Young Writers Society

Home » Literary works » Short Story » Romantic


Substitution

by Liz


I lay awake, listening to the sallow shadows playing a vibrating melody on the walls, the ceiling, the carpet. Coldplay spins around and around in my head as it has been doing all day. When my alarm went off it burst into the radio and the first thing I heard was the cool waves of "Trouble" pulling me out of sleep by the scruff of the neck.

"Oh no, what's this? Spiderweb and it's me in the middle."

I turn in bed, now facing the wall, twisted up in the covers. I hear the low creaks of a motorbike revving in the distance and it cuts through my lethargic, confused half-silence of night-time whispers and calming piano chords and male vocals.

I drift into a navy level of suspension, high up on vulnerable strings. Any sharp disturbance could snip them and I'd rush back to the layer of perfect consciousness.

***

I yank my pink ribbon from my ponytail and toss it into the garden. It catches and sprawls on sharp branches of spindly arms, clashing with the lime of leaves.

I smile and nodd in satisfaction and walk out, pulling my keys from my pocket. Crossing the road carelessly, I faintly hear the screech of tyres in the back of my mind and an angry yell follow. I smile again and toss the keys in the air. I catch them and crunch them in the silver lock. Not long and the air-conditioning will be blasting, splashing my face with a well-deserved wave of refreshment.

***

"Dan? It's me."

"Oh, hey me, what's doin'?"

"Nothing much." He can hear the smile in my voice, I know it.

"Is it raining where you are?" He's smiling too, I can hear it.

"No. It's a heat wave or something. Are you lucky enough?"

"It's pouring down."

"Right. I'm there."

A laugh. "Hey, not so fast. I have work. I don't want you tagging along."

"Why not? I'd look good on a leash."

He laughs.

"Remember your dog? The tiny white one. It was crazy, the way it used to follow you around."

"Are you suggesting I do the same with you?"

"You know I'd look the part."

He sighs. "I'll send you an email. That do?"

***

I look through his photo album. I can break into his apartment whenever I feel like it. He cut me a key once and never asked for it back. So when I feel curious I jam it into the lock and twist. Once, twice, a little encouragement, and I'm in. A whole world of treasures just waiting to be discovered. There's nothing more interesting than someone else's junk.

Today I get out memories captured on film. He's always been interested in remembering things that way. Me, I write things down. When I can be bothered. Him, he takes meaningless snapshots and files them away where anyone can get at them.

I see soapy surf-chicks with salty froth sliding down their skin, the sides of their smiley faces pasted with sand. I see waitresses frowning at the camera as they skillfully balance stacks of creamy plates on one of their single-silver-bracleted arms. I see crazy gals in fishnets and pleated, checked-skirts, with long blue lashes.

When I am bored with my life I delve into his.

***

I apologised once. It was a dark afternoon, when the sky is a pregnant grey and all your senses are acutely aware that there will be a thunderstorm. I had just come out of maths class, and was trying to put that huge, bulky textbook in my bag, not looking where I was going as I ran for my bus, not wanting it to slip through my fingers and leave me out in an electrifying storm like I knew was on its way.

So, I was running, and suddenly I bumped into something. It was a bone-crunching crash which left me with a purple bruise on the side of my arm. I knew that maths textbook would cause me lasting damage after a while.

"Hey, watch it, kid," he growled.

"Oh," I breathed, awe-struck. "I am SO sorry."

That was the first time I apologised. And what a great job I did of it.

He shook his head and strode off in all his glory, muttering to himself.

My first stalker-esque burst of lust.

***

I read old snippets of memories on blue notebook paper, pry apart sticky plastic pages of images of the past, marvel over bright garments looking like they have shrunk in the wash.

I think I was completely different. I look at myself in the mirror now and I see no resemblence. The sparkle in my eye has been dyed a different hue by an event of my past. My lips are fuller, redder, not the sappy fairy floss pink lines of thinness they used to be.

You wore my shoes for six months. They looked good on you, and you knew it. Every Sunday morning when I woke up I would go downstairs for peanut butter out of the jar like you taught me to love, and when I went back into my bedroom to change out of my warm, sleep-ridden pajamas and huge fluffy slippers, my phone would be vibrating on my desk. It grinded against the wood and I grinned as I saw your name flashing on the screen.

Those Sunday mornings were the best days of my life.

***

These days I get home and kick off my heels. I saunter into the kitchen and cross off a day on the calender. Today it's eighteen and I feel my stomach lurch.

I methodically make myself a ham sandwich and pour a tall glass of refrigerated water. It soothes my hot throat, hot from all the demanding fires of the day, the burning deadlines and the depressing conversations with people who know what they're talking about.

