“Do you believe in reincarnation?”
He came up behind me, whispered those words right in my ear, breath hot, voice loud so he could be heard over the music. I turned around, appalled, and pushed him away with wide eyes. When his only response was a quirk of his eyebrows, demanding a response, like he wasn’t a fucking stranger asking me philosophical questions in the middle of a rave, I’d meant to tell him that whatever he’d been smoking wasn’t a good reason to come harass me. Instead I said, “If the next words out of your mouth are about how to reach nirvana, I’ll slit your goddamn throat.”
Alright, so not much better. His face lit up, though, and something about his eyes made my heartbeat seem louder than the bass I could feel kicking in my stomach. I couldn’t even see his eyes. He grabbed my hand, led me to the attic of the stranger’s massive house. “Is this your house?” I asked while he rooted through endless boxes.
“If it were my house, I figure I would have already found what I’m looking for,” he said, his voice sounding liquid and I could tell he was definitely high. And here I was, standing around waiting for the potentially crazy guy on psychedelics to find what he was looking for. What if he was looking for a gun? As I was weighing my curiosity with common sense he took out a Ouija board. He sat down on the floor setting it in front of him like a place mat and looked up at me expectantly. When I didn’t do anything but stare at him, he frowned. “What? Should I light a candle?”
I rolled my eyes, sat down across from him. Usually, I was the bitch that pushed the planchette to freak everybody else out, but this time I let my fingers just rest on it. Every time he told me to ask a question, though, I asked completely lewd, inappropriate questions to show him I wasn’t taking this seriously. He pretended to be disappointed in me, but I saw the corners of his mouth twitch like he was going to laugh. When the improv game grew tired, he led me out of the house into the wintry air. It was full moon, which was fitting, and there was snow lightly falling down. I’d brought my coat but I was worried that if I showed any sign of rationality by going back and getting it, I’d drive away my companion.
“You were pushing it, weren’t you? Trying to fuck with my head?”
“Well, I’m definitely trying to fuck with some part of you,” he said, and I gave him an unimpressed look. As if I hadn’t figured that out all by myself. I was stupid about following strangers up to attics and contacting non-existent spirits, but some things were just too obvious to go unnoticed. “At the risk of getting my goddamn throat slit, I’ve heard people can reach nirvana with my cock.”
I pushed his arm, hard, but he barely budged, laughing. “But you were, right?”
“Of-course not, would I ever lie to you…never got your name, did I?”
I just smiled at him, hoping it was a mysterious smile that oozed with sex appeal like a woman in a spy movie. Then he smiled back at me, charming and suave, actually pulling off the movie star look. He seemed to be wandering aimlessly, but we ended up in a graveyard. I knew it well because, my family, being part of the small town cycle, had three generations of my relatives buried there, but I didn’t mention this to him. We went to the far back, where there was a willow tree looking majestically pathetic with it’s naked, drooping branches. He started climbing it, occasionally turning to help me up, and I pretended to need help to feel his cold hands on my bare arms. When we were high enough, we climbed onto the flat roof of the Victorian styled mausoleum besides the tree.
“I’m coming down, I think,” he said after a long silence in which we just looked out at the gravestones.
“If you crash I’m leaving you up here.”
He laughed and pulled me in by the back of my neck for a kiss that tasted enough like stale beer that it made my stomach turn, and yet I never wanted it to end. When I opened my eyes, he was staring intently into mine, trying to give me the illusion of deep and meaningful. All I noticed was that his eyes were such a light blue they seemed to shine in the night. “You were pushing it, though.”
“Yeah,” he said and I smiled and kissed him again.
He did end up crashing and, as promised, I left him there. But before I left I put my name in his phone under “Graveyard Girl” and texted myself so that I’d have his number too. A week later, late at night, drunk and reckless, I texted him. “Graveyard girls was specific enough, right? That’s not just a mating routine you thought of to convince girls that you’re edgy and unique?”
The responding text came in quick, not even bothering to pretend that staying up until three in the morning wasn’t something he did. “Sure. You’re the blonde…or the redhead? You definitely have blue eyes.”
I rolled my eyes, I was a brunette with green eyes. “Trying too hard.”
“True. Meet me tomorrow at midnight. I hear girls like food.”
I didn’t even pretend I didn’t know where he was talking about. Instead I showed up at the willow tree at midnight, trying a bit harder than I usually did for a date even though it was pretty much wasted since it was dark. I climbed up the tree easily and he was waiting for me. He had spread out a blanket and had a picnic basket besides him. There were also two candles lit although I had a feeling they were there to add to the spook factor rather than for romantic ambiance. Either ways, he was dressed nicer than he had been the night of the rave and when I looked at his wrist, I was surprised to see an expensive looking watch.
