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Oct/Nov 2009 Fiction

Permanent Black Burn

by Jennifer Greidus

Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona


Everything about him, at first, made your skin crawl. Fynn was dirty; he faked being poor. He was foul-mouthed beyond clever. He disgorged black ropes of unsettling profanity. As if that was a normal way to have a conversation. As if he'd been born with coils of charred magician's prop right in his gut. He used the same tranquil tone to ask you if he could borrow five dollars as he did to say to you, "Patrick, your dad just might be the good fuck that he promised."

Your skin crawled. Fynn sat at your lunch table. He stood next to you, uninvited, while you smoked between classes in the alcove marked "Vehicles May Not Stop." Your skin crawled. He was in all your classes, only you were brilliant and acceptable, even loved. He was brilliant and overlooked, even hated. His family was wealthy. His family loved him, you could tell, but he itched from the comfort of wealth and love, you could tell. He smacked Mr. Cassidy in the face after Calculus. At least that's what Fynn said happened. If you could believe what Fynn said.

Fynn left school and went to Russia. You were unsure where in Russia, and though he told you later, you still can't remember where in Russia. You finished twelfth grade. You had plans to go to Columbia. You had plans. Fynn came back to the States in June, a month before you were due for orientation. He inserted himself in your life. Only passively. It was your choice, you told yourself. You tell yourself this, still.

He was no longer dirty or pretending to be poor. He seemed humbled. He smoked cigarettes down to the bone. He ate at one place, every day, for two meals. You'd watch him through the window of Wiltshire Diner. He hunched over a bowl or plate of food while writing, writing, and then... writing. Sometimes you'd watch him for two hours. You'd stand under the pavilion, in front of the dry cleaners, smoking cigarettes—not down to the bone—and you'd watch him spoon soup into his mouth. The pen in his hand, always.

When you stepped into Wiltshire Diner, you were rebounding from your best friend Maxie's Independence Day picnic and booze-up. You slipped into the booth, Fynn's booth, and even as you did this, you wondered why you did this. It took Fynn a minute, almost a full minute, to acknowledge you. His voice was scratchy from silence. He said, "You're a stalker now?"

You said, "How was Russia?"

Fynn scratched his smooth face with the end of the pen and said, "Lonely, Patrick. Empty but full, if you know what I mean. How was high school?"

You said, "I'm going to Columbia."

Fynn waved cigarette-stained fingers in dismissal. He sighed heavily, reliving a burden, it seemed, and then relieving it, too. He said, "I have something better for you to do. You call those Columbia folks. Tell them you have other plans." Fynn handed his phone to you.

Something better for you to do was to create songs from the maxims and poetry and musings inside Fynn's weathered, cello-taped, red notebook. And then play them. You could read music, write music; you played the drums in high school, took music composition in tenth grade, music appreciation in eleventh.

You learned guitar and bass guitar. You sang. He sang. You shared a microphone. Now this is where it got dirty. You fell in love with him. Your lips grazed his lips a lot. He spat when he sang. You were good; Fynn was ablaze. Four or five nights a week: coffee bars to bookstores to bars to bigger bars to city bars to opening acts to contracts to comfortably sized venues. You returned to bars when Fynn felt pressured and bourgeois. You toured the eastern United States with three other bands, the headliner of which was very well known, immodest, ostensibly heterosexual, and comprised of complete pricks.

It was Buffalo when Fynn fucked you. Your want of Fynn had been pressure-potted for so long that you ejaculated in a minute. Fynn laughed but said he didn't mean to laugh.

It was D.C. when Fynn found your bed again, though you had said earlier that the first time was a mistake. You also were fucking Weasel from the noise-band that went on just before you, and that was good sex, great sex—Weasel liked to lick you-know-where—so fucking Fynn again wasn't sensible or necessary. You got off most weekdays with Weasel.

Fynn kissed you a lot, on stage, in private, in front of the ostensibly heterosexual, very well known band. You were torn between wanting to put on a better sexual performance for Fynn and the fear of sinking further into Fynn's huge, brown eyes and into his huge, brown habit. You found syringes. Brown gunk, white gunk, white powders, crystals of something. Weed was a drug of such low importance that it was often left behind in hotel room shambles. You went back for it, though; it and vodka were the only vices you had. At the time.

A permanent black burn streaked the center of Fynn's lower, chapped lip. You found a pipe in the dressing room in Atlanta. Then another under his pillow in Nashville. Then Fynn never bothered to hide them anymore. Fynn cut his legs and wrote poetry with his blood on the walls of The Mobile Inn. The immodest, prickish members of the very well known band gave ultimatums. Fynn stopped showing up for shows, though he insisted—to this day he insists—that he was banned, locked out, unwelcome, and bounced.

Fifty days later, three newborn bands were opening for you and Fynn. You no longer needed the ostensibly heterosexual, very well know band. You cut your legs, too. You painted walls with blood. You mingled AB negative with O positive. You snorted heroin for him. You liked it for you, but you snorted it for him. He made you watch him fuck girls from Hartford, boys from Philadelphia. He let you fuck him once, but he passed out a long time before you came inside of him. Though you still came inside of him.

