„I’ve missed you.“
„This sure is a surprise, Missus. Fancy hearing your old voice again. I’ve missed the pitter-patter of your little fingers on the keyboard.“
I’ve missed it, too. I seldom speak to him now, unless it’s days like today when the quiet is too impenetrable for anyone else to enter. I travel inward then, stumbling over the tombstones of old memories, getting caught half-intentionally in torrents of thoughts I know, all to well, will lead me home.
„It’s good to talk to you.“
Joey’s lips suddenly curve downward – from that sheepish grin he wears so well to the wry flat line that is much more attractive, yet still unbecoming for the boy I grew up with.
„Why are you here?“
Good question, Joe. Best one. As usual, I have no fucking clue. This has always been the structure of our conversations. After the initial pleasanteries we became too fond of to discard even after decades of intimacy, he’d suddenly come out with a question that defies all answers I could possibly give, then we’d sit on the makeshift bed as some mild, saxophone melody made its way from the ’59 and into the air, slowly sifting the minutes of the evening into little eternities of silence. A contemplative, congenial one, not too uncomfortable to bear, but loaded enough to make you grow.
Joey always hid the peas under my mattresses, making sure I would retain my princess status.
There is no music now. For months, it has been in the process of becoming more and more foreign in this place. Now, it is only the silence that reminds me of home. If I had a way to banish it as well, I would. Both of them were something we did together. Both of them are something it feels wrong to experience on my own.
„I’ve forgotten, it seems. Perhaps that’s even why.“
The joke is unfamiliarly half-hearted. Way back when, these jokes used to mean something, they cut through the veneer of pretentiousness which often plagued our to-and-fro’s and hit home with unnerving precision. Nothing between us was ever banal.
„I am. Joey, I feel like I’ve forgotten it all.“
„What’s the all that you seem to be missing? Maybe I can fill this great, gaping void for you.“
„That’s just it, I don’t believe you can anymore. I’ve forgotten what it was like to be…you. And if I’ve forgotten, then…“
„Then you think I won’t be able to remember either.“
He takes a pack of cigarettes from his front pocket, slowly lights one up and takes a long drag.
You haven’t changed, I want to say, but we both know I’d be lying.
„My old computer broke last night. I don’t know how to fix it. The last five years, Joey. It was my life, and I realized in the split hour I was waiting for it to open, to no avail for the sixth or seventh time, I don’t even know what exactly was on it anymore.“
„Something you no longer need, apparently.“
Is he right? Somehow, I thought I would get more sympathy from Joey. After all, he was the main protagonist of the last five years, minus the last one. It was his life, too, sometimes even more than my own. But hearing myself speak the words out loud now, and hearing his retort, I start to wonder if this isn’t exactly the reaction I wanted. But then it hits me, and I finally understand why it is that today, of all days, I needed to speak to him again.
„I’m not so sure about that. You know, I’ve been one person for so long now. The same person, I mean. This is what I think I’ve forgotten, what it was like to be someone else… and I desperately want to be someone else again. I’m not cut out for this singularity. I need something to shift, to change again.“
„That’s bullshit. You’ve always wanted this, it was behind each and every of our conversations, in your incessant insistence on meddling in my life, in asking my advice when all the time you had your mind made up in advance, in your longing to be solid. Only, I think you were expecting it would go the other way around, this metamorphosis, if you will.“
„What do you mean?“
Joey looks away from his cigarette for the first time since he lit it, and graces me with that trademark grin again.
„You thought that by the end, you’d have been me. Not the other way around.“
As I open my mouth to protest, he takes my hand ever so gently, his hand is made of air, of smoke, nothing solid. It is a presence that, although you cannot feel it in the stricter sense of the word, you simply know it’s there. This is the only act of faith I will ever be capable of, believing in him.
„Whatever isn’t there, Missus, you can live without. Look at you. You’re breathing.“
Even if I know what he’s saying is the truth, through the irrefutable evidence of existing without him for the last who knows how long, it is still a truth I don’t necessarily have to like, or resign myself to.
„What about you? Do you miss me?“
„Ain’t got no time for that, when I always come running when you call.“
„If I forget, though. If I forget to call?“
„We’ll just have to wait and see, eh?“
As he is standing up to leave, I give Joey my trademark grin which mirrors his own to the tiniest crease. I clutch the emptiness beside my hand to try and stop him from leaving, but by that time he’s already out the door and in the street full of people, some faces and shapes I recognize, others vaguely familiar, yet nameless. Elbowing my way through the swarm of bodies in an attempt to catch up with him, I whisper a repentant sorry to every person I push out of the way. It’s useless though, I’ll never manage to find him in this crowd again. I stand still for a second, shut my eyes and call out to him instead.
Wait a minute. Two. Three. I wait for what appears to be a day. The needle skipping on the gramophone distracts me. An eery sense of a deja vu flashes through my spine, but as soon as it hits, it’s gone. I stand up, bend over the small table and flip the record. The melody is like nothing I’ve heard before.