“Staring Contest”

(A short new piece by a very old muse.)  

         She’s back again. A sliver of golden light grows between us as she opens the wall and steps inside. Sometimes it seems as if she never enters, as if she is already there, sitting with her legs folded beneath her and her hands resting in her lap. Sometimes she is young, a skinny child with tangled hair who won’t be silent because she is too shy. Other times she is an adult and asks fewer questions for fear of being too loud. Today she is two ages at once and it is hard to see her for what she is. She wavers in the light like a shadow.

I am impossibly old. She told me my age once, but I’ve long since forgotten; it was never really important. I am old, and when you are as old as I it becomes harder to tolerate being stared at for so long. There used to be days when she would come and sit before me and I would give her a hard time, but always end with what she wanted. Frustrating little riddles and twisting word-paths would lead her back out again, and she would be gone for ages at a time.

But now I am old, and today the sight of her bothers me. Today the relief and exhilaration I once felt at her arrival have been eaten by resentment. Today we speak without talking. That is how it has always been. She sits and I stare, and intensely we share what she needs. But today we have much to say. Today she needs to be taught a lesson.

There are no words, as I have said, but there are a thousand things for her to hear. She knows how to listen; I taught her many years ago. The little girl who saw things in now-this and now-that was a terror to tame, but I had patience then. I worked her between my fingers until at last she began to see what was forming her. She saw the lines of my hands, the way they moved through her head and left fractured images in their wake. She saw the downward pull of my face and the harshness of each crease. She traced them back to the depths of my eyes that hid behind a brilliant redness, and there she found my skin bound in cold.

These are the things she has forgotten. She can lift her hand in the darkness and find mine, if she tries. She can touch the tips of her fingers to mine and feel the thinness of my arm at their end. If she follows it she can find the shadows I wear and begin to break them from their obscurity. She can discern suit-coats and vests, jackets and cloaks…and then I will remind her that I am wearing a simple black shirt.

If she keeps her hand to mine, I can tell her what she is wearing. I can see jeans of denim, of black leather, and boots with no heels. I can feel sweaters and t-shirts and long cardigans with buckles in their folds. I can see skinny knees and basketball shorts. She looks nothing like she thinks she does.

The things I do not say are the things she hears loudest. I do not say what is in my half-frown, in the corner of bloodless lips she knows so well. I do not say anything about the pain she knows is there, or the anger and darkness lurking just beneath my surface. I am an illusion of skin, creeping beneath myself, and sometimes she knows. Sometimes she feels this way, too, and together we stare and speak of anything but that.

It takes only another age before I know she is properly afraid of me. I can see that, in the enthusiasm that springs into her face with a deluded abruptness. I can see her shift her weight and smile a bit too easily, and somewhere along the way our hands are no longer touching. Somewhere along the way she has found respect in her fear. I think perhaps she has drawn it from me, sucked it from my blood with dagger-edged teeth. She has taken a bit of my anger with it, leaving me the paler, the colder, the more resigned and docile to her needs.

So she has learned. So the lesson has been taught, and received, and understood. So now she will go home, back through the walls, and the light will go with her, and I will sit in the darkness again, back pressed against solid nothing, head bowed the slightest bit with an arm propped on one knee. I will say nothing at all, except a constant hum in her head, and in another age she will return. We will stare at each other again, and again I will wonder who is winning.

© Ray Green 2016


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