The Absolution of Atticus

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16 :: HOME

— Cooper —

OF COURSE there are consequences. Of course, the universe makes its way and makes it mine and yours and everyone’s. If one thing could be different, it sure as hell wouldn’t be this. This, I’ve known was coming for over two years. This was bound to happen to me. To him. This was inevitable.

The airport doesn’t feel like home, and suddenly a picture of home doesn’t even look like home. Boston streets have their own language and the remnants of revolution rampaging down the cobblestone alleyways and past the colonial townhouses. I’m only aware of the externals now. Like the red side paneling of that particular house or the opaque glass of those shop windows. The sharp corners of that statue, the sharp corners of that brick wall, the sharp corners of my tunnel vision closing in.

I grabbed the first alcohol I could find after escaping the airport. It wasn’t second guessing or balancing on fences. I stormed into the gas station numb and came out feeling something. It was that burning satisfaction, and the full, throbbing haze settling quietly over everything that reminded me how to move without looking like a machine. That movement has brought me here, to a pier at the edge of town or the edge of the universe. I can’t tell which.

I’m finding a lot of solace in the surrounding streets. Or at least, I think I am. Who knows where the concrete ends and the ocean begins. The water is so dark and calm. No one would guess it hides some sinister secrets under the surface. This harbor is a murder scene. This park is a piece of art smeared over all the history that we try to cover up. This is where the slaves came hobbling off of ships, in chains, with trembling knees, sores around their mouths and wailing in their hearts. This place is one of destitution. Tea powder and gunpowder and the massacre painted these streets and dyed this water red. Red like the backs of the British whose hopes were of home, red like their blood on the walls of this city, red like the so-called revolution, neatly sorted into graphic organizers in every history book. History never had the same weight as it does now.

The water seems so inviting and the darkness is only growing thicker. My suitcase seems like a good place to rest, so I lay it flat and sit. There’s no hurry to get home. Where is home? Somehow, I manage to call a cab. I wait under a tree that looks more like the cruel hand of God, hanging over me with limp fingers. I can almost hear him laughing at me in the hissing of passing cars and the bone-chilling wind winding in and around the surrounding buildings.

The cab pulls up and the driver asks me where I’m going. I tell him that I know what the building looks like, but there’s no guarantee I’ll be staying there much longer. The man almost kicks me out, but I remember the street names before his patience is completely up. This is the surest way to avoid light conversation on the drive.

I make it back in silence of the external sort only. My mind feels like a deadweight inside my skull. If I could just stop it’s hammering, the persistent hum of truth drilling up against the sides, cracking through every weak point. My neck is killing me. I just want it to stop. The apartment building is a shadow that I can open the door of and hide inside. No one is at the reception desk. No one is blasting music on the eighth floor. It’s a ghost town.

My vision is blurry, like seeing through water. Water, floating, floating up the narrow enclosed stairs. The stairs where I saw her angry and drenched and shivering. Her, standing over me with calming words and eyes that said she knew what it was to be alive and dying all at once. Dying, dying like the things that we can’t control, the people we want to hold closest that tend to slip away fastest. Fast, the fading memories of all the places we’ve been and the cars along the streets and the clouds moving over the moon. The moon, existing on another celestial body’s borrowed light. Borrowed and tainted light. That gift which Prometheus delivered to the earth which resulted in his own eternal torture, which Icarus flew to reach but fell by instead. Non est ad astra mollis e terris via.

I land on the floor in front of her apartment on my hands and knees, the closest to home I’ll ever get. I lean my back up against the blue and wait next to my fallen suitcase, figuring that if there was ever a time for waiting, it would be now. My eyes sting with tears and rage. I can’t hold it all in me. It keeps overflowing; every time a great shudder passes through me, more of it comes and falls and dampens my face and jacket sleeves and my balled fists. I keep having to catch myself, catch my breath before I completely pass out. I take the whiskey down without breaking what I can only hope slightly resembles composure.

A figure begins to evolve at the end of the hallway from the staircase, just out of my realm of focus. I decide to close my eyes rather than catch sight of the inevitable look of disgust in a stranger’s eyes as they pass by. The last thing I need is confrontation, so I roll my head back and pretend to be dead. It’s not hard to do.

“Ahem,” a voice says. I’m getting nudged.

I swallow a lump of sour-tasting bile in my throat. It burns all the way down. Reluctantly, I open my eyes.

“Hey, it’s Cooper, right?” The girl is wide-eyed behind a pair of coke-bottle glasses as she takes in the sight of me.

I close my eyes again. “Yeah,”

The girl doesn’t skip a beat. “You’re Grace’s neighbor, aren’t you?”

My eyes burn again at the mention of her name. Where is she? Where the hell is she? “You—you should go.”

“Huh? No, I’m—I’m Valerie. I’m Grace’s friend. I’m just here to feed her fish, woah… hey, are you okay?”

“Jesus Christ, fuck off.”

