Fall 2008, Volume 5

Fiction by Justin McFarr

Shattered Beliefs

He sees her at once. Pale skin, almond eyes with a slight upward lift to them, long, raven black hair braided loosely behind her. Just shy of twenty-two, decked out in a knee-high black dress, shapeless, billowing around her five-foot-two-inch frame, Mary Janes strapped to her petite feet. The Japanese girl putting on her best American rave-girl look, the center of his attention.

Patrick stands in the wings of a massive dance floor, lights dim, bodies gyrating, flowing, grooving to the earthquake booms of techno beats spun by a semi-famous London DJ. On Saturday nights the club, known as Toxxic, is a new hangout for the thirty-three-year-old transter. He appreciates the spaciousness, the four separate dance rooms and the three bars that serve outrageously overpriced drinks. He is drawn to the women who come to dance and drink and sweat and sometimes roll, the spread of Ecstasy rampant in the hallways, bathrooms and wherever people have room to stick out their tongues and accept the magic pill like communion. The wafer of a new century.

The smooth, finely sanded floorboards vibrate beneath Patrick's feet as he leaves the outer rim of the dance area and drifts toward the young girl with the bright red lips and Japanese surname. On the crowded dance floor, she moves to her own beat, working against the music, her legs barely lifting off the ground as her arms and torso wrestle with the air. Head down, staring at the tips of her black, patent leather shoes, she appears ethereal, yet strangely self-conscious of her own body, her unique movements.

Patrick stops directly in front of her and as his feet enter her field of vision, she slowly lifts her eyes to meet his. Green- and violet-speckled irises penetrate into her brown eyes, as his mouth parts slightly to reveal perfectly straight, white teeth. She smiles despite herself, pulled out of her grooving reverie by this stranger with a water bottle in his hand. As he holds it out to her, she reflexively grabs it. Cupping her empty hand, he gently places a pill at the palm’s center, resting it on her heart line.

Looking down at the yellow circular dot with a Hello Kitty pattern on its face, she brightens, curious and playful. "What is this?" she asks, her English as broken and choppy as Pacific Ocean waves in rough winds.

"Take it," Patrick responds, his diction slightly garbled—English not as a second language, but one not quite mastered, not quite his own.

He grins, his eyes calm, beatific. She smiles back, pops the pill into her mouth, then chases it down with the five-dollar bottle of water purchased not ten minutes ago at his favorite of the three bars. The water glides down her swan-like neck as she swallows, the "E" traveling into her system, setting up its unit of one, preparing for its attack on her nervous system by way of her brain.

When she finishes washing down Patrick's token of goodwill and replaces the cap on the now half-empty plastic container, he is moving to the rhythm of the music, to the thumping of the bass beats that continue to travel from the floor to his feet, pounding up his legs and throughout his body, forcing him to swing this way, jerk that way, lean to, stretch fro.

The sounds of the music do not penetrate him, the powerful sonic vibrations are what draw him to enter this club, to dance in this bacchanalian atmosphere, this arena of sweat and movement and freedom. She joins him without a word and they ebb and flow with the rhythmic grooves, discovering fresh ways to position their feet, manipulate their arms, rotate their heads.

Thirty minutes later, Patrick pulls back the cuff on his silk shirt, glances at the simple black and white face of his watch, then plants his gaze on the girl's face, awaiting her eyes to find his again. When they do, by mere chance as her head sways slightly heavenward, her pupils are dilated to twice their normal size.

"Are you 'rolling'?" he asks, his voice off-pitch and odd.

She gives no response, but as he watches her body move to the beat of the music, he imagines her under the spell of the drug. He judges her reaction to the ecstasy by his own experiences, sees that she is of the moment, hyper-aware of everything around her, her body weightless, her mind open, free of clutter, devoid of judgment and anger, wrapped up fully in wonder and bliss. He loses himself in this moment of imagination, watches this whirling dervish in a thrift-store wardrobe as her mouth opens, her lips part, her cheekbones arc upward, her tongue darts between her small teeth, her eyes widen and Patrick envisions her flying, floating, grooving, rolling.

He stands idle for a moment, his feet steeled to the floor beneath him, feeling the boom blasts that pour forth from the mountainous speakers on the dance floor; a kindred spirit of the throbbing which emanates from the woofers, tweeters, mid-ranges and sub-woofers hanging suspended from the ceiling. His feet move forward, into her sphere, her influence, and he kisses her. Feels her lips quiver, then yield to his own.

The cab driver is silent, the meter to his right clicking forward with each eighth of a mile, as the car travels through the night and toward her apartment. Patrick and the Japanese girl, Suki, sit snuggled in the back seat, fleeting flashes of light and neon momentarily brightening the stretches of darkness that collect outside their windows. His right hand rests on her thigh as she looks into his iridescent eyes and unveils her story, slowly at first, building and expanding it with enthusiasm, liveliness, verve.

