Author: Utsusemia (Lois Fogg)
Word Count: around 8,700
Summary: Future fic
Spoilers: Technically takes place post 2.22. Not really any spoilers, though.
Warnings: Sex and language
Notes: I'm really happy to have finished this. This fic took some effort to write. More notes at the bottom since I don't want to spoil anything before you read it, but Chapter Three of Bright is next on my list.
I was in London, smoking a guilty cigarette outside a pub filled with Indian expats and rabid cricket fans, when the call came. I looked away, flustered, from the awkwardly gorgeous Indian boy half my age with whom I had been flirting with far too much determination this past half hour.
"A friend?" he asked, noticing...something unusual. Momentary frozen panic, perhaps, or more simple perplexity. He wasn't supposed to be calling so soon. It wasn't part of our pattern.
"Sort of," I said, unclipping the phone from my pocket. His ring this time was older, one of those songs he had impatiently played for me when we first started dating (How clear his voice still is in my head: "How have you never heard of Donovan, Veronica?" "Too busy listening to Hanson, I guess.") Sunshine Superman. I smiled, and then laughed, because the song was almost seventy-five years old now and this kid probably had no clue what it was. He had probably known--or guessed, but at our age, I suppose they've turned into the same thing--what I was doing, who I was flirting with, what useless point I was still trying to prove. And so he had made my phone ring with a song that branded me with a scarlet letter. "A," I suppose, just to be traditional. What would it stand for...Aged? Avoiding? Anthropomorphic?
But surely we were too early in our detente for apologies?
"You should get it," the boy said. Considerate...and not stupid, despite the beers I had seen him knock back an hour ago.
"Your husband, right?" he said, when I just stared at the little thing in my hand like it would cut me.
Husband. Yes, yes, thank you, yes.
"Fifteen years last Saturday." I pressed the answer button.
"What is it now, Logan?"
It seems nice to leave it there, for a moment, doesn't it? Just see me, mouth frozen in a sassy, knowing smirk that trembles on the edge of an all-too-girlish excitement. The suit--Chanel, if you want to know--is far too expensive for this neighborhood, but emphasizes my curves so nicely I decided to wear it anyway. It's part of what I want to prove, after all. Stupid, cliched but all too inevitable bullshit about still being attractive and emotionally invulnerable just to spite him into apologizing. It usually works, but later, after a bit more booze and a few more hours of silence. But look at how I'm standing! There isn't enough worry there, and no bracing to speak of. I should have known, you see. The second he called, I should have known. The clues were all there--the strange timing, the surprisingly sweet and funny song, but I'm smoking a cigarette when I shouldn't and I have just admitted to a boy I want to seduce that I've been married for fifteen years and fuck, bracing is the last thing on my mind.
I'm so loose I could be blown over by a sigh, a goddamn laugh.
Cut to scene.
"And to think, this is only our second marriage." His tone was light, slightly drunk.
"What, are you angling for a third?"
"Hmm...promising, but you'd have to divorce me again."
"It could be managed."
I could hear Logan's grin and it made me sigh. "This time, I think, I'll propose to you in Paris. For variety. California's getting a little old, don't you think?"
"True. We've had, what? Four, five? Paris would be a change of pace..."
"I'd take you to some gorgeous cafe down by the Seine and tell you how beautiful you are, and you don't look a day older than when we first got married--"
"Logan, you wouldn't want to start our marriage off with a lie."
"Now I remember why I never call you this early. Fishing for compliments will get you nowhere, Veronica."
"Honesty will do," I said.
He paused, and I knew he was evaluating his answer, considering how insecure I had grown over my appearance since le grand 55 four months ago. I didn't expect him to answer, but he did.
"You look older," he said. "But you're more beautiful."
My breath caught. I heard the passion in his voice--I might have been a thousand miles away, but it didn't make me ache any less.
"But I should do it soon," he said. His voice was a little different now. Unsure.
"Propose. Maybe we could meet in Paris tomorrow?"
Too late, the nervous flutters chilled my skin. "You in some kind of hurry?"
He was serious. I knew that, and yet I couldn't help but treat it as some kind of joke. Sarcasm had always been our first refuge and most deeply cutting joy. "Dying, huh? Broad subject. Anything more specific?"
"Lung cancer. One month to live or something like that...I wasn't paying much attention. It's funny. I don't even feel that bad. And you're the one who smokes."
"You know about that?" Like a child, latching onto the only thing in the sentence I actually understood.
"You smell different, sometimes." And I finally heard the vulnerability there, an aching pit of love for me that was threatening to swallow him whole.
No, it's not hubris, my saying that. I of all people ought to know how he feels after all these years.
"I'm taking the next plane back. Don't you dare pick me up at the airport."
"Veronica, I feel fine."
I ignored him. "When do you start treatment?"
"I...it's an issue. I told the doctor I'd get back to him."
"It might let me live another four months or so, but I might die in a month anyway and the side effects...I want to be able to...I want us, Veronica, for however long I have left."
"You're throwing four months of your life away because you want to fuck me?" My voice grazed the edge of hysteria.
"And isn't that all the validation a girl could want?"
