A Mnemosyne story
Start at the beginning of the Mnemosyne series
Theodore was taken aback when I grabbed his arm and tugged him through the crowd. He gave no resistance to my efforts, letting himself be guided through the press of bodies. I'm sure that he said something to me, but whatever he said was lost in the rolling hum of the thousand voices around us.
The plastic tarped walls of the booths around us made a convenient wall, and I pulled Theo into one of the makeshift alleys that ran throughout the fair. Once we were out of the crowd he pulled up short and took his arm back, looking at me askance. "What's going on?"
I didn't know how to answer him. There's no way to convey a total break in reality with a few simple words while hiding behind a tent. So, instead I kissed him.
The adrenaline in my body gave me a rush of forwardness I was unaccustomed to. The kiss turned from one of desperation into one of desire. Our chests pressed together, and I could feel his breath quicken even through our thick jackets. The air hissed in through his nose in a gasp, and his hand on the back of my neck tightened as my fingers became claws grasping at his skin. His neck arched upward into the kiss until I could feel his heart hammering through his throat. My teeth nipped at his lower lip slightly and the shiver that ran through his back made my own heart pound even louder in my ears. The street below us seemed to tilt and we staggered under our own weight into one of the plastic walls, bumping into a table on the other side. A curse from the owner went unnoticed as we played through the dance of humanity, making the world disappear around us.
It was that realization that pulled me back from the kiss - a terrible feeling of danger in my gut that railed against the growing darkness I could feel in my mind, as if I was hurtling toward the edge of a bottomless precipice. With some effort I pushed myself back and away from Theo. He stared out at me from beyond his fogged in glasses, breathing hard. A cloud of steam hung in the air around us, dissipating in the wind. I'm not certain how long we had been there kissing, but the man whose table we had bumped stood at the end of the alley staring at us. We both looked out at him, and I saw Theodore's cheeks burn red in the white streetlamp light. The man laughed and waved at us with the back of his hand, shooing us away. We laughed in return, and held hands as we walked out of the alley back onto the street.
No tall hat appeared to me out of the crowd, and I began to settle a bit as we strolled from booth to booth through the fair. A tickling that I had been wrong and simply overcome with paranoia began to take hold in the back of my mind. I knew that it was a false hope as surely as I knew that my sudden ardor for Theodore was caused partially by the thought of Kevin watching from the crowd. I had always liked to perform for him, and he would spur me on with whispers and looks. His eyes filled my mind, and I gripped Theodore's hand tighter through his mitten.
"There's a great beer here I'd like you to try."
Theodore's voice was startling in my ear. He'd leaned in close to be heard above the crowd, and I could feel the vapor of his breath crystallizing on my skin. "Oh? Where to?"
He pointed ahead of us and gestured sideways with his thumb, showing me we should turn left at the next street. We drifted along with the crowd at a leisurely pace. I was happy that Theo seemed to either have forgotten my insistence at dragging him into the alley, or dismissed it as a lover's passion. Either way worked for me, as I didn't want to deal with having to talk to him about Kevin. Talking to someone about an abusive ex is difficult enough without adding the possibility of my psychosis into the equation. It didn't hurt that I wanted him to be so taken with me that it drove other thoughts from his mind.
Theo led me to a large kiosk standing in the middle of the crossroads of the next street down the block. The tent was striped with blue and red, like a circus tent, and labeled Three Ring Brews. A garish picture of a clown leered out of the marquis, white faced with red starred cheeks and hollow black eyes without pupils. A speech bubble declared "Beers that will make you wacky!" Although I did not want anything that clown could possibly give me, Theodore seemed excited, so I ducked under the awning and stood at the makeshift bar with him.
"Hey, we'll take two Circus Peanuts." Theo held up one hand, then looked at his mitten and laughed before pulling it off, showing two raised fingers. The guy behind the bar looked bored and cold in his yellow clown getup, and he had obviously washed his makeup off hours earlier. He racked up two mugs on the bar and filled them from a spray nozzle. The beer looked dark, nearly pitch black. The beer clown slid them across the bar and said "Ten bucks." Theo pulled out a ten and tossed it onto the bar before handing me my mug.
"This stuff is great. Reminds me of the beer my mom used to make." He sipped from the mug and wiped the foam from his lips with the back of his bare hand. A small white spot remained on his cheek, and I reached out to wipe it away for him, drawing a smile.
"Your mom brewed beer? That's kind of interesting." I knew nothing about beer, or how it was brewed, but I wanted to be interested.
Theo nodded. "Yeah. My dad is allergic to beer, so I think she did it partly to have a place in the house all to herself. Our basement smelled like alcohol constantly when I was growing up." I took a pull from the mug and tried to keep a straight face. My hatred for beer knows no bounds, and even for beer this stuff was bad. With a name like Circus Peanut it was little wonder.
"Are your parents still together?" Regret flooded my stomach as soon as I asked the question. That was a foolhardy topic to tackle so soon after meeting someone. So many terrible hurts could lie right under the surface, waiting for me to poke them and destroy whatever seemed to be forming here. I did not want to cause Theodore any pain, and I had just taken a wild stab at some past trauma.
He settled my fear with a chuckle. "Yeah, they're together. They wouldn’t know what to do if they weren't irritating each other all the time. I think it's how they show they care. Driving each other crazy. How about you?"