You cracked the market. He dragged along top-tier and mid-tier models of both sexes. During sober moments, of which there were few at this point, Fynn told you how much he loved you, how he always loved you, how he always would. How it was more than sex, how it was all about sex, how life would be different in Europe. Late nights, Fynn would snuffle in your ear: "Let's move to España!"

You would fix for him. He trusted you to avoid the overdose. He trusted you not to tell. Not to tell how pigeonholed you both were because you smeared blood on walls of hotel rooms and got high all the time and fucked everything you could. He trusted you not to tell how typical and typecast you both were, how pathetic. How misunderstood, how hurting, how addicted, how stupid. How boring.

You cracked the market. Critical and popular fuck-off success. Why were you on talk shows and music shows, speaking about how you lived for music and poetry? Why did you put on shows at venues where you couldn't even see the back of the building? You lived for Fynn's music and poetry.

After back-to-back appearances on renowned, late night television, your mother called and asked you if Fynn was your lover. "You're very pale," she said. You told her it was the network lighting and that you loved Fynn, but not in that way, la-de-dah. Your mother would later sell tell-all tales to the largest publishing house in New York for two million dollars. In public, she would beg for her son to come home and love her.

You cracked the market.

And then Fynn cracked.

 

There are over twelve-thousand publicly available photographs of you. Or of you and Fynn. Or of you and Fynn and whichever plug-in band members existed at the time, because Fynn was insufferable and could not retain a steady second guitarist or drummer. There are over eight-thousand photographs of Fynn in various states of disrepair and amidst sordid and assorted company. There are over eight-thousand video clips on the Internet of you and Fynn. There is very little official merchandise. There is, however, a preponderance of bootleg and unofficial goods—blurry posters, t-shirts with grainy, unprofessional silk-screens, lyric sheets with misquotes, misspellings, etc.—the origins of which are completely sketchy and almost untraceable. So says management.

You can't save him. He's worried about what to have for dinner when you want to help him get sober. He's worried about his next fix when you want to help him decide what to have for dinner. No longer are you harmonious in music or life. He is annoyed by your presence, and you are saddened by his. Your shows suck. He vomits on stage. When he makes it to the stage. He's arrested, but all those stories are banal and this is too short a tale to tell them here. The merciless punishment—the only punishment—is that which he afflicts upon himself. You and Fynn are alone because no one but you will be in his company unless necessary. And by "necessary," you mean for monetary gain.

You fight, and Fynn stabs you in the leg. At the hospital, you say it was an accident, that you were building something. As if you could build something. In Los Angeles, Fynn threatens to throw you out of a moving car, off the balcony of the penthouse, out of the third story window belonging to Unray, a crack dealer that you only just met.

In the car, Fynn smokes more crack than you've ever seen him smoke, and he asks you to suck him off. You try. But orgasm is six months away, at least, longer if he breaks parole. He says, "You know that I love you, yeah?" You nod. He says, "Patrick, if I killed you, no one would ever own you again. You will go down as mine. I've worked like fuckery for you. All this. The private poetry—we've cashed in on it—all my ripped open, raving thoughts, each line about you and each word for you."

Fynn says all the wrong words that he intends to mean all the right things, but you have to leave him anyway.

On television, eleven months later, a self-proclaimed sober Fynn turns up on a popular interview show. You watch with your new band. They slag him off (you are the only American in your new, British band, and terms such as this are insinuating their way into your language). You hurt for Fynn; he struggles through the disjointed interview. The host wants to save Fynn, just as the rest of the world wants to save Fynn. You want to scoop up his soul. You know what Fynn's thinking, why he's fidgeting; you love the way he holds the guitar next to him on the couch, as if it's the only thing keeping him grounded to the set of the show. The interviewer affects a breath for courage, and here it comes, the inevitable question about... you. Is there still bad blood?

Fynn frowns with one side of his mouth and says, "I hope I'm forgiven. I mean, I hope he forgives me. But we'll see. We're still not speaking. I love him, though. The fuck-off success was just a child of my love for him."

The indelicate, bastard host persists: Maybe someday you'll make it up, huh? Fynn clenches his jaw. He says, "Look. Don't mention Patrick to me again, or I'll leave." Fynn then performs, with despondency, the most despondent, regretful song. His face absorbs the blue and pink set lights. He sweats. His face contorts in protest. Soolie, the drummer in your new, terrible bore of a band, says, "That song's shit. He's past it at twenty-six! And on international telly with pupils wider than his mum's arsehole!"

The dirty fingernails and the poetry and the drug-sunken face. Remembering how Fynn tasted when he was sugar-sweet from heroin. This is why you leave Edinburgh, mid-tour, and go to New York, then Miami, then Los Angeles. This is why you return to your Ohioan hometown on the off chance that... yes.

You don't want to make music anymore. Fynn does not want to make music anymore. There is nowhere either of you can go to start that or end this. There is no clandestine space to live off your great fortunes. There is no end to this while you breathe. The end is death, and all this life must be lived while everyone watches, because now everyone is watching. There is little value to life without attention, to life without distraction. It's okay. Even if Fynn should try to murder you again, at least it will be an upshot of chaos, and his chaos has been your only desire since you sat down with him at the diner.

 

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