Molly Liu is a community college student coming from China. She is a 20-year-old who loves science fiction.
Letters in Experience
For T: After receiving your last letter, I’m curious about your identity. You told me you’re living in a different country than mine, and it’s a humid place full of water, but nothing except that. You told me you’re a worker, and you are in your early 60s, so your story might be completely different from mine and therefore be boring, but I doubt it, as it only interests me more and makes me want to know more about you.
For M: It’s our third letter, but still I don’t know of your info, the only thing I know is that you are a stranger to me. You said that you are a little bit older than me and also have complexly no idea how my random packed letters appear in your mailbox, just like me. That makes the two of us, I have to say. A week before, I threw my letter into the mailbox, I didn’t picture it will be received by anyone since it has no addressee, sender, nor address. I picture the mailman will take it as a punk. I never thought you would receive it and write back to me.
I told you I am 16, but I will be turning 17 in a few months. I wish the best for both of you and hope that our letters can continue to be exchanged through this mysterious way.
If it’s okay, as I’m deeply curious, please enlighten me, tell me where you belong.
For some reason I can’t specifically tell you my standing, but I will share what I have. Ever since receiving your letter one week ago, I have been reading to an old man in our nursing house.
He offers me all his secrets before his death, and I trust you to not spread his confession. So here is his monologue on paper:
The old man’s room is at the top of the nursing room. It has one small window and two beds. The man from the other bed is paralyzed, with a nurse feeding him two times a day. The old man is close. He can talk, he can think, but not so fluently. He often forgets his breakfast, sometimes his dinner too. They are left with flies. The pale wall of the room silently surrenders everyone of them.
I’m joking. The old man, an unnecessary name, refers to me. I can talk and think, despite what they say. I even keep a diary under my pillow. But for the sake of an interesting story, let’s just call me the old man.
I always——the old man always has the dream of confessing in a church. The priest will listen quietly, never raise a question or judge. The most important thing is, he believes in him. What’s not to take in? The old man is an honorable soldier of the empire who returns from victory, survives from the war. A great man. A good man. What’s to judge?
But honestly, the old man always thinks war and the little conflicts between men are one thing. Both unimportant, both happen randomly, from a day to day basis. And nothing can change the old man’s heart.
One day, they decide that the old man is close to his death. They try to call a priest, but the old man yells him away. Instead, he says: “Get me, somebody, to read to me.”
With all the confused faces, he adds: “Three days. Then I will live or die however you want.”
That somebody turns out to be the oldest nurse from the other building. Why she is summoned is for the sake of the ability to read.
She brings in a huge book. The Count of Monte Cristo.
As she read about the story of a young boy being framed, the old man drifts away to the experience he had in the army. 9 for a team, each equipped with a water bottle with soundproof.
“Shall I leave the revenge part for tomorrow?” The nurse around sixty coming from faraway says, closing the book.
“You’re jumping through the chapters.” The old man says so but lets her go.
“That day, he lays awake, thinking of the virus concentration camp he used to be in. The smell of stinking flesh, sweating and burning all at the same time. The masks on the prisoner’s faces. The dog that try to lick his finger and the girls he is surrounded by, and a photographer taking a picture of him. He is smiling there behind a mask. There, his ranking is lieutenant.
She brings a pair of glasses with her the next day. As she starts reading, he sees the marks on her finger.
“Animal bites.” She says without raising her head as if she knows he is watching.
The story of the young man——an old man now, getting revenge is always a cliché one. He survives, hides his identity, all for some deserted love he has for humanity.
By the time she closes her book, the old man’s eyes are already closed. What can he possibly dream about? Switching skins, changing names, return to another’s homeland? Nobody knows.
War and conflicts are something that happens every day, and nobody can change the old man’s heart.
“All human wisdom is summed up into two words: Fac et spera (Wait and hope)! “ She finishes her reading, removes the glasses and puts them on the table.
The old man suddenly wakes up from sleep. Just like a child first born into the world, he asks the first question that comes to mind: “The animal bites…… how did you get them?”
The woman sighs wearily. “Long ago.” She says, “I have a little sister. And the day the rabbits are cooked, I try to save them, and they bite me.”
It wasn’t the most logical first sentence, but the old man takes it in, along with the whole story coming afterward.
The woman is gone; no more reading. But the old man is still breathing. And they let him. A few weeks after something happens from the top, and they’re shutting down the nursing house, removing all the patients.
The last day before he has to leave, the old man lays awake thinking. If God is real, why only sinners walk out from the valley of the shadow of death? Fac et spera, is that really so? The old man knows some sin can’t be forgiven, like his. The woman’s, on the other hand, is up to god.
The old man dreams. He dreams of a summer he can hardly record, for it burns him like iron. He dreams of a kiss, and the many kisses that can only happen in dreams. He wipes his face clean when he wakes up.
This is a dairy, so I will come back to the real pronoun in the end. By the next day when they come in, they will see the sleeping pill gone, the window open. Where will I end up is a mystery. But I just hope that I can go to the summer when I first join the army, with my sister’s photo in the pocket next to my heart, smiling and sweating under the sun, knowing nothing about war.
I think back on the day of our readings and his impression with my reading. I think I can tell you our three days together, as this is one of the most comforting moments in my life, before his death. Even though when I read, he suffers under the shadows of death and the burden of guilt.
The story I read to him is about a revenger who has been framed and throw into prison and been lectured and told the secret of a mysterious treasure by a priest. He then flee out of prison, gets the treasure and name himself the count of Monte Cristo, where the treasure lays. After that, he starts planning revenge on the three people that betrayed him and frame his into prison; one of them married his ex-fiancée and they had a son, so the son becomes his target. He gets close to them and become their friend, their guests, and their peers. Till the end, through many death and madness he remorse, and after the revenge he leaves and sails away. I never know it will reminds him of himself.
As the old man told me two of his secrets, one of which I already wrote down for you, he asks me to keep the other one safe. Therefore, all I can tell you is the time we spend together and how he reacts to the book.
“Because it is the air she always breathed in her youth.” This is the line that describes the fiancée’s feeling for the protagonist, a girl’s feeling for a boy appeared in her eyes years ago. He is lost in memory and hence didn’t have the will to listen for several minutes.
“errare humanum est.” Mortals have faults. This is his favorite line. He says it again and again on his tongue, and at the end of the chapter when the young character gets the promise that he can marry his girl one day, a weird smile appears on his face. That’s the point he decided to tell me his secret, I think.
“Death raps at your door - it enters -it goes, not blindfolded, but circumspectly, from room to room. Well, I follow its course, I track its passage.” He names it as the line designed for him. I look at him, a man tortured by war, whose body is broken with his mind, and I understand his feeling for the world.
