… I think I remember the parking lot, the weather, where I was standing with my best friend Goodloe Byron, first describing what would become my second novel, CONFIDANT. I described the project to him as ‘a real shilling shocker, like a 70s era Dario Argento giallo if one was co-authored by Andre Gide’ …
… Already having spent my childhood rapt by Old Time Radio dramas on cassette I had been tearing through existentialist and noir literature at the pace only an adolescent can manage and it just so happened Anchor Bay was releasing Collector’s Editions of all the Italian maestros’ overtly grisly and stylish films at the exact same time …
… So the idea was to write a real corker of a thriller which would take the gleefully macabre tenor, the zesty verve of an operatic Italian body-count slasher and fuse it with prose delineating with precision the slow burn unraveling of a psychology set in dread contemplation of itself a la Dr. Glas or Despair …
… And surely it is exactly this which the novel accomplished, though it has taken me these almost twenty years to fully appreciate how squarely I nailed the mark (if I may so humbly put forward my feeling of this novel’s status as a Success) …
… While I loved the piece from the onset ( how could I not, having to compose it during overnight security shifts at an Assisted-Living community, lugging my PC tower and monitor from home and typing in the corridor in moments between being summoned via the Emergency Phone by residents who needed me to refresh their iced tea, help them finagle off-and-on their prosthetic legs, or else aid them in finding the remote control so they might change the television station between HBO After Dark and late night Cinemax skin-flicks at their leisure) the years immediately following its completion jostled it roughly into an odd place in my estimation, leading me to dub it ‘my peculiar failure’ and to lose enthusiasm for it, subtly disowning the poor bugger as I moved feverishly on with my writing …
… CONFIDANT was published immediately (in fact the agreement-to-publish was inked based on nothing more than my vague two-paragraph description of its basic plotline, not a word yet set down of the actual text) but was published by an outfit which turned out to not be so much on the up-and-up – the fabled vanity mill Publish America). Being no more than a lad, I felt it immaterial how it was not one of the ‘Big Five’ putting out my work, provided the volume got into the grubby, eager mitts of waiting readers …
… Which was the rub. It didn’t. Not unless I put it into their hands with my own and on my dime. Nor did it lit to shelves in stores. Not unless I smuggled copies in and slipped them to the stacks surreptitiously (copies I would obsessively track, keep weekly tabs on, and find eventually dumped unceremoniously into the anonymous 75% OFF bin from where I would repurchase them) …
… Not exactly the splash I had intended to make in the Realm-of-Letters. So, I decided to move on to another project (and then another … another … another … another) …
… And in this way did some twenty years pass. And in these twenty years CONFIDANT stayed in my thoughts, its reputation to me, as well as its specifics, somehow simultaneously becoming more dubious and more absolute …
… For better and perhaps worse I leave CONFIDANT where and what it was always supposed to be – the volume reclaiming its proper post in my own mind as a favorite and (in my estimation) one of the finest novels I have penned …
… Cheers! …
PEOPLE COMBINE EXPERIENCES INTO LIFE, lives into meaning. People, I feel, are often surprised at the places they find their meaning already illustrated. There is always somewhere. Quite a lot of the time, they are iterated in some piece of verse, some lines of prose. Who they are and what, what they have done and why condensed perfectly and to form by the pen of some Other. This, I think, is a comfort to people. Oftentimes, at least. Which is why, a friend told me on one occasion, the greatest poets preface their words with a bit of poetry from another, why painters turn to literature for inspiration, why people turn to religion for salvation and, finally, to each other for completion.
The times I look back upon all begin the same. They are prefaced in my mind by the illustration of myself I have since discovered. It is a quote I read, in passing, from a manual written for magicians, decades before I existed, written well before even my father, my mother were born. It is a small paragraph coming under the title TWO VIEWS OF MAGIC. The text reads as follows:
Magic, when presented, must be judged from two viewpoints. First, that of the spectator; second, that of the magician. The EFFECT is the trick as the spectator sees it. The METHOD is the trick as the magician knows it. The beginner should study every trick from these two standpoints. He will not find it difficult; on the contrary he will realize that magic is rendered easy when he keeps this double idea in mind.
