I looked over the cards – seven in total. Prime number…of course it was. I moved them around…habit, I suppose. The desire to make the inobvious less obvious.

I looked around at the other players – seven in total. All of us doing much the same in different ways. I tried to pry some truth from the situation, tried to understand what was happening and why with little glances that tried not to scream, “Is this for real?”

No one seemed inclined to voice such a question. A table of well-known strangers all acting like they weren’t mentally imploding. Each one wearing their own reusable mask of cool composure.

The one to my right looked the most out of place. A man who had clearly seen dark times and dark outcomes. He looked at his cards like a man who feared that everyone else was preparing to pry them from his hands. He seemed twitchy. His hands always moving, eyes glancing. He wore a tangled curtain of dingy, stringy hair. The odd man out. My gut told me he’d been as such for quite some time.

He took some chips from before him – odd-shaped things, seven-sided with a weird line design at the center that looked like a spiral. He seemed almost haphazard. Grab and throw. He didn’t even say anything.

I got the feeling he was a man who was used to betting recklessly. A man who had lived through enough bad bets that he just accepted that shit is what shit is. Deal with it and move on.

I looked at the others…the ones who would need to call or raise or fold before I had to do the same.

The next one to decide was clean-shaven. He had the look of a man who ordered whiskey, Black Label, neat. Maybe something more expensive. I don’t know enough about whiskey…never had the taste for it. He was like a man who aspired to be Don Draper. He looked like he might have succeeded. A man that made hard decisions. Big decisions. Used sentences like “The expected needs of shareholders” as regularly as other people talked about TV shows.

He barely looked around. Just glanced at his own cards, which rested in hands that only moved to find a glass of whiskey that should’ve been there, but wasn’t. He grabbed some chips in the right quantity while looking like it was accidental and threw them into the center of the table.

Part of me almost chuckled at the humor of the pretense. Like watching people wearing domino masks and acting like their identities were an enigma.

The next one looked like a man who had slipped his arms into the warm embrace of simple mediocrity. A man that worked a nine to five. A man that watched TV on his off time. Paid his bills. Mowed his lawn every other Saturday. A man that had an aura made of shoulder shrugs and self-resignation. He didn’t strike me as a gambling man.

He looked around the room with equal parts veiled confusion and disinterest. He looked down at his cards and then at his chips, weighing the risk and reward. He cautiously picked up some chips and held them. Looked like he might put them back down while moving his cards like he might fold. A little dance of back and forth, back and forth.

“Fuck’s sake,” the first man said, “in or out.”

His voice was even rougher than I imagined it would be. A smoker to be sure.

I remembered trying to like cigarettes. I hadn’t succeeded. Never understood how anyone else ever did.

The hesitant one finally froze in the midst of his little what-should-I waltz and cautiously put his chips in the center of the table.

While everyone at the table was different in their own way – apart in their own way – the next one seemed somehow more so. He didn’t have a red mohawk or a face full of piercings. He didn’t have a sleeve of tattoos like the man that sat just to his right. He didn’t seem like a man who drank expensive whiskey or a man who might be the Unabomber in training. And yet, he was the stranger of the strangers in this odd ring of uncomfortable familiarity.

Unlike everyone else, he wore a wedding ring.

With a brow that told as many common stories as his JC Penny attire and matching expression, he looked around the room with a look I couldn’t place. Discomfort, or apathy? Calm collection? Some neutral disposition that I’d never seen in myself and so struggled to recognize when I saw it now?

I’d looked around to play Sherlock Holmes at one point to see if there were tell-tale signs of recently missing rings on other fingers but they were all bare except his one.

I’d never been married, of course. Never even been close. Never really been close to close. I often wondered how people ended up there and why. I couldn’t help but wonder what roads I’d passed, lost, or ignored that might have ended up where I might have been a man with a similar ring.

He gave a little expression with his mouth. Not a smile. Not a grimace. One side pulled up and pursed at the corner, like his face was saying, “Hm…” without using words. He looked around at the table like…I’m not sure what. He made a little clicking sound out of the other corner of his mouth and put his cards down. He drummed his fingers on the table, gave a “Yup…that’s me…” raise of his eyebrows, stood up and walked away.

“And then there were six,” the Don Draper type said without even looking away from his cards.

“Well then,” the next one said. He looked over his cards and the chips in the center of the table. His arms were ink up to his wrists, his face shaved into a goatee that was grown down to probably his sternum. No piercings though. No rings on his fingers. No tattoos on the neck or face or scalp. He looked like the kind of guy that had driven adrenaline on highways of loud music. A man that was used to staring out at a group of strangers that would all look up at him with false visions of lovingly-crafted recognition. A man that had kicked down the door of “follow your passion” and realized that it was really all anyone had – that and the regret of never having done so.

He called with so little hesitation that it made me envious.

