Category Archives: Stories
We were watching TV, Two and a Half Men or Big Bang Theory, I can’t recall. I was playing poker on my phone, not sure how the conversation started in the first place. Somebody on whatever show was on must’ve brought it up. One of the cats was lying on my lap and I was on a roll, finally winning some money back.
Jackie said, “So, how often do you masturbate?”
“What?” I chuckled, looking at her briefly and turning back to my poker game. I had to fold that hand. I turned back to her. She was waiting for a response, her serious gaze cloaked a smile not far behind. “Once in a while,” I said.
“Once a week…? Two weeks?”
“I don’t know. I don’t…I don’t have a set schedule. Once in a while.”
“Where do you do it?”
“What?” I chuckled again.
“Where do you do it?”
“Where…?” I muttered, fiddling with my phone and folding another hand in advance.
“You do it in the shower, don’t you?”
“No, I um…”
“Oh god, in bed? Do you do it in our bed?”
“You watch porn in our bed!”
I wish I had a snapshot of my face so I could forever remember the moment, my stuttering shame. I think I was smiling, smiling like an imbecile, but I’ll never know for sure. I said, “I don’t watch porn.”
We paused. My eyes darted around the room and landed on my phone, still in my hand, but I’d long been kicked out of the poker table, as if they knew I had more important things at hand. I sighed, “I do it in the bathroom, on the toilet.”
“Yes,” I muttered, pushing the cat off my lap. She cursed at me on her way down and I don’t think I was smiling any more, but I’m willing to bet that I still looked like an imbecile. I began to tell her everything, while trying to avoid any direct eye contact, of course. “I sit on the toilet,” I sighed, “Every once in a while I do it, I…I close my eyes, you know? And yeah, I…”
“Jerk off with your eyes closed?”
“On the toilet, yes…” I dropped my head slightly and closed my eyes, but that was ruined. So much for closing my eyes in peace. Then came the voice in my head, “Just smile, idiot! Can’t turn back now, so just smile. You can still turn it around on her, you know?” I did so right away. “How often do you masturbate?” I exclaimed, turning toward her frantically, almost rising off the couch.
“I don’t anymore, vibrator broke about a year ago.”
We paused. I turned away from her again. It was a rather long pause too, because I remember thinking that all was over, turning my attention to the TV, hoping another character on whatever show was on would give us a new topic of conversation.
“So,” said Jackie, “What do you think of?”
“Think of what?”
“When you sit on the toilet with your eyes closed?”
“It’s imagination!” I exclaimed, raising both arms in the air, and added, “I imagine things.”
“Yes, I picture…”
“No particular person…What the hell? Who would you think of when your vibrator was working?”
“You,” she replied firmly.
“Aw, that’s so sweet babe.”
“If not you, then Justin Timberlake.”
“Well, there you go! I bet he was really good with his tongue!”
We both laughed, sincerely awkward. “How about you?” She said.
“I don’t know,” I sighed, “I picture fictional characters, sometimes old school actresses…” We paused. My eyes darted around the room. I said, “This whole conversation reminds me of a scene in a Woody Allen movie, not sure which one, but in it he explains how he prefers masturbation to the real thing. He explains how, the night before, he’d conjured up a threesome with Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren, and he says, ‘As far as I know, that was the first time both actresses appeared in something together!’ “
Jackie said nothing. The conversation was over, or so it seemed. “Thanks Woody!” I thought.
Later on that night, I stood in the bathroom for several minutes, staring at the toilet. I think I was smiling again, images of nameless breasts running a marathon in my head, Elizabeth Taylor making out with Sophia Loren.
“Ahem! What’re you up to in there?” Jackie exclaimed from the living room.
“Just saying my goodbyes,” I whispered and thought to myself, “Well, that’s that…”
Walking out of the bathroom and down the hallway, back to Jackie, that same voice surfaced again in my head, saying, “Fuck Justin Timberlake!”
I could hear them calling my name, then they picked me up off the floor of the Indian restaurant. The place was packed. Everyone was a blur, except for the woman right in front of me, her plate in her hand, her mouth wide open. I think I was standing on my own for a few seconds. I think I managed to mutter, “Excuse me,” as I made it to the front door, pushed it open and once more the black dots in my eyes came together and pulled me to the ground. Blackness all around, and they were calling my name again, trying to shake me back to life, my friends. My eyes opened, but it took me several seconds to comprehend what was happening. My first thought was, “You’re lying on the sidewalk,” and as much as I wanted to close my eyes again in an attempt to wake up somewhere else, out of this nightmare and into a lonesome corner, away from all eyes, I knew it was all too real. My second thought was, “Fuck,” and it echoed repeatedly until I finally felt I had the strength to raise myself off the ground. Of course, my friends wouldn’t let me be on my way. Gary and Mike grabbed me from either side, step by step, practically carrying me to the car.
I turned to Mike, “Guys, I’m okay. You should eat. I’ll be fine.”
One of them told me to shut up. I think it was Gary. He also turned back to Sam and Rick, who were still at the front door of the restaurant, and said, “We’ll stay with him. You guys settle up.” At least I think that’s what he said.
They opened the car door and I dropped myself on the back seat, Mike leaning over the open door, concern pouring out of his eyes, while Gary sat in the driver’s seat and lit a cigarette. “How do you feel?”
I shook my head and sighed.
“Has that ever happened to you before?”
“Couple of times, years ago,” I said.
As dizzy as I was still, the scent of his cigarette made me lick my lips; my eyes, still hazy and blurred, opened wider and I stretched out my arms and sat up straight…I must’ve done all of this rather frantically, because Mike leaned even closer, pulsating with concern. “What’s wrong?”
“My coat. I left my coat inside.”
“I’ll go get it,” he said.
I sank back into the seat and closed my eyes. When I opened them, Gary was holding out his pack of smokes, politely propped open. I took one and he handed me his lighter.
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
“Ah, shut up with that shit!”
“Out of nowhere,” I grunted, slowly coming back to life, the blur exiting my body.
“What happened exactly?” he said.
“I wish I could tell you.” I closed my eyes again.
“Do you have any food allergies?”
“Do you feel better now?”
“I’m gonna go see what’s taking them so long. Are you gonna be ok?”
“I’ll be fine,” I said and added in a whisper, “Thanks, Gary,” but he was already out of the car and walking back to the restaurant.
I closed my eyes again, letting the cigarette burn on it’s own. I didn’t really want to smoke it, but I wasn’t going to dash it either; just let it burn. I tried to explain what had happened to myself. Surely, my friends would want some answers. I tried to imagine what I must’ve looked like on the ground, while they called my name, trying to shake me back to life. That woman’s face kept flashing back, her plate in her hand, her mouth wide open. I wanted to tell her that I was sorry. Even in my hazy state, when I first opened my eyes and saw her in front of me, I could vividly see the horror in her eyes. Sitting in the car, letting the cigarette burn on it’s own, I knew that her eyes would haunt me for some time to come, and she would never hear my apology.
Slowly but surely, I was back. I turned my head and looked down the parking lot. Rick was approaching the car, two girls following behind him. I sat up straight and thought, “Fuck,” grinding my teeth and dashing the smoke. Rick came over to the door, smiling from ear to ear, and handed me my coat.
“She’s a doctor,” he said, and it looked as if he was trying to keep himself from bursting with laughter.
“Hi,” she said, moving closer, her fat friend behind her, holding a drink. “Are you alright? Has that ever happened to you before?”
“I’m fine,” I said, trying to smile, “Really, no big deal.”
“Are you sure?”
“So it’s happened to you before?”
“Yes it has. It’s been a long day. We had some drinks…”
“Alright, but you’re fine now?”
I should’ve gotten out of the car, just to show them that I could stand and talk, but I didn’t. I just sat there and nodded and tried to smile. I looked over at Rick, he thanked them and they all walked back to the restaurant. “Christ,” I thought, closing my eyes and leaning my head back, wanting to cry.
A few moments passed. Sam and Mike came to the car. “Feeling better?” said Sam, patting me on the knee. I sighed and let out a laugh.
“Glad to see you’re back,” said Mike, “That was fucking scary.”
“Oh man,” Sam exclaimed, “Everyone inside was asking about you.”
“I don’t know what happened,” I said, “Out of nowhere… All I remember is getting a plate from the buffet, sitting down, enjoying the fucking food. Everything was great!”
“What happened? Can you explain the feeling?” said Sam, and Mike turned around in the passenger seat, both of them waiting, concerned and curious.
“It’s hard to explain. It’s a weird buzz. It comes really quickly and I’m forced to close my eyes. That’s all I was trying to do.”
“Yeah,” said Mike, “You were leaning over, your head almost went into your plate.”
