(other chapters can be found scattered throughout blog)
When I got back to my room I found it freshly cleaned, bed linens had been changed and the side of the covers was folded over with a little mountain of turn down chocolates poured out on top. The excessive amount of candy was an odd but welcome kindness from the maid, for a second everything seemed brighter. My encounter with the creepy little Lord Fauntleroy faded away as I bolted the doors and checked every window for cracks. All good, sealed and locked, my fortress was once again secure. It was the only home I had left. Just the thought of my apartment made me cringe, because no matter how I imagined it she was always there with her fork. But this room was all mine, free of everyone and everything, it allowed me to be myself at my worst without limitation. I ate mountains of fries with mayonnaise, drank unsafe amounts of alcohol, rolled around on the floor in hysterical drunken fits or laid passed out hugging a trashcan full of vomit, and no one, no one could judge me. One might say I had been overreacting, in fact had I found a more lasting sober moment I would have probably said so myself, but such a moment was not in the cards. This is the nature of downward spirals, at some point all that remains is the descent.
This space was like a tortoise shell, containing all those parts of me that were soft and unseemly. Now, freshly cleaned it bared no traces of the last four days, as if my disintegration never happened. I was being offered a chance to move forward. I emptied out my shopping bag onto the bed, its primary content, the Vodka bottle tumbled out with a thud and rolled onto the pillow as if to display itself. I proceeded to mull over my options. Having sobered up some, my common sense was resurfacing, telling me that it was time to pull it together. However with it came a jarring awareness that the future I had planned for myself was no more. It’s hard to explain what that felt like, but the words “loss” and “emptiness” seemed to best encompass the entire spectrum of my experience. I felt lost in every sense of the word; I lost my head, my dignity, my pride, my plans, my home.
Being sober for the first time in days I could physically feel the holes that had been punctured in my chest, I saw them in all their mangled sadness and immediately wanted to climb inside that bottle again. Instead I climbed onto the bed and sifted through my bounty, there was candy, gum, tissues, some over the counter sleeping pills, a key chain with wiggly rubber hairs and a bunch of other little junk. I shifted my attention to the pile of turn down chocolates and unwrapped them one after another, there was an astounding twelve of them in total. I tried to test my will power and having stacked them together meditated on how I was not going to eat them. A knock on the door broke my concentration, I didn’t stir, the knock repeated, I ignored it; counting that it would just go away. Instead it became more resolute and escalated into a kind of rhythmic pounding. Still I just stared at the door determined to wish the intrusion away. In a strange display of non-compromise I sat on the bed for at least five long minutes staring at the door from which came a persistent thud. Finally I became sufficiently unnerved and curious to unfold my legs from the yoga position they were curled in. I worried for a second that the weird psychic kid and his horrifying dog had stalked me all the way to the room, but then I reasoned that this was not at all possible as neither unsupervised children nor animals in general could have possibly slipped by the front desk. I slid off the bed and tip toed to the door, leaning against it I held my breath and peered through the peephole.
A chill ran through me and I flinched, almost jumped. On the other side of the door there stood a man; he was a tall, slightly awkward looking person with shaggy hair and a short unkempt beard. I studied him more closely, from his sunken shoulders to his wrinkled shirt he looked like he hadn’t slept or changed his clothes in days. He didn’t look like himself, it was as if he was wearing a mask of a much older man. Seeing my husband in that state, mollified me in some tiny way. I watched through the peephole for another minute, as he continued to bounce his hand against the door. I felt relief. I was relieved to find that it was he because that meant I could finally ask all those questions that had been storming through my brain since the moment I saw her. Now the possibilities were endless, I could say everything that had built up inside me, I could release the pressure in my lungs, I could punish, guilt, forgive? I could let it all out and it would be done on my terms, in my house. I took a deep breath and told myself to be calm, to be dignified, but as these things happen, it was too late. My body had already shifted into a compromising high stress mode and well out of my control, my blood pressure had jumped and I could feel heat seeping out of every pore in my face. I realized that I had been tightly squeezing my fists but when I tried opening my hands my fingers shook so hard I had to close them back up.
This was one of those rare, but incredibly aggravating occasions when no matter how hard I tried to contain myself, my nervous systems betrayed me. It was completely uncontrollable and always embarrassing. Once in the middle of a business dinner I found myself so rattled by an insensitive comment made by a coworker that against my every effort tears started to roll down my face. The awkward silence which fell over the table in response to my inappropriate crying made me feel even worse and so embarrassed that in order to avoid breaking out into a fully fledged bawl I had to rush off into the ladies room. It took me months to live down the incident, I had to be all self deprecating and humorous about it around my coworkers. “Ahahaha those pesky hormones” In truth the guy who made the offending comment was an asshole and I wish I had it in me to tell him to stick a sock in it right there and then, rather than cry. I always believed that this was an example of why a chemical emotionality put women at a disadvantage in poker, business, and most importantly love, especially with the latter being a combination of the first two. I ordered myself to get it together, after all the timing was perfect. I was alright for the time in days, cleaned up and reassembled. My room was immaculate not counting the twelve scattered candy foils. It was a dignified staging. Despite these considerations the more I stalled the more self conscious I felt. In an effort to intercept the cowardice swelling inside my stomach I gripped the door handle and jerked it open.
