February Feature: Steven Asher

Steven Asher is a junior and an English/Creative Writing major at the University of Houston. He has been writing at about age ten and hasn’t stopped since, though this online feature with the Aletheia is his first publication. Steven always loved fiction in all forms, be it literature, film, theater or comic books and because of this, he is a strong supporter of local artists. Whether it be plays or musicals at a small theater, orchestra concerts, readings, local bands, he wants to support it. He thanks the Aletheia editors, for giving him this opportunity to be apart of it all.

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Wordsworth to Wordsworth

by Steven Asher

            I don’t know what reading Wordsworth had to do with Mona keeping her hand over mine, as it cupped her breast in a hotel two years ago but that’s where it took me. I was taking the District Line down to Braidy’s place before we went to school and decided to pop the Crush on the ride over. He told me not to underestimate the little orange pill when he handed it to me in the small plastic bag.

“At it’s peak, it takes whatever it is you’re currently experiencing, a buried memory and connects the two in a series of emotions and images, sometimes making you relive entire memories themselves if the memory is a strong one,” he answered my question, but the look on my face must have colored me unconvinced because he capped the explanation with the phrase, “Shit works.”

I tried to recall the connections in my head the Crush connected together but it was hard at first. We had been on a trip in London our junior year led by the French teacher and Braidy had secretly invited one of his college friends, Mona. Braidy and I met her at the airport during our free hours instead of roaming the city. She was beautiful: green eyes, porcelain skin and ginger hair she insisted was “strawberry blonde.”  She was all these things and older than me.

Mona never got her own room but shared ours and ducked our French teacher when she came for the random “room checks.” One of us would coincidentally be in the shower when the teacher came looking and Mona would hide out in there. Mostly it was Braidy who in there with her but one night our teacher came for a second check after making her rounds and we panicked, Mona pulling me into the bathroom with her.

“Is this all you two do?” I asked, tapping my fingers against the sink.

“What did you think we were doing? Did Braidy tell you we were fucking?” Mona said, sitting next to me on the bathroom floor next to the running shower. Not a moments pause between the two questions.

“I don’t know what I thought.”

“Calm down dude, I was just fucking with you,” she said.

I didn’t really know what to say, mouth ready to spring with something to say but my brain was coming up completely empty. I ended up letting my eyes wander around, examining every inch like I’d never seen a bathroom. Braidy eventually opened the door to let us know we were in the clear.

I had just finished unpacking all of my clothes when the teacher came back one last time and Braidy pushed me into the bathroom again.

“You going to unpack your stuff?” I said after a minute of silence.

“Oh, so you do talk?” she said, smiling.

“I was just thinking, there’s enough room in the dressers and it’s not like Ms. Packer is going to check,” I tried smiling back.

“Sit next to me, I can barely hear you over the shower,” she sort of inched her body to the right and patted the floor next to her.

“I mean, if you’re going to be staying with us for the week, you might as well..”

“Thanks, but I usually live out of my suitcase during these kinds of things?”

It’s a phrase I would pass over at the time but would bring up later in the week.

The shower was low enough for me to hear the teacher asking Braidy why I was taking so long in the shower.

“He’s masturbating,” he blurted out.

Mona gave a snicker and I can only imagine what shade of red my face flushed. Braidy was always giving me shit for things, especially for me being straight edge for the first two years of high school.

“Being straight edge basically means no alcohol, drugs or sex,” I explained to Braidy outside the White Rabbit our freshman year. It was a local show for Ghost Town Electric and he wanted me to pop X so I could “fully experience” the light show that accompanied their sets.

“How’d you hear about Ghost Town Electric?” Mona asked.

“Oh,” I snapped, looking down at my vest to the GTE patch. “Well…”

Braidy knocks on the door this time and simply yells, “We’re good!”

“Go ahead and go, I’m going to actually take a shower now that I think about it,” she said, standing up.

“Sounds good,” I sit up but before I can even stand, she’s taking off her shirt. “Whoa!” I almost yell, “Wait until I get out of the bathroom first?”

