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Wednesday
Jan122011

The Real Gatsby

(The original title was "The Story of How I Died" but I think I stole that from Doctor Who, kind of like the rest of this story.  Enjoy!)

The rush of pool water cooled my head like the dark expanse of night sky cools the day.  The vastness, the blackness, the light—my home.  Daisy.  But no, she was no more my home than the Earth, despite the effervescent beauty they shared.  All these years I clung to the image of her, a singular feeling of warmth and acceptance.  For she had accepted me then, no matter what she claimed now.

My Daisy…oh God, what have I done?

I know you think you know me, old sport, but you don’t.  You’ve heard rumors, you’ve been to my parties, and I’m sure you’ve read Nick’s book by now.  I hear they require most high school students to read it, but I never liked how it made me out to be such a sad, solitary figure.  Lovesick.  I suppose if I’m accused of anything that should be the thing that sticks because I loved her with all of my being, whatever I am. 

I met her in Louisville, 1917.  I was there so I could blend in with all the other military officers stationed during the Great War—I’ve told everyone and Nick too that I was a lieutenant though that isn’t entirely true, but more on that later—and one night a bunch of us went out on the town since Pete’s rich old grandma had just sent him a letter with an accompanying eighty dollars and none of the rest of us thought it was fair for him to keep them for himself, so we wanted to go out and drink it all up.  Admittedly one of my favorite pastimes back then was keeping the company of ladies (usually whores but only the good-looking ones; nobody with scars or sores), but all I can remember of that night is ending up at the house where Johnny fell on a fork so that it sunk into his leg like he was straight out of the oven.  That, and Daisy Fay.  And it’s probably pretty safe to say I thought of nothing else but her for the next five years to come.

It was her house we were in—I had never seen such a beautiful house before.  I don’t know if I remember the fork in the leg because of its disgusting details, the way the leg oozed blood as another officer tried to slowly remove it (should’ve done it quick, really, that’s how they talk about gunshots, being quick and painless), or if I associate it with my first glimpse of Daisy’s sweet young face.  One minute I’m cringing and laughing along with the others, the next there she was at a table with a few soldiers I knew by face but not by name, her face like a star in all its beauty, filling the room with her unveiled joy to be exactly where she was in that moment.  She too had become temporarily distracted by Johnny’s fork, so I thought I would use the opportunity to begin a conversation while I had the chance.

The two privates hassled Daisy, attempting to force her closer to the carnage, while she pretended to resist and playfully covered her eyes only to peek through them every few seconds.

“Don’t be afraid,” I said smiling at her.  “His brothers overseas have seen far worse shrapnel than that.”

“I’d imagine so,” she responded, shrugging off her captors at the first opportunity.  I took this as an encouraging indication of her disinterest in their companionship.  “But it’s likely he thought he’d escape it, being stationed in Louisville for the present.”

“This only proves that a man can be struck down by anything or anyone.  One must always be on his guard.”

“That he must,” she said, “especially with someone like me around.”  She smiled. 

“What are you drinking?” I asked.

“Scotch,” she said.

“You’re not as nice as you look then?” I asked.

“No, I am.  I just like a strong drink.”

“I’m Jay Gatsby,” I said, taking her hand.

“Daisy Fay.  We should get that drink.  I’m almost empty.”

We spent the evening talking, by which I mean she spoke and I listened.  But oh, to have her sweet breath on my face, her mellifluous chords singing well into the night!  I regret to say I may have misled her slightly as to the current situation of my wealth (or lack thereof), but by that point I had been lying to myself far longer and so the slight untruths came naturally and without a thought to morality.

I think now may be the time to come clean with you, old sport.  I’ve only hinted at it until now, but it seems necessary for you to know if you’re going to understand any of this.  So let me come out with it.  I was not born in North Dakota as you’ve been told by my dear friend Nick Carraway, nor New York, nor Europe, or anywhere else on God’s green Earth (as the saying goes).  I was born beyond the Omega Centauri, on a planet called Galafar and did not come to be Gatsby until after the man had changed his name from James Gatz and embraced an ambition to attain the lifestyle of a wealthy and beloved man.

