He was waiting for me, sitting under a tree throwing his wand into the air and catching it repeatedly.
‘What took you so long?’
‘I couldn’t get to sleep, it’s too hot.’
‘So open the window…’
‘I did!’ I took a seat next to him, bringing my knees up to rest my head against them and looking at him from behind a curtain of hair.
‘Still got the mask on?’
He laughed, a low chuckle that had me smiling, though I could not see the expression on his face. He was the harlequin, my harlequin, the stuff of legend. By day he chased the columbine wherever she went, a hapless lover who would never be seen, and by night? He wove himself into my dreams, every night waiting for me, someone I could tell everything to, but who would disappear as soon as I woke up. The mask was a part of him, had been there ever since I could remember, its wide, fixed grin his permanent expression. It used to scare me a little, in the beginning, that mask with its ruby lips and fading diamonds that seemed so much less then human. But I had grown used to it, accustomed to picking out his honeyed eyes behind the slits and wondering at the rest of his face, an unanswered question.
‘How goes the chase?’ he put his chequered wand down in the grass next to him, careful to keep it close, but listening to me now.
‘Shouldn’t I be asking you that?’ I grinned at him, but the grin faltered, and I could almost imagine him raising an eyebrow behind that mask.
‘It’s the same…it’s still the same.’ I sighed, turning my face away from him. ‘He’s moved on!’ I said, trying to make it sound enthusiastic.
‘He’s moved on, but it’s still the same…Star. You weren’t this upset the last time.’
‘No. I guess. You told me to enjoy it like you do. Take the good parts and hold onto them. I don’t think I can do that this time.’ I shook my head, trying to stop tears from leaving my eyes and running down my face. ‘It’s like the bad stuff just keeps coming back. You know, I don’t know why it hurts more this time around. Maybe because I can see it working out. You know, I can’t stay away from him. Not even if I try.’
He shifted slightly, picking up the wand and then throwing it back down again.
‘The pull. It’s like a pull. You won’t be free of it until you’ve moved on… I suppose.’
I bit my lip, understanding him. He was stuck, cursed almost, forever trapped with the pull of love and knowing he’d never get out of the circle he was part of. I stood up, facing him, and he looked up at me expectantly.
‘You know what, screw this! If we have to be sad in the day at least let’s make the dreaming fun, right?’ I blinked and he was standing next to me, the fluid movement from sitting to standing too quick for my eyes. Even that had unnerved me once. He turned his wand, its red, blue and yellow diamonds merging into each other.
‘Fun, ey? I guess we have time for that.’
There is no sense of time in a dream. As we stood there together, in that golden clearing and he twirled his wand, making magic and making my smile grow with every turn, it felt like only seconds before I awoke. He turned my tears into petals that floated to the ground, spun snow from the sunshine and before I knew it my eyes were opening to stare up at a white ceiling, the peeling paint on my walls a bland backdrop when compared to the one I had just come from. The image of his grinning mask faded from my mind as I stretched, ready to face the day again.
Tonight I wait for him, sitting on a bench, feeling cold though I know that outside of my dream I have the fan on because it is summer, and it is hot. I’m hugging myself, wondering where he is, when I see his bright wand twirling down the street ahead of him. He’s there beside me before I even have a chance to open my mouth.
‘So where are we today? I’ve never been here before.’
‘I think its outside school; this bench shouldn’t be here though…’ I frown, puzzled at the thought of a lone bench in the middle of the road.
‘Well, it’s your dream, doesn’t have to be exactly real.’ He’s staring straight ahead, the wand placed across his knees like a sword or gun. ‘So what’s up?’
I think for a second, then, ‘She likes him. I think it will work out in the end.’
‘So what’s stopping it from working out now?’
‘The past I guess. Her past is one of his closest friends.’
We sit in silence, both looking ahead into nothing, darkness all around us. I put my head against his shoulder,
‘You’re quiet tonight’
‘Hmm… I’m tired. You know her father wants her to marry. He’s started calling in suitors. They’ll be lining up at her door come dawn.’ I can feel his anger through his trembling voice and tensed muscle, as he struggles to control it.
‘She would love you. If she could see you, she would love you’
‘She can’t see me though. I guess that’s the problem. My love is blind haha.’ It’s a barking laugh, and my face must give away my anxiety because he stops there, puts his arm around me.
‘You and I, Star, we’ll be ok. There’s more to life then love, after all.’