He looked startled to see me, like the last thing he expected was for this door to actually yield. We stood opposite each other at a loss; locked in an awkward stillness. My whole adult life I believed wholeheartedly that I could never be an actor in this kind of theater, because my relationships were too evolved to be dragged down into such clichéd dirt. Now standing there all sweaty and petrified, a jilted wife and her guilt wrecked philandering husband, I thought it was unfortunate that there was no protocol for this sort of scene. Some sort of manual I could have studied to prepare for this possibility would have been nice.
The ironic thing is I never really believed in the sanctity of marriage vows, the frequency with which people broke them alone made it impossible not to keep a skeptical eye on the entire institution. I perceived marriage vows as just an exercise in romanticism and wishful thinking. They did not factor in the fact that with time people can change, grow apart and even fall out of love. Since none of these events can be foreseen, how could anyone make promises about the things still pending and unknowable? In my opinion it was the personal integrity and quality of the individuals involved which made for a substantive relationship, regardless of whether the eternal element panned out or not. My understanding of life and my values were built on this premise, a premise shattered by a barefooted girl in my kitchen and a fork. She created a vortex through which everything I believed in was funneled, my husband came out the other side a complete stranger, but what was worse I came out a stranger too, shapeless and uncertain of anything.
(other chapters can be found scattered throughout blog)
Seeing him in my doorway I knew that he was a stranger, but still I was filled with want of him; my heart ached and did not abide the mind. I was suddenly filled with panic, dreading the possibility of actually learning some measure of his truth. My arm, entirely on its own, moved to swing the door shut, but he anticipated this and put his shoulder forward, the door bounced off of him. There was nothing left to do but to let go and let him inside. I walked away towards the bed signaling him to enter. He stepped forward; his tall lean frame seemed to have lost a foot of stature as he crossed the threshold of my room. Before anything could be said and against every rational inclination in my body, I knew that I would forgive him. It was a sentiment very contrary to what I ought to have been feeling, but I consoled myself with the thought that if there was anything that could serve as indisputable proof of true love, it was my willingness to forgive. Seeing him in distress completely overtook my own hurting and left little room for any thoughts in me other than those of reconciliation. He looked at me with guilty eyes for what felt like hours, but was probably only a moment, then finally spoke.
“Charlie, I’ve been so worried, I thought something had happened to you… I reported you missing to the police yesterday.”
“I have been here, Matt.” I padded my voice with indifference, hiding. I knew it was all over, but knowing that I would forgive him did not relieve me of my anger, it exasperated it. Punishment was not to be forgone. There was so much I wanted to say, so much scorn had accumulated in me over these past days and I just wanted to scream into his face until he understood me. There was a cannon ball in my gut and I couldn’t wait to hurl it at him. But above all, despite everything he did, I simply wanted to confide in him. The comedy of this was not lost on me. I felt like a lamb, which, having been mauled by a lion, seeks her assailant’s ear to complain of the wounds. He was my best friend, the one person with whom I had shared every detail of my life, with whom I foresaw all of my tomorrows, not being able to talk to him was perhaps the most trying element of the whole ordeal.
“Your parents have been worried sick too, I have been so sick about this, so mortified Charlie.”
I shrugged and sat onto the bed, reclining against the backboard. With him standing as he was, sheepish and small, I suddenly was calm. Stupidly, I then thought I had the upper hand. For a moment I relished it. A woman scorned seated before her licentious remorseful husband about to beg her forgiveness, it was the stuff of novels.
‘You are right.” He stammered “I don’t know why I am telling you this, it’s not important.” He paused as if he just didn’t have the words, then continued.
“I can’t tell you how relieved, how…. happy I am that you are ok, you have no idea, haven’t slept in three days, I am just so happy you are okay, I was so worried, I could never forgive myself, if something had happened to you, never “
He was talking fast; repeating himself, like a hamster caught in a wheel. I could tell that his nerves were getting the best of him, I smelled the blood, and pounced. The lamb became the lion.
“Something did happen to me” I echoed my thoughts with my words. “I don’t care. I don’t care that you are happy, or that you are apparently capable of some measure of guilt. I don’t care that you haven’t slept and no, Matt, I am not ok, you think I am ok? THIS is ok? You must be delusional as well as soulless and disgusting, Matt”
I liked saying his name. During our five year relationship we had always used terms of endearment when addressing each other, but now his name bounced off my tongue like rubber bullet.
“I am sorry, Lolly……”
“No!” I jumped up as if the bed had burst into flames.
