Inexpressible island, p.1

Inexpressible Island, page 1

 

Inexpressible Island
 



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Inexpressible Island


  Dedication

  To my four children

  “L’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.”

  Epigraph

  “What punishments of God are not gifts?”

  J.R.R. Tolkien

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Epigraph

  Prologue: The Two of Them

  Part One: London Pride

  1: Anonymous

  2: It Didn’t Have To Be This Way

  3: Once

  4: The Importance of Being Julian

  5: Wild

  6: Musketeers

  7: Folgate

  8: Tales of Love and Hate

  9: Cripplegate

  10: Blood Brothers

  11: Mia, Mia

  12: Falling Beams

  13: Gold Rings

  14: Gone with the Wind

  15: The Great Fire

  16: Finch and Frankie

  17: Ghost Bride and Johnny Blaze

  18: Deepest Shelter in Town

  19: A House on Grimsby Street

  20: Lunch at the Ten Bells

  21: Empty Igloo

  22: A Girl Named Maria

  23: Two Prayers

  24: Mytholmroyd

  25: Land of Hope and Glory

  26: Dream Machine

  27: Cargo Cult

  Part Two: Trace Decay

  28: Morecambe Bay

  29: Junk Shop

  30: The One-Eyed King

  31: Dark Equinox

  32: Fathers and Sons

  33: Silver Angel

  34: Seven Stars

  35: Perennial Live-Forevers

  Part Three: Future Imperfect

  36: Phantasmagoria in Two, Take 2

  37: Paradiso and Purgatorio

  38: Hollywood Hills

  39: A Dress for Beatrice

  40: Free Licks

  41: Crystal of Souls

  42: Inferno

  43: The Julian by Diane von Furstenberg

  44: Mystique and Doctor Doom

  45: Powers Devours

  46: Hey Baby

  47: Pink Palace

  48: Big Ben

  49: Everything Forever

  50: The Dungeon of the Haunted Warlord

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Also by Paullina Simons

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  Prologue

  The Two of Them

  WAY DOWN WE GO.

  “Julian, I’m going to tell you a story,” Ashton said, “about a rider and a preacher. The rider bet his only horse that the preacher could not recite the Lord’s Prayer without his thoughts wandering. The bet was gladly accepted, and the holy man began to mouth the familiar words. Halfway through, he stopped and said, ‘Did you mean the saddle also?’”

  “That is not a story about a rider and a preacher,” Julian said. “It’s a story about how to lose a horse.”

  “Ashton, why aren’t you eating my Kjøttkaker?” Julian’s mother said.

  “Oh, he doesn’t like it, Mom,” Julian said. “He told me when you were in the kitchen. He doesn’t care for your Norwegian cooking.”

  “Julian!”

  “Ignore him, Mrs. C,” Ashton said. “I love your meatballs. You know he’s just trying to get a rise out of you.”

  “Consider me risen. Why do you do that, son?”

  “Do what, Mom, joke around?”

  “Mrs. C,” Ashton said with a mouth full of Kjøttkaker, “the other day your son told me I was like a brother he never had.”

  “Julian!” yelled his mother and five brothers.

  “Jules, remember to look both ways before you go fuck yourself,” said his brother Harlan.

  “Funny, I was about to say the same thing to Ashton,” Julian said. Ashton laughed and laughed.

  Julian’s mother made Ashton’s favorite for dessert: lefse—rolled up sweet flatbread sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.

  “Ashton, did Julian ever tell you the story of how he stumped a mystic when he was thirteen?” Joanne Cruz said. “Eat, eat, while I tell you. A pillar of the church was visiting our parish, a revered Augustinian monk, a man of prodigious theological output. He gave a lecture and then invited some questions. And your skinny friend, his voice still unbroken, stepped up to the microphone and squeaked, ‘Um, excuse me, why did Jesus weep for Lazarus when He saw him dead, even though He knew that in a few minutes He would raise Lazarus from the dead?’ The monk thought about it and said, ‘I do not know the answer.’”

