“We would be together and have our books and at night be warm in bed together with the windows open and the stars bright.”
Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
I was sitting at desks, staring blankly, without thought, at a flashing cursor and an empty, white page. I was always staring, I was always waiting. I could always pick a perfect sunflower in a row of sunflowers, but I could never pick a perfect thought from the muddles of my head. I was always watching lights go off, always feeling in moments but never being in moments. I was always waiting, I was always staring.
You were making orange juice in the early mornings. You were always pouring whiskey in the late of night. You were always running, running and running and running. You ran from Franklin to 6th and to the bridge and back. You ran miles. You felt further, but not in the sense that you were far. You were capable of being further, of going further. You were always going.
I was nervous about the little things. You were honest about everything. I was concerned with how I chopped lettuce and how I built tents and the way I looked in a crowd of nobody. We fooled about around falling wood and sang choruses for the block. You hid everything so well. You were worried that cold air would stifle the fire. I troubled myself with lines.
On a night in October we laid and sighed. Deep and heavy breaths of comfort. I was the little spoon. You said somethings were meant to fit in different ways. I buried myself in your courage. We smiled.
We wrote letters.
And so it is now and you are driving up coastal roads and I am measuring scars in my head, still digging glass from the past. You are standing tall, or maybe you are just standing, and I am just not seeing. I was never good at seeing past the fronts of myself, but now I am trying. I always was. You felt further, and feel further now. I am just trying not to stifle the fire.
Ultimately this is how it happens: seven years from now you will die. Your body will undergo a series of dramatic changes, most of which will be unrecognizable by any normal human being and undiagnosable by any physician, surgeon, space age machinery, or futuristic means. God himself would, to an extent, be baffled by what you will simply call “the disease” that has plagued the rapidly weakening mass of skin and muscle that was once your 185 pound, 6’1 frame. There will be no warning. Though I have told you this now, in your altered state, you will doubt the severity and legitimacy of this caveat and undoubtedly cast it aside as part of the “trip” you’re currently experiencing. But it will happen. And it won’t be pretty. Your life will come to an end, August 11th, 2021, in a hospital bed in Sacramento, California. You will be surrounded by only your sister and her husband. It will be a sunny day.
You sit yourself at the corner, the outlining part of some kind of mangled excuse for a circle. There are twelve other people there, varying ages and colors, all posted for the same reason. Time is critical and you make it to the circle with just enough left to calm your veins, but the feeling persists, that curdling notion that shakes your bones. You shouldn’t be there, but you are, and you have to deal the best you can. The old man comes through the door, closes it behind him. You call him Ron and Ron says “hello” and “welcome back” and “another week in the books”. He shuffles from one side of the room to the other, his grizzled voice like the sound of pebbles through a grinder, the kind of voice that could only come from a man who’s seen far too much and experienced even more - a high quality sound through a pawn-shop speaker. He’s done his fair share. And, more-so, you’re starting to amass your own collection of inequities. Such is a reason you are in a place like this to begin with, with Ron and the lot. Chatter emerges from those who know each other, talk of weekend plans and weekday gripes and where is Anna she should have been here today, who knows but I think she can’t miss any more days, can she? Ron, in the corner, hunkered over his desk with stacks of files too high to not lean against the wall, scribbles away with, what you can only guess, notes and appointments for him and her and, surely, yourself. He seems to disregard the drifting chatter, focused only on the folders of green and blue and beige labeled, assumingly, with the names of the circle’s occupants. But they don’t seem to mind and neither does Ron. This must be how it’s meant to go, you think, considering the notion of this collection and time spent as some kind of a joke, not matching any previous assumption you may have had on the subject. Your nerves calm at this realization, albeit slightly, and you begin to settle into what will be several months of talk and reflection and strangers becoming less strange though, even still, you feel you shouldn’t be there. Heavy in the mind, heavy in the air.
