Machinery

            In that grassy knoll, her and I (we) sat an inch apart. I’m not really sure what we were talking about back then, but I remember feeling so alive. It was such a nice time. Our words drifted slowly into the air, and it was as if the weight of them were pushing the sun down into the horizon. Soon, the night sky set in. We were on the outskirts of the city, and without the thousands of lights and the cankerous smog obscuring it, we were able to see a night sky blanketed by stars. The only sounds we could hear were the crickets chirping and the soft rustle of wind in the grass. Other than that, no car horns, no television sets, no construction, just the sounds of nature. It really felt like we were the only two people there, that this place belonged to us.

            It was her idea to come here. She had grabbed my hand when class had ended, and she had that certain glint in her eyes that I knew to mean, “hey, let’s just go drop everything.” We had prior engagements: I was going to continue tuning up this old GTO I salvaged from a junkyard, she had a piano lesson to attend. But for as long as we’ve been friends I could never resist her out of the blue impulses and soon we were down by the convenience store a couple blocks away, gathering what we needed: soda, candy, a magazine or two. And then we zipped off on my bicycle; her clutching onto my chest as she sat at the very edge of the tail end, directing me where to go with finger-points and yells in my ear. We ended up at this quiet knoll along the river. We took off our jackets, spread them across the knoll, and sat down on them, spending the next couple of hours just reading and talking.   

            When the sun had set we turned our attention to the stars, amazed. They pierced the night with such clarity that I was astounded that anything humanity created could possibly block them from sight. Suddenly, a star shot across the sky, leaving an arc like a white paintbrush swept across a black canvas. This is the only part of the conversation that I can recall perfectly in my memory. She tapped my fingers, and told me to make a wish. I closed my eyes and concentrated on my deepest desire, hoping for it to come true.

            Looking back, I really wish I hadn’t. Because that's the day I lost her.

***

            I met her when I was two years old, thanks to my mom. Her friend from work had a baby that was four months younger than me. The kid could hardly walk, let alone sit upright, and it was completely silent, never uttering a sound. My mom's friend was deathly afraid that her kid was slow. I was already running around and speaking in fragments, so my mom had a suggestion to let this kid and I have weekly play-dates. She figured that through socialization, I would help develop acuity in her friend's kid, and there would be a similar kind of growth on my end. Apparently I didn't engage with my peers well, a conclusion my mother made by my staunch refusal to play with my cousins. My reclusive behavior at daycares and playgrounds only served to further prove her point. So that's how I came to know one Erika Yui.

            Whenever Erika comes over to my house, my mother loves to recount a really embarrassing story or another from our little play-dates. Like that one time, when I put cookies in her pocket and had our little beagle chase after her; Mrs. Yui remarked that she'd never seen Erika keep her balance for that long, let alone run that swiftly. Or the time I covered her from head to toe in paint; the cacophony of angry, monosyllabic cries from her mouth endured for hours and hours. It seemed to me that I was a terrible playmate for Erika; regardless, I bullied her into normalcy, one way or another, and our parents our friendship continue. I think it was because our playtime allowed them to gossip to each other about this and that and so and so. Each and every story always ended the same. My mother would wave one sharply manicured finger in the air, and say:

            "Aiyaaaah, you could always tell that you guys would end up the best of friends though. My son would always slap your cheeks, Erika. It was like he was trying to force the words out of your mouth. Then he'd fall over on his back, very confused. He just couldn't get why he could talk and you couldn't! I always laughed when he would roll around on his back making the noise like the monkey."

                 We ended up growing up together. Despite the lack of an age difference, our relationship took on an older-younger sibling bond, with me playing the big brother. In school I would look over her shoulder and correct her work, scrutinizing every little detail. She would blindly follow my commands, never talking back to me. It wasn't so much obedience as it was idolization; in her eyes I was someone to be revered, to be imitated. It came to the point where all of our classmates just assumed we were related. Being lionized, my arrogance brimmed, and I saw Erika as feeble, completely helpless without me. She needed my constant guidance, or she'd end up lost and dazed, confused by this world.

