Sunday, February 13, 2011

On My Way Home

It was the weekend when she came; I was taken completely by surprise. I never got visitors—especially not this early in the day—and generally spent my weekends alone reading or watching movies. I opened the door anxiously and found a short young woman standing in front of me. I didn’t know her, but she looked very familiar, I had seen her eyes before. She started saying something; I wasn’t paying attention really, just trying to figure out how it was I could possibly know her, where it was exactly that I knew those eyes from.

“You knew…righ…man wi…beat up box?” The box? She knew him?


I met him on the bus. No, that isn’t right. He met me on the bus. He was all at once hard to miss and easy to ignore. Always wore the same outfit, a faded out t-shirt of some band I’d never heard of, a pair of worn out, stained jeans, and a light tan overcoat that looked slightly too big. He looked older than I think he was. There was a certain level of youth in his expression, but his face was wrinkled and covered in blemishes that I had always associated with old age. He also had these tremors, sometimes violent, that would rock him back and forth. Honestly first time I saw him I remember the deep amount of scorn surge through me as I walked past him and found a seat as far away as possible on the bus. He was just another worthless bum.

As much as I hated seeing him in all his homeless filth, he was still useful to me; he was useful as a timepiece. He always rode that exact same bus at that exact same time each and every day. He became my measure of whether I would get back home on time or late—but for what was I late? It was the only comfort I got from his presence. In the first month that I had seen him I missed the bus only once. I remember how I felt as though my entire world was thrown upside down. I suppose there was something comforting in seeing a familiar face—even one that horrified me—amongst the mass of mindless drones that occupied the bus, sitting there in their own little bubbles trying to consciously forget the passage of time. Why was I so insistent on encroaching upon his?

It was two months later when he first spoke to me. I should have realized something was amiss when I got onto the bus and he was not in his usual seat. I assumed he would not be on the bus, but I didn’t even make sure. I looked to his seat, noticed he wasn’t in it but not whether someone else had replaced him, someone had simply gotten the seat earlier, or even if it was empty; I only noticed that he wasn’t there. I felt anxiety creep over me. Did I miss my bus? Did something happen to him? Was I on the right bus? I sat down in my usual seat and attempted to calm my nerves by closing my eyes. Maybe if I slept I could forget that he wasn’t there.

“Those…those are s-s-some nice shoes you got.” He spoke. He spoke to me. He sat right there, right in front of me and I completely missed him and all I could think about is why. Not ‘why did I miss him?’ but ‘why did he sit across from me?’ ‘why did he break his routine?’ ‘why did he interfere with the way things were supposed to happen? and most of all ‘why did he talk to me?’. I sat there staring back incredulously, incapable of speech. We had a pact, an unspoken code and this creature had dared to break it. Who was he to intrude upon my space, my bubble? I was brimming with anger but kept my composure. I refused to answer or acknowledge him; instead I closed my eyes again and slept. I was woken up later by the bus driver. We reached the last stop and everyone had departed, including that thing.

When I arrived home I found myself completely distracted, unable to finish even one sentence of the book sitting in my lap. I was too busy thinking of him. My thoughts always ended up drifting back towards him. I would conjure up his image, starting with his face, that old wrinkled, spotted face. Then I would work my way down to his slouched shoulders and torso covered by that overcoat, as if hiding some sort of secret. Then I would get to his hands. I always stopped at his hands. In those hands was the item that would come to fascinate me the most, a box.

I don’t remember when I first noticed the box—it certainly wasn’t instantly—but to think about it now, this man I called a creature had always had that box with him, sitting in his lap, enclosed by his hands. For a week after he spoke to me he created a new routine, sitting across from me, staring at me. He didn’t say anything else to me, but he stared at me, and I stared at his lap. As much as he convulsed, there was one part of him that was in total control, his hands. The box they held looked just like he did, older than it probably was and very beat up. It had some kind of faint pattern on it that had faded out. He had a firm grasp on it, not as though he were afraid someone would take it, but as though he were afraid that if he let go it would leave him and he would never get it back. The box absolutely fascinated me. I wanted to lie in wait, a lion ready to spring upon its prey, and snatch the box from his hands. I couldn’t stop thinking about what was in the box. My initial guess was drugs, what with his shaking, and that stutter when he spoke to me. I began to justify it, and infer from the drugs that he wore the overcoat to cover arms lined with needle marks. Deep down though, I knew I was wrong. Deep down I knew that he held the wealth of a world in that box.


I asked her how she knew him, where she knew him from. She was his granddaughter and he had passed away last weekend. His funeral was tomorrow. I was being invited.

“I’m very sorry for your loss,” I said, very matter-of-factly. “How did you find me though? How did you know where I live?”

She laughed at my question. I didn’t see what was so funny. She pointed to the house next door, a house that looked identical to mine—and all the other houses in the neighborhood—other than the fact their driveway had a car. “We live right next door.” I couldn’t believe it. All this time he’s lived so close and I never noticed. All this time I was convinced that he was just some destitute carrying an old decrepit box of pictures, some beggar from the streets that told wild stories, but he lived right next door to me in the middle of suburbia—I wish I knew why that even mattered.

At once things began popping into my head. Did he know I lived here? Is that why he approached mehe saw me walking into my house? Why did he never mention that we were neighbors? And finally it sunk. He was dead. There would be no more bus rides, no more stories. He was gone and I’d been invited to his funeral. I didn’t even know his name.

“Anyway, he’s been talking all about his new best friend for the past few months, said you lived next door. We didn’t believe him.” Her head began to sink as she spoke, her eyes dropping and her general posture beginning to slack. Her voice trembled a bit. I could see the grief. And in that grief I saw fondness.

“We told him he should invite you over for dinner and introduce us. He insisted that he would never want to bother you though; that you guys had some kind of special thing going. Honestly I came over here hoping to confirm that he made it all up, but here you are. I’m sure you could tell, he wasn’t all there in the head. He hadissues; at least that’s all the doctors ever said, they could never figure it out. They told us we could put him on some meds that would help level him out, but he was always so happy that we just let him be. It was when Grandma died that he started carrying around that box. We never could figure out where that box or those pictures came from, but there they were, and there he was full of all these new stories, stories that no one had ever heard before. We still don’t know where he got them from. I’m sure you realized that none of them were true.”

