There are some parts of the universe my name becomes Girl Soldier. In response, or perhaps by necessity, Brad's becomes Boy Soldier. We live in a Wasteland, and we wear the same shoe size. Dust on my skin, I walked through the Aftermath toward Brad at the end of the aisle. I remember the white chairs were full of the Gray Family, and no one turned to look at me.
There's love that's based on admiration, but there's another kind of love that has to do with seeing yourself in someone else, and therefore finding some kind of permission to exist. I wouldn't know half of the things I now know about myself without Brad, whether it was because he was the same or because he was different. Maybe I just lacked personal imagination, but there were errant punk teenagers, wild unknown species, shy and vindictive nihilists, and trees stunted and persistent in growth I found flowering in the dark shadows we cast on one another. Things I never would have seen before unless I saw it demonstrated in the lash of his tongue and the distance in his eyes.
Maybe there's no way to really know yourself until you watch yourself brought to life in front of you. At the end of the aisle, Brad has his arms at his sides, his hands balled into fists, and I could tell that every violent act of man was collapsing in on itself in his heart, and I was remembering one of our hundred mottos: He fights as you sing prick-song, keeps time, distance, and proportion.
Someday I'll write a whole book just on those three words and all the life they breathe into the heart of magic. It will be about how Brad taught magic to me, in the low river underbrush of Eden; dirt on our sneakers and shirts stuck hot to our backs.
For now I simply repeated it, trying to get to the end of the aisle, no matter where or when the end of it was. It's a motto of perseverance and the exactness of warfare. How Brad is an artist, a measured response, and a chemical reaction.
I remember the wind dying, and the sound of him breathing, close and present in the midday when I reached him. Then it was over.
I woke up in the woods, in the early morning, dew hanging on the tips of the pine needles on the trees around me. It was cold, still November, and just after a rain, judging by the smell. Beneath the rain was the copper scent of the river. The wedding was gone, or had ended, and I was alone with myself again, an event stolen or erased or lost under the weight of this existence we've chosen.
"Brad?" I called into the trees.
In open spaces, the human voice refuses to be carried for long. My yell filled my own ears and died around me, snapping small twigs in the clearing I had woken up in. I saw a brown rabbit raise it's head high enough to show me it's proud ears before disappearing into the brush.
Had we gotten married? Was I still myself? Had years gone by where I'd been lost and alone here? Had he forgotten me? Was I in another world altogether? Had I slipped through the virginal hymen that separated universes again?
My wedding dress gone, I could feel jeans underneath the blanket that had been laid over me - a yellow and brown plaid of wide bricks and lines, the fringe stuck with brown leaves. I wrapped it around my shoulders and blew a pale-colored spider from my leg before standing to look around.
The sun was burning mist off of the valley where the woods were thickest. I yelled for him again, expecting no response. Expecting the worst answers to all my questions.
"Evie!" was his bark of a reply, and I turned in all directions, tricked by his voice to believe he was down every path I could find through the underbrush.
"Where are you?" I asked the blank faces of trees.
"Come up the hill!" he yelled.
I hurried to him, afraid in the forest. I hadn't been to the woods in maybe years, and while I had once counted it as my home, I had withdrawn from it so far, it made me feel exposed and endangered more than anything else. I didn't feel the sense of playfulness at the antics of this place anymore. Just the cold strangeness of a foreign land.
My boots slid over a rock and I stumbled on the way up to meet him, but I found him where the hill leveled at it's apex, standing in front of an old house that I could tell had once been painted yellow. Now it had faded to bone white, with the persistence of time and exposure. There's a pallet to the woods; I remembered that much. A range of shades all things in time are reduced to. Bone white, soil brown, poppy red, lichen green.
Some of the siding had been pulled away to reveal the ribs of the house - a battle scar on it's smeared face revealing the brown frame beneath. Rust crept over the white paint of the screen door. The windows were opaque with rain and dust. The thing which always bothered me about the woods was the way it makes death so inevitable this way. The woods come to claim all things in time, even this house, whoever lived here once, and any happiness they might've shared. If it's not moss, it's mildew, and it's rain, and it's the choking kudzu, and it's Robert Frost in all his smug brevity.
