I walk down the hallway, unsteady on these familiar legs. The counter is empty, but for the numerous cheap perfumes in the air. The counter is empty, but for her. She’s still here. She’s always been here. The way she looks at me, she’s been waiting. She uncrosses her leg, and looses her scowl, she swirls her index around the brim of her sherry glass. She looks up and what tender smiles tease about the shadows around her.
I approach. She calls me. Not by my name, but the one I use here, the same way her name’s not really Daphne after my childhood crush.
Our monikers are adapted out of wariness. The past, here always comes in the form of he who can’t forget more than your face. We don’t look for anonymity when we choose to remain nameless, had we been we’d probably be more selective. I’d chose anything other than Merrick.
This is the only place where aliases and monikers are currency. The only place were you can look past the cage of your name and the lie doesn’t make you feel like a cheat or a fraud.
The first time I lied about my name, the first time I came here, I was plain, transparent like the veil that swung shut behind me. I listened to a few names and practiced some myself, in the bathroom. After some toil I came up with Merrick. It has some potency to it, doesn’t it.
I thought it charming when my time came to introduce myself, everyone just shrugged, they’d heard better. What they hadn’t seen was someone capable of complete detachment. A complete anonymi. I didn’t know I had it in me, but I’d swirled so long in the chaos of a less than ordinary life and still hadn’t found my place within the humaneness of rut. I’d always known that human labels were inseparable from humanity. And until that moment when they accepted me as one of them, all I’d ever wanted was to hoard myself in Walden, my adeptly named abyss and wait for the darkness to consume me.
Now, years later, I still sit at the bar with a studied nonchalance, trying not to look too hard and too long at my reflection in the mirror. Coz this place is a hall of mirrors, not for people searching for their essential selves, but for those who have already realised there’s no essential self.
Tobey, the bartender nods, and it looks like all of them just did. He has kind but unforgiving eyes. And a name I wish I had stolen. Daphne won’t tire of calling it out.
Daphne: “Tobey… Tobey…”
It sounds like razor blades in my ears. How I envy that fool.
Tobey leans in. She asks him what he thinks of me. And am here, that’s another thing about this place. Everything is said to your face. This is where you kick your addiction to taking things so personally.
Tobey gives me the once over, as he wipes a glass. I can’t tell whether that’s a snarl or a smile. Most of us, here, are about as expressive as frozen heads in Idi Amin’s freezer.
Tobey: “Honestly, I think you were meant for each other. But also you weren’t.”
How every conversation with Tobey turns into some kind of Catch-22 dickhole squirt.
His eyes, still on me. That look… that look I can read. Pity. “Merrick is Merrick. He’s good natured and wickedly handsome, if you take to that rugged leaning. But can he offer you what you want?
“Can he give you all that you’ve spent your whole life not wanting?”
She looks at me. And I want her to see me, see me beyond the veil, beyond the man, see me the way I see myself when am curled inside Walden.
I want her to see me for my vulnerable strength, my misguided piety. I want her to see that if she denied me her real name I’d go deaf for nothing else would be worth listening to. I want to see that she can trust me to stay in her cage with her longer than she needed me.
I see. She says. She drinks her drink. “But a girl can be right in her wrongness, cant she?”
And even without knowing it, am blushing. I’m seeing something in my reflection that I’ve never liked. That uncertainty before an epiphany. That leap before the abyss. That thing that doesn’t terrify me anymore. Promise.
Mostly because I’ll never know what I’ll never be in her eyes. She sees me as she wants to see me see myself.
And I make contact. And Tobey buggers off. And she just plays with her sherry. Twirling and twirling her index. The same way the anticipation is doing me. The charade is too much for me. And if I could I would tear her name from her throat. And sing it to myself like I own it. Perhaps someday.
But not today. Today I sit and just wait. Her breath so close. Mine so far retreated am barely breathing. Only one of us is alive. Essentially. Only one of us here is aware of self. And it isnt me, if it was I would not keeo my hands only to myself.
Her drink over, she gets up to leave. And I stand up too. And in her eyes, I can see that she’s forgotten me in an instant. The way we’re supposed to forget how to give in to those who want more than they’re willing to lose.
And if I could I’d call her back. Call her to me.
Perhaps today. Perhaps now.
I call out “Daphne!”
And she turns.