“No.” She looked up at me confused. “You’re wrong.”


“My life is in this box.” He spoke to me again. “My whole life…h-h-here in here.” He gave it a light tap, and smiled affectionately displaying yet another image of repugnance, his horribly mal-aligned teeth, yellow with decay, and bloody gums. I continued to stare, scared to talk to him, scared to acknowledge him or his humanity; but I listened, he must have known I was listening. “Y-yeah, whole life. Lemme tell you, I been p-p-places. L-l-lotsa places. You ever see the aurora borealis? Ever b-b-been to th-th-the top of the Tour Eiffel? I did. I done a-a-all of that. S’all right here in this box too.” He opened the box to reveal photographs, lots of photographs, hundreds of them. His life.

And just like that our bubble dissolved. At first he was apprehensive, showing me only a few pictures, telling me about themsmall stories that never quite made sense to me, but were told in such a way that I could never question. It felt as if each story, each photograph encompassed an entire world. Later he started handing me the pictures; letting me hold them, touch them. He made sure I was careful, very careful. The pictures were in almost perfect condition, there were no smudges, no creases; they weren’t in any way faded. It was hard to believe that someone so unkempt kept such perfect pictures in such a beat up box. And through all of this I never spoke to him, never let him hear my voice, let him know that I was aware of everything he was doing. He poured his humanity into my hands and I let it seep through my fingers, my prejudices shackled to the back of my mind. In my eyes he was just a bum.

I know now how significant this moment must have been, but at the time it happened I had assumed it nothing more than the natural progression of whatever this crazy relationship was. He made a huge gesture, what should have registered as a symbol of his trust in me. He handed me his box. I sat there looking as cool as I usually did and opened the box, sifting through it. I picked up random pictures and let him take over. As soon as he saw the picture a trigger was pulled, a memory recalled, recollected, retold. He told me stories about his attempted climb up the Swiss Alps, his cruise around the Mediterranean Sea, his hike across the Gobi desert. He told me about all the people he met like Dr. King, Sir Elton John, two former United States Presidents, Johnson and someone whose name escapes me. He said he even met her Royal Highness herself once. And for every story there was a picture. They never ended. I felt as though I could spend the next year riding this bus and cover not more than one percent of the pictures in this box. Just before we got off the bus, both of us riding it all the way to the end, I would replace every picture very carefully, hand him the box, and walk off hurriedly without any word. These days I really wish I wasn’t in such a hurry.

He stopped showing up on the bus. I remember that anxious feeling returning, like I was about to have a panic attack. I had no idea what to do. My bubble, my protection, had dissolved and I felt as though every single person on the bus was completely aware of me, like they were peering in at me. They saw me as I saw him, and in my state of fear I’m sure I looked quite the same. I had become very aware of each second as it passed. The ride home never quite felt so long. The next day I rushed to the bus station, leaving work early to get there before he would. I waited in a corner for him to appear, watching the clock to make sure it was the right bus. He never showed up. I waited for an hour, watching six buses leave the terminal. He never came. I eventually had to let go and by the end of the week I resumed my rhythm, my bubble returning, normalcy returning, monotony returning.


She laughed again, nervous laughter, still trying to hold back tears. “Maybe you’re right. Who am I to say what is true, huh? Oh…by the way…he never did tell us your name.”

“No…he wouldn’t have.” I took the invitation from her and then I closed the door. I took a seat on the couch and stared at the date contemplating whether I should go. I couldn’t help thinking about his stories. Never once while he told them did the notion of their truthfulness ever cross my mind. He called them his life, were we to suddenly suggest his life was a lie? Maybe they were purely stories, fiction, but they were his reality, and thinking about it really made my own reality seem so drab. He fit his life neatly into a box in pictures; I fit mine neatly into a box called time. No, there was nothing false about his life or his stories. I know now that his was the truest life I have ever encountered.

Then another thought occurred to me, he called me his best friend. I felt a tear slide down my face as I thought about it. What could possibly make him consider me his friend, his best friend? I didn’t deserve his friendship, not the way I thought of him. But that was wrong, even then, even in death, I still couldn’t break the notion that he was beneath me. I don’t think it was until I saw his lifeless body that I could. No, at that moment I was thinking, he wasn’t worthy of calling me a friend. But I did feel a strange pity for him so I went upstairs and spent the day searching my albums for a photograph.

In the end I decided not to go to the funeral. I didn’t want to deal with his family or any other mourners. There was a viewing later on that night though. I waited until the viewing was ending and everyone had left before I went into the funeral parlor. I told the man running it I had gotten there late, that I really wanted to see the deceased. He was very sympathetic and let me through. The room was rather small, not many people could have fit in there. I had a feeling very few people came. The coffin was very simple and plain, and there were flowers everywhere. That mattered little though. I walked over to look at this man whom I had never seen outside of the confines of a bus. He looked so odd to me then, so out of place. I started laughing; it seemed so absurd to see him like this. He was dressed up so nicely, so humanly and yet it felt so fraudulent. He wasn’t meant to dress so nicely, and it was then he transformed in my eyes. It was then I realized how real he was in his dirty clothes, and I suddenly missed him. He lent me his life and I returned it with scorn. I felt then as though he had shared with me more of his life than he did with those who stood alongside him while he lived it. So I cried.