The words were authored by a man called Walter B. Gibson. He was also known by the name Maxwell Grant. A double in his own right. A man represented by his own words as much as his words represent me. Or perhaps, despite the words being his, represented by them far, far less than I.
From his words I always begin. And while I do so because they remind me how I truly believe what I feel about people and life and meaning is the truth, it should be kept in mind always how it is not, necessarily, so. And how this, I believe, is true most of all for the lucky ones among us.
PEOPLE SOMETIMES ASKED ME WHAT had been my greatest sexual pleasure. I believe they asked this of me either assuming I had experienced very many pleasures or else very, very few. They asked me this, I also believe, because Caina, the woman I had sustained a relationship with for five-and-a-half years, was lovely and was a kindergarten teacher. People assumed from these facts how, would I answer them honestly, it would be quite a thing to hear.
I do not know what I told each person who asked me. It depended on factors quite variable. What sort of mood I was in, what my relationship to the asker was, so forth. But one afternoon, Caina asked the same question of me. So what I told her then must have been, without fail, the truth. Because I had never told her anything but the truth up until that moment and up until that moment I had told her everything.
I was working, at the time of the experience I described to her, for the administration of a Driving School. My job was to, on the occasions such a thing became necessary, conduct the test for a Driver’s License orally. A young woman was admitted to the Testing Room adjacent to my office. She was all formless, technically-adult but scarcely-not-adolescent nerves. She had requested the face-to-face test because of this. She claimed she could not relax in front of either the paper test-booklet or the computer screen. The questioning began very poorly for her. After four questions, there was no possibility of her managing a passing score. For a few moments after I explained matters to her, she pleaded how I might start the test over. When I attempted to dismiss her, explaining the impossibility of her request, she sat to the edge of my desk and began lifting the light skirt she was wearing upward. She stared at me and her mouth opened in a very particular and difficult to describe manner, but a manner I would never forget every inch, wrinkle, and shadow-shift of. She smiled. I stood and opened the Testing Room door, telling her flatly to leave, to leave immediately, my voice assured and loud enough to be distinctly heard by surrounding co-workers. She, after a pause and after snidely rolling her eyes, did so.
I explained to Caina how it wasn’t the notion of this girl’s attraction to me which caused my sexual pleasure. Obviously I had doubts as to whether attraction, even generically, entered into her behavior. It was not, in fact, even the events in the closed Testing Room, at all, not the enjoyment of tinkering with fantasies of What if? or Say I had been someone else, sometime else, under less conflicting circumstances. It was in lying in bed with Caina afterward, in thinking back to the moment. Not as a fantasy or a re-creation of any kind. Denying the girl that day made me feel closer to Caina. It made each motion while making love with her seem somehow more defined. More complete. It was my greatest pleasure, I explained, because it made me feel I was a good person, a person who deserved the quiet of lying to the breast of a woman who loved him.
Caina looked at me for awhile after I confessed this to her. She told me it was very sweet. But something in the pause before her words made me think she was not being strictly, completely forthright with me. I felt she had every right not to be, the more I considered what I had confessed. I felt wretched. And that was the first time I ever kept a single word of myself from her. Because I did not tell her how I felt, I just kissed her when she offered.
THAT NIGHT WAS THE LAST before I was to move into my new apartment. Though Caina and I had been together more than half-a-decade by this point, we had not yet married and had decided to keep separate lodgings until we did so. This decision was not always adhered to in the strictest sense and I was well aware how we both were very anxious it might be done away with, entirely. As of that morning, however, it had not been. So we supervised the movers as they set up the last of my furniture and then we went out to enjoy an early lunch together.
Caina was partial to sitting outside for her meals, so we found a sidewalk cafe, ordered our food, and chatted. She smiled a great deal during the conversation, though the subject matter was not particularly suited to the expression. I asked if she was disappointed how I had taken another apartment instead of moving in with her at my previous lease’s termination. She admitted she was. Then added the placating phrase ‘A little bit’. I told her how I had offered several other options with regard to our living arrangements. She knew, she said, and insisted she was not actually disappointed, perhaps ought not to have even suggested so. It was just a feeling she got that, while something technically new was happening in my taking another apartment, really things were, again, the same as they had always been. She added, apologetically, the placating phrase ‘Not that things have been bad’.
