[Image Credit: “Soul Groups” by Kazuya Akimoto]
Waiting for it, begging for it, praying for it. Down here, there’s no light, no sound, no air, no nothing. I may not live again. Being pressed down, the wind blown out of me, crushed beneath feet calloused by hiking, kicking; odorous soles exuding the flowery essence created in those alchemic bonds between adoration and affection, bringing out, starting from my eyes, those long trickling streaks of sympathizing tears.
In the room there’s a bed, a desk, a milkcrate of books and extra paper, a stove, sink, refrigerator. An armchair. Cupboard. Small bathroom. Closet door in the corner. I try to never open it. The mattress is very resilient, and has taken many a pounding. The desk has been bought secondhand and has one drawer in which I keep this paper, some pencils, tape, gum erasers, a rosary, a few matchcars, a bear bell, two clothespins, three capsules of sleeping pills, a broken dog collar.
I come and go as I please, cook in the small kitchen, weep inconsolably.
Shame, resentment in the face of those people and things that used to and are still trying to comfort me. The turgid waves of despair and waiting have subsided without the forceful oscillations of all those unforgiving emotions and have given way to a flat brutal and distressing calmness. There’s no better way to iterate these experiences. They come and go like birds. The tears fly back, a blow straight to the heart. A rich, dense cafard one could cut with a knife.
I have come to the firm and solid conclusion I am being completely, totally had. No matter how you are, they’ll always say “I wish you’d change.” No matter how you change, they’ll say “I liked the old you better.”
They come around every two or three days. They have their own key and open the door themself. I may be sleeping, and wake to find them sitting in the armchair, naked, knitting, playing with themselves or just watching me. They don’t say a word, but come in and put their bag on the mattress. Usually they wear a skirt and leggings, a sweater. They remove the sweater and sit in their bra. Always very lush bras. Like rose gardens. They take the bra off and neatly arrange it on the pillowcase like a presentation, minutely inspect the nipples of their breasts, scratch the faint hairs of their armpits, pick their nose, belch. They take their shoes off, unroll the leggings from their loins, unbutton the skirt, fold them into their bag. The panties are usually the last to come off. They take up the bra and put it in their bag and keep the bag in the cupboard. They’ll walk for hours around the room like this, in just their panties, picking their nails, braiding their hair, talking on the telephone, putting on a large robe if the heating pipes aren’t working.
I can’t speak unless spoken to. Some days they’ll have me do several things already, with a snap of their fingers, indicating to wash their feet, rub their back, suck on their nipples, make them a plate of food or a cup of coffee, trim their hair, bathe them, oil their arms and legs. Sometimes this is all I do for hours, days, a week or two, and then they leave when I am sleeping, without having said a word. Other times we talk.
We met a long while ago. In a park, I think. They wore a long dark coat and came up to me in the rain. We clasped hands and went to a hot dog vendor in the light of a streetlamp. Then to a bar and talked for many hours. Their hair glowed with gems from the rain. I noted how big and powerful their legs were through the nylons beneath their skirt. Then we came back here and nothing was the same again.
They are back, now, wanting more, demanding it, exhausted. I wash their feet, their hair. Wrap them in a towel, make them coffee on the stove. They are sitting on the mattress running their hands through their wet hair, just like the first time we met.
They are laying down, their hair slowly soaking the pillowcase, added to now with tears of pure crystal that will leave blossoms of salt when it dries. Their back is turned when they tell me to undress and to get under the towel. Our feet and legs are ice. The room is warm. Our tears have dried and when I ask to kiss them, I find the bitterness still there. There’s nothing left to do. The night goes down. The bells toll. It is a sacred moment. Owls are waking up.
After, we are dead together for a little bit. Only the sound of pipes and rats in the wall. It must be raining. There is water tapping in the streets. I get up to heat water. I take the towel around my waist and cover them with a blanket. They cry in their sleep. Their weeping synchronizes with that of the kettle. They have broken out into a feverish sweat like that of a broken stallion, their breath sharp and shallow, their baby hairs forming a glowing halo in the light of the bedside lamp. I turn off the kettle. They have curled into a ball on the covers like a tightly wound spring. Then stretch out, flat on their back.
