Disclaimer: I persist in not owning Hair. This, I find deeply tragic.
Thou Art Dead, As Young And Fair
Every night Berger saved Claude, and every morning he was still dead. Hed stopped sleeping with Shelia;hell, hed stopped sleeping with Dionne and Woof- anyone with a pulse. Hed stopped caring about the war and the draft and the protests; anyone worth saving was already gone. Hed even stopped smoking, because that required money or friends, and he had stopped dealing with both. The only reason he hadnt stopped eating too was because someone kept leaving him food every night- he suspected Jeanie, Crissy,maybe Shelia- and the other bums in the park were too decent to steal it from him while he slept.
He had tried, he had. Maybe hed smoked a little more after Claude left (half remembered promises of going to India and staying high forever doing their damndest to make sure he thought about things he had no interest in) and slept around a little more, but for a change hed gone home with Shelia nearly every night, and hed even made half-hearted gestures to go back to school.
"Hey, woah, who died and killed the atmosphere here, man?" Berger asked once hed looked around the room, and if his heart skipped a beat now and then, hey, that was cool, it made for a good rhythm.
"Berger," Jeanie started before her face crumpled and she collapsed, tears soaking Crissy's shirt as she clutched onto the cloth as though her life depended on it.
"It's Claude," Shelia said, always the strong one, wasn't she, holding it together so everyone else could fall apart.
"Claude? I don't know any Claude. Sounds lame, don't think I wanna know him," Berger said, backing away, until he felt the door knob pressing against his back.
"Berger, he's dead," Shelia said.
"I dont know him," Berger said.
"Stop it!" Shelia shouted, the tears that had been lurking finally rolling down her cheeks, and didn't she look so pretty when she cried? "Stop it! Claude is dead! Why do you have to be like that? Here! Look at this and tell me you dont know him!"
She broke away from the grieving mass, stumbling, running, shoving a piece of paper at him that he didn't want.
"Claude is dead," she repeated.
"I gotta go," he said, crumpling the paper into his pocket where he could forget about it- but he couldn't throw it away, why didn't he just throw it away?- and grabbing the door knob behind him.
"Berger-" But he was gone.
That had been the first and only night he'd spent locked up in some group cell, smelling piss and crying and laughing so hard that even the supposed rapists stayed a safe distant away from him. They didn't officially charge him with the threatened vagrancy rap, and he got better at finding spots to sleep in the park.
He hadn't really appreciated how cold it got in winter until he was sitting under a tree, shivering to death. He thought sometimes that didn't sound too bad; only the good die young and all that. He took the blanket, though, when the guy pushing the shopping cart through the park handed it to him, and thought of Vietnam, and jungles, and thought maybe dying in summer would be better. It seemed to match more, somehow.
He spent each day feeling a gun in his hands, on his back, some faraway sun beating down on his head, people he didn't know on either side of him, waiting to kill him in the bushes, and one name forever on his tongue. Each night, though, he spent in wonderland.
Once, Claude burned his draft card, no hesitations with the rest of them, and Berger thought he'd never seen a fire burn prettier. For a few nights they'd run up to Canada, Quebec, Toronto, Vancouver- together, laughing, breathing. For more nights than he could count, Claude's draft card had simply never come. Sometimes he'd stayed in college. Sometimes they were just a little too young. Sometimes reality just took a backseat and Berger didn't fucking care why- Claude was just safe.
He tried not to think about mornings when each day always held the promise of a new night.
"Berger, help me! What do I do?" Claude pleaded, grasping Bergers shoulders, his desperation tangible.
"I got it, man. Take me down to the recruiter and tell them that I'm your girlfriend and that you can't sleep without me," he said, giggling hysterically, stumbling closer to Claude, grabbing his belt loops, pulling him them together. He paused.
"This isn't original enough for me, Claudio," he said. "I feel like we've done this before."
Claude looked at him for a moment, clearly thinking- and god knows he thought too much, so Berger had half a mind to kiss him senseless before those thoughts went somewhere dangerous, but Claude opened his mouth to speak before he had a chance.
"We have," he said. "Done this before, I mean. Don't you remember? I'd just passed my physical, and you were crazy high."
"Then we gotta start over, man, I don't do repeats of things I don't like," Berger said.
"Berger," Claude said, stepping back, "I think we have to talk."
"Come on, you leave and you won't even let me dream in peace? What the fuck?" Berger said, irritation rising. "I'm just gonna wake up and start over."
"Just sit down," Claude said firmly, pulling Berger to the ground with him. Berger grumbled, growled, and glared but sat nonetheless.
"Look, I have to apologize," Claude began, holding a finger to his lips when he sat that certain glint in Bergers eyes that meant he was going to say something, probably offensive, and definitely interrupting. "I'm serious. I've been watching, and it's breaking my heart, man. I'm sorry for leaving. I'm really, really sorry for dying. I've been practicing saying that, actually. Half the time I kept putting on my accent, but I figured you knew me a little too well for that to do anything but end poorly. It was hard, you know?"
"It was hard?" Berger echoed. He knew Claude had more to say, he knew, it, but- "It was hard? Are you fucking kidding me? You died! You died and you left us, you left me! You left me! And it's hard for you to say sorry without putting on some fucking show? No, that's it. I'm out. I don't dream for this shit."