After a moment I was able to regain my composure and complete my mission. I pulled the photograph from my pocket. It was in truth a very bad photo. It was in London at Piccadilly Circus. I remember how disappointed I felt standing there at what was London’s equivalent of Times Square. Still the tourist in me had to get a picture, and so I lined up to get a great shot of the building at the corner lit up with all the lights and advertisements. As soon as I hit the button a big double-decker bus came speeding by. Half of the building was cut out by the blurry back end of the bus. I laughed, took another picture, but was unable to delete the bad one and so I kept it and made a print of it; at the time I didn’t know why. I’m glad I did. In all of his stories and all the places he’d been the one place he lamented on having never once visited was London. He would drone on and on about Buckingham Palace and Big Ben and the Thames and all the things he would love to do while there. I took the picture and began to reach into the coffin to place it in his pocket but changed my mind. I decided to write a message first. If there is anything I am sure of, I am sure of the fact that he got my message. “Welcome to London, Friend.”

No, Man, No Cry

I’ve forgotten how crying works. I’ve also forgotten what it means. What’s funny about it is I say this as though at some point in my life I knew these things. But I must have.

I knew it (I think) when I was standing on the southern side of the Aranguez Savannah, and I could see the hills to the north. It was about 3 PM, and the sun was still out, and the sky was a light blue, and there were all types of clouds hanging in the sky, some right on top of the hills like thick blankets. Over in the center of the savannah, right in front of the bleachers (how strange to set up just one set of bleachers right in the middle of the huge field) there were some kids playing football. I think they played in a league and they were practicing, but it looked more like a pick up game of short post the way they were acting. And to the west, to the west I could see an Indian man selling coconut water out of a red pickup truck. I was thinking about walking over to get one (I can’t think of a more perfect time for fresh coconut water than on a cool, breezy, blue afternoon), but decided against it. In the east is where I would find it, or I should say him, the man that, I think, made me know how crying worked.

I was moving in a daze more or less, watching the football game, and the stream of maxis that would speed by along the bus route every few minutes, and the clouds moving slowly over the hills when I got to the big acacia tree on the eastern side of the field. It was huge, and marvelous, and majestic, and it filled me up with some…thing (maybe tears) as I stood there looking at a tree that I’d only heard about, or read about, but had never been so close to that I could just walk right up and touch it. I was ready to walk up and touch it, and feel whatever it is that huge majestic trees like that feel, but I was stopped by a man.

That isn’t to say that he physically stopped me, that he actually put a hand in front of me to bar me from making my presence known to the tree, but rather I saw a man standing, or squatting in front of the tree, in front of a small tent that he had placed in front of the tree. There was some garbage strewn about as well, but he didn’t seem to notice a thing. He was just standing, and staring forward at something. I felt like I couldn’t go to the tree, not while he was there, and kept walking around the track.

I go back there sometimes, to the tree. I was there when my mom was making breakfast one cold, Sunday winter morning. She was making an omelet, with tomatoes and onions. On the side she toasted some fresh bagels, and lightly spread some garlic butter on them. The smell creeped in under my door and permeated my whole room. I’m sure it was the same in my sister’s room as well. It was one of those few mornings, or moments really, where we all left our rooms and locked doors and came together as some kind of unit. I was writing a letter at my desk, a letter that was covered in a few tear drops, to a girl that…well she was gone. I stopped going there. I tried to stop going there. Instead I left the letter and went down to the dining table where a bunch of plates were set out with the omelet and the bagels, and my sister and mother were seated, and eating, in silence.

My sister is always the first to break the silence. She doesn’t know how to sit still. She doesn’t know how to keep quiet, not unless she’s sitting in front of a television set. She started talking about the usual nonsense little girls talk about: boys, girls, friends, jokes. Those topics would eventually change and meander into new areas, like tv shows, and music, and the hottest new clothes she saw at the Source mall or Roosevelt Field mall. And those might stray even further away towards topics that weren’t really topics, but just things that people say just to say, to keep up the level of noise, to make sure that the silence is kept away. Before long the laughter would come. Laughter is the only thing appropriate for the dining table. Tears had to be kept away. Maybe this is why I forgot.

I would ask my uncle, that night at supper, over some macaroni pie, and callaloo, and provisions, and barbecue chicken, who that man was over by the tree, the big acacia tree right by the field that he and the boys from the block played short post. That big beautiful tree. And he just looked at me like I had lost my mind, told me it ain’t have no man that live in front of no tree. My other uncle replied the same. My aunt too. I swore up and down that I was out there, and I saw him, and he was standing there, staring out towards all the homes, right near the entrance at 2nd avenue. And my uncle started talking about how it used to have nothing but corn all across that area. Just one big field of corn that they went and mash up to build up all those apartments, the real pretty blue ones that look fancy and cost $3000 a month to rent. But I knew he was there, right there at the acacia tree, next to those blue apartments and I went back out on the field that night around 8 PM and stared up at the new lights they put up (well, new to me) and all the bugs that flocked to them, and all the bats that flocked to the bugs, and I started walking, counterclockwise, around the track, not wanting to disturb the natural flow, but always with the intent of finding that small little tent that hung low to the ground where the strange old man, probably a vagabond, was living.

When I got to the acacia tree, he was still there, still squatting and staring out towards the street and the houses, and I started in towards him on the savannah but my foot got caught up in a big puddle of mud. All I could do was stand there on the track staring at him, as he stared out at the street, he himself also trapped by the mud. We laughed, together, he and I, because that’s what people trapped by the mud do. It was laughter mixed with tears.

When the laughter finally subsided, and the omelet was eaten, and the dishes were washed and put away, we all returned to our corners of the house and I was able to resume my letter to a girl that was sitting at her own table, crying, while I hurled insult after curse at her in a violent barage of rage. I was eating a turkey BLT on a toasted baguette, but by the time I had taken a bite into the sandwich, it was stale. So was the letter.

There were tears on the letter, but I knew they weren’t mine because I had already forgotten how to cry. They were hers. I picked them up (I think) from her chicken ceasar wrap that she had left half eaten on the table when she ran out of the place after suffering as much abuse as she possibly could from me. She was speaking real hurriedly apologizing for all sorts of stuff that she did. Maybe. I think she was also blaming me for a lot of things I did. I lost my cool though. She went to a place she shouldn’t have and I lost my cool and that’s when the yelling started. And it continued even after I walked out of the door onto snow covered roads with signs like Allen Street and Pugh Street on that late and desolate night.

