Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Too-Thin Skin & Shambles

The man was not as old as he felt; he felt ancient. He felt like a shrunken head. He felt like the back room of a natural history museum - dusted with time and apathy, largely ignored. He could smell himself slowly dying. That tooth-decay smell, plus the smell of old wool - it was a smell he knew well.

He knew he wasn't really dying, and it was a disappointment. Suicide by happenstance was all that was left for him. He could not leave by his own hand. He would not. He would not sully whatever goodness he had been able to create. Hell, his landlady would miss him, and that was enough. He couldn't live with the guilt. He knew he would never be able to die with it.

The man sat staring at a screen and thinking. Behind him, there were missed opportunities and procrastinations. There were brief bursts of laughter. Genuine laughter, the kind that reminds you of the ridiculous sounds human bodies can create.

There was no reason. His fingers hovered over buttons, and his brain stumbled across memories, bright and dun - he was tired. His chest was tight and his shoulders hurt and his eyes burned with a slow, simmering anger. He felt like a child, but it was undeniable - he wanted just a little bit of fairness.

The lip of the bottle clink-clinked on the rim of his coffee mug. He was out of glasses - had broken them all. Glasses are fine for normal people. His shaking fingers would not abide them.

He was too tired to look out the window. If he had looked out the window, he would have seen grey skies and wind-rustling bushes. He would have seen yards full of abandoned, neon-plastic toys. He would have seen his neighbor increasing the size of his newest car incrementally, one layer of wax at a time. Parked beside the double-wide.

He stood quickly and his head swam. He remained still for a moment, tried to enjoy the feeling, tried to remember when life had been made of smiles and dizzy dalliances. How long can you hold your breath? Push on my chest! 

Sweet blackness.

Sleep, when it came, was a respite. He did not dream. He closed his eyes to blackness and opened them to sodden light and a feeling of responsibility he did not want. So many things to do - he knew none of them mattered. Keep churning out bits of your soul and hope the devil will snatch them up, gather them. But it doesn't always work like that.

He hated.

It was wrong to hate. He had spent most of his life fighting small-minded hatreds, but now they overwhelmed him. He hated the kids who played in the alley, too loud, though he had once been just like them. He hated his neighbors for their laughter. He hated himself because he knew that every house in town harbored some kind of disaster, some creeping nightmare. He knew it. He was simply too tired to care.

The vodka was warm and tasted like blood. It hurt his teeth and burned his throat and he nodded slowly, embracing the pain. He let it slide off him, pulling sheets of too-thin skin.

He wondered how bad it would hurt. A stomach packed with medicine-cabinet poison. He cramped just thinking about it. He thought about heroin and it made his skin itch. It had been terrible. It was the only vow he had ever made. But how much worse was it than this? This constant fear and pain. This overwhelming sense of failure. At least heroin provided temporary escape.

He ran his hands through thick blond hair and lit a cigarette. He pulled the smoke deep inside him until he was sure he could exhale without choking.

*****

Down the street, Mrs. Jones put on her old-fashioned hat. It made her look like an advertisement for olive-green washing machines. She was smiling, and her stop-sign red lipstick was almost right. It was close enough. She smoothed the wrinkles from her black dress and called a taxi cab.

The ride was over before she knew it - not because it was quick, but because her brain was taking her back years and years. She saw a smooth-faced young man in a suit, clearly trying too hard. She had been cruel to him then, but he had won her over. His enthusiasm. His refusal to quit trying. 

They were married on the anniversary of their first kiss. He remembered the date, she did not. He was good about things like that. She was not. At least not while he was alive. Now, she never forgot their anniversary. 

She stood in the wet grass and tried to ignore the taxi cab glowing in the waning fog. She wondered if she should say something. She always wondered this, and she always thought it was stupid, sentimental. Something that would ruin a movie she had enjoyed. Still, she did it. He would have liked it. 

"Jeremy. It's me. Happy Anniversary."

*****

The man was drunk now. It was a casual drunk, though. Routine. More like becoming sober than drinking these days. He tried not to think about anything. He stared at a mildew stain on the wall. He hoped the black mold would kill him. He felt tears lurking and took another drink to chase them away. Sometimes, that worked.

He tried to stretch his jaw. It ached. His teeth ached. It was not the worst pain, however. The worst pain was remembering that he wasn't always the type of man who catalogued life's slights. He wasn't always the kind of man who bitched and whined. Hell, he didn't even have anyone to bitch and whine at. What good is a man who bitches at himself?

He wondered. 


*****

The driver of the cab was also tired. He watched the old woman and pondered. Who would visit his grave? Did it matter? And her. Who was it helping? The corpse? The woman? He took a long pull off his coffee and looked at his bloodshot eyes in the mirror. Back home ... there could have been love and dedication and everything he thought he wanted. Here, this taxi.

The doors locked and unlocked, but they never let him go. 

He was stuck in a web of indecision. He heard a knock on the glass and saw the old woman, her hat sitting queerly on her hair. There was something else, too. He tried not to think about it. She wasn't crying. She didn't appear sad. 

He was almost to her house when he realized what had changed. 

She was no longer wearing lipstick. 

*****

The man typed some words on the page. They made no sense. Which probably meant they were brilliant. He chuckled and drew a picture of a penis in the condensation growing on his window. To write or not to write. He knew it didn't matter - he did not know if this was a relief or another step toward desperation. He turned off his conscious mind and let the words bloom as they chose. He would never publish them. Never share them. He could type nothing but vowels and it wouldn't matter. 

*****

The City was God and God was the City and the City laughed at all of this. It was not there to judge. It was there to marvel at its marionettes. Pull the string toward hope and love. Pull the string until it is taut, fraught with worry. Drop the strings and watch the little puppets fall.

The City loved them all. 

This is a story about dreams interrupted. This is a story about birthday cakes and wakes. This is a story about gentle mornings and erstwhile earthquakes. You can look for some hidden meaning. Some insight into what it is to be human. You can search for clues and foil the bad guys or hunt treasure in a wooden ship. You can cheat on your wife and then hold her tight. You can even beat your kids if you do it right.

There are no good answers, that's what the man says. Everything decays.

Don't look for anything in this story. If anything, this story means that nothing means anything. This is a story of running away. This is a story that catalogues the creeping pains and regrets that haunt us all.

This is an abortion dressed up as a baby doll.

You can think it's all lies, and you can think it's all true. That's none of our business - us, we, these people. This broken cast and the players not represented. Steady to the last.

It's a fucking lie, not a word of it true. This is not a story about me or you.

Nighttime precedes mourning's due.

5 comments:

  1. Can't explain how much it means to me to read this, read more of your writing, finish the year with a reminder of how brilliant you create lives. "His shaking fingers would not abide them" was my first love. "She was no longer wearing lipstick." was my second. Ending with a couplet sealed the deal. xo

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  2. Good lord.... how you can write. I envy the painful gorgeous paintings you make with your words... This is a brilliant gift on the last day of 2015. I am grateful for your sharing of words, for your kindness, for your friendship. And I am eager for your next book. Happy New Year, my friend.

    Oh, and this... this will be echoing through my mind at midnight... "about gentle mornings and erstwhile earthquakes."

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    Replies
    1. Thanks brother. And I appreciate the eagle eye.

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