Selling Illusion

Saturday, May 07, 2005

[Epilogue; Third Act]

His eyes searched his companion’s, seeking some falsehood to his claim. His hand, gripping tight the black shirt beneath his fingers, faltered slightly, as if the release would confirm the lie. He blinked tears away and dropped his gaze, twisting his body to one side, ashamed of what he had done. He felt the other’s hand cover his; lightly and carefully pull it from its vice-like grip. He relaxed his hold, and his arm easily slid back onto the bar, his left hand again cupping his brow, rubbing feverously. His head shook from side to side as he did so.

“I’m….I’m sorry. I just felt that lightening slip from beyond my grasp even as I remembered it…and I became so frustrated, so angry. I come back to the present, to consciousness, and here you are, right beside me, the every embodiment of all that I cannot achieve. You’re just, just….standing there. And I felt, like, you were taunting me. Laughing at my inability, my limitations.” He glanced down at the bar, eyes scouring the scene, trying to fit the jigsaw piece of shattered glass together in a matter of an instant. Fingers became unfurled, a living exclamation mark. “Jesus…”

Hands reached over the bar once more, this time snagging a small, dirty cloth in to collect the bronzed ocean that seeped over the bench, round up the crystallised icebergs that pierced through the surface, sharp edges gleaming in the soft light, parts embedded in the hard wood, such was the force of their expulsion as the remains of the glass tumbler. He forced cloth land masses between deeper waters, sponging the remaining whiskey into lakes, distilling them further into smaller and smaller rivers. Icebergs became dry land masses in their own right, congregating closer and closer together with each sweep of the soggy rag, and once collected in one mass, it was briefly named the continent of Iceland before being eclipsed by the other tumbler, placed face down in order to secure the splinters.

Wringing out the fabric as best he could, he threw the cloth back into the sink whence it came. He arched his fingers together, making a small cave between his hands to which he hid his head under. He noticed his companion do the same, with the notable exception that he leant his head above his own cave, small smile to playing across his lips. They did not look directly at each other. But the knowledge that that smile was in place was contagious to him, he snorted lightly as a replica slowly wheedled it’s way upon his mouth.

Again he attempted an apology. “I’m sorry.” He felt those eyes upon him as he spoke, saw the head turn slightly to regard him. The eyebrows raised, the smile ventured into the pastures of irony.

“You know you’re the one that arranged this. Do you so like to hurt yourself that you intentionally ask for the one person that you like the least to come? So you can skewer yourself onto a spike of your own design? I thought us over that by this stage, by this time.”

He felt those eyes blaze out behind those dark glasses, gave himself a small sigh in response. He adjusted his head slightly towards the visitor. “Do you think so little of me, think I don’t appreciate what you have done, what you did for me, that I would dislike you so?”

His companion waved his left hand in dismissal. “No, of course not,” fingers folded inwards, his index finger jabbing the air. “But it is a fact. You dreg up the worst things from your memory, the mire and muck, over and over, replaying past events in which you were hurt, in which you hurt others, to a point where all you can do at night is sit and clutch at yourself, thinking massaging your temple will help you exorcise your demons. But you do not. You feed them titbits, keeping them on the edge of death, and then engorging them when you wish; when you feel you need to be punished. Over and over, a constant cycle. What you just remembered, it brought pain, did it not? And seeing me, brought anger, and a brief taste of defeat. You do this to yourself. Even after all that has happened, all that I have done, yes, as you say, what I have down for you, you still call me to this place, still call for my presence. Is this you embracing the pain? Do you hold it close like a much loved toy of old? Or does it thrust into your breast, a dagger in the dark of night, the only thing to keep you aware of your existence? Are we still here, still existing, in this place?” The words, whilst seeming cruel in their inception, were wielded with a voice that spoke of trust and kindness.

No answer came. It was futile. Both men knew the truth. Left the excuses and reasons to rattle around hollowly in the back of their minds. His companion extended his thumbs, forming a bridge, caught his chin on it, and sat.

Stubble was scratched again, futilely, avoiding the silence. An inhalation of breath. Another. He spoke, words quiet whispers onto the fading mist, curling their way stealthily to the ears of the listener. “Every time I think I’ve worked through it, it’s gone, just like that. Like when you’re breathing unconsciously, you don’t even know you’re doing it. Then, one night, could be three weeks away, three months. But at some point, one unimportant, night like any other – it hits you like a lightning bolt. Three am in the morning and you awake. The event could be different every time, could be a continuous repetition of the same nightmare. But its not. It’s a point in time; a fucking memory unearthed from whatever grave you buried it in. A section of your life that makes you sick to the bone, makes you ill with remembrance. But you can’t close your eyes to escape it, because that’s where it hides, its domain. It’s you r own head, your own mind, you can’t escape it, and you feel the need to do something, anything to get it out of there, anything to stop your imagination feasting on that segment and move to something more pleasant. But any memory afterwards is connected to that one, and its magnified under the microscope of imagination, and soon you enter a cycle, this ugly painful fucking cycle of self abuse to which the picture is wide screen with surround sound. And it’s playing in all the theatres in your mind’s eye. So yes, I still wake up clutching myself, still scream silently for the pain to end, to try and make this all stop. I still make trips to that hollow, even if I wish it otherwise. But I’ve become used to it. I fight through it, with a resolve I thought I once didn’t have.” His teeth clenched onto his outstretched hands, biting onto his index fingers as if to silence himself from speaking any further.

The figure beside him rubbed his hands together, and then turned his head fully to stare at the dishevelled drinker. “You don’t look at the mirror across the bar, facing you. Yet, you look at me. You would bring yourself to look at me finally, after all this time, but not at yourself?”

