June 27, 2013

You Know My Name, By Andrea Mullaney

"Pipe Dreams," by John Anster Fitzgerald, artmagick.com

You know my name. Everyone does, now.

But you don’t know who I am. That’s alright. Neither do I anymore.

My old self is gone, torn in two, ripped up and thrown away; like a betting slip after the horse falls at the fence, like a lottery ticket when too many wrong numbers have rolled down the tube. I gambled my self on a long shot and it failed, that’s all. These things happen.

Names, you know, have power. People pretend they don’t: sticks and stones can break my bones, they say, but names can never hurt me. A rose by any other name could smell as sweet. What nonsense – our true names are deep magic, a false name can cling to you like a parasite.

The Jews, the old Jews, know this. They write ‘G-d’ and the blank letter is the most important part, even though everyone who reads it fills it in for themselves. That absent negative carries the weight of thousands of years of surviving the worst by keeping something back.

Maybe I should write my name like that: R-mpl-st-ltsk-n. It looks like a half-completed crossword clue: Disarrange dwarf raised to lofty height (15). I know, hardly cryptic. But here’s the thing: secrecy was never the point. It was always hidden in plain sight.

What? Surely not! Yeah, come on: who goes around singing their own name? I’m not a hip hop artist, compelled to rhyme my status. I could get offended by the implication that I’m as stupid as to give myself away like that, but what does it matter. Like I said, you don’t know me.

But I would have thought that she’d get it. I would have thought a lot of things.

I told her, you see. Of course I told her. I heard her behind me, following, I felt her crouching low, watching. I wanted to tell her, to trust her with my name, my self, to gamble everything on her response, so I chose to speak.

For isn’t that what we do, when we love? We reveal ourselves, we open up and say: here, look, this is who I am, in all my blurry contradictions. Pleased to meet you, hope you’ll guess my name. Here are my fears and my petty jealousies, here are the parts I’m most ashamed of. Here, too, is my silliness; my blind spots, my vulnerabilities.  You could destroy me now, if you would. Here is my anger, the worst of me – look at how bad I am – will you see it and want me anyway? I’m Samson, I’m Heathcliff, I’m Quasimodo: this is what we do.

And if you’re lucky, you make a world together. A unique, unrepeatable, private world, which no one else could ever, ever understand, with its own secret language – think of how embarrassing it is when held up to the light, in old love letters of the historical hero or leaked celebrity texts, or in cringe-making Valentine’s Day personal ad columns.

These secret names have their own power, binding people in their private worlds, making it – just about – possible to maintain that necessary illusion that you two, and you two only, are meant for each other. It’s a lie, but it’s a true lie. And that’s the jackpot: that’s why you gamble.

But if you’re unlucky, then you know what happens. In my case, I’d misjudged the situation, horribly. I thought we had something, something more real and valuable than her con trick courtship. They’re married now and it would be a bigger man than I who could wish them well. He doesn’t know her, he’ll never know her, but maybe that’s the point; she didn’t want to be known. She was content to fool him, with my help, into buying her gilded image.

And she didn’t really want to know me, either. All those questions, all that flirtation, those admiring smiles when I brought her what she needed to please him. Oh! You’re an artist, really you are. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful, I can’t think how you do it … where did you learn? And … can anyone else in your family do it? What are their names? All just fishing, trying to catch me out.

We had a deal, she and I, but it wasn’t the one I thought. I should have seen it – she was a girl with ambition, cleverly disguised: nothing but an alpha male for her, not a stumpy schlump like me. I thought I had a shot at being the hero of this movie, but I was only the comic sidekick, all along.

Or the villain. I’ve heard what they’re saying about me; each version filters down, making me shorter and uglier and more subhuman. I understand: it’s propaganda. You can’t justify reneging on a deal with an equal, you have to make me the bad guy so everyone can cheer when the heroine cleverly tricks me out of what she promised. I’m Shylock too, all the Shylocks who provided gold when no one else would and were condemned for it: this is what they do.

But I would never have hurt her. Not then; now, perhaps, I would take revenge if I could. It’s the memory of her face as she toyed with me – making obviously false guesses, teasing me with the “I know that you know that I know” routine.

A game, I thought, an edgy lovers’ game. Tie me up, blindfold me, let me thrill to the glint of wildness in your eyes, but all the while, aware of the safe word – another secret name – weighting the balance so it doesn’t tip too far.

But there was no safety for me there. She waited for her moment and lashed out, triumphantly, with the whip-sting of her power over me. I was named and shamed. The pain was indescribable.

For isn’t that what we do, at the end of love? We hurt each other as efficiently as we can, using all the intel so freely given to guide those smart bombs directly to the weakest spots. It is friendly fire, targeted where we know it will most burn.

I say ‘we,’ because I can’t say I was innocent. You’ve even heard me do it, snidely referring to her as if all the things I now profess to hate her for were not just a different label for the qualities I loved. Now, I imply she’s ambitious and shallow; then, I thought her passionate and pure. If I am honest, I will admit that I no longer know which is true, but now these are the necessary lies I must tell myself.

So perhaps it is best that my power is gone, along with my name and the man I thought I was: I am someone new. What will I do? I’ll go on. These things happen.  But I will never trust so freely again, never gamble. I will tell you my name, for it means nothing now: I am Rumplestiltskin. I lost. 

Bio: Andrea Mullaney is a writer, journalist and tutor based in Glasgow, Scotland. She blogs at www.andreamullaney.com.


Tom Sarmo said...

Amazing. Unsettling. What great writing always is. Bravo

Laura B. said...

fascinating and gripping. pulled me along.

Bradley Nies said...

Awesome! I liked your approach!

Lissa Sloan said...

Terrific exploration of names, vulnerability, and power. Very thought provoking!

Andrea said...

Thank you, all! Very pleased to have my tale on this lovely site. Mr R thanks you also for understanding him ...

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed this and left me with cause to think next time I read the book to my son.