My hands were trembling, but I laughed. God, he always knew how to do that.
"Tomorrow," I said. "We'll talk about this tomorrow."
"Veronica, don't...are you okay?"
"You're the one dying, remember?"
I wasn't crying or anything like that when he hung up. I just stared at the grass growing between the cracks in the sidewalk and passed the phone between my hands, like a one-woman game of hot potato.
When the boy put a gentle, tentative hand on my elbow, I was shocked. I hadn't even noticed he had stayed out here.
"Listen...do you need anything? I can call a cab..."
I just nodded and he walked back inside the bar for a few moments.
Fifteen years. Had I really allowed myself to imagine the two of us, toothlessly canoodling at year fifty?
The boy must have helped me into the cab--I can't recall doing it myself. I do remember his sad smile when he said goodbye, though, and thinking that some girl was going to fall in love with him someday and do silly, hopeless things because of it.
And I can be forgiven such maudlin thoughts because I am over half a century old and what good is the loss of beauty if not made up for in experience?
This limousine is very posh and high tech. Instead of a liquor cabinet it has an alcohol dispenser, complete with shot glasses, that I'm sure Logan would have appreciated. The screen between me and the driver doubles as a television and there are two foot-massage stations built into the floor. I've taken advantage of the latter, because chasing down pictures of diplomats in conservative heels has its occupational hazards.
My driver is a middle-aged man named Yoshio Takeuchi with a comb over so severe I can only explain it as a fashion statement. For god's sake, I wanted to say when I met him, they sell hair plug kits in grocery stores! But he's quiet and his English is hesitant but accurate, which is all I ask for in a driver.
My hosts, the American ambassador and her husband, loaned him to me for the day so I could take this excursion to Mount Fuji. Ms. Sanders apologized for not being able to come with me, but I don't mind. It's always better, I think, being alone.
When it was all over, or when it had just begun, that was the first thing I learned.
He met me at the airport, of course, with a smile and a bouquet of lilies like he had to apologize for something. I took the flowers and refrained from throwing myself at him. He looked fine--better than fine, actually, in his deliberately retro three-piece with the jacket slung over one arm. Paler, maybe, and a few more gray hairs than when I had last seen him just three weeks ago, but only if I was searching. Girls still stared at him when he walked into a room, bought him drinks in a bar.
"What, no hug?" he asked, after a minute of my desperate silence.
I could feel my pulse fluttering in my neck, hear my breath squeezing in and out of my constricted throat, but I couldn't move.
My skin felt like it was being pried apart with need, but I was too afraid to touch him. I had this image of him as a beautiful fruit, rotting on the inside. If I jostled him, would everything come bursting out?
Oh god, his voice, that was just the same too and I couldn't stand it. Something like this shouldn't be so normal. This is the end of my life, goddamn it! But I only shouted in my head.
What I said was, "I think I'm hyperventilating."
Logan quickly grabbed my carry-on bag and led me to some nearby chairs. The touch of his fingers on my hand seemed to burn like acid.
I put my head between my knees and waited for the haze to clear. Logan put a tentative hand on my back but I shivered and he stopped.
"I guess this nixes the whole back seat quickie?"
I smiled. It was easier when he couldn't see it. "I could still give you a blowjob at the stop lights."
"I think your head's between the wrong set of legs for that, Veronica."
"Ah, damn my inflexibility! Just a few more inches and I'd never need a man again."
Logan put his hands on my shoulders and this time I didn't flinch.
"Maybe," he said, his voice so low I trembled, "but my tongue has more experience."
Slowly, I sat up and looked at him.
"You're still dying, right?"
"Last I checked."
"So why are we talking dirty in an airport lounge?"
His smile was one of those hopelessly complex rarities that had made me fall in love with him in the first place. Ironic, frustrated, sad, a little helpless, tender.
"So you don't pass out on the floor?"
I felt the pain start, radiating from my chest into my shoulders and aching like struck tuning fork. Dr. Finn says it could have started anytime in the last few years, but I know the exact moment the stake was rammed in my heart. It was his smile, when he knew he would have to leave me.
"Logan...what are we going to do?"
His lips brushed my cheeks as if in anticipation of the tears, and when he kissed me, I let him, because I knew he couldn't answer.
Mount Fuji is incredibly beautiful, though I imagine how Logan would tease me for being such a tourist. Takeuchi-san tells me that it used to be much better thirty, forty years ago, before global warming bit us on our collective asses and made the snowcaps melt. Now, hiking season is much earlier in the year because August is too hot for anyone but mosquitoes, criminals and clean up crews.
Sanders had heard about my condition--from who, I have no idea--and wanted to make sure I was up for the trip. I felt slightly offended--no one could claim I hadn't kept up during the five day summit for the World Water Federation--but I just smiled and reassured her that I was doing better. She didn't press.
Takeuchi-san is taking me to the fifth station for Gotenba-guchi, the longest route up the mountain and least popular. The path is very clearly marked, they tell me, and when I reach the seventh station there will be a meal and a room waiting at the inn.
