I began to notice some common themes in my writing, both in what's kept here and what's left for my harshest critic alone. Chief among these commonalities seemed to be that every story of bitter or broken romance I told worked out in entirely the same way: man in love->gets girl->shit goes awry->exit girl->man in reflective woe. In attempting to get my writing chops back up to snuff, then, I wanted to write something different.
Oh wait, no, that's a lie. I actually just really liked the image of a guy smoking and reading a letter in a bathtub from Franny and Zooey, so I wanted to use it. That, and once I started writing, the idea of creating a sort of anti-Gatsby was entertaining to me. Oh well, maybe some day I'll actually start trying to get better. Maybe. Anywho, enjoy.
Also, I actually have a title, hilariously gay as it may be, for this one. New things, I tell ya, new things. 'S called "Dandelion Bracelets"
He spent his nights those days looking out over the city's glowing skyline in the sort of melancholy way one looks at the photo of an ex-girlfriend. It had been his once, all of it. Perhaps not tangibly—he'd never been given the key to the city or owned the deeds to any plot of land—but, damn it, it had all been right there, right in the palm of his hands. Sometimes, in the twilight, he'd hold his hands out towards the symphony of lights and think of Gatsby. Is this how he was supposed to have felt? Like everything in the world is shallow and pointless except the things you can't have? The things you almost had?
Only weeks ago—and had it really only been that long?—he'd reached out for his own faint green light. And, for awhile, he held that light, that single manifestation of unkempt desire in his hands. Then, after years of trying, years of struggle, years of playing the game together, she walked out. With her gone, his life seemed, not to collapse, but to slowly and unavoidably wither away around him. In the seven long days of complete radio silence from her, he could think about nothing else. Obsession in it's least adulterated from. And then, when that too ended, there was nothing left but nights that dragged on emptily, save for hours spent gazing off into the sea of terrestrial stars.
On the night in question, however, he had taken a break from his nightly staring contest with the ghosts of What-Could-Have-Been, the ones that resided exclusively in far away lights, supped only on the finest of broken dreams, and listened just to the idle delusional banter of dreamers. Instead, he had drawn the shades, filled up his bathtub, filled the room with soft blues, and sank into the steaming water with a cigarette in his mouth and the first nail in his young man's coffin in hand.
It was a letter, the ratty condition of which was evidence to how frequently it had been read. The pages were torn, dog-eared, and re-folded so many times that the words written on the crease lines were now perfectly illegible. Of course, to the one who had poured over every word of the missive so many times that was immaterial; he knew most of it by heart at this point, anyway.
Before even daring to start reading again, however, he set the letter on the tile floor beside the tub and fetched the lighter from his discarded pants pocket. The unbelievably tacky and ostentatious gold plated Zippo spat out a weak flame that flickered dangerously in his breath. It had been one of his first stupid impulse buys after the money started trickling down to him, purchased for the express purpose of showing everyone that he had come up in the world. Now, the burnt out lighter was little more than a symbol and constant reminder of exactly where he was in life.
Taking the letter back in his still dry hands, he absentmindedly flicked his cigarette, the ash tumbling down into his bath water. He took a deep breath in, his eyes closed in a futile attempt to clear his mind, before reading.
“To My Most Dear John Mallory,
I fear it has been ages since you've heard from me, and, worse yet, I fear you may think something dreadful has happened to your most lovable of investments of time and energy. But, really, you need not worry your big handsome mug over it too much, dearest, because I assure you I am quite alright. Well, that is to say I'm in good health and in rather good spirits, though whether or not I'm alright is one of those 'eye of the beholder' things. Mumsy seems to think I've gone completely and wonderfully bonkers, and Daddy has said little to me but 'Are you sure you're alright' for the last week or so, but now I'm afraid I'm just running in circles.
But now where to begin? I knew exactly what to tell you only hours ago, but, wouldn't you know it, my words have failed me. See, I was out buying flowers for my room at that lovely little corner shop a few blocks from our summer home—you know, the one that had that stuffed bear as big as a truck in the front window you said, ever so sweetly, that you'd buy for me some day when you had the money—when the florist's granddaughter came skipping in. Not running or walking, mind you, but actually skipping. That's important. She was a delightfully adorable little redhead, complete with pigtails, freckles, blue plaid skirt, and even missing buck teeth. I sometimes wonder why it is that little kids always seem to lose their two front teeth at the same time, giving them the distinct giant gap in their smile that comes with young age. Anyways, this girl of no more than eight or nine comes skipping into the store, looks up at me with my vase of flowers, cocks her head to the side in curiosity and says, “Lady, why are you buyin' flowers?”
