Dent on Plaster Cast
rating: +34+x

James falls asleep in the passenger seat. As his body leans towards the window, one of his glasses’ arms rests on his ear; the other one slowly slides off to caress his cheek. Fortunately, the window is closed. Hair falls loosely across his forehead, pushed against the glass, squeezed into a brown cluster like a squirrel's tail.

A smile grows on my face. I can’t help myself from glimpsing in his direction. My dear James. He already took off the lab coat, but the smell of the site is still there. The unique smell is hard to describe. But when you bury your face in your love's collarbone, it's surely unpleasant, yet bearable. That fictitious, cold odor, though not acrid, is everywhere; every single person in residence at the site gives off this smell.

The shadow of the streetlamps interlaces with the night light and shoots across the window. People tend to fill their minds with nonsense when they're tired. It’s the same for me at this moment, as light and shadow blend into my eyes. The shadows coalesce like black spears and scatter beneath my irises, and the traces of light sear above my retinas like meteors.

"Draven, what are you thinking of?"

I hear a rustle beside me as James adjusts his glasses and sits upright. I pluck my imagination out of the air. Although it's a terrible narration without drafts, he gets what I mean, as always.

If I'm actually thinking of a cake, I end up talking about a sugar flower on that cake – sometimes, the flower is not even an intact one. But James, my love, shy but considerate, he understands. There's always someone who can tell the flavor of the cake by the time they finish the sugar flower and see the touch of cream under it.

It's a cloying analogy, but I guess we should be tolerant of the trifles happening between sweethearts. Love, the force with the ability to distort the world with only a wink, and you won’t even notice it. You're willing to believe what your feelings tell you is the reality, and you indulge your bias nevertheless.

James figures out the cake's flavor correctly, once again. He looks out of the window thoughtfully, embellishing my associations, those naive, simple thoughts like that of a little boy's imagination. He's always happy to do meaningless things with me. Staring at his face, the tendrils of his hair, those dreamy eyes behind his glasses and the curve of his lips raised slightly, I think, He finds it out again. He always can.

Occasionally, I feel confused. Is he in love with me because of the understanding, or does he understand me because he is in love with me? Did the chicken come first or the egg? And what about me? No matter who came first or whether they deepen each other in circles, the fact that I love him is undeniable. I accept his love without any qualms and love him with my peace of mind.

Such people are rare – people who know you and are willing to love you. They are your pillar, your fuel, your armor, your exposed open wound. But it’s not always like that, because love comes with desires, and it's fierce. I think, eventually, the pillar turns into toy bricks, fuel into plain water, armor into pajamas, the wound a heal-up piece of skin, and the blood is the leftover oil used to fry bacon. On the day when both of our heads are hoary, half of him will be my love, and the other half will be my family – inseparably bound together as a whole.

After talking for a while, James comes to a pause and waits for my response.

"Draven?" he asks.

A glint of guilt flashes across my mind; I feel sorry for being distracted. I lower the speed and tell him I love him in the dim light. He's not confused by the sudden statement, nor does he ask if I'm anxious about something. He just whispers softly, "I know, Draven, I know".

"I know, darling," he replies, "Me too. I'm here with you."

I park the car by the roadside. Despite the five minutes' drive left to reach home and the fact that we can make out outrageously after only a few moments, I can't hold back. I unbuckle the seat belt to embrace him. He rubs his thumb back and forth on the side of my head. We kiss again, but just a little peck on the lips – no lust whatsoever; it’s more like comfort. A few minutes later, I fasten my seat belt and pull into the driveway.

That night, right before sleep, James inquires, "Is something bothering you?"

"I’m alright," I reply, pressing a kiss on his brow. "Nothing." I give him the riddle only both of us know about. "I was just thinking of that pitted plaster cast."

He stares at me; his tender gaze lasts till the lamp is turned off. I brush my fingers over his eyelids in the dark, closing his eyes. He laughs quietly. "Don't. Don't do this, it's a bit frightening." Suddenly, I realize that's the same thing I do to the dead comrades. If they still have eyes, a voice hisses from the shadowy corner of my heart.

Shut up, I snap wearily with hatred, but those bloody scenes slide through my mind uncontrollably. Some of those faces belong to the living. Now, it's usually that of James, but before that it was …

I know these scenes are from the weakest part of my soul. It's as if they lie deep within my heart, and I'm begging those people to not leave me alone. I used to abhor this kind of weakness, but now I’m learning to live with it.