“Seek whom the crime will profit.” At this point, he decides to tell me his hidden story. He told me human’s ugliness, how one should always watch out for evil, even for those we are closest to. I don’t want to suspect this is coming from his experience literally, but turns out it is.
“No; I will not repent. There is no God; there is no providence - all comes by chance.” When he repeats this line, I respond with words of comfort. It’s better for people to think of the exception of the line, otherwise one might be driven crazy; I myself have the experience. He sighs for my words.
“It is not so we should evince our resignation to the will of heaven; on the contrary, we are all free agents.” I picked the line from the book in response to him. Even it’s clear that he is sinked into the belief that God, if he exists, does no good to humans too. I believe that whether or not he exists or not, we should live by our will and embrace the results.
“For all evils there are two remedies - time and silence.” This is the line we both agree on. Our trauma from lives can’t be fixed so easily, but this is a dose of cure that can help remove it from history. Time, always time, with it everything in life passes.
“one cannot be completely happy in this world!” Overheard this line, we both laughed.
“I have to say,” He leans on the headboard, “Your story can be redeemed by God, mine can’t.”
“All men that are capable of love are equal.” I say casually, not taking it in myself.
“I have the weirdest kind of love,” He says, “I wish he would live a less prosper life without me. I wish him suffering, being forced to kneel on the ground, like the way I did. I don’t wish him well. That’s strange, isn’t it?”
“There are all kinds of love.” I say, “In the book, Haydée, the strange girl who appears from nowhere, falls in love with our protagonist and grands him happiness after revenge. There are weird kinds of love, wishing your beloved unhappy is not so strange after what he did to you in your case.”
“But there is no true revenge, right? Every revenge aims at oneself and oneself alone, like keeping a knife in one’s gut only hurts oneself alone. Even revenge directly aims at oneself would not succeed as well. There is not one to called ‘stop’ therefore the torture has no end and we can not win.” The old man shrugs, “I already knew. But if you have the chance to go back and change everything, will you do it?”
“I suppose that will only cause new conflicts as there are more than one trouble in our lives, and easing one does not exterminate another.” I smile, “The revenge of Monte Cristo, half of it done by chance, another half done by lure——he never did it with his hand directly from the beginning through the end. If you have the chance to go back and do all things over…Will you do it?”
“I have thought of that too many times in my life,” He states into a spot in the air, “If I can go back, I would like to go back into my youth, where I’m happy.”
One can be hateful, but can not be ridiculous. We live for the principle all our lives, and we get the result. Now, with him gone, I will write you this story of ours, if it enlightens you in any aspects with our hope.
Dear T and F:
This is M. I got your letters. What I can tell you I have listed below. I’m quite a boring guy.
My fingers are long, but they’re not the fingers of a pianist. Not that My father would let me become one. He’s an old doctor, respected, and expects his son to be respected when he grows up as well. Let’s just say that makes the two of us.
The story about me is the taste in my mouth. It’s always bitter, like metal. I shy away from people whenever they look at my eyes and the taste of blood explodes in my mouth. When the taste of pineapple explodes my smile grows weaker. The story of me is always me trying not to back away, not to run away from crowds even if I want to, a lot.
We are what they called “the golden boys”. We are tall, fit, strong. We swim, do sword right, wrestle. We laugh with our teeth out, reaching out our hand first before others. We go to the beach to get tanned, we spray deodorizer on a daily basis. We’re nice to the ladies. We are nice to everyone. We’re no kids. We pick between the good and the ugly. We know what to do.
Every time I see my little sister Johanna peeling fruits on the leather sofa I think like this. We are the so-called middle class, a phrase I use only to rip on my mother. We are the country’s future, I’m my family’s future, at least in this century.
At that time war’s darkness was not over us. Me, Mathias, Luna, and Karla are best friends. Friend might not be a proper phrase, as we are all adolescent opposite sex. But my family is not conservative, and I know what sex is, so the four——two pairs——of us often wander around in one car.
Mathias often sticks his head out from the car, and Luna often makes jokes of him getting killed like this. Karla often stops us from smoking in the cars, and sometimes when we do listen, she adds up many new rules, till we stop listening. Whenever she drives, she will park aside as we smoke. But the car is hers, so there is nothing to say, besides she is the favorite kid around the families which guarantees our trips being able to conduct.
I’m the most common one of them. I make jokes, smoke, flirt, but I solely do it after Mathias. He is the big brother, and I am just the one following. Besides that, I have a little sister at high school, a mother who is not so strict but will kill me with her eyes every time I do something wrong. I also have a bitter taste in my mouth, one time I ask my date after we kiss, and she says it’s just my nerves; I suspect she is lying to me solely because it’s her first kiss.
I don’t have socks and condoms in my pocket, if that’s anyone’s worry. I have a purse, a pen, and a paper full with my agenda: 1am this, 2 pm that and messy illusions, like a tornado-controlled aircraft, wind controlled completely. It has four wings, like an insect. I will peak at it 20 times a day, sometimes when getting caught by my sister, she will say that I have something up my nerves.
Ever since war, everything changes. Not to say the big stuff, in subtle ways also. The summer before the war, someone hears some rumor and posts something in the newspaper. Mathias doesn’t give a hang and jokes about it, but he is near 20 and has a brother, and I know he doesn't want someone in his family to have to go to war. Karla acts like normal, busy engaging in sport, study and friends, but she talks more and more, mostly asking questions no one can answer. Sometimes the veterans group up and talk in the tavern, and I really don’t feel able to laugh at their jokes.
The first town to fall is X. Father will get a map and point at it, saying things like: it is an important town, but not a secure one. He isn’t talking about our nation, but the nation we want to conquer.
Right at the summer, Mathias and Luna become a couple. He used to be Karla’s boyfriend, but got dumped over some silly reason: He put off cigarettes in her flower pot. He later explains that he does that on purpose, because as much as he wants to break up with her, he doesn’t want to hurt her feelings. I doubt that a lot.
Dear F and M,
I have a suggestion. I think we can continue to exchange letters as pen pals with the first letter on our names only, for this ensures our privacy.
To M: I feel happy for your trust. Your life is more luxurious than what I am going through, but I have to say there is a period of time I ‘m living the same lifestyle. I travel a lot with my parents, dance and drink in the city with boys and girls. Do you want to be a painter? I think you would make a good designer too. Completely wind controlled is more of an idea for a toy, but with higher space it might possibly work, with another machine sending it up there.
I can’t help to compare the details of our letters. It seems like we are living in a different phase of time, but considering the magic mailbox it’s not so surprising after all. In my time war has already passed, and events like the fall of town X, I can say, did happen. From my conversation with the old man I know that changing the past might just bring more regret, so I would only offer you my thoughts but not my guides. My guides might not be so correct after all.
To T: How is your life? I wish to know more about you. Is your environment endangered by war as well? Take good care, I wish to receive your last letter soon.