My people are essentially a planet of mercenaries; our weapons are superior to that of most races, so we travel through space (though not time—we haven’t conquered that vital force just yet) and fight for whoever pays the most.  You might ask how I ended up on Earth, a place with little knowledge of any life beyond its own atmosphere, but that is a story for another time.  The point is that during his training, the real Jay Gatsby came upon a fatal accident—a stray bullet to the brain—and I merely took his place.  So you see the man brought up in simple North Dakota ceased to exist before ever meeting Daisy Fay.  I was the one who loved her, and it was for more than the reasons you’ve been thinking.  You see, she was the only one I ever told about my secret.

One autumn night, Daisy and I had been walking down the street when the leaves were falling, and we came to a place where there were no trees and the sidewalk was white with moonlight.  It was there we stopped and turned toward each other.  A cool night chill ran through us, and a sense of invigoration that comes with the changing of the seasons filled me up.  There was a stir and bustle among the stars that I could not ignore—the stars called to me, you see, and though there had not existed for years a place I could call home except the emptiness of space, my heart ached for it in the same way it ached for Daisy.  I asked myself what would happen if I finally let someone know what I was.  After a life of fighting in wars, inhabiting the bodies of other beings, I desperately needed something of my own.

Before I could ever kiss her or anything beyond, I had to show her the stars.

“Daisy,” I said.  “I have to tell you something.”

Her soft lashes flicked apart as my words interrupted the stillness of the night.  “What is it, darling?”

“I’m not…who you think I am.”

I could see the fear clutch at her chest.  She hesitated but eventually came out with her question.  “You’re poor?”

“Not exactly,” I said.

I could see the concern on her face fade slightly.  “Then what is it?” she asked.  “Nothing you say will change the way I feel about you, Jay.”

“It’s that.”

“What?  I didn’t say anything.”

“Jay.”

“It’s your name, isn’t it?”

I sighed.  I knew then that what I wanted to say couldn’t really be said.  It was an action that had to be taken. 

“Hold my hand,” I said.  Her fingers melded with mine, I looked into her blue eyes and told her to close them.  Probably thinking I would kiss her, she did so with the slightest of smiles on her face.  “Now, if you could travel through space, to the farthest star, would you do it?”

“Since when do you play at hypotheticals?”

“Humor me.”

“Okay, then yes, of course.  Who wouldn’t want to see the loveliness of the stars at their very doorstep?”

“You’re right,” I said.  “Who wouldn’t?”

Before she could think of protesting—not that she would have—I pulled her close to me and focused my mind upon the act.  I felt the familiar whirling, the stomach leaping to chest like being upside down underwater, and then we were floating through space looking out at the Earth below us.  In my lifetime I have seen hundreds of planets, but on that evening Earth became my favorite, winning me over in both quality of looks and content.  Its vivid primary colors strike the eye with the force of a sword, nearly cutting you to pieces.  And of course on the inside, it held the woman I loved.

It’s so breathtakingly beautiful, said Daisy. 

It is.

Why can’t I feel my body?

Our bodies are on Earth, I said.

If we aren’t our bodies, what are we?

Our true selves.

It’s marvelous.

I told her then about my life as a wandering soldier with no place to call home.  She asked whether I had free will to go where I wanted and I said I did only to an extent.  Once we attained a body, we could not claim a new body until the old one died.  Being a warrior made that easy enough; I had died multiple times in an afternoon, in fact.  We also had the power to force entities into the bodies of others.

Do you see now, old sport, why I couldn’t just forget about her, move on to some other far distant galaxy?  I think we could have been happy there for all eternity, our essences intermingling like stardust with all the other molecules serving their place in the universe.  But I could feel our bodies pulling us back to their decaying prisons, and resistance for much longer would have been pointless.

When we were back on Earth in the bodies we’d been assigned, I looked at Daisy and I knew that given the choice between eternity and her, I would have to choose her.  My heart beat faster and faster as her white face came up to my own.  I waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star.  And then we kissed.

In the weeks that followed, we spent every moment together, both on Earth and in the space above, and I regret to say I spent far too much of that time dreading the day when I would be called to action in the war—like a pawn on a chess table I would have no choice but to be moved.  I would fight knowing that if I died, I might never see her again; though I had explained to her the temporary nonessential ways of the body, there was no way I could guarantee that she would not move on and forget me, or if I showed up again in a different body she might not believe it was me at all, but rather some imposter.

