And I'm tumbling down
By Garnu Currant
A/N: Superstars. My attempt at an internationally famous young soccer (football) star, and his try at life, liberty, love, and the pursuit of happiness. (I pictured Cristiano Ronaldo. You can place anybody you want to as a substitute.)
"Who are you?"
She said. He took her home.
All his life, he's gotten to do ephemeral things nobody ever dreams of in their own 80-year-or-so span. The world is watching him.
Watching when he nets the ball, when he gets transferred to the dominating league of the English football team, when he effortlessly swivels his feet in step-overs around his opponents' heads, when he kisses a girl nine years older than himself…. when he trains. Shops. Eats. Sleeps.
His mantle, which he in his littleboywonder stage, cleared away to prepare for times like these, are stacked up with disregarded trophies, awards, recognitions from places he's never heard of or never wants to go to, like South Korea, Istanbul, and Guam. Gathering dust.
They envy. He ignores. They follow; he shrugs. They scrutinize, analyze, plan out the next hundred years of his life; he nods without a second backwards glance. He operates like the brand sneaker he wears, whose logo is "just do it." Don't think too much, just control the ball on the field; don't second-guess yourself, just wear the damn pink shirt and leave the house. Don't blink, don't breathe, don't move more than you have to.
His own advice to himself; it's to keep his sanity, he reminds himself, when he wants to do something out of the norm, like shave his head and join a nudist colony in France—and can't. The world watches.
He plays, laughs, shoots, kisses, waves, drives, signs, shouts in victory, poses, endorses, screams in the sore-loser way every winner has to do and has done since the invention of sport.
At night, under the starless sky full of unbidden smoke, he sits at home and wonders whose life he is living, and where his own went.
It must be somewhere.
During the day, when he keeps himself occupied by doing rather than thinking, all the extra space in his head that used to be crammed with confusion, frustration, the space that used to give him migraines by pushing too hard to expand and get out, out, out, is now devoted to imagining what other people's lives are like. His escape. Whenever he happenstance glances at a nameless, mass-produced fan in the stands wearing nothing but a team logo wrapped around her body, he imagines she must have an overbearing mother, an absent father, an older brother who steals her jerseys to wear to school, and maybe a terrier she keeps in her room and uses as a pillow.
He'd like to be her for one day.
And one day, he's at a nameless charity event for a foundation he doesn't bother to learn the name of, wearing the ugliest suit of his life to promote Dolce and Gabbana, or some other powerhouse brand. At these things, routine is he attends, shakes some hands, pays some money, and leaves. And don't forget to smile while doing it. Show those pearly whites, son. Great.
During cocktails, he isn't paying attention to the speech over the white noise of the crowd, and an old graying lady with her hair in a pouf (she has a poodle groomed like her, and her husband cleans her dentures for her and picks out their vitamins at the Whole Foods store, and she lays out her next-day dresses on her custom-made mannequin every night, he thinks), without the advantage of her specs—with which she surely would have asked for his autograph instead—mistakes him for a waiter and asks him to go get her a refill, champagne, make sure the olive is in the glass. Sure, okay. He can do that.
Squeezing past hundreds of black-tie-stiff-hairspray crowd, he manages to shuffle over to the wet bar. Some reporters from CNN or something are conducting interviews, hooking the celebrities that bothered to show like fish to give a good word or two; dimming his eyes, he hands the glass to the waiter, takes the full champagne glass, olive inside, turns around, and ah—fizzy-drink-down-his-shirt, olive-rolling-down-his-slacks-onto-the-floor.
After the fizzing stops, he looks up at the culprit. About twenty or so, oriental looking—and armed with an Entertainmenttonight microphone. Horrified look on her face, and she asks to help clean him up, because it's all her fault. They must be on commercial break, or else this is all getting captured on primetime TV.
He tries to decline and turns for the lobby bathroom, but he can hear her heels clicking behind him, like a shadow in black tulle and sequins.
In the bathroom—she ignores the 'men's' sign and clicks straight past the urinals—she wets a towel and pats at his stain, but it's hopeless, and he's going to look like a sloppy drunk for the rest of the night. He must have voiced this aloud, because she giggles and says she promises not to interview him, he can just blend into the anonymous mob that showed up tonight.
He blinks at her. She doesn't know—who he is? Not to sound arrogant. But he's already had two interviews pre-party already. It's a little too late for that, right? ET must have him on their schedule.
She shakes her head, puzzled; asks him why, who are you?
He catches himself before he can say.
It's his first quick-thought (or any type of thought, on that matter) in a while.
They leave together.
And with no memory of how it happened or how they got there—some of the champagne must have soaked through their skin into their system by osmosis, he thinks—she is on his bed, and he is on his bed, and the lights are off, and the ugly, stained suit he now has an excuse to throw away is thrown around the slate carpet, and his ears are buzzing.
More doing with no thinking, he grimaces.
He has half a mind to tell her to leave so he can wallow in failure-self-pity, but when he rolls over to face her, her eyes are closed, and her breathing deep and even.
Christ, he thinks. She's asleep on my bed.
Was his girlfriend just here two days ago? Yes, that sounds about right.
