Ash and Bea
by A. T. J. Cember
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
Bea: Hey, what is your class doing for the French final project?
“Look, we hadn’t talked online for three years.”
“Well, we didn’t need to, we lived in the same dorm.”
“I don’t understand how this book is organized,” said Ash. “I guess it goes backward from here in chronological order?”
With an ephemeral jolt of trepidation, Bea watched Ash flip all the way to the back. He found the last place where there was a date and handed the book to Bea, indicating that she should read. The date there was odd, sometime in 12th grade, because they had surely chatted online for at least a few years before then.
Bea: Hey, don’t go away. Please? I’ll be right back.
Bea: It’s snowing here. And I don’t know if you’re still here because I asked you to stay just because, but I’m happy.
Ash: Oh, hi. I’m here now.
Bea: What’s with your status about quicksand?
Ash: It’s about fighting against something in vain.
Bea: Against what?
Bea: OK, fine, you clearly don’t want to tell me. Never mind.
Ash: You know what’s disturbing? This girl Stella that I met in a piano summer institute thing. She’s our age, and she just got engaged. 17!
Bea: That is quite disturbing indeed.
Ash: To this Georgian guy. He has a cool last name: Gulashvili, or something. The funny part is that she went out with me for like a week. And then she met that guy. Such a slut.
Bea: Define “went out with you.”
Ash: You know, we went to a movie. To some stupid restaurants, which she paid for because she’s rich and spoiled. We held hands, the usual stuff. And now she thinks we’re really good friends. But we’re not.
Bea: Are you angry at her?
Ash: No, I don’t care. It’s just funny and absurd.
Bea: Did you like her?
Ash: She was hot but very shallow.
Bea: A lot of people are hot but very shallow. Sounds like Jordyn... But why is she a slut?
Ash: Because she changed boyfriends like every week! Until she met this guy, and now they’re engaged.
Bea: Yeah, that’s a little weird.
Bea: I see that she posts on your Facebook wall a lot. Was she at least good at piano?
Ash: Not really. She was decent.
Bea: Sounds like a Jordyn type to me. But people are like that, I guess.
Ash: Except she’s a billion times hotter than Jordyn.
Bea: Well, sounds like you were lucky to go out with her, except it seems like you didn’t really care...
Ash: She fed me.
Bea: Yeah, it sounds like you didn’t really care.
Ash: Ah, and why are you so interested?
Bea: You’re the one who started talking about it! Instead of answering my quicksand question.
Ash: Yeah but why do you keep insisting on the “didn’t care” part? Yeah yeah, I didn’t care. Big deal.
Bea: I mean, I said that and then you said something that supported my statement, that’s all. And besides, the lives of sirens intrigue me.
Ash: And she’s not very smart either. She had to take the SAT, like, five times.
Bea: Well, she’s pretty, so she’s probably happy anyways.
Ash: She wants to be a model.
Bea: Well, then, I guess she doesn’t need SAT scores.
Ash: I still can’t believe she’s serious... 17 and engaged.
Bea: You’re not going to answer my question about quicksand are you?
Bea: Why not?
Ash: It concerns something that you would not want to hear about.
Bea: All I want right now is not to go away from this computer. So, unless it is something you don’t want to tell me, which it probably is, I actually do want to know.
Ash: I don’t.
Bea: OK, sorry.
Ash: Poor Ben. His soul is at stake and he doesn’t even know it.
Bea: You can sell mine if you decide to spare him.
Ash: Good. The more trumps I have in my hand, the more the devil will want to bargain with me.
Ash: Heavy artillery
Bea: But you’re making the wrong assumption: that my soul is valuable; all I do in life is laugh like an insane person, cry like a worthless woman and work at things that I’m bad at.
Ash: That’s true of most people’s souls. Damn, we’re all so worthless.
Bea: If you sold your own, Ash, you might have a bargain.
Ash: I knew you’d say that.
Bea: You don’t believe me.
Ash: No, I don’t.
Bea: I know you don’t. You never will.
Ash: Yeah, I have a lousy soul.
Bea: I disagree, but in any case, you have one, and that’s a start. Maybe I used to have one, but it leaked out over the years in the form of tears. “I knew you’d say that.” See, that’s my problem.
I don’t criticize people unless I really mean it. And that looks weak, delusional. The truth? Maybe. And then I hate myself for it, which makes me even less able to criticize someone else.
