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.

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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.

A Cautionary Tale

Henry waited with bated patience, anticipating the worst. As soon as the dealer flipped his card, a blur of red with yellow streaks on both ends, Henry knew. He felt his body drain, beginning in his eyes, down the pit of his belly, and empty under his stool. “I’m sorry, sir.” The dealer offered, his eyes wincing at Henry’s misfortune. A young guy, no older than 22, celebrated a $20 win next to him. Even though Henry’d braced for the loss, everything was fast becoming too much to take on at once. With all he had, his arms and fists filled and pumping with blood and adrenaline, Henry pushed himself off the blackjack stool, nodded to the dealer, and began the long walk to his room. His eye twitched the entire way to the elevator, a much faster walk than when he envisioned big wins. Inside, Henry’s face twisted but only let out a heavy exhale. He exited in a trance, walked down the hall eyed-closed, opening just in time to turn left, numb, staring down the long hall where carpet meets wall, on the right—room 606, push in the card, walk in past the light switch, and braced himself for the automatic door’s hard-shut. Henry sat on the dressed bed in the dark, stared for a moment at nothing until flecks of white appeared in his vision, then wept with his head in his hands.

“That’s it.” He finalized. “That’s everything. There it goes.” He dragged himself down, rifling through a life unavailable to him: his place: couldn’t go back there—got driven out when the cops showed up. No friends, didn’t know anybody—well, not well enough to ask to stay a couple nights…weeks, who knows. Never married, never cared for, wouldn’t ever be remembered. Or at most it wouldn’t go anything beyond something like “Whatever happened to Henry?” Whoever’s talking’d agree, after a reflective second, that they hadn’t heard his name in years and carry on to the next thing, Henry was sure of it. He glanced at the nightstand—even in the dark he could make out that shape. There was a contingency plan. He had planned his endgame.

Henry turned on the light. On a floral-print sofa positioned before an unspectacular view of the next hotel rested a manila envelope. He spilled its contents on the bed and picked up a note he had written in English and Spanish, to accommodate for the cleaning ladies

DO NOT ENTER           NO ENTRAR
EMERGENCY            EMERGENCIA
DEAD BODY INSIDE    CADÁVER DENTRO

He opened 606’s door, peeked down the hallway, and hung the sign, gently closing it behind him. An envelope to his mother, one to his father, and a note to the management for release were spread across the bed, explaining why he felt this was his final solution—in the case of the management, to state that his actions did not directly reflect any occurrence on their property or their services. He picked up the gun studying it with fascination. “It all comes down to this.” Henry said as though anybody were listening at all. He felt slightly ashamed that he had spoken out loud. “What was there left to say? Nothing matters anymore.” He reminded himself.

Blood and adrenaline coursed through his whole body, his temples throbbed causing his eyes to vibrate at first, his sight to blur. His left eye twitched, his breathing picked up as the cool metal settled against his temple. Ringing filled his ears, piercing whatever was left of his shattered soul. It felt as if Henry were already lifted from his body and he felt himself floating just above his triggered finger and skull. “Filth. You’re done. Game over. Do it.” There was no conscious afterlife, Henry was sure; he’d just float around space as a thoughtless glob of matter, aimless in eternal darkness forever—a soothing thought. The first in a while. It calmed him, just for a moment, before he closed his eyes, then opened them again—and finally, pulled the trigger.

About 5 hours later, the cleaning crew made their way up to the sixth floor. “что это?”¹ Olga held up the sign on room 606. “Я не понима́ю.”² Svetlana replied, “открыть эту чертову дверь, Я хочу́ есть!”³ So Olga did, tossing the sign into a garbage can tied to her cleaning trolley and stumbling into the gory scene.

***

And that’s why you never hire Russian temp workers as cleaners in your hotel, or really any business you own/operate. These women are going to need therapy, they’re going to quit. All because they didn’t have the curtesy to learn the language and understand a simple sign! Henry planned the end of his life—that’s a lot going on for a guy—and still had the good-sensibilities to include a second-language caution. Temp Russian workers have an extremely loose grip on the language; they work hard but don’t understand Western signage and symbols. They come for a season and return to the motherland in the fall—they’re probably spies, anyway. Probably celebrating the death of another free American—a victory for their fascist, Marxist, mother Russia. You’d be much better off hiring your Hispanic staff full-time; it’d cost less than this catastrophe, and they can read a sign. Plus you don’t have to deal with their condescending attitudes, their secret Soviet giggles, or their chain-smoking. Let this serve as a warning for all your current or future business endeavors. Remember: just say “Nyet!” to temporary Russian workers: bad for your business, and bad for the U.S.A.

THE END

¹ “What is it?”
² “I don’t understand.”
³ “Open the damn door, I’m hungry!”