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Essay-a-week

Strawberries

He breathed in the smell of strawberries as his hand hesitantly swayed beyond the rusty rail. It sat there, somewhere between the breathless infinity of below and above, as his fingers clenched into a fist. In a way, he could feel everything that ever was and everything that ever would be rolling over his knuckles. It all sprawled out in front of him. The entire Universe expanded right before his eyes. The past. The present. The future. It felt as though everything was connected in some way by a long chain with no end or beginning. Everything was just that: a chain not defined in time but by moments.

It seemed impossible, he knew this. To see that which could never be seen. To comprehend the incomprehensible. But here he was, a testament of the impossible, evidence that things aren’t hemmed by the cold analysis of logic and rationality. Here he was. A super human. A super hero. A monster of the impossible.

All of it made him smile. Laugh even. For the most part, however, his hard chortle was lost in the sounds of everyday. Cars honked below. Birds chirped somewhere. Ants that were dressed in suits went about their business, always making sure that they were busy, busy, busy. He used to be like that too. Busy. It used to be his motto. A quote from a movie whose name he couldn’t remember and whose actors didn’t matter lingered on his lips now, “Get busy living or get busy dying.” He hoped that there would be less of the former and more of the latter.

From afar, he looked like a man caught in the dream of one day reaching the descending sunset – enamoured by the colours, lost in a world without them. His hands graciously extended toward the never-ending yellow rays, inching closer and closer until they could reach no more and he tiptoed on a hairpin and he began to fall into the very air that was suffocating him. He remembered everything he was told, everything he ever did, and everything he wished he could have done. He remembered her and the fact that his world was now below him. He remembered strawberries. And at that point, the only thing he had time to reach for was the ground.

*

White streamers floated around them like snowflakes yet all he could do was make a quip about how he’d rather use his tongue on a pretty girl than catch one and watch it melt. That’s how he met her again. Well, heard her first. A laugh. Innocent. Suggestive. She whispered, I don’t taste very good, unless you like fish. At the time, he was drunk and she was fantastic. Fuck. She was unique. That was something special in those days.

When they first met, there was no flirting. No innuendo. Certainly no streamers. Jump back a lifetime ago and one will find themselves on the first day of University where their bags are heavy from useless contraptions that would never leave their package and the burden of hopeless anticipation. For most of the ride to the campus, Daedal’s parents nagged about this and that. “Make sure you always have your drink on hand.” “Don’t forget to use condoms.” “Study, study, study.” “Oh honey. You’re so grown up now. I remember when you were just a baby, so cute, so naïve. Now look at you, Daedal…”

It’s not that he wasn’t listening. Nor was it a premature form of nonchalance. He just couldn’t help but imagine the brave new world in front of him. The opportunities. The chances. The ability to change the world with a piece of paper. It meant so much to him even though his father said University was a place where pennies were shined and dollars were dimmed. Maybe Daedal liked being a penny. Although he never told his father, he wanted to tell him that pennies are just as important as anything else. Because with enough of them, a person can amass riches. Or at least that was his two cents on the matter.

Others told Daedal that higher education was a misnomer for nothing more than early alcoholism and unprotected sex. He didn’t believe any of it. Sure, he wouldn’t mind a drink or two. And the sex – who in their right mind would have any problem with that? Though if presented the opportunity, Daedal wouldn’t exactly know what to do. Give him a pair of legs wide open, and he’d feel like he was probing an alien satellite or at the very least, trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

Such thoughts – or as he called them, “avalanches of inadequacy” – rushed into his mind as soon as he entered the main gate of the campus. At the same time, he was giddy with excitement, anxious for what was to come but scared for the very same reason. Yapping on and on, his mother reminded him to call her every night cause she loved him. In a way, he wanted to tell her to shutup, to say that was old enough now, to let her know that he didn’t need her, to not be afraid of the great unknown in front of him, but instead he just said, “Of course. Of course, mom. Love you too.”

*

With freedom comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes lack of freedom. Although somewhat paradoxical, Daedal realized this was true. With his parents long-gone and trekking back to a place he was already forgetting, he could have done anything he wanted. Experienced his first drink. Joined a campus club. Yet he resorted to what he knew: monotony and command. He started to unpack his things, just like his mother told him. He went to buy his textbooks, just like his father would have wanted. He made notes on the first chapters, just like he thought he should. In a way, he barely left home.

