BY VINCENT CHABANY / CLITERACY / OCTOBER 2017
Aaron once told me that I was very hard to figure out. I shrugged and told him he was the same way. No, I don't think so, he answered, and shook his head several times. I do not think so at all. I shrugged again.
The first time I met Aaron was at a slumber-party night at Oriel college. He was wearing periwinkle pajamas and had very small and very square teeth. He asked me if I wanted a drink and I did. He asked me if I was having fun and I was. He asked me if I was the guy who called the president of the Oxford Union ‘fuckface’ for inviting a Holocaust denier’s daughter to speak, and I was. I had said it loudly enough to be caught on a Daily Mail camera. I had never spoken to Aaron up to here. I only knew him as the nice boy with the tangerine hair. I've noticed I tend to exaggerate the exact color of Aaron's hair. I always hesitate between marigold and ginger, but both seem too sentimental, so I settle on tangerine, which is too bright. If anything, it looks like metal gone white-hot, cooling down. My own hair can only be described as something dead and comically simple, like a shoe.
The second time I saw Aaron was at a casino night where he showed me his Tinder. He told he was supposed to go on a date with this girl, but she had abruptly canceled and was not answering anymore.
I told him to wait for a minute and tracked the girl down on Facebook. Jessa Baden. She read physics at Corpus Christi. I found a picture of her smiling, and her teeth looked like the aftermath of a landslide, like these ripped, bloated chunks of Styrofoam that stick behind. I showed Aaron the photo.
“I think you dodged a bullet. Those belong in a dead woman’s jaw.”
Aaron laughed and bought me a drink and called me a good friend and I stiffed up a bit and thought that would be the end of that but course it was not.
The thing is, I might be remembering all of this wrong, and if not, some details might be fraudulent. I refuse to forget, so I’d rather create colors and words to fill in the blanks. Aaron’s pajamas might have been lilac. Jessa might read physics. Aaron might’ve not called me a good friend but something else. That is the way I remember the Odysseus. There are olive trees, and then much water. There is Circe. Very tall and draped in powder-blue robes. Staring vacantly at a cliff or a mirror or the oblong sky. Penelope's long white face floats on these surfaces, laughing at sword-stomached suitors bleeding out on limestone steps. Then I remember that what I think is Circe is really Nausicaa and decide to give the whole thing up.
I kept bumping into Aaron. I would take nightly walks and go to our common room for a cup of coffee, and would find him there, watching television and knitting. He couldn’t sleep either. I went from just smiling to chatting to sitting down and watching whatever he had on, usually Broadchurch or Fringe. I never rested my head on his shoulder, but I did feel the warmth of his chest from a distance. The contact of his hand on the couch. During that time, Aaron knitted a sand-tinted sweater. The torso was tapered.
One night I went for my usual wander and spotted Jessa Baden drinking with some friends on the King’s Arms stoop. Her mouth was firmly shut, and she had better posture than I thought she would. I texted Aaron. He asked me how she looked.
Like a loser, I answered, which was both true and not.
You still out?
Yeah. Getting some air.
Want to get a drink at mine?
Aaron lived opposite me in our courtyard. I was not too tired so I said alright and I thought I would get one drink and that would be the end of that.
He made me sit down on his bed while he uncorked some wine. I looked at his books. A lot of very old, very tired men. He had thrown his alarm clock in the trash. He handed me a drink and I thanked him and he slowly sat down next to me and kissed me and said he was sorry but I had to leave so I said alright and then did.
I learned during the course of the week -nothing is secret here- that Jessa had contacted him again, and the word used to describe Aaron was smitten.
I saw them together at a silent disco in the natural history museum. I was standing next to the dinosaurs, and Aaron lured me to the side. He told me, leaning against a glass case with an old dead turtle, that he and Jessa were great, he did not know why he gave up so easily.
I did not know what to answer. I think he expected a very specific response, and it seemed to me I had not been handed the script but a warm mass of celluloid, amber-colored and sticky, too tangled to use.
The next day he sat down next to me at dinner, which brings us back to the moment I put my hand on his thigh and he told me I was hard to figure out.
It took us a month to bump into each other again. The sweater was finished, he only ate in his room, he did not come to parties. When I did see him, he invited me to a dinner he and Jess -he called her Jess by that point- were hosting. It was me, him and her. They bickered a lot. He muttered under his breath. I drank too much. She went home early. Aaron kissed me again. I left. He followed me into the courtyard.
“What do you want?” A flat, disaffected voice asked out of my mouth.
He looked up, and his chin seemed squarer. He did not answer but took my hand. I led him to my room.
Aaron thinks I'm even harder to figure out now that I've stopped talking to him. I've heard Aaron published a short story about me in some magazine. I've heard he wanted to send it to me, but never did. When Aaron thinks of me I am underwater. If he remembers the Odysseus like I do, then I laugh like Penelope.
I’ve heard that he’s back with Jessa. I've heard a lot of things. I've said a lot of things. I don't remember it all. What I remember is Aaron's hair when we lied in the dark. Lively and shimmering, neon like embers.
Aaron thinks I'm hard to figure out. I'm really not.
Vincent Chabany-Douarre is a student at La Sorbonne, Paris. His work has been featured in The Belleville Park Pages; The Bastille; The Birds We Piled Loosely; Gravel; 45th Parallel; Thrice Fiction Magazine; the podcast No Extra Words, Glassworks Magazine, Cecile Writer's Magazine; Foliate Oak: as well as Junto Magazine.