Genre: Romance, Tragedy, slight!angst
Length: three-shot (1/3)
Summary: Kyungsoo is stuck in the hours while Jongin begs the seconds, because time stops for someone who can't remember and runs from someone who can't miss the last train home.
prologue: daisies; part one: lost and stuck; word count: 6,489
Kyungsoo has a scrapbook of faces and dates. Polaroid collage with little sentences inscribed underneath. This is Zitao, new Chinese waiter doing Wednesday night shifts (6 June 2010); here is Yifan, model requesting Rhapsody in Blue with a dry whiskey every Sunday (19 December 2009); Baekhyun there, but he moved out (6 July 2008). It’s a synopsis of Do Kyungsoo: neighbors, acquaintances, old friends, new strangers, presented with military precision.
Near the end is a snapshot of a hunched figure, leaning on a brick wall, with one knee bent and the other propping his entire weight. A cigarette rests idly between long, thin fingers. Monochromatic grey ghosts along his countenance. White smoke twirls from the ends of his lips, diffusing through hair and drizzled rain into a strange sense of solitude.
Two words are scratched underneath. Neighbor, smoking.
The newspaper is dated 12 July 2012. But more than the fact that Kyungsoo can swear it was only 24 November 2008 yesterday, his shirt takes up a good quarter the front page photo. His favorite shirt. The one that he’d gotten for being employee of the week, with a lopsided, hand-sewn Pororo logo, right up in all of its magnified glory on the cover story.
Hastily scanning over the headlines of ‘massive disorder in downtown Seoul caused by raining money’, Kyungsoo focuses back on the picture. It’s certainly his shirt, the one that he’s wearing right now and has rolled out of bed in twenty minutes ago, in fact. More precisely, the one that he can’t remember wearing to any expensive penthouse, which apparently the picture was taken in.
According to the article, “Esteemed novelist Kim Jongin has just been bailed out for destruction of public order, after literally blowing a storm of hundred-thousand won bills out the window of his Seoul penthouse with an unnamed accomplice. Calling it a ‘billion-won confetti display’, he has caused the largest traffic jam in Seoul history, effectively blocking off streets within a two-kilometer distance as city residents rushed to collect the money.”
But according to Kyungsoo, as he shoves the newspaper under Minseok’s nose, “National Post is pulling really elaborate pranks these days—but where did they find my shirt?”
Minseok frowns hard at the article, and really hard at Kyungsoo, and then towards the other end of the bar. Kyungsoo is too busy re-reading the article and double-checking his shirt to notice it, or the fact that there is someone exceptionally well-dressed seated at the end Minseok’s wide-eyed stare, someone hiding an amused turn of the lips behind a glass of whiskey.
They meet for the first time, Kyungsoo thinks, in the apartment elevator. It’s early Friday morning, 13th of July, an hour when the world runs on uncertain lamplights, drunken howls, and the occasional punch of laughter. There are just the two of them at this hour, and an obtrusive kind of silence.
Having just returned from the bar, Kyungsoo tries to fight off the cocktail of metallic smoke and the thick scent of alcohol caught in his hair. The last ringlets of saxophone nestle over his fingers and cinquillo beat lingers under his skin, but none of it is enough to fill the abyss that stands between him and the stranger.
The stranger, with an unlit cigarette between his teeth, turns first. The unflattering elevator lighting enshrouds him in jaundice yellow and a heavy veil of lethargy. Kyungsoo wonders, with the cinquillo pounding into his veins, if the man’s skin is as plastic as it seems.
“Hot. The weather. It’s hot,” he says, proffering a hand that Kyungsoo grabs with hesitation. His grasp is surprisingly cold, long fingers and nails cut short and sharp, leathery skin stretched taut over gaunt knuckles.
“Um,” Kyungsoo balks, as soon as he catches the stranger staring holes into his face. The handshake suddenly feels more of a deliberate judgment than an abrupt greeting. More frightening than tense and more awful than awkward.
Between the creaks of the elevator flooring and sputters of the fluorescent light bulb, Kyungsoo’s voice comes out as a squeak two pitches higher than it’s supposed to be, “Yeah. Hot tonight.”