“Hey,” The girl, Valerie, takes a step away from me when she sees the half-empty bottle tucked in the crook of my arm. “Cooper, hey, uh, just—where’s your apartment? Let me help—” She tries for my arm.

Fuck off!

The girl jumps back, startled. I don’t hear anything else. The ground is swaying. Walls singing. It all looks green and blue, the fluorescent lights, the chipping door paint. I’m making it to my feet, but barely. The door is the only stable thing.

“Non est ad astra…” Inhale, “Mollis e terra via.” I can’t breathe. “Post mortem nihil…” Exhale, “Ipsaque mors nihil…”

The girl is digging around in my suitcase now. I think I should stop her, but I just laugh instead. The laughter is caught in my throat, caught on the memory of the current moment. There are times when you find that you’re floating outside of yourself and looking down. This entire night has been one of those times. I can only hope I’ll make it back to my body sooner or later.

“Are these your keys?” The girl is swinging a keychain in the air in front of my face, speaking to me like I’m a child. She’s not messing around anymore, gripping the collar of my jacket and forcing me to focus with a few snaps in front of my eyes. “Hey, hey asshole, focus. Are these your keys?

A laugh bubbles up my throat again. Shoved back against Grace’s door, I almost slide back down to the floor. Grace’s friend is stronger than she looks. I can’t make out anything through the haze, but I can hear her fumbling around with the keys from across the hall. Before I know what’s happening, I’m being dragged away from the stability of door 7A, through my front entry, and falling onto my sofa.

I close my eyes and take another swig. The alcohol stings, the center of my chest stings, the backs of my eyes sting. Death resembles a poisonous insect with wings and a sharp ass. Funny. Everything is grey and funny. Maybe that’s why I keep hearing the buzzing, the zzz and the vvv of it all.

“Grace?” The girl says, catching my fleeting attention. “I, uh… well, I don’t know if—well, there’s kind of a situation going on over here. I—I don’t really… Well, I just came to your place to feed the stupid fish, or whatever, and uh…” The girl is pacing the kitchen, loud heeled shoes against the hardwood sound more like sledgehammers against my skull. “It’s, uh, it’s that guy, Cooper. I showed up and he was dead drunk on your doorstep, I dunno’, and—”

A momentary silence.

“He’s, well, he’s fine.” She takes a huge breath. “I helped him back inside his apartment and—and he’s like—he keeps speaking in a different language. I don’t—I don’t really feel comfortable. He doesn’t even remember his own name, Grace, it’s pretty bad—”

I can hear her voice, muted but present. Her friend is approaching me warily now. Something in her hand, a phone. I know it’s Grace. It’s Grace whose hands are warm and whose eyes are kind. Where is she? Where the hell is she? I stumble to my feet and spot the box of letters on the table.

The girl holds the phone out, hand against the speaker. “It’s Grace, Cooper, just…”

My head is pounding. I down another swig of the bottle and turn away from the girl. It’s nearing total emptiness now. Everything I drink is settling in the pit of my stomach, broiling there. I lunge for the box, dump out all of its contents across the living room floor. There have to be answers in here. Somewhere, Atticus hid something for me. He’s been whispering in my ear for the past three months. Where the hell is he now, when I need him the most?

The girl brings the phone back to her own ear, panic-stricken. “Yeah, Grace, he won’t take it.”

Suddenly, I can’t help it. The world turns vertical, and I’m retching into the closest container, the empty letter box.

“Oh—oh god!” The girl is half screaming.

God wouldn’t know. God wouldn’t know. God doesn’t exist here. “Jaden,” I gasp. I can’t see anything, can’t breathe without the oxygen shredding the inner linings of my throat. My insides are screaming. I can’t get it out fast enough. I can’t get to him fast enough. “Jaden!” He’s slipping away. I’m slipping away.

+++

I wake with a start. A premonition. There are a few sudden knocks on the front door, and then a light drifting to the center of the room. I think it’s heaven here to help me. A celestial being in beige and milk-white.

She floats toward me, whispering my name over and over again. She drops to her hands and knees beside me, kneels as the prayer begins to fall from her lips. And she’s cradling my head in her lap, stroking gently.

I don’t know how many hours have passed, but it’s still night. I can only see her anyway. She’s crying, and it doesn’t seem real. Reaching up to touch her, just to see if she’s here, not a mirage. Her cheek is soft and real, trembling under my touch, and I begin to sob. Deep, gut-wrenching waves of sorrow and remorse and the heavy, buried things that I’d never let escape me if she weren’t here. I think I’m screaming, and she guides me to her waist, her chest, her shoulders, the crook of her neck, cradling me in her capable arms. Crying with me all the way until we are completely entangled in each other, memorizing each other, her fingers in my hair, rocking back and forth, clutching her clothes and her hair and any part of her that I can grasp. And all the while, she keeps me from drowning. Nothing seems so lost, death doesn’t seem so definite in her arms. Like she could bring the sun back if she wanted to and set everything right again.

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