Dear M and T,
I’m the most regular type of girl: school, work, running up and down the hills when I’m free, and that’s it. My family’s house is right near my school. They’re all in a small village. Only casually do our relatives pay a visit to us, in the name of a visit but actually are enjoying the country.
My father is the harshest kind of person. His kind of character can be called repulsive or normal given the different culture and he knows it. Haven’t changed the way he acts. My mother used to be a worker in the cities and retires after marriage. It’s after his work location transfer we moved to the village where our grandparents once lived.
Our neighbors are all strange people. They’re like retired magicians. Rumors says, Mr.Dick loses his wife who committed suicide because his affair, and that’s why he moves here. There is another rumor that says he kills her using a means so clever nobody knows how. One day he shoots himself and is sent to the hospital, covered by the name of a misfire, and after that, the police opens up the letters at his place, all filled up by unpaid bills from a guy named Gavin.
It didn’t come to me that Gavin can be the so said affair, that he is the cause of the death of two people. But I’m stalling too much; I will try getting to the point of the letter.
It is the time before the war. School still functions well, we even get chances of day trips. My school is upon the hills, so I have to bike really hard to go up there. Miguel is the only one in class that has a car, so he is popular. Such is the way a small town works.
One day, on a school trip at night to observe the stars, we wander off—me and Miguel—and get lost. We just sit beside the grass, talking nonsense, till we get to the topic of war.
“You ought to respect people who want to do it,” He says, and I argue back:” You ought to respect people who like peace better and don’t want to do it.”
“Instead of saving the country?” He laughs.
“What’s to save when there is no country left.” I want to say so, but what comes out is: “Idiot.”
When we return to the line, everybody is talking so nobody notices we are missing, including the teacher: no one can possibly be missing in this small town anyway since everybody knows everybody. The topic of war never comes back.
We have a few rabbits at school. All are males, so none of them can make babies. Then they grow too big to be pets for kids, as they bite; so my father, a teacher there, asks to bring them home, and the others agree.
They’re cute, white and fluffy. I try to find the fruits to eat at first, but my cousin tells me fruits are bad for their stomachs. Yeah, she is my cousin, but I always call her sister.
She lives outside the town but always comes back in summers with her parents. People often say sisters grow up and start not talking to each other, but we seldom talk from the beginning. She is kind of complicated, has a cold sense only grown-ups do—8 years older than me—but she is also good with starting small talks, though not really like them as I suspect.
These bunnies, they like her a lot. They look at her with the look of little kids, seem harmlessly innocent. They give that look to her only as she picks up some vegetables and feeds them by hand.
There are times when kids try to feed them by hand and get bitten. The kids would run to their parents to get a bandage, sometimes crying. I keep distance when I feed them. She never does.
She leans forward, and the leaves of vegetables fall through her fingers, into their mouth.
It would have been completely normal, this summer, just like another summer that has passed and is ready to come. But there is news, saying that her mother is going to leave for a new city across the land, so this is the last summer we’re going to be together. A short phrase that would quickly pass by like everything else in life.
Dear T and F:
Us four go to the beach by cars before the order of conscription comes. Along the way everyone dresses cozy, once in while birds or kids with Inflatable water polos on their heads run by. The first night, we walk into a filled booked hotel, so we have to squeeze into one room. Two girls sleep on the bed, me and Mathias on the floor. He sleeps on the sofa originally, but over the night he falls to the carpet, so I wake up with his ankles touching mine.
The hotel is lovely. Every wall except the one behind the bed is white. The wall is painted in green. Two hanging lights on the top, while near the bed are the lamps. Under the lamp is the low cabinet, colored in black and white. The full-sized bed is big, with uneven linen sheets. Karla, after she sleeps in bed after her reading, complains that there’s a grain of sand on the bed. There are four white pillows on the bed, two of them being pulled up between the girls. Our backpacks are all under the bed, along with the remote control that goes missing after our little fight over it.
The sunlight behind the window is hot. Seagulls flying over, leave their cry behind. My alarm clock goes off, but the three of them are still sleeping, so I press it off. Luna looks like a child instead of a campus belle when she’s sleeping. You see, I told you the four of us are two pairs, but I’m not with Karla, who just broke up with Mathias, the reason we seem as together is because Mathias and Luna are more like a couple. They’re nearly each other’s reflection.
And there, I knell down for a kiss. It is chaste and quick.
After everyone is awake, we get dressed and get going. We nearly miss the breakfast of the hotel. Luna lights up a cigarette skillfully, complaining about the non-smoking rule of the car, and Karla can only smile.
After Mathias and Luna get a room, I know that my head is going to suffer. In fact, I haven’t slept the whole night for the shaking of the headboard, so I wake up the next day with my eye sockets, with Karla sleeping quietly over the other side, letting out small breathes.
And then the banging restarts, mixed with sound like this:
“Say it again”
“I say please”
“Just let me have it goddamn it”
“What do you want”
“it’s gonna be ok
On the third day, we finally reached the beach. Luna jumps down the car to buy coconuts, me and Mathias put up the parasol behind her, Karla moves stuff out from the car.
Luna comes back with a few coconuts on her arms. After a while, she went off to go swimming with Mathias. They do long distance swim, all the way to the horizontal line where every sight loses effort. Me and Karla lying under the parasol, eating coconuts. The white meat and the cold juice are separate carefully by her, into different containers. Faraway, the shining clouds are all hanging over the sky.
Under the warm shadow, Karla asks me a question.
“He always feels unpredictable,” Her first line floats in the air, as she continues struggling with wording.
“Mathias?”Does everyone in love act this way——thinking the other is like an alien species?
“Mathias rarely talks about his friends,” she says, “He talks to me about you and Luna, but that doesn’t count. He doesn't even talk about himself, as if all the politeness and gentleness is just him pretending to be someone he is not.”
“Scheming?”After all, he’s my best friend.
“I don’t know…Maybe it’s so, or maybe he is trying to protect himself, so he hides his true self, and pretends to be somebody else.” Karla says bitterly. If she’s a kid, she might have more light in her eyes as she is trying to persuade herself.
“Or maybe this is him after all, it’s just you don’t want him to be like this, so you come up with a new explanation. He’s my friend——I know him, he doesn't know how to fake.”
“Have you even considered, someone around you might look exactly like you, but deep down the skin, there’s a whole new species? Like, aliens with fish scale? You think you know him, but what he eats and drinks are completely different than you. He just pretends to be the same to stand by you, but in fact, you’re completely different people.”
I lay on my arms, silently thinking of the words she says, of which one of us has gone malfunction after all. Right then, Luna comes back.
After Karla goes swimming, Luna tells me Mathias is still soaking in water. He is doing another distant swim.
