The Misunderstanding

By @sergiodechiara

The Misunderstanding

By @sergiodechiara

A remarkably imaginative, moving and surreal short story that deals with very real themes and emotions. Gripping & thought provoking.

Chapter 1

Sunlight was beginning to pour through his bedroom window intrusively – in an almost sarcastic, self-aware manner – Claudio felt, as if to remind him in a not so subtle way that it was morning and he should probably go to sleep already. It was the year the whole world had fallen into chaos. Leave me alone, he thought, his own mounting level of exhaustion being reminder enough. There were probably bags under his eyes, or at least the beginning formations of bags under his eyes, some part of him realized, but was too indifferent towards to actually look in his bathroom mirror and confirm when he went in to pee. 

For the last couple of hours he had been rereading old text conversations between himself and Ellone; who was probably asleep right now despite living in a time zone where it was a few hours earlier, he realized, dreaming something knowable only to herself, as dreams take place entirely within a person’s subconscious and are knowable to others only by telling them about them later, verbally, should you feel compelled to share that inherently private part of your psyche with another for whatever reason and also given that anything is actually remembered, of course, and even then can only be described with people, places, events, he knew – you can never fully convey the actual feeling of having dreamt that particular dream yourself, of having been the actual dreamer, despite every one of us being dreamers. 

He imagined it was possible, though he knew possible didn’t necessarily mean likely, that she was dreaming about him, and this thought brought him a degree of comfort as it would mean she was also thinking about him, consciously or not, and he was obviously consciously thinking about her, couldn’t stop thinking about her, as evidenced by the fact he had spent the last few hours shirking his growing desire to surrender to the dream world himself in favor of looking at their old conversations, in search of something, maybe to relive certain memories, gain new insight, discern exactly the point where things had started to go “bad” – or more likely a combination of all three. 

If she was dreaming about him at least it wouldn’t be one-sided, though didn’t necessarily mean she desired to be close to him in that moment as he did with her, though she had definitely desired to be close to him before this. It was precisely this mutual desire for closeness, he realized hauntingly, that had paradoxically contorted into some twisted manifestation of itself, hardly recognizable yet still containing the same raw essence – that had ultimately driven her to stop speaking to him and had left him metaphorically washed up upon the shore of his current reality, of their current reality, in which she had sort of willfully quarantined herself from him and they hadn’t spoken in an amount of time that was only increasing, dragging both of them as well as their mothers, fathers, and everybody else who also happened to live on the planet ever closer to death.

There was no intimate ******* relationship between two people that was completely harmonious 100% of the time, Claudio knew, had been made implicitly, irrevocably aware of – just like everyone else who’s parents had divorced when they were young. He believed Ellone was a reasonable enough girl to be aware of this fact of life as well, despite her being younger than him and having had the good fortune of not having had to bear witness to the dissolution of her own parents’ marriage. That would seem eerily fake, plastic, betray a lack of sincerity or depth of feeling, he felt, even if a mostly harmonious, loving relationship was what he wanted, and what he felt she wanted as well, and what had seemed to elude them both – though it sometimes seemed she was more naturally accepting of loneliness than him, didn’t feel quite as pressing and constant an urge for romantic love, generally speaking. And yet, in spite of this knowledge, in spite of the fact he clearly cared for her, felt affection towards her, wanted to be with her, or he wouldn’t be denying his body sleep right now reading through their old conversations (which were plentiful and somewhat painful for him to read), she had at some point decided it wasn’t worth it, was too much, that he was “bad”, or something, and to stop speaking to him. But if he truly cared about her this much, cherished their conversations and the memories they had made together, how could she have written him off like this, as if rightfully, self-protectively distancing herself from someone who took her for granted, didn’t value her? It was just all too much. His head hurt.

Suddenly she burst through his bedroom door, beautiful as ever. “Ellone?! What are you doing here? Can’t you see I’m busy reading our old conversations and being sad because I miss you?” said Claudio. “Ugh”, said Ellone. “This is exactly why I stopped talking to you… always feeling so ******* sorry for yourself. Like you’re the only one that feels pain or something. Jerk”, she said, and stormed back out, slamming the door shut behind her. He followed after her and shouted “Ellone! No, wait, I…” and suddenly was overcome by a feeling of vertigo as soon as his hand touched the doorknob. It seemed like the walls were melting around him. His ears rang. He collapsed. There was nothing in his sensory input for a vague amount of time, only total darkness. Then he heard her voice say “You know I wasn’t really in your room, right? You got tired and passed out from exhaustion. You are dreaming.” 

“Well, I was dreaming, until you stormed out of my room and shut the door. Now I am having a nightmare”, he replied to her disembodied voice. “Funny”, said Ellone. He woke up alone in his bed, unsure of how long he had been out. He was sweating a little bit. He half concsiously thought about a dream he had had maybe several months ago, it had drifted into his awareness at that moment from some distant place, and he was taken there.

