Last Night

I’m safe here. Mist seeps through a missing pane, one of his ex-girlfriend’s took it out with a right straight. Hard to imagine, I’m a lefty. I don’t want to face the night. I don’t want to walk to my car. From here, I can see it all. The letters, the addresses, the cracks in the street, the empty sidewalk of an unsuspecting town. I don’t need to be out there, they don’t need me, either. My mouth slumps.

I tell people I grew a beard out of laziness. “Didn’t feel like paying $6 for a razor.” Not quite right. I let it scrawl my face to hide the sadness of my lips. Full, pink, they receive remarks. They’re rarely perked. Twangy hairs dangle over their cracks, slip into my mouth, and with my teeth I pull. A condemned house. Overgrown. Useless.

“You have sad eyes all of a sudden, don’t be sad!” She said. There’s no hiding. What I had thought in that moment was beautiful and painful. It bares no recall – a truth whose power lives and dies in me. I stroke the hair on my chin, my eyes begin to droop.

His door locks like some found antique machine forced to life–of course it still works. I wait with the draft, with the mist.

We exit his building; his car is in front, mine a block away. We shake hands, bump shoulders, and I take flight against little wet pincers. He says something. I turn back, laugh and smile. He disappears inside his car and it’s far too late for pedestrians. I can remove my thumb from my mouth now. It’s mostly healed.

Two weeks ago I stopped a grocery store panic attack by chomping on my thumb until it bled. I wrapped it like sliced deli meat, and watched with pursed lips as my stain stuck the napkin to my finger. Too many people, too many. Shopping, doing. Being. No, not me. I can’t. I won’t. Bread, coffee, oatmeal, bananas, yogurt. I ran my fingers, one bandaged, over the paper. Focused on its crinkles. It soothed me enough to weave up and down aisles. To become.

On the corner, I wait for a sports car to droll past before crossing. There’s flecks of black in the blue line, only took 6 months. A block and a half away, a block away, half a block away, a bus charges towards its garage. The mist kneads the headlights like dough, blurs and bends them to form an electric halo. Just as I find the curb, I imagine without effort tossing myself head-first into its grates. There’s a mess, my body parts scatter. It erupts the boulevard with lights and sound. In the next moment, I’m surrounded by sterility and stiff lips. Would my hands land palms-up? Is there anybody on the bus? In the next moment, I’m gone.

Beyond the lights and self-righteous silence of the boulevard, I slink down a side-street.

Be happy, dammit.

I move with the wind, a little game I’ve played by myself since childhood. How quiet can I be? I’ve snuck up on friends without trying. Overheard terrible conversations meant for none. I’d like to quietly slip into the fluffy shadows of these hedges, but don’t have permission. I live vicariously through my own shadow. It disappears and pokes out. Grows long and short; knows the rules. I live like a shadow. But I am not literal.

Be happy, dammit.

Between two rows of crane-dropped homes, whose owners pay no mind to the magic and privilege of flipped switches, a stream of light intrudes the road and wanders with mist. Is that my car? I forget my little game and jog towards the source: a dark, almost vanished metal brick in the filtered night. It is my car. I unlock it, turn the light knob while cursing myself out, and plug the key into the ignition with bated breath. It turns on; the fan-belt squeals for a moment. It stays on. I smile for a moment, and roll towards the sign to STOP.

Dredge

A prolonged bout with isolation and God-forgive-mes brought hollow chrome to his temple. Which is to say: people talk. I never met him; only read about his capture and those two boys. He’d found himself in others’ jaws around town plenty: bottom lips flinging front-tooth gristle, spitting foul and his name. And when he was released after two-months because of lost paperwork or whatever-the-case? Ho-oly hell. We were all a raindrop away from rope and torches.

He sunk somewhere beneath town after that. Nobody ever saw him, nobody heard of him. Rumors floated every-which-way, though turns out he did change his name. The two boys, bless their hearts, did well-enough for themselves despite it all. People around town set up a fund for them, collected a nice sum for psychiatric assistance since his guilt paid no settlements. They both go to private high schools, separate—I suppose it can be tough keeping friends with eyes who’ve seen like your own.

I guess he never got too far. Police found him in an old Buick pulled over in the shadows of State St. Lots of people say that’s where he snatched them up, just a block from Columbus Elementary, but it ain’t true. Everyone who knows the story knows he was a child-therapist; well, he wasn’t, but he was illegally practicing as one. Both boys were patients he skipped town with one day. Simple as that. Seems like an awful lot of trouble to go to, lots of planning involved. Thankful he never sat breathing on State St. I guess.

Kind of creepy. A guy like him slept under our beds and bathed in our spit for over a decade. Where’d he live? Where’d he get his groceries? Who looked after him? Not a soul around here couldn’t tell you what he looked like. After the boys came home, a whole campaign lit up in his name: town hall meetings, YMCA parent-teacher hysterics, school assemblies, buddy systems. If just one of his hairs peeked from a sewer-grate, somebody’d notice. He stirred quite a many into a boil, and when they spilled over…hoooo. You’d think half the damn town participated in ugliness the way most carried on the fear. Just goes to show: when the bad’s ugly, the good’ll stomp it dead if it’ll make them appear better.

Inside Hector’s Cafe, nasty chatter echoes off of innocent wallpaper for all to hear.

“Frankly I’m glad he’s dead.”

“Just wish I got the chance to pull that trigger.”

