Afterwards, I found her at the bar. I didn’t want to approach, I just wanted to observe. She sat there, in her messy splendour, one finger swirling the contents of her drink, moving the ice cubes back and forth in the glass, before lifting that same finger to her ruby red lips and sucking it clean. I looked around and it seemed as though everyone else was equally drawn to that simple movement, and that she was utterly unaware of it. She returned her hand to the glass, and fished out an ice cube, popped it between her lips, her eyes widening at the cold of it, before crunching down hard. She smiled, and I felt half the bar wince. So, she did know.
Concept: two girls in a fifties diner, with the kinda accents you only get if you’ve lived in Brooklyn all your life and take no nonsense from anybody.
One of them blows bubblegum obnoxiously in the other one’s face, the pink bubble bursting just short of her nose.
“Now you stop that, this here’s a respectable establishment.” The other girl protests, drawing a grin from bubblegum girl.
“Then heaven only knows what they’re doin’ lettin’ trouble like you in.” She smiles, swallowing the gum.
“Could say the same for you, baby doll.” Not bubblegum girl parries back, but there’s a smirk on her face. She takes a sip of the giant chocolate milkshake set between them. “You ever wonder what they think of us?” She asks, glancing around the room.
“Not for one second, I got you, and I ain’t bothered about the rest of ’em.”
“You gotta be a little bothered.”
“If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’.” Bubblegum girl says, and tangles her fingers inbetween the other girl’s. “Ain’t that what I say? If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’. And I ain’t never lyin’ to you.”
“I worry, is all.”
Bubblegum girl squeezes her fingers tighter.
“Never got to worry. These losers, we’ll take ’em all, we’ll run this town one of these days. Or we’ll take off an’ never look back. Baby, we’re made from the stars and made for the stars. Why, I’d snub the moon if it meant lookin’ at your face one more night.”
“You’re a really sweetheart sometimes.”
“Don’t let my momma hear you say that, she’ll think I’ve gone soft.”
“But I know the truth.”
She started a club – of course she did. A collection of people connected by an invisible string that bound them together. She called it the Last Tuesday Club, though actually believing that the world began on the most recent Tuesday wasn’t a prerequisite for joining, more of a guideline. All theories were accepted there – and argued over in low tones and sometimes more heated debates. She’d collected a bunch of people who otherwise would go days without saying a word, and had given them a forum to speak in front of. I asked her, did she really believe it, that the world had begun last Tuesday?
“It’s not last Tuesday any more. It’s Tuesday, the twelfth of January, 2016. And yes.”
“But isn’t that a bit ridiculous? All the fossil records, everything historians have ever recorded, are you saying all that’s wrong?”
“No, not at all!” She said excitedly. “You don’t understand. Just because something is old, doesn’t mean it isn’t brand new. The same way people paint new furniture, to make it cracked and peeling, the same way our universe is still in its infancy, all jumbled together and confused. That’s why nothing makes sense.”
“But lots of things do make sense.”
“Perhaps. Or perhaps there is more than we can imagine, and we’re just struggling along, half blind, trying to make sense of it all. Everything still happened, in a way, after a fashion, it just happened more recently, and all at once.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. How can you believe that?”
“You can believe anything if you want to.”
“I am more than just a symptom of my illness.”
She sings with a voice too high for the song she’s chosen, breaking at the chorus. Instead of sounding foolish though, it sounds brave, and more sincere still than it would have done had she hit all the right notes. She holds the microphone with both hands, like a prayer, the harsh intake of her breath resonating around the small bar as she forces the lyrics out of her small body. She is not the greatest singer, nor a particularly good one, but she feels the song, and her body sways with the emotion of it, all nervous energy and deep, deep caring swept up into one unconscious action. She is beautiful on the stage, and as the song ends, she apologises, and steps down, her hands out as though steadying herself, and though I watch her, she still disappears into the crowd.