"Okay, actually, it's okay," he whispers.

I rest my head on his chest, as he wraps his arms around my waist. At that moment, I nearly sink in the drowsy warmth. "It's time to patch up the plaster cast, Draven. He's dead; he’ll never come back. And you should not regret that anymore."

"I don't regret it … I'm just," I try to struggle through the drowsiness, "I can't tell. But it’s not regret, or not just regret. Don't worry, James. I can deal with it."

I am clearly aware that he wasn't convinced by that, but I feel exhausted. A few seconds later, I cling to my love as dreams flow over me.

Plaster cast is a riddle between the two of us – a rare instance when James failed to tell the cake's flavor.

Plaster cast – I have to tell you what it is first. There’s not much to say actually. Just imagine the most common drawing cast, a white one, and if it needs a shape, it should be a sphere.

What does that mean?

Draven Kondraki holds the white plaster sphere with both hands, as though he holds his life in the palm of his hands.

It still seems too vague. Let's take another look in order.

Back when I was about seven years old, one day, my father said, "Draven, let's hang out by the beach this weekend."

When you recall the memory about someone, you tend to place them in a scene. This person is certainly not flat, not like a magazine cut-out. You can see the look on his face and the gesture of his arms; you can hear his voice, catch sight of the heavy shade and mottled tint. You can even smell the wind.

And speaking of my father, most of you are probably more used to calling him Dr Kondraki or simply "the director". I always thought giving such a man titles like "doctor" or "director" was hilarious, because everyone looked more like a researcher or manager than he did. He was abominably rude and dangerously volatile, so most of his first meetings with people got screwed up; they even doubted if he could handle the easiest paperwork.

About that last point, I'd say I have to be counted as one of those people. Though I didn't doubt his working ability, I was just not sure which pile was thicker − teared-up documents or handed-in files − including the considerable sum of disciplinary reviewing reports.

Your Dr Kondraki was such kind of a person. This person did not fare well with his family. At times, he tried hard to show his tender side but ended up making an extremely clumsy move. Sometimes, he wanted to tell you something; maybe it was some sort of advice or just random, absurd talk from a tipsy man. Regardless of these intentions, his words were always sharp. Even if he somehow managed to be part of a crowd before he spoke, the moment he uttered a word, he would get kicked out. His love was a dead elephant, crushing down the grass, quashing the flower, slow, dull, rigid. And you could never expect him to be any better. His emotions sprayed out in such a spontaneous manner, like drunk men throwing up or if your flesh was covered by the skin rather than the other way around.

Where was I? Right. Anyway, whenever I speak of my father, the background of his scene always fills up with an autumn sea – not like those good times in summer but not as bad as it looks in winter.

He was the epitome of problematic parents. No, these so-called problems were not intended neglect, domestic violence, or a room where one is thrown into the darkness alone. The real problem was his volatile temper. Dr Kondraki, my father, was a typical example. When he was messing around, acting like an alcoholic, he never remembered he had a son. And when something reawakened the buried love in him, he'd waste his day away in the kitchen, spending the entire afternoon to cook an elaborate dinner. He was like an obsessive maniac standing beside the light switch and pressing it every three seconds.

Then there were those nights. Meals on the table, though he barely ate. He'd keep drinking, at least with a glass, not the bottle itself. He'd keep peering at you till you clenched your stomach, fearing he'd lose his temper any second. In fact, casting my mind back to those moments, he usually wouldn't lose control when he was trying to fulfill his obligations of being a father. He might even take your suggestions at that time.

My memory of that incident is crystal clear. One night at the dining table, he said, "What's wrong, boy? Why aren't you eating?"

After deliberating my answer for a while, I finally replied, "Can you please stop drinking? I'm scared."

He stared at me, green eyes heaped with alcohol. I wasn't afraid anymore after saying it out loud. It was as if all of my burdens had unloaded from my chest, but I was still very cautious when making any eye contact with him.

Those eyes suddenly lit up; something limpid mixed with the muddied green stained by alcohol. They became a bit brighter. My dad looked wistful – a wistful look even a kid could recognize easily, and his voice was the same when he started to talk again.

"Alright, Dad won't drink anymore," he murmured. His words thickened dolefully at the bottom of my heart. "I won't drink anymore. Don't be scared, okay?"

I slid off my chair and ran to throw my arms around his waist. Heaving a sigh, put down his glass and stroked my hair. We stood still for a while, then I let go of my hands as he rested his on top of my head.