I kissed at her hand and the talk lulled. We sat, watching each other’s face and hand movements, relaxed and silent.
A little girl approached our table. She had a box of candy bars in her hands. She introduced herself with a little curtsy and asked if we would care to buy some candy, explaining how it was for her dance class, how she and other girls were raising money toward the construction of the set for their Spring Production.
Caina leaned in and down, her elbows resting on her knees, to talk to the girl, who despite her curtsy and her sales-pitch was obviously quite shy and blushed at the attention.
I was presently informed how we were going to buy two candy bars. They cost one dollar apiece. In my wallet I had nothing smaller than a twenty. The girl explained this would be alright and how she just had to get her father. He, she explained, could make us change. So she moved off quickly to find him. Just before she disappeared around a corner, she looked back at Caina and smiled.
I was turning the twenty over again and again between sets of forefinger and thumb. I watched Caina’s face warm as she kept her position, elbows on knees, and her eyes set to contemplation. She giggled at something private. I was about to ask what is was when her head perked up a bit and her eyes squinted slightly. I looked to where her focus had changed, setting my twenty down. The girl was hurrying back, dragging at her father’s shirt-cuff.
The man introduced himself, warmly, as Julien Servent, inquiring what exactly his daughter had ‘conned us into’. Caina laughed, reiterated the specifics of the transaction, doubling the number of candy bars we were to purchase. I paid and received change.
Julien began talking to me while his daughter showed Caina something printed on a flyer. I liked the man, immediately. Something in how still his arms remained while he spoke caught my attention and set me at respectful ease. It gave him an appearance of true dignity. Like an image of my own father. An image of what I had always aspired to duplicate.
After a few minutes of general conversation, he asked about the candy bar. Caina said how it was delicious. I agreed. He was eating a candy bar himself and said how it did not seem to taste quite right. He broke a section off, asking me to have a taste of it. Another portion he handed to Caina. I said how it tasted fine, as far as I could tell. Caina, again, said it was delicious, this time asking if it was manufactured locally. He shrugged and, touching his hand to his daughter’s hair, explained how they had to get along home. Before they went, he invited us to a Dance Recital, his head nodding to indicate the flyer Caina held. We agreed to meet him there. He promised he would introduce us to Rachael and Elizabeth, his wife and other daughter.
I took his hand again, eagerly. As he and his daughter turned, Caina raised a hand and asked them to wait just a moment. When they turned back again, she asked the little girl what her name was. The girl said ‘I’m Katrina’.
They left then, with Caina smiling after them. She moved her arms and hugged in at herself.
AFTER OUR MEAL, CAINA HAD to leave for work. She had taken the morning off in order to help out with the last of the move, but could not afford, at that time, to take the day off completely. So she had switched shifts with a co-worker and was left to tend to things all evening. This was extracurricular work, I supposed, not connected to her salaried position at the school, she offering her talents to a group which tangentially contracted with the Municipal Educator’s Committee, helping them out with organizing happenings for the local Boys and Girls Club.
I arrived at my apartment door and put the newly cut key into the lock. It turned smoothly, which I only noted because so often newly cut keys had caused me bother. I decided to spend a moment testing out the duplicates, as well. They all functioned perfectly too and, with the last one, I pushed the door open and entered.
The furniture was placed throughout the apartment rooms according to Caina’s design. This had been done at my request. The boxes of my belongings were stacked mostly in two of the corners of the parlor room. I took a drink from the refrigerator, liquid beverages being its only contents just then, and moved to the topmost of the boxes on the pile in the furthest corner. This box had the retractable razor set on top of it, indicating how at some point previous I had designated it the first to be opened, unpacked, organized. I moved the box to the floor, cut the packing tape, and began removing the contents.
Soon after the third box was emptied and its contents set to their appropriate locations, my throat dried out completely. I was mid-swallow when it happened and so choked. I hacked, gagging, for nearly half-a-minute, then stood from where I was on my knees and made for the kitchen. I opened a fresh container of apple juice and drained nearly two-thirds of the bottle at a single draught. Then I finished the rest, little sips, each stinging a bit.
