Upside Down – who is Giuseppe

At the other end of town, a middle-aged man was pacing the length of his office. Every once in a while, he looked across the room at two burly men who didn’t dare to look at him. They tried to be as small as they could, given their sizes and the confining space of the leather chairs they sat in. Giuseppe’s rage made a large vein on his forehead appear. It looked intimidating and as if it would pop every moment now.
“One thing. Just one thing,” Giuseppe seethed, pointing a meaty finger at his minions. “That stupid little…, how could you lose her?” The boss was not amused, and the look of his lackeys did nothing to soothe him. “I want my money, and I want the girl. Bring me both. If not, your future is sealed. Now get out of my sight. And don’t come back without Mildred.” Giuseppe rubbed the bridge of his nose to fend off an impending headache he felt.
“Yes Sir,” Tonio and Richard answered in unison and left Giuseppe’s office.
Exhausted, Giuseppe dropped down into his chair, massaging his temples. He looked left and right, making sure that no prying eyes were watching him, and then, out of a folder, he pulled a picture. On it, a younger version of Giuseppe was leaning against a tree. Next to him, another man stood with a little girl on his shoulder. Looking closely, one could see the men holding hands. Lovingly, he traced the other man’s face with one finger, wishing he would be able to touch more than just a fading picture. He remembered the day the photo was taken vividly.
Giuseppe and Connor had taken their daughter on a picnic in the park. They had played ball and fed the ducks; they had played catch and eaten fresh sandwiches Connor had prepared for them. And later in the afternoon, when the girl had been tired, the little family had found this large tree that offered shade for them all. A timer had helped to take this family picture, and minutes later, little Milly had fallen asleep in Giuseppe’s arms.
That time was long gone. Twenty years later, all Giuseppe wanted was revenge. Milly had stolen from him. Not only had she stolen Connor’s heart, but she had taken money that wasn’t hers.
Giuseppe slipped the picture in the folder, hiding it again. He had sought revenge for such a long time; he didn’t know how to stop anymore. If he let Milly go, he would appear soft to the other mobsters around, and his reputation would be damaged beyond repair. Silently and secretly, Giuseppe only wanted peace of mind. He wanted his family back, and he wanted to spend the remaining years of his life in the presence of his little girl and the love of his life. Neither was at his side for now, and as long as he was chasing Milly, she would not be back without a fight. Giuseppe sighed and cursed. Life was complicated. He just hoped Tonio and Richard would not kill Milly when they found her. “Where are you, you silly girl?” Giuseppe asked into the empty room. The question echoed off the walls without a reply.

Life between clouds and feathers – Don’t be silent (10)