After she finishes the coconut, I ask her what she wanna do in the future and she tells me she wants to be an artist.
“I always suspect you want to as well,” she says, “I saw your little pocket note, full of your drawing. Or is it the drawings of some scientific design?”
“That’s only one sheet of paper.” I tell her, “But yes, I want to be an artist, live day by day depending on my drawing. It’s just that I might have to depend on my parents that way, because artists might not be able to make a great living.”
“At least the first part sounds wonderful,” She stretches her body, “But artists always end up getting political persecution, don’t you think? Just be careful.”
“I only draw funny little doodles, no need to worry.” I wave it away.
After that I ask her more intimate questions, and she avoids them successfully.
“Only if there’s no war.” She says suddenly.
“Who knows, maybe we will win and nobody dies.” I joke, but she acts like being punched in the face; I quickly adds up: “Just joking.”
“Or maybe I can be a general,” I say mainly to myself, “I won’t go volunteering, but if we’re drafted there’s nothing we can do, right?”
She turns her head quickly and rubs her face. I didn’t see the expression on her face, so I landed my hand on her shoulder, making her turn back. Her eyes are clear and icky as water.
After Mathias and Karla come back, we part. Karla and Luna stay to keep an eye on our stuff, me and Mathias go to buy food for lunch. On the way back Mathias decides to buy more coconuts, so I come back with the dishes first.
Faraway, I hear them talking.
“I don’t want these to change,” Karla’s voice, “All these, us four, should be sharing a connection forever. Not just this summer, we should be able to come here next summer, together.”
“That has to count on fate, so even if anything happens I wouldn’t blame anyone. I know sometimes things are more difficult to retain than to change. If anything happens, that is fate.” Luna says.
“I know, but I also know that you want this to retain as well. Whatever happens outside us is destiny, but what happens between us is between humans.”
I wait for a few seconds, till I hear no answer back from Luna that I go up there and share the food with them.
“Alright,” I say in my heart, “Nothing will change. War, love, friendship, time, nothing can shake destiny. And my destiny is to be here with you.”
Mathias comes back with the coconut. He shares the coconut with us, and we start eating food. The barbecue is a little bit burned, beside these all the meat and vegetable and tasty. Sand shines goldenly under the sun, and the one sits outside the parasol, Mathias, just baths in this sunlight.
I have had some thoughts after I received your letters. It appears that we do not belong to one kingdom and listen to one king, but with the world keep expanding and developing, I suppose that does not matter so much.
I would like to tell you some things about me.
When I was little, as in two or three years old, I played alone in the garden of our apartments. There are a few other children, and they’re playing a game to build houses using sand. I never played the game before, so my mother nudged me and asked me to play with them. I shook my head and said no. So I play alone with my hands in hand and build my own house. After that I don’t remember, but I think I never quite joined any group. The sand, and hot sun above, the laughter in the sand pool all blur in my mind after I grow up.
In my third grade, my teacher asked me to spell out the letters on the blackboard. I stand up and spell them correctly. At that moment I realized a strange thing, that is, although I recognized all the letters, I did not recognize all the faces in my class. We are a small class with the same group of people everyday, but I can’t seem to know their names. Half of them are strangers to me. From there I know I might never be able to fit in people as good as I want to, but I can fake it.
There was a period of time when I thought I’m frigid. After I entered high school, a friend make a sex joke on me and everyone blushes, except me. I don’t blush on anything sexually. I try to hit on others too, like taking off my clothes the moment they enter my room, like everyone else does. But I guess that does not work for me because, apparently, they know my secret too.
I have had my relationship with a guy. He is more interested in my face than other things, and when he lost his interest we soon broke up. I have had my first kiss because I want to lose it like everyone else does, so I give it away, and that doesn’t help to maintain the relationship.
Some say, men are creatures abandoned by god. That’s why we aim for philosophy, because we want to understand why that happened. But men is not the measurement of everything; instinct, sense and feeling are just the tricks space and time play on us, and anything we learn from experience can be a false statement, as every possibility has its positive and negative side. We can establish a new assumption to explain things that already exist, but our mutual understanding is not real as well. I can call you an acquaintance though you named me a friend many times. On the other hand, as we see, we see the things that are directly related to us, and that is our truth. Although one thing does not lead to another, as everything can be everything’s cause, nature is a mix of noises, the messy stuff that defines us.
I loved a girl. She is a friend to my house, much younger than me, so this is a secret. She is with black hair and black eyes, and long fingers. When she calls out my name, it feels like something sour in my heart has been touched and the itching is eased. We played the games of calling out other’s names, with the only intention to hear them.
There’s the matter of soul. I know well that if it lasts more than a summer, it will break me. No way we can be together with our family opinions, as nothing lasts always. As I realized the truth, just like when I realized I can not be a part of other people in the sand pool, I started avoiding her. During the period, I also know that if she tries to tame me, make me a part of her belonging, that will ruin her as well. The loneliness and despair in love only does good to people when there's a good outcome, not when the struggle has no meaning.
During that period, one time when I am cutting carrots in the kitchen, she comes in. I accidentally cut my fingers. She took out her handkerchief and wrapped it around my thumb. The stain of blood quickly grows on the white handkerchief, tainting the silk. I remember it as our first real interaction, or sex if that’s a better term. I keep that handkerchief, as a promise of something real might happen afterward; now she has something she needs to get back from me.
And it did happen.
The love we shared is no difference than the other relationships. If sometimes I think of it any other ways, I will pull out a book and read the history, till I know otherwise. It’s dangerous, but it’s normal. Just like I say, an object's belonging is related to how you think of it, as I think of it as normal love, it’s normal love to me. As for whether it’s real for both of us, if there’s a difference between real and false, we can forget about right and wrong as it does not matter compared to the other statement. That is, until some Copernican revolution comes, and tells us the objectivity of knowledge exists even for individual people.
When we read, my hand brushes through her hair, and the memory of the sunlight on her hair stays in my mind. Whenever I feel like missing her, I pull out a tissue and nip it between my fingers, feeling the sense of a handkerchief. But most of the time, feelings pass, none of them stay very long. The persuasions I want to offer you is, dew-like things better stay in mind than actually happen. Birds can fly thousands of miles, let alone us, there’s no need to stick in one thing or one feeling.
Hope the best of you.
Thank you for your letter. I’m surprised but this is a good surprise. The girl you liked, what is she like? She seems interesting. The way she offered you her handkerchief, it’s like a process of taming other than tainting. I think she knows what she wants, so you don’t have to regret it if you were. Just like you say, everything in life passes, even if it’s wrong, it’s passed for her.
I have a question though. You said that we are not from the same country, but your letters indicated that we are, at least when we’re little. Not a lot of countries have sand pools and gardens for apartments. The letters on the board are english, right? So you’re from a country where they teach english, just like mine.
