Samuel Webster

May 4, 2023 From the archive: Tactility (2006) Posted In: Blog

Come on, just this once… think of it as an adventure.
She absentmindedly pulls wandering strands of hair behind her ears. Her head tilts quizzically. He looks up at her sideways; his cheek nestled in freshly cut grass.
“I don’t know, Jess. Seems a little risky.” Jessica reads his lips.
He frowns, pulls his right hand to his face and drums the tips of his bony fingers across his forehead, left to right. A sign to which she frowns in return.
Boring. She laughs blankly (with no natural envelope to the sound), stands up and reaches for his hand as if to say “Let’s go.”
He groans. His eyes close as he tries to pretend he doesn’t owe her the world.
* * *
When Elijah and Jessica arrive at the club, the bouncer is looking the opposite way. He’s short and broad across the shoulders; big where it counts. One side of his face is flooded with light from the sign above, the other masked in the nightshadow of misspent adolescence and, worse, wasted adulthood. His expression is either stern or bored as he scans the other side of the street looking for something, anything, that’s changed in the bitter city landscape. (It’s astounding how quickly a bustling metropolis can become monotonous.) The sign above shows the name of the club, but doubles as a euphemism for this area; Spectrum in bulb light.
Jessica turns to Elijah, his hand still held tightly in hers.
The whites of her eyes flash fluorescent.
* * *
The doctor turned slowly towards the two new parents in his office.
“I’m afraid there’s a problem with little Jessica.” They turned to each other, fearing the worst. The hospital ward hummed like a freezer. The air had an uncertain saltiness.
“It’s not as uncommon as you may think, but there will be a lot of things she won’t be able to do. Nature imposing rules on us, if you will.”
Their tears are heartfelt but she will be loved unconditionally.
* * *
Elijah was raised to believe that rules were made for a reason, but since he met her, he has become more and more cynical. She also reckons she can see through people quite well, and she said she knew that this particular rule was made for other people; the naïve ones. He doesn’t feel like he is ready to become an ‘adult’ yet. The thought of all that responsibility scares him, but he trusts her.
Before he can agree to the plan, his best friend is pulling him forcibly by one arm, behind the bouncer’s back and inside, into the alcove behind the heavy doors where sits James, a 24 year old arts student. (His hair is dreaded, blue beads on the right side and red on the other, bleached white hair streaks through the colours; a right wing bohemian. On Saturdays, he stamps wrists for the club, weeknights he works at the local Video Ezy and three days a week he goes to uni and debates Freud, alternating between ‘crazy addict’ and ‘brilliant philosopher’ on a whim.) James looks up at them feverishly, a blemish on his city landscape. Jessica is prepared, she throws a $20 note on the table and he stamps the pale inside of their wrists. Elijah can hear music far away, Jessica’s pupils dance along the rainbow coloured walls. The ink is not dry by the time she has whisked him up the dirty staircase and into the warm bar area.
* * *
Three days after Jessica had been born, her parents sat in the newly painted nursery, their arms tangled across each other’s backs. Silent. They didn’t know how they were going to look after her, or how long it would take for her to be able to look after herself.
The next morning, a musical jewellery box sat outside on the dumpster, playing out the final notes in a slow metallic death.
Jessica lay unaware in her cot.
* * *
He’s hoping she won’t make him drink, his one experience with alcohol at age sixteen sent him running to the nearest drain and she had teased him ever since. But no amount of teasing could deny the fact that she had stood with her arm around him as he threw up, wiped the tears from his eyes when he was done, and held the soft skin of his elbow while he sat, painted green and melancholy, on the speckled bathroom floor.
Jessica takes him past the bar to the side of the stage and leans up against a speaker. The vibrations move up and down the flesh of her back, her whole body pulsing with each kick drum, each low bass note. She looks at the stage, the musician’s bodies twisting and turning through the energised silences. Matching their movements to the shudder of the speaker cone, she can feel their emotion. She closes her eyes and allows her senses to focus on the tactility of music embodied in each sonic shiver. He has never seen her smile so wide. He runs the edge of his fingertips rhythmically over her palms, ever so softly mapping out waves of sound; flesh to flesh.
* * *
Elijah arrived at the school gates wide eyed and talkative. His mother kissed him on one cheek while polishing the other with a spit-dampened handkerchief.
He groaned and screwed his face up. “Aww mum, don’t embarrass me.”
She stopped what she was doing and looked him in the eyes.
“Please make an effort, ‘Lij. Just try and have some fun for a change.”
“Yes, Mum.” His words weighted by routine.
She recalled the way he had moped around all summer, then half smiled and playfully pushed him out of the car.
On the grass inside the school gates, lay a girl who looked to be Elijah’s age. She had her ear to the ground, and her eyes closed.
“What’s your name?” he asked, bemused by the female entanglement on the grass at his feet.
She seemed to sense his presence and looked up.
He tried again. “What’s your name?” Instinctively, he took off his backpack and showed where his mother had written Elijah Williams, 4D in magic marker on the porous fabric. “My name’s Elijah.” He explained.
She smiled. “Jessica.”
When she talked, the consonants were muted. Elijah thought it sounded like when you block your ears and listen to your own voice inside your head. The word seemed forced, muffled.
She beckoned him to join her on the ground and he bent down to his knees then collapsed onto his side against the grass. She pushed his head against the soft ground, then closed his eyelids with her fingertips.
“Feel that?”
He opened his eyes. “What?”
She closed his eyes again, softer this time, and whispered, “Just wait. There’s a big one coming.”
He kept his eyes closed, his cheek against the grass. A semi-trailer passed the school gates, the ground shook. It felt wonderful.
“I feel it, Jessica. I feel it.”
* * *
Across the room, there is a couple dancing. It is obvious they have never met each other by the way their eyes trace the other’s silhouette in the dim light. But they are close. There is something about the music that holds them… connects them. They dance on, their eyes closing in nervous teenage anticipation. The girl bites her lip.
At the end of the song, Elijah leads Jessica to what looks like a church pew lined with red velvet. The fabric is clumped in sections from dried alcohol. The irony of sanctified furniture in a place like this is lost on most of its patrons, but it makes him laugh for a moment. She, with her arm around his waist, feels his chest shudder and looks up at him. He touches his right index finger to his nose, and drops his head. Joke. She touches her finger to her nose, laughs (blankly) and drops her own head against his shoulder. Joke.
If you had asked the child Elijah, eight years ago, to describe his greatest adventure, you would have been greeted with an unfailingly emphatic response. He would have tumbled over the furniture as Indiana Jones or stalked table lamps; stealthily like James Bond. Either way, there would have been a lot of noise; onomatopoeic elaboration. Tonight, he sits silent. His head pressed against hers. Smiling. He’s never had an adventure like this, few have. He’s found that the most precious pursuits are those after human emotion, and real pain is a solemn and guilty emptiness of the stomach.
He strokes her back through the denim and his eyes close in tender sympathy; they feel the sonic shivers together.


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