Him and Ellone were sitting next to each other in the backseat of a car, a sedan. Her mother was in the driver’s seat. They were driving down a city street, judging by the looks of it somewhere in or near Los Angeles, though Claudio had never been there. Ellone lived there. It was sunny out and there were many other cars and people walking around outside, though they weren’t exactly stuck in traffic. Of all the dreams I’ve had in my life, this is one I wouldn’t mind being a premonition, he thought. “Are you guys ready for the concert?” her mother said, trying to foster enthusiasm. “Hell yeah!”, they said in unison, almost automatically but genuinely nonetheless. Claudio quickly glanced at her mother to confirm she wasn’t eavesdropping, and seeing that she was focused on the road, turned to Ellone and said almost directly into her ear, “You know, I really wish we were still talking”. 

She hesitated for a moment, as if processing or internally weighing something, and then said, “You want to talk about this now?”. “Maybe if you hadn’t acted like such a jerk we still would be, have you ever thought about that?”. Claudio sighed. “I was going through a lot at the time. You know how awful I feel. I never meant to hurt you, Ellone” he replied sincerely. To this she said nothing. She looked straight ahead, trying to maintain an inscrutable facial expression but was clearly feeling something. A car horn was audible in the distance, followed by a man cursing. “We’ve never met”, he said, again almost directly into her ear, which was partially obscured by her blonde hair, which had pretty orange and green highlights. At this her eyebrows furrowed a bit in frustration. “Do you really have to bring that up right now? Can’t we just enjoy this car ride?” she said to him. “Doesn’t that bother you? Don’t you think things would be different if we were physically together? I could hold you and the pain would stop,” he said to her. At this her eyes began to visibly water up. “Of course it ******* bothers me”, she said. “Of course it ******* bothers me!”.she repeated, now fully crying, frustration palpable within her sadness. At this Claudio put his arms around her, his own eyes starting to water up as well.

“What’s going on back there?”, said her mother, now concerned. “Are you two okay?” They were both crying in the backseat as he held her tightly, her head furrowed into his chest. Kurt Cobain drove past them in the next lane, going much faster. Seeing the two of them like this, he shouted “Love is pain!”, out of his window and sped off into the distance. You’re a legend, but now’s not the ******* time, Claudio thought in response to this. After a few minutes (that he wished had gone on much longer) of holding her like this, spikes like you might find on some spiky animal started to suddenly, uncontrollably burst out of his forearms. “Ow. What the **** is happening?!”, said Claudio in shock, also in pain from the spikes. The spikes pierced Ellone’s skin as he held her and she screamed, bright red blood starting to pour down her soft, tanned skin. Now they were both crying, and bleeding. I don’t remember this being part of the dream, I don’t want this to be part of the dream, thought Claudio. It had gotten darker outside now. “I don’t understand why this is happening”, said Claudio. “I didn’t want this to happen”, he said, and tried ripping the spikes out of his arms, to no avail. Ellone’s mother pulled over on the side of the street. “Get out of my car”, she said. “I blame my parents and past relationships for these spikes. Just kidding, it is tempting, but I am better than that”, he said. “Get out of my car”, she said, this time sounding more emphatic. He idly wished his father, who had cheated on his mother maybe twenty years ago, resulting in their divorce, and used to assault him and call him names, when he lived with him long after the divorce, had been punctured by the spikes instead. That seemed fair.

He was debating within himself whether to try to explain to Ellone’s mother that the spikes were not his doing and he was just as startled by their appearance as she was, if that would even be worth it, or to just get out of the car when she suddenly, inexplicably disappeared. He looked Ellone, who he was still holding, in her brown eyes, which had a glazed, far-off expression, like she was somewhere else mentally, then she disappeared too. He was alone in the car for a moment in complete silence. The car disappeared. He found himself standing by himself on the unfamiliar streets of Los Angeles, bewildered at what had just happened. “****!”, he shouted. The echo reverberated into the distance. He looked around, and then Los Angeles disappeared. After maybe a minute he heard a ringing sensation in his ears again, and suddenly found himself on a different city street somewhere, which could have been close by or hundreds of miles away, he didn’t know. It seemed to be materalizing into focus around him from the black emptiness. There appeared to be a crowd of people chattering amongst themselves loudly, some of them holding microphones, like reporters. Some of them occasionally turned their heads to quickly look at him while they were speaking to each other, although he couldn’t make out what they were saying, their multiple voices simultaneously amounting to a buzz of noise to his ears. “Where am I? Where is Ellone?” thought Claudio.

One of the men holding microphones broke away from the crowd and approached him, holding the microphone up to his mouth. “How does it feel to have been so badly misunderstood?” he asked him. “We know you love her, but man, she is convinced you are just a selfish jerk. All of her friends think so too.” Another man who bore an uncanny resemblance to Jim Carrey stood somewhat close to the reporter-esque man, reading a stack of papers he held in his hands. He chimed in: “It’s like she thinks you’re a different person than she initially thought you were, like you were fake or sinister from the start and she just failed to realize it, or something.” “Ain’t that a shame?” said the first man. “Your feelings were absolutely sincere, you just let your temper get the better of you and said a few things you shouldn’t have. It happens Claudio, you’re only human. Truth is, if you didn’t care for her so much, she probably wouldn’t have even had the ability to get you so riled up in the first place!” “WE know that – but what good is that if she doesn’t?” said the man with the papers in his hands. “You know, some women stay with truly emotionally and physically abusive partners for YEARS – and she can’t handle a few unsavory remarks?” “And the clincher is they weren’t even TOGETHER – heartbreaking stuff, really”, said the first man, his microphone still positioned near Claudio’s mouth.