The stranger says nothing. Instead he leans back on the elevator walls and stares, eyes flickering up and down the length of Kyungsoo’s figure. It’s the kind of stare that makes Kyungsoo draw back behind his jacket, though a thin layer of cashmere does little to hide him from the other’s glaring fixation. Time stands on its toes until the doors open, when Kyungsoo lets out a gasp of air he didn’t know he was holding in.
Only later, after Kyungsoo has worked his way down the apartment corridors and noted that the stranger has trailed after him, does he realize that it’s probably not the first time they’ve met.
“Do I know you from somewhere?” He finally asks, voice echoing uneasily down the long hallways. The stranger has stopped at the neighboring door, twirling a keychain around his forefinger. A sliver of moonlight works in from the railings and gleams off of something on his suit. Kyungsoo notes a pair of cufflinks, shiny and expensive-looking, too expensive-looking to belong to someone who would live in this kind of residence.
“Do you?” The stranger’s lips work into a slow smirk.
Kyungsoo picks the lint in his pocket. He doesn’t remember coming upon the stranger’s face while reviewing the memory book earlier. But perhaps he skipped a page. It’s happened before. He hurriedly reaches for his bag, and is stopped with a bark of laughter, “So you weren’t kidding about the amnesia.”
“Interesting. Cool. Really. What’s the last thing you remember doing?” The stranger interrupts, in no apparent hurry as he slumps against his door and regards the way Kyungsoo is fumbling with the lock.
Even in the dark, the twinkle of sadistic amusement gleaming from his grin is distinct. It makes him look older than he seems, almost sadly so.
Kyungsoo thinks so hard he forgets to answer, and by the time he turns around again, the stranger has gone.
They meet again for the first time in the staircase. The sun is breaking into a Monday. A gust of summer blows away the last rays of moonlight. Kyungsoo rushes down for his job at the factory and the man with an unlit cigarette between his lips works his way up. Their gazes collide, and maybe their shoulders graze, and that’s enough for Kyungsoo to freeze mid-step.
But the man doesn’t spare a second to acknowledge Kyungsoo’s flabbergasted stare. He simply keeps climbing, wheezing and panting, face pale and beaded with perspiration. Kyungsoo watches his legs quiver and wobble with each step, as if they’re no longer strong enough to support the invisible, enormous weight on his shoulders. As if he would quake and topple over with the smallest tickle of a breeze. It’s almost breathtaking how broken his back looks from this angle, all fabrics caving over blades of bones, sharp angles and emaciated lines. Half a thought passes about maybe taking a photo of this man, but Kyungsoo doesn’t know what he would label that photo, and plus he’s late for work, so he runs on.
For Kyungsoo, summers in suburban Seoul are made of mezzo voices threading deep into midnight, cardboard boxes of leftover toys dragging across rubber conveyor belts, red bean slush and wrinkled newspapers under soft kisses of dusk. There are more entries in his scrapbooks now. His life is surging with columns of black notes; Zitao and Yifan are now more than friends, Minseok has found a new tune; there is a stranger living in the vacated apartment to the left, and they might have spoken before.
They meet for the last of first times when Kyungsoo swings open his door and comes face to face with enormous, dilated pupils.
“Hi,” the man grins, cigarette bobbing limply from the corner of his mouth, “My name is Jongin. I’m a writer. Novelist. I moved in next door a week ago. For the sake of inspiration, artistry, discovering poverty, avoiding the press mob at my usual place, so on. The point is: we’ve talked before. Twice.”
“Oh,” Kyungsoo immediately falls back on his usual response, “Sorry—I have anterograde amnesia so—”
“You don’t remember me. I know. You forget everything by the end of each day so you won’t remember me by tomorrow.”
Jongin steps back, nurses a flame from his zippo onto his joint, takes a deep drag, and lets the smoke gush viscous and white from his teeth, “Anyways. Listen. I need to get a manuscript into my editor—Oh Sehun—if you knew him you’d know how much of a fucking douche he is, but the point is: if I don’t get in something in a month he’s going to nag like a bona fide bitch—and, to be frank, I’m out of ideas. But not really. I have an idea. And the idea involves…”
It’s not until Kyungsoo is coughing back smoke does he realize he hasn’t been breathing the whole while, “Um, yes, involves what?”
“You,” Jongin smiles.
The thing about Jongin’s smile is that only his mouth moves upwards, so all Kyungsoo sees is a beautiful picture of pricey starched white shirts and grinning misery. A whole lot of suffering wrapped up in exposed teeth and narrowed eyes. The prettiest adjectives to dot an abandoned soul, most delicate epithets to cross a closed heart.