“Because I can look at you. I can look at you and still feel the glimmer of hope, the catch of my breath. I can still think that out there somewhere, that possibility exists of a better man. But if I look just five feet in front of me,” his fingers twisted to point, “that blind faith is destroyed. I see what I AM. What I have become now. There is no hope there, no dream. Just cold reality.” He shook his head in disgust. “I don’t blame anyone else. I did this to myself-”

“No, and that’s the problem. You take all these burdens on yourself. You are your own judge, jury and executioner. And with your own judgement, you will always remain guilty. Always you remain self-limiting, slowly chipping away at steadily hardening heart of stone. Don’t you see? You always perceive me from the third person; I’m always someone else to you. But that which you seek, that which you think you cannot grasp, you feel, have felt it, when you see me. Have felt it when I wandered the Lands. You feel it, in this place, at this time. You can accept it in this place. But answer me this; where are we? Where does this, all this, exist?” His eyes lit. “Within your third eye. Within your mind and soul does this place dwell. You can feel that unburdening, that enlightenment from me, here. You can become me, you are me. You think when I closed the borders that that feeling would die with me? It is still here, it still exists, because you made it, because you found it. Because of you.

“I left, we left. It was time for you to heal. Something inside you decided that, and so I came. I did what you could not…to bring the pieces back together again. Their time was finished. You think the Lion wants to be here?” With that he turned and pointed to the table behind them. A guttural snarl ripped through the quiet bar. It increased in volume as the seconds rolled on, ending in deep bellowing roar.

The drinker didn’t even turn. “I don’t think he is happy to see you.” He had to raise his voice over the loudness of the growls emanating from behind him. They tailed off as his companion reclaimed his seat.

“He wouldn’t be. I destroyed his world, his haven. He was the only one that tried to stop me. But don’t you understand?” He looked as he saw the head give a unmistakable shake. He was sure if he was just faking, or genuinely didn’t know. He continued anyway. “The Lion isn’t even here. All you can perceive is the sound of growls and roars. If you tried looking behind you right now, all you would see is a still picture, no context, and no depth. A flash, a brief outline of him sitting by that table. Because he no longer exists. The only thing you can focus in on is the television on the corner bracket, because that’s easy. You’ve seen that type a thousand times over in a thousand different situations. But him? Me? The others? Us? You cannot shatter what has been forged. Why do you think you cannot match my gaze, why do you think when you look at me it is only through tear stained eyes, blurred and unfocused?

“It is because you are chasing a dream, looking for an echo that once was. I exist at the corner of your eye, I’m the feeling you get when you enter a room and you sense someone has just left through the opposite door. That’s all I, we, are to you now. A shadow of fragments. We are here, oh yes, we are here, but we are one. Your heart and soul carries us, we see with your eyes now, we carry your voice. The Lands no longer exist, I saw to that. What are here now are puppets of your creation, pulled by your strings. I speak as I would, act as I would. But that’s the difference. As I would. This is not me. You know that. When I talked before, when I acted, I did so of my own initiative. You had no say. You are hoping by calling to us, we will come back.

“We will not. We cannot. Fragmenting your psyche was the only way to deal with the trauma you went through these past years, and even now, you are seeking to unravel what we, what you, have achieved, because you’re scared. Don’t be. You told me you were looking in the wrong direction, at several points in your life. Don’t make the same mistake again. Strike forward, but remember who you are. Remember that you’ve survived this personal hell, and feel the strength that lies behind your eyes, feel the strength that you have discovered, that is at your core. You thought when I destroyed you world, brought the pieces back together…that we were lost. That you were healed, that that was the end of your journey. It is only one stage. The next step you make is right in front of you – the exit of this place, and whatever lies at the other side of it. That weight that pulls you down? Self doubt. Harbouring the belief that no matter how far you go, no matter how hard you strive, you will always make an error, make a mistake that sends you back down into the much and grime that you feel bound by. It is that fear, that holding on, which has seen the creation of this bar, this last place, this stop before you can move on. It is time to arise. It is time to evolve. You feel that sense of enlightenment just beyond your grasp – go out and find it. Because I will be waiting at the end of your journey, everything that you want to be, everything that you see as good and noble in this world, that dream has not gone, has not died. It lives out there, for you to make of it the best you can.”

As he spoke, he made no move to change his position, no moving of limbs, or raising of voice to hammer home his point. He remained quiet and reflective, his voice drifted out of his thoughts in slow, sure, measured tones. He only glanced over at the still figure at his side as he ended his speech. He noted the shoulders no longer slumped, saw the hands were pulled away from his head, leaning on the bar, noticed the face was firm with a resolution that he had always known to be there. He looked deeper, at the very bottom of this man’s soul, and saw the blooming of something so very small, but alight with the flame of a new sun. It would be a long road ahead, he knew, and the flames could die out again, but somehow, he doubted it. He was not surprised then when his companion stepped off his seat, leant down and swooped up his travel bag, swinging it onto his back with a quick twist of his wrist. He passed by him without a word, striding towards the door. As he approached his steps slowed, then stopped. He half turned back towards the bar. The figure there has not moved, as if waiting for this hesitation.

The voice came, tired but firm, across the room. “So you think I’ll make it?”

The man at the bar glanced over at the figure outlined by the light streaming through the doors. “That’s a question you can only ask yourself.”

“I am.”

There was a slight pause, until the bald man’s face broke into a huge smile, nodding as if he only just got the joke. He heard the figure approach the doors. The slow creak as they opened, protesting every inch. He murmured a unheard goodbye as the doors slammed shut, one last time.

He sat, at the bar, fingers folded, lips brushing up against the warm flesh, touching the ice coldness of a single metal ring on one index finger. He stared upwards, and watched, with great interest, as the lights slowly dimmed, and went out.


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