 “Oh shut up, both of you!” exclaimed Claudio, and shoved the microphone away from his face. The microphone and the man holding it disintegrated. “Where am I?!” “You’re still in Los Angeles,” said the man who looked like Jim Carrey, seeming completely unperturbed by the fact that the other man had just disintegrated. As he spoke, Untitled #2 by John Frusciante, one of Claudio’s favorite instrumentals (he was a musician), which had probably been recorded not far from where he currently was, started to play from seemingly nowhere. He motioned towards a lone man in the far distance yelling at a police car, as if to prove what he had just said was true. “There’s Zach de la Rocha Raging Against the Machine”. “Feelings are subjective. You can’t invalidate the way somebody feels just because you or somebody else might have been through what seems like worse”, said Claudio. As he said this, rain started to pour down. “I know that. Plus there’s no point in making comparisons like that anyway, your life is your life regardless of what anybody else might be dealing with”, said the man who looked like Jim Carrey, with a pensive, melancholy expression. “That’s great, but where is Ellone?” Claudio replied. “Well, she can’t be too far from here… I mean, you are still in Los Angeles.” He had not finished saying that when Claudio had noticed a lone figure, a girl, pushing through the crowd. It was Ellone. This realization had struck him with such force that everything seemed to slow down, including the sound of the man’s voice. He could hear his own heartbeat.

“Ellone!” he shouted, and began sprinting towards the crowd. “God speed, Claudio!” said the Jim Carrey-seeming man, and pulled out a pistol and fired it into the air. Nobody seemed to react to this. “Ellone!”, he shouted again as he ran, watching her push through the crowd of faceless, unfamiliar people in a straight line in the opposite direction. She wasn’t quite running, there wasn’t an air of desperation or fear to her movement but rather one of steady determination, almost as if operating on auto-pilot trying to reach some uncertain destination that was up ahead. She didn’t seem to hear his shouts, or if she did, she didn’t stop or turn around. She was about fifty feet away from him now. He was becoming out of breath. He pushed some people out of the way who were obscuring his view of her. They became flat and collapsed, like cardboard cut-outs of themselves. Finally, he could see what she was heading towards – there was a kind of open hole in the street ahead, not in the street itself but above the street, in the air – as if entering it would lead somewhere else.

“Ellone, wait, stop! Where are you going?!” he shouted in a panic, almost having finally caught up to her, but she seemed to ignore or not even notice his presence. She maintained her brisk, determined stride towards the hole in the air. She finally reached it around the same time he caught up to her. She grabbed the edges of the hole as if they were handles, and dipped one of her legs into it. “Ellone, don’t leave! Where will this take you?” he shouted, and grabbed one of her arms, trying to pull her out of the hole. She resisted this and grabbed onto one of his hands with both of hers and pulled, using her body weight as if allowing herself to fall backwards. He stumbled and lost his footing, and they both fell into the hole. The hole closed up and disappeared.

Claudio was surrounded by darkness. There was no sensation of falling, but something more akin to floating on his back on water, as if in a sensory deprivation tank. He couldn’t hear anything or feel Ellone, he could barely even feel his own body. A blur of images whizzed by him at a rate that made it almost imperceptible to see what any of them were, like there were thousands of them per second. He recognized one as being a scene from the time he had spent homeless. Then the images stopped, and he found himself in his father’s apartment, where he had lived several years ago.

There were a few holes in the walls he had put there in frustration during fights with his father. He was holding his smartphone in his hands. He looked at it’s screen. He had just sent Ellone a link to “Wayfarer” by Kayo Dot, possibly his favorite song by them. This was the first thing he had ever sent to Ellone on messenger, followed by a message that said something like “I hope I create something this beautiful”. She had repeatedly told him that he was the only person who had ever introduced her to new music that she had both never heard of and genuinely liked. That hole must have led to the past, it dawned on him. Ellone must have wanted to go to the past, to before he said whatever had caused her to feel like he wasn’t who she thought he was, to a time more distanced from the pressures and pains and confusion of her adulthood, which was a sentiment Claudio could relate to. They were both listening to Wayfarer simultaneously, Claudio in his father’s apartment, Ellone in her bedroom hundreds of miles away, the distance between them dissolved for a moment by the music. The song slowly built up to it’s powerful, emotional climax, then slowly settled down into a blanket of tender strings, as Toby Driver crooned the poetic lines:

“Morning, and the dreamers fade

Like lovers’ gazes past their hour.

Cannot sunrise wait forever

For its time?

Farewell, starry wayfarer,

I’ll bless your name when I dream of you.”

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