"This, like any story worth telling, is all about a girl."
TITLE: Memorize the Contours
FEEDBACK: Oh, please do. kawcrow@...
SUMMARY: Marie's waiting for Logan. Homecoming, coming home, clich�.
ARCHIVE: My place, http://kawcrow.home.att.net/whatnot/
Anywhere else, drop me a line.
USUAL SNARKY DISCLAIMER: Characters, theirs. Story, mine. Especially the rambly
bits. *My* rambly bits.
NOTES: 01-02-02. It's an old story. An old pretentious story. An old
pretentious long story. An old pretentious long weird story. Oh well.
* * * *
Almost everyone remembers in fast-forward. They zip through the sections that
make up their lives, most of it lost in the everyday shuffle of existence and
routine and just plain time. People tied their shoes this morning. Did they
have a moment where they tied them last month? Probably. But for most people,
that moment's gone.
That's not such a bad thing. Remembering everything that ever happened in life
could make a person very wise or very confused--and how could a thousand shoe-
tying scenes bring wisdom, anyway? So it's better that some events in memory
just fade quietly away. Lost in space. Zip straight past it.
Once in a while, though... Some things happen forever. It doesn't matter if
they happen yesterday or twenty years from now, or even if they ever happen at
all; they're as familiar as a favorite old movie scene. Play it again and
again, again, again, again--the tape heads wear down; the picture gives out;
the soundtrack cracks and fizzles; eventually the VCR itself gives up. But it's
not important: everything is still there, remembered and kept, bright
Technicolor and surround sound.
Keep that moment, real or imagined, as long as possible. It won't be hard to
hold on to, but it will burn to the touch. Take it out and run through it from
time to time. Be surprised, no doubt, at how it has been changed: faces
blurred, sound distorted. It's a funny thing; a single scene is experienced by
a number of different witnesses and remembered, *altered* in an equal number of
ways. The beginnings change, but they're often similar. The endings--that part
Things like these--*scenes* that happen forever--are stuck on eternal pause;
things like these don't change unless people change them. Things don't change.
It's people who change. It's *things* that change *people*.
This is one way that things happen.
* * * *
She looks for him in doorways and on street corners. It's almost a reflex now--
that and the unconscious fingering of the dull silver tags hung from her neck,
tags worn smooth by two sets of skin. Once she takes a semester's worth of pay
from working in the school cafeteria and hits the road. It's strange for her,
being back out. She stares unseeing into the darkness as the bus rolls.
Sometimes she dozes and in her dreams mistakes the Greyhound's purr for the
roar of a diesel eighteen-wheeler; she wakes with a start, tense and afraid and
not able to remember why.
It's not touch. Her touch steals things. Nobody touches her. She's seen to
that; a person's touch gives her more than either bargained for or is willing
to accept--so why is she still afraid?
She looks for him in crowds and tells herself she's not, that she's seeing the
real faces of the real people in this real world. She can tell herself this
because she looks for him in crowds without meaning to, because she's done it
for so long she doesn't know how to stop. Someone will jostle her on the street
or a man will cough behind her, and she'll spin around roughly, the surprised
crowd parting around her like fingers opening wide. She knows he will be there
and that he will reach out and brush her shoulder gently with one hand and he
will say, almost against his will: Hello, Marie.
She'll say, Logan. You're back.
And Logan will smile--bless his heart, a warm, honest-to-God smile--and say,
Still queen of the obvious, darlin'.
Marie knows it will happen this way. She has turned to look for him in crowds
for years without seeing him because it will happen and she has to be ready.
Maybe it won't be *this* crowd, though. Maybe she has to be in the right place
at the right time for him to be able to find her. Computers and phone calls and
discreet bribes bring snatches of locations and movements back to her, like
shreds of a tattered treasure map. So she packs her duffel bag and goes out to
follow his tracks, to find where he'll be by where he's been.
And what *interesting* places they are, at that. She feels she's seen enough
strip clubs and beer joints to last her until the Kingdom comes. It's not so
much the things there that she sees, as it is the people who see her there.
They are suspicious, and hungry, and to them she looks raw and juicy.
What's a girl like you doing in a place like this, baby?
The hands come then, insistent and rough. Then gasps. Screams. Then the hands
at her again, rougher still and vicious with blind hate, and the new memories
slashing in her brain like a thousand wriggling fingers...