“No! You don’t call me Lolly, you don’t call me anything, I don’t want to hear my name from your mouth.” All that calm I was feeling had vanished, I was livid and not in control.
I glared at him, a million things I wanted to say swirled in my mind but before I had a chance to speak again, he started walking over to me. Tears poured out and down my face, angry and mad for having lost my composure I put my hands over my eyes and broke into sobs. Hiding my face in my palms, I was, again, completely lost. All the things I wanted to say receded into an inaccessible corner of my mind and I couldn’t reach them anymore. Just one sentence hung in their place and I repeated it over and over.
“How could you. How could you. How? How?”
I felt something on my legs and looked down, through my fingers I saw him, having quietly gotten to his knees he was closing his arms around mine. I didn’t fight it. He pressed his face into my legs. We stood like that for at least a minute, slowly a new wave of calm washed over me. I wasn’t choking on tears any longer. The chaos of emotion I felt had obligingly compacted itself into a neat oppressive sadness and it hung over us like a black cloud. Finally he whispered into my knees.
“Lolli, there are no words, no words which could tell you how aware I am of what I have done…what I have done to you, to us. What I have done to us, how sorry I am.”
He released my legs but remained in front of me on his knees with his head hung low. I braced myself for an explanation. He didn’t lift his eyes, it was as if he was afraid to look into my face, but I wanted him to see me.
“Look at me.”
He looked up, his eyes were glossy like someone had brushed a coat of varnish across his face. I had never before seen my husband cry, it was as strange as the rest of it.
He got up off of the floor and took my hands into his, gripping them tightly and looking into my eyes, directly and intently for the first time since he entered.
“I don’t expect that you will ever forgive me, I am not asking that you do, but please know how profoundly I regret the way things happened.”
‘The way things happened” I thought. What does that mean, was there another way for “things” to happen? He spoke to me like I was a child, stressing each word as if to make sure that I register his exact meaning. With my hands still tightly pressed between his I started to feel dizzy.
It wasn’t right. He wasn’t begging my forgiveness. If he wasn’t begging my forgiveness then what was he doing? What was happening? Dizziness became nausea.
“I moved all my things out, please come back to the apartment, it’s all yours, I want you to have it. Lolli, I am so sorry, I am.“
“What?” I slid my hands out of his and backed away.
“What are you saying?” I was beginning to grasp what was happening, and it was a whole new kind of terrible. I realized then that through all this it had never occurred to me that he might actually want out. Never did I think past my own indignation to what his prerogative might be. This wasn’t a gash, it wasn’t a wound, this was an amputation.
“What are you saying?” I exhaled.
“I moved out Charlie, so you can come home, keep the apartment.”
“You moved out? Just like that? What?” He used to say that Love was the lost shocking act, but no, this was. It was his last shocking act. I could not believe it, it was unbelievable and horrible, it was so much more horrible than the girl ever was.
“You deserve better, I wanted you to have your home back.”
“What are you talking about?! You aren’t even fighting for me, not even trying…not for us?”
“I broke us. I know it can’t be fixed. I don’t deserve you and you deserve better, I don’t expect you to ever forgive me.”
It was like a bomb had exploded at my feet.
“Bullshit!” I screamed “ Bullshit! You are a liar! You don’t deserve me? I won’t forgive you? How the fuck would you know? Did you ask? How dare you give me this textbook crap, you, self-indulgent piece of shit. You are going to stand there and tell me that it’s the right thing, that I am too good for you, that this is not a choice you are making?! All noble and self sacrificial, how dare you?! How dare you, at least be a man and say it, scumbag! I understand it now. I do. You’re done, I am nothing to you. But this didn’t just happen right? You have been lying to me for how long now? Giving no indication of this, you didn’t prepare me, you didn’t do anything for me, you act like you care, but you did nothing to prepare me, to let this being anything other than a shock? Because why that might be distressing huh? It might get tense before you are ready. You have done what you needed for you, and now you’re tearing my heart out because it suits what you want. You are dirt. I don’t even know who you are?!”
I went on, losing myself completely in a burning venomous tirade. I dragged up everything I could think of that could hurt him. I didn’t even believe most of what I was saying, but I wanted to get him so bad I aimed for the jugular, vicious and unrestrained.
He stared at me gravely, taking in the barrage of my mutated heartbreak.
“How can you do this, tell the truth Matt, tell the truth!” A new wave of tears poured out of my eyes as my screaming turned into a plea, my heart had broken.
He stayed silent.
“Tell the truth!” I caught my reflection in the wall mirror and didn’t recognize myself. My face was so swollen from crying it looked like it had been rearranged. It struck me as being so impossibly ugly that I wondered for a second how he could have ever wanted to be with me. He didn’t respond, so I went on.
“You are a coward, I loved you with everything in me, no I love you the same even now, even now while you stand there and lie to my face, a cheater and a coward and a liar…and a disgusting human being.”
