The following is a piece of fiction.
“Forgive me for intruding but would I have known you by a different name before?”
Evan took a long drag of lager. His way of stalling while he figured out how he was going to answer that one. It seemed to overflow from him in beads of sweat. He had to stop and answer with a tongue tasting of washing up liquid, “yes I’ve had another name before”.
“I don’t remember it. I just know the name you gave me wasn’t what I was expecting,” she paused with a lack of hesitation. Evan thought she pondered the force of her question instead, “why did you change it?”
“I had to,” Evan sucked in a large lump of air, quite in disbelief that she didn’t already know, “after I was released from prison.”
The bar was empty but the words seemed to fill it almost suffocatingly, even bouncing from the gay wallpaper and hanging like a neon sign. Light projected in to make everything bright. Evan was sure his face were covered in shadows. A cold swept over him and made his skin rough as the wooden furnishing.
Sat opposite each other, Evan’s gaze remained on their arms. Both met the table with their elbows and faced their forearms down. Only just not touching. Evan was embarrassed to discover he was aware of just how much they were not holding hands.
In fact, Evan had felt slightly detached from everything since inviting her to drink. The words had fallen without thought. They appeared in front of him like a key that had locked him out of his senses. Now watching her hands remain steady was like crashing through. A door torn from the hinges.
She wasn’t saying anything and Evan filled the void with imaginations of her disgust. Sensed that her mouth had gone dry and her heart quickened and her blood boiled. A kettle of hatred roaring on the furnace. Until he couldn’t take it, “does it put you off?”
In return she shrugged, “I imagine it must be a difficult thing.”
“Suppose that’s as good a summary as any.”
Difficult. Mind-numbing. Shameful. Sickening. Torturous. Yes, you could take any of those to scratch the surface. The town they lived in could either be summarised as a wonderfully close-knit community, or nosy, depending on your perspective. As Evan’s aunt had once so eloquently put it; everyone knew when and where you last took a dump.
Evan was pretty certain the downward stares weren’t mere paranoia. He worried he had been branded with a black mark that stretched out like a foul aroma and warned people away. Although the sentence he had served was an act of cleansing itself, the people around him were still cautious. Discreetly sniffing at the air to see if the smell still lingered.
While he thought on this, Evan felt very large and visible. And distant. She had gathered herself to string a thought together. Her voice a sudden pierce in the silence, like a match striking it’s box.
“It’s a shame that it becomes integrated into the person you are. As though once you are locked into a cell your mind never escapes it. And everyone else sees it. Any other experience becomes a part of a persons history. But a mistake sticks to people’s memories like tar. Something you’ve done, not something you did. If that makes sense? Even if you’re past it it’s plastered to the front of their mind when they see you. If it happens again they’ll all say how ‘not surprised’ they are because what else were they supposed to expect. I think it sucks. You didn’t even hurt anyone, right?”
“Only yourself perhaps,” she smiled, “Anyway that’s what I think when I consider it. Everyone’s got a history. And if you never open your vein to the possibility of a little pain you also close it to the possibility of love. So if I don’t open myself to trust you, well I’m a hypocrite. I’d like to think I can change. Why not everyone else too?”
Evan was stumped for an answer. He’d never expected someone to understand as well as opening his mind, and reading his thoughts like a book. Should he admit that?
“It’s like you read my mind. I always think of it like a bad smell.” Embarrassed he took another large gulp of lager. She finished her drink with a smile.
“That makes sense. It feels good when you express your feelings and find others are the same.”
“Agreed,” Evan reciprocated her smile while his stomach settled. He was relieved and found himself wondering if this was how normal people felt through their day. There were a lot of thoughts to circle his head when they said goodbye and he was lone walking again. For months he had been consumed with the idea that someone’s eyes followed him wherever he went. Though the surrounding street was a void, Evan tried to display a certainty in his stride. Just in case.
Maybe this was the feeling Shakespeare had in mind when he said all the world’s a stage. Evan certainly felt like an actor.
Even as he entered his apartment the façade remained. He switched on the TV instinctively to try and stop any thoughts, but found it was the programme he ignored. A figure emerged from a separate room, “so did she forgive you?”
“I don’t think she remembers anything. If she did, then ye’, I think she did.”