“I was trying to breathe until the buzz went away. It’s really strange, but it takes over my whole body. I tried to take a drink of water, but I could barely even lift the glass. I felt bad sitting there like that with my eyes closed, but I should’ve just stayed there. I remember Gary asking a couple of times if I wanted to go outside. I thought maybe it would help. As soon as I got up from the table and walked a few steps, everything went black.”
Soon enough Gary and Rick came back to the car. The five of us sat there for a while and they all went on to tell me of the commotion inside the restaurant, the waiters asking them if I was alright, the family at the table behind us, shaking their heads at each other. Rick said, “When you first fell to the floor, I saw the reaction of the woman sitting beside us, having dinner with her kids, and I kind of had an urge to turn to the guys and say, ’Ah, the heroin’s kicking in!’”
We all laughed. I shook my head and closed my eyes. “I’m so sorry, guys.”
“Enough with the apologies,” said Gary.
“What a great restaurant though,” I sighed and added, “I really thought the food was amazing.”
“Maybe that’s why you passed out. Too much pleasure too quickly!”
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” I said. “Goddamn embarrassment. What was with those two girls you brought to the car?”
“Oh,” Rick laughed, “She comes up to me saying that she’s a psychotherapist. She was very curious about your condition.”
“She looked eighteen years old!” I exclaimed.
“I found it hilarious, that’s why I brought them to see you. Ha, psychotherapist!”
“I’m sure she’ll write a paper about it.”
We fell silent for a few moments. I wanted to apologize repeatedly. I knew that the embarrassment of that night wouldn’t leave me for some time. I looked over at Sam. He smiled at me and patted my knee again. I felt tired and closed my eyes.
“So,” said Rick, turning the car on, “What’s the deal?”
“Liquor store,” said Sam.
I downed the two tall cans of beer that I’d brought to work in my knapsack, soon as my shift ended, walking home, welcoming the distant sun that seemed to be back for good. I walked through the hydro field and every which way, all around me, birds were happy and that alone can plant a smile on anybody. And so, warm-beer-buzzed and smiling, I raised my face to the sun repeatedly, probably sighing each time, “Make love to me sun! Make love to me!” Without a doubt a glorious day.
On my way, I sent a text message to Don, asking what his plans were that night, but no response. I turned onto Warden avenue, but before fully leaving the hydro field I turned and looked back, remembering the loss of my beloved iPod, a couple of years back, on the same stretch of grass, among those same towers. For some reason, that night a few of us had decided to run as fast as we could down that field. I remember pretending to be a soldier, ducking fire, and we weren’t even high or anything, maybe just buzzed from a bottle, and one of us had ran and the others followed. My beloved iPod left me forever. Music means the world to me and I’ve never fully forgiven myself, but life goes on and very much so, I turned my back on the hydro field and continued walking home.
More often than not, when spring is talking, I try and join the birds, whistling with my head held high. More often than not, I wish to mimic their movements, I wish to have feathers of my own, when spring is talking. That’s the state I was in, whistling down Warden avenue, smiling at the birds, warm-beer-buzzed and fantasizing feathers. Still no response from Don, but I didn’t care. It was a glorious day and I planned to stretch it out; I had more beers at home, cold ones, and I’d crack one and roll a joint and play some tunes while I sat on my balcony, my feet stretched out, letting the sun reach in between my toes, caressing my soul. Yes, I love the damn sun! Sunlight means the world to me. I was approaching the back gate to my building when I noticed someone’s shadow behind me, the sound of hurried steps, trying to catch up. I turned back suddenly and saw Ming’s dumbfounded face with that hollow smile of his, permanently glued to his mouth, his eyes full of nothing. He lived in my building, Ming, and he was retarded. At least that seemed to be the case.
“Hallo, hallo,” he said, eyes full of nothing, his right hand reaching up to his neck, saying, “You have necklace?”
“Every time!” I laughed.
“Necklace…You have necklace?”
He was obsessed with necklaces. I’d seen him for years and I still can’t recall him saying anything else. He’d approach anyone and everyone, asking to see their necklaces. I’d showed him mine a long time ago, but he didn’t care. He’d ask every time; every time we crossed paths, he needed to see it. Once, in the elevator, some guy was threatening to kick his ass, but Ming couldn’t understand, or maybe he did, maybe it was all just part of his act. Maybe he was on a mission to see as many necklaces as he could around the necks of strangers. He never meant any harm though. Either way, he would’ve received one hell of an ass kicking if I hadn’t intervened. And so, once again I showed him the gold chain around my neck, the one my grandmother had given me for my birthday.
“Ah, necklace,” he sighed.
“Yes, Ming, necklace…Are you enjoying the weather?”
He didn’t answer and just kept walking passed me with the same hurried steps, turning back briefly with his hand still to his neck, signalling me to show him my necklace again, and I did. “Ah necklace…”
I stood at the back gate and watched him walking away for a few seconds. “Crazy bastard.” Most people in Scarborough wont take kindly to random ass crazy people asking them about their jewelry. It was a risky endeavor in Scarborough, Ming’s mission, and deep down inside I worried for him.
Still no response from Don. I checked my phone and scrolled through my messages, walking down the hallway to my corner apartment. Cold beers were waiting, and a joint, and inviting melodies all waiting to dance around me on the balcony with my beloved sun. I was about to put the key in the lock when I heard my sister’s voice inside the apartment, saying, “He’s a fucking asshole!” She wasn’t yelling or anything, but I could hear her so clearly. It was still pretty early in the afternoon and our building wasn’t buzzing yet with the arrival of kids from school. I stood there, listening in and wondering who she was talking to. “Stay here tonight,” she said.
“What about your brother?”
“Are you kidding? He doesn’t care.”
I shrugged my shoulders to her notion and placed my ear on the door. “Who the hell are you talking to?”
“We’ll make dinner, or order in, whatever you want.”
“I just want to forget.”
“I know Jade. It takes time.”
“Jade!” I exclaimed out loud behind the door and instantly closed my eyes and compressed my face in the famous “D’OH!” fashion of Homer Simpson. It was now time to open the door. I walked in and saw both of them staring at me. Jade had obviously been crying. “Hello,” I said, clearing my throat and added quickly, “I’m sorry, I was, um…”
“Eavesdropping?” said my sister.
“I heard you talking. I was wondering…” I replied, taking off my shoes and awkwardly avoiding eye contact from across the room. My palms were sweaty, my voice cracked. “Jesus Christ,” I thought and went on to say, in an attempt to change my tone completely, “How are you Jade? You’re looking good.” Right away there came a voice in my head, rhythmically repeating, “Idiot, idiot, idiot!”
My sister was shaking her head and Jade burst into tears, dropping her face into her tiny hands. My sister waved me away, furious, piercing me with those eyes of hers. I shrugged my shoulders and made a face, the type of face that a dog might make after shitting on the floor. I remember mouthing the words, “I’m sorry,” but she just waved me away and Jade was crying, her head trembling in the tiny cage of her hands.
Standing in my room, I dropped my knapsack on the floor, the tension seeping through the dry wall. I could almost even hear my sister’s hand moving up and down Jade’s back. I must’ve looked like Ming at that point, a stupider Ming, completely at a loss. I don’t remember how long I stood there, soaking in the tension, staring around my room, trying to remember who I was a moment ago and what I had planned for my spring smile. Shaking my head and snapping out of my daze, I thought, “Fuck it,” and I stripped out of my clothes and dashed to the shower.
My sister was waiting outside the bathroom, her arms crossed, her head hanging low with her eyes fixed to the ground, biting the corner of her bottom lip, when I came out of the shower. “Mary, I’m sorry,” I said, before she had a chance to say anything, “I didn’t know.”
“It’s okay,” she said, shaking her head in disbelief. “Jade’s gonna stay here tonight.”
“Yeah, of course. What’s going on with her?”
“Michael,” she sighed and walked away back to the living room.
A part of me wanted to whisper to her as she walked away, “Mary, I’ve had a long day. Just wanna relax in my room. Please tell her not to cry so loud!” Of course, I would never have said such a thing. These thoughts are all just Don’s influences. I walked back to my room, closed the door and checked my phone. Still no word from Don. I wrote him another text: “At home now. What’re you saying tonight?”
It was time to smoke. I rolled a joint and before bringing it to life, I tiptoed out of my room and into the kitchen, leaping to the fridge like an alcoholic ballerina, and grabbed a few tall cans to save myself from going back and forth.
Hendrix comes to me in waves, waves that ripple through me and my room. I feel Jimi, at any time of day, after any fall…And so, I left it up to him at that point to help empty me, to spread that sheet of impartiality, that fabric of not caring. Jade was still crying, I think, and regardless of how hard I tried, my ears focused in on the dry wall, and I thought of my sister’s hand, probably still moving up and down Jade’s back. Just like that, with these thoughts, my short-lived emptiness formed into anger, and I downed the first tall can and cracked the second, thinking, “Goddamn assholes ruin everything for everyone!” I met Michael once, but I knew Jade for years; practically a sister to me. The thought of him dragging her to this point made me clench my fist and shake my head, downing the second tall can, without a second thought. I burped violently afterwards and became more or less empty once again.