Every silence makes Connor aware of the screams building up inside of him. Every moment of numbness reminds him of the many moments of overflowing emotions he experiences on a daily basis. He isn’t leading a life that fits the norm. He can’t. Everything needs to be in a certain order. Filed by colours, or numbers, or memories. No one knows what triggers him. Least of all he himself. Life could be so easy. It really could be. But not for Connor. Few people try to understand Connor and his special needs. Thomas is one of the few. But Thomas himself is not an easy characters. Connor once knew how to handle the man who is currently sitting on his couch. But things happened; life happened, and what little trust that had built between these two was destroyed in the blink of an eye after too many fights. Both men can’t say what happened or when they fell out of love. The fights just got too many to ignore. And the words that were spoken in anger left deep wounds that didn’t heal. As it was, Thomas never gave up on Connor. He tried to let him go, but too many sleepless nights were spent thinking about the man who once owned his heart. In the meantime, Thomas had a girlfriend, but it wasn’t the same. He was not able to give her what Connor had gotten so willingly. After Connor had gone, there had been a void in his life no one could replace. The many routines Connor has and which have driven Thomas mad, were now missing from his life. And Connor; his heart has been bruised, and he recoiled into his own little impenetrable shell. The end of their relationship has been a huge failure for him personally. In his mind, his malfunctioning brain is to blame. It isn’t, Connor knows it rationally, but emotions rule his thinking. Thomas is still silent, sitting on the couch, flipping through the channels on the TV. He doesn’t say a word. It is unsettling. If he just said something. If he just insulted him for what had happened earlier. But no. Silence. Silence is louder than the loudest scream. Uncomfortable.
“Say something,” Connor dares to say at last.
“We should order some food,” Thomas replies. His eyes never leaving the silver screen.
“That is not what I meant, and you know that I can’t order takeout. I can’t eat the food someone else touched.” Connor looks at his naked feet. They feel good when he rubs them on the carpet.
“I am hungry. I am going to order some pizza.”
“Here?” Connor needs Thomas to say yes. He cannot be left on his own. But he also dreads the answer. He cannot have Thomas in his sanctuary. He will disrupt his routines, and he will take space Connor needs for himself.
“Of course. Don’t think that I will leave this place anytime soon after your little stunt.” Thomas sits up straight. Muting the TV, he looks at Connor. He knows better than to try and make eye contact.
“We are not a couple and you are here uninvited.” Connor tries to make a point, but it is as weak as it sounds, and he knows Thomas well enough to know that he won’t leave.
“I don’t give a flying fuck about whether I am invited to be here or not. I will not leave until I know that you are okay.”
“I didn’t mean to kill myself…”
“… And yet you tried,” Thomas cuts Connor off.
“Pizza, I am starving. I’ll sleep on the couch. And now, shut up I want to see this.” Thomas takes his phone out of his pocket and orders food, before he turns his focus back on the TV. “It is okay, you know. Just sit here with me for a while. The world can wait.”
Connor doubts the truth of those words, but somehow, he is willing to find out. Something is different. Something feels weird. He sits next to Thomas on the couch and without over-thinking it, he leans into the other man. He is comfortable feeling Thomas’s heat through their shirts. Safe. The thought scares him. He is too far out of his comfort zone to enjoy it. He is too exhausted to be able to find a way to make this easier for him.

Life between clouds and feathers – walking the wire (9)

Connor is walking the wire. In his mind he is. On one side, Thomas is holding him, on the other is an abyss. Connor doesn’t dare to move. Neither perspective is one he is comfortable with. But he prefers to be on the safe side. For now. Frozen in place, his mind is blank, too. His mind and his body are vacant. Mechanically, he lifts his arms to be helped into a t-shirt, and other clothes. He barely registers his stomach pains and the urgency to empty its contents into the toilet bowl. Everything is numb. And it is scary. Connor is used to be dominated by thoughts and urges. This nothingness is scary. Every routine that is etched into his brain is followed with determined ease and showing his attention to detail. He moves around Thomas as if he were a piece of furniture. And Thomas doesn’t object. He just watches Connor doing his thing. Connor scrubs the kitchen with various cleaning products, fully focused on his task. In passing, he takes the note he left for Thomas to read, scrunches it up, and throws it into the trash as if it is a used tissue. The more he cleans and files and organises, the calmer he becomes. Following his daily rituals help too. The wire in his head becomes larger and easier to navigate. The abyss is not as deep anymore, and he doesn’t feel the need to be held anymore. However, the emptiness he now feels is new. The void that is spreading in him is a threat he has never felt before. His mind is racing. His heart is too. He feels a new wave of nausea hitting him and he runs to the bathroom. Dying by asphyxiation must be less painful and embarrassing than the stomach cramps he is experiencing after an overdose with different vitamins. Thomas is at his side, holding out a wet towel for Connor to clean his face. He avoids touching him more than absolutely necessary. Thomas stays stoic and silent. His presence is enough to keep Connor from disintegrating. His silence is welcome and comforting. And Connor continues to walk the wire. Slowly. Because the calm is not reassuring. It opens doors for new demons.

When two become one

“I had these ideas about you. None of them are true…”
“Like?”
“Well… You’re a smoker.”
“Been one for 30 years. What else?”
“You’re smaller than I expected”

*He groans, rolls his eyes and puts his cigarette out with the heel of his sneaker. She’s embarrassed and nervous, trying to find words to say that aren’t offending or insulting in this awkward situation.