Kyungsoo writes that down on the Polaroid he takes of Jongin that night. This is Jongin, new neighbor, novelist, sad smile (17 July 2012). We will have interviews. He wants to write a book about me.
During Wednesday’s dinner, Kyungsoo decides that although his daily rituals are simple and repetitive, it’s best that way. His memory doesn’t last long enough for him to keep up with long-term changes and it’s not like he can grow tired of doing something he can’t remember doing, in any case.
“So what do you do?” Jongin interrupts, a pen tucked behind his ear and another one between his fingers.
Kyungsoo says that he works at the neighboring toy factory from nine to five, gluing little shiny little marble eyes onto stuffed cartoon characters. A breath of artificiality for the sparkle of life. The job is purely for financial support, albeit Kyungsoo thinks that he might have grown attached to his coworkers and the plushness of the toys, the soft fabrics, the forever cheerful smiles. The job makes just enough for rent and necessities. Still, it’s alright because seven o’clock fixes everything. At seven, he heads for the bar to nurse transient melodies from his soul. Technically the hour is about demurely collecting change under drunken chaos, but for Kyungsoo, it’s about molding words out of thin air, gasps of smoke and shudders of music, closed eyes and faint sighs embracing the crop circles of sawdust in the carpets. It’s about muses slipping through fingers and curling around his toes. Seven is about passion. A dream.
Kyungsoo lets all the two hundred and six bones of his body fall in place as he breathes, “It might be lackluster, I guess. But it’s hard to feel the lackluster when you’ve never really felt the luster. Felt alive, I mean.”
“So you’re like a walking corpse?”
“More like a walking fossil.”
Minseok, his childhood friend and fellow singer in the bar, always jokes that because time has stopped for Kyungsoo four years ago, he must be perpetually twenty years old. But it’s not really a joke, and people have stopped laughing a long time ago.
“I think it’s funny though,” Jongin remarks, dropping his cigarette stub in the beer can before taking an appreciative sip. Kyungsoo tries not to wonder how it tastes, nicotine and tobacco drowning in fizzling wheat. Instead he peers over at Jongin’s notepad, and the little illegible lines of black ink left sprawled over the edges. Jongin explains that they’re for a book he’s writing. A romance about a man who erases himself at the end of each day. Kyungsoo questions the romance in that. Jongin says no worries, writers are certified bullshitters; just kill someone and it’ll end up romantic.
They met for second time twenty minutes ago, when Jongin banged on Kyungsoo’s door with a six-pack of Hite and a joint poking out between lax fingers, “Hi, I’m Jongin, your new neighbor. We’ve met before—” at which point Kyungsoo promptly reached for his book and Jongin commented, “I’m on the last page, I think. The guy wearing a suit.”
Kyungsoo stared at the photo, and back at Jongin, and then twenty minutes later here they are: sitting on the fire escape, talking about large philosophies and sub-ideal romances that Kyungsoo can’t quite loop his head around. Their knuckles and shoulders are bumping, which makes Kyungsoo uncomfortable, and even more so that Jongin doesn’t seem to care. In fact, Jongin doesn’t seem to be the type to care about anything.
“What do you mean, it’s funny?”
“More importantly, how does it feel to be perpetually twenty years old?”
Kyungsoo contemplates, “Good.”
“But isn’t it terrible? You’re caught in time but time moves on. You can’t remember people coming or leaving. The world diminishes around you while you’re stuck in the center. All of your old friends leave or die and you can’t make new ones. You can’t love. You can’t hate.”
“So why is it funny?”
“It’s so sad it’s funny,” Jongin shrugs, “People tend to feel bad for poor, harmless souls like you. Carrying a larger-than-life burden with smaller-than-life ambitions. Like watching an ant die under a magnifying glass and squealing in joy over the sadness of it all. It’s hilarious. Well I mean, I make a living off exploiting it for all it’s worth, but it’s still hilarious.”
Jongin flicks off the end of his cigarette and they watch ashes swirl down three flights of stairs together. A breeze. Jongin inhales summer, exhales toxins. Kyungsoo picks at his toes and fingers and the little bits of rust in the steel staircase before saying, decisively, something that he isn’t sure he wanted to say, “You sound so miserable.”
