FANDOM: The Cell
SUMMARY: I had hoped he would be there...
I Forget Myself
I had hoped he would be there. I had imagined it all too often in the days that followed his death, in the days before they let me – before I let myself – return to work. In my dreams I had pictured him sitting calmly by a still, glittering pool of light, smiling like a little boy at his own reflection. At my approach, he had turned around, beckoned me over, and taken my hand, his fingers strong and gentle. We sat for a long time like that, side by side, in a companionable silence.
It seemed as if nothing needed to be said, as if it had all already been done, and we existed only in an epilogue to everything. But when he eventually turned and fixed me with those sad, defeated brown eyes, I knew that one more thing remained. Carl leaned in close, and whispered words in my ear, and smiled. I thought, at the time, that I would never see him again. After all, he had forgiven me. I had conjured him up from my subconscious in order to forgive myself. It was time for us both to move on.
The problem was that he had nowhere to go. I found him, weeks later, lingering at the edges of my carefully prepared landscapes. He would be a silhouette in the distance, hovering tentatively like a troubled child. Perhaps he was my guilt, the essence of those acts I could never forgive, no matter what he told me, no matter how many times I told myself that I had done the right thing. The only thing. I noted him down in my journal, psychoanalysed myself, and knew in my heart that it would be fine. I could live with him, with that memory of a man whose life I had touched in the most horrific circumstances. He was part of me now. I had to accept him.
At the close of one of my therapy sessions, carried out in the worlds of my imagination, when my patient had disappeared back into the real world, I turned to him and said his name. He had come closer that day than any other, balancing on the tips of bare toes in burning sand, hunched over a book. He had made no noise as I worked, and, as far as I had noticed, had never even looked in my direction. But when I called him, he looked up, and smiled. “You’re lonely,” he said, and disappeared.
I sought him out the next time, even though I knew it was pointless. All the answers I needed were in my own head. He only knew what I knew, was only some representation of my innermost fears. But I had been lying to myself for so long that I suspected I could continue doing so indefinitely. Carl wouldn’t lie to me. For some reason I was sure of that.
“What are you reading?” I asked him, finding him lying on his stomach in the desert, an adult picture of childish carelessness, as if he were escaping homework and his mother’s chores.
He swept long hair out of his eyes and passed me the book. “You didn’t finish,” he said quietly. “You have to finish.”
Turning it around in my hands, I discovered its title, and far too many blank pages. Moby Dick, a novel I had both started and abandoned in my first year of college. It ended at page ninety, at the point where I had cast it aside in favour of summer sun and sweet romance. I wondered why Carl was reading it, of all the stories he might find in my head. What was I trying to tell myself? What was I, like Ahab, chasing after?
I sat down, cross-legged beside him on the sand. “Are you lonely, Carl? There’s no one else here.”
He seemed to find that idea funny. “You’re here,” he said, and took my hand in his. “You’re always here.”
I dreamed of him that night, and woke up expecting to find him next to me, tangled up in my sheets. How could he not be there? He had been so real, as real as he had been in that mangled, tortured kingdom of his, but as tender as I had ever imagined he could be. It was a fantasy: a stupid, foolhardy fantasy, to picture a madman, a killer – a dead killer at that – as I might any ordinary man. Carl Stargher had never been anyone’s boyfriend. But his breath had tingled against my skin, and I could still feel the wetness he had left between my legs. It was as if he had only slipped out of bed for a glass of water and would return in a moment, to replace that ache inside me with something more concrete. I waited, but he didn’t come.
“Something’s bothering you,” he told me, days later, when we sat and drew patterns in the sand. I had been reading of epic whale hunts and, naturally, so had he. I still had little idea what I was pursuing, or why.
I asked him if he had ever studied psychology. Of course he had. He knew everything I knew, as thoroughly as if he had been sitting next to me in every lecture, and looking over my shoulder during every late-night cramming session. I wondered if he could possibly know more, if, in his explorations through my psyche, he had found the answers I needed.
He was kissing me before I saw him move, blurring the boundaries between us. His fingertips and tongue and teeth were on me and in me and through me, consuming me from within. For a single moment, he was my breath, the pulse that made my heart beat.
Carl looked at me with intense eyes, and vanished.
There was no foreplay the next time. There was no conversation. I fell into his arms, into his possession, without a thought. It didn’t feel like the first time. He had owned me before, after all, that mad part of him I had destroyed. A fleeting thought crossed my mind, and I wondered if I would ever want to be owned again.
There was no psychoanalysis either. I looked at him, lying between the silk sheets he had stained with his semen, covered in the sheen of sweat, and guessed that there was no explanation for this. I stroked his cheek with a finger, as he watched me with sleepy eyes. “You’re real, aren’t you?” I asked. “You’re not just a memory…”
But he was. It was all he could be. Carl Stargher was dead, and I had made love to a shadow of him: a reflection of my own guilt at murdering an innocent boy, and my need to be forgiven. I needed those strong arms around me, protecting me, just as the bestial passion within him drove me to ecstasy and made me forget.
Maybe this man was who I hoped the boy might have become one day, had his mind not been ripped apart by demons. Another pointless fantasy, designed to assuage my conscience. Soon it would disintegrate before my eyes, and I would return to the same bed in the real world, but it would be empty, with no hint of him there.
Carl raised himself up on an elbow. “Would you care if I was… just a memory?”
In one movement he straddled me, pinning me down between muscular thighs, covering me with his body. As he pushed inside me again, I whispered to him that no, I wouldn’t care, that he was all I needed and wanted and desired, fantasy or reality, ghost or solid flesh. I knew that none of it mattered, that I had always known it would come to this.
When the light changed, when the shadows grew darker, and a faint outline of a horned man was cast on the wall, I looked up into inhuman eyes. “I finished,” I told him. “I found you, Carl.”
This was my forgiveness, found in blood and horror and pain. We were in his world, now, and we had always been there.
I kissed the lips of the beast, and forgot myself.