“The Man Who Lives in My Head” — a short story by Luke Bergvist

December 13th, 2018

 

“The Man Who Lives in My Head,” a story by Luke Bergvist, was a finalist in our recently concluded 49th Short Fiction Contest.  It is published with the permission of the author.

 

The Man Who Lives in My Head

by

Luke Bergvist

 

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{A handwritten manuscript, fished from the waste bin and uncrumpled}

……It’s a serious dilemma: deal with the hangover or learn to drink in a way that you’ll never end up in that position. The person in my head that I want to become never gets hungover, and he always drinks as much as he wants, but never wants more then he needs. I’m trying to surrender to him, to give control of myself over to this persona who is confident and passionate and chases his dreams all across the city, painting every room he enters wall to wall with poetic language in a growling voice that bears a striking resemblance to Tom Waits. He wears a newsboy cap, solely because no one does any more, and he wishes he were from an era much cooler than this one, cause now-a-days people are always staring at their phones, even when a band’s playing, and that is nothing but tragedy.

……The goal is to be cool. But there’s a big difference between consciously, socially verified cool and effortlessly, background cool. I want to be with girls that get asked if they model, but I can only picture myself behind the keys in a smoke-filled room some place that’s not there anymore, playing alone. I know I don’t photograph well. So just make funny faces on purpose, boy.

……He told me it’s okay to talk in clichés, like, even a lot if you want, as long as it perfectly sums up what needs to be said in the situation, and there’s nothing original you could say that would do it any better. You really dodged a bullet with that one. She was trouble. He loves calling girls “trouble,” that’s one of his clichés. But I guess I get it: she parties and does drugs and likes attention and drama and is constantly treading the wire between the two with each new Instagram post. I just can’t help but ignore each and every red flag when someone comes along with the potential to finally make me feel something other than lonely. And she happens to be skinny and beautiful and smoke? She was nothing but trouble. She doesn’t want to see you again, and you really dodged a bullet.

……But even so, failing to secure a second date is seriously damaging to a young man’s ego, and my mental state falls back into the lion’s den, where it’s always been. Who wants to read something by someone who is only twenty-five? Store this away in a time capsule and break it out a hundred years after I’m dead and call it gospel. But I’m still here, I completely lack any sense of confidence in myself or my work, and, if you meet me, I’m just going to awkwardly stare at the wall and not say anything until everyone feels uncomfortable. This is what needs to change. I’m certain that everyone thinks I am only so quiet because I consider myself better, some sort of self-righteous condescension, but, in my mind, it’s painful to look people in the eyes, and I am constantly overcome with fear that, if I speak at all, then I will naturally say something stupid and embarrass myself. That’s been the pattern so far. Throughout the day, random memories I feel uncomfortable about, even from years ago, come back to my mind and make me cuss aloud. So learn to love feeling embarrassed, and nothing can harm you.

……I have arrived at a crossroads: I am twenty-five, single, fat, living with my parents, in possession of a college degree but completely lacking any social skills to use it with, and, suddenly, I am overcome with desire; I long to fall in love. Really it’s nothing but biology, chemicals in my brain producing urges to lead me towards the animal call of reproduction, but it just feels like hopelessness, because I am a loser with nothing to offer, nothing to show, nothing but debt, depression, and desire.

……Will you get out of your head already? True love is something that just happens, when you’re living life like you’re supposed to be and whoever it is up there that makes the decisions decides that you deserve it. Focus on yourself, be someone that a good woman would fall in love with, and get used to waiting, you impatient little prick, at least you’re not waiting to get dug out from a mine.  

……Here’s the thing. History has already demonstrated that great art is pressed out and shaped from the messy, red clay of heartbreak. So if I keep feeling empty and hopeless and keep having nothing but bad encounters with women, then I will keep writing gold. And deep down inside, somewhere I can barely access right now, because I feel so blue I can only eat, drink, and strum the guitar, still, somewhere I know that these pages are giving me meaning. I have purpose. The darkness in my head just needs an outlet, and suddenly it becomes something beautiful. Yes, yes! Here, I’ve been working on a little melody. Sing it like you mean it now:

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I, I, IIIIIIII, I get so blue

All I can dooooo, is eat, drink, and playyyyyyy my little tune

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……He told me something interesting yesterday. Basically there’s this whole study, which may be real or completely fabricated, but the feeling we refer to as “love” was picked apart and analyzed and broken down into conducive factors, such as common interests, shared experience, and physical attraction, then by multiplying these factors with time, location, and honest luck, it was determined that it is possible for any one person to experience this feeling of “love” with roughly three million other individuals at any given time. So, statistically, it is probable that you will cross paths with a potential “soul mate” multiple times, lots of times, given you live a healthy, lengthy life. All that determines true love is the optimization of an ideal opportunity. Therefore, love is sweet and mushy and all that stuff that makes your heart flutter, and maybe it feels like something cosmically ordained, but really it is random; it is a highly specific product of chance. You can’t force chance; you can’t seek out love. You just have to keep waiting and hope that one of the people you’re compatible with will find you just as compatible and decide to stick it out once you’ve learned all of each other’s flaws. But here’s the secret: you’re can’t force it and getting all shook up over every other girl you meet makes you a fool, a damned fool.

……So I have decided to detox from women, and my cellphone, and drinking; everything vain in the modern world that has been driving me crazy. I’m spending the entire weekend with the man in my head, and he’s going to teach me how to live. Here’s the agenda for day one: first a light breakfast at the coffeehouse, for every first meal should consist primarily of caffeine. Then to the Goodwill to buy a secondhand sports coat, because every man needs something sharp to step out in. I’m trying to take notes, but it’s hard to keep up when he speaks in nothing but adages and anecdotes, most of them intangibly abstract.  When your old lady turns to a dead fish, it’s gonna take a whole lotta sardines to get the smell out.

