Sunday, December 25, 2011

Chapter Eleven

I hate those days when I realize my life has already changed.

I get up with my shirt twisted around my torso and my eyes all narrow and full of sleep, and I stagger down the hallway to the bathroom. I just stand there, bracing myself, one hand on either side of the sink, staring at my hair as it turns from blue to blonde. Almost right in front of me, it's fading, and as always, I'm left with my imperfections and my black eye to prove I'm still alive.

The boy in the mirror is just that. A boy. He isn't even a man. He's a scared, alienated boy in an adult's body with fading blue hair and a bruise under one eye, and he's just as lost as I am.

I stare at myself and I smile, but my reflection doesn't smile, and I can't blame him anymore.


Everything is internal. Some days, it's an act, this outside world. Other days, it's just as real as the inside world.

I'm sitting in my car in the work parking lot with the doors still locked, staring at my steering wheel, and over the pressurized ringing in my ears I can hear Martha's little muffled cries of distress and the sounds of her pulling at the door handle.

I close my eyes and sigh, because I've got a headache starting behind my eyes.

The sounds of Martha grow more and more quiet until I can barely feel the movement of the car from her efforts to get in. After a second or two, I open my eyes, and it all rushes in like water: the car rocking back and forth, Martha talking excitedly, her hand yanking at my door handle.

I motion for her to get back, and then I unlock my door. She opens it and says, “Your doors are tricky.”


I would say I've been in the office about ten minutes when chaos breaks out. Martha's knocking at the door, then she's coming in without waiting for an answer, and I'm fantasizing about slamming the door on her neck.

“Old people!” she says, out of breath, and she bends down and puts her hands on her knees, exhausted, then she continues, “We got a guy won't let Rita finish taking his order.”

I lean back in the office chair and imagine putting all the pens and pencils in a cannon and firing them at her. “What?” I ask her.

“Old people,” she says again, gasping for breath.

“Martha sit down. It can't be that bad.”

“It's not, but I ran all the way to the office,” she says.

We sit in the office, staring at each other for a few minutes, and I can hear the old man at the counter already saying, “I didn't say no onions, god damn you!”

Finally, I say, as I get up to leave the office, “Martha, you're a ridiculous person.”

Her eyes are huge and she's still puffing. “Yeah,” she says.

“It ought to be illegal,” I tell her quietly as I leave the room.

I round the corner by fryers and I see him at the counter, hunched over the register, his face inches from the face of my newest employee, Rita, who is backing away, hands still on the keypad.

“And I didn't say nothing about no god damned mustard!” He's yelling at her, and I can almost see spit from his mouth saturating her eyeball.

He backs off when he sees me, looking at me with his mouth still open, then he says, “You the manager of this dive?”

“I manage this dive,” I tell him, coming up to the register.

His eyebrows went up onto his forehead and he said, “Boy I don't know what, but your employees are some real pieces of work.” He looks over at Rita and back to me and says, “This dummy can't even ring up an order right.”

“Rita,” I say to her quietly, “Go get me a bag of shake mix.”

She stares at me for a second, and Danny says from the kitchen, “Do it!”

She runs to the back of the store, and I take over the register. And it's some kind of showdown, he and I. Our eyes lock.

“Whopper,” he says after a full minute of silence. “No onion.”

“Whopper no onion,” I say back to him as I punch the order into the keypad.

He makes a noise of disgust. “I didn't say nothing about no god damned onion!”

I look directly at him, and he looks at me. He leans over the register to look down at the keypad.

“Whopper,” he says again, looking up at me but not backing away.

“Whopper,” I repeat.

His eyes narrow, and I'm waiting.

“No onion,” he says, slowly and deliberately.

“No onion,” I say back to him.

His eyes gets really big behind his glasses. “Motherfucker!” He yells, and all the other guests turn to look at us.

“Listen to me when I'm ordering!” he yells.

His wife is coming up behind him now, looking just as pissed off as he is.

“Can't you hear?” she says to me, practically a hiss.

I smile at her.

“You gonna just stand there?” the old man says.