I drown my life in whatever I can find to keep my mind from marching back to you. God, it's stubborn. But you salvage me, you make me realise that hey, maybe it's not so bad. Every time I see you impatiently glancing at your watch as the dull, monotonous beeps of the check-out scanners come in uneven epochs. Shampoo. Vegemite. Multi-grain bread. Orange Juice. Eight bananas. Four pears. Razors. Butter. And your weakness: Lindt Chocolate. Hazlenut flavoured. I could recite your shopping list any time of the day. And I do sometimes, when I'm alone and quietness is scraping its nails down my creamy walls. Peace never comes holding the hand of that kind of silence. So I resort to rattling off memorised packages of words like a schoolgirl.

I love the way I know that you're bored stupid watching blue-shirted, plump women with burgandy brushes of hair, but you'd have that ignited scratch of a blue flame in your eyes if I was the check-out chick.

***

The hot summer afternoons I spent with my ear pressed to your garage, listening to the mechanical, passionate throb of your drums haunt me now. Your hard beats slam in my head at the worst of times: when I'm trying to sleep, when I'm alone in the library, pondering over slabs of bound pages bursting at the seams. I can't concentrate on anything when I remember your pulsing music, and it drives me crazy.

I remember being transfixed, unable to move, imagining your knife-cut muscles flexing naturally as you threw your arms about, thrashing the drumkit.

Then one day I opened my eyes and decided to walk inside your garage. Cold air scented of you greeted me. I saw the surprise on your face but you taught me to play to the drums.

***

My obsession with you creaked down the hallways at night, keeping me awake with its irritating sounds. I no longer walked three kilometres to your house and watched through the always open curtains, drinking in the shocking scenes thirstily. I stopped entering through the unlocked window when you were at school and I was supposed to be in Science last period each Wednesday. I didn't rummage through your wardrobe, your CD collection, your rubbish anymore. That became too complicated for me. The adrenaline rush I used to get began to dull and ebb away more and more every time I climbed over the hard, painted windowsill which was faintly chipped from my knife-point nails and chunky bracelets.

Don't think I'm a boring maths-homework-after-school kinda girl, because you couldn't be farther from the truth. I still love reading over the letters I whisked from your mailbox when you were busy watching "Friends". I still love closing my eyes and listening to the CD I burnt after stealing your copy one afternoon when you were at the beach and returning it the next morning as you shined your car in the front yard. I still love darting my eyes over your Year Ten History paper which I took from your bedroom bin when you were out playing soccer with your mates and smoothed the crumples out of it.

I still love all that.

But lately I've been wanting something more simple. These days I just drive past your house, doing 10km/h, your favourite song whispering in the background and my memories rising and sinking like waves in my mind.

***

That cold night in the middle of the purple field was more than I had ever dreamed of. You in your black t-shirt that camoflagued you in the syrupy black night and me in my watermelon strappy singlet which drove the blackness to a point and glittered like a skyscraper.

I looked at you, and I looked at my watch, and it was two eighteen in the morning. It didn't feel like morning. It felt like hot nights in front of my friend's TV, eating ice-blocks and dragging our eyelids back up whenever they would droop. Yet I trusted my watch, and I trusted you, and I didn't feel tired at all. I felt wide awake, energetic, bursting at the seams of my skin with happiness because there you were.

An orange rush of blood to my head made me do something crazy. I started laughing like a maniac, and I reached deep down into your pocket, retrieving your beloved blue cigarette lighter. You started laughing with me, because laughter is contagious when you're only with one other person in an empty field and the rest of the world is asleep.

I flicked it violently, and my finger burnt from scraping it so turbulently on that hard, metal half-wheel. Then I bent to the grass and made it lick and dribble and vomit against the olive blades. You may think I wasn't looking at you, or that I couldn't see in the dark, but I saw your violet figure tense in horror. I kept laughing. Now it was merely the sound of my own joy echoing across the field.

I ran recklessly towards you, and put my hand around your waist. But you grabbed me wildly and screamed something in my ear. I felt your panic seep out of your skin and into the night air. I kept laughing. You shot a jet of loud, abusive words at me and dragged me across the grass, desperately running and holding onto me in a way that began to hurt. I kept laughing. We got out of there and you called the fire brigade.

***

Is it regret?

Of course not.

Of course I knew that it couldn't last forever. You, me, forever? It was a jumble of non-sequiturs. But you lured me in with your amazing bait.

Or was it the other way round?

It's hard to tell; our timeline is only a blur now.

But what does it matter?

I don't regret anything. Everybody tries to make me believe that I should regret every single thing I did, and you did, and we did, but I can't. It is pointless. Perhaps one day, when I'm living in a cottage with a white picket fence, with two kids called Danny and Dani and a dog called Rover, a tiny, diluted liquid of regret will swim around inside of me, but that seems unrealistically far away.

