05 April 2006

Wipe Clean Eugene

His childhood had laminated him. He became a wipe clean man, with a duck’s back and a clearly marked entry and exit signs above either ear. Once in a while he would wake with his father’s voice in his mind but he would shake his head hard and his panic would subside. He had developed strategies for that kind of thing.

He had no strategy for Marlie, she caught him unawares. He had avoided other people as sharp objects but there was something about the way she said his name. ‘Eugene,’ she’d say, the word becoming a warm cat slouching through sunshine. ‘Eu - gene.’ Her glasses were always speckled with dust and he marvelled that she could see through them. He washed them carefully with lemon juice and a little hot water one day, but in a matter of hours they were cloudy again. It was in these tiny ways that he showed her he loved her. He would wrap his hands in her long tangled black hair buoyed against the dizzy scent of her skin as they lay on her crumpled sheets in the cluttered chaos of her room. But he kept Marlie in a small box, an unruly jack which would not be allowed to burst out in other parts of his life and startle him. He was still his father’s son after all.

He waited for her in their favourite café, the one near her house, to ask her to marry him. After two hours Marlie still hadn’t arrived so Eugene walked round the corner, careful to avoid the dirty puddles left by the rain. He had to ring the doorbell three times before she answered.
‘Eugene,’ she said in a way he hadn’t heard before.

Eugene lay on his neat bed in his tidy room. Everything in its place. He drew a trembling hand across his wet face and heard her say ‘You won’t let me in, I can’t stand it’ again. He shook her voice out of his head until it hurt. Then he began to feel better. He allowed hindsight to make him feel foolish. He painted a picture of himself in his mind; he was an island, fortified and forbidding, watching life sail by him in a flimsy dinghy. ‘I’ve had a lucky escape’ he thought and slid across the floor on feet of Teflon.

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