Chris came for a chat earlier today. I love it when she appears, even though I still cannot get my head around the fact that I am nineteen again and talking to a ghost. Somewhere inside, however, I know that it does not matter. Somewhere inside I know that nothing matters, for I too am not who I should be and nothing I know is real except for the memories of a recent past I cannot clearly recall, and a future that is already fading.
I was flicking through my old bookshelves, surprising myself at the titles I had forgotten I had read. In amongst the spines, a well-thumbed copy of ‘Roseanna’ sat next to a battered ‘Godard on Godard’; both, as I remember, picked up for pennies at a library sale. I pulled out ‘Roseanna’, and suddenly there she was, sitting on the stool behind my desk just like it was twenty years ago. Or three years ago, whichever you prefer. People have these notions about ghosts, that they are grey and wraithlike. Chris is not like that. She’s bright and solid, like a new bike. I told her I stole that line from a song I might never get to hear again except in my mind and she said it sounded beautiful and that I should never worry about stealing, for everyone does it all the time. The secret, as she always used to say, is to make the thefts seem natural and to believe that what you steal is truly your own. I kept trying all my life, but it is so much harder than you might think. It’s the same difficulty of being an artist, and I could tell you all about that one day for sure.
Every time Chris appears again I look at her with new opened eyes. I suppose this is only natural, for I have not seen her in anything but a few ever fading photographs for twenty years. So now I want to tell her that she looks more radiantly beautiful than ever, but I am sure that to do so would feel like a betrayal; both to the memory of her reality and to my heart’s heavy love for Karin. But Karin will not even exist for another year, and Chris has been dead for three.
And what am I?
Chris never tells me straight. I asked her last week, and she just shrugged and said, “how do you feel?” I said I didn’t know, but that surely she had seen all the twenty years stretching out ahead of us just as I had lived through it, and she just smiled and asked if I had not seen ‘Back To The Future’? I told her it hadn’t even been made yet, and she said “exactly.”
The thing is, we don’t ever know the whole story. All stories change; they mutate and reconfigure themselves depending on the contexts they find themselves placed within. Take ‘Roseanna’. Chris and I talked yesterday about how we first discovered those Martin Beck stories. We were both fourteen and desperate for something different. Being fourteen is like that for some people. I think it is the age when you make important decisions about who you want to be. It had always seemed to us then that most people just wanted to be anonymous, or at least to be uniform within the structures they found themselves. We didn’t talk about it in those terms then of course. We just called everyone else The Fucking Sheep and revelled in our oddity. And oh, yes, people thought we were odd.
I said to Chris “do you remember that morning in school? You wore your black skirt and sweater, those little ballet pumps and your hair tied back. You looked like Anna Karina.”
“And you wore your father’s suit and that black homburg you found in the charity shop. You looked like Sami Frey.”
“Oh, but you did! We thought we were the Bande à part” she smiled back, and then as the smile faded added “it was the week before I died.”
I had to blink back the tears then and wondered what it must be like to be eternally sixteen.
Chris broke the silence, “and then there were the Martin Beck stories. You found ‘Roseanna’ in the penny pile of the library sale and left it on my doorstep.”
“You’d been reading Chandler and we’d been watching those old Noir movies on Saturday nights in your parent’s bedroom when we were meant to be babysitting your little sister. I thought you’d appreciate it more than me.”
“Milk and alcohol. Always a good bet for getting the brats to sleep.”
“No-one liked that whole crime thing then.”
“Well, not fourteen year olds at least.”
We looked into each other’s eyes, searching for something that neither of us could give even if we could hope to find it.
“We thought we were so cool reading those books.”
“I thought it was so sweet that you were both called Martin, and I started calling you Beck.”
I was silent for a moment, and then said quietly, “I had forgotten that.” And I had. The sudden memory hit me in the back of the head like a brick. “Did you really think it was sweet?”
The “yes” drifted in front of me like a dream. I blinked it away, but knew it would always come back.
“But we were not cool” I eventually told her. “Not really. Not even remotely.”
The truth was that we had just been fourteen years old and desperate to look different. The truth was simply that no-one else in our immediate surroundings knew what the hell we were talking about. Trapped within our obvious confines we did not realise that the secret discoveries of fourteen year olds are simply the tired old memories of the previous generations. What seems precious, hidden and unique is, in another world, the banal, mainstream and obvious.
“Karin and I talked about those Martin Beck stories the other week, you know. I told her I had read them when I was fourteen, and she laughed at me when I told her I was reading them again. She told me that in Sweden everyone knew Martin Beck. In Sweden there are a million crappy movies with Martin Beck in them; they show them all the time on TV and everyone groans when they come on.”
Chris nodded, a beatific smile draped on her lips. She twisted on the stool, her left hand clutching her bared right shoulder, stretching her neck taught. It was brown and sleek and for a moment she looked like Karin had done the last time I saw her, twisting away from me as I asked to kiss her.
Chris looked out the window and murmured, as if to no-one, “But what does that prove?”
I looked at the old paperback that lay open on the desk. There was a line with a red biro-ed asterisk beside it: “The repetition was almost frightening” it said, and in the margin Chris had written, in her spidery handwriting, “Martin, baby, this is the key to all your problems…”
I had forgotten how she wrote and thought like an adult even as a teenager. It had always made me jealous as hell.
And as the silence between us stretched into infinity I thought about what she had written, and let her question play around in my mind. What did it all prove?
“I don’t really know.” I said at last.
And I truly didn’t. I truly didn’t know anything at all.