THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY by Moon71
"It's all there, in our persistent memory." Salvador Dali
"I used to be like you." Yuki Eiri to Shindou Shuichi, Gravitation Episode 13
Summary: While walking in the park one evening, Eiri has a fateful encounter. (Well, we all know that, but this is from his point of view!)
Rating: K – T (some mild naughty bits, nothing much)
Disclaimer: I do not own Gravitation, Maki Murakami, Salvador Dali, Harper Lee, To Kill a Mocking Bird or, most heartbreakingly of all, The persistence of memory or any other Dali paintings!!!
Dedication: For Overskill – hope to see the next part of your story soon; in the meantime, hope you like mine!
Author's Notes: What was Eiri thinking the night he ran into Shuichi and trashed his lyrics? Probably nothing like this, but what the hell. One of the themes that really hooked me on Gravitation was the difference between Uesugi Eiri the boy and Yuki Eiri the man – it always seemed to me that it was himself, not Yuki, that Shuichi really reminded Eiri of (though his confusion about this in the last couple of volumes of the manga made sense in the context of his finally recognising his feelings for Shuichi.)
This is one of those stories, like Jilted John, which was jammed in my brain for ages – it was great to prise it loose!
The Persistence of Memory is the actual title of one or more versions of Salvador Dali's "soft watches." The title caught in my memory almost as soon as I came up with this idea, and while I was at the Dali Universe in London I was delighted to find the above quote which seemed to sum up what I was trying to say.
I had come to think of it as my park, and never more so than at night.
During the day I had to share it with others. I accepted their company with a decent grace, so long as they minded their own business. If they came up to me asking if I was Yuki Eiri, the writer, I would look at them blankly and ask "Yuki Who?" or reply to them in deliberately complicated English. Sometimes having light coloured features could be an unexpected bonus. If any girls tried to catch my eye I looked right through them. This was the one place never I picked up women – if any of my myriad girlfriends suggested going to the park for a romantic stroll, I insisted I never went there. Too full of screaming kids, dotty old ladies and flashers, I would complain.
But at night, the park was nearly always empty. And I liked it that way.
So perhaps I was predisposed to dislike the boy before I even saw him. Perhaps if I had met him during the day, I would have reacted differently.
Somehow, though, I doubt it.
Whatever the truth, that night I was walking in the park, deep in thought.
Actually, for once I wasn't thinking about my writing, though perhaps I should have been. For the most part, I had disciplined my mind well enough to stick to the subject I wanted it to concentrate upon and not to wander too far off into its own stream of consciousness. Streams of consciousness could be dangerous.
The only time I let my mind free was in my psychiatrist's office, and that was for one, occasionally two hours a week. The rest of the time, in moments such as this when it was not occupied by driving, reading, cooking, watching television, conversation or sex, my mind had to be satisfied with being the slave of my creative muse. If I wanted it to think about my latest novel, that is what it would think about. If it disobeyed, it would be punished by being forced to make tedious lists of cooking ingredients or reciting the twelve times table up to three hundred. Just because I'm a writer, it doesn't mean I don't know how many beans make five.
But today I was feeling remarkably stable and relaxed, so I allowed my mind to wander where it would… within limits. And so I found myself speculating on narrowness of my universe.
By the time I had left for my walk that night, it was about as narrow as it would ever manage to be, pared down to the barest fundamentals, and I was proud of the fact. I never called my father and hadn't been home in years. I limited the interaction I had with my younger brother Tatsuha to occasional nights of drinking, clubbing and picking up girls – he could always pass for older. He seemed content enough with that – or maybe it was just that he knew if he complained, even that limited contact would come to an end.
My sister Mika and her husband Tohma were harder to deal with. I did my very best to be unpleasant to them - the more they tried to placate me, the more unpleasant I became. But they still persisted beyond all reason - Mika, I suppose out of some familial duty; Tohma out of guilt. Or at least that was the way I chose to see it.
As for my so-called fiancée, the Usami girl… I hardly thought of her at all, except to reflect with a sort of wry amusement that if our families didn't wise up pretty soon, the poor creature was due to die an old maid.