The first day was beyond prosaic. All the freedom in the world, and he was stuck reading basic trigonometry. The allure of University and the whispered promises of change were already fading. It was slowly becoming a place described only in the future, not the present. A career path. A goal. Nothing more than years to be forgotten and contemplated after the fact. And Daedal was beginning to hate it.

Knock. Knock.

Stuck in the abyss of unrelenting frustration, Daedal didn’t notice the sound. He was caught up in his own anger. Not at one thing in particular, but his entire scenario. He wished that he wasn’t shy and hoped that one day, he could break free from everything he knew. How this would happen, though, he was clueless.

Knock. Knock.

Why was he so pitiful, such a wimp of a man? Could he even be called a man?

Knock. Knock.

Daedal’s thoughts were eating him whole. He was a waste of space. He was a waste of breath. All and all, he was a waste.

Knock. Knock.

His roommate wouldn’t be coming back in an hour and the window opened just enough and it was certainly high enough. Maybe.

Knock. Knock.

Sometimes in order to change everything you know, you need to open doors and close others. And Daedal, after finally hearing the sound and storming to the door in a truculent fashion, opened his door to find a new world.

*

In a word, she was beautiful; in two, and you’d run the problem of trying to produce the most appeasing sound a mouth could muster. Looking at her, he understood why men went crazy over women. To some, maybe her eyes were too far apart and maybe her nose was a tad crooked. But those little imperfections would make her all the more perfect. In his head, the relationship was already playing itself out. Daedal thought that those imperfections would be the idiosyncrasies described by a history only he would know. She’d tell him her deepest secrets. They’d hold each other’s sweaty hands. Spending two days in her bed, they’d learn to be comforted only by each other and their dreams. She’d witness his suffering, and he’d be there to act as if the weight of the world didn’t bother him. They’d laugh, kiss, dance, discuss, cry, argue, fight, wonder, doubt, ignore, hide, discover and tip toe through everything together. To use the single word that was on Daedal’s mind as he held the door open and she flicked her blonde hair away from her eyes, they’d love.

At that moment though, he didn’t say anything. He wasn’t speechless. Just awestruck. He didn’t want to ruin this – a moment of serendipity no less – by his voice. So he waited. He stared.

“You too, eh?” The first thing she said, and he was already confused. Maybe it wasn’t an understatement that the opposite sex was from Venus.

“Uh. Ya. I mean, probably. Definitely probably.” An ambiguous answer and word vomit combined. Obviously enough, Daedal was no good with girls.

“Ha. We have all the freedom in the world, all the freedom we’ve yearned for after years of crap, and we’re chained to familiarity. That’s some screwed up stuff, if you mind my French.”

She giggled, pointing to his textbook.

To her, Daedal assumed that he looked like the greatest nerd ever. He had to say something smart or cool or whatever. He had to say something, at least.

“Maybe freedom isn’t free,” Daedal was already beginning to sweat.

“What?” She retorted quickly.

“I mean, what are you paying? You know. To go here. How much?”

“Oh. Enough. At least enough to reconsider once or twice.” Her eyes floated away from him for a while. Perhaps she was imagining a hard battle fought to attend a University. Perhaps she thought of the inevitable burden of the future. Or maybe she knew that to have enough, one needs to have more than enough first. What Daedal would never know is that she, this girl whose name would be heard in only a whisper, dropped out of University once because of clinical depression. He would never know that she came back in the hopes that her darkest nights would one day yield the brightest sun. And he would never know her wrists were a landing strip for metal until it was much, much too late.

“Me too, although I’ve always wanted to go here. That’s what I’m saying. We all pay a price to be free. Sometimes it’s a few dollars. Sometimes it’s a life. Every time, though, we pay with precious seconds.”

She giggled again. Daedal wasn’t sure what made her laugh, but he knew that it was the sweetest sound ever. Unlike anytime before, his heart skipped a beat.

“Can I come in?”

His heart skipped another.