People like to climb up the mountain in the dark of early twilight, armed with nothing more than a flashlight and a hiking stick, to see the sunrise from the top of the mountain. I considered this, but I suspect I would prefer to see the other side of its journey.
Sunset and I have gotten on very well, lately.
The house was cool when we walked in, and the sound of waves crashing outside was too loud for the porch door to be closed.
"Maybe we should send out invitations to the local criminal element," I said as I slid the door home. "Just to streamline the process."
Logan shrugged. I had complained about this too many times for it to be worth a response.
"Are you hungry?" he asked. "I could make something."
"A microwaved hotdog?"
Logan eased himself onto the countertop so his legs dangled off the edge. "You wound me. I've graduated to pasta."
So easy to forget, wasn't it? Especially when I wanted to. I smiled and trailed my fingers along his cheek.
"Fifty five years, and my husband finally learns to make pasta." I loosened his tie and slid my fingers under the collar.
"I learned five years ago," he said, his eyes closed. "You've been busy, lately."
It felt like an accusation.
"It's not like you're always around either. Book tours, press junkets--"
He kissed me, and I shut up.
"We don't have time, Veronica." His eyes were very clear, very steady.
If I touched him, what would spill out?
"Fuck me on the beach," I said.
His eyes widened and he picked me up.
All his love for me and too much, too much.
"You are married?" Takeuchi-san said, as we drove up the mountain. I had rolled down the windows a little bit, and the air smelled like wet grass and mountain streams and some kind of paradise.
"Was," I said, sliding my thumb along the simple gold band. It was the first ring he ever gave me, and the only one I wanted. His matching band is on a chain around my neck now, nestled between my breasts. At night sometimes I touch its warmth to my cheek and imagine the smell of his hands.
Takeuchi-san understands the past tense perfectly, and falls silent. Talking about him doesn't hurt any more than it would anyway, so I volunteer, "He died a year ago, Saturday." Time of death? Time of death, Mars. Oh yes, 11:24 pm.
"I'm sorry," he said. But strange, it sounded like he meant it. "Fuji-san is a good place for grief," he said, after a brief silence. "After my wife died, I came here."
"Did it help?" I asked.
"She was dead, but I felt her...presence. I found some peace."
Peace. How funny. That's what I'm searching for, too.
The waves tickled my feet, clogged sand and seaweed in my hair and between my buttocks. Logan smelled of musk and salt and the powder the television studio had dusted over his nose for the interview.
He kissed me slowly. Eyebrows, nose, hairline, ears, lips, neck (right there, that hollow spot above my collarbone), tits (oh god, oh fuck, don't stop that, Logan), belly button, pelvis...
And fuck, I cried then, the dam broke and I sobbed into the sand while the greedy ocean stole my salt.
Don't stop! I told him, when he paused, concerned, and god, thank god, he didn't. His tongue swirled and played while I shuddered and wept and screamed in such incoherent rage my throat burned. The neighbors were too far away to hear. I think.
I didn't know I was saying something with actual words and meaning until I felt his face next to mine, his hands lifting my head out of the foamy water.
"I'm so sorry," he whispered, in response to something I couldn't remember saying.
He rubbed against me briefly with his penis and then, when I was gasping with longing, he entered. I was wet and I came almost immediately, bucking against him with the force of a reaction that had at least as much pain as pleasure. I raked my fingernails across his back and felt horribly, desperately sated at the slickness of his blood on my hand.
He moaned my name and gripped me like I might drown or float away from him.
"I'm so sorry," he said again, and he thrust hard and deliberate while his left hand searched out my still-throbbing clit.
Was I speaking? The rage and pleasure and agony filled my mind like smoke. I forced myself still, focused on his penis flexing inside me. Eventually, I heard it: my own voice, repeating a desperate mantra I seemed to have no control over.
"Please don't die," it said. "Don't leave me here."
"I'm so sorry."
I ground sand between my teeth and tried not to cry.
I love Japanese poetry because it's so economical. It relies on the telling detail to convey the larger story, rather than an endless barrage of words. I've never had much luck at approaching the truth with words. I've always preferred my camera, or just plain old action, for that. Logan was the one who fetishized words, but at first he only used them as a defense mechanism. Only later did he see how they could be used to approach the truth.
When he died, the Times obit called him a "Vonnegut for the not generation, a dynamo whose pen excoriated the hypocrisies and social inadequacies of our age with humor that could always bite." It was a wonderful obit. All he could have ever asked for, though the author offhandedly dismissed his first novel as the "promising, but ultimately inadequate work of a fledgling writer." I laughed at that, and knew he would have too.
He wrote his first novel for me, to try to make sense of the royal fuck-up of our first marriage, to attempt to win me back. Later, I told him that he could have gotten away with much less.
"I thought you'd left me for dead...or, you know, something melodramatic like that."
I smiled. "I guess you weren't the only one with a thing for the theatrics. I wanted you to get your life together and come back for me. You could have been a garbage collector, for all I cared."
"What about all those guys you dated? Trying to make me jealous?"
"Probably. Hey, I didn't say I admitted it to myself. But I kept your ring by my bed, Logan."
"I never took mine off."