“All novelists are.”
“Is that why you smoke so much?”
Jongin writes ‘inexplicably Good Samaritan and consequently nosy’ in the column headed under Character Traits. Pretending not to see it, Kyungsoo nudges him for the answer until eventually Jongin complies with a sneer, “You don’t need to know. Why don’t we talk some more about how you keep track of—”
“No,” Kyungsoo snaps firmly, “No, I want to know.”
“Listen the book is about you—”
“This conversation is about us.”
Lowering his head, Jongin mutters something about pains in the asses before ripping his face back up with a blank smile that curdles Kyungsoo’s guts, “Okay. About us.”
“I won’t remember it by tomorrow, anyway,” Kyungsoo reminds him.
Hollowing his cheeks in on the joint until the little flicker of orange disappears, Jongin lets the words flood out with white vehemence, “I’ll tell you what makes me miserable,” Jongin looks somewhere into the distance, and that is when everything falls apart, “I have idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. It means that my lungs are drowning in snot. I’m dying. That makes me fucking miserable, alright?”
The noise of street vendors and traffic and children playing suddenly becomes unbearably soft. Kyungsoo stares at his knuckles and feels the blood rushing out of his face, “I’m—I’m sorry—I didn’t know you were—”
“In other words, god is suffocating me in slow motion. In three years my heart is going to be lopsided trying to pump enough oxygen through my body. I’m going to have organ failure. Eating is going to be impossible because how do you eat a meal while breathing through straws? And why do I smoke, you ask? Why do I smoke. Why.”
Kyungsoo watches his knuckles go bloodless. He wants this to end. He’s sorry. He’s sorry and he doesn’t understand—but Jongin doesn’t really want him to.
“I smoke to die faster. I smoke so that when I’m etherized on the hospital table I’d go out with a swoosh instead of a swish,” Jongin nods, speaks of misery in the form of discursive gray, “But this isn’t funny, you know. This is just plain sad. I’m the saddest fuck on the planet. Miserable, isn’t it?” And a shriek of dry laughter to punctuate the monochromatic anger, “Nah, I’m just fucking with you. It is funny. It’s funny because my life is full of this: you think you’re escaping, until you run into yourself. Twenty-three years later it turns out that the longest way round is the shortest way home, and I’ve been running in circles since the get-go. What a riot, huh?”
Neither of them laughs, though Jongin does snort when eventually Kyungsoo finishes things off with a gentle, “I’ll forget by tomorrow.”
Their interview dawdles until it’s seven. Kyungsoo sings tonight, like any other night, but the words and tunes are coming out of his mouth and not his heart and the only thing he can remember is smoke. The liquid pain seeping from Jongin’s seams.
He goes home at half-past midnight and sticks a note up on the wall, a bright yellow one smack in the center of everything, so he won’t miss it tomorrow: “Grab a toy from work. Leave it by the apartment next-door. (19 July 2012)”
Kyungsoo comes home from the bar, two days later, to find a stuffed Pororo by his door. It’s the same toy that he stitches at work, and if he squints hard enough he can almost be sure that he’s the one who glued the eyes on because he’s the only one who manhandles superglue that way. There is a Thank You card underneath Pororo that says, in angry black ink, “Pity’s pretty fucking expensive from someone who can’t care.”
He has no idea what those words mean, but the pang in his heart is too loud to be dismissed. Suddenly all the melodies and rhythms fade away into an overwhelming silence. More sour than disappointment, more bitter than loneliness. Tonight the apartment next-door is buzzing with strident, uneven laughter that sounds something like sobs. A whole multitude of voices and chatter, vague shouts of Luhan Jongin Sehun under the semi-buzz of never-empty bottles of scotch and vodka. While passing by to take out the garbage, Kyungsoo catches a glimpse of three very beautiful faces floating beyond the curtains, a sharp glare of chandelier lights, the pungent scent of alcohol and cologne and luxury.
His own apartment looks particularly desolate at this hour. Dimness swallows all of the walls and corners. He re-writes all of his sticky notes in green instead of blue, and Friday passes with the silent clicks of gel pens against neon paper.