I coughed tentatively a few times, testing for the feeling of moisture in my throat. Everything seemed fine. I did, though, notice a soft, numb feeling covering the length of my fingers and moving to my forearms. I felt fatigued and my vision blurred and widened.
I removed most of my clothing as I made the trip to the bedroom. This was the only room in the apartment which was fully set up. The bed and its companion pieces, as well as my clothing, suitcases, and various bits of curio, had been moved in first, four days previous. I opened the closet and removed a suit of pajamas from a hanger.
Looking at the bed, the comforter folded down on top of the sheet, the pillows still showing wrinkles where my and Caina’s heads had been the night before, I stopped. Without her in the apartment with me, the temptation toward the empty bed made me feel like an intruder. This irrationality was augmented by the gradual warming which the fatigue allowed to spread throughout my body. I left the bedroom and entered the parlor room.
The stereo had not been turned off. The light blue indicator showed, blinking at irregular intervals, and the speaker-set emitted a hum. I set the needle down to the record left on the turntable, switching the power from the compact disc player off. A preparatory cough of static and the first notes of Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique spread throughout the room.
I sat and then lay down on the sofa, my eyes having kept closed from the moment I turned from the stereo and had gauged the distance from the one spot in the room to the other.
I thought about Caina. How we had made love to this recording many times. How we often let it play and replay while we kissed, relaxed, made love, rested, made love, relaxed again, and eventually fell to sleep with the final four chords sounding faintly from the radio at the bureau end in her first apartment, years ago.
I thought about that, with my eyes closed, and I fell asleep.
WHEN I OPENED MY EYES, it was from a sleep without dreams. My neck ached and I rubbed it languidly but with force, my fingers wrapping themselves around, gripping to ease out a spot of tension with a firm squeeze.
The record was skipping. The music was in the midst of a decrescendo.
I sat upright with a bit of difficulty. My pajama coat had come open a few buttons and I could see a scratch on the skin of my abdomen. I rubbed at it, a few flecks of scab coming loose. I brushed at these, but lost track of them in the folds of the cloth. My mouth was dry and I wiped the edge of my palm to my lips. A small smear of coagulated blood was left on my hand as it moved away. I forced a cough, dislodging a large amount of hardened phlegm from the back of my throat, the roof of my mouth.
The telephone rang. When it did, I had the distinct impression how it was doing so again. Which is to say I had the feeling how it was the ringing of the phone which had caused me to stir from sleeping, to stir some time ago, drift back, to stir, drift back. If the telephone had not repeatedly sounded, there was little doubt I would have remained on the sofa, the record casually repeating, growing quieter, suddenly loud, then quieter, forever.
As I took the phone from the cradle, I noticed the sunlight of early evening dimming against the outside of the window curtains.
I said ‘Hello’. No response issued. I coughed and said ‘Hello’ again. Caina came on the line. A very faint ‘Hi’. Then the soft static of telephone silence. I said her name, paused, said her name again, becoming worried. I gripped at the phone with both hands and asked if she was alright. Her voice broke when she began to speak. She asked me where I was. ‘I’m in my apartment, Caina. You’re calling me here’. She asked me where I had been. Her excess breath added to each of her words, trailing behind them like ellipses, made it obvious how she was, or had very recently been, crying. ‘I’ve just been asleep. I’ve been here, but I’ve been napping. Are you alright?’ She went silent again. It sounded like her nose was congested. I stuttered at her name a moment, my stomach becoming tight. ‘I’ve just been taking a nap. Has there been an accident? Do you need me to come …’
Before I had completed the question she broke in. She wanted to know where I had been yesterday.
She wanted to know where I had been all day. She was openly crying, now. Her words seemed thick and pungent. I could nearly see the pain of her expression and the moisture collecting on her face.
‘Yesterday? I – we were – we were – you were with me. When yesterday, Caina?’
She took in a few breaths, staccato. She said how she had come by the apartment yesterday, how she had called me, yesterday, how she had knocked on the door and asked the building superintendent to let her into my rooms.
‘I wouldn’t have been here yesterday, Caina. When yesterday? Before I met up with you?’
Again my question was overlapped by her voice. She seemed to be struggling between accusation and relief. She sounded desperate. She said I was not to leave. She said she would be over in twenty minutes and I was not to go anywhere.
The connection was severed.
