My Hidden Lives // Prose

160. about alternate endings

an eastern ballad

If I leave on foot, you’ll casually hug me and say, Break a leg girl! I’ll drag boxes full of moments, the kind you’re never certain happened at all and aren’t just wishful thinking, up that busy highway that leads North. When I get tired, I’ll abandon the load and sprinkle it across the road to entertain the truck drivers, they know what to do with silly fantasies of a girl like me. Pausing midway, I’ll dig a single image from amid the lies in my luggage to keep safe.

The time we walked across the entire city because you said it had been a good day, and you wanted to be tired in the evening so you’d fall asleep without drinking. Once we reached the furthest bus station in the West (it was your thing, not mine), you slumped down to the curb and pulled my hand so I’d land into your lap. Looking up, I noticed your eyes were opened wider than I’d ever seen – the kind of wide that allows light to seep in and make a prism in an otherwise very un-extraordinary pupil. I had no words for you that morning.

Today, I know what I’d say. I’d tell you, That’s one long stroll you owe me, boy. Remember that.

Maybe, if I’d been less easy to impress, I wouldn’t have to walk all this way alone. You’d slump down with me on a bed in some foreign country in the end of the day, and say goodnight instead of goodbye.

(Rewind.)

If I leave on a bus, I’ll ask you to hug me twice as hard and thrice as long. You know how much I detest the strong gasoline and tire smell of the worn-down seats. I’ll need you to rub your skin over my own, lodge tiny atoms of yourself into the creases of my clothes, like you once did those dandelion seeds and laughed, perspiring in the heat, as they stuck to my face like glue. It took us most of the afternoon to pick those away, then untangle the rest from my knotted hair. That’s how long my journey will take, too. Getting off the bus, I’ll brush off the last of you.

Once I step away, you’ll ask, Was that enough? Climbing into the stuffy metal cage, I’ll curse beneath my breath. I sure fucking hope so. But we both know you’ve never worn expensive perfume, even that afternoon, you stalled and picked the seeds off me with a laziness that was nothing if not intentional. It will never be enough, you’ll disperse half way, and I’ll stew in the sour air for three more hours, bumping shoulders with cowards too afraid to ask why —. This is no way to start.

(Rewind.)

If I leave on an airplane, you won’t be there to see me off at all. Airports are your happy places, it’s where you go to meet the many friends when they come from far away only to spend a week or two with you. Because I’m that awesome, that was – I think – your official, scientific explanation. Okay. Keep your regard for their clean plasticity and glass corridors. We’ll part instead at some nondescript location in town, far away from where you’re ever likely to pass.

I have a place I’d like to nominate. Come inside. Let’s erase any uncertainty of you coming across the spot where you last saw me, by accident. I’ll clean the house and take down all the photos, everywhichthing that you could later see in some magazine and say, Hey, I knew a girl who had that exact print on her wall once. I’ll even paint over my own body, to make it as generic and as bare as possible, thus making myself easy to forget. My body, my home, they’ll be a couple of uninhabited rooms in a neighborhood you won’t see because I’ll close the blinds. I promise, you won’t even know where you are. But come inside.

I don’t want passers-by to judge me if I crumble and freeze or God-forbid cry. The time when you were supposed to be leaving, I did just that. The only good which came of it was when an old drunkard approached me and offered a swig of his brew, asked about what made me so sad. When I told him about you, he patted me on the back and replied with something in the likes of, He’d be crazy to leave a girl like you behind.

I hope there’s someone to extend you the same kind of courtesy when you stare out into the sky and wonder if, perhaps, you should have come to say goodbye to the airport after all.

(Rewind.)

If I leave on the train, I’ll seem happy. It’s just what those old-new diesel caterpillars awake, the countless, seemingly endless, weeks of crushing distances beneath my feet, every day a new town, and yet – home. Because of all the journeys we took together, seeing you at the platform by my side will not make me sad. You’ll chide me for being giddy, I’ll try to muster a frown but it just won’t work.

Prague…remember Prague? It’ll be your turn to smile. We fell asleep leaning on each other and missed our destination. The conductor angrily shook us awake at the last stop.

Might as well stay here now, you said. Might as well, I replied. Sometimes, things really are that simple.

Unlike now, when I’m laughing with you, and it takes me too long to realize this is not your train to board, or my journey to share. On second thought, train stations are my happy domain. I’ve changed my mind again.

(Rewind.)

We’ve exhausted our options. Where I’m going, I can’t get to by boat or ferry or even the bicycle you promised, but never taught me, to ride. I’d never go as far to say you lied, though you did. Like the time you said distances don’t matter, or that time is of the essence only to people with as little sense of their own not to remain as steadfast as you flattered yourself to be. If push came to shove, you claimed, you’d come with me.

But neither of us are followers. The best we could ever do was walk side by side, and even that more often than not proved challenging. You’ll say stay. I’ll say no. If you repeat it, I might believe it and say okay, but I hope you don’t.

It’s better this way. Neither of us wants to remain chained to a wanderer.

In the melancholy of what is our last day, I’ll write a story to lay down on your doorstep, let you choose the ending yourself. Even if I don’t get anything from it, not a hug nor a kiss, a scent or a body in my bed, a bag of illusions or a bad sonnet, I’ll be fine. It’s the leaver’s responsibility to worry only of the ones who stay behind.

 

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