“He’s stressed out,” he said, “Work, home…deep down inside he needs to get away…”
I leaned back, fingers curled around my pint glass,
I thought, “Gotta take him out, gotta get him high…”
halfway through the thought, I was depressed,
perhaps I’m always depressed,
her smile fixes me effortlessly…
“I worry about him,” he said, “His birthday is next week.”
“Gotta take him out,” I thought, “gotta get him high..”
There is a canoe in my head, our getaway lies in Killarney,
where we’ll portage to our freedom.
he said, “That girl has amazing thighs..”
Halfway through the thought, I was depressed,
perhaps I’m always depressed,
for which I have her smile,
and a canoe in my head…
“He’s stressed out,” he said, “Work, home…deep down inside he needs to get away…”
there were waves made of the moon,
and there they were, dancing with you.
Turn the corner, and be prepared,
the next crack in the sidewalk
might be where you’ll find yourself…
Echoes bouncing around in my canyon,
echoes lonesome and empty handed
in the emptiness of purpose,
bouncing around in this canyon
made of me…
everywhere I look, there I am…
everywhere I look, there are lines
made of temptation trains
and momentary hate;
the purity of poison in every pitfall…
everywhere I look, I miss you.
Every time I wake,
every person passed,
every toke I take,
none of it matters,
but I’ll miss you regardless…
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.
New Year’s Eve 2010
It is now January fourth. I’m watching the return of the snow that melted last week; drunk week.
Drunk now…No longer January fourth. I’m now further down the road of winter, 2011. My friend Jon, how I love the man. Sure knows how to snap a poor old sap out of gloom. It takes skill to do what he does. I’ve recently come to know him, even though we’ve been friends for about a decade now. Whatever, drunk now; El Dorado Rum. Jon lets out one of his casual burps and continues talking. He doesn’t talk as much as me, but he’s talking now, and I’m drunk, getting drunk, listening intently.
He says, “Great fucking documentary!” (Emphasis on great, for Jon is a great guy.) “I watched a bunch of movies this week. Sunset Boulevard…”
“Yes, yes,” he burps and continues, “Carlos the Jackal.”
“Haven’t seen it.”
“It was alright…but I saw this documentary called The Cove; it’s this place in Japan where they trap and slaughter dolphins.” He drops his head slightly, taking in a deep breath. “I cried,” he sighs, “I cried for the dolphins.”
I reach for the bottle, “The Cove,” I mutter. He sighs.
I can still hear him as he sighs. A few days have passed. Days pass, it’s what they do. Sober now, closing my eyes on the Japanese spears and faces, on the open waters where dolphins are slaughtered. No use closing my eyes; “I must write this,” I think, “All of this, one day…My scattered young life, and how it has passed. There’s always a naked notebook nearby, and pens are plenty…I wonder, is it courage that’s faded?”
I am worrying now in my sober state, out and about since early in the morning, dreadful morning.
At the Wexford restaurant, they never fail to mention how long they’ve been around. “Since 1958,” says the menu, “280 million eggs cracked, 3.3 billion oranges squeezed.” I’m now nursing my sixth cup of coffee, wondering why she hasn’t called.
I never noticed the time passing, and how everybody grew up. I think I did too. I saw one of my uncles tonight, after about four years or so. Looking at his grey hairs, I realized that indeed change has us. The time that doesn’t exist continues to mock us. But it’s fun to be…to realize every once in a while that it’s still turning.
“How are you?” he asked me. I smiled in reply, nodding my head. “Really,” he continued, “Are you well? Are you happy?”
“Yes uncle, happy…In love.”
“Do not forget God,” he said, “Understanding is God.”
I couldn’t help but laugh.
“He couldn’t even keep his eyes open. That’s how drunk he was. We all think there is something wrong with him. He’s on one hell of a bender.”
“We all need a bender from time to time.”
“He spoke with a therapist recently; he might have a mood disorder.”
“Ha! Yes, mood disorder; and he’s probably bipolar as well.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Why not? It’s the truth…and this truth is rather trendy these days. Ha! Mood disorder…We all have moods; cliffs and falls…We all venture into some bender from time to time. We all have moods, and our moods fluctuate constantly, so we sit down with doctors who stamp us with disorders…We’re all fucking bipolar! I’m sick and tired of hearing this. None of us know who we are, and we struggle daily to nest ourselves in the hearts of those we know, we’ll do anything to not be alone…all the while, in the heart of all that is cold, upon the peaks of our silences, we end up taking refuge in our bottles and our mood disorders. In fact, these days, it is our disorders that keep us comfy. I am so sick of it.”
