Mara and Alicia

Mara seemed to radiate as she crossed the stage. It was her night. All eyes were on the small figure with the big hairdo, tightly fitting clothing and long legs. As she began to dance, she could feel every muscle in her body stretching and contracting in just exactly the right way, willing her to use it to the utmost. It was the opening night, and she was a star.
When she was onstage, she could forget about the real life. In her real life, she was named Alicia. In her real life, she had to go to the hospital twice a day to check up on her mother who had recently gotten alcohol poisoning. Again. The doctors had insisted on keeping her there for a while because they thought they also felt something strange in her breast when they’d done a full physical. Alicia had no idea how they were going to pay for it all. Alicia knew she needed to call her father again and plead with him to send them more cash. Alicia fell asleep every night with her tears drying on her face.
Mara, on the other hand, didn’t have a mother. She lived as a tenant with an older woman, yes, but there were no ties between them. She told her friends that the old lady had gotten alcohol poisoning and how pathetic that was. They all nodded sympathetically, with their too-big eyes drifting away to their tiny cubes of cheese which were their only sustenance for the day. Mara hated them all and she knew that they hated her too, but they had to get along because they didn’t want their director/choreographer to give them another lecture. Then, too, was the fact that none of them had any other friends anymore. That tended to happen during the strenuous periods before new shows went on, because they spent so many hours of the day rehearsing that they naturally could only talk to and complain with each other, since no one else understood exactly how much their toenails hurt, how hungry they were, how itchy their scalp was because of the hairspray and how much they craved a cheeseburger and a beer on the beach.
Alicia knew she wasn’t well. Alicia went to a therapist twice a week because she was terrified of herself and what she was doing to her body. She hated the feeling of her fingers going deep and the vomit creeping up her raw and swollen throat. She hated the raspy voice she’d developed, even though the man she worked for told her it was “tres sexy.” She hadn’t needed to do this only two years ago when she’d gotten accepted to the company and there was really no reason for her to be doing this now, except that everyone else was and it seemed to be expected. But she worried about needing replacement teeth and she knew she didn’t have enough money for that.
Mara never worried about money. When she went out with the friends she hated, she was the one who managed to get free drinks by nuzzling up to the older men on the bar. She would sometimes find herself in their beds in the morning, but she didn’t allow herself to worry about that too much. It was worth it, she figured, for the feeling of bliss that crept over her when she had had so much to drink that her head was fuzzy and the room was spinning gently and she knew that no matter what – no matter what – nothing could really hurt her at that moment.
When Alicia and Mara met, as they sometimes did, accidentally, when the were switching out the use of the same body, they seemed to hedge warily around each other. Alicia idolized Mara and Mara looked down on Alicia. But Alicia also knew that Mara wasn’t practical, and that she would ultimately destroy her. She hated Mara, even though she envied her carefree lifestyle and her confidence. She also worried, because she knew that the facade of Mara was wearing thin. She wasn’t sure how much longer she’d be able to keep it up.
But right then, under the hot spotlights, knowing that the audience couldn’t see how hard she was working or the sweat already rolling down her back, knowing that they only saw this graceful body moving with the utmost precision – at that moment Alicia took over from Mara and allowed herself to simply be within the dance, to fly and leap and soar and tumble to the ground in an ecstasy of movement.

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A Mad Woman in Berlin

She leaned over the back to back metal benches and asked the pair of English tourists if they smoked tobacco. Her accent was thick, sometimes sounding German, and at others Russian, although her English was good. The man, glancing uneasily at his partner, answered that he did. When the woman asked if she could have some, he looked confused for a moment. His partner told the woman that they only had cigarettes. The woman nodded eagerly, and asked if she could have one. The man smiled politely and produced a pack of Camels. The woman asked for a light, and the man leaned over toward her and lit her cigarette, which she sucked on greedily. He then turned to his partner, and they both spoke for a while in another language.