“Get out,” I tell them quietly, my stomach turning into acid.

He opens his mouth to say something else, and his wife says, “We're paying customers!”

I close my eyes and imagine them both on fire.

“I can't take your order if you're purposely screwing around with it for fun,” I say, opening my eyes.

“What?” the old woman asks incredulously, taking a step forward.

“Don't come any closer,” I tell her quickly. Then I say to her husband, “If you want to order a sandwich, order a sandwich. Do not come in here and play with the heads of my employees. They're paid minimum wage. They can only care so much.”

“Oh my goodness!” the old woman says, putting a hand on her chest, then she points at me, her eyes angry, “What bad service!” She turns to the dining room, still pointing at me and says, “Are you hearing this?”

“Just leave,” I tell them, sighing. “Don't come in here again. You're banned.”

“You can't ban us!” the old man says.

I pick the manager book up off the counter and laugh, turning away. “It's my Burger King,” I tell him. “And this isn't 1954. You might consider some common courtesy when dealing with service people.”

And I go back around the corner of the fryers with their mouths gaping, and the old man calls after me, “I'm reporting you! I'm reporting all of you!”

I slam the office door behind me.


I've had my head on the desk for no more than ten seconds when the phone rings.

I let it ring, the sound echoing through my head, the pressure building in my ears.

I stop counting after the fourth ring, and then it stops, leaving only pure, clean silence.

After a few minutes, I hear Martha knocking, then the door opening. I don't look up, because Martha doesn't need my approval to begin speaking.

“District manager says he'll be in tomorrow to talk to you,” she says behind me.

I close my eyes and nod against the table.

I feel a wet little hand on my shoulder, soaking the fabric of my uniform shirt.

“I still got some Xanex if you need it,” she says to me.

“Xanex,” I repeat, barely aware of having spoken at all.


It's one of those days. I follow an impulse to leave the store with Martha, and she's more than happy to become the Burger King martyr. Her happy, round face smiling over the counter as I leave.

Let her have it.


As I'm pulling into the driveway at home, I hear my phone vibrating in the cup holder between the seats. It might be anyone. It might be Martha relinquishing her throne.

I put the car in park and look up at the house. It stares down at my car with black-shuttered windows like eyes. It looks like the other houses around it. I suppose if I didn't live here I might never have known it existed.

My phone vibrates again, and I grab it from the cup holder.

HARRISON, it says.

I open the message.

Starbucks? Is all the message says.

I sigh, thinking about it, and then I send a reply: Yeah. 20 minutes.


I'm taking the bus. I haven't ridden the bus in a few days. Perhaps it's missed me, too.

People and cars and storefronts fly by through the windows behind the heads of other passengers, and I realize I should have stayed home. Here I am, apparently fearless.

We're very good at hurting ourselves, though. We stretch ourselves across the tracks even as the light and the rumble of the train come closer than ever.

Maybe that's me on those tracks. Maybe I'm off the bus now, on my back, my eyes squeezed shut.

The ground is definitely shaking, and the sound is almost deafening.

Part of me still thinks it won't happen. Maybe someone's coming to pull me out of the way. It'll start small, this rescue. A presence beside me in the chaos, the air full of panic and sound, and when I open my eyes there will be a shadow against the blinding lights and rumbling death that's coming and coming, never stopping.

A hand on mine, sparks igniting against the rails.

It sounds really nice.


So we're sitting at a table now, coffees and napkins and spent sugar packets littering the surface, and he's in the middle of telling me about his day.

This isn't why we're here.

I don't know why we're here, but this isn't it.

I can't pretend it doesn't matter now. “Why are we here?” I ask him.

He stops talking and looks at me. I stir my coffee and look down at my hand stirring it, feeling tiny and angry and sad all at once.

“I wanted to see you,” he says.

We sit in silence for a while. I can practically hear the clock over the cash register ticking at the front of the building.

Finally he adds, “I have to tell you something.”

“Please don't,” I say quietly.

I'm still looking at my hands, so far away, with the coffee and the napkins on the table.

Then I see his hand take mine, and I look up at him, my heart pounding.

