nocturnal and diurnal

I’m lying on the green, at the foot of a large oak tree, hands clasped, looking up at the stars. I don’t know if it’s actually an oak tree. What difference does it make? Whatever kind of tree it is, it’s large, the leaves rustle every now and then with the cool latenight breeze, and it’s planted there at a nice spot on the green, a bit away from the sand trap to my left. I don’t know golf either. It’s the part of the course where there’s no grass…it’s kind of smooth, an earthy patch with those long flags sticking out of the holes here and there. But the possible oak tree is an ideal spot for laying, and looking straight up on a clear night. I’ve wandered these links many times, late at night. Many times I’ve wandered these links and several times I’ve taken a piss into the holes here and there along the course. It feels good. There’s no one here to tell you no. Not at this hour. Not at night. The rich go home and piss in their own holes round this time of night. I don’t feel bad for pissing in theirs, at this late hour. It’s all good natured. And lately, it’s mostly just because I’m nocturnal. As a nocturnal creature, you feel a call. Go out and experience the empty world. Lie down in the middle of the sidewalk. In the middle of the street even…depending on the street. Stores open 24 hours are a different universe at these hours. I’m a nocturnal animal. I don’t really know animals either, otherwise I’d compare myself to another nocturnal animal.

 

The freedom to piss outside. For the male sex–no matter the species of animal–it’s one of nature’s great liberties. Man has overlooked it for far too long…

 

Back in the dirty little animal hospice (false advertising, they call it an ‘animal hospital’, with a cheerful little sign out front with paw prints in front of ‘animal’ and after ‘hospital’…how cheerful, to be sure…)…  The piss is not outside, but inside…and not intentionally, either. Dripping off the stainless steel of an exam table; in a cold, disinfected room. Smell of cotton balls and tongue depressors. For dogs. This is where dogs go to die. Not unlike the place from your youth, where you got your first TB shot or chickenpox vaccination. An unpleasant sense memory. Only…for dead and dying dogs. Worst part of that, maybe: who even knows if they know it’s the place that it is…the doggie end of the line…?

 

You could say for that reason alone, it’s a sad little tableau.

 

But the reasons get sadder with each visit… Dogs are no good at two things, I know: walking sideways, and now, accepting IV fluids, antibiotics, saline…dogs just weren’t meant to have tubes coming out of them, that much about dogs I now know…in addition to the not walking sideways very well at all… Try to make a dog walk sideways sometime. It’s about as unnatural as training a cat to shake hands, sit up and beg, or squat on the commode to do its business. I seen a dog do some crazy shit, if trained right–including squat on a toilet to do its business, and as unnatural as it may be, a dog can pull it off 9 times out of 10, it seems. A cat, on the other hand…that’s a whole other barrel of monkeys…

But, tubes coming out of dogs. There’s hardly another sight I’d call as unnatural as that one. Tubes coming out of dogs…dog or not, you could probably rightly say your days of pissing outdoors are over, once you got tubes coming out you. Nature’s great, male, animal liberty–pretty much gone at that point.

 

The pretty girl in the teal scrubs. Smell of dead and dying dogs on her pretty girl teal scrubs:

 

“I’m afraid we’re coming to the end of the road, Mr. —“ I hadn’t really thought much about the plain reality of the vet’s words until she’d just said them. She didn’t say anything else…it seemed plain I’m sure that I needed a moment and so she and the vet tech left us in peace. Quiet, dying dog silence. He was lying on the cold metal table, tongue hanging out, panting a bit, but otherwise (to me anyway) in good spirits. Why can’t they invent a dog that lasts an entire lifetime? …..the animal kingdom is a cruel bitch when it comes to bonding.

 

My very diurnal friend had been moping about, not finishing his kibble, only sniffing around it, taking labored bites here and there… not drinking much either. Lapping up a little bit of water then scuffling away, wobbling left and right just slightly, like a drunken canine stumble-bum. “God dammit, —, eat your dinner,” I’d say to the bitch. But she wouldn’t barely touch it. I always hated picky eaters.

 

As she ate less and got skinnier, I started sleeping less and waking earlier. The thinner she got, the sooner I woke. Soon, I was waking in the middle of the night. 3am. At least she still slept. She slept while I was waking up at 3 and then 2 and then 1 in the morning, and milling about the apartment, looking for things to fix….a rusty door hinge….a leaky faucet…a blown fuse. Actually, I found none of those things. And I looked really hard. Couldn’t find a thing to fix. Everything appeared to be working just right. Apartment spic and span, clean, sparkling….not a thing out of place, not a thing askew. Perfect.

 

She snores, and sleeps deep, and seems somehow happy….if a thing can be happy while sleeping, if that’s even possible. I imagine it is. But I can’t find a damn thing to occupy myself. My hands idle, my mind begins to sink lower and lower into a circuit of racing, pernicious thoughts. Idle thoughts. I become a creature of the night. Nocturnal. A mute songbird, maybe. I have to get out…and walk. Pretty soon I find myself prying open gas caps on random cars parked along the street and pissing inside them. I don’t feel bad about it. I don’t key cars, or smash windows, or steal, or commit any overt acts of vandalism. But releasing my bodily fluids into and onto various objects and fixtures along my way seems okay. It’s all good-natured. It keeps my mind off things. That circuit of racing thoughts, idle and racing thoughts alike, is held at bay. The dark is warm and cool and welcoming. I have seen only a few other nocturnal creatures along my route, and they always keep their distance, just as I keep mine. Somehow I think we all must be up to the same thing. Not pissing in cars and golf course holes per se, but simply enjoying the warmth and cool and welcoming of the night and the night air. I am also not a zoologist, but to me anyway, it seems nocturnal creatures enjoy a less stressful existence. Diurnal creatures are always in a hurry to be somewhere…usually more prone to fits of anger, impatience, rudeness… Maybe there are just too many people out there, period. Maybe we should all take shifts, some of use are diurnal one week, then nocturnal the next. Maybe it’s about balance. …….in any case, there is still something extremely freeing and primal about pissing outside, in public, and not getting in trouble for it.

 

Soon the night is over and I’m back in my spic and span apartment and she is just waking up. I spend some time watching the shop at home channel with her big bulldog jowls rested on my lap, pour her some kibble, and some water, and eventually I fall asleep. Around 3pm, I wake up to a persistent knocking at my door. I was dreaming about flying. I was loathe to leave that dream. I dreamed I was perched in a huge tree…I could see out across the whole world…observe every little detail and every person and every little action of every person…I was some kind of omniscient man-bird observer. The details of every little thing in the world were interesting to me…but then I got bored and flew from my perch. I didn’t know where I was headed, but it was exciting to head out.

