Pain has an element of blank
An Element of Blank
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not.
It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain.
Emily Dickinson, "Part One: Life, XIX"
Pain. What they don't tell you about pain is just how terrifying that moment is when the pain stops, and you know that you are dying. Then it shows itself for what it is, some kind of crack in the surface of things, a fault line where the past breaks away from the future. Because a few seconds ago, he was standing beside the GTO with his elbows resting on the roof and the metal was hot from the sun, hot enough to feel through the leather sleeves of his jacket, and he was squinting at Fraser because his sunglass clips were inside on the dash and he didn't feel like leaning in for them. It was only March 15th, too early for the sun to be so warm. A few seconds ago, he was opening his mouth to tell Fraser he was an obsessive freak, and then the moment was sheared away.
Once, twenty years ago, Ray stood on the platform waiting for the El. The hollow space under the girders echoed with the laughing and hollering of a gang of kids, cocky and loud and full of the kind of power that comes from being in a pack whose prey was small and alone and had nowhere to go. Some of them he knew from school, recognized their predatory shapes as they stalked into his peripheral vision and spread out around him, assuming their poses, cool and casually mean. Ray was smart enough to notice that they were more than a little ridiculous in their gangly imitation of big screen tough guys and he was stupid enough to grin about it. They came closer. No exit and only the open trench behind him. Jim Breszynski with a pack of smokes rolled up in his sleeve and an unlit butt dangling down from his lips, mirrored shades, thumbs hooked in his belt, the handle of his mom's kitchen knife sticking out of his boot. Jim Breszynski calling Ray a pussy, the hissing laughter of the rest of them, agreeing. Ray, skinny in the arms, his gym bag dropping from his hand and spilling shorts and pencils and his biology textbook onto the platform, his glasses sliding down his nose in the sweat and Jim Breszynski's sneer leaving a welt in Ray's brain. The train rattling and squealing on the curve, pushing a wave of cold air ahead of it, stinking like oil and garbage and Chicago in March, so Ray couldn't hear his own shallow breathing as he turned away from them, slid his sneakered foot close to the yellow line on the platform, one step, and then another. Closer, closer, and Jim Breszynski staring a hole in the back of Ray's head. The toes of Ray's sneakers finally poked out over the drop and the train whipped around the last curve, ripped past Ray's nose with less than an inch to spare and Ray spread his arms and closed his eyes and felt the train shearing space in half: then from now, that Ray from this one. After, Jim Breszynski's hand on his shoulder was heavy and his fingers dug into the muscle. When Ray turned his head to meet the mirrored lenses full on, eyes wide and challenging, Jim Breszynski took the butt out of his own mouth and stuck it between Ray's lips. "Crazy fucker," he said with the twist of a grin as he flicked open his lighter and lit Ray's cigarette with a flame guttering in the wash of air that clapped back into the space where the train had been.
He remembers the train and the way it sliced the world in two, the past from the future. This pain is like that because instead of telling Fraser he's an obsessive freak and getting in the GTO and laying rubber just to make Fraser get all twitchy about speed limits and then making it up to him with pizza and earnest attention to his story about the time he tracked a guy fifteen hundred miles through a blizzard for walking out on a $5 tab at the old Elk and Iceflo, Ray's lying on the asphalt looking up at the March sun and that world he knew has been sheared away by the passage of the bullet.
So he's squinting up at Fraser because his sunglass clips are in the car on the dash and the Ray that might've reached in through the open window to snag them is gone and this new Ray is there instead: the Ray who doesn't go for pizza and who doesn't find out if the Mountie got his man. Fraser's hand is pressing down on Ray's chest, pressing hard, and Ray's fingers are wrapped around Fraser's wrist. The pain, which was at first a bright slice through Ray's world, is now starting to coalesce or congeal or wind inward tighter and tighter around Fraser's hand. It's not something he feels except as a blankness, the not-knowing if Fraser got his man, the not-saying of all the things that Ray was going to say, the not-being between that Ray and some other one.
Ray says "Who?" but Fraser gets it wrong, looks over his shoulder and turns back to answer, "It was Wendol. Perhaps you might have made him a little bit angry."
"Ya think?" He squeezes Fraser's wrist as tight as he can, and he figures there must be a sort of desperation in his grip because Fraser bows his head so that Ray can't see what's going on under the brim of the Stetson.
It's only a second, though, before Fraser meets his eyes, his own so clear and bright with that Mountie thing that they look polished. "We'll get him," Fraser promises.
"Mounties always get their man," Ray says. There are sirens now. "Not your motto, though," he reminds him.
Fraser doesn't smile. "It is today."
"You're an obsessive freak," Ray tells him, and like popping a clutch, time jerks forward and Ray claps into himself again, bucks against the pain. Instead of a blankness of not-knowing and not-saying, he's the Ray who doesn't get pizza, but he doesn't die on the hot, cracked asphalt either. He's held together by the pressure of Fraser's hand, and the absolute truth of a cheesy Mountie movie cliché. Ray laughs. And fuck it hurts to laugh. And that's when the pain becomes pain again and it's all the things he's ever heard about it, and more, and different. And good.
Notes: Based on the first line of sansets' "Pain" (link in the first line of the story). I cheated and took the first two sentences because the first one was only one word. Thank you sansets for volunteering your lines!
Feedback welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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