He functions like a machine, cold and autonomous, remiss and lacking a feeling or thought. In the night when she sleeps he wanders the streets in search of something, of anything, to remind him of what it once was like to care. Crows and badgers and rats abound. The light shifts as he passes beneath it, wary to shine upon his disheveled face. The ghosts that follow stay at a distance. They know better than most, better than he, where the faults lie. They know who he truly is. One, on occasion, will saddle up next to him, stinking of sulfur and regret, to coax him in this direction or that, to a path less taken, or to one familiar from before. He walks, unresponsive, a breath of ice on the palms of his hands. The ghosts serve their purpose. They stay. He knows. All wander through the night. Nothing ever escapes.
In the morning it is cold still and he is returned to the bed where she sleeps. Still awake, never really at rest, he lies motionless, staring at the ceiling like some impassive statue. The ghosts sit at his side, waiting for him to start the day. The dog barks, the cat purrs, and so he rises to feed the lot of them, careful not to wake her. She doesn’t smoke and despises when he does, but he does it anyway: on the patio, alone in the car, at a bar, in the lobby, anyplace and every place. He hides it, chewing gum and brushing teeth, drinking and eating, any way and every way.
“How did you sleep, sweetie?” she asks, a touch of night still lingering in her voice. “Well?” she adds.
“Well enough, I suppose,” he says, regarding the question with no special instance. “It’s cold. Is the heater broken?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’ll have to check it.”
“Don’t you work today?”
“I haven’t worked in eight months.”
“Really? Where have you been going?”
“Town. Around. Here and there. Don’t you remember?”
“I guess I forgot.”
“That’s weird.” He goes into the living room by way of the stairs, certain that she has surely lost her mind, comforted that she has finally caught up to him. In the hallway the dog eats, playing with his food, putting it in his mouth and spitting it back out. Back and forth, over and over. The cat sits on the couch, on the top cushion, resting its head against a beige wall.
He fixes a cup of coffee. She’s in the shower, he can hear from below, so he goes out the back door and enjoys a cigarette. Steam from the coffee mixes with the smoke and the heat from his breath in the frigid air. Their dog, a small, brown-colored Labrador, walks past him and out to the lawn. He rubs his face against the grass and rolls over onto his back.
“Some things, Rex,” he says to his dog. “I don’t know.” He sips at his coffee. Rex barks at a bird. A plane flies overhead. There are people on that plane, he thinks, people who know more than me, love more than me, feel more than me. I want to meet those people. Just one. Ask them about their life. Where they’ve been. Who they’ve seen. I want to live their life.
He puts out his cigarette in the planter then flicks it over the fence where the main road sits. “Come,” he says to Rex from the doorway. The lab walks back into the house and sits in the corner. He watches as the man closes the door behind him. The cat pays no attention.
and to you it’s just words.
He leans up against the wall and surveys the surroundings. People pass in unconscious stream of thought and they don’t even know where they’re headed. He looks around the square and waits for someone to share a fleeting glance with but it never comes. Back at the hotel room he pours himself into a chair by the bedside and sips from his reserve of nostalgic feeling. warmed and inept at picking himself up out of his distress he flips on the television and changes the channel to bars and tone and, in the same way an Olympic diver leaps headfirst into the deep, he entrenches himself in his latest identity crisis.
Two days from now a young boy will walk into a general store in the Midwest. He will ask for a pack of gummy bears and a bottle of pop. The man at the register tells the boy that it will be three seventy-five. The boy offers up four one dollar bills and receives his quarter change just like every other day. Outside of the general store a man and a woman argue over directions. They don’t know where they’re headed. The sun offers no help.
Back in the past, before the boy and the commotion, Major Williams wants to push further into the heart of enemy territory. His soldiers are tired and hungry and the weather has had them wrapped around its finger for days now. But the major insists. Thirty minutes later an explosion to the east sounds out like a chorus of elephants. Push ahead, cries the major, push ahead.
I write by fly light in deep woods past the river and bridge and the hanging, hollow trees while the wind wonders where the moon hid on this night.
And your eyes were begging “save me”
Every part of you was saying “love me”
But I pretended I couldn’t hear,
Forced myself not to listen.
I couldn’t make sense of you.
You were a puzzle with one too many missing pieces of your smile,
Jagged edges of your laughter,
Hollow spots in your heart that I could never quite fit myself into.