I did not hang up the phone until the beeps of the empty line had gone silent and the ring which would connect me to a recording started. When I did set the phone back to its place, I saw how it, receiver and cradle, was dirtied by something. And after I parted one of the curtains to allow light to fall on it, I saw how it had been streaked with the blood which covered my hands. Or by blood, anyway, blood from somewhere. Most of it dried out, browned. The rest thick, sharp, and moistened by the sweat on my palms.
I SCRUBBED MY HANDS CLEAN, drying them on the pajama coat as I removed it. My stomach was cut in eight places. Not deep. As if fingernails had clawed at it. There was a bluish and yellow bruise on my left shoulder. My back was scratched up and down in stripes, starting from the shoulder blades, starting from the base divot of my spine around my left-side ribs. I took up the pajama coat from the floor. The fabric was dark, but the even darker discolorations still showed on its inside. The garment was not torn though. I turned my hands over-and-over, looking at the palms, the sides of each finger. My nails were long and had something black, sometimes gummy, sometimes dried, lodged beneath them.
While I was making this examination in the mirror, I absently had turned open the showerhead. The water registering harshly into the empty tub and the mist wetting my lower legs relaxed me. The mirror began to steam. I took a towel from the small linen closet just outside the bathroom and wiped it clear.
I began examining my face. There was a cut across my lip and the blood had seeped into the spaces between my front teeth. There was a small bump at the top of my forehead, just beneath the hairline. Around my neck were fingerprints in blood. I put my own hand to them, arranging each finger to its corresponding imprint. The fit was unquestionable.
I DO NOT REMEMBER THINKING about much as I showered. I was washing thoroughly but quickly, as Caina would arrive soon. I had left a key beneath the door’s outer mat after she had hung up. I do remember how, as I ran my hands over my arms and legs, back and sides, cringing at the sting of hot water on some of the cuts which had come open, I tried to think who could have done this to me.
Caina was on the sofa when I exited the bathroom. The air conditioner had been spilling cold throughout the apartment while I had washed and the change in temperature raised gooseflesh. I had the clothes I had woken in rumpled, fisted in my both hands.
She seemed patient, but for the tension in her eyes which made them appear to be bouncing up-and-down while the rest of her face remained stationary, even placid. Her legs were crossed, but in the fashion of a man, not a lady, not how she typical postured herself. Just as I came in, one of her fingernails had snagged on a thread in her sweater. She pulled it loose very abruptly, a kind of hiss to her expression, as though it had been a mistake to let me see this, an element of helplessness she did not wish to betray.
The first thing I could think of to say was to ask her if she was thirsty. She said she was not. I kept moving forward, trying not to do so in a manner which made it seem I was behaving overtly cautiously, but the conscious effort of doing so kept my legs stiff and my movements awkward. As I came completely into the parlor room, I set the clothes down. She looked from them to me. I wished I had just tossed them aside absently, rushed to her side, embraced her, held her even if she squirmed. Instead, I sucked at my cut lip and stood, half leaned down, nodding mutely at nothing. When I did think of what I would say, it was just to explain how I had changed into some pajamas before I had laid down for my nap. She said nothing to that, but seemed to pay no more attention to the clothes. I let out a long breath and sat beside her on the sofa.
She had looked straight ahead while I had crossed the room and while I had sat. When finally she turned her head, in my direction but not enough to fully face toward me, I touched at a lock of her hair, asked her if something had happened at work. To me, this seemed the most logical place to begin. It was, after all, where she had gone when I had left her, earlier in the afternoon. She turned and her eyes squinted sharp around me. Her head tilted and her lip quivered. She told me how she had not been able to contact me for the past two days. ‘Work’ she said ‘is just fine’. She asked me where I had been.
I wanted to allow the automatic reply to come forth. To say how I had been asleep, here in the apartment, asleep. To be truthful with her. But I could not get the words out. Not because I did not believe them, but because she did not and would not no matter if they were said aloud or kept to myself. I finally told her how I did not know where I had been and unconsciously I looked at the bedclothes in the corner, abruptly moved my gaze back to her. But her eyes had already followed my previous glance. I touched her leg to divert her attention. The gesture succeeded, though only as much as she uncrossed the leg and moved away from me as far as she could twist her body where she sat.
