I kept the blackout shades drawn tight, dim room. Dim city sounds through the walls, barely audible. Drowsy yellow light from my bedside lamp — it was a small room, filled with yellow uterine warmth. I had a bed, and a desk, I was very fortunate, I had a mini-fridge and a carpet and a TV. I had a roommate who had disappeared into the city, bingeing, and a rent check I couldn’t afford. The store I worked for was shutting down, a job I didn’t like, so I stayed home. I stayed home and let the lead weight of ending days creep closer unannounced. I bought a bag of pot, a case of beer, ordered fast-food to my door, and masturbated frequently. Everything I could ever want to watch was available for download illegally. I watched sci-fi space travels and sitcoms, teen dramas, found nostalgia in the old colors of cartoons. Shows in which the youth always have a happy ending, where their sets are refreshed for the start of each show: A friend’s basement, or a bar, that they know is always there. The familiar tension in a plot line; episodic impermanence, their great shelter from despair. Retreat into your basement, retreat into your spaceship, no one will hate you tomorrow: your friends will be at MacClaren’s. I made a mistake, then, and peeked out the shades, a willingness to survive. I was surprised to find daylight still in the streets. I sat back down on my bed. What an awkward sensation, to be stationary, when you know the unseen world around you heaves and turns. The walls of my bedroom were paper-thin, I could feel the city’s humid heat drop its weight on my skin. I needed to find another apartment. I needed to find another job. I needed to find the courage to speak with people, to shove my will out at the world. But the days had a way of passing by in the night, no pattern to the way they rolled over. There was nothing stable about the ground, no framework in the sky, nothing I could expect but my own surprise at how quickly my grave could be dug.
It was you who took my hand, but we led each other in. Two kids at the end of a roadtrip, tangled and happy, ready for more. More heartbeats, more walks, more explorations of foreign shores, lined with milestones. We had a city full of smiling streets, a friend behind every door. We had a blank page to paint our life on, and we let our dreams bleed out. Angels’ wings and fluttered eyelids under bedsheets, vermilion mornings of sweet September. Bury me in your skin. Do you remember the night we walked into the woods? Bacchus laughed, and kept the moon bright: bum wine in our bellies, children of the vast plateau making haste for the wasting woods. They could taste our sins. Desultory years, caprices, diaries of lust and joy strung-up in the trees; thieves, caught trespassing into the night. Swiftly now. Grind your fist against the wall. Bake us bread with broken glass, we’ll cook the dust into something more. Can you hear them? Children cry unborn in bellies; still-birth stalking streets for coins. Join the huddled masses — sunlight, left far behind. The forest; leave no condolences: foreheads, cracked like egg-shells. The pulp of a heart and the crust of a lava-flow, breaking, revealing, burning through the wasted woodlands and the cities that hid our nightmares. Take my cock in your hand: copulation a public foray beneath the jealous trees of wicked greed, the homogeneity of a nation masquerading as sane. Show me a smile of broken teeth. A laugh that echos in abandoned concrete. Find the nails that keep our ribs together and pull: butcher of dead desires. Past picket fences and red wagons and warm mothers, what child asks for more? What can be seen through the pouring rain? — gray noon in Times Square, empty streets and the ripple of sidewalk puddles: millionaires without a penny. The famous without a name. Fast feet up the fire-escapes. Together in the alleys, together in the Bowery, together in the Strait of Hormuz. Together in the Dardanelles. Two children hand-in-hand, free, in the pages of an angel’s novel never read.
