I’m posting a short-story I’m reconfiguring to release with my re-release of Disarm. I wrote this sucker 7 years ago with the original Disarm manuscript. It is written from the antagonists point of view and it has never seen the light of day besides the time I used it in workshop for a creative writing class. I’m posting so I’ll have it somewhere to spur me to finish tweaking it. It means a lot to me and so I get frustrated with it, and think…maybe just let it return to the box for another 7 years. So here is half of it. Hopefully the other half will be typed and semi-polished by the month’s end.
Once and Never Again
by Jarrett Nathaniel Mahers
The impact of the goon’s knuckle against my lip, my teeth and even a sliver of my tongue brings forth the strong, bitter taste of crowded blood welling in my mouth. Shock sends the majority of the blood down my throat, making for a nasty meal for my rumbling stomach. The remainder spews from my mouth in a lovely fountain display. They’re not pleased as it has put blood literally on their hands and clothes. Yet, before all this registered in my chemically assisted brain’s awareness, I felt the bliss of finally getting what I deserved.
These punches, and this beating from these two hired nobodies, is what I want. It’s debatable if it’s what I need. This difference has been the hardest lesson for me to grasp. It’s hard to admit that your blind want has to be let go. My happiness is not important in comparison to the cost for which it comes. I will not have her experience the terrible ache of loss like I did. Her soul is too precious to crush. She pulled me from the darkness. I won’t let her fall into its abyss, just because I feel sorry for my reckless self.
I don’t blame anyone but myself for what has happened. No one deserves these punches more than I. Besides, I learn best when the weight falls on my head like it has now. I make my decisions for myself, and I don’t want others’ futures tied in with the process. I see that what I am to do will hurt both parties less in the end. If a relationship never forms, it can never be killed.
True, my philosophy wavers in application to Eleanor. She could guess, but it’s true she’d dissolve all my work. She could destroy the philosophy, my livable existence, herself, and my everything if only I lapse for a moment. She’ll think I’m selfish perhaps, afterward, but it’s for us I make my choice.
Soon, unconsciouses will overtake me, because they will keep hitting me. Somehow their non-existent persona is leaking out in even the most primal of acts. They will beat me until they’ve had their fill of physical revenge, but I still won’t pay. I lay here without caring, feeling this small bliss. I deserve every ounce of pain for what I am doing to the girl I really care for: the sweet, strong Lenore. I will suffer through hell and more for what I’ve done to her and continue to do even now. I can except that, the punishment, but I can’t stop the direction I’m headed. These junkie goons and dealers will come to kill me soon, because I refuse to pay for my disease. I choose the cowards route of assisted suicide. I only beg from her alone with a plea of forgiveness, but not with remorse.
See the devil may do as the devil may care. He loves none sweeter as sweeter the dare. Her mouth the mischief he doth seek. Her heart the captive of which he speaks. So not all ye lovers in love with the sound. Your world be shattered with nary a note of one Cupid’s arrow under your coat. “Cupid De Locke” -The Smashing Pumpkins
The first time I encountered Elenore was the fourth grade. She probably doesn’t remember our first meeting though. At the time, and for six years after, I didn’t imagine there was anything to that nameless girl I med that rain sodden elementary school day.
It was my first year at the local elementary school as my family had moved from somewhere inconsequential to here. It had been a good year for me, and I fit in well at the school. In one of the final weeks of that school year it was a rare recess period that I found myself opting out of kickball with my friends to simply walk the blacktop alone. At my age, it was a bold move I assure you.
I soon tired of being ad rebel and rounded the side of the building to head back towards the classroom early when I heard great little sobs coming from the fifth-graders spring garden. I hopped the low gate and followed the sounds of the feminine choked voice muttering and sniffling. Behind the row marked for peanuts the in shadows of the failing corn stalks, a girl in a red jumper and a ridiculous polka-dot shirt knelt with a lark cradled in her shaking fingers. She looked up at my approach, but it was doubtful she could really see me through all those tears.
“Please don’t tell on me,” she whispered as thought whomever she feared was near.
My ten-year-old brain wanted to do exactly this. I wanted to run to the nearest authority figure and inform them of this crazy girl in the garden, stroking a half-dead bird with her stubby little fingers. Yet, her words stayed me.
