|The events described in this story are fictional. The author makes no assertion about the lives or characters of the real people whose names and identities she has used in the writing of this story, and makes no money from it.|
I tell you there're
pieces of me you've never seen
Making tapes is different than burning CDs. It's less precise, and more tactile. There's something so old-fashioned and mechanical about a tape -- wheels turn, things clunk and rattle. Mostly, Elijah prefers modern technology and things that work properly, but today he's feeling perverse. He's chosen the tracks and the order. He's shuffled them about, written and rewritten his list, and now he's carefully weaving them together to make something new. It makes him feel creative, kind of. There are so many songs, and so many possible ways to put them together. Privately, he wonders whether this is what it's like for people who can draw, or write, or play. People who can make things. These aren't his songs, or only in the sense that he paid for them. But sometimes, when he listens, he finds bits of himself hiding inside them.
A car pulls up outside Elijah's house. He recognises the sound of the engine as it shudders painfully to a stop, so he gets up and walks a precarious path through the CDs littering the floor. He opens the door and retraces his steps across the room, picking discs off the carpet like flowers in a meadow.
"Hello," says Orlando, standing in the doorway and twirling his keys around and around on his forefinger, like a little jingling lasso.
"Hey! Come in. What's happening?"
"Come to see you, haven't I?" Orlando's smile is bright and wide. The keys disappear into a pocket with a stage magician's flourish.
"Oh. Okay, no that's cool. I thought you were doing Viggo's, like, Ultimate New Zealand Survival Course, or something."
"Nothing. I just kind of thought you and he had something on tonight, that's all. Camping out, or whatever."
"With Viggo? No..." Orlando's face is a blank page. "No, he's buggered off somewhere with Sean, I think. Being manly men together, you know. Ha."
"Right... Those Men, huh? Always running around, being so manly all the time..." Elijah rolls his eyes. He carefully puts down the CD he's holding on top of some other CDs. "So, um ... how did you know I'd be here? Hmm, Elf boy?"
Orlando smiles again. "You live here, don't you? Where else would you be?"
"I don't know. Out? I could be out ... somewhere. With, um ... people."
"Ah, but you weren't."
"I could've been."
"Except you weren't."
"Okay, never mind." He walks into the kitchen, leaving Orlando to follow, or not. "You want a beer?"
"Cheers, yeah. Just one or two, maybe, 'cos you know -- driving." Orlando has to call to be heard because he's still in the other room, flicking through the channels on Elijah's TV, by the sounds of it. Elijah takes two beers from the refrigerator and walks back through. Orlando turns off the TV.
"Nothing on," he declares, reaching for the bottle Elijah's holding out to him.
"No," Elijah agrees. The beer runs down his throat and begins to settle in a warm lake in his stomach. He starts thinking about tiny explorers climbing up his throat, kind of like in that old movie, except not, because in the movie they were in this kind of spaceship thing. The beer would seem like a mountain stream to them, and they'd be wondering whether it was safe to drink from. They probably wouldn't be able to breathe inside his throat, though, so --
Orlando is still standing there, looking at him strangely.
"You all right?"
"You were getting that kind of glassy-eyed look..."
Orlando waves his bottle in the general direction of the stereo. "You making a tape?"
Elijah says, "No -- I mean yeah. It's just some stuff for ... just some stuff. Just some songs I liked. Um ... so far we have PJ Harvey, some Pixies, Boards of Canada -- did you know they're not actually from Canada? Anyway, it's not finished yet, but I have it all planned out."
Sometimes Elijah wishes he would shut up. He genuinely finds himself getting tired of the sound of his own voice.
"I could make you a copy! Maybe? There's some stuff on there I think you'd really like. Or, you know, will be. When it's done."
The offer hangs in the air like skywriting, like a big flashing sign saying Elijah Wood is an eager little puppy.
But Orlando just grins easily. "Yeah, cool. Cheers. That'd be great."
"Okay, well. Great."
They stand and nod at each other for a while.
"Oh!" says Elijah. "Oh, I'm sorry, sit down -- um ... no, wait a minute."