She danced as if everyone was watching, every movement calculated to maximum effect, yet somehow seamless, practised and precise. To an outsider, it looked careless, the way she ran her hands through her hair or down the sides of her dress, but to me, I could tell when one routine merged into the next, from the way her eyes flicked from person to person, to the way her head dropped backwards and her eyes closed completely, as though consumed by the music. It was all a beautiful act. But what wasn’t, with her?
Horatio Nelson was a man slowly whittled away by life.
“You talk about writing as though it were something sacred, but it’s not, it’s just words on a page.”
And just as suddenly, she disappeared. The videos, the blog updates, everything just stopped. It was as if she had ceased to exist, and for all intents and purposes she had – I could no longer follow her actions or commentate on her life from a distance. It sounds wrong, to say it like that, but it’s how it felt – she’d cut me out, cut us all out – all of those who’d followed her halfway across the world as she’d skipped town and fled, running from demons only she could see.
She made disappearing beautiful, but also frustrating.
I longed to see her again, a photo, a video, a hastily recorded song – half finished and with ugly, unpolished chords, anything, just to prove to myself that she was okay.
And I realised, not for the first time, that I didn’t really know her. I couldn’t contact her family, her friends, I couldn’t ask anyone if she was okay. All I had was the impotent knowledge that she was somewhere in New York, living and breathing in a city that chews people up and spits them out, and she was there without anybody, living with a kind of freedom which is both dangerous and inspiring.
And I missed her. Oh god, how I missed her.
But I was angry at her too. How could she just leave? Leave me, to trudge through my mundane life, only imagining her adventures? How could she be so cruel? And would she return, her makeup perfect, her voice pitched just so, a smile on her face a little too bright, explaining the wonders she’d seen and the people she’d met?
Or would she stay vanished this time for good, just another lost soul in the city that never sleeps?
“I think you like it, you know,” I said, throwing it back in her face.
“How could I possibly like this, being this way?” She asked, furious.
“I think you get off on it. The poor, misunderstood little girl, who never has to grow up, never has to face the real world. Everyone dances around you, makes allowances for you, don’t they? And you let them. You never stand up for yourself, you always have someone to do it for you. It’s ridiculous. Nobody sees it, but I do. You treat them like puppets, these slaves you have to your lifestyle. All because you can’t face the big bad world. Well, guess what, Sophia, one of these days they’re going to realise what you’ve done to them, all the lies you’ve told, and you’ll be left with nothing, nobody. And I hope you’ll remember today, remember this. And I hope you’ll remember that I told you so,” I ranted. Her face changed, closed down in front of my very eyes. She went from seeming soft at the edges, to suddenly very hard.
“Fuck you,” she bit out. “Fuck. You. You think I want this, for a second? You think I enjoy living this way? I hate it. Every minute of it. I wish I had the courage to step off a bridge and into the swirling tide, I really do. But I’m a coward. I don’t use people, don’t you see? You treat me like I’m using you because you can’t face the truth – that you allow yourself to be used. From the day you met me, you’ve chased me, fallen at my heels, desperate for my attention. Because I’m an idea to you, this unobtainable, magical girl, who, through her quirks, can cure your own ailments. Well, I’m sorry, but real life isn’t like that. Real life is me having to take my medication every day or risk losing the fragile grip I have. Real life is watching the world go by from my window on the days I can’t bear to leave the house. Real life is pretending to smile when all I want to do is cry. Real life is you, screaming at me, because you can’t bear that my illness is more of me than you would like. I’m sorry, no, that’s wrong, I’m not sorry that I’m not your dream girl, not in the least bit. I can’t imagine anything worse than having to live up to your standards twenty four hours of the day, fearing what you might say if I stepped out of line. You’ve built me up in your head for so long you don’t even see me anymore. I’m an idea to you, nothing more.”
“You’re wrong,” I said, certain.
“The thing is though, is that I’m not. I’ve met you before, dozens of times. And each one of you thought you could mould me into this perfect girl. And none of you saw the truth of it – I am me, already, not perfect, perhaps, but me, unconditionally and unapologetically. And believe me, I apologise for nothing.”