I was a horrible little punk at ten. Still am.
“I’ve been taking care of it all week. If you tell, they’ll make me stop, and it will die.” She finished with a touch more drama than the situation required.
“We all die,” I said. “Do you want it to be in pain?
“No.” She shook her head furiously, her tears watering the okra plants to her right. “I know he’ll get better. I know he can.”
She had conviction at eight years old. Astounding when I think back on it. She ran her smallest finger down the bird’s back. It only opened and closed its eyes in a slow, painful sort of way.
“I’ll do it,” I offered.
She was quiet, still stroking the lark.
“It’s not going to get better,” I added cheerfully.
“You’re right. We’ll do it together,” she resolved.
I knelt in front of her and we both put a finger around the birds neck. She was no longer crying, and as we applied pressure to the bird’s soft, warm surface and it began to squirm, she clenched her jaw and willed herself to break the bone.
I felt it give under my finger and the bird only struggled for a minute longer until it grew still. I stuck around long enough to watch her dig a hole for it and put a dandelion on top of its still body before she covered it up. We parted ways without another word spoken between us.
She moved across town to live with her grandparents after that school year. Her parents said they needed a break from being parents, a six year break to be exact, until Eleanore’s grandmother died and she was shipped back to her folks. I can’t say I thought about her after that day in the garden and I didn’t learn all about her uprooted home life until after we met again the summer before my senior year of high school.
Ooh and every time that I”m with you I’m alive. Ooh and every time I think of you there’s a light. And I felt it too. “The Boy” -The Smashing Pumpkins
My friend Stephen invited me to join him, his girlfriend and fa few other friends to the Cloak’s Fine Dagger to see the local buzz worthy band, HomeWrecker. Simply to humor Stephen, I agreed. He had been my next door neighbor since I’d moved here in the fourth grade, and we became as thick as thieves at the end of junior year of high school.
That was when my former best friend and brother, Trent, Began his move on campus for his first year of college. I saw him rarely from then on as he grew up and away. My only objection to Stephen’s presence has been and continues to be his girlfriend. She is fiendish. I was always glad to be single in comparison to his fate.
At any rate, the CD was packed the night of the show. We arrived just as the moshpit began its formation and I motioned Stephen towards it. I was overruled as Cleo caught his wrist and begged him to wait with her until her other friends arrived. I rolled my eyes as he shrugged. Alone, I pushed through the bodies and to the front of the stage as the music started. I had come to hear music in its live form, complete with the ritual beating of the moshpit. Stephen was on his own with the leech.
The show as a rough one, no doubt, and it got rougher with each number they screamed out at us, but I was having a hell of time. I was completely in my element. I had attended my brother’s band shows since middle school. No crowd got too overwhelming for me. I looked from the stage mid-show to those are me, pressed tightly into me, limbs everywhere and felt my adrenaline kick was still going strong. I laughed aloud at simply being alive. Yet, I cut it off short as I felt something clutch my leg. Looking down, I saw a girl had fallen and was using my leg to pull herself back up. She pulled herself up to my elbow level and grimaced as the pushing continued.
She was being pressed on every side like we all were, but she simply didn’t have the physique for it. The guys in the front row were too rough, and weren’t thinking about who got hit as they moved. The girl had a fierce look in her eyes thought as she flung her arms out and pressed to stay upright. But I saw behind those eyes a glimmer of fear. IT was the most attractive thing I’d ever seen. The whole crowd shifted and she began to fall again with a little annunciation of alarm.
Had it been another day, and I been in a different mood, I could have been looking another way, let her fall, and missed all of this. That, I think, is the strangest part of my action. I care little for other people, but something about her made me reach out and halt her fall. Pulling her upright, and linking arms with her I yelled: “Stand your ground, little sister.”
Having saved her from another fall, I could have let her go, but I felt responsible for her somehow. The music continued and still I held her close to my side. And she didn’t seem to mind. When the show ended, and the majority of the sound that the music had been occupying, was free, I suddenly felt very conscious of this stranger latched on to me. I let her go and moved quickly to the exit. She said something muted to my ringing ears, and I waved nervously as I felt those black eyes on me, sifting through my soul and picking out the little faults there. I couldn’t get away quick enough. I had unintentionally picked a commitment, and that wasn’t something I wanted.