“I’m sorry I brought it up,” she said, turning her glance away from me and out of the window of the cab. “I didn’t know you were a doctor.”
“No doctor…but I’ve been diagnosed as bipolar myself. Why? Simply because of my silences, because I often felt the need to flee, because some mornings I didn’t wanna get out of bed, because sometimes I felt rage for no reason. Simply because of having a mood, because of being human, I was told I was bipolar as well…Either way, I can’t feel sorry for anyone, because they’re bipolar. We’re all insecure, that’s the one thing I have learned. We are the greatest of contradictions. We all like it when people worry about us. We all somehow take pleasure in our depressions and being stamped as ill. The worries of friends don’t change us. We’ll glorify our habits, cloaked in our disorders…We’ll laugh for all…”
“My friend,” said the cab driver, glancing at me timidly in the rear view mirror, “Some people really do suffer, in their heads. May God be with them.”
“Hell, even our god is a bipolar god,” I wanted to say, but Katie placed her hand on my thigh ever so gently, smiling with such satisfaction. I nodded and smiled at the driver, but I no longer saw a point to the conversation.
I would always tell her, “Leave my room the fuck alone!” It usually didn’t take much for me to lose my head. After a while, I’d lock my door whenever I left the house, just so she couldn’t clean and rearrange everything. I remember one day, I got into my car and was about to drive off, when I realized my wallet was up in my room. All was quiet when I went back in the house. I think my father was taking a nap. As I approached my room, the door was wide open and there she was, with a bottle of all purpose cleaner in one hand and rag in the other, swiftly wiping the dust of my habits, lifting the papers on my desk and stacking them in one neat pile. I couldn’t have stood there for very long. I was furious; I remember my fury, the same fury that now arouses in me laughter.
“What the hell..?” I shouted. She screamed, startled, but ready to laugh. She dropped the all purpose cleaner. “Are you serious?”
“Sasan, I thought you were out,” she giggled.
“I was. What the hell are you doing?”
“I just thought, while you’re out…”
“Yeah, perfect opportunity, right? I’ve asked you so many times mother, I’ve begged you to just leave my room alone. This is all that I have, this is all that I am! This room…I’ve asked you to leave my papers alone!” I continued yelling my bullshit at her.
She only laughed and said, “Okay, okay, you caught me…Scared me half to death!” and she laughed, and she laughed…as she left my room. She couldn’t have been in there for more than five minutes. I looked around; the goddamn place was spotless. I sat down in my fury. She had even cleaned out my ashtray, and if the ashtray could’ve talked, looking at me it would’ve said, “Tsk, tsk, you’re a fucking asshole…”
The other day, while I was cleaning the apartment and changing the bed sheets and duvet cover, I felt as if she was watching me. I’m sure, she would’ve loved to see the sight. I remember her laughter. I picture her smiling at me, all purpose cleaner in one hand and rag in the other, saying, “Dear Sasan, you missed many spots.”
“It was amazing. What a feeling. For the first time I was actually proud of my work.”
“I read your last two stories. They were great.”
“The newer ones have definitely come a long way.”
“You’ve come a long way,” said Jon.
“The funny thing is, sometimes when I read my older stories, even the ones I consider well written and worthy of publishing, I find so many holes in them and overall they seem rather flaky on the page; I feel the need to edit them, cut words and shorten them, cut them in half, perhaps even kill some characters…but I don’t. It’s funny because all of the ideas I have now keep me from editing any old work. The pen in my hand is greedier now, but greedy only for now…you know what I mean?”
“No, I don’t.”
“I am very attached to some of my old stories, and even though they are flawed and trapped within my youth, riddled with holes and flaky on the page, I choose to leave them as they lie. My mind today, or perhaps my pride for my work, for how far and long my words have come, doesn’t allow me to sit down and edit a story I wrote six years ago, just so it’ll resemble the ones I write today. I feel that I am much cockier now, in choosing not to edit, in leaving them as they are, reading them every once in a while but changing nothing, perhaps even thinking to myself that literary historians one day will have all of these works, and it’ll be easy for them to see the evolution of my words, my aging upon the page, my lifetime.”