 

And then I woke up.

 

The rapping at my door had a somewhat angry tone to it. “You don’t answer your phone,” she says, pushing her way through the door and quite past me.

 

“Battery must be dead.”

 

“You look tired,” she says. “In fact, you look like shit.” I offer her a cup of something and a seat. At the very least, I think, she can’t say the place is a mess. I’ve got that one all locked up.

 

“Not sleeping too well,” I say.

 

She looks over at the dog, lazing around her food dish, sniffing furtively…aware she’s being observed. “I’m sorry about —,” she says. “But you have to get your shit together now. How long are you gonna live like this?” She takes a sip of her cup of whatever and I think about the question, and the answer. I can’t think of an approach. How do you explain a thing like this? That you’ve found you prefer being nocturnal, a free animal in the night, a roaming thing that’s free to piss on anything anywhere…? And that it’s not just the pissing of course, but the freedom to piss. The freedom to observe the still and the cool warmth, all without being observed. To lie under a giant tree of indeterminate genus and look up at the stars… unobserved.

 

“I’m good,” I say, forcing a cracked smile. “In fact, it’s really okay…” I pause and glance out the window…the blinding sunlight glaring off a rusty old gas station sign, “….I found a pretty good position, working overnights. Not just wage-slave work either…it’s good. It’s blue collar, but it’s good. Middle management.”

 

“Really.”

 

“Hey,” I say, drawing the blinds, rubbing the crust from the corners of my eyes, “Hey, you realize the whole world doesn’t stop between the hours of 5pm and 9am.”

 

She’s finding her spot on the carpet, circling it once, twice, three times, and then plopping down as if exhausted. “What’s the prognosis,” she asks, coldly.

 

I find this one much harder to answer…even though I know the answer this time. “More tests. Blood. Poop. Piss.”

 

“Poop and piss,” she says, her arms folded, angry like. “That’s not a prognosis.”

 

“Piss,” I begin—

 

“And neither is blood.” She unfolds her arms and takes one, unfolded stiffly, like rigor mortis is setting in…and places a stiff, begrudging little hand lightly on my shoulder. “How long, I mean.”

 

“You know…nobody knows. When it comes to these things. Nobody knows anything.” That straining, understanding hand lifts off my shoulder with a nearly imperceptive quickness. Gone.

 

“That’s enough. Take a shower. Brush your teeth. Eat something. Sleep and get a job actually…a real job.” By real she surely means “real”…I wasn’t fooling anyone. “Does she always make that sound?” Pointing to her…pointing out her wheezy labored breathing. She gets up and mills around a little, poking at things indiscriminately. “You need food. You don’t even have any.” Her breathing makes a whistling sound. She puts her coat on and leaves. Her breathing gets smoother then. Less labored. Like she could tell. She was relieved as much as me, I’m sure.

 

Around 1am, I ventured out in my black jacket and slacks in search of gas caps. The kinds you can pry open, not the ones that you have to click the thing inside the car to get it to open. I still hadn’t figured out how to pry those ones open. I found a big obnoxious SUV parked askance just outside the rusty old gas station. Pried the cylinder open and twisted off the gas cap. Then pissed inside the tank. Full service. The guy who drove the thing I presumed was coming out of the rusty old gas station food mart place just then; I quickly and carefully zipped up my pants without taking the time to shake it two or three times. Shake it more than three times and you’re playing with it, my father always said. A lot of wisdom in that man. He also would wax philosophical a lot of times about how some women are bitches and some women are ho’s, and some bitches are ho’s, and when I brought home my at-one-time fiancé to meet the family he warned me never to marry a bitch. Or a ho. He also used to piss with the bathroom door wide open. Maybe that’s where I get it from. The inappropriate pissing. My dog at least, she had an excuse to piss in non-pissing places. My bladder on the other hand, it was just fine and dandy. She was pissing more and more, and drinking lots and lots of water, which is probably why she was pissing so much and in so many non-pissing zones. The floor. The freshly vacuumed carpet. The sofa. The tub. Like she went out of her way to piss in new and different places. I supposed I wouldn’t be surprised to find her out here one brisk night prying open and pissing into a gas tank alongside me.

 

“I’m afraid we’re coming to the end of the road.” …

 

Later that night I got arrested for public urination. I was reprimanded. The police officer was none too pleased, but more exasperated than irritated I’d say. I got a summons. A hefty fine. Maybe it’s time I start pissing where a man is meant to piss. Unlike her, I had no excuse. It occurs to me you can get away with a lot of abnormal behavior the sicker you are. People beat murder raps for being ‘sick’, after all. My acting out was not out of sickness, however. As she limped around that piss-stained apartment of mine, wheezing and taking in her IV fluids, I was out pissing in gas tanks, lying in the middle of the road at 3 in the morning, throwing rocks at stop signs and traffic lights. And the vet’s words came back to me every so often, as I picked up another rock and chucked it at a security camera mounted on the side of an office park suite. I’m afraid we’re coming to the end of the road.

 

Lucky not to be spending the rest of the night in a cell, I decided to cut my losses and head home to the dying, pissing dog. When I got in, she perked up and wagged her tail. She sat with her chin rested in my lap for awhile while I watched a preacher talking this and that about the bible…one of those God channels buried at the bottom of my cable package. Good news, folks: today may be bleak, but today is only one day, and Sunday is coming. A brighter day. He has a greater plan for you. …unfortunately, maybe, just not for your dying dog. Your dog is out of luck. Today is the dog’s last.

 

And that’s what I found. Two and a half days later, granted. A little off schedule, but sure enough—for the dying dog at least—Sunday never came. There is apparently no greater plan. God is a busy man, or asleep. Maybe obligated to appear in an obese woman’s tortilla somewhere in Mexico. Him or the Madonna.

 

The night after they took her body off my hands to be incinerated, I stopped by the rusty old gas station food mart and bought a quart of milk. Forgetting I don’t drink milk. She did, and she’s dead. I bought the milk anyway. I used the restroom before leaving for home (I had to bargain with the Indian behind the counter for use of the shithouse key). I didn’t stay up or go out again that night. I pissed in the toilet, and scrubbed the piss stains from the carpet with whatever I had on hand. Some hand soap and a worn out pair of underpants. I didn’t dream, either. I had a summons. No job. A freshly dead dog. And Sunday, I’m told, is coming.

hush

On a Wednesday afternoon, not a cloud in the sky, I made my move—lying down in the middle of the street. I curled myself into a neat little ball, slowly rocking at first, back and forth, gently. Then stopped rocking. The pavement hot under my flank, I very soon was perfectly and completely still. And very cold. A lot of people seemed to be gathering and quickly, but I was still as death, eyes wide open and fixed vacantly straight ahead. Quite a crowd gathering. A beautiful late summer day. I felt I would lie down, in the road, and not move from there. I felt I would stay there, still as death, until I was myself gone or else forcibly moved. I felt somehow this was the only way things could be.