  Ashton, wiping the cinnamon sugar off his face, smirked. His shaggy blond hair needed a cut; his happy blue eyes gleamed. “Even I have the answer to that, and I’m no wise man and certainly no monk—pardon me, Mrs. C. The God in Jesus may have known, but the Man in Him wept because Jesus was both—fully human and fully Divine. And to mourn the dead is the human way. Next time, Jules, ask me. I have an answer to everything.”

  Fast forward.

  “If you wake up first, don’t go out there without me, like you did yesterday,” Ashton said. They’d been camping for days. “Promise you’ll stay put?”

  “I don’t know what you’re all up in my grill about. We’re camping, not caving.”

  Fast forward.

  “Oh my God, what happened, Jules? We’ve been looking everywhere for you. Everywhere but here. You don’t know what you’ve done to us.

  “Julian, say something!

  “You’re going to be okay. You’re going to be okay. Help him! Help him!

  “Why did you do it, I told you not to go, why do you never listen, why did you leave without me?”

  I’m sorry, Ashton, Julian wanted to say, but couldn’t speak. I don’t know what happened.

  Fast forward.

  “My buddy Jules over here used to be a boxer,” Ashton said to Riley and Gwen the night they met. The boys were groomed and shaved, wore jeans paired with Hugo Boss jackets. “You should be impressed, ladies.” The girls were young and sparkling. “He was nearly untouchable in the ring. He hit his opponents with shots that could’ve brought down mountains. Yes, he was a magnificent fighter but a flawed human being. Whereas now, he’s precisely the opposite—lucky for you, Gwen, and I mean the word lucky in the most literal sense—ouch, Jules! What are you hitting me for?”

  “Lucky Gwen,” Riley said after a beat, turning her smile to Ashton.

  A flirty Gwen scooted over to Julian. “Well, I am feeling pretty lucky, I must admit.”

  Fast forward.

  “Do you know any boxing jokes?” asked Riley. They had settled into a booth, ordered drinks and snacks. It was their first double date.

  Julian did. “Did you hear what Manny Pacquiao planned to write on Floyd Mayweather’s tombstone? You can stop counting. I ain’t getting up.”

  The girls laughed. Ashton laughed, even though he’d heard the joke before.

  Fast forward.

  “Riley, don’t try so hard,” Ashton said. “Women have no need to appeal to men by also being funny. They appeal to men already, you know what I mean?”

  “Go to hell,” Riley said. “I’m funny.”

  “No, no, my love. It’s not an insult. You’re under the mistaken impression that men want their women to be funny.”

  “No, no, my love,” Riley said. “It’s you who’s under the mistaken impression that women don’t want their men to be funny.”

  Julian nodded approvingly. “That was funny, Riles.”

  “Thanks, Jules. Ashton, you should try being more like Jules. Because unlike you, see, he is actually funny.”

  “Fuck you, Jules.”

  “What did I do?” Then Julian added,
You know, Ash, if you can stimulate your girl to laughter, and I mean real, head thrown back, deep throated, full and loud laughter, perhaps she will become more open to you and you can stimulate her to other things.”

  “Fuck you, Jules!” And later: “All right, I’ll try to be funnier,” Ashton said. “Let’s try it Julian’s way.”

  “Said the bishop to the barmaid,” said Julian.

  To be funnier, Ashton told a joke. “Joe Gideon says to the masseuse, ‘Excuse me, miss, how much do you charge for genitalia?’ and she replies, ‘Oh, the same as for Jews, Mr. Gideon!’”

  The four of them threw back their heads and laughed. They loved L.A. and All That Jazz.

  Fast forward.

  “Yes, I’m moving to London. It will help my dear old dad, and you know how close we are. Kidding aside, though, I’ve always wanted to live in Notting Hill. It’s on my bucket list. Of course I’ll still keep the Treasure Box. Why would I give that up? It’s my life.”

  Fast forward.

