Fat Black Heart
Summary: Snapshots of a coming of age. Neil Taggart, pretimeline.
There's a stake in your fat, black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.
--Sylvia Plath, "Daddy"
His voice is hard again.
"You're falling apart," he says. (What you hear: your brother wouldn't.)
You hate this voice, that steely edge that you know so well; it's the same hardness that crept in when you spoke of Marc before.
You are shaking, it must be because you hate him; or because you're dying, or because you just saw the earth explode. You're not sure anymore what causes anything, only that you and he are alone in the cockpit and that you and he have only hours or minutes to sort things out. Yeah, I'm falling apart, you want to say: is there a procedure you'd like me to follow instead of the abovementioned falling-apart, Commander Taggart?
But you hear Kurt and Sarah approaching and you turn away from your father's face, your tears silent and sparse, like those of the man he always wanted you to be.
To him, love was always a matter of concession; one fought for self-control and, losing, gave it up with the sad graciousness of a beaten gentleman. One didn't offer it wholeheartedly, like a gift, and so you are not really disappointed to hear him say only, "Try not to cry, Neil, or everyone will lose heart."
Leftover anger, a dim domestic memory from a forgotten existence that had been bounded by green lawn and bright sky, makes you sober, and soon Kurt and Sarah are too close for any more to be said. You still cannot look him in the eye because yours are still damp (this is how you should've known you'd spend your last moments of consciousness, playing at being a man like your daddy wants). But you know you're both watching the oxygen supply fall, watching the end approach.
You know when time is running out because you start to feel dizzy and insubstantial and slightly intoxicated, like death is this new intriguing drug. And when it comes time for you all to surrender it's Chuck who starts laughing the bitter laughter of a condemned man. (You're wet-eyed again but you join in, because hell, this is the first and last time you and he will be together, father and son, too late and too far gone for any bullshit.)
You aren't surprised about any of this, you aren't surprised to slip out of consciousness without ever hearing what you might mean to him, without so much as a word that would allow you to let go in peace; but this is what awes you when everything in you is beyond wonder: that as you fall asleep, you feel, like good-bye, like I-love-you, twined into your fingers and pressed to your palm, your father's hand.
Sometimes when you look at the stars, you wish you didn't know their names. It's hard to explain this dizzying sick feeling of being lost with so many coordinates and constellations stored in your photographic memory.
Looking backwards helps with the disorientation. Back at the earth, or down at it, if "up" and "down" existed out here. You look long and deep, as if you could make out the very shape of your mother on that anonymous globe, or Holly, or Marc (lost Marc, burntout Marc). Sometimes in a moment of peace and quiet you stare so hard that the swirls of blue and white burn themselves into your vision like a tattoo, and when you tear your gaze away, you catch your father watching you.
You almost believe he knows exactly what you're thinking, and every time it happens it reminds you how strong your ties still are, despite yourself, to your home.
There's a globe you've put in the corner of your room (not quite your room, but appropriated, occupied, by the remainders of your last year at home) that you used to hide your shit in, taped into the hollow space that could be accessed by a panel in the back. Pot mostly, or anything else you and Holly might try together, fad drugs that came and went in the space of weeks. High, lounging in your old bedroom, you used to spin the globe on its axis and talk about how you could feel the earth itself spinning underneath you. (You remember how the first time she got stoned Holly decided the globe was a metaphor. How she had said earnestly, "I feel like the earth is going this way and I'm going that way. I feel like I could stop time if I wanted to." How you laughed and laughed.)
The old panic creeps up when you come up the stairs of your childhood home and see your mother standing alone in the new room, fingering that globe. "Remember this?" she says when you come in, and you exhale in vague relief that you're no longer the bad son, no longer have to worry about the bad son's secrets. "Remember how you and your dad used to make airplane noises and pretend you were going to all these places together?"
You come closer. She used to get sad sometimes, just before Dad went up again; now you suppose she feels that way about you too. There will be no one left this time to fill the empty stretches of days without Chuck. Gently you say that you remember, although you don't.
"He took you all over the world with this globe."
You stare at the back panel; it used to be all that made this globe important to you, and somewhere along the way you forgot about this game of imagination that your mother is near tears over. She spins it slowly, and you pat her shoulder in an absent, almost condescending way that you can almost forget you learned from Chuck.
Paige's eyes are bright and damp. "What are you two always looking for?" she asks. "What is it that you can't find here?"
Things change after Marc disappears. Of course they do. Some nights you come home from parties and find your father rheumy-eyed and empty at the kitchen table when he ought to be asleep. You move into Marc's room and start daring yourself to be more, better, faster at everything your parents thought he would do. It starts as a lark, a vague satisfaction - arrogance, to put it frankly, because you always knew what you had, untapped but unmistakeable, a potential so much greater than Marc's - and then it turns into something more. Sometimes, it's almost like they lost their bad son, because you've shed the self of the past and become something else.
You feel smug about all of this most of the time. You want your father to eat his words, all the bad things he ever said about you; after awhile, it becomes obvious that your brains outshine even those of the great Chuck Taggart and you can tell he takes each success of yours like another slap in his face. (With your mother, it's different. You know, you've always known, that she's incapable of holding a grudge. Marc is gone, but you remain, and to make up for the gentle sadness that never leaves her brown eyes there's a faint, unmistakeable glow in her gaze whenever it alights on you.)
College goes well for you, and the girls are pretty great, too. You cut your hair short, and they seem to like it, and when you don't want to sleep alone you rarely have to. It's all different than you're used to, and kind of nice.
But you still hate your father, and you're not sure what to do with that now you're out of the house. You still wonder sometimes if you wouldn't be better suited to live out the rest of your days in marijuana-addled obscurity with your real friends, whether that wouldn't be easier and allow for a natural, simpler kind of happiness. You still have less chest hair than you'd like. You're still pretty lonely most of the time, and when you jerk off, alone and perspiring and uncomfortable in your thin-walled single, you have to bite your lip to keep from saying Holly's name.
The world takes on a gray tone when she leaves you, which she does, all told, later than you thought she would.
(You never really deserved her anyway.)
You trace your hand almost reverently over the curve of her side. It's sweat-damp and hot to your touch and you are overwhelmed by the beauty of the moment, the beauty of this girl that you just made love to. You keep touching her, thinking: if I told her I loved her, that wouldn't even begin to describe this.
You are quiet so that you can let her talk, although at first she doesn't seem to want to, like your name was the only word her questioning lips could form. She pulls a blanket up over herself - you rest a hand on her hip, the blanket between your palm and her body - and she turns her back to you, nestling closer against you with sleepy timid affection but still, irrevocably, facing away.
"What is it?" you say. "Are you okay?"
"Do you feel," she asks, "like something's ended, just now?"
"No, no," you say (lie). "No, Holly, we're at the beginning. We could go anywhere we wanted from here."