            I was imbued with a love of fixing things that were broken. Even at a young age, I was a gear-head. Towards middle school I began to notice a ton of abandoned bikes paving the streets by our apartments, and I'd take them back with me, touching them up. I loved it. I'd repair the pedals, oil the gears, inflate the wheels, and make the crank turn again. Whatever it took to make that bike ride another day, I'd do it. I consulted endless manuscripts, how-to books, to the point where my tools became an extension of my body. My hands would always be caked with rust and oil, and no matter how hard you washed them, faint marks would remain. The smell of rubber and lubricant seeped into my clothing, and my mother would always scold me for letting myself fall into this raggedy state. I felt certain completeness whenever I'd repair machinery; I felt that these discarded things were completely dependent on me to salvage them.

            I wore the consequences of my actions like badges though, and I was proud to flaunt them. I'd ride each bike I fixed to school at lightning speed, skidding to stops and leaving long skid marks. I also loved to wear the oil-soaked bandanas from my repairs to school every single day. But at that young age, being different was a deformity, and I became a huge target. Boys in class would call me names like "Grease Monkey" and "Oil Boy." The girls would ask me to hold out my hands, palms up, and would run at the site of them, as if I had leprosy. I honestly thought that being able to fix things was a commendable asset; at the least, I couldn't think of any behavior of mine that would warrant this kind of reaction.

            To my surprise, at each invective launched at me Erika would take a stand. She was usually so quiet and withdrawn to her silent admiration that I was floored that she could become so livid and animated.  She'd yell at the boys who called me names, usually picking up rocks and aiming for their heads. With the girls she'd pick up dirt on the ground and cake them into balls, sending makeshift artillery to sully their precious blouses and skirts. She stood up for me, and certain feelings began to well in my heart. My arrogance melted away, exposing hidden pride for my spiritual sister. With my arrogance gone, I began to see myself as an over-demanding, domineering ogre. I felt an immeasurable guilt for treating Erika this way, and I wished to repent.

            After that our friendship developed into something less shallow, what with my loss of pretension. I was constantly at her side, willing to meet whatever needs of hers that arose. And she continued to idolize me, willing to walk to the ends of the Earth to appease me.. The boys and girls in our class loathed us, preferring to keep their distance far, far away during classes, recesses, and lunches. That was fine, because all I really needed was Erika. In fact I thank them, because I don't think our friendship would've grown this strong if not for their imposed shackles; we were cuffed to the ankle, like Bonnie and Clyde, partners in crime at this point. I began to see her more as a person, learning more about her; with me off my pedestal she found it easier to relate to me. By middle school we were a duo, a pair, a friendship. Equals.

            In this new climate Erika's personality was free to flourish. It took years but my mischievous personality finally rubbed off on her. This was around the time when both of us were experiencing the joys of puberty; I was calming down, she was becoming more hot-blooded. I was more than happy to spend my days with the Engineering Club after school, tinkering with all sorts of machinery that I didn’t have access to at home. Erika, though, found no such joy in cultivating an interest in tranquil hobbies; she had a sudden want to rebel, to live on the edge. She'd frequently drop whatever obligations she had at a drop of a hat: piano practice, student council, tutoring sessions. In their stead she'd do things she thought were more worthwhile: perusing books in the store, or eating sweets at the gas station, or just lounging around, in and outside the city. And because we were tethered together I always ended up joining her for the ride. The Engineering Club met once a week, so other than that I had no obligations; luckily, Erika's impulses never got in the way of my own interests.

            I sometimes wondered the reasons why Erika's whims were always so convenient to my own. Maybe she wanted to do all of this crazy stuff with me. But the way she engaged in these activities, it was completely random, always occurring at the oddest intervals. I was over thinking it all the time, toying with the idea that her transgressions were merely bids for my attention. I sure as hell wouldn't mind either. Puberty was a godsend for her. She was beginning to acquire legs, breasts, and voluptuous lips. No one else thought it at the time, but I knew she'd become a fine woman. So I figured I might as well stake my claim now instead of later. I was accelerating my emotions; the way our friendship was, it was inevitable that we'd start going out right? 

               It seemed like she was dropping hints at every moment: clutching onto my arm, or tapping my fingers, rubbing her hands every which way in my hair, squishing my face cloyingly. If I had food in my hand, she'd swipe it from me, taking bites or swilling drinks airily. It was like she was saying to me, "I'm entitled to whatever belongs to you." Like man and wife, right? Any rational person would come to that conclusion. But the thing is, I could never tell with her. This development of Erika's character came about so suddenly, that maybe this was just the next phase of our friendship, something completely innocuous and affable, with no room for passion. I couldn't tell, and it was killing me.