"Dad owes you more than an apology."

So when he said he was going to take me to the beach, it was both surprising and, by no means, not out of the ordinary. I had already gotten used to his whims by then.

We packed up our things for the trip – sunscreen, life belts, swimsuits, goggles, so on and so forth. He left me in front of the grocery store to grab our lunch sandwiches first, while he went to refuel the car. Although I did go shopping by myself a lot, I was still not comfortable enough to face the cashier. However, I couldn't help but go there, because I hated that taunting look on Dad's face and his scathing remark, "What? You scared?" I despised those two things more than anything. They were like guns jabbed against my back, forcing me to walk into the store to complete my task.

He was already waiting outside by the time I finished. Getting inside the car, I handed him the lunch and the remaining change. He kept the coins and threw the sandwiches on the backseat, letting them be my company for the journey ahead.

Once we were out of the urban area, he immediately sped up. Lowering the window, he started to sing – the only part I couldn't hate him for. I liked his voice, especially when he was singing. It sounded different from when he spoke, not that rude but still deviant. Lyrics I couldn't understand extended with the wind, floating far away, so the first sentence already melted in the fair sky the moment he shouted out the last word.

His music, his song, and his piano – all were inconsistent and identical to this rough outer shell. Especially, the piano songs he played were so slick that it felt as though he’d fall apart any second while hysterically coughing out blood. When a trait was particularly distinctive, you couldn't help from focusing on it; just like black spots on a white wall. You'd only notice it at the time it became neutral and vague; you couldn't explore it further until then.

When I recollect my memories of that middle-aged man standing in the autumn sunlight, as his songs start echoing in my ears again, I finally realize how careless he was … or, how free he was.

The beach trip itself is not the point actually. And, to be honest, I can't even remember most of the details now.

The seawater in autumn was already cold, and the beach was pretty empty. We killed more time on the shore instead of staying in the water. He seemed calm, picking up those things that washed up on the beach, showing them to me, and explaining their habits.

When we found a starfish, he smiled sarcastically and told me, "This is a no cerebral tissue fucker." He was referring to someone when speaking of these "brainless" creatures, I thought, but until today I still didn't figure out who the person was when he cursing the starfish. Perhaps it was the entire foundation or just Dr Clef messing around with him the day before that.

We spent some more time there, though I can't really remember what we did. Until countless seagulls hovered overhead, the sun sank into the sea, and aflame waves glinted on the horizon, leaving the nearby sight in the dark; we stood there and only went back home afterward.

This trip was commonplace, but I don't know why flashbacks of this day always recurred whenever Dad was mentioned – the middle-aged man singing loudly in the car, squatting upon his hunkers next to me while watching the dying marine creatures, and facing the burning sunset in silence at last. I was always reminded of that day, that cool wind, that black sea, and that pair of confusing eyes.

Even today, I don't think I can read the mood he was in at that particular moment. Was it joy, acerbity, terror, or sorrow? Maybe he himself couldn't tell and was just engulfed by the waves of emotions unilaterally. Perhaps it's because no one except him knows the actual answer.

Then I grew up. Our relationship became absolutely dreadful as I reached puberty. The flared-up tension spun out of control day by day. The great Dr Kondraki, you should believe, was just as bewildered as every parent facing their pubertal son for the first time in their life.

However, he barely beat me up. I remember only one instance when some physical violence broke out for real – when we stirred up a fistfight. Rather than blaming him for all of those things, I'd say I was the one who should take on more responsibility. Things would probably have ended better if there was a woman in our home, but unfortunately, there was none. So we were like two raging bulls, two revolving gears that would never fit even when they collided with each other recklessly. It seems, on that day, I had shouted something on purpose, something provoking, and glared at him with a defiant look.

But it'd be unfair if you say it was totally my fault. I was in the middle of that phase where I acted no better than a dementia patient, and was overcome by my sexuality. This happened less than a week after I had sex with my girlfriend for the first time. Embarrassment and frustration swept me through that night; I found I couldn't respond adequately to her … she consoled me, and it made things even worse. I ran away like a deserter when she went to take a shower.

I didn't understand, and I didn't want to understand. I looked at men, and I was hard like a stone. I had also experienced those erotic dreams with another man on my bed. It was utterly painful; I tried everything in my power to get away from all of this, but then I realized I could never make it. By that night, I finally knew it was something inborn – something you couldn't change or run away from. It took me a long time to accept this and live with it. In short, my whole world collapsed at that time, and no one was able to provide me proper counseling.