Sorry, I’m so sorry...I’ll go to sleep and leave you in peace with your intact soul.
Ash: It’s all right.
Bea: Oh God, I can’t go upstairs. This hotel scares me. Something is so wrong with me. Today on the airplane, the XM radio didn’t have classical music, and I started crying. I feel like I’m in a nightmare, as if, upon leaving leaving this room, somehow I’m going to manage to fall off the balcony over the atrium and drown in the pool or something.
Ash: How was the funeral?
Bea: Tearful. But at least I got to be with my family. But now I’m alone, and it’s such a horrible contrast
During the funeral service, I got up and talked during the part when people do that. I can’t believe I was brave enough.
Ash: I’ve never been to a funeral. Or a wedding. Or a hospital.
Ash: Except when I was born, obviously.
Bea: I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals. For myself and other people. For other people... that’s when it’s scary. My dad was in the hospital for a while a few years ago, and I lied about my age so that they would let me into the ICU. I think they knew I wasn’t 12, but they let me go anyways. It’s stuff like that that’s scary about hospitals: rules.
Bea: Then, when I was 7, I refused to go into the OR without my stuffed dog. They had to give me the gas and IV while I was still holding it.
Ash: I hope I never have to go into one. I probably will, though, because I’m probably going to get cancer. Everyone in my family died from cancer. I’ve thought about committing suicide at 60 or so, because life after that is pointless anyway.
Bea: I’ve already promised to kill my mom and my grandma. I have insulin, so it’s easy. And as for me, I’ll probably die before I’m 60 anyway, so I don’t need to worry. But I’m glad you haven’t ever been to the hospital, especially for surgery. The anesthesia, the IVs, the cutting open my head part... it all sucked tremendously.
Ash: Yeah, I bet.
Bea: Wow, all of a sudden I’m just really happy that I’m alive at all. I want to run out into the snow
Ash: There’s snow? Whoa!
Bea: Yeah, remember that I’m pretty far north of you. But I’m scared of being alone.
This morning when I was on the plane, when we landed and it was snowing, all I could think about was how much I’d rather be landing in, I don’t know, Kiev. Or Moscow. Someplace better where the snow would stick and I’d be far away and not with my mother next to me who I can’t cry in front of.
Ash: OK, so teach me a life lesson: what do you do when women cry?
Bea: With what objective?
Ash: To stop them from crying.
Bea: Hold them tightly, don’t let them move, don’t say anything. I guess the next step depends on your relationship with them. Smile, maybe. That’s always a good idea. Or wipe away her tears.
Ash: Ugh, no way I’m doing all that nonsense.
Bea: Well, I forgot to ask, make her stop crying because she’s annoying you or because you love her?
Ash: Annoying you; the basic premise is that women cry for no reason.
Bea: You find someone better.
Ash: But they ALL cry.
Bea: Well. I guess I can’t really tell you about women in general, but personally, when I’m crying, I usually wish that someone would physically harm me. But, when I say that, people think I’m crazy.
I’m sorry if I didn’t really answer your question. If babies could be grown in labs, we wouldn’t have this problem. What women have been annoying you by crying?
Ash: None so far, I’m just thinking in advance.
Bea: Does being sad/depressed/melancholy annoy you too?
Ash: Not always, it depends on the reason.
Bea: Loneliness, let’s say. But first, a philosophical question: can loneliness be cured by someone who’s not an equal?
Ash: Bea, sorry. I can’t think about French and other stuff at the same time.
Bea: Maybe then I should do something I really don’t want to do, which is let you go...
Maybe in multiple senses of the word, too...
Ash: You’re not holding me.
Bea: You never stay up this late.
Ash: I never start my homework this late.
Bea: I distracted you...
Ash: Oh well.
Bea: And no, I’m not holding you, am I?
Ash: What’s this other sense?
Bea: There are a few.
Ash: I can’t think of one.
Bea: Then how do you know it’s there? Although, admittedly, they are.
Ash: Don’t you get tired though? I’m not really answering all the stuff you’re typing for me. If I were you, I’d just think I’m being rude, and I’d just sign off and leave.
Bea: I’m tolerant, as well as terrified of multiple things that might happen if I get off of this computer, and I’m being held, in one of the senses one the word as I meant it. Perhaps 1.5. And I’m being serious.
Ash: You are so cryptic.