She's almost gotten used to it, for the sake of friends in low places she gains
along the way. In San Francisco a sad-eyed dancing girl gives her bus fare and
disappears into the daylight. A blue-furred priest-in-training rescues her from
a Guelph mob and serves the best bagels she's ever tasted. A thief in New
Orleans makes fireworks dance distractingly from his fingertips and leads her
to safety and her first bitter sip of wine with a slide of his murky red eyes.
More people and faces and names she never discovered than she can count,
melting into one another in a sea of unpaid gratitude. They seem to come from
nowhere to her aid, to tell her their story, looking for something they know
The one thing she has. She takes a sip of iced tea and pulls on her secretive
saleswoman mask, giving them exactly what they want and never mentioning the
price. She knows the ritual by heart now: her gloved hand lies on the table.
She looks squarely into their eyes. She says, We can help. Always plural yet
vague as though she is part of a vast mutant-wing conspiracy, an Underground
Railroad for freaks of nature--and that, she knows, is not far from the truth.
Still, there's one who won't quite buy the line, and he smirks at her a little
over his glass of bourbon. The red-eyed thief who won't leave her alone, who
follows her back to New York to continue not leaving her alone. But his smile
doesn't have any coldness in it, and his hands don't clench on the table when
she sits down across from him. When she accidentally on purpose brushes up
against him in the hall, he doesn't flinch.
She'll take what she can get.
He talks easily and often, which is more than she can say for herself. But from
him every word is thick with caution, with the phrases hidden behind a wall of
silence. She knows a little about that. He likes her, she believes, because she
doesn't ask questions. And in return he listens to the answers she gives
herself and even answers to questions of his own. She tells him about
Mississippi and makeup; planes, trains, and eighteen-wheelers. She tells him
about a boy who nearly died with the taste of her lip-gloss on his tongue. She
tells him about Logan, and crowds. She tells him about the sound of wind
cracking across snow.
He teaches her a little French, all those naughty phrases the prim instructors
try to pretend don't exist. He spins tales from the bayou and she tries to
pretend they don't enthrall her. He tries to tell her about jazz and laughs
with exasperation at the expression on her face, pop-country girl-spawn of the
south that she is. She gestures emphatically and with distaste and so hardly
even notices at first the way his eyes are burning, until his hands gently
catch her jaw and turn it up and across until his face is only a blink from her
He's wearing fingerless gloves. Already it's seeping into her, his heart and
She hasn't asked questions. She'd thought that would be enough, for both of
--She doesn't even realize she's wrenched away until she's on the path, head
down and moving as fast as her ragged breath will let her go. One foot in front
of the next, carefully. If she runs she will shatter like a shipwreck.
* * * *
So these are the ones in question: a grifter, a ghost, and a girl not quite
tired of waiting. Look carefully at her hands, her shoulders, the way she
weighs the names in her head as though they're something golden. Memorize the
contours of her face. Is she recognizable?
* * * *
If honesty is the best policy, avoidance is the best defense. She's on the
receiving end of more than one puzzled glance when she ducks him in the
library, after class, at evening meeting--they were a matched set, non, ma
ch�re? But those glances are still better than anything she'd see if she faced
him up close. This is better.
So why does it feel like a punch to the face when she finds he's been gone for
days without her noticing? The Powers That Be don't have any answers as they
blink at her in surprise. Oh, they say. It was a personal matter. Said he had
something to learn. Didn't say when he'd be back.
At this rate she's going to grind her teeth into nubs. It's summer, anyway, so
she goes back on the Greyhound circuit, carefully thinking of nothing and no
one at all. Dallas, Santa Fe, Mexico City, New Orl--Toronto, she's never seen
Toronto. Two weeks of Toronto dives, and she almost thinks she's found him
until a gasping, breathless moment of forgetting who she's looking for. It's
time to go home. But isn't it always?
Even though no one meets her eyes in the cafeteria on the first morning, she
thinks nothing of it, until Jean catches her alone in a corner and presses a
piece of paper into her hand. It's an address she recognizes as belonging to a
run-down motel fifteen miles away. A room number. There are also two names, and
one of them is hers. She looks up, surprised, but Jean is gone.
