The first chapter of Islands, a novel currently in progress. 13+ as a safety net.
|She’d broken the rule. The unspoken rule that everyone at the train station obeyed. Thou shall sit one seat away from everyone else. No more. No less. She’d gone two. As if the normal isolation wasn’t enough, she’d made herself an island far off the coast of nowhere. And by isolating herself in this fashion, she was forcing everyone else to either sit next to her or remain standing. All had opted for the latter. She wore her daddy issues like a laurel wreath. Well, she wouldn’t scare me away. I had plenty of my own issues. Just because I didn’t dress like I was colorblind didn’t mean I wasn’t all deep and stuff. You can be deep and not look like an overgrown toddler. If there’s one thing I want you to take away with it. Thought isn’t an accessory.
So, anyway, I sat down next to the Island. I mean, sure, I could have sat by the cute old lady or the loud teenagers, but something sadistic in me prompted me to seat myself next to this artificial Island of loneliness.
“That book sucks,” the Island said, not even glancing up from her gameboy color.
“You read it?” I asked, idly, not really wanting to get into conversation with this obvious hypocrite.
“No,” she said. I looked up, surprised. “but I can tell.”
I shook my head and went back to reading, though it was hard to focus through all the angry words that were clamoring to get out of my mouth. Luckily, of course, the train soon arrived and I didn’t have to sit by the Island any longer.
Try as I might, however, I couldn’t get the Island out of my head throughout the whole train ride. Every sentence I read, I would glance up and there she would be, inky lashes fluttering slightly and tongue barely poking through her bare lips as she played Pokemon or whatever. I only ever played Pokemon, so I always assume that it’s what people are playing when I see them with gameboys.
I don’t know why or how, but this girl had hypnotized me. By the end of our journey, I couldn’t take it any longer. Before she was lost to me forever, just a face I once saw in a crowd of people I’ve only spoken a few words to, I had to talk to her. But when I started towards her seat, as we all shuffled off the train, she was miles ahead of me. I pushed through the crowd, running as best I could, until I couldn’t see her odd, multicolored hair any more. I sighed at my failure, letting her slip into my memory crowd and turning around. I found myself looking her full in the face.
“Hey,” I managed.
“Did you want something?” She asked.
“Yeah. Uh….” I started, suddenly remembering that I forgot to plan out what I was going to say. “Uhh… ummm…. Do you want to… go to this party I’m going to tonight?” It was the best I could do. I was going to this thing at my boyfriend’s apartment and it promised to be superlame, but she didn’t need to know that. I didn’t even really know why I was asking her.
She smiled at me sardonically. “Are you asking me out?”
“Duhh.” I said, going along with the joke.
“Okay,” she shrugged, “so, like, how do I get there?” I gave her the details and we parted ways, I totally confused, she still devoutly focused on her gameboy.
The rest of the day saw me staggering zombie-like through the motions of mindless joviality. I greeted my college friends, trying so hard to focus on the stories that they were telling and the people that they were introducing me to, but it was like hundreds of years had passed. I had taken a semester off to go watch my grandmother die and I felt like I’d sort of… grown out of them. It was like I’d become a whole different person. Sort of the innocent, intelligent person I’d been before I started hanging out with them. And the worst part was Ted. Sweet, handsome Ted, who I suddenly wanted to throw up on every time he talked. Ted and I started going out at school, months before, and our separation had really strained our relationship. I thought that everything would be better when we saw one another again but… well, it really wasn’t. I spent the whole day with “oh, shit” on a loop, as I steadily realized that these people were strangers to me.
[to be changed] They were all still in school, so I wasn’t bombarded by everyone all the time, and could claim a headache and retreat to Ted’s room if the need arose. By five o’clock, the day I arrived, I was completely worn down. I was panicking about Ted and feeling out of place, not to mention totally weary from having to act like nothing was wrong all day…. So when the Island I met at the train station showed up, even I was confused. I kind of forgot to tell everyone that she was coming, so I had to do some explaining (and even a little bit of wheedling) before she was finally let into the apartment.
When I said earlier that I was going to a party, I kind of lied. I mean, with these guys, every night was a party, so I just assumed that there would be one. It’s not like anyone told me that there was going to be some giant fiesta or anything. I got lucky though and before long, the group started to move up to the roof, where they kept a table and chairs set up for party purposes.
Before long, everyone was getting wildly drunk. The Island (whose name I really needed to learn) sat to my left, steadly making her way through a concotion that was mostly vodka, with the slightest splash of cranberry juice. I threw myself into the wildness of the night, refusing to let though creep up on my like the Island’s hand upon my knee.
It was that night that we all started calling her the Island. Like it was her real name or something. I was talking to her, far too loudly, and it just sort of slipped out. And from then on, she was not just “the Island” in my mind, but in all of ours. I’m not sure any of us actually learned her name. Maybe Ian.