Never quite understood bringing the dead back to life just to kill them again. The most painful way to go, to me, is with afterward-silence. Like he never had an effect. Then again, can’t blame ’em for gettin’ last kicks in before he’s underground for good. Helluva thing for a person to do. Can’t imagine what’s dredged up in those poor boys.

I stopped picking up the townie paper years ago so I didn’t have a clue he’d done himself. I wasn’t kept far behind without it; Hector’s was center stage for these kinda offhand meetings. They swooped in with the cold and talked dry-mouthed gossip in line. A seat at Hector’s counter was good enough as reading any daily paper without worrying why people get paid to write 2-hour opinions. From a murky reflection I can see all those printed words network around the cafe anyhow. No need bothering two senses with one type of nonsense.

“…going by the name of Geoffrey Fields before he did us all a favor. What kind of name is that to take? Especially when you got the choice of any damn-name you could think! Thinking about going on over there tonight and askin’ someone about it myself.”

“You hear he’s bein’ laid down in Franklin’s Memorial over on Stationary Drive? Oughta just burn him and send him express to hell.”

“What kind of funeral home offers a pedophile their venue?”

“The same as any that takes money, I’m guessin’.”

Good to hear a laugh between the rambles. Their thoughts linger behind long after they bring in the cold on their way out. Has to be the longest Geoffrey’s been on the surface since. Shit, who would turn out for a pedophile’s wake? Somebody, I’m guessin’, to make it worth the money it takes to display him. What with the flowers and niceties and all that. Franklin’s on Stationary. Shouldn’t be thinking about him at all. Wonder what time? Only damned thing a newspapers good for.

No Names

She knows way more than me – better than me, too. Sitting on a bench before the New York skyline, I comment on feeling like we’re in a tourist area, that I shouldn’t light a cigarette. “It is.” She responds, and points to butts filling gaps in the sidewalk. “Everyone else smokes around here. Nobody cares, dude! What’s the problem?” Each word leaves her mouth with conviction, every response has been thought about before our meeting, long before she even knew me. From the simple to the sublime, I can’t manage to say a thing she can’t learn me on. In the sun, her hair looks purple – but I’ve been told I don’t know my colors. She laughs, “It’s mauve ya dummy!” To which I reply, “But isn’t that pretty much purple?”

From our bench, people pass and glance our way. Her skin is much darker than mine, her hair up, flashing streaks of white against a cloudless sky. My hair, held down by a dime-size of goop, looks removable; fake. Though without control over it, I’d panic and press down with each gentle breeze. Always patting it back down, always conscious of it. Unlike me she’s mostly motionless. The heat is killing me, but sudden wafts from the Hudson cool us down for a moment before a blanket of heat and humidity regain coverage.

For hours we chat and sit in silence. Sometimes there’s just not much to say, other times, the world. When she mentions friendship, I quiet down – it’s never come easy for me. I’m headstrong, pushy. My principles bind me – and those around me tend to believe I project ideals onto them. Though it’s not an intention, it is something I do. I’ve been called everything from the waist down. Other times, I’m expected to be OK with something I fervently stand against. When that happens, I understand it’s time to go. I make myself OK with their behavior – while I’m expected to change my own. She knows all of this. It’s a lot. “So are you finally done being friends with that group?” “Yeah, I’m done.” I say half-heartedly. Three minutes later I’m retracing my words, “I’ll never be done, I guess. It’s complicated.” She shakes her head, her upheld curls wafting a cool breeze my way. “So what if your only friends are me and Gina?” “No, there’s no problem with that.” I say, but I’m nervous. It’s a mask I live in.

She talks about her father, family, and relationships. I keep focus on my friends and father. Unlike her, I have nothing to offer when she finishes speaking, no deep well of knowledge accumulated over years of difficult experiences and enlightenment, just nods and “I hear ya”s. Without getting over my own garbage, I’m garbage at offering anything to the friends I do have. It’s a padlock I’ve placed on my mouth. When removed, a flash flood of words stream from my mouth until I panic and stop things abruptly. “It feels so weird smoking with my left hand. I’m a true righty.” She says. It’s nonchalant. In response, I catapult into a steady stream of things I do with my hands, because I don’t know, “I’m OK smoking with either hand. I throw a baseball with my left, hold a hockey stick with my left. I write righty, though. Most sports stuff, with my left hand.” Aware of my words but incapable of controlling them, I conclude myself, “I’m all screwed up.” Friends before have told me they know nothing about me, only to use precisely what was said in response against me at a later time. Whether it be depression, familial problems, or various issues, it was a trap then, and my brain continues to think it’s a trap now.

Oh, my brain. Gotta stop worshipping thoughts and instances of bleakness. She’s in a similar boat, but she knows much more. She’s been through this, she’s seen the difficult. She’s faced it. I’m still here, I have too. But she’s reserved; I’m reactionary. She’s comfortable with the uncomfortable, I’m bound by emotions. I worry myself because I know I need her in my life, but I’m not sure she needs me. I don’t know what I bring to the table; and if I don’t bring anything – is that OK?

We’ll figure it out. After a few hours we get up, a rush of intoxication flows back into me and temporarily the dull becomes interesting again. Medals shine off adolescent baseball uniforms. Shadows collide with people. It lasts a block and a half before sleepiness sets in and I’m back to thinking too much, seeing too much, wanting too much. In the car, she balls her hand into a fist and places it gently against my cheek. This happens often. Maybe she’s fake punching me because I’m an asshole, or maybe because I’m one to myself. “Enough deprecating humor. You’re a smart person.” She’s wrong, but she knows way more than I do. I don’t know.