31 Days Of Halloween Day 21 – There’s Always Something in the Misfortune of Our Friends That Doesn’t Displease Us By J.R. Hamantaschen
And for today we get the last story in this series from J.R Hamantaschen. I want to thank J.R. for letting us post his stories. Today in There’s Always Something in the Misfortune of Our Friends That Doesn’t Displease Us we are introduced to an entity that feeds off despair and anxiety that crashes a wedding party. Check out this story after the jump. If you have enjoyed J.R.’s stories be sure to check out his book on Amazon and pick up a copy. And if you haven’t yet head on over to Talk Without Rhythm and check out El Goro’s review of Sheitan.
There’s Always Something in the Misfortune of Our Friends That Doesn’t Displease Us
Who doesn’t love an awkward situation? It’s become cliché to admit fascination with a traffic accident, but admitting to a visceral thrill from witnessing an awkward situation play out before your eyes is, for whatever reason, still verboten. Not everyone can relate to the circumstances portending a traffic accident, but watching an awkward situation unfold before you has all the allure and vicarious thrill of high drama. You can quarter-back all the strategic mishaps (did he really just say that?), tingle in anticipation to the ripping frission of what’s going to happen next, all-while the reptilian part of your brain is thanking god this is happening to “you” and not “me.” There is an evolutionary reason behind this delight, no doubt. Someone else’s social status is declining (at least within the group witnessing the spectacle). Ergo, your social status is relatively higher than it was before. This is an observation recognized by everyone.
What does that mean?
That means the appeal of schadenfreude is universal.
That means everyone enjoys it.
Something Unclear was staring in the men’s room mirror in a banquet hall in downtown San Francisco, at the wedding celebration for some young newly wed couple whose union sounded too good to be true. Ooh, the delights to be experienced!
It loved knowing that other unsuspecting men would walk right past, minding their business and emptying their bladder, having no idea what lay beneath the skin suit adjusting its tie right beside them. Sure, the true form of what had smothered its way into this skin suit wasn’t truly shocking. It could make things squirm and sizzle and pop, if It wanted to, but It mostly enjoyed the low-wattage satisfaction of being alone in the know. A conspiracy of one.
Even adopting this skin suit was scintillating for It, for there existed the risk of being caught by on of Its superiors. The illicit desire to be discovered adopting this human persona to satiate its desires was equivalent to catching your buff gym partner jerking off while wearing leggings and a little pink princess outfit. “Whatever, it’s their business,” people have been trained to say about other people’s unearthed sexual peccadilloes.
That lie was always belied by every hush-hushed relaying of such oh-so-juicy gossip.
Something Squirming in the mirror smiled, adjusted its tie, artfully messed its hair up and made its way out to the banquet (to think, having messy hair used to be an easy way to get some stranger to give a dismissive glare: now, its considered hip. Oh, how times change).
This was going to be good.
Keith and his older brother Mark were so unforgivably late that they missed the blink-and-you-missed-it wedding ceremony and were just hoping to get to the reception at a reasonable time (somewhere, Something Waiting anticipated vicariously enjoying their embarrassed, apologetic excuses to the bride and groom). Keith didn’t care much about being late. The bride was Mark’s friend. Keith only knew her tangentially and thought it’d be good to get out the house and come out to the wedding and maybe meet some single women. Never know, right?
Keith had gone through his own bit of recent dispiriting emotional experiences and was ready to put it behind him. His girlfriend, Hannah, had recently told him that she no longer loved him anymore. Well, she loved him but was not “in” love with him. She loved him for who he was, she explained, but a cost/benefit analysis of their relationship revealed a net deficit of actual enjoyment. The relationship had taken on a life of its own, and it only desired a subsistence existence. The relationship desired nothing other than self-preservation. Their relationship consisted of nothing but exposition, directions, and commands. Action words. No digressions or detours. All their time together was about feeding “the relationship” and not about enjoying each other’s company.
So Keith and Hannah had lived together for a year, not necessarily enjoying each other’s company, just hoping to tolerate each other enough to make it safely into the next day. Sure, there was flashes of that old spark here and there, but not enough of it. After all, the dispositive word in “settling down” is “settling.”
After she revealed all this to him, he had nothing to say, no way to squirm or guilt his way out of her decision. He had been left speechless, which certainly said everything.
