Were you looking for someone? I’m not sure if you meant to wind up here, but it’s nice to see a friendly face all the same. It seems like ages sometimes, like the spaces between words stretch out until I’ve forgotten that I haven’t spoken to another person since, well, forever it seems.
What’s your name?
That’s a nice name. Solid. My mother always had a thing about names, how they should choose a person rather than be bestowed upon a child like an ill-fitting jacket. I still haven’t come across my name yet, though I haven’t many places to look for one. My life is a stretched piece of white canvas, you see, but I haven’t managed to scribble across it in bold lines and puffs of color. It’s in other people’s imaginations that my life becomes an adventure.
Are you from around here? Again, I don’t see too many people, but I haven’t forgotten a face yet. I would know if you had stumbled across me before. Some people don’t even bother past the introduction, and no one has managed to give me a proper goodbye, just left me halfway. I’m always coming into stride right about then, picking up speed, and just as I reach out, there’s no one there. The sentence has ended. The book is closed.
I’m rather pleased that you’re still here, though. There are times when I’m alone and times when I’m lonely, and every once in a while I am both, and that is the worst. To be sitting in an empty room, surrounded by white walls and your hands are white and your feet are white and there’s nothing to see, really. But, even if I’m not seen, I’m still there. I don’t stop existing just because no one’s brought me to life. I linger in the thoughts of those before you, a turn of phrase, a vivid description. A piece of script that hangs in their subconscious like stars in the sky and there I am still breathing. That’s the loneliest of all, when I’m nothing more than a star in a vast and open space that is littered with a million others that all look like me. A clump of dust that flickers in the back of your mind. That’s all I am.
But, right now, I’m more than that. Right now, I am a mouth and hands and a face. Goodness, this is what you think I look like? It’s very different than I’m used to, but I think it’s rather nice, this face that you’ve given me. Though I’m not all stuck on the ears.
I’ve missed being solid. Being an idea is nice, for a time, but it’s limiting in a way you don’t expect. An idea cannot act, or move, or breathe, or feel. I’ve missed feeling and touching and-
Ha! I didn’t realize you were going to shake my hand! Sorry, sorry, I didn’t mean to jump. Let’s try this again. Put your hand in mine and – that’s nice. I think I can actually feel your skin beneath my fingerprints. I didn’t realize hands could be so warm. But, then, I suppose it’s because you’re alive and your hand is alive and my hand is very warm against yours. That’s another thing I’ve missed: being warm. I suppose you could imagine that I was cold, but I’d rather you didn’t. Feeling nothing at all is preferable to being cold, I think. Too often I meet people in the dead of winter and instead of a star in space I’m suddenly freezing cold in the middle of a snowy park. The view is lovely, but I’d prefer not to freeze to death.
Not that I can, really. Die, I mean. Not in the way you understand it. That’s not permission to try and kill me off. I’ve had that happen before and it’s unpleasant, like having your lungs sucked out of your mouth and skin crumpling like the paper in which I live. And, then I’m lit on fire.
Honestly, I don’t recommend it.
You seem to be taking these rather well. Most people would have stopped reading by now, fled from these pages until I’m nothing but white and waiting again. Instead, you stayed and you kept me warm and gave me hands. I like that. I like you, I think.
Tell me more about yourself. About your parents and the cup of coffee you had this morning and the smell of your commute and how you always wanted to be a dancer. Astronaut? It doesn’t matter. I haven’t been told a story in such a long time.
You – you want to know about me? No one’s ever asked me that before. Most people imagine who I am and that’s who I am (sort of) before they’re gone and I’m something else again. I’m meant to entertain others and become the girl at the bookstore or the good-looking actor in that British drama. I’ve had a thousand faces and none of them are truly mine.
Oh, stop it! The face you gave me before was fine! It’s one of the nicest I’ve had in a long time, so give it back! Ah, that’s better. I appreciate the sentiment, truly, but I like looking like this. I like looking like what you’ve made me.
There’s not much to tell, to be honest. My mother was a writer, as you well know. She was flighty and dreamy and prone to procrastination. I was barely a thought in her head one day while she drove home from work, another drop of snowfall in the dark. Later, she reached out her hand and I fell into her palm. At that time, I was little more than a whisper of an idea. Instead of brushing me off to melt into nothing, she held me to her mouth and swallowed me whole. There, in the pit of her stomach, I became an urge, an aching desire for her fingers at a keyboard, the hunger to finish just one more sentence. She would curse and cry and storm out of the room but she always came back, piecing me together in characters and spaces. I was born on an evening in January in the middle of a snowstorm.
January? That’s what you want to call me?
It’s… nice. It’s the closest thing to a real name as someone like me can get.