The yelling stopped when I put the pen on that piece of paper. The words made no sense, but I kept writing anyway, hoping that if I put enough words down on the paper they would be able to sort themselves out into something that did make sense. It rarely ever happened though. I knew that, because words didn’t exist in that sort of time. If they did, then my uncle wouldn’t keep on with his it ain’t have no man that live in front of no tree. But he did. And I knew I had to go and speak to him (the man under the tree) before I could finish my letter, because the only way the words would make sense was if the paper was covered in my tears, and not hers, and the only way I could remember how to cry was to talk to him, so I pushed away her tears, and my sister’s laughter, and my uncle’s it ain’t have no man that live in front of no tree, and walked, counterclockwise, around the track at the Aranguez Savannah, until I got to the acacia tree by the 2nd avenue entrance and the new big blue apartment complex where it costs no lower than $3000 a month to rent and saw the man, that I must have talked to at some point in my life, because he taught how crying worked, and as soon as I set my foot onto the field I could feel the mud, and I thought how could so much rain fall right here, at this part of the field, and cause this much mud at this part of the field, and no where else, and I was forced to sit there and wait, and watch him looking out towards the houses and 2nd avenue until the mud dried because there was no where left to go, and nothing left to do until I learned how to cry again.


I remember it like it was just yesterday.

The smells come back first. You couldn't walk anywhere without the scent of roasted and barbecued meats hitting your nose, smoke rising from every backyard. Smells so thick you could feel it stop and sit in the back of your throat, smells so nice you didn't mind at all if they rested there forever. Then the noise came ringing through; music from every single West Indian island and nation reverberated through the air, pulsated through the concrete and tar shaking the foundation of every single building. Compas, Soca, Calypso, Bachata, Steel Pan, Meringue, Salsa, Reggae, Chutney, a list that would stretch on farther than the block itself. Then the sights return—a true concrete jungle—Maple Street roaring to life on a cool summer day, as people moved between the booths and tents set up with various games, past the stage where the DJ and the bands regaled crowds with their art and craft, setting the beat we moved to. The gap between friend and family, neighbor and stranger closed as all lines of border and property were obliterated. Man, woman and child walked freely between backyards and porches full of drunken revelry. The summer neared its close and this is how we celebrated.

We had all just gotten bikes. It was a great time to be a kid on Maple Street, so long as we never left the block. Never a day went by where the streets weren't littered with all the kids on bikes, riding as fast as possible, playing all sorts of games we had invented, from the relatively simple races up and down the block, to the extremely dangerous Chicken, an insane version of Tag. As such it wasn't such an odd sight when we took them out that particular day, weaving through the masses of people out in the street, laughing as our parents and neighbors yelled after us, tiny blurs zipping from one corner of the block to the next. Well, all of us except for me.

It was the best day of the summerthe whole world had descended on my block for all I knewthe one day of the year where I absolutely needed my bike, and it was broken. I had no idea what was wrong, something about the the chain which was kind of mangled up and off the gear. All I knew was that while everyone else rode, I sat and watched on the bright red porch of the house as everyone rode on their bikes. My bike had been broken for a while. My Dad kept promising to fix it time and again, but something always came up and he never got around it.

He also came back, but not like it was yesterday. It always took a bit longer for him. First it was the sight, his caramel complexion, the perpetual chin-strap beard and mustache that looked like it had never been shaved once in his life. His jeans and brown sandals, and the sleeveless shirt he always wore with some sort of cool white button down over it. Then the smell, old spice after shave, a smell I was fond of and was often found sneaking drops of to put on my own face. The sound never came back though, he was always a silent figure. Silent, but smiling. Always at the corner store with his friends, playing dominoes, drinking, laughing, always having a good time. He called it limin'—and today, this was the big lime, the lime the whole block looked forward to.

I had never been more angry with him than at that moment. It didn't matter that he always snuck me a piece of candy when my mom said no, or how he'd stay up late watching TV with me at night until we fell asleep. It didn't matter that he would take days off from work to take me to the beach, or bring home cheesecake from Junior's for dessert. None of that mattered, because he hadn't fixed my bike.

I spent the whole day letting my anger mount. First the sounds disappeared, nothing more than vibrations across the edges of my skin. Then the smells went, the many varieties of rice, the pork, the chicken, the corn and shish kebabs, beef patties and salt fish. And finally sight went, and suddenly the world mashed into a shapeless blob. The mass of people became nothing more than just a mass, swaying with the vibrations, insignificant, completely incomprehensible, just indeterminate forms of color that slowly faded to black. All of that went, except for the bikes. I could still see them careening through the crowds, barely able to slip past the grayish blobs of people. I could still smell the rubber burn as one kid slammed on his brake before sliding into the dark brownish blob of a table holding up the multi-colored blobs of food. I could still hear the laughs coming from the rider as the light orange-tinged blob chased after him shouting out something that fell on my ears as nothing more than a vibration of the air surrounding me.

After having enough of just watching the fun I went to the backyard of our house to brood some more, silently cursing out the man I called Dad, the man who claims to have raised me to be the boy I was that day. All he had to do was to fix my bike and this whole mess would have been avoided. Then I could have been one of the laughing, smiling kids amongst the formless blobs we called neighbors. Instead I stood alone on the back porch, staring into the garage which I suddenly noticed had lights on.

He came out shortly, being led by my bike, chain in place, looking almost as good as new. My sight came back, and I saw it was my Dad, a smile sat on his face as he wheeled the bike towards me. He said something, the sound coming back now, a sound I don't remember, but a sound that had meant "You're bike's good to go." I ran towards him allowing the smell to come back, the Old Spice after shave mixing with the oil and grease and sweat and dirt, the signs of his toil as he struggled to fix my bike. And then I was greeted by a new sense, his touch as he embraced me, his hand falling first on top of my head, then across my back as he lifted me up. His cheek grazing across mine, the stubs of hair tickling my face as I let out a giant laugh. And in that moment I forgot I was angry. I forgot that everyone else was out riding their bikes, dancing to the music, eating and drinking. I forgot even that time was passing, that the light gave way to dark, and the food ran out, and the drinks dried up. All that mattered was that my Dad fixed my bike.