It had struck at a seemingly arbitrary moment. The pulling, the irresistible pulling on what I would only describe as the nucleus of my being…the epicenter of my self was pulled down with a tremendous weight, like an elephant brought to the cold hard ground by a thousand piercing barbs. Something massive brought down by hundreds and thousands of spears hurled into its side; something like an elephant, or a rhino, harvested for its tusks. My fall was flat and non-percussive, however. And while quite the crowd had gathered, I myself was no elephant. No rhino. In reality, small. Thin. Gaunt, even. An ignoble beast. My falling made no sound, I’m sure. It was not a dignified falling, either, I’m sure. Simply walking along one day—a Wednesday—I fell to the pavement, like a sack full of hollow stones—rather silently and with not much impact. The harpoons tethered to my heart, however, pulled with high speed and tension; I felt myself hit the ground harder than I’d likely appeared to. I didn’t feel like moving then. I felt I would stay there, instead. However long.

What it was that hit me, however, I’m afraid I can’t identify. Just something forceful and somehow, cold; a phrase danced on my lips, but did not escape. I couldn’t bring myself to utter the words—the cold, fricative whisper that pierced my senses and punctured my heart. Brought me down like an elephant. A phrase; several words; a sentence; something I could not recite even if the apparent shock that had overtaken my body hadn’t presently confined me to a neat little ball, lying perfectly, deathly still. A chill of words cruelly danced on my lips, which parted slightly to show my teeth, gritted shut. A peculiar chill of words that had first danced in my brain, then in and out of the exit wounds of my heart and in-between all those barbs and spears. Now on my lips, I only felt cold and perfectly unable to broadcast the simplest human form of expression to define the chill in any concrete terms; no language, no movement or indication would suffice; even if I’d scrawled the words in chalk alongside myself, nothing would be an adequate vessel to translate it.

A crowd had gathered, car horns honking impatiently and men and women and children pointing, whispering. Perplexed, annoyed, unnerved or otherwise inconvenienced at my stillness on the ground and my complete lack of intent to move. I was still as death, and they were volatile as life—wondering and raving and questioning and shouting in no organized manner. All at once, a symphony of confusion; as the piece progressed, however, the crowd and the noise from it became more that of a mob. Disorganized, still confused, but taking shape steadily to resemble a sort of hive-mind—a hive-mind that howled in unison like a pack of dogs. Shouting. Whispering. Honking. Barking. And my ignoble, unmoving frame at the center of it.

“Sir,” one man dressed like me said, kneeling down and speaking in a hushed tone, “What’s the matter? You’re blocking traffic. You should move, before you get hurt.”

“I can’t move,” I said, my voice hollow and empty. It seemed to lack weight, my voice. Just more hollow stones spilled to the pavement. Each one exited like blood.

“Why not?”

“I can’t tell you,” I said.

“Why can’t you tell me?” The man was beginning to show signs of irritation.

“Because,” I said, and stopped, realizing I had nothing more to say to him. The man looked to be in his mid-30’s, like me, and he wore a white dress shirt, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, his tan jacket slung over his left shoulder and a bead of sweat on his brow. But I had nothing to say to him, and certainly, nothing I said to him would carry any meaning. I was meaningless. A meaningless, neat little ball. Still as death. I couldn’t translate or even begin to hush that fricative, cold whisper that danced on my lips. For a moment, my mind wandered: what would happen, I wonder, if I were to let that cold whisper spill too from my body? Whatever it was, it tasted bitter. It tasted like biohazard. Cold and radioactive. He couldn’t understand, unless I were to spill those words from my lips– allow him to wither and die alongside me. I supposed. And as long as this was the case, I thought, I would be lying there on the street, until men in white coats piled out of an ambulance and wheeled me off, snug and secure in their butterfly net. What else is to be done with a man who very suddenly shuts down, curls into a neat little ball, and feels a complete inability to move from his spot on city pavement?

The 30-something man knelt back down, said, “Sir, there’s a crowd gathering. I’m sure you don’t want me to call the police—have them physically remove you?” He tried to look into my eyes, but my eyes, but they were too vacant. Set perfectly still in the optic cavity, aimed dead ahead. At nothing. They were open, glassy. Nothing could look in, and nothing could get out. “Sir.” The man tried to get my attention, snapping his fingers and clapping his hands. “Sir! Listen to me. You can’t just lie down in the middle of a busy street. Do you hear me?”

By now, the throng of onlookers had multiplied—at least fifty people crowded around, cars pulled off at odd angles and children pointing and laughing. Dogs barking. Car horns honking. A real spectacle, it seemed. They were all crowded around in a circle, and a woman stepped forward through the barricade of bodies, attempted to look in my eyes and said, “He’s right, sir. You need to move. You’re making people late for work. People have places they need to be. You have to move. Please, sir.”

“That won’t work,” another man said, pushing his way through to the front. “He’s obviously nuts. It’s like one of those guys who threatens to jump from a bridge. We need to talk him down, is all.”

“And how do we do that?” another woman asked, throwing her hands in the air. “Is anyone here a psychiatrist? Or a hostage negotiator? No? Then let’s just call the damn cops! I have a meeting at 9:00.”

“She’s right,” a teenage boy chimed in.

“What do you know? You’re just a kid. Tell you what: give me five minutes alone with him, and whether he moves himself or I have to move him, your problem’ll be solved.” He began to usher the crowd back. “Step aside, now.”

The 30-something man broke in, “No! He’s obviously unwell. We need to treat him with a little more consideration. You can’t just go and manhandle a sick person.”

“Bullshit! He’s tying up traffic. At this rate, the cops won’t be here for another 20 minutes. I’ll take care of it.”

“Leave him be,” another woman said. “That guy’s right. Let’s just try to talk some sense into him until the police get here.”

But their words were all moot. They meant nothing to me. I felt I would lie there, perfectly still, and that nothing would change that. That cold phrase still dancing cruelly across my lips. I supposed it would take the force of fifty men to lift my body from its spot on the pavement—I felt so heavy, pulled down by a tremendous force onto that small spot in the road. Cold and intent not to move at all, I was–I supposed–stuck. That it might not be a question of intent at all was only now dawning on me. I supposed, for all that weight pulling me down, I was indeed stuck. And like biohazard, also contagious. I felt all women and children ought to back away. Clear the area.