  “Yes, I’m selling the Treasure Box. Don’t look so deflated. It’s just a store. I’ll get another one if I really want to be tied down again. Right now I’d like to travel, see the world. You in, Jules? Where have we been besides London? Nowhere, exactly. Want to go to France? We have the time. What do you say, we can be two free men in Paris, so we can do our best, maybe feel alive.” Ashton grinned, humming, drumming. “Because you’re a very good friend of mine.”

  Fast forward.

  “She is going to break you,” Ashton said as they were coming home one night, unconscionably intoxicated. “I told you she was going to bust you open, and did you listen? You never listen to me, because you think you know everything, you think you’re the only one with gut feelings.”

  “You sure you’re talking about me?”

  “She turned to you, eyes blazing,” Ashton continued, “like you were her enemy in the ring and said, tonight, I keel you. And so far, nothing you’ve done has stopped her from fulfilling her promise.”

  “Why am I even here?” Julian said.

  “You’re like my dad, you both keep asking, why are we here,” said Ashton. “Why is anything here is a better question. Not why do you bother to exist, but why does anything bother to exist at all?”

  “Because. The art of living in this world,” Julian replied, recalling Marcus Aurelius, “is to teach us that whatsoever falls upon man, he may be ready for it—that nothing may cast him down.”

  “Some things cast you down,” Ashton said. “Bow out, Julian. As if you have a choice. Admit when you’ve been defeated. Forget you ever loved her. That’s what I had to do.” His head was bowed. “Forget I ever loved them.”

  “Let’s go to Paris, Ash.”

  “Okay, let’s. But first come with me to the wedding in York.”

  “I can’t.” He had a lot to do to get ready for the equinox.

  Was this the end? Were these wretched memories Julian’s life passing before his eyes?

  No, he realized.

  Not his life.

  Their friendship was the beginning of everything.

  How could Ashton be the one on whom the tempests fell.

  Run along, my only friend.

  Rewind the reel, rewind.

  Part One

  London Pride

  O’er fields and towns, from sea to sea,

  Passed the pageant swift and free,

  Tearing up, and trampling down;

  Till they came for London town.

  Percy Bysshe Shelley

  Illustration by Paullina Simons

  1

  Anonymous

  “ANYONE CAN STOP A MAN’S LIFE,” DEVI SAID, QUOTING Seneca, probably thinking he was being comforting, “but no one his death: a thousand doors open onto it.”

  Don’t speak to me. Don’t look at me. Leave me alone.

  He had begged her, begged her not to, yet Shae still left him behind.

  “Stumble up from your river of loneliness,” Julian heard Devi say. “We know you’re in sorrow. But you’re not alone. Ava and I are with you. You’re separated from your heart, yes, but don’t think of how little you did for her, think rather about how much she did for you. Her love for you saved your life. That man would’ve killed you and desecrated you. And then killed her, and desecrated her. To give you a chance, she warned you, and then threw herself overboard. By sacrificing herself, she saved you. Even though you were lowly and unworthy. Take the gift from her and live.”

  “I was unworthy? Did you hear my story?”

  “Of course,” Devi said. “You should have never gone. You had no business going anywhere in the state you were in, in the state you’re still in. You should’ve waited until next year, or the one after. Or not gone at all. You were no good to her. You were in no shape to help her. That she helped you despite yourself is a testament to how her soul feels about you even when you least deserve it.”

  “I least deserve it.”

  “Stop rephrasing and repeating everything I say.”

  “Why are you still talking to me?” Julian said. “Go away.”

  You promised Mother no matter where I go, you would follow me. Did you mean it?

  I didn’t promise it to your mother. I promised it to you.

  Shae tried to take him with her. She jumped. But as always, he ran out of time, even for death.

  Ava sat in horror. Nothing made her feel better, not the story of the frantic mother, not the bravery of the sainted Maori who stayed by Shae’s side to the end. “Kiritopa’s glory was in the union with that woman and my child,” Ava said.

  Julian lost three fingers on his right hand. He nearly lost four. After multiple surgeries, the doctors managed to save his pointer. Steel screws now held it together. It was a robot finger. The pinky was gone, the ring and middle fingers sliced off below the second knuckle. Your fingers for your life, Devi said. Julian gave Devi the finger, but it was more like he gave Devi the nub.

