Written by R. P. Brown
I’m a man about to crumble. A man unable to stagger forward. A man who thrives on others’ reassurances.
The aroma of failure constantly invades my nostrils, makes me sick to my stomach. I miss what I was with her: confident; free from my own judgement; myself.
These are my reflections.
The other night I had a dream I was on a flight to Northern Athens, that dead city where our future fell into histories that never were. It was time to confront you but I wasn’t ready. The bricks were not set and I knew one breath from those delicate lips would cause everything to tumble and fall. I read as I normally do. A detective novel, with the tension building towards a disturbing conclusion. As my eyes followed the words, taking meaning from the sentences and absorbing the connotations; I could feel my anxiety rise to a panic.
I was not sure if the emotions I felt were channelled by the book or created by them. Do the words give rise to the feelings or do the feelings latch themselves to familiar words? This is the problem of literature. I can never tell if it’s a healthy pursuit of knowledge, or a self-destructive enlightenment. Everything leads to this singular ending, and when the pages end, I am left there. I continue. Life’s narrative doesn’t have a conclusion; just completely unrelated sequels.
The detective was a man who was driven by his curiosity and, perhaps, all good detectives are. Another man had shaken something within our protagonist and he had to find out what it was. He had become the other man’s shadow. Yet, as he did, his inner self fought against him, warning him not to shirk his identity in order to solve this stranger. The detective had taken on the greatest mystery of all, the nature of being. He could not resist even if he’d wanted to do so.
As I read, in order to give myself some relief, I would glance out of the window and thus step back into my own reality. Both were equally as stressful, however, and relief was not to be found. The plane was shaking violently as though it were greatly unsettled. Not far off I could see lightning. From where I was sitting, the red flashing lights on the wing looked as though the plane had caught alight.
The detective had followed his nemesis to the man’s apartment door. He went in beside him, still unnoticed. A great fear rose within the detective and, conversely, in me. We were seated. Our knuckles were white as we held on tightly, the words were shaking as the plane trembled. The object of our mutual turmoil sat in an armchair.
“Who are you?” we screamed.
“You should not ask what you are not ready to face.”
Escape was impossible. The door was locked, we were strapped to our seat and outside the world was battering against the windows.
So we persisted.
“Tell me. I need to know.”
“Look as long as you want but you cannot look me in the eyes. You cannot admit to yourself what you don’t want to know.”
A great strain was felt in our stomach. Our back was drenched in sweat. We both knew who this man was and yet we could not turn back. We needed to ask again, though we both knew that curiosity could kill.
“Who are you?”
There was another jolt. The sense of dread was almost incapacitating.
“I am you. The part you don’t wish to see.”
I managed to sever myself from the character at this moment and willed the plane into the ocean. Give up, plunge, plunge. How I longed for those lights to be all-consuming fires. As I looked to them, there was a flash of lightning. I caught my reflection in the window and with a jump I awakened.
The bed was mine but I felt no ownership of it. It did not hold any safety, just a sense of loneliness.
Her eyes had cheated me. They’d looked upon me with pity and fear, seeing only madness. Anxious, cornered as I was, I lashed out with my tongue. She tried to get in, pushed hard against me without love, just duty. I could not let her in. She could not stay.
I left it and moved to the bathroom. In the cabinet mirror I saw the haggard face of myself in a dream, the one tortured by memories and reflections of a time gone by. I picked up my razor.
I cannot blame her. Who can love a façade? But I cannot love myself and so I can never let her in.
The blade moved across my beard and the coarse, rough feeling was pleasurable. Each cut was a welcome distraction, but the goatee I’d crafted was not satisfying enough and so I moved to my long, grease-ridden hair. Bit by bit I watched it fall to the floor and drip by drip, dark red rivers ran down the sides of my face. Then I was bald. I studied this new me in the mirror and I did not recognise myself, such a stark change had occurred. This man would not stammer and stutter. I smiled lovingly and his blood-stained face smiled back. I ran the razor in front of my lips and wondered if I could mould my soft smile into a sneer, embittered and mean. If I cut myself deeper, would the scars look strong and menacing? I wondered what I could become. Could I knock others to the ground and viciously stamp on their resolve?
No, I reflected. I didn’t have it in me. The weaknesses I loathed were different and could be seen all too clearly through the hole she left. I’ll have to hide my insecurities, behind this mask I’ve created, the one in the mirror. I’ll hide them away from others and hopefully, in time, from myself again.
For now, I can create a character. But with a little scrutiny, a glance through the magnifying glass, and you’ll see what’s really me.
Taking his inspiration from Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, new contributor R. P. Brown was fascinated by the exploration of one’s identity, penning this short story following a plane trip to Scotland. We love the tension he manages to create in this postmodern work, along with the superbly fluid trio of identities showcased. If you enjoyed R. P. Brown’s Fractured Identity, feel free to leave a “like” or comment below, detailing your thoughts. You can also view his other published work directly on his blog at ryebreadcreative.com.
Featured Image CC // Christopher Blackburn