Foreward & Chapter I - A
“Reality doesn’t have to look this way – it could be as simple as stick figures against a white background and it wouldn’t matter. So long as something exists from one moment to the next, the universe can be sure to forget every other detail. All I want is to be able to believe there’s some complexity working behind the lives everyone receives, but I keep coming back to the slack-jawed excuses that people piece together: there’s the ones who talk like they’ve been placed on this planet for the sake of another person, or for their god, or because of the great thing that they might accomplish someday. Nobody dares to voice the legitimate concern that we’re cursed as vessels for the things we can see hear and feel, because everyone is so entrenched in their own mortal nature. We’re all caught in this battle against feeling disposable and each individually losing by the day, so it seems worthwhile to drop faith into this thing that’s supposedly worth waiting on, just to arrive out of thin air someday. Nothing’s coming. Nothing will ever come. They need to stop waiting and just be. Walt – You know I’d never lie to you, but I don’t think I chose to love you by my own will. It had to be this way, always – from the very beginning. The way we just… The way we can just… be.”
It’s 1982 and Walter Monroe is a boy who lives two lives simultaneously, but he has not consented to his situation in any way and is no more alert to what is happening to him than fiction is alert to the reality that it never actually took place. There’s no telling how long this phenomenon has been going on for – only that as of October 4th, it most certainly is in effect. He is the same age, of the same disposition, and carries an identical internal moral compass in both of his lives. I want to go out of my way to mention that the world is unchanged across the two lives and that nobody local to the setting of the story will be mentioned from one life crossed over to the other, so you’ll never see the same character in any more than a single of his dual lives apart from our hero. Whether or not the circumstances of Walter’s existence over the span of the two weeks that this story covers signify something inspiring, something nihilistic, or merely serve as a meaningless plot device is left to the discretion of the reader. Neither of Walter’s lives contain any exceptional qualities if the reader is to take on an American paradigm and it should be understood that the narrative I have constructed derives from a godless plane of existence where nothing undeservedly positive comes to anyone: not even the protagonists of epic tales.
To summarize: simply enjoy, or else everything goes to waste.
I – A
The flat analog clock sitting on Walter Monroe’s bedside table began screeching a two-tone alarm in rhythm to the flashing of 7:00 across the harsh neon red seven-segment display.
Walter’s unconscious thoughts blew backwards through his mind, carried as though they were riding on the tip of a travelling bullet. Whatever lengthy chain of personal realizations he had encountered in his dreams that past night found itself dissolved in the sudden rush of anxiety flooding him over the awareness that Sunday night had ended and the unthinkable had arrived: Monday morning. The peace of sleep was a basket that tilted just enough to roll him over the edge, and he fell into the sudden sensation of his skin touching against warm bedsheets. One shock was all he received before his emotions subsided into mounting confusion and distress; the alarm blotted out all other senses. His arm jolted to life out of a spontaneous reaction and his hand slapped down onto the flat clock. Buttons clicked, getting pressed in as he gripped his fingers into the top of its plastic surface.
The alarm switched off over to the sound of a woman’s voice broadcasting on the radio.
“The death of Ethan Rodriguez has shocked the community from which he came. On Luka Street, he was known by his friends and family to be a thoughtful boy who loved sports, and not the type to choose a path of dangerous criminal behavior just in the onset of his young adulthood,” the woman’s voice said flatly.
Walter rolled over onto his side and used his elbow to hold his torso off the bed. He smacked his tongue to wet his mouth and flared his nostrils as they made cavernous, rattling breaths. The dim morning light in his room was enough to keep his eyes blinded shut. He flexed his legs from under his covers, and as he stretched out his body and moved around, his sheets clumped together in a wadded mess.