The telephone was on the end-table. I had not cleaned it off after hanging it up. I stood in front of Caina, one hand making certain my towel did not come undone, the other reaching forward for her. ‘Let me get some clothes on, Caina. Please’. She looked at my outstretched hand, but her vision was obviously not focused. She was lost in a thought of her own, only allowing me to continue with my attempt at coaxing her up because it was not registering as anything substantive or to be actually considered, acted on. ‘We’ll go out and we’ll talk. I’ll explain everything to you’.
I had hoped this last phrase would have brought her attention back to me directly. I do not know what I would have said if she had looked at me and pursued the offer, there and then, but she did not and I found this relaxed me, at least for a beat. She stood up slowly and let me lead her to the apartment door.
When she was across the threshold, she turned and looked me in the eyes. She quickly turned her eyes downward, brushed at my chest and said, just loud enough to be audible, she loved me.
I told her I loved her, too. Then I backed into the apartment and closed her into the corridor.
I CLEANED THE TELEPHONE RECEIVER with my towel, going over it twice and holding it under a lamp to be absolutely certain no spot of discoloration at all remained. I did not convince myself, in fact the wetter the fabric became the less sure I was. And some voice in me began intrusively suggesting it hardly mattered what I could see, how my not seeing something did not mean it was not there to be found by those who would know how to look.
I went into the bedroom and threw on the same clothes I had worn before I had gone to sleep. As I pulled the sweatshirt over my head, I thought how I should take the record off the turntable. But, straining my ears, I did not hear the perpetual decrescendo and so assumed Caina had tended to it, already.
The pajama suit I just held in my hands a few moments and considered. I could not leave the apartment with it. There would be no way to explain such behavior to Caina nor to seem casual in removing it from the premises in a trash bag I would then deposit into some random receptacle with her in tow. I considered putting it in my gym bag, but dismissed this, too. I would have to dispose of the clothes later.
For the time being, I was satisfied to conceal them. A sweat began under my arms and at the base of my back. I needed to leave the apartment before Caina decided to come back in. Before she asked me what I was doing, what I had been doing, why dressing was taking so long. Before she was just suddenly there, physically, staring, asked me why was I holding my pajamas and pacing back-and-forth.
I opened the bedroom closet and took one of the suitcases from the top shelf. I also took a belt from the holder behind the door. I would put the clothes in the suitcase, latch it, buckle it, and put it beneath the other suitcases. This was the only idea I seemed to accept, which eased me. I did not want there to be any chance at all of discovery.
The suitcase dropped onto the bed and I undid each latch. I gave an obligatory glance over my shoulder to assure myself I was unobserved and then picked up the pajamas. I shoved them in as I turned back to face the bed, glancing down, just tensing to shut the suitcase.
There was already something there. The shock was equivalent to finding another face above my neck when looking in the mirror. My hands pulled away and the suitcase slammed. My breath caught and for a moment I held my hands up like I was pushing something away.
I opened the suitcase. The pajamas were on top. I moved them to one side. I looked in at the other clothing, bunched harshly into a ball. I took it up and spread it out on the comforter.
The cloth was pinkish and white, its neckline was embroidered. There was a tear along the center. It was jagged, the torn portion, yet the parting seemed very precise. Two inches to either side of the tear, the fabric was stained brown, stained black.
I turned around and closed the bedroom door, snapping its handle lock. I had lost track of time, standing there by the bed. I started to worry how Caina might have come back into the apartment. This quickly changed to a fear she may have simply left, walked off, maybe thinking to summon someone else to aid her in jointly confronting me.
I picked up the fabric and moved it back toward the suitcase corner from where I had lifted it.
Shut it inside.
Before I did though, I read a label attached to the inside of the collar. It said, plainly: SMALL. AGES 3-5.
AS SOON AS WE WERE seated, Caina apologized to me. I had my teeth clenched tightly and my ears were clogged. Her voice was elongated and limp to me. She explained how she had called to reserve us seats at Julien’s daughter’s Dance Recital. This made sense to me. I recalled the flyer from what I was still referring to as ‘the day before’. She explained how she had tried to call me two nights ago, but I had not answered, how she had tried again in the morning, how she had come by before and after she had gone to work. She explained how she had left several messages and had grown worried when I did not call and did not show up to the recital.