“Go on…”
“You are much more handsome than on your pictures.”

*He smiles. She’s back on track.

“What else?”
“I said “no” when you asked about being intimate on our first date. I meant “yes”.”

*The admission leaves her timid and waiting for rejection. She puts a lock of hair behind her ear. It jumps right back to where it was. He stands straighter, anticipating what will be happening next.

“I can’t see how this has anything to do with the way you imagined me to be”

“I judged you. I don’t know you.”

*It’s almost an apology. Almost.

“We spoke on the phone for two years.”
“I know.”
“You know exactly who I am. Maybe not my mannerisms or my daily habits. You know the deeper me. You know me better than anyone else.”

*It’s flattering to hear these words, but she is sceptical. Does he really tell the truth or is this his way of getting what he wants? It doesn’t matter. Who cares? She gives in. No reason to fight the feelings she doesn’t want to fight.

“You had me with that smile, moments before you said hello.”
“Two years ago I told you that I would never fall in love with you and that I only want sex from you. I lied.”

*She blushes and smiles at his feet. She still doesn’t know what he sees in her; she is short and overweight; and he could have every girl he wants.

“Come here… We don’t have a lot of time. Let’s make the best of it.”

*She nods. Their eyes are locked and their breaths mingle, moments before their lips touch. Her heart races and her knees feel weak. Electricity. He tastes of cold smoke and she can feel his smile on her lips. His hands find an immediate way under her shirt. The heat of his skin on her back leaves imprints on her soul that she can never wash off. She needs more of him. All of him. As much as he is willing to give. If he lets her in, she will submit to him, surrender to his needs. She will become his everything. With an urgency, they find the bed behind them. Clothes are quickly disposed of. There is no time to waste. Not even to appreciate the nakedness of the other. He used to ask her to tell him that she loves him. For the first time, these words leave her lips without being a lie, just as he enters her and fills her in a way she hasn’t felt in years. Completion. This encounter is more than she ever expected it to be. It is less too. Two lonely humans giving in to their primal urges after building up to this moment for more than two years. Everything they ever said, everything they ever wrote; every picture they ever shared – everything led to this moment. The moment when two become one. And although everything that is happening right there is ordinary, nothing about it is, in fact, ordinary. Moans, sweat, the scent of sex, the creaking of the bed. Two people who stopped thinking. Only existing. Become one.

Dear stranger

Dear stranger,

It has been a while, hasn’t it? May was the last time we spoke. May 8th. Not that I am keeping track, but I remember the day. Since then, I deleted your number from my phone. Not because I despise you or don’t want us to be in touch, but you told me to wait for you and that’s what I am doing. Waiting has never been my strongest quality and I know that I am waiting in vain. This – this entire situation is harder on you than it is on me. I guess it should be the other way around, but I can’t change it. And I don’t regret it either. Sure, for you everything is different and I can’t pretend to understand you, your motives, your reasons, or your actions. I can’t and that’s a fact. Once, we agreed that we need to be friends and trust one another. Maybe we trust each other but I don’t think that we are friends. We never shared anything that really mattered. We never were in love. Just in lust from time to time. And with our lust, desire, passion, we broke limits and boundaries. Maybe a couple times too often? Yes, maybe. Certainly. Some of it was my fault. I enabled you and didn’t stop you when I should have said no. I gave you my control when I should have taken control. I let you be the dominant one when I should have been. I write this right now because I do miss you. For a week now, I wasn’t sleeping right and I blame it on you. Your presence in my mind. And I worry. Also, I want to know how you are. And selfishly, I also want you to remember me. You will never forget me. I know that for sure and yet… I want to touch you again. I like your social media posts just to make you see that I am still there. Maybe we will never speak again. Maybe we will be an active part of each other’s lives soon again – truth is, it doesn’t matter. We will always have our memories. You will be a memory. And in many years time when I can grandchildren, I will tell them all about you. (The censored version! But come to think about it, then there isn’t much to talk about.) I wish that my presence how ever short or intense left some sort of impact on your life. Preferably a good one. I will never know what you won’t tell me.

