The Passage

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
adaptation of the story of pyramus and thisbe.

Submitted: October 23, 2008

A A A | A A A

Submitted: October 23, 2008



Julie Shendelman

Beginning Fiction

Michelle Tea

The Passage

Pyramus had severe social anxiety. So much so that his dorm room at UC Santa Cruz, complete with unlockable door, became a prison. The screens between him and the glass windows that so easily swung open became thick black bars, bars that saved him from the humanity trekking by below. And the door that opened into the tiny hallway connecting to Thisbe’s bedroom began to resemble a wall of impenetrable steel, opened twice a day to permit him to attend class and return home afterwards.

It wasn’t as though Thisbe hadn’t tried to befriend him. The first week of school she would yell at his door, extending invitations to communal meals with the others in the apartment. She slid information about her pro-choice club through the crack under his door. She asked him to come see plays, movies, even the occasional comedy show. But every time she attempted to contact him, he shuffled across the floor without speaking. It was clear to Thisbe that this was his way of proving he was still conscious in there, and that his fondness for extreme isolation hadn’t killed him just yet.

On one of the rare occasions when Thisbe was in her room studying, she managed to drop a cheap blue ballpoint pen behind her mattress. She pushed her bed frame aside and stuck her head into the crevice between the wall and box spring. Her long blonde hair dangled below her, sweeping up dust bunnies and tickling the white baseboard. As she reached for the pen, she was distracted by a small hole in the plaster, perfectly smooth and round, about the width of a small marble. She got out of bed and pulled everything away from the wall.

Forgetting the pen entirely, she crawled up to the hole and tried to look through. It was a surprisingly unobstructed view of Pyramus’s desk and chair. And there, in the center of the room was her neighbor’s foot, strangely alone. A second foot came down to meet it, and the pair spun clockwise, disappeared skyward, and landed on the carpet once more without a sound. And although Thisbe couldn’t make out any music, he appeared to be dancing.

A sharp whistle tore through the air; a bolt of lightning. Pyramus’s left foot froze mid-air, his posture stiffened. In a swift motion, he squatted to the ground like a cat landing after a long fall. Thisbe pulled back from the wall a little when she felt his breath seep through the passage.

“Hello,” he said.

She waited a moment, gathering her thoughts.

“Hi,” she said. “I didn’t know you danced.”

“I didn’t know you spied on your neighbors.”

She put her eye up to the hole, almost making contact with his gray iris and long dewy lashes.

“I don’t,” she said. “At least not usually. Besides, I didn’t make the hole to see you. I think this has been here since before we moved in.” Pyramus turned and leaned up against the wall, just to the right of the hole. He mumbled something Thisbe couldn’t hear.

“You should dance for me,” she said.

Through three inches of insulation, plaster, wooden beams, and yellowed paint, Pyramus could feel the heat and weight of her words. This was not a request, or a demand. This was some strange universal compulsion that resounded deeply in his chest. And there wasn’t even a split second where he wondered if he would do it. The moment the words left her Chapstick scented lips, they formed identically in his own mind, making it difficult to determine whose idea it really was.

Thisbe drummed a steady mid tempo beat on either side of the hole, eye lined up with the little tunnel, preparing to memorize his every movement. There was nothing but grace in his motion, he floated seamlessly from floor to foot to quite nearly nothing at all. It was as though each spin lifted him just slightly, so that as the dance continued for five, six, and then eight minutes, his feet broke contact with the ground, leaving him twirling inches above the carpet.

At that moment, she loved him. And as his toes left the earth, his heart cried for mercy and pulsed ravenously as he began to love her too. There was no question in either of their beings that this hole had brought them together, and that the words they continued to share every night would only bind them more tightly.

Still, they had never truly touched. Thisbe dismantled her bed frame and moved her mattress to the ground and Pyramus created a nest of blankets against the wall, so that as they fell asleep at night they could whisper to each other. They talked about black and white television sets, landfills, parakeets, shoe polish, firefighters, Charlie Chaplin, ethnic neighborhoods, body builders, and jack-o-lanterns. Everything and nothing all at once. And as they spoke in hushed tones through the passage, they let their fingers meet in the middle, creating little sparks of electricity only visible in complete darkness. They had tried to meet away from the wall once, in the apartment’s living room, but Pyramus had only been able to open the door a foot before he saw Thisbe and slammed the door in a panic.

Thisbe believed deeply that one day her neighbor would stop being so anxious and want to meet her, without the plaster. Pyramus was grateful for her faith, but doubted his capacity for change. He’d been like this for so long, and every time he considered speaking to anyone in the real world, his chest clenched up like a pitbull’s jaw, unrelenting and solid. But just as he waited for her breath each night, she waited for him to let go of his self imposed bondage with the patience of a Buddhist monk.

One night, after a discussion about why Pyramus never planned to venture out of his room for anything more than class, Thisbe didn’t come home. Pyramus curled up in his pile of blankets and waited to no avail. Hours went by with no sign of her. He watched a fallen hair of hers stick to the carpet and wiggle in the wind. But she never came. The next day was Saturday, but she didn’t come home. On Sunday, he couldn’t wait any longer. He took a large pair of green safety scissors and snipped six inch squares out of each piece of his bedding, stuffing them under his clothing for protection from the real world. He felt a bit like a quilt, without the stitching to hold him together.

He passed a guy in the hall with blonde dredlocks he’d never spoken to, and, gathering his courage, asked him if he’d seen Thisbe anywhere. The young man apologized and went on his way, leaving Pyramus disappointed and shaking in his sneakers from his brush with humanity. He stepped out of the building and made his way down to the white-berried mulberry tree she’d mentioned a few times. Walking through the forest at night was something new for him. The area was oddly silent, save a few thousand crickets and the occasional frog. He usually hated how far apart everything was at UCSC, but that night the cool air felt perfect on his skin, and for once, he didn’t mind being outdoors. It helped that he didn’t run into anyone along the way. It was just Pyramus and the epic redwoods that towered above his head.

As he entered the clearing where the tree was supposed to be, he noticed an animal lump curled up beneath it. It was larger than a raccoon, but not big enough to be a bear or anything. He stepped closer, only to find that the animal was a person. A person in a green sweatshirt hand-decorated with puffy paint. A sweatshirt that only Thisbe could own.

“Where have you been?” he asked. She looked pale and unhealthy, her hair smelled like vomit and her clothes were rumpled and dirty.

“Partying,” she said, flopping her head towards him. “So that’s what you look like.” She nearly grinned. He remembered his anxiety suddenly. His stomach began to churn, but Thisbe started to look nauseous and he forgot himself for a moment to help her roll over and puke. She turned to face him again, reaching out to touch his chest. The pitbull in his chest raged, and he felt uncontrollably sick. He leaned past her, vomiting at the roots of the mulberry tree, just as she had a moment earlier.

"I'm so glad you're here," she said, pretty cerulean eyes glittering. "Are you afraid?"

Pyramus nodded. "Yes. I thought you were dead."

She laughed. "No... just... drunk..."

"Why?" he asked.

"There was no hope, you said you'd never leave your room. I've been waiting so long."

Pyramus kissed her forehead. "I'm sorry."

She made sharp eye contact with him. “Will you dance for me?” Thisbe asked, wiping his lips with her puffy paint covered sleeve. Pyramus rose to his feet, a little slower this time than the first. He reached for Thisbe’s hand and pulled her up to meet his gaze. With one hand firmly holding her lower back, and the other cradling her skull in his hand, he began to sway back and forth to the time the crickets had laid out for the pair.

They were so distracted by their new levitation that they failed to notice the mulberries below them, blushing redder with each inch of height gained.

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