Car horns honked in a delirious cacophony of confused street noise; the career-driven businessmen and women pacing in frustration. I couldn’t blame them. As far as they knew, I was just some basket-case—a mentally disturbed nobody threatening to jump from a bridge. Maybe that’s exactly what I am, my mind wandered. I certainly had no intention of inconveniencing anyone. It was simply unavoidable—inevitable—that something like this would happen. All the weight pulling at my heart—my nucleus—had probably been pulling for some time. I’d probably walked down this road many times carrying it, bearing the weight and the barbs. Today, however, was different. Today, I felt I would lie down and not move a muscle. And so, I didn’t. In time, I supposed, I couldn’t. And I still felt I should be regarded a disease—a biohazard or a human radiation. In a perfect world, my body would shrivel up and blink away, or else some apparatus would lift it—perfectly still and rigor-mortised—up and away somewhere from all the commotion. There was a certain guilt for having fallen, then and there. Then, a complete disregard. Before I could feel too guilty for becoming spectacle, I retreated into myself some more, and things around me became a bit muted. I supposed this might be death. Or a variety of it.

But the cold phrase dancing on my lips was not death; it tasted bitter, poisonous even, but not like death. It was, I suppose, a pearl of nihilistic wisdom—one that said in its own cold, fricative way, that what I needed to do that day, then and there in the middle of the street, was to simply lie down…and not move…and not be moved. And if others tried to, I felt they may well find themselves lying down in their own neat little balls—perfectly still and dead—alongside me. Maybe it’s just too heavy and too cold for me to really care, I wondered…

“…what’s your name?” the first man with the tan jacket asked, kneeling back down. His voice had softened. His words were deliberate, and they nuzzled up close to me. He was trying to play me. Trying to get on with his day and the inconvenience by being kind and understanding, if just for a moment. But I had no intention of playing his game. I felt more and more like the common cold; a human contagion ready to spread. “Just tell me your name, sir. Who are you? Why are you doing this?”

Now, it seemed, the group think had shifted strategic mental gears. And the leader of the three-ring circus was the man with the tan jacket slung over his shoulder, poking and prodding as fumblingly and gently as he could to engage me in something resembling a dialogue. To talk me off this supposed ledge. Everyone has their reasons. People have places to go…other people to see. And I moved more towards not caring with every word hushed to me. Towards contagion.

“I won’t tell you my name,” I said finally. “And I won’t play games with you.”

“You won’t play games?” another man blurted out. “What the fuck are you talking about, buddy? You’re the one playing the damn games around here! You want attention, is that it? Well, you’ve got it. So now what?”

The man with the tan jacket slung over his shoulder turned to shoot the other man a dirty look, said, “I’m not playing games, sir. The cops will be here soon enough. I’m just trying to see if—“

“If you can get me to move, right?” I interrupted. “To see if you could save yourself a little inconvenience, go on with your life and your work day and all your perfect little things…” Hollow stones of words spilled out like blood from my lips, and only as I heard them myself was I taken aback. A human contagion.

“It’s nothing like that, sir,” he said. “I’m just…”

“Curious?” I interrupted.

The man with the tan jacket looked sullen, then smirked a little bit, kind of nervously, and said, “…I guess. Yes. I’m just curious. Why would a person do something like this?”

“That, I can’t tell you,” I said. It seemed the man with the tan jacket at least, did have a legitimate claim to conversation. Either that, or he was simply a ghoul…a rubbernecked motorist gawking at a dead and twisted thing on the side of the road. With vacant eyes fixed straight ahead, I added, “…And you don’t want to know.”

“Yes, I do,” he said. “Really. Tell me. Why are you doing this?”

I supposed there was no harm in a man slowing down to gawk at a train wreck. I supposed, there was no harm in entertaining him. “Really. You don’t,” I said at last.

“Why? Is it really so horrible?”

“Yes.”

“We’re talking in circles,” he said, “You and me, just you and me, now. Forget about everyone else.” He looked over his shoulder, looked back, and continued, “What is it?”

But it was impossible to oblige. I couldn’t separate his face from the fleshy mass of onlookers and gawkers. I saw the mob as one; one big, cancerous mass. “If I talk to you,” I said, “I talk to them too. And I can’t be held responsible.”

“For what?”

“For what might happen…,” I said.

The man with the tan jacket wiped some sweat from his brow. “Sir, listen to me,” he said, grasping my shoulder with his right hand, “nothing is going to happen. It’s all in your head,” he said, swallowing and proceeding in a whisper, as if his words were not fit for the rest to hear, “…you’re sick. That’s all.”

“I know I’m sick. And I know it’s all in my head. That’s just the problem.” My words were hollow stones dropped to the ground. I kept looking straight ahead through dead, glassy eyes. I could feel my contagion starting to spread.

“You need help, sir. Help is coming.” The man with the tan jacket rose to his feet, stepped back, and checked his watch.

“I’m sick of this!” another man shouted. He dropped down to the pavement, on his hands and knees, and peered into my glassy eyes. “Listen you little shit, either you get your ass up, or I’m gonna move you myself. And you don’t want that.” He jammed his index finger into my forehead. Poked and prodded. Back to his feet, he gave a half-hearted kick to my shoulder and moved away.

I felt the inexplicable, cold phrase that had been dancing across my lips begin to spill out onto the pavement. The crowd was settling down. Still staring dead ahead, at nothing, the cacophony of confused and frustrated whispers, shouts, the horns honking and even the dogs barking died out; at first more bluntly muted, then muted some more. And then silent altogether…the symphony ended, or myself deafened, I couldn’t tell which. And I supposed I would lie there. Until I was myself faded into nothingness, or else moved by force.

…however long…

 

the individual devil/a lie agreed upon

[a man and his devil were talking…]

 

I wanted to run this by you: you’ve heard of Sisyphus, right?

 

“Sounds familiar.”

 

The ancient Greek king who was murderous and deceitful, and then when Zeus tried to send him to the underworld, he tricked Hades and chained him up…to a wall, like…

 

“Go on. Hades, the death guy. Stopped by a wall? Okay, but go ahead..”

 

Well, since no one could die as long as Hades was held captive, sacrifices could not be made, so he was forced to release him. He does some nasty stuff to his wife Persephone (always liked that name) after that; I can’t remember… but in the end his punishment is to be forced to roll a giant boulder up a hill, day after day, for all eternity…and every time he’s just about to reach the top, the boulder rolls back down and he has to start again. So it’s about the futility of life, and the fact that no matter what we do in our time here, it means nothing, and that at the same time, what we do here means everything. That’s my interpretation, based on some readings of it anyway. There are different versions, of course.