A Still Mind

“To the mind that is still the whole universe surrenders.”

-Lao Tzu

“People sure do surprise the hell out of ya, don’t they?” We had just left a friend’s house, my betrothed and I. We were to be wed tomorrow and in a shock move her roommate decided to leave the apartment to the both of us for the night. I guess it was a test to make sure we were positive we wanted to go through with it tomorrow. I can’t speak for her, but I knew, without a doubt, I had found the rest of my life.

“Mhmm,” she said as she clasped her hand in mine; then she turned to look up at me with a smile, an odd smile, that at once shined brighter than the full moon (as if to reassure me that she too had firmly made up her mind about the two of us) but at the same time looked as though it masked something deeper that may have been on her mind. I’m probably mistaken though. I was never very good at getting behind the meaning of things.

We walked most of the way in silence, but I didn’t mind. I enjoyed it even. It was just another reason I knew that we were perfect together. There never existed an awkward silence between us. Instead, I took in the scene before me. She was wearing a single piece sleeveless white dress, the skirt coming just down to the knees. She shimmered and glowed amongst the golden streetlights and the silver moonlight, and with each step her skirt danced with the warm breeze, and simultaneously my heart. I kept just one pace behind her, keeping the perfect vantage point for the show, and what a show she put on for me.

We reached the complex which her, rather our, apartment was a part. There were six buildings; five formed a sort of pentagon surrounding the sixth building in the middle, the building which we resided in. At the gate of the complex she pulled my arm and stopped me. She stood directly in front of me and peered deep into my eyes, looking for something I imagine, though I couldn’t tell what. I was just terrible at that sort of thing, figuring out the hidden meanings behind looks and gestures. She knew this though, and generally told me afterwards.

“You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appals me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies—which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world—what I want to forget.” I looked at her searching for clues behind the statement. I knew where she got the line from, she said it many times before, but never once so stern and with such a straight face, only jokingly at moments where she was sure she caught me in a lie. I didn’t say or do anything and couldn’t imagine what provoked it however.

“Conrad…right?” I asked, though I knew full well that it was the answer. I just needed more clues behind the statement. She moved only slightly, nodding and blinking, affirming my statement that it was Conrad. Then she turned, grabbed my hand and led me towards the apartment.

We took the elevator to the fifth of ten floors. She looked at me again with that same stern expression as she said, “When we get inside…I want to play a game with you okay. You have to agree to play however before we go inside. I won’t let you in until you do. You still don’t live here yet…not till tomorrow.” She looked at the floor as she said that last part.

I was confused. I wasn’t sure what to say. What kind of game did she want to play? Was it really a game? She certainly didn’t look to be in any sort of festive mood that I associated with any game playing.

The elevator stopped and we got off and walked towards the apartment door. She walked very slowly and deliberately, clearly waiting for an answer, clearly serious about not letting me in unless I agreed.

In front of the door she stopped and barred my entrance. Her eyes and expression asked me what my answer was, whether I would play the game or not.

“What kind of game exactly? What do we have to do?”

“It’s easy, I’ll explain in more detail when we get inside, but basically each of us is going to tell a story, and the only rule is that no matter what is said we don’t interrupt each other until we are both done.”

Easy. So easy it didn’t make sense. What provoked this? The whole day, the whole week, the whole 2 years we have been dating she has been in great spirits; all day she has excitedly talked about the threshold we would tomorrow cross, the brand new life she would be building for the two of us, and especially her roommate. I don’t know why, but I suspected her roommate had something to do with this. Maybe that is why she left the apartment for us tonight. I knew from the moment I saw them that she wasn’t just my fiancée’s roommate. I thought it was just a joke, that she was embarrassed to have had a daughter so young and not have the father around. But to this day the two of them have always referred to each other strictly as roommates. I figured it was only right to play along. But this game…something strange was going on. The mood was very ominous, but I was just so bad at figuring out those hidden things that lay underneath the surface. In the end I picked what was clearly the obvious choice. “Alright, let’s play.” And I smiled the biggest, brightest, most comforting smile I could manage to try to show her that I fully supported her in whatever it was this was.

She finally opened the door into the small two bedroom apartment. It was pitch-black. Though from the outside the design looked very nice, the architects didn’t conceive that little light would be able to get into the middle apartment during the day, or that absolutely no light would seep into the meaningless windows, which provided nothing more than pictures of red-brick that went on infinitely in every direction, at night. She flipped the switch and then paused, not moving from that spot. She was clearly thinking about something, but she wouldn’t tell me what. I waited for her next move, for the further details of the game, but they didn’t come. Instead she stood there for five minutes, facing the wall, her back to me, thinking. I decided then to walk over to the table and take a seat and wait. The sound of the chair against the floor took her out of her trance.

“Yes, good. Sit at the table. Okay, we’re going to play now.” Her voice was soft, and everything about her felt suddenly distant. Her eyes were pointed at me, but she wasn’t looking at me. She didn’t see me at all. And I in turn could not see her eyes. I saw deep wells of…I don’t even know. They were wells that were too dark for me to see into, or maybe this was just a further problem of my inability to delve beneath the surface.

“Okay, the game is simple. We’re going to take turns, each of us telling the other one the absolute worst and most horrible thing that we have ever done.”

I stared at her, waiting for more. “That’s it…?”


“Well…what do you mean by worst? As in, something we did that really hurt someone, or like, the most embarrassing thing we’ve ever done?” This was an unbelievably loaded statement and I had no idea what she was getting at.

“Frivolous questions,” she said, shrugging them away. “Just whatever comes to your mind when you hear those words. I’ll let you go first.”

