Pax is underwater, hundreds of feet below. It’s dark around him, but he sees, far and away, the light shining above the surface. An illuminated ellipse. Rippling. Pax could go there. He could swim up. Break through. Feel the warm sun on his skin. But he is stuck. He’s not drowning, but he’s sunken, heavy and tired, deep down these cold, blackish waters. Treading. Treading. If only he untied the bricks at his ankles. If only he could drop the weights. He could float, then. Up, up to that pool of radiant light. It would be good to breathe again.
Georgia’s antennas were made of the finest silver. They picked up the tiniest of signals, vibrated at the faintest of sounds. Georgia would set herself up in the grass on her front lawn and pick up whatever she could from the people walking by. And there were lots. Lots of people, and lots of things to be caught by her sensitive apparatus. Fidgety fingers, sluggish feet, fake laughs, infuriated sighs and quiet, broken-hearted sighs, heart palpitations, fluttering eyelashes, and even the cracking of smiles triggered from the secret thoughts that no instrument could ever pick up.
Georgia never missed a thing, but no one ever noticed her, sitting in the grass with her silver antennas, observing the world blow by on a wind of drama. Because that’s all it was to her: a stage. The backdrop, the trees against the sky, and the lighting, no less than the sun or the moon. The curtains, her drooping eyelids, were the only thing that pulled her away from the show and the myriad feelings it evoked. The empathy within her grew day by day, year after year, until she was no more than a puddle of emotion, spread low and wide, shapeless and soft, the silver antennas steadfastly trapping and transferring data from out there where her front lawn ended and the world began.
The doorbell stuck. She pushed it deeper until it popped back out. A ding dong resonated from inside, followed by steps thumping towards her. A top lock was jiggered. Good, she thought. Extra safety. The smell of cigarette smoke and old bacon wafted out as the door was pulled open. A chubby man stood squinting in the sun. His yellowed muscle-shirt folding over with drooping pecs, his bulging abdomen and protruding navel well outlined by the thinning fabric, his stained jeans and bare, hairy feet with overgrown toe nails were all she needed to see to know he meant business. He mumbled through a cough, the cigarette he held between his lips bouncing up and down, and led her in.
Each room was presented to her with a fresh mumble and wave of the hand. The first on the left was dark and empty. A faint light seeped through the brown polyester curtains, illuminating the front part of the room with a dull glow. She noticed the burgundy rug peppered in cigarette burns, the flowered wallpaper peeling. The room had its own smell. She sniffed a few times. Must.
The second room, this one on the right, was stuffed full of boxes, piled so high they almost touched the ceiling. The man stuck his head in the small space between the door frame and the wall of boxes and mumbled, pointing upwards. She poked her head in too, and sniffed. Kitty litter.
She followed him down a narrow, brown-carpeted corridor. The walls were painted in tones of beige which seemed orange thanks to the lightbulb that hung from the hall ceiling, flooding the tight space with its diluted mustard colour. She sniffed. It smelled of mustard too.
The last room was both a kitchen and a living room. A toaster sat on the end table beside the green velvet couch, and a small television was propped on a stool in the sink. Very practical, she thought. She sniffed again. The old bacon was definitely present, but there was a hint of something else, something out of place.
She found out what it was when the man opened the door to the back yard. Lilac trees, laden with purple, spat their fragrance at her. She sniffed. A variety of flowers lined the fence in orange, red and white, all of their smells mixing in a most unpleasant stink. She shook her head and pinched her nose. The man saw her disgust, and pointed to a chainsaw leaning against the back wall of the house. He mumbled, the long ash that had accumulated at the end of his cigarette falling, leaving him with only a stub.
She paused her eyes on the chainsaw, then nodded and shook his hand. I’ll take it, she said.
“Stop eating the leaves, Stan!”
Stan stopped chewing and turned to look at me, torn pages dangling from his mouth.
“I should have know you’d be trouble,” I said, flipping through the accounting records. “It’s been a rough few months, we’ll have to close if we keep this up. We need to draw more people.”
Stan spat out the pages and walked over to the blackboard in one big step, ducking to avoid the fluorescents. The chalk between his teeth, he began to draw a stick figure.
“Not that kind of draw, you long-necked twit.”
