An outdoor stage, mirrored on the inside by an indoor stage. One bathed in light, the other in shadow. From where he stood on this dark, outer stage, he could hear the revelries of the party inside. They occupied the space where an audience had been mere hours ago. Meanwhile, this private stage of his, had only crickets for an audience. Their incessant chirping suggested that summer was on its way. It wasn’t quite there yet though. Upon reflection, one could name this season he inhabited the Spring of Not-Quite-There.
She stood on the empty stage, seemingly waiting for him. He had expected to find her here. After all, he had wandered the building looking for where she had disappeared to. She was just standing there, in the cool midnight of late October, waiting for him. Which was frankly ridiculous, he was no-one worth waiting for.
“Finally,” she said, “I’ve been trying to get you alone for some time now.”
He was flustered, speechless.
“Really?” he managed to say.
He made his way across the stage, seemingly made of some kind of cement and sandstone. The light of the moonlight shone over him as he approached the lip of the stage. They weren’t far from the ocean, and he could hear the crash of the waves. He thanked every deity he knew that they had not been discovered yet. A private moment between the two of them. The only audience they had was crickets. Despite this, he felt very exposed.
When they were close enough to touch, she hugged him.
“Thank you for making me laugh,” she said in his ear.
Then she moved her face and kissed him. It wasn’t a real kiss, it was a half kiss. Half of her mouth met half of his. His first kiss. Was it a real kiss? A genuine kiss? The question would bounce around in his head in the coming days. For now, he just accepted what was happening. They returned to hugging, and hugged for some time, until they were discovered by others at the party. They returned to the party inside, their clandestine meeting having changed something between them.
“Is it a true story?” his lecturer asked.
“Kind of. Bits of it are true. I’ve never been good at non-fiction,” he explained. “A degree of fictionality happens in every work. You take the truth and mould it like clay. Reality is mostly boring, so you improve it. With language, with narrative tricks. You’re a surgeon, cutting things up to fix them.”
There was a murmur of vague agreement from the classroom. Another individual added onto the end of that and he listened to their thoughts. Was it true? Truer than he’d like to admit. Did it matter? Of course not, the audience doesn’t ask that it be true, only that it feels true. He recalled a book that he had read many years ago. The protagonist was somewhat of a pathological liar. He didn’t mind this, what did one or two details, here or there, matter? The moment he felt betrayed was when the narrator crafted a secret werewolf mythos into their world. The changing of the world was the moment he felt betrayed. He finished the book and was presented with the same quandary. Were they telling the truth? Did it matter?
The party continued, transitioning to the home of one of the other cast members. While the revelry began in a central location, various groups sectioned off. So, once again, he found himself in her company. Two others joined them and their troupe was formed. Four revellers, two female, two male, ready to party into the early morning. Music blasted and the four talked, and sang, and drank. None for him as he was underage. While they talked, she sat on his lap. Across the table sat his younger brother. The two were of very similar minds in those days. This was his brother’s first after-party. It was his third-or-so after-party. They were both very new to this whole thing. The hours ticked by quickly, filled with drinks and music. People flickered past their little troupe, but none interrupted, leaving the troupe to its own devices. As the hours got late, she had to escorted home. Thus, the troupe moved their revelry to the streets of the small coastal town.
“Have you considered giving them names?” his classmate asked.
He had. Naming them was dangerous, made them too real. Perhaps names would fictionalise them further. Change the names to protect the damned.
“Maybe, depends, do you think it needs it?” he asked his classmate.
“I’m just saying, it might help with clarity,” his classmate noted.
It was a fair point. Naming them would reduce confusion, especially with the four of them now. It did no-one any help to keep referring to his ex as just she. He named them as such.
He would now be John.
She would now be Daniella.
His brother would now be Dave.
The fourth reveller would now be Ruby.
“Alright, time for me to get home,” Daniella told the group, getting up off of John’s knee.
“Did you want us to walk you home?” John asked, hoping to spend more time with her.
“I’ll be right. It’s just around the corner,” she told them.
“Don’t be ridiculous. We’ll walk with you” Ruby interjected.
“Adventure,” Dave said excitedly, rising from his chair.
The four of them arose from the table they had been sitting at and made their way outside, passing other revellers on the way out. Dave led the charge, Ruby following Dave, and John bringing up the rear with Daniella. Dave was the soberest, so they figured he could be in charge so they didn’t get lost. It was only a couple blocks after all.
The roundabout felt like an island amongst a sea of houses. Dave looked at his hand.
“Oh, I’m bleeding” he noted calmly.
The blood dripped down his arm. He must have cut himself on his hand a while back. It wasn’t a serious injury, but the cold night air and their swift movement across the backstreets had given room to bleed. Dave was the bleeder of the family anyway. Subject to nose bleeds in the heat and generally quite injury prone, he was often bloodied up. John recalled one incident when Dave had been stabbed by his best friend with a fine liner during class. Dave joked that he should use his blood on an empty wall to warn that ‘the Chamber of Secrets has been opened.’ John vetoed the idea, noting that it might give some of the more geriatric residents a heart attack.
They continued across the empty streets, the ocean sounding even closer now. They arrived at the rows of identical houses that indicated that Daniella’s house was nearby. Despite John’s attempts to savour the seconds, the house appeared nonetheless. Funnily enough, Daniella lived right next to the town hall, which had held their previous performance six months prior. John and Daniella split from the group as John led Daniella to her door.
They stopped in front of the door, two figures trapped in time. They hugged, but nothing more. No repeat of their attempt at a kiss on that stage.
“This is as far as you go tonight, mister,” she teased, seemingly quoting some old movie.
“Did you want to get a drink together sometime?” he asked.
She chuckled slightly.
“You’re still seventeen,” she told him, squashing his spirit somewhat. “But hey, who knows what could happen in six months? A lot can happen in six months.”
Six months. In six months, he would be eighteen. He would be in the beginning months of his Year Twelve education.
A lot can happen in six months.
Daniella was right. A lot can happen in six months. Two months later, at the Christmas Carols, they got together. A week or so later was their disastrous first date. He had purchased too much popcorn and in his attempt to eat the abundance of popcorn his lips had dried from all of the salt and their drinks were long gone. Then came Christmas, where John’s family hounded him about this mysterious woman in his life. He was hopeful. Then came New Years, she came to New Years. In lieu of a public midnight kiss, she instead opted for the first kiss of the new year in the relative privacy of the stairwell.
Then came New Year’s Day, and the hopeful world of the past month was unravelled. John’s parents, who had been together since his birth, were separating. Days later, he sought solace with Daniella. Daniella broke up with him.
It was probably for the best. He was seventeen, she was twenty-one. They lived in two separate towns, separated by forty-five minutes’ travel time by car, even longer by infrequent bus. John was only on his Learner’s Permit, as was she. Their lives were incompatible and on some level, he had always known that. Their worlds had only collided because of his love for the stage.
By now the line that ‘All the world’s a stage’ is rather a cliché. Something about its truth permeated this stage of his life. The outdoor stage where he had laid the scene was utterly too perfect to be real. There was no audience in the fiction he wrote, bar crickets. However, by the writing of it, he created an invisible audience. Even if it was just an audience of one, it was an audience who thought they could peer behind the curtain and see the truth behind the outer performance.
Perhaps there was no truth, perhaps he had taken one or two details from his life, or transported someone else’s story into his. Perhaps there was no Daniella, or at least, not the simplistic portrait he had created for his fiction? Only those present could reveal the truth, but the truth might be obscured by booze and the fog of memory. This was merely one facet of a multi-faceted truth. A truth that was never really capturable in an objective sense. There was only the performance of truth.
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