“Aaron, I miss you,” he says quietly. “When you aren't with me. I miss you and it hurts.”

This is something nice to hear. I don't know why. It shouldn't matter that he misses me, but my eyes are wet now.

He smiles, sort of a half-smile, and he looks away. “I don't know what I'm saying,” he says, his voice quiet and cracking.

I look out the window behind him at the cars going by. They're going somewhere far from this Starbucks. Some of them will never be back.

“Don't worry about it,” I say to him. “I think it's best this way.”

His hand tightens on mine, and my heart is beating me to death, and then he lets go. We're almost strangers now, sitting across from each in a Starbucks.


There are always dishes to be done. Warren's home, and I can hear the small sounds of aliens dying onscreen in the basement. I've got the lights off in the kitchen so I can see the siding of the house next door.

I'm not really looking at it, though. I'm not really paying attention to the dishes, either.

I'm thinking of the bus ride back to University Strip, my hand mingling with Harrison's between us on the seats, skin cells uniting in the cold fluorescent bus lights.

It's ridiculous to think like this, but here I am, thinking it.

Nothing is like it was.

Even the walls are alive with change, now.

About midnight, I decide that I'm going to make a cake. I have no idea why or where this idea came from, but I'm doing it.

I've got a sink full of discarded mixing bowls and utensils when Warren comes upstairs and asks why I'm baking.

“I wanted to make a cake,” I tell him, leaning against the counter.

He flips the light on and I blink.

“You made a cake in the dark,” he informs me, closing the basement door behind him.

“I did,” tell him, smiling at him.

He laughs from in front of the door and says, “In the dark” again.

“In the dark. I could see just fine,” I say to him, starting to feel a little defensive about the whole thing.

He goes into the living room after a minute, and I hear him say, “Alright. I'll have some when it's done.”

I turn to the sink, once again full of dishes, these ones covered in cake batter and eggs and flour.

“What kind of icing?” he calls to me from the Living room over the sound of laughter from the TV.

“Fuck icing,” I say, quietly.

I start filling the sink with water again.


We eat cake in the Living Room, with plastic forks and paper towels.

“This isn't too bad,” Warren says with his mouth full.

“I told you I could see just fine,” I tell him.

The TV audience roars with laughter.


I've got the storage room clean now. It looks like an actual room, instead of a pile of unused crap. I've even got my clothes in here, in a pile on the chair.

I can hear Warren on the stairs, and then he's standing in the doorway to my room. I hear his uncomfortable little movements against the door frame, and then he says, “I love you, Aaron.”

I guess it isn't so bad. I think of my hand on Harrison's again, our skin burning, and I say, “I love you, too.”

A few seconds later, the door to the bedroom down the hall closes behind him.


Who knows where we go from here? It's a good question. No one knows, I guess. It's probably better that way.

I'm on a bed right now. That much is evident. But where I go from here is not. The one thing I do know, is that everything is different. The walls and the windows and my reflection in the mirror look the same, but they aren't.


About 6AM, before the sun comes up, I get out of bed.

I've decided to pack a suitcase. After that, I don't know. My brain is full of ideas, but they're mostly nonsense.

A suitcase, though. That's a good idea.

So I sneak into the hallway and open the closet and I get a suitcase from my old luggage set. I start to pack clothes and whatever else I'd want to take with me if I left for good.

It's disheartening how little fits into one bag.

My phone vibrates as I'm standing there, staring at my heap of clothes in the chair.

I pick my phone up off the table by the bed.

HARRISON, it says.

The message is simple enough. I guess it's the last thing I'm expecting. I love you, it says.


In my dreams, I stayed on the path after high school. I stayed in college. In my dreams, the world I inhabit is free of dishes ill feelings and regret. I don't know. I guess that's stupid. I don't talk about it much. But I always end up on the train tracks, waiting to be run over.

This time, though, through the dark and the sound and the blinding light of the train, I see a form block the light and kneel beside me. The ground is shaking, and I can feel a hand on mine, the roar of the train so close I can smell the metal of the wheels against the rails.