“Maybe we should have a secret word,” she suggested one afternoon as we lay about in the garden of her home, bundled against the biting breeze and the coolness of the fast-approaching winter.  “A way for me to know if you show up in the body of some other battle-beaten man when the war is over.”

“A secret word?  Like…pecan pie?”

“It could be anything really.  But it would be nice to have something that’s special to us, wouldn’t it?”

“Why yes, I suppose that’s true.”

“But it can’t really be special unless you take me there.”

“What are you getting at, Daisy?  Take you where?”

“Take me to Galafar.  I want to see the place you came from.”

Until that moment, I had never known she had cared so much and it touched me to my core.  I wondered if she would be upset after I told her the truth.  “My darling, I would love nothing better than to show you the place I came from.  But unfortunately that is impossible.”

“But why?  You’ve taken me into space dozens of times now, even out to the end of the galaxy, yet you can’t take me to your home?  Is it too distant?”

“My home no longer exists, Daisy.  It was destroyed.”

I saw tears come to her eyes at the emotional pain that discussing this clearly brought me.  “That’s awful.  How?”

“My people are warriors.  Other planets felt threatened by us, so they formed a coalition to make sure we could never hurt them.  We were ambushed before anyone knew what was happening.  There was barely enough time for my parents to send me away, before I could look back at my planet from space and see it implode, disappear as though it had never existed at all.”

“Were you the only survivor?”

“No, there are others.  But we keep our distance from each other—it’s simply too painful.”

“I can’t imagine not having a place to call home.”

I looked her in the eyes and took her face in my hands.  “I do now, dear.  I do now.”

She closed her eyes as I kissed her temples, then said, “That should be our code word.”

“What?” I asked.

“Home,” she said.

Not long after that day, I left for France.  I thought of her day and night and knew I had to do my best to get back to her as quickly as possible, but there would be nothing to prevent it if this war went on for years or if I lost my body in the process (for I had begun to think of it as my body, the body that had loved Daisy Fay).

It broke me inside to hear she had married another man.  Part of me wondered if her body had perhaps been filled with a placeholder while the true Daisy had left her body behind to search for me.  But I knew this was wishful thinking; she did not have those kinds of powers.  The real reason, I believed, was far more superficial.  Even though she had given me a home, as a wandering mercenary, I could never provide her with one in return, a place like the one she had grown up in, where we had first met.  This Tom Buchanan she had married obviously had the means to give her exactly that.

I spent the next few years making money any way that I could.  Bootlegging.  Even killing men.  When at last I was able, I moved into that grand house on West Egg and threw parties in the hope that Daisy would come and see that I had changed, that I could provide her with that which she thought I had been lacking.  But she never came to my parties, so it was a stroke of luck when I was able to make the acquaintance of her cousin Nick (a man you all surely know intimately by now so I will not diverge) and negotiate a reintroduction between Daisy and myself.

I almost cried at the sight of her.

“I certainly am awfully glad to see you again,” Daisy said.

And then a terrible lengthy pause.  I was so nervous I almost knocked over Nick’s clock on the mantel, and there was some awkward chatter.  Nick went into the kitchen; I followed and when he reprimanded me, saying I was acting like a child, it snapped something into place.  I went back into the room and sat beside her on the couch. 

“Five years is a long time,” she said.  Her face was still her face, hardly changed, milky white.  Her hair was shorter, that was all.

“Is it?” I said.  “I’ve lived a long time; the years pass like hours.”

She said nothing, so I moved closer and tried to pull her to me.  “Don’t,” she said.  But I hadn’t come this far to acquiesce to a faint utter of protest, so I held her tightly to my chest until her body slackened.

“Let me take you there,” I whispered in her ear.

We were spinning and I could feel all of the blood in my body and then we were no longer in our bodies at all.  There were minutes (though who can say how long it was because time means nothing outside the body) of suspension in nothing but darkness.  Perhaps that is what it is like to be dead, surrounded in blissful blackness with an acute awareness of your essence and nothing more.

At last there appeared a field of stars like a million beads, such bright brilliance that we could hardly have seen if we’d had eyes.  They surrounded us in every direction and I felt Daisy’s bliss vibrating beside me.

Where are we? she asked.