“Yeah,” I said, turning from the window, the joint burning gracefully in between my fingers, the smoke rising up to dance with Jimi in the air. My sister walked in and right away I asked, “Is the music too loud?”
“No, it’s fine. Do you have any liquor?”
“Do you mind coming to the living room?”
In my gut, atop those Moosehead waves, rippling with hunger, a thousand butterflies suddenly soared. Why? Beats me. I put it on account of my angry drinking as I burped once more, reaching behind my bed and pulling out a mickey of brandy. “My emergency stash,” I chuckled, looking up at the door, but Mary was already gone. I looked at the bottle, then at the door, then back at the bottle, the butterflies whispering tales within my veins.
“Sam? Are you coming?”
I joined them in the living room after I had gotten a few glasses. “Thanks,” said Jade.
I dropped myself on the couch opposite them and said, “Don’t mention it.”
“Drink with me,” she said.
She reached for the bottle and poured two shots, running her right hand through her hair, while with her left she held out her glass, waiting for me to pick up mine and give her a ‘clink.’ The butterflies told me to hurry. Goddamn she was beautiful! I wasn’t ready for the brandy, or the silence between us, but I wasn’t going to break it. I’d probably just say something stupid again and so, we all just sat there, silently.
She poured two more shots and said, “I’m sorry, Sam. This is probably the last thing you need right now.”
“No need to apologize,” I said, reaching for my glass and smiling at her. She almost smiled too.
“I’ll be right back,” said Mary, rubbing Jade’s back one more time as she got up and left the living room.
Brandy always knows what it’s doing, and it travels inside with great ideas in it’s pockets, and revelations, bringing forth a gentle rain that soaks sense into everything. Hell, I was definitely an alcoholic. The taste alone on my tongue, unleashes words and simplifies my fears, breaking down barriers of shyness and embracing the flutter of butterflies in my gut. All of a sudden, I said, “It doesn’t matter. None of this matters. So much care we put into things and people, for what? I’m not going to ask you about it, because it doesn’t matter.” I leaned back smiling, but not sure what I had just said. She was staring at me attentively, so I figured I must’ve made some sense. “I have some pot,” I added, “If you want…”
“Let’s do it.”
We got up and she followed behind me as I walked to my room. My palms were sweaty again. I could hear Mary talking on the phone. Then a voice echoed in the living room, “Knock knock!” and both Jade and I stopped in the hallway, she looked baffled and smiled at me awkwardly.
“I think someone’s at the door.”
“Knock, knock, knooooock!” he said again, louder this time, and he laughed and he sighed. I went over and flung the door open to find Don standing there, six pack of beer in his hand, his face beet red with his pupils bulging out of his eyes. He burst out laughing soon as he saw me, and hunched over, laughing and gasping, he almost fell to the floor. I grabbed his arm and was instantly disgusted by how sweaty he was. His shirt was soaked completely. “Thank you, my friend!” he screamed.
“What the hell, dude?”
He came in and I took the six pack from him and he stretched out his arms and back, letting out a deep sigh. Then he turned to me suddenly, whispering, “Dude, I dropped some acid,” and again he burst out laughing, a couple of tears trembling out of his alien eyes and rolling down his face. I wanted to knock his teeth out, but instead I led him to my room, my fist clenched again, my gut calling for the remainder of the brandy. Jade was sitting on my bed and seeing her, Don exclaimed, “Hello!” with his arms stretched out to his sides like a bird about to take flight, or Jesus on the cross.
“Hi,” said Jade.
I shook my head at her apologetically and turning to Don, I said, “Sit the fuck down, will ya?”
He dropped himself on the bed, sighing repeatedly, his hands on his stomach, squirming around, while he took turns crossing his legs, first left over right, then right over left, and so on… “I’m done,” he said, smiling at Jade. “No! No! Don. I am Don,” he added firmly, his relentless flow of giggles flooding my room.
“I’m Jade,” she said. “It’s nice to see someone so happy.”
“Yes, yes,” he replied.
“Acid,” he said, and I could almost feel how damp my blanket was getting under his fat sweaty ass.
“Do you have any more?” she said. He didn’t answer, only jolted up as if shocked into an upright position, reaching into his pants pocket. He pulled out a tiny bag and threw it over at Jade. “I’ve never done this.”
There was a strange silence flowing through me, and I think my fist was still clenched and I still kind of wanted to knock Don’s teeth out, but my eyes fixed on Jade, who was staring into the bag, wondering perhaps if this was the forgetfulness that she yearned for so desperately, whether the contents of that bag would dry up her tears, inside and out. I said nothing. The thought of Jimi passed briefly through my head, his sheet of impartiality gliding in the spring air; he wouldn’t have thought twice about the acid. “Will you do it with me, Sam?”
I don’t remember saying anything, but next thing I knew, both of us were standing, the bag in my hand now, as I took out the two tiny tabs, separated them and gave her one. Don was spinning around and giggling still, then he dropped himself back on the bed. I gave in to the butterflies and put the tab on my tongue. She did the same. Goddamn, she was beautiful!
“Are you gonna burn any more wood?”
I think I was staring into the wind. I could hear him talking, I knew his look all too well, bouncing back and gliding forth, from the fire and up to me; ever worried, gazing at me, as I gazed into the wind. I’m not sure why I didn’t answer. For the better part of that night I’d chosen silence, and now, swallowed up by the blackness all around, I truly sat empty. Why?
“It’s almost one,” he said, casting his light gracefully over our camp. From the corner of my eye, in the blackness, I saw him yawn, sitting hunched over, his flashlight pointed at the tent, waiting for me to say something, to acknowledge the fire, or his yawn, or the two sleepy tents in our camp…Waiting for me to say something, anything. At least that’s how it seemed, but what do I know? I was staring into the wind and said nothing.
Mehdi and Jon, both asleep, carried on their own conversation, in snores and sleepy sighs. Mehdi in his own two person tent, and Jon in the other, monstrous structure of a tent, curled and twisted into comfort in his sleeping bag, to his left, a half-eaten can of pringles spilling on the floor, by his head, a glowing red carton of Du Mauriers, so inviting. I had noticed it all when I’d poked in there earlier to fish out my bottle of tequila. I had already surveyed the inside of the tent briefly, drawing swift and precise lines with my flashlight, trying not to disturb Jon, and even though I was down to my last four cigarettes and Jon had put his full carton so close to his face that he was practically snoring into them, keeping them warm, and safe and sound, I was still very much relieved that he wasn’t clutching them in his sleep, caged in between his legs or to his chest, as he lay in a defensive fetal position, if there is such a thing, while snoring to mark his territory.
I was smiling by the time I snapped out of it and I turned over to Sam, but he’d already gotten up and was walking to the tent. It was almost one, and I was already zoning out and drifting off in a dangerous way. I dropped my head and fished once more for my bottle of tequila, down by my foot, and without a thought, I called out to Sam, in a failed attempt to whisper, “Not gonna burn any more wood.”
“Shut up,” he said as he laughed and disappeared into the tent.
I took a sip of tequila, held the open bottle, took another sip, held it in my mouth, letting it burn through my tongue, the blue agave becoming me. Next thing I knew, the bottle was closed and back on the cold earth, I was standing, hunched over the fire like a junky-fire junky-reaching into the bag of firewood in search of the thickest log. Once I’d found it and put it on the fire and had also gotten a few splinters to prick at in the dark, I sat back down and told myself that I wasn’t going to burn any more wood. “This baby will burn for a while.”
The wind was picking up, angering the treetops, or so it seemed, and it didn’t take long for my fears to surface. Wind can sound like anything; in the blackness all around, in the surrounding bush, there could’ve been anything, and this was frightening, but I was in a peculiar mood, I guess…Like a masochist who presses down on every bruise, who seeks asylum inside his aches, I faced the dark, staring into the wind, extracting the adrenaline out of my fears and getting high, trying to blow the rest of it up to the angry treetops. I was in a peculiar mood, and peculiar moods often demand sleeplessness and so, I lit a smoke and reached once more for my warm blue agave, resting on the cold earth.
It was supposed to be a two month trip, back in the august of 2009. My mother was crying, as was her routine in airports, with goodbyes. I remember shaking my father’s hand and now that four years have passed, I’m positive that he knew I wasn’t going to come back. He knew, but said nothing. Maybe he was in a peculiar mood. Maybe knowing things made him silent. In the end, a few tears and a heart whispering, “Good luck,” summed it all up and I ran away. Yes; I ran from Iran… And now, engulfed by the blackness in the bush, at the mercy of the angry treetops, I felt to have no choice but to retrace my steps. The blackness demanded it; the floodgates propped open and I might have even smiled excitedly, preparing to look back, to bring back times and remember laughs, but there was no beginning or end to these thoughts. Out in the blackness, they all fused together, melting into one, turning about and leaping in time. Hard to follow, but I may have been smiling, for this revolving chunk of moments gone, my memories of every corner where I’d laid my head, had no fear, and it made me less afraid, and this was good.