I hide my smile at those oft repeated words as I feel myself waking up again, sorry to leave him to his melancholy for the next twelve hours or so.
The next time I see him we’re at the park, and we walk along an empty running track. I remember being here once, in a foreign country on a holiday that eludes my memory in this moment. I’m walking slowly, and he somersaults ahead of me, in a good mood today, turning back every so often to let me catch up. His wand, every time he turns, makes a soft jingle that cuts through the silence around us.
‘So the guy has rings and necklaces hanging off him like he’s drowning in them, and he’s sitting there like he owns the place. And you know what, she just doesn’t care!’ he looks up at the sky,
‘Ah, Columbine! Sweet Columbine! Her father was so disappointed, I was sure she would go for the rich man but he was definitely not a looker… he had the face of a toad, Star! A toad!’ I laugh, his excitement infectious.
He stops then, turns to place his hands on my shoulders and I can feel his golden gaze on me behind the mask,
‘What of your day?’
I smile, ‘It was good.’
Now it’s my turn to take the lead, walking backwards so that I can see him while he stands there, listening to my account.
‘It was a school day… feels like it’s always a school day really. We did nothing, Harley! Absolutely nothing! Went from one place to the next just sitting around. Why does it make me happy to just sit around?’ I stop, the thought puzzling me.
‘Perhaps the company you were in?’
I grin, embarrassed, and he laughs at me.
‘Enjoy it Star, collect the good times.’ He comes back to take my hands, again so fast that I barely register the fact he was standing a distance away less then a second ago.
‘They say too much of a good thing is bad for you though.’
I sigh, ‘Maybe he’s not a good thing’
He grins at me again… ‘Just like a toad!’ and he’s away, feet barely touching the ground as he speeds round the track, and I run after him, wondering at how much faster I am in my dreams.
‘Hmm?’ I’m lying in the grass and he’s shaking my shoulders, trying to get me to sit up.
‘Why are you asleep in a dream? That doesn’t make sense.’
‘It’s a dream,’ I mumble, ‘they don’t gotta make sense’
He pulls me up so I’m sitting and takes my face in his hands
‘You’re crazy. Girl, we don’t have much time together and you spend it all asleep?’
I rub my eyes, yawning.
‘Well I’m tired. I spend all day doing stuff and then I fall asleep and spend all night talking to you. I’m only human.’
He lets go of me then, stands up and walks a little further away.
‘You’re only human. That’s true enough. Star… Don’t you ever fall for fiction. You hear me?’
I frown, standing and stretching, ‘I don’t get it.’
‘That’s ok. You don’t need to get it just yet. But remember what I’m telling you.’ Confused, I’m about to say something, but voices cut through and I feel myself being pulled back into reality, as I struggle to keep him in my mind.
I haven’t dreamed you in days now. I haven’t really been sleeping properly- hope you’re ok.
This is ridiculous, I’m writing to a guy that lives in my dreams (you’d laugh at that, right?) I guess I just need to get some things off my chest. Things are getting weirder for me, he’s almost with her now, everybody sees it and everybody says it. And I guess I encourage him, when he talks about her I give him a smile and say, go for it. I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do? You’d know, you always know. They’re together a lot, sometimes it feels like I get in the way a little, and so I try to stay away and I try not to mind. Some days it’s hard, and then I think of you and you’re crazy never ending story and I guess it helps. I mean you always see the bright side in the end.
I miss you. The last time I saw you I was half asleep while I was asleep. I don’t know how that works, and I wish it hadn’t. If I’d known you would disappear for days after I’d have tried so much harder to stay awake. I’m sorry. You know between me and you it’s always about romance. Have you noticed? I guess you can’t help it, what with being the Harlequin and all… it’s like your purpose, right? Romance. You can probably tell I’ve been looking you up again. You’d hate that. But what can I do, you’re never around anymore. If we didn’t have love to talk about sometimes I wonder what would happen. I wonder if I’d tell you about my hellish extended family or the hard time I’m having juggling my friends. Because I guess that they don’t all get along. But then, I can’t expect them to right?
I was thinking about your Columbine today. I bet she’s pretty, well, I know she is, you’ve told me so enough times. I don’t think she’ll like any of the guys her dad’s trying to set her up with. At least not while she’s got you. Maybe, even though she doesn’t know you exist, you’re still completing her. Why would she need anybody else when she’ll always have you watching her back? You’re like her silent soldier. I like that image of you.
