I passed a radio today, on the sidewalk beside a backpacker, and paused a moment to hear what it had to say.
Would we be where we are without love? it asked. I moved on, these words in my head, my heels clopping like a draught horse’s hooves on the path to the glue factory as I continued my drunken wobble down the street, the buttons of my mother’s cocktail dress hanging open at the back like my ribcage split. And with those words, I remembered so much.
I remembered what you said last night, exactly. Word for word, everything you said to me. I’ve always remembered everything you said to me, from the moment I saw you and you smirked with that odd, self-superior smirk you have, looking down at me like I was scum on the tiles of life (which I am), and you said – what was your name again?
So I told you, and you turned away with a small, satisfied hum (which I wanted to hear again) and didn’t speak to me again all night. I didn’t sleep. The next day, having locked myself in the cubicle of the public toilet down at the park, I wrote WHAT WAS YOUR NAME AGAIN on the wall in sharpie. Three days later, someone I didn’t care about had answered.
Why do you st-stutter? you asked me once, a mocking, cocky smile dancing over your full lips with your lipstick, a glittering gloss, shining over them. I lied and said it was a problem I’d always h-had (in truth, I just couldn’t f-find… find the words, talking to… to you). You frowned, it broke my heart, and you said you were sorry to hear that; perhaps I should get help. Perhaps I should have. Instead I got drunk in the toilets that night and read that person’s name, over and over again, until the words were meaningless and my mind dissolved in the bottle.
I stared at the stains on the ceiling there and saw your face. I leaned back on the porcelain and plastic, my bare feet cold on the tiles, and pretended you covered me, your cheeks flushed and your eyes black for me. What was your name again? Why do you st-stutter? What was your name? Why do you st-st-stutter? All night until dawn, and I never let myself surrender – perhaps you should get help for that? Though I did wonder. I wondered if you felt as lost as I did, if you burned for me like I did for you, and I knew it was all false hopes, but without false hopes we’d have none at all.
So when I stand here today and stare, unseeing, at those words, I remember that night and note with bitterness that that was the closest I ever got to you then pull out my marker and write over someone else’s spill of gossip, WOULD WE BE WHERE WE ARE WITHOUT LOVE? Because, you see, it doesn’t mean what you think it means, which is some trite rubbish about whether the world is better for love or not (the answer is yes), whether it drives people to greater mercies or crimes (the answer is both), whether it’s the muse of art or destruction (they are the same, I think).
What it means… What it means to me, is a reminder that if I didn’t have this (and hesitate to call it love still) then I wouldn’t be where I am now, standing in the johns with the putrid stink of male urine slamming up my nostrils, in a dress and heels for the laughs it offered. To be different, to have you look at me and smile instead of that disappointed look you get, seeing me a wreck, a broken bauble. I wanted you to laugh at me, not pity me, because your laugh is infinitely more lovely, so when I threw myself at your feet and told you how much I loved you I did it in staggered French copied off the internet onto the back of my hand, smudged and fading, so you’d think I was joking.
JE T’AIME, I put under the last words, JE T’AIME MOI DONC ESPOUSE! VOULEZ VOUS COUCHER AVEC MOI CE SOIR? which you had laughed at, not understanding that I did it just to see you laugh. You told me I don’t stutter in French, or maybe in drag, and my reputation was ruined long before the buttons popped on the back of my mother’s cocktail dress, but that was the moment you laughed and told me I was a prettier girl than you’d ever be (which isn’t true, but thanks).
The photos will be on the internet by now, and everyone will know, and what I said still hangs in the air as stale as the urine because you won’t understand it enough to answer it. Chances are you’ll forget it; the little boys’ room in the local park is not your territory, nor anyone’s, really, save mine and the other voices scrawled on the walls. It’s a way of purging, I suppose; in emptying my own mind here I am passing the cross on to others, and they can share the burden of remembering the words that I want to forget.
When I told you I loved you, you gave that same odd, self-superior smirk you gave the first time you looked at me for real. I had held up that smile in my head as some acknowledgement, something to drive me on, but it’s that very thing that struck me down (thank god I’m an alco already). So I’m left to wonder: what is my love? Is it a slap across cheeks numbed by drink? Is it an idealist’s dream (am I idealist?), a cynic’s nightmare (I’m not a cynic)? A spike of ketamine, rashes on my knees, popped buttons down my spine, the wild horses of emotion? Or perhaps just words on the walls; why do you st-stutter?
Because… because I can’t find the words for you. They aren’t lovely enough to do you justice, and I shouldn’t speak to you, not unless you can’t understand, for fear of being shamed. I love you, marry me. For you I’ll settle down. For you I’ll break my ankles, for you I’ll drink the ocean, for you I’ll eat glass or slice through my dick with the jagged edges of a broken bottle, if that’s what you wanted, but I can’t tell you, because… because I st-stutter. Grope blindly for words of the right poetry and give up spectacularly, in drag, drunk as a skunk, the trashiest slut you’ve ever seen who put you on the spot in a way you hated, made you wish you hadn’t spoken to him in the first place, you never predicted this would happen, that he could be so cruel, before…
Because, before, he hadn’t met you.
And so all I can say is that if it weren’t for love, I wouldn’t be here, and these words wouldn’t be here, and perhaps even that radio would have never said that, but the fact is that I am here and so are the words and the radio said it straight, to me and a squatter as I completed my walk of shame from last night’s party. Where would I be without love? I can’t imagine.
I’m standing in a public toilet, stinking of beer and piss, wearing my mother’s dress and my sister’s heels with a hangover and a marker in hand. I’m ashamed, the laughing stock of the groups I mix with for the next month or so, and you, you hate me for it. I wouldn’t…
I w-wouldn’t have…
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Je t’aime, moi donc épouser! Oui, bien sûr!
‘Stutterer’ by Richard Moore, first published by Trove, Volume 1 Issue 1, December 2010.