by Aaron J. Warren

She had a name, this one did. Selsh. A beautiful name I think. She came at a time in my life when I was drowning in a pool of memories and everything else was covered in three layers of black.

I remember how she intrigued me, almost immediately. It was at a friend's house. Alcohol, bad music and lots of greenish cigarette smoke. Camels, I think. Camels and pot, of course. She was there when I pulled in the driveway. Hair short and streaked with gold, eyes dark and begging to be stared at. She had a perfect tan, I remember. But the first thing I noticed was her hands. There's not really any way to describe them. They were elegant and beautiful, yes. But the way she held them. There was something almost musical about the way they slipped through the night air. I imagined those hands creating a painting so breathtaking, that the only thing you could do when you saw it was cry. Cry because it pricks at the very essence of you. Beyond the heart, beyond the soul, it pricks the part that lies just beyond your dreams. I wanted to ask her about the painting, to see her hands flicker to life as she described it, instead I found myself standing in front of her exchanging names.

We spent the night on the back porch talking, pausing every now and then, as someone would rush out the screen door and disappear out the driveway. I don't remember what we talked about, I only remember listening to her and wondering what went on behind her eyes. Yes, I was definitely mystified. I think I fell in love with her that night. Or soon after. Very soon after.

The next weekend I invited her to go with me to some dinky little town on the coast of Louisiana. She said sure and we got there around three. I remember how all the houses were a dull gray and the people even duller. It was an odd setting I thought. Even so, when we arrived, we rented a fluorescent orange bike and rode it to the edge of the ocean, laughing about how funny the bike-man's accent was and the way he twitched his little blond mustache. That night on the beach, she opened up to me. Not in any way that can be explained. It was just in her eyes, or maybe it was in her voice. Either way, I just knew and that's how it began.

We were good together, I thought. Real good. Good in a way that makes you feel like everything's all right. Like a cheesy love song on the radio good. Not that we didn't have problems, it's just that I was naive. Yeah, naive and ignorant. Selsh had a lot of background. A couple layers of it actually and I didn't even begin to realize it until about a three months after Louisiana.

"Jeremy?" She began, one night. Something a little strange in her voice, something like a butterfly in December.

"Yes?" I said.

"Have you ever wondered what makes people do things?"

"Like what?"

"Can't really say. Just things ... bad mainly."

"Yeah." I said, sinking into that place. My past. I knew that question. Yeah, I knew that one too well.

She didn't say another word the rest of the night. Neither did I. Just the hum of the ceiling fan to listen to. But it made me wonder about my Selsh. Probably scared me too.

Hot sand, blue waves and a man in yellow trunks. "C'mere little boy." He says. "I won't hurt you." I remember them both, the boy and the man. We don't get along real well, the three of us.

A couple of nights later, we went to a jazz bar. They were good. Smooth, simple, seductive. We sat, listening, talking about nothing and smoking cigarette after cigarette. They were all cool cats there. Then, the band stopped playing and we were alone, my cigarette dripping and a glass of bourbon stuck in her hand.



"I'm alone." She said. "Did you know that ... I'm alone."

"Yeah, Sel ... I know." And I did. I really did because I was alone too.

"I don't want to be alone anymore." She whispered over the brim of her bourbon.

"Spend some time with me." I smiled.

We left the bar drunk, hand in hand and headed for my apartment. When we got there, I fumbled with the keys until I realized I had left the door unlocked. We staggered inside and kissed on the couch. I don't remember a whole lot about that night, but I do remember the way she kissed me. It was open, and wet and "hold me, please" and I knew I loved her and I thought maybe she loved me too.

When we woke up in the morning it was raining so she decided to stay. Around three, she went into the bathroom and didn't come out. I heard the familiar rattle of a bottle and I knew why she went in there. Didn't believe in it, but I understood. I understand a lot of things. Death and suicide. Yep, I understand.

Knock. Knock.

"Sel ... you're not alone." I said, not because I wanted her to come out or because I wanted to comfort her but because it was true.

She didn't say anything and it was silent as we waited. She just sat in there, probably playing with those wonderful hands of hers. Then, she exploded out the door and wrapped herself around me with her head on my shoulder and cried. Cried because she had too many memories and they wouldn't leave her alone. Because she was no longer alone. Because sometimes crying just feels so good.

And then she told me about her memories. How her father would stick knives in people because he wanted to see if they would still bleed. He threatened to do the same to her every time she did something wrong, she said. But that wasn't the worst, she said. It was his eyes. The way they glowed when he ran his fingers through the blood, she said.

