Very unhappy with this. But it was the first thing I wrote in months, so I figure I shouldn’t dismiss it out of hand, and just think about why I hate it and how I can get better.
This wasn’t where he wanted to be. He didn’t know where he wanted to be, but it wasn’t here. And that was the problem, really. When he thought like this, he would scrunch his eyes up tight and think where he most wanted to be in the world. It didn’t take him any closer to it, but it put a shape, a fist around his anxiety.
And now it was dark. Was that what he wanted? He could get up, walk over to the road and escape into the night. His car was nearby, and no matter how he tried to convince himself, he knew he has enough fuel to get home. He knew he hadn’t left the radio on. He knew his engine would splutter treacherously into life at the first twist of a key. He could leave, go home.
That would be for the best, and hadn’t he always done what was best? Held doors open, brushed his teeth, bandaged up hearts and minds and bodies. And kept his hands clean, oh so clean. Bleach and bleach and bleach. But there was no bleach for the soul, no bleach for the mind.
He refocused his eyes, tore his gaze away from the nothing, and came home to his head. The town was still below him, tucked under a hill and surrounded by miles and miles of open fields. It had been a hot summer, and the autumn had stretched longer than it should, outstayed its welcome. The fields were scorched, parched, calling out for a respite, or, failing that, for death. Funny that, that the farmer must come and chop the heads off his crops, else they would rot in the ground and grow back weaker; weedier.
It was still warm, and that wasn’t right. It should be cold, the night. Cold and lonely and empty.
He knew he should be sleeping. In the morning, Big Kelly would need his dogs let out, and Mrs Tanner would need her ankle checked and her breakfast made, and the Martins would expect him to call by to weigh the baby, and that was only before noon. All those little things that helped the day slip by a little easier.
And they repaid him in secrets, secrets he didn’t want, secrets he couldn’t hold. No one could hold that much petty hate, ancient grudges, lost dreams. No one could wrap up the wounds of fear and loneliness and neglect.
He sometimes wondered if he wanted to die.
He had taken care of an old woman once. Mrs Annen, eighty years young but a thousand years old. She was one in a hundred, one lost in a hundred.
She would gaze blankly at the television screen, seemingly engrossed in the news that he knew she couldn’t see without her glasses. He thought now, that when she did that, she was straining to break free from her body, straining to die. He never thought dying was hard. He thought it was the easiest thing in the world. You just told your body to shut down, fed toxins to your spleen and liver and heart and waited for the darkness. He thought living was the hard part. But when he watched her, sitting in her horrible paisley chair that was worn from years of monotony, he knew. he knew that she was yearning, calling, pleading with death. Shouting, screaming, begging to be heard.
But after hours of silent shrieks, no shadowy figure would enter the room; no scythe would swing and block out the lamps. Instead, the room would slowly fill up with the stench of human waste and it would begin again.
She died, eventually. He was glad when she did, and felt guilty for it, but he was also glad he felt guilty, so that was all right.
He tried to focus again on the lights below, but couldn’t shake the malaise from his eyes. It dragged him down, dragged his eyes down to his hand, where the match burned. It had almost burned half way; his fingers felt warm. He dropped it in the dry grass. From here, the dead hay fields stretched to the heart of the town. The houses had been built around the fields, not the other way ’round. He knew this time of year was dangerous; two boys had set a campfire one night a few years ago, not two miles off. The only thing that had stopped the flames from reaching the town when they fell asleep was the combination of the river and one lonely insomniac. And now the river had dried up and the insomniac was happily dead to the world, on prescription, of course.
Chop off the heads to let new growth begin. Build from the bottom up. The farmers knew how it worked, they did it with a bad crop or a bad breed all the time. He watched the match. The flame was fading; it had not yet found another host for its fury. He eased it closer to a crop of black-brown spikes with his boot.
All the sadness, the beatings, the empty bottles. All the loss, the despair, the hatred. All the sin, the shame, the fear. Dig it out, dig out the rot and let the heart beat again.
The match was a lone star in the sky at his feet; it danced a lonely and sombre waltz in his eyes.
It winked out. Night swept over him, vast and thick and choking. He staggered and felt himself shatter in the breeze; to a thousand pieces, to shards, each sharper than the last. The dark blew through him, knew him.
He found his glasses where he had left them. The car started on the first go. As he drove back to town he found himself planning the afternoon errands. Mr Shannon would be napping, so he’d call on the Clarke family first to see to the children’s flu, and then pop into the farm on his way back. And the enemy, chaos, was defeated once more, he thought, and then started at the sound of his own voice.