I shook my head. "No, my mom died when I was a kid, and Papa never remarried. He tried dating a bit when I became a teenager, but it never took. We still go out and visit her in the cemetery once a month."
Theo took another sip of beer. "I'm sorry. That must have been tough. Are you and your dad close?"
This time I nodded. "Yes. Very much so. I spend a lot of time with him. Some weekends I'll still take a shift or two in his restaurant just to get more time with him, now that I'm living on my own. He's probably my best friend. That must make me sound pretty pathetic."
"No, not at all." Theodore's voice was soft, but somehow carried across the crowd. We moved back out onto the street with our beer, keeping our heads close so that we could talk. "It sounds sweet. I love my parents, but we're kind of distant from one another. I wish I could have a close relationship with them, but they're uncomfortable with . . . . this." He gestured back and forth between us, then shrugged. "I know they care about me and don't like feeling that way, but they do. I've made my peace with it."
I nodded again, unsure of what to say. He looked away for a moment into his beer, and I reached out and gave his shoulder a squeeze. Theo looked back up with a smile on his face, looking into my eyes. I could see his gratitude and affection plainly there. He handed me his beer mug and gestured with his thumb toward an actual bar we were passing. "I'm just going to run in there for a second to use the restroom. I'll be right back." And with that he turned and disappeared into a knot of people.
I followed slower through the crowd, making my way to the corner of the bar. A small wooden building proclaiming the best smoked fish in town stood next to the bricks of the bar corner. A small alleyway separated the two buildings, just wide enough for someone mostly sideways to slink down. It seemed a place to get out of the crowd, so I put my back against the corner of the building and held both mugs close to my body to shield them from jostling. I poured a bit of beer out of my mug so that I wouldn't have to drink it when Theo came back, and chuckled a bit at myself.
I'm not sure how he reached me without my noticing. One moment I was taking my ease against the brick, looking down into Theo's beer, and the next a black gloved hand was around my throat and forcing me back into the alley. My head slammed up against the rough wall of the bar, and I groped in surprise at the strangling arm before memory and habit kicked in, slackening my attempts to free myself.
The smooth leather of the gloves pressed against the skin of my neck, and the fingers tightened on the sides of my throat. I could feel my arteries pulse against the unyielding fingers as my heart pounded in my chest. The palm of the hand cupped my trachea almost gently, pushing it closed with careful care as the fingers tightened even more. My eyes felt pressured near to bursting, and I thrust forward a bit with my head, unconsciously trying to break the grip, but the arm flexed and pushed me back against the wall almost contemptuously. The fear and adrenaline from earlier returned with a vengeance, making my skin tingle and hum. The pale snow around me seemed to fade to monochrome against the darkness of the night, and then even those shades of black and white faded into simple blurs. A few simple words tickled and then clung to my ears, the breath that delivered them hissing through my mind like the wind across a still plain. "You're mine."
With that, the grip broke. I'm ashamed to say that the first thing I felt was ecstasy. When the hand let loose my neck the world came rushing back in a shining band of singing silver and humming darkness. It seemed to pulse around me, as if I was a drop that had entered a pool, causing ripples and waves that made the world around me throb back and forth. Everything seemed sharper and more real, more important. The air tasted sweet as it burned my throat, too cold to be drawn in so fast. In short, I tasted perfection for those brief seconds after my life was returned to my keeping.
I didn't need to look up to know it was Kevin. The choking was something he had done to me before - sometimes with my permission, sometimes without. Even when he did it violently, without love or affection, it affected me that way. I hated myself for it, for liking it, and feeling like I needed it. Not because I thought the choking was wrong, but because I felt so strongly for something that Kevin was doing to me, after everything that had happened. I was like an addict feeling guilty after a heroin trip.
After a few seconds passed I realized that I was crouched against the wall, staring at the shattered remains of the beer mugs. The dark alcohol had melted the bits of snow and slush at the mouth of the alley, and the whole area now reeked of cheap liquor. Black books, tall and laced tightly, stood amidst the shards of glass. I looked up, and over me stood Kevin.
He was the picture of my most vivid memories. His face was smooth, eyes wide and high over angled cheekbones. A faint trace of scruff lined his jaw line, and his throat was covered with a bit of eighteenth century lace. A dark wool overcoat swirled around his shoulders as he rolled the arm that had been choking me in its socket once. His dark eyes burned into me, making it even more difficult to breathe.
It took me far longer than it should have to realize that he had no mouth. I had always hated Kevin's teeth. He had a chronic fear of dentistry, and as a result had a horrific looking, and tasting mouth. It was a near thing for me to have started dating him at all. I must have hated looking at that mouth so much that I blotted it out of my mind, leaving this Kevin without a mouth at all. Yet, he still spoke clearly to me, both on the phone and while choking me.
His chin moved in a mockery of speech, and the flat skin where his mouth should have been stretched and distorted across his face. "You. Are. Mine." He then turned from me and walked down the alley to a door in the side of the bar, where he raised a single foot and kicked through the closed portal. The real Kevin, the Kevin I had known, would never have been able to muster up such strength in a single kick. This Kevin made it look easy. As he disappeared through the door, I heard a few startled shouts from inside. The last thing I saw as he moved beyond my field of vision was his hand flaring down to his side and a knife, long and wicked, appearing in his hand.
Story and image by Nick Bergeron, Copyright 2010