The mad woman didn’t quite fit the stereotype of a homeless person, living on the streets. Her hair was a shock of grayish-brown and her skin looked almost healthy. She was somewhere between forty and fifty, but wore the age well on her face, which was elegantly lined, although her cheeks were still full and youthful. Her clothing was oddly fancy, or at least the top half was. She wore what looked like a light brown leather jacket and her handbag was of similar material and color. The mere fact that she had a handbag was strange. Her skinny legs were wrapped in tight pants in shades of brown, olive and black, like a military uniform made into fashionable jeans. The mix between the pants and the well-kept leather jacket were perhaps an indication of her madness. Still, she could have been an eccentric fashionista and nothing more.

Except, that is, for the fact that she was talking to herself loudly and was holding a pink carton of cheap wine.

“It is security, you see. I don’t trust a man, and security is inside me. You have to stay inside the clothes, inside the pants. The pants are protection, they protect me. But I am an attractive woman. If another man come near I go away. But if another woman approach me,” and here she sounded a little defensive, “then that is okay, I mean I am an attractive woman. A woman can look at a woman and appreciate her and I don’t mind if a woman looks at me.” She took a drink from her pink bottle, and the smell of wine washed over the English tourists as well as the others on the platform. Just then, the train arrive, and everyone boarded, including the mad woman.

She sat across from the English couple and fell silent for a time. When a fat man with a tiny dog boarded at the next station and sat next to her, she got up at once and moved into the narrow space between the Englishwoman and a bearded businessman. She started talking again. “It is like the jackets, do you know the jackets in London?” she turned to the businessman. It wasn’t clear whether he ignored her or nodded for she kept speaking almost at once. “There are nice jackets in London, long coats. Every person should have them, they are made of good fabric, of, what is it called… Not wool, it’s not wool. It’s not like the jeans. There are jeans that are made of denim, and they are the color of – the color of indigo. How do you say indigo in German?” she turned to the Englishwoman.

“I don’t speak German, I’m sorry,” the tourist said, shrugging and smiling, but drawing closer to her companion so as not to brush the woman’s jacket.

“That’s right, you’re not from here,” the mad woman dismissed her at once and continued speaking of fabrics and jackets in America as opposed to those in London. She got off at the next stop, still speaking to herself in a loud, coherent voice, as if she were having a conversation with someone else. The English tourists probably never saw her again, but there was no way they would forget this strange and lonely woman who chose them as smoking- and seat-companions on a short journey on the U-Bahn in Berlin.

Ethan

It seemed that no matter how his hair fell, he looked fabulous. If it was in his eyes, it looked boyish. If it was curled up a bit, it looked sexy. If it was cut short, it showed off his perfect forehead. That was the kind of man-boy he was. He could wear whatever he wanted, and did. Anything from black boots, black jeans and a biker jacket to a waistcoat, pinstriped pants and loafers. In his pocket, you could easily find either a pack of cigarettes or a watch on a chain. If all that weren’t enough, he also projected his comfort and self-esteem and acceptance of who he was. His presence was enough to make anyone weak-kneed, men and women alike. He wasn’t even twenty yet.

He stood smoking outside of his apartment building. As I walked by, he looked up at me, and I saw that his eyes were wet, on the verge of spilling tears. Before I could stop myself, I blurted out “Ethan? You alright?”

He mutely offered me a cigarette, lit it for me, and leaned back against the brick wall, one leg going up to prop himself. He was wearing his black boots, I noticed. I stood beside him, puffing away, feeling more intimate with him than I ever had before, despite being his neighbour for over six months, and despite us having many mutual friends. It seemed that I saw him all the time – around the building, at clubs and pubs. He was a fixture of the Soho night-life, and I often found myself dancing just a few people away from him. It wasn’t that he was a snob, exactly. He wasn’t posh, his father didn’t go to Eton and he hadn’t even finished university. He was just a regular bloke like me. Of course, I couldn’t pull off half the image he had, but then, that’s me.