It's only fifteen miles. Scott won't mind if she steals the car. She's a little
rusty--all those Greyhounds driving for her. But she makes it intact, makes it
up the stairs, and--The door's open. Waiting.
He's sitting there, expressionless, dealing cards in a mindless line on the
cheap plywood table. They flicker dull red, touched with fire from his
She says, You didn't even say goodbye.
I had something I needed to learn, he says. He doesn't look up from the cards.
He calls himself Gambit and gambles with his life to gain the upper hand. But
he is gambling with more than his life this time, and for once he is risking it
all without an escape route. His cards are on the table. So he tries to look at
and think of nothing at all, while his hands shuffle and deal and shuffle again.
What is it, she says. Damn you, what is it.
And his eyes flick up, red flame against her poor mortal corneas--God, he's
going to burn her. A man with fire for eyes should never look at anything when
--when he can look at someone this way. Traitorous thought. Like she's going to
be the one to say it. But he's coming towards her all the same, and his eyes
are still burning into her with a question or a promise that she doesn't want
to answer, and--
It can't be. It isn't possible.
Fingers, there, against her cheek, just outside her eyelashes. Everything's
burning except where it should be: in her head, red-hot memories that aren't
wriggling against her thoughts.
She looks cross-eyed at his hand and doesn't have a clue as to what he wants,
and for that moment it's the most wonderful thing in the world.
One moment later, the phone rings.
Rogue, Jean's voice fizzes. My God, Rogue, you'll never believe who's here.
* * * *
Do we really need the rest of that conversation? Do we really need the catch in
her breath? The look on his face? Do we need her sputtered, formless words, his
quiet tone of resignation? They have nothing but empty platitudes to give each
other, because she still has to go downstairs, and start a car, and drive it
fifteen miles without killing anything.
* * * *
Everything in her life has been leading up to this moment.
* * * *
Everything in her life. She's here, and so is he.
Her heart stops. It starts, and stops again, and starts, in a parody of beating.
Hello, Logan, she says. His turn, this time, is just the way she imagined hers
And the king of the obvious says: Marie. You're back.
A question or a promise?
* * * *
Fast-forward through the next part. It's been replayed a thousand times,
anyway, and one more might wear it past the breaking point.
* * * *
It would be romantic to say that they never spoke of him again if she could
help it, that she turned cold and pale at the very mention of his name.
Romantic but untrue: she did talk about him, and warmly; she would name a
canary after him, maybe someday, a child. The man with the cards tries to fill
an emptiness inside her, and she tries to drain away a darkness within him;
sometimes they succeed. And if there was anything strange in wearing the sign
of one man on her finger and the sign of another around her neck, it was never
mentioned--she had managed to start her life again, and presumably, so had he.
They hadn't changed in that scene (what had happened - what was going to
happen), either of them, so they went on.
Life went on. Even though he wondered now and then about a life if he had taken
a highway not through New Orleans but Dallas, Santa Fe, Mexico City; if he'd
come back when he'd promised in a long-distance phone call. Once a year she
wondered too; and if she cried herself to sleep a few times, the man with the
cards would hold her and stroke her face and wonder why he felt grateful.
This is one way it happens. Not the real way, or the best way, maybe; but a
true one. Sometimes she still waits blindly for him forever, and they find each
other and he carries her away from it all, and meadowlarks sing and fluffy
creatures dance. Sometimes it's only the other two of them, red eyes and white-
streaked hair--sometimes she's the one who abandons, and he's the one who
searches for his way home. Sometimes it's one, or three, or six hearts broken;
sometimes everyone is happy for a little while. Always, at least, she cries
herself to sleep once a year. Always he wonders.
All the ways are connected through the first scene, the real one, the one no
one ever remembers. It's lost in jumbled imagery from an infinite number of
ideas and dreams and misconceptions that split off and took root, becoming
their own canon and vibrant clich�. The beginnings change, but the endings
never do: someone is always left to wonder. If it doesn't feel like a ride into
the sunset, it's because there are no happy endings--nothing truly ends.
The scene is paused. The words are spoken; the motions are made; bridges are
crossed and burned. They are ghosts caught in the machine, sometimes wanting
the lines and the actions to change but finding limits to their honor. In the
end they know that something has to happen, now, while the world is caught in
freeze-frame--because everything ahead of them is still there, waiting to be
* * * *
* * * *