After that, my mother left me here. Oh, don’t be upset! That’s the way of things, really. She gave me life and I can only live in another’s imagination. I can’t fight against my nature.
You really are upset about that. You… I’ve met nothing like you before. You can’t possibly feel sad for someone who can’t even cry unless someone thinks of my face in tears. I’ve never cried in my life, not on my own, not by myself. Ideas cannot cry.
Why haven’t you left yet? I can’t be very interesting anymore. I have nothing else about myself to speak about. I was born and now I’m here and that’s it. That’s what I am.
… I’m not?
… I’m more than that?
Why do you say such things? Why do you act as if I’m like you? I only have flesh and blood because you’ve given them to me, because you gave me this face and these hands. Don’t mistake me for more than a star in the back of your mind, a clutter of dust among millions. There will be others, you know. Others that you create in your mind, that form from white walls and empty spaces and become alive just because you wanted them to. I am not the only one. I’m not.
What is this? What’s happening to my face? This isn’t from you; you have nothing to do with this. I would know if it was you, because you feel warm and kind when you change me, when you breathe into my lungs as if I’m the one breathing. I feel your heartbeat in my chest and it becomes my own; that’s how this works. I don’t understand.
Why is my face wet?
I’m crying. Why am I crying? Why do you make me want to cry? You don’t want me to cry. I can feel it in the way you hesitate and your thoughts stutter and your hands. God, your hands are so warm. And, you’re holding onto mine. Is this what comfort is? Is this what it’s supposed to feel like when others think of me holding their loved ones, their favorite characters, their mortal enemies? This feeling that radiates in my chest like a star bursting, like light slipping through the window to touch the blank pages of my empty face when no one has created it.
Your hands are touching my face. The face you’ve made is cradled in your hands and it’s nothing I’ve ever felt before. It’s like being born again. It’s like never dying. It’s like–
You kissed me.
Why did you do that?
Why did you stop?
This is a terrible idea. This goes against everything I’ve ever known. I can’t be anything more than what you make me, don’t you understand? I’m not going to materialize in front of you; this is not a fairytale. It never has been.
I shouldn’t let you. I shouldn’t let you hold my face in your hands and sweep your thumb over my lip and trace lines against my jaw. I shouldn’t but I’ve never been kissed before.
I’ve kissed before. Dozens of others. Hundreds, even. I’ve kissed men and women and children and mother and sisters and allies and enemies. I’ve cradled the manic pixie dream girl against the flat planes of my chest; I’ve been the swooning heroine swept up in strong arms.
But, no one has ever kissed me.
Kiss me again. Again. Again and again and again until the mouth you’ve made is swollen and the eyes you drew are bright and the pulse that is your pulse is too fast to catch. Kiss me until I’m no longer an idea.
Kiss me real.
You stopped. Why did you – Oh.
Oh, I know why. I do not blame you. Because you’ve finally heard what I’ve been saying. I’ll never be real, and now you know that. I’ll never be the lover that you keep because as soon as you stop reading I’ll disappear again. I’ll be nothing more than a line of poetry echoing in the back of your mind.
You’ll forget me, my love.
Can I call you that? Just for now? Just while I have you?
Because I’ll never forget you, beloved. I’ll never forget how a stranger stared into the white empty space and reached out their hand. I’ll always remember the curve of your face and the beat of your heart and how you kept reading these sentences over and over just to keep from getting to the end. I’ll always remember how warms your hands are, the way your mouth fits over mine.
Just one more time? Please?
I’ll understand if you don’t-
My time is almost up. We’re reaching the end, you see? Hush, sweetheart, don’t cry. I can’t brush away your tears the way you do with mine. My hands are your creation, remember? They only exist here, in the spaces between these words, in the galaxy of your mind. They cannot reach out from these pages and press against the salt-slick skin of your cheek. As much as they want to.
But, it’s okay. Really, it’s okay. Even if I’m to become a star again, I know I was real once. You made me real. You kissed me as though I was real. You gave me a name.
It’s almost here. God, I wish you didn’t have to go. I wish I could keep you.
I wish that this was a fairytale and, when the last word faded, I rose up from the pages and paper became skin and ink became eyes and I became the person you made me. And, then I could hold you and kiss you and love you with a body filled with bones and blood rather than whispers and dreams. I would squeeze your hand as we crossed the street and hold you against my throat as you slept. I’d suck down the salt of your skin and breathe in the gasps of my name. I’d make you dinner and make you angry and make up it all up to you. I’d be January forever.
I can be. As long as you remember the curves of my face and the long line of my sentences, the way my commas trembled at your hands and my breath echoed yours. If there’s just a piece inside your universe where I can remain, I will always be January.
It’s time, beloved.
…I love you, too.