The grass was short on the ball fields. Lazy Sunday afternoon, and the park was mostly empty: alongside the poolhouse on a picnic table, behind a row of tall firs, the girl was telling him about her campus. She made it seem wonderful, the library and the classes and the student activities. She was two years older, and very pretty, named Alyson, plainly. The afternoon was hot and slow, and so too was the summer; sun streaks dappled through the tops of the firs and the boy wasn’t sure why, but his mouth seemed stuck in his throat. He hadn’t spoken — the girl talked so much — but for little observances he knew she’d find agreeable. Squirrels chased around in the fir trees’ pine needles. Cool water babbling in the brook behind them. The silent expanse of the deep blue sky and the quiet stretches of the park. A perfect moment lonely with an older girl. Yet the boy couldn’t shake the feeling of rotors and gear-boxes muffled and humming, a hidden mechanical cover, behind the scenes of their paradise sky. Which might have been his head: he was embarrassed of his desire: Little pervert prick, she’d tell her friends. She was asking him if he’d like to come visit, to her college. So he told her he’d like that very much — transparent enough to blush — and the girl kissed his cheek goodbye. The boy then walked through the park alone, taking his time to the road. The pavement felt careful beneath his feet: the trees seemed to be breathing, something quiet and full of meaning. His body felt full and hard and light. Picturing the kiss on his cheek. The grass seemed phosphorescent, and the cotton-puffs drifted dreamily in the sky. The air glittered, like specks of tin floating in water. The boy was sure he was somehow high. Was this elation? Was this his joy? turned inside-out to the warmth of the earth. The street ahead disappeared round a bend of the hillside and he saw where it went, past groves and the homes of his neighbors — and the road continued on, hot and long forever abiding the lilt of the land, straight onwards towards the mountains and going on even after that, across the vast plains of the northern plateaus, tilting around gentle hills and the curvature of the earth — finally to bury itself in blue snow somewhere north of Canada. The boy knew his dreams just as clearly: the road wrapped the world before him, and in his chest a bright burning for the gentle moments unfolding, excitement to find something similar in a beautiful stranger, to gaze at the peaks of mysterious mosques and the spires of red rock along the straight roads to California. To hold cities in his hand! But he was only going home. And he knew if he called his friends they were damned to play those old familiar motions and conversations; the next morning to ride buses to school. The affections of their mothers. Satisfying isolation in their bedrooms. In a year he’d be off to college. And in five years who would he meet? What beautiful strangers who weren’t caught in the gears of the silent machinery? The muffled lights in their chests. Long lines of blank squares counting through the days of their ending years. Sweaty suits barking orders from behind desks, and the cowering creatures that scurry to fill their orders. The boy was rubbing his cheek. He was very disappointed. Alyson’s major was in corporate management.
Much has been learned in night’s corners, of drowsy bars, streets with echos, women’s love: The loneliness of street-lamp walks home, pre-dawn, dew a million glints of regrets and what-ifs. Hangovers that last till Tuesday. Body aches that cramp in class and the sweet red-head, warm bust, who turns round in her seat no more. Dry laughter, a coughing he hears in his sleep, and the feeling he gets when his cock’s been dismembered, and friends squint to see him more clearly. Failing grades, a long way from home, superficial hellos and the cold concrete that holds up his hands as he pukes. Bank tellers distrust his withdrawals. In short, a mess. A coming of dues: searchlights chasing the footsteps of mistakes, finding mirrors, reflect, and amplify. Lessons learned in a state of fugue, the quiet observer, carefully tracing one-way paths in eager slumber. What a fool he’s been! But the hallways show no exits; a Sim, picked-up and plopped into desk after desk, and the artificial sun that rises, someone else who keeps flipping the light-switch. Long walks through the university library, day-dreaming of a tryst that can keep him awake. There are essays due in the morning, but he hasn’t been able to get himself asleep in a week. His rhythm is agitated. There are dogwoods blooming across campus, pheromones of pollen in the air: the room contracts and expands. Horizons breathe.
White sun dazzles the sidewalks, the clarity of a lucid dream; spunk in his feet and a heat in his heart, he moves, towards the beckoning at the edge of town.
Suburbia plots boring Friday nights — verdant roads winding along little houses with front porch lights. A poor place to put a college campus. Which goes to the reason the twenty-something finds himself standing, quite stoned, in front of the “cat house”. For lack of better things to do. Small-town campus monotony, he would like to know if Nothing is real. The house is pushed back through a garden from the ‘80s: a trellis thick with ivy, flowerbeds wooly with towering dandies gone to seed. A rust-eaten wheelbarrow, and a rust-eaten screendoor, a watering-can overtaken by soil: the slow Earth it moves over remains. The house is damp, cool, and smells of piss. Pungent. In the darkness with his cellphone flashlight, a frighted cat scurries across the floor. The house might be an episode of Hoarders; a TV-special on the house hygiene of Alzheimer’s. The smell of piss! The meowing rises momentarily to a cacophony in the clutter of boxes overflowing with crafts, needlework, VHS tapes from 1980. 30 years alone in a slow collection of insulation from the outer world: disheveled bookshelves, damp-rotten boxes, hoary floorboards soft with decay. He makes his passage in a narrow line through the clutter. Perhaps her family had used the house for storage, forgotten. Or perhaps she is just insane. Festering creatures creep along in the corners of his eyes. Blossomed cobwebs in the cabinets higher-up. Needle-point, half-finished baby socks untouched by capable hands. The refrigerator is open, the light on in the kitchen. The people who do this! the people who fade behind sun-drowsy shades, achromatic faces, color leached by the rain that rattles the slimy rooftops. The soft hum that hides the fear of the withering years — to waste her years! To waste like this in a nothingness of self-developed lacking, disgusting. What a waste! The woman moves upstairs: gentle-creaking footsteps. But no one is there: but the stale taste of must, piss-stained wallpaper and the framed pictures of children smiling in yellowed memories on the stairway wall — thumb-scrubs where the dust covered their faces. The creaking creeps slowly, from down the hall, footsteps more like shuffles. The smell of piss grows. The withering develops into deposits in his follicles. He can fear the coming end. The poor woman in her bed-dress stained with piss and spilt food, creeping slowly across the room. He says nothing but a sound escapes his throat, and the woman doesn’t move, stopped at the end of her step, in the middle of her empty bedroom, facing the wall. The room turns. The window sash flings open. The curtains billow and the bedsheets fly overhead to the corners of the room — the stain peels up from the floorboards, picture-frames shoot from the walls and the featureless face standing hunched at the center of it all: a tight packet of hurt, and the light that still burns through her breast.