“I had known him since his folks settled down here in the summer of ’76,” an older, raspy male voice said in a slow drawl, coming from the radio. “It’s a mystery to me why the Lord above gives us people like him… the ones who don’t want anything more in life than to ruin someone’s day. He was only eleven on the first day of school that year but age didn’t matter to him, obviously, because he picked a fistfight between just him against boys who were tall enough to be passed off as a-dults…. Ethan turned and sprinted off the other way once he ate the third or fourth punch, and he came back to the bus stop the next day with some stitches and a learnt lesson. The block all realized right away that it had gained an outcast: he kept himself apart from the crowd and made sure people only saw him with his head down. I knew I was watching a brooding little devil… but I ain’t never expected him to turn out a gangster.”
Walter’s eyes peeled open gradually enough for them to adapt to the sunlight coming through the window facing him. A shade was covering up the glass, causing outside light to project down onto the floor in a faded tan prism. His vision was clouded, but there wasn’t much to see in his room apart from his decrepit wooden dresser or the busted-up framework of a bookshelf his mother had left against the wall over a year ago and hadn’t touched since. Waking up was requiring more energy than he had to give, so as soon as he could comprehend the voice from the radio, he began to focus on the news story instead.
“Unfortunately, by the time police arrived on the scene this past Sunday afternoon, the situation had already gone too far. Three members of a rival gang had been in pursuit of Rodriguez, chasing him into a section of walled-off forest along a trail starting behind True Hope Chapel. Once detained by police, the gang members claimed Rodriguez had sprinted far ahead of them and was already well into the woods by the time they had first even made it up to the trail. According to their alibi, a gunshot rang out as they were still running in the woods, and it took five minutes of searching to find the spot behind a tree where Rodriguez’s corpse rested, magnum in hand and his head blo-”
‘That’s enough,’ Walter thought.
He held the alarm clock in his hand, having had just picked it up and shut it off. He placed it back onto his nightstand, swung his legs over the edge of his bed, and sat up just so he could hunch forward. His bare torso felt gripped by the frigid morning air, which rested densely in the space between his four walls like how a freezer filled with water will trap the contents in place. Stillness soundproofed the room so that the only noise he heard was his heaving breath, but the blood coursing between his inner ears turned the silence into a crashing of waves.
Rage stacked within him as he recalled the few words he managed to yell in reaction when meeting Ethan Rodriguez for the first and only time: “Shithead! You spat in my potatoes!” It was the seventh grade and Ethan had managed to break away from the staff who were transporting him out of class through the cafeteria when he made the snap decision to harass yet another stranger. Walter didn’t even need to hear a name that day in order to immediately identify who and why this person was running up to him – the rumors that circulated the hallways all described him as exactly the wild-eyed lunatic who had cracked a wide grin at the sight of Walter lethargically eating alone. He berated himself for how pathetic he seemed in hindsight. His food had slobber dripping over it one moment, then the next, a cackling Ethan went sprinting off quicker than Walter could get to his feet, but apart from hearing the spited name echoing the halls as a part of the gossip that infected them, he never saw sign of the cretin again. On the first day of high school, he learned that Ethan was zoned elsewhere, meaning his chance at revenge had finally been snuffed out.
‘What a bastard he was,’ Walter thought, ‘to make the whole world his enemy and then surrender. God, I just wish I was able to cut myself the same fucking break….’
The analog clock’s display flicked from 7:06 to 7:07, which the edge of his left pupil caught sight of without his eye shifting at all to see it. What should have been a gentle reminder that Walter’s time to get ready before the bus came was gradually running out instead caused panic to swarm him. He could feel his neck tighten up under the grip of existential fear and his stomach sicken, boiling like broth out of anticipation for the inevitable heap of stress he would face from the coming day. Desperation took hold, and his mind went to scavenging itself for the one saving thought, the one memory that could quell the surge of chemicals which had him incapacitated.
