Words will keep us together

Fiction, musings and all things writing by Gregory T. Janetka

Edwin

I.

The fourth and seventh stairs creaked under the pressure of Edwin’s stocking clad feet.  While he had lived here all his life, it was the first time he had noticed the imperfection.  With his parents asleep above, Edwin crept into the kitchen, switching the light above the table onto its lowest setting.  A pale yellow blanketed the room, giving the appearance of warmth.

In the center of the kitchen was a marble topped island, on which Edwin laid a tattered maroon briefcase.  After taking a moment to check on his hamster Basil, Edwin proceeded to make a pair of ham and cheese sandwiches – his favorite.  As he was taking them to the head of the table, the boy peered down admiringly at his pajamas.  They were the sort he had seen so often in black and white – the ones that look like a suit.  His were colored sky blue, just as he had requested the previous Christmas.  They fit better than he could have ever imagined.

Centering his plate before him, Edwin bowed his head, lifted the first sandwich, and deeply breathed in the rich aroma.  With the initial bite, his eyes immediately closed.  The saltiness of the ultra thin pig flesh commingled with the creamy nature of the milk and enzyme food product.  He rolled it around with his tongue, ensuring that each and every taste bud had equal pleasure.  The act of opening his eyes left the boy visibly shaken for a moment, but he soon refocused.

The blurs were all about the table, constantly moving chairs in and out, but his single-mindedness rendered these actions moot.  He took the time to fully masticate over each bite from both sandwiches – they were much more easily digested that way – for he knew he would not be disturbed.  The last bite found him slightly out of breath and undoubtedly disoriented.

Regaining himself, Edwin washed the plate and left it to dry. Brushing off his pajamas, he cleared his throat and pulled himself up onto the center of the island. Sitting cross-legged facing the briefcase, he entered the correct three digit code on the lock, popping open the right side, mechanically followed by the left.

Unfolding its contents, the briefcase displayed a bottle of rubbing alcohol, iodine, cotton balls, bandages, a small wooden hand carved figure of Ho-tai, and two brand new razorblades.  Soaking a cotton ball in alcohol, he removed one of the razorblades from its protective packaging, and proceeded to sterilize it.  It was then he noticed his hands.

As far back as he could remember, he was always fascinated by his hands.  It began one evening while sitting in church.  As Father went deeper and deeper into his sermon, Edwin’s thoughts fell on his hands, which were neatly situated on his lap.  He began turning them over, examining the delicate movements that were possible with their intricate makeup.  The independent nature of the fingers and their individual joints, the visible flexing and relaxing of tendons – they appeared pure against his father’s rough and hairy hands.  His fist was small, but it had endless potential.

The blade glistened upon catching a bit of the diffused light.  Lifting his left sleeve, he sterilized his inner forearm, allowing it to dry completely.  With a steady hand he penetrated the skin, creating a half-inch long vertical cut, feeling every ounce of pain from the blade severing his flesh.  He cleaned and dressed the wound, following it with a mirrored reproduction on his right arm.  The only sound came courtesy of Basil, drinking from his water bottle.

He longed to share his plan with others, but knew they would only lump him in with those they called “cutters.”  He had no desire to be tied to such childish nonsense, and so he sat, Basil the only onlooker.  Thus began Edwin’s quest to end pain forever.

II.

The next day Edwin woke with a start.  For the first time in many days, he was excited to go to school.  The sun shone brighter as he walked to the bus stop, the usual trepidation having subsided.  He was met with the normal silent stares from the others, but today he felt no anger, and simply smiled back.

Entering the school, he took a long, deep breath.  This was only the first day, he told himself, and knew he shouldn’t expect much just yet – but he did anyway.  As he approached his locker, the taunts began.  They were never original, but were always backed up with a caustic hatred for his entire being.

“Fag!”
“Have fun with your boyfriend last night?”
“Good morning you gay little bastard.”

He wasn’t even gay, but that didn’t matter.  No one was out in his school, and apparently they had decided Edwin must fill that void.  There is no doubt that he was a nerd.  Not in the traditional thick-glasses sense, but a nerd nonetheless.  He had an inexplicable love of the 1930s and 40s.  To that end he regularly wore fashions of the era and was wholly unable to converse over modern music or movies.  Finding beauty in grainy black and white images,  his greatest aspiration was to win over his leading lady.