Though technically Kyungsoo can’t remember having met the writer nursing what must be his fiftieth cigarette of the hour, the card in his hand says that they’re supposed to have regular interviews. More than the card, he knows that they’ve met before. And the thought’s not surprising—nothing is really—perhaps due to the messy haze of cigarette smoke that puts everything out of focus: coffee cups, moist windows, the fraying and tarred edges of the writer’s notebook; it slows everything down, dulls all of the shines into glows and all of the corners into curves.
The writer smokes, hastily, and Kyungsoo feels this alien, emptied sensation watching him. Like something cracking slowly, deeply, irreversibly within him.
The coffee shop during the evening of July 21st is a low rumble of clinking porcelain cups, the continuous drone of tired students, whipped cream murmuring into cappuccinos. It’s not particularly loud, but the noise is the kind to quicksand someone. Drown them slowly and leave nothing except clawing fingertips and air bubbles breaking the surface.
Kyungsoo builds half a question over whether or not all writers look like this, with dark circles bruising eyes and complexion caught between yellow and white and occasional twitches of the brow. The question collapses as soon as the writer stubs out his joint and catches Kyungsoo’s gaze. One long, hard line from one pair of eyes to another.
“You okay?” The writer, who introduced himself as Jongin, demands briskly.
Jongin doesn’t seem to have the time or patience to accept any alternatives, so Kyungsoo only nods, “Yeah. I’m fine.”
“Tell me about the accident four years ago. Or well, yesterday, as you would remember it,” Jongin prompts. There’s a hint of anxiety in his voice. Kyungsoo can’t help but notice the ugly smattering of bandages over his knuckles. The purple and green smudges around his wrist. And suddenly he wonders if it’s a writer’s thing at all, those angry eyes and bloody knuckles and unconscious flinches.
“It was just a typical accident,” Kyungsoo says. Though he can’t remember days having passed from the particular evening, somehow the shock no longer registers, “I was coming home from the factory—the one I work at right now, got hit by a fruit truck. It was carrying apples. Red ones.”
“You’ve always been working at the factory?”
“Ever since I was eighteen. I went as soon as I finished high school. My mom passed away and my dad was sick so I had to foot his—”
“Yeah, okay,” Jongin interrupts. Kyungsoo can see the look of exasperation on his face and wants to protest and no, it’s not just a typical sob story about just another kid playing hero. It’s a story about family and warmth and hard-earned cookies by the bedside and counting the drops of IV and praying to cartoon characters for happiness.
But Jongin is not in the mood to entertain any clarifications, “So if you weren’t such a responsible human, you would’ve become a singer?”
“I guess so.”
“And then you got hit by a truck. Terrific luck,” Jongin quips and scratches something out on his notepad. Furiously.
Kyungsoo chews on his lower lip, a bad habit. “Are… you angry?”
“No,” Jongin snaps, a beat too quickly. Kyungsoo falls quiet while Jongin reads the next question, scarcely looking up from his pen, “How do you keep track of your life? All the details.”
“Usually, I take pictures of new people I encounter, put them in a notebook and list what I’ve learned about them. I re-read it at the beginning of every day and update it at the end. Other things, I write on my walls, and my planner. The temporary issues I put on sticky notes and paste them wherever. Usually on my walls.” Kyungsoo peers at his coffee, and back up again when nothing returns except the noisy grinding of pen against paper.
“Do you find that you have to relearn things? Like if you figure out how to walk to the coffee shop today, by tomorrow would you forget how to walk here again?”
“Well, no. I can remember the answers. I just can’t remember learning them. Tomorrow I wouldn’t remember walking here with you. I would only know where this place is.”
“Are you really not upset?”
“Listen. We’re writing about you. A novel about you. Let’s not talk about me, okay?”
“Why are you upset?”
Jongin’s shoulders sag and he drops his notebook, pen, everything with a clatter. Rubbing a coarse hand through his crumpled features, he stares at Kyungsoo with worn exasperation. Perhaps he reeks a little of guilty conceit as he mutters, “Issues. Okay? People with actual memories have issues.”
Kyungsoo doesn’t acquiesce to Jongin’s impatient tapping, “If you need someone to talk to about the issues, you know that I’m—”
“You’re the perfect person to dump everything on, of course, because nothing would ever burden you because you’d never fucking remember, right?”
There is a vague feeling in Kyungsoo’s guts that maybe he’s said that previous line one too many times. Maybe they’ve been in this situation before: Jongin frustrated and tattered on the fence of art and reality, Kyungsoo confused and worried, trying to help Jongin down with no idea how.