I don’t look back on my way out but she makes a sort of “pfft” sound with her lips, which makes me look back to see her rolling her eyes with a smirk.

That GTE patch would end up draped over her chest later; she put the vest on after coming out of the shower in only a bra and shorts.

We watched TV together for the first time that night, some hour long drama on BBC that put Braidy to sleep and left Mona to put my arm around her as we sat propped up, at the end of the bed together. She held the cross at the end of her necklace in her mouth when she really focused in on something. I noticed the habit the first time her and I were in the bathroom together. I came back from the bathroom during a commercial break and put my arm around her again after she sat up from the bed headboard, expecting me to return.

“Sorry,” I said, my hand accidentally brushing her chest as it draped around her neck but instead of letting me pull away, she held it there and looked up at me. It was that look of opening a door and catching someone in the act of something but instead of being shocked with what she had found there, Mona had a stare like she had been expecting what she had found. If Braidy hadn’t been passed out due to bottles of cheap wine he smuggled in, we wouldn’t have… or at least, I wouldn’t have but we did. Braidy asked me how she was when we got home but I just told him the whole thing was a blur, which was the truth. The next day, when Braidy ordered two beers for Mona and him, I told him to make it three. We had found a place that didn’t card a few nights before and started frequenting it.

“Calm down, I’ll pay for it,” I tried putting Braidy at ease but it wasn’t until after he explained himself that I realized he was freaking out over me ordering alcohol for myself.

“And with such confidence,” Mona added in.

I later realized and told her that she was the result of that confidence.

“Not my usual pillow talk,” she said, “but I’ll take it.”

Mona had thick skin when I met her, so she never really talked about emotions. Which meant we never really talked about emotions but the night after we had sex, I told her that she made me happy. She told me I made her happy, right now. I didn’t have much time to question the afterthought because Braidy ended up making the cab driver pull over, so he could plant his hands to the pavement out the backseat and throw up, his lower half still in the cab. I got out without saying anything to Mona to make sure he was okay but he waved me off before I could touch him.

“Meter’s running,” the cabbie said.

“I’ve got the money, just hang tight. He’s throwing up, geeze.”

“Look at the balls on you, kid,” Mona said, looking over the top of the car at me.

“Don’t call me kid,” I threw back, a little more harsh than intended.

“Calm down, it’s just an expression.”

“Is that your solution for everything?”

“What?” she looked confused, not following my train of thought.

“You’re so laid back about everything.”

I let out a sigh and found myself leaning against the trunk of the car, Braidy still puking his guts out, insisting he was okay in between heaves. I look over to him and see Mona leaning against the trunk with me.

“Don’t take it as an insult, I’m impulsive,” she finally came out and said it for the first time that week. Problem was, she didn’t think that was an issue for me. Bigger problem was, I didn’t address that it was an issue for me. “I meant you make me happy right now and that’s enough for me,” she said, retracing our conversation back to where it derailed.

“I guess you’re right.”

“Are you guys fighting about me?” is what Braidy meant to say but it all comes out in one slurred phrase.

“No Braidy, you okay?” I ask.

“Mmmmyeah.” He says, throwing himself back in the cab.

“Let’s get you home buddy,” I say. “Come on,” I say and without thinking, I give Mona a kiss on the forehead through her bangs. She tugs me back, reaching into my coat pocket to pull me by my hand.

“What’s that?” I asked.

And without a moment’s hesitation she leaned in and said, “I really want to kiss you right now.”

“Right now?” I kind of chuckled but more out of confusion than humor before kissing her.

“What was that for?” I ask.

“You’re just a good person,” she says and kind of shrugs.

Not counting when we had sex, I kissed her twice in the week that I knew her. Once when Braidy was blowing chunks out the back of that cab and again the night we flew out from London, she was going to stay a few more days. Everyone was filing in at the airport and Braidy had just walked into the terminal after saying bye when she caught me by the arm and pulled me into her.

She didn’t even say bye after that, just kissed me, hopped in her cab and left.