“You’ve always been cocky,” he said, reaching into his jacket pocket for his smokes. For a split second, I thought he would pull out a gun and shoot me, shaking his sinister bald head, swaying inside his thick leather jacket. “You’ve always been cocky!” Bang! Bang! “You son of a bitch…” I got a headache for a split second. I’ve watched too many movies over the years.
“Maybe I’ve always been cocky, but not proud.”
“Ah, you’re still a cock. Pour us some shots will you…”
We drank just as the sun was making an appearance in the backyard. “So many characters,” I said, “It’s ridiculous.”
“Big city,” he exhaled.
“I can never look at an apartment building and not be baffled.”
“All the different people!” I exclaimed, my hands also rising with my voice, “So many different people, in one building, side by side. The differences behind each wall are mind boggling; the variety of lives, the habits…And it’s kind of funny, ‘cause you can live in a building for years and never know, never know who was right next door, or what was going on upstairs, or what they were selling down the hall.” I pointed at the building across the parking lot, “See that condo? Can you even imagine all the kinds of people that live there? Couple of years ago I experienced it all. Well, I got to see it; the variety of life in buildings scattered across town. I was doing fundraising work for a charity, going door to door. It was a strenuous job, with a grasp that tightened one’s hatred to the world; but oh the people I would see! You have no idea. One day, myself and a few other fundraisers, all dressed to impress, were deployed in Cabbage Town. We split up the buildings and got to work. We’d start at the top floor, going from one end of the hall to the other, then down the stairwell one floor, then down the next hall again door to door. I’ll never forget that day in Cabbage Town. It was only my second week of fundraising; we were fundraising for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and even though I was kind of on a roll and had been getting a decent amount of people to sign up, my nerves hadn’t quite yet settled. Anyways, halfway down the building, I think on the eleventh or twelfth floor, I waited at the door of a corner apartment after having knocked several times, swinging my Uniball pen in my hand and slowly beginning to realize that I was drenched in sweat underneath my trench coat and the scarf that was neatly wrapped around my neck. I was about to walk away when the door opened. He was a giant old man and he coughed as he opened the door; the stench of cigarettes and empty liquor bottles reached out from inside his haphazard apartment, grabbing me by the sides of my head. For a moment, I forgot all about the script and what I had to say. ‘What’s this?’ he grunted, and again I came to feel how profusely I’d been sweating.
“I said, ‘Hi, sorry for interrupting, my name is Beni. My colleagues and I are in your area today on behalf of the United Nations High Commission…’ The giant tilted his head at me and inched out of the door, peeking down the hallway. I stepped back as calmly as I could. ‘High Commission for Refugees,’ I continued, ‘So far several of your neighbors have signed up.’
“He said, ‘How’d you get in the building?’
“‘Your superintendent let us in,’ I whispered, glancing to my left down the hallway; I was alone on that floor, and his super hadn’t let us in. We would usually just buzz up to a bunch of apartments, until someone opened the door, out of kindness or ignorance, it didn’t matter to us; we worked for a charity.
“‘I doubt that,’ said the giant, ‘No canvassers allowed in this building.’
“‘Sir, I can assure you, we have spoken to your building management,’ I lied, ‘We’ve been in all the other buildings as well.’
“‘How old are you?’
“‘Twenty two,’ I said, wiping the sweat off my forehead as casually as I could.
“‘It’s not every day that such a good looking young man comes to my door.’
“‘Oh,’ I said, wiping my forehead again, stepping back a bit while chuckling awkwardly. It seemed like he kept eyeing my scarf. His stare hovered from my scarf to my eyes. It was all ‘cause of that scarf; goddamn colourful scarf my mother had bought me, the scarf that held every fucking color in existence, every color in its brightest form…Rainbows had nothing on that scarf.
“‘Come in,’ he said.
“I took one step inside and the stench that had numbed my senses took form and enveloped me from head to toe. My eyes darted about his apartment, from empty cigarette packs and pill bottles, to scattered pieces of gay pornography and articles of clothing and empty trays of microwave dinners that lay around his couch, facing the television like the ghosts of decaying days inside a manmade swamp. Anyways, I tried to carry on with the script, as nervous as I was.
“Here now, I don’t remember much of what I said. I must’ve stuttered on about refugees, and I probably lied about myself having been a refugee, out of war-torn Iran. But I remember clutching my Uniball pen in my hand as I would a dagger or icepick. His stare hadn’t changed a bit, and my eyes also continued to leap about, occasionally glancing down at my feet to make sure I wasn’t stepping on anything.