“Who are you?” I want to ask this person.

But right then, I can feel the cake and dinner and everything I ever ate coming up my esophagus, and I wake up cold and sweaty, a lump forming in my throat.

There are words, but I can't say them. I can only sit and gasp and wait for my breathing to slow down. I look at my phone, then out the window, then I sigh and lie back down. I grab my phone and I text Harrison back. I'm leaving soon, my message says, and I put the phone back on the table.

Then I turn over and close my eyes and think of all the places I could have been by now. All those places are still there, continuing without me.

The places I might have lived have found other people to inhabit them.

Houses on streets I've never seen.

The world is full of freeways leading to distant towns.

Bus stations and buildings sit silent in the night, knowing that someone will come in the morning, even if I never materialize.

I've got a suitcase waiting by the door, just in case.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chapter Ten

Sometimes, I get that call at ass o'clock in the morning from work, and it's Martha.

I usually hear the vibration first, small and echoing down a dark hall, and then I'm awake and it's my phone. It takes about five minutes to find my phone and another ten minutes to remember how to operate it.

WORK, it says on the screen.

This happens more than it should.

These are the days when I pray for a bus to hit me on the way in. Because I'll have to go in. There's no getting around it.

I'm laying here awake right now, listening to my phone vibrate, and I'm wondering why I'm awake.

Eventually, I send the call to voice mail. Maybe the robotic voice that tells ignored callers my phone number will help Martha not blow up the store. The world is thick and full of water, and my breathing is deeper than I'm used to and I can't do anything about it but yawn.

After a minute I realize I haven't heard the voice mail noise. Martha isn't one for voice mail. I haven't figured out if this is because she's afraid of robotic voices or because she doesn't know how to operate a phone well enough to leave one.

And just like that, my phone starts vibrating again.


I snatch it off the coffee table and say, “Martha. For the love of god. What is it?”

I can hear the sound of absolute chaos behind her panicked little voice, and I know that judgment day has truly arrived. “The computer's frozen, Aaron! It won't do nothing! I don't know what to do. We're taking orders with pen and paper.”

I might as well get in my car and start driving.

“Martha, restart it.”

I'm answered by about five minutes of total silence against the sound of yelling and the beeping of the drive thru. Then she says, “It won't do nothing.”

I sigh and close my eyes and wish that she knew what to do. “Martha,” I say finally, in a calm voice, “I want you to hold the power button for five seconds. Can you do that for me?”

Then more silence and some heavy breathing, and she says, “It won't do nothing.”

This is why I don't do tech support.

“I'll be in later. I'm a few hours away,” I tell her, and I hang up.


This is the story of my life. I take a vacation and shit happens. Here I am, in my car on State Route 505, heading into town.

Early morning darkened fields and houses fly by, and I'm still yawning.

These are the days I think about just not going in. Just letting Burger King burn to the ground.

Seriously. I daydream about it being on fire sometimes, and me in the parking lot laughing with all the fire extinguishers in a pile at my feet.

I don't think that's healthy.


When I get to work, I see a line in drive thru that wraps around the building and out into the street. I think about driving right past, but I manage to get into the lot through the back entrance and park in the last space left on the employee side. It looks like Martha's literally called in all the morning people, and some of the night people.

She meets me at my car and starts to yank on the handle. It takes every bit of patience that I have not to open the door as hard as I can and send her backwards.

I unlock the door and let her open it for me.

“We got chaos,” she says to me, out of breath.


I find and hold the power button in five seconds and order is restored within about half an hour.

It's now 5AM. I'm in the office with my head on the desk, drooling onto the forms in front of me when the phone rings.

I put it on speaker. “Burger King,” I say into the phone, which is all I can remember of the opening spiel at the moment.

“Hello?” a voice says. Then it sounds angry, “HELLO?”

“You're on speaker, Ma'am,” I tell the phone.

“You people need to get your shit together,” says the clipped voice on the phone. I know this woman. She calls every day.

I sigh and imagine her exploding into a thousand tiny particles and floating into some dark abyss beyond the receiver.

“What seems to be the issue?” I say as calmly as I can.