“Boyfriend,” he sighed. He took a last drag and then threw the butt down. He stomped on it with a force that made me shiver a little. He looked at me, and I think I must have looked a little guilty, since his eyes flashed from heartbroken to angry to resigned in quick succession. “You knew?” He’d already ducked his head, pulling out another cigarette from his pack.

I couldn’t deny it, but I didn’t want to let him in on the fact that, well, we all knew. We all thought he knew it, too. We’d seen them together almost every night of the past few months, but we all knew. The boyfriend lived in Manchester, only came to London every month or two. He’d been over just three weeks ago. So, obviously, we all thought that Ethan knew.

“Sorry, mate.”

He shook his head. His hair flopped, looking perfect no matter what he did. That hair, that hair that my eyes always fixated on, it was still as glossy, as perfect, as natural as it always was. But the rest of him… Well. For the first time since I’d met him, I wasn’t intimidated.

“When’s your birthday?” I asked. I knew it didn’t matter one whit, but I asked anyway.

“February. February 9th, ’88. Why?”

“No reason. You’re two days younger than me. I always thought you were older than me. Never mind. Come upstairs, come on, I’ll make you some tea and we can watch whatever football game is one tonight, right?”

He chucked his smoke way across the street so it hit the building across and a little spray of sparks shone red-hot before falling to the ground. Brushing a hand through his hair, he followed me into the building.

Jasmine’s Alarm

Jasmine lay on her back with her head turned to one side, looking at the big red numbers of the electronic alarm clock. 6:57AM. She turned her head the other way, her eyes falling on the back of Jordan’s head. He lay beside her, on his stomach, just barely snoring as he slept. One of his arms was tucked close to his side while the other was flung out casually, resting on Jasmine’s stomach above the thin blankets that covered them both. Three more minutes, Jasmine knew, and the alarm would ring.

She shifted her eyes back to the clock and then to the bare ceiling above, slightly stained from that leak that Jordan had discovered last year but had done nothing about. She pondered the stain for a moment, thinking again how much Jordan needed her when it came to stupid things like taking care of his rented flat, before another image came to her mind and made the stain blur as her eyes lost focus. The image was of a large, rectangular room. In one corner, next to one small window, was her bed. Two more beds and two desks separated it from her desk, by the corner next to the door. She then thought of her roommates – one whom she liked a great deal and another whom she pitied for her lack of style and seeming lack of the capacity to relax. She thought next of the pile of books under her bed, books she’d barely glanced through at all this year.

The next image that came to her mind was that of Jordan again, but this time a fuzzy Jordan in the screen of her computer, speaking to her through a web-cam image, as he’d been doing for the last month. She hated the way he looked in that camera image – like a pale ghost, disfigured by the insecure Net connection. Just then, Jordan turned her head towards her in his sleep and she saw his real face and the lovely, normal color of his skin.

She tore her gaze away from his face, soft with sleep, and looked back at the clock. 6:59AM. She thought of the airport, the bustle and hassle, the packing she still had to do and the bother it would be to lug all her things down the stairs. All at once, she made a decision. With a deft flick of her finger, she turned the knob on top of the clock from “ON” to “OFF.”

When Jordan woke her with a panicked tone of voice four hours later, she pretended to panic too. “But the alarm-” she said. “What happened to the alarm?” It was no good panicking, though. She’d already missed the flight. Jordan confessed to her that night that he was secretly glad that the alarm hadn’t gone off. Jasmine smiled and kissed him, leading him by the hand into a dimly lit pub where music was blaring and a young crowd was milling about. All feigned upset and distress were gone from her face and she drew him close to her, holding a beer in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. This was the life, she thought. This was the life.