I understood her. I've seen people killed before. I know how much they bleed. It's everywhere. The blood, I mean. Red smeared everywhere. Like a huge fucking painting. That kind of shit sticks to your eyes at night when you try to close them and dream about happy things.

I think there was more to Selsh than just Daddy, though.

Memories. Do you know what memories can do? The past. That's what did us in. On those cold, damp nights when you're alone in front of the tube and all that's on is that show about the serial killer who likes to display his artwork on his victims' breasts-- the only things you have are your memories. Suddenly, the lights go out and you've a million beetles squirming under your skin, all trying to get out and you're back in that place. You can smell his breath. All sour and cigaretty. Tell me, where are you going to run? When you're trapped in your own mind, there are no exit signs. Yeah, Mister Psychologist, fuck off, cause you haven't been there in the dark all alone. Selsh had a past, I guess you could say. It tormented her. I have a past too, so I know where she was.

For about a year, Selsh and I were happy. We created our own little world to live in, devoid of pain or memories or reality. Mostly reality. Almost like a cove with only our footprints in the sand. We'd go to jazz clubs and the occasional restaurant, laughing at our sorrows all along.

Then, one day, a man, I don't even know his name, said something to her. I don't know what he said or even if what he said mattered. What mattered, she said, was that he was a man and she wasn't and he had this look in his eyes. It was like he was sizing her up, she said. Looking for all the seams and wondering how soft her skin was. "If he wasn't dead, I would've sworn it was Daddy." She said. And the tide came in, flooding away the secret cove, covering it in cold, brackish green water.

She became depressed, if that's the word for it. She sure as hell wasn't happy. Kept telling me how long the nights were becoming and that she wasn't sure what she wanted anymore. But the biggest difference was the way she held her hands. They weren't mystical or musical anymore. Just limp ordinary hands that held coffee in the morning and turned out the lights at night. Yeah, that was the biggest difference. It was like she had been an elf or faerie or something magical but the world she'd come from had just suddenly collapsed within itself and she no longer had a reason or place to be here. Or maybe, she just no longer wanted a place.

Deeper and deeper she sank, her apathy becoming a noose around my neck that she kept squeezing tighter and tighter. Until one day when I grew tired of it, or possibly scared of it and I broke loose. Cut the ropes, burnt the ropes, threw them in her face and disappeared. It wasn't that easy though, to break free from her. I had to do something with the emotions I still felt. Had to cage them. But it felt more like I caged myself. Cold iron bars and big rusty old lock with no key. I couldn't trust myself anymore either. Fear. That's what it was that drove me. Can't escape fear. Can't even try because if you do, you end up running someplace far worse. You don't even try to run when you get there. It's like a huge cavern. No sun, no stars, no nothing, just the dark. If you run, you might slip in the undercurrents and falls. Only when you fall in that place, you don't get up. So, you stay scared and that's where I was when one sunny afternoon, she called.

"Hi, Jeremy." She says, her voice dull and flat. "I want to see you." No. It's over babe. We're though. "Please, Jeremy. Just once." My lungs are about to explode, throat's tight and closing fast. She still has the key. Fine, I say. And we made a date.

I was supposed to meet her in the park, in the pines. Her favorite place. She loved the way the green seemed to cover everything. "You can get lost in here." She used to say. "Not really lost, but if you want to disappear." She loved the smell too. "It's so naive." She would tell me. "Like it's the only kid in the world."

A few nights later, I found myself slipping through the park heading for the pines. She said she would be waiting for me. It was her favorite place, she'd said. "Wear a white tee-shirt." I wore the white thing, not that that was important. I knew what she really wanted. Somewhere in the pit of my stomach I knew. The deepness of the ache, maybe. I walked on ignoring. As I broke through the green shadows, I saw her.

"Wear a white tee-shirt." She'd said.

Her body hung above a pile of clothes, her smile plastered in the sky and she was a memory. I'm alone, now. Sit in front of the tube late at night and fight the images just as much as she did. Fight the hurt she left, too. But I'm fighting and hey, maybe if we'd of tried a little harder it might've worked.

There wasn't even a note, only a message on my machine when I finally got back.

"I'm tired of being alone." She'd said.

That was it. She was tired of being alone. What's the point. I don't know, but maybe that was enough. Maybe I'd mistaken our relationship for something bigger than it really was. Maybe I was alone the entire time, we both were, only I didn't want to believe it. Maybe the theories of existential solitude aren't really theories at all. For her, it was never a question of maybe. For me.... I sit alone on rainy nights, pondering what could've been and telling myself "Hey, we tried but it just didn't work, babe."