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LOVE
Joerg Liesegang


Chapter One

God knows I was trying. Running through the city like a dammned idiot, my socks all wrinkled in my shoes so my feet hurt and my shoulders pulling me down under the pavement. Not any question of being tired. Exhaustion was something I felt yesterday. I wasn't anyone to choose anymore. I just kept on going.
There was this weird rain. Drops of water were twirled around by the wind growling through this lunatic’s assortment of windows, walls, emergency exits, and garbage cans. Some hopes that were hung out of the windows like linen on ropes to dry in the air, because they were suffocating in the bitterness of the rooms inside. The leaves and branches of the scattered trees were reaching down to their roots, encircling themselves in a mighty symbol of birth or death. Or both. The sun was hiding behind its clouds, was hiding behind the earth to make it night and so drops of artificial light could boast themselves up from the wet stones under my shoes as an illustrious reflection.
Through all this queer darkness and the rain and somewhere in my body, I found this faint happiness. Like a scent of red in a storm of green. Like a speck of dirt on the surface of a mirror showing my own soul in front of the vastness of a huge black lake. Like I knew everything was just a beginning. I lightened up. Joy was somewhere to be found. Like a child wandering through my veins. I bounded happily down the pavement. The sound of my feet tapping on the smooth floor was dry and short, like the pure snare of a drum. Tac. Tac.
Tac. Tac. The buildings gave way. Like misty clouds they were blown out of sight, making space free eventually. Bowing like concordant servants on their way out of the king's hall. The sound of my shoes doubled as I moved on over the growing sidewalk. Jumping happily from one stone square to the next square stone. Or so I thought at first. The sound doubled. Tac. Click. Tac. Click. I paused. Started again. Tac. Click. Tac. Click. Paused. Listened. I was feeling rather sly. Click. Click. Somebody else was there. Somewhere. Jumping. I looked.
First thing I saw, was that the pavement stones under my feet had evolved to tiles. Glazed tiles. White tiles. And black ones. Chequered. Like a chest board. No boundaries. No buildings. Things had simply puffed away. It was only her. Yeah. And it was me seeing her. Seeing her play within herself. Wholly. Jumping from tile to tile, square to square, estimating squares and figures and circles around herself. I recognised her at once, although I hadn't seen her or thought of her for a long time. I smiled. I hadn't been alone with her, together like this for hours.
I joined in. Jumped from white tile to white. Careful not to touch the blacks. Jump. Jump. It was fun. I lightened. I lightened up. I hadn't actually dared to look up to her directly. I was quite content just knowing her to be around. Tac. Tac. Click. Click. Circles. Figures. Embodying ourselves in some visual motions. Jumping just on one square. Then on two. Three. Back and forth. Like sitting on an enormous swing that was fastened to the highest branch of an ancient cherry tree. I moved to her. Distance between us. Up to her. Distance. Back and forth. We were swinging.
Then I came up to her. Jumping. Said hello. She looked at me. Seemed surprised. Like she hadn't noticed me before. "It's me", I said. "Hi." Her voice sounding like a mere impression of my own vocal chords. I went on. "We have been jumping up and down together, it was fun." She nodded. Politely. Like the nod you give to a drunken stranger you don't want to upset. She didn't seem to hear me. So I tried to kiss her. She understood. Said we couldn't. Not like this. Pointed at my feet. I was standing on the white tiles. And she was standing on the black.
She vanished. The tiles turned back to stones. The buildings revolved back again. Then I allowed myself to be tired. With the rain whirling around. With the trees embracing themselves. With the buildings plastered with the dreams that didn't seem to survive inside. I allowed myself to rest. In a corner. Maybe there was a door behind me I couldn't see. That I didn’t want to see. With a small roof above my head. Something like a rug around me to keep my heat from evaporating into the wet coldness around. I allowed myself to sleep. With a flower growing up my spine slowly coming into bloom. With an egg warming in my heart, I had nothing but love to rest my head on.


CHAPTER TWO

Tobias had everything ready when the door bell rang. There were candles on the table. A linen table cloth. Wine glasses. The plates borrowed from a friend. Just like the knives and forks and table spoons and dessert spoons. There was a string quartet from Mozart playing itself in the back. The ragout was in the oven. A romaine salad. A Guacamole with Tortillas for starters. The real imported Idaho potatoes were standing on the stove, waiting to be eaten. A Zabaglione for dessert, followed by an Espresso and then a cheese plate with the Beaujolais to finish it all off.
The doorbell was still ringing when Tobias had his hand on the door knob and opened it. Outside was Aileen, waiting and smiling when she saw him. He let her in. They sat down and he started serving her the Tortillas and the Guacamole along with a choice of pineapple, orange, or mango juice. Or all mixed together if you want to, he said.They started their meal, enjoying the food and enjoying themselves being there. A little uneasy. A little stiff. A little talking about nothing. The meal was delicious and everything was perfect. Tobias was giving himself a hard time. He was a stutterer. A fairly bad one. Especially when he was nervous.
Tobias did a great job at serving, though. The ragout had turned out to be a delight, the Zabaglione was a dream come true in your mouth. Tobias and Aileen were sitting with the cheese waiting patiently in the middle of the table. The baguette tapping it's fingers, but the noise was so faint it could have been mistaken with the crackling of the serviette it lay on. Tobias raised his voice, with the effort of Atlas heaving the world upon his shoulders.
Why do you think I invited you to come over tonight?
I swear that was what Tobias said. Aileen smiled. She had her answer ready.
And why do you think did I come tonight?
And that was only them starting to get just as good as they ever got.