Then, she paused.
And the apology began.
She told me she had been worried about me, but how after I was unreachable for the second day and my car was still outside the apartment, she had become angry, thought I might have been seeing another woman, been with her, even then. Or she convinced herself I might angry with her for reasons I had never disclosed and so not allowing her to get in touch with me while I made plans to abandon our relationship, heartlessly, unexplained.
She then insisted, fairly pleaded with me to believe her when she explained she had not thought any of those things for very long, how she had realized the absurdity inherent in them. She told me how she felt terrible she would, no matter the peculiarity of the situation, think those things instead of being concerned how I might be hurt, how she would doubt me instead of fearing for me. And she promised me she did not really doubt me, repeated several times she had not meant to use the word. Then she repeated how she did not have any of those thoughts for very long. And asked me to forgive her.
I told her to stop. Told her everything was fine. I tried to smile and say reassuring things, things which sounded sweet, which would minimize this all into the aftermath of some indifferent spat. I told her she was being silly and she was being absurd. I told her how she had absolutely no need to apologize to me because she had certainly done nothing wrong.
She allowed me to touch her, now. She, in fact, seemed greedy for it. Letting my hands caress her shoulders and move down around her waist. She rubbed her fingertips over the backs of my hands when they held hers. She let my lips come to the skin of her neck, then to her chin. Before I could kiss her mouth though, she pulled herself into me and started crying.
Her breath seemed scalding through the fabric of my sweatshirt. She gasped and shook at first, then gradually eased into a comfortable position and went quiet and her breathing slowed. Perhaps she fell asleep like that, because when she next looked up she seemed surprised to find me there beside her, the office building’s lights on all around us visible through the apartment windows, and the sky above dark, overcast, allowing no moon and no stars.
WE STAYED AT HER PLACE that night. We cooked a meal together and ate it out on the balcony. Her demeanor had changed entirely from when she had telephoned, earlier in the afternoon. She was carefree, even giddy. Throughout our conversation, she kept insisting how we should invite her neighbors over to play Pictionary, Boggle, or Monopoly. I politely kept explaining to her how it was two and three and four in the morning so we had really better not.
Her change in mood affected me, as well. For the whole evening, I did not think about the bruises on my body nor the clothing hidden away in the travel suitcase in my apartment. At least not directly, I did not focus, I did not dwell. I ignored. I thought about words to make with the Scrabble pieces in front of me. I thought about song titles and trivia bits and stories from my childhood.
We stayed happy in this fashion until it was just about dawn. Until, in some moment when we were sitting on the carpeted floor by the sofa, when she moved to massage my shoulders and I reacted at the pain. She asked if she had hit a nerve, scratched me, and before I could think the better of it I told her ‘No’, dismissively stating I just had a bruise there. Being very concerned, she immediately moved to pull my shirt up over my head. I grabbed at it and held it down.
She wanted to know what was the matter. I could think of nothing to say, could find no reason which might justify why I would not want her to see my body. She had seen me already, when I had left the shower, it occurred to me. Had she even registered my appearance in her state then? And now she rubbed my chest through my shirt and I could think of no reason, again, no justification to give to refuse her when she asked if she could kiss me and make me feel better. I could think of nothing to explain why I was resistant to the idea of making love to her.
She stood and went to her kitchen sink where the dishes from our meal were piled. She turned open the tap and let it run loudly. I called her name but she did not answer. She, most likely, genuinely did not hear me. I stood and went into her bathroom.
When I examined my body I did so hoping to discover the scratches would have become less apparent. I was formulating some way of excusing them. I contemplated advancing on Caina passionately, lifting her against a wall so she would grab at my back. I could then remove my shirt, the marks there explaining themselves, the results of our shared abandon. I could turn off the lights then and take her hands in mine, dragging her nails against my chest. I could create a new cause for every mark on my body.
But, I realized, I did not want this to calm Caina. I wanted it to delude myself. I wanted to wake in the morning, exhausted and in her arms, her scent over every inch of me, the scars on my back and stomach having become personal and feminine. I wanted to be able to say to myself I had merely slept for two days, made love with my fiancée, and had awakened after, knowing everything was as it should be. Knowing everything was wonderful.