So they drove on, Keith staring stone-faced out the passenger-side window like an angsty little shit, oblivious to the needy look writ large across Mark’s face, who tried in vain to catch Keith’s attention for his opportunity to unload everything that was vexing him. But that opportunity never came, and as long as it took them to get to the reception, it wasn’t enough time for Keith to think of anyone but himself. Mark’s reason for inviting Keith, it seemed, was for naught.
Something Unexpected took its seat at the reception table. Josh Reverri, he learned after rifling through the skin suit’s pockets and finding its wallet, was the name given to the body he now inhabited, back when it was an individual, before it became an object. He took the seat designated for “Josh Reverri” at Table Seven.
Under natural circumstances the guests assembled at this reception — and by extension, at Table Seven — would never associate with one another. The bride, Faith Robinson, was a plain Midwestern girl from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, with a Midwestern accent so strong that West Coasters thought she was fucking Canadian. She had graduated from college two years ago. Yes, college graduation, that reliable middle-class rite of passage. She had taken part in another middle-class rite of passage, which occurs concomitantly alongside graduating from college: the desire to get as far-fucking-away as possible from your home town and everyone you know.
Naturally, of course, this decision entailed relying on the people she’d known the longest — her parents — to financially support her move out to San Francisco. Eventually, realizing she was high on hope but low on skills, she joined Teach for America and was dispatched to Richmond, California, a city across the Bay from San Francisco with a deceptively low population and an astoundingly high murder rate. There, she met Olivier Gutierrez, the man she was marrying. When they began their relationship, he was one of her high school students.
After four months into her teaching tenure (and many extracurricular sessions with Olivier), she had a baby on the way. To the shock of many, Faith and Olivier decided to keep the baby, get married, and give Faith’s Yooper extended family a good excuse to gawp at the fog and twist around Lombard Street.
Of course, people are people and generally had a lot in common when they got to know each other. Something Expectant didn’t sit in anticipation hoping for a fight to break out between Olivier’s predominantly poor black and Hispanic friends and Faith’s old-fashioned Midwestern hick relatives over the fairness of racial profiling or some-other-such-nonsense. True to form, the guests generally got along and tolerated one another. But the clash of cultures between Olivier’s guests — who were typically young, boisterous, loud, to-the-point — and Faith’s guests — who were older, conservative, modest, circumspect — oooh, the tension, there was something valuable and, oooh, so satisfying. Just the aesthetic juxtaposition of such clashing customs — blinged-out ghetto earrings next to frowsy house dresses, attempts at afros next to attempts at concealing male-pattern baldness — produced some kind of unexplainable buzz inside It. And the night would only get better. Something Ecstatic gripped its seat, anticipating the riches the night would yield forth.
A toast interrupted the white noise of the reception. Time for the first appearance and first dance of the couple, as newly husband-and-wife. Out they strode, looking genuinely happy. Olivier all smiles, nodding and pointing out to his friends in the crowd, who hooted and hollered and stomped with approval; Faith’s relatives preferring to express their excitement visually rather than aurally.
Ben, one of Faith’s friends, who had been mugged recently by a black teenager back in Traverse City, Michigan, and who was understandably feeling skittish, struck a defensive pose when the black friend of Olivier’s shot up his arm and cheered on his friend. Ben spilled his drink all over his girlfriend’s pretty dress.
“For their first dance as husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Gutierrez will be dancing to ‘Gotta Be Somebody,’ by ‘Nickelback.’”
Some brave soul could be heard asking that pertinent question: “who the fuck listens to Nickelback?” A minute into that plodding dirge of a track and people were getting impatient. One un-hip member of Olivier’s crew could be seen nodding to the beat; a rolled-up cocktail napkin ricocheted off his face before the song ended.
Something Contented soaked it all up.
“Give a round of applause everyone, c’mon!”
That was about the time Keith and Mark showed up, throwing the door open so loudly the frame banged! against the wall. For a second Mark feared all the artful glass panels in the door were going to cascade right onto the floor. Every head turned.
Faith was a brave, resolute girl, but her smile, typically plastered on, was beginning to show signs of cracking. Olivier just looked pissed.
Both brothers’ attempt at levity came out the same time and merged into one another; as a result, some crowd members heard “Carry her,” others heard “We’re on,” or some other garbled nonsensical interpolation of consonants wed to the wrong vowels. Quite apropos for a wedding.
The two brothers searched for their table — Table Seven — and shuffled off.