“I don’t want to do this anymore” He spoke under his breath as if fighting to push the words out.
I couldn’t hear him, but I knew what he had said, I could hear him in my bones.
“Louder, say it!”
“I don’t want to do this anymore, with you, I don’t want to do this.” He said it loud this time and lifted his eyes to meet my anger head on. It was the beginning of honesty.
These were terrible words to hear, but they were the truth. I felt them burrowing through my skin as if looking for a place to settle permanently. Having found it, those words would stay with me for the rest of my life.
“I don’t. I haven’t for a long time, you are right. I didn’t know it, I wasn’t sure, I had hope that it was a passing feeling. I didn’t prepare you because until you walked in I wasn’t prepared. I wish I knew how I felt but I didn’t till right then.”
He paused, asking permission to continue….I stood quieted, granting it.
“I moved out because I hadn’t felt right about things for a long time, I just didn’t have the guts to admit it to myself, and yes I thought that maybe I would get past it, maybe it was just a stage. You are hardly around anyways, I didn’t have to fake much of anything. And yes I am a cheating piece of shit, and I do regret it, I respect myself even less than you respect me right now, but in a way I am relieved, I am relieved you know, as I don’t know that I would have ever had the guts to tell you. And yes I am covering my ass, but still don’t you think you deserve better? Don’t you? I love you and I will always love you in a way, but I haven’t been happy, THIS is not what love should be, not to me, and maybe it’s my fault for not having spoken up, but even if I did when would you have had time to hear it. I am sorry, I am, but I am not happy and this happened because I am not happy, and we both deserve to be….. What happened is a terrible, awful thing, I am a scumbag for letting it happen, but….and I am so sorry to say this, but I am glad it did…..because I don’t want to do this anymore.”
“Go on” I growled.
He looked at me, begging for permission to stop. I couldn’t give it.
“I am sorry, I don’t know what else I can say, I hate myself for hurting you, but I don’t know what else to do. I know promises, vows were made, but I can’t keep lying, we owe it to ourselves to follow our gut, I know it’s hard now but it won’t be with time, and we’ll both have a chance to be happy again.”
“I was happy, I don’t understand when were we unhappy” I wined, dumbfounded by this distance between us. When did this happen, I thought? When did I lose him, how could I have lost a whole person and not noticed? Was he that good a liar, a pretender? Or was I just that blind, that out of touch with my own reality? I thought this must have been a nightmare, just a bad dream, and surely I’d be waking up any second and breathing a sigh of relief.
My knees felt week. I understood completely. To his credit he couldn’t have been more clear. He had hoped that after I found him with her I would be the one to end things, and was surprised that despite everything that happened I still wanted him. But I loved him too much, I loved him through his betrayal and I loved him no less still as he stood in front of me, a liar, a cheater, a coward and now a deserter. I wanted to fall into his arms and seek safety there, like I used to do. I felt pathetic.
I interrupted him raising my hand in protest.
“Leave,” I exhaled the word. I had been turned inside out. An unfamiliar hopelessness filled the room, filled my lungs, my throat. It was much worse than any pain I had ever experienced emotionally or physically. I couldn’t stand having his eyes on me for another moment. But he didn’t move.
“Leave.” I growled for the second time.
He turned around and walked slowly towards the door. His relief was palpable and as hurtful as the rest of it.
“Is it her?” I regretted the words as soon as they came out of my mouth. It shouldn’t have mattered whether he was leaving me for her or if he was just leaving me. I knew it shouldn’t have mattered, but it did matter all the same. I wanted to know, It was pure masochism.
The question stalled him mid motion as he was reaching for the door handle, the hesitation lasted no more than a second, then he turned his head and we locked eyes. His glance obliged me with an answer, a quick curtain of tears rose up in mine, obscuring sight. He proceeded to step out. The door shut behind him with a resounding crack and everything went very quiet. A tangible kind of nothingness filled my body.
It was impossible not to stare at them. A small girl of nine or ten with her right hand firmly planted on the back of a mangy skeletal hound was slowly crossing the street. The dog was enormous, almost as tall as the child and, judging from appearance, in a truly pitiful state of health. It was thin and gaunt, with ribs prominently displayed through paper-thin layer of ashy skin and a sharply protruding spine beneath patches of strange grey fur. It was either very old, very sick or both. On the contrary the little girl brimmed with health. Her skin was pink, almost peachy; wispy auburn hair covered her shoulders in a cascade of curls, she moved her tiny feet pointing her toes, like a little dancer. Even from a distance I could see her bright eyes shining like tiny ambers from beneath long thick eyelashes. The duo had such a peculiar quality to them that even I, in my state of heightened self-involvement, forgot myself for a minute, stopped and marveled at them making their way to my side of the street. When they came closer I was surprised to discover two things, the dog was even uglier and more handicapped than I had imagined, both of its eyes were glossed over with a thick white film, and the beautiful little girl walking by its side was, in reality, an even more beautiful boy. The animal was obviously blind, and the boy’s hand was moving it along. He was a “guide boy” I thought, an ironic reversal of roles between a human and his dog. Having cast off all considerations for that social convention, which since early childhood instructs us not to stare, I stood there, watching them approach. They were like something out of a fairy tale or from another time, so out of place on this otherwise unremarkable Los Angeles block.
