He was a published poet. I sat as far away from him as the small room allowed. The class passed without his calling on me, but at its conclusion, I was nevertheless exhausted. His eyes, glittering black and bottomless, followed me out of the room. An ironic smile tugged at his lips.
It was two weeks before I returned. He made a show of turning his back on me as I entered. He opened with a reading. His manner was different this time. He stood, feet wide apart, directly in front of the first row of students, impaling them with his gaze. His voice, rich and nuanced, raged at us. He was a man out of control. He smelt slightly of whiskey. I was captivated.
I followed him to the university bar: a shack balanced on stilts, swarming with mosquitoes. He sat on a bar stool as though he might jump up at any moment. He drank his whiskey neat. I shrank into a seat several metres away, eyes on the graying hair that now stood upright in a striking bouffant. He rubbed a hand through it, impatient. I was terrified he might turn and see me. I willed him to turn.
We drove to his flat in a green ’85 Citroen. The passenger door had to be held shut. He didn’t speak to me. His house was littered with literary magazines and half-smoked cigars. He offered me some wine, leaving me to my own devices while he left to visit his mother. He came back half an hour later. His manner in bed was almost painfully abrupt. I looked at his inscrutable face and waited for some sign that he was feeling pleasure.
The morning after, he did look at me. He was smiling and had just completed a poem. I was his muse. He read it to me and asked for a title. I suggested “World Citizen” and he pronounced it deliciously nasty. We played cards in the bath. He smoked a cigar.
I saw him when I least expected to. He had found out where I lived and took to visiting me after midnight, bringing strange gifts like cacti. He had stopped teaching at the university. He wrote a poem a night, sometimes more. He still didn’t seem happy, though his bright intensity might have masqueraded as happiness as we lay together in the bitter winter air.
He took to performing his works in public: usually at bars. One Sunday, he woke me with some burnt espresso and we trekked to a park ten blocks away. It looked be the setting for some sort of family fun day. Perhaps a church fair. Reluctant teenaged children were deserting in droves. Lycra-bottomed mothers wiped bits of chocolate croissant from their squalling kids’ mouths. And he walked right in amongst them and started to recite his most vitriolic piece – he called it “Inanimate Satan”.
The crowd around us cleared in seconds; many backward looks were thrown at him, and me. I shuffled awkwardly on the spot at a safe distance. A couple of men approached him and asked him to stop. But he was in full flight. He started pacing up and down. The men stood back, slightly bemused but enjoying the spectacle. The coffee was still acrid on my tongue as I looked at the poet, so caught up in his performance, so visceral and fierce. He stopped suddenly, and held a hand out to me – a gesture of beckoning, a command.
And then I saw it. Clearly, finally.
I did not exist.
Interested to know whether this works :)
I wrote it for a short stories group challenge centred around this photo by David Malcolmson.