Wedding guests were coming to-and-fro now, walking around, hypothetically intermingling but mainly crowding around the bar and the appetizer station. The bartenders poured drinks for the high school minors, pretending their decision was made in the spontaneous in-the-spirit-of-a-good-time moxie, all the while knowing it was more of god-I-don’t-want-to-deal-with-these-angry-thugs, just-take-your-fucking-drinks-and-don’t-steal-our-tips.
“Hey, ” Mark said, approaching his brother Keith at the pigs-in-a-blanket station. “I bet you regret coming with me to this wedding now, huh?” There was a surprising dearth of guests in their late 20s or early 30s, and those guests only seemed interested in speaking to their significant others.
“No, it’s fun. Free food, too. Quite the scene, I’ll say that much.”
“That’s for sure, that’s for sure.” Olivier’s guests were owning the dance floor, the girls grinding up on the guys, the guys keeping one hand on their woman, one hand up in the air, doing that lean-back-and-bounce thing. The white Midwestern girls were all dancing together in a circle, over-exaggerating their moves, singing loudly-and-proudly to any song they knew the words to, be it “Baby Got Back” or “Drop it Like It’s Hot.” The more adventurous of the white girls tried to keep up with the frenetic moves of the colored girls until they gave up and resorted back to irony.
It seemed all clichéd, but clichés do come from somewhere. The white kids who happened to be good dancers or the street kids who happened to be shrinking violets just weren’t making themselves apparent. The older folks of all races were sitting back at their table, all seeming to getting along, asking each other how-so-and-so was like as a kid, or how such-and-such area compared to this-or-that, or how remarkable it was that two wildly different kids could somehow get together and what a beautiful thing it was. People seemed to be getting along, as people do.
Something Alone was sitting all alone, growing glum. Everyone else at Table Seven was socializing or scoring themselves some food. The euphoria of those early-event jitters had faded away. Mark met eyes with It, and mistook the want in It’s eyes for something else, something more interesting. Something that reflected the inner turmoil he’d been experiencing, something that made him think his decision to attend this wedding might be especially fortuitous.
“How have you been holding up? Looks like slim pickins’ here tonight. I guess meeting some rebound girl here might not come-to-pass.” He almost accidentally said “come-to-ass” and regretted that he didn’t. Mark knew Keith’s humor enough to know he’d appreciate that. They both also knew that one-night stands were anathema to Keith. Keith was too much of a romantic for that, but the flipside to that laudable trait was his debilitating tendency to focus on the tragedy of his own life to the exclusion of everything else. What if she had been the one-for-him, his sense of justness insisted, and it just didn’t work out, for whatever stupid reason? Bad timing? Miscommunication? These things happen, people say, and people move on, but the thought that things could have been different drove him insane. If he ended up alone, he couldn’t comfort himself with the thought that “things just didn’t work out,” through no fault of his own, or that “if only the timing had been different.” Keith’s world narrowed until it consisted of only his problems.
“I’m doing alright,” he responded. He wanted to tell Mark about the phantom Blackberry vibrations he kept feeling, how he kept expecting a message from her. A message telling him that she still loved him. Or maybe just a message from her simply saying “Hey,” something pregnant with meaning and the possibility of reconciliation. But he kept that to himself.
Mark kept what he wanted to say to himself, too.
The moment passed, as moments are prone to do, and the two returned to their table, cocktail weenies and drinks in hand.
Keith and Mark sat down at Table Seven.
“Keith,” stretching his hand to introduce himself to the middle-aged Hispanic man to his right.
“Hek-tor,” the man responded.
“Are you from around these parts?”
“Ahh, sorry,” Hector said smiling, “English, not very good.”
That ended that.
Mark had more luck.
“Hi, Josh,” It responded.
“Are you a friend of the groom? Or bride?”
“The bride. Haha,” he said, raising his hand, grabbing a little pinch of his white flesh, “isn’t that obvious?” Something Excited looked around. People were lost in their own conversations. Nobody else was paying attention, no one got offended. Hek-tor nodded in response, thinking he was being waived at.
“Uhh, hah, I guess so.” Josh’s forthright response sparked a little jolt of inexplicable excitement in Mark. Seems like someone who doesn’t take offense too easily, and expects the same of others. Interesting.
“How do you know her?”
“Family,” It conjectured. “You?”
“Just a friend, she’s a sweet girl.”
“What are you drinking there?”
Mark took a swig of his drink, as if he needed to remember. As if it weren’t obvious.