In a moment of delayed awareness, he leapt from his bed like the sheets had caught fire and bounded across his room to the closet. Instinct took control of both his hands, gripping the two rounded wooden knobs and pulling the double doors open. The inside of the closet was entirely empty, except for a single shelf that was a foot higher than he was tall. Walter lifted his heels up off the floor, suspending himself on his toes, giving him just enough height to reach onto the shelf and grab a brown paper box from the back of it. The tips of his fingers siphoned pure relief from the polished surface of the cardboard. In the center of the box’s lid was a small rectangular card that was held in place by a thin metal frame just large enough to fit the card within itself snugly, which read Notes from Alina in a precise black ink sign. He held it out in front of him with both hands and was staring at the three penned words intensely as he sat his heels back down onto the carpet, turned, shuffled back to his bed and sat down again with the box in his lap.
Walter’s fingertips gripped either edge of the box lid and pulled up ever so slightly. It slid off and a gentle gust of air poured out from under it. The box contained a sea of paper scraps all lying intertwined together, filling its volume about two thirds of the way up from the bottom. Each piece of paper had a handwritten message on it, either scribbled in pen or printed in pencil, and they all featured the same distinguished heart and sign at the bottom of each one. Walter glanced over at his bedside table and grabbed an index card off of it, of which was filled with dates and instructions with bright blue marks beside the completed lines – the furthest one down that wasn’t marked off read For Monday read my Nov 3rd note – the one with the 4-stanza poem in a messy scribble. He glanced back into the box and noticed a full sheet of notebook paper labeled Nov 3rd was resting on the very top of the entire pile, completely uncovered.
‘…Did I really forgot that I had already went through and found it?’ he thought. ‘I must’ve dug it up on Friday after work, I think…. That could explain why my memory from before the weekend is so cloudy: because that night I was exhausted enough to be pronounced a corpse.’
Walter shut out his thoughts, grabbed the piece of paper, and set the box down gingerly away from him on his bed the same way he would a cat haranguing him for attention. He read the note:
This English class is murdering me in my seat, so I made my knee-jerk reaction of choice and decided to write another note. I must’ve already written you a hundred of them (don’t expect me to stop ever ever ever, though) and it’s been what, a month and a half? So much happened so fast… and I’m grateful for it, don’t get me wrong! I just get afraid sometimes that since you haven’t known me for that long – maybe you’re not used to me yet? Maybe I’ll say something that catches you off-guard, and you won’t know what to say or think? It seems obvious to me that the only logical decision is to be as extremely ‘me’ as possible so that way I can break down your every expectation for me and you won’t have anything else left to expect!... Except there’s nothing interesting about me at all, but I can’t quit worrying about my dad right now because he’s undergoing his first surgery later today, and he did once say that he sees me as a reflection of him. I just so happen to personally believe that he has done some of the most interesting things I could even conceive of, so instead of talking about anything that might interest you, I’m going to copy his latest poem because it’s freaking the ever-living fuck outta me. Please something Holy intervene and make it so that my writing this causes first period to end faster. Here goes:
Up over the valley and down by the crick
Through bushes and brambles and branches all thick
There was an old man who lived in his home
And it was every day he would read memories from his tome
Because it was his mistake to be left alone
When he was younger and chose to play a thief and a trick
He caught hatred for people and he made himself sick
He wanted to forget where he had come from
He cursed his loved ones and was thrown out to roam
And then he realized his fate to be left alone
The world got harder and his skills did not stick
He lost all his blessings and he’d lose himself quick
But the anger and sadness kept his mouth at a foam
He lacked any direction and had an attitude like stone
But all only once he had let himself become left alone
And now he is ancient – in his head there’s a nick
He let the world destroy him by making himself an easy pick
And he has to face Hell; it’s not looking well
Only by the curse of being left alone
Walter’s brow furrowed. He read the note again but when he got to the poem, he ignored it and looked at his shaded window to keep his eyes away from the scribbled text. A cold feeling in his gut reminded him that she had stopped writing him notes a little over a year ago, and resorted to having him reread notes that she remembered as being significant. He grappled with himself as to whether he should search for a different note in the pile just for the chance that his spirits could potentially lift even slightly: on the average day, chasing a grim note with any other note that contained plenty of You’re all I desire’s and at least one The universe will make space for us would have been enough to balloon his mood after having been put through a dreary poem like the one on the page he was holding. But today, Walter felt particularly unmoved; it was as though he had gone to sleep with some fantastic possession and woke up to realize it was gone without any trace. His patience was elsewhere, and reading that poem had deflated any eagerness he had to pick out any more of the notes that were in the box. Even still, just hearing her voice narrating in his head brought warmth to his pallid thoughts. It was a bittersweet thing to be able to read Alina’s vibrant feelings from years ago; the two of them had long since realized that there was never going to be any returning to those times.
