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X/Y

 

 

1:36 p.m.

X sipped on hot tea, gnawing at the little pieces of mint that had escaped the cup and rolled aimlessly along her tongue while she waited for Y to finish stacking up his dusty old record collection. Y fanned an EP cover in a firm three-finger grip by the open window but when the stubborn dust would not relent, he ran his palm over it and coughed. 

X studied the alder bookshelf to which Y had now turned, her eyes slowly making their way from his broad back on to the photograph of the little bedouin child and camel, both staring fearlessly into the wind with broad, open smiles. The bedouin was composed, its infant arms outstretched, palms flexed, as if trying to freeze whatever force was coming at him from the other side of the photograph. He proved largely effective as he managed to repel Y, who stood parallel to the child’s grasp but looked away for being too engrossed in cleaning.

 

1:37 p.m.

X felt the urge to create a new sequence of photos to replace an earlier series by including Y in the frame. But she couldn’t bring herself to get off the couch and look for the camera on the other side of the room, where she thought she had last seen it. Even though Y’s studio was small, the bed, with its messy sheets, looked like a stack of inundated mountains close enough to be in visible range yet still a trek away. She was the type of tired that was the direct result of doing nothing all day, and since the early morning, X had done nothing, not even talked to Y. 

Jerking her neck around, she caught the camera in a less obvious flick of the head, sticking out from in-between a pile of magazines on the lower edge of the coffee table. Immediately thankful for its nearness she lunged forward but in her impulse forgot the hot tea in her hands and spilled most of it on her jeans. Though she burned more from her own carelessness, she set the cup down on the table so roughly, it collapsed again. The cup tripped on the edge of the table and fell on to the carpeted floor. X watched it fall, but she didn’t stop it nor did she pick it up. If it had broken, she thought, she would have picked up the pieces. But the glass cup lay in front of her, slightly unsteadied yet completely solid, tranquil, gleaming irritatingly in the light from the lamp above her head. For a moment she actually wished it had broken.

 

1:39 p.m. 

X noticed that Y didn’t remark on the commotion. Remembering the photo she wanted to take of him she stuck her eye into the lens, adjusting the angle so she could capture Y just as she had wanted to—next to the child but entirely out of his grasp. But Y had turned, his chest was facing the child directly instead and it looked as if he could finally be touched. X frowned, setting the camera down. She had missed the moment she wanted to capture.

Growing more restless, X wrestled with the couch to remove her shirt. The leather screeched. Y did not turn around.  She peeled the cashmere from her skin erupting into goose pimples where her own fingers touched her. The camisole felt tender against her body, like a skinned knee. Bending her eyeballs to the far corner of the room, X watched a blurry Y slowly spin his face towards her with a rising smile, till she saw how he skipped his gaze over her like an impolite peck on the cheeks given by a man distracted by a woman behind the woman he was kissing. X turned around. There was another set of windows that painted a rainy abyss in shades of blue in the foreground. The rain poured so freely she couldn’t stop herself from sighing loudly, which in comparison felt more dignified than the way the sky had let loose on the earth.

She just wanted him to sit next to her.

 

1:43 p.m.

X thought back to a few months ago, when they had stopping passing every couple’s test for happy.

Five inches too short and five inches short of getting down on one knee X remembered the way he looked (stout) and the way his tongue tasted (sour). She had cut him loose once in November but he realized only in February (so dumb) that it was over. He said to her, and X remembered the way he said it (angrily), that she didn’t know what love was. She had looked at him (unlovingly) and agreed. He hurled his insults (bitch) at her, but she had been unfettered. She took her notebook (full) and gathered up her guts and left.

A short while later, she remembered feeling it just wasn’t right.  She called him, and he said it felt like forever that they’d been soul mates and X said that they couldn’t be for her sky (red) and his sky (blue) were a mismatch. But that’s love, she also said.

 

1:45 p.m.