Great. Her game, her rules, rules which I don’t even understand, and she’s making me go first. No matter. I just have to think. I can’t think of anyone I really hurt badly, so maybe I need to tell her something that embarrassed the hell out of me. I thought about an event that happened to me when I was younger, much younger. It was the only thing that hit my mind so I just went with it. Maybe I would get the hang of things as the game unfolded.

“Okay. Worst thing that I have ever done, well really I don’t know if I can say I did it, it is just the worst thing that happened to me. Honestly, it’s really kind of funny to think about now, in fact I am sure you will laugh about it, but when it happened I had never felt more like an ass—well as much as a young kid can feel like an ass—in my life. So it was second grade (don’t laugh, second graders do have feelings) and my stomach had never hurt so much in my life. I thought I would throw up, and I remember telling my parents as much before we left, but they thought I was trying to skip school. I think about it now and I don’t know...I can’t imagine a second grader even being aware of the concept of skipping school. Anyway, they dragged me out and all the way to school where I spent the day in agony. I told the teacher about my stomach and she told me that maybe I could lay down in the nurse’s office. I went and did that, took a small nap, and afterwards I really did feel better. I thought that was the end of it, went back to the room and resumed my work. I forget what it was we were doing exactly, but it was some kind of free activity because I remember roaming around the room when it happened. The pain surged back to my stomach, and hard. I thought at that point that would be it, that I would throw up all over the floor right then and there. I must admit that I was quite considerate for a second grader because I did run to a spot where no one was sitting and hunched over anticipating the ensuing regurgitation. I was wrong. Immediately after I hunched forward I expelled everything from my stomach out through my ass in a violent, torrential diarrhea. It was so violent, and with such force, that it literally ripped a hole through my pants and left a puddle of smelly, second-grader shit on the floor where I was standing. And before anyone else could react, I did what any second grader would do in that situation. I bawled my head off until my throat was so sore I sounded like I hit puberty. The rest, I don’t remember too well, but for my parents it was a mixture of, ‘oh my goodness he wasn’t lying’ and, outrage at the disgusting mess I made of myself.” I stopped and paused for a moment to think. “Yeah, I think that that would have to be the absolute worst, most horrible thing that I ever did, if you could say it was something I did.”

I stopped and waited for laughter, but what I saw was the same emptiness that had imbued her being when we got to the apartment in the first place. In fact, I don’t think she heard a word I said. I looked at her and she was still deep in thought, still standing by the light switch, though this time facing me. She stood like that for five more minutes in silence before she made a move again.

“That sounded terrible. I guess it is my turn now. For my story however, I would like to turn out the lights.”

“Wha—“ And then just as she said she turned out the lights and we were shrouded in complete darkness. I heard a few footsteps and then the chair scrape the floor. Then I could hear and feel her breath in the space in front of me. She was sitting across from me. I didn’t move a muscle. I felt a twang of fear I had never known before. I am not one to be scared of the dark, but this darkness was different. There was something troubling. After a few more minutes, minutes in which I thought I heard a small whimper, she finally began her story:

“People really do surprise the hell out of you. You can’t imagine how hard this is for me to do, the kind of weight being pressed upon me right now, but I know that if I don’t do this then I am worth nothing. She is the one who brought this out, who brought this pain into me. Our daughter. I never saw it coming, it surged back into me so quickly, but I knew because of that that this problem will forever be embedded in me unless I acknowledge it and try to tackle it. She stood there so innocent, just as I was about to leave. She thought it would be wonderful if I got to spend the night with my fiancée alone in the apartment, so I brought her over to a friend’s house. She seemed to be as excited about the marriage as I was. I asked her as such and she told me, ‘Of course. It’s about time I had a father.’ I didn’t think that line would hit me so hard, but it did. I had erased you from my mind—what I thought was permanently, but just like that, with one word you were back, and I knew that the only way I could properly get rid of you is if I told the truth.

“For now, let us imagine that we are on board The Nellie. That will give me a good place to start I think. It is the only place to start, I suppose.”

Her voice was calm, slow, smooth but with a hint of urgency. I could feel my pupils widen trying to suck in any glimmer of light it could find, but of course to no avail. I tried to picture her face, floating in the space between me and…oblivion? I felt as though I could reach out and I wouldn’t feel her. She was no longer there. I was no longer there. I didn’t even know where there was, just that there included a voice.

“Do you remember when we first met? It was during my freshman and your junior year. I was taking an intro literature class and you saw me sitting at the library reading. It was Heart of Darkness. You don’t know this, I never let this on in some kind of silly naive fear that if my inexperience came through you would run, but you were the first boy to ever show any interest in me. I couldn’t understand it at all. There I was, Sarah Plain and Tall, in my white cotton shirt and a pair of jeans—my staple outfit—and you come in looking so stylish and self-sure. Then you decide to speak to me (you’ll be glad to know—maybe—that I have changed quite a bit since then. I don’t think you would recognize me on the street). I will never deny that you were an attractive man, that would be unfair, and the sight of you certainly made my heart jump, but physical attraction is never enough. I also think it’s the worst place to start.”

Did I start with physical attraction? And suddenly the darkness was broken, maybe. I began to picture her occupying the space in front of me. It wasn’t her I was seeing though, it was her dress. The white sleeveless dress, with a thin strap and a skirt that fell to her knees. It began to dance that same dance outside, in the moonlight. I don’t know how long it lasted, but I blinked and it was gone. I was gone. Her voice was back.

“But we didn’t exactly start on physical attraction, at least you didn’t. Heart of Darkness. That should have been a sign of things to come, of the horror to come, but I was so caught up in the now that I didn’t see the future. ‘Conrad, eh? Very tough book you’re reading there. How do you like it?’ you asked. I remember how flustered I was at first as I stammered about how ‘I..I..I it very much,’ and thought that Conrad’s prose was terrific. You smiled, you thought I was crazy for liking such a dark and troubling book, but eventually you conceded that you felt the same way. How could such a harmless conversation turn into…that?