He watched his clock flick from 7:12 to 7:13 and a second wave of fear swept him: over half of the time he had to get ready was spent just sitting on his bed in his boxers. The threat of having to walk to school on a Monday peeled him off his bed and sent him to the other side of the room. He looked blankly into his dresser as he began flinging drawers open and slamming them shut again. It wasn’t as though he had expected to find a decent outfit from the few clothes he owned, but his disbelief built upon itself as his search for suitable clothes dragged on and he continued to come up with nothing. Everything was baggy, faded, and tawdry: even his socks. After he had finished going from top-to-bottom through each drawer, he begrudgingly picked out a medley of clothes that barely suited him, but would at least last him until the end of the day and threw them on. He took his wallet off of his white work shirt from atop his dresser, putting the former into his back pocket and folding up the latter, sliding it into his backpack.
Walter, fully clothed, turned to face the open box sitting on his bed. He wanted to blame Alina for being inconsiderate and not giving him a more heartfelt note to read, but she had never slighted him before when it came to his needs. It seemed like she had his emotions planned out weeks in advance, and she was tactical in her treatment of him like a general to his troops. Walter was sure to be swift as he dropped the sheet of paper flat into the box and set the lid back in place. He took the box over to his closet and put it up on the shelf again. The doors to his closet shut when he pushed them into their frame, and as the magnets that connected the two surfaces clicked back into place, he could feel his will melt slightly.
‘You’re being a victim – what good is that?’ he thought. ‘You bitch; you’ve went your whole life with the knowledge that the world isn’t watching to see if you succeed, so why is it breaking you right now? No one cares; it’s just another morning. Conserve yourself.’
He stood directly in front of the closet door, bowing his head slightly as though he were before a king and begging for his life, eyes closed and fists balled. Cold tears were caught in his eyelashes.
‘Just be strong enough to survive today. There’s only one way to see if things will ever get better and that’s to suffer through the moment. Hold the fuck out. Just long enough to make it back to this room tonight.’
He took a sharp breath through his nose and pulled it all the way to the bottom of his lungs, not stopping until they were filled.
‘Just hold out.’
His lungs emptied in a sudden gust from between his lips.
‘Okay – get going.’
He walked out of his room and into the hallway bathroom just outside.
The first thing Walter noticed about his bathroom as he stepped inside it was that the air was just as cold inside there as it was in his room. Morning air doesn’t seem to realize that the sun has come out for at least a few hours after it first rises, so even though it was as bright outside as it would be all day, he felt as clammy and as unwelcome in his attempt to get out the door as though it were still the dead of night. He studied his eyes in the mirror as he gripped the stubbornly tight faucet to the sink and struggled to turn it on. Water poured out and gathered in his cupped hands; with a flick of his wrists upwards, he splashed cold water against his face. His skin stung with the raw reminder that he was awake. His every thought was directed in the attempt to deduce exactly how long of a day he would have to endure before he’d be able to get back to catching up on sleep. Despite his exhaustion, he felt a slight boost of energy out of the intense anger that was pumping through him at the sight of himself in the mirror. He felt a slim shadow of how happy he could vaguely remember once feeling, and he looked the part.