Her grandmother seemed quite ready to scold her on the spot and send her paying customer on her way, but I waved her off and smiled at the little girl. I told her that the flowers were awfully pretty, and I'd love to have them to brighten up my room. The girl looked back at me, her look having shifted from confused to downright puzzled. “Buuuuuut,” she said, “Shouldn't your boyfriend get your flowers for you instead? My boyfriend gave me this and I love it.” She extended her wrist to show off her present, a bracelet made of tied dandelions.
I suppose I should have said something back, but the best I could do was shrug. Really, I wasn't sure how to explain why you weren't buying the flowers for my room, why they weren't a romantic surprise waiting for me when I got home. Looking at her, I started to think that maybe it's only natural that the healthiest relationships are only possible when we're that young, before we learn too much and want more than dandelion bracelets and kisses on the cheek when no one is looking. It's a terribly sad thought, don't you think?
While I was walking home, I wondered what it would have been like if we had met as children? I suppose we were both probably very different then, but still, I can't help but think about it. Would you have seen me at the playground and thought I was cute? Would you have been the sort to tease me to show me you liked me, or would you have just come right out and say it, maybe stealing a quick kiss? Would you have left your friends to come play on the swings with me? Maybe we would have eaten lunch together, sharing a pack of fruit snacks, you eating only the purple and orange ones because I didn't like them.
But then, I feel like you know the answer, don't you? I'm sure if you think about it, you could probably say for certain all the cute little things you would have done that would have won my adolescent heart over just as quickly as you did with my adult heart. And so we both know that, even then, I would have been getting my own flowers, or picking my own dandelions, I guess. And I probably would have been giving you the bracelet, because what else did I have to give you then?
I guess I'm getting off track again. It's funny, because when I set out to write you, it was just going to be maybe a page, maybe even only the front of the paper, too. I knew exactly what I wanted to say, but, testament to how hard I've fallen for you, I just can't really do it. So now I'm rambling, and I suppose you'll have to forgive me for that.
It's funny, because I never would have had to write this if it hadn't been for our last date. I never would have realized, never would have connected the dots. So, thank you, I guess. If you hadn't cared so little as to forget our anniversary, I never would have gotten angry enough to come looking for you. If you hadn't slipped up just quite so badly, I wouldn't have been that determined to find you. I mean, really, going out and partying on the anniversary of our third year together after making a date with me? You spent so long playing your game flawlessly that for awhile I thought you just wanted to get caught. I figured maybe you felt bad. It seemed possible you knew you were wrong but had just come too far, so you wanted me to walk in, just in time to see your drunken make-out with whoever that blonde was.
It's not true though, is it? Everyone makes mistakes, and yours was just getting a little too cocky, a little too complacent. You knew you had me so very solidly that you thought you were bulletproof. Of course, everyone thinks that at least a little bit, right up until the first time they get shot.
Honestly, you'd think I'd be mad. One would suppose that having been so completely foolish for you would have me brokenhearted. Daddy looked truly shocked when I stopped him from marching out of the house, his shotgun in hand. His little muttered mantra of “Little fucker...Should know I'm rich enough to kill him and get away with it” was and is still just kind of entertaining. I guess I'm not angry because I'm just simply too impressed.
I really am, you know. You had me buying into a real fairy tale. Horrendously attractive and popular guy meets quiet and nerdy girl and is inexplicably lovestruck. She had never been asked out before, so when this Man With Everything a Girl Could Want says, “Would you like to come to dinner with me tonight,” she is both shocked and skeptical. But her skepticism is defeated, when he is completely, earnestly in love. He plays her guitar, plays the right movies while they cuddle up on her couch, and plays the perfect gentleman in front of all her friends and family. She falls for him, and so do those same friend and family. They make love, her first time, and there are fireworks, actual fireworks bursting in the distance (From the independence Day celebration, but still). They move into a lavish downtown condo, a full year's worth of rent paid in advance by her father, he gets a job more lucrative than he could have imagined, also courtesy of her father, they attend country club balls together, and so on.