When I get up they are left lying there with their hands on their belly, rising and falling, with their feet on the floor over the edge of the bed. I re-heat the water, make tea and bring back a large mug for us. They have gotten back under the covers. The room is quiet. We are side by side, a set of twins, matching dolls, under the blankets, slowly burning under the bedside lamp.
I wake up in the dark. The light is shut out. They are gone. I turn over. It is cold as a mausoleum beneath the covers. My molars, bones rattle. The light is coming up through the blind. It’s a strange morning. I drink cold coffee from the stove, get dressed. I feel bereft. What is it about the freezing glycerine morning light of winter that solidifies the thoughts? I am cleansed and hollow. My thoughts do not necessarily bring me consolation. I dress and go down into the street. A dog is pissing and sniffing in the gutter. I go to the corner store and buy bread, wine, cheese, fruit, cans of beans. The pears are too ripe. I come back to the room, put the food away, and get back into the bed. The pillow smells like their perfume. A single thread of hair is the only evidence of the night’s proceedings. A breath brings back the heartbreaking longing and hunger, all the quiet calm indeterminable waiting hours between, the feeling of belonging. I tape the strand on the wall above the desk. The wind picks up outside and shakes the panes. I go back and forth between the hair above the desk and the perfumed pillow.
I sit on the edge of the bed. What if there had been no door? What if I had been bricked into here? No windows, no vents. Left in this cell to suffocate, visited only periodically, as though a small reminder to being human. Forced to eat off the floor without plate or silverware, lap up drink from the faucet. Sniffing up the crumbs from the linoleum. What if I was left in here without clothes, only a great rough poncho I would wrap myself in and work, brewing like a monk, saying my prayers at a small rent in the wall for the outside birds of the sky to hear.
I drop off and wake up again. It is late afternoon. I manage to shower and brush my teeth, halfheartedly decide to clip my nails. Barefoot, standing in the middle of the apartment, there is very little to do. The traffic outside is swelling up for the evening. The occupants of cars are going to restaurants, stores, movie theatres, bars, clubs, rich people’s houses.
The key turns in the lock. They are back, carrying a paper bag with handles. They come in and remove their boots, put the bag by the desk. They go into the bathroom and are in there a long time. I have opened the wine and now work at the desk. I hear running water, the toilet gurgling, the mirror cabinet open and close. I begin making food. They come out, dress from the bag, and leave. The echo of the door seems to resound for hours. There’s a shit left in the toilet. The food burns on the stove before I turn off the flame.
There is only me, looking down from this window into the street below, where the rain and lights begin to collect and gather again, waiting for another, another time, another person, without time, without memory, when I could be that way again, up on top of the world, with a bolt in each hand, waiting for the lightning to strike, for the torrents to come down again and cleanse me of all this filth of self-denial and negativity, when I would be whole again, up on the mountain, alone, in my little shack of timber and flame, smoking, scribbling, desiring, without remorse, without regret when I could be up there, alone, without the need for someone else, and only come down on bicycle, being celibate, like a priest in a cone of abstinence and light. Who could say? That there hadn’t, wouldn’t ever be a way out again, up there. The cold silent resilience reigning in my soul, slowly shoring up its vats of liquid matter, sludge, goop, filled to brimming and with one great lunge ejected all over the whole countryside, flooding its contours, making the farmers, cows, small children, float far away to the sea.
It can’t be, it can be, whether with or without a thought or remorse. I go back to the desk. The artist has only his work. The hair is still hanging above the desk. I take it down into the bathroom and with a match light it over the sink. It disintegrates and falls down the drain. It leaves a dusty smudge in the basin. I go back to the desk, the empty rectangles of paper, filling each page with thin black lines, swimming with ink, and then turn them over, another page, another line, built on and on. Until when? Is it a stockade, that one day will blow its lid? All the violence and clear thoughts left to smolder like old dynamite in the storehouses of this, my, life. One bounce would light up the night sky. One of these days I’ll go there. I’ll touch base and make it back. The dragon’s snout. They won’t be able to touch me. I’ll carry the flag. Drink the milk. Or else turn to dust, be spewed out into the ether, to become one with the earth again.