When they were about half way across the street I realized that the little boy seemed just as interested in me as I was in him. Unapologetically staring back into my face he floated towards me, right up to the point when there was no more than 3 feet of pavement left between us, at which time he stopped and shifted his eyes to the shopping bag in my hand. A bottle of cheap Vodka, prominently displayed itself against its transparent plastic containment. If it didn’t occur to me to feel self-conscious right then, the words that proceeded to come out of his tiny pink mouth turned me scarlet red.
“Drink much?” Was all he said, but those two words spoken in that little girl voice made all the blood in my body rush straight to my face.
“What?” I thought It had to have been a misunderstanding, I must have misheard him.
But he just stood there, unabashedly staring me down. It was an uncomfortable, unexpected turn of events. This child managed to go from an enchanting little fairy tale prince to an obnoxious little shit in as much time as it took him to blurt out those two words. I could tell that I really didn’t have a choice but to extricate myself from this situation. Whether he said what I thought he said, or not, getting into it with a little kid in the middle of the street wasn’t going to help matters. I had enough sense left in me to just walk away. Completely dumbfounded, I stiffly turned on my heels and started walking in the apposite direction from whence he came.
“Surreal, completely surreal” I mumbled to myself.
Despite best efforts to free my mind from the echo of that condescending little voice, it seemed to have stuck to me, as unnerving in its residual state as it was when I first heard it. But if that wasn’t enough, the bizarre duo itself turned out to have been just as persistent. When quite some time later I heard footsteps nearby and looked over my shoulder, I saw them trailing behind me, about 30 feet away. Agitated by the discovery I quickened my stride and in a few minutes checked for them again, the distance between us had not increased. Were they intentionally keeping pace? I wasn’t in any kind of a mood to be haunted by some snotty little asshole and his ugly stray. I stopped abruptly, whipped around and glared straight at them.
“Listen, Lord Fauntleroy, where are you parents? What do you think you are doing? Where are your parents?” I shouted, the sound of my own voice surprised me, it was incredibly high, like a shrill. His reaction was not at all what I expected either. Instead of looking intimidated or scared, like a child ought to look when faced with an angry, spitting adult, this boy let out the most wholehearted and boisterous laugh. He laughed! At me?
“Parents? Ha Ha Ha! Where are your parents? Do they know what you’ve been up to? Anyways, other people have business this way too, you really ought to do something about the paranoia.”
He sounded nothing like a 10 year old, and nothing like a stranger. I blinked stupidly fast, hoping that added eye lubrication would assist me in clarifying this entire conundrum, maybe I knew him from somewhere, or maybe he wasn’t a child at all but some kind of a little person. Still in front of me stood a strange small boy and a large ugly dog, and his angelic appearance did not match his insolent tongue. I found myself in exactly the same situation I was in the first time around with only one mature course of action-to leave. So once again I turned around and walked on. But he wasn’t done with me.
“And Charly, you ought to hurry, it’s about to rain.”
My eyes widened to the point of a facial spasm. The last time I felt frightened like that I was 7, my sister had put on a scary clown mask with long sharp teeth and jumped out from under my bed as I was climbing into it. I remember feeling then just like I did now, convinced that she was something otherworldly, I had taken off running out of my room screaming for help. When I heard my name, spoken so nonchalantly in that little voice by that little stranger, my feet reacted, running away with me as fast as they could, just like I did when I was 7. Thankfully I wasn’t far from my hotel so my new pace allowed me to reach it within a couple of minutes. Ducking in under its awning I stopped and leaned on the gilded front doors, trying to catch my breath. Finally I dared to look back for the first time since I set off sprinting like a mad woman. To my relief the street behind me was empty; there was no trace of the runt or his dog. I squinted and stuck my head out into the street, trying to peer out further than my sight would allow, a drop of water fell on my face, I wiped it off with the back of my hand, but one more drop fell in its place, the next thing I knew rain was pouring from the sky. As predicted.
“Who is it?” I asked surveying the treeline.
“Not sure, usually we get some stalking rights, a little time to check things out, haunt if you will, but this one is an unscheduled drop in.”
“Were you watching me long?”
“Since you got off that plane.”
“That’s a long time, that’s days!” I exclaimed, surprised at the idea that as I was getting off of the plane, blissfully ignorant, this pair had me in their sights.
“It’s not the longest we had, but it’s nice for us you know, technically we are working, but really it’s more of a loitering situation…in which we eat hot dogs and milkshakes, no such thing in this place.” He motioned around himself with his tiny doll like hand.