The next man sat quietly. That look of a man weighing everything and everyone. A mind running probabilities and wondering if any of them led anywhere other than right here and now. His hair was semi-short, leaving that always recognizable friar’s ring hair that you see in men of a certain age. He moved his cards around not unlike I’d done and had been doing. He looked around the table with a look that – in all truth – was more terrifying to me than the man to my immediate right who, I’m pretty sure, had at least one story in his arsenal of a time when he’d snorted cocaine off a dead body in an alley. It was a look of a man who didn’t really see anyone else at the table – just end results. Like a man counting up the value of collateral damage. His mind ticking by with an assessment of individual importance and coming to the same conclusion over and over again.

He cleared his throat and eyed his chips. Picked up the necessary amount and slid them forward.

Down to me then…

I glanced around the room in that way that people do. In that way that I’d always done. That way that I’d done the most when I wish I’d done it the least. That way I’d done when I used to look at Julie in my mid-teens. That way I’d done when I used to look at Sarah when she’d get a glass of water that was just close enough to my desk that I could always smell her perfume and watch her do that thing with her hair when she was mentally processing.

I never once asked what was on her mind, of course.

I didn’t want to intrude.

I wondered if the others had their own Sarahs and Julies. I suppose everyone does in their own way. I could have asked, but then none of us seemed willing to just ask the most basic question of all.

That question that existed because of that sentence I’d heard years ago. Some random thing I’d seen on the internet. One of those “What if…” type questions that makes you go, “Well, I mean…yeah…that would be kind of fucked-up…”

I tapped my chips. I tallied the numbers – likely not as well as the one to my left – hopefully, better than the one to my right. The math wasn’t lost on me. Seven players with seven cards. Forty-nine cards total. A deck has fifty-two. That leaves three in reserve. Clearly, this was not a game where there would be any new cards, only discards. You get what you have – you play it to the end or…well…you don’t play at all, I suppose.

I slid my own chips forward, driven – if I’m being truthful – as much by curiosity as I was by the drive that had driven me through so much. The drive to want to play and to want to win…even when the cost of winning was losing…and even when the only thing won was knowing that I’d done it.

The addict took a look at his cards and selected two, placed them face down. The kind of man that was used to reckless wagers. He was hard to read because he seemed the sort that didn’t know how to panic anymore. Life was a downward spiral – it only led one direction now – the rest was just window dressing.

“All in,” he said with a grin that showed a severe need for a trip to the dentist nearly two decades ago or more. He shoved his entire pile of chips into the center.

The suit seemed calm. Composed. He knew how to gamble. He did it all the time, and he did it with time and money…he did it with lives – his own and others. Life was a game of pick your poison. A game of keep-your-enemies-closer. He took two of his own cards, placed them face down and slid his own chips forward.

I doubt anyone was surprised when the man who had already seemed hesitant to play at all found his courage buckle and just put his hand down entirely. Even then, he seemed unsure about whether he should stay and watch, or get up and leave.

“Not really a voyeur kind of situation,” the one with tattoos said.

“Yeah,” the addict said, “in or out. If you’re out, then piss off.”

He got up, hesitantly and started to turn. “I…” he said, “it’s just weird, right? Like…it’s not just me, right? I mean…” he looked at the floor now, “I remember seeing this thing a long time ago and…I mean…”

“You’re out, yeah?” the suit said – more a statement than a question.

The one standing just nodded.

“Then you’re out,” the suit said coolly. “Be out.”

The man whose life must have been a long and empty raft ride through the gray waters of “why and what and who really cares?” clenched his jaw. He swallowed his words like he’d probably swallowed so many other words and outbursts in his life. He kept them inside like a man who had long ago decided that he had nothing to say that was worth saying.

“Yeah,” he said, “I’m out…” and he walked away.

The man with tattoos chuckled. Plucked two cards from his hand and set them down – chips in.

“Fuck it, right?” he said like a man who had learned to stop worrying about things he couldn’t control because he’d decided that he couldn’t control any of it, “Games a game.”

The next man didn’t say anything. He calmly pushed his cards together and set them on the table and departed.

“Guessing we all know what he was going to say,” I said – more a statement than a question. Of course, we would. Beneath the minor differences and major alterations, I could see it clearly. Under a skin marbled with tattoos or a face of calm deliberation. Under a face that was wearing twenty more years than it had any right to wear.

I saw the same ticks and quirks. I saw the things that matched that outshined the things that didn’t. A game of “find the differences” and realizing that no matter how deep they went, they were still hard to pull away completely from the parts that were the same.

“Didn’t say there’d be a group,” the addict said.

“No,” I said, “but it’s compelling all the same.”

“You plan on doing something with those chips?” the suit asked.

“You late for a meeting?” the one with tattoos jabbed.

I took two cards from my hand and set them down. “I never asked her what was on her mind,” I said. “I wish I would’ve.”

“Julie?” the suit said. He chuckled a bit at that. “You would’ve been let down by the answer.”