“Ahh. Pretty gay drink. You must be confident in yourself. You must have a huge pecker to compensate for that.”
Mark choked a bit on his drink.
“Haha, I’ve not had complaints, I guess. Also, the drink is fucking delicious, what can I say. If gay guys like cranberry-vodka, well, more power to ‘em.
“True, true,” It responded dryly. It’d have a better chance stirring up a response from one of the Latinos, that naturally fiery tribe of people. These white middle-class people were too polite.
“This is my brother, Keith.”
Keith extended his hand.
“Nice to meet you, Brother Keith. I’m Josh. Means ‘The Great One’ in Swahili.” Mark was getting drunk and tired off cranberry-vodkas. Something Fun was getting drunk with confidence, with the swagger of being in-on-the-joke. It knew the secret. It concentrated on the joy It’d get watching these people squirm in discomfort. It concentrated on this joy so hard that It could briefly ignore all the pain.
These humans were a joke. It knew that much. Their petty, stupid worries, these worries that meant so much to them and so nothing in a cosmic sense. A job; a family; a social life. The external signifiers of a contented life, relentless pursued. And when they got them? Nothing.
Their problems never went away.
The successful man was always haunted by something: a reliance on others for affirmation of worth; the fear of disappointing his family; the supple suspicion that his cushy life could unravel at any time, and then what? Where would everyone be then? And if it never came, something came. Death came. Pain came. It was always coming. The man who pines for love becomes burdened by it, left with nothing but obligation and responsibility when love goes elsewhere. Then he pines for his lost freedom. Then he feels guilt and estrangement and pines for more innocent times. Then he grows old and pines for his youth.
Something Who Knows loved knowing that these humans were, by their nature, destined for ruin and disappointment. It Loved seeing their culture ever-escalating in its obsession with status and accomplishments, successes and failures, ignorant of their own nature, which necessitated an unceasing urge to “improve,” often at the expense of their mental well-being. This struggle, it will never end, It wanted to tell them.
And in a way, It did tell them. It would infect their care-free moments and watch them squirm. They spent all their life holding their breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It would provide that. It gave them release. It showed them that their best efforts to ignore their nature would all be futile, as conflict and tension would brew within them and encompass them, for as long as they lived, until they were shuffled off their mortal coil.
Something Justified got up.
“Going to go get a drink, I think. Mark, want to come with?”
“Uhmm, sure. Keith, you want anything?”
“No, I’m ok. Thanks though.”
Mark and Something Plotting walked around the dance floor toward the bar. It saw a buff black kid dancing in a group. It wanted to rape him, emasculate him, make him piss himself, make him cry and sob in front of a mirror, rip the swagger right out of him.
“Josh, I’m so glad you could make it,” came the blushing, rushing bride. “Is Paulina here?”
It squinted, piecing everything together. Paulina . . .
It had come to occupy Josh through Josh’s dick. Josh had been taking one of those long, luxurious, forceful pisses that feel like a deep-dick-tissue massage. His stream of urine produced a burbling much louder than the guy next to him, which made Josh happy, because more urine probably meant he had a bigger dick. That had to be: a bigger dick led to a greater quantity of urine, led to louder volume as urine hit urinal-water. Simple logic.
There was a sharp sting at his tip. That sometimes happens. Maybe from masturbating with soap. But the pain was going the wrong way. Urine should be pushing everything out. This pain was going the wrong way, something blocking him, taking hold. Although his impressive stream of urine continued unabated, he felt something traversing inward. But no, couldn’t be. Josh maintained his poker-face, wishing all-the-while someone would hold him by the arm, tell him this stuff happens sometimes, but goes away. Wrong tube or something.
Something Present was white light, burning, spinning wildly inside. The more Josh fretted, the more radioactive It became, until Josh realized he was somehow drowning, getting lightheaded, his brain sending distress signals, feeling lightheaded, so lightheaded and buoyant that he was floating, floating up and away until his thoughts were ALL THE WAY UP THERE, but his body was ALL THE WAY DOWN THERE and never again the twain shall meet until he all he had were thoughts, panic, nothing.
The other man beside Josh had already washed his lands and left before Josh went from being to had-been.
Outside the bathroom had been a woman, waiting for It like a life partner.
“Can we go to the car?”
Her in the backseat of the car, getting pummeled. One of Josh’s hands grabbing her hair, the other punching her continuously in the face. She had been sobbing, uncomprehending, her life experience unable to sequence this sudden turn of events, how her protector and confidant could betray her so swiftly, so viciously.