"Look at this," Brad said, tightening a brown leather jacket over his shoulders. He was unshaven, the sides of his face flushing in the cold, his hair tucked into a hat and almost as dark as Clyde's in this green and brown wilderness.
He had an intrigued smile that meant he wasn't afraid like I was. He put his arm around me, and we stood looking at the house. Four steps up to the small porch, the bottom step sinking into the mud.
"I was looking for firewood," he said to me. "I didn't get any closer, thinking maybe there's a witch in there."
I touched a rope hanging from a tree next to me in the yard, knotted at the end to hold up a swing of splintering wood.
"We should go in," I suggested, the suggestion itself clung with the steam that puffed out of our lungs and weighed down the layers of dead leaves underfoot. The woods hold witches, sure, but not any that I can't reason with. Nightmares, absolutely, but none Brad can't make even more vile with the blowing of a casual kiss.
"Yeah, okay," he agreed.
The door creaked when it gave way, popping through grit caught in the hinges. The inside was dim and full of
"Evie?" Brad asked, his voice quiet as he crossed into the living room. "Are these your things?"
books, mostly, strewn from a bookcase which had been knocked over. A typewriter on a desk, a console record player, a couch inside which an animal had been living, floral in pattern and dark green.
"I... I can't remember. I can't remember how we got here," I admitted, and I watched confusion cloud the cold blue of his eyes once I'd said it.
"We were getting married," he reminded me. He picked up a plastic cup splashed with a pattern of orange and yellow daisies.
"Did we?" I asked him.
In a way, I might be a fatalist, and I could tell Brad knew it. If we hadn't gotten married, then maybe we were never supposed to. If he said we hadn't gotten married, then maybe we were never supposed to. The hand of God is fickle and frail in Gray House, and words mean everything. Fear can as easily make something true as an action, and so my question was barbed, and poisoned, and lethal. He knew it, and so he got angry.
"Of course we did, Evie," he almost spat. "What the fuck would make you ask a thing like that?"
But I could tell by his face he was only asking because he wanted me to be certain, because he wasn't either. Because we did wake up here together, with no memory of how we'd come, and now it was time to decide what had brought us here. We could feel between us it was time to choose a path to follow, and to one of many obvious fates, in true Family fashion. It's true if we say it is. It's as simple as believing you're not lost if you can find the north star. It's true if we say it is. Now who would say it first?
No, we did," I told him. "We're married. I just don't know... where this is. We were in the desert, and..."
I started to cry so fast it surprised even me. All the best laid plans of how I needed - fucking needed - to marry him in order to make sense of us were blown away in a dark second, and I'd been dropped into the wet and murky uncertainty of the Girl Soldier and all her infectious insides of the River instead. Brad put his arms tight around me, the leather of his jacket making a soft creak, and we stood there for a long time.
"Hey," he said after the long pause. "We've been married since we were born."
"Are you sure?" I asked him, almost hysterical. I felt his arms get even tighter around me, crushing me of air. I thought of the way Brad's physical pressure has always pushed against me, just this way, and the oppressive feeling of him beside me or within my rib cage has been ever-present, as my twin, smashed into a constricted uterus.
"Yeah," he said. "Absolutely. Just look at us."
I opened my watering eyes to look at us, but saw only our legs close enough to touch in matching jeans, in this strange house. The carpet was rotting around us to a strange shade of blackish-green. Wallpaper hung in long sheet unwinding from it's adhesive. There were shadows on the walls where pictures once hung. Below one shadow was the shattered glass hanging webbish in the frame over the photograph.
"We've always had fuckin' problems like we've been married forever," he sighed into my shoulder. "It's god damn ridiculous, Evie. All we've ever done is try to grow together."
