A final sip of coffee and the pipe dream—loans, degrees, apprenticeships, unmarketable eruditions wadded together like backhanded papier-mâché—says farewell, looming carbon in shop windows, antithetical to my reflection. I look back to watch it flutter away like a moth or some other vapid token. Expectations are gone; I’ve stepped in line; I should be free. So why am I tired enough to go back to bed and file unemployment after the weekend?
I’m no portrait of perfect health—sickness incarnate, truly—and fixate on people who tend to be unwell like me. They have a certain insecurity against the world, and my malady manifests, via rotten old habits, self-hatred irresistibly turned outward. My only fear is that it catches on the other side of the bed. I know a certain someone across town who is always waiting to get sick again. I should call her sometime, tell her I’m somewhere, septic with lechery.
The park bows open from my vantage. Tramps sprawl across it like threadbare fronds. They sleep on coats of spore. Among one of them could be me from the future, since I’m a lifelong devotee to being somebody else’s nothing. After a bit more mental scuffling, I do what they never will: leave this place, find my way home.
Intoxication and yard work are eternal lovers. Something about swill and swirling wind and living in the “what if?” because it was the perfect time. I leave Ms. Ailing a message. Dumb-in-stride, I bruise my toe against the cooler I brought into the yard, splattering ice and beer cans everywhere.
Phone chimes resound against the kitchen walls while I limp behind the lawn mower.
Death by sledgehammer ring after ring (eighty-something in all) to the broad tree stump by the gate. In a final display of boundlessness, the giant chokes my compost bin.
The flightless beetle under my foot probably lived to the fullest, and I killed it because I’m jealous. I leave it squashed in the carpet, change my shoes, pick up a book, put it back down, listen to voicemail (one message from the Afflictions-in-Law, another from my liaison-in-depravity). I write down an address and walk back to the city.
A shrinking gold clasp, seeds of mutual effort, seceded ambition: spices to the doppelganger’s feast, possessions of a wretch. The days when they matter singe hair color; they cool touch, seat cushion declension from beaten haunches craving rest. Not today and not any day like this.
“You know if I rejected you, you wouldn’t know what to say,” she says, a warren of what I seek and from what I typically flee.
“Don’t analyze me.”
“Men think they’re so good at hiding their loneliness.”
“…I’m allergic to latex.”
She’s also allergic to lawn clippings and I’m relegated to helping put ointment on her rashes. Dirty, but not the sin I strive for. I tell her about my throbbing toe. She says my touch is titillating.
Too much time passes, with not few enough words. “I’m trying to do work here,” I say amidst the struggle. “Don’t look so bored.” Home vibrates from my cell phone. Blood from an unknown wound leaks down the arch of my back. I strain. I try; it’s only natural.
Her hamstrings contract uncontrollably. She’s digging her nails into the sides of my head. Arching her back and revealing a small rash under her breast, she is with me now but doesn’t know my name and hers I’m sure is an alias. We are strangers in familiar land; we are compromised.
Names: Ezekiel Jonas, Dale Chili, Hank Basket, Kyle Vann, Matthew Robinson, The Friend, Clifford Jackson, Aloysius Aloysius, Dave Wilson, Some Guy. Pick one, get a different me to run into the ground. They like it, genetic predisposition.
My dad’s best advice is with me—sweaty dirty naked allergenic two-timing insatiable beyond greed me. It’s the only phrase I can hear, an axiom serpent. He said, “Never let the plants die.”