Something Satisfied reveled in it.
“Don’t worry baby, I love you, you know that. When is our anniversary again? Can you remember?”
Through her stupor, she latched onto this inapposite feint of normalcy.
“Next month,” she whimpered through a wet mouth.
“I can’t wait to take you out that night. I love you. It’ll be something special.”
Josh’s fist pounded again into her face, no longer a thick thud, now a sloppy wet squish.
“I love you, Paulina. I always have.”
“I . . love you . . . too.”.
“I still remember the first time we met.” It had never got a good look at her, and now he never could, because there was nothing much left to look at anymore.
That had been Paulina.
“She’s doing good.”
“Great, I haven’t seen her yet!”
“I’m so glad you could come out! So, how much fun are you having?!”
It smiled. There was a healthy crowd around him, summoned by custom to crowd around and congratulate the special girl on her special day.
“It’s great! It’s better than sucking cocks!”
Little phenomena exist that are capable of silencing an entire crowd. For a moment, no one within earshot said or did anything. The music was still playing, but for all intents-and-purposes it was off.
“Well, this is San Francisco, after all,” some brave soul joked.
Miguel had grown up in San Francisco’s Mission District, which had once been the infamous Hispanic barrio and was now just Williamsburg-West, filled with gentrifying hipster-faggots and their coffee shops and tattoo parlors. Growing up, his neighborhood suffered all the usual blights of inner-city ethnic neighborhoods: poverty, crime, gang violence, drugs, the whole-shebang. Miguel promised his grandmother to steer clear of all that, but goddamn that type of stuff existed in San Francisco. It wasn’t all rich people and homos. A banda band used to perform at the 16th street Bart Station. Now, it was always some faggot white-boy playing a fucking harp or ukulele or some shit. Everywhere he went — visiting cousins in Los Angeles, friends in Chicago or New York, relatives back home in Nicaragua — every fucking person heard San Francisco and thought “faggots.” Miguel’s tough-guy thousand-yard stare, his street smarts, his baggy clothes and love of rap and inner-city lingo and all-that shit, that came from hard living. In San Francisco.
“You ghetto-fab out of San Francisco?” he’d been asked, no, provoked, whenever meeting another ghetto kid from outside the Bay Area. “Crime? In San Francisco? What, the gay mafia? What, they rock the rainbow gang colors?”
“I’m so fucking tired of everything callin’ San Francisco gay! Them gay dudes are in one neighborhood. That’s just one fuckin’ neighborhood, nigga. Come to the fuckin’ Mission man, we ain’t gay there, shit is fucking rough, nigga. Come to Capp or Shotwell and see what happens.”
Jamal was from Fresno. San Francisco was a fag city. Jamal had nothing to worry about.
“Yo you can’t say ‘nigga,’ nigga. You ain’t black. You so light-skinned you practically white, anyways. I don’t know what you dudes do in San Francisco“ — Jamal’s emphasis was insult enough —”but you say that shit from where I’m from and you ain’t coming back to no San Francisco.”
Dorothy, Faith’s childhood next-door neighbor, hadn’t even wanted to fly out to San Francisco and pay for an exorbitantly priced hotel, only to be surrounded by this filth and dirt and smut. And now, what was all this cursing and talk of gay this-or-that?
Dorothy was of large Midwestern stock. When she turned and rampaged, it was felt.
That big fat fucking bull stomped on Miguel’s foot as she clambered off. That white-sharp pain brought Miguel to boil, and he charged, taking advantage of the path Dorothy paved.
“Yo fuck you nigga, you think I’m pussy?”
“Haha, nah, he don’t think you pussy, he thinks you don’t like the pussy!” someone shouted from the peanut gallery.
And so it began. Pushes, shoves, blows, and soon the entire area surrounding the dance floor fell into pandemonium, creating white-flight in miniature, as the predominantly older white guests fled and panicked while the younger kids all crowded in to watch what was going down.
It felt himself jerked by his hand, rapturous about this sudden lack of control, wanting to close his eyes and get washed away with it.
“What the fuck?” Keith, still seated at Table Seven, craned his head to see what was developing. A mêlée had broken out between the time he lowered his head to take a sip of his Jack and Coke and when he raised it back up. Then, without explanation, his brother was pulling his newfound friend by the arm, through the glass doors of the banquet hall and out into the back garden.
