It seemed as if he had always been there, just at the edge of her field of vision.
Slouching, eyes flicking over the paper's headlines indifferently; ah but she knew it was just a ruse.
And more importantly, he knew that she knew. Everything was like that with him, just a game
he played well, and part of their shared, secret knowledge was in the playing of that game,
and also her silent acquiescence and implied approval.
Now he appeared close by, and quietly moved to stand beside her, as she stepped down off the
porch, on her walk out to the mailbox. She remembered how it had always disconcerted her in her
younger years; how he seemed to know her moves long before she did herself, and stationed
himself there ahead of time, as if in anticipation of her coming. Now she realized that, as magical
as that had seemed to her younger self; it was easily accounted for by the fact that
he simply had nothing else to do with his time, and he could have been waiting there all night,
for all she knew. And why shouldn't it be thus; she had never been able to figure
out how he could survive without ever visibly working a day in his life. He didn't dress well enough
to imply he had any money to his name.
That was another bothersome fact about him; his clothing looked so nothing; so nondescript,
that if he had told her he had merely walked into a thrift store and chosen every old, worn,
outdated item on the shelves and assembled that into a workable clothes closet, it would not have
surprised her at all. It was almost as if he were every day in contemplation of some heinous crime,
and so wanted to dress in the way that would least attract notice to himself, and yet would not
make people think he was a homeless tramp, which would definitely get him unwanted attention
eventually; people always want to either chastise or pity those who seem happy living a too-different
lifestyle. Being different always makes people nervous, and they tend not to forget those who excite
such feelings in themselves.
She suddenly thought of that conversation she'd had with him a while back, when he'd shown
up again after a long, suspicious absence. When someone is in your day to day life, almost
like a part of it's very fabric, and then vanishes without warning, you have to wonder why.
She had greeted him with a sound of astonishment and he had waved it away as he always
did. He hated displays of anything; casualness was his main attire, even beyond any old duds he could
find to complete the aura. "Look," he said by way of explanation, as though he divined her unsaid question;
"I told you the drugs were bad, they were doing things to you- to us.." He stopped at her
expression, but then went on smoothly, "I'm pleased you finally took my words to heart."
That was the other thing he was always doing; talking about them as a 'we', as if they were
an item, a couple, a unit. She didn't know where he came up with ideas like that. Just
because he shamelessly had stalked her every day from adolescence into her mid twenties,
didn't make them together, any more than a stray cat in the yard daily begging for food became a pet.
Although in her yard, a begging cat would, more likely than not, be as welcomed
with the same open arms as any bona fide pet. That was part of her charm perhaps, that
she was unquestioningly loyal to those in need, and though he might be in denial of it,
he did seem perpetually in some kind of need. Or else, why keep coming around so regularly?
In truth, he was very like a cat; he came and went mysteriously, no car ever visible,
no place of residence ever revealed. He was like a careless genie, who forgot to show
up when summoned, or who appeared when you least expected or wanted him to.
She used to expend herself needlessly in anger at him; when she felt that she really needed some help;
a place of refuge, he wouldn't come around for days. And then when she finally felt that she
might survive her present difficulty, and not until that magic moment arrived, would he come to haunt her
porch again, her yard, and on the rare occasion, he even came part way into the house, but stood firmly, if
nervously, just inside the doorway, as if afraid the old house might suddenly feel it's age and
collapse without warning, and he wanted to be able to jump out and clear the threshold in one
motion, if it came down to it.
He was so claustrophobic in his core; so easily stopped by walls and doors and things of that nature.
He told her once that corporal things just had no reality to him; atoms were full of space and energy,
and the way that big chunks of emptiness created objects just felt unnerving to him. She didn't think she
had ever heard another human being say something quite so odd before. That was part of his charm; he was
nothing if not fascinating. A few times she had even admitted to him, she found him so
interesting, almost as if he had reached inside of her, and pulled out the very topics she found
most evocative, so that she used to wonder if she were merely dreaming when she stood
around discussing some burning question with him, that she had never been able to
talk to anyone else about before.
