Skunked beer spills the counter and soaks into the food. Cans flung at walls, at furniture and doors; cans scatter the floor. Head lolling in lonesome; drunk, happy isolation. Enjoyed for the moment from my kitchen chair. Last week I had a bar-mate tattoo on my chest at random his choice of senseless petroglyphs. I passed out in the dirt at the park, shirtless, inviting Earth into fresh open ink wounds. I woke up to an 8-year-old stealing my shoes. She argued for ownership and I did not contest. It seemed like the price to pay. Because I can’t keep a job and I can’t see your face ever looking pretty in a wedding dress. Sorry, but grocery shopping is for douchebags and I won’t build a crib for a single little person. I am trying to think. Beer cans swept into closets and fist-sized decorative decisions through the drywall. These are the only arrangements I can live with. I am trying to think. My arm sticks to the table, old sweat and PBR, and I can hear the termites eating through the wall. A moment of awareness, crystal and pure, and what I hear are the termites eating through the fucking wall. My chest is paper-thin, eyes wide and skull gaping like the crust of an orange lava flow. Brain matter exposed. Walk through the house crushing beer cans under boots, finding furniture insufficiently destroyed. Shelves dashed to the ground, chairs smashed on the walls, throw myself on the table till I shatter to the floor. There are a dozen points of bright starlight on my naked bleeding body. Sore and abraded. And broken: these twelve points of starlight feel warm and intense. I am only your symptom. But I can honestly attest that the purpose of reality is no longer ours.
You told me to buy presentable clothes and I did, a whole new outfit from Target. Neat slacks and spiffy shirt, even found shoes to match. And now here I am dressed like a fish trying to understand what it means to breathe air. We’re toddlers on a see-saw, you and I, for the first time trying to find stability. But this gala is full of coroners. My first big affair for a serious career, and my editor escorts me to a corner booth to meet the district managers who pay us both. I laughed at the right jokes but I kept my mouth shut, and they never once saw the tattoos ‘round my gums. The molars I had pulled from eating rocks as a drop-out. Clean-shaven clean-cut and dressed like the guest of a judge who doesn’t recognize my face from four years before, I could maybe fit in if my conscience didn’t heave. The walls are turning purple. Faces start to swirl with open jaws of twisting laughter, vortices of features. The chandeliers are bleeding light. The hotel porters are cackling rapists out in the foyer looking for a fix and I don’t know what I’m into but I’m out in the rain. I am the news man who screamed out the window and tossed himself to pursue his echoes. There is a limo parked in the curbside puddles, seven porters to open the limo door. Out steps the Big Man himself, CEO of Gannet. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.” My editor masturbating through his pocket. I am pouring vodka into champagne so no one will notice the changes bringing back the alcoholic. Unemployment gets me paid about half as much but if I don’t need a car or to keep my appearance, well, that’s money well saved and spent at the bar. No – I should give you a call to keep my head grounded but our conversation cannot be heard by these howling de Sades. Their suits are worth more than the hearse they’ll wheel me out on. I am cackling at the bar. Am I the Marquis in the mirror? Behind me spins the eloquent calculations of Murdoch’s publications, wives and the mistresses of breaking war stories and the talking heads from GE that just won’t quit. I am performing Coyote Ugly on the bar, finally shouting all the things that should be said. I haven’t had a care in the world since Makers’ Mark let me forget the debts I owe and the kids we support and I may be the Marquis in the mirror but god damn these cruel fools, our see-saw will stay stable if we place a god damn trailer on it.
The chain breaks at one of two ends. I’m certain I have the world in my hands but can’t make it to stand two whole days without imploding. The gift-wrapped box in the sky with bow-ties engraved with my name, I can have it: in the land of the free in the 21st century, any one of us can have it (supposedly). The night sky hides 10 billion galaxies the world can’t yet see, just waiting for someone with the perseverance to reach long enough and grab it — a whole new realm of possibilities. The imagination isn’t separate from reality; they’re in the same box. Today I was on the phone for two hours trying to pay six different bills to eight different companies. I washed dishes and shoveled the driveway. I looked at my kid and couldn’t see a reason why I shouldn’t be reading just to pass the time. If life is a puzzle it disintegrates just the same. Just like in a movie, when a typewriter flies down a flight of stairs, the slow-motion bursting scatters little springs and keys in an upward shower of catharsis. Thoughts of self-castration are not far from mind. I could’ve been a fucking Jedi.