The Omega Centauri, I said, outside where Galafar used to be.

You brought me to your home?

It hurts to hear you call it that.

But it was.

And so were you.

You’ve given me such an amazing gift.  A million diamonds could never shine as bright or mean as much as this, here, now.

I thought that you deserved to see it.  I should’ve shown you a long time ago.  But I was afraid.

Afraid?

Scared to return here.  To the destruction.  But I see now that it’s as beautiful as it ever was, at least out here.

Can we stay awhile?

Of course.

When we went back to Earth at last, I looked into Daisy’s face and there were tears upon it.  I knew that we understood one another then.

“I love you,” I said.  “Do you love me?”

“I—”

She had started to say it back, but it was then that Nick entered the room.  Yet nearly hearing her say those amazing words back had elated me—I felt like I was glowing from my pores.

“Oh, hello old sport,” I vaguely remember saying to Nick.  Daisy was all I could see.

We began an affair.  How excruciatingly wonderful it was to have her in my arms, to kiss her, to hold her and have her all for my own!  No words can describe our passion.  All I can say about it now is that it was too short, our love affair.  Even now, I would give everything I own for only one more night with her.  Naked, our bodies would lie on their sides facing each other, and when she drifted off to sleep I would time my inhales with her exhales so that I could breathe in her soul.  Oh Daisy, how I love her still!

After her husband Tom confronted us about our love in that stuffy hotel room, after she said she loved both of us (equally perhaps?  The thought makes me sick.), I had a crisis of faith.  I started to doubt that any of it had been real at all.

I didn’t mean to kill her.  Daisy.  My darling dearest love.  But the combination of anger and military training took over me as she was driving the car.  When we came to a clear stretch of highway, I told her to pull over so that I could talk to her, so she did.

“How could you do this to me?” I said.  “We were going to run away together.  I did everything you ever asked of me.  How could you still love him, want to be with him?”

“Please don’t.”

“Answer me, damnit.”

“You shouldn’t cry over me, Jay.  It’s not worth doing.  You’ve shown me things that I never dreamed of in my life, but I just can’t be with you.  It’s all too strange.  What happens when you have to move on to another planet to fight in another war?  Where will that leave me?”

“I’m done with all that.  I’m staying in this body to a ripe old age, so that we can live and die together.  In love.”

“I don’t believe you can do it, Jay,” said Daisy.  “And all it takes is one day for you to decide you miss your old life, then you’re gone for good.  Which would leave me with nothing.  It makes more sense to stay with Tom.”

“Why won’t you believe that I would never leave you?”

She hesitated.  “Because you’re a liar, Jay.  It’s what you are.”

These words triggered an anger in me beyond anything I thought possible.  I grabbed her throat and squeezed.

Squeezed.

Before her essence left her body, she managed to mouth one little word: “Home.”  And then she was gone.

After I finished, I began to sob uncontrollably.  It wasn’t until I heard a voice that I managed to stop and look for the person who had spoken.

“Is she dead?”

It was Myrtle Wilson.  Daisy had unknowingly stopped near Wilson’s repair shop and Myrtle had seen the whole thing.  This was the woman who apparently loved Tom Buchanan—oh, if only we could have all been with the person we loved most!

I nodded.  Before I knew what plan I was really formulating, I said to Mrytle, “Do you want to be with Tom Buchanan?”

Her eyes got wide, but she nodded.  “More than anything.”

I explained to her what would happen if I went through with the plan and though she wasn’t the most intelligent of beings, she got the gist.

“I’ll do it,” she said.

I held Myrtle’s face in my hands and she put hers on Daisy’s.  We closed our eyes.  If I couldn’t make it right with Daisy, at least I could do something for this woman.  Before long, Daisy’s eyes (now technically Myrtle’s eyes, but still Daisy’s physical body) fluttered to life.  Myrtle dropped to the ground, lifeless.

“Sorry about this,” I said, starting the car.  I ran over Myrtle’s body leaving a deep gash in her side, then sped off home with the new Daisy beside me.

Old sport, I hoped Wilson would kill me for it.  I deserved to die for what I’d done to Daisy, die and never return to Earth again.

Just barely, I felt the rush of water after I’d been shot, enveloping me in its cold indifference.  And then I was back in space, looking for a place to call home.

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