[0]

I pick them like scabs.

I start out with a nice cliché to make it a little believable, like drunk confessions, truths swallowed with false laughter and delusions of someone loving a violent girl, the wild girl, the boy with the flowers in his hair. There are lights and rows of shadows, most a little flawed, some perfect and others kind of ugly; they're all designed by the same architect, the same mind.

I think myself into the part, like a night light shining through the dark. I walk across bone dust—from Bryan and Rose and so many others I forgot to let out—and a graveyard of words, splintered limbs like roots in the earth. I question and answer, twist and tug, grab the worm by it's head with the tweezers and pull gently at first.

I breathe life into names that dwell in worlds found within my universe. They get dull traits, personalities that are meant to grow with each word and every dialogue that's sewn onto their tongues. And I leave most to collect dust, thrown together with other lost stories and love lives and families that never got to know each other in a drawer that keeps piling and stays shut for far too many extended periods.

There's the boy who kisses cheeks softly but doesn't speak much. He lives by an oak tree that's as large as his house and he collects the leaves, which is why they call him leafboy. And then there is that broken boy down the street who collects ants and burns them once he's found enough, a soul flickering about many, who taught Eliza that intimacy was an inferno.

There's Dysis, the first scientist whom I gave the confidence to actually give quantum physics a try because it made sense to her, but she's falling for a wordsmith who loved someone with the same face and was ready to sacrifice her.

This ended up producing Ann, the second scientist, who learned not to believe in love, and a child that was hers, who never understood why his mother called his father a bibliophile forever out of reach.

Today, though, it's about person number three, a boy, or man, I don't really know because his hoody is casting shadows onto his face and there's an eighteen percent chance that he's actually a she. But I assign the gender until he proves to be something else.

That's what it ends up feeling like, sometimes: he's assigned to me.

I write, he leads—the evidence of his existence stuck on my tongue and on the tips of my fingers—scattered about, contaminating the plot with careless characterisations, smiles winning over hearts and bullet wounds in his chest that let me know he won't make it to the end.

We're handcuffed together in this.

If I try to force him to go right, it'll end up in a disaster punctuated with false accusations that make the dialogue stale and his actions unreal. We serve time together within the prison of my mind, both guilty of ideas that should be considered crimes, and the plot doesn't progress without him.

And I stain his hands with blood while he fears they'll never come clean again and—

His case becomes mine.

But I stood on two tall legs, unflinching, facing more than one world with analytic eyes, knowing that none of them were made specifically for me. I play dot-to-dot with constellations made up in your mind like a colour book picture, a paint by number photo album on your desktop.

Far-off planets gleamed out of reach, star-like and bright, and it made me raise a fist. I wanted to shout. There were no veins to trace beneath the surface yet. There was no pulse.

I was merchandise—a handshake, exchanged smiles and promises of tomorrow. But I never got to go home. There wasn't any triumph, even when the story was at its end. There was no party at the end of the line.

There was no one, and nothing.

[13]

This is where we begin.

We start here because memories, they don't tend to like the start; we skip those or we don't remember, maybe we even suppress them. Besides, thirteen is Amy's favourite number and Jakob thinks it's bad luck. They are background characters to Evan's life, who is, ironically, only thirteen now but a few paragraphs down into his story and he'll be twenty-three and broke.

He's got short brown hair, and he's a little rough around the edges, maybe on the inside too. He's a dab hand with a gun and he likes the smell of burning wires and gasoline—but he's never used one on an animal.

He kind of grew up dripping blood.

And he's also, possibly, stuck in the past.

Someday, maybe, he'll spend his time actually doing something to live in the future, to not just be the kid that dropped out of school, helped two friends with an illegal abortion and ended up in a gang somehow. It'll be a miracle or maybe the first sign of the apocalypse, but he'll try.

There was never any cake, just flashes, pictures of it.

Like, sixty seconds, for me that was a lifetime.

I saw faces I've shared those seconds with, some scared, others smiling, and then there were those who just stood on the sidelines watching. There was nothing exciting about the fact that you would kill a good number of these people; that I—or that they—would and we might've all been dead yesterday already. I might have recoiled from this some time ago, but I had to learn to embrace it.

I learned to take a knife myself, ready to throw it into someone's back, to make sure I seemed just a little more interesting to you than they did.

We didn't start where we should, 'cause I'm just Evan and you're Frankenstein to me. Like a core malfunction, it was hard to accept that you didn't even bother with my name. In your eyes, my passion needed a tune-up; my smiles needed to melt machinery.

It's coded in my DNA of ink and eraser residue from that time you tried to make me look like someone I wasn't.

I'm glitching left and right, speaking with two different accents and in three different tongues and you didn't seem to understand a single word I said. I was running with guns at my back because all I knew was survival—beat the rest, run faster, jump higher, draw quicker.

[27]

Evan drinks like the rest of the alcoholics, and he finds home within the smell of gunpowder and mints. He could afford better whiskey if he got paid for killing every good memory he has, which is kind of linked to police sirens and adrenaline rushes and badly-healed bullet wounds.

The rush of wind through the open window of a stolen Chevy doing ninety round a corner makes him seem cheap again.

You're a creature that studied the weak, tried to break the strong, in the silence of the night like a humble preacher within your own mind, and I tried to speak, slip out of the simple servant act you put us all in.

But I signed my life away, over to you without ever being asked, and it's not that hard to kill an idea so I'm scared.

Sit down, have some tea, let's see how deep my emotions go; let's see if you'll call them a weakness or strength, one so profound it'll make a God cry—

I'm not religious, though I suppose you were mine.

And here I thought I was alive.

And I was scared.

I wanted to live. So I beg you—

[33]

There was never any cake.

Evan's been created for a world that never truly needed him.

And, in the end, it turns out that he really is a she—that's what he identifies as when he's in his room alone at four in the morning wearing a yellow sun dress and stuffing his mother's bra with toilet paper and socks and trying out the name Erin like it's salvation.

She laughs through the pain, through the twelve stitches holding his her stomach together, and still she continues to laugh, letting the metallic twang in her mouth stick to her tongue, folding her smile into too many pieces to count.

I am no Salvador Dali, not made up of grand gestures in a world of colours. Some days I wished I were The Persistence of Memory, because at least it was completed. I could feel the words within my thoughts and taste them on my tongue, but they came from your fingers and I couldn't even trust my own mind because, objectively speaking, it wasn't ever real.

I was not Evan.

I wasn't even Erin.

[37]

With her shirt buttoned up and her eyes set on the world in front of her, Erin refuses to believe the universe she is in, denies the questions of mathematics that neither of us understand and she—

Evan is thirty-seven nowadays and he believes he is worthless.

He stays with me for a while.

I survive.