By Anne Germanacos
Ben says, "You don't even know me."
As far as he knows, I don't.
But I know so much more than he thinks I do, not just the things Ellie told me, but the way he told her, threatening to kill himself if she were to tell anyone else. More than anything, I know the way his manipulative trust made her look for a place to spill his secrets.
Ellie said to me: "I don't want to know these things. Help me get rid of this stuff!" I did what I could.
In the end, she blamed him for making her stick to promises she couldn't keep. It wasn't his fault that his father had beat him, but sometimes she wanted to beat him herself.
Ben's from nowhere; Ellie's from Manhattan.
Ben's a mixture of shyness, arrogance, and old bruises. Ellie can't understand how she'll ever have anything worthy of his life. She breaks pens, makes holes in wooden desks, trying to reach something substantial.
He says: I've never told this stuff to anyone.
She keeps saying: Thank you.
The conversation itself is a kind of consummation.
Ben's unaware of the way his eyes, compared to other eyes, are small. For him, they're the world.
"Are you saying you don't want to know me?"
Ellie says, "It's not so simple: I don't want to know these things."
"But who are you to choose?" He's always logical.
"Who are you to tell me your deep dark secrets and say you'll jump from the balcony if I ever breathe a word to another soul?" She gives him a calm, satisfied look.
"Bitch." He says it, not quite under his breath.
"NOT. You don't know the first thing about women. Did you grow up in a cave?"
This is what he likes about her—she makes him laugh.
"Yes, a very dark one. Darker than anything you've known in your blessedly sheltered existence."
"We're both upper-middle, buddy. Who are you trying to fool?"
"You're the fool."
"For hanging out with you."
Huddled around the electric heater, they hold their hands above, warming them where the heat burns hottest. Their knees mingle.
Ben goes down, boom, at the Holy Thursday church service during a particularly robust snail season. Most days, we pick snails off the wall and smash them with a green plastic clog. Maybe, even if you think you wouldn't do it yourself, you can understand how it was enticing.
So we're standing in church for over an hour, sucking on licorice cats in the gloomy, candle-lit building, a fierce-bearded Jesus staring down from the high-rising dome. The bad chanting makes us go through the whole bag of cats during the Third and Fourth Gospels.
By the Fifth, people are shifting in their heavy winter coats. Ben goes down less than a minute before the first bell tolls the Crucifixion. It's a bunched-up group of church-dwellers and, lucky for him, enough to keep him aloft.
Four burly farmers grab him as they would a coffin and carry him out. To me, he looks an awful lot like Jesus, King of the Jews, with his gray skin, sunken eyes, and wispy uncut hair. A hipbone shows beneath his belted khakis—we see how skinny he actually is.
Later, Ben laughs about it over a glass of water and a green apple. He looks like he could use a t-bone steak, but he won't eat an egg, much less a piece of meat.
We watch him eat the apple, then stop by the taxi driver's house for a few shots. Someone's stereo is playing early Prince, loud, Jesus' passion a flimsy dream.
Ben drifts, coasts, casting spells like slack fishing line, reels them in, always empty.
Ellie walks to the edge of her world, signs goodbye, looks across at him. Are you still there? Flies home. Knows he's always watching. Knows, even when he doesn't answer her letters or phone calls, that it's a kind of stalking.
This wasn't her plan when she tipped her pencil his way and made some wise crack or other. Then she was just a girl with emotional curiosity and a wayward pencil. Now she's been inverted.
Her life, she thinks, looking down on the park from her bedroom window, had been almost more beautiful than a person could stand.
The park grounds are covered in snow. The soft hills, the gentle curves are gone. Everything's covered in thick drifting white. She can't muster anger.
From here, she doesn't know whether anything he said was true: the beatings, the late-night awakenings, his mother's painted lips tightening only slightly.
The only thing she knows: she'll never know for sure.
Ben decides to call himself a socialist, thinking it's the logical choice. By now he hates me, the boy with a house in the Hamptons.
"UGH," he says, as if recoiling from rancid food.
"What's the matter?" I ask. "It's a little house. It's been in the family for years. What's wrong? You want an invitation? You want to come visit? You're invited. Come and see. You'll like it. We'll barbecue chicken breasts, open a few beers. I guarantee you'll be able to stand it. We'll put on some music, invite some girls. Do you think you'll be able to take it? Will we have to feed you tranquilizers? Or will a couple of beers do it for you?"
Every step of the way, Ben believes people do whatever they can to subvert his allegiance to socialism. It's illogical, but I'm sure he's happy to have a place to go in the summer. Then again, it's easy for me to say: I'm Ellie's friend.
Anne Germanacos' work has appeared recently in Santa Monica Review, Descant, Quarterly West, Blackbird, Salamander, Florida Review, Pindeldyboz, Agni-online and many others. She lives in San Francisco and on Crete.
About | Contact | Privacy
Copyright © 2008 VerbSap. All Rights Reserved.