 

“I’ll bet you didn’t read much about this before starting up.”

 

…Maybe that’s true, I say, but sometime’s the reader’s digest version is sufficient to make a point.

 

“Guess they wouldn’t publish that version if if weren’t. Sometimes, anyway..”

 

Don’t accuse me of trying to be pretentious here,

 

“Wouldn’t dare…!” [gesticulating]

 

…because I’ve seriously been thinking about this whole thing, I say. I’m really not.

 

“Not really pretentious or seriously not been thinking about this whole thing?”

 

[the devil cracks a smile]

 

Bear with me….Camus’ interpretation is that, in the end, despite the frustration and futility and absurdity of it all, we have to imagine Sisyphus as ‘happy’. He says something like ‘the struggle itself is enough to fill a man’s heart’. I don’t know if he’s happy, but I can meet Camus halfway and say maybe Sisyphus was at the very least ‘occupied’. He had something to do. And maybe that was enough that he was neither happy nor miserable, but at least for the most part, ‘okay’….I guess.

 

“Worse things to be than ‘okay’. But I shouldn’t be the one to tell you this.”

 

My ‘something to do’ I’ve regarded as futile and meaningless, and maybe that’s why I’ve been so miserable. I’m coming around to maybe considering the idea that it really is just up to me and me alone to decide how it’s going to be: am I going to live out each day as some tragic ancient greek punishment….or decide to be contented, or at the very least ‘occupied’, with this giant boulder, knowing that this is all there is. This is all there is. And I’m really tired of being miserable. A giant boulder and a steep hill is all you get, maybe. I say.

 

“This is all very Greek [says the devil]…I’m more of a freezing, white waiting room in the middle of nowhere kind of guy. Fire, rocks, the dark…you can sleep in the dark, you know. Make do with the rocks. The fire…well, that keeps you warm. A bright-white, freezing waiting room…no blankets…no fire, no thermostat…that’s uncomfortable. And the key word…’waiting’.”

 

Exactly. Maybe it’s not about being uncomfortable at all. The punishment is wrongly prescribed to fit the crime. Or, taken the right way, maybe the prescription can be abused. You’re describing ‘waiting’, essentially. Not cold, not bright light. Maybe just having a boulder and a steep hill is more than enough to neuter the punishment of ‘waiting’.

 

“Talk of abusing drugs prescribed by Hades himself. You do belong in the Hell.”

 

Abusing your drugs, too. I think I’ve found a way to circumvent the ‘waiting room’. Simply…stop waiting. Take my medicine on my own terms.

 

“You’re still just waiting on yourself, no matter how you take your damn medicine, no matter how you wait or while away the days, everything is vanity, everything under the sun…and all that…and where you are, there ain’t no sun. Let’s face it, friend…just exchanging secret ecstasies of the imagination (hoisting at long last that giant boulder over the summit of the hill)…for a single moment of sweet release that never comes. The doctor is taking it easy on you. He at least says he’ll ‘be with you momentarily’ (that moment never comes…no matter…it’s the lie that gives you hope). You [the devil grins] are your own lying doctor…he who NEVER is there ‘momentarily’…or at all…he who NEVER comes. So by all means…self-medicate. It won’t make your days any shorter, any less tedious. Still a lying doctor…”

 

Only if I let myself be the lying doctor.

 

“Only if. But….won’t you?”

 

I want a boulder to labor over…even if it means never making it to the summit. At least I’m waiting on my own terms. Maybe not waiting at all…I say. Maybe the labor itself really is enough.

 

“Enough of a distraction. And what is it you’re really saving yourself from? What a circular argument! [exclaims the little devil]

 

That’s a matter of philosophy, I guess.

 

“Enjoy your philosophy, then. See if it keeps you captivated for an eternity. …Either way, it’s a lie. A lie agreed upon, either you tell it to yourself or the doc tells it to you, and either way, you agree upon it. You can’t win. Which is worse, who can say. Your thing is all very Greek, but when you get right down to it, who are you kidding. Who’s anyone kidding. You’re just waiting…I’m your doctor, friend…and I’m here to help.”

 

[the man’s individual little devil smiles; irascibly] 

 

Death, death death. Your thing is weak. Nothing but the dead and death. I feel some sign of life…having some inscrutable ‘something’ to roll up a hill…even if that is embracing misery, then what the Hell else is there to embrace? Otherwise you just wait…in the cold. I say that, and at the same time, I feel a chill rattle up my windpipe…perhaps I’m coming down with something.

 

“…’Who’ll sop my gravy, when I’m old and grey?’…[sickening, sing-song falsetto]

 

Who’ll roll my boulder…when I’m cold and ill… I say

 

[the man’s little devil grins irascibly]

 

“you just wait either way…burning in cold or drowning in flame…ain’t it?”

.Fire_Girl

the bare survival minimum

A— pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his head and took a seat inside the plastic enclosure next to the bus stop. Through sheets of rain, a man appeared and busily sat himself down on the bench next to A—, and absently went on tussling his hair, removing his frock coat, airing it out, flapping it and wringing it, inconsiderately shaking the wet from his body like a dog. A loud honk of a sneeze, clearing of the throat, a general boorishness. A— scooted over as far as possible and pretended to look at something in the distance.

 

“It’s a wet one,” the slob of a man let out suddenly. An older guy. Poorly dressed, mismatched socks, slacks an inch or an inch and a half too short…beaten up looking face. Like a retired boxer’s face. But not a prizefighter. Not a contender. A punching bag, rather. A jobber. A man who’s spent his life and career taking shots to the face and nose and jaw and not seen a dime or a single win for all his efforts. His face was that beaten. Like he could’ve spent a lifetime getting beaten…and for nothing, in the end. “Cats an’ dogs, huh?” the beaten old man said pleasantly, rubbing his wrinkly, prune-like hands together. Beaten and exploited, but pleasant; pleasant, and not down. Only god knows why, A— thought, but you could give him that much—he’s not down. The admirable still-standing beaten thing went on about something or other following that profound observation of the rain, cats and dogs-like, but A— was intent on staring through the veil of fog directly ahead, staring inscrutably at that particular little nothing.

 

“Mmm.” A— examined the imaginary little nothing harder now.

