[Note: This is a novel being presented in installments, one chapter per week, every Friday, from May 4 to August 24, 2012. The full novel will be published in its entirety in September 2012.]
Jonathan stood waiting for the bus he needed to catch to get to work. He was running a bit late this morning and was worried that he had missed the last wave. It might be another ten or fifteen minutes before the next rush of buses came. Standing on the street next to him were the same characters he always saw in the morning. It seemed when he was running late they were running late, when he was on time they were on time. The odd occasion he was early, sure enough he’d recognise at least a few faces. There was the really cute redhead who never made eye contact. Jonathan didn’t know why she never made eye contact with him. Perhaps she was shy. Perhaps she was a snob.
-I don’t think she’s a lesbian.
Much better, Jonathan.
-If she is, that’s not the reason she does not make eye contact. Lots of lesbians will make eye contact with a man. We mustn’t generalise.
You really are beginning to evolve.
-Thanks. I didn’t think those things before with any seriousness. Usually it was said with irony or some facetiousness.
Well, you have a crappy way of showing it, sometimes.
-Hey, now, I will have you know…wait, I see what you did.
Also waiting at the bus stop on a daily basis was an older gentleman who carried a walking stick. Jonathan didn’t have too many thoughts on him.
-He walked in to me once.
Oh, right, fine, I will mention that. One time, when Jonathan was about to board the bus, the man with the walking stick pushed himself past Jonathan and hit him in the leg with the end of his stick. Aside from that, Jonathan didn’t have too many thoughts about the man with the walking stick.
On the bus, after a few more stops, there were always the same passengers. Jonathan enjoyed observing each of them and trying to note particular characteristics about them. There was one man Jonathan thought looked like an engineer in his early fifties, the kind of fellow who was just going through the motions until retirement. Jonathan always tried to see what books the engineer was reading. It was usually horrible pulp. Some of the man’s favourites included Star Wars novels and other light science fiction fare. It wouldn’t have surprised Jonathan to learn that the man attended comic book conventions or Jedi training courses. He looked like the kind of man who had come to realise that his daily life was just one long Dilbert strip and in an effort to rejuvenate himself had gotten back in to what he enjoyed in his university days. Jonathan could appreciate the man’s fantasies, but didn’t like how close to his own reality they struck. Then there was the hipster doofus masquerading as a young professional. He wore ties, but Jonathan thought, just by looking at them, that those ties were worn with the greatest amount of irony possible. This guy looked like one of those people who was a consummate professional at work, who always said the right thing, met his deadlines, and was the first in line to cut up and distribute the cake on a co-workers birthday. But, man, he was only doing it as a joke. Thirty five years later on his retirement, he’ll get the gold watch and smile and say thanks, and look sad, then retreat to his dream house and live out the rest of his days, but only ironically. He also liked to wear Ray-Bans. There was the young girl who seemed to, no matter what the weather forecast was, wear a thin, low cut top. Jonathan wouldn’t feel so bad about the situation, but he couldn’t quite estimate her age. She had one of those faces that she could be anywhere from thirty-five to thirteen. Erring on the side of caution, Jonathan only took a quick peek when it didn’t involve straining his neck. There was also a woman that Jonathan recognised from his office building and saw on a daily basis walking down the corridors. He was not sure if they had met before, but he always felt awkward when he saw her and kept his eyes from making contact with hers.
-I’m not a lesbian, either.
Funny guy, Jonathan, you are a funny guy.
It seemed no matter when he took the bus, Jonathan recognised faces. Sometimes it was someone he could pinpoint exactly, like the hipster professional, and other times it was that vaguely familiar face. The kind of person that if you didn’t know any better you would think they were the same film extras used in every scene, only wearing different clothes, and maybe a slightly different nose. Jonathan thought the word was filled with people like that. If this world was really all created for his purpose, these people were no more significant than props for another scene.
-I’m not that self-centred, am I?
