"Quaalude Highway" -- A short story by Daniel Crockett
I spell your seven letters into the tangle of the bed. I carve them across the pillows and through the rumpled surface of the sheet. I engrave every vowel, each consonant, and envisage your mouth enunciating them as my hands trace the shapes out. One-by-one, I put images to the sounds that make up your name, Mizelle.
The M is you in a supplicant pose. You are imploring. All I can see of your frame is your legs; your upper torso is hidden in the darkness cast by the two long drapes that guard against the unwelcome glow of the light. This is merely a part of the dream, this endless twilight. You tremble slightly, with expectance and relish. Could this become love? For scant seconds you become my object, my M and nought beyond, and all notions of similarity drift out of the window and into the late morning air. Then reason is replaced by pure and primitive instinct.
The i is you stood, features illuminated in the dawn light, clinging to the stem of a white rose picked from the ochre pot that hangs from my windowsill. You prick your finger on a thorn and draw a bead of blood, just as the sun crests the cupola and sends golden light bursting through the valley, spotlighting the room and completing the dot of the ‘i' in a burning sphere 91 million miles distant. You become the ‘i’, the sun your halo as I create you, and you are virginal, less the bumps and scars.
With z I turn you around, over and over trying to fashion the shape. I put you on your side and on your front. I bend your limbs at obtuse angles, allowing myself a reign of freedom that would never come to pass. For once, you are my plaything, and I am not yours. I gather you up in my arms to inspect you, and marvel at the parts of your body I can never usually see: the soles of your feet, the nape of your neck, and the hollow pits of your arms. Your hair is long and ragged; Mizelle, and I push it behind your ears before I position your tiny frame. You are rested upon your knees, on the floor. Your arms are outstretched as you gather me into them. You make the perfect z.
The first e is you curled up - a weary cat in the nest of the bed - satiated, exhausted and parched. The lick of the letter is your legs, the bulk your body. You hug yourself with stick-thin arms and your eyelids flicker. I sit in a mahogany chair at the extent of the room, and we watch each other without having to speak or move. In these moments I learn more about your mind than ever before. It is our silence that comes to bind us.
Electric, eccentric, emphatic, epitome, equalizer. None of them will do. You are my existence now. It seems to fit.
The two l’s keep me preoccupied for hours. Could they represent the two of us, standing upright, regarding our disparate forms? I am unsure whether it is within the boundaries to hijack one of your letters and inject it with my identity. Perhaps they should both be you then, these two forms: staring agog at your likeness, goggle-eyed at the jut of your hips and the sacred truce between your shoulder blades and spine. You are multiplied, you become two. I admire you as you explore the resonance of your thoughts, buy access to the plains of your mind through the reflection of your flesh.
The final e is the hardest letter of all. You’ve folded more than once; it would be dull to create this image again. I suggest appropriating the end of your name and using it to create a word to describe you. You grudgingly agree, still staring into the mirror, wallowing in your tunnels, sifting through your unknown catacombs. I run through a few options, and discard them as they arrive. Electric, eccentric, emphatic, epitome, equalizer. None of them will do. You are my existence now. It seems to fit.
I practice speaking your name over and over, listening for the keen twang of resonance, shifting my intonations. I want to speak your name in every tongue known and unknown to man. I want to run through the streets and shout it. I wish it in my spit, in my blood, branded into the skin of my forehead. I want to make a language of it, write books in it, teach our children in it. In my thoughts you do not mind being objectified, and we sleep comfortable with my reinterpretation of your name, it engenders proximity. The reality of the situation, when it strikes me, is made no less abrupt by the comfort of the surroundings. My simulacrum, you in six forms and a reflection so delicately prepared, crumbles. You return to the suffocating cloak of the night.
Before sleep engulfs me I reach for them, and panic for a second when my grope in the darkness reveals nothing. They are taking over, perhaps. I recognise the problem yet something within me enjoys the substance of it. They exert too much influence, for how else could this slide into hermitage be explained? Yet the influence somehow seems far easier than the trials of life. Before I finish my train of thought I sleep.
She appeared by night. It was no daytime saloon. Newcomers would fall foul of the weight of the doors: great chunks of iron that once protected a colonial mansion and were dragged back to the old country during a time of transition and trouble. They required a bracing push, else the surprised patron would find themselves flung into the street as if by an indiscriminate doorman angry with his lot. From outside the chill wind shouldered its way into the bar. It had been a merciless winter, and showed no sign of abatement. Hibernation had become my key to survival, yet still I couldn’t face complete isolation. I came to this bar twice a week, on Thursdays and Saturdays, and tried to avoid conversation. Being around other people, however staid and dull the clientele of the place were, was enough. Nothing seemed to happen, and it suited me fine.
A man by the bar licked his lips with salacious glee. Every individual was watching the interchange with delight.
Illuminated by the glare of the lamps and the headlights of a passing car, a slight figure drifted ab extra with a slinking grace. The shape paused inside the doorway, eyes roving from man to man. My heart froze. “Come in,” said a muffled male voice, and she (for it surely was a she) proceeded towards the bar. The girl advanced through the room, watched by inquisitive, hungry eyes. The barman, Anton, one hand rested on the curve of his ample belly, stood open-mouthed. He tried to speak and failing, rubbed his chin. Every eye in the place studiously tracked her; saw the swing in her step and the switchbacks of her heels just riding the wooden floor. She spoke, a greeting.
