by Krista Alexandersdottir
Here he was once again, in this painstakingly familiar place.
Dennis’s head was heavy and drooped down like in a prayer. The white hair clung to his skull like overcast clouds and his distressed eyes hung heavy like anchors. Above him, a crooked branch caressed its neighbour softly in the wind and created a symphony only available to the waiting. The yellow ambience of a sole lamp post revealed brown leaves that hung like a mobile, attempting to cradle him to atonement. But the sole spectator was quite indifferent to say the least as all his attention was on his hands that were glued to his thighs, shaking hysterically.
He scrutinized every wrinkle, every uneven surface, as if to catch a glimpse into his past that was long gone. The more he stared, the more unrecognizable they became. In these later years his hands had become a burden, a constant reminder of what could’ve been. They shrieked with emptiness and he hated them for it, while recognizing them as an essential and unescapable part of himself. He knew he couldn’t possibly separate the two.
He recalled measuring these hands to another’s, his own fingers smaller and more delicate, and they disappeared comfortably into the cigarette scented fingers of his lover. He clenched his fists and wished for these memories to last his lifetime, but they were quickly dissolving into thin air with every year cut of his life like a guillotine.
The symphony reached its rondo, and then just like that, the curtains were closed, leaving him completely alone.
His breath grew heavier with every touch. He clenched a rusty radiator while his body shivered and twitched. In the background, “The Great Pretender” by The Platters played on a heavy cherry in the corner.
“Shh Dennis, keep it down!” Martin stuck his head from between his legs. “The walls here are really thin.” Dennis looked down at him, “I’m trying Marty!” He grinned and lay his head down again.
Dennis’ body stiffened, he bit into a pillow to suffocate the noise, as he clenched Martins curls. His nails dug deep into Martins shoulders, leaving a long red mark, and suddenly everything stopped. Even the clock went into hiding. The world exhaled.
Dennis fumbled on the nightstand for a pack of Chesterfields while humming to the rhythm of the song. He lit a cigarette, illuminating the dark room. Martin crawled up under his arm and reached for a smoke. “Was it alright?” his eyes rested on Dennis’ lips, highlighted by a glowing circle. “Are you kidding? Did you see me?” Martin laughed, “I think you even scratched me a little bit!” Dennis stroke over the fresh marks on Martin’s back. “You’re gonna have to come up with a good excuse for that one!”
They lay there for hours but it felt like time had forgotten all about them. Dennis drew an imagined line along the bridge of Martins nose, then down to his dark lips. “You’re tickling me.”, Martin said and smiled as he turned over to his stomach, “go to sleep like a normal person.”
“I can’t sleep, I can’t get out of my head.” Dennis said softly but Martin was already snoring. Dennis lay in the darkness for a long time, fumbling with Martins dark curls, his fingers feeling intensely for each and every lock like prayer beads.
The television filled the room with fake laughter and staged applause. Dennis had been sitting there too long to remember. He was not really watching it, but he liked having it on while he was eating. He rubbed his eyes and took another spoonful of his wife’s reheated meatballs.
His attention was suddenly cast away from the screen by the importunate noise of his house phone. The phone rested on a small table in the corner and had for the most part only served the purpose of prop, so surely to say, he wasn’t expecting anyone. He let the phone ring out seven times, with only one person entering his mind. The staring competition was excruciating.
On the eighth ring he gave up, his hands shaking the tool: “Yes?”
In an instant, memories that had stayed, memories forever lost and every lingering feeling in between, came rushing back at him. He needed to leave, he had a date with himself. He slammed the door behind him in a haste, leaving the meatballs to cool down on their own.
“People know, they know about us.”
Dennis paced around the bedroom floor in circles, sucking on a stub like his life depended on it. Martin lay calmly against the radiator with his hands crossed over his chest. “Cool it Den, you don’t know that for sure.”
“People talk, you know, people are dangerous.”
“Now you’re just being paranoid.”
“Me paranoid? Do you know what they do with guys like us, I’m not even gonna tell you half of it. How can you stay so cool, you’re not even a little bit scared?”
“I know we’re not like the rest of the cubes out there, don’t let those idiots screw with us. Be proud!”
“I can’t do this no more, we’re too different, it’s just too hard.”
“Am I too much of a hassle for you?”
“It’s just not worth it, you know we’re a dead end, a total cul-de-sac. We’ll both lose in the end, there is no way of winning in this situation.”
“A win? What are you talking about a win? I’m not looking for a win Den, laying here on this dirty mattress smoking a pack of due backs, is winning for me. I mean…” he hesitated and clenched his arms around him even tighter. “It’s not like we’re the first homos out there, people have done it before us, people have been happy, for a long time you know.” His voice was quiet and furtive, “We can do this.”
“Don’t be naïve Marty, you know what I’m talking about, there is no future for this, whatever we are, not right now at least. Can you imagine, two sodomites walking hand in hand down Sugar-Hill Street?” He laughed mockingly. “We’re a freak show, that’s what we are!”
Dennis suddenly stopped, seeing Martins face turn to shadows in seconds.
“… I didn’t mean that.” Dennis scratched his head and stared at his torn up shoes. The grandfather’s clock banged on the silence like a gavel, counting down to their sentence.
“I think we should split.” Martin said firmly.
Dennis opened his mouth as if to say something, but his words got mixed up with his mind and left him silent. There was consolidated silence, and finally, nothing at all. Like the moment right before two fingers extinguish a feeble flame. Suspenseful and hopeless.
“I’m sorry Marty.” Dennis furtively looked away, before he ran out the door.
Dennis started pacing in blind directions, as a ship without moorings, with his mind following mercilessly behind. He sensed every step with extreme heaviness, as the earth sucked him further down to its center. His heart was racing, his head ached and his sight was blurry. After pacing for, what felt like hours, he found a bench to sit on. He looked up, the clouds were growing thicker and the wind increased, blowing autumn leaves in continuous spirals. He stared at his hands. I guess this is what he wanted, now he could lead a normal life, free from hiding; he could blend into the crowd and smile through his teeth, forever.
“Dennis!” His graying hair and red eyes looked up when he heard his wife’s heels scampering towards him. “Where have you been? I’ve been looking all over for you!” She sat herself next to him on the bench and stared earnestly into his eyes, waiting for answers. His throat clogged up, and he fell straight into her lap crying softly. “Jesus Den! What happened?”
He sat up and looked at her beautifully aging face, her firm yet comforting lips, and couldn’t help but feel defeated. He had cast her out of his eyes a long time ago, being only capable of looking through them. She knew that more than anybody, she also knew that he owed her his life.
He could still feel pieces of Martin’s skin under his fingernails, forever scarred by paralyzing emptiness. Leaving him incapable of giving any sort of warmth, caress or comfort he owed to so many people, but his hands were starving for the right purpose and had been for too long.
“Don’t ask. Just give me that one. Please don’t ask.” He said covering his face in his hands. She didn’t, she never did.
“Let’s go back home dear, this too will pass.” She looked at him gently, and took his shaking hand firmly in hers as they walked together in perfect synchronization, leaning on each other like crutches. His eyes were focused on the small pathway in front of him. At least now, he could stop wandering for exits.