My computers are filled with the beginnings of stories. I put together my 2003 desktop today so I could start her up and look for a poem I wrote back in the late 90’s, a poem which is haunting me and I can’t find, probably because I boxed up all my poetry notebooks and took them to my parents’ to hide away in their basement so I’d never have to look at them again, only now I want this one poem, and can’t find it anywhere. I’m going to have to make a trip downstate to find it, I think, if the box survived the flood and hasn’t been lost for good. I think I put them in a plastic bin sort of thing, so they’re probably still there, the wretched things.
The 2003 computer didn’t have the poem, but it has a bunch of story beginnings I might revisit. This one was meant to be a story about a typical relationship, born of comfort and loneliness, where one party is seriously in love, and the other just wanted a warm body to sleep next to. The general idea was that he dies, and finds himself in the “next world,” which is strikingly similar to this one, and he’s excited because it’s a chance to start again and do things he really wants to do, only she comes for him to bring him back to her. It’s like Orpheus and Eurydice, only backwards and fucked up. It was meant to be a comedy, but got really sort of dark on the legal pad, and because I wanted it to be funny, not depressing, I’d only typed the very first part so I could rewrite it in a lighter direction. Of course, I didn’t, and have only this now:
She is always saying fucked up things like this. Things that make him uncomfortable and almost angry. Things like, “What if you don’t have a soul?” and “What if the economy crashed and there was another Great Depression and you couldn’t get work and you had to live in your car?” and “What if terrorists attacked Chicago and you couldn’t get out of the city?” What if, what if, what if what if? What the fuck. This time it is, “What if I died, right now? What would you do?”
“That’s a fucked up thing to say.” Irritated and maybe – afraid? What does she want from this question?
“I know,” automatic; she’s used to the initial parry,”but what would you do?”
“I dunno. Call your Mom, I guess.” He knows that this won’t be good enough. Twin clouds of disappointment poof over her chin, and she nods and doesn’t respond. He groans inwardly.
“Why would you even ask that?” No answer. “What?” No response. “Ok, then, what would you do if I died right now?”
She perks up, as she always does when it’s her turn to extrapolate. “I would come after you, and I would bring you back.” She says this simply, with no affectation, and he can feel his stomach sink. She reaches across to the driver’s side, where he sits slumped and waiting for the signal to GO, and she touches her fingertips lightly to the hand that clenches the steering wheel. Her answer is the sort of thing he will never think to say, not even after a hundred years of being given such examples. It’s not her, he thinks, it’s just that I’m not romantic. It’s not her, it’s . . . It’s her. Being more specific, it’s the combination of her and him. He just doesn’t have any real feelings about her. She’s a lamp, a chair, a decent but not extraordinary coffee maker: useful and appreciated on some low, comforting level. This is not a revelation for him; this is the undead refusing to stay buried in the dank subconscious. He buries it again – he is nothing if not persistent – and squeezes her hand briefly. His is clammy and placating, hers is warm and dry.