 

“You went to ___ University.” Referring to A—‘s hooded sweatshirt. The beaten old fighter leered, smiling pleasantly at the university logo on A—‘s shirt. Crooked, genuine smile revealing three or four missing upper teeth.,.two barely noticeable, off to the side…one a canine, quite noticeable, front and center. Had it been knocked out by a left jab or an uppercut? Had he fought to lose that tooth? Or had it fallen out due to abnormally poor oral hygiene? The way in which one loses a tooth can say a lot about a man, A— mused…

 

“…No,” he answered finally, after a quite prolonged silence. Not thinking. “Yes.” Pausing, pregnantly. Then saying nothing.

 

“Ah, well. My daughter went there.” Crooked smile revealing missing canine. A genuine smile.

 

Both men sat silently. The rain beating the little plastic box harder now. Waiting on a bus. Sky gray and cold between the raindrops. Fog shrouding the men as if to constrict—to ensnare the both of them—force them uncomfortably close and closer, like two animals in a cage. Two uncomfortable animals in one little plastic cage. Or, one uncomfortable animal, perhaps. The little plastic box like a Siberian outpost, a no man’s land…zero visibility for miles around for the fog and rain. A— began to legitimately examine that imaginary little nothing in the distance…staring at it inscrutably, soaked through to his bones. In this moment, he almost started to believe there was something to be examined; something out there…not just a means of distancing himself from the wet dog of a man to his left; the beaten fighter with the missing canine. Hypnotized by the pounding rain, the rattling of the plastic enclosure. The man to his left broke the trance with a hacking cough, a blowing of his nose into a soaked handkerchief. Sputtering little bits of mucus and saliva, he began to start up again…

 

“This was immediately after my wife passed…what I’m telling you now; I spent at least four weeks in my house, living off potato chips, dry cereal, plain white bread…like that…and after a certain point I said to myself, you need to get out and get groceries at least. You can’t just stop eating…or live off crumbs you know…pretty much all I had left at that point. So I build myself up you know, and I decide yes, I have to go out and go grocery shopping. Bare survival minimum type stuff.

 

“I’d been walking around my house with just my boxer shorts and a stained white t-shirt on you know…and I had no clean laundry. What I did was I took a shower…which I hadn’t done in at least a week by the way…and turned my boxer shorts and t-shirt inside out. Minimize the odor. I had no detergent you see. For the washing machine. So I couldn’t do the laundry and get myself right, put on a clean pair of pants and shirt you see. I’d run out of everything you know. Put my sweatpants and jacket on and I left the house. Wasn’t easy….let me tell you. The sun hurt. The sun hurts like that when you haven’t seen it in so long. I get in the car, right, and I feel like I can barely remember how to drive. Like I forgot everything… just like riding a bike. But I got out onto the road and managed…found my way to the store. I never did the grocery shopping you know. My wife did that. Couldn’t remember the last time I went grocery shopping by myself…….I felt like a lost little boy. I….” he paused. Maybe lost his train of thought. This bizarre non-sequitur, on pause, the beaten fighter with the missing canine grinding the remainder of his teeth anxiously now, perhaps laboring to recall something or other. A— was now looking in this man’s direction. Yes…..he exists. And before the thought of what the hell is this old man babbling about entered his mind, a genuine curiosity at the strangeness and the abruptness of it all came first. Now, if nothing else, he thought….this is entertainment.

 

Had the man in fact been a fighter? Surely, if he had, he never won a single bout. But then, A— thought, I’ve never even been in a bout, let alone won or lost one. His eyes darted away into the mist then, thinking on that. Whatever this wet dog of a man is…a poor old slob, a roguish nobody with a moth flying out of his pocket…his face, at least, gave the distinct impression of a man who’d spent his life taking hits and likely giving few or none back. Fighter or not, he had been beaten well and good. By something. And what have I been beaten by? A— wondered. The beaten old man, fighter or not, started up again. “I had to learn to cook for myself. At first it was microwave this, microwave that. Ramen noodles. The like. Flashback to the bachelor days you know. But I said to myself I don’t want to live like a 23 year old bachelor, you know, I want to live like a grown man, who cooks and cleans and takes care of his business the way a man ought to take care of his business you see. So…you know what I took a cooking class. I felt silly. But lemme tell ya, you know, I learned a thing or two. And I learned more than cooking…” he paused again. This time clasping his meaty, paw-like hands together and looking off into the distance, through the veil of fog…almost as if he’d spotted A—‘s mysterious, imaginary little nothing. “…yeah you know, I learned if you wanna meet women, hey fella, take a cooking class.” He grimaced slightly, absent canine presenting again, prominently through the crooked smile and his curled lips. “I wasn’t ready for that though. She uh, she…the one I met there she, you know, well it didn’t work out you know. Just wasn’t meant to be. Was just too soon. Or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe I’d ruined a good thing. Never could settle on that one. Huh.” He grinned sincerely, looked right at A—. “Huh, I’m really going on aren’t I. Why didn’t you stop me, fella? I’m chewin’ off your ear aren’t I? You don’t want to hear about this…” A—, at this point, absolutely did want to hear about this. He was thoroughly intrigued and entertained. “Wow. Don’t know how I got into all that. Really came outta nowhere I guess. How’d I even get on that?” Scratching his temple. “Oh right…your sweatshirt, fella. My daughter went to ___ University. That’s how.” He became very quiet all of a sudden. Almost sullen. A— felt compelled to speak now. Not quite sure what to say or why. Where at first he would just as soon not acknowledge the old dog as a man, an equal, now that impulse had changed. To what exactly, he wasn’t sure. The beaten old dog was also now less an object of entertainment. With his closing words, that voyeuristic curiosity had become dampened, and verging on something else entirely.

 

“I just got out of jail,” A— said. “…I didn’t go to college.” He looked straight ahead as he spoke, but not at the imaginary nothing in the distance. Simply into the veil of fog. Straight to the heart of the storm. “I got this shirt at a flea market, on my way out of jail. Only 99 cents. I was cold, see. When I went in, it was Springtime. Now it’s Fall. Walked out the front doors with just the shirt off my back. That and a few bucks. A few bucks sitting in my wallet for four and a half months. Heh.” A— cracked a nervous smile. All his teeth were accounted for.

 

“Well,” the old dog picked up, “everyone makes mistakes you know.”

 

“No,” A— said. “It wasn’t a mistake. I knew what I was doing. A mistake’s when you drop a glass of water on the kitchen floor. Broken glass. You didn’t mean to do it. Gotta clean it up. But it’s a mistake, you know?” A— stared ahead, through the mist. Unsure what might be hidden out there in the shroud of fog. “I knew what I was doing. I did it anyways.”