She tells him that she is from Osaka, where as a girl she would sit on the inlet at the reaches of her city and dream of sailing along the Pacific—which she came to refer to as ‘my ocean’—until she reached the California coast and the America beyond. He gets lost in the movement of her lips—the color of pomegranate skin in the rush of streetlamp glare—that beg to be kissed again and again, as she loses herself in the telling of her journey, from the departure of her homeland to the arrival on the shore of Los Angeles. She regales in the memory of her acceptance to the university, her student visa, the two years spent learning English, American culture, history and, of course, music.

Suki talks and talks—of working part-time in order to pay for fashionable clothes, foods that fit her dietary needs, and a small but homey second-floor apartment in Santa Monica—as Patrick deciphers some of what is said, but allows greater amounts to wash over him, the words from her tiny mouth floating past him and escaping into the darkness around them and the ether above.

The cab ride is halfway over when she ceases her monologue and inquires about Patrick’s story, animatedly asks where he’s from, what he’s seen, where he’s going. He smiles at her, squeezes her thigh gently, then presses his lips to hers. When the cab pulls up in front of her apartment complex, they are still kissing.

Inside her tiny apartment, candles burning and shadows dancing on the walls, he makes love to her with manual caresses, deep kisses, a baritone voice that spurs her desires toward their sexual release. Under him, her body jerks, twists, spasms. He feels her fingers wrap themselves around tufts of his hair, her palms clamp to his shiny forehead, until he imagines that the intensity of her orgasm becomes too blinding, too electric for her to stand any more pleasure, any more collapse of her flesh, her essence, her being.

He pulls away from her, slowly, lingering long enough to allow for a gradual descent in her movements, until the aftershocks within her subside. He pulls her fingertips to his lips, moistens them gently, almost lovingly, before releasing her. A lingering kiss on her neck and one word in Japanese.

"Arrigato," he thanks her with a slight bow of the head, then lifts himself to his feet.

At her side, naked and glistening, he drapes the bedsheet over her diminutive, plaster-white frame. She looks up at him, his body illuminated by a sliver of moonlight that forces its way through the slanted blinds of her two-story window.

"You will stay?" she asks.

He shakes his head, a fleck of sadness shimmering in his eyes as they come to rest on her face. Turning to the foot of the bed, he finds his clothes and dresses, soundlessly. Thoughts of what this girl, Suki, could be to him, beyond tonight, creep into his head. He rejects these thoughts nearly as quickly as they are formed, secure in the knowledge that the sex he has just had with this young woman satisfies him on the greatest level of intimacy that he can hope to find. It is simple, there is no reason for explanations, for awkward questions, for a need to have more of him. This encounter, like so many Patrick engages in, ends nearly as quickly as it begins, allowing him to move on to the next one, leaving behind no regrets, no yearnings, no emotional wreckage to consider or confront.

She is speaking, speaking to him, from the head of her bed, the sheet wrapped about her now like a shield.

"—don't like me?" she says, as he looks up.

Patrick's eyes focus on her lips, their movement as the words are formed. His mind fills in the blanks of what she says, reading clearly the vowels, but sometimes losing the consonants that get lost behind her small, crane-white teeth, or garbled by her scarlet tongue. The room, for him, is filled with a deathly silence. No sound penetrates his auditory nerve, the result of an accident when he was barely fifteen years old, one which has dictated every decision, every action of his life—including this very moment—ever since.

"You don't want phone number?" she mouths, clearly hurt and confused. The words, he knows from the memory of his own experience, echo in her own ears, yet all he can hear is a distant hum, a static backdrop of empty noise. The meaning of her question enters his consciousness by way of his eyes, years of laborious training enabling him to interpret the words shaped by the lips, routing themselves from his retinae to his brain.

He is suddenly reminded of all that came after the car accident, the night his passenger side airbag deployed and shattered both his ear drums. The next morning followed the brutal night, the on-call surgeon from the emergency room botching an attempt to minimize his damage and instead worsening it, making the loss of hearing permanent and irreversible. He relives the shock of it, the faces of his mother—who was in the driver’s seat at the time and suffered only a few bruises—and father—who had told her time and time again not to drive at night without her glasses—anguished and incredulous, their hearts forever mangled by the current state of their only child.

Patrick sees himself as that teenage boy, forced to cope, to continue, to live his life with the forced absence of its sounds, its songs, its whispers and its whines. The days and long years after the accident he recalls, while standing not in Suki’s studio apartment surrounded by her trinkets, oversized pillows and framed poster reproductions of impressionist paintings, but lurking in the recesses of his younger self’s mind, where the walls are streaked with blood and the stench of sorrow fills every pore and crevice. The images rush by at such speed that Patrick is forced to grab hold of mere fragments of memory. These are not events in their entirety, but flashes of occurrences from his past, his pain.