I am still there…

xx

a strange connection

There sat a man on the stairs. His hair was hidden underneath a black hoodie, and his pale hands clutched a mobile phone. His jeans-clad legs were bent, and his knees were hugged by his arms. His head rested on his knees. He looked like a tired, sad man. His eyes were at once empty and overflowing with a raging storm. Maybe he was homeless. No one could tell for sure. Appearances can be deceiving in this day and age.

A busker stood next to a pillar. His fingers picked at the strings of his worn guitar, and his voice pronounced every word he sang with as many emotions as he could muster that day. His guitar case lay in front of him; opened wide, so that passersby would be tempted to toss in some of the loose change they kept in their pockets. So far not many coins were spread out on the black velvet. The romance of busking in the underground and being discovered accidentally by someone influential was wearing off. Sometimes he wished he hadn’t quit his day job because of a fluke. He had, though, and there was no turning back. And now, he played for people who hurried past him without seeing him and homeless drunks like the one on the stairs across from him.

I stood at the busker’s left and observed both men. Both had a similar aura. Tired of their situations. Not of their lives, like me. I felt a momentary connection with these strangers while I projected my own struggles on them. The man on the stairs looked lost in thoughts and mesmerised by the busker singing and interpreting songs we knew from the radio. And rightly so. He sang a beautiful version of Mad World. I hummed along.

The man on the stairs moved his lips in time with the lyrics too. Three strangers who had no connection whatsoever connected over a song. It was magic. I smiled at myself. It was a strange and foreign sensation for me. During this brief moment of contentment, the man on the stairs looked into my eyes. He nodded ever so slightly and, to me, it seemed as if his eyes were less tired then. A glimmer of hope was shining through his eyes and enveloped my own hopeless self.

The train arrived and the spell that had surrounded us dissipated and vanished with the throng of people invading this space that had been so magical mere seconds ago. The stranger was swallowed by the masses, and when the rushing brook of busy people had turned into a trickle, he was gone, and the busker was packing his guitar away. I turned to leave too. Without direction, without purpose. I had missed the train.

sinner

I put tulips under all the pillows, and then I set fire to the house. I watched from a safe distance and listened to the wails of the approaching sirens. I was convinced that the house was haunted and the only way to get rid of the evil spirits was to burn it down. I sound crazy, and maybe I am, but what’s done is done. The flames ate at the house, and the clear blue sky turned to a dusty gray. It was hot, and I jumped back when the first windowpanes exploded. A crowd had gathered to look at the spectacle. My neighbor looked on in shock. I heard the voice of his ex-wife and saw her with the kid on her arm. She looked more annoyed and less alarmed. I didn’t like her. I should have burned her too. Evil witch. I turned to go, but my neighbor held me back. “I am so glad you made it out of there alive,” he pulled me into a hug. I froze on the spot. Why did he care about my well-being? No one cared about crazy old me. I didn’t move, and I didn’t return the hug. I pushed him away and made my way through the gawking crowd. I passed the firefighters who were laughing and joking. It was just another day at work for them. One of them was showing his cell-phone around. “I cheated on my spouse. And it wasn’t the first time.” He laughed out loud, and his colleagues clapped his shoulder as if they admired him for deceiving his spouse. For the second time in a short time, I froze. I knew I had to kill him too. He was a sinner. There is no place for sinners in this world. I moved closer to the firefighter. His scent reminded me of the smell of the T-shirt from a B-52’s concert I had bought in the 80s. A strange association, perhaps only made because their song “Rock Lobster” was blaring from the stereo. Rude. These firefighters were rude. I remembered the time Leslie called me a leech. It was time to spring into action and get closer to the firefighter. “I was in that house,” I announced, feigning breathlessness. I saw his eyes blaze. He clearly loved to be a hero. “Let’s get you to a paramedic then,” he had his arm around my shoulders, and I took the opportunity to play the weak victim. I melted against him, and he straightened his shoulders to catch me. “I feel so weak in your arms,” I breathed against his neck. I felt his breathing change, and I smiled to myself when I dropped my arm to brush it against his hard bulge. He was an easy one. In no time I would have him where I wanted him to be. “Take me away from here, please. Take me somewhere private.” He just nodded and snapped his fingers in the direction of another firefighter. “I’ma gonna take this fellow somewhere safe. Got it? Cover for me.” The other man’s smile spoke louder than words as the hero escorted me off the premises of the burning house. I stirred him to a hotel down the block. I insisted on checking us in, and he agreed without putting up a fight. The room was tiny. A typical cheap hotel room. It was perfect to finish this hero’s life. Above the bed hung a picture with a man wearing a plate on his head. It was odd, but the vivid colors made it something special. For a long time, I looked at it. The man pushed his body against mine, and I let him. He kissed my neck, and I let him. We undressed clumsily. He was in a bigger haste than I was. I ordered him to lay down on the bed, and he did. This was going to be so easy. He was beautiful to look at. I straddled him and kissed his lips. It was the last kiss he would ever taste. The kiss of death. The only one this sinner deserved. He struggled a lot. But I was stronger than he was. I was stronger and possessed by the voice in my head. I needed to end his life. And I did.