Katherine had long brown hair, lucid eyes, and a smile that was always hiding in the corners of her mouth.  He thought that all girls wanted to be treated like ladies, but she was the only one (in color) who seemed to deserve it.  She was (of course) also popular and ran with the same crowed who taunted him.  But he knew she was different.

When the boys would beat him up and leave him to cry, she would often hang back to apologize for them or make sure he was okay.  However, the last time they left him there, she made no amends for their behavior.  She hung back, but only to say, “Com’on Edwin, why don’t you just stand up for yourself already?”

As he watched her walk away through glassy eyes, he resolved that something must be done.  He was desperately in love with her, and as that one sentence fell from her lips, Edwin seemed to lose all hope of ever having the chance to treat her like she deserved.

He didn’t hear a word anyone said the rest of the day.  Endless internal monologues led him to realize it was not his tormentors that he was so afraid of per se, but of the pain they inflicted.  Yes, that was it!  He suffered their insults and had grown accustomed to them…that was easy to ignore…it was the pain of each beating that he feared. Compared to them he was skinny and weak, something to be tossed around….but if he could just find a way to stop himself from feeling pain, what would there be to fear?

Last year his science class had read an article which mentioned that the human body could build up a tolerance to cyanide by gradually eating apple seeds, which contain a small amount of the chemical.  If his body was capable of this feat, why couldn’t it build a tolerance to pain?  It was simple – he would build until pain ceased to exist, and then he could take them on – there would be nothing to stop him.

And so it was on that first day after he began his plan that his hopes were so high.  Yet when the taunts flew once more, Edwin knew the pain was coming. He sank back within himself, said nothing, and got beat up.  His eyes met hers, both full of disappointment.  He longed to tell her everything he felt, to present her pedestal to her and watch the smile slowly emerge to a full peal….fade out.

That night he continued his plan, again sneaking into the kitchen at night, sterilizing the razors and cutting his arms.  The blurs grew in number as he added small cuts to his calves as well.  This continued for several weeks and began to include other excruciating tortures.  However, it was working.  Tears no longer welled up in his eyes every time he sliced his skin.  There was no longer any hesitation to drive the razors deeper or longer, he had nearly conquered pain.

At school things had remained the same.  He knew the way to do things was in the most dramatic presentation possible, as it would bring the most satisfaction to the audience.  And so he had continued to remain silent and allow them to beat him up.  His eyes regularly met hers, now both clear as day – the hidden smile would soon be his.

III.

It was the final night of the plan. While it appeared that any resemblance of pain had departed his body, Edwin had to make sure.  Cuts were liberally applied to toes, thighs, back, and chest, with the deepest reserved for under his fingernails.  After tending the wounds with medical precision, he took a deep breath – no pain.  With a glance over to Basil, Edwin wrapped his right hand tightly around the middle finger of his left hand, and with one sharp move snapped the bone in two.  The blurs had all disappeared.  It was complete.

IV.

Walking to his locker the next morning, Edwin knew himself to be truly fearless.  In predictable fashion they waited, deeply mired in groupthink.  All hesitation had ceased from Edwin’s step.  A sly hardness crept into his lips as he made direct eye contact with Katherine.  This was followed by the usual unimaginative insults, followed by the unimaginative beating orgy.

But this time things were to be different.
From his usual position on the tile, he watched them walk away laughing.  Here was his perfect dramatic opening.  With a sharp snap, Edwin jumped to his feet, yelling, “You can’t hurt me anymore!”  A wave of identical purple jackets turned in unison.  Having fully captured their attention,  Edwin held up his left hand and made a fist with his unbroken fingers.

Jeremy, their leader, spoke, “Look at this kid!  I think he‘s beginning to enjoy it.  Is this the only time anyone will touch you?”
Another chimed in, “Hey guys…we should stop, it’s turning him on!”

Staring directly into Jeremy’s eyes, Edwin embraced the spotlight.  “You are quite a character, aren’t you?  Is your life really so miserable that you need to constantly beat me up while hurling pointless insults to make yourself feel better?  It’s not my fault that once you leave this place you won’t even serve the minor amusement purpose you give to people with nothing better to do on Friday nights than watch you run around in a silly uniform.  Beating me up to distract yourself from this fact is only to delay the inevitable.  Don’t you know the underdog is always the hero? You’ll have to face your meaningless existence eventually, why not begin now?”