            Wouldn't you feel the same? This is a person that you've grown up with, and you can't even read her. Countless hours spent laughing with her, crying with her, and there are still mysterious sides of her hidden from your sight. A lifetime of words exchanged, and each one seems weightless, disposable, useless things that fail towards composing a conclusion of the person you value most in this world. I wanted to know the inner workings of her heart.   

            On that day, in that grassy knoll, this question of what she was to me flashed brighter in my mind than any light in the sky. Her personality was growing, to the point where I felt like if it grew anymore it would come to a point where I wouldn't be able to understand her. If I blinked once, she'd be gone from my sight; in a sense, she was a shooting star to me. Something that eludes my scope, that escapes my grasp; if I grabbed for her, it'd be like trying to catch the tail-end of a shooting star. I'd clench towards the light only to have it slip through the cracks between my fingers. She'd disperse into a multitude of colors, each one more incomprehensible than the last. If this were to happen, she'd separate into so many rays of color in the air that I wouldn't be able to piece her together again, and I'd lose her forever.

            So that's what I wished for. I wished to know the inner workings of Erika's heart.  I wanted to know what made her tick, what made her move. I wished to know the reason behind her every action, to know the reasoning behind her thought process. I wanted to be able to read every synapse and electrode in her brain like an elementary book, able to forecast her every movement with computer-like precision. Because of this newfound, deeper understanding, I figured our minds would swirl together, until eventually I wouldn't be able to tell Erika's thoughts apart from my own; in this sense we really would be two people that forged a perfect union, becoming one wholly complete person.

            That was my rationale at the time. After that day passed, I could predict Erika's every move without a single mistake. I could finish her sentences, and could bring up whatever subject she had on her mind. She remarked that this sudden ability of mine was uncanny, but she figured that the volumes of time we spent together would do that to me. My newfound ability brought her even closer to me. Like two trees that grow next to each other, our hands started to hold each other like intertwining roots; suddenly gone was her rashness, in its place was a more vulnerable Erika. And my hunch was right, this sudden assertiveness of hers really was a bid for my attention; looking back, it was so stupidly obvious I should've realized it. We began to spend our time together more intimately, just like at that knoll by the river; we'd hold each other beneath trees, walk together in parks, spend every waking moment together. She began to pour out her heart to me, and in that current of her soul I was able to clearly see every emotion and every secret of hers like rocks on the bed of a shallow river. I could make out every detail that composed the entirety of her being; I already knew her from the inside out as she exposed herself to me.

              Except it wasn't as gratifying as I thought it'd be. I knew everything about her yet I derived no personal satisfaction from that knowledge. Guilt wracked my mind, and I couldn't help feeling I cheated myself somehow. I don't know what it was, but all of her affections towards me felt undeserved; I didn't find them endearing, but tormenting in a way. I'd know the sweet somethings she would whisper to me before they fluttered from her lips, or I'd respond woodenly when she'd kiss me or hold me tight. There was no spark or whatever when she passed me by. I could see her affections from a mile away… I was afraid that these sentiments would cease to mean anything to me.

             Eventually Erika as a person lost all meaning she had to me. A thought occurred to me one really late night. This was after we had consummated our physical selves for the first time. Sex is usually meant to unite two beings as one, but that night I couldn't have felt a greater distance between us. The night of those shooting stars had passed a long, long time ago. By this time we had just graduated from college. I had tried to distance myself from Erika, but I couldn't. Like the air I breathed I needed her, no matter how much I wish I hadn't; if we were separated for one single moment, a crushing anxiety came to pass over me. My mind would start swimming in the void she left behind. I couldn't function without her, because we were one and the same. When she would stand by my side, that tempest of panic would pass over me; my mind would clear, only to be reminded of the torment of knowing this person. Either situation was extremely painful, but this… staying with her was less painful, in a sense.

                 I had tried to give this situation another go. Erika was still madly in love with me, and one night she proposed to me. We were eating in a high-rise restaurant. It was this cozy, expensive Italian place, and she was able to afford it due to her recent breakthrough research work, which related natural phenomena and the placebo effect. The gist of it was, if something astounding in your environment happens, then something astounding will happen to you, or at least you'll think so. The power of belief is a double-edged sword; if we believe in something hard enough, it'll come true. But if that something becomes truth, how can you stop believing in it? Her research paper brought her prestige and with that a sizeable amount of money, so one night she stopped by the engineering lab. I was ready to go a couple minutes before she got there; I knew she had something important she wanted to tell me, so I waited for her. My separation anxiety only seemed to strike when I had the explicit intention of leaving Erika; with my resignation towards an eternity with her, it fell back, satisfied. We stopped by our apartment, got dressed, and left for this swank restaurant.