The hours accumulate, swept up, into days, and weeks. I grow hair on my face, shave, grow, shave. The constant cycle. My clothes are in need of washing. The pages are forming a tower on the left of the desk. The slow slow accretion of words. Forming bubbles, castles, diagrams. The door opens. They are back, and loving. They fondle my head, kiss my ears, laugh and coo. I am here. What do we do now? They go in the kitchen and come back with the half-empty wine bottle, take a drink, and squirt it into the air in an arc. A few ruby specks reach the ceiling. They give me the bottle and we take turns passing it back and forth until it is empty. They throw it against the wall and the green glass explodes like a firework. Renewed by this trauma, they are at it, sharp as knives, keen as hounds, a strange heaving creature, holding themself on the bed, on the floor, against the wall. They disappear in the kitchen again and two plates come sailing out of the doorway in quick succession, crashing against the ceiling, the wall, the desk in a confetti of porcelain shards. Another one takes out the overhead light, the bulb shatters, it’s filament exposed in horror. Following, bouncing along the floor, a plastic bear of honey, coffee grounds, bags of sugar, jamjars, boxes of cornflakes. From the bathroom tumble out bottles of soap and shampoo, cottonballs, tampons, razor blades and shaving cream. They’re stomping around on the carnage, feet bleeding.
I’m under the covers watching the storm. Landmines of flour, geysers of baking soda and vinegar, streamers of shaving cream, oily pools of honeyed shampoo and soap form like ponds of primordial stew on the floor. The neighbors are going wild. Someone’s calling the police. I could stay here forever peering out onto probably what is or at least seems like the end of the world. They are stomping over the broken glass, the little beads of crystal crunching under their feet when the detectives knock on the door. They look startled at the door. The knocking goes on and stops. Footsteps leave the landing.
It is quiet except for the crunching. They are walking, stumbling around the room and collapse into bed. They are exhausted. The little cuts in the soles of their feet are bleeding, with beautiful little stars of glass in the wounds. I pull their legs up onto the bed and go to the bathroom and retrieve iodine, peroxide, q-tips, tweezers, bandages and come back. They are flushed and breathing hard still, but relaxed. The blood has dripped onto the sheets from their cuts. I clean the wounds, and they wince sharply with agony as I pull each cleat of jagged glass from their foot and let out with a sigh of pleasure. It takes a while, but soon the bleeding has stopped and the cuts are glowing pinkly. They ask for a drink of water. I let the wounds air while I get it. They drink while I wrap the tape and gauze on. They are tired. I put on the skirt from the back of the chair and a shirt and take the broom from the kitchen and start sweeping up. I am doing that for a long time before going to bed. The glass and crockery takes up two paper grocery bags by the door. They are sleeping soundly when I undress and get into bed. There are little grains of cutting sand in the bedclothes that I am too tired to remove, and instead let them plant their little rivers of kisses in me. I am gone.
I wake in the middle of the night to piss, and the whole floor of the room is paved with shining diadems, a whole lake of brilliant ethereal pinholes, little teeth, which gnaw the most, and will ultimately tear you down, bra clasps, mice gnawings, termite chewings, soon to become the violence that seeps into life, stemmed in, begging to be harnessed, kept at bay, portioned to the edges, rimming everything, when there wasn’t anything but this quietness in the night, sheets warm, the angry cries of pleasure, and spots of blood, to stand up and say No to the universe, to kiss its soft face, be coddled in its arms. There is knocking and voices at the doors. More hardfaced uniforms imploring, teasing to be let in, to see what’s going on inside. Hands with magnifying glasses, x-ray tubes, microscopes, blacklights.
Once I had been smaller, younger, and more ignorant of the world even than I am now, and didn’t know anything, was so confused by the cold and sharp tones of elders, the waking and the sleeping, the dark nights, opened car doors, boxed lunches, the museums filled with their ephemera, the sad faces of children crying or puking in gym class. There didn’t seem a way out, even less than there does now. How was one ever to get out alive? Even with only your life? There was no way but to stay and be soft and pliable, malleable to this world, impressionable.