“You have to eat more fruit! You don’t understand how important it is!” I feel like she would repeat this sentence a few times and I’d look at her and see her cutting an apple and peeling an orange and filling a plate with every fruit out in the market, saying, “My son, I love you so SO much, now please, eat it all.”
I was standing on a crowded bus, posing as an artist or amateur photographer perhaps, with my Canon Rebel camera hanging from my neck. I pointed the lens at the face of an Asian woman sitting in front of me, completely asleep, on the crowded bus, and I clicked away, as discretely as possible of course, but I didn’t really care, never really have. She looked so peaceful and I distinctly remember thinking then, “She looks like a great mom.”
Seeing it in the blackness and hearing my thoughts once again, kind of gave me the creeps, and so I closed my eyes and disgusted, I reached for my smokes. I lit one with my eyes closed still and only slightly opened them as I exhaled my first drag and returned slowly back to the pitch. The treetops weren’t as angry any more and I only had two cigarettes left.
“So what’s your novel about?”
“What’s it called?”
“Nazar Crossing,” I said.
“What’s it about?”
“The name refers to a famous intersection near my home Isfahan,” I replied, clearing my throat and squirming into an upright position. “It’s changed,” I said suddenly. Suddenly nervous. I leaned forward. I thought I had a glass of water, but nothing there on the coffee table.
“So,” he said, his eyebrows forming into a horizontal question mark, “the intersection has changed.”
“No, my novel; the idea!”
Then, I lost myself apparently, wondering whether I’d lost Iran. Memory tends to grow dull if not used, much like a knife.I wish I could have just told him to fix his damn eyebrows and let us move on, but I couldn’t even look at him. Even in that vast blackness where I sat looking back, I knew with a jagged certainty that this conversation would go on forever. That voice…Some voice would always go on to ask me about that novel. Maybe it’s the characters that I once knew…
“I will surely lose my mind,” I said, taking in a few deep breaths, as deep as I could, while I reached to the ground, feeling around blindly for my blue agave, blue agave for my blackness. I decided to have a bigger shot this time, smoke a cigarette as slowly as I could and try not to think. That was actually my only decision. “Don’t think.”
I got up and stretched my back and cracked my neck, all in an attempt to not think, but then poems came to mind, and the dark hadn’t changed one bit, and my fears were still very much alive, lurking in the bush, and so I thought, “Poetry, why not?” And I began reciting poems I’d written, some long ago, in different lands, with what seemed to be different blood flowing through my veins; poems of my scattered life, poems that remained, despite the drugs and my frantic flights.
“When he sits down, he knows. When he gets up, he forgets. ‘Got to keep moving,’ is what he thinks. In and out he strives and struggles back and forth. Never constant are his eyes, never seeking the stillness lost, he hovers into hallucinations. The day begs of him to read, the night takes the form of a bottle or a woman, and much later on he falls asleep inside his ashtray. Moving on, hand in hand with habit, weakened by the rivers on his window, faces drift along and smiles are thrown at him from time to time, and his country remains the place that he carries in his bag, and ‘Got to keep moving,’ is what he thinks.”
“You’ve reached a whole new level of garbage with that poem. Too sentimental.”
“I wrote it a long time ago.”
“I mean, ‘Weakened by the rivers on his window,’ come on, man!”
“What do you know?” I grunted.
“This is hobo poetry, hobo thoughts. No worries; you have the heart of a hobo my friend.”
And so I recited another one, whispering circles around the fire. I recited poem after poem, but he didn’t say anything anymore. I even waited for him to say something, anything else, but I guess I was done talking to myself. Exhausted, I dropped myself back on the chair facing the fire and let out a sigh. I was surely losing my mind.
“Starting to get cold,” I said and added with confidence, “But I have faith my skin will handle it. I’ve made it here after all. I’m not gonna burn any more wood,” I sighed, and then a yawn and shiver passed, while some wings flapped overhead, too dark to see, but ever so rhythmic, my blackness and I. “I don’t have much,” I continued, “but I’ve made it here, you’ve seen. I have some papers, a few good stories, and more than that, I probably owe the world many apologies. I’m not sure who you are to me, but in this blackness I’ll believe in you. For the first time I’ll let someone know that I was never really a hateful person, mostly just sorrowful. It was all just some sort of sorrow that I turned to hate out of boredom, that’s all.”
I lit my final cigarette and threw the empty pack in the fire pit. That’s when I heard a “click” and Mehdi’s tent suddenly lit up from the inside and he coughed and I watched his shadow as he bounced around and got out from inside his sleeping bag. I was suddenly summoned into a heavy silence, biting down on my tongue, wondering whether I’d been talking out loud this whole time. I couldn’t remember for the life of me. I looked away and tried to hold my breath. I couldn’t have looked away for more than five seconds, but when I turned back to his lit up tent, I distinctly made out the outline of a bear on the gravel road, a few meters behind Mehdi. “Jesus Christ!” I burst out, jolting upwards and dropping my flashlight and kicking the bottle over.
“YO!” Mehdi exclaimed, “Who the fuck is there, man!”
“Mehdi! Mehdi,” I said, my voice cracking every which way, as I grabbed my light and pointed it out at the gravel road. I managed to light up the bear’s ass, as it had walked diagonally off the gravel road and onto our campsite, and was passing on the front end of our van and disappearing from my sight.
“Who the fuck is there, yo!” he shouted again and was beginning to unzip the door to his tent.
“Mehdi, it’s me,” I whispered and yelled at the same time, “There’s a bear on our site! There’s a…”
“Fuck this shit,” he said, zipping the door closed once more. “I really have to piss, man!”
He turned off his light as if to give the bear no indication that someone was home, and I heard a few more whispers from inside his tent that I chose to ignore, mainly him telling me to get in the tent, to not be stupid. I walked instead with calculated steps over to the front of the van, casting the light and surveying the ground and my surroundings with care, my heartbeat filling the inside of my head, reverberating in my bones, pulsating out of my eyes. The bear had gone into the bush and toward the water. I tried repeatedly to penetrate through the trees with my flashlight, for any sign, any movement, listening for any sound. “You’re a silent stepper, aren’t ya black bear?” I said and added in a tone of complete innocence, as if calling forth a frightened kitten, “Come on bear, come on; pss psst pssst… How come you’re not as interested in me as I am in you?” I stood there for a long time, or so it seemed, thinking that maybe I should try and find another path to the water and catch him there. Then came the massive splash and the sound of rippling waves, and I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of that bear’s ass in the water. “Great time for a swim,” I chuckled and raising my hand to my mouth I noticed that I’d dropped my cigarette, my final cigarette. I retraced my steps, as calculated as before, my heartbeat still echoing through me. I found my smoke, still burning, and dawn wasn’t far. There was only a few drags left. Needless to say, I smoked it to the filter, no longer thinking about my conversations with myself, or with God.
“Was that my stomach or yours?”
“Huh? I didn’t hear anything.”
“Must’ve been mine,” I said.
“Didn’t you feel it?”
“You elbowed me twice last night. Do you think it’s because you come to bed hungry?”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Then why was your stomach growling?”
“I don’t know; I didn’t even know it was my stomach.”
“Just please, try not to elbow me.”
“I’ll do my best,” I replied, rolling over and staring at her, lying on her back, gazing into her phone. Underneath the comforter, I reached over and placed my hand on her stomach. A few moments passed in silence.
“I think Dan got dumped again,” she sighed.
“What makes you say that?”
“All the depressing crap he’s posting on facebook.”
“Ah whatever,” I grunted, rolling over on my back and casting my eyes on the ceiling.
“Are you alright?”
“It’s just pathetic. It makes me angry, that’s all.”
“People…People taking to facebook out of heartbreak or boredom. Loneliness, it’s all loneliness. It used to make me sad. Remember Brian?”
“You can’t compare Dan to Brian. Brian is a huge douche.”
“Yes, a douche, I agree; a pompous, self righteous ass, who never hesitates to remind people how many books he has read, who begins every other sentence by saying, ‘My ex and I…My ex and I are huge Olyphant fans…My ex and I went to that show…’ as if he’s constantly trying to prove to everyone that he hasn’t always been alone, that in fact, he was once in a long term relationship. We were friends for a short while, and I genuinely felt sad for him, reading his posts and watching days go by and nobody acknowledging his loneliness. No likes…Nothing. It was sad, and I, being who I am, try to picture everything. I’d picture him checking facebook periodically, waiting, hoping…Seriously sad. Oh man,” I sighed, “I remember this one time, he posted a Bukowski quote, saying, ‘This is so me.’ The quote read, ‘Don’t feel sorry for me because I am alone, for even at the most terrible moments, humor is my companion.’ I really had to try not to say anything. ‘This is so me.’ HA! I mean, why post something like that if you’re not in fact looking for sympathy? Aren’t you just trying to let the facebook world know that you are alone? It’s just sad.”