“I hadn’t thought of it in so many years, as I said I had rather effectively erased you from my existence, but now thinking about our first date still brings a smile to my lips. Talk about an absolute disaster. From where I sat, everything that could go wrong did go wrong: I spent so much of the first so many minutes talking incessantly of Conrad that you must have thought I was infatuated with the man. Then there was the food at the restaurant which was never really made to my liking—oh I was so picky then—but I was so timid, and I didn’t want to trouble anyone. Still you insisted it be sent back each time. Then I made us so late for the show you got tickets for that they wouldn’t let us in. I thought at that moment it would be over. But for some reason it was all okay.

“I wonder what you saw from where you sat. That is what is running through my head right now as I tell you this. I try to imagine what you must have seen through all this, and I can’t do it. I think I am scared, scared to understand exactly what you went through, scared especially of realizing, or rather agreeing, with the actions you took in the end. I am scared to find anything that would make all of your actions justifiable, and all of mine inexcusable. But on that day, you must have seen in what I did something that convinced you I was worth all of the trouble. I certainly thought that anyone who could stand my company after all of that had to be my knight in shining armor, my everything. Oh how blind I was back then…and you were the one that had to suffer. Was it really worth all that trouble in the end?”

I felt myself begin to slip in the chair. My knee hit the table and pain coursed from my knees through my legs. It was good pain. It was pain that brought me back into existence and place. The room took shape around me, contours and outlines began to bounce around in my head. I was in a small room, sitting on a chair in front of an even smaller table. And in front of me was…a woman? A voice? A voice as still and calm as the darkness. Maybe even a voice for the darkness.

“She doesn’t look like you. Our daughter I mean. It’s so selfish and horrible to say, but you don’t know how happy I was as she grew older when I realized that she wouldn’t look like you. She doesn’t have your hair, or your eyes, or your smile. She looks mostly like my mother honestly. I was just so happy that I didn’t have to look at her and see you every single day for the rest of my life, have to live endlessly with that guilt. But then, look at me now, so overcome with grief on what should be such a happy evening that I am spending it trying to make some sort of reconciliation with you. So did I really win any sort of respite? You know that line in Heart of Darkness, the one about lies that you loved so much and inundated into my head—your mantra really—well I guess I kind of appropriated that from you and have tried to live by it. That is why I am doing this, to shed myself of the stench of death. This lie, this horrible lie, was by far the worst thing I have ever done to anyone, and with it a piece of me is certainly dead.

“I am talking in circles, I know, but I am still so scared to get to the core of it. I do want you to know that it really wasn’t your fault. I know it’s such a huge cliché but I mean it. You were simply in the wrong place at the very wrong time. I think…if it were now then we could have been so happy together. My problem was, I think, that I was too scared to really know myself back then. I wish I could understand where it started, at what point I became so scared of what was inside of me, of what was outside of me, of what comprised me, that I completely shut it all out. But when you came along, you forced it all in. You didn’t intend for it to happen, you simply didn’t know. I was so caught up in convincing you—and myself—that it was love, that I did anything I could to prove it. People are supposed to look back on all those special milestones, the first kiss, the first time you make love, as such wonderful experiences, but for me they were the beginning of my nightmares. That first kiss, oh how scared I was. You leaned in and closed your eyes, and it was such a light kiss, but the whole time my eyes were open, and I could feel my heart beating a thousand strokes a second. You forced me to take a small glimpse in the mirror, and I hated what I saw.”

The voice cracked and sobbed, just slightly, but enough to disturb the calm. With the sob came a feeling of unbearable weight being pressed down. Something shifted, something moved. Then I felt the table again, but it wasn’t me that moved. The table was pushed from the other end. I heard the floor scrape, the same sound from when she sat down before. She was still in front of me, I was not alone. I felt the table move again, and heat emanated from some object at its side, her hands? Why did I feel the heat, why did I feel the table move? I too was holding it, tightly. My muscles were unbelievably tense, but I was no longer in control; my grip would not let up. I was also hovering over it, my face must have been within mere inches of hers, but with each word I felt that distance grow by miles.

“You were so kind through it all. You were so patient with me, never pressuring me. You let me set the pace the whole time, but I was never all there, never really in control. I knew the day would come when you would want to push things forward, and in my fear I would let you. It was only a matter of time I guess, before things really began to fall apart.

“If a kiss was but a glimpse in the mirror…well can you imagine what that was like? It was like being shackled in front of the mirror, being forced to stare long and hard at a person that I slowly realized that I despised. I really did not like what I saw in front of me, and with each time it happened I sank deeper and deeper into my own darkness. Maybe if I could show you what it was I saw, what I can hardly describe, the horror…the horror. I only wonder, did you notice? I know in the heat of the moment you didn’t, when my flesh became clay in your arms as you folded and kneaded lumps that I feared touching. And when you pushed your warmth into me—those gasps and moans that escaped my mouth—I know you took those as signs of pleasure as you began to further dip into a frenzy, thrusting with more force. If you only knew that with each thrust I felt myself slipping further and further away, trying to remove myself from my body so that I didn’t have to suffer through those pains. My goodness...your love, my sufferance.

“And can you imagine my relief when that summer came. What was it…a year and a half at that point? And how many times did it happen? I guess maybe a dozen, right? A dozen instances of pure hell, and then relief with the coming summer. You kept making all these plans that you would visit me at home, but I knew it would never come to be. You were too busy in your home, and it was such a long and expensive trip. It was exactly the kind of break I needed to sort my head out. But I didn’t do it, not what I should have. I blamed you entirely for putting me in that place and knew that you had to be removed if I were to get better. But what a quandary that was. I so easily gave into your every whim. I was so timid and scared, and as frightening as every moment of intimacy may have been, you were really like a rock that I could lean on. Dammit, I must sound like such an idiot, calling you at once my rock and my hell. But this should tell you exactly what was going on in my head. And then, I got what I thought was the worst news of my life.

