What follows is a selection from The Sacred Lost Tomes of The Ryan, the brief and terrible history of which is glossed over here and here. “Porcelain Strawberry” is the second piece of short fiction I can recall having ever written, not including whatever crap I may or may not have been churning out in my adolescence, and has been presented here in several parts over the past week or so. It was initially written for an assignment in a creative writing class at the University of New Mexico, and was influenced and informed by Nicholson Baker’s novella The Mezzanine. But I won’t tell you HOW…that’s for you to discover, intrepid reader! Go here to read Part I, click here for Part II, and navigate this way for Part III. BEHOLD, the Finale, Part IV, below:
One night, months later, as we lay together, entwined in one another, I look deeply into her entrancing, oceanic eyes, and I feel as if that moment will stretch on forever. I hope to myself that it does. I have something I’ve wanted to say to her since the moment we met, and the feeling of this moment tells me the time is right.
“I…love you,” I say softly, stroking her delicate cheek with the tips of my fingers. She smiles and kisses the tip of my nose, burying her head in the crook of my neck. But not before a flash of surprised, perplexed fear plays ever so briefly across her face. I say nothing, but I am disconcerted by this, a feeling that haunts the halls of my mind for weeks, festering and growing until I can focus on nothing else.
Images of other men begin creeping into my mind more and more often, no longer restraining themselves to times when we’re apart, and I take to visiting her perhaps too often at her job, sometimes lingering outside the entrance watching, waiting, minutes, hours, before even going in. I try to mask my suspicion and jealousy, but this becomes increasingly difficult. Too often I come upon her talking to some handsome, masculine guy, and I wonder at what’s behind her warm smile with him, the proximity of their bodies, the generosity with which she shows him to various sections of the bookstore. Sometimes I hang back and watch during these encounters, but most often I rush up, putting a possessive arm around her shoulders, maybe kissing her cheek or neck, as I shoot the bastard a contemptuous glare in warning. Usually I am a decidedly non-confrontational person – I generally just don’t care enough – but this is different. This girl is mine.
We are eating dinner at Vincilli’s one evening, our favorite spot for those rare occasions in which we dine out in style, when the already awkward conversation between us takes a turn for the worst.
“I need to talk to you,” she tells me, putting down her fork and pushing away a half-eaten plate of chicken alfredo. Her eyes are surprisingly cold, her face tight and emotionless.
“What is it, babe,” I say, trying to mask my fear and unease with overt sweetness.
“I think we need to cool it off for a while.” Her words are a kick in my chest, a vice-grip on my heart. That familiar, sickly, sinking feeling creeps into my gut. I clench my jaw to stifle the nausea.
“Don’t get me wrong,” she continues. “It’s been great being with you…” She pauses, my mouth hanging open in shock and loss. “Well…it was great, at first, but…but lately, things have gotten sort of…suffocating.” My head falls with this last word. I want to bring it down with a bang onto the table, to cry out, to do something, anything to release this vicious, pulsating tension building up in my skull and chest, climbing its way on sharpened claws down my spine. That’s the same thing Kate said, years ago, the last time I had dared to open myself to another person.
“I just think, y’know, if we saw other people for a while, maybe…maybe we’d remember why we got together in the first place.” Disconnected thoughts run fleetingly through my mind, countless things I want to say, but I can’t grasp any of them long enough to form them into coherence. I feel my brow wrinkle, beads of sweat gathering as my eyes dart wildly across the cluttered surface of the table, unable to focus on any one thing. I certainly can’t bring myself to look up at her.
“Aren’t you going to say anything? Are you just going to sit there, pretending like you didn’t hear me?” I close my eyes, take a deep breath, try to collect myself, desperately grasping for anything that might make her stay.
“You…you’re breaking up with me?” The disbelief in my voice is obvious. “I thought we were going to spend our lives together…I thought we were…made for each other.”
“I thought so too, but…I just think if we could spend some time apart…see how we both feel about…about giving some other people a try…”
“But, I don’t want anyone else. All I want is you. I…I love you.” She smirks at those last words, condescending.
“I’m sure you think you do. But, how can you be so sure? I mean, you’ve only really been with one other person. I’ve only ever been with you, so…so how can we know something like that?” She waits for me to respond, but I have nothing left to say. I can’t focus on the moment long enough to react to it. I feel myself begin to grow cold inside, my heart withering, a brief surge of pain shooting through my body before it goes numb…again. And when she finally gets up to leave, I can’t make myself go after her.
Months later, I’m on the phone with her again. Supplicate. Pleading with her to allow me a place in her life.
“It’s too late for that,” she retorts, her voice thick with aggravation. “You fucked that up. I told you I wanted some space, but you couldn’t give it to me. I’ve seen you outside my work, outside my home, every day for the last month. I feel like you’re stalking me, and now you want me to let you back into my life? Forget it, you fucking psycho, there’s no way.” I try to break in, to tell her I’m different, I’ve changed, I’ll give her space if that’s what she wants, if only she’ll remain.
“Get a life,” she snaps before slamming down the phone.
After this, eternity. I find myself in a sick state of self-loathing, plunged down into the blackest pit of misery and dejection, a hole which the light of nothing can pierce. Even that splintering speck of pleasure and superiority I once felt at focusing on the pathetic weakness in others is now gone, and I feel nothing but scornful contempt at the world around me. There is nothing, a perpetual emptiness, in everything I see.
I try to call. Her number is disconnected. I go by the bookstore, pretending to search for something in the Fiction Anthology section as I scan the store for her face. She is nowhere. Nowhere to be found, regardless of how often I return, how long I stay. Gone.
Blinking my eyes, I shake myself free of this fantasy turned dark. I look up, searching for my girl. She has crossed the bustling mall food court, making her way slowly toward the glass door exit. A guy walks next to her; they’re embraced hand-in-hand. When did he appear? Her head rests delicately on his shoulder, his black beanie matching the style and hue of her wooly black sweater. Quickly, I rise. Make way across the sea of tables, following her. Following them. She has changed me, in this moment. She has taken grasp of pieces of my tender soul, my innermost being, and I must pursue her to make them complete. I must possess her.
She will be mine.
© Ryan Scott Sanders and Dharma and Belligerence: Mad Rants from a Free-Range Buddhist Hooligan, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ryan Scott Sanders and Dharma and Belligerence: Mad Rants from a Free-Range Buddhist Hooligan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.