Well, Harley, even I’m not quite crazy enough to keep going with this any longer. Who knows, maybe tonight when I fall asleep you’ll be there, wondering where I’ve been this last week. We’ll see I guess
P.S. what did you mean when you told me not to fall for fiction? I don’t understand…he’s real enough.
‘I wrote to you.’ I smile at his reflection in the water at our feet. We’re sitting today, a wooden bench in a stone courtyard, and it’s been raining. It feels as though we’re sitting in a shallow pond or bowl of water, rippling where our feet touch the ground.
‘Two days ago, because I guess I wasn’t sure how long it would be before I saw you again.’
He doesn’t move, his head tilted back to look up at the non existent sky.
‘Hmm. It’s not my purpose you know. Romance. The way I see it, they made me up to give people something to laugh about, cheer them up. The clown, you know?’
I lean back, turning my body to face him, ‘so you read it? How?’
He chuckles, ‘it’s your dream star, you tell me.’
I pause, unsure of what to say to that, and he fills in my silence before I can think of anything.
‘You know I would love to say that you’re right about me, with the silent soldier thing, but then, that’s not working for you is it? And you’re the one with the potential future here.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, my life is like one long circle, I’m going to keep going round, chasing. But you, you could break out. Your heart isn’t tied the way mine is. And if you’re this guy’s silent soldier, at some point you’d expect him to notice right?’
I laugh, a hollow laugh. ‘I’m anything but silent Harley. He knows how I feel about him.’
Now it’s his turn to sit up, face me. His eyes lock mine in place and he’s looking into me now, searching for the words I haven’t said.
‘He knows? Well that’s new. If he knows, why does he torture you?’
‘It’s not torture Harley, you exaggerate. I can take this. You know some days, it doesn’t hurt at all. Like, he could tell me about something they did, he gets so excited, caught up in the storytelling, and I listen and I laugh. It doesn’t hurt at all.’
‘Only on some days?’
‘Well I guess later, when I’m away from him, sometimes it comes back then and yeah, it gets harder. But it’s never torture. That’s not the word I’d use.’
‘You always justify what he does or says or what happens between you…Star when something hurts you try to move away from it. With you it’s like the opposite. What are you doing?’
‘I’m holding on to the things I want. Because they aren’t permanent. It’s like you said, whatever you do, you know you’re stuck in that circle, you can’t change the story. In the end you’ll always have her and she’ll always have you, no matter what else happens. I don’t have that guarantee. So even if sometimes things are bad, and even if it hurts like hell, I’m holding on because I need something to be certain. How I feel could change at any moment, he could wake up one day and walk out of my life. I don’t care if it hurts I wont give him any reason to do that. I’ll take everything life dishes out to me just to know he’ll still be there the next day. Do you get it now Harley?’
I look up, but he’s gone, his warmth fading from my side as I blink away tears, unsure if he heard any of what I’d just said, and waiting to wake up to reality once again.
‘Talk to me.’
‘Star, talk to me.’
‘…He doesn’t need me. He doesn’t need me so long as he’s got her. Why did I not realise that before? If I say nothing he doesn’t even notice. I…’
He grabs me then, holds me against him as I try to make my breathing regular, struggle to contain my tears.
‘We’re getting closer to the end. The top of the circle. She will steal my heart and my wand and I will be left with nothing, and I don’t suppose you will see me in those dark days…I don’t want you to have to see me like that’
I pull myself away from him, ‘how long does it last?’
‘I don’t know how long it will be for you, your dreams have no sense of timing for me’
I’ve stopped crying by then and I’ve got my eyes shut tight, tired now. ‘I don’t want you to leave me. I don’t know if I can handle it. You know of all the people I know you’re the only one I could say actually cares for no reason other than to care.’
He’s silent and I open my eyes enough to look up at him. He’s passing the wand between his hands, staring down at it silently.
‘I will come back to you.’ He looks up at me then, eyes blazing through the holes in that mask, his serious tone beneath the wide smile unsettling me. ‘I promise.’
It’s been almost a month! A month of just black sleep, I haven’t dreamt a single thing and god I worry about you. I guess that this is the top of the circle. Well it sucks. It’s like when you get to the top of a rollercoaster, and you know you’re going to fall like crazy and you have this sick feeling in your stomach and your hearts pumping… except that this is going on for too long. I wish I would just fall already, plummet into whatever it is that’s got you because I want to get to the bottom of the coaster and let you catch me. All I’ve got right now is your promise.