“I’m sorry,” he says, finally, when Jongin has stopped retching for oxygen. He doesn’t take his eyes off the way Jongin’s fingers are trembling, “You’re right. I’m sorry if I asked you this before and I’m just reminding you of something unpleasant, I really don’t mean—”
“It’s about hands,” Jongin suddenly decides. It takes Kyungsoo a long time to recognize Jongin’s voice because it’s low, monotonous, and awfully quiet. It’s nothing like what is usually and diffuses through the air like ether.
“Listen. My life is about hands. It’s about shoving your diamond-ringed hands down my bile-washed throat. It’s about shredding my soul with a pair of your expensive gloves. It’s all about hands. Nails drawing crescent blood. Ink-smudged fingerprints down thighs. Knuckles crushing reflections behind a thin layer of paint and glass. Hands, hands, hands.”
A sip of coffee and Kyungsoo presents an apologetic grin, “I still don’t really…”
“I’m dying, okay?”
Kyungsoo feels his heart plummet as Jongin continues, with the numbness of a man who has announced the same thing thousands of times already, “I’m going to be dead in three years, maybe two. Probably less. But you know, people won’t love me when I’m dead. That’s a fact. People might pity me. Worship me. Say that I was a genius mind, revel in the great performance art that was my life. And what do I do with all that? Can I sell it? Can I have a future and a white-washed house and argue about what plants to put in the front yard with their fucking assembly-line pity?”
Jongin’s eyes are red. His lips are white. The silence is black.
“You know what I think,” Kyungsoo has no idea what he’s saying, only an inkling that he probably shouldn’t be saying it at all—but the words come out on their own, “I think that you’re just afraid.”
Jongin doesn’t speak for a long time, and when he does, he doesn’t look up from his notebook anymore, “So if you can retain memories of how to do something, do you also retain feelings? If you fell in love with a woman today, would you still love her tomorrow?”
“I don’t know,” Kyungsoo gnaws on his lower lip again, “But I suppose if I can’t remember doing anything with her, then I can’t really—you can’t love someone you have no memories of, right? Isn’t love based on memories and actions?”
Kyungsoo fidgets with his sleeves, “You’re still upset.”
“You—I—am not your friend—or your therapist—or—I guess I don’t even qualify as an acquaintance but—Jongin,” Kyungsoo stammers, unsure again of what he’s saying, “You can talk to me. I won’t judge you. I can’t say I understand everything but I—just—wouldn’t you feel better if—”
“Shut up,” Jongin snaps, eyes still fixated on burning holes into his notebook, “Do not lecture me.”
“No, Jongin I just—”
“You don’t have any right to assume what makes me feel better because you don’t understand pain, do you? What makes you think you can judge me? You can’t even love. You said it yourself. You can’t love so you can’t be hurt, can you? Tomorrow you’ll wake up and everything will be fucking fine. Everything will be fucking dandy like it’s always been and hey, do you ever think that you’re only so happy each day because you’d forgotten about all the times you’ve hurt everyone else? Do you ever think about that? What if you hurt someone yesterday? At least normal people have the decency to feel guilt. You can’t feel anything, can’t understand shit, Do Kyungsoo, because—you, are, just, a, walking corpse.”
When Kyungsoo feels something welling in his eyes, Jongin has already slammed his notebook down and stormed out of the cafe.
And it turns out that the notebook doesn’t actually have any writing on it, just massive twines of ink balled into ripped pages.
“You look depressed,” Minseok comments one day, sometime by the end of July, when red bean slush is no longer enough for the heat. While they wait for the musicians to unpack their instruments and tune, he turns to Kyungsoo with arched brows, “What happened?”
Kyungsoo frowns, thinks back all the way to when he rolled out of bed this morning, and shakes his head, “Nothing. I had a pretty normal day. Why?”
“I don’t know,” Minseok shrugs, “You just look kind of solemn is all.”
As Kyungsoo chews on his lip and ponders over why he would look solemn when everyone has been perfectly amiable, Minseok chats with Zitao about how the rich writer guy hasn’t shown up to the bar for days.
They sing their usual song, a few new improv lines, before Kyungsoo realizes that Minseok was right. His heart is not in the music.