This one is nice:
So you must persist
in asking where my heart goes
all the long, cold night.
Like following trails left by birds
who vanished with yesterday's sky.
Takeuchi-san gave me a book of translated ancient Japanese love poetry before I left for the trail. It seems like a strange thing to keep in the car, but the pages are well-thumbed and I think it might be a way for a certain kind of romantic to practice his English. I accepted it gratefully, but I hope it doesn't get too wet at the top of the mountain.
He had a coughing fit that night in bed, when we were supposed to be sleeping but neither of us actually were. It lasted for about five minutes and was violent enough to make me wonder if I should call the hospital. He stood up before I could say anything and threw away the tissues. I had seen the phlegm--multicolored and too much of it. I could feel his weariness when he climbed back into bed, but when I opened my mouth to say something--god knows what--I realized that my teeth were chattering. My whole body was shaking, and I felt so cold. I tried to shift away, so I wouldn't bother him, but he caught my hand. The shaking intensified so much I could hear the bed creak, but I still couldn't stop it.
He enveloped me, nestled my head on his chest and wrapped his legs around my back and at his touch the shaking subsided. I clenched and unclenched my fists in the sheets, felt his chest hair tickle my lips. His breathing sounded harsher and more labored than usual, but listened to it like an aria.
"Better?" he asked.
"The box spring saved once again."
His hands stroking my back were so relaxing that I had almost fallen asleep when he spoke.
"I'll do the treatment, if you want." His voice was rough, quiet. "I can call the doctor tomorrow."
But it sounds like something from a horror movie, doesn't it? Keeping someone alive when they don't want to be?
"I guess you haven't changed your mind about the whole afterlife thing?"
"Any reason to?"
I bit my lip. "Self-interest, maybe."
"My favorite argument. But it doesn't work, in this case. The universe doesn't change its rules just to make me happy...or you."
I didn't argue. I agreed with him, for god's sake, but I think some part of me hoped that the prospect of death would have made fear trump conviction, and given me an excuse to believe in something...anything less horrible than his non-existence.
"But I'm looking on the bright side," he said. His voice was tight with unshed tears.
"No father-son reunions."
It took more courage than I knew I had, to say it. "You don't have to get treated, if you don't want. I would never..."
"I know. Thank you."
And then, later that night, after I had fallen half asleep: "Veronica...I swear, if anything, the smallest part of me survives my death, I'll find you. If there's a chance, I swear..."
He was finally crying. I licked his tears like a cat, savoring their salty sting on my tongue.
This one is anonymous:
In the long evening
under the edge of purple clouds
I long to meet the one
who has gone to wander
the latitudes of heaven
It's possible, I thought, when I first read it at the top of ledge that overlooked part of the mountain, that the author of the poem sat in this very spot a thousand years ago, longing for the one she had lost. Did she really believe that she would meet him? Does believing that make a difference? I don't have any more answers now than I did a year ago.
The hike was long and more exhausting than I expected. I ran out of water an hour before I finally reached the station, red faced and dizzy. My heart was hurting in that warning way, so I accepted the stool someone offered me and practiced breathing. My camera was back in my hands long before I felt entirely steady. I shot the inn, bathed in the warm glow of torchlight. The old proprietress, in her pink and blue summer yukata and zori, framed in the entrance as she looks at some point past my shoulder. A young couple's little boy, old enough to climb the mountain but young enough to chase fireflies and call after cicadas.
And the old gaijin, with the graying hair and blue-veined hands and sweaty face? The boy glances at me and then grins, before turning away at the flash of another yellow-green light.
"Phosphorescent asses," Logan had said to me once, on a night much like this. "It should be the new face lift."
We never had children. It occurs to me that this might strike someone not privy to our rarefied, endless verbal playground of a world as unusual, deserving of some dramatic explanation. There is none, really. Neither of us were interested enough in the idea to push the other. We had our ambitions, our fuck ups, our desperate need for each other. Maybe we were just selfish, unwilling to share the other with some mewling creature from my womb. And, on Logan's part, fear of what he might do as a father. Maybe I should have pushed. Some of his scabbed-over wounds never quite healed. But on his thirty-fifth birthday (we had just moved in together again, between marriages) he came home and declared that he had given himself a present.
"Did she toss in the blowjob for free?" I was snappy, annoyed with him--I can't remember why.
He looked at me a little sadly, I remember, as though he had finally given up asking me for a favor I refused to give. "I've nipped junior. Plucked his flower. Sundered his flow--"
"Drowned him in metaphors."
"I think the technical term is vasectomy."
I stared at him. "No more birth control?"
"Not unless there's someone I don't know about. Should we be using condoms? I've heard those meth-heads have some serious STDs."
I turned away, disgusted, and walked back to the room.
We were so good at antagonizing each other.
It took us too long to realize, in the end, how little that mattered.
In bare autumn fields,
the pine-crickets call, "We wait,"
"we wait." If I go
out to answer them, I'll cry,
"Am I the one? Is it me?"
"We have to go back," I said, that morning, when he was up and listening to Jimi Hendrix far too early, and far too sober.