I’m writing because the last time I wrote you got it. And that’s my only reason. It’s like the day that I stopped dreaming the whole of my life just turned itself on its head. They’re always together now, and it hurts like crazy without you there to keep me together. I think I’ve actually gone slightly insane, it’s all I think about and all I feel and it shows. I’m spoiling our friendship, it’s like both of us just stay out of each other’s way because we don’t want to admit that I’m hurting inside. He doesn’t need me the way I need him, and I guess for now I just have to stay out of his way and let him be happy. That’s the right thing to do right? I need you to tell me what to do. Every insignificant thing is getting to me without you, it feels like anything I say or do or feel is pointless. Because I can’t see the end of the line and I can’t see what I’m supposed to do with all the good stuff you had me collecting up for so long. I need you Harley and I need to know what’s going on with you. I hate that you’re alone at the top. It doesn’t feel right that I’m not there with you.
I can’t see anything, its pitch black and I can’t even feel my own presence in this dream, it’s like my body isn’t there. I’m inside my own head and his voice fills the void that I’m in.
‘Don’t try to speak, just listen. I did what I was supposed to do, as tradition dictates. I gave her my heart and she took it without ever knowing what it was. She carried it with her for a while, and I followed, and I want you to know that I wasn’t afraid. I think that’s important Star… you can give it away but once you have don’t be scared, just wait and see, that heart is more resilient then you would believe.’
In my mind I picture his mask, but without its customary grin. He sound tired, and in my mind the mask is unsmiling, and the eyes are dark. I shake the image out, trying to concentrate on the sound of his voice, playing over every ache in my heart.
‘When she showed it to her father he told her what it was, the heart of the Harlequin. He seemed disgusted by it, and I suppose that I cannot blame him, he’s tried so hard to marry her off and all this time I have been getting in the way, unknown to him. So she found out what it was that she had been carrying with her, and knowledge, as they say, is power. She could finally see me, Star! She could finally see what I am. I stood there, rooted to the spot and in my head all I could hear were your words, ‘she’d love you if she could see you…’ but I know my story well enough, and even your words cannot change what time has written. I don’t think the columbine will ever understand what it is to give away a heart. That gift holds no meaning for her.’
I wait, baited breath, for his next words, but they never come, I’m waking up again, angry at the thought of leaving him after such limited contact, frustrated because I suddenly feel as though there is nothing more important to me then knowing what the columbine has done to my Harlequin.
This is ridiculous, after a month I get just your voice, and even then an incomplete story. Maybe writing to you triggers something; I hope it does, because I have to know what happened. You left me on edge, and as always you’ve helped me in a way that I don’t understand. I haven’t thought about anything but you in the last week, my own petty romance seems insignificant compared to you. How could I have been so stupid?! If there’s one thing I guess I should have learnt from you right in the beginning it’s that I am not in a circle. I’ve seen what unending love can do, because I’ve seen you, at your highest and your lowest. And time and time again you’ve told me that I can break out, I don’t have to be the way you are. So this is it. I’m cutting loose. I don’t need to keep going with this story, it’s not going anywhere and there doesn’t seem to be an end to it. It sounds so easy on paper but I know that I can do it. Because you’ve told me so. And you know, Harley, maybe it’s not hopeless for you either. The way I see it, you’ve been told that life is a circle and so you haven’t tried to change it. I wish you would try. You told me once not to fall for fiction, and I wonder now if that advice was ever really meant for me. You’re trapped by a story, but Harley I don’t see why you have to be. Instead of being a character, why not narrate? Instead of being the silent soldier, why not step forward? I really wish I could see you. If anything I need to see you. Just to know you’re ok and if you aren’t then to tell you that you will be. I’ve never been more sure of anything.
I can see him, lying on the concrete as still as I’ve ever seen him. It never occurred to me before, the way he was always either moving or ready to move, his every muscle tensed, ready to slip away. The stillness frightens me, and I run up to him, stopping to kneel by his face.
he stays silent, unmoving and I look around for his wand, breathing shallow, so afraid that she’s taken it again and I’m too late with my nonsense about breaking out of the circle. More afraid that I’m not too late and was simply wrong, and he’s doomed forever. But I see it, lying a distance away, and it’s the wand that alerts me to the rest of the changes in him. My eyes take in his clothes, their plainness leaving me open mouthed.