I was really looking forward to the happily ever after to finish that story, but I guess that's because I didn't hear the whole thing. Really, you just knew I was from a wealthy family and you wanted to make it big. You played your part, the hopelessly love-stricken romantic, perfectly, and got exactly what you wanted. Money, I'm guessing, or maybe something less concrete like status or power. For all I know, you might have played me like a fool just to say you did. Whatever your goal was, you put in the work for years, and you got it.
Of course, the way I hear it, most of it's gone now. Daddy put the call in to ensure you were fired before I'd even finished the story, and most, if not all, of our mutual friends hate you with the same sort of passion now. The cash flow from my family's run dry, too, and since you don't have a job, I'm guessing money's getting awfully tight.
And yet, what you still have—the clothes, that lighter, and the apartment—I don't want taken from you. The TVs, the home theater set-up, and all of that other fancy electronic nonsense I purchased for us are already collecting dust back here, and that's fine by me, but I want you to have the things you still do, the spoils of your conquest that still remain.
In part, if I must be honest (and I really see no point in stopping now), it's because part of me is still in love with you. If truly the heart can be so foolish, mine is for you. But more than that, I want the hollow trappings of your short lived success over that gullible heart to stick with you. Every day you spend alone in our home, or with whatever cheap company you bring around to keep the illusion of importance around yourself, I want you to see and remember how empty it all is. While we were together, while you had a girlfriend who loved you dearly and all the money you could ever need, you probably felt incomplete because you still didn't have enough. Now that it's done, before you move onto your next all-too-willing fool, you're no better than a snake, stripped of its limbs for its sins and forced to crawl around in the dirt.
Look at me, I'm rambling again. I suppose my point at the end of it all is that I'm really not angry at you. I suppose you are the first person I've ever honestly been able to say I've loved, and also the first I've honestly been able to say I've hated entirely, but I'm not angry at you. The short truth of it is, I feel bad for you. No matter how deeply you've hurt me or how many tears need to still be shed over you, I'll heal in time. But you? This miserable, unhappy, never satisfied person that I've come to know in the last few weeks is who you really are. And so, while everyone reminds me how livid with you I should be, I won't be able to feel anything but sadness for you. Maybe real love does exist, even for us poor excuses for grown-ups. But not for you, John.
Without thinking, John dropped his last cigarette into the water around him, which had grown cold and murky with ash and grime in the time it had taken him to read through the letter four times. He was lost in the search, as he had been every few nights since the letter arrived, for any and every possible opening he had to worm his way back into her good graces. Like a machine, his mind churned out every variation and every wording of every half truth, fabrication, and outright lie he could think of. By now, he knew there were at least a few that had a decent percentage of working; this was, after all, far from his first rodeo.
But every time he opened the letter and completed this bitter ritual, he inevitably folded the letter back up, tossed it aside, and decided against having anything more to do with Lynette Dyson. He told himself it was just good sense. As far as he could tell, being a good con man came down to one very essential skill: Knowing when to cut and run. And this one, a three year investment with relatively little long-term profit, was surely due for his departure.
But was it really that?
John stared down at the cigarette butt floating slowly across its squalid pond. Things were not meant to be so calm. He'd been caught before and knew how this story was supposed to end. His and Lynette's relationship was supposed to go out like a dying star, a massive, violent supernova. When something like this turned sour, it was best to be three counties away before the girl's parents' phone could even ring. But this time, things just fizzled out like a dead sparkler, ghosts of smoke trailing up from a tiny ember. It left a bad taste in his mouth.
The whole affair did, really. He'd come so close, so damn close to having everything he could ever want. A doting wife, all the cash in the world, a nice place, any girl on the side he could want, friends, cars—The Life. The whole city, hell, any city, would have been his for the taking. It was the kind of thing that kept him thinking about trying again, trying to spin things his way and start the game into overtime.
But he just couldn't bring himself to do it.
He pulled the plug and the gray water began slowly draining around him. He
told himself tomorrow, for real this time, he'd go out and start looking for a new mark. Tomorrow, he'd just throw the damn letter away and be done with it. And that stupid lighter too. Yeah, tomorrow he'd hop right back on the track to the top, simple as that. But for tonight—one last night, is all—he'd lay awake and stare at the ceiling, lost in thoughts of how silly children could be and of rings of dead weeds dangling from simpler, happier wrists.