“This is pillow talk at it’s finest,” she said.
“There’s always a rant nearby,” I chuckled.
“Let it out babe; people make you sad, facebook makes you angry. As long as you don’t elbow me in your sleep, I’m cool with your rants.”
I rolled over on my side and placed my hand on her stomach once more. A few moments passed in silence. There was a turning; it could’ve been my stomach, it could’ve been the snow falling from the sky or rising from the earth. She was gazing still into her phone. Something was rapidly changing. I was going to tell her how lonesome I had been before she found me, but before I knew it, I was asleep.
That night I dreamt of two kids, my kids. I was older… Staring at them, astonished by their eyes, I knew I was dreaming, and I felt change like never before. I felt new desires wanting to be born, and I felt ashamed that I’d been so angry for all those years.
I kicked the wall, dreaming of a soccer ball. I might have been a child again, doing keep-ups. After about a week of sobriety, I was good and drunk going to sleep, but I somehow remembered that dream, despite the joints and all the shots. I kicked the wall and it was time to wake. Pain takes my sleep away; the slightest pains tell me to rise. I think I whispered, “Sorry,” as I left the bed and she replied by digging her arms deeper into her pillow and stretching her leg further down the mattress. I think I smiled.
Sitting in the living room, I wasn’t haunted by my hangover or the dreary looking Saturday outside, or the stupid kitten meowing at nothing…My notebooks on the other hand never loosen their grip; those notebooks, half-naked nearby, remind me constantly that I have neglected the only healthy habit in my life, for quite some time. I leaned back, fingers curled around my mug of coffee, I recalled a phone call I’d made the night before; my intoxicated impulse to make someone happy…I recalled my brother’s voice and our brief conversation, as I hurried to my notebook to write something about it all, to write him a letter, to write him a poem, whatever, whatever came… I hurried to my notebook, as quickly as one tends to hurry on a dreary hungover Saturday. Who am I kidding; I probably just rose slowly out of my lightheaded form, grunting and clearing my throat, as I staggered over to the table, flipping calmly through my half-naked notebook, to the empty page where the only healthy habit in my life, awaited my return.
“You sounded tired. I remember all those years, watching you read, watching the books that kept your solitude company. You brought me into the page, and I thank you brother; being alone never seemed to scare you and I still admire that. But the other day, you sounded so alone, as if a thousand silent sighs trapped in your throat, were keeping you up. I can’t remember the last time I called, but I’m going to try. It seems as if we must share our voices with each other, our voices at least…I was pacing back and forth, hearing you speak, and looking around, I was certain that life had us by the balls, but for years now I’ve known that you and I are both lovers deep down inside, and lovers manage, lovers somehow…Somehow, you sounded so alone. I paced rather frantically with your solitude in my ears. Faint and distant childhood echoes giving me goosebumps; damn, I had goosebumps talking to you! Did I even ask, ‘How are you?’ It’s been a while, I have to try. You might be happy to know that I’m no longer running the way I used to. I’m trying to take care of this corner that I’ve found; in this corner, keeping in touch can’t be so hard. Brother, please visit us one day. We’ll break a lonesome loaf. If you’re ever in the beaches, let me know, it’s a great place to spread one’s solitude; the water listens…Anyways, this is me, trying desperately to write again, stirring a mix of poetry and sentiment in the early hours of this dreary Saturday, hanging over hopelessly, in search of a path I used to know, one familiar thread; perhaps, you’ll help me with it all once we meet. After all, you brought me into the page and I thank you brother; you always knew how to be alone and I truly admire that.”
There’s an empty field somewhere, where I’m still doing keep-ups. In the hollows of my head there are bruises that keep me calm, pockets of pain that take me back. Sometimes, without even trying, I see that I still might have a few good impulses left within my gut, and I’m still doing keep-ups. These days, I zone out quite often; I blurry my eyes and search through fragments of sentences and incomplete paragraphs, scattered on an empty field somewhere, in my blurry eyes… Sometimes, a single ending floats passed; those single endings remind me that I owe it to myself, to my half-naked notebooks nearby. She was awake and as she entered the living room, my blurry eyes faded inwards and I dropped the pen, leaning back and trying to smile. I think I smiled.
“God!” she sighed, dropping herself on the couch.
“No more wine, ever.”
“In a week or so, maybe” I said, clearing my throat and adding ,”Is this gonna be a two day hangover?”
“All weekend baby!” she exclaimed, bursting with laughter for about a second, then coughing for a few and just as quickly she threw her feet on my lap, wiggling her toes. “Rub?”
In this corner that I’ve found, touch is a forgetful drug, but my notebooks on the other hand, never loosen their grip.
“She gets drunk and sends me poems.”
“I guess she likes you.”
“No, no, nothing like that.”
“I don’t know, she might just respect me as a writer. I always give her feedback, like I would to anyone who sends me their work. She never responds back.”
“You don’t even have a phone.”
“It’s all on Facebook. I wake up and see that she’s messaged me at four in the morning. It’s happened a few times.”
“Are they any good?”
“Yeah, not bad…”
“How do you know she’s drunk when she writes them?”
“Just a guess,” I said and continued, “I picture her drunk out of her mind, writing a poem and sending it to me, then not remembering the next day when she reads my feedback. I imagine her regretting it. That’s why our conversations on Facebook don’t go much further.”
“What a crazy bitch,” he whispered, as he chugged the rest of his beer and let out a burp.
“As crazy as the rest of us…I’m thinking, if she sends me another late night drunken poem, I’ll confront her about it.”
“What’re you gonna say?”
“Not sure, but at least I’ll ask her what she was drinking, and if it’s a quality poem, I’ll encourage her to keep drinking. She probably won’t respond back, but I’ll tell her, ‘Listen Sara, no need to be embarrassed. There’s a poet inside you; alcohol is her door, her path…Cheers to your poet!'”
We laughed and ordered another round. “You should turn the tables on her.”
“How do you mean?”
“Write her a drunken poem to put an end to the nonsense. Confront her with poetry.”
“That’s terrific! Let’s write it now,” I exclaimed, reaching excitedly into my back pocket and pulling out my notepad. “Are you down?”
“Sure; I guess we’re drunk enough. Let’s do a shot first.”
We ordered shots and I casually slid my notepad toward him. “Start it off; we’ll go line for line.”
“Okay,” he chuckled, exhaling the tail end of his cigarette and putting it out. He wrote: “They say, long ago chivalry died, but crazy bitches are very much alive…” Jon slid the notepad back to me just as the waitress brought us our shots . “So fucking sexy,” he muttered under his breath. I read his line over and over, spinning my pen between my fingers.
I wrote: “We all love to love…Him, her, you and you; we all pretend like it matters who…”
“This is stupid,” he said.
“As stupid as the rest of us. Just write something, anything; you never know.”
He lit another smoke, he wrote: “So fucking sexy! I’m so wet, the waitress is so fucking sexy!” And then he threw back his head and let loose a laugh that silenced the patio for a moment, as he slid my notepad back to me.
I wrote: “There are poets inside us, and they deserve better whiskey. You’ll rise tomorrow with regret, while your poet is sound asleep.”
Back to Jon; he wrote: “So have a shot when you wake, you crazy bitch!”
“This is retarded,” he said, shaking his head. We laughed and ordered another round, and all jokes aside, I hoped the poet in me would understand.
That night, while beautiful and innocent Katie lay asleep in her bed, I sat there with cigarettes and beers, housing the fading echo of my friends’ laughter in my head and a more or less rotting manuscript on my hands. I remember thinking something like, “Has it really been three years?” Or I might have thought what my original idea was, or where it was born. Well, I knew that much. To write it though, I had to awaken Iran inside me. The smiles they would’ve worn if I had gone back, even for a week or two. It doesn’t matter now, but that night, I let all kinds of thoughts come and go, while beautiful and innocent Katie lay asleep.
“We’re from different worlds,” she’d said to me.
I’m not sure what my expression had been at that moment, but I whispered deep within my gut, where only my organs could hear and my blood could carry; from cell to cell I whispered, “I promise not to let you down.” There was an intense body buzz to that silence between us, the rushing whisper of a promise in my veins…or it might have been the drugs. That day, I don’t quite remember what I’d been up to. “Doesn’t matter now, but what does?” I thought. “Fucking manuscript…”
“Start anywhere,” I whispered, opening the next bottle of beer, the bottle that would ultimately turn my stomach inside out that night. Who knows what I’d been up to that day? She was asleep, and I remember thinking something like, “To watch love asleep…To forget.” Among these thoughts and the opened doors and windows and lit up corridors of my mind, flooded and drenched with thoughts of all kinds, I began to search through the clutter for Iran.