He makes some space on the couch, picking stuff up and dumping it randomly in piles on the floor. CDs, CDs, socks, CDs. A dog-eared Sandman comic. More CDs.
Orlando grins and sits down, spreading himself easily over the couch like he's lived on it for a year. He flips through the comic without really looking at it, puts it down again.
"I love how you take such good care of your stuff, Lij."
Elijah grins. "Fuck you."
Things are easier when they're both sitting down, lolling and slouching and putting their feet on the furniture because they can. Things ought to be easy, they usually are. Much easier than this, anyway. Maybe it's Orlando. Maybe Orlando's being weird tonight, or maybe Elijah is, or maybe it's because he just woke up. Maybe it's all of the above.
Orlando yawns and stretches his limbs extravagantly, as though they're brand new possessions he can't quite believe he owns. Then, suddenly, he freezes. His gaze is fixed, Legolas-style, on a point a short distance away from couch, in the middle of the floor.
"Oh ... shit," he says in a low, awestruck voice.
"What. The fuck. Is that?"
Orlando points and seems to hunch in on himself. His attention is focused on a small dark spot on the pale carpet. The spot moves.
"It's a spider," says Elijah.
"That," says Orlando, turning to Elijah with a haunted look in his eyes, "is not a spider. That is a monster."
Elijah looks at him. "Come on... it's not even that big."
"It's fucking huge!"
"You're not really scared of it, are you?"
"I'm not scared! It's not ... it's just horrible. Makes my skin crawl ... all the legs, and the ... scuttling about and stuff. Ugh, just. Gross."
Elijah thinks about waiting to see if Orlando's skin actually will crawl; he's kind of interested to see what that looks like, but instead he gets up and finds an empty glass that's been in here since yesterday. He puts it down over the spider, slides a postcard underneath and turns the little prison the other way up. He holds it out to Orlando.
"There you go," he says. "Your new pet."
The spider tries to climb up the walls of its cage, but slips each time and falls down. It sits at the bottom of the glass, waving its front legs delicately in the air, trying to feel the way out. Orlando grimaces and turns his head away.
"Oh man ... Jesus, that is ... that is disgusting. No way, I'm not even looking at it... Oh, that is horrible."
"Go on, take a proper look. It's kind of cute, don't you think? You could give it a name! You could take it for walks on a little leash!"
"No -- fuck off, I'm serious! Don't you ... fuck off!"
Elijah laughs. "Relax, man. It's just a spider."
He takes the glass into the kitchen and lays it down outside the back door. The spider crawls to the lip of the glass and stops. It strokes the air gently with its spindly legs like elegant fingers. Elijah wonders what the world looks and feels like to a spider. He nudges the glass slightly with his toe, and watches as the spider darts away into darkness.
"It's a phobia," calls Orlando from the front room, and Elijah smiles, but it's a curious smile that curls up and crackles dryly at the edges, like something that's been left out in the sun for too long.
When Elijah comes back in and sits down, he doesn't say anything, but his eyes kind of slide sideways and he regards Orlando out of the corners of them. He finds himself wondering what he looks like from the outside, what Orlando sees when he looks at him.
"Phobia," repeats Orlando darkly, but when he drinks, the corners of his mouth twist around the rim of the bottle as he tries not to smile. Elijah laughs, and beer gets up his nose.
"You know," he says, wiping beer-foam onto his jeans, "Maybe it's a good thing you didn't go off with Viggo tonight. I mean ... could have been pretty embarrassing. Lot of bugs out there in the wild."
"Fuck off," says Orlando mildly. "It's not bugs. It's spiders." He takes a long swig. "Anyway." And another. "Who needs that all that shit? Fucking wildlife and shit."
"Right." Elijah nods. "Not you, huh?"
"Not me," agrees Orlando.
They sit and drink their beer. There is a clock on the wall in this room. Elijah has never noticed before how loudly it ticks. It's almost excessively loud. He really prefers clocks that just get on with their timekeeping cleanly and quietly, without needing to let everyone know about it. Digital clocks are good that way, with their little red numbers that glow warm and reassuring when you wake in the middle of the night. Elijah wonders who put this loud clock on the wall, and when, and why they chose it. It's a horrible clock, really; a big white disc, with the sort of no-nonsense black figures on it that you can't get away from. It's like the kind of clock you'd get in an office or a school. The kind of clock you'd have to watch all the time, the hands juddering tick, tick, towards the end of the day. So Elijah imagines. He's never spent much time in offices or schools.