Mona was my first, the ignition of sexual passion at the beginning of my high school years. In retrospect, that night was the start for all of what I had been putting off as someone who claimed “straight edge”. So, I guess I do agree with Wordsworth when he said that sexual passion is the strongest of them all when talking of the origin and creation of poetry.

“Huh…” the word was meant to be a thought but instead came out as an audible alarm to pull me out of my memories and the chain they created.

“Huh, what?” Braidy said, and it was only then that I realized I had made my way from the start of the District Line all the way to his side of town, to his apartment, up the stairs and to his front door.  I tried to suffice the explanation with Braidy’s phrase of “shit works” but he just said, “nah motherfucker, tell me about your trip.”

After throwing myself on his couch, I asked if he still knew Mona

“Well of course I still know her, you don’t stop knowing someone,” he retorted.

“No, I mean,” I stopped and hung my head.

He interrupts my frustration at his being a smart ass and tells me that he and Mona hadn’t spoken much in the past year. She had taken last summer to road-trip around the States, visited everywhere apparently. Braidy got halfway through describing her travels before retrieving a post card from his room. It was from the world’s largest catsup bottle in Illinois, attached was a picture. Mona stood next to it proudly with her hands on her hips, her hair blown wildly in her face by the wind. Apparently this was supposed to be the first of many but the rest were never sent out. Braidy said he got another one when she made her way to Singapore. I lament over the word Singapore for a second before Braidy decides to tell me she’s coming into town at the end of the week. He says he’ll get in touch with her then and see if she wants to hit up a bar or something.

“So Mona is where the Crush left you stranded?” he started to connect the dots.

I told him I don’t know why my mind went there but that’s the path my brain went down. Wordsworth to Mona? From poetry, to the poet, his perception of the world, man’s connection to nature, beauty, passion, strong passion, the strongest of passions, sexual desire, etymology of sexual desire, coming of age, high school, meeting Mona in this city, this city, revisiting now, admiring the skyline, not able to express my longing to return, much like a poet would, or the great “translators” for things we can’t properly articulate as Wordsworth would say, on the train reading this passage on poetry by Wordsworth.

“From Wordsworth to Wordsworth,” I say.

“Yep.”

“From Wordsworth to Wordsworth,” I say.

“From Wordsworth to Wordsworth,” I say.

“From Wordsworth to Wordsworth,” I say, running the cycle over and over, each time the associations growing in complexity and number and…

Braidy snaps his fingers in my ear and I flinch, “Don’t relapse into the cycle, you still have to help me with this remember?”

I told him I’m sorry and rub my eyes before focusing in on the laptop in front of him.

“Wait, you haven’t signed up for next semester’s courses yet?” I ask.

He laughs and makes a smart remark about how not everyone does it the night the registration opens for them. I spent the rest of the week in my flat, sifting through possible plans for the summer. A few of us wanted to take a trip to the beach, so I started marking the possible weekends I could take off from work. I was reading through the end of a book for the third time when Braidy called me and said Mona wanted to go out with us that weekend. I had only ten pages left in that book but spent the rest of the night sifting through my closet to find something to wear.

“Calm down Rico Suave’” Braidy comments on my clothes as we walk towards the bar together.

“Piss off,” I tell him, half smirking.

We walk into the bar and Mona is sitting there with two other people, one guy and another girl. She stands up and gives Braidy a hug but pauses for a split second at me.

“Holy shit, London!” she finally says, so loud that half the bar looks over at us. We meander through a bit of small talk before I eventually ask how her trip went, but only after Braidy brings the subject up.

She saw everything, got arrested twice, spent a few weeks in Seattle after she ran out of money and lived in her car. Most of it was living in her car, when she passed through cities she knew nobody in, which wasn’t that often apparently. Braidy makes the comment that it’s a wonder she’s not dead.  She went everywhere, Seattle, Toronto, L.A., Houston, Miami, Amish country in Ohio, a concert at the Red Rocks in Colorado. The entire trip is explained in a single breath. The thought of who she saw at the Red Rocks crosses my mind in the middle of it all but Braidy interrupts me, ordering a round for the table and the conversation diverts to what he’s been doing since she left.