 

“That’s still a mistake, fella. You did something wrong I see, that much I got. Whatever it was though, you see, ya fouled up…see, I’ll bet, sittin’ here, now, thinkin’ about it, you could probably definitely say to yourself you wouldn’t do it again whatever it was. You learn. That’s what a mistake is.”

 

A— paused, pursing his lips tentatively. “…mistake or not. It’s something I did. Yeah I guess, you got a point there…I definitely wouldn’t do it again. Don’t think I would. Hope not. I’m not a criminal though. This thing…it was a one-time thing. A fluke. Something happened shouldn’t have happened.”

 

“Shit happens,” the old man said, honestly. And A— supposed that was about right. Shit does happen. It’s not a cliché. Shit happens all the time. Life is full of shit. And of happenings. “I worked as an engineer for 50 years,” the old fighter said, “and I didn’t accomplish a damn thing. I got a nice pension for my time and efforts but that’s about it, I didn’t split the atom, didn’t do anything important, not a damn thing important…just…a lotta shit. Then your wife dies. Suppose that’s shit happening right there. What’s the point I guess. Guess the point’s, maybe your mistake got ya sent to jail for a few months…gotta be rough, sure…but what about my mistake? 50 years wasting my talent. I wanted to be a painter, you see. I did a little bit here and there along the way, sure, but my life is defined by that 50 years doing not a god damned thing instead. Had to provide. You gotta provide. Maybe it’s a mistake maybe not. Feels like one. I dunno.”

 

“Painting. That’s cool,” A— said. “You know…you could be painting now. You’re retired right? What’s stopping you?”

 

“Ahh..” the old dog snapped his wrist dismissively. “That ship’s sailed. Starting out in the evening…not for me I don’t think.” His disposition seemed to have soured in that moment. “But you, you got plenty of time, fella. A minor setback that’s all. Jail, so what. Obviously wasn’t a capital crime, now. So you got time an’ opportunity still.”

 

“I don’t know about that.”

 

“Don’t waste your time. Take that from me, now.”

 

The veil of fog had begun to lift, slightly. The pounding rain decreased in intensity only marginally. But enough to notice. “Still think you oughtta be painting. You’re not dead, right? So you got time.”

 

“Maybe some time. Not time enough I think, though.” Through the fog a screeching of gears and metal on metal sounded. The bus squealed to a halt; barely visible through the mist, even seven or eight feet from the plastic enclosure. “Never enough time,” the beaten old man added as he prepared to stand. “Whatever you do, never think that…you know…that you got enough time.”

 

He stood, rubbing his meaty paws together for warmth. “Never enough time.”

 

A— remained in his seat. Only giving a half-hearted nod to the old fighter as he climbed aboard the bus. He’d planned to take it to a place he probably should not be, especially having just been released from jail. He supposed he still might take the next one there. Either that or wait till the rain lets up and simply keep walking.

 

He might walk to his destination. That, he thought, or he might just walk. And keep walking. The bus pulled away. A— was left alone. The rain had picked back up. Even harder than before. Alone, he thought only of walking. And eventually, of eating. And after that, of shelter. Alone, and with all the time in the world. Bare survival minimum-type stuff…

AN OBJECT LESSON

The space heater had busted. Again. This time, however, Raymond Massey wasn’t going to take it. Not from a space heater. Not again. After inspecting the busted contraption for all of two seconds, like a character in a cop show—the ones who kneel down and touch their fingers to the dead man’s neck—declare after all of two seconds, feeling for vital signs of life—a pulse—a heartbeat—that the dead man is a dead man. By that time, in cop shows, the dead man may as well be dead. But Raymond was living in a time without television, and without cop shows. His TV, as well, had busted. That, now, was in the shop. As was his toaster oven, blender, and stereo system. His things were breaking all around him. But no more. The bastard—the space heater—was going to pay.

He hadn’t said anything. Not said anything, as in, not said anything, even to express his anger. His frustration. Usually, Raymond would swear; to god and then to fuck the useless piece of shit machine. He’d swear in both senses of the word, and his word in swearing to god often contained a swear word or two anyhow. “God, help me maintain my sanity. This fucking piece of shit. It’s fucked me again. Oh God.” Sworn to not take abuse, he’d taken to his closet, and found his wrench, an old screwdriver, some screws, one nail, a mallet, and an aluminum baseball bat. He’d taken only the bat.

“You’re gonna pay, motherfucker.” What he’d solve in busting up his busted space heater, he didn’t know. Anyhow, that wasn’t the point. But the thing had to go. Like a racehorse, one gets cholera or pneumonia or typhoid or pinworms, and they bounce back, maybe—maybe—but even when they do, if they in fact do, takes just a little more out of them, each time; like bodily insurance something wrong will happen provided some interest has accrued already—whether a virus, or a crossed circuit, or a tapeworm or blown fuse—wrong things build upon themselves, and they invest like karma parasites to ensure the risk of more wrong things going wrong rises in stock. In any case, the wrong thing had happened to Raymond Massey’s space heater, and to Raymond, that was the last wrong thing to happen. Wrongs upon wrongs, he’d seen too many fumbles and screw-ups that week alone to let one more pass. “You know,” he’d said, “Mother always told me times like this, ‘this too shall pass’.” Mrs. Massey hadn’t dreamt up that slogan on her own, of course, he knew that. But it’d always made him feel better. “This shouldn’t pass,” he thought. Too many times he’d seen himself let the wrongs done him pass. “This time,” he thought, “I’m gonna bust this shit up.”

He brought the aluminum bat up to his chest, began swinging lightly as if to better hit one out of the park. He gave the busted thing, the infernal machine, a good kick. Realizing he’d not been wearing his shoes, the machine had then just added injury to further his insult. A good “Fuck!” and he’d raised the bat over his head without another thought, brought it down, and felt the crack of the cheap plastic casing, brought it down again, and felt a satisfying thwack to the machine’s now exposed internal organs, and brought down one more time, felt the shock of some electrical spasm run up the poorly suited aluminum of his weapon—into his hands, and through his hands, into his own internal organs—his heart—the bastard—the infernal machine had indeed added injury to its initial insult. Raymond fell back, and he felt himself palpitating in electro-malfunctioned time to the machine’s own heart.

Once he knew he’d died, Raymond could see the electrical storm within his own heart. Whatever had happened, he thought, the damn machine had gotten the better of him. An hallucination, a convulsion, aneurism—whatever it’d done to him, he was now in a different place. Not a better place, as his mother used to say after flushing his dearly departed box turtle.

“Where am I now?” He asked. He asked, because he didn’t know; and not just “where” but, perhaps, “what”.

Dead. For now. A voice without any sound had whispered that.

“Space heaters…” he began, “shouldn’t do that.”