As for friends – I didn't bother with them. The women – even the ones who held out long enough to vaguely be considered girlfriends – didn't count. That was ninety per cent sex and ten per cent necessary social companionship – in other words, one could sometimes feel like a fool turning up at an expensive restaurant, a publisher's cocktail party or a fellow writer's book launch without a date. I had a few acquaintances in the literary world who I was pleased to meet when our paths crossed, but I never actively pursued any of them. It took one to know one, and I didn't want any other writers knowing me too well.
Yes, I was quite happy with my life as it was just then, and as it never would be again.
If that's so, I hear you ask with a smug look on your face, why do you see a shrink every week?
And I reply, as I have often been tempted to reply to nosey and persistent scoop-hungry interviewers, mind your own goddamned business. Next question?
Let's get back to the topic at hand, shall we? The boy.
Yes, he annoyed me at first sight, just for being there. For disturbing my solitude. And yes, I know my reaction sounds completely unreasonable, not to mention misanthropic, but you have to understand the way my mind works – how a writer's mind works. The smallest things can stimulate the imagination. The briefest snatch of a conversation; the expression on someone's face. For a writer, there is a story behind everything. It feeds the muse, but sometimes it can also drive the writer mad.
The boy vexed me simply because he caught my attention, and in doing so, stimulated my imagination. I had come to the park for peace, to escape my laptop and the never ending voices in my head, demanding I tell their stories. I did not want to think about this boy.
Yet there was just… something about him. It's an unforgivable cliché, but clichés often become clichés precisely because they are true. There was something about the way he carried himself. Though he was obviously young – fifteen or sixteen, was my initial guess - he moved with remarkable grace, bouncing on his heels with the lightness of a dancer or a gymnast. Most boys that age were slovenly, inarticulate, clumsy and graceless; mumbling in their half-broken voices and tripping over their own newly lengthened limbs. I had read somewhere that it was all to do with their brain chemistry going haywire during puberty, but I had my own theory – to wit, that all teenagers were just arseholes. I ought to know – I'd run up against enough of them when I was one.
They were arseholes not because their brains were breaking down and reforming, but because were fighting for their assigned place in the adult world. They'd either turn out to be losers or winners and once that place was decided there would be no going back. Watching this boy it suddenly struck me as a peculiar irony – I would most certainly have been one of the losers, if I had not had my life so thoroughly fucked up for me in New York at the age of sixteen.
New York, strangely enough, made me one of the winners. By seventeen I understood. Passivity, generosity, modesty, sensitivity… all that was for the losers. And so I left the loser called Uesugi Eiri behind, and became what I am now, Yuki Eiri. And I was right to do it – no-one calls me names now. No-one sticks out their foot in corridors to trip me up. No-one demands money from me or pushes me to the back of the queue. And no-one laughs at me.
No-one can touch me now.
This boy looked like one of the losers. Pink hair? Definitely some sort of nerd. Maybe a pansy on top of it. And with crappy dress sense. Even when I was Uesugi Eiri I wouldn't have been caught dead in shorts and trainers. But then when I was Uesugi Eiri I wouldn't have been given a choice.
Nice legs, though.
Nice… what? Where the hell had that come from? It was his grace that did it, his diminutive stature. He just reminded me of a girl.
Enough of this crap. Start walking again. Why have you stopped, anyway?
That scolding voice in my head was right, of course. More right than I realised. But then I noticed something else about the kid that caught my attention.
He was talking to himself.
Oh no, I remember thinking, here we go. Looney alert. But then again, it was not quite so easy to spot a nutcase these days – more often than not, that unnerving, distracted person shouting and gesticulating as they wander towards you turns out just to be some idiot with a hands-free kit. This one had a paper in his hand which he was apparently studying. Maybe he had difficultly with his reading and he needed to sound out the words. But every now and then he would glance upwards, as if thinking. An actor, learning his lines? More likely some swatting student revising for his exams.
But no – as he got within hearing range, I realised that he wasn't talking, but singing.