“So do you know anything at all about this person?” I really wanted to understand what and whom to expect.
“He won’t be like you, he is an “intentional” He looked at me meaningfully “It’s going to be a rocky arrival.”
“They call it suicide, Dog” chimed in Peotr.
“But it’s a man?” I wanted to keep the conversation on track, before it veered off on another of their bickering tangents.
“Yes, what’s with all the questions, give it a rest will you.” The kid waved me off like an annoying fly, but over the days I had gotten used to his lack of patience and bouts of moodyness, so it didn’t discourage me. I had more questions, I redirected them more specifically at the dog. The animal had become as common to me as a tree, I hardly noticed his uglyness anymore, and the fact that he functioned more like a grouchy uncle than a dog had ceased to rattle me.
“Dog, can you please add anything.”
“We rarely have more than one charge at a time, it has happenned exactly two times so far, but nothing in this realm happens by accident, there must be a reason they want you to meet, there is a lot of pain with this one, a lot….but lets just wait and see.” This channel of information was closed as well now. It was as if in the hours before the arrival of this mysterious person, the dog and the child had gone into a trance, they hardly stirred at all come sun down and sat motionless, staring into open space. A warm wind started to blow some time after we stopped talking, it lifted a web of leaves off the ground, but curiously rather than getting blown away, they swirled around and above us in what appeared to be a kind of halo. Heat picked up shortly after, followed by an intensifying humidity. Within a few hours the climate had changed drasically. Becoming unbearably hot and humid, it closely resembled a sauna or a steam room or Florida. Breathing in that hot, dense air, I could taste the granules of salt landing on my tongue. An opaque wall of dust and leaves formed around us, drowning out much of the light, still my companions remained calm. I tried again for an explanation.
“Is this normal?” But my words died as soon as they exited my mouth, the space around us was no longer conducive to the circulation of sound. It was quite like being under water. Stubbornly, I raised my voice and yelled out as loudly as my physiology permitted. My words floated slowly but steadily, reaching my companions with a palpable delay.
“Not really, this is unusually bad, I had not seen this sort of thing……..” Dog paused and glanced at Peotr as if not sure whether he should continue “….. since Peotr’s arrival.”
“Does this mean anything?”
“Anguish I think, usually the weather phenomenon is a reflection of the one it carries with it …..” Mumbled Peotr under his breath, and even though I couldnt hear his voice, I heard him.
Thunder cut through like a giant slapping enormous palms together right on top of our heads. In a moment everything went quiet and all the wetness in the atmosphere seemed to have been pulled together to form a giant floating sphere of liquid. It hovered above our heads menacingly. I sat paralyzed with my head thrown back, watching it complete awe. The sphere floated off slightly to the north and suddenly, like a balloon pricked with a needle, it exploded. Its contents came crashing into the earth with a resounding boom. When the dust settled, I found my surroundings had gone back to completely normal, if you don’t count the newly formed lake just off to the right. It was lovely and still, its glossy surface bared no evidence its tumultuous creation. It resembled very much the lake I woke up next to just a few days earlier.
“Wow.” I exclaimed.
“Shhhhh.” Peotr put his hand to my mouth and whispered.
“Be quiet, it’s harder with men, they punch at their fears, it’s important we tread softly”
I undetstood. It made sense that while women maybe ran or screamed or swooned upon discovering themselves in a strange wilderness with an eerie child and a talking dog, men just started swinging. So there we were, sitting about forty feet away from the lake, in open sight, waiting. We didn’t have to wait long, within minutes we heard coughing and spitting, a figure of a man limned itself on the other side of the water, he was crawling out of the lake on all fours. When he had finally made it to dry land, he tried to get up, but his legs shook, giving in at the knees. He collapsed onto his side groaning.
“Oh, good, he seems very impaired, this is the best kind, you two already have something in common Charlie” snickered Peotr, getting up off the ground. I looked at Dog questioningly, as I had come to do whenever the child was dispensing information in his typically snide, cryptic fashion.
“It’s common amongst drinkers to arrive here significantly weakened.” offered Dog
“Alcohol is the only substance which can travel here in your blood “
Peotr began making his way around the giant puddle towards the man, who was still scattered on the ground, groaning. We followed. When we walked up to him, I expected a scene, a panic, screaming, maybe running, but to my surprise none of those things happened. He sat up, holding his head in his arms with his elbows perched into his knees, and surveyed us from under his brow. He seemed indifferent. Peotr extended the water flask to him. The man took it without a word and drank greedily until there was nothing left. When the man was done with the flask he let it drop to the ground. Peotr flinched and broke the silence.
“Oh come on, seriously, what happened to common courtesy, hand the flask back.”
The man stared at him for a second with tired bloodshot eyes, as if he couldn’t quite grasp the meaning of what was said, then picked up the flask and handed it over to the child.