His anecdotes aren’t nearly as entertaining and take twice as long to get out.

“We actually just finished school,” he says, jabbing me in the shoulder.

“Really?” Mona’s eyes fix on me for the first time since she realized who I was.

“Yeah,” is all I manage.

“Maybe Braidy can stop slinging Crush and get a real job now,” Mona says.

“I’ve heard that stuff is nothing but terrible trips,” the guy next to her in a sloppy beanie chimes in.

“Not really, it just depends on the user and what’s being used as the current focus being paired with the memory,” I say.

“You’ve tried it?” Mona cocks her head slightly away from me.

“This morning actually!” Braidy proudly states, leaning over the table.

“What did it do to you?” the guy in the beanie asks.

“Nothing just…” I can feel Braidy’s eyes on me, “brought a sort of personal meaning and memory to some classic literature I was reading on the train.”

“Good memory or bad memory?” he asks and for some reason, even though I didn’t owe anything to this guy and Braidy was the only one who knew the truth of the situation, I had to be honest.

“I don’t know?” I say, looking at Mona. Her black shirt clinging tight to her chest. “Anyone got a cigarette?” I ask.

“Why don’t you ask the drug dealer?” sloppy beanie says.

“Why don’t you not point me out as a drug dealer in a public place,” Braidy says through his teeth. “Besides, I don’t smoke.”

“You don’t smoke?”

“No, I don’t smoke,” he says, leaning over the table to lower his tone, “because as much as I enjoy my pharmaceutical endeavors, I hate the idea of my breath constantly smelling like ash.”

“I’ve got one,” Mona says standing up, “I’ll join you.”

“I didn’t know you smoked,” Braidy calls after us.

“I don’t,” I say, unsure of who he was talking to.

“Just started,” she throws back.

“You got a light, love?” she says, motioning towards a guy leaning against the outside of the bar.

“You smoke but don’t have a lighter,” I remark.

“Sounds like me,” she says, lighting the cigarette in my mouth. She thanks the guy with another “love”, he winks at her and she flashes a smile.

“Yeah, I guess it does.” I say back.

“How do you figure?”

“I didn’t mean—”

“No, I know you didn’t. Remember, you’re a nice person,” she pushes me playfully.

“You remember that,” I chuckle.

“So now that it’s just you and me,” she says, “does your memory of me leave a good or bad taste in your mouth?”

“How did…”

“You looked straight at me when talking about your Crush trip and Braidy had that stupid grin on his face when looking at you he gets when he wants to say something so badly but he knows he shouldn’t.”

“Well…” I say and she looks dead at me, “it’s the whole going for a smoke without a lighter. I mean I didn’t think it was possible for someone to live ‘in the now’ anymore than you already were when I met you, but you found a way.”

“Works though doesn’t it?” she says, taking a long drag of the cigarette.

“For you, maybe. I could never be that whimsical.”

“You say that, but you’re nowhere near the boy I met back then and took his virginity.”

I almost choke to death, coughing out smoke, “You knew, huh?”

“You were seventeen, barely could look at me without blushing.”

“I guess you’re right,” I say.

The light at the other end of the street turns green and the flood of traffic is released.

“You’re more bold than I remember,” I say.

“That’s because I am more bold than I was when I met you,” she says, her dark red lipstick leaves stains on the filter each time she puffs.

“I think that’s why I’m not sure.”

“Of?” I can’t tell if she’s being coy or genuine.

“Of whether or not my memory of you is a good or bad one.”

“What does my boldness have to do with that?”

“Because… because there was always this gap between what you knew and what you could say or do and who I was as a person. Like you were a step ahead of me in life.”
“I am older, it’s kind of a package deal.”

“Yeah but then that makes me think that you didn’t enjoy yourself as much as I did all those years ago.”

“If that were true,” she drops the cigarette butt, “does that change anything for you?”

She snuffs the still lit cigarette with her heel and walks in the bar. I walk in just a few steps behind her, as I started my cigarette just a little bit after hers and have grown content my pace.

 

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