“Are we eating sandwiches then?” I asked as I sat down.
“Nah,” he said opening the basket to reveal the box containers of Chinese food. “Just thought the picnic basket was a nice detail.”
I laughed and he handed me a pair of chopsticks. For the first half of the meal we didn’t really say much to each other, the date growing predictably stale. It was like we were both realising that the magic of the night was circumstantial, just enough parts drunk, high and adventurous to be exciting, but not something that could be recreated. Nights like that were only had with people you’d never seen again, so that you wouldn’t notice that actually you had nothing in common with them. My tongue itched with the craving to ask his name, but I had the feeling that that would really erase the last drops of hope that hung in the air between us.
“If you don’t believe in ghosts, then why is this your idea of scary?” I asked.
“It’s not my idea of scary. It’s the world’s idea of scary. People have a really perverse fascination with death, they talk about it constantly just to hide the fact that they’re terrified of it,” he said, not quite regaining his interest, but not losing it either.
“How is mocking it proof of your lack of fascination?”
“I know I’m terrified of it, I just don’t think the ceremony around it is necessary. Every time I admit that people start talking to me about God,” he said rolling his eyes.
“Yeah, I don’t know why none of us are allowed to just die.”
“Because everyone wants to believe there’s a meaning to life.”
“Yeah. Want to split the last egg roll?”
When I laughed, just at the casual way he said that, and he grinned, our interest in each other reignited. We started talking then, but not about ourselves, our jobs or our families. Instead we talked about scary movies, haunted houses, ghost stories, things people had tried and not succeeded in scaring us with. “You know the movies that really fuck me up, though? The ones about mental illnesses. Like, I know they’re tropey and play into a stigma but a part of me is like, well shit, what if that does happen to me if I snap one day? How would I know?” he said, in a moment of sincerity. It turned into more moments of sincerity as I admitted to him what I was afraid of. There was a part of me that wanted to hold my guard up, because he might still fancy his chances of only getting a lay out of this, but if I was honest, I’d left all my reservations at the bottom of the willow tree.
“Were you mad at me when you woke up that morning?” I asked.
“No. You said you were going to leave, and you left. I could have died, I’d never been more impressed by someone’s devotion to honesty in my life,” he said and I laughed. “A bit ruined by the fact that it was the cops that woke me up. Apparently the families visiting their dear old relatives thought I looked suspicious.”
“Weird, that. What did you tell them?”
“That I was up there because I’d been trying to get laid.”
I laughed. “Were they confused?”
“A bit, but not much. The cop was a dude, he got it.”
“Are you still trying?”
“Yes and no. I’ve got a condition actually.” I raised my eyebrows at him. “I want to know your name before, if we do.”
“Is that a dealbreaker?”
He smiled. “Not usually.”
“I feel like the moment I tell you, it’ll be over.”
“I had a teacher that told me once that I had so much potential. And when I tried to thank him he told me that it wasn’t a compliment. Because potential means that I could be so much more and I’m not. That potential is what people have when they don’t work hard enough.”
“Inspiring,” I said sarcastically.
He smiled, pulled a wrapped object out of his jacket and handed it to me. I raised my eyebrows, surprised, but took the present. Even if he wanted to act blase about all of it, the picnic box, the Gothic candles, and going out of his way to get me a gift all took a bit of effort. And even if there might have been a doubt that I’m not a sure thing, I don’t think it was a huge one. Why else would I have come out on a date in the middle of the night with someone I’d met at a rave? Still, I peeled open the wrapping paper and rolled my eyes at him when I saw it was a book about how to reach nirvana. “Open it,” he said, as if it were a card. Not expecting much, I opened the front cover. He reached over and opened it to what appeared to be a random page until I saw the voucher working as a bookmark. I picked up the paper to see it was a voucher for a medium sized tattoo.
“A tattoo?” I asked. “All you know about me is that I don’t have any.”
“Yeah, but it’d look hot. Prove to your husband twenty years from now that you were a rebel girl. Or don’t use it, it doesn’t matter either ways, does it?”
“You already paid for it.”
“Not exactly, I’ll only pay for it if you get it done. By the way, if you really don’t want to see me after tonight, go on a Thursday, because that’s my day off. Make sure Kyle does it but go in the day time, he won’t tattoo you if you’re under the influence.”