Why that interested me, I had no idea. Perhaps because he was singing rather well. It sounded as though he had perfect pitch – though I am in no position to judge. For a brief moment I caught myself wondering what Tohma would make of that voice – before I remembered that I was Yuki Eiri, and Yuki Eiri didn't give a damn about what Seguchi thought about anything. At any rate, the melody was not unpleasing, if a little wistful. I hardly ever listened to popular music – this was probably just some depressing new love song for silly teenage girls to snivel over while they stuffed chocolates into their mouths and lamented the fickle nature of boys.
But then I saw the boy stop and scribble something down on the paper he was clutching.
And all at once, I had a flash of memory, so bright it was dazzling. Another boy, wandering carelessly through another park, clutching a spiral bound reporter's notebook and a pen and pausing every now and then to scribble down ideas. And, of course, at the same time hoping, always hoping, for a glimpse of…
I slammed the door on that thought, not even stopping to wonder where it had come from. Feeling my heart rate increase ever so slightly, I held my position. I was dressed in dark clothes – except for my pale skin and my irksome blonde hair I would probably blend into the background, especially to a boy absorbed in his own thoughts. In a moment this little songbird would be gone and I could go on with my walk.
What a lot of crap. Who are you hiding from?
I considered this question for a moment, then decided the scolding voice was right. Hanging around the park in the dark, staring at a boy could earn you a good kicking, especially if the stupid brat had friends following behind. I pulled out a packet of cigarettes and lit one. A man stopping to light up on a slightly breezy night could hardly be accusing of loitering with intent.
But even as I concluded the thought something happened. The breeze picked up, rustling through the branches of the trees, tousling my hair and snatching that paper from the kid's hand – sending it fluttering like a bird into the air. With a cry of distress he began to run after it. And, as if spellbound, I watched him get closer and closer.
I realised my initial assessment had been wrong. He wasn't a boy, but a young man. There was still a childish roundness to his face; a boyish prettiness perhaps, but there was nothing of the greasy skin and transitory, half-formed look of adolescence.
Why – why was I moved by the sight of him? His cute little face and big dark eyes might be just a bit girlish, but there was nothing feminine about his physique – even less so after he had broken into a run and begun pounding in my direction. I didn't like boys or men, I never had. Except for…
Another bright flash. Twinkling eyes; a warm, welcoming smile. Or was it really a sneer? I tried slamming the door on that memory too, but it remained slightly ajar. I tried to dismiss it. It was a different situation, involving a person who no longer existed. Uesugi Eiri had been a shy, lonely boy craving the love of a father and confused by the raging hormones of puberty. It hadn't been about desire – not really.
I really, really didn't want to think about this.
Something caught my eye and I looked down. The songbird's lyrics had just landed at my feet. Despite feeling an unexpected jolt of excitement at this sudden contact, I kept my face completely still as I bent to pick them up.
Stop that! What are you doing? Right - just give them back to the clumsy little tyke and keep walking! No – don't read them!
More sound advice from my inner scold, but I found I didn't want to take it. I looked down at the paper.
"Amidst a noisy crowd of people, the murmured words melt away, scattered at my feet… I wander aimlessly…"
Fanciful teenage drivel; raw, embarrassingly heartfelt. I tried to dismiss it as some crappy poetry the songbird was writing for his girlfriend, but these weren't the thoughts of a teenaged boy blissfully in love; they were the hopes of one who wanted to be in love and still had great expectations of what that would be like.
Anger swelled in me like rising nausea. He had no right to keep such expectations. He had no right to be so naïve. Not at his age, not in this city. Not in this accursed world. Naïveté like that was dangerous. It gave idiots like him ideas, made them think they could get what they wanted, just by wishing and dreaming and pleading hard enough. Idiots like him should be strapped down and tortured until they realised that the world was cruel and unforgiving and not some child's playground where they could live forever with their favourite Sensei. And that when a man said he thought they were so sweet, and he was so fond of them, and read the crap they wrote and said that they were so clever, and so talented, that man usually had an ulterior motive. Idiots like that caused more grief in the world than anyone else, just by their blind trust - by their complete lack of healthy, streetwise cynicism.