I pushed my chips into the center of the table and I thought about the line that had been weighing on me. The line that was probably going to keep weighing on me. The one that made me fear what would happen when the chips settled and we decided to put our hands down so we could all really see what we had.

“What if hell is when the person you became meets the person you could have been?”

The addict was right, though. No one said shit about it being a group.

“Call,” I said – driven still by curiosity as I was by the desire to win. Even if winning meant losing. Even if the prize for winning was that I knew I’d won.


Transistor pt.7

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

1% decided to have a drink and kick its feet up. It took residence in my frontal lobe and all the other lobes as well.

I spent the next few days deliberating with it, like a man who understood how to budget talking to the world’s shadiest car salesman.

His pitch was convincing.

I mentally tracked the details. A to B. B to C. C to D. Therefore and vis a vis. Ipso facto. I followed the threads between actions and events like they were pins on a cluttered wall and I was buying in to being a serial killer detective.

I actually put together a wall of pins and threads. I walked through it while 1% turned to 11% turned to 43% turned to 71% turned to 99% with a smug smile and a too-firm handshake.

I walked through my mugging and the woman who I saw standing there while I was being mugged.

I thought about the assholes who mugged me and how I’d spent the night before, my brain filling in sections of a color-by-number drawing, wondering why I found it so easy to omit such obvious sections.

I thought about how I’d wanted more than anything to not have to go back to work, and how now…I had it. Bereavement time for everyone. Nevermind that the guy went through cars like wives and wives like bottles of whiskey. Nevermind that he probably didn’t know the names of half the people who worked there unless he thought he had a chance with them in a supply closet or after a late night office party when morals were low and inhibitions were dull.

As a company, we clearly needed to mourn.

I thought about that picture. That big fucking sombrero and that margarita that should have been served with a DWI and the side of Brad’s face giving her a kiss on her cheek. And of course, I was there. My face only partially in frame.

It had felt so terribly apt: never quite in frame, never quite in focus.

And I thought about how pettiness wins. Cruelty wins. Darkness wins.

We win the lottery of life and we find ourselves ready to lord it over others. Ready to either show them what they were missing or else show off what they can never have.

It’s how I ended up here, I suppose, with a picture in my hand.

Because 1% told me I won the lottery of life. It said it until it was Mr. 99% and I facts and reasons moved aside like he was a bright light in a room of roaches. And when I saw the deck of life sitting before me saying, “Your deal…”

I didn’t shuffle.

We never really do.

Because we know, I suppose. We know deep down that we can’t buy our way out. Not really. We see our question of “Why him? Why not me? What was so wrong?” And we want to believe it can be something simple. Something we can fix. An answer we can buy.

But the truth is terrible, and simple, and cruel.

While I meandered through a world where it seemed like everyone prepared sad eyes for me in the lament of who I loved, and she seemed somehow oblivious, I was given the mantra of “Maybe she just doesn’t know.”

But the truth is dark, and brutal, and so concise.

She didn’t love me, and if I was honest, I knew the reason why: because she didn’t.

The whole, cohesive element that was me was not a blip on her emotional radar. I was an empty sky and unblemished ocean. I was something that did not disturb her senses in the way that mattered.

But then, pettiness wins. Cruelty wins.

So when I thought about what I’d done that night and how the next day it seemed that, “well, how about that?” the muggers suddenly got a dose of what they gave. And when I thought about how I thought my boss’s boss was an asshat, and I just wanted to be home, alone, in the dark – fold into myself and let my mind rattle around like a quill in a nearly-empty inkwell only to find that he’d died…

Autoerotic asphyxiation. Happy birthday, indeed, El Presidente.

I thought about how I was trying to stifle pain with pain. Treating the cut by adding a burn. Filling whatever part of me with enough venom and poison that I could hurt in a way that could numb the pain that I was just so tired of feeling.

I found myself looking at my lottery ticket. The one that 1% told me was a winner. “Just check the numbers and you’ll see!” And I knew deep down that the answers I wanted were made for questions that no one was asking, and the questions I had were meant for answers I didn’t want…

Well…I guess pettiness wins, doesn’t it?

And that’s how I wound up here, holding a picture of her. A picture of just her. An older one. One from before. From when I was just me and she was just her and I hadn’t decided that her answer to the question I never asked was no…and that it always would be.

She was the last thing I saw because I suppose that’s how it works.

Pull the petals of she-loves-me-nots and let the wind take them to their destination. Let my metaphorical butterfly flap its wings and cause a storm in China.

If 1% was right, a cut on my hand would find its way to someone else’s. A punch in the face would do the same.

So when the light flooded my eyes, leaving me standing there like the world’s dumbest deer, I think I almost smiled.

I cried, of course. Jesus, I cried.

While the sound came roaring at me, that doppler effect of noise as it barrels toward you was like a storm of horns and trumpets forged in hell.

The sound of metal on metal screamed while the tracks fought against wheels.