Don’t worry, I haven't fallen for no one. I have always been alone, boys from the school are idiots, the one that are less stupid like Miguel are my best friends and are only friends ages ago.
Wish the best of you,
Nice trip! I can feel the sunburn of yours.
I have been wondering…The kiss you offer, who is the receiver? Not nice to steal kisses from people when they’re asleep, I have to say. But the more important one: who?
It feels like you four are like having an open relationship with one another, are you treating kiss stealing a normal thing? I won’t in my circumstances, but yours might be different.
However, I think your feeling for Karla is more of a companion of yours other than a girlfriend, and Luna is occupied. So, no good for you.
The best, F
I will leave it to your guess, after all there are only two girls at present. There’s something bad that happens so we have to cancel the trip, I will think of a way of telling the two of you.
Have you ever thought of everything just crumple like grains of bread infant of your face? I’m seeing it happen. It has to be my fault, because if this is according to some book, the trick of fate, I can’t tolerate it.
Anyway, I think what happened is something my friend knew a long time ago. I don’t think secrets last very well under the sun, every secret exposes and dies like shells under the burning sun.
Don’t worry, I’m fine, just reading another end of my life. If I think of it correctly, I shall start a new phrase of my life very soon.
From my side, something strange happens. I will recollect my thoughts before writing to the two of you. I’m thinking of the bird metaphor of some of the birds are doom to fly higher so that they can’t see others. That’s the fate of theirs, as they are larger birds, and therefore different than others.
M, in your case, I’m guessing that might not be a girl.
Dear T and M:
That night, I am lying awake. The smell of flowers——ripped, a little bit too sweet——sinks in through close windows. The bed is hard underneath me, made by wood picked by my grandfather a long time before my birth. My father has slept on it when he’s little; now it’s my bed.
Around midnight, I hear the sound of the door being pushed open. It’s her. My sister always comes back late at night, from the bar in town. The quiet movements of shoes were taken off and coats were hung.
And then after a wave of footsteps, my door is pushed open. I rarely lock them because sometimes she will sleep beside me. And this is one of these nights. She sits by my bedside, her breath warm and quiet, the smell of absinthe, the one thing my aunt forbids us to touch. Slowly, her hand falls on my hair, brushing through them. I am at the edge of falling asleep, and I pass out for a moment. By the second I come back to sense, her lips just go away from my forehead.
Needlessly to say, my body is covered with lava at the moment. She pushes back my hair, and then rolls into bed, falls asleep beside me.
The smell of ripe flowers keeps coming back to my senses. I squirm in bed for the hotness burning inside me. I lost my sleep that night.
The next day, my parents ask about my eye sockets, and I cover it up. She eats up her bread silently and then goes out.
That evening, she comes back early. With the quietness of a deer, she slips into the door and closes it behind her. The darkness is distanced by the breeze coming from the open windows; she smooths the bedsheet around me. I am awake until I feel the weight sinks in near my pillow—her arms balancing herself. And then she kisses me on the lips, in the dark.
Then the most mysterious thing happens, a chuckle, “You’re awake.” And I force my eyelids to shut down. She touches my face again, and then leaves, opens the doors, out of the house. The next thing I know is that bright sunlight covering my body, curtains lying in the wind.
The next day I go out with Miguel to the hills to collect grass for the rabbits, we are biking. He finally begs his mom to buy a bike for him, just like any other kids. He says he learns it by a day, at which as soon as his mom lets go of the backseat henna him, he flies. I don’t buy it because there are many dents on the bike.
“So, your cousin is back?” He says something close to this, but I’m thinking of other things, “Do you want to come out tomorrow?”
“No, there’s enough grass already,” I say, no focusing.
“Oh, you’re ruining my summer,” He pulls a face; a sudden realization comes across my heart:” I’m sorry. You’re a friend and……”
“Enough, enough,” he grimaces, “You’re still a little girl to me, no need to worry.”
And that’s it. I pull him from the bike and pick up a fight with him. We are wounded lightly, with broken fists and tainted faces. In the end, he seems as terrified as I do when I say“Let's keep this between us” and responses with “I won’t tell”.
We wash our faces at the river and ride back home, trying to laugh at some jokes.
After I come back, I go to the kitchen. We’re serving bread that night, which means I have to prepare the flour beforehand. I leave the grass on a tray and put on my apron.
I put the flour bag on the table and started making the dough. But my recipe is wrong. I get tangled up with too much water and too little flour. Soon I’m covered in flour smoke.
Laughs come through the door side along with the running stumbling. Some last works about goodbye are said and suddenly she is in the kitchen. She dips her fingertips into the honey, sucks it away. Then she nudged me, to my surprise, and hug me from behind, with all the sweat and scenery after sport. It is a quick hug, and after the heat is gone I realize she steals some of the dough from my hand.
My mom comes in after her to help me knock out some of the flour, putting on her big, professional apron compared to mine. I can’t mouth a word when she asks me how my day is so I just smile.
At the dinner table, my father appears late as always. He wears a single shirt, so the sweat is shown through the white shirt. He brings his cigarettes to the table and is reading a newspaper with big headlines. When my mother and I served dinner he let out some sound of disapproval towards the paper; I found out later that it’s about women’s rights to vote.
My sister comes into the dining room with her hair dripping with water. Her hair looks especially black when it’s wet. We wait until our parents start eating to eat.
“It’s so silly, in my opinion,” My father looks through the newspaper and says, “but it is against the natural law. If women are equal with men, why are men the leaders of most species?”
“Polities,” My mother passes the salt to him, “They always say wars are coming.”
“This is a different matter,” My father insists, “Soon they will put women to the battlefield as well, just because of the whole theory of equality.”
“That’s not gonna happen to our kids,” My aunt smiles and looks at her, who refuses to look back, “Besides, the war’s the matter of the whole world, not just us.”
At that moment I hated her. I remember having her talking about the theory of mother lion and father lion, in which the only one of the party kills and feeds, and the other just takes. I remember her talking about female soldiers, who bleed on the battlefield for the lack of tampon. But at that moment, she only sits there drinking the soap, totally indifferent. She looks cold and calm, like a philosopher or writer, who holds cold independent opinions to everything in the world and refuses to share one single thought from themselves.
After dinner, we are washing dishes together. When a second her elbows accident touches mine in the act of passing, I get irritated and say: “I thought you’re a feminist.”
She studies me for a second, then looks at me directly in the eyes: “I’ve had these cover stations with my parents for a million times, and they still think like how they think, so I know people can’t change from their roots. Besides, that’s your parents, what’s there for me to say?”
Then we finish the plates in silence.
Dear T and F:
“Do you like philosophy?” After I came back from swimming, Mathias asked me.
“I guess I’m just the most common dude with the most common philosophy, living for a better life, over.” I say.