Edwin was fully prepared to be on the receiving end of Jeremy’s fist once again, but it was unable to follow through.  As Jeremy had pulled his arm back, Katherine caught it.  “Stop it Jeremy!  Just let this end.”  Jeremy turned to her, a sullen look of betrayal overwhelming his face.

Regaining himself, he hovered over her, “You’re defending this faggot?  You know you can’t ‘turn’ him, they’re born like that.”
Unintimidated, she answered “Do you know how stupid you sound?”
“You want him?” Jeremy said, paused to clear his throat, and spit in Edwin’s face.  “You can have him.”

As the group left, Jeremy shot another look of intimidation over his shoulder, but Edwin couldn’t see anyone around to receive it.  Edwin and Katherine stood alone.  She began, “I’m really proud of you Edwin.  You finally did it.  I had given up on you.”
“I know…that’s what pushed me to stand up to them.  So thank you. Say, do you have any plans tonight?”
Her eyes skipped a beat.  “Well I did…but I think I’m free now.  You want to go to the movies or something?”
“I’d love to.”

Edwin walked her to her first class, staring straight ahead the entire time.  The emotional climax – it was all working out flawlessly, and yet his face remained devoid of anything intangible.  Meanwhile, Katherine’s smile swept into the daylight.  His pace was remained steady and succinct.

V.

With the sun making its last dirge of the day, they met in front of the theater, avoiding the young boys playing guns with branches they tore from a nearby tree.   Despite the many times he had dreamt of this moment, Edwin knew he’d be nervous.  But he wasn’t, not even in the slightest.
The previews had already started, so they took up residence in the first two seats they came across.  During the opening credits her hand found his in the dark, but he didn’t flinch.

Ninety-seven minutes later, as the other teenagers poured out into the sterilized suburban cityscape, Edwin and Katherine walked alongside the crumbling black and white building.  Their path led to an isolated spot beneath an old willow tree.
Proceeding to sit cross-legged, she again began, “Thanks for the movie.  Did you enjoy it?”
“Yes.  I…I believe I did.”
Laughing, she threw her hair back, “You’re so funny!”

Edwin received the signal and, preparing to bring the pedestal to full fruition, went in for the kiss.  Their lips met breathlessly in the moonlight, the only onlooker the old willow branches rustling approval in the spring breeze.  But nothing happened.  At least not for Edwin.

Katherine’s eyes remained closed as she emitted a soft breath and slowly pulled away from him.
He suddenly blurted out, “Something’s wrong.”
She had momentarily lost all sense of anything, mustering a breathy “What?”

“Wrong.  Something is terribly wrong.  Wrong.”  He grabbed her and kissed her again.  And again.  “This is wrong,  this should be wonderful.  But it isn’t anything.  Why?”
“I…I don’t understand.  It was nice, what’s wrong?”

Forcefully pulling her head to his, Edwin kept kissing her over and over as she fought to free herself.  When he finally loosened his grip she screamed, “Stop it!” exclamating it with a slap.  As she got up she yelled “What the hell is wrong with you?” before becoming part of the scenery in the distance.

Edwin remained beneath the branches of the willow.  Everything had gone perfectly according to plan until the kiss.  None of the sensations that should have gone with it occurred.  Nothing occurred at all.

VI.

Arriving at the designated time, Edwin’s father found his son calmly waiting under a tree.

Edwin’s feet slightly hesitated as he pulled himself into the car.
His father, beaming proudly, couldn’t wait – “So how was your first date?  Did you kiss her?”
Edwin studied the patterns in the headrest in front of him.  “I did.  I dreamed about it for so long and it finally happened.”
“Alright!  That’s my boy!”
“It was terrible.  It should have been wonderful.  She slapped me and ran off.”

Once again disappointed, his father paused and said, “Let’s go home.”

They drove home in silence, Edwin watching the moonlight dance on the ceiling.  As they approached the driveway, Edwin spoke, “Can we just keep driving? At least till I fall asleep.  Please?”
“Sure son, sure.”

As they passed the same block for the third time, Edwin’s eyes began to droop, meanwhile, the middle finger on his left hand began to throb.  Curling up in the seat, he examined his hands, turning them over and over slowly.  Suddenly, every one of the hundreds of scars from the past weeks began to bleed.  Edwin smiled and fell into a deep sleep.

-February 2009

– For more about this story, see New old stories: Edwin

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