The conductor was about to have a really bad day.

And as the train came forward to take the one kiss that I’d never had a chance to give her, I whispered. Even had I yelled, no one could have heard me. I don’t even think I could have, but it didn’t matter.

I whispered all the same.

I whispered, “Give her my regards…”

Transistor pt.6

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Contact was like the splitting of an atom.

Like the fusion of two disparate eternities.

I was a million, million six-sided dice, and every single one was rolling one.

I’d evaded any post-operation check-ups with she who was survived by the passing of he who I never wanted to name. I’d cowardly sidestepped an appearance at a funeral.

Work. Super busy. Obviously.

I always wondered how you were supposed to tell people that you care about that you can’t care about them because they cared about someone else when you needed them to care about you because you cared too much about them.

Maybe there’s a word that means that. If there is, I never knew what it was.

I spent my days in something of a haze. I spent a lot of it drunk.

I saw the ragged edges of stupidity weaving together like a man looking at a map of the world and pointing out where Pangea must have been. That self-assured notion that if you budge this landmass, and shift that one, and – well, sure, you have to remember erosion and the movement of tectonic plates to account for all the parts that don’t quite line up – well, it pretty much lines up perfectly.

You see it, right?

I waited for calls from cops that never came.

I waited for calls from James to ask if I was okay while he alluded to “You know…I mean, with everything that happened…” Never really saying what happened. Never really putting a name on the placard. Like an office that’s labeled with only a title – a position – a concept.

I scolded myself as I saw patterns that I told myself weren’t there. They weren’t there like faces weren’t on pieces of bread. That’s the human mind creating patterns – not finding them. It’s looking backward and connecting the carefully selected moments with a string like on those overly-elaborate boards you see in movies from an obsessed detective, or a serial killer, or an obsessed serial killer detective.

Somewhere along the way, my brain decided to play chicken with a world of what-if. It was that irrational mindset of a person thinking that if they wore the right color and said the right words then – quite like magic – the Somewhere’sVille Ball Throwers would win the World Bowl Cup-athon…or whatever.

So like an idiot who was trying to find enough sand to bury his head so that he could pretend reality was somewhere far away and twice-removed, I started small.

I tried to pull and release one of the outer balls of my hypothetical Newton’s cradle and then I stood back and waited. I waited with bated breath. I waited for the other shoe to drop.

When nothing happened…no metaphorical click-clack…a solid 99% of my brain was content. Convinced.

“You’re an idiot. You knew that, though, didn’t you?”

My 1% was like a salesman’s foot in the doorway saying, “Well now, sir, if you’ll just wait one more minute and I can show you the power of the Sucker Deluxe 4000. This baby can clean the wood flooring UNDER your carpet, and you wanna talk about the best sleep you’ve had in ages? Sir, look no further…because this baby here is the answer to your prayers. Yes, sir, outta be called the Sweet Jesus Five Billion…”

I drank my 1% by ounces and gallons.

Maybe it was just easier to hold on to than truth is. Maybe that’s why people believe in god. Maybe that’s why they believe in yetis and the Lochness monster. Because it’s something to hold on to. It’s that teddy bear that you cling to because, without it, all that’s left is that terrible, looming night with lonely crickets singing lonely songs. Because sometimes, you need to think there’s still one grain left in the hourglass…

When I woke up on a foggy Tuesday morning, my left leg filled with pins and needles from what was definitely the world’s worst sleeping position, I felt like I was watching the grain fall. Or maybe I was just finally accepting that it already had and that moving around it and looking at different angles wasn’t going to change it.

I went into the kitchen and made coffee which didn’t nothing to take away my headache. I saw blood in the sink and couldn’t remember if that was something recent. I didn’t feel injured, and I was pretty sure I hadn’t killed anyone.

I squinted in the too bright day of barely-after-sunrise while I drove to work while my view of the world felt like it was moving through damp cotton balls…my brain feeling far too much the same.

Inside, I zombie walked toward my desk, at first paying little heed to the rest of my coworkers. I gave the customary “passing by people who you definitely know the name of, so you do that little upward head-tilt” thing. My fuzzy brain shrugged off details like it was a coat in a room that was too warm. The information was there, but it didn’t register.

I felt like it was Monday morning and Game of Thrones had aired the night before. People seemed huddled together. People who didn’t normally talk to each other were talking to each other.

It started to settle in. The details were sharpening.

I did that awkward approach to the front desk where Tim was stationed talking to Stephanie and some other woman whose name I didn’t know.

I didn’t even have a chance to be “that guy”.

“Can you believe it?” Tim asked in that way people do when they know that you most certainly should not be able to believe it.

“I just talked to him yesterday, “other-woman was saying with that weird tone of resignation. That tone of someone in pseudo-shock about something terrible that happened and it made perfect sense for them to have very deep feelings about it.

“I think I’m a bit out of the loop,” I said with a bit too much space between all my words.