“Don’t you think a lot of things are happening around the world? War, conscription, the structure changing of the nation…… It’s like many things are happening at once, but it’s just the repeat of what has happened. We can’t change history, as what is done cannot be undone, as we too are one part of the history. Class contradiction, social struggle, everything happens repeatedly, but that's pointless too, because there’s no right answer and a way out.”
“Wow, you think a lot.”
“Maybe there’s where void comes from. You see, a teacher of a primary school can do job hopping before she retires for pension, and that’s acceptable, because the better pension and better life coming afterward, but the leader of the country can’t do so, why?”
“Social awareness? The main difference between men and animals?”
“Social awareness can let mothers protect children, but can’t let countries protect individuals. What we can protect is not the country, such a concept of nothingness, but ourselves. That’s why everyone has to look for number one.” Mathias says.
And then he says, “Maybe there is another kind of philosophy, a kind that looks out for the tiniest. That is, to embrace and remember everything that has happened to you, everything you have had, every flower you have been touched. This philosophy can’t save our lives, but it can save our souls.”
“ And Have you heard of the train problem?” He says.
“Whether to change the train track, let one innocent person die or don’t change it, let five sinners die?”
“Why are they sinful?”
“Because they play on the wrong train track. Why do you care about this? Let’s change the question. If that’s one man you know, and five other innocent people?”
“If that’s only me tied on the track…… I won’t change this.”
“You can’t change this either way if you’re on the track.”
“I thought this was a hypothesis question.”
“But what if that’s somebody you know tied there, along with five strangers?”
“I think that has to depend on my thought at the second.”
“And that’s the difference between us.” He lets out a breathe, sits up,”I knew I would choose to save my dearest. If that’s you or my brother that’s been tied there, I will choose to save the two of you.”
For a second I don’t know how to respond. He smiles and changes the subject: “What do you look like when you’re little?”
“Me?” I struggle to think of the version of me before I move to his neighborhood, “Very impolite. You know, one time in the sand pool, the kindergarten teacher asks me to play with others and I say no? Ever since then I play alone. And I used to sweat a lot during naps and they would think I pee my pants, and the time when I actually did it no one realized? One day when I’m a third grader, the teacher asks me to spell out an english term, and I stand up and find that I don’t know the names of half of the people in the class?”
He laughs. I relax a little bit, and keep on talking: “You know, I used to have an imagined friend? She hates me, I guess that’s why I choose her as my friend. She is taller than me, has long hair. To be honest, there was a time when I think she’s my best friend……”
“You still think of her that way?” He teases.
“No,” I feel my face burn up, “I was weird back then.”
He smiles; sunshine, shadow and sand layered on him, letting his body emit a radiation: “I am your friend, Migelma, don’t ever forget that.”
He looks at me without a blink; strangely, I lean forward and kiss him, the second time.
It feels good; the sky is bluish due to the refraction of sunlight, the heat of the sun radiates through the parasol and touches us, shadows cover our whole body.
That day I read to him, he was lying on bed, smoking the cigarette I gave to him in secret, and said: “Are you interested in a story?”
I have heard many stories from my patients and don't mind another one.
He smiled slightly, and got out a small journal from under his pillow. I opened it up, the first page was a messy agenda, with the picture of a tornado-controlled aircraft.
I smiled. That moment I knew both of your identity, from a young man to a veteran.
"I never picture I would meet you here," he said plainly. "Until you walk in with the Count of Monte Cristo, skip a few chapters and start reading."
The cigarette was almost burned to the tail, I offered him a teacup.
“I am close to my end,” He knocked the cigarette on the teacup, “My lungs and heart are failing. After I finished my story, can you tell me yours? To kill the rest of the time.”
His…Your life has become terrible because of war. Leaders came to power through chaotic situations, and unscientific anti-epidemic methods caused tens of millions of deaths. After the scale of the epidemic was finally brought under control, war broke out. The remaining patients were detained in anti-epidemic camps and killed on the spot. At that time, you joined the army and became the caretaker of the anti-epidemic camp, watching the innocent people die.
After I went abroad for a few months, I was finally notified of two offers but had already accepted the job with lower pays days before. Only two days a week are we allowed to take a bath, and there are ten consecutive hours of typing a day. Eating pasta and sausages for meals, because it is nutritious, fast and cheap. Communicating with local people in local dialects and getting home exhausted.
Perhaps it was the near death that made you confess to me and told me your two secrets. One of them is that summer, the other is you and him in a virus concentration camp. You are friends, although he has a tattoo number on his hand, and you have a military rank on your arm.
It is a collective work. The sun was good that day, and the photographers and girls were all here. Your dog wants to run to the cake several times. At this time, a team of prisoners passes by, and it escapes the border, runs to a man to lick his finger. The faces on the scene all turned, and an officer clenched the stick. You whistle, let the stupid dog run back. Then you wave your hand and let the prisoners go.
Later you saw that person again. He is an Englishman, alone in the camp like everyone else's. Although he has already recovered, he is trapped in the camp to prevent virus mutations. He has had surgeries, all of which were experiments, leaving several scars. You know this because you are the one who oversees these experiments. But when he opened his clothes to show you scars, you still felt pain. He will mock at you, but the next time you stopped his surgery, he looks at you with queer eyes.
You start meeting. Of course, wearing a mask. Once, lying on the bed, he asked you: "Have you ever thought that he may be in the army now? The number of killed increases, it is only a matter of time before he joins the army."
You exhaled and almost choked with your own breath: "I don't want to see him anyway. With his character, maybe we will still be friends. But I don't want to continue wasting energy."
"If it wasn't for him, maybe you would really become a hero and die." He said, "Good to be a hero until I get this damn disease.”
He told me his dream is to become a soldier. He told you he wants to be an air man, and you show him the drawing you abandon in your journal, and he will detail it with his pencil:”no, you need four wings, not eight, as they create a burden” and say your name with a strange voice. You will try to laugh but fail, as your fingers clutch at your clothes. He gently highlights the picture on your journal, and the lights shine on his eyes.
You maintain a close relationship ever after, secretly, until your country is defeated and the anti-epidemic camp is forced to disband, and you will soon become a prisoner of war of his country.
One day, you touch his forehead and feel heat.
"I have a fever for a couple of days, I think the illness has come back." He opened the window and looked at the empty playground outside, "You can survive for me. You don't have to be somebody, just live."
As you understand what he means, he smiles: "You don't have to think too much. You weren't willing to come before. Half of the things you did were with hatred, but now you can understand that not everyone will betray you."
He put your military rank on his arm and tattooed you, the same number.
He died, you survived. And you don’t even have to ask.
“How about your story?” You asked, with a mysterious smile on your face, as if you’re thinking of someone.