She's a negative of his girlfriend, black hair where blonde is supposed to be, porcelain skin in place of the orange coastline tan, and no knowledge of who he is instead of awe and admiration and a tinge of fear.
He smiles, a throwaway grin without having to pose for a camera somewhere, and his hand snakes out to brush a piece of midnight hair away from her lashes. Yes, this feels right.
And he feels like laughing, spiting the world, with this no-name girl and nothing-relationship. Sometimes when he takes her hand, he wonders if he's only doing it because of that, because it's something he "normally" wouldn't do in a million years and is now doing. He doesn't even care if his girlfriend knows. Let her know. Maybe she'll dump him, and that would be another thing nobody expects.
He should make a list.
He thinks of that as they're walking down Market Street eating street-vendor pretzels and passing the name-brand stores that are just withering behind him, crumbling into dust, him holding onto her pinky finger; and then he smiles at her. She smiles back.
He doesn't need to tell her a thing.
He can still remember the day it rained, smell it, a layer of liquid fog heavy in the air and the wet grass, the car exhaust in the distance drifting through the gusty wind back to them on a street corner. His shirt was white, and it was getting drenched, and she was laughing at him, teeth-chatter-shivering under his black coat he had lent her. The taxis were rushing past his insistent waves, and finally she had told him to give up, they could just walk back. But, he said (whined), reminding himself of when he was four and could do such things, aren't you cold? And she shrugged and he grumbled, well, I'm freezing.
She took his hands in hers, blew on them with her misty-pitter-patter breath, asked, is that better? And he had shook his head no and complained some more, feeling like a liberated six-year-old with a shadowy maternal figure with cold hands, standing over him going, does it feel better, honey, does it, are you okay?
After a few shorthand exchanges with bitter words stinging acid rain, she whirled around to start walking back to the hotel. He'd followed, pouting, at a distance, oddly savoring a part of this emotion for some reason unbeknownst to him. She was the giver, he the receiver… and they were in a stupid, petty argument.
Before she could clomp—or, squelch—up the steps to her room, he stopped her. The rain was getting heavier, the insistent pounding making him squint, blink several times, shake the dew out of his hair and almost miss her arm. But he managed to grab it, turn her around to crash into him, and kiss her, ice-cold lips melding into white-hot noise, sizzling the rain. And like all times he kisses her, he forgot who she was for a moment and could only think about the man in the hotel, watching them through the double doors and whether or not he had a wife of his own. Since the charity night, he'd found it slightly more difficult to weave and spin up imaginary prophecies about people who watched him. But it was never quite able to go away, and the now-rare times he stopped thinking for a moment, the little wheedling buzz at the back of his mind always pushed its head up to flare at him for a second before dying down again. Old habits die-hard.
And when he opened his eyes again, his vision was hazy because of the rain, or the glaze over his eyes, or because of the fact that she really wasn't real—and he could only see a blurry face, dark hair, two smudges of pink lips uncertain-smiling at him. And its times like these he likes best, smiles at, thinks of best—when she, they, are just two unreadable, hazy figures kissing in a veil of rain, two blots in the inkpot of the universe (what a metaphor). Her eyelashes brushed across his face when she said goodbye.
Later, in his own room with a towel draped across his shoulders, he pulled a hotel-oak chair to the bay window. The rain was erasing everything outside, real-life television static with the noise to match and the gray to bounce off his window. A few people were frantically racing around outside, creating puddles, more splotches in the inkpot. He was strangely fascinated, this mind-numbing gray, this.
He watched it for a long time.
And then she is gone, one lonely, insignificant day, just as unreasonably as she came, after a final, stolen kiss when he is still half-asleep and sprawled across their—his—their bed. He doesn't have anything, any keepsake to remember her by, except a scent, and when she packs her last shirt and leaves, he thinks he doesn't want anything solid, either. He would have burned it.
What was her last name?
Her favorite color, aspirations, pet peeve, car?
What was her life like before him, after him, during him? He doesn't know. Doesn't want to know.
It's raining again. He pulls his chair back over to the window.
He doesn't want to know anything else.
He doesn't know if she was really real or if, since he's so good at weaving lives, she was a figment of his own colorful imagination. Maybe he invented her to revive his sanity for a short while. If he ever looked at the tabloids, he would know for sure, but he thinks he'd rather not. That's something he knows now—how to think, even though it takes him a while to stop doing and think a little. Ah, so he has learned something new. Great. He takes Vikaden to cope.
The sharp edges in his mind becomes vague after a while all the same, as he gets into the daily grind of his professional-footballer life once again. Things like her should only be tried once in a while, he thinks to himself. Don't think, just dribble the ball; don't second-guess, she's not coming back; don't blink, you're a spotlighted somebody again.
Too much of this freedom nonsense at once and it could get to be routine, and that would be dangerous for his carefully-constructed… (What? Body? Mind?) self. He would fall into the false security that he is someone else, someone nobody cares about. And he can never forget: the world watches.
When his brain starts to push at the insides of his skull again, he makes it shut up with the pills. He watches the daily forecast, to see when the next rain shower is going to hit; and then he calls in sick, sits in his hotel, remembers her pink smudged lips and frost fingers on his face, and watches the rain come tumbling down.