‘Where is all your colour and pattern?’ I ask, the words sounding stupid even as I say them. I go to get his wand and bring it to him, wrap his hand around it and leave my fingers holding it in place. It isn’t until I wake up that I remember that’s the first time I ever touched the wand, or that it made no sound for me. He sits up then; sitting hunched over, small and closed the opposite of what he usually is to me.
‘Would you like to hear what happened next?’
I nod, biting my lip, sure yet apprehensive.
‘She came right up to me. Stood there, staring into my eyes with this expression on her face like… I don’t know curiosity? And I knew, by that time, what you wrote me, and I guess, seeing her staring up at me like that, something inside just, turned over. So when she spoke, I knew I wanted things to be different.’
He pauses and I wait, watching him start to twirl the wand, slowly at first. His colours creep back in, starting at his sleeve, almost as though they’re bleeding into him, and I watch each diamond appear with eyes wide open, wondering if my dreams could ever get any stranger then this.
‘She asked to see behind my mask. She wanted me to take it off, like she always does. Usually when I take it off she takes my hands and slips the wand away, and my colours fade out and… well, you know the story. The worst moments of my life I’ve lived out in that part of the tale. This time was different. I just shook my head, no. never spoke a word, as always, but just that simple action changed something. She looked angry then, almost as though she knew this wasn’t what was supposed to happen. I laughed at that, and it was like I was seeing her in a new light. Conniving, mean, cold hearted. All she wants is to take from the unfortunate men who fall for her and she never gives back. Leaves them with nothing. I walked away, then, walked Star, no somersaults.’ He laughs and I find myself smiling, suddenly sure that this is going to be a happy ending.
‘She got married three days later, they were celebrating in the street. I watched, and she saw me, standing there, and she had that look of just… like she’d been cheated out of something. And I suppose that she has, in a way. I’m never going back.’
‘Who did she marry?’ In my heart I already know the answer. He ruffles my hair, meeting my eyes with a glittering gaze
‘The rich toad’ I can feel the smile in his voice.
‘There’s something I want to show you, Star.’ I raise an eyebrow, quizzical.
‘I’m going to take my mask off’
I rock back on my heels, unsure about this. ‘Harley…’
‘It’s safe, this is something you need to see’ he sounds so sure, and I trust him, so I nod, waiting to be surprised again.
He reaches up and in one deft movement, the mask is away, and I have to blink a couple of times before it sinks in that what I’m seeing is his face, an all too familiar face. I gasp, then sit back, my hands supporting my weight and stopping me toppling over, surprise all over my face.
‘How can you be?! But I… how?!’ I shake my head, confused.
‘It’s your dream Star.’ He’s grinning, a smile I’ve seen so often I could describe it with my eyes closed, the slight gap in his teeth and the full lips, the smile stretching almost from ear to ear.
‘I’ve spent months. Months. Talking to you about all the rubbish in my life and about him, and then in the end…you are him?’ my confusion makes him laugh, and I wonder at how I could not have recognised the laugh before now. His golden eyes are the only thing that make him different, there glitter a result of Harlequin magic, behind which are the same amber eyes I’ve looked into every day for the past year or so.
‘It’s your dream, Star. There is one thing I have to say about it though. I am whatever I am expected to be. You’ve known all along who I was behind the mask and the magic. You changed my story, now go and change your own. He knows how you feel, or so you say, but you’ve never given him a chance to tell you how he feels. You’re so busy building your walls, protecting yourself because you’ve made a story of your own out of him and the other people in your life. I told you not to fall for fiction. Go find yourself a truth to hold onto, my love.’
The next day I march over to him, unsure what I’m going to say but sure I have to say something. ‘Hey’ he looks up, smiling at me, and I grin back, unable to help it, being awake suddenly almost as good as my dreaming.
‘I need to tell you a story…’
‘What are you going to do?’ I almost whisper it, my expression somewhere between a smile and confusion. We’re back where we started, in that field by the tree, the sun shining down on us and colouring everything yellow.
‘I don’t know yet, whatever I want to do… there’s more to life then love you know’ He’s up and away then, spinning away from me, the tinkle of his wand cutting through the air ahead of him, mask back on his face. I smile, knowing things are going to be fine now, for us both. ‘Visit often’ I call after him.