“Long ago.” I finally said, “I have a little sister. And the day the rabbits are cooked, I try to save them, and they bit me.”
It wasn’t the most logical first sentence, but you took it in, along with the whole story coming afterward.
"So we are the same," you said, "we are all the same in the end."
"I will see you again." I answered you, "in a world without regrets."
After all, all I can say is goodbye.
I won’t mail this letter out because of my promise to the older you, Migelma. Yes, he is you, and you will become him. But take good care. I will see you one day.
I write this letter solely to you. I think at this point, you already knew my last secret. That gives me some relief. No, my lover is not the friend of my house, but someone much closer to me. Just like your lover to you.
I don’t expect to receive your letters in the future since I did lied to you, and you have a reason to be angry. Just know that I’m in a position that I know so many secrets that it’s so heavy that they sink me down, and I partly do it because I don’t want them to sink you down.
We have had our time together, now you need to go forward and don’t look back. I never managed to come back to my home after the war and have lost my parents during it, but I hope that you can take good care of yourself and keep yours safe.
Remember the tale of the bird that I write to you? They can fly miles and miles, if they have a home to come back too. You have yours, and I’m happy for you.
And the thing you are most curious about, love, as you ask Migelma, is something that happens randomly but captures us without a miss. I’m entangled by it, however short a period of time it seems, but I know many will come afterward. And they did. As you’re this age, you will see many more opportunities lying ahead, and you’re great enough to have them, my dearest.
You already knew my name.
That night, I wait until everyone is asleep to open the store of my mother and steal a bottle of wine. I want to prove that I’m brave enough to stand by her, is as good and as old as her. That being said, I get choked after I finish a portion of it, but is able to finish another quarter of it. I see the light coming from above, shining on my clothes and leave tedious shadows; but I prove that I’ capable of doing this alone. I imagine myself growing up, feeling the warm booze in my throat, then I get dizzy and warm, all the way down to my toes.
I wiped away the hand print that I left when I lean on the glass closet.
I knock on her doors——she sleep in another room tonight. She opens the door after a few seconds, when the shadow is casted in front of her, she looks sleep with the flip-flops. messy hair ,and tired face: “What do you want?”
That wake her up. She is shocked by my state by putting a finger under my chin, adding not too much pressure: “Who made you drunk?”
I try to resist the need to brush it off, the finger and the close examination and almost bite my tongue: “Nobody. Myself.”
She smiles mildly, like a cat tries to shy away: “Well, at least the first time happens at home.” And then she retreats the finger and signs: “I’m sorry, Frigga, actually, I…”
I slip a hand through the door and says: “No. You deserve this.”
She looked amazed, then with a change of mind, she opens the door: “… Better the first time you do it, you do it at home.”
She is trying to be the older one again, I know.
Our lips brush; it’s the first real kiss. Warm and soft. The door gradually closes behind us, as she locks it with a twist of wrist.
It’s like a tango except we’re hand in hand and the leading party keep changes.
The second kiss weird lands on the cheek when we move toward the bed. It’s a wooden bed with a blanket, just like mine, with a fly on top. Her hand protector lands between my waist and the wooden edge and we chuckles.
Her cheek is full of little villus. The bitter taste of alcohol is still in mu mouth.
She doesn’t let me touch her. She puts me on her bed and touches me with her fingers on top of my clothes. When I shift she chuckles: “Do you know woman have a penis too…? Right there.”
I used to think that orgasm would be like going to the bathroom: warm, moist, relieving. But at that moment I know I was wrong: it’s dry and painful, like something pulling out of you. I feel enlighten by my new discovery as I arch up and moan, feeling something extremely warm spears under my neck.
“They have a word for this in French,” She uses the left thumb to brush her hair back, “I don’t know how to say it though. You look a bit older now: secrets make one pretty.”
I understand a lot: she wants to make me older, as old as her.
The next day, I wake up in my own bed, with a dry choke in my throat and a headache. My calligraphy of “water” is still drying on the table. The windows are close, but a flower not yet bloom touches it.
The door is locked inside. I’m again surprised by her skill.
The next morning, we are avoiding each other’s eyes when we feed the rabbits. They chew quickly on the grass she feeds, as always.
Miguel is here too. He comes to visit me as promised and makes a ton of jokes, but I don’t have the will to laugh.
There is a secret inside me.
Weeks pass by. We never do it again, the share of the apple. But often I dream about her knocking on my door, insisting her room is locked or else.
That afternoon, we stood beside each other, preparing rabbit meals given by the sudden order of my father. I feel like it’s me who has been chopped down by the surprise “Why do you think we are keeping them”, but she does not look surprised——on the surface.She looks into a carrot, and chops it down with a small knife, fluent and delicate as always. I’m kind of off-headed. Sometimes my finger dangerously brushes the knife. One time she has to stop me, fixing her fingers on my knife.
With the radiation of her body, I ask, like a sailor who has to sail before the storm: “Is it always gonna be like this?”
I half expected her to make a joke or say something irrelevant, but she just says plainly: “No, not always.”
That’s the last night she stays.
The second I wake up and see all the suitcases, I run out, saying that I need to grab something from school. Along the way, it starts to rain, so I just walk in the rain. I did go to school to grab the notebook, even though it’s just a stupid excuse.
By the time I come back they’re already gone, and that’s what I expect: I want to be alone. That moment I thought I understood why you left this memory with me… You want me to be with you when you’re gone. You want to be with me when you’re gone. I couldn’t say I like it; but this is the closest thing to truth I can get.
I’m soaked up so I go to the bath and get change, then go to the dinner table of leftover rabbits.
“Your cousin,” My father blows out a cloud of smoke, “Time, she’s quite a figure. You guys know that they say she has relationships with girls in town?”
“She’s my sister,” I say, my voice so strange it almost sounds distant, “and that’s it.”
My father looks at me in surprise, examines through the wet hair, red eyes and damp skin, and nods, “Alright, alright.”
My mother chops down a piece of rabbit; there is some bloodstain left inside, making the meat red. She does it smoothly like others.
I can never cut it right.
(Added years later to the unsent letter)
After that, war comes. We lost all connections with our relatives, including her and my aunt who was out of the county before the war came like many others; There is no escape all the same.
Miguel volunteers to the army and is soon reported missing; heroes are always the first to be killed. I stay behind and become a grown-up. Her secret lives with me. A secret can live as long as a heart.
I’m taming some dough on the kitchen table before I write this letter. The smoke chokes me out, forcing me to open the window.
Outside the window, the flower is dipping in the sunlight. Suddenly, two hands are on my waist, and I look down on them, seeing them clutch on my waistband, a feeling so close and familiar.
I keep working on the dough; the imagination brings me back to memory, where she does the same thing, with a cloth of sweats. I take in the smell of dough and summer.