I don’t remember a whole lot about that night, and not because I was drunk, because I wasn’t. Heavy drinking isn’t really my thing. The whole night just seems to come back to me in colors, because the music was too loud for there to be any words. It was all magenta and cyan, like someone smashed open a television and the colors just sort of melted out of it. Is that an acceptable description for a night out on the town? A smashed television? No, probably not.
The next morning, we all (amazingly) woke up in our beds. The Island was gone. I was a little sorry to lose her, but I noticed pretty quickly that she’d written her phone number on my arm in permanent number (or, at least, she’d written a phone number on my arm in permanent marker, I could only assume that it was hers) so I didn’t mourn her passing too long. In fact, I was pretty sure that I would see her again pretty soon. I got out of bed and went to find some coffee. In the kitchen, I found mostly beer and boxed mac and cheese.
I got myself a glass of water and sat down at the kitchen table, looking idly around. There was a beetle on the floor. I’m not really good at identifying bugs (or birds or plants) so I can’t say what kind of beetle it was, but it was sort of a weird golden brown color. It was trying to run for cover under the stove, but it must have been hurt or something, because it would only walk a few inches and then it would try to fly. But it only ever flew with one wing, so it went in a half circle and then plodded off in that direction. It kept at this odd staggering process for some minutes and, once it reached the stove, turned and went in the opposite direction. I must have spent a quarter of an hour watching it.
I spent the rest of the day just sort of kicking glumly about the apartment, filling my eyes and ears with Bones (a show that I hadn’t previously seen, which happened to be a favourite of the guys) and trying to keep my mind full of it, too. Ted and Ian spent a while watching with me, but they both had class and couldn’t waste all of their time lying around like slugs. Ted’s other housemates, Bret and Sam, were way more focused and I didn’t see them at all until after dinner.
At some point in the afternoon, I could stare at the tiny tv screen no longer, so I headed out into the city. I didn’t really know what I was looking for, but I decided to just sort of pick a random direction and wander, which ended up working out pretty well for me. I figured it would be in character to go shopping, so I stopped at the first Forever 21 that I ran into. I love to go to stores like Forever 21. They’re so dauntingly enormous that I can let go and completely lose myself in there. I become one of a million, tiny and unimportant. Something I always was but with a name and realization put to it. Meaning ascribed and simultaneously removed. It’s quite a feeling. To realize that I am no more a person than any of the manikins who are transformed from hipster to pop princess in the dark of the night and never let anyone see their bare, plastic skin.
And I’m also one of a crowd. A herd, maybe. I can just sort of go with the flow. Pick something to wear not because I have any personal investment in it, but because other people are wearing it so it must be “cool.” I don’t have to think, I don’t have to be, I don’t have to feel. It’s awesome.
After a good hour or so of this, I had to leave. Strolling along and looking at the same clownish models, trying on the same chemises, starts to look a little suspicious to real people after a while, so it was time to move on. I could comfortably shop like this all day. Instead, however, I went into the starbucks on the corner to get that coffee I’d been dreaming about all day.
I went in and ordered, without looking the barista in the face, without looking at the menu. Something complicated with lots of shots of soy and espresso and syrup in it. Frozen, blended, pink. Let the barista figure out who I am, who I want to be, by my drink order. I could almost hear her figuring out who I was, so I looked her right in the face as I handed over my twenty dollar bill and was more than a little surprised to see the Island.
“Shit.” She said.
I could only blink.
“Um. Your change?” She fumbled it out and handed it to me.
“Thanks. I… won’t tell anyone.”
“That I’ve sold out to the man? Go ahead. I have. Everyone needs a job.”
“I still won’t.”
There was a pause, while my receipt printed.
“So… uhh… you want to come over tonight? There’ll be a party.” I said it as casually as possible.
“Do you guys do anything besides party?”
I laughed, but it was true. At least, I tried not to. At long last, my receipt printed. I took it awkwardly, not minding how much her hand seemed to touch mine as the paper passed between us. I moved a few feet off and waited for my drink, very carefully focused on all of the text messages I had just decided I needed to send. I only allowed myself to glance up when I heard my drink called.
I did see the Island that night, though the colors of the party ran wilder and we were all deaf. Ian was in control of the music and danced harder than any of us, though I managed to just let the color and music absorb me for a while as I danced with Ted and the Island. We throbbed and pulsed with the music that night and felt a wonderful sense of relief. It didn’t matter whether it was good or bad, popular or not, as long as there was some noise bursting through the air, we were satisfied.
We sat out on the roof all night, talking too loudly under whatever stars could peek through the smog, the most pointless people in the world. And it was beautiful. We shared a single cigarette, all of us, passing it around the roof, blowing the smoke in each other’s faces. Tasting it in each other’s mouths. That night was violet, yellow, turquoise, fuchsia and, of course, black. We talked desperately and shouted along with the music, while the smoggy stars looked sadly down at us. The epitome of our generation.