Gray Pete Wentz

1

Sometimes, late at night in the hotel room, after the lights have gone out and the mistakes have already been made, when it is heavy and silent and still, I lie awake and listen to my pulse on the pillow. It’s the only way to get through this. “Let’s start this at the end.”

That’s how it goes, like a feather on a drum, bristling and quick, barely there. It’s a microscopic sound, elusive, somewhere between my earlobe and my neck—a matter of nanometers—and I almost have to strain myself to find it, closing my eyes and holding my breath . . . feeling for it without actually feeling for it, because the slightest movement disturbs the rhythm, makes the blood slosh around and the heart stutter, turns the whole thing into a giant production, which is precisely what you don’t want in a situation like this, lying in the dark with someone next to you, in some city somewhere, unbearably sad, tethered to the leaden silence of moment, sinking into the darkness. I am an anchor for an anchor.

Because then the anxiety comes, or the guilt (usually both), and I start to think that I’m living in the middle parts of Great Expectations, right before things go really wrong for Pip, and of course I’m Pip, because it’s my tiny violin playing this one, because everything has to be about me. And that makes me angry, makes my head pound and my blood foam up and all I want to do is rip off the covers and escape, only it’s my hotel room and there’s really nowhere else I can go, and even if there were, it wouldn’t make a difference because I’d just be running from myself, and you can’t do that no matter how hard you try, and trying hard is what got you in this predicament in the first place.

And then there will be sweating and rolling, pitching fore and aft. Seasickness in a dry-docked vessel. I will probably vomit. I’m an insomniac, my mind works the night shift.

• • •

So you have to be careful when you’re trying to find it. I’ve had years of practice at this point, so it’s not that scary. I’m an old hand, a professional. I don’t move, I don’t breathe, and eventually, I hear it: the soft, muzzled beat of my pulse, against the pillow, ffft ffft. ffft ffft. I focus a bit—carefully—and it grows louder, firmer, until the sound fills the room, blocks out the world. ffft ffft. ffft ffft. There’s something comforting about it, because it always sounds the same, no matter what city I’m in, no matter how far I’ve drifted from home. It beats in perfect biological rhythm, blood vessels and capillaries thumping in precise, sanguinary syncopation. My body is a metronome, keeping time for the universe, the maximal and the minimal. All of it. It makes me feel less alone. ffft ffft. I think of phrases like cilia and eukaryotic, stuff from science class, and I can feel my body slowing down. ffft ffft. I think of the planets and the veins of stars, stuff from movie theaters and planetariums, and I can feel my head lifting toward the heavens. ffft ffft. I think of sleep, for the first time in weeks.

And then, as if on cue, she wakes up, the stranger lying next to me. My insomnia isn’t entirely my fault, after all. Strange, stranger.

She’s got her chest pierced. It’s gruesome. It’s gorgeous. Even now, in the middle of the night, her black hair falls over her eyes just right. She sits up in bed