“He asked, ‘Do you smoke?’
“‘I do, but…’ Before I could finish, he was holding out his large pack of cigarettes, politely propped open, with the winking orange filter of a Dumaurier poking out. ‘Sure,’ I said, taking the cigarette. He then started looking around for a light. ‘Don’t worry, I have one. I’m sorry, what was your name again sir?’
“‘Peter, I’m gonna sing you up. What do you say?’
“‘I’ll give you ten bucks, huh? Huh?’
“‘I can’t take cash. Peter, you do understand, this is a monthly donation, right? I can sign you up for ten bucks a month. I can only take a void cheque or credit…”
“‘Yeah, yeah,’ he said quickly, moving closer yet again. I swear, for a second, I felt the pen jerk forward with my hand. The stench of his apartment seemed to have found its way into the most secret compartments of my lungs, where one’s soul may come and go. ‘I have cheques round here somewhere,’ he said, as he turned away from me and began to move around within the chaos. As I lit the cigarette, I might’ve wondered how long this giant had gone undisturbed. ‘Around here somewhere,’ he said. I’m sure I wondered why I had entered his apartment. It was only my second week of fundraising.
“I said, ‘This is a great cause Peter. I appreciate your support.’
“He came back with a blank cheque. I was busy filling out the form, with the cigarette burning still in between my lips, when he said, ‘If only you were gay…’ I remember laughing, as nervous as I was. ‘It’s not every day that such a good looking young man comes to my door.’
“I said, ‘I’m flattered Peter, but…’
“He said, ‘I give one hell of a blowjob, you know? I can take my teeth out. I love to suck dick and take it up the ass. What do you say?’
“‘I’m flattered, but I’ll have to pass,’ I said, squirming inside my trench coat, damp to the bone, with the Uniball pen turning into an icepick again in my hand. ‘I have a busy day of going door to door,’ I said, as if that was why I’d turned down his offer for a toothless blowjob.
“He smiled and said, ‘I’ll make it quick. You won’t regret it.’
“‘I’m gonna have to pass Peter, but thank you…’
“He said, ‘I’ve been all over the world you know; I’ve sucked dick everywhere I’ve gone. I was about your age when I went to Sydney.’
“‘Australia,’ I muttered, ‘Beautiful place, I hear…’
“‘I blew some bartender behind the bar, my first night there.’
“I said, ‘Wow,’ letting out a laugh and hurriedly filling out the form. I signed him up for ten bucks a month, for which I made twenty dollars in commission. I gave him his copy of the form and thanked him for the cigarette. I’ll never forget his smile; as nervous as I was, damp to the bone, I found his smile to be the sincerest I’d ever seen. I’ll never forget him saying, ‘I can take my teeth out for you. You’ve never gotten a blowjob like this before.’ Ha! The giant gay man, Peter Cutten; what a character! For a couple of years now, I’ve wanted to write a short story about it all. That character deserves a story. Recently, I’ve been thinking about it a lot, thinking about writing it and putting it on my site, along with some other twisted tales.”
“Why don’t you?” said Jon.
“My mother seems to be an avid reader of my work, and so, I tend to leave some stories out. You know, stories concerning drugs and homosexual men. She reads everything, and sometimes she’ll message me after reading one of my stories, saying, ‘I hope this is strictly fictional my dear Sasan, Please, always be safe and healthy.’ Hell, I have no doubt that she loves me. I wouldn’t want my stories to hurt her. You know? She’s so far away. But then, there will always be something to write about, right? I mean…”
At first glance, Jon looked like he was trying to conceal a yawn, but then, out of nowhere he exclaimed, “Ah! You really talk too much. Just write what you see. Your mom shouldn’t care and neither should you. Pour us some shots, will you please?”
There is never any sun on our yard;
Too many condos, and it’s not all that quiet,
Not where we live, not with all the construction.
I found myself when I moved here,
Started writing again every day,
While building a tolerance,
And I fell in love, and not in that order,
Love must’ve brought it all…
Love needs us to be careful and use our heads,
I’ve come to believe that our loves for each other
Need us too…but regardless of how or who,
There is never any sun on our yard,
And my words steer passed me these days
As I swerve within myself;
In whirlpools of psychedelic waves,
I have drowned so many times,
But man will always complain, and so have I.
Maybe I’m not much of a man, but regardless of that,
There is never any fucking sun on our yard,
And the blue jays don’t sit for too long around here,
But you still see them, you just have to look closely.