After a few inane comments about the birds being out of season, perhaps due to the long
ballyhooed climate change they kept warning about on the idiot box, she told him she had
some things to take care of inside that couldn't wait this morning. He stood on the porch
a couple moments more, detaining her; disdaining to come inside, as she had known
he would. In truth, she would rather stand out here and discuss anything with him, but she
had this need to make him feel she did not need him. Because whenever she began to
really need and rely upon his presence, he would invariably go missing again. So being nonchalant
somehow helped her keep the upper hand, the control, of the relationship. Or at least,
that was what she told herself, and it did seem to be working lately, she had to admit.
She went back inside, feeling secretly pleased he had bothered to haunt her steps again.
He was actually attractive in a non-specific kind of way, but she had long ago given up any
fantasies of a romance; of living with him; he was too much like a wild animal, which can't stomach being
indoors for more than a few minutes at a time. She had always felt this fear regarding him; that had he ever felt
himself to be trapped inside a dwelling, he would soon begin to pace and claw at the
walls, perhaps start to howl, forgetting that doors have a doorknob to open them with,
and begin digging a hole underneath the door to escape. This image always
made her smile, every time she thought of it.
There was something about him untamed, uncivilized; knowing nothing of the ways of society or
civilization, as if he had hatched out some unexpected day, in the absolute middle of nowhere.
She somehow sensed that at the bottom, the deeply hidden root of his character, was a pool
of complete chaos; but if asked to put more words to it, she would have come up empty. His debonair,
sophisticatedly careless attitude didn't fool her in the slightest. Perhaps that was why he bothered to
put on such a display; they say we always aspire to be what we know we are not. At times she had felt you could
almost take the opposite of whatever you saw folks doing, and that would be their true, inner
nature which no one could rightly deny. He always made her start to think like this; deeper, as if he
were some ignition point which could light up; reveal hidden aspects to herself, and even some darker ones,
that she easily ignored when she was alone in her humdrum daily life.
She began to sweep the front room, where the hardwood floor always seemed to have
a fine layer of dust and debris; tiny rocks off shoes, leaves; whatever the outside world
happened to be doing seemed to have its echo inside here, just past the front door.
As she was sweeping, she remembered a song she had made up in childhood, to a poem she
had once read; something about walking in velvet shoes; walking over the snow..
It calmed her, the old notes of the surprisingly good melody. She had often ached to
be musical, but she lacked that gene, even though life had seen fit to give her plenty
of unenviable genes, of which she definitely bore the scars of internally, if not externally.
She glanced over to see the answering machine still had a message notification light
blinking away. She had a sudden feeling of deja-vu which was intense and confusing.
Who would be calling her? Her finger crawled toward the playback button in slow motion, even as she
wished she could just walk away and pretend not to have noticed. She felt the feeling grow,
like walking out on a flimsy pier during a hurricane, while remembering you had done
the same thing once before, and knew that the pier had collapsed out from under you; but you felt
yourself to be in a dream, and you could not stop walking toward your doom, because you
were so caught up in the dream and also because, you felt sure that even if you tried stopping,
you might just freeze into place, and never be able to move again.
Abruptly she shook herself. This was a real message; not a dream. And though she felt angry
and didn't understand having that emotion for a message she had not yet heard (or was it just that
she never had messages, and when she did, they always connotated some bad news?)
she pushed the button at long last, and turned up the volume at the same time.
"Melanie" the female voice said, in false-friendly soprano, "You haven't refilled/picked up your
meds in quite a while. I'm sending somebody over to counsel you, and to see what's going
on there. You know how badly you need those meds to stay on an even keel. I know you said
they make you feel like a zombie, but not taking your meds is not an option. If you want
to stay independent, you are going to have to stop doing these disappearing acts on us.
Mark Phillips will be over the first Monday in November, and if you want a more specific time
for the visit, you'll have to call later, because right now we don't know what kind of caseload we..."
the words trawled off into silence as Melanie turned the volume down again.