“The first time I took that pregnancy test I was in such a state of despair that I almost killed myself. I holed up in my room the entire day with a razor blade and a note expressing my deep regret and sorrow to you. I don’t have that note anymore; I tore it up after I calmed down. My mother…she hardly noticed. I guess that says something too. Not about her so much as myself. We have such a strong relationship now though. I know I used to complain to you about how little we got along and how much of a nuisance she was to me, but if it wasn’t for her, my baby wouldn’t be here. I thought that when I told her she would lose it, yell at me, call me a failure; she embraced me, told me it would be okay, that she would help me through it all. She was of course shocked. You don’t know this, but I never told her about you. She didn’t know I was dating, or in any way sexually active. When she asked me about the father, I froze; I told her…I told her that I didn’t know who it was. She was disturbed, and there was a bit of a lecture that followed about promiscuity and safe sex. In the face of all that was happening I was able to take it in stride. It was at that point that I knew our ties had been severed and that I would be able to rid myself of you. I know now though that that lie was not a lie to my mother, it was just the first part of the lie I fed to you.

“When I first mentioned abortion my mother refused to hear me out. She told me that a life is too beautiful to be denied a chance. She said that no matter what happened, if I couldn’t take care of the baby that she would until I was ready. When she said that I cried so much. I felt like the most horrible person at that moment. I so easily ridiculed her and put her down in my head and to others, and here she was opening up a door for me to escape from my biggest responsibility. And you…I was hoping, praying for you to react how I expected every other man who gets their young girlfriend “knocked up” to act, but you responded exactly like my mother. You were so supportive, so eager to help out. Then, just like that so unexpectedly, you told me we would get married, you said that we would do it right. When I told you that I was thinking about an abortion though, that’s when you went insane. I don’t even think you realized it when it happened, I think you meant to calmly explain to me that you were against abortion fully, but you outright told me you could not stand the presence of any human being capable of murdering a child, and that to you that was what abortion was. I quickly hung up the phone afterwards.”

I started to feel heavy. Everything began to invade my mind, the darkness, the room, the table and chair, this perpetual space in this small room, and that voice. It danced around the room and on the walls, bouncing between the table and other furniture before settling in my ears. The darkness was calling out to me and I felt myself succumbing to its sweet song. I disappeared deeper into it, back into the womb, or forward into...

“I went back to Conrad, I always did with you. I think I could only conceive of the relationship in terms of Heart of Darkness—or rather in my own terms of Heart of Darkness. That’s where it all started for me, and so I felt that there was where it would end. And for two weeks—two weeks of ignoring your calls as well as shutting myself away from my mother—I thought about all the sort of implications, as if my mind insisted that the book had implications, on our relationship. I began to imagine we were all part of the book. I thought perhaps I was Kurtz, and you were Marlowe and that the relationship was the trip down the river. But that didn’t sit well with me, so I thought maybe I was Marlowe, you were the river, and our relationship was Kurtz. And that seemed closer, but ultimately I decided that you were Marlowe, I was the boat, and our future baby was Kurtz. In any case it all spelled out doom. But how could any relationship conceived out of that book not spell out doom.

“What would you have done had you known that the next time we spoke would be the last time we spoke? Did you have any hint or clue as to that being the case? You must have, I heard a tinge of fear in your voice. We ended the previous conversation on such a dreary note, then to have all your calls and attempts to reach me completely ignored. I never listened to any of your voicemails or messages you sent me. I will never know whatever it is you said in that period of time. I wonder if it would have changed the course I took. I think that it wouldn’t have.”

There was nothing more for me at this point. I had become…nothing. I was smaller than a point on a map. I had bounced between existence and nonexistence, between this room and some incompreshensible space. I had nothing left but this voice to hang onto, the voice of my wife-to-be. For the last time I felt myself slip away and my…soul? consciousness? carried away by the sound.

“I assure you that when I called what ended up being said was not the intention, something just snapped in my head when you said, ‘Hello’. Maybe it was the way you said it, maybe it was because after so long it was with that word that you decided to answer the phone, whatever it was flipped a switch in my head and without any warning I blurted out, ‘I had the baby aborted.’ It was the only thing I was able to say in the entire conversation. It is the last memory of my voice you have, a memory of me telling you that I had murdered your child. Oh how you yelled, and ranted, and cursed. And my last memory of your voice, ‘I never want to see you ever again, you hear me!’ I was free.

“I was still scared though, scared that perhaps you thought you overreacted and may cool down after a while, but you didn’t. You held true to your wishes and never called. When I went back to school you made sure to avoid any places I may have been. I did make it easier for you though when I decided to withdraw, I had to at that point, I was pregnant and it was beginning to show, and I certainly didn’t want you to know. I consoled myself that as angry as you may be that it was all okay because the baby wasn’t dead, isn’t dead. She’s an amazing girl, incredibly smart, and funny, and just so willing to confront life—nothing like me growing up. But that doesn’t matter to you because in the end I really did kill her. To you she’s dead, and that is all that you can see. I can’t say that I’m sorry I lied, because that would be a lie (you’re probably thinking, ‘what a fine time to start telling the truth’), but I knew that for my sake, for my daughter’s sake, for my upcoming marriage’s sake, I had to at least acknowledge that lie, and wash myself clean of it, and everything it brought to me. I hope you understand. I don’t want your forgiveness, I don’t deserve it at all…I just really hope you understand.”

She finished and sat completely still, I don’t think she even took in a breath, too scared to disturb anything in the room. The silence was stifling, but it brought me back into reality. I sat trying to delve deeper into the story. Was she sending me a message? Was she even talking to me? I could feel her presence again, was she here the whole time, or did she bounce between the boundaries of existence and nonexistence, like I felt I did? I felt as though something had disturbed the very core of my being, maybe hers as well. Was it the story? Did it have any bearing on tomorrow? I hoped not, I really think she is happy with me. Still, I know something changed, something shifted, something was lost that could never again be found. A bomb was dropped somewhere in this hole of darkness but I could hardly feel its effects, too caught up in…

This story destroyed something in her, but I felt that may have been her purpose. The silence resounded again and again, the darkness blinding me, everything weighing down upon me. I had never felt such a sense of awkwardness before. People really do surprise the hell out of you.