Walter’s hands grabbed his toothpaste and toothbrush and took to brushing. His cheeks would bulge around as the brush jerked back and forth inside of his mouth to clean his teeth, but his eyes were cemented on their own reflection. He was aware of how quickly you could check someone’s eyes to get a sense for whether or not they were happy, but Walter had never thought to made it a point of checking his own in a mirror during the few times that he could still clearly remember when something had him legitimately joyous. The truth was that he had no idea what his happy eyes might look like, but he could at least be certain that the hollow morning routine wasn’t doing anything for his mood, just based on what he saw in the mirror. When was the last time he felt satisfied enough in his life to be able to get ready for school without it being a crushing and repetitive process? Well, never, technically, because getting ready every morning was repetitive by nature, and the repetitive nature of things doesn’t require much time to become crushing on a person who isn’t allowed a break from them periodically. When had been his last break? He always told himself the same answer to that question: it had to have been last Halloween with Alina. Sex had become a forgotten practice due to how locked up she chose to become upon taking her hospital job, primarily because she began doing her schoolwork during her shift every day. The subsequent stress from stacking worksheets and readings on top of cleaning up after dying patients across a whole building had rendered Alina decidedly impotent in the sense that her sexual urges had been practically erased, similar to the way poison ivy can destroy a person’s fingerprint. The memories that she would normally share with Walter while musing about their sensual history didn’t cycle through her thoughts anymore, and she had no further desire to attempt any of their old habits. Last year’s Halloween had been a much-needed break in that reality. Walter would attest that he rarely came in contact with pleasure, but on that evening, it practically strangled him when the two of them were shaded by the black curtain of night and spent what could have been ages pressed into each other on a small grass bank within a cove of trees at the edge of a forest. Time had lost all meaning during that shag – they assumed that it must have lasted close to the entire night because both of them agreed afterwards that it was easily already 4 AM, meaning he must have fucked her into another time zone. Whether it really had went on for hours or the two of them had simply just packed an amount of sensational satisfaction that went beyond all belief into a deceptively-long thirty minutes, it didn’t matter, because it was the single last good fuck he could recall.
Walter filled his mouth with water from the sink, swished it in his cheeks, and then spat the mixture of water spit and foamy toothpaste out down the drain. He looked back up at the mirror.
“Quit your moping,” Walter told himself out loud. “It’s only been what? Almost a year now? And that memory is already wrung completely dry because I’m always letting it sit out on my mind….” He gripped either side the sink with his hands and looked down into the drain. “Just cut it out.” The lights flicked off in the bathroom as he grabbed his backpack from off the floor and hit the switch.
“I don’t think you understand, Flint. Those two are criminals – my job as a man of the law is to apprehend them and your job as a citizen is to assist me!” a mature male voice with a staunch accent spoke dramatically from the television in Walter’s living room.
“Now, under any other circumstances, I might be willing to play along with that, but Tophat, I’ve been digging up clues to keep me on the trail of these two from the moment I touched down back in the country,” replied a gruff, equally-aged, stalwart male Texan voice. “You don’t need to explain it to me – I already understand exactly how well it would work for you if, for the sake of the law, I just decide to forgive them for robbing me of sixty-two million dollars, my ranch, and any chance to ever come home to my wife in this mortal plane ever again. And you yourself, lawman; you shouldn’t be too quick to forget that you’re the one who built the case against me that stuck me with the only two choices of whether I wanted to fly overseas or rot in a cell. You were the problem that I was given in the first place – you’re dead,”
“And I will temporarily overlook the fact that you flew off to Taiwan while your case was still pending and that you never served your sentence for drug cultivation and mass distribution from the location of said ranch!” the first voice continued. “Right now, however, these two are about to blow our bloody fucking brains out if you don’t assure them that you’ve given up your tremendous hunger for revenge!”
“On the contrary, both of you are dead as all fucking get-out, no matter what gets said,” a third male voice spoke, this one deep, young, and in a New English accent. “I just need to make sure the old man doesn’t kill me first.”
“You’re high on the list, son,” an elderly Italian voice rasped. “You could have turned in Burbank, or Maury, but your own father?! And you dare still walk this earth after confessing to a crime that lost me five years of my life? Tophat dies, then I’ll be taking those years back from you not long after.”