Monica Loved Max

Many stories begin with the words “it all began when…” Many stories are unrealistic by their nature, but that line is one of the worst ones to begin a story with. Nothing begins at a certain moment. Very rarely can we see the point in time when a transition begins, when a story starts in our lives. Looking back, we can never pinpoint the moment the tides changed in our favor or the exact time we fell in love or the precise instant when we changed.

No, most often, we realize as we look back that something has been changing or happening for quite  a while.

So it is for me. I don’t know when I realized I was in love with Max, nor do I remember when exactly I fell in love with him in the first place. I remember when we met, I remember how we got to know each other and I remember being more and more drawn to him. Then, somehow, sometime, I realized I was in love with him.

“Mon’,” he’d say. “Why are you looking at me like that?” He was so clueless. He never understood the looks I gave him, the looks with which I was trying to fathom if in his gaze was an emotion anything like mine.

It was never a subject between us – the emotions we felt for each other. right from the beginning of our friendship we acted as if nothing could or would ever happen between us. We confided all and beyond in each other, told each other the absolute raw truths about our opinions and feelings for others and we quickly knew each other better than anyone else knew us.

But I loved him. Somehow, hearing about his liaisons with other women, about his love and respect for his father and his opinions on how children should be raised – it all made me love him. He, the person he was, made me love him.

He never got to know it, though. I never worked up the nerve to break that unspoken rule of pure friendship between us, and then he decided one day to explore more of the world. The last time I heard from him he was going to take vows of silence and join a monastery so he could understand the practice of religion in such places and write an essay about it.

So while I can’t say when it all began with Max, I can definitely say that it all ended when he hugged me goodbye, kissed my forehead and smiled at me at the airport. It’s sad, though, how easy it is to pack years of equal friendship and one sided love into a few short and simple sentences. You’d think it wouldn’t be possible to fit a world of emotion into the short statement: I loved Max, and he was my best friend until one day he left. But you can.

On Edge

Fingers tapping against coffee mug, restless; legs changing positions every few seconds, unable to be still for long; eyes blinking constantly, darting from one corner of the room to the next, searching, searching… for what?

I’m on edge. I don’t know why, I don’t know what caused it. I’m on edge.

Shadows in the corners seem to loom at me, bigger whenever I see them from the corner of my eye. Time seems to stand still or leap forwards in endless and illogical bounds, breaking all feeling of sequence from the day. Everything seems too silent, too still, to be reality. Feels like a dream.

No dream, though. Pinching doesn’t result in pain so much as a curious feeling, a connection to the here and now. Unexplicabley real and present, it helps a little. Still, that feeling can surface in dreams as well. Maybe I’ll wake up? Maybe I won’t. Maybe reality is sometimes dreamlike. Maybe we have to learn to live with that.

The Authentic Self Book

I was having trouble with what I should write about tonight. I sat at my computer, with my wonderful-and-still-exciting screen, and I stared and stared and discarded idea after idea. I am ashamed to say, I caved. I opened a new tab, and typed in “writing prompts” in Google. I then chose the first two websites that came up and started browsing the prompts, thinking how fun it would be to write about some of those things. And yet, it felt like cheating. Little did I know that I would still find my subject on one of these websites.

As I looked randomly at the advertisement sitting smugly above the prompts in one of the sites, I found my subject. A giggle escaped my lips, and I proceeded back to WordPress and typed in the title of this post. Yes, the ad was for something called “The Authentic Self Book.” Written underneath the name and the website, it says this: “Are you living an authentic life? Unearth your authentic self. Start journaling your joys, griefs, and all the other life themes in between, and you’ll discover who you really are.” [Random aside – WordPress spellchecker says “journaling” is not a real word.]

I’m all for keeping journals. I’m all for living authentic lives. I’m all for finding out as much as you can about yourself and being honest about your life, your feelings, your virtues and weaknesses. However, and this is a big however, I find it incredibly hard to believe anyone who wants to be so-called authentic would buy a book like this.

Teehee, I love the randomness of the interwebs.