Igor in Gold
I never should have written his name on that desk. Igor. The I in a puffy shape, the G with a little nonsensical curly-q at the bottom that I’d invented as part of my search for a new identity over the previous summer. The O and the R just standing in line, like minor actors waiting to go on stage in a play. Igor. There had only ever been one Igor.
He had an identical twin brother.
My brain was a mass of tangled wires then, but I used to think of the twin as the other one. The one everyone liked or feared. (In high school, isn’t that the same thing?) The one who was always in Mr. Bonatti’s office. The one who lit Tina Turnstable’s hair on fire that time. Her hair didn’t actually shoot flames as some kids said. There was just a small singed area and that awful smell. I felt bad for her even though she punched me once, hard, in my newly formed breasts during sixth grade recess. I still felt bad for her, even though she became Tina Turnstable and I was the freak who hid in the bathroom or in Pot Alley during that creative writing class I failed. I had so many stories, too, but I pictured them sitting quietly behind all those crossed wires, waiting for me to cut them loose.
It’s been seven years since then. 11th grade. Western Civilization class. Mrs. Matthewson with her terrible nasal New England accent pronouncing Cro-Magnon Man (Cro-maaaahgnon maaan. It never failed to produce an audience of cackles) and the permanent marker I used. Gold. Igor in Gold.
Oh, how I wish I could erase his name. And the desk and the whole classroom and the year. The whole year, gone.
It was actually Tina Turnstable who put the events in motion. She stepped on the hem of my peasant skirt one day, and I almost fell down the B-wing stairway. She didn’t say she was sorry; she was Tina Turnstable. A long snort escaped her and she shared a glance with the girl to her right who looked just like her; it was heavy with ridicule. I dropped my books, and when I went to retrieve them, the hand that reached out toward mine was olive-skinned with three little hairs above the knuckles and a tattoo that said “Half” right above that. He handed me my books. The wires in my brain rattled like a cage when I looked at him, but he didn’t meet my eyes. Then he turned and walked off.
By lunchtime that day, his name was on the desk. Gold and permanent.
In creative writing class, Mr. Hawkins hung a photograph on the upper edge of the chalkboard. The photo was of a window in some kind of Mexican-looking house. Outside the window were mountains. Inside the room, painted red and orange, was a battered table and two mismatched chairs. He said, “Write a poem.” Most of the kids said their poems were going to be about being trapped in the room and wanting to climb the mountains. (All teenagers feel trapped in rooms and dream of climbing metaphorical mountains.) But I thought about how it might be nice to be inside that tiny stucco house. Knowing the mountains were beautiful, but never having to cling to the side of them.
I raised my hand and asked for a bathroom pass. Mr. Hawkins sighed. I closed myself in a stall and wrote his name again. Igor in gold. Then, I wandered over to the space between the far door of the C-wing and the portable classroom, the area they all called Pot Alley, and I sat with my back against the wall, writing on my sneaker. Igor in gold. I looked up and the other one, the twin, was in the window of the portable classroom, making a face at me. Raucous laughter and a teacher’s scolding came next, then he disappeared from view.
Seven years later, I heard about Igor’s death on Facebook. His motorcycle accident in a southern state and an outpouring of “I remembers” and “I will never forgets.” But they didn’t even know him.
Nobody remembered the other one.
Even seven years later, my heart just split open and bled. I thought I could see the blood, sticky and shiny, seeping from my chest, pooling in my belly button and on either side of my hipbones to my legs and the floor. Except the blood wasn’t red. It was gold. Because Igor in gold, “Half” tattooed on his hand, was dead.
It started with the desk, then the stall in the bathroom, the soles of both sneakers. Pretty soon, I was writing his name everywhere. It was the strangest kind of tingly comfort, to take a clean surface and add his name, forever changing the landscape. It was better than staring at a photo. I pictured his name, the way I wrote it, in my mind. At night, my bedroom door locked to keep out stepfathers and other evil snoring beasts, I’d close my eyes and see hundreds of them, golden and floating in the darkness. If there were footsteps or pounding in the hall, I didn’t hear them, not during those days following that first day. I felt safe with that force field around me. And it was all good enough. I didn’t need to know him.
Igor was called down to Mr. Bonatti’s office. Poor Igor, I thought. It must be his first time there; not like his brother. I knew because I saw him through a half-opened door, standing in Pot Alley, telling some boy I didn’t know about Mr. Bonatti’s accusations. “Fucking douche-bag thinks I went around writing my own name in gold.”
The other boy laughed, and Igor just shook his head. When they turned to enter the building, I ducked around the corner.