She sat down heavily in place, with a series of uneasy thoughts passing through
her formerly at-ease and tranquil mind. Her meds..that was what he had been alluding to;
he didn't want her taking her meds. And Mark would show up as promised (too
soon; October had already run away, all except for just a few days) with a full
script and give her the heavy lecture on non compliance and tell her the three-strikes-
you're-out rule again, and this was strike number two now, at least.
Worst of all, she knew she wouldn't be seeing you-know-who again soon; because when
she was compliant, on her meds, he would have nothing to do with her; and damn,
it got so lonely then. She had never yet figured out how he knew she was taking
the presciptions again, but somehow he did. She hung her head over and began to cry softly.
Damn it, she hadn't asked for this life; what a gift it was turning out to be. The house seemed
impassive now, all around her; the normal creaks and groans seemed to have gone strangely
silent. It all boils down, she thought, in the heat of her self-righteous anger, it all boils down to the fact
that THEY- the status quo; the doctors, the supposedly mentally healthy- had no
idea at all, what life was like, dealing with this illness. And the real shame was, they never would;
they had reality to bolster themselves. She had..nothing that was real, and the only
reality they could give her was a sterile one, inside a pasty pill, and it was hollow and
vacant, like travelling down a long tube to get nowhere.
She stood up, steadied herself, and intoned solemly, I need a drink now and I'm going to have one,
almost as if somebody were arguing inside her head against it. But the arguing either went away or it was only inside her brain,
as she found a glass and filled it half full of an amber liquid. She toasted her eyes in the mirror for
a long moment, than drank down the fluid. "I've always hated you, you know", she said spitefully,
and as an after-thought, to the reflection, which did not reply in any fashion that she could hear audibly.
But somehow it seemed to be saying, I know; I know and I hate me too. If you only knew
how much..She left the empty glass then and started climbing up the stairs, where she
eventually lay down on the bed, and stared at the ceiling, as if practicing again for what it felt like,
being on the meds.
The living brain death, she enjoyed calling them. She felt an invisible, future straightjacket
coming around her; if she were non compliant for too long, they'd know; they always
did, and they'd come and take her away again, in the white van. She squeezed her eyes tightly
shut at the awful memory, willing it with her whole being to never happen again. She would take those pills.
She'd take those goddamn pills, if they killed her. Somehow she was sure that someday they would.
He stood outside, looking up at the bedroom window for a long time. Shaking his head, he walked
away and stopped at the pecan tree, where he began picking up and throwing pecans
at nothing in particular. He needed her, to survive. He wondered if she ever suspected
he lived his entire life through her. One thing was for sure. She had never had enough empathy
for him. He knew she took him for granted; but that would never stop him from coming around.
Only one thing could do that. And he had a feeling she still didn't understand that
aspect of their communication. Maybe it was time to tell her the truth about some
things. But he shrank away from anything which had the propensity to become emotional
or too dramatic. He just didn't have within himself any of that, and had never been able to
deal effectively with it. Even one on one. And that was the only way he had ever existed; one
He was every bit the prisoner that she thought herself to be. The only death he
could imagine for himself, was if she never allowed him to be in her environment again.
And that wasn't as a lover, ruminating that he would die without his beloved's arms to
welcome him. It was much more about being a parasite, whom she encouraged to
visit her world on a daily basis. He knew he was very like a parasite and yet, he couldn't
summon up any feelings about it. Somehow he needed to express himself through
her feelings, and she was so secretive with him. If only he could learn some way to
loosen her up. She had seemed a perpetual Spring of newness when younger, but
now she resembled nothing so much as an ancient Winter, drained of everything but
a certain light, which though bright, promised nothing of life or vitality, but only hinted at a sort of
somber endurance; a disinclination to make any actual disturbing motions in the cosmos.
It was a dry, boring bone of an existence, but it was the only one he could rely on for now.
And only for as long as she allowed him. His life was so conscripted by it's conditions,
freedom was something he had never even dreamed of; even if he had known what sleeping was.