"I'm glad you were in tonight," says Orlando.
"I live here, don't I? Where else would I be?" Elijah smiles and yawns.
"You look knackered," Orlando's voice is quiet. Everything is quiet, except the clock. Elijah would like music, but he can't be bothered to do anything about it.
"I'm okay," he says. He looks at Orlando for a while, because it's somehow difficult not to. There are grey smudges of shadow under Orlando's eyes, and a place near his left ear, where the skin has been scraped and broken, and half healed over. "Are you okay?"
Orlando just looks back. He blinks slowly and smiles. Then he leans his head against the cushions, pressing his cheek into the squashy synthetic hide of the couch. He closes his eyes.
Elijah knows opportunity. He's learned how to recognise it, and it seems to him that he's being given an opportunity now. He's being offered a special deal, for one night only, a loophole in the natural order of things. It's his, if he's quick. If he reaches out and grabs it before it slips away.
The little DJ living in Elijah's brain flips into action and puts a record on the turntable. In Elijah's head, every night's a party. The crowd jigs and sways under the disco lights. In the darkened underpass, goes the song, I thought, Oh God, my chance has come at last. But then a strange fear gripped me, and I just couldn't ask...
The words nearly fit him. They don't quite. But after all, they're not his words, are they? They're Morrissey's. A sudden spark of irritation lights in him. Just for once, he'd like to try life without a soundtrack.
He ignores the Smiths. He says the words. He says the words so quietly that his voice is barely there, so quietly that he wonders if Orlando will hear them at all, so quietly that perhaps he will be able to deny they ever existed.
Orlando doesn't say no and he doesn't say yes. He doesn't say, "What do you mean?" He doesn't tell Elijah to fuck off. He doesn't leave. His eyes stay closed and he turns his face away from Elijah's, into the upholstery. His body stays where it is, though, so that the gesture is not one of rejection, but a passive kind of welcome. It says, 'Do what you want. Touch me, if you want. Make me come, if you want. None of it will be my fault.'
So Elijah does what he wants. He reaches down and touches the bottom of Orlando's t-shirt. The shirt is pale blue. When he rubs it between his thumb and forefinger, he finds that it's softer than it looks. He pulls on it gently and the fabric slides up, and Orlando's bare skin is underneath. Elijah puts his hand on Orlando's ribs, strokes them, feels them under the skin. The skin is warm. He wonders if his hand feels cold to Orlando. He stares at Orlando's neck and the beginning of his shoulder, and the expanse of flesh looks stark and pale under the overhead light.
The light is left on. It has to be left on, because otherwise one of them might mistake this for something private and intimate, which it's not. Even though now Elijah has reached down further, and is twisting stiff fabric against plastic, pulling the button through the little slit, scraping the chewed ends of his fingers against the metal teeth of the zipper on Orlando's jeans. Even though he's sliding his hand under and inside, into heat and darkness, still, this is not intimacy. It only feels like it.
Elijah is at an awkward angle, so he leans forward and props himself up on one elbow. Orlando shifts very slightly towards him, mutters a breath into the couch. His whole body seems to quiver and hum. It's like an engine. Like a rubber band pulled tight. Bits of him move and flicker, like a dog on a hearthrug, dreaming about rabbits.
The room is so quiet, it's a presence in itself. It's like a third person watching them, waiting, blank-eyed and expressionless. Elijah can hear the sounds of his own breath and blood hissing and rushing inside his body, and the shushing of the skin on his arm against the couch fabric. Outside in the street, a car door slams. Further away, somebody shouts into the night, but the words are blurred and indistinct.
Orlando makes sounds. Little, interesting sounds. They're like things that have been buried a long time, things that have to be dragged out into the open, against their will. They get smothered and lost in the cushions, while his body struggles against itself, against Elijah, against the couch.
