|Reflections on Love and Ducks
(From I Miss New Wave)
“Fucking thought police,” Beta says, grumbling under his breath as we walk past the last lamp post on the boundary of the city. We walk into the safety of the unknown, the uncivilized, the untouched. “Fucking lobotomized culture, we are,” he says, and you can tell this is the prelude to a rant. You can tell he’s going to rave; he’s going to lecture me about the state of this poor country of ours, and I’m settling in for a good ride.
Beta’s got his mouth open and he tells me, “Free speech is only an option when we are told what to say. We all sit silently in the wombs of our houses and watch the television as it dictates our views to us. We nod in agreement. We shake our heads in disgust. Our tongues are frozen, useless at the bottoms of our mouths. Only love stirs my tongue from its slumber,” he tells me. “Real love,” Beta says, and his eyes like marbles seem to gleam in the dark. “True love,” he says.
His cigarette floats near his mouth, a firebug in the night and in the dark that surrounds us both like some great looming beast. It hovers near his mouth, the smoke wispy tendrils round his face, and the spot of light looks like a firebug flitting quietly in the air. He takes a drag and flicks the ashes in my eyes. Blinking, I hear him say, “True love exists.” In the night, his insect addiction flames red then drops to the ground, to its death. Crushing the cigarette with his heel, Beta repeats the words, “True love exists,” and he marches on ahead of me.
As I race to catch up with him, my heart skips and I realize something that had been hidden: Josephine is real. I realize that Josephine is real; she’s real in the same way that Alice is real. This doesn’t seem to make things any easier. Still there’s no solace. Josephine and Alice are both real. Beta’s point?
“Find out to whom you are real,” he tells me, though I’ve not asked him, though I haven’t said a solitary word. It’s like in the night Beta becomes more of a guru than a fuck-up. Like the dark neutralizes his faults, the moon magnifies his wisdom. He’s like a fucking wise man, this one; when it’s dark and the world is asleep, Beta’s the man of the hour.
Then he goes, “Let’s swim in the lake,” and a cloud skims over the moon. He says, “Let’s jump off the bridge,” and we’re running again, blindly and without aim, our elbows scraping against the trees, bleeding as if we’re cleansing our souls. Our blood is the opiate of the nation. Unreal.
We’re sprinting through the forest towards the bridge when it occurs to me that past midnight the lake is even more dangerous than in the day. But my legs are electric and I only run faster, jetting past Beta and climbing onto the railing of the bridge to wait for him there. Spreading my arms, I’m walking the tightrope, intensely aware of the cold wind and the chill creeping up my spine.
“Hey, man,” Beta says, another cigarette lit, another firebug caught in his fingers. “Hey, man,” he repeats, moving closer to me and raising his hand, his torch, his arsonist’s toy.
He’s edging towards me and he’s moving like a cat; like a fucking cat, Beta’s inching to me. Fuck, it’s like I’m going to jump or something. I turn my back to him and walk away. I’m the girl on the balance beam, skipping a little just to make the poor bastard nervous. Like I’m going to jump. Christ. Beta, he’s not half the tough kid he pretends to be. Fucking Jesus.
Beta, he’s scrambling up on the railing behind me now, you can hear him as he scales it and stands up on his feet. I glance over my shoulder, judging his distance by watching the red dot of his fag. Chuckling to myself, I turn around. In the dim light, if I focus hard enough, I can see his face, and his eyes are closed. Seeing my chance, I lower my head, I brace myself, and I lunge at Beta, catching him in the stomach with my shoulder and sending us both plunging into the darkness below the bridge. As we drop I have enough time to notice that Beta’s firebug stays on the bridge, floating above us like it’s become real. Like it’s not simply a product of consumerism but rather, something organic and wholly natural.
The water consumes us like fire and I open my eyes as I swim towards the surface, watching the wavering moon like it’s Polaris. I tread water until Beta comes up for air, gasping for it.
“Asshole,” he says.
“Hey,” I say. Beta shakes his head and water arcs off his hair: what could be a rainbow if it weren’t two o’clock in the morning. “Look, there’s ducks in the water,” I say.
Beta, he looks at me with the gaze that’s usually reserved for lunatics and street people, or the lunatic street person who lives in the alley by his building. He thinks I’m a fucking lunatic.
“It’s the ducks that are the fucking lunatics,” I say in my defense. Maybe it’s my adamancy that’s convinced him; probably it’s the loud quack the ducks simultaneously emitted two seconds after I spoke.
“What are ducks doing here?” I ask Beta, once we’ve dog paddled to the shore, once we’ve dried off a little bit and I decide it’s safe enough to talk to him. We’re throwing rocks at the ducks that are calmly treading water near the pale lilies in the lake and ignoring our aggressive advances, and I can’t for the life of my figure out why they’re there.
“Synchronicity,” says Beta, and I know him well enough not to ask any more.
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