Outside, the chilly air brought a bit of comfort to my racing heart. I chastised myself mentally. I had been rude, running out on her, but we really had no connection, I justified. I’d done more than most by just holding her up. Girls in the moshpit, what did you expect? I shook my head.
I pulled a Camel from my pocket and patted my pants for my lighter, but with no success. More than likely it had been claimed by the mostpit. What a bummer, I thought glumly. I looked down the wall I leaned on for a fellow smoker to answer the call and there she was again, flicking a lighter to her own cigarette’s end. I started at her a moment, feeling such a fool. But what the hell. I saw nothing more to do, but give in to karma’s roundabout way of kicking me in the ass.
“Got a light?” I said over her shoulder.
She turned and choked on a puff of smoke. I could have killed myself for being involved in this cliché. The awkwardness was mildly unbearable.
“Sure,” she said, sparking the almost empty lighter multiple times until the flint struck. She cupped the flame towards my cigarette’s end.
In the streetlight, she looked vastly different to me. I have always hated my weakness of smoking and couldn’t stand it when one of my friends finally kicked the habit, but that day and always, she made cigarette’s look like a wonderful, harmless extension of herself.
She pulled the smoke in and a fiery cigarette end lit up those eyes again. They were brown, like mine, but with dark pits that had no defined color. I can hardly tear away from them even now. They’re not beautiful or anything. They just hold such a sadness that I don’t understand.
She was thin and pale, but the cold air, the concert and the nicotine gave a healthy, red glowing tint to her cheeks. She had freckles. Her hair was such a dark brown I had mistaken it for black. But yes, now I saw it was just a chestnut sort of color. She was really quite ordinary looking. Yet, this is all really superfluous description. Describing her is like trying to put fantastic into a bottle. I certainly don’t know how, and it shouldn’t be done anyway.
“Jarret Nathan Mahar,” I said as hr eyes ran over me as well.
I felt my first name would be insufficient, and that while I was telling her my last name, I might as well get the middle one out of the way too.
I hope I didn’t make a face when she said that, but I didn’t like that name. Elenore has class and character while Lenore is quite dreary. Elenore has a tendency to over dramatize things and so Lenore fits her, but Elenore is her true name. I’ve never been able to call her Lenore.
“Short for anything?” I asked.
“Yeah. Elenore. But call me Lenore,” she said, all punk intimidation, but then smiled out of the corner of her mouth and started to say something, but then Stephen came up into the middle of the scene with the Siren holding his hand.
Elenore know Stephen from his abysmal girlfriend and they pursued that topic in introductions and following small talk. She wasn’t a quiet sort of girl, but I found I didn’t mind. As she talked, it gave me an excuse to look at her, her familiar face, and try to remember where we’d met. As we finished our cigarettes and flicked them into the street, the memory of the girl with the bird resurfaced from nowhere. That girl that had been trapped in my memory so long was now released to join her updated self. The awkwardness increased tenfold as I thought she might remember this past version of me and the upper hand would be completely lost.
“Jarrett, are you going with us?”
I was brought back. Elenore looked at her cigarette end without interest and then crushed it on her boot heel. If she remembered me, then she must have been very good at concealing her facial expressions. She was good at this game, I’m sure. I was better.
“No. Trent and I have to make our 1a.m. House of Waffles date.”
Trent’s wonderful timing displayed itself as his car squealed to a stop across the street and I waved farewell to the group, and ran to it, already breathless, from cigarette inhalation or Elenore, who knows?
I got in hastily and accidentally shut my jacked in the door. I reopened the door with a curse, freed it and shut the door again, sinking back into the seat. Trent was looking at me with that shit-eating grin of his. He’s only a couple of years older than me, but acts like he understands everything, including me, perfectly. He knows a lot, but my plans will always surprise him. They surprise me at times.
He put the car in drive and shrugged with a smile. We had ordered our waffles and were waiting for our food when he spoke.
“So, who is she?” he said, not remotely hiding his grin behind the orange juice.
I hated him seeing through me. I had been unable to think of anything but Lenore since I’d left her side. She was a mystery kaleidoscope I couldn’t see through; a puzzle I must solve.