“You calm yourself, Moretti!” commanded the first voice. “And you, boy! You’ll be coming with me, straight to a cell! Your father might have funded the criminal acts that stole from hundreds of properties down south, but he served time and paid out his entire estate to the law in fines as reimbursement for his ill-gotten gains. You, on the other hand, have done nothing to atone for your participation in the chain of home invasions that the two of you orchestrated, including the raid you assisted in on my friend’s ranch over here.”
“I’m not doing any kind of atonement; no way, no how,” the third voice growled through gritted teeth.
“You were part of the raid on my ranch?” the second voice asked, pain sticking to his voice like hair on flypaper. “That means you were there the day my wife was killed.”
Simultaneous to the voice finishing the final sentence, Walter walked out of the bathroom to see the rough-looking Texas man flick his thumb back on the hammer of his pistol, and an instant later a shot rang out and the third man’s head blew back outward through his skull, brain matter spattering out from just above the view of the camera. Four more shots exploded from all around in disjointed, immediate succession just as he had finished his sprint over to the television and then jammed the power button into its face. It shut off with a diagonal white flash across the screen and a zipping static click.
Walter stood petrified in front of the television, the silence in his living room being nearly as haunting as the sudden image of carnage that he had just involuntarily witnessed. He turned around and saw his mother laid out across the couch in a deep sleep. She was wearing the same linty turquoise bathroom that she put on every time she got back home from work along with her light pink slippers: the only pair that she owned. Walter didn’t understand the first thing about how or why his mother was able to operate the way she did. She slept all day, worked all night, and watched men kill each other in movies when she wasn’t doing either. But as he observed her, he noticed the slight tension in her brow and the way her lips creased downwards into a subtle frown. Walter could feel remorse simmering within him suddenly on the hopeless Monday morning that it was: he knew that as a boy struggling through high school, he had very little power to help his overworked mother reach a more dignified state of living, apart from keeping the pantry stocked with a job of his own. There wasn’t a single day in Walter’s childhood when his parents didn’t have food for him and his sister on the table, but it seemed as though just about everything else around the house needed to be paid for with money that didn’t exist. Nobody was there anymore to help his mother manage all the burdens in her life, and the frustrated look on what would’ve otherwise been her neutral slumbering face couldn’t have made that somber reality any clearer.
Walter stepped up to the couch and gently reached his arms under his mother, who was sleeping so soundly that she wasn’t even disturbed in the slightest as he picked her up. His right arm supporting the top half of her body and his left arm hooked under her legs at the knees, he carefully tread out of the living room and across the kitchen. The air conditioning unit was blaring cold air out into the hallway – he couldn’t imagine why she even had it turned on at all – but it was more important to get his mother into her room than it was to turn it off. The doorway to what was once his parents’ room had been left open. Inside the room, all the windows were covered up by thick shades that his mother had installed over them just after she started working nights at the pharmacy so many years ago. Walter gingerly lowered her into her bed, first putting her head against her pillow and then taking care to not jostle her at all as he laid down the rest of her body. He pulled the covers to her bed over her and planted a gentle peck onto her forehead.
“I love you, ma,” he whispered to her, and then walked out back out of her room. He pulled the door shut behind him, and the sound of his mother lightly snoring was silenced as the doorknob clicked and an almost unnoticeably small rush of air blew out from between the doorframe and the space that the door now occupied.
Walter walked back into the kitchen and checked the clock on the wall just above and to the right of the kitchen window, noticing that the minute hand was directly over top of the 4. On the face of the refrigerator were two sticky notes that had titles written in pen across the top and tally marks scribbled below them. The first read 7:00 AM’s since we last saw Sandy and the second read 7:00 AM’s since we last saw Dad. Walter took a pen out of a plastic mug on the counter and added a tally to each of them. He put the pen back in its mug and read the totals: the first note came up to eight marks, and the second note came up to one-hundred thirty-three.