His expression was supposed to be withering, but his hair was sticking up in these bushy tufts that made it difficult to take him seriously.
"What am I, a human boomerang?" he said. Of course he knew what I meant.
"When you're listening to All Along the Watchtower at seven in the morning, you are."
"What about Rome? Or Paris--hell, that's practically Mecca for doomed lovers. We'll fit right in."
I felt suddenly dizzy. I knew why he used such words so casually, but it was still sometimes hard to cope with his masochistic streak. He noticed, but he didn't comfort me--this morning, apparently, there would be no gentleness. Only harsh, unbearable reality.
"And here I thought you avoided cliches."
He grinned like a dueler who's just drawn his sword. Challenge met, and answered. "Tell that to the Times. And Paris is subtle compared to...that place."
"That place is your home, Logan."
"Oh, Veronica, you've mixed it up. It was never my home. It was just a place to live, get tortured, fall in love, get tortured...oh no, that last bit was dating you."
I wanted to roll my eyes, but I was remembering a beach and a dog and a boy who wanted me dead--almost as much as he wanted to die. "It was almost forty years ago," I said, quietly.
"You're the one who wants to go back." But he turned down the Hendrix.
"If that isn't home, where is it?"
His hands relaxed, and his eyes lost their edge. Swords down, thank god. "Wherever you are. But you said I avoid cliches."
"And this one?"
"Mars, let's go to Neptune."
We drove though we could have flown. It would have been easier, but not quite as fitting as now, with Logan dozing beside me, one hand on the windowsill and the other warm beneath mine. Time seems to stretch on a car trip. Hours can feel like days, conversations take on a slow significance. He stopped by the pharmacy before we left, to pick up some pills that would help with his immediate symptoms. Part of me wanted to scream and bang my head against the steering wheel because we weren't going to a hospital, he wasn't even attempting to stop the thing devouring him inside. But promises are one of the things I've learned to keep.
The drugs, whatever they were, seemed to have knocked him out, so I left him sleeping in the car when I went into a roadside deli to get lunch. He was shaking when I got back, his eyes frightened and foggy with sleep.
He gripped my wrist so tightly I could feel his fingers leaving a bruise.
"There won't be any of me left to miss you?"
Gently, I pried his fingers off, drew his head to my chest. "I don't think so."
"So why am I so afraid? Why do I miss you already?"
And all I could say was, "I'm here, I'm right here," while my heart seemed to rip right there, beneath my breast.
My room isn't very large, but it has round windows that overlook the courtyard's deliberately overgrown bamboo and persimmon trees. I can hear the waterfall tinkling into the pond, filled with the shimmering bodies of some truly oversized koi. The floor of my room is covered in tatami mats, which smell a little like clean hay and fresh tea. The proprietress has laid out a futon for me--decadently fluffy, with an even larger comforter. She left some oranges on a side table and an electric tea kettle. I'm lying beneath the courtyard window in a simple cotton yukata, and the smell of the orange I'm peeling is sharp in my nostrils.
I use his pocket knife to cut into it, though I don't really need to. He would use it to cut his apples and toss the pieces into his mouth so deliberately I could have half an orgasm just looking. I don't know if he ever knew how much that turned me on. Then again, he always did eat a lot of apples.
The orange is very ripe, and some of the juice slides down my chin and between my breasts. They look very smooth, don't they? No sign of the slow, deadly bleed-out occurring underneath.
"You're very healthy, otherwise," Dr. Finn told me. "Fifty years ago, this might have been a death sentence. And you'd be surprised at how quickly you recover from the surgery."
"Fifty years ago," I asked, "Would it have been painful? Dying of it, I mean."
Which I guess wasn't the appropriate reaction.
My body has at least forty years left in it, he said, once I get this fixed. But I wasn't so sure about my sanity.
Unthinking, I break a wedge in half and smear its jagged edge down my stomach, in between my thighs. The smell is overpowering now, hot and strange and mingled with a musk that must be my own. It always surprises me, the parts of him I miss that I never even noticed before he died. Who knew you could miss someone's smell this badly? In the bottom of my luggage is a plastic bag with a man's sweater. I pull it out now, one handed, and as soon as the scent hits my nose and mingles with the orange and me I gasp and arch against nothing.
My eyes are closed and if I concentrate just the right way it feels as though his tongue is trailing in the sticky juice around my breasts, his long fingers squeezing the orange wedge between my thighs.
"Logan," I whisper, because his hand has delved inside of me and he's pushing against that spot...
What's the deal, Veronica? Have you changed your last name to Capulet?
I'm so close. My hips buck and shiver and for a moment I have the sensation of his warm breath on my neck.
"I'm sure Romeo...never got her off...quite like this." I'm talking to thin air. I know it, I know it.
His voice is too real. I never wanted to leave you.
When I come, I know he's gone, even though his smell still hangs heavy in the air. And a memory.
If anything, the smallest part of me survives my death...
You might think I've come here to die, but I haven't.