The night washes tides of motorcycle hums and human chatter over Kyungsoo’s immobile figure. Midnight has passed hours ago, and his eyes are burning with fatigue, but Kyungsoo simply couldn’t fall asleep, so here he is, gnawing on his lip and flipping through his scrapbook.
At some point before he’s realized it, he began counting the number of new pictures to the number that has been crossed out. And, to his disappointment, almost all of his old high school friends have moved out and away, and he hasn’t made any new notes on any of them since years ago. He tries to dial Baekhyun’s old number, and of course, it’s out of service. It’s probably been out of service for months, years. How long?
“Hey,” a voice pops out from the dimness. Kyungsoo bolts a meter and a half and nearly shrieks.
But somehow the person standing on the neighboring balcony doesn’t look all that unfamiliar. He has an awkward kind of smile, like it physically hurts to move his face that way, “What are you doing there?”
Kyungsoo hesitates about telling the truth. He does it anyway, “Counting the number of people I’ve lost contact with.”
“There’s a lot,” and he feels awfully like sobbing. The distant rumbles of friendship and laughter and camaraderie, things he no longer possess, push out his tears and he turns his head back to the scratched photos in his book. The old, fading smiles and the pain seeps in one molecule at a time. He doesn’t want to cry, and he doesn’t know why he’s crying, “Just yesterday I… I was friends with all of them but… it says here that… they moved away? They left? They’re gone? Why? Am I really alone?”
The guy on the neighboring balcony breathes out fogs and glitter clouds, hiding a strangled laugh, “Yeah, you’re really fucking alone. We’re all alone, except you don’t live long enough to realize it.”
Kyungsoo puts his head down in his arm and cries harder than he’s ever cried before, and he knows this because this is not the kind of pain that can be forgotten by tomorrow.
He doesn’t see the blank look on the other man’s face, doesn’t hear the man’s cigarette falling out from between his fingers and onto the ground three floors below.
The next morning Kyungsoo wakes up with swollen eyes and a sour aftertaste in his mouth. There is a scrapbook in his arms, paper cuts over his fingers, and the wall of green notes makes him sick to the guts.
“I’m not a very good human being. I haven’t been one,” a stranger in the elevator begins when Kyungsoo stumbles inside. Kyungsoo almost flinches, except somehow he’s not surprised to hear this voice. The low timber and the cracks around each syllable. A kind of grudging reluctance, shy naivety despite the words, “I’ve hurt everyone who has ever really tried for me. Even myself. I’m a coward, and I take it out on other people because… I’m afraid of admitting it.”
Kyungsoo nods, and takes in everything about this man before him—the loosened tie, the heavy shadows under his eyes and the caved cheeks, the hunched back, the painful elevations of his chest, straining against a white-pressed shirt. Somehow his swollen eyes the taste of battery acid that wouldn’t wash out with mugs of milk disappears so easily. His heart clenches as he reaches out and touches the man’s arm, “You’ll be okay.”
“My name is Jongin.”
Kyungsoo might not have heard the last syllable. Still, the name is familiar on his lips as he echoes it, “Jongin.”
“I’m a writer,” Jongin says, and the elevator doors slide open as if on cue. Kyungsoo doesn’t move. They revel in the stillness, the drone of the ventilator and their uneven, noisy exhales. And as the doors close again, Jongin tells a story about a boy who fell in love with dancing, and a dancer, and fell too hard, too fast. A story about someone named Jongin who was trampled under expectations and pressure and gave himself up and stopped loving people, himself, passion, aspiration. It’s not a long one, and it ends with a new story.
“So he became a writer, and he wrote about that dancer who he loved and cast away. The innocence that crumbled in his hands, inevitably. People gathered and paid for the pity party and it made him rich and famous and sad—someone called him miserable, once—and he wrote more about corroding dreams and despair and moon-watching from well bottoms, and it made him richer, and sadder, and more famous, and eventually god decided to put him out of his misery. But he had to write one more book, because he’s become the kind of bastard who lived on misery. Parasitic dependency on sucking the agony out of others’ bones.”
The elevator opens. This time Kyungsoo takes a step forward, and pulls Jongin after him. Their steps form a nice kind of rhythm.