Walter reached his arm across the notes, grabbed the handle to the right of them, and pulled the refrigerator door open. He peered inside only to find a carton of juice, of eggs, of milk, and a bagel bag. He took the bag from off its shelf and plucked the top bagel out of it, then set the bag back before closing the refrigerator door. His fingers pulled bite-sized chunks off the bagel, which he popped in his mouth intermittently without looking. The view from the kitchen window matched Walter’s emotions: regardless of however early in the morning it was, the pavement was just as gray and faded as it would be all day, the grass was yellowed and sickly, and without the veil of night to cloak the houses on the other side of the street, it was visibly apparent that all three of the rusty huts would need to be demolished if the value of the crowded, sprawling trailer park was ever going to increase. Instead, Walter kept his eyes and ears away from the window and up and to the right of it instead to immerse himself fully in the plain white face of the kitchen wall clock.
‘Mornings are a special kind of hell,’ he thought while watching time pass at the rate of the ticking second hand. ‘They shouldn’t have to be so awful – you wake up every day of your damn life. I don’t know. It’s the only time of day designed to swipe every personal comfort out from under you, is what I think it is. That’s to say that you’re asleep and in your own business for hours, but then at a totally arbitrary moment, it’s all over and you get dumped out of your dreams. It has to be the biggest slap in the face from the universe to people everywhere that our imaginations go wild the whole night long, creating little movies and stories in our heads just for us, only for it all to evaporate once the sun rises. Getting up, getting dressed, and getting out the door aren’t difficult tasks at all in themselves; it’s just that having to arrange yourself immediately after the death of your own little mental world could be considered poetic in the way it takes people’s unique thoughts and emotions and rips them right out every day on schedule. Morning emerges from night without warning, the threat of failing to meet your responsibilities marches you on out the door, when suddenly, however you look or feel becomes the concern of the entire world, and it’s your job to just bear it. It really is torture in its own way if you consider how this goes on in endless twenty-four-hour rounds, because I’ve never met the person who didn’t claim to be beaten down by the feeling that they’re only keeping up with their week by rushing through it – by the time you’ve had a complete thought to yourself, it’s not surprising if the sun has already ducked out and back in again. One second it’s up and you’re up with it, and then before you even have the chance to go searching for hope: darkness. And so the cycle repeats. That’s how mornings seem to string together – but it gets real scary when the sense sets in that your entire life has become trapped within the breaking of dawn, because before 8 AM, memories take it upon themselves to come back to you with laser-guided accuracy, and there’s no defense from the ghost of every past morning that you ever let get completely fucked as they return to haunt you….’
As he swallowed the last chunk of bagel, he became overtaken by a new hunger which cemented his attention on the wooden fruit bowl sitting under a hanging wicker planter.
‘It’s funny, really, how staying home is just as awful of a way to spend the day as is going to school,’ he thought. ‘Regardless of the outcome, regardless of the events that will make my future, today will be shit, and not from a lack of trying.’
Walter walked over to the fruit bowl, moved aside a dented orange and a blackened banana to reveal a tightly-wrapped joint. His hunger turned ravenous.
‘Frankly, there’s only one way to save myself from wasting away unnecessarily.’
He held the joint upwards in front of his nose, admiring its resemblance to a silkworm’s cocoon.
’No matter how I spend the next eleven hours before the sun is gone and night returns, I’ll have been effectively miserable from dawn ‘til dusk… unless.’
He wanted to save it. He really did. He didn’t want to waste even a crumb of weed that could otherwise be saved for another day, but this was about survival.
The front door shut behind him and his sneakers scraped the ground as he walked the brief, two-foot wide cement pathway that led away from his house and up to the thin, winding street. Crisp fall air blustered through his clothes and hair. He looked to the tops of the withering trees that peppered the surrounding neighborhood, noting the gray sky behind them.
‘Sobriety has nothing to benefit you. The world around you is practically falling apart – it always has been. There’s only one solution, and that’s a forced change of outlook.’