“Lenore, she says.” I admitted.
“Is she hot?” he said, dousing the eggs that had just been laid before him with hot sauce.
Trent had a full ride to the local college, but he hadn’t yet wised up on girls, and indeed anything that remotely was useful for daily life. He’s much better these days. Dad’s death changed him for the better. I believe I took it the worst of the two of us. I didn’t go goth or start wearing spikes and dog collars, but I was pretty emo and definitely not who I was before.
Trent spread the sauce in a uniform coat over the eggs and began eating them.
“Don’t fall in love, Jarrett. It’s just an excuse to hurt and be hurt.”
He is hilarious when he tries to preach to me with song lyrics.
“Which folk singer did you rip that off from?” I asked.
“Bright Eyes,” he admitted with another shrug.
“Aw man,” I pushed my plate away. “That Oberst makes me nauseated with his angst. Don’t you have any GWAR words of wisdom on love?”
That was a contradiction if there ever was one.
“GWAR? Now, I’m nauseated,” he said and be laughed a bit so that Elenore was able to fade completely from my mind for the night.
The next morning though, her nagging presence was back and I called Stephen to ask him to give her my number.
“Right on it, man,” he said and I could feel his smile over the phone.
I didn’t care if I sounded smitten. I didn’t care that I wasn’t waiting two days to call or whatever the bullshit rule was. I felt an invisible clock ticking over us and just wanted to get to know her soon. She was on me like the pull of gravity. I never thought we’d be here, with hurt and betrayal in the ranks where love and trust once here. I certainly didn’t mean to. Life just happened to us, I guess. I admit, Oberst had some of that stuff right.
Who am I to need you now? To ask you why, to tell you no, to deserve your love and sympathy. You were never meant to belong to me. And you may go, but I know you won’t leave, too many years built into memories. Your life is not your own. “Crestfallen” -Smashing Pumpkins
I remember when I started letting go of Eleanor. When I made the conscious decision not to let her know I loved her. My father died in July, a few months after graduation and my long life that was college to start, so maybe I should have been grateful for the coincidence. He was gone so suddenly, but that’s a stupid cliché as well, because that’s how death always is. I surely don’t want mine to stretch out any longer than it already has.
The night he died, I had just had dinner with Eleanor and Trent and was already a bit miffed. The pair of them had sided against me in telling me I needed to nail down my major. It seems such a trivial thing to be angry about now, but I hated having no direction and then further being called out on it by two of my best friends.
“Would it kill you to be on my side for once, Trent?” I said, slamming the door behind me as we entered the house.
“She was right, Jarrett. You’re going to have to make a decision eventually, and then live with it. You’re afraid of consequences and you always have been. I’ve held your fucking hand since you were born, so don’t say I’m not on your side.”
“Oh right, I forgot. You honestly just say whatever suits you, Trent. You’re hardly ever home during breaks from school. This is like the first time we’ve really talked in a month, man. Yeah, you’re really holding my hand while you’re out with your friends like always. I’m sure.”
“My silly friends? You’re the silly one Jar-head. I know what this is about. You’re just angry you can’t afford dorm life and have to live at home this year.”
I was, but it was really shitty of him to bring that up. We were in my parents bedroom at this point.
“You can…” I stopped short in yelling whatever was next.
Anna, our mother, had raised her head from the bed where she’d been lying face down. Trent went to her side inquiring, but her tear stained cheeks told the story. My father’s name on her lips. I knew something terrible had happened to him. Our mother never cried and now great wails were shaking her entire body while Trent held her together.
He looked at me with venom as if it were my doing and then broke into tiny sobs of his own while he stroked her hair. I skipped grief and got stuck on anger. It was the first time my father had really let me down. The first time he wasn’t there when I needed him. You were supposed to grow old, Father. Barely out of your forties and doomed with a soft heart that just couldn’t take the pressure.
That was the worst summer of my life.
I pushed through the anger and encountered bone crushing grief. I had foolishly tried to suppress it and it was blotting me out in turn. It brought its buddies Blame, Hate, Self-Loating and a Depression most severe. I love drugs, but the more I took the worse I felt, so I eventually pushed away anti-depressants too.