“And there was this particularly interesting person he met, who practically begged to be written about. He was everything sad, but he was so happy chasing after impossible dreams. He worked at a factory and wanted to be a singer—even though he couldn’t remember shit. He was an amnesiac forced to abandon himself at the end of each day and who refused to comply. Someone who struggled against the overwhelming odds of loss, for a dead-end. It was kind of funny, like watching a hamster run itself to death in a wheel, for an exit that didn’t exist.”
“They met one day in July. The day the writer found out he was going to die. He invited this guy up to his house, where they turned up a giant fan and let it snow cash from the windows—big crisp bills. That day the writer was angry at the world, and jealous, and he wanted to show the amnesiac that he’d never achieve his dreams. That becoming a singer was the stupidest idea on the whole fucking planet for someone who couldn’t even live, couldn’t ever experience love or loss or agony or happiness. That him becoming a singer was like a robot talking about writing love songs. Absurd and fucking hilarious.”
“Jongin wanted to show off how rich he was, how awesome life could be after losing himself and giving everything up. He was someone who cared more about protecting empty pride than his own life. People said big-ass parties with champagne towers and chocolate fountains make a person happy, so Jongin rinsed and repeated in all of those, and people said that he was happy. He was god fucking happy and—”
“The amnesiac couldn’t see it. Here he was, this guy who couldn’t even remember losing his fucking best friends and parents, this guy who lived off of tips and counted pennies, the most pathetic kind of earthworm, and he couldn’t fucking understand when glory was thrown in his face. Glory, fame, wealth, power, status. Everything that Jongin—that I—have ever worked for.”
Jongin runs a hand through his hair, shivering despite the heat.
“That was when I realized it wasn’t because you were stupid. It was because I, Kim Jongin, was a moron. The whole time I was just trying to prove to myself that I was happy, that throwing away all I’ve ever wanted to be, to wallow in despair, to make a show out of myself, was the right thing to do. I moved into the shithole of an apartment building you lived in not for inspiration, but to watch you suffer. To confirm that you were suffering. I watched you sing night after night and prayed that you’d fuck up and go out of tune and get splashed in the face with a tub of beer. I tried to blitz your little cocoon of bliss because—because—I… I just wanted someone with me. In the quicksand. But you didn’t sink. I was wrong. I am wrong, and a fucking moron.”
“But you’re not a moron,” Kyungsoo interrupts.
They’re leaning on the railing on Kyungsoo’s tiny balcony. Kyungsoo is bent over the metal, estimating the shadows splayed across the grass, with arms tucked under his chest and head bobbling occasionally. Jongin is next to him, propped up on his elbows and facing the other way, legs crossed and gaze on at the stars as Kyungsoo whispers, “You’re just lost.”
Jongin looks at him for the first time, really, from under his lashes. The moonlight runs down his face, highlighting all of the soft creases and the plastic flesh, and Kyungsoo thinks that Jongin’s so remarkably frail like this, so remarkably beautiful.
“I’m going to be more lost. Lost, and lost, and then,” Jongin whispers, “One day, poof, I’ll be gone. I’ll be to the world like those photos in your scrapbook are to you. The world won’t remember losing me.”
Kyungsoo’s voice is cracking all over the place and nails are digging up rust when he finally speaks, “No, no don’t go poof.”
Jongin snorts, the dismissive kind of mockery that snarls you’re just saying it, and makes Kyungsoo want to grab him by the shoulders and scream that he cares, that he really means it—Do Kyungsoo won’t allow Kim Jongin to go poof. Except he has no idea why he cares, and Jongin might be right. He might be just saying it. He might not care. He doesn’t really know this Kim Jongin, after all, doesn’t have any memories of what has happened between the two of them.
“I just really want to remember you, for even one extra minute…”
But if it were as simple as that, his chest wouldn’t hurt nearly as much as it does now.
Their shoulders touch a little, but neither of them moves away.
AN: THIS FIC. THIS WHOLE FUCKING FIC. ALL OF IT IS FOR BROCCOLI, who puts up with my whiney ass, last-minute SOS, gazillion questions and annoying need for confirmation and grammatical mishaps and generally being a douche and not knowing what I'm doing and EVERYTHING. YOU ARE THE BEST. YOU GUIDE ME AND RESCUE ME AND YOUR WORDS ARE SO WISE AND I LOVE HOW YOU INSERT YOUR COMMENTS AND TALK TO ME AND. I.LOVE.YOU.