meant less to me than they had done before. How I longed to know if she felt the same!
I stiffened with panic as she placed the can back on the shelf. If she turns now, she would see me with my ruffled hair, clutching my basket to my chest, staring at her. I wanted to go for the olives, let the chance encounter happen with dignity and grace. But I felt my feet shift and carry me down the cold, repeating corridors of shelves towards Home Goods.
A deep breath in.
A deep one out.
Once my friend had shouted at me for cowering in behind a tree when we had played paintball in the woods out of town. The hard, colourful bullets whizzed over my head, so I tucked it between my legs and closed my eyes tight shut like a child hiding from a nightmare. He had told me that if I didn’t like the game, I shouldn’t have agreed to come. I was letting his team down.
My right hand ached from clenching the basket so unnaturally. I was only halfway through my list, but at this point I needed home more than groceries. As I walked, soundbites of wisdom rotated in my head: heartbreak is something everyone goes through, you will come out the other side stronger, this too shall pass. Maybe for some they helped to ground meaningful experience, but these hollow words offered no comfort against the fire of doubts raging through me. I doubled my pace to the check outs. The chill of the frozen section bit at my nose. My heart rate rose and fell, seconds becoming hours as memories and thoughts and reflections raced around the circuits of my brain. I locked in the target of the shortest line.
“Alex!” A familiar voice just to my left thwarted me, a hand falling onto my shoulder. “Hey. How have you been?”