I don’t know what brought me here, I’ve awoken from a nightmare 4 years in the making and find myself strangling with a JC Penny tie around my neck. I sit in bed in the early a.m. and I don’t look at you – I don’t look at the bed or the dusty typewriter on my desk, I stare at the wall until my brain turns numb. I won’t think of it; I won’t think of us or anything at all. Willingly brain-dead the morning routine before the commute down Route 80 – neurons shriveling, a brain matter withering into the mundane hum of the skull. I find myself at work with a tire-iron bashing the hood of my car. I don’t want a Keurig or all the clothes in your closet and I will go through life with a single pair of jeans. I’ve thrown in the trash every little gift you’ve bought me. I’ve been drinking beer every evening on the drive home, just so I can stand walking into our house. I’ve blown out the speakers to heavy death metal and dreamt of wrapping the car ‘round the tree in our front yard: a windshield shattering in my face and a welcomed wave of fresh air. I want to be free of this life, from washing machines and office PC’s and the nights we sit through in silence because three years ago I choose to say I Love You. And I still do. But I can’t live with myself enslaved to shitty illusions and the delusion that plunging a career through my chest is somehow what’s best for ourselves. This morning I put our kid’s chair through the flat-screen: no more watching Sesame Street. No more watching ER dramas or those lying commercial comedies. There isn’t a single thing to laugh at here. This morning I screamed that would you please just shut your mouth, we’ll pay the god damned thieving bills when they turn the power off. There’s still a shattered refrigerator pitcher on the floor that I refuse to sweep up. There are holes in the dry-wall. I broke your precious bathroom mirror and flushed his toys down the toilet. I’ve lost it. I woke up this morning and shaved my head with a number 2. No more pompadour comb-over, this sweet rider on the storm, I woke myself up this morning and can’t see that it’ll ever come back.
There are rats in our ceiling though I know you didn’t hear them. The house was crowded, it was loud, little house reverberating with the sound of New Year’s tidings. You were speaking to your friend’s parents, the ones who work at a hospital, and my sister was planning her wedding day. Everyone was talking, everyone was watching the countdown on TV, everyone was enjoying the simple normalcy of things. But there was a scratching in the ceiling over the kitchen, a noise that isolated me. I had to focus to hear the little claws. I admit it was easy, to disconnect from the party and hear the silence in my head quickly broken by the scurry of little claws. And maybe the silence has been there a while, is why it was so easy to find – spaces in broken conversations to hone in on, like the air you find inside the cardboard décor of furniture stores. It is all empty air and the silence it was piercing my head. And this is when I first heard the rats, seated in silence at the kitchen table hearing friends go on about fantasy sports and TV shows to ring in the new year and the vacuity of it all suddenly transpired – in me a distant hollow ringing, the fear of floating away in the wake of a cruise that’s already left the bay.
I believe they noticed I was pale and clammy, these people at the kitchen table with me. They regarded me with a safe distance, like a child around whom you carefully choose your words. I was the idiot they looked at and had to repeat exactly what they meant when they said the stock market was a better way to hedge their bets. As if I were the idiot! They couldn’t hear the rats clawing six feet above our heads. The tendons in my chest began to tighten, I was sweating with a pain that could have been the flu or claustrophobia – more rats were filling into the ceiling, the scraping reaching a frantic pitch and no one could hear a god damned thing but their own platitudes and plaints. My eyes were stuck in the middle distance of nowhere, focused compulsively on the silence that surrounded me, filled me – and how quickly it was broken by the clawing in the ceiling! I had to act. Visions of insulation and wires being ripped apart by the clawing horde making nests in my ceiling.
It was the footsteps they heard, paired to the conspicuous vacation from the kitchen chair I’d occupied all night: they knew it had to be me on the roof. Figure, it would be only me they heard through the ceiling. I admit I was stomping trying to find a weak patch in the roof, a way to get through to the rats making nests in my ceiling. I didn’t notice them at first, my audience below, and the sight must have been something to see – the front yard matted with leaves I never raked, garbage bags piled in the drive I never took to the street, and the dozens who gathered in the cold New Years’ drizzle to see me stalking the roof with a flashlight and cleaver. My plan I hadn’t fully thought through. It was you who called up to me first. I waved you away and said go back inside, this was something I could handle. And this must have been the stroke of midnight, because somewhere behind our house fireworks were going off. And I imagine the fireworks put me in silhouette because the light of them was bright enough to hide the shine of my flashlight. I was looking up in the trees over the house, for the rats, because even on the roof I could still only hear the scraping somewhere above me.