“Yes, sir,” my 1% chimed in, “this baby right here…oh…this right here is the genie and the lamp, but no need to make three wishes. Oh, no…this little gem is the only one you’re ever gonna need.”

Part 7

Transistor pt.5

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Pressure that was both pulling and pushing as if the world was a black hole and I was made of light – though more than ever, it was a great miasma of light and I an endless black hole.

Yet it pressed against me.

A tornado rushing on a horizontal plane.

Thunder moving the wrong direction.

A storm running away from me while it’s bitter entrails of lightning reached out and pawed at me like the fingers of the dead.

My mind had been in a fog while I drove.

It was that feeling like something was wrong but it was so vague that it didn’t make sense. Like I was locked in the feeling of “I think I left the oven on” plus “I forgot to do my homework” with a side of “I showed up to class naked” all sprinkled with a layer of “I might have pissed on my neighbor’s car last night”.

It was a feeling like every part inside of me was trying desperately to be on the outside and every part outside just wanted to wrap itself in a cold, dark shroud and hibernate until some time next century so that I could call a mulligan on my current life.

I imagined wonderfully elaborate scenes of being in a dimly lit interrogation room – two-way mirror on the wall at my right. The eponymous good cop/bad cop routine playing out in stock 80’s movie fashion.

The detective smoking a cigarette while the cool-headed partner lingered in the corner with his arms crossed…just waiting to come in and be the voice of sympathy and reason.

Words from a stubbled jaw saying, “Seems like a lot of shit’s following you around these days. And we have…” he’d thumb through pages as if it were an unplanned action, “…yeah…right here, phone logs. You say ‘Someone died’…strange way to put it.”

And the partner would come in, “Coulda been shock,”

“Oh yeah,” the bad cop would say, “sure…” he’d snuff out a cigarette in the ashtray that they clearly didn’t bring in for me because I didn’t smoke. “Could be shock. But it’s weird, right? Cocksuckers take your stuff down in Allensville. Boom! Dead. And then…I mean…I’m looking at this browser history of yours and…”

“Look,” good cop would say, “we’re not saying you did anything, but if you did…or even you know something…”

My head was like a saturated bandage. It was like a mouth full of gauze after the dentist removes all four wisdom teeth. I passed the address without even realizing I’d done it and had to double back.

I sat in front of the house like an idiot for longer than I should have before I finally got out. My fingers hurt where I’d gripped the steering wheel like a man riding a raging bull down into the depths of hell.

Steps to the door were an eternity, fraught with moments where I wanted to just turn around and leave.

I knocked on the door like a kid who doesn’t want to tell his mom that he got in a fight on the playground or an ‘F’ on his recent test.

I tried to take the lack of answer as “no one’s home” and I was about to turn and leave when the door finally opened.

Her face had no composure, eyes were ringed in red, and her nose was clearly rubbed raw. Her chin hat that tremble to it. That movement like anxious feet on the starting line of a racetrack made of agony and sadness.

I couldn’t help but recognize the shirt she was wearing. I’d seen it recently. Not in person, of course, but I’d seen it in a picture. In it, she was holding her arms out in a look of photographic excitement with an overly large sombrero on her head. A margarita that could have put down a narwhal was on the table. The whole scene was blemished by the side-profile face leaning in to kiss her on her cheek. Brad.

Fucking Brad.

“I…” she was trying to say, but words didn’t come out, instead, she just uttered a string of incoherent syllables and reached out like I was a long lost teddy bear. I wanted to find solace in that, but a part of me knew that it was a hollow a moment as I never wanted it to be.

“I mean, look,” bad cop would say, “no way we think you tracked this guy down at 3 am and then ran him off the road, but it seems strange, you know? Pretty lady like that. She leaves you. It gets under your skin, yeah? Maybe someone knows you’re hurting, right? A friend of a friend sees the guy…yeah?”

“Best we can tell,” good cop would say, “you were at home all night. Nothing says you left. Car never moved. No taxis or ubers or anything. I mean, look, we’re just trying to sort this out. We’re on your side here. You gotta get out in front of this before other people start filling in the blanks for you.”

She felt soft in his arms. She sounded sad. I told myself that some of that sadness was for me. That is was because of…

In my mind, the oven was still on, homework still forgotten. I was standing naked in the classroom on my first day and I’m sure I pissed on my neighbor’s car. Everything in the world felt wrong. Holding her felt wrong.

I stood there silently while she cried. I didn’t offer any kind words.

When she finally muttered the tear-soaked words of “I miss him so much” between great heaping sobs, I clenched my jaw and closed my eyes.

“I know,” I finally said with words I carved out of ice and disconsolation.


Part 6

Transistor pt.4

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

A roaring like some ancient god screaming.

A thunder like some terrible demon tearing free from a chrysalis of old prayers.

Darkness was but a pinhole in a blanket of endless yellow light.

I was a fly on a pane of heaven’s glass.