……We sit down on a hard, wooden bench on the edge of the sidewalk, overlooking an intersection, where the cars come up quick and mash the breaks for the red light then zip off wherever they’re headed the second it goes green. All that metal and rubber and the smell of oil, it’s mechanical, precise, and too efficient, everything is moving too fast. This car culture makes me anxious, and I wish I were in the woods. But then he starts pointing out specific people in the stream of others on the sidewalk which occasionally produces a new specimen before us to behold.

……Some of them are boring. Entire personalities concisely summarized by a shirt and tie, a brisk walk, always busy, yet no agency, just another face behind a desk, next to hundreds just like them. And we avoid eye contact with beautiful women, because they get enough attention, and what would really be good for them is being treated like any plain, overlooked, old soul. Besides, that moment’s gaze can freeze a man in his place like Medusa, but the sirens are powerless over me now. I arrange these words on the blank page and become my own master. What we’re interested in is anyone who looks like their life could be a novel, that and anyone who looks like they might still read novels. You know, someone you could actually have a conversation with, sometimes it’s announced by messy gray hair or a tie-dye sweatshirt. It’s mainly a look in the eyes, like they don’t just look past you but choose to take a glace, and, in that moment, they look inside you, and you know you’re being sized up and analyzed every bit as much, by someone who thinks and feels as well.

……Yet we are hostile towards men with a similar sense of style. It is crucially important to find a fatal flaw that places them beneath me. Even if all we can come up with is that they’re not me. For these are mere men, but I am a soaring intellect, a prophetic artist, and it is impossible to imagine how a truly cultured, desirable woman could ever be content with anyone else. And I feel my ego coming back, what a delight; it is a good thing, so long as I can squeeze the confidence from it and let the vanity wash away down the sink.

……After dark I am looking dapper with coat and no tie, just the top three buttons left undone to reveal that scraggily, black hair on my chest. I am an animal, one who needs to wet his whistle. I plop down on the barstool. My favorite bartender asks if I want the usual, no, I say, I’m not drinking tonight, just give me a plain Coke. The drunks give me funny looks, but how can I explain that I’ve been drinking in sunshine all afternoon, and the moonlight is ripe for dancing in. Look at these sad, old fools; they guzzle it down and don’t get a drop more interesting. I don’t need it anymore; there’s bigger lobsters to boil; there’s music playing in my head already.

……And so I take to the floor and bust a little move, let this long hair twirl through the air as I spin and turn and shake a leg. But it can’t last long because the music is too new and too slow, and it’s coming from a phone plugged into speakers, and I’m getting sideways looks, and I just want to lose myself in front of a band and dance around with the crowd like no one can see me.

……So.I pay my tab politely and tip extra well, since I’m not a liquor sale any more, then I slide out the back and hit the avenue. Everything feels right. It’s warm, but there’s a subtle breeze, light and soothing as it wraps its arms around me, and I am filled with anticipation. I can feel that things are getting better. Something beautiful awaits tonight, awaits every night, I just have to reach out and grab it. The streetlights burn with an ethereal glow, embers eating away at my restlessness. The storefronts have big, square windows, all nice and shined and squeaky clean, so clean I can see my refection, and I make a funny face at myself until I can’t help but chuckle. Then, faintly at first, far off and low and barely audible at all, I hear chords being strummed.

……So I hurry in that direction, feet scudding across the sidewalk, ripe with feeling, supple for anything. And the sound grows louder and cleaner, I can make out a riff and a bass line. As I’m at the door the drums kick in and set the pace, and I brush past the doorframe, step through the threshold and am immediately moving.

……How can I describe this man in motion? He is not myself. The man in my head has possessed me.

……I surrender to the feeling and am gliding across the floor, overcome, in a trance of pure bliss, nothing can harm me here, for I am finally liberated. So I shake and roll and turn and bounce and move every which way until nothing hurts and nothing matters. But then…

……Alarm. Tension. A woman in her forties, varicose veins, cigarette breath and the like, she has spied me out as the best dancer here and decided to challenge my prominence, moving all up close and displaying her best moves right in my face. Escalation. Conflict.  Diagonal cross hands, walking like an Egyptian, then one arm cocks behind my head, and the other moves like a sprinkler, showering the room with joy, fingers passing just inches from her nose, but I am merciless, I take hold of my ankle behind me and jerk around in a circle, then dip to the floor and spring back up.

……She has recoiled and takes a moment, breathless, then throws her arms in the air, an expression of disbelief, delight, and then I am being hugged uncomfortably tight, yet I accept it, because this is one of those real people, and somehow I gave her exactly what she needed. I can feel the pain in both of us diminishing.

……I skipped home tonight, decided to write this instead of watching TV. You can find a touch of romance anywhere a band’s playing, even if you’re completely alone, it fills the air and you know true love. The only thing that really matters is the art now. I am married to my craft. This old dog’s darkest days have passed. Basically, I’m thankful, because I’m still alive after all these mistakes, and every day is another chance to get it right. I truly believe that one of these days I finally will. Until then, I’ll smile big on nights like these, and, when I’m feeling sentimental, I’ll sing the blues. 

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Luke Bergvist is a writer, musician, and philosopher operating out of Charlotte, NC. He has completed a novel and is currently working on a collection of poetry. This is his first published work.

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