What's real and what isn't? It's not finished yet...
| A library. A library is where the first of many events that lead to the much more public events documented in the local papers began. But that isn’t so special, right? Don’t all series of events start with one?
The second floor of a four-story library at some college campus. I don’t know why I went to a college campus library on that particular day. I was neither a student of that college or any college for that matter. It was just one of the very peculiar, frivolous whims I used think made life more interesting.
A light drizzle taps on the big clear windows, a salt and pepper sky looms over the large green, lush field behind the library. I’d never seen so many cumulus clouds in one sky at one time.
“John?” I heard as I slipped a smelly old book back on the shelf.
I should’ve run. Would it have changed anything? But why would I run from a stranger in a library? Looking back there from now I should’ve been slightly frightened. I don’t think anyone else was on the second floor.
I turned to see someone who looked much like me. Except taller and I don’t think as good-looking.
“How the hell have you been?” He asked me.
I didn’t want to be rude, however I really had no idea who he was.
Isn’t this always uncomfortable? Not knowing someone’s name who knows your’s? The only exception is, usually, as you begin speaking to them you realize you actually did meet them.
This never happened during the next week or so.
I apologized to the very earnest-seeming, All-American, captain of the football team, paper route, ham sandwiches and milk in a brown paper bag packed by his mother or aunt kind of guy. On the other hand why should I have been afraid? Villains don’t look that. Not that he was one. Not that I know he wasn’t.
“Splendorous Mountain,” he said. “Two summers ago, remember?”
No, actually I wouldn’t.
I’d only gone to Splendorous Mountain, also known as hippie rehab in Utah because I was so hopped up on prescription medications I couldn’t remember my own name.
I tell him I’m very sorry, but I don’t remember him and actually it wasn’t two summers ago; it was three.
“No. No,” he said shaking his head. It was definitely two, he insisted.
In any event, I said, it didn’t matter because we either didn’t meet or I didn’t remember. Sorry.
“But when you left you weren’t messed up, right?” he asked. “We talked the day you left,” he insisted.
At this I was sure he was mistaken.
Actually, I said, I left very early one morning before the sun even came up. And besides, I didn’t know anyone in rehab. I thought at the time I was better than the coke-nosers and needle-injectors and spoon-heating crazies in that place. I know now, I say, that I’m no better. But at the time I thought I was.
He gave up.
“Maybe I am wrong,” he said. “But your name is John, isn’t it?”
Yeah, I said.
Well, he said, picking up a stack of books from a nearby table, that’s too much of a coincidence. “Really strange, huh?”
Maybe. But John’s probably the most common English name, right?
“And you also went to the same rehab?”
Look, I said, I don’t want to be rude. But I have to go. If we did know each other I’m very sorry to not remember.
Maybe you don’t want to, he said.
Why wouldn’t I want to, I asked.
He picked up a gold leafed, Biblical-sized gray book from a nearby shelf and groaned, Elementary Matter. “Some people black out unpleasant things. Things they don’t want to remember.”
Rehab, I said, wasn’t unpleasant. Being strung out on the drugs that got me there was. Goodbye, I said and disappeared down the stairs, half expecting him to follow.
But he didn’t.
I was glad.
The sprinkles outside were becoming fat droplets that slapped the top of the books in my hand and the top of my head and face. The water was warm and not what I expected from such a cold, unfriendly-looking sky.
“I’ve lost my marbles,” the girl had said as she squatted to the ground and scooped up a handful of multicolored marbles. They’d scattered all along the hallway and I descended to the floor to help her retrieval.
Let me help you, I said. Little knowing that my first words to her would be the theme of our entire relationship.
“Thanks,” she said seeming very unthankful and irritated.
I asked her if she had just moved in.
She nodded and said, “I’m Sarah.”
John, I told her, and I live at the end of the hall. Need any help? I asked.
“I’m almost done. Thanks anyway,” she said sounding slightly more thankful than she had earlier.
She was cold and guarded and I still don’t know why. She acted exactly as I should’ve acted in the library earlier that day.
I asked her if she’d just moved to the city.
No, she said. I then told her it was nice to meet and her and that I’d see her around.
She said something akin, albeit far less genuine sounding.
I disappeared into my apartment at the end of the hall and closed the door behind me. I looked around my spacious, sparse apartment that my fiancé Meleny said she’d decorate when she moved in.
I leaned up against the door and breathed a few slow, even breaths. Something was itching inside of me.
I moved away from the door and listened to the two messages on my blinking answering machine. The first was no one, they’d hung up without leaving a message. I never get mad about this because I hate leaving answering machine messages as well. The second was Rusty. My best friend and a promoter who was throwing me a book launch party that night at one of his clubs.
In his message Rusty said that I needed to be at the club by 8:30. I had plenty of time for a nap.
Something small and seemingly insignificant taps from somewhere in my apartment. The door?
For one second I thought maybe it was the girl I’d just met in the hallway.
