Friday, April 24, 2009

Shipwrecked (An Excerpt from "The Duck")

I stood naked in my bathroom, the light off, looking for a hint of a reflection in the mirror. I knew it was there, staring back at me in the dark.

It was sometime after midnight. I was home alone. The bathroom door was locked.

"Can you hear me, Robert?" I asked the reflection I couldn't see.

No response.

"Hey, Robert," I tried again. "You there?"

Maybe it couldn't hear me. It was noisy in here. I was running a bath. The roar of the water gushing out of the faucet amplified off the tiled walls, filling up the tiny room, muffling my voice. The tub wasn't even a quarter full and the steam was already starting to leave a film of moisture on every surface.

I smiled at the mirror. I felt a wave of calmness wash over me. The water and pitch black were providing sanctuary from the worries and doubts that awaited me outside the bathroom door. The real world wasn't allowed to intrude here. The din and dark disguised my location, shrouding my presence from further reproach.

I felt cut off from everything and everyone. A good thing for once. I felt detached from myself, a primitive sketch of the weary and confused soul who was off somewhere drowning in self-pity.

I was thankful for the reprieve. This was a luxury, this vacation from all the burdens I carried, both present and past. My tension headache was gradually dissipating. My stomach was settling for the first time in hours.

If only this feeling weren't so fleeting. If only I could take this moment and insulate myself within it indefinitely.

I stood there in the dark and thought about escape, about making a permanent getaway.

I imagined standing on a stretch of white sand, rocking slowly to the gentle whoosh of high tide meeting the shore. My skin would be the copper brown of a new penny, no longer burnt or peeling, from countless days in the sun. The taste of salt in the air would be near stifling in my parched throat.

I would love being shipwrecked. The memories of home would be distant, faded from the years spent on an uncharted paradise lost in a vast ocean rife with profound mysteries and grotesque mirages.

I imagined Sara walking along the coast, walking toward me. She found me when I first washed ashore along with the accidental flotsam and jetsam of my life. When I awoke, I discovered that I had forgotten history and science. I had forgotten logic and truth.

I would speak to her of Algebra because it would be all I had left. Variables and coefficients would be my currency, my language. Seventeen years translated into a grueling maze of radicals and exponents multiplied and divided a hundred thousand times over.

This equation would be the only thing I could call my own.

That, and Sara. She would be mine, too. She would prove invaluable to helping me solve for x.

She would be the constant.

She would be the solution.

I imagined her naked, her tan body glistening in the sun. Her firm breasts would rise and fall with each languid step, her nipples stiff with the thought of my mouth kissing them. The fluid curves of her body joined together to create magnificence.

Her eyes were the mild green of the ocean at the edge of the reef.

She would have a smile that spoke of a life I had yet to live.

It was a life with her.

She would come closer. I would want her more with each step. I would kiss the freckles the sun had splashed across her face.

I would feel her lips brush the bridge of my nose. I would close my eyes and feel her tongue slide along my ear. I would shiver and sigh and know that I was where I wanted to be.

I would inhale the heady aroma of salt and sun on her neck and shoulders and know this is where I belonged.

She would run a hand through my unkempt hair. She would stroke my cheek. Her fingers would trace secret lyrics on my chest. She would be my sanity.

I would be anything she needed. I would be food and shelter.

I would be gravity and sex.

I would be Robert.

I would be the Robert she needed, wanted, desired – the Robert she hungered for like I hungered for her once before, a long time ago. Somewhere far away from here, a place where she was always just out of reach.

Somewhere I used to call home.

We would be one here. Her touch would save me from an ordinary life.

In no time everything would add up just right and I would have it figured out.

One more stroke and I would remember everything I needed to say to make her mine forever.

Standing on my toes, every muscle tightened, my breath surged out in a quiet rush.

I came in three short bursts.

I held the moment for as long as possible. I held it until my lungs begged for air and my legs turned stiff. I held it until I was certain the sun and sand were no longer there.

I relaxed.

I stood naked in my bathroom, the light off, facing the mirror. Depleted yet still erect. Cloaked in steam, veiled in darkness, unsure where my reflection might be.

I turned on the faucet and washed the mess down the drain. I cleaned the porcelain in silence.

Suddenly my heart clenched into a knot. Hot tears streamed down my face as I gripped the edge of the sink to steady myself. I felt paralyzed, the blood in my veins boiling me alive from the inside. I made a grimace and a strained, nearly inaudible whine escaped my throat.

The profound burden of memory, the grotesque mirage of splendid isolation.

There was no solution here. Not a favorable one at least.

The only constant, a boy shipwrecked in his own mind.

Ten seconds passed.

Five more before I could loosen my grip and finally take a breath.

My heart was pounding. I turned off both faucets with shaky hands.

I got in the tub. I kept the light off.

Fully immersed. In memory, in water, in darkness.

If I could dissolve away into any one of them, I would. Without hesitation, without notice. I would.

I fell asleep and dreamed that I was swimming in a sea of broken glass.

(c) JVH
10/2001 (First Draft)