Back to where we were. I felt my face burning red while we grappled with each other – suppression caused by sex unleashed itself through violence. He swore something but found no sign that I was about to stop. Our eyes met for a moment, I noticed his anger was replaced by a calm gaze. And the very next second, the entire world spun around me; my right arm and wrist hurt like as if my muscles were close to breaking off inch by inch. He weighed me down on the ground, breathing heavily.

"Chill, boy." He gasped. "You’re still far away from winning your old man you amateur."

I looked at him dead in the eye; extreme anger filled my heart, and an aggrieved feeling locked my chest. I aimed my eccentric choices for a partner at my father back then.

I ended up telling him nothing, and he released me without another word when my mind cooled off. We raised the dining table together, pushed the couch back in place, picked up the napkins and paper boxes, and as for those broken bottles, we swept them into the garbage. Five minutes later, all signs of this fight were gone. It looked just as good as nothing had happened.

The crack between us grew wider and deeper, although we never took the hatred to our hearts. This kind of crack could be closed up. However, it needed a push from both sides.

Unfortunately, neither of us ever tried doing that.

So, after all this rambling, what is the plaster cast?

It was a question James asked a long time after. We had just gotten into a relationship, lying on the bed where we had just made out, and he threw the question at me – a conventional, heart-warming question.

"What was your life like before I came into the picture?" James asked tenderly. Muffled chirps and whirs were rising from outside, as I put my arms around him, scrambling for an answer.

"My life is a plaster cast," I mumbled, eventually.

James levered himself up on his elbow, immersed in deep thought. But this time, he couldn't work out the answer. So he probed with a simple "Why?"

I told him it wasn’t only me; we were all the same. Our life was a plaster sphere; it looked orbicular, but in fact, it had many small facets. Our sense amplifies these facets, so we think we are holding a hexadecahedron or a cube, or even a triangular pyramid. But its identity is always that of a sphere rather than that of something else. We extract what we want to feel, magnify what we experience, and finally become the person who only existed in our own imagination.

James' contemplation was gentle and calm; at that moment, he was more like the researcher Talloran at the site.

"Don't wince, darling," he said, "You know what I'm asking."

I sighed quietly. Alright.

"My life is a plaster cast," I explained, "You're the highlight on it, and my father, my family, they're not even the shady sides. They're just a big hole, a dent on the plaster cast, a dent that cannot be fixed. I can still feel a cold wind gushing in through that empty hole, though it doesn't draw me in agony anymore."

James turned on the lamp. Maybe he thought I was about to cry, but I didn't. I simply lay there watching him, then pressed a kiss on his lips few seconds later.

I decided not to think about the past. I had already started working at the foundation by then, confronting what my dad had been through. And I knew quite well how lightweight I was. Other task forces would replenish the spot if I was down; there would be GOC and many others intervening to save the situation from worsening. But you could never think like this when you are in danger; you had to fight tooth and nail to stop the thing in front of you, without taking a single step back.

At that time, I was sure I had already found the one who would always have my back; I had found James Talloran.

Only him … only for him.

Then, he died.

My dad, Dr Kondraki, was dead. It wasn't unexpected at all – the nonchalance even surprised me. My heart accepted the fact before my mind did.

James was worried about me, but I didn't feel anything. James was smarter than I was and more sensitive. He realized the fact way earlier than I did, that it wasn't an actual recovery but merely a temporary numbness after a catastrophic shock.

After some time, I took a vacation with James; we went to the beach. We swam for a while, then went on a short walk. James spotted a starfish slowly crawling towards the sea.

"A brainless echinoderm," I told him. The aversion, sorrow, and sarcasm scared both of us. I almost immediately realized I wasn't thinking of the starfish at all but of my deviant father.

And, at that moment, something burst out from their banks.

It finally dawned upon me that my green-eyed man was gone – he was dead and would never come back.

I didn't even realize when tears started to roll down my cheeks. I found myself hunched on the beach, trembling with convulsive sobs. James knelt by my side, as countless seagulls hovering overhead.

Lying, I cried at myself, you are always lying. Not only to James but also because of the ridicules from that scumbag dad of yours. Every time you rush to the forefront, his voice echoes over and over in your ears. 'You scared?' That's what he'd always say. "You such a terrible father, you damn … damn…" I wailed but couldn't pronounce another word.

At the dent on the plaster cast, cold wind gushing out endlessly.

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