On the Edges of Civilization (All the People Look the Same)
by Charlotte E. Wilde
She leaned over the bridge and looked at a skyline she’d sworn would never turn her cheek, momentarily resigned, perhaps, to being the kind of girl you didn’t want to know, convinced that the spectrum of emotions was narrowing every day until she would cease to be entirely. She looked at him writing and imagined a Freudian scene where he jotted down: “self-worth judged on crowd sourced affection,” while she tried half-heartedly to explain that the value accumulating in looks and smiles written in her margins was not how she’d ever intended to continue, how she’d had every intention to change. But he didn’t glance up and inscribed on his profile were a hundred ways to tell her she didn’t have a soft bone in her body, that she was edges rusted sharp and grey eyes grim enough burry, so she clicked her mouth shut hard on the words and stared at hands instead. He must have known she was riddled in partials– too easily filled with foreign expectations and hopes like sand poured into a jar, just absent enough to become a vessel for someone else’s version of herself.
He stood beside her then, thoughts hidden in the smoke of a cigarette, and asked her how they’d met. He wrapped the question around the railing as if he didn’t know. Posed it as if they could erase and re-write the beginnings of a history by filling in the blanks with invented eye contact or the brush of a kindred hand– shades of pastel to replace the harsh neons of spinning kitch reflecting in the water. But it wasn’t meant to be. They weren’t either, and they knew it without a word.
‘And why not just wait for someone to come along capable of hurting you because you’re not sure you can keep hurting yourself? Have you lost the ability to feel, or feel too much?’ She wanted to ask, for both their sakes; everything in extremes for a person like that. They were the same, maybe, as if the rest of it wasn’t terrifying enough.
“I know there is something I’m missing,” she whispered instead.
“Yes, but you have greatness too. It’s like the world around you is running too slow,” he told her. “You are who you are for a reason.”
Perhaps there was truth hidden in iron sides, a truth he himself couldn’t even find but it lingered at the corners of his mouth or the lines on his forehead like a secret written in the dark. It aged him, the only pinpoint to belie an accumulation of a year and three decades of stories she would have gladly read like a book. Yet imagined similarities to persons past kept turning out instead to be fragments of history lurking in a shrug or puff of smoke. Life is so persistent sometimes, cold and exacting and trudging forward without asking anyone’s opinion or by your leave. Time was a deplorable thing, hatefully dragging then sublimely frantic, but always mired in its own schizophrenic rhythm, leaving certain people one beat off and one step behind, the pace of it all rendering them strangers to even themselves. The ethos of lonely must turn to art, perhaps, that’s its only chance at being more than the sum of its parts, because it’s surely not love or relationships or life or happiness. None of these things were meant for people whose solitude refused to yield to a crowded ideal or city street.
That morning she’d felt his presence hiding in scars: on her arm, her side, the ribs that she’d broken– like a storm that shows itself first in the barometric ache of old injuries. The sudden drop in atmospheric pressure settled in her temples as a sigh, a basement hideaway begging to be ignored. So she brushed away her worries– for she was many terrible things, but she knew to draw eyeballs on her eyelids so she could close her eyes and dream. Maybe he would dream with her, or maybe he had other plans for rusted edges and a bridge where they’d not met, but that history would almost certainly read as the beginning of her end.