For us, Neptune is mostly a graveyard. Most of what we remember has vanished, or burned down, or been torn down and built over. The 09ers lost the war, in the end. They retreated from their seaside palaces for safer ground further up the hills, and the tasteless middle class stayed on and multiplied. It was caught between rising sea levels and encroaching brushfires, but Neptune lived on in a tacked-together, dogged obliviousness that I almost admired. Logan wasn't so forgiving.
"It's like a whole town with its head stuck up its ass," he muttered, when I drove over the city limits. "What are their options? Death by drowning, forest fire...or general bad taste."
"Glass houses, Logan. We all have to die someday. Not everyone makes the best choices about it."
He looked at me for a moment and then popped open a prescription bottle.
"What's that one for?" I asked. I didn't pretend to be casual.
"Pain." He didn't either.
I couldn't speak for a while after that.
We went to my father's grave first, since we had buried him in the new cemetery on the outskirts of town. Logan held my hand and I hated that even now I needed his support, and he knew it. He didn't even think it was strange to give it.
Dad had died five years before, but grief sometimes still kept me up at night. He had been 84, but relatively healthy. It was a massive stroke--painless, the doctors told me, and quick. He was lucky, apparently. The worst is when they linger. It seemed like half the town turned out for his funeral, and I made a game with Logan guessing which were the cuckolded spouses and trophy wives who got their big divorce settlements courtesy of Mars Investigations. Wallace came back from Chicago. We even saw Duncan and little Lilly, who had met my father in her twenties once the statute of limitations ran out and they could return to the states. The awkwardness never quite left my relationship with Duncan, no matter how old we got. He had been my boyfriend, my first love. You don't just forget that, but Logan always hung between us, even when he wasn't there, and it made me feel like a teenager. In every innocuous "hello," I heard: "Did you love him when we had sex? Did you want him even when we were together?" It didn't help that the answer was probably, certainly yes. I loved you, but your best friend is my life's passion. Is there a tactful way to say that?
And fast forward five years. I'm standing by my father's grave, holding hands with my life's passion, and the seconds seem to snap in my head, like a violent metronome, counting down our moments together until we have none left.
"Are you cold?" he asked, putting his arm around my shoulder.
I leaned into him. "It's almost ninety degrees!" I said, though I knew that wasn't what he meant.
We visited Logan's dead next, both father and mother because they had been buried side-by-side in a travesty that still made Logan's jaw clench. I sometimes wondered if his father knew it was the only way his son would ever visit his grave. The church had cordoned off their plot and issued a little plaque--entirely against Logan's wishes--detailing some of the scandals of their deaths for the benefit of the more ghoulish tourists. Aaron Echolls had the same seedy appeal of, say, Sid Vicious or Bob Crane. Worth a stop on a long road trip, at least.
Logan didn't say anything. He just stared at both graves for ten minutes and then left.
We saved Lilly for last. Who knew what she would have been if she lived, if she had been given even the forty extra years Logan had. We probably wouldn't have been friends--high school friendships rarely lasted--but maybe we would. But would Logan and I have fallen in love, without the shock of her death splintering so much of our old relationship?
"Logan," I said, leaning my head against his knee while we sat on the grass, "if Lilly...do you think..."
"We would have found each other eventually. Lilly might have killed me, but..."
I smiled. "She definitely would have killed me." And then, when we had sat there for so long the sweat began to slide down my back, "Is it selfish of me to be so angry, I mean, when she died so young and at least you're middle aged?"
"Love is selfish. Didn't Lilly teach us that?"
Wounds beneath wounds, and fuck what they say, time doesn't heal anything worth hurting over.
"I'm not coming back," I said, when we pulled back onto the PCH, and away from our past.
He seemed surprised. "I thought you said it was your home?"
I rolled down my window and raised my eyebrows. "Oh, no, didn't you hear? He's dying."
Like a bird's sky-road
which leaves no trail in the air
my life, too, shall go
unnoticed, and if I cry,
will anyone know or care?
By Kyogoku Tamekane, according to the notes in the back of my book. The last daughter of a family of poets who lived in the 13th century, she was famous for her love poetry. I like her poems. She must have been very well acquainted with loss, to write like that.
I ate breakfast downstairs, in the dining room that opens onto the courtyard. The tables are all low to the ground, so I have to tuck my legs under my Yukata and kneel to eat. The position makes my feet fall asleep, but I like how steady and ritualized it feels. Breakfast was miso soup, a bowl of steaming rice, and small little dishes of pickles and sashimi to eat it with. The waitress demonstrated that I was to crack the raw egg over my rice, and I did because I've never been squeamish about food. The rice was so hot that it cooked the white, and I sort of loved the contrasting textures on my tongue.
"Totemo oishii," I said in my terribly accented Japanese to the proprietress, when she walked in. She smiled and refilled my tea.
"Not all westerners like our style of food," she said, in surprisingly fluent English. "So I'm glad you enjoy."
I looked around at the rest of the empty table. A few other hikers had stayed the night, I thought. "Did everyone else leave this morning?" I asked, carefully sipping the salty miso.
She nodded. "The sunrise is beautiful on Fuji-san. You will climb up today?"
"This afternoon," I said. She seemed surprised. "I thought I would see the sunset."