We don't deserve our labels. "Ex", what is that supposed to mean? Excommunication, exhausted, exalted? I know you have never given into the conventions of society, and for that reason I don't either. When you brush your teeth in front of your mirror in the morning, do you see the shadows of my face in it? When you spread peanut butter across your toast in the morning, do you think of me spreading mine the way I like it? When you drive to work in the morning, do you surf through the radio stations and stop when you hear my favourite song?

Because as long as I still wonder with those scrabbles of desire inside my heart, I will not regret.

***

There you are, sounding like a lexicon again, and here I am, drinking vanilla coke and leaning against your garage door.

Why did your breath smell of wine? I hadn't tasted that scent second-hand before. My reveries of you and Saturday afternoons driving down highways trip back into my head sometimes in Geography. Dangerous high-speeds, wind blowing hair, Green Day flinging out of the sound system, you swerving away from dead birds, it all replays itself when it feels like it. I am a victim of the independent memories which are strong enough to lug themselves into my mind at any time of the day. I don't mind it. Sometimes it makes me smile, hear your music, your one-sided conversations. But sometimes it makes my cheeks salty.

***

I gave you my map.

It was three o'clock in the morning and you were lost in the harsh, wet night, so I pushed it into your hands. You used it well, I think, I hope, but now I peer through your window and I see it underneath piles of other maps, dusty and forgotten. I want to retrieve it, but it is an unwritten rule that once you give a map away, you can never reclaim it.

How long do I have to wait for you to realise that I sit here some mornings, most afternoons, some nights? How much do I have to pay for you to open your window and burst into your own song that I have memorised, that I have played over and over again in my head at night, that I scrawl down the lyrics of in Chemistry when I don't feel like playing with Hydrochloric acid?

***

I walk down the road today, my long hair breathing in and out with the wind. I can hear the words, the lyrics, the music you have long-forgotten. I can see the views, the everyday colours, the images that faded from your mind. I can taste the sugars, the salts, the pills you ejected from your throat. I can smell the perfumes, the fires, the ice that slunk away from you. I can feel the heat, the cold, the blades which buried themselves in a place you never look.

Today there are scars left by the stars in the sky. There is a bruise left by the moon, and a mass of red, tender skin left from night's tearing exit.

I slip your medal in my pocket. Maybe I'll leave it there.

written: Sunday 20th November 2004, 4:19pm.


Note: You are not logged in, but you can still leave a comment or review. Before it shows up, a moderator will need to approve your comment (this is only a safeguard against spambots). Leave your email if you would like to be notified when your message is approved.







Is this a review?


  

Comments



User avatar
402 Reviews


Points: 1586
Reviews: 402

Donate
Sun Aug 06, 2006 5:36 am
Wiggy says...



Wow! That was enticing to read. A little confusing with the changing viewpoints, but I enjoyed it!




User avatar
221 Reviews


Points: 890
Reviews: 221

Donate
Tue May 24, 2005 2:30 pm
Kay Kay says...



Yes there are quite a few punctuation errors. I enjoyed reading it. Good job! Keep up the good work!




User avatar
129 Reviews


Points: 890
Reviews: 129

Donate
Mon May 23, 2005 11:02 pm
Mattie wrote a review...



This was a very long post to read. I did like it though. You kept detail in the story throught the whole thing and your character developed nicely. Every paragraph seemed to stick out in some way which kept me reading. I really don't have any crit for this since it's so utterly long. :) It was good though. My favortie line was this:

I read old snippets of memories on blue notebook paper(;)(.) I pry apart sticky plastic pages of images (that's quite a mouthful. maybe tone it down) of the past (and) marvel over bright garments (that look) like they have shrunk in the wash.
I think I (am) completely different (from the person I once knew?). I look at myself in the mirror now and I see no resemblence. The sparkle in my eye has been dyed a different hue by an event of my past. My lips are fuller, redder, not the sappy fairy floss pink lines of thinness they used to be.
You wore my shoes for six months. They looked good on you, and you knew it. Every Sunday morning when I woke up(,) I would go downstairs for (the) peanut butter out of the jar (which you taught me to love.) (W)hen I went back into my bedroom to change out of my warm, sleep-ridden pajamas and huge fluffy slippers, my phone would be vibrating on my desk. It grinded against the wood and I (would) (grin) as I saw your name (flash) on the screen.
Those Sunday mornings were the best days of my life.


That goes along great with the story. Just re-read the whole story and you'll find the mistakes like puncuation.





If you want something badly, you just gotta believe it's gonna work out.
— Andy, Parks & Rec