CHAPTER THREE

Melissa was nervous as hell. Her shoes were sinking into the grass and their black colour was all mudded by the walk over from the path. The black stockings fitted her legs nicely, although the legs didn't fit the body anymore. A few veins bulging, the tissue around the upper foot obviously urged to fit by the shoe's leather, a shoe that used to suit comfortably. The black dress was unrevealing. Purposely so. Her knickers long and going down to the thighs and black. Her bra black as well, she had allowed herself a silk ribbon on those, black was the blouse, black her coat, her hand bag, black.
She was in company. Although Melissa was standing alone. Old friends she hadn't seen for such a long time that she only faintly remembered their names. The one with the beard, standing off a little like herself, she was sure she knew him well, without a beard and fifteen years ago. He was looking at her like there were bells supposed to be ringing. Jake and Hazel of course. But they weren't looking at Melissa. They wouldn't admit that they had ever known her. Dustin was standing up in the front row with the family. She knew he would be. Out of her eye's corner she had seen his coat, or his shoulder under it. Maybe it had only been his shadow, but it had been him.
The other couples standing loosely arranged around themselves. Looking a little nailed to their positions, like children who are walking up to a big animal they are interested in but at the same time afraid of. And they had each other to cling to, to hold on to, for the rest of their lives. Melissa's thoughts were getting a little carried away, she was calling to her own attention. Her standing there all alone and the guy with the beard and the pilot style glasses looking at her so she got a little annoyed. And funerals always had got the best of her. Had got the best of her and made it drop somewhere deep where she couldn't find it anymore for a long time. But that was just her thoughts chasing themselves again.
Melissa wasn't hearing the words of the preacher talking along. She didn't like their talk very much. Hadn't like it at all, except for the one day that was supposed to be her best. For life. Well, that had lasted seven years. Magical seven years, although only four of them had been really good, one had been all right and one had been hell and one she had needed to knock it into herself. To be able to wake up and say shit to shit. To say broken glass to broken glass. To make herself believe she knew what she wanted. Dustin was standing up there with the family, she could feel him, as if he was next to her, standing right beside her, impatiently changing from one foot to the other, like he always did.
Jerome had always been a great friend. Especially when everything was over. He had stayed after the court meeting, he had actually been there, and went up to Melissa to tell her that he would be there as a friend. That she shouldn't worry about him being a friend to Dustin as well. That he would be there if she needed help. Turned out that he needed help more than her. Jerome had something growing in his bowls, something that will chew me up, that's all he ever said. The last five years he had been in and out of hospital, Melissa visiting him whenever she could make it up to Yorkshire, which wasn't very often. She'd be sitting in his room just holding his hand or reading him the book about this sick child from John Irvin. And sometimes when she would leave, Dustin would be waiting somewhere in the restaurant or the hall of the hospital, as if he were invisible, and as Melissa passed him, he'd get raise himself with a fuzz, as if he wanted to say, so I am finally allowed to go up to Jerome's room, am I?
Melissa had enjoyed driving up to the hospital, the hours sitting beside the bed and just holding a big hand that curled itself small into hers. She had enjoyed watching him breathe. The way his head looked without hair. Everything seemed so pure. Everything else of so little importance. Just a smile from his dried mouth. Or a thank you when she shook up his pillow for him.
Are you sure you're not doing this for Dustin?
One of her best-friends had asked her.
What?
Well, driving up there and spending all your free time sitting next to the bed of the sick friend of your ex-husband.
It had taken her a while to answer, because she really wanted to answer as truthfully as she could.
No, I'm doing that for myself, only for myself, you know.
Seemed like it had got even muddier now. The preacher was finished and the earth was making strange noises as the first members of the family started to walk up to the hole next to the pile of dirt to say goodbye to the huge wooden thing in which the body of Jerome was lying. Melissa didn't really think that was Jerome. She didn't come here to say good-bye to a piece of solemnity that was dug into the ground to keep the rest of the world from bothering about it. She had only wanted to see this, so when she would go back to thinking about Jerome, she would have this mud, this dirt, these heavy rainy clouds above her to think about. As if in her head, Melissa didn't want Jerome to be stuck in that hospital room forever.