I’d met Eleanor that previous summer and we had bonded instantly from that concert we met at. She was a mixture of a twin sister, a girlfriend, a best friend and none of the above. She wouldn’t let my sorry ass be as we went through death together. After I eventually heard the detailed news of my father’s death from my distraught mother, I called her.
“Jarrett…did I leave something in the car?”
“Elenore,” I said again, my voice a flat sound that I didn’t even recognize.
“My dad…he’s had a heart attack. He’s dead.”
Her parents lived about a fifteen minute bike from my house, but the ride had barely begun when I was at her door. She was standing in its frame, her father silhouetted in the background.
“Talk to him and then come back in here,” he said, staring me down.
“He’s staying over.”
“Like hell he is girl. No pothead is stepping foot in this house. You talk to him and then come back in here.”
He pushed her out the door and shut it. I waited nervously at the bottom of the steps. She seemed to think for a moment.
“Hold up a minute. Be right back,” she said.
She opened the door, went in and closed it. I sat on the bottom step, wanting just to leave and deal with this on my own as I usually did with things. I heard yelling and slamming coming from within the house. She appeared a minute later with her backpack on, a sleeping bag under one arm, and a foldout tent under the other.
“Come on,” she said. “Let’s get out of this shithole.”
There was a campground near our houses, and she rented a campsite for us for the night. We slept in the tent she pitched herself. She cooked hotdogs and played The Smashing Pumpkins all night on her cd player.
We only had one sleeping bag and she insisted she didn’t care that I had it, but I didn’t care about much of anything but not being alone. So that was the first night I slept with her in my arms like a life-sized stuffed animal. We have slept together like that most nights since we moved into the same apartment complex.
Nights that she’s not at the apartment, I can only manage a few hours of sleep. I broke down in her arms many times during those months after his death, and she was with me every moment to offer endless devotion to restoring me to whatever normal I could manage.
Trent filled his life post-dad-death with a full calendar of social events, drinking, and lots of smokes. He was no longer my immature older brother, but he was no longer my happy friend as he’d once been. It became hard to laugh around him, because we shared the weight and being together was a reminder of our burden to continue to do so. He didn’t have time to be sad anymore with his life full of college kid drama. It took me well past that summer and up until mid-March to rebuild my own life.
My father had been my closest relationship tie, and the loss of the tie ripped me out of reality. I decided that I would never get so close to another again. The pain of severing a relationship was too great for me. This was a rule without exception and so sadly the one who helped me through it all was pushed away constantly. Every time she showed emotion towards me, I acted like I didn’t notice. I felt, but I never showed it. It seems easier this way.
I am in love with Elenore in ways I can’t even describe, but I was going to break her heart irreparably if I let her know anything of my thoughts. To lose her from my life completely over a petty boyfriend vs girlfriend melodrama was not an option for me. I wanted to keep her forever.
You see Ellie? I love you too much to do that to you. I have hurt too much already and I can’t take it again. I made the decision that we would never be that couple. Sure, we gave up things, but I think we got a lot more in return. I hope she will understand. I know she didn’t that day at the circus. One year after my father’s death, when the decision to be a semi-sociopath was still new, I hurt her physically. It’s the sickest thing I’ve ever done. And I hate myself for it.
All you have to do is run away, and steal yourself from me. Become a mystery to gaze into. You’re so cruel in all you do, but still I believe. I believe in you. “Behold! The Nightmare.”-The Smashing Pumpkins
I can’t say for sure that Elenore remembered the date’s heavy history. She simply wanted to go to the circus, and I didn’t want to be alone that night. If I was alone, I knew I might be tempted to pick at the raw scab in healing that was my metaphorical heart.
We sat on the hard benches of the budget circus while a scattered cornfield of popcorn and gummy mazy of half-eaten candied apples made dirty love under our feet. She had gotten a green snow cone which we shared. She kept sticking out her absurdly vividly colored tongue when I threw popcorn kernels at her. She helped me relax and almost forget. We were not being quiet, but the circus crod was slim on a Sunday, and we only earned a few hell gazes from mothers of squirming toddlers.
