His name was Eugene. He’d given it to himself several hundred years ago, when he’d learned to accept his fate and decided that he could at least find the humor in how his name and his occupation connected. Whenever he was a girl, he called himself Eugenia and wore bejeweled skirts with crop tops to further the joke.
Thirty minutes after he had left Yamamoto’s building, a stone monstrosity that stood so high he couldn’t see the top, he grew tired of walking and cast an illusion of himself on the sidewalk with his hands in his pockets, while he floated above the heads of people on the sidewalk with a sigh of relief.
It was the little tricks like these that made his days bearable. He enjoyed the beautiful features of his faces, the easy magic. He didn’t care for the rest of it. A pretty cage was still a cage, after all.
He took the Tube from Regent’s park to the dingy outskirts of the city, where the streets stank of trash and body fluids, the shops were cramped and had bars over the windows, and cars seldom drove by since no one wanted to pass through and have the uncomfortable truth of poverty shoved into their faces.
When he got off he could feel his invisible tether tightening, and he knew he couldn’t go much further. To test it, he eyed the Burger King down the street and inched towards it. He made it a few meters until the tether pulled taut, and he was stopped midair as if by an invisible wall. He held his hands up as if to feel it but he couldn’t, of course, that was the infuriating part, because it looked like he could just keep going so easily, like every other person did every day, but he was trapped like a fish dangling in the air from the hook in its mouth.
He wondered, casting back into his memories, if there had ever been a time he wasn’t trapped. Either by the weight of that stupid tether or by the knowledge that it would be back someday. Either by the voices of that family, murmuring, ordering, crushing in his skull, or by his own voice, screaming back as loudly as he could. Let! Me! Out! Let! Me! Out!
He tried to move forward again, just to make sure that the tether hadn’t loosened, then turned around and went into the building right next to him and his invisible wall. He went up the stairs to the third floor and using the key in his pocket, unlocked the door and smiled a little when it swung open. Dingy gray walls. Ugly, carpeted floor. A kitchen no bigger than his bathroom, and a bedroom that was actually the living room. He’d made it nicer with some posters of pop artists and books he’d liked over the years, an army of plants on every surface, and in the corner of the room, an easel and several enormous canvases half-covered in buckets of bright paint.
The faucets leaked and spewed brown water, shouting and sirens often woke him up at night, the stupid cat across the hall kept pissing on his WELCOME FOOLISH MORTALS welcome mat, and God, he wished with every fiber of his being that it was all real. That he really was a dirt-poor idiot who lived here of his own free will.
The family, of course, knew about the apartment. He knew that they thought him all the more pathetic for it-- why buy a place when he spent most of his nights in their luxurious three-floor pad overlooking the park?-- but he couldn’t have cared less. He had bought it with money he had earned by working at the Waitrose a few streets away, and it felt like a strange, buzzing magic paying for it himself. Though a different magic than he was used to having.
Eugene dropped the grocery bags he’d been carrying and emptied them out to make dinner. He didn’t need to eat, technically speaking, the little voice in the back of his mind that sounded suspiciously like Yamamoto pointed out, but he was keeping up appearances, goddammit. (He took a special pleasure in saying goddammit. Because really, God damn you, God, what have you ever done for me?)
He put on a pair of fuzzy pajama pants with pink hearts on them and a white Coming to America t-shirt, then turned on the radio and cooked pork chops on the stove, humming along to Billy Joel’s She’s Always A Woman.
By the time the sun had set he’d finished cooking and stood proudly in front of his tiny dinner. If he had his number he might’ve texted it to Kano-- clever, quiet Kano who could make wickedly funny jokes provided he had the right material.
In some ways, Eugene liked him a lot, but he also hated him just a little bit. Kano was tangible proof of the family standing in front of him, of his own enslavement. In another life Eugene thought that he might have pursued him, even fallen for him. But in this one he resented Kano too much for doing nothing more than watching his situation, not seeming to even notice him as a person who maybe possibly definitely wasn’t happy. Eugene never lingered around him for too long, didn’t want him to decide that they were friends or let him think they could be more. Eugene had stopped letting himself get close to people years and years ago-- it hurt too much to come back and remember that they weren’t there anymore, and that he could never see them again whether on aarth or in Heaven.
He’d had parents, siblings, grandparents, boyfriends, girlfriends, good friends, cousins, children-- he had loved so many people, some in ways that felt like fireworks melting into his soul, some in a slower, softer fashion, warm clothes out of the dryer wrapping him up and making him whole. He wasn’t entirely a person, never had been, but he was close enough that the pain of being away from them lingered, sometimes for an entire lifetime after he had known them. Annalise White had been on his mind until a lifetime of eighty-seven years. His twins Jansen and George had lingered from one lifetime into the next.
Eugene took the picture of his plate anyway and tucked in, feeling the bitter seed grow and grow in his throat when he thought of that family, his family, and finished eating far quicker than he had made the meal. He sat back in the chair and closed his eyes. He thought he could feel the ghosts of his past and of his future (because no matter how careful he was he was sure to slip up and love someone again), flitting around him, whispering caresses in his ear. All at once he was a gray-haired woman who sobbed in front of the grandmother of the family, a nine-year-old boy who glowered and missed his mother, a woman who screamed through labor and who was ripped away by the family while her baby died, a tired man with cracked hands in Africa who did nothing more than sigh when he was pulled away. He felt in him a heaviness, a pressing of every person he had ever been. When he opened his eyes, they glowed silver in the blackness.
The ghosts were in every corner of his apartment now. Stupid ghosts. Stupid apartment.
He banished his plate into the wall with a wave of his hand and yelled until the ghosts were gone. Then he ripped off the pajamas, and his old clothes came on with a pop!
He slammed the apartment door shut and wandered six blocks until he fell asleep on a bus stop bench. He bent his knees to his chest and shook with so much emptiness he wondered how to hold it all inside.
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https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/ps0pnm/ link to part 3