After I got dressed again, I picked a tulip out of the floral arrangement on the small table and placed it on his lifeless body. I stepped out on the street. The smell of fire clouded the road. I took a deep breath and exhaled with a satisfied sigh before I turned to walk down the pavement; never looking back to where I was coming from.

next November

​What a difference a year makes, don’t you think. Last year, you spent two weeks in Australia for work. You called daily. Sometimes twice. I remember that one call, when you were crying because you missed your daughter. We talked a lot that night. About your kid and her mother and about my kids and the way I raise them. You said that you liked the way I talked about them and it was the first time you called me beautiful. Another time when we talked, it was my turn to cry. The past had caught up and an apology had been issued. It had meant so much that I teared up when I told you. And you listened patiently. It was also the time when I told you about my family dynamics. I remember those things clear as day. And I miss those talks. Quality talks. I was never someone to cry a lot in front of people. But I cried with you. Three times. Yes, I counted because crying is such an intimate and personal thing for me. I don’t mean the tears I shed last night after I watched that movie, but the real emotional tears that come straight from the sad and overwhelmed heart. Yes, that meant a lot. And you know, those tears, those explosions of emotions, they felt so good with you. It feels like a lifetime ago. Do you remember that time you called very early in the morning. My voice was thick with sleep, my brain not ready to translate the words we were saying to each other. We laughed so hard. That’s a sound I remember and miss too. Your laughter. It’s true, last November, we were so close. This November we couldn’t be farther away. You will probably be abroad for weeks, you mentioned the Netherlands to me the last time we spoke. I am not sure about your schedule and it is not my business anymore either. Just, yes. I had this thought that last year everything was different. Last November we were one. This year we are worlds apart. Next November life will be different yet again. And it is good.

Red

​Red. He can taste the colour. It’s the favourite shade of his favourite colour. Nothing can stop him from craving it. Men, women, children, even animals; they all have it and he wants it. Red. All he wants to taste is red. Feast on weak and limp bodies until every nuance of red has left them to take up residence in his veins. He sees a woman with a red coat and a red umbrella. In the grey neighbourhood on this grey day, she stands out. As if she is calling his name. And maybe that is what the rain is singing when it thumbs down on the ground. It wants him to see her. Red. It’s all he wants. He stops her to ask for the time. An easy smile plays around her lips and they quirk up. Around her eyes small lines are visible. She is beautiful. But his want doesn’t understand beauty. It doesn’t care about esthetics. He wishes that he could play with her. Like a cat plays with a mouse before the feast. He can’t. Tortured red doesn’t taste good. It’s the adrenaline that makes a good meal go to waste. He is a gourmet, he doesn’t want to spoil a delicious dinner.