The acts were unremarkable. The only one that held my attention at all was the archer shooting an apple off his trusting wife’s head. I found it intriguing because I knew I could never put my life so wholly in another’s hands. It was a simple wrist bob and shed face certain death. She smiled: seemingly unaware. I don’t think any human should have that much control over another’s existence. It’s that thought that terrifies me and makes me reprimand Elenore when she leans too heavily on me. So, I can’t say I really liked the act, but it wasn’t bad.
Elenore was fascinated by the clowns. Whenever those mockeries of human plights came falling, stumbling, or swaggering out, her face lit up with unrivaled joy. They took her to a place where the world couldn’t touch her. I envied that simple ecstasy.
“Why don’t we join the circus, Jarrett?” She said, putting the snowcone straw under my mouth again as the clowns finished up.
“I’m too grizzly a fucker for the circus.”
She giggled and pulled my absurdly long hair to her. It rivaled the lion’s manes to be sure.
“You crazy metal kid. Don’t you think it’ll be fun? Just run away and be carnies for awhile?”
I lifted my eyebrows.
“Possibly…” I conceded. “What would our talent be?”
The final act was wrapping up around this time, and she twined her arm with mine as we waited for the lower bleachers to clear.
“You’re a master bullshitter. Maybe you could be the ringleader,” she jabbed as we made our way down the steps.
“You’re losing your touch, Ellie. Pray tell what would you do?”
“I’d be a trained poodle,” she said simply.
I just shook my head. Her logic was baffling. I think if I had to join her silly circus tirade, I’d be one of those stupid fucking clowns she fancies. When you’re a clown, everyone laughs at your misfortune, and that’s common place for me. It’s your job to make misery funny, and I think I could handle that. It would also be nice to make Elenore smile. A challenging, but satisfying job, I think.
We got in the care and she drove me to my house. The boxes were by the front door. I was finally moving out of that house and into the apartment complex where I live now, the one next to her. I suddenly felt very agitated like I had at dinner with her earlier that night. The school year at the new college without my father and still no major was wearing on me.
“You ever think we’re wasting our time?”
“High school certainly seems proof of our time wasting capability. You mean us in particular?” She asked.
I appreciated her taking my philosophical questions seriously. Trent blew these kinds of questions off. She listened. I pulled a cigarette out and after a few puffs, handed it to her.
“You see these lions and tigers in those circus cages and that’s the only way we’ll ever see them.”
She nodded, smoking in her beautiful way. I was tempted to watch, but I had a point to make.
“I wonder what they’d be if they were out in another town, another cage, or another field? Would they be more of a lion or still that sad bit of spoiled meat jumping through another ring of fire?”
She didn’t answer as she handed the cigarette off. I was ruining her night. I wanted to wallow in misery for awhile, and while she usually stopped me early on, she wasn’t holding me back tonight.
“I’m never going to get out of this town,” I finished, looking away angrily.
There was a pause before she said, very quietly.
“Maybe this town needs you.”
I turned on her. Her hand was in mine and I had begun to squeeze it tightly.
“Well, I don’t need it or anyone here.”
She didn’t understand she had to stay away from me. She was angry now though. Her terrible quiet anger where she said just the right words to hurt.
“I’m with you because I want to be, idiot. I don’t NEED you or that bullshit,” she said clearly, pulling her hand from mine.
Something snapped in me. I was wanting a safe distance from her but not abandonment. That…I couldn’t handle. I couldn’t be left alone again. She knew that. How could she say that? She reached for me or I for her, because my head was spinning and I’m not sure. It was probably she who reached to comfort me. She always does that after she realizes she’s said something awful. I felt my nails dig into her skin of her tiny hand, drawing blood as I tossed it away from me.
“You wouldn’t have said it if you didn’t mean it,” I spat at her downcast eyes.
I got out of the car and ran to the door, angry tears springing to my eyes. I lay against the front door panting and seething. I could see her dark figure in the car still, hunched over the wheel. I pulled at my hair and went back to the window. She wouldn’t look up. Ashamed of me. The worst punishment possible.
“It’s the first anniversary of my dad’s death, Elenore. I’ll call you in a few days when I cool down.”
I should have apologized. Later, I’d look at her hand and see those two ghost-like scares I left. I didn’t deserve her to come back to me. I never said sorry. But then again, neither did she.
To be continued…(hopefully!)