Come on, Elijah doesn't say. His mouth forms the words, but he doesn't say it. He doesn't say anything. Breathing has become an unusual activity, requiring concentration. He listens to the clock ticking on the wall. He listens to himself and to Orlando. When Orlando comes with a jerk and a wordless, couch-strangled cry, Elijah half-smiles, half doesn't.
"Have you got any tea? I really fancy a cup of tea."
Elijah says, "Uh, yeah, I think I have some bags somewhere."
At the kitchen doorway, Orlando stops and turns round.
"Sorry, did you want one? Or a coffee, or something?"
Elijah says, "No, I'm fine. Thanks."
He listens to Orlando banging doors and drawers, trying to find where Elijah keeps things. He picks up his cigarettes from next to the stereo and lights one, draws the clean, dirty smoke down into his lungs. It tastes all wrong. It tastes like something that isn't really working, so he puts it out again.
"Did you find it?" he calls.
Orlando appears in the doorway. "Actually," he says, "I think I might give it a miss."
"Oh. Okay. You don't want tea?"
"Nah. Changed my mind. I'd better be getting back anyway. You know, 'cos ... you know."
"Yeah, so..." The car-keys emerge from the pocket, and Orlando stands in the kitchen doorway, half-heartedly jingling them.
Maybe it would be good if you could rewind life, erase it and tape over it with something more appropriate. Elijah wonders what he'd replace this evening with. Something instrumental, probably. Something without any lyrics. He thinks about his tape, but it seems to have become curiously irrelevant to everything. He thinks about Viggo and Sean being manly in the wild.
"Do you think it's gonna rain?" he says.
Orlando looks surprised. "Doubt it," he says. "Why?"
"No reason. No, I was just thinking, you know, if it did, then maybe it's best you didn't camp out tonight."
"Yeah, well. I s'pose. Maybe." Orlando looks unsure. "Anyway, so... See you tomorrow, right? Bright and early?"
Orlando hovers and hesitates, bouncing gently on his heels. Then he comes over to the sofa and sits down next to Elijah.
"You're um ... you're okay, yeah?"
Elijah looks at his knees. "Sure. I'm okay."
He can feel Orlando beside him, the heat of his body and his breath. That's the thing about Orlando -- he's just always so ... there. Orlando is probably not the sort of person who has to look for himself.
And now his face is close to Elijah's, his breath is warm and surprising on Elijah's cheek.
"Hey," says Orlando softly.
Elijah feels Orlando's fingers pushing gently at him, tipping his chin and running along the side of his jaw, digging into his hair. He feels Orlando's lips, hot and slightly dry, on the corner of his mouth. The tip of Orlando's tongue, once and very quickly, then again. Elijah lets himself follow where Orlando's mouth wants him to go. He lets Orlando's fingers push his head up, and run in a light patter over the skin of his throat, and he lets Orlando's body hang heavily over him and press him down into the couch. It's strange how unfamiliar Orlando tastes and smells. He tastes of a different brand of toothpaste and of things Elijah doesn't eat or drink. He smells of somebody else's sweat and sex, and faintly of soap Elijah doesn't use, and of years and years of different habits and ways of doing things, of being another person.
Orlando pulls back again and his smile comes into focus. He takes Elijah's wrist in his hand and makes a funny, fussy little gesture, drawing a tiny circle on it with his forefinger. He strokes the back of Elijah's hand briefly.
"Don't worry about it," he says.
Orlando gets up then and leaves the house, pulling the door gently closed behind him. The latch clicks.
Elijah sits. He listens to the horrible clock ticking, his hands placed flat and careful on his knees. The room looks at him emptily. He looks back at it, for a long time.
"I don't think," he says at last, "that you actually know who I am."
His own voice sounds croaky to him, small and weird, and the words are crisp and woolly in his mouth at the same time. They're like an apple somebody sliced and left on a plate. He wonders where they came from, and who they're for. He can't even be sure whether they belong to him or to someone else. Perhaps they're from a song. They seem to leave a residue behind that creeps under his tongue and furs his teeth, blending with the taste of Orlando and his strangeness.
And the room would shrug, if it could. It is indifferent. It can hardly claim to care who Elijah is or is not, because it's only space. It hangs around him and does not reply.