You are, but that’s okay, Jonathan. I think that most people have those thoughts whether they want to admit it or not. It’s a dangerous thing to do, to leave them devoid of any meaning. That’s partially why we meet them, we put a name to their face, and we make them real to us. Once we do that it makes it harder to hurt them. It makes it harder to be selfish. We can try to walk away, but once we’ve given meaning, it’s nearly impossible to strip away.
-That’s why it hurts.
Yeah, it does. That’s why no matter how hard we try to say that we’ve moved on from past relationships; it’s never really going to be over. Scars remain. Something that meant a great deal to us at one point can never truly mean nothing, the absence of anything, later. That’s just too hard for us to process. Instead we get these scars, even if we know that it’s better to move on.
-Like with Eliza.
And every other girl that haunts you, Jonathan.
-Do they feel the same way?
Don’t let this inflate your ego any, but yes. Every person on the planet carries the weight of the past.
-I thought you said this was just a story, made up of words.
It is, but you’ve given those words meaning and you can’t ever take that away.
The Dream House
Jon sat at the internet café computer terminal and tried to type away the email as quickly as possible, knowing that his time was running low. He didn’t have any more change and didn’t feel like having to go break another bill just to get a few minutes more. His whole trip had been like that. Rushing from town to town, taking lots of pictures, stopping to make sure he sent off a postcard from every town, and sending the flirtatious emails back and forth with Veronica. Their time together had come and gone, but Jon found himself pulled back in by cryptic messages. “It would be so great to see you when you get back. I think that I’m able to drive in to see you that weekend.” Jonathan was stopping in his university town before he went back to his hometown for the summer. He would be there for almost a week and Veronica was promising to drive down for the weekend. What else could it mean, but that their fleeting moments in time were drawing short so that every one mattered much more than the last and the next would only be so much more special. Jonathan worked himself in to a mental lather as he contemplated the possibilities. There surely was something between Veronica and him; Jonathan knew it. Sparks began to fly whenever he saw her. There just never seemed to be an end to that old flame. It was a dangerous game to play because Jon knew that he was always setting himself up for expectations that may never come to pass. There might always be disappointment. Jonathan thought that things could never be over until they were over. He had heard that in “Love in the Time of Cholera”, Marquez has his protagonist sleep with as many women as possible until the time comes when he can be with his true love. The pain would never disappear, but with each conquest the protagonist would feel slightly better, if only for a little while. Jonathan was hoping it wouldn’t come to that. He alternated in his mind about whether Veronica was his true love that he was meant to wait for all eternity for, or whether she really belonged in the past and that another, truer true love was out there for him. The most haunting thought that crossed his mind was the possibility that there was no such thing as a true love, pre-destined for each of us. Or, in actuality, the most haunting thought that crossed his mind was the possibility that there was no such thing as a true love, pre-destined for Jonathan. What if the entire world was meant to find that other person that they could call their soulmate and Jonathan was meant to wander the planet lonely for the rest of his existence? Sitting in the empty Berlin internet café made it seem more than possible that the darkest option was the one that would lead Jonathan for the rest of his days.