He started to get up, but decided against it. Mark was a big boy now, he could do what he wanted. Keith let the weight of the alcohol in his belly plop him back down on his chair.
“Jesus man, what the fuck was that about?”
It shrugged. “Don’t know. It just came out. Let people get their tensions out, that’s for sure.”
Mark shook his head, but smiled nonetheless. “Jesus, man,” he said again, this time jubilantly. This had already become such a story to tell. That augured well. At least he got a story to tell from this wedding debacle.
“What did you mean by that, what you said?”
“What you said. Better than . . . you know?” Outside of questions of Josh’s sexuality, Mark was genuinely interested in whether “sucking cock” was something gay men actually got excited about. Mark had eaten his fair share of pussy and enjoyed giving a girl pleasure, but it was never anything he’d cut in line to do. He’d always been able to appreciate the aesthetics and magnetic presence of a chiseled man. He’d tingle sometimes in the presence of his more dominant friends, and enjoyed watching how his other friends would passively, perhaps unknowingly, submit to their directions and authority.
But talking about actual dicks — the actual organ — put into sharp relief the question of whether he was . . . whether this just flight of fancy, or whether he had the desire to physically submit to imbibing veiny, blood-engorged flesh.
Put into those terms, he felt he was resolving years of doubt and self-questioning. The answer, at this juncture, seemed to be “no.”
“You mean if I like sucking cock?”
Something Violent stared intently.
“Are you gay?”
“Umm, no, I don’t think so. I guess, I’m just curious. This,” Mark added sheepishly, “is San Francisco, after all.”
“Careful, you’ve seen what that joke has wrought.”
“True.” Mark brushed his hand through his hair. They were walking around in the garden behind the banquet hall. It was early dusk, and perambulating around this grassy knoll, with sun descending, the fresh scent of evergreen . . . it was a rom-com. Mark rubbed the back of his neck, hard, as if the force would push his mind from that imagery.
“You know,” Something Beginning began, “just so you know, there is nothing wrong with being homosexual, or having those inclinations or desires. It is quite normal, just so you know. I do not want you to think this has anything to do with that. Not at all.
I have no interest in punishing you. Punishment has no place in this. Just know that, and just know that you have nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Umm.” How does one respond to that? Truth be told, Mark was relieved. The pressure of considering his true sexual identity had been lifted. Now he could convince himself that he wouldn’t have done anything with this tall, dark stranger, anyways, even if presented with the opportunity.
“With that understood, I want you to realize this. This is actually happening. Your mind isn’t programmed to comprehend what is going to happen to you. You will probably feel a jolt in your brain — a feeling of being outside yourself. That is your mind trying to comprehend what is happening to it. A jolt of adrenalin, a hyper-awareness, these boosts of energy evolution has provided you with.
It will not work. You are going to die. You are going to die horribly. You are going to die horribly, as I see fit.”
Mark responded but it wasn’t important.
“Think about this. All of a sudden, this is happening to you. There you were, minding your business, so much else on your mind. You were a person, living your life, dealing with your problems. And now you are going to die. The show is about to end.”
Mark felt himself turning to flee, felt the kinesalgia of his protesting muscles dragooned into overdrive, yet he wasn’t moving. It was as if the sensation of his flight was registered — the greedy gulps of air, the burning in his frantic, overworked lungs — but he remained transfixed, immobile.
“Think of your family. Your goals. Your ambitions. All that, all that history. Think of them, and the direction of your life. The narrative arc you’ve invented for yourself. Projects you planned on attempting or completing. All those things left unsaid between you and your friends and your family and everyone you know. And love, think of your quest for love, love from the world, and your quest for a more personal love, a spiritual love, an intimacy to share with someone.
You knew that one day you’d die, but that was just an abstraction, the last page in a story you were chapters and chapters away from. The story ends tonight.
But no more. Here it is. This is it. Don’t believe me? You will. ”
Mark’s eyes watered, from what he could not tell.
Mark’s world went black . . . and then it was back again.
“Believe me now?”
Mark’s nerves told him something he couldn’t put into words. The method by which Mark interpreted and understood the world had been conquered and taken over by something else. His world had become saturated with otherness.
“You kept telling yourself that every setback you encountered was building up to something worthwhile. That you were going to be redeemed. You aren’t. This is it.
Can you believe that? Is that possible? Can the entire system of understanding you’ve been programmed to believe, could it be false? Can it be? Are you ready?