“I’ll travel to Esfahan tonight, for a short while, only a short while. Perhaps for about an hour or two, just enough time for me to reach the peak of mount Soffeh and reflect on numerous Fridays in my past. Mount Soffeh was our friend on Fridays; a natural museum of cliffs and fossils my uncle would call it. I’ll go there first, then later, if my mind allows, I may even drop in on my parents, for a short while, only a short while. I’ll go quietly; perhaps just in time to see my mother preparing lunch, or sitting at the computer, sharing the virtues of god and the pains of mothers on Facebook.”
I must’ve been dozing off. I must’ve been up for far too long, curled up with cigarettes and beers and intoxication in my eyes; the peak of mount Soffeh rising to remind me of myself, my idea, while beautiful and innocent Katie lay asleep.
I kept rubbing my fingers together, occasionally turning back to look down, watching the city as it slept; Esfahan, one green gathering in the desert…The sun had appeared, and my uncle said, “Hope you’re hungry.”
As I followed behind him, snaking our way upwards and zigzagging among the cliffs, I managed to say, while trying to conceal my panting, “Where do you want to eat?”
He came to a stop and turned back toward me, with only his right hand detached from the mountain. While climbing cliffs, one should have at least three points of connection to the rock. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. I stopped and looked up at him, again rubbing my fingers together and silently taking pleasure in the coarseness of my skin and the lines the rocks had left. I watched him and followed his eyes as he scanned the mountain, and I was sure he knew what lay around the bend to our right, or where the best spots were further above us. I was sure he knew so many paths and plateaus, and I was sure he had one chosen in his mind for our descent back down.
He said, “We have to climb left,” as he adjusted his footing slightly from rock to rock then pointed to the left and continued, “Perfect spot on top of that cliff.”
“One hell of a rock,” I said.
“Listen, I don’t want you to die, ok?”
I laughed, “I think I’ll be fine.”
“You’re a good climber, but I have to answer to your dear daddy,” he said, and smiled jokingly, as he repeated the words, “dear daddy,” and stretched them out in his own rather subtle Esfahani accent. “No, I want you to go straight, and then turn left once you reach the shade up there and meet me on top of that rock.”
“I’m pretty sure I can go up this rock here.”
“So am I, but let’s not risk it. I’ll see you there.”
Maybe I should’ve argued more. Many people I know surely would have. I don’t know what made me agree so easily. Perhaps it was the essence of Soffeh, or of any mountain, which visitors trek from time to time. Perhaps I had gotten to know these rocks well, and perhaps somewhere deep down inside, I was afraid of that straight wall of about fifteen meters.
“You’ll need to take this,” he said as he took off his bag. I strapped it to my back; must’ve been at least ten kilograms. Certainly, my hunger had grown. Out in the wilderness, one’s appetite jumps about excitedly, but one does not argue much; humility is the freshness in the air perhaps…One becomes grounded on slopes that carve weariness and thirst into one’s muscles. So many parts of me desire so many different things. Still, I did not argue with him. Standing there, gripping the straps of his camouflaged army bag around my shoulders, I watched him approach the wall, examining it with his eyes and hands, and then he was off. I wanted to watch him go all the way up.
“I can definitely climb that rock,” I might’ve thought, or something like, “Look at him go.” I may have stood there longer than I remember. As a matter of fact, I’m certain that I did. I might have felt some sort of pride. “Look at him go! He’s my uncle, at one with rocks…” Beneath the sweat quickly drying on my face and the dust that would occasionally make me squint my eyes, I might have been smiling, with pride, with hunger and thirst well deserved, and ten kilograms or so on my back.
At times I feel like I can still hear the echo of crows cawing. The cawing of crows will forever be snapping me out of stupor. Forever, like the smell of Tehran in my nose. These days, I yearn for coarse fingers, and scratches and wounds from which I learned how to rise properly. But did I learn, really? The crows don’t know, the crows don’t care, and I gotta learn to stay on topic. Events seem to have faded; sure, I have let them hide, but heavy still, they are here, nearby.
Once I reached the shade, I turned left as he had told me and saw him standing on top of a rock, his chest out like that of a mountain goat or ibex, leading his young herd. For a moment I thought he was going to start pounding his chest with his fists and roaring down the cliffs, or howling at the horizon. He only turned, waving at me and shouting, “Well, get over here kid!”
What a spot it was. I gave him the bag and we set up our breakfast on the rock.
“Coffee or tea?”
“Cheese and bread in the bag,” he said. I took them out. “Boiled some eggs for you as well…” I smiled. He poured me a cup of coffee and patted me twice on the back. “Well done boy!”
“I really wanted to climb that rock with you.”
“I know,” he muttered.
“Didn’t seem that hard…I…”
“You’re a good climber, but there’s a time for everything. There are many trails in this mountain. Some of them have claimed numerous lives. Some of them are straight walls and narrow passes. We will climb them all, in the right time, with the right equipment.”
“I feel like I could’ve…”
“Okay, okay,” he exclaimed, “After we eat, you can pick our route to the top. Happy, cliff hanger..?”
I laughed, while spreading some feta cheese on a piece of pita. “I’ve come a long way. I was made to climb.”
“After we eat, I’ll need you to write a note for you father, and sign it, just in case you do die. It’ll make it easier on me.” I burst with laughter. “Boy thinks I’m joking,” he sighed. I continued to laugh.
“How about those eggs?”
“You and your eggs,” he exclaimed, reaching into his bag and pulling out a small container with four hardboiled eggs inside it.
“Also,” he said, reaching into his bag once more and pulling out another container of the exact same size, “Quail eggs…”
“What?” I shouted, “Quail eggs?”
“What? You’ve never had quail eggs?”
“Poor Canadian boy! Just eat your eggs and shut up!”
I laughed and ate, turning my glance to the horizon after each bite, to the sun rising slowly, to the city below waking up.
Halfway through our breakfast, half a dozen quail eggs later, he was pouring his second cup of tea, glancing at me occasionally from the corner of his eye. “What’s on your mind boy?”
“Just thinking about a friend.”
“Oh, poor Canadian boy misses his friends!” He roared with laughter, patting my back once more. “This mountain is my friend.”
“Hell of a friend.”
“Many people come here, some of them are professional climbers, but none of us should ever think that we have conquered these rocks. Do you understand? They are not ours. We’re all visitors. I think of this mountain as a kindhearted friend, who accepts us, who has been here long before us, and will be here long after we depart.” He sipped on his tea and let out a sigh, casting his eyes on the horizon, on the sun now wide awake, over his beloved Esfahan. “Yes,” he sighed, “Only visitors.”
“What a beautiful bird!” I exclaimed, drawing his attention to the rock beside us and the chubby grey bird with the skinniest legs; curious looking fellow, staring right at us, tilting its head…and then it began to chirp.
“Nightingale, it’s a nightingale.”
“Such a beautiful bird,” I repeated, still in awe at how close it was to us.
“Don’t tell me you’ve never seen a nightingale. Don’t they have them in Canada?”
“Not like these.”
“Poor bastards,” he muttered.
The nightingale, still staring at us and tilting its head from side to side, inched closer and closer. I crumpled a piece of bread and scattered the crumbs, but it wasn’t interested. Soon enough the nightingale landed on the blanket we were sitting on and another, even chubbier nightingale took its spot on the rock. “There’s his friend,” I said. “And he’s got a bee in its beak!”
“Ah, they’re carnivores!” my uncle sighed, leaning forward and cutting a corner off our block of feta cheese and whipping it at the rock. Instantly, two other nightingales arrived and I excitedly reached for the feta, watching the chubby, skinny-legged nightingales hopping around and over each other.
“Will they eat an egg uncle?”
“Maybe, but don’t waste your eggs.”
“Such beautiful birds,” I said, throwing another piece of feta on the rock.
“This is their home. I can’t believe you’d never seen a nightingale.”
Sitting there with him, watching the nightingales feast on feta, enveloped in cliffs and the distant echo of cawing crows, I knew for certain that a short story would come from those moments. I didn’t know when, I didn’t know where I’d be; never would’ve thought that four years later, I’d be sitting in my drunken shell in Toronto, watching the love of my life sleep, rubbing my fingers together to remember the rocks, the summit that taught me so much about myself.
“Only visitors,” I hear him saying still.