Anton, his gouty arms dangling flaccidly by his sides, looked down at her through bloodshot eyes and moon-shaped spectacles held together by tape, the corn-stump stubble on his jowls riffling and heaving.“ I need a drink.” The female voice was unfamiliar in surroundings I had come to regard as purely masculine. The fat bartender moved with automatic conditioning, his toady frame responding with a knee-jerk to the familiar words. He stuttered and spat: “I-I-I-I-I am s-sorry, Madam. We only have beer. In pi-pi-pi…” A man by the bar licked his lips with salacious glee. Every individual was watching the interchange with delight.
Anton’s discomfort lifted all our spirits, but beyond this, the rhythm of the lady was magnetic. Drawing the eye away was like conquering an insurmountable summit after eating the dogs and the good doctor too. I was in no mood to resist: I stared vacuously along with the rest. Silence grew and filled the room. She waited as Anton ploughed on. “It’s just that, we don’t usually have, well… w-w-women in here, you see.” Lifting the cowl of her hood, the lady shot back. Her voice itself was possessive, snaking out from her mouth and enveloping the subject of her attention. I caught her name as someone at the bar enquired. It would become significant. ‘Mizelle.’ She ordered a drink.
Anton cowered and pulled a dirty flagon from the dust-addled shelf. It clattered as he held it beneath the tap, the weathered glass calling ‘clink-clink-clink.’ I looked around and noted that almost all eyes remained fixed on Mizelle. Then the suit of armour in the corner of the room creaked gently, as if a draft had hit it from some place unseen. It seemed to break the spell, as such miniature events may do, and within seconds the bar was alive again. An academic who I hated but had been conversing with rounded upon me instantaneously, his goatee-clad lips parted with relish. The nightmare surroundings of the drinking hole, the magnitude of its awfulness, struck me with fresh clarity.
I want to crystallise life and hoard it
“Bugger off!” I snarled at him through clenched teeth, yet it came out as nothing more than an affirmative grunt. I caught a glimpse of myself in the long mirror behind the oak surface of the bar. I saw the roughness of my skin where his was smooth, his thick hair where mine was thin, and a thousand other differences that marched around the room, put their arms onto my shoulders and whimpered into my ears ‘you’re old, you are old.’ And in the sheen of the mirror, as I limped my way across, I found the face of Mizelle. She parted her lips without the least air of lasciviousness. Her eyes, I noticed, danced with a curious intensity.
I found myself imagining a drop of blood falling from the poised sword of the armour-clad figure and exploding with a deafening crash on the scratched and filthy wood of the floor. The medication perhaps, or just the imagination. It made the sound of gramophone needles pulled across a mirror. The shards settled, lodged into multiple hidden spaces. I looked up at Mizelle’s face again, right into the pores and lines of that crooked profile.
Now she was looking over at me again. I pretended to be reading from the unkempt bundle of my notes, another lecture plan I would never adhere to. I glanced down at them and thought about sleep and sex and all between. Yet the papers had slipped from my hands, and drifted across the floor, unkempt in their freedom. How had they made the movement from my hands to the ground? Had they dropped as Mizelle made her introduction? Had the notes been borne away on some ghastly waft of air?
I looked again into the mirror. How long had I been sitting here, absorbed in my thoughts? Mizelle had gone. Where? When? Anton was bending over, the hairy crack of his arse pointing into the blank sterility of the bar. The academic and several others appeared to be looking over to me, though they were indistinct in the half-lit haze of the place. “Hello. I am Mizelle.” She spoke in the same even timbre as before. She was much louder and closer now, and I felt her breath drift from the back of her throat and engulf me. Her voice was not mellifluous: she neither purred nor sang. Her words extended claws and dug into me. I dragged my eyes up from the scattered pile of paper. Felt the weight of my head as the blood rushed around in red currents, one crossing behind my eyes like a thundering locomotive as I caught the brunt of her stare. My vision cleared. How did she get so close? My heart fluttered. I fell in love. I am Mizelle’s puppet, her hanky and her umbilical cord. “Take me home.” She said.
It took her a week to explain how she came to arrive in that place, and by this point I had come to realise that my ‘mental problems’ were nothing more than trite. She had been living on the fringes for some time, way out beyond my simple disorders and my comprehension. She was trapped in an abusive relationship, things had escalated into a crisis point. She explained it to me casually, matter-of-fact, a cigarette (stick of ash disintegrating like a well-burned log) in one hand and a glass of vodka in the other. “There was nothing left of me to give.” She kisses me with full force on the lips, clashing teeth. I reach for my medication, only a foot from the bed. I seek my daily verisimilitude, the stress exacerbating the need, but Mizelle pats my hand away from it, and draws my searching claw on to her breast. ‘No,’ she says. ‘From now on it’s just you and I.’
Later, we flush the pills together. They swirl around before disappearing. It is our ritual. Mizelle speaks about loyalty in that magnetic voice of hers, and I believe her. I am scared, but I believe her. Suddenly I don’t want to escape from my existence any longer. My wish for this blind heart to perish disintegrates. In fact quite the opposite, I want to crystallise life and hoard it. I hit a point of realisation: at this very moment and for this time, she is mine and I am hers and the rest of the world can burn around us for all I care.
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