Here it comes.
Are you ready?”
Mark shook his head as if it were on a pivot.
“I am sorry, just so you know. I am sorry I am doing this to you. It isn’t fair. You are a good person.
Just know, that as much pain as you feel — and you will, you will feel such pain — that it’s nothing compared to what I must go home to. I’m sorry, I’m choosing to do this but I don’t want to be. Just know I am sorry. Sorrier than even you will be.”
Mark sensed a foreign sibilance and was then gloriously ablaze with sirocco understanding. He was a lamp turned on, an umbrella turned open, skinny down below and fanned out on top. Every memory shook him and shook him until he fell out of himself.
Keith was thoroughly soused when those two black kids came running back into the banquet hall, screaming. Out of the corner of his eye, he’d seen them go toward the door leading out to the garden. They slipped through the door and out of his vision. Seconds later — before his brain even processed that they’d gone outside — they were back inside, shrieking, as if apoplectic. They were scrambling over tables and knocking over chairs and yelling in pitches he’d never heard in a real-life situation.
He rushed toward them, and through his drunken haze ended in the garden along with everyone else. He couldn’t remember how he ended out there and would grow to hate himself for it.
The images that awaited him outside were almost beside the point. Mark was dead. That much was undisputable. There was guts and blood and hair and the lower half of a naked torso slung over a bench, where liquids drained out from the back and solid substances descended from the stump that was his brother and down to the ground, still attached from wherever they came from, forming a ghastly inverted U. The still-drunk part of his brain moved lazily to images of monuments and the St. Louis Arch, as if he wasn’t looking at what was once his brother. He couldn’t cognitively connect the bright splatter and abstract viscera to what he knew of his brother. It was as if his brother had exploded — popped, like a hale of confetti — and become this inscrutable puzzle.
There had been tears and tears and tears at Mark’s funeral. Everyone pat Keith on the back and expressed their deepest and no-doubt heartfelt condolences. His introduction to so many recondite faces, all eager to relay so many illuminating anecdotes about his brother, only made his heart heavier. They brought news of a consoling Mark (“He told me everything happened for a reason”); an understanding Mark (“He was the only person I told about my affair, and he didn’t approve, but he listened”); a frustrated Mark (“we always talked about writing a screen play, he was always talking about it, always kicking himself working on it, and now we never will, we never will!”); and so many other “Marks” he’d never known. While he was grateful his brother was able to touch so many lives, these stories all served to remind him of the nuances and subtleties of a sibling he had only superficially known.
His brother had been a separate universe onto himself, but to Keith and the surviving world, he could exist only as reflected and refracted through the prism of memory and the life experience of those who conjured him. As time crept onward, the depth and breadth of that which was Mark narrowed and flattened until it fit as a symbol within the solipsistic sliver of space allowed by Keith’s personality. Whenever Keith felt worn down or hopeless, he thought of his departed brother, and became determined to press onward. He thought of how unhappy his brother sometimes seemed — why that was he would never know — and resolved to not let himself become that unhappy.
He would seize the day!
So one day, with these lessons in mind, he called Hannah.
“I’m glad you called, Keith. Really. You got my flowers, I’m sure. I’m so sorry about your loss. I loved Mark. Everyone loved Mark. I’m so sorry.”
“No. Don’t apologize. I appreciate your flowers. I was thinking — I’ve been thinking, I still am thinking — that . . . that I love you. I don’t know how else to say it. I love you. I always have, and I always will.
I want to see you. And I’m not going to lie, I want to be with you again.”
“Oh Keith,” she responded, though there was something odd about her tone. She sounded resigned. “Oh Keith.”
“No, I’m serious. I’ve been thinking, just, about Mark, and, and about what is important in life. And that’s you. You are what’s important to me. You are the most important. ”
He was so fragile, just let him have this, Hanna thought. No, let us have this.
“I love you too, Mark. I love you too.”
Keith smiled, and he pictured Hannah smiling, and, as corny as it felt, he believed that somehow Mark — miraculously reformed, resplendent, happy — was smiling too, and waving, and somehow watching him and wishing him well.
This feeling gave him structure and a sense of hope. This feeling provided an edifice, an edifice whose edges would inevitably fray and collapse — just like his physical body — and eventually crack, split, puncture and bleed. This feeling was a source of inspiration, one little victory, in a life destined to end, as all lives do, in one Great Defeat.
Somewhere, Something Gleeful.
Then he dies