He witnesses feeble attempts to join a community of the deaf, their demands on him unwieldy, unwonted. He feels the sting of their rejection, the girls and women impatient with his progress, repelled by his neediness, his strong desire to be accepted and normalized by whatever means available. He chooses defeat over perseverance, devotes his time and energy to reading lips over learning sign language, attempts to reclaim his normalcy in the world, the community, he knows best. He does his best to fit in, to belong, to the past life he once knew and flourished in, the life of noise and clamor, music and majesty, but he fails time and again. Instead, he straddles both worlds, fluent in neither one’s language and culture, an outsider whose lack of understanding deepens and expands, until he is untethered, lost to others and to himself.

This is when, if he were honest with himself, if he allowed for a deeper analysis of his hurt and loss, the thoughts of defeat and self-sabotage began in earnest. At this point—in his late teenage years when thoughts hold unbelievable power, unimaginable sway over how one sees oneself, how one views one’s place in the comings and goings, the workings of everyday life among one’s own kind—the thoughts gained power. The doubts formed, grew until they molded a man-child full of self-pity, self-hatred, worthy of little—if anything at all.

The thoughts manifested themselves most destructively whenever his desire for companionship, for a lasting bond with a woman, would surface. In his twenties, Patrick made emotional connections with women—Agatha, Tawny, Nadine—who appeared at first blush to accept his deficiencies, his aural damage, but who would eventually grow tiresome of life with a man so consumed by what they simply saw as hurdles to overcome but what he saw as unscalable roadblocks. And when each woman had given as much as their sense of self-respect and self-preservation could handle, they left him to wallow on his mountain of misunderstanding and continue to feed the thoughts of doubt and despair to his inner voice of deceit.

The thoughts fade, then vanish completely, and Patrick returns to this moment, in the studio apartment of a young Japanese girl named Suki who comes all the way from the bay of Osaka, across the ocean of the Pacific.

“You don’t want phone number?” he remembers her saying only a moment ago. He finishes dressing, ambles over and sits beside her on the bed. His right arm brushes against her covered breasts as his hand tilts upward, fingers traveling through her straight, raven-black hair.

"I do," he says, a fleck of sadness lurking behind his eyes. His lips widen in a calming, comforting smile, pulling her eyes to the reassuring sanctity of it.

She reaches past him, to the single drawer in her nightstand, removes a small pad of paper and a ballpoint pen. She positions the pad sideways, writes her name using block letters, dots a dainty "i" in the middle of the page before recording the ten digits of her phone number below. It is a ritual he has grown accustomed to observing, yet one he is powerless to stop no matter how many times it is performed.

She hands him the slip of paper, which he graciously accepts and tucks it into the left side pocket of his leather jacket, resting a few feet away on a small wicker chair. He repositions himself onto the bed, across from her, pulling the coat onto his lap. Impulsively, seized by a fresh wave of Ecstasy-fueled elation, she throws her arms around his neck. The sheet drops and her naked breasts press against his silk shirt, her mouth finds his and their tongues caress one another, storing memory of sensation and recognition for a time when their mouths may meet once again.

The kiss, piquant, fervent, searing and immediate, leisurely dims in vigor and their lips part—he intuits with undeniable certainty—for the last time. He walks to the door, opens it and steps out to the interior hall of the apartment complex.

"Call me," she yells out to him, but, with his back to her, the words drift past him, lost, meaningless.

As he exits the main door of the building, his hand reaches instinctively into the jacket pocket where the piece of paper with the girl's phone number lay folded in two. He removes it, draws it to his face and rips it in half. He stares at the paper, symbol of a continuing union, and a wave of possibility rushes through him, like a brief, powerful tsunami, before the feeling washes to shore and disappears. He crumples the torn, empty promise into a jagged ball and shoves it into his front pants pocket.

A small, hidden part of his mind—the distant cousin of his emotional tsunami and the fabled voice of reason that still exists deep within—struggles to be acknowledged, despite all of his attempts to poison and destroy it with specious beliefs and cunning rationalizations. The struggle is brief, muffled by his righteous assurances that despite his own near-dormant desires for more than what he gets, he will never, truly, get what he wants.

And so, with the clatter of false hope and distorted truth silenced, he drifts into the night, completely unaware of all the city noises, the sound of his shoes padding on the concrete street, the whishing of his trouser legs rubbing against one another as he walks. He only registers the persistent sound of an endless loop of thoughts in his head, telling him that this is who he is and to want more is unrealistic, irrational, impossible.

And he believes that sound, because it is the only sound he hears.

BIO:   Justin McFarr is a recent graduate of University of California, Los Angeles, with a B.A. in English and is currently in the process of applying to M.F.A. programs for 2009. His work has appeared in Scribendi Magazine, Flask and Pen, AlienSkin Magazine, and on the Controlled Chaos blog. He is currently enrolled in Frank X. Gaspar's novel writing course at Long Beach City College.