But I Can’t Help

Bea Warren

My shoe got stuck in a patch of wet cement. By the time I realised, it had seeped into the tongue of my sneakers, sticking to my woollen socks like chewed bubblegum. The sky was black; no one else was there. Squeezing my eyes shut, I prayed it would take me like quicksand—how the movies used to show me. It rose to my ankles before it left me spineless. Still, I didn’t want to look down. Not even when that greasy sediment started to cling to the hairs on my leg, grasping my flesh in its ascent.

I thought about what was appropriate in that final moment. Mum, Dad, the dog. The only person I had a non-platonic anything with—her name was Suzie. She was too messy to maintain a crush, but always took an interest in lanky and tongue-tied me. Her mum offered to cover the cost of my formal ticket. It wasn’t out of desperation, mind you—she was one of the prettiest girls in the grade. Boys at our school hadn’t grown out of their Neanderthalic routes—they’d express their attraction via ooga-booga’s and violence. Suzie thought I was different. I asked what any insecure teenage boy does in moments like these.

‘Why me? Being tall doesn’t equate to being Prince Charming.’

Suzie laughed. I wasn’t trying to be funny. ‘Because it would be a shame to miss out,’ she told me. ‘Imagine being able to tell your grandkids that you went out with the hottest girl in school. Now, say yes already. You know you want to.’

Suzie had picked her formal dress before she’d hit double-digits. I don’t think there was a single lunchtime in which she didn’t look at that bookmarked photo of the oceanic cocktail dress in her phone. It was her lock screen all throughout high school.

She had always planned this, and I wasn’t one to object.

I tasted the cement before I was enveloped in it. I pretended I was something out of the past, a Herculean figure. Some even took photos the next morning, which perpetuated the myth in my head. Two days later, the city council came to get rid of me. I had been melted down, become the grout in between the bricks. Within the month I was slapped on the foundations of a house, its electrical intricacies acting like a nervous system—the thought of which would’ve made walls crumble around me if I wasn’t the one keeping them together. I was stuck. And no one was the wiser.

People came and went. Back and forth. Night and day. A real estate agent shook his sleeves up before puncturing a ‘FOR SALE’ sign into the dirt of my front lawn. I felt it rattle under me as they wiggled it into position, like a pin piercing its way through the shirt on your chest. I anticipated a jolt of pain that never happened.

Most of our formal was spent with her friends. Other kids yanked me into the photo booth, claiming how we mustn’t lose contact all the while pushing me out of the booth and pulling some other kid in with the same breath. Every now and again, her dress would shimmer in my eyes when she stepped foot on the dance floor.

I was never one to dance. Music was playing all night long, and I didn’t so much as tap my foot. The DJ had one more song—a slow song—and she finally gestured to me. ‘Come here.’  I could barely hear her over the music.

The real estate agent displayed me to family after family. I paid attention to the desperate ones. Nothing too over the top, but people troubled enough to think that the eyes seeping out of the walls were just flashbacks to bad trips on acid. A group of graduated twenty-somethings had found no use for their arts degrees and had to move in together as a result. Two of them had tangled their hands with one another, while the other two let the wind guide them with an occasional brush of the knuckle. The youngest boy was lingering behind all of them and crossed his arms in an effort to not seem vulnerable. Covered head-to-toe in black, he was there out of necessity.

The other four got ready for their housewarming party. He slumped up the stairs, boots dragging across the edge of each wooden plank. He picked the only bedroom with an exposed brick wall. I could see him bury his face in his hands. When he finally stopped crying, he lifted his head to the roof. The dampened strands of his hair were the exact same shade of brown as Suzie’s. Later that night, he slept with his fingertips splayed out on the floor. I was almost in reach. I watched over him until dawn.

I made sure his bedroom lights were dimmed whenever he went upstairs. I could tell they messed with his head—he switched to permanent candlelight despite the fact. I can’t say it didn’t hurt, but at least I tried. I’m glad he didn’t tear the curtains off like the others. He unhooked each of them, his hands shaking while doing so. The drapes were never strung by their own weight, instead held loosely in his palm. He put them under his bed, thinking they didn’t match the rusted green of his bedsheets. I loved that colour. I didn’t know I did until now.

The first night he slept soundly, I managed to dream. The first one I’ve had since. About him. I couldn’t see his face, but I knew. I could pick him up and take him anywhere. We were soaring, for a little while. I woke up to the party downstairs and so did he. His hazel eyes opened swiftly, as if he never fell unconscious. The bags around his eyelids darkened as he stared at the ceiling fan attached to me. I was exposed. All he would remember is how my wooden floorboards were too busy shaking his bed to the beat of music downstairs.

Before a tear escaped the corner of his eye, I felt a set of keys scrape the top of the kitchen counter. At the same time, spilt red wine started seeping into the living room carpet. A group of smokers flicked their ash away from their girlfriends, onto the garden bed, slowly fading the colour of the soil like an unsuspecting disease. They flicked the butt of their smoke, even if they didn’t have to, because it’s what their dads did. Their arms extended to the grass, continuing the generational facade of chivalry.

I don’t remember how to stretch my arm out anymore. To cling to another warm body, skin sticking to one another like a Velcro strap in the summer heat. I can feel everything in this house. Footsteps slogging their way through along floors with a squeak I can’t escape. Each water droplet that misses the drain and lands on the shower floor is the foretelling of a thunderstorm that never comes. I can feel everything.  Everything except him. And I want to feel him. I’m sure there’s nothing I want more.

I never go near the electrical sockets, reminiscent of a hornet’s nest, but I had to do something. I swam through obnoxious disco lights and iPhones on charge with half-snapped cables. I was able to squeeze into the speaker. I wanted him to remember this night. I wanted to remember my last night. The one with Suzie. It was our last song.

Wise men say

Her dress pooled at the bottom of my hands as I placed them on her waist. She danced the night away and yet was still so soft.

Only fools rush in

The droning of the nest was getting louder. A destructive sensation made its way into what felt like my spine. I couldn’t possibly feel anymore, even if I tried.

But I can’t help

It wasn’t about me. I think it was about her. I wanted her to remember.

Falling in love

Whether or not I was capable of feeling.


I never wanted this. I just felt so stuck. He looked like he needed help.


Maybe I did too.


We bashed our teeth together when I went in to kiss her. I had never kissed anyone before that, so I guess it makes sense. She giggled at me, and I left. I probably should have practiced with my pillow beforehand. Something like that.

I ripped my suit jacket off and left it in a drain. I ran away from the school and the lights became dim. I should’ve taken the long way home, but I couldn’t be bothered. Walking in the stygian shortcut behind my house, I told myself that I would go into the bathroom and look at myself in the mirror. Then my shoe got stuck in a patch of wet cement.

Author: Bea is just a silly little fella. They write a lot about what they see, and the things that happen to them, because they still havent figured out a way to put their actual thoughts into verbal constructs. They really like to think they’re cool, with being part of the underground music scene and whatnot, so please let them indulge in that fact. You can see their work at Ungrained Mag, ScratchThat Magazine, or their Instagram @_rad_boi_ 

Artist: Cyndra Galea (she/they) is in the third year of her Bachelor of Fine Art’s in Creative Writing with a minor in Professional Communications. When not found with her head in a book or three, Cyndra can be found radioactive antique hunting, fixing classic cars with her dad, drawing on her iPad, or writing and editing her manuscript. Cyndra aims to work as a structural editor when she finishes her Masters of Editing and Publishing, but also dreams of releasing novels of their own.

Editors: Brock Scholte and Breeh Botsford