“The flowers are ripe,” I once said in a quiet way, “all ripe.” So many summers past, I’m still in the house, with her long gone. The scene of autumn is coming; the scene of her stays in memory.
Do you remember the day I’m soaked in rain?
That day I got wet from the rain, and I let it happen. At the moment I know that How Mr.Dick dies, and who is his lover; I know why people go to wars; I understand my sister’s feelings for me.
“Secrets,” Sensations of her fingers on my arm, “makes one pretty.”
I go back into the house. I walk in with this look; no one dares to ask what has happened to me.
I’m already this age, so this is the last letter. I will not send it out, but I’m sure you will get it somehow.
My dearest sister, Time.
On the way back nobody talks. Karla does the driving, her shoulder stretched into a tight line. Luna keeps her eyes on the car window, at first I think she is watching our faces from the reflection, only later finding out tears have rushed to her eyes.
The car crashed through the bumpy road with the bang bang noise. The midsummer night is saturated with bitterness.
We book four rooms at the hotel as nobody wants to face each other. The cool air of the night poured into the room. After a glass of wine, I fall asleep with my eyes open.
The sun rises.
Three days later, me, my sister, and mother went hiking together.
We drive all the way from the house to the entry of the park. Along the way, mother almost misses the entrance for the wrong parking space.
The cement road near the park is covered with sand and dust; one electric shocked squirrel lays stiffly under the telephone pole. Johanna stares into it for a long time, until mother calls her up from the front. She would have buried it with soil if no body’s watching.
We walk our way into the park, past the protective bar to stop cars from coming in, past the “Danger” sign for wild animals. The defense method is painted out with a “Bang”.
We wander into the forest. Towering trees lay down dense shadows. Further into the woods lesser the people, even animals keep quiet inside. Far into the forest, there are only the three of us’s breathing leaves noise.
We keep moving forward. I turn back, Johanna has not followed up yet. I turn around, walking quick into the deep woods. I walk faster, faster.
“Migelma, Migelma.” They call after me in the woods; I never look back.
Walk, Walk, past the hanging birch, the common ash, the black alder, the European larch; my heart feels like being held in my hands and forget how to beat, my past flying on my eyelids.
“Migelma, Migelma.” They chase after me in the woods; I never look back.
Three days ago.
His hand on my shoulder, ever so gently, and we are parted. After I retreat into my side of shadow, I see him smiling. Not the kind of happy smile, but careless, like he just dug out some truth.
“Now you have got to go to the army.” He pulls out a cigarette, with his hands shaking like they just been through a fight, but his voice is indifference.
“What do you mean?”
My thoughts must have been shown by my expression, because he smiles comfortingly: “Migelma, you know in a district like ours, there is only a few conscription quota? If you go, nobody else needs to go.”
He lights up the cigarette, his hand no longer trembling: “You see, you don’t want to stay behind, and being called a homo, do you?”
Seeing my face, he sighs: “That day at the hotel, when the four of us are sleeping together in the same room? I was awake when you kissed me.”
We haven't talked since we got back. My mother hosts a dinner party a day after, inviting his family and many others. After dinner, my father and he went outside to smoke. After my father goes back, I go up and stand next to him.
He offers me a cigarette——looking at me as if I’m a stranger to him. We stand in the cold wind for half an hour and use up the cigarettes. Afterward I turn around and leave.
On the way of going back, I see Karla sitting next to a foundation. She is not smoking, because she is a lady in front of everyone, and because she doesn’t smoke, thinking them as a waste of time and strength. Starlight projects onto her and she looks like a queen.
“Do you know?” I ask, already know the answer.
“Luna told me,” Her voice is clear as crystal, “Mathias told her first, because now they’re together, then Luna tells me. I begged him afterward, but that didn’t help.”
“You did that for me?”
“I rephrase everything good that has been happened to the four of us, but he just look at me and says: “What’s that has to do with the present?”
I wonder whether she is telling the truth, and whether that matters.
After the party, glasses are everywhere. The fountain is spraying under the night skies, where Karla sits, leaves a grain of sand, I pinch it with my fingers and flick it into the fountain.
Johanna and I help to collect the glasses and plates, then she takes them to the kitchen to wash; father and his pals go out to walk.
I sit down on the other side of the dinner table as my mom gestures. I sluggishly realize the roses on the table have withered away.
“So you decide to go to the recruitment office and only tell us after you have done it.” She says calmly.
“Yes.” I say listlessly.
“If I say I don’t agree, would you go and undo it?”
“That can’t be undone.”
“What you have done,” she says word by word, “is a shame. You should go to the army, I agree with you doing so.”
“No,” Johanna rushes out, still with the apron; she hugs me from behind, “brother, brother, don’t go.”
“It’s ok; I’ll be a hero.” I smile, trying to hold back the tears.
“No, you’re my brother,” she hugs me so tight it hurts, “heroes die——You’re not one of them, you’re my brother.”
Mother sighs deeply. I recollect the details of spitting into Mathias’s family milk bottle secretly in the morning——I’m indeed no hero. I’m only human, the most normal kind.
Of course I hadn't run away to the woods. I have my family behind, and I have my dignity, and I would starve.
When I slow down, they catch me, and Johanna throws herself at me, very indelicate for a grown up girl. Mom lets her, holding one of my arms as we go back.
The other week, I’m in the army already. I have my package, my pack, my food, and my photo with Johanna with me. I sleep with them, dream with them, live with them. And when we struggle in the mud, I think of the summer.
Yes, that summer. I will never forget the summer, no matter how deep it wounds me. Secretly, I know, that’s part of the reasons why I can’t forget it. Maybe, maybe only, after many a summer, if I live.
The reason that I spite into Mathias’s milk bottle when the milkman leaves his house, and not answer back to my sister and mother two days after in the woods and just keep going is that I tell myself Mathias only does the deed to make me live, because men who live with hatred can be more clear-minded than the heroes; but I know the truth.
I know how I should feel, but that’s now how I am feeling now. I should feel angry, sad, despair, or anything, but what I am feeling is nothingness. I don’t feel like being betrayed by my friends and family, I feel like being betrayed by me. Not by my sexual orientation, but by my self.
That day in the hotel, do I really know he would not be awake, or anyone might be awake? I still done it anyway, because I can’t resist the last chance before the war, because I want to save the summer, to save the image of us four together. I don’t have the guts to contaminate this in the sunlight, so I chose this secret sneaking, and this determined the price of my love and my fate.
I remember the time at class, where he stands up, throws out a random answer to the teacher, then sits down and wink at me, among the laughter of the class, and that’s the summer I should remember, the summer I will bear in mind, not this. Back then we’re still innocent. This summer, I will let go, eventually, for I can’t keep a knife in my guts.
The good part is, I know I’m stepping to my futures, although I don’t know where it lands.