I could feel the songbird's eyes on me. I half expected him to run up and snatch the paper from my hand, possibly kicking me in the shins to be on the safe side, but he didn't move. Finally I looked up, fixing my gaze upon him, looking deep into his eyes.
As I did so, I saw a blush creep over his cheeks and fought back a smirk. I always had that effect on the sensitive ones – the losers, I should say. I'd seen the look so many times at book signings. That deadly combination of loneliness and trust, their eyes begging for acknowledgement. They would be ridiculously easy to seduce, the boys as much as the girls, which is perhaps why I have never bothered with either. Given the slightest encouragement they would not doubt claim me as their Sensei and begin bombarding me with their stories and poems.
I decided it was time to get this over with. And I found I was looking forward to it. "Are you the one who…" I gave the paper a last contemptuous glance, "…wrote this?"
"Oh – yes!" The boy's gaze brightened and he relaxed just a little. "It's kind of like – lyrics," he admitted shyly, "kind of a love song, actually…"
There. Was I right or was I right? Any moment now he'd be asking for my opinion. His ingenuous innocence was infuriating. What was wrong with him? I could see he was attracted to me, but didn't he have any self-preservation instincts at all? He was alone with a strange man in the park at night, for God's sake! Did he really think this was a good time to discuss his lyrical abilities?
Another hard, blinding flash of memory.
"Sensei, Sensei! Have you read my story yet, Sensei?" That stupid little bastard, running across Central Park to meet him, giving him his crappy little scribblings to read and really thinking he might be sincere in his praise, never seeing the double meaning lying so close beneath the surface of the encouraging words.
"How… mature you are, Eiri-kun. How much… passion there is in your writing…"
How much better it would have gone for both of them if he had just scrunched up that pathetic story and shoved it down his – my - throat.
I didn't want it to be me. It wasn't me. It was Uesugi Eiri, someone I had left behind. But I still had his memories. And to remember the raw tenderness of his love for his Sensei was as excruciatingly embarrassing as being paraded naked in public. I hated to be naked. Even after sex I would shower and dress as quickly as I could, to the chagrin of some of my more romantic lovers who held out hopes of kissing and cuddling and the whispering of sweet nothings beneath the tousled sheets.
Now, as I looked down at that blushing, pink haired boy, it was as though Uesugi Eiri, whose worthless remains I thought I had discarded in New York, had been reincarnated and was standing right before me in the park. And hatred overwhelmed me.
I had to do something. It was my public duty – my way of repaying the debt Uesugi Eiri had left me. One less air-headed little twerp in the world could only be a good thing.
I couldn't exactly strangle the kid – not without gloves. And giving him a good thrashing was out too - my looks were too distinctive, even if he hadn't already recognised me. Romance author assaults boy in park would be a headline even Seguchi couldn't spin into oblivion. Besides, it was better to hit him where it would really hurt. Where it would really have hurt Uesugi Eiri, at any rate.
"You call this garbagea love song?" I demanded, keeping my voice cool and steady. "You know nothing."
"– Huh - ?" The songbird's response was so soft it was barely audible but I could hear the slight tremble in it. With a faint smirk I let held the paper up – and then let it go. But the boy appeared to be too stunned by my criticism even to notice, let alone chase after it again. Moving closer to him, I drew the cigarette from my mouth and exhaled smoke in his direction, though the breeze blew it back towards me, just as it had blown his lyrics. It was time to move in for the kill.
"It's the worst thing I've ever read," I told him, "you've got zero talent. Take my advice and just quite now."
I stole a glance down at his face before I moved on. Those eyes of his, a remarkably pretty twilight blue, were beginning to moisten. I looked away again quickly.
I didn't turn back when I heard a loud thump – what sounded like the songbird falling to the ground. I heard a gasp; then he cried out to me, demanding to know why I had to be so harsh.
And then… the soft but unmistakable sound of weeping.
Happy in the knowledge that my duty was done, I carried on with my walk.