She looked thoughtful. "Yes, the yugure is beautiful, as well. Just be careful coming down again, yes? Will you stay with us tonight?"
I hadn't thought of it. "I suppose. Thank you."
When she left, I went back to my room and re-read the other Tamekane poem, the one whose words seem like such an uncanny echo of my own thoughts.
Sometimes I wonder
what thoughts, what feelings he knew
as he was leaving.
Tell me what you remember,
poor cold, silent autumn moon.
He collapsed four days later. One moment he was standing by the fridge, castigating my shopping skills ("Is there anything here you don't have to cook?") and the next he was on his knees by the counter, gasping ("Sorry, Logan, I must have failed bachelor shop--Logan?") I called the ambulance. By the time they arrived, his lips and fingernails were turning distinctly blue. They gave him an oxygen mask and when we arrived at the hospital, a respirator. He hated it, I could tell, but he was too exhausted to do anything but a perfunctory plea to take it off.
Terror made me angry. "You are not dying yet, Logan," I said, and he smiled.
The doctor took me aside to discuss end of life care. These situations can be stressful, he said. I should seriously consider a hospice. I wanted to put my hands round his neck, to squeeze all the air out of him and then ask if he would like to die breathless in a strange bed, with his loved ones just stopping by for visits? But I smiled very politely and asked when I could take him home.
"Today. If that's your decision." He made it sound as if I'd decided to sell him to Philip Morris.
But I've learned to pick my battles, too, and I left him wallow in his disapproval. Between the nurses and I, we got Logan and his oxygen and a wheelchair into my car. It was harder at home. He was so tired he could barely stand, and I couldn't lift him into the chair, or the bed. When I finally managed, I lay down beside him, panting. My mind was numb, but I could feel roaring grief tickling behind it. What would that feel like?
The oxygen tank was much smaller than the ones I'd seen as a candy striper back in Neptune. It fed him through a plug in his nose, and a little box filtered the oxygen directly from the air. It hardly made any noise. And if Logan hadn't been perfectly aware of what it would do to me, he would rip it out and die right then.
"Maybe I should get a nurse," I said. "I don't think I can do everything alone."
He wanted to end it, but all he said was, "Okay."
The amount of time Logan could go without oxygen was getting smaller. Each trip to the bathroom was so painful I had to run away afterwards and take deep, shaking breaths on the porch. Sometimes I sneaked a cigarette, which amused him. The nurse would have helped, of course, but this was part of our treaty, the terms laid out in the silences between our spoken words. Every demeaning, embarrassing, pitiful facet of his death had to be part of my experience, too. And when it grew as unbearable to me as it already was to him, I could no longer force him to live. If I pawned those chores off on the nurse...we had done a lot, too many, terrible things to each other over the years. But that would be a betrayal worthy of the inner ring of the inferno.
"Did you ever cheat on me?" I asked, one night a week into our hell, after I had spent the last half hour cleaning the bed and floor of his vomit.
"When we were actually together? Or just sort of together and you were embarrassed to be with me and hiding my existence from your friends?"
Yes, that would have been college. We were never exactly masters of functional relationships.
"I went down on a girl, once, when you agreed to go out on a date with that anthro TA. I wanted to make you jealous."
"But...you never told me."
He shrugged. "I thought you might leave. You always did have all the power in our relationship."
His tone was too pointed for him to be talking about a girl he made orgasm three decades ago. So, I didn't say anything. I was closer to the edge, but not there just yet. His voice, his hands, his humor--just how much longer could I torture him for the sake of my own selfish, desperate pleasure?
"Did you?" he asked, finally.
"Well, that anthro TA...but I wasn't sure we were still going out then!"
"You might have said something. And?"
And? My stomach twisted. "Two years ago. One of those boys I flirt with. I got too drunk and let him kiss me."
"Just a kiss?"
"My...breasts. He fondled my breasts."
For a moment all I could hear was his little machine, filtering air. "Why didn't you tell me?"
My tears slid around my ears. "I thought you might leave," I said.
After a quiet struggle, he rolled onto his side and kissed my forehead. "Veronica, you don't know how much more I'd forgive?"
I thought of how I was keeping him alive, even though he could barely breathe, or eat on his own, or... "Now. I know. I'm sorry, I just want you here, I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."
My words faded to incoherence and he held me while I sobbed.
People stared at me as I made my slow way up to the summit. Old ladies as nimble as grasshoppers came trooping down the mountain and stared at me, concerned, like I might have lost my way. If one had spoken English, I could imagine her asking: "You do know you're going up the mountain, not down, right dearie?" But the language barrier kept me blissfully unmolested. When I reached the top the sun was low, but at least an hour away from true sunset, so I settled myself against the roots of a tree and waited. The view is beautiful. I'm seeing the world from the top of a mountain, and for the first time in too long, I'm happy.
I went to one psychic after Logan died. I'm not sure why--it seemed to push the bounds of even their logic to think she could contact a spirit at will. What did she have, some kind of psychic cell phone? But I sat in the velvet-draped chair and gave her my assumed name and told her I wished to contact someone extraordinarily close to me, who had died three months earlier. She looked at me intently for several moments and then began swaying back and forth, humming something toneless under her breath.