The knocking stops around dawn. They are still there in the morning. I remove the bandages. They have scabbed over. They put on a shirt and stay in bed as I make coffee. They are reading when I bring in a plate of eggs we eat with our fingers. I kiss the wounds. They will make beautiful scars. Next I vacuum up the galaxy of powdered quartz from the floor. We cook, play checkers, bathe together. Nothing like the first night. Then there had been a pent up banshee in both of us, gnashing to be let out. The spirit had fled, for now, and was replaced with this benevolent presence of threading in and out of each other, suckling, nurturing, caressing, needling, turning over and over again, pleading forgiveness for past wrongs. We go to the grocery mart and buy fish heads, coconuts, lemons. One night I forbid them from moving on the bed, even a finger, even an inch, and feed them soup, slivers of fruit, cake, melting ice cream. They walk around, in order, singly, or together, loose shirts, underwear, socks, sometimes just boots, wearing the dog collar for days, to bed, in the shower, at meals. At night they pray with the rosary. We begin to smell like one another. Taste like one another. Talk like one another. I feel them getting anxious. It rains for days when they get sick and do not move from the bed. I put the bear bell around my ankle. It chatters softly going from room to room. The lamp falls off the desk and breaks. I sweep it in with the other broken articles and weep at the memory within the paper bags. They are getting dressed for good now. The dog collar is on the bed. They leave without a word, a kiss.
I’ve had a knife in me all this time, after all. The blade staunches my arteries. It’s removed and the blood flows freely now. I am a goner. I will drown in my own gore before I hemorrhage. I wander around the room. All objects, endeavors, habits, cravings are drained of color, meaning. What even is this life? A superfluous entity. When would they come back, and if so, would it even matter? I peer out the window. It’s a steep and far enough drop. The people passing below wouldn’t know what hit them. Maybe they wouldn’t even mind. But if this life was so meaningless what meaning would I have to put an end to it? Would it cease the meaninglessness or perpetuate it? I’m in bed for days, weeping. Eventually I move to the desk, and stare blankly at those rectangles of light, still with the beads of liquid streaming down. There is only to continue, moment from moment, anyway, anyhow, monkeybarring from each minute, into hours, days, weeks, on and on. To what? I may never know. What to do in the meantime? I can only look into the horror of the blank page. Empty and as impenetrable as the vast face of a shield. Make a little cut in the surface of the brightness. And another and another. Scratching at the dumb sphere of it all. There is no meaning, of course, only scratches, gnawings, cravings, going from one dot to the next, continuing on its miniature rail, gulping down and pissing and shitting it out, continuing to sip, to stop and start again and again, resisting, all the time resisting, pushing.
There are boards and nails and a hammer in the corner of the closet. I go to the store one last time and restock the refrigerator. I nail the boards up around the doorframe, to keep it shut. Now there is only to wait. The door looks like a mummy, with all its gaps shut up. There is only to wait. The snow begins to fall again, though it is almost spring. The daffodils are crushed out in the cold frost. The grass leans down. The skies change their minds on which stars to show. I am sleeping, waking, eating, evacuating, creating again. There must be more to it. The world on its great axle is turning, way out here in space, all alone, keeping itself up floating, moving, swivelling on its own power and strength, aqueously, like a vibrant jellyfish. Comets meet and kiss, explode, pass on, beautiful as ripples in lilypadded ponds. There’s no avoiding the contact, the parting.
The key wiggles in the lock early one morning. But the door does not open. Furiously, maddeningly, it turns in the keyhole. They put a shoulder, their whole weight, but the door does not budge. The nails are long. The boards are well-seasoned. There is no getting through that door. Still, they try. I think of prying the boards up, but cannot. I cry, as usual. They claw, bite, gnash, scream, pound at the door. The boards are jiggling. I plug up my ears. For hours it goes on. Into the next day. Then a break. They return later. I hear weeping, imploring, then the sound is gone. I remove the boards. There is no one on the landing. Blood and carvings on the door. Dull scratches, signs, symbols. Hurriedly I stuff my belongings in a pillowcase. There can’t be anyone here when they come back. I’ll sneak out now. Maybe they never will notice, maybe they won’t miss me. I can’t stay. It’s just not possible. I’ll go to Canada. The world continues to turn. I go down the stairs. There is no one in the street. The earth is calm. The snow has melted and a warm wind sweeps the street bare. A cat is in a tree. We’ll meet again, I know. It’s all one can do. All, I tell you. All.
Quinn Hull has previously been published in Kent State’s literary magazine Luna Negra, as well as Hobo Pancakes, Aries: A Journal of Art and Literature, and Potluck Magazine.
The writer lives in Cleveland Heights, OH with his cat. He works in a library. He is 27.