  In the corner, Ava sat weeping. It’s like the first time all over again, she said.

  Julian’s body was a mess. Electrocution flowers. A weakened heart. Along with the amputated fingers, he had suffered numerous other injuries during his cagematch with Tama: a broken nose, a cracked cheekbone, a concussion, a dislocated shoulder, a shattered radial bone from blocking that fucking mere club, torn ligaments in his knees, a fractured fibula, and a dozen cracks in his knuckles and hands and the bones of his feet. He was black and blue from his forehead to his shins.

  Slowly, his body healed.

  There were things that didn’t heal.

  You say to her be my goddess, and she agrees and opens her legs. What a burden you’ve put on her—and you. She must be what she is not. You must be what you’re not. She is not a goddess.

  Goddesses don’t die.

  Julian lived inside the silence, inside the silence of the ocean with her body in his arms.

  “Is there a purpose to my suffering, an end to my despair?”

  Devi got up and said no.

  “What will I find at the end of my story?” Julian said another day, another mute afternoon. “Will there be a recognition of my labors, a list of my shortcomings?”

  Devi got up and said yes.

  Julian searched for the power within. He and Ava were catatonics, her sitting in his hospital room by the window, him sitting in his bed, both barely rocking, trying to draw the power from silence. He kept staring at the space above his palm where his fingers used to be.

  Your fear that she will cease to be—will recede, will vanish into the vanishing point—has been allayed. Hallelujah. She is not vanishing.

  You are.

  * * *

  My life is wind, Julian thought when he finally returned to the apartment after six weeks in the hospital and six weeks convalescing at Hampstead Heath. He would’ve stayed longer, but they kicked him out. He would’ve stayed the rest of his life.

  Instead he came back home.

  My eye will see no more good, b
ecause he will not return to this house, neither will any place ever know him. Julian stood by the mantle in his empty apartment in Notting Hill. Their heads bent, Ava and Devi stood with him. They were always with him. They went with him to York to bring Ashton’s body back, they flanked him at the funeral, they were with him now. To the end of his days, Julian would complain of the bitterness in his soul. He preferred a drowning death rather than his life. The Lord didn’t take away my iniquities. I still sleep in the dust. You will seek me in the morning, but I won’t be here.

  Because he wasn’t here.

  Because she wasn’t here.

  Devi tried to lighten the mood, as only Devi could. He made food, brought Julian tiger water, told Julian things. They sat down with Ava; they broke their bread; they had sake and egg rolls with twice-cooked pork dunked in chili soy sauce; they sipped Ga tan, a Vietnamese chicken soup. And then Devi talked.

  “My own son was raised a Catholic, too,” Devi said. “But by the time he was grown, barely a trace of any teaching remained inside him. A remnant of faith turned out to be nothing but empty space.”

  “It’s not just your son,” Julian said. “That’s how I lived most of my adult life. I had a fairly religious upbringing, which I attempted to discard when I went to college. My father’s family were loud devout Catholics, but my mother was a silent Lutheran Norwegian. Except for my near-constant search for answers to life’s unsolvable riddles, I felt more akin to her than I did to my Dia de los Muertos relatives. I went to a secular school with other kids who felt the way I did. Any mention of church was met with an eye roll. We talked video games, football, boxing, music, movies, girls. God never entered our language except in blasphemy. Until I met Ashton. He didn’t go to church, but he had faith.”

  Devi nodded. “That was my son, too,” he said. “A typical boy, growing up in London, not listening to his dad. He wanted to be a photographer. I thought it was frivolous. He thought I was hopelessly old-fashioned. He was embarrassed by me. After his mother died, all he did was party.”

  Julian nodded. Ashton, too, except for the dad part. Dad left the family, found a new life back in England, and didn’t return for his son, not even after the mother died. Ashton shuttled between a dozen foster homes until UCLA.

 
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