I could see the hand that meant to swat me.

Days dragged on and my nerves felt stretched like taffy being pulled between the fat, greedy fingers of overweight children who now struggled over their sweet prize while their chainsmoking mother sat in the catatonic glow of her smartphone.

I’d come home at one point and found myself in the churning thoughts that accompany so many but are seldom said by most. That series of thoughts of “what if I just snapped? what if I was one of ‘those guys’?”

I looked around and thought how sad that very thought was. That knowledge that I wasn’t cut out for that life. That realization that said that the cops would come in prepared to see an outfit made out of spare ballerina parts and a clown’s wig, a closet filled with “Faces of Death” videos and a copy of Helter Skelter that had been read one time too many. That realization that they’d come in and see…

I imagined cops coming in and just saying, “Fuck…no wonder…” Not the statement of “this man was troubled and this was the only way he could say it,” nor the statement of “this man was sick and it was just a matter of time before he spread his infection,” but the statement of “fuck, I feel pathetic just being in here.”

I looked around at the staggering mediocrity of it all. The plain wood paneling that was probably just as depressing to the last twenty occupants as it’d been to me. The carpet that had been replaced, but already looked like it was old about four years ago. The bookshelf with just enough books to say I was literate and too few to say I was impressively so; a fine haze of dust to let the world know it wasn’t my current hobby or fascination. A small loveseat that had seen more casual lounging and unintended naps than it had ever seen of love.  A videogame console that was apparently a season away from being two generations old. A collection of DVDs and no obvious way to play them. A TV that hadn’t been impressive even when it had been purchased new.

The last thought caught in my throat. I clenched my teeth. That sort of clench where you’re fighting all the words you never said because they showed up too late to the party where you’d forgotten to invite them.

I remembered when I’d gotten it. I remembered the endearing statement of “Well, I’m tired of trying to watch shit movies on your laptop.”

Strange the way some sentences stick with you. Like little blemishes in a book that were never intended, but now you look for them every time you see the page.

Self-deprecation and worry met somewhere on the intersection of Alcohol Avenue and Zero-Moderation Street. At some point between listening to tragic music and scrolling through names of people that I’d be better off not texting, life had gotten hazy. That sort of haze where I started not quite recalling what I’d recently been doing, but thinking that I must have come into the kitchen for some reason.

I woke to the sound of my phone playing the stock alarm sound that it was initially set on. I had the distinct feeling that it had played several times already. I woke without a headache, which also told me that I just hadn’t sobered up yet, which was far from encouraging.

When I went to move, I saw that my pants were mostly off, and I was short one shoe. Apparently, my hero’s quest to my bed had been vanquished by failing ambition or else failing mobility. It was likely a combination of both.

I looked at my phone though eyes that wouldn’t focus and finally made the noise stop.

I took a deep breath before looking at my phone to see what damage I might have done.

Sent emails. Sent texts. Browser history. Phone calls made.

I hadn’t worried so much about the voicemail notification. It was later than it should have been and work was likely wondering why I wasn’t there.

I didn’t find any need for any immediate social triage. In a still-blurry state, I chose to focus on a hot shower and enough coffee to kill an angry giraffe. I swiped around on my phone to cue up work so I could let them know that I was clearly sick and etcetera…etcetera…vomiting or whatever.

One missed call.

It made sense, there was a voicemail after all.

The number wasn’t one I immediately knew.

It was one of those numbers where it felt weird. Like when I’d seen a call and I knew beyond knowing that it was some horse-shit salesman trying to tell me about how I qualified for a new loan from Moneypit Capital or whatever. Like when I’d see a call and I just had a feeling that it was someone who knew me…back when I was the me they used to know…and they’d somehow found the new me that I’d become and had some desire to see if they were the same person.

It was the sort of number that made my stomach clench. The sort of number that made my finger hesitate when I finally hit the voicemail icon.

It asked me to enter my pin number and I hesitated like a man putting in a keycode for a bomb that was ticking down to the last few seconds.

“First message,” it began.

I listened like a man being told a terrible joke that never got a punchline. Like a string of words from a person who’s only speaking half the right words in half the right language. I clicked the disconnect button and found the number to work.

Like a chainsmoking mother lost in the glare of her smartphone, I spoke to Amanda in HR who I told that I was sorry that I didn’t call earlier. I wouldn’t be in today.

“What reason would you like for me to put down?” she asked.

I felt like it was someone else’s words coming out of my mouth like my brain was sleepwalking and my mouth was being moved by a bad puppeteer.

“Someone died,” I said.

I hung up as I heard her say, “…Oh…I’m…I’m…sorr…”


Part 5


I stand at the counter, pouring cheap coffee into an equally cheap cup.

“Hey, man,”

“Hey,” I say without looking up. I know who it is. That’s how life gets when you work at the same place this long. You don’t even say names anymore. Everyone is “hey” and “so” and “oy”.

