A Story Beginning and Ending with Lines by Henry James

He never compared them with other girls; he only compared his present self with what he would have been without them. Would he have been without them? Set free a mote in the eye. A babe in a rush basket. A dandelion clock. The consequence of movement is that it ripples, ripples. And what is comparison? Like for like? Unlike for unlike? Dislike for dislike? The separated twins. Siamese or otherwise. The mirror. The double yolk. The sac. Hand in hand. The fear that somewhere there is an other, and another. Double or quits. Is there such a thing as a present self? Has there been such a thing? Will there be? We are unique. There is no one here except five others. Multitude. The self is perpetually in flux, neither here nor there, either here or there. Neither when nor will be. Either when or will be. Today. Tomorrow. Yesterday. Give me a B, give me a C. Give me an A, give me a D. Time! The present always assumed and consumed by the past and the future. He has only a past. The past self consumes his present. His future consumed by the present consumes the past. And what would he have been? Who knows? Who cares? Without Louisa, he would have been a trampolinist. Without Rosa, a fireman. And without Clara, a budding saxophonist in a beat-up pinstripe suit. He could have driven cars. He should have shoed horses. He would have carried the can. But they were with him, somewhere in his clotted memory, so he was nothing. The boy at the back. The injured faun. Nothing with them, for he could only ever be what they wanted him to be. A friend in need. A friend in deed. A friend in retrospect. Nothing without them, because he could never latch upon a look, hitch upon a habit, take on a tic even, that gave him any illusion he was something other than a composite. His face a vacant identikit. A vapid portrait. Passed in hallways. Hidden behind curtains. At the top of the stairs, near the bathroom. He squirmed off the hook of memory. Like a fish. Like a telephone. Like Peter Pan. Floated free in a pee-green stream of forgetfulness. Plastic. Boy-like. "Oh, you know, thingamajig," people would say, "Whatshisname." Mention him and they would screw their face up. Chimpanzees. Skew their brows. Beetles and bees. Wrinkles. Twist their mouths in hmms, and ahhs, and umms and errrs. Mute with indifference. Hopped on silence. Bland on beige on blond on blank. He never compared the girls because the girls were all the same. The same size, the same hair, the same glasses. The only difference was their names and their names blurred into one long Rosaclaralouise. The bobbling on his mind, his jumper, his cardigan, small balls of loss and denial, were all that remained. He had possessed himself. Dug privacy. Sucked on zeal. He never compared them to other girls because the girls were not the same. Different sizes. Tall. Short. Different hair. Brown. Black. Different glasses. Tortoiseshell. Steel. It could be the socks they wore had scarlet trims instead of red. Cotton. Wool. It could be there was overbite instead of none. Braces. Fillings. Rotten retainers. Dummy. Or grey. Not green. Not yet. But viriscent. The iris. The sclera. White, white, yellow. The vitreous humour with its ghosts and spectres. The central gaze of the fovea. Or pink. Lips. Not rose. Not blue. Not yet. Open mouthed. Protruding tongue. What was he before? Him. What was he after? Theirs. If he was before, was he after? His. If he was after, was he before? Ours. The girls had their Roberts, their Thomases, their foolish boys. And did the mothers of those girls, the mothers who ignored him while asking if he wanted tea, coffee, lemonade, the mothers who inured him to slight and educated him in the world of superciliary and sneer, rest their hands on the shoulders of these foolish boys and whisper "Bobby" and "Tommy"? And he could have been a nobody, a champion of what? He could have been the one. The man in the mood. The boy on the step, his fingers inching toward the doorbell, flowers in hand, an itch in his pants, a light dusting of dirt on his shoes, his socks slipping down, his hair combed back, his lips licked and pouting, a small trickle in his nostril, a tickle in his throat, a flea in his ear, the world in his eye, his shirt sleeves rolled. But Rosaclaralouise was thinking of Bobbytommyfoolishboy. Did he have a name? A misnomer? Was it Carotid? Was it Venal? Was it Nubbin? Was he anything more than cake crumbs on their wet lips, sleep in the corner of their eyes, pilling on their dark blue cotton panties? Is he anything more than the dog turning the corner in the final dream before they wake? The milkman dressed in lavender plaid? The corncob that is a bowling ball? A hunting trophy? The fallow fields? The billowing wind? The vague awareness that their hearts are beating. He could see them sleeping. See them falling. See them twitching. See them snoring. He rubbed his eyes. He climbed a ladder. He stroked the cold glass of the frosted windows. He popped the lock. He ruffled feathers. He eased on down. He tiptoed quietly. He never-nevered. But on they slept. But on they travelled. But they were here and he was not. He was not and they were here. He had known only what he had meant to know, what they had meant him to be, and he had witnessed what he had not known. But they had dreamed before and been disappointed.

About the author:

Steve Finbow lives in London. His fiction, essays, short plays, poetry, and stuff is in, or will soon be in, 3am Magazine, The Beat, Big Bridge, Dicey Brown, The Edward Society, Eyeshot, The Guardian, InkPot, Locus Novus, McSweeneys, Pindeldyboz, Tattoo Highway, Thieves Jargon, Tin Lustre Mobile, ber, Word For/Word, Word Riot, Xtant, Yankee Pot Roast, and Zacatecas. He writes the bi-weekly cultural column "Pond Scum" for Me Three and is a writer with Quarantine Theatre Company.