The Perks of Stagnation by Mileva Anastasiadou

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Boyfriend came back to me two months after he left. I thought he’d vanished for good, but things change, my therapist says, people change. He came back, only he was slightly different. His hair was longer, his eyes brownish. I sighed with relief when I saw him. My magic worked. Not that I believe in magic, you’d call it prayer if you like, but whatever you may call it, it brought him back.

That was the first time he disappeared. It has happened so many times since then that I’m almost used to it. Each time he came back slightly different, then puff, he disappeared again only to come back at a later time. He presented himself again and again like it was the first time we met, he always came back with a different name, different outfit, different eye color, voice, tastes, but he couldn’t fool me. I knew I’d known him before. I knew he was always the same.

First he came back as an ex-alcoholic. He was still an addict, he claimed, only now he carried a book around, instead of booze. He loved me so much he gave me the book. It’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’, the story of a confused girl, he’d later explain. That’s why you’re so attached to this book, says my therapist and I nod for I know mom would agree, only she’s not here to tell us.

Once he came back as a marathon runner. He pretended he never smoked or got drunk and I went along not to spoil his mood. We took long walks in the woods, went to the gym, spent time cooking, as he wanted to eat healthy, he claimed. I had to take care of everything in the house, like the dishes or laundry. In his mind there was a cleaning fairy who took care of the chores, but of course fairies existed only in his imagination. In real life, a confused girl did all the dirty work. Not that I minded much as I had been used to this from the time mom was still around.

Later on, he came back as a lawyer. That was a bit more convenient; he made lots of money and for the first time all bills were paid on time. He was composed and solid as a rock, only he kept everything inside to the point he didn’t go to the toilet like the rest of us, like he enjoyed keeping poo inside as long as possible, like he’d get empty if he’d empty his guts. He kept it all inside, words, feelings, everything, but they’d all emerge, sooner or later, they’d all come out in bursts and he scared me a bit but not too much, for I knew it was a matter of time before he disappeared only to come back as another version of himself.

With time, I didn’t even notice the subtle differences in each version of him. Different shades of the same person, like he was Alice in Wonderland, changing sizes, but I could recognize him. I always knew what he’d say next, the moves he’d make, the games he’d play that would all lead to the same outcome. It wasn’t boring at all. It was comforting. For I knew he’d disappear and then appear again, peek-a-boo on repeat, an endless game, a tolerable reality in which nothing really ends.

My therapist asks why I read the same book again and again. Don’t you want new books? she asks. I tell her I don’t need new books as I enjoy knowing what happens next and she sighs like I’m a hopeless case, like I’m a caterpillar refusing to turn into a butterfly, or the ugly duckling refusing to grow into a swan. People need new experience to evolve, she insists, but I don’t want new things, I only need old things to last. She gives me drugs, like penicillin for the soul, they’ll ease your mind, lessen the confusion, she promises, they’ll calm you down and I don’t talk back, although I should, I should tell her I’m calm enough, considering the circumstances, my vanishing and reappearing boyfriend, my mom gone.

Mom was bedridden for long and I took care of her. Mom’s gone now and I want her back, but that stupid boyfriend keeps coming back instead of her. The day mom died, everything changed. Magic or prayers didn’t work with mom. Nothing could bring her back.

That’s like condensed experience, my therapist says and I laugh, I find it funny, what she’s implying is my mind is like a compost-making machine, mixing faces, attitudes, behaviors, people. It’s like prosopagnosia, but more severe, she says, but I know, I know well, that he’s the same person, the same boyfriend that comes back over and over, and nothing changes, I live the same story again and again, like I’m trapped in a time loop, only it’s nice here, I don’t want this to end, I pray that it goes on, the same beginning, middle and ending, the outcome predetermined, it’s nice and comfortable to know what will happen next, I tell her, holding the book tight, close to my chest as if she threatened to take it away, replace it with a new, unpredictable story or lifeline. Last time something changed, mom was gone and never came back.

 

Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist, from Athens, Greece. A Pushcart, Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions nominated writer, her work can be found in many journals, such as Litro, Jellyfish Review, Moon Park Review, Okay Donkey, Bending Genres, Open Pen and others.

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