Y could hear the sound of the water hitting against the gravel, the cries of the raindrops loud enough to distract him even on the third floor. He could barely decipher X’s breathing, short, quick and heavy, which all her rhythms tended to lapse into when she was spitting fire like a wick flame in a glass bottle running out of oxygen. When the stuffiness overpowered the smell of humidity in the room, Y stuck his arms through the half-open window and acted as if he was pulling the pane towards himself. The raindrops attacked the sill, splattering themselves against his thick forearms.  

Y had known X for a long time, and he could trace her if he wanted to, with a thick bristle brush dripping with black ink, with the dark contouring of jagged cloissonism on a thin sheet of paper. He had pictured it, but he didn’t know how to draw, how to balance or how to match the strokes.

He concentrated on the photograph she had taken when she had gone back home to visit her family, the one with the bedouin child. She had called him right after she had taken the picture to tell him how much she missed him, how much the little boy reminded her of him. But he had been at the mechanic’s watching his car being repaired, and over the colorless sound of loud tools, he hadn’t been able to tell her that he missed her too.

He glanced at her over his shoulder. She was no longer watching him, but he could have guessed that even without turning around. His back was lighter, just like her breathing that had smoothened itself out, perhaps because she was stretching, perhaps now sleeping, perhaps no longer frightfully awake. Her long auburn hair trailed her head.

 

1:48 p.m.

It had been three minutes since X was lulled to a sleep by the sound of the rain.

 

1:59 p.m.

The monotony stretched across the room eventually shook X out of her quasi-coma. She awoke only to see Y still leeched on to the alder bookshelf. Suddenly her short nap felt like a long death. X pushed her feet against the arm of the sofa letting her entire body yawn. She was tired of waiting and toyed with the idea of honesty, of frankly asking him to just stop cleaning and come sit next to her. But even as X wondered if she ever crossed Y’s mind, she was adamant in her withdrawal, an abstinence from appearing either too vulnerable or too authoritative, because deep down she was afraid that he perceived her as both. If she spoke now, she would never know how he truly felt.

 

2:03 pm 

X started to criticize the bedouin child in the photograph as responsible for keeping Y away from her, as if Y were trapped in the grasp of his little fingers, but unaware of it, happy, but unaware of it.

But to invite Y to sit down just so she could remind herself of his smell, X just couldn’t ask him that. Instead,

 

“Do you remember the first time you broke my heart?” she asked.

 

2:05 p.m.

“No,” Y said, still out of her grasp. 

“I was so madly in love with you and it threw me into this epic saga of tortured romance,” X said. 

“For all of it?”  

“I loved it. I loved it. The sky looked red, like my bleeding tears, I loved it. I loved it.” 

“Will you sit with me to make it better?” She added.

“Now?” He asked.

 

2:07 p.m.

X’s face softened as Y acknowledged her with his body, his shoulders facing her squarely. Her nose turned a deep shade of crimson, and she imagined how wet it would feel pressed against his face.

 

2:08 p.m.

X started to cry. She cried till her chest began to hiccough, as if the two sides of her rib cage had declared war on each other. Her tears looked more chaotic, but Y’s own throat beat against itself, his lungs in stupor, his breath thickening, his face blank as if he had forgotten his own features.

 

2:11 p.m. 

X massaged her cheekbones, looking up at the high whiteness of the ceiling.

 

2:12 p.m.

Y walked up to her only to pat her hair down in what he believed to be a comforting gesture, intending for the stable vibration of his palm to lull her into some sort of calm, even if only temporarily. All that moved within X were her stray hairs. Inside, she was incurable. 

Y always felt in love with her when he was right next to her. 

He stared at her face for a few moments, but then quite abruptly walked back towards the bookshelf, the photograph, the window, the rain—away from X.

 

2:14 p.m. 

X and Y had the same question on their minds, but the rain answered, thrashing down against the windowsill with wafts of wetness coming in through the open glass. It only said – no, or nope, or never ever. It showed no signs of relenting so that the sky would clear.