Bea: Only because I am frightened that you would laugh at how I really feel unless you bothered to figure it out.
Ash: I won’t laugh.
Bea: Terrified, embarrassed, distraught, subservient, alone.
Do you understand?
Ash: Why, and what can I do for you?
Bea: I’m terrified that I’m alone, truly and inescapably; I’m embarrassed that I’m terrified; subservient, because I have so much more respect for others, especially you, than I do for myself; distraught, because I’m terrified, alone and want just a few basic things, which, no matter what, it seems I can’t have.
Ash: Come on, Bea, you’re smart, pretty, hardworking, spiritual...You shouldn’t feel that way. You have everything going for you.
Bea: Now I’m crying, reading what you just wrote...
Ash: That really makes me sad. I don’t even know what to write now, how to comfort you.
Bea: If only you had any idea, Ash, about the dreams in my head, the words that slip out of my pen onto paper...
Ash: Well, if they’re even more troubled than what you write here...
Bea: No, that’s not what I mean...
Ash: Bea! Stop being so suspenseful... Ask me anything you want.
Bea: Fine. What do you want more than anything else in the world?
Ash: That’s easy: talent, genius.
Bea: Gosh, I gave up on that one a long time ago.
Ash: Well done. I can’t stop thinking about it. Oh well, let’s not talk about that.
Bea: Don’t worry, I have equally fruitless aspirations that hold out.
Ash: So is that all you wanted to know?
Bea: No. To say so would be a horrific lie.
Ash: Well, ask me, then. It’s very brave to ask exactly what you want to know, and not maneuver around trying to put together some conclusion that’s probably wrong.
Bea: Yeah, and that requires the bravery to figure out what exactly you want to know.
Ash: I would assume you do. It’s the asking part that requires bravery. But if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.
Bea: Ok, I’m taking a deep breath. If you were here (and mind you, it’s one in the morning), would you run outside with me in the snow (which is beginning to stick) until we couldn’t run anymore and then collapse in the middle of nowhere where we could see the stars?
Ash: Yeah, I would.
Bea: God, I hope I’m smiling big enough to make up for all those tears. I love life! Just sometimes I forget. I think I can go to sleep now. Maybe you should, too. Sorry I took you away from that homework!
Ash: Wait, you still haven’t asked a direct question.
Bea: Do you want me to? Maybe there’s something you just want to tell me...
Ash: I don’t think I should.
Bea: Should what? Tell me the answer to what you want me to ask?
Ash: I shouldn’t say it.
Bea: I don’t even know the question to which you shouldn’t say the answer.
Ash: Bea, from all signs, I gather you are attracted to me, though I can’t be sure about that... Am I right so far?
Bea: Didn’t we have this conversation already over the summer?
Ash: That’s the problem: you shouldn’t be attracted to me.
Bea: Because? If the answer is that you are not attracted to me, that is kind of irrelevant; it just means I need to leave you alone.
Ash: Because, though my head tells me you are just what I need, my heart won’t follow...
I’m sorry, I just don’t feel that urge to want to be with you. You know the urge I’m talking about. Though my reason tells me it would be great in all ways... And wanting to go out in the snow with you to look at the stars... That’s true, but I would want to do that with anyone.
Bea: OK, I’ll be honest. I have the opposite problem. In my head it’s “don’t look at him, don’t look at anyone, you are nowhere near good enough for anyone that you think about.” But inside, I bleed all the time with this draining feeling of being alone. And I think there are a few people in the world whose eyes and words would fix it, but they look at me and feel nothing, as they should.
Ash: Bea, it’s not your fault, it’s mine. You should talk to these other people. It’s me, I have a really hard time falling in love with someone...
Bea: Part of me doesn’t believe you, but I know it’s true. And I hate the truth with every fiber of my being. Most of all I hate mirrors. No, it’s myself I hate.
Bea: But you... you are one of the most intricately attractive people that I have ever met in my life, the one I feel the worst about liking; I would do anything to be with you more, but at the same time, anything to make you forget that I even exist so that I won’t have made your life worse instead of better, which would have been nice.
Ash: Are you telling me out of all the guys you know, I’m the one who attracts you most? Ridiculous.
Bea: I don’t think I am who you think I am. But clearly you don’t understand. And I’m sorry for everything. I have to go. My dad is yelling at me.
Ash: Well, that’s that.
* * *
Copyright © 2014 by A. T. J. Cember