Dark Doorways #11
There were no three words in the English language I wanted to hear less.
“I love you.”
I was wrong.
Michael and I had unyoked during prelims, whether intentionally or not we were unsure. My professors watched, unmoved, as my eyes slid further into my skull, as I became more animal than human, as they tortured me through a six-hour written exam and a two-hour oral exam. This was my initiation, the hazing that normally was only tolerated at frat parties.
It was another week later that I finally recovered, hauling myself out of the shell I had made in my bedroom. The mysteries that had become my life, normally diverging, finally barreled into each other during my week of hibernation. Michael’s bizarre behavior flowed into Swanson’s living room, right through the bay window. Eliza’s dark tea and doorway were seen through Gabriella’s eyes. The children pointed at me as I held on to Vadim, yes, I could call him Vadim that time.
Upon emerging from my cocoon, it was Michael who first found me. I wanted to hear Swanson telling me I had passed my prelims, but instead it was Michael.
“I miss you. I love you.”
His eeriness had drifted away just as my dream-convergences had. It was my old friend, the first friend I had made in grad school. My Michael. It never occurred to me, in my stupor and my hours of torture, that I might have missed him a little, that he filled a certain void in my life.
The fact that his I love you remained unrequited never seemed to come up as we walked through the late winter festival downtown. You would have thought we were in Mumbai with all the brightly colored fabrics and layers of spices penetrating our nostrils. We glided through the streets and my feet never touched the ground. They say that’s what love feels like, like you’re floating. But there was more of a pulling than drifting.
The hot oil of my samosas dripped onto the last of the winter snow, melting down through layers of earth. I devoured as we chatted, more land deteriorating with each morsel of samosa.
“You know, there’s something that’s been bothering me.”
“The fact that you slept on Swanson’s couch?”
“You really need to stop being so jealous.”
“Jealous? Ha!” Michael’s emotions seeped through the outer layer of his facial skin, dripping out through his pores just as his teenage acne once did.
“So it still bothers me that I never found out who Eliza is. Remember that girl?”
“Oh, the one who invited you over for tea?”
“Yeah. I mean what was that? What happened that day?”
Michael shook his head, still pulling me along the bazar’s path, gliding, not walking.
A young girl, a blonde that could have been Gabriella’s age, glided by us. We were two vehicles passing in traffic. Her acknowledging look had become commonplace; rarely did I pass by children without some odd glance or gesture. But it was her expression toward Michael that paused our dialogue.
It was fear.
But there we went again, flowing down the street further into the festivities and booths. Michael’s tugs, drawing us further from the child, never gave me the time to process the child’s reaction.
“I’ll go with you,” Michael announced.
“What?” I was reeling from all the floating and dragging.
“To Eliza’s. We’ll go together and see what’s going on.”