“You work at a tattoo parlour?” I asked.
“Kind of. I own a tattoo parlour, and sometimes I design tattoos. I also hire people, order stock, all that boring shit. But I don’t touch the needles.”
“So this was free for you?”
“No. I still buy the needles and ink since I own the shop, and Kyle wouldn’t do it if he weren’t getting paid for the labour. Plus the paper to make the voucher, that also cost money,” he said.
I looked at the tattoo voucher again, my head spinning a bit, because he’d breached the line first. Told me what he did for living, and I wasn’t even thinking about whether or not his tattoo shop was profitable, although it probably was if he could afford to give away vouchers to random girls. I didn’t have a tattoo, but I always assumed I’d probably get one at some point. A stamp of my youth, like he’d said. However, if I got the tattoo, it’d also be a skin deep memory of someone that didn’t even have a name in my head.
He frowned. “What?”
“My name. It’s Angel.”
He smiled slowly, genuinely. “Suits you. Jonathan.”
“Admit it, you love all this conventional shit,” he whispered in my ear at our wedding reception. I was wearing a nice white dress and my mom was crying her poor little heart out. We lied to her about where we met of-course, she’d have been less charmed if she knew I’d met him at a rave while we were both rolling although I hadn’t known it at the time. Probably thinking he was high on weed wasn’t much better, though.
“Lucky for you,” I said, turning my head toward him so he would kiss me. The cooing from the crowd didn’t have an effect on me but the pictures would look nice.
“Yeah, lucky for me.”
“If you take me to the mausoleum for our honeymoon, I’ll still slit your goddamn throat.”
He just smiled at me, not falling for the bait I’d given him to tell me the secret location to our honeymoon. It was weak bait, I wanted the surprise. “There’s that lovable charm of yours. And you’d wait until you were pregnant, much more poetic that way.”
Thankfully for my pride, he took me to the Caribbean. Apparently the mausoleum was more first anniversary material.
I was on the roof of the mausoleum looking down at the graveyard with a hollow feeling in my chest. The willow tree was pathetically bare again, and the full moon was shining down on me. I held a cigarette in between my fingers, my version of a candlelight vigil, even though he would have hated it. He would have hated it even more if I’d gone to the funeral or memorial service and now his parents were going to hate me forever instead, I reasoned to myself, even though there was no need for a justification. It’s not like he was around to hear it. I brought the cigarette to my lips, because I wasn’t pregnant, and there was nothing poetic about this anyways. All I had as a souvenir was the deed to the tattoo parlour, a ring I’d taken to wearing on a chain around my neck and a skin deep memory on my shoulder blade that I could see in my mind’s eye every time I looked in the mirror.
“Bones, it’s all just bones. A grave digger is just a human shaped dog,” he’d said one time we’d come up here. It’s funny how much we’d talked about death as if we had a fucking clue. Neither of us had thought it was real, I realised now, unconceivable, waste of energy to really consider it. We had known it was theoretically real, maybe, but not practically. Or else we’d have understood. We would have known that it’s different when those bones had a name, a wife. That the potential for what should have been was buried with them. Wasted. Suddenly unimportant as far as the world was concerned, and that was the problem, wasn’t it? That none of this even fucking mattered.
A part of me wanted to believe in fate or destiny. But I’d never believed in life having a meaning and this was the wrong time to start.
Another part of me wanted a Ouija board right now, even though I knew people weren’t supposed to bring them to graveyards and we’d never actually broken that rule. Strangely, we hadn’t thought of it. That’s how desperate I was to talk to him again. But it was no use, he wasn’t here to push the planchette.
The biggest part of me, though, was angry. Selfishly and painfully angry, because it wasn’t like he wanted to die, but he’d still gone and done it. He’d promised me always and he’d meant it, or at least made me believe he did. Now I knew he lacked the devotion that tied our vows together. But I didn’t feel parted by death, couldn’t just tear myself away and say it was over. Couldn’t pretend that any touch, any kiss, any kind of sex wouldn’t remind me of him. I didn’t entirely believe there couldn’t be better, but I’d promised to know no better from then on and that was the whole fucking point. My heart still felt beholden to that promise. I should have never told him my name.
I lit another cigarette, letting the last one join the others on the ground. From here I could see the freshly carved stone. I wanted to leave, finally spooked by how scary all of this really was. But I couldn’t. This was the closest to together we could get now, and I was devoted to my promise, even if he’d broken his.