I put the coffee back on the warmer. It smells like it’s been there too long already. I’m not drinking it for the taste.

“Shiiit, man,” Brian says, “you look rough.”

“Bad hair day,” I deflect.

“That what you call that?”

“Just tired is all.” And I am. My eyelids are lead curtains. I probably have bags under my eyes. I dunno. I didn’t look too hard this morning.

I take a sip of coffee and let the silence spread its legs. I don’t know Brian like that. We’re associates. We work together. We don’t go out for beers after work.

“So, man,” he says, his body partially leaning. That way that people do when they say, ‘You know I’m not racist, right?’ but they’re clearly about to say something racist, so they need to feel like they’re in the right battle stance for saying something that they shouldn’t.


“You hear about Krista?”

“She sick or something?” I ask. It’s a genuine question even if it lacks genuine concern.

“What? No,” he says, with a look like he’s confused or offended…or both. “I heard she broke up with uh…oh…what’s that guy’s name?”

I know he knows that guys name. That’s what guys do when they want to act like they’re not smitten. They play it down. They do it poorly. I’ve done it, too. Guilty as charged.

“Uh…” I say. I draw it out because I seriously can’t remember. I seriously don’t care.

“Anyway,” he says, seeing that I’m either not taking the bait or just not that kind of fish, “I hear they broke up.”

“She okay?” I ask. It’s a disingenuous question.

“I, uh…” he stammers – this isn’t how he thought this conversation was going to go, “I, uh…yeah, I mean. I guess. I don’t really know. I was just,” he goes over to the coffee maker and pours a cup. Using simple actions as a momentary respite from feeling awkward. “You work with her more than me, and I just…” he pauses and takes a drink. I already know the coffee is shit, but I didn’t care. His face reacts before he realizes he’s done it.

“Hook a brother up, right?” I say for him.

“I mean…you know, if it’s not a big deal,” he says. It’s a dishonest statement. He doesn’t care if it’s a big deal. “I mean,” he says with one hand up, “I’m not saying like, ‘Hey, bro, if you could ask her if she likes me,’ or anything. I mean…you know…we’re not like, passing notes in school ‘Do you like me?’ with a yes and no checkbox.”

“No,” I say, more an answer to the question of whether or not I like him. “No, we’re not,” I say in response to the whole statement. “I’ll see what’s up.”

“Cool, man. Cool.”

He puts his coffee down and leaves.

I have no intention of finding out.

I don’t care.

Work is a cycle of repetition. It’s worse than normal. The minutes grind like hours. It’s 5 pm in my mind four hours before it’s even lunch.

I sit through a meeting about some new policy that they’re implementing. I feel like I’m talking along with them. Meetings all sound the same after a while. This one’s just worse.

When I get home, I do it with a deep breath. With a hand that opens the door slowly.

Three hours later I’m on my bed. I write in my journal like I’ve done for the past year. I tell myself it helps.

I’m not sure it’s helping.

I take a deep breath and close my eyes.

I can’t use a timer. I found out a long time ago that they don’t work…for obvious reasons. So instead, I tap on my wrist. My timing has gotten pretty good.

I slow my breathing.

I wake up in bed, and the sun is that weird shade of orange-red. Like it’s struggling to get up, eyes bloodshot from a night of heavy drinking.

“I feel your pain,” I whisper.

In the kitchen is a note: “I have that thing with Claire later today. We should eat out. You pick.”

I muscle through the motions at work. I chew the nomenclature and drink down routine verbiage of a professional pencil-pusher.

I get off work. Shower. Change. I send a text. “Mondino’s”

“K,” she texts back.

I get there before she does.

She sits down, her eyes on her phone. “Sorry,” she says as she kisses the side of my face. “Claire was just…uh…” she looks up finally as she’s sitting down with a light press of her finger to turn her screen off. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” I lie. “Just tired.”

“Aww,” she says. “You should try valerian root or…oh…” she scrunches her face up like she always does when she’s thinking, “Shit…” she says with a shake of her head, “right on the tip of my tongue.”

“It’s fine,” I say with an honest smile. “It’s not that big of a deal.”

“It’s gonna bother me.”

“I know it will,” I say. I clench my teeth. I hold back a tear.

“You sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah,” I lie. “Just tired. Dull day at work. You know. Like driving on an empty highway all day. It’s sadly draining.”

“You should see about that job at Lochlan and Callister,” she says as she clicks into her phone, “Trish told me that…” she’s scrolling, “…yeah…yeah, they have something going on there. They’ll probably be hiring.”

“Yeah,” I say. “I’ll shoot em my resume in the morning,” I lie.

Dinner is nothing fantastic. It’s only saving grace is the company.

I wake up the next morning and she’s still there sleeping. I kiss her on the cheek before I leave the house. I whisper that I love her. I mean it.

The drive to work is the same as ever.

I’m standing at a counter pouring cheap coffee into an equally cheap cup.