There was another period of silence interrupted only by the scratching noises of Peotr trying vigorously to clean the sand off of his flask. I took the moment to examine the stranger. He was a man in his mid thirties, medium height, he had that strong stocky build which often lends itself as an advantage to shorter males, compensating for lack of stature. He had an open face with a pronounced jaw line. Half of him was covered in a thick layer of wet sand, the rest of him was just wet, still there was a boyish handsomeness to him. I was embarrassed to have noticed.
Having finally cleaned off his flask, Peotr broke the silence, evidently he was still quite irritated.
“No, you are not dead, yet…no this is not hell…blah blah blah”
The man continued to stare at us indifferently, oddly the expression on his face did not change much when Dog finally decided to interject.
“Stop, vermin, go sulk somewhere if you can’t do your duties properly.” Thusly scolded, Peotr glared at us, then turned around sharply and stomped away into the bushes, with all the conviction due a pouting child.”
The dog spoke to the man much as he had spoken to me earlier. Our guest started to come to, I caught him glancing over at me questioningly, as if looking for comfirmation that indeed there was a dog talking to him. I nodded lightly, realizing, that in a way I was the only thing there, that wasn’t somewhat absurd or unreal. He took in the information remarkably well. I thought it was commendable that he stayed so composed in the wake of such jarring news, but later I realized it was more of an indication of how down he was, rather than how adaptable. I always found sadness could be akin to madness, it seemed that he was a perfect example of a man so profoundly hurting, that he was capable of accepting everything and cared about nothing. Nothing could surprise him, impress him or bother him. Having made his introductory speech, Dog turned around and following in Peotr’s footsteps, disappearing into a bush. The stranger and I were left alone for the moment.
I sat down next to him.
“I don’t know what to say, that could be helpful” I exhaled…..”I dont know much about any of this, until now I thought this was all a hallucination, it still very well might be….”
He maintained silence. I got back up, reasoning that maybe he would benefit from a bit of quiet, but as I made a step away he stopped me.
“Last thing I remember was driving, I think I am dead?”
“I don’t know, the way Dog said it we are not dead, we are in between.”
“Last thing I remember was drinking a lot and taking some pills.” I shrugged. He said nothing.
“You wanted to die?” It wasn’t really a question, more of assertion, he said it with some relief it seemed.
“No, I can’t say that..but I think I almost did, by accident…I just wanted to forget. You wanted to die?”
“I do.” He said it in the present tense.
He shook his head like it didn’t matter, with resignation. His eyes turned up to me, they were a clear blue, almost translucent, tears were brimming on the edges of his eyelids, ready to overflow their confinement. I knew the answer. I could feel it. Grief.
Our companions had reemerged from the bushes and walked back over to us. Peotr tapped at the top of his right wrist with the fingers of his left hand, as if he had a watch there.
“We have to go” He said.
Unquestioningly, the man rose from the ground, and without bothering to shake the sand off, started walking behind the boy. His head hung low.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Aries.” He didn’t ask mine, so I volunteered.
“I am Charlie.”
Half an hour later we pulled up to the high-rise where my husband and I had been living for almost a year, one of those swanky buildings with a marble lobby, a jolly doorman and an aggressively starched, dehydrated concierge. I popped out of the cab, asked the bellboy to take care of my bags and hastily walked across the lobby towards the elevator. The concierge was a skinny severe looking man in his fifties, with one of those squinty facial expressions that drills holes in everyone around. I always wondered what it would be like to sit down with him and have a candid conversation, the sort he could have with a colleague or a close personal friend. I knew that behind that stoic facade there was a wealth of insight, opinion and possibly even, judgment. As I walked past the front desk, he ceremoniously rose from his chair to offer me a greeting.
“Good morning, Miss Hart, welcome home.”
“Hello Mr. Brooks, thanks ..it’s good to be home!”