The giraffe dropped the chalk and went back to nosing through the books on the highest shelf. Wth his tongue, he opened a cloth-covered, vintage edition (they tasted so much better with age) and ripped out a page, slowly, so as to not be heard.
“I told you to stop eating the leaves, Stan!” I slammed my hands on my desk and glared at him.
Stan stopped chewing and turned to look at me, torn pages dangling from his mouth. After a few moments, he began to chew again. I sipped my bitter coffee and went back to flipping through the accounting records.
The words hurt today
it hurts to pick out what to wear
it hurts to raise my cup to my mouth
it hurts to leave the lair
I come back and sit with my dirt
it coats the coffee table
it coats the armchair
it coats every inch of my skin
and every single hair
I open my eyes to my shit
I see the dimmed light of my soul
I see my words threadbare
I see the intention broken
of always getting back up again
I do anyway
His body was blocking the door. I noticed only as I turned the handle. I could see him through the door’s window. I rapt on the glass with my knuckles. And again. He didn’t budge. My shoulder up against the wooden frame, I put my weight into it. A crack opened wide enough for me to squeeze through. The door fell back again. The man was now flopped over to his side, eyes half open, mouth slightly agape. I knew if I looked hard enough I would see the needle somewhere. I stood watching him for a few moments, considering pulling him up and sitting him out of the way. But I left him there. I didn’t want to touch him. Especially not knowing where the needle was. Twice that day I had seen people in the same state. On a park bench, a girl. Half her back and half her ass exposed, her head hanging between her legs and her dangling arms. In another park, an old man’s head lolled to the side like a dead man’s. Was he old? They all looked old. And not as in elderly. Old as in worn out. The beauty of life sapped from their shells. That’s all their bodies were: battered shells. Housing need. I watched the man’s chest rise and fall. And again. A woman walked by pushing a stroller. Her eyes dropped to the man, and then lifted to mine. She smiled, and I smiled. Our crow’s feet didn’t wrinkle.
He thinks differently at night. He’s more dramatic. More far-seeing, perhaps, but often to the expense of his optimism, his soul drooping from the weight of the world upon it. Problems become disproportionately big, and the shadow they create even bigger. But when morning comes, the corners of his mind that had grown dark and grim are filled with the sun’s radiant promise of fresh possibilities. Every new day is a fresh start and a chance to make the choices for himself that seemed impossible under the oppression of night.
Perhaps, the alarm goes off, and the hand that finds the snooze button still lingers between worlds; between the night that tormented, the dreams that freed, and the morning that reminds. But his feet know better than to listen to his hands. They are the ones that take him places, whereas hands merely press the snooze button over again. So they drag him out of bed, trusting that if they walk him to the right place, the hands will know how to brew the drink that will revive him. As he shuffles his way to the kitchen, the dreams he had in the night pop their face in and out of his consciousness. There is much strangeness there. He’s wades in it with dull curiosity. Behind it lies the soundless memory of the eve. He approaches it until he stands right at its edge, with great risk of slipping back into the mirky pond of hopelessness. He loses his footing, more than once; he almost falls in, but the hands reach the jar of beans just in time. And with his brain on automatic pilot, he opens it and pours some into the grinder. But, no, life is too much, he thinks. He should just go back to bed. With weak intention, he holds down the button and the beans crack and crinkle in a lovely way. A glimmer of wellness sparks within. But it dies just as quickly when the grinding stops, and he wants to quit everything he ever started, to rot away in his bed where he can just go on sleeping forever. The kettle whistles and beckons to be emptied onto the grinds he’s just put in the reusable cloth filter. His dreams have died but he still needs to save the planet. The liquid tar streams into the cup with the broken handle, the cup that has been loved to pieces because it is just the right size, and his eyes widen. The steam rises, bringing joy to his senses. He wants to go back to bed, but his sleepy mind is sharp enough to know that just a few seconds away, there is salvation for his shadow self, forewarned by the heat seeping into his palms through the walls of the handle-less cup. A stir of sugar to sweeten the bitter awakening, a drop of milk to smoothen the ride, and meaning is brought back to living. He sips. He remembers the night, still, but it shrinks to a dot in a sea of light. It was a false alarm, there is no need to panic. He feels good about staying awake. At this rate, his whole perspective could be revolutionized, his purpose in life rediscovered, even, if he could just make it to the shower.