He thanks her politely for the time and turns as if he wants to leave. But he doesn’t leave. With a seducing smile, he turns back around and he invites the woman for dinner. He knows she can’t resist his charms. No one can. She worries her lower lip before she accepts his offer with a bashful smile. She is perfect, he thinks, and she will be his.

He is perfect, she thinks, and he will be hers.

The shades of red on him are beautiful. She can taste them on her lips. He is handsome. Too bad he fell for her charms. As he fills her veins she feels sated for the night. She turns in an goes to find a peaceful sleep. Tomorrow, her hunt for different shades of her favourite colour will start again. Red. That’s all she has ever been craving. All she needs in her life is more red.

The Show Must Go On

​We sit together in silence. Our beers are left untouched, our words are left unspoken. My mouth is dry and my mind is in overdrive, but I can’t produce the words that clog my brain.  Another one of our friends was buried today, and our circle is quickly diminishing. Once, we have been a clique of ten friends. We went to the clubs, and drank and danced the nights away. Some had been more than friends others had been platonic friends without the wish for more. Seven friends have passed away in ten years. The gay plague, that is what conservative newspapers had called it in the eighties and nineties. But we all know by now that it isn’t just a plague for gays. It is a plague for humans. How can it be that it still kills us? With all our knowledge and the access to condoms or meds. Are we really that naive and unconcerned? Do we ignore what we know for a moment of unbridled lust?   

So, here I sit with Marcus and Will. We are the survivors of our clique, and I have no idea why. Why are some people infected and others are not? The three of us are not. Were we lucky or just careful, I don’t know? Who has decided to spare us this fate? And is it even fair that it is us? My life is not more privileged or liveable as Marvin’s, and yet, I am here, and he is not. 

Marvin has taken his own life. He lived with the virus for two decades before everything changed for the worst. I am not sure what exactly changed. He never volunteered any information and I am not someone who pries. Like us, he saw the way our friends had wilted away. He had seen the agony, the pain, the humiliation. They faded in front of our eyes, and there was nothing we could do to stop it. Marvin, he refused to be a fading flower. He refused to live in pain and be in need of a carer. He lived a self-determined life and he wanted to end it that way too. Pills. He took sleeping pills that didn’t let him wake up again.

Earlier, at his funeral, I read a part of his farewell letter.
I want to thank you for mourning the loss of my human shell, but, remember: The show must go on. There were people before me and there will be people after me. And life goes on. All I can and will ask is that you don’t shed tears because I am gone, celebrate because I was here. And make the most out of your life. I enjoyed mine. Please do too. Goodbye.
People cried, of course. I did too. I can’t imagine my life without his wit and his snark. I don’t want to imagine nights out without him. But I must. Because, Marvin was right. The show must go on.

I push my beer away and get up. Marcus and Will look up as if they are trying to find words to say or the energy to move. They stay put, though, and they stay quiet. I hide my hands in my pockets and ponder what to say, but there are no words. I shrug my shoulders, lowering my head, before I nod in the direction of the pub’s door. They nod back and that’s my cue to leave. I don’t look back. I don’t want to see their grief.

The bright daylight blinds me as I step out of the dim pub and on the pavement. Nothing around me suggests that we just buried one of the best men to have ever wandered this earth. The world keeps spinning and people keep bustling around. 

I drive home. I should be feeling more than I do and it almost makes me feel guilty. I am not numb, but I am not excessively sad either. I exist. That’s all, and it is not enough. At home, I put on some music and sit on the couch with my cell phone. I roam through my contacts until I find Marvin’s number. Delete. My contact list becomes emptier still. And out of the stereo, Freddie sings: The show must go on.

****

A friend requested a story for World Aids Day. It’s important to keep awarness alive… This was my submission.