He plopped himself down on the curb, then slipped off his shoe and retrieved a matchbook from under the sole. After tearing one off, he dropped the book back in and pressed the sole into place. Fitting his foot back into the shoe, he observed his surroundings. There were no cars on the street; no people around at all. It was as if he had been trapped inside a rejected concept for a snow globe. Not giving himself any more time to think, he struck the match on the pavement and lit the tip of the joint – the other end resting between his lips.
With a single inhale, the surrounding trailers transformed into a benevolent paradise. He flexed his muscles, admiring his own health.
‘Why haven’t I ever tried running a marathon?’ he pondered.
The smoke he exhaled smelled like sweet pine, and as he continued to inhale from the joint with intermittent ashing, he found himself becoming more and more distanced from the dreary road that he was sitting on. Turtle Creek Ridge at the state line was a gorgeous sight to behold last March, when him and Alina had the chance to take a bus out that way. At the time, he hadn’t considered that a day trip into the forest would be even remotely enjoyable, but once they were done travelling and had found a secluded spot by the bank, they were smoking and laughing and kissing like they had just bought the place.
Walter spent the better part of his days regretting that the two of them had to become employed around-the-clock. During the week, he would leave school and go directly to the post office where he worked past sundown, but when Alina left school, she wouldn’t waste even an hour outside of the hospital that she stayed shackled to – including weekends. She shadowed surgeons there when she wasn’t doing chores or cleaning up spills at the discretion of the nurses. The staff had developed a dependency on her willingness to perform any and all upkeep across the entire building at the order of anybody with a problem, meaning the same voices were constantly attempting to dissuade her from the path of learning surgery so they could overwork her as a nurse instead. However, she never worked out of naïveté, nor ignorance. The red tape that the rest of the staff laid down for years did effectively nothing to prohibit her, as she had either sat in on or helped with every surgery her father had undergone to date, so the disapproving grown men in green scrubs had since realized that they could do very little to keep her out of the operating room, or to dampen the restless desire she had to find a career within it.
Napping throughout the day was the only way she managed to prevent crashing on the job, but this habit caused her to doze off in enough of her classes to force her teachers and the principal collectively to determine she would have to attend daily lunch detention in the auditorium for all the hours she needed to make up just to prevent preliminary failure of the school year based on attendance. Walter had complete awareness of how sore he made himself in his attempts to try and conceive a way around the grim reality that he wasn’t going to be getting any chances to get to see Alina that day if he couldn’t get into the auditorium during lunch, but he still chose to fantasize about spending whole hours at a time with her the way they used to, even though the fiction in his head only ended up playing into his illness of heart. He could manage a miracle on rare days, spending all of lunch with her, and the chance of that happening did by itself give him hope, even if his options were few and the odds at success meager. If he took the hallway that started at the far corner of the cafeteria, he would be able to sneak into a side door to the auditorium, but he ran the risk of getting caught by the wandering eyes of any of the semi-omniscient coaches who liked to stand around outside the gym during lunch. The most reliable method was just to talk to whatever faculty member they had stationed out front and try to convince them that he should be allowed in to see Alina, but that required someone being at the door who either didn’t care about the rules or was sympathetic to Walter’s cause. The whole situation just a gamble that he was just going to have to take his chances with when the time came, but until then, he knew to ignore the thought of it because of the way it built on his anxiety.
He flicked the burnt paper butt across the street and closed his eyes. ‘Survive until Friday, skip the full moon and the clocktower entirely and go straight to the hospital to see her. You can take cold comfort that if you get nothing else from the world to sustain yourself by the time the week ends, you’ll be with her for that night in the very least,’ he thought, barely able to maintain his train of thought over his intense sensory stimulation: the gushing of blood in his heart as his mind lapped itself every second. Like demons, fear manifested inside him and danced to the tune of his high hopes. He tried breathing through his nose until his lungs were filled, exhaling fully out of his mouth while counting the spaces between each breath.
The roaring sound of his bus coming around the corner snapped his eyes open, and he found himself engrossed in reality yet again.
‘You can be stronger than this;’ he thought, ‘you have to be.’