"Wait," Claude said, grabbing Bergers hand before he could go anywhere, voice cracking. "Please, Berger, this isn't- please, I promise- look, this isn't a dream. Please, don't go yet."
"What?" he asked. He wanted to leave, to wake up, but his stupid, traitorous fingers wove themselves between Claudes and grasped on a little tighter than he would have before.
"This isn't a dream. Well it is, but I'm here. It's really me, and I am sorry, Berger, I promise, I'm sorrier than I could ever say," Claude said, and maybe he couldn't completely believe it, but Berger was hardly one to pass up an opportunity. He lunged forward, capturing Claudes mouth, claiming it, claiming him.
"Berger," Claude half moaned, half laughed. "Wait."
"Wait? Come on, don't tell me death made a prude out of you," Berger said, his hand trailing ever southward on Claudes body.
"Not hardly," Claude gasped. "But seriously-ahhh- seriously, we have to talk. I don't know how much time I'm getting, and I wasn't kidding."
"I don't want to talk," Berger said, nipping at Claudes neck, his breath ghosting over the familiar skin.
"Berger," Claude said regretfully, pushing him away.
"Seriously? You're doing this?" he said.
"Berger, you're living in the park. You haven't talked to anyone in weeks. I miss you, but I don't want you to die because you just gave up. You're better than that. I need you to be better than that."
"Well I needed you, but didn't care about that, so why should I give a shit what you need? Besides, you're dead. You don't need anything," Berger said, clenching his fists, all his elation draining away. And Claude, of course- that fucker- noticed.
"I'm sorry," he said again. "But you're wrong; I do need things. Like I need you to accept that I'm dead. I had to."
"What? That's all I think about, every fucking day, Claude, you don't think I know that you're dead?"
"I know you know. But you're letting yourself drown in that, come on man, didn't you learn anything from me? You can think too much. And I said you had to accept it, idiot."
"Come on, what does that even mean? Accept it? You're even more of a bleeding heart than you used to be," Berger said, scowling.
"I know you're smarter than that. Seriously, you know I play English when I'm nervous and I know you play stupid when you're uncomfortable, give me a little credit."
"I don't know what you mean," Berger said. Claude sighed and reached over, digging into Bergers pocket and pulling out a familiar, crumpled piece of paper.
"This is a good place to start," he said. Turning his head skyward, he sighed. "Sorry, man, seems like I have to go."
"What?" Berger said, heart suddenly racing faster than seemed healthy. "You can't go. You just got here."
"Hey," Claude said, cupping his face gently. "We'll see each other again."
"Promise?" Berger whispered.
"Promise," Claude replied.
He woke up with a familiar touch fading on his lips.
Shelia looked like she was going to have a heart attack when she opened the door and found him standing there, but she still flung her arms around him and dragged him in like he had never left.
"God," she said, "You stink. And you seriously need a shave."
"Nice to see you too," he said.
"Go get cleaned up," she said. "I'll see if I can't find you something tolerable to wear. Bathroom's still in the same place."
"Thanks, Shelia," he said. His voice felt rusty, broken from disuse, but he still managed his first smile at another living person for the first time in far too long.
"Any time," she said, her smile wider than he'd ever seen it.
Half an hour later, he almost felt like his old self, just sitting on Shelias couch, eating the crappy college student food shed produced out of her fridge.
"So," she said, sitting down next to him, holding her own plate.
"I-" he coughed, swallowing before continuing. "I need a favor."
"Anything," she said.
He'd never been in a graveyard before, so he'd expected it to be spookier or more sacred or something. Shelia had drawn him a little map and was waiting at the entrance, whenever he was ready. He regretted how he'd treated her- he was grateful she took him back with no questions. But now it was just him and a piece of rock that claimed to be Claude.
"This is stupid, man," he said, sitting in front of the stone. "I read the stupid paper. You know they only got one thing right? Don't they have fact checkers or some shit like that?"
He fell silent, picking at the grass that had started to grow back after the long winter.
"Claudio, Claude," he said finally, "I don't think I can. It still feels like you're here, like you're inside me. I can't accept that you're dead.
"But I think I get it. You need me to live, because that way you get to live too, right? Cause you are here, with me.
"So listen, I'll probably come back sometime with Shelia, and maybe everyone else too. But um, I won't say no to another little visit at night, okay? Cause you cant leave me hanging like that man. We've still got something to take care of," he finished, grinning. He figured Claude was probably grinning too- he felt it.
Claude Hooper Bukowski, 1948-1967
Claude leaves behind his loving mother and father in Flushing, Queens, New York. Claude died proudly serving his country. His family will always remember his bravery, and his loyalty. Claude was well loved, and will be greatly missed. Services will be held on Friday at St Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr Church at nine am. All are welcome.
A/N: Yikes, another Hair fanfic and it hasnt even been a year yet. What is the world coming to? Anyway, while I realize that its unlikely that any of my old readers are into Hair, I hope someone out there reads this and enjoys it. Please review if you are that lone soul! ~ Remo
P.S. Why yes, you stupid website, that punctuation was intentional. No, of course I don't mind putting it all in again. -headdesk-