In the mornings the big house smelled of ocean air, cool shadows in the hallways, a chill to the couches and chairs not sat in since the night before; his older sister’s book lying open on the alcove’s cushion. The sun soon to chase away the comfort of quiet dawn. Before the house awoke, before parents rose for morning showers, before his aunt’s pancakes and cousins who liked video games, the boy would ride his bike. Down sandy streets and sidewalks shaded by beech trees, the boy on his bike that was his for the week, would pedal to the bakery in the shopping-center nearby. The damp air breezing on his bare arms and legs always felt kinetic, fresh, a harbinger of the heat to come; cool shadows fleeting post-dawn. He’d buy himself a bagel, an orangejuice and newspaper, and pedal back to the families’ rented beach house where he’d sit, at the table in the screened-in porch, to eat and read. Sometimes his mother would join him, with her eggs and tea and magazines. They’d eat quietly: the boy, annoyed by her presence, kept his wishes padded with silence. Then, for a few hours, he’d lie on his towel in the sand beside his parents and sister and cousins, listen to music and sleep. He’d swim in the sea with his father, and watch from a distance the girls who bathed in the wake. The boy had seen pictures of Ibiza and Corsica: in the late-afternoon’s drowsy heat he’d shower and feel himself ache: Daydreams of midnight seasides, conspiring liberties, they’d sneak from her window and creep the beaches with soft kisses and laughter only heard by the moon.
Originally published at SuddenDenouement.com
You told me to buy presentable clothes and I did, a whole new outfit from Target. Neat slacks and spiffy shirt, even found shoes to match. And now here I am dressed like a fish trying to understand what it means to breathe air. We’re toddlers on a see-saw, you and I, for the first time trying to find stability. But this gala is full of coroners. My first big affair for a serious career, and my editor escorts me to a corner booth to meet the district managers who pay us both. I laughed at the right jokes but I kept my mouth shut, and they never once saw the tattoos ‘round my gums. The molars I had pulled from eating rocks as a drop-out. Clean-shaven clean-cut and dressed like the guest of a judge who doesn’t recognize my face from four years before, I could maybe fit in if my conscience didn’t heave. The walls are turning purple. Faces start to swirl with open jaws of twisting laughter, vortices of features. The chandeliers are bleeding light. The hotel porters are cackling rapists out in the foyer looking for a fix and I don’t know what I’m into but I’m out in the rain. I am the news man who screamed out the window and tossed himself to pursue his echoes. There is a limo parked in the curbside puddles, seven porters to open the limo door. Out steps the Big Man himself, CEO of Gannet. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.” My editor masturbating through his pocket. I am pouring vodka into champagne so no one will notice the changes bringing back the alcoholic. Unemployment gets me paid about half as much but if I don’t need a car or to keep my appearance, well, that’s money well saved and spent at the bar. No – I should give you a call to keep my head grounded but our conversation cannot be heard by these howling de Sades. Their suits are worth more than the hearse they’ll wheel me out on. I am cackling at the bar. Am I the Marquis in the mirror? Behind me spins the eloquent calculations of Murdoch’s publications, wives and the mistresses of breaking war stories and the talking heads from GE that just won’t quit. I am performing Coyote Ugly on the bar, finally shouting all the things that should be said. I haven’t had a care in the world since Makers’ Mark let me forget the debts I owe and the kids we support and I may be the Marquis in the mirror but god damn these cruel fools, our see-saw will stay stable if we place a god damn trailer on it.