Through the bathroom door I heard the kitchen sink go quiet and Caina’s footfalls crossing the tiles to the carpet and passing through her bedroom door.
IN BED, I CONFESSED. I told Caina how I had fallen asleep for two days. That was all I knew. I told her I did not want to take off my shirt before because I had cuts and bruises on my body and how I did not know where they had come from, could not begin to explain their presence.
She listened from her side of the bed, my voice reaching her over her turned back. I tested her shoulder with the palm of my hand. It was relaxed. I asked if she was asleep. She turned toward me, the motion of her body pulling the comforter out of alignment. She moved her face very close to mine. I could not see, but I seemed to think that while she talked she had her eyes closed. She said ‘Timothy – do you love me?’ I told her I did. ‘But you think I don’t believe what you’re telling me, now. About where you were. About your cuts, about your not knowing where they came from’. I told her I did not see how she could be expected to believe me. ‘Because I know it’s the truth, Timothy’. I asked her how. ‘When people know each other, they know everything. You worry when you tell me something that doesn’t make sense I won’t believe it’. She paused, but I did not say a thing. ‘When you say you’ve been asleep these past two days, say you don’t know where the cuts came from, I know it is the truth, what you’re telling me is true, because I see in you it is’.
I had been listening with my eyes open up to that point, but closed them. I wanted her to stop. I did not want to find comfort in her words. I thought they were absurd. I thought what she was saying was babble, utter nonsense, every sentiment stupid and child-like. What she said sounded like mysticism. Desperation. Nonsense. I did not believe a word of it.
But, I listened to it and tried not to care, tried to ignore the fact that, whether or not she wanted to believe it, I had not spontaneously created the wounds on my body and they had not occurred in my apartment. I had been somewhere else and done something I could not think of, not recall a single detail of, knew nothing about.
She talked a long time, her voice becoming more of a whisper as it went on. She told me how people cannot hide themselves. How people communicate everything which they are and how everyone picks up on these communications, consciously or not. She explained how she knew she loved me because what she was saying was true. ‘Otherwise’ she asked ‘how could anyone ever know something like that?’
Then she was quite a long time. I slowly began to allow myself to fall asleep. I had been keeping myself awake, not because I was afraid to go to sleep, but because I was afraid to wake up again.
As if to punctuate the moment I finally seemed to have drifted into slumber, I heard Caina whisper ‘I love you’.
While the blinds filtered the light of the coming morning into bars of black over our bodies and the sheet tops, I told her again how I loved her, too. And this, perhaps, proved her right. For in spite of everything else, she always seemed to know it. Though those were the last words of truth I would ever speak to her.
Confidant is available for purchase at Amazon.
Pablo D’Stair was born in 1981. At the age of 19 he composed his first novel (October People) for the 3 Day Novel Writing Contest sponsored by Anvil Press. The novel did not win the competition but was published in the subsequent year – along with his second novel (Confidant) – by the infamous and now defunct vanity book-mill Publish America. In the mid-2000’s, D’Stair co-founded the art-house press Brown Paper Publishing with his colleague, the novelist, musician, and painter Goodloe Byron. Through this press and its literary journal Predicate, he released the work of more than fifty of his peers along with editions of two dozen of his own books. Eventually shuttering BPP, D’Stair founded (KUOBA) press, continuing to publish work by his contemporaries. During this era, his own literary output remained prolific but largely unreleased, though several works were made available as limited-edition print projects and in various electronic mediums. D’Stair spent several years as a cinema critic – primarily for the UK site Battle Royale with Cheese – and as an essayist/interviewer for the national newspaper of Sri Lanka’s Sunday Observer (through which periodical several of his novella and a story collection were serialized). Also during this period, D’Stair began working as an underground filmmaker in the capacities of writer, director, cinematographer, editor, and performer – the cinematography of his first feature (A Public Ransom) earned an award in international competition at the XIX Internacionlni TV Festival (Bar, Montenegro 2014). D’Stair has also written several volumes of poetry, more than four dozen pieces of theatre, written and directed music videos, written and illustrated graphic novels and comic-book series, and produced audio essays. His work across all mediums has often been released pseudonymously.