“The man tires too hard. You can’t befriend everyone, it’s stressful. I’m telling you,” he ranted on, “One of these days, he’s gonna shit himself…I’m telling you; our lives, our relationships…It’s all one big show wherever you go. You always gotta watch what you say, and you can’t fucking play every side. You can’t bloody befriend everyone!” He ranted on, and burped, and ranted, droopy eyed, hammering his fist up and down, his imaginary gavel echoing through the air. “People try to play both sides,” he kissed his teeth, “Man…”
“Anyways, as you can see, our friend here is rather drunk. This is what we do here at the pub, Jack. We rain fire down on whoever aint around, while we’re drunk. Well, Nick does. Just look at him,” said Jon, pointing over to Nick’s droopy eyed face, as he swayed from side to side in his seat, “Just look at him, so full of fire. The boy’s got judgment day inside him,” he chuckled, as he reached over and grabbed Nick by the face, squeezing his cheeks together and shaking his head. Charlie and Jack both laughed, Nick pulled away violently, swinging his arms as he usually did…Charlie’s pint had it coming, nearly full, most of it hit the floor, for he swept it clean off the table. They were still laughing, just differently, quietly…
“What the fuck man!” said Charlie.
“Sorry, so sorry.”
“Jesus,” Jon laughed.
“He doesn’t like people touching his face man!”
“Full of fire,” said Jon.
They all laughed again, as Olivia the waitress walked over to the table, smiling at Nick, who was still saying, “Sorry, so sorry,” as he swayed in his seat.
“Nicky, it’s been a long day, hasn’t it?”
“Every day is long. Life is one long day…I’m sorry.”
“I’ll get you another,” she said to Charlie, wiping down the table. “I don’t have to cut you off, do I Nick?”
“I’ll cut myself off. I’ve cut myself before,” he burped, “I’m sorry.”
“Ok buddy, relax yourself.”
A thin and brief stroke of silence fell between them, but laughter wasn’t far.
“I don’t mean to be judgmental, I just am. It doesn’t always bring me pleasure, just sometimes…” said Nick, as he retired his head from swaying and dropped his eyes.
“Dude, are you crying?”
“I don’t know what’s happening,” he whimpered.
“It was just a pint of beer Nick, no need to tear up,” Jon laughed. “Let’s go for a smoke.”
Out on the sidewalk, Nick began to sway once more, drunkenly lighting his cigarette and staring at the sky.
“Lotta hot chicks in this area,” said Jack, “but parking’s a bitch.”
“So sick of it all,” said Nick, grunting and spitting. “This whole fuckin…” He paused, his mouth partially open with the signs of a fresh rant ready to erupt, and his eyes fixed hauntingly on the grass across the street.
“Whole what?” said Jon, as he followed Nick’s stare and spotted the rabbit that was sitting on the grass. Without a word, Nick dropped his cigarette and went running after it. “And there he goes,” said Jon, “Just like back in the day.”
“Is he okay?”
“Oh yeah, pretty sure his troubles are forgotten at the moment. I always thought he’d be happy living on a farm, where he could chase rabbits all the time.”
“Was he really crying?”
“Who the hell knows,” said Jon, “Who the hell knows?”
They finished their cigarettes and went inside. Nick did not return to the pub.
I’m sure he had died by the time I reached the park in front of his building. I wasn’t so sure then, but I’m certain now. He was gone, I know. Everything around me, the crosswalk, the bushes and the trees around the bench where we often sat seemed bizarre and out of shape, but I, I walked in the same manner as I’d always done, glancing to my left and my right as I crossed the street and made my way crookedly through the trees and toward the worn and withered wooden bench. Such an almost perfect day! An abundance of sounds surrounded me, none of which aroused even the smallest reaction within my senses. I stared down at my feet stretched out and a line of ants marching deliberately behind my heels. A fly landed on my shoe and I stared at it, but only for a second. Strangely enough it flew off as soon as the sound of an ambulance siren pierced through the street. I raised my head and turning my glance, I saw it go by and wondered to myself with a trembling smile, “Why are they in such a hurry?”
The thought was an explosive spark, a raging blaze of hope. I even jerked forward on the bench, as if trying to get up. I began to hear everything with my ears, for my eyes had suddenly caved. Sure enough, they had reached the building. I pictured them running around to the back and their franticness in my mind gave birth to the absurd, yet dreadfully pleasant idea that all might be well. Nothing may have happened. It was with this thought that I began to cry. I sure made up for many years worth of tearless moments, seeking rage blindly and only stumbling on emptiness, the greatest emptiness I’ve come to know, but even in this hollow plain time still existed and could be seen vividly, even through blood soaked and blurry eyes. I had much time now, much time for tears. Never before had I been so consciously aware of the present hanging frame of time and the many layers of moments, awakening one by one and never losing their grip. I was so incredibly aware of the hours yet to come and the immense hole left within my already vacant mind, caused me to believe that routine shall no longer take form. “There’s no getting used to anything anymore,” I thought, still crying with my eyes half closed and my hands pressed firmly against the sides of my thighs. “Habit knows nothing of where I stand.”
I do not know whether the ambulance had left, for my eyes were in a way swollen shut. It seemed also that my ears had ceased to listen. All that was left was the repetitive and agonizing beat within my chest. My mind was silent with the thought of my friends and their reaction to the news. I thought about their eyes and tried to open my own, but a burning feeling forced them to close and streams of tears began to make their way once again down my ghostly and sunken face. I only hoped that I wouldn’t be the bearer of this incident. I decided right then and there that no one was going to hear it from me. Even in that state of mind I knew that it was a rather difficult task. “If only they could stumble upon it in the paper. The best way to find out would be to have to read it.” Still I did not want to be the person that handed them the newspaper, nor did I want to be anywhere around or close to them when their eyes would stumble upon the headline of their friend’s corpse.
When there is no getting used to anything, when there’s no habit, one can do nothing but numb the pain and put to sleep the mind. That’s all I wanted at that point, and quite frankly, that’s all I could’ve had.
“You’ve got to get all that you can,” he said, nodding his head gently as he stared at his hands on the table, “And you’ve got to make it last,” he continued, stretching the final words with a peaceful breath, subsequently falling silent within a sigh. I could tell that the alcohol had begun to move inside him, but he wasn’t yet drunk. When he finally looked up at me, there was no poison in his eyes, only a blank consciousness, a distant and detached idea he had retrieved. “I try to beat the sensation out of life,” he whispered all of a sudden as if he was telling me a secret, as if ‘beating the sensation out of life,’ was an act so far beyond and against the law that not a single soul should ever overhear. I knew what he meant though. As a matter of fact, I knew him better than almost anyone else. I knew for instance that he had a distinct way of speech, and certain theatrical details encompassed the manner, in which he so bluntly spoke the words he so frequently thought. His words would make you feel all sorts of things. But if you knew him truly, most often of the time, his words would make you feel sorry for him. I knew that he had known many people and had infected them all in a way, differently. I also knew that it was not with love that he had encountered the bare souls of so many people. Instead, it was a thick mist of pity and numerous shades of shame, inside which he cloaked the lives he so carelessly altered.
“Another dreary night, it seems, needs to be made in to morning!” he exclaimed as he reached for his glass, took a rather large sip with his eyes closed peacefully and slammed the glass back on the table. I noticed a couple of lonely heads turn towards us. I nodded my head and smiled at the drunken regulars; an old man of about sixty years, with cheeks that hung lovingly above his drink and rising eyebrows that almost always depicted anger. The other was a middle aged black man, always in the same seat in the most distant corner of the bar, where dirt would often gather and the wall behind him seemed to carry a darker shade. He would sit there with his sunglasses on and the bartender would bring him his rum.
Suddenly, with a completely different tone and a smile on his face, Anthony said, “I like this guy; our Jamaican friend over there, the one with the shades.”
“Is he Jamaican?” I replied, as I turned my head to the right with my drink in my hand and stared for a moment at the man in the corner. I was sure he wasn’t watching me, but with those sunglasses on I could never be a hundred percent certain. Without even the faintest signal or slightest expression of acknowledgement, the man raised his drink at us and smiled. Both Anthony and I returned the gesture, but nothing simple and whole was ever enough for my friend, Anthony. Not even life.
“It’s a good day!” he exclaimed, still staring at the man in the corner. “I hope you don’t mind me asking,” Anthony continued, paying the least bit of attention to my gaze on him and my eyes telling him to lower his tone. “Are you Jamaican by any chance?”
I put the drink down and partially closed my eyes as I tilted my head slowly to the right again. There was a gentle stroke of silence, and then a strange emerging voice said, “Quiet down, the man’s a mute.” The bartender was smiling as he scribbled something in a pad on the counter and nudged it aside casually. The old man sank back into his whiskey and turned away from us.
“You know,” said Anthony unexpectedly and added with a tone of absolute sincerity and innocence, “for a while, I thought to myself that he was blind and you were deaf, or mute, because you know, I’ve never heard you speak, and our friend over there always has his blind man’s sunglasses on. I don’t know. It’s just a thought that I had. But I’m glad I was wrong.”
“What are you so glad about?” asked the old man, speaking from the depths of his chest.