            We sipped at our champagne and silently ate our mushroom fettuccine. Food had lost a lot of flavor to me; like a lot of things in life I just ate because I had to. I looked up, and she tapped her spoon lightly on her wine glass. It made a dull noise, as I thought to myself, here it comes here it comes, another proclamation of love, of the utmost importance.  She suddenly had that sparkle in her eyes, something I thought she had lost a long time ago. She said to me "Screw society's conventions, I love you and you love me, so it doesn't matter who says it first. Will you marry me?" This was a complete surprise to me.

            Certain feelings began to well again in my hollow heart when she said those words. I just gaped at her the whole time, my mouth half-open. She opened a small box, and the glint of it blinded me; when I opened my eyes again, I saw a shining diamond ring. As she held it toward me, a giant blush suffused across her face. A message flashed in my mind: do you love her? The notion of this shocked me back into the moment, and I exclaimed, "Yes!" She gave out a high-pitched giggle, and then clasped my hands with hers.

             I was euphoric, because I couldn't read Erika at all when she proposed. It came out of the blue, and in that short moment hope began to thrive again in me again; it was pushed out of the rapid-fire beat of my heart, flooded my veins, and made my body shake. All I could keep thinking of was that one night, thinking that everything would end up the same. But in a reality where your most desired wish can cause you utmost torment, that line of hope is ridiculous.

            That night, we rushed back from the restaurant to our apartment. I opened my mouth and her tongue went in it, and I began to worry that I had anticipated it. My fingers reached towards the buttons of my shirt and bumped into hers; I somehow knew she wanted to rip my clothes off. Everything went perfectly. I unraveled her dress and her and I (we) proceeded to slip out of our clothes and into the sheets of our bed. In there we engaged in our lovemaking, and I ended up satisfying her every single desire. It's just; I wish I could say the same for me. 

            It was at this point, when she had fallen asleep in my arms, that I made my final thoughts about our relationship, and came to a conclusion. For one single second what I wished for was gone, but it came back again. It happened in that penumbra between night and day, that odd time where you're waiting for the sun to rise but it's still pitch-black outside, the kind of time where absolute silence reigns, and life is at a complete standstill. Her breathing became as predictable as a metronome. I mean, I didn't just know the pace; I knew when a snore would emerge, when her lips would gently say my name in the dark. It was scary. It echoed in the complete silence of the room, deafening in my ears.

            The light of a nearby streetlamp cast long, dark shadows across the room. Tree branches from outside spread their fingertips every which way on the blankets. They crept along the bed, and I felt colder somehow. The fragrance of Erika's perfume hung in the air like a cloud. I stared at the ceiling, unable to sleep. Her perfume would pull me away from the dreamless world I kept trying to enter. I noticed small bits of dust that drifted aimlessly in the air; I swept my hands in the expanse of the darkness but they only moved a little, resuming their seemingly still position in the air. I was that dust in the air. My life was moving, but from my perspective it wasn't moving at all. One sweeping gesture shook me up and just as suddenly kept me still. My knowledge of her, of Erika, weighed me down. We were supposed to be rushing past life's troubles hand-in-hand; now, it felt like she was the anchor that was pulling me down into a state of drudgery and lifelessness. I began to hate myself, my decision, in that span of time. Do I still love this person? Would life have been better if I never met her?

            My thoughts began to wrack my mind, and I wanted to push them deep, deep down, where I couldn't hear them. I saw Erika's body, and I wanted to be closer to her. I held her body towards my chest but she was completely cold to me. The starlight glistened metallically on her naked back. The only noise I could hear was the whirring of her breath. Her chest rose and fell like pistons. Everything that Erika housed inside of herself all operated efficiently, keeping her alive. I was very familiar with the workings of Erika's body, was intimate of everything that made her tick. The thing is, with this knowledge, Erika became something else entirely. She lost that certain spark I craved about her. As I clutched her tighter, closing my eyes, all I could see, all I could feel were gears and nuts, chains and bolts. The sun rose, the machine roared awake, and life went on, just as it was engineered to.

The End

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