Sunday, September 25, 2011

"To the Gills": A story based on "Terrapin" by Syd Barrett, as suggested by writer Misti Rainwater-Lites (41/100)

To the Gills

I started thinking a lot about unrequited love not the summer my brother drowned, but ten years later, after I had just turned thirty and there wasn’t really much else going on to think about. In the time between, I tried to do everything right, but not for very long and not with a lot of gusto.

Duane was two years older than me and above all else I desired his looks—his jaw was squared off more than mine and it brought all the elements of his face together—and his girlfriend, Rose, who fell between us in age and had dated me for two weeks before deciding, finally, on Duane. I couldn’t fault him on matters of taste or turpitude, so I blamed no one and assumed myself to be all the better off for it. After the current grabbed him, I ended up transferring to a college in Utah. I never moved back even though I had exhausted my chances with most of the girls and all of the trout, and on occasion I felt as if I missed home. It’s possible that I didn’t, that I was just being sentimental for my own selfish needs. It was impossible to tell: any sort of longing manifested itself in my brother the same way one might see a dead-end from miles away and avoid the road altogether.

Still, there were deep, clear lakes spotting the upper peaks of the mountains and towering light-haired women of Northern European descent to keep me distracted. Often, it was enough, to simply not desire more than what was available. I could live for days off the brief, undivided attention of a waitress who would laugh when I intended her to, and then for a few days after that stand at the cusp of the Great Salt Lake, never quite feeling as if I’d given enough back, but content nonetheless.

It was without warning, then, that I tracked down Rose and decided to start pursuing her romantically. Soon, I had cashed in my vacation time to drive to Mississippi and turn something that was practically nothing into a large-scale bad idea—always considerably easier than the inverse.

* * *

In a way, we had been together twice already, albeit the second time was both brief and in a haze of crooked mourning. It didn’t take long for us to consider the feelings of the deceased, and soon we had thrown bags of wrenches into the cogs of what may have been working between us. It was better left as it was: the first time a hiccup and the second nothing more than a dozen or so underwater kisses at the public pool after it had closed.

Those times were spent mostly in various stages of nervous movement, sneaking over the fence and then, once in the water, pushing off opposing walls with our feet and almost chipping our teeth against one another when our faces met. When we were too tired to swim but not ready to leave, we’d sit silently together underneath the counter of the concession stand. What was there to say?

* * *

Toward the gray and uncertain third quarter of the drive to Mississippi I had a type of dedication to time-management that took precedence over my feelings. I didn’t want to cut my losses and spend three more days getting home—I was sick of biscuits and gravy, the minor variations on the thickness of sauce or lightness of biscuits, but always the same taste, more or less, no matter which roadside diner it was—so I drove on.

I made an appointment at the salon Rose worked at. No name, just a 3:00 who needed a haircut. I sat down in the chair and looked at her in the mirror while she threw a cape over me and made small talk.

“Do whatever you want,” I told her. “I need a new look.”

She was wearing sandals and shorts and she had the same legs I remember, tan and hard. Her upper body had changed a bit, as if she had put on weight and then lost it and now she was getting used to the unusual places it remained, under her arms and breasts and neck.

A few years ago, I started going by my middle name, Joseph, which is the name I gave her when she asked. She didn’t recognize me otherwise, and after awhile it got to a point where it would have been awkward to bring up history. It seemed perfectly moral to be both who I was and who I wasn’t completely not.

She had turned me back around so I was facing into the rest of the salon. “You don’t swim, by chance, do you?” I asked her. It was then that I think she figured it out. Not the half-truths of my plot, but the loose threads joining back together over large amounts of distance. She walked away slowly off to the side of me and went through a door, either outside or to the backroom. I spun around and looked in the mirror. With my hair half done, I looked like my brother. I took my fingers and slicked my hair back a bit, stubborn all over, and though it lay down for a second it soon began to rise to its ends.

It was getting dark early, and when I went outside and looked around I was washed over with the blue of the moon. Science dictates that the stars were sharp and shaking with energy, but when I looked at them they seemed as smooth and calm as still water.



Syd Barrett is that crazy dude who Pink Floyd wrote a bunch of songs about. Some folks stand by Piper at the Gates of Dawn as the best Pink Floyd album. Even though I'm not one of them, I still call dibs on the name Rowdy Roddy Piper At the Gates of Dawn for my solo album.

Misti Rainwater-Lites is a wild Texan, sort of like Terry Funk meets Hope Dworaczyk. Her writing has appeared all over the damn place, and you can check out her videos on YouTube. (Might I suggest "Anal Lollipops" for y'all?) (And since it came up on the YouTube search, might I also suggest "Tampon Lilliopops" by Skinless for y'all?) Some of you might know her as the person behind the coolest pen-name ever: Roxi Xmas. Some of you might not. If so, you're fuckin' up. Do some Googling (and visit her blog, Chubacabra Disco).

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Next week: a story based on "It's a Long Road" by Dan Hill, as suggested by musician Topon Das of Fuck the Facts.

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