“Forestry?” The man from the newspaper asked me leaning in with his tape recorder. “What’s it really about?”
The reporter and I sat alone overlooking the party. I didn’t really know. So I said what I thought would look good in an article of a paper. It’s about how to road to our true selves is as dense as forest, and even easier to get lost in, I said.
The reporter nodded and thanked me.
When I returned to the party, which was alive with clusters of people I’d either met once or twice or never at all; I met up with Rusty, my oldest friend.
“Helluva party,” he said looking proud.
Yep, I agreed. Do you think I’m full of shit? I asked.
Rusty looked at me confused. “Did someone tell you I said that? Because I did,” he joked. “No. Why?”
I don’t know, I said. That reporter was looking at me like he thought I was.
“Who cares what he thinks? He’s just some lame-ass reporter from a no-name newspaper.”
True, I said.
“Is Meleny giving you shit again?” he asked.
She was. About my lack of motivation. My care-free attitude when things were most certainly not care-free. She was giving me shit, but I didn’t say so. I shook my head and noticed something, very small descending from the staircase.
Who’s that? I asked Rusty.
“That?” He asked pointing to the girl in a floor-length black dress with a plunging neckline. “That’s Artie Mead’s new…conquest. She’s some designer from Brooklyn. Don’t remember her name though. She’s been all over the papers with him.”
I didn’t know she was financier Artie Mead’s new conquest. I didn’t know she was a designer. Or that she was from Brooklyn, or even that she’d been in the papers for it. I knew her name was Sarah. I knew she’d just moved one door down from me. And I knew I was much more excited than I let on that she was there.
Her big brown eyes gave the impression that she was on the verge of an emotional breakdown. They were oval and bright like two topaz stones shoved into her head.
The party was finally over. If it could be called such. Parties are work. Work to look at ease. To actually be at ease.
“I had no idea my new neighbor was a famous author,” I hear from behind me.
There she was. She stuck out from the party like letters clipped from magazines and glued to a ransom note.
Sarah, right? I asked.
“Yeah,” She said looking me over as though she knew I hadn’t forgotten. “Sorry about the other day…If I was kind of a bitch to you. Boyfriend troubles.”
With Artie? I asked.
“Oh no,” she shook her head. “No. No. No. He’s nice and all, and says he’s crazy for me, but I just don’t like him in that way. Too schoolboy. I was upset over a boyfriend I‘ll probably never see again. Hopefully. What are you doing later?”
It’s two thirty a.m., I said, probably sleeping.
“You have to work early or something?”
No. Actually I’ll probably sleep until three or four, I said. Why?
“You should come have a drink at my place. Come on, you don’t have a bedtime anymore. Don’t be such a schoolboy.”
I was generally unaccustomed to having strangers speak to me so informally. Ordinarily I hated it.
I don’t drink, I said, but I’ll stop by for something non-alcoholic.
“You’re really killing the ‘mysterious, brooding writer’ story arc I had planned for you,” she said picking lint from her dress.
So you’re a writer too? I asked.
“Just my life,” she said with a shrug.
Well, I’ll try to be mysterious and brooding. Maybe later I’ll hit you or something, I said.
She smiled and turned looking back toward the party.
“Maybe,” she said and disappeared around the corner.
She sat curled up on a loveseat, her twiggy, spear like heels digging into the white cushion. She held a forty-ounce glass bottle beer in her hand with the paper holder still covering it.
Very classy, I said.
“There’s my favorite Arthur!” She said swinging the big glass jug in the air.
Actually, I said, wouldn’t Artie be your favorite Arthur?
“Oh gosh, Artie,” she said. “I’m now convinced he thinks I want to marry him. I’m sure of it because he asked me tonight.”
And what did you say?
“No, of course. I don’t even want to get married. At least not now; but probably not ever. And definitely never to Mr. Mead,” Sarah stood up and wobbled to me, her eyes glinted in the bright light shining down from a big bowl-like fixture above. “What took you so long to get here? I almost fell asleep.”
I don’t know, I said. I asked her if she had any orange juice.
“Probably not. It’s terrible to mix with alcohol, I think. Every time I drink it with vodka I end up face-first in public toilet. Definitely not vogue.”
I should probably get going anyway, I said, but I ask if she’d like to have lunch the next day.
“You mean lunch today. It’s almost four, it’s already tomorrow. Or tomorrow is today…either way. Alright then, I’ll pick you up at your place.”
I opened the door and stood halfway through when I turned to ask about something that’d been vexing me: What was the deal with the marbles?
“Oh, my marbles,” she said leaning against the white loveseat’s armrest. “Just something I collect.”
Something else had been bothering me as well.
I swear I don’t understand women, I said. You’ve got one of the richest and good-looking men in America begging to marry you, but you don’t want to. Sure you said he was too much of a nice guy, but why would a girl NOT want a rich, handsome guy who’s going to treat her right?
She shrugged. “You’re right, it doesn’t make sense. On the surface he’s everything I should and ever could want, but things go deeper than that.”