“Well,” she says, and she sighs before continuing, “I'll start by saying you need to personally get your ass out here and give me my god damned sandwiches like I paid for.”

I sigh again. “The same sandwiches we've replaced for you every day for the last four years?” I ask.

There's silence on the other side, then she says, “That's just it, though. They're always missing.”

“Ma'am,” I say, my voice rising over her, “We hand you two bags full of sandwiches every single day. Are you telling me that those bags are empty?”

Her voice becomes irritated. “Look, I'm not saying you're not putting them in the bags. What I'm saying is that they aren't in the bags when I open them.”

“When you open them,” I say.

“When I open them,” she repeats, irritably.

I am about to end this call.

“At home?” I ask, as calmly as possible.

“No, in the car.”

“You check the bags when we hand them to you?”

There's a pause. “Of course I do. What the hell kind of idiot drives off without checking to make sure the food is there?”

“Ma'am,” I say to her, “If the food is missing when we hand you the bags, it would be smarter to tell us right then, rather than going through all the trouble of having to call in and drive all the way back to Burger king. And if 8 large sandwiches are somehow vanishing between the drive thru window and your car window, you've got some sort of time vortex on your hands. I'll be glad to get someone to exorcise your car window.”

My statement is met with silence at first, then an indignant noise, and she says, “Listen you snotty little bastard, I want my sandwiches.”

“Do you have the receipt?”

“You think after all this time I'd still have the original receipt?”

“Ma'am, there's a receipt in each bag we've handed you, unless it vanishes with the 8 sandwiches.” Then I add, “furthermore, I refuse to believe that my crew is dumb enough to hand out 2 empty bags every day to the same car and not realize it.”

More silence.

“Bring in the receipt and you'll get your sandwiches. I'm not giving you any more free food. You've stolen from me for long enough. I think after four years, it's time you started paying to eat here.”

As I'm about to hang up, I hear her yelling about talking to my manager. I sigh and pick up the handset, and I say to her, “I AM the manager.” And I slam the handset into the cradle, likely ending my career.

I look down at my phone. No text messages, no calls.

I text Harrison: I'm home.

I sit in the office for the rest of breakfast with my head on the desk, and my phone doesn't vibrate once.


It's not that I hate Warren. I mean, I'm a little upset. I will say that. I've spent the last few months wishing one of us would pull away and now that it's happened, I'm not so sure I feel the same.

I don't know.

Maybe I think sometimes that only I feel things. I don't think that's normal.

It's an uneventful drive to the house, and part of me is feeling pretty okay about seeing Warren. I sort of want to see him and talk to him right now.

When I pull into the driveway, I notice a car in front of the house that I don't recognize. A little car, blue and beaten up.

A feeling starts inside me that I can't really describe.

After standing next to the trunk of my car for a few minutes staring at this car, I turn to look up at the house, The blinds in our bedroom windows are closed.

I go up the path to the house and up the steps and into the living room, and in a sudden fit of anger, I slam the front door as hard as I can. I can hear pictures falling off the bedroom walls upstairs, and the dishes rattle in the kitchen.

I can hear them now. Two voices, and footsteps upstairs. Then I hear someone on the stairs, and I watch the stairs through the opening to the hallway ahead of me. Someone is emerging, and when he's almost to the bottom, he sees me. Our eyes lock.

This guy is really young. Just out of high school, maybe. Either he's just thrown his clothes back on or he doesn't know how to dress himself. He looks at me like he thinks I'm going to kill him, and then he jumps the last three steps, landing with a bang on his feet, and runs into the kitchen and through the laundry room at the back of the house and out the back door. The screen door slams shut, and I can hear him running along the side of the house through the open window in the kitchen. After a second, a car roars to life, and I open the front door and watch him leave.

I find Warren upstairs in the bathroom looking guilty, his toothbrush sticking out of his mouth.

We stare at each other for a few minutes, and then I say, “I'm home.”

He pulls the toothbrush out of his mouth and kind of smiles at me. “Hey,” he says quietly.

“Hey,” I say, and I want to smash something.

