“Why do they call you Champion,” she said with a smile nuanced by curiosity. Her eyes danced about his figure captured in a shirt too big, shoes too small, and colours all wrong. If one were to look at him from afar as his hand played hide-and-seek with blades of grass caught in the walls of his imagination, one would think he looked like a circus tent. It wasn’t because of the way he was dressed per se, but rather because of the overwhelmingly exuberance he added to each breath. Even here in the cemetery, among the lost names and forgotten nobodies, he was laughing.
“Champion, you say?” He chortled. A bird cooed somewhere in the distance. “Why because Champion is my name.”
She mused on it for a while. “Not in real life it isn’t,” she replied. “No one would ever name their child Champion.”
And she was right about that. Jason Adam Hughson was a real name. The Bronx was a real place. Drug addiction was a real disease. But instead of reality, here was Champion nestled in a bundle of grass and tombstones.
“Ha! Child! Here is my diploma. Here is my birth certificate. Look around. This is my proof.” His hand reached to all the tombstones, gravestones, and monoliths around as if by some flick of the wrist, he could give life to them and allow their stories to break free. With his hand, lives weren’t cemented onto marble. They were cemented onto someone’s heart. Somewhere.
She followed his fingers, gently, slowly, ensuring that each gaze fell on the targets like a sharp shooter. Each one was a bullseye. “Here Lies Jennifer.” “Stay Golden, Billy.” “Resting in peace with his family.” She saw their stories – names she’d never learn, people she’d never see – captured in six words or less, and understood that life can be reduced into two words: the end.
As she gazed out to the infinite layout of his hand, she considered for a second that she may be under-dressed. She was wearing a bathing suit. Perhaps, she figured, she should be wearing a suit. A tremble folded itself over her body. She was being sacrilegious. “Aren’t we acting against morality,” she quickly exclaimed, nearly shuffling to her feet.
But, she stayed put. She calmed down. She trusted him. Trusted his wisdom. Often he had been right. There was that night in tatters – when he had found her. He could’ve said anything with her lying there soaking in blood. He could of walked off. He could of done everything else. Instead, he bent down, brushed her hair, and said, “Don’t worry. We’ll fix those split ends right up.”
Now, in the moment of a much needed moral compass, she would equally trust him. She had no choice – and didn’t want to have one either. His hand fell from the air upon which it balanced. For a second, it appeared as though he was a trapeze artist as his arm dipped and dived into his pocket. She wondered if there was a net to catch him.
As his hand entered into his pocket, he smiled. It was a beaming smile and it seemed to out compete the sun. He turned to face her. Gently. Slowly. Invitingly.
“If you had a chance to ask any question in the world,” he said, “and get the answer to it, what would it be?”
She looked away. This was not the answer she was looking for. In fact, it wasn’t an answer at all. She gave it a seconds thought, though. It was the least she could do. It was the least anyone could do. Think.
Unfortunately, she found herself in a place where there was very little of it. The world. Her city. This cemetery. Here, in the wasteland of tears and screams and regrets and lost nights and a promise of never drinking again and a promise to drink again, she realized that only one question would be worth the answer. It would explain everything.
She swallowed, and whispered, “Why this?” Her hand followed the same invisible path his hand just did. Each tombstone stayed as lifeless as before. Each gravestone remained stagnant – unchanging, always constant. Her hand outlined a map of cracks that could never be repaired, moss that could never be cleaned off, and bodies that could never move again. Essentially, she chronicled the destruction of everything that ever was and in it’s absence, she was asking about the words that were carved ever-so slightly onto marble and stone as if they could defeat their own destruction.
The question made her think back to a time when she asked him, “If the pen is mightier than the sword, why do actions speak louder than words?” That time, he grabbed a pen with another smile, wrote down his name, and asked her if she could hear it yelling.
He didn’t smile this time, though. Instead, he took her hand just as it was about to fall into a pocket filled with gum wrappers, spare change, and an empty lipstick container, and whispered back, “Because that.”
Then, he kissed her.