At the same time, there was an email in front of him that laid open the door to that place Jonathan’s mind could most comfortably go. In his mind, the easiest place for happiness was something Jonathan could imagine without much difficulty. It was a place filled with images, mostly some scattered from his past and made to look like a possible future. When he thought of a dream house, it was a combination of the childhood homes he had grown up in, memories of lottery dream homes his family had made him walk through, and real estate photos he had seen in magazines and on websites. Sometimes when he couldn’t fall asleep, Jon would try to construct his dream house in his mind. He was past counting sheep. Jon would start with the basement and build from the foundation up, even in a dream. He would think of the dream basement that he wanted. It would have a bar in the back, with a pool table, and the walls would be green or dark blue, something that gives a classic English pub style look to his cave. There would be an entertainment system setup. Jon imagined a big television, the latest and greatest home audio and video, whatever that would be then. No matter how far he thought off in to the future, his imagination for the technology in his dream house looked a lot like whatever the current latest and greatest home audio and video systems looked like. He was a romantic sentimentalist and not a technological futurist. He couldn’t predict what things were going to look like, so in his dreams, the pleasant future looked like an idealised version of the past. He would have nice leather couches that also looked a lot like the ones Jon had seen walking past furniture stores. The future he thought of was not about space pods or hover sofas, it was about a domestic life that he wanted a great deal. In the basement there would be a guest bedroom and an ensuite bathroom. Jon didn’t want to say so at his young age, but there would have to be a place for his parents to stay when they visited for extended periods. Three days would be nice, but Jon knew at some point they would be old and would need to stay longer. Journeys start taking a toll the more you take and the farther the destination. Jon’s journey was already beginning to feel heavy and he was twenty-one. Jonathan would build the rest of his home, the longer he stayed awake, and the more detail he would give. The main level would be finished in the craftsmen style. Jonathan imagined neutral wall colours and basic white doorframes and moulds. It would have some of the modern touches that Jon liked, but still feel warm and welcoming to visitors, keeping a bit of country cottage. Hard lines and cold materials were the traits of modernism and Jon liked some of the simplicity and minimalism that came with that, but too much just seemed to reinforce his bleak loneliness. Jon would welcome the feminine touches of his future wife, but for now, in his own mind, the dream house was just filled with his own ideas of what a softer touch to décor might look like. He would think of things that in his mind he knew were not the exact things that he must have in a dream home, but they were placeholders for the imagined things that he thought somewhere out there his future wife was awake at night trying to get herself to fall asleep with. Could it be possible?
Jonathan wondered whether Veronica had these same thoughts. It was hard to predict what a woman’s imagined dream home looked like. Veronica’s apartment had been very bohemian bourgeois, if that description made any sense. She had moved in to a one-bedroom apartment in the university town and made it in to something truly unique for her. The walls were covered with vibrantly coloured paints. Her bedroom was a bright green, splashed across the wall, and drying with varied thickness, some patches revealing spots where either the wall disagreed with the choice of colour, or perhaps not enough primer was used. The tiny living room was a dark burgundy, and filled with one long cloth covered sofa. It was a cosy apartment, the kind of place you could imagine a couple art students sitting around in, discussing the finer points of Marlowe, Malraux, and More, while drinking seven dollar bottles of uncategorised red wine. Jonathan remembered coming over and being drawn in to the warmth of the apartment, that feeling subsidised by Veronica’s homemade pâté chinois. The way she made it evoked thoughts of black and white photographs and long flowing dresses. Sitting in the sunny yellow kitchen, eating a slice of shepherd’s pie, Jonathan would look around and wonder if this was it. It could have been, Jon thought, it could have been, if it hadn’t have been for both of us. That’s the silly, ridiculous thing about relationships. We want to believe that it’s because the person we’re with is not meant for us that things fail. It’s harder to imagine that perhaps we aren’t meant for ourself. The most destructive force in Jon’s life was Jon. He knew it. He suspected that every disappointment along the way also knew it. They probably thought if only this guy could get himself together he’d finally be something decent. Jonathan was certain that he was decent, and that was his first flaw.
Jonathan sat in the internet café and typed as quickly as he could with the foreign keyboard. Letters were hard to predict where they would be. Jon wanted his stupid, inefficient, and familiar QWERTY. He was excited with the possibility that Veronica would meet with him once he returned to Canada. There was an eagerness he read in her words that Jon hoped meant as much as he thought they did.
In the upstairs of his dream home, when he couldn’t fall asleep, Jonathan would imagine three bedrooms, two bathrooms (one an ensuite), and a reading room/office. He thought that whomever he would end up with in the future would appreciate having their own personal library and a space to read without distraction. He knew he would. Jonathan thought of Veronica and her boho books, found for a dime at a garage sale, resting on shelves with many of the brand new hardcovers Jonathan bought. It would be an expansive and eclectic collection, theirs, and Jon dreamt of waking up in the middle of the night and walking down the hall from his bedroom to the library. A wingback chair and a thick anthology of short stories would meet his insomnia. Jonathan imagined waking up covered by a blanket, left there by Veronica. Those were his dreams.