And it would’ve ended there, but for the desk and Tina Turnstable and her identical friends who sat around me in Western Civilization. They talked over me or through me, and I would stare at a far corner of the room, at the flag or the chip in Mrs. Matthewson’s chalkboard. The story was that some kid in the 70’s had shot it with a bottle-rocket. I’d suffer this way for thirty minutes (Mrs. Matthewson didn’t issue bathroom passes till half-way through the period), then I’d escape.
That day, though, my eyes found a spot of blackness on the chalkboard and I saw them again, 100’s of golden Igor’s floating, glistening in the sun from the window, dust and chalk particles dancing with them.
But Tina Turnstable leaned over and pointed.
“Freak,” she said. “Why you got that pyromaniac’s name on your desk?”
“Huh?” I blinked, and the Igor’s broke apart, little pedestals of I’s and the loops of G’s and cracked O’s and R’s just fell to the floor.
“Guy’s a nut. You like him?”
“It wasn’t him,” I said. “His brother–”
“Look,” she said to her identical friend. “She’s got a crush on this one.” She tapped the desk, obscuring Igor’s name with a shiny, blood red finger. The other girl laughed.
Mrs. Matthewson walked over then. I didn’t deny it. I always had the marker. My stepfather had dropped a sack of half-price back-to-school supplies on my bed in late September, and I’d dumped them all in my backpack. First, I wrote my own name in gold on my bedroom wall, very tiny, behind the headboard.
I sat in the back of the detention room with Igor’s name floating around me like little golden butterflies. Of course the other one is here, I thought. He sat in front. A few times he turned and made a face at me. He argued with the teacher and got thrown out.
I thought, Poor Igor, he’s got to live in the shadow of that fiend.
I was walking home, taking my time, watching his name swooping through the air and diving down, then soaring up again. Suddenly he was walking beside me.
I didn’t want him there. I didn’t need him when I had the letters that made up his name. Letters are simple. The wrong person will turn your letters into words and phrases and sentences.
“Which one are you?” I asked him, because I was never sure.
“Igor.” he said. He was smirking, but his eyes became dark clouds, then drifted away.
“Oh.” I’d like to say my heart fluttered, but it seemed to play dead behind my rib cage. I looked away too.
“You wrote my name.”
He kissed me. I kept my eyes open and saw that his were open too, but neither of us looked at each other.
We started meeting everyday after school. Most of the time, we met in the small alcove in the park. Once, we went to his house. (“Is your brother home,” I asked him. “Yes.” He smirked, his eyes already drifting. “My brother’s always here.”) I traced the word “half” on his hand.
“Does your brother have a tattoo?”
“My brother has the same tattoo.”
“Right, two halves–”
He shushed me then.
The golden letters stopped floating and swooping and diving whenever we were together. I missed the energy they carried inside them, like little blasts of tiny rockets.
At school, the other one, he’d smirk and whisper to somebody near him; even Tina Turnstable didn’t mind talking to him if they were united in mocking me. Once, a sound like vomiting, when I walked by.
Poor Igor, I thought.
I asked him, “Why is your brother so cruel to me?”
He looked terrible then, like his mind drifted as far away as his eyes.
“I mean, he doesn’t even know me. Why would he care about me at all? You’ve told him–”
He shushed me then. We were naked in the back of an abandoned old car. He buried his head on my chest. I ran my hands along his back; his skin was pale and cold. I thought, is this love? When he lifted his head, I met his eyes. He jumped up and started getting dressed in a panic.
“I gotta go.”
“I’m sorry I asked about your brother. I know it bugs you.”
“Can you shut the fuck up about my brother?”
I thought: This can’t go on. I gave up the butterfly golden letters for the real thing.
The next day, he wasn’t around. It was just the other one, glaring and mocking me with this traveling audience. I ignored them. After school, I walked the route where we always met. But he wasn’t there. I headed toward the park. A school bus went by and I saw the other one in the window. I thought so; he glared at me.
I went to our spot in the park and laid on a bench. Closed my eyes in the silence and started to dose off. Igor in gold returned. So many letters floating around me. So much more comforting than I would’ve thought.
I kept my eyes shut while I called his phone. I didn’t want him to answer. And I did. He answered as he was walking toward me through the clearing. When he stood in front of me, the letters dissolved. I almost cried.
“I’m done,” he said. “It was funny at first.”
“You mean fun?”
He shook his head at me then. “You can’t be this crazy.”
I looked at him, so hurt and tired. I didn’t understand.
“I guess you can be this crazy.”
He walked away.
I tried to conjure up the golden letters again, but it wasn’t the same. They deflated like balloons after your birthday, and sank to the ground. I tried to lift them up and make them solid in my mind, but they flickered, disintegrated, and became transparent.
At night, the letters no longer protected me from the stomping and pounding at the door that opened with little force, and I wondered if they ever had.
I was sad. I was angry. I blamed the other one. His brother who taunted me and made him turn from me.