*

He had no idea what he was doing. A bra was more complicated than quantum mechanics, and she just laughed as his fingers slipped back and forth like an unstable electron, and her kisses tasted like strawberries, and they were both alone together, and he was hoping she’d teach him how to gently breathe, and she wondered if he felt the same about her, and he felt like he was crossing an ocean of worries, and she thought it would be best if they turned off the lights, and he was happy the lights weren’t off because he wanted to remember everything, including her smile, his lumbering fingers tickling spots otherwise unknown, and most of all, her gasp.

*

He didn’t want to wake her, but he couldn’t sleep. Something was bugging him: Daedal didn’t even know her name. In fact, he knew nothing about her. Trying to recollect the memories of the night, he realized that it had all happened so fast. His mind poured over each and every detail of the night:

After he had opened the door, she walked in and sat on a chair. Her eyes seemed to reach every corner of the room in an instance. At the time, Daedal didn’t know what to say. So he let the silence crawl until every space and crevice until maybe she would feel awkward and leave. With a nervous smile, that’s what he was hoping for. It was a mistake to invite her. Who knew? She could be a killer or a creep or both. Paranoia was getting the better of him. Sweat dripped from his forehead. His hands began to tap uncontrollably.  “They lie, you know.”

Her voice sounded foreign, like an evil spirit in a holy place. He gulped.

“They really do.”

Nervous, and absolutely stupefied, he could only let out a, “Oh?”

“Your poster. There on the wall.” She extended a long finger to the wall nearest his bed where a poster of common comic book heroes hung. Captain America, draped in the star spangled banner, beckoned triumphantly. Dr. Strange floated nebulously, almost inviting the onlooker to experience the wonders of flight. Deadpool, and a whole whack of others, were cloaked in a lifetime of mystery. Daedal found much of his inspiration from these heroes, even if they were made up. They fought the crimes no one else would. They didn’t ask for anything in return. Instead, they did what was right. As a result, most of his life was spent wishing he was a super hero.

Once, Daedal mistakenly thought he was a one. He called himself the Everyday Man. With the powers of everyday, he woke up on the same side everyday, went about the same routine everyday, and did everything the same until the next day began just the same as everyday before it. Maybe it was mediocre compared to the mutant and nuclear monstrosities, but he was happy with being consistent. Certainly, Daedal wasn’t going to fight crime, but at least he’d know that everyday would yield the same result. Everyday would be no different from the last. For him, that was practically like telling the future.

But all super heroes eventually get defeated by a villain. In Daedal’s case, it was old age and the realizations that come with chronology. He learned many were just as mediocre like him and others were similarly happy with that fact. If he had a cape back then, he would have dashed it away. Yet considering it wasn’t in his every day schedule to worry about making one, he just decided to forget about being superbly average.

“It’s a complete farce,” she continued as Daedal flashed back into the present, “All that about the benefit and luxury of being a superhero. I can’t see anything good about it.” Anger nuanced her words. Daedal couldn’t understand what she was talking about or why she was slowly becoming infuriated over a silly poster.

“Think about it. Heroes have to save the world. They sacrifice themselves and in the end, that’s exactly what happens. They all die for some stupid belief. But there will always be another bad guy. There will always be more trouble. Who knows? Maybe the superhero causes the trouble in the first place. Maybe they are the reason that villains exist. And you know what’s the worst part about it? Despite being super human, they fight no better than barbarians. Violence is their only legacy.”

“Uhm…” Daedal’s voice trailed off in an attempt to think about something smart to say back. Sure. Heroes beget villains and villains beget heroes, but in a world characterized by the two sides, people will always pour to the poles. They will always find something wrong or right or whatever, and they’ll flock to it. They’ll believe it. And in the end, they’ll die for it.

“Yet if I could have one power despite that and despite the lifestyle of a hero,” she continued again almost breathlessly, disregarding Daedal’s slow thought process, “I would want the power to make people smile. It’s silly, but happiness is something we all strive for, even those with super strength.”

Daedal couldn’t help but smirk. Maybe she did have the power after all. It wasn’t because what she said was overwhelmingly original. Instead, it was a result of a bitter inner argument between his two wildest dreams: telekinesis or teleportation. Both were virtues of the mind. One involved complete control of everything around oneself; the other allowed the freedom to go wherever one chooses. As a boy, he could never decide between the two.