I could tell that, uncommonly, he wanted to say something else, but I wasn’t in the mood for pleasantries, so I avoided eye contact and kept a steady course towards the elevator. I pushed the button, but in these very tall buildings, the elevators often took a while having to travel up and down across 50 floors, and I hadn’t the patience to wait. So I turned for the staircase. Finally I was at my door, my hair fell out of my headband and I was short of breath, having overestimated my stair climbing fitness. I paced myself for a second and pulled out a compact mirror. TV noises were seeping from underneath the door. I detected a faint smell of bacon and something sweet, like molasses. Yay, breakfast. My face was uncontrollably convulsing into a smile. I inserted the key and turned it slowly to cushion the loud click of the deadbolt receding into the door, then pushed, the door swung open. He was standing by the stove with a spatula in hand, the sinuous aroma of maple syrup and frying bacon filled my nostrils. My eyes met his immediately, I emitted a squeal, and trotted up to him, jumping into his arms. For the next minute we were locked in a tight embrace, any closer and we would have fused together. My face rested on his shoulder, as I waited for him to recover from the surprise and say something. A moment passed, then another, nothing was said, no movement was made, I continued to cling, waiting on his reaction. Then my heart jumped. A pair of strange eyes met mine from across the kitchen nook. They came at me like a runaway train, bam, its impact produced a sensation of physical pain. When I was ten, much to the dismay of my dad, I pried open one of those disposable cameras at a convenience store near my house, when it shocked me, I thought an invisible fist had literally punched through my arm into my chest and pinched my heart. This felt just like that, but worse. The shock travelled through every cell in my body, taking away muscle control, paralyzing. She sat at my antique hardwood table, his mother’s wedding gift, in only a T-shirt with a fried egg on her plate and a fork in her hand. Pretty, curly, barefoot monster. It did not compute. I stared at her over his shoulder; she stared back, then slowly put her fork down and folded her hands in her lap, as if trying not to spook or aggravate a wild animal. That’s when it really hit; I recognized her T shirt. I bought it for Matt years ago; there was a cartoon of a hot dog running from a fork printed on the front. At the time I thought it was so funny, but it wasn’t funny now. I realized that I was still clinging to him, with my fingers dug deep into his shoulders, but he stood still as a statue. I unlocked my arms and slowly pried myself from his chest. Pulling away, I looked at him with some faint hope that there was a reasonable explanation. But his expression, frozen as it was on his face, told me otherwise, shock and fear were perhaps its most obvious hues. Or maybe I was projecting and there was no expression. Maybe, he was utilizing the same strategy as the aubergine hotel employee, offering no reaction in order to discourage the embarrassing scene, which certainly took place in most situations such as this one. I couldn’t tell anymore, my own horror had permeated everything around me, her, him, the bellboy, who had arrived right in time to witness my meltdown and now stood frozen in the doorway, with eyes wide as an owl’s. Then it all started to move, swarming, banging around, loud like a hurricane. Hyperventilating, I backed up towards the exit.
“Jesus Christ Matt.” I wasn’t sure if I whispered or screamed “What is this?! What is….”
I made a step backwards, then another. My knees buckled, I tried to turn towards the door but the ground seemed to have leaped up at me, smashing into my back. A sharp stab of pain shot through my body, it had a sobering effect. I found myself collapsed on the floor, having tripped over the purse I dropped when walking in. Matt finally unfroze and made a concerned movement towards me, hands outstretched. I scrambled to get up, gesturing against his approach. All I wanted was to be out of that space, to be free of him and her, the stench of bacon, that stupid hotdog shirt. Next thing I knew I was running down the staircase with the sound of her voice ricocheting inside my head like a bullet.
“That was intense…that was intense…that was intense.”
I heard the sound of feet behind me and thought it was him, but as I looked back I saw the flushed face of that poor bellboy, who not knowing what to do, had abandoned my luggage by the door and was now awkwardly chasing after me.
Mr. Brooks stood in the center of the lobby, like a statue, he had been expecting me. He looked larger than usual, taller and even dryer. Dear God, I thought, he had been waiting for me since the moment I went up, he knew all along. I was exposed, tears were welling up inside me along with the most unbearably urgent need to disappear. I ran by him, with no other thought than to escape those walls, where everyone knew everything and I wore the dunce’s hat. He muttered something to me as I flew past him. I had never before heard Mr. Brooks mutter, he was the kind of man who always annunciated his words perfectly like a catholic school rector or a German officer. It didn’t matter what he said, I imagined he was asking if I was well or whether I required a cab. Maybe he was telling me what an idiot I had been all along, what a naïve laughable idiot I was, and how many dozens, no, hundreds of molasses laden breakfast scenes had taken place in that apartment during my absences. But it didn’t matter, because none of it seemed real anymore, in that kitchen reality had collapsed on top of me like a house of giant lead cards.
Excerpt 1: The Aftermath
“I walked down the street for hours until darkness fell upon the city like a soft blanket. For a time I was all cried out, everything seemed new and strange, even the sight of my moving feet entranced me. While I tried to concentrate all of my attention on the patterns in the broken pavement, in the back of my mind loomed a chilling realization that my life could never be the same. Hours must have passed before I finally felt the pangs of thirst, aching legs spoke up next, pulling me decidedly back into my body. The escalation from discomfort to pain was quick and unsparing. It felt as if 25 pound dumbbells had sprouted from my limbs, with another draping itself around my neck. I hailed a cab and requested to be taken to the closest hotel. All I wanted then was to free my throbbing feet from their shoes and disappear. While the entirety of my luggage, including my purse, had been abandoned at the apartment, my wallet was, luckily, in the pocket of my coat. I handed the cabby some loose cash and dragged myself into the hotel lobby. I don’t remember much after that. Somehow, in a daze, set on “automatic”, I managed to check in and make it up to the room. Heaviness is all I can really recall, so steadily it pressed itself upon me. My feet, my hands, even my head were filled, to what felt like their absolute limit, with gravity, too heavy to be carried around for another second. I laid them down on the bed with the rest of me and gave in to a dreamless sleep.”