“Hey, man.”

“Hey,” I say, without looking up.

I go through the motions. I give all the same answers.

“Hook a brother up, right?”

“I mean…you know, if it’s not a big deal,” he says. It’s a dishonest statement. He doesn’t care if it’s a big deal. “I mean,” he says with one hand up, “I’m not saying like, ‘Hey, bro, if you could ask her if she likes me,’ or anything. I mean…you know…we’re not like, passing notes in school ‘Do you like me?’ with a yes and no checkbox.”

“No,” I say, more an answer to the question of whether or not I like him. “No, we’re not,” I say in response to the whole statement. “I’ll see what’s up.”

“Cool, man. Cool.”

He puts his coffee down and leaves.

I have no intention of finding out.

I don’t care.

I muscle through the day. I feel like Sysiphus. I idly nod during a presentation. I feel myself reciting the words.

I’m standing my front door and I take a deep breath. I open it slowly.

I listen for something.


I walk into the kitchen. The bedroom.

I go into the bathroom last.

She’s there. She’s on the floor. Pills scattered on dry tile.

No note.

No last words.

I clench my teeth and close my eyes.

I go over everything that happened. Everything that didn’t.

I sit down and write it all out in my journal. I don’t even know why. I tell myself it’s helping.

I don’t think it’s helping.

I can’t use a timer. I found out they won’t work…for obvious reasons. I close my eyes and tap slowly on my wrist.

I slow my breathing.

I wake up in bed, and the world is still dark. The sun hasn’t even stirred from its slumber yet. A world of deep indigo and charcoal.

Aberration – pt. 8

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

I’m standing in a barren field and it’s crowded all the same. My companions are silent. They’re still. They don’t cry here but everyone else always does.

I’m thinking about how it felt when I watched her being lowered into the ground. All the shit that came before.

Life in slow motion.

I’m thinking about the news reports and how barely half of what happened is in black and white. How the other half is always written in red. No one ever gets to see that part. No one ever really knows.

I’m thinking about how I used to call her Sunshine.

I’m holding a flower in my hand as gently as I’ve ever held anything. As gently as I’m capable these days…whatever that’s worth.

I’m thinking about the day I put in that shitty vase. How I tied the bottom of the stem to a ring. How she’d notice that, unlike all the plastic ones, it was starting to die. She’d pull it out and she’d see it.

Maybe it was a strange approach. Maybe it was a dark way to say whatever I was trying to say in whatever way I was trying to say it.

I’m thinking about how life is always this road of destinations that we think are guaranteed. How we’re hurtling down freeways of insanity with pop music playing and a GPS navigator telling us how certain everything is.

I’m thinking about all the things I never got to tell her. I tell myself that it was because it was too late after what happened. That she wouldn’t understand. That I didn’t understand.

That there was time. There was always supposed to be more time.

I’m thinking about a world with superheroes and what happens when Superman kills Lex Luthor, but Lois dies as well, and we find out that Lex didn’t have a fucking clue about what kryptonite really is.

I’m wondering about a world where superheroes don’t deflect bullets, just absorb them. They’re not immune to fire and knife wounds, they just bounce back from them. I’m thinking about a world where they look like I do. It reminds me of Dorian Gray and how his painting looked at the end.

I’m wondering if it even matters.

I tell myself that she found that flower. That she knew. She always knew. That she kept it because…

I’m trying not to think about it because I’ll never really know, and I don’t want to live in a world of what-ifs and could-have-beens. Part of me just doesn’t want to live at all.

I try to tell myself that it wasn’t always about her. That I’d found a purpose in what I was doing. That I was making a difference. And I’m wondering how much of that lie I can swallow before it makes me sick.

I’m wondering what comes next while I hold a flower that should have died years ago, looking at a ring that’s still tied to a stem. I wish I could tell you how and why. I wish I could say I knew the answer.

Far away, the noise of the city is a wall of static that undulates and shifts. It rises and falls. I can hear the high notes call out. Sirens and screams. Tears are falling on hard pavement. Fists are taking out sad inadequacies on people who don’t deserve it.

Life in slow motion.

I’m wondering how much hero is left in me. How much is just a guy who doesn’t know when to let go? I’m wondering what it says about us as people when we realize the most important thing we do is sometimes for someone else. Someone who maybe doesn’t know. Someone who may not even care. I’m trying not to let the answer to that question sting.

I’m wondering if it matters.

I’m trying not to think about words like “end”, “final”, and “death” while I stand in a cemetery.

On the side of her headstone, I etch my initials and I put the dates I died.

I put both of them.

They matter just as much.

I wish I could tell you what happens next, but life is a weird place. The music isn’t playing for me anymore. The GPS is gone. All that’s left is the sound of me moving forward into some form of oblivion.

Hell now, or hell later…

I wish I could tell you that there’s some happy ending here…but that’s not how life works, Sunshine. Sometimes…that’s not how death works either.

The End