I broke away from him because it seemed like a joke, what he said. It was true, in a way, but it was also a spectacular failure in many other ways. We had tried to grow together, yes, with little to no success because we were compositionally the same, like a piece of music, but played two entirely different ways. Yes, it's the same song, but one is going on the Top 40 and one is staying in the basement of the opera house forever and never meeting that guy at the mall because malls actually haven't been built yet.
While there was more uniting us, what divided us was enough to make it difficult to stand in the same reality with Brad, much less form this symbiotic partnership he was saying existed because we were always fucking arguing. It was the reason the wedding I had planned made the most sense - the desert was a place we had in common, and what was I supposed to do here?
The house became a mockery around us. Adam, even in his starched collars and business suits, would capitulate to the mold of this place, would build a fire, would find ways to trap the rabbits in the brush, would love this place inside me for what it was, would summon butterflies on his fingertips and pull worms from his garden he would plant outside. Adam would know how to love me in a way that made sense, Adam is why this fucking shadow exists in the first place, from which Brad and I could never seem to escape.
Brad, it was plain to me, couldn't stay here with me. What was he going to do, once the novelty of the camp-out had worn off? When my novelty wore off, would we just sit here reading books and waiting for the rain? Would he fix the window? Would we ever live somewhere like this together, alone, and far enough away from everyone else to feel like we'd finally escaped? Because Adam would fix the window. Adam would tell me stories at night. Adam would bring the winter down around us.
I wanted to scream at Brad, "You don't know what it's like to be this kind of animal for him," but he would never believe in anything I told him that he didn't already know.
Instead of screaming, I pushed past him to the narrow hall of the tiny house, which emptied into a bedroom in a better state of repair than the front room.
The window was intact, and so the room was free of leaves and animals, as far as I could see, but there was a layer of dust on the bedspread, which was a vague color between orange and pink I could imagine has a name like "Sunripe." The wallpaper in this room was pale green with white daisies. The light coming in through the opaque glass was early-morning yellow. It was a pretty room, and a poetic enough place to have the fight with Brad I knew I was about to have.
"What's your problem?" he asked me, coming into the room on my heels, his expression betrayed. He tossed back the brush of his hair that tends to fall smooth into his eyes, hooking it between his fingers with an irritated tug.
An age-old question, attached to an age-old dilemma. Tell the truth and lose, or lie and win.
"We can't stay here," I told him.
It was all I could make come out of me that was coherent thought. The rest of me was rising panic that we could try. We could leave somewhere and never be found if I hadn't... sectioned off whole parts of me for someone else.
"I wish I was a virgin," I whispered to him, but what I really meant was, I wish I'd never fallen in love with anyone else. Maybe I felt like I had nothing that I'd saved just for him, or just for us. That one gesture would've made us safe, and free, and clear of all the things we'd left behind us in a ruin.
"This is how we can't ever be married," I told him. "This house. That's why it's here."
He reached out to touch me, and in between the movements, I could almost see what it would take to make it all real. I could almost see it, but not quite, and it was gone before his hand met my cheek. I almost knew who he was - the boy in him which had always been alone with me. Almost, almost. Not the boy who could fix the window. The boy who'd broken it in the first place.
I struggled when he took his jacket off to hold onto what I could see, and conjure him up from the inside, behind his eyes. I struggled to just see him, and not attach as I'm prone to do the labels of story and meaning. Don't think about if we ran away. Don't think about how mad Adam would be if he knew, or Matthew. Don't think about how maybe you just want him to be Clyde.
The single tear, two inches in length, along the hem of
his shirt. Torn by age and wear. The shirt he wouldn't throw away. A color named something like "firebrick." How he leaned back onto a single
"We're virgins, don't you know?"
elbow in the dirt to laugh when I told him a joke, and
"We can stay here, I swear."
hit rocks into the trees with a snub of steel pipe he found in the house, listening for their fall in the brush.
He took my clothes off, slowly, and I told him I couldn't remember who we were.