No. I suppose they oughtn’t. The same soundless voice. You feel that beating, don’t you, it said, silently.

“I do. Feel a beating,” he said. “Like a heart beating. Not mine, though.”

No. Not your heart. What you feel is the heart of the machine. Beating.

“Space heaters,” he said, “shouldn’t do that. Beat.” He realized then that there was no vision in his eyes. Had he eyes, as he’d assumed he did, they were now blind. “Where’re my eyes?”

Phrased well. You’re above eyes. Or, if you’d prefer, eyes are now below you.

“Above? Below?” He’d meant to make some sort of gesture, realized simply that he’d simply nothing to gesture with. “As in, I’m better than them. Eyes, that is?”

It’s not a question of better. You just don’t need them now. Just like angels and seraphim don’t need penises or vaginas. They’re not above such things—just don’t need them where they are.

“You mean to say…I’m dead.” He’d meant to gesture again, but couldn’t. He’d begun, then, to wish he could. “This is some kind of…afterlife, is that what I’m to believe?”

You’ll do better with body parts, the silence told him, and he’d found himself abruptly snapped back into a material vessel. He still couldn’t see anything, then realized only because there was nothing to see. Bringing his hand up, Raymond saw that his body was alone in this blackness. Not only that, but mangled. Alone and mangled, his hand, being the first thing to activate use of his eyes, seemed to be a fleshy-looking metallic tangle of silver and wires. All the same, the silver and wires, mangled into the shape of a hand—his hand—seemed more flesh than machine. It was the silver, he thought. And the wires. Making a fist and feeling it compacted and folded upon itself, it seemed, the machinery that composed this hand was quite fleshy indeed. Raymond, giving himself a good once-over, insofar as he could maintain a unified image of himself in absence of a mirror, saw, slowly then, that he’d simply been made into a more silvery, metallic-looking version of himself. But, what the hell was the reason for that? “Space heaters…,” he said, once again, and to himself this time, “shouldn’t do that.” He began to move, his joints crunching and squishing concurrently, and said, additionally, “where’s my voice.”

What you feel, his silent voice said, is yourself. As a machine. Abused. Used. Beaten. Discarded, and sold for scrap. Your anger is too much. Calm down.

“If I’m dead,” he said. “How can I be any calmer?”

Calm down.

“I am. Calm. Don’t tell me to calm again. I am.”

Calm. Down.

Raymond felt his metallic sinew begin to strip itself apart, ripped and twisted, and he’d begun soon thereafter to swear. “Listen,” he said, his body now flagellating and twisting in all directions, “Don’t fucking tell me to be calm, goddammit.”

What can you do, he thought, however; if what he’d told himself was to be believed, by himself, in any capacity—that would seem to suggest that he’d now been made into a dysfunctional and quite breakable machine himself. Only, machines can’t just break themselves. For that, he’d need a good baseball bat—preferably a wooden one—and someone to wield it for and against him.

“Space heaters…can’t do this.” Maybe not. He’d begun to think for himself, then. That voice, of course, he’d realized, wasn’t a voice at all. Amongst all the disembodiment and hyper-materialistic transmutations, he’d not realized until just then. It was his own thought, his own brain, struggling to reconnect to the host. Himself. “Of course.” Raymond realized then, also, that he had no need for a voice anyway. That, or a body. And that had brought him to realize also, he’d been shocked into a spastic incoherence. “Space heaters shouldn’t do that.”

Aware that he’d been laid out on the floor, fried by that infernal machine, he’d realized also that awareness alone wouldn’t be enough to solve the problem; he would need to be shocked back into coherence, or given CPR, or god knows what. And he also was aware that what he’d just experienced was all too real, but at the same time unreliable…a hallucination perhaps…and perhaps not. Raymond Massey kind of just waited around, then, inside himself, hoping for either a merciful spasm of consciousness to convulse him back, or perhaps, for someone to come upon him and take whatever measures necessary to revive his body and guide his mind back into its shell. Maybe. Or maybe not. It became increasingly uncertain, as to exactly where he was, or how to know the answer.

In the end, the damn machine had in fact used him, he thought. Whether right or wrong—as if a machine can even be said to be treated wrongly, or vice versa—Raymond himself was also busted. He’d felt his anger give way, and again, right or wrong, realized that he might possibly find some redeeming value, should his own machine be thankfully restored, in anger management lessons. Raymond waited, then, for quite some time.

Waited. Dead. Or alive. He wasn’t quite sure which. Breaking things had become a way of life for him. The tendency for things to break on their own, however, had become curiously more and more frequent. As if the whole world, piece by piece, kitchen appliance and TV set and power-drill at a time, was breaking down. All around him. Crumbling. One electrical consumer product at a time. Whatever wasn’t broken by Raymond himself in a fit of rage, was broken on its own accord, and seemingly in response to the destructive force of a baseball bat to a toaster, or a wrench to a car engine… Things simply began to break, it seemed. The rage inside him perhaps willing this to happen. Everything malfunctions. Goes haywire. Everything around him—the world itself—seemed to be malfunctioning. A pall hung over his head everywhere he went. This dark cloud, getting darker by the day…and everything within its radius simply crumbling and falling apart and malfunctioning. Breaking.

Maybe he would be found, lying on the floor, in a coma. Maybe he would be resuscitated. Un-broken. And maybe he was already beyond repair. Either way, it did in fact seem he would have to wait for the answer. And, if repair was not possible…the machine already destroyed and smashed to bit—then, in that case, he would be waiting a very, very long time. For the answer to an uncertain question. He was of the age, and of the physical shape, that utter disrepair may just be the case. It would not be a shock. His mind wandered…and wandered to the rudimentary conclusion that simply wandering signaled there was still a mind to be had. No afterlife. That he had ruled out long before this incident, as a devout cynic. But what was left of his mind, it didn’t feel quite familiar. A stroke, perhaps…but still, the metaphysical breaking of things felt all too real. He, himself, was broken. The world, all the things encompassed by the radius of that dark cloud, had crumbled under the weight of a temperament that was itself too far gone and beyond repair. Things break. People break. It seemed, without any question, he was broken. Dead or not, he still felt. And felt—in the absence of a body, it truly seemed—that he would wait. And the wait would be quite some time.

Raymond would wait. Dead. Comatose. Broken. Whatever the case. Sprawled out on the floor, surrounded by all his other broken things. Awaiting repair. Or, awaiting the eventuality of nothing. Waiting for a zero sum…a negative. In the interim, at least, it seemed as if things had stopped breaking. Surrounded by his broken things, Raymond thought, “at least there’s that…”