But after the moment that found himself smiling, Daedal realized something. He didn’t have to choose. It was simple. Everything was right in front of his eyes. Vulnerability. Happiness. This moment with a perfect stranger was anything he could ever ask for. It made him feel special. Super human even. So he said it. He didn’t know why it came out, but it did and he was met with his smile against hers.

“I would want the power to love you completely.”

She looked at him utterly surprised, perhaps shocked, and he told her that if he had teleportation, he would be sure to be by her side no matter what and if he had telekinesis, he’d be unable to control her emotions anyhow. Both would be useless. So he chose the only other thing he knew now: her.

Daedal was told once that he should just get up, travel, and fall in love. Money didn’t matter. Success didn’t either. And Daedal saw this was true in the glimmer of her eye. Super heroes knew this as well. They didn’t do actions just because it was right, although Daedal previously thought this was the case. Instead, they hoped to be loved and to one day, have love themselves. So as he sat there, he understood why heroes saved the beauty queens before anyone else, why they never asked the damsel’s name, and why they always, always, kissed the girl, just as he did five seconds later.

*

If it is going good, expect a shitstorm – she left sometime during the night while Daedal was sleeping. All that remained of her was an imprint like a ghost and a memory of what was. As he combed his fingers over the imprint, pretending he was playing with her elbow, he felt he was looking at the tombstone of one night stands. Unquestionably, she was the best thing that had ever happened to him and it was the one thing he would never have again.

Or so he thought.

*

Streamers still flowed as they danced. It was unexpected. After two years of seeing her only during his deepest fantasies, Daedal couldn’t believe that he was seeing her again. Maybe it was the drink getting best of him. He had spent many nights trying to use a beer bottle as a telescope to find her, but he always ended up with some other girl instead. Maybe this was just like those times.

Yet just like he didn’t question the first time he saw her, he didn’t want to question this time either. Besides, there was no way to prove it was her. He couldn’t ask her name. Anything personal about her was a creation of his imagination. So he could only wonder if she still knew where his room was, and whether she thought he was still a nerd, and whether she tasted like strawberries or not. For the most part, he just wondered if she would still like him again, if only for a little while.

He was a memory of what he once was – he knew this. If he had luster before, it had faded greatly. The dreams of changing the world in University were forgotten and replaced with hopes of being able to climb out of overwhelming debt and a place to one day rekindle his creativity. Witty retorts were a thing of the past. Anything he considered cerebral in himself was lost in the pursuit of a grade point. Did she even recognize him? He didn’t know.

“Follow me, super hero,” she whispered into his ear as the music continued to play. Her hand pulled on his, and he soon found himself outside the gymnasium. Unlike the gym, which had turned itself into an artificial snowglobe, it was snowing outside. With it was an eerie cold where Daedal’s breath acted as a thermometer. Darkness combed itself over everything. Few lights were working, and whatever was supposed to function as a ground light was covered underneath a blanket of snow. He wanted to ask where they were going, but she kept racing forward. “Hurry, hurry.”

That’s all he heard. In a way, that’s all he cared for anyways. Not the words themselves. She could say anything. Rather, it was her voice. It was just as sweet as he remembered it.

“Hurry. Hurry.” She repeated herself, somewhat out of breath. As they ran, she sometimes smiled back at him. He returned the sentiment, though they were no longer close to the gymnasium and he wasn’t even sure if they were near the University at all.

“Almost there. I promise.” Her voice was solid and unwavering even as the cold wind battered against it. Her face looked dark, though. Scared even. Of what, he wasn’t sure. It probably looked like they were running away from something. Daedal thought otherwise, however. As far as he could tell, they were running to something, and whatever it was, it made her smile. For Daedal, that was enough to blindly follow.

*

After about thirty minutes of running and a few quick glances his way, she finally said, “We’re here.” Daedal was out of breath, exhausted, and no longer drunk. A sobering reality of the unknown took its reigns and he found himself afraid. He was a person who took comfort in his surroundings, ultimately becoming complacent with them. Now he only had her, a stranger, to call his own and he was reminded by the fact he didn’t even know her name. Nothing about her was familiar but her touch and smile.

“I am so proud of you. We have gone so far. Who knew after two years you would come up with me?” She whispered.

“Up?”

“Yes, up.”

She gripped Daedal’s hand tighter, and they began to walk up a fleet of stairs.