Her eyes snapped open. "Your husband loves you very much," she said.
I started to cry. I did so too easily, back then.
"But he wants you to move on," she said. "You can't spend the rest of your life thinking about him."
And I remembered why I didn't believe in psychics in the first place, and laughed.
Ten days after his collapse, I gave in. Nothing dramatic, just a normal, agonizing morning trip to the bathroom. But his hair seemed to have gone all gray overnight, and his face just looked so tired, and his hands trembled when he gripped the walker...did I love him enough to let him die?
He looked at me, curious. Even hunched over the walker, my head barely reached his chin. Have you decided? his eyes asked.
"Okay," I said.
I sent the nurse home. We didn't speak much all day, beyond the necessities. In the afternoon, I played him Billie Holiday and read his favorite passages from On the Road. He just held me and kissed me like he always did, like he could hardly believe I was in his arms and letting him. It was a good day, and I let it be, because we both knew that one good day wouldn't stop the next and the next from being deeper journeys to hell. I loved him enough to let him die.
I loved him enough to help.
"I think...it will take about twenty minutes, once I take the oxygen out," I said. It was around 10:30.
"Will you be okay?"
I laughed. "Okay? I'll be a fucking mess."
"But you won't...Veronica, you're only fifty-five."
"So are you."
"You aren't dying."
"The only thing important in my life is. Do you really want me to forget about you?"
His eyes were very bright. "No. I want you to think about me every fucking day of your life. Your long, healthy life."
"As long as I can, Logan. I can't promise...I don't know how to begin."
"We were divorced for years. How did you do it then?"
"But you were alive! I could still feel you...follow you around. I love you more now--"
He reached up suddenly and kissed me. His lips were hot, his tongue urgent. His energy seemed almost manic, and I tossed myself into it like I was falling from a cliff. I pulled off his elastic pants and there it was, warn and ready in my palm. He groaned. My breath came in short, frantic gasps that grated at my ears. I was so wet.
We had no need, or desire, for foreplay. I pushed his cock inside me and screamed.
After about two minutes, I found my hand near his nose, and his eyes, steady on my face. I glanced at the clock: eleven exactly. We didn't say anything. We had been in each other's lives for forty-five years. We didn't have to.
I pulled. The box crashed when we knocked it to the floor.
I came, four, five times I wasn't sure--they seemed to flow into each other for minutes on end until I thought I might pass out. Logan held on, his manic energy giving way to laughter and then choking gasps for air.
He came when our sweat had soaked the sheets and his groan ripped through his raw, battered lungs.
We are very still, but his chest still rises and falls in short, desperate bursts.
"Don't bury. Cremate."
"You couldn't have mentioned that earlier!"
He stops laughing.
Call it loneliness
that deep, beautiful color
no one can describe:
over these dark mountains,
the gathering autumn dusk
-- The Priest Jakuren
The sunset is purple and gold and deep red, and it seems to spread out over the horizon like dripping paint. I'm alone here, which would feel like a sign if I believed in them.
The longer I wait, Dr. Finn says, the more likely my heart will just give out. Fine one moment, and dead the next! Dr. Finn didn't laugh. Logan, my guru of inappropriate humor, would have.
I wish I could thank Takeuchi-san for giving me this book. Maybe I will, of course, but just in case I take a picture of it, with the sunset's colors shading the open pages. Someone ought to develop this film, and if he sees that, he'll understand. I suppose taking a pencil and writing "thank you" would be easier, but I don't have anything with me.
I called Wallace a week ago. His oldest daughter had just given birth to a boy, and he was babysitting her two other children. We talked for a few minutes, about nothing much, and he asked me how I was coping.
"Fine," I said, automatically.
"Okay. Not fine. I'm not sure there's another way to be."
"I know." And he really did. He had to leave a minute later, clear up some crisis in the kitchen, and I wish I could have said a better goodbye. I haven't told him about my heart. He'll feel betrayed when he finds out.
But he's Wallace, and he'll understand.
I'm not sure what I expected to find at the top of this mountain. Clarity, maybe, and I think I have that. At least as much as I'm likely to get.
My name is Veronica Mars. I'm fifty six years old and I have lived one year without the love of my life.
Yes, that's simple. I like that.
The sun is sinking behind the hills and town below me. I don't really expect anything to happen when it goes, but I wouldn't mind it, either.
If I could write a poem now, it would be about loneliness and oranges and 11:24 pm and the gentle murmuring of the cicadas around me, as though they can sing the sun safely home.
But, I think this one will do:
From a tree growing
somewhere beside the rice fields,
a single dove calls
as if longing for a friend:
a solitary nightfall
More Notes: I hope you liked this. I wanted to write a different sort of future fic, and I loved imaging how they would be much older. All of the poems are translations of traditional Japanese poetry by Sam Hamill in a book called Only Companion. The last poem is by Saigyo. If I didn't identify the author of any other poems, they're anonymous. Finally, Japan will return! Except in a vastly less sad way, since that's my country for the "Where in the World is Veronica Mars" challenge. Oh, and I wouldn't mind some feedback ;)