I saw him in the hallways and he laughed and pointed. The others laughed and pointed. Other times, I saw Igor; he was always alone, his face a scowl, but behind his pupils a regret so deep it made his eyes look like wells. I tried to smile at him but he’d look away. I stopped smiling at him, then I stopped looking at him. If I could do that, it was easier to forget, then I could make the letters return. It would never be the way it was before, pure and clean, like new paint on a canvas, but it could be something other than the remnants of golden dust and transparent letters he’d left me with.
I decided the other one had to go.
I wasn’t a killer. I wasn’t destined to be an active shooter, a term all the teachers used when they tried to prepare us. (“If an active shooter should enter our hall…” or “We will barricade the door and exit through the far window in the event of an active shooter…”) I wasn’t like that, but I needed to rid my life of the malevolent presence. And I didn’t want to hurt anyone else. Just him.
Especially after I found him waiting for me by our old spot one day. At first, I thought it was Igor, come looking for me, and I smiled. God, I smiled. But when he grabbed me by the arm and dragged me through the bushes without speaking, I knew I was in trouble. And I was. I thought, this isn’t Igor, but as hard as I tried, the letters wouldn’t float. I squeezed my eyes shut, and I could barely see them, like their electricity was waning. He was unkind. I detached myself. My own name broke apart and began floating in the air above us.
In the end I decided it was best to go to his house. I found him sitting in a chair playing video games. I had a hunting knife in my pocket that belonged to my stepfather. I thought it would be easy. I stood behind him. I looked at the back of his head, and he jerked to the right then the left. He was so focused on the game, he didn’t see me come around and stand in the shadow of the basement stairway. He didn’t see me studying him and trying – oh, God, I tried – to figure out who I was watching. Was it Igor or the other? I had to be sure.
In the end I wasn’t. I dropped the knife, and it hit the concrete floor with a clang, bouncing off the thin rug that did nothing to muffle the sound.
He jumped up and grabbed me by both arms, and we both looked down at the knife.
“I wasn’t sure,” I said. “If it was you.”
“You’re crazy,” he said.
Then I knew it was Igor, because he let go. I picked up the knife and pointed it at him all the same.
“Where is your brother?”
“Are you really that crazy?”
That question again.
“He ruined everything.”
“You really are that crazy.”
“I’m not, though. You let him be cruel to me.”
He stared at me for a long time. He took a step forward, so that the tip of the knife was pressing into his chest. I started to cry because if he died right then, he’d be the killer, not me. I didn’t want him to die. Then he spoke.
“He’s been dead for ten years, Maggie. We were there when he drowned.”
I began to protest, but the wires in my mind slowly started to reconnect, and it was like a television set got turned on after so many years. A jumble of words and letters and voices and pictures flickered on the screen in there.
I saw me and two of him, but everything was floating by so quickly, I didn’t know what I was watching. Deep water and a pool that was padlocked. And his brother who hated me and called me names. Even at seven, he pointed out things I didn’t like to think about. He knew things he shouldn’t have known. So different from Igor. Igor who held my hand when we rode the bus to first grade. But the other one, so cruel. Taunting me and taunting him for being my friend. Then a slip off a diving board. Or was it a push?
Neither of us spoke his name again. Igor never spoke my name again. Till that day. And I never told what I saw.
I dropped the knife. Igor was crying, and I knew that I’d never be able to make the gold letters dance again.
I would’ve reached out and tried to grab his hand, held on where the word “Half” sat right above his knuckles, but he just left me there while he went upstairs and called the police.
They took me away. And by the time I came back, I remembered everything about Igor and his brother Mikel.
And now, all these years later, he’s gone. Just an ordinary accident on an ordinary wet road. They’re both gone.
And every morning, I sit at my kitchen table and stare outside at the parking lot of my apartment building and the busy street beyond. And I wish. I wish that both of them stayed dormant behind the wires of my brain. That high school had finished without a trip down the stairs, a familiar hand reaching out and that name in gold that lifted off the desk and floated and fluttered around like a hopeful heart.
Kristen Falso Capaldi is the 2015 winner of the Victoria Hudson Emerging Writer Prize, for which she received a full scholarship to attend the 2015 San Francisco Writers Conference. She is a writer, musician and public high school teacher. The latter position has led her to believe she could run a small country if given the opportunity. She is the singer/lyricist for a duo, Kristen and J she has completed her second novel, and she recently co-wrote a screenplay, Teachers: The Movie, which was an official selection for the 2014 Houston Comedy Film Festival. Her short story, “Of Man and Mouse” was published in the December 2013 issue of Underground Voices magazine, and four of her micro-fiction stories are published in FlashDogs: An Anthology. She lives in Rhode Island with her husband and cat.
Follow Kristen on twitter @kristenafc