*

The cold bit his lips but he barely noticed. From here, the city looked beautiful. It was now completely dark, and the lights from the various buildings bellowed as if there were thunderstorms everywhere. Everything looked so perfect from far away, as if it all were a private firework show reserved for the two of them.

He didn’t know what time it was, but the sun couldn’t have been too far away because the horizon was slightly orange against the inky black cityscape. If for only a second, it felt like everything was connected. Not just him and her and their physical connection. But everything that ever was, would be, and was happening now occurred in some discernible pattern. He felt like he could know it somehow. Could even understand it. Maybe she felt it too, but she didn’t say anything at all.

After endless silence, her voice broke the airwaves, “Remember when I told you super heroes lie?”

“You shattered my childhood with that one, so yeah.” Daedal laughed, remembering how torn he felt at that time.

She didn’t laugh back, remaining completely stoic. “I’ve been wanting to tell you this a long time, and was hoping I would before it was too late.”

“Late? I’m sorry. I don’t get it. For what?”

“Back then, you saved me life, if only for a while. You were my super hero. That night when I came to your room, I was going to kill myself if you hadn’t answered. I couldn’t see any way out. Still can’t. But I hanged around to your ghost for two years. I loved what I remembered. The reason I never came back was because I didn’t want to ruin what I had – a memory. It gave me comfort. It gave me pleasure. And I just wanted to thank you.”

Daedal tried to absorb each word and dissect them in some way that made sense. But he couldn’t. He was trying to put a rational mindset on something completely irrational. He understood what it meant to be forlorn. Heck, he even toyed with the idea. But this was something different.

She lifted her wrists. “This is evidence of all that I am, all that I ever can be. I’m sorry you have to see it like this.” Red droplets that he hadn’t noticed before trickled down her skin. Daedal suddenly snapped into reality and felt a similar drip on his hands. Her blood.

“Do you think you still have your power? Do you still think you can love me completely?”

Daedal’s world was spinning. It felt like the very ground was shifting. But he knew he had to say something. He had to help her. A girl he didn’t know. A girl who was obviously deranged. A girl who he loved.

“I could never let it go. I don’t have to know anything about you. You don’t have to tell me your history. I don’t want to know. Not because I don’t want to ruin this, but because I want you to be comfortable in all your forms, whatever they are.”

She smiled. “Maybe you took my power too. You’re making me smile.” She leaned in and kissed him. Just as he remembered, strawberries.

But the kiss was short, leaving a rush of desire trembling through Daedal’s lips.

“I’m tired. I really am. Even if you love me forever, that’s a very long time.” She offered a weak grin. “Do you think a bird whose been caged for so long remembers how to fly?”

Daedal’s moment was over, and he was back to confusion and fear. He tried to formulate a sentence quickly, not liking the ominous sound hidden behind her words. Perhaps sensing his unease, she moved to the very edge of the rail. Her breath froze in the air like a picture meant to be captured forever. Blonde hair matched the rising sun. She almost looked like she was meant to be there at the exact spot, right on the promontory, forever.

“By the way, my name is Robin.”

Then, she jumped.

*

The taste of strawberries, tears, and everything else found it’s way on the floor for two hours as Daedal trembled in the cold. Nothing made sense. Nothing was right. But he couldn’t fight it. He couldn’t do anything at all.

He then remembered something. A belief. It was all he had left. It was an inch but it was his. It told him what to do next. It told a him, a super hero, how to live and in turn, how to die.

“They sacrifice themselves and in the end, that’s exactly what happens. They all die for some stupid belief.” The words whistled wistfully with the wind. They were from a bygone era it seemed but it was because of them that he realized the connection that was right before his eyes. It was so obvious. Robin had known it. Robin had known everything.

He had to man up. He had to be fearless just like heroes were supposed to be. They wore masks not only to hide their identity but their fear, thought Daedal. He had no mask. He had only this moment, and everything he thought he knew plastered onto his flesh. And it was all he would ever have now.

So, he walked to the rail and breathed in the smell of strawberries as his hand hesitantly swayed beyond the rusty rail. It sat there, somewhere between the breathless infinity of below and above, as his fingers clenched into a fist…

About kacperniburski

I am searching for something in between the letters. Follow my wordpress or my IG (@_kenkan)

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