“I’m glad he’s not blind and that he can see. Well I’m also glad that you’re not deaf, or mute, or dead,” he replied, mouthing the word ‘dead’ silently with his lips, which shortly after turned into a playful smile. It was as if his eyes nudged me on the shoulder. I felt to have no choice but to smile in reply.
“You should keep your thoughts to yourself,” said the old man.
“Oh I try,” he said, “but my therapist says it’s not healthy. So you know, every now and then, I’ll share a few of them, my thoughts. You can’t stop the damn things you know! I’ve just gotta keep making room for them. “
Nobody said anything. It was quite cool inside the bar, yet somehow, for some absurd reason, I had been sweating all along, but hadn’t realized it. It was a sudden sense of sickening measures. An emptiness in my blood moved around. I could feel it and hold it still inside me for a moment. It would slow down every now and again, and if I concentrated and held my breath I could trap the blank beast within my gut, but only for a few seconds. Much like all other life, even my emptiness must keep moving.
Awareness makes it so dreadfully difficult for dreams to continue. It usually brings them to an abrupt end. I do not mean awareness to life or death or any aspect of a philosophical nature, bearing much significance, no. It is not the acknowledgement of life, but of a series of mundane facts; a book out of place, a clock that has stopped turning, a coffee stain never before seen on a table cloth, which suddenly appears strange. I stumbled upon my sweat, real as it was, and the surreal circumstance surrounding me gained clarity. The ice in my drink was gone, and as certain as I was about being drenched in sweat, I knew that Anthony was gone as well. At first I ceased to hear his breaths to my left; his long and heavy breaths. By the time I finished my drink, I looked up and he was sitting there, completely tranquil, and further away behind him, the bartender was still smiling that same smile, the old man had dropped his head along with his eyebrows, and I knew, with a jagged certainty raising the hair on my skin, that all was too simple to be real. I tried not to look at him anymore; Anthony, my friend, my brother, sitting to my left, as still as a spider before a meal, with not a single sensation to beat out of life. I looked down at my hands glowing in the light. There was blood on my right palm; a thin streak of emptiness escaping. ‘I will miss talking to you Anthony. I will always miss hearing you speak.” I think that was my final thought.
There are certain limits to our control over our own minds; distinct boundaries that map out our knowledge and all that we can and cannot know. Once asleep, one has no choice but to wake up. Very much so I did and was instantly disgusted by the feel of sweat soaked sheets and the foul taste in my mouth. For a short while, I remained still, seeking desperately in my mind with eyes closed, the path I was on a moment ago. I marched back and forth, racing through the narrow and damp corridors of my empty thoughts, searching blindly for a sentence I had just heard, a drop of conversation perhaps dripping down slowly behind my ear. I was, without a doubt, at the very edge of my power and so, in a way of complete agony and disgust, I managed to thrust myself off of the bed.
“Today is Tuesday,” I thought, “May twenty…” I grunted and coughed, digging my fists into the side of the mattress and raising myself off the ground. “Tomorrow is Wednesday. Today is Tuesday. Monday must vanish from my mind.”
I chose not to wash up. Going downstairs, I heard voices, faint whispers and what sounded much like muffled laughter. The living room depicted the scene of an amateur burglary, where the thieves had thrown everything about in their frantic search and at one point had relaxed and taken a break to have a snack or a drink. Within the disoriented jungle of books scattered about, mugs stained with coffee, empty cigarette packs and dreadful looking plates filled with the loneliest of crumbs, I noticed instantly my bottle of cognac sitting idle, with the patience found not in love, but in true devotion, by the leg of the coffee table. Walking over to it, I cursed in my head the voices from downstairs. “Miserable bastards, you drink my cognac and flee to the basement like a couple of lousy rats! Couple of lousy rats in a hole…”
I carried the bottle into the kitchen like an infant child in my arms, an orphan perhaps. For many years I’ve been a drinker, but never had I bonded with the bottle. Never had I seen its friendship so vividly, it’s loyalty to my needs. It is also fair to say that never before had I needed it so desperately. The kitchen was not so different than the living room in appearance. However, there was a sickening odor that lingered in the area. I guess it is better to say that it did not linger, but lived day after day, dying. It was unbearable and caused me once again to curse those lousy rats, lousy rats in the basement, smoking all day long, drinking all night, making love by the hour, almost always muffling their laughter, but never their pain. They enjoy, they consume with joy the moments and leave behind their weaknesses in a cluttered mess of extreme proportions, carrying the stench of death itself. With my breath held captive inside my chest, I struggled over to the cupboard to grab a glass and could feel the emptiness in my stomach, the urge to vomit, rapidly rising. Time had eaten away at everything and continued to do so. There were no delays, no interruptions, only scraps of rotting seconds, satisfied with the monotonous pace of decay.
I managed to escape from it all without fainting, leaving the house in the same manner that I woke; with disgust tightening my muscles, lowering my eyes and crawling over my skin. I could still feel the liquor in me from the night before; Monday night, oh dreadful night! I hesitated for a bit, but as soon as the repulsive presence of the odor had left my being, I raised the bottle up high and began to drink fiercely, with a purpose far beyond intoxication, far beyond my urge for forgetfulness. Truthfully I was already drunk, I was already lost. I drank, simply because I no longer wanted to cry. It has always been too strenuous an exercise for me, crying. Besides, at that point, where I was headed, there was no breathing consciousness, no living figure, only passing reflections and traveling characters put on paper. Piercing sentences and drawings of strange looking faces marked the walls of my destination. I had seen them all before, oh so many times. Oddly shaped emptiness, flooded with flashbacks of a voice that filled many moments worth of silence, awaited me. An awkward sheet of a quiet texture awaited me; familiar faces, hanging in disbelief, gathering under the same sheet to mix their different emotions into one shared love, the loss of one friendly voice known to them all.
“Anthony, you selfish bastard,” I thought, finishing the remains of the cognac and dropping the bottle on the grass by the sidewalk, “You made a four into a three, you conceited prick! You made our four into a three. You left me to face them on my own. Only you’d know what to say in a time like this. It’s hard to hate you, now that you’re dead, but I’m going to try. Hopefully I’ll never understand why you chose death, so I can remain forever hating you, and myself.”
“Dude, what’s your problem? This has gone on longer than I expected. That day I kept calling you, do you remember? You wouldn’t pick up, and I sent you that text saying, ‘Can’t you stop eating pussy or watching TV for two seconds?’ and still you didn’t answer…I had something important to tell you. Moments earlier, I had called the cemetery where Anthony’s funeral was at. They told me that his fucking parents had him cremated.”
“That’s probably what he wanted.”
“Fuck man,” he grunted, “I wanted to visit his grave, to leave flowers and pour some shots, but I can’t; never will be able to.”
“It’s not a big deal,” I sighed, smiling at Anthony’s image in my head, flipping through his laughs, and remembering how everyone went their own separate way, once he passed. I said, “You remember Amy?”
“How can I forget,” he laughed, shaking his head.
“Well, she used to leave whole plates of food outside of her house on the ground, with a shot of something on the side, maybe even some dessert, as an offering to the spirits of her dead friends. She had a few. Anthony is only energy now in my thoughts, and I think about him daily, but I don’t believe in graves. I’m in a different place these days.”
“We have to party in his honor.”
“I’ll have a drink for him every now and again; I’ll smoke a joint and remember his laughter, and how he rarely asked any questions. I have no more benders in me, no more pills, no more powder, no more sleepless nights. I’m in a different place.”
“You mean to tell me that you’re the same guy who got me started? Who taught me to mix and trip and how to let go…come on! You kidding me or what? Better get off this stupid shit soon.”
“I’m afraid I’m happy here…Love has saved me man. The last time I got high, it all came to me; the emptiness inside me…I’m empty of all temptation…I saw who I am now, who I want to be. Anyways, it doesn’t matter…I gotta head home and empty the cats’ litter box. The thought of a clean litter box excites me these days, and I’m happy, in a different place. So long my friend.”
Walking home, I put together a poem in my head. It certainly isn’t the greatest poem, and quite frankly, Anthony deserves better, but it was how I felt and still feel. “So long my friend…”
He isn’t forgotten,
His energy is around here somewhere.
Every other day,
Someone’s energy greets us,
On the sidewalk, in the park,
Smoking on a rooftop, watching the city,
Watching birds drawing circles…
I used to get so high,
LSD made me realize
The energy out there,
Energy in the waves of
Smoke that caress the air…
Followed around still
By Fragments of conversations
And shadowy fingers in my solitude,
I hope his energy never leaves me be;
We were all insecure,
We were all friends for a short while,
It was the greatest summer.
All said and done, his energy
Still tends to wake me some mornings,
His energy is out there,
Like that of Jesus or Muhammad.
Who knows who`ll follow us later on,
On the sidewalk,
To our homes,
This emptiness, this empty world,
Isn`t all that empty.