She could see Dustin walking up to the grave and bowing his head. She thought he looked despicable. Being serious like that just didn't suit him. He didn't feel like himself, he surely hated to be standing there, Melissa thought. He probably wanted to be grieving like everybody else but just couldn't, and he knew that anybody with an eye on him could see that. Maybe that's what he disliked the most. That everybody knew exactly how he felt. Melissa knew. His friend knew. His friend, of course, was lying in that box. Dustin stood there for the ten seconds he had to and turned away. He came walking into Melissa's direction.
The rest of the company was getting themselves in line to file by Jerome, the family standing there and shaking hands. Looking into the eyes of the guests and accepting the condolences with their melting faces. Being brave. Dustin came fleeing through the other people, taking short notices of the people he passed. There was Hazel next to Jake seeing exactly where Dustin was going. There was her bitchy look. So that Melissa finally got what she wanted. She spent enough time with poor Jerome, pretending to care, for Dustin to finally speak to her again. Melissa saw it all in one glance, like a newspaper photography. It was all so far away it could have been black and white.
Dustin stopped a yard short of her and started.
You really didn't have to come up here just to see this miserable bunch of people, you know.
Dustin's voice was hoarse, like he hadn't used it in a long time. Melissa didn't say anything. He wanted to talk, fine. He'd be excusing himself in no time, if she said nothing. They stood around like everybody else. Like at a train station with eternal delays but nobody cared. Leaves were crackling under his feet, as Dustin changed from one foot to the other, the mud getting mashed under his soles.
Listen, I really think Jerome wanted you to be here. Thank you.
Melissa kept her silence up.
I mean, I want to say thank you from myself as well.
He must be really sad, Melissa thought, he hadn't been that talkative for years. For fifteen years to be exact. She liked it. He kept moving as if he was trying to keep himself warm.
What do you say, can we take this day to become friends again?
Melissa swallowed. Of all the pictures she had nourished in her mind. Dustin had always been good for surprises. She let the light breeze comb her stature and the clouds pass by her closed eyes. She could feel Dustin standing next to her now. Right besides her. Like he always had been. Ever since that first night. She opened her eyes. Dustin was watching her. She wanted to talk now. Wanted it so much.Do you still remember our first date, Dustin, you know, after the dinner party over at Melgrove's?
He stopped his feet still. She had to be careful now.
It's just sentimentality, you know, we women get that when we're old.
His feet started again.
What about it?
You know how you held my hand?
Now that is an old story, you know.
Melissa waited. She had to wait. Let them both catch a few breaths.
I know. You know it means a lot to me.
So?
So, what did you smell when you took my hand, you know…
Listen Melissa, I don't see any point in warming up anything.
I am not warming up anything, Dustin, all I want to know,…
Melissa was almost shouting. They were standing a little off, close to a group of trees and Jake and Hazel were staring over. She could feel them staring over.
All right, all right. Just don't get yourself excited again. This isn't the day for it.
I'm sorry. I'm not getting myself excited. This is hard for me, too, you know.
It's all right.
He was putting his chin down
Yeah, I guess it's all right.
She was raising her chin
Melissa was looking at him, waiting
Dustin was looking at her, searching,
On their first date, or what turned out to be a date, they had stolen themselves into a park after a dinner party, all dressed up, and Melissa had wanted Dustin to give her a kiss, and they had been holding themselves in their arms, and as Melissa was reaching up and Dustin was bending down, Dustin had taken her hand and had smelled at the back of her hand for a really long time, had scooped down like a real gentleman and had stayed down so long as no gentleman would, and when he came up again, he had said something about that he liked her smell and that now he really liked her and then they had kissed.
So?
So?
So, what did you smell?
Melissa!
What?
He was looking over to the grave now, to the company that was starting to look at them. You know this is a bad day, me saying goodbye to my best friend and his family all shaken and this place is giving me the rest.
And?
Dustin was still looking over to the grave and the people who were starting to drop back into their cars.
All right, I didn't smell anything you know, I had a cold and I can still remember that I was afraid of sneezing when I took up your hand to smell it. The whole thing was a hoax. I always did it. The girls liked it. It worked. It was just a gesture.
He stopped to look at her. Without any emotions on his face.
To make a good impression.
A good impression?
Yeah, a good impression.
She didn't say anything.
Listen I've got to go, they're waiting for me.
Melissa was like a sailor whose ship was leaving without her, standing at the docks and watching.
Yeah, waiting…
Goodbye, Melissa.
Bye, Dustin.
Dustin was walking off briskly.
And her voice was going to sleep inside herself and there within she buried her whispered last words that were half meant for his ears. Like she knew that this was just the end.


© by Joerg Liesegang, 2001

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