“How was your trip?” he asks finally.

I smile and back out of the bathroom into the hall. I turn and start to go back downstairs, but then I go back up and into the bathroom where he's still standing.

“It was shitty,” I tell him after a second or two of us just staring at each other.

And then I go back downstairs and out the front door.


Besides Subway, I go to the bookstore on University Strip when life pisses me off. It's quiet, and I can think about stuff.

I miss living in denial. I really do. I remember when I thought I was doing Warren a favor by staying. I mean, how did I get to this point? Sitting in a book store staring at a book that I have no plans to buy or read?

I don't know.

I'm aware of a person sliding into my booth, just across the table, and when I look up it's Harrison.

“Hey,” he says.

“I sent you a text,” I tell him quietly, looking back down at my book.

We're silent for a while, letting this revelation marinate in the sharp tone I'm using just now.

“I got it,” he says finally. He laughs a little.

“Alright,” I say, for lack of better response. I don't look up at him.

The space between us is once again filled with dense, palpable silence, and it makes my ears ring.

“I'm bad at responding.”

“You don't say,” I tell him, not letting my tone soften.

More silence. What a game this is.

“I haven't known what to say to you since you and Warren broke up,” he says to me. I can feel his eyes on me.

I sigh and put the book down and stare at the table. He tries to put his hand on mine and I pull it away after a second, and he looks confused.

“It's not like I died,” I tell him, looking up at him finally.

And I get up from the booth, leaving the book on the table.

He gets up to follow me out and I just keep walking.

“Aaron!” he calls to me from the doorway of the book store, but I'm already across the street and heading home.

Not that I want to be home.

I just don't want to be here anymore.


Warren's gone when I get there. His parking spot behind the garage is empty, and there's no one inside the house.

I'm not sleeping in that bed tonight.


I've been cleaning the storage room for a few hours when I hear the front door open into the living room downstairs. The world outside the window of this room is dark and invisible.

I hear his footsteps in the hall and then into the kitchen, then down the basement stairs, fading into nothing. A TV turns on far away.

I'm sitting here cleaning the storage room like some kind of fucked up archeological dig. I've discovered a bed and the ruins of a dresser so far. Most of these boxes seem to be dishes and glasses.

Another hour passes of me shoving things off the dresser and vacuuming the mattress on the bed before I hear him coming up the stairs to the second floor.

I stand and go to the doorway to watch him come up the stairs. He looks over at me when he can see over the top of the stairs.

I look away from him and go to the closet in the hall and get some bed clothes and go back to the room. I turn to look at him again because he's on the landing now. He just stands there with this tired look on his face, and I bet I look just as tired. I turn to go into the room.

“I'm sorry,” he calls after me as I drop the sheets and blanket onto the bed.

“Yeah me too, I guess,” I tell him, coming back to the open door. My chest is killing me. Indigestion I suppose.

“We didn't do it in the bed,” he says to me.

And suddenly it gets worse. I imagine all the other places they could have done it, and I want to be dead. I want to be dead so bad.

“I don't care where you did it,” I tell him, my voice raw and bitter and full of ice.

And he bites his lip, staring at me.

“Goodnight,” I tell him.

He smiles, kind of, still biting his lip, and then he says, “Goodnight.”

I nod and start to close the door.

“I love you,” he says from behind the door, and suddenly I want to break everything in this house.

“Yeah okay,” I tell him quickly, and I shut the door.

There's silence on the other side for a few minutes, then his footsteps are going down the hall, toward the bedroom.


My phone has been going off for nearly an hour, text after text. It's after midnight, and I am exhausted.

I guess I should look at these texts. I know who it is. He's going to a lot of trouble to send them over and over, even when I don't answer. I just wish it would stop.

When I look at the phone, it says HARRISON.

I smile and look at the most recent message.

I want to see you, it says.


I guess this is supposed to teach me something, this whole process of being destroyed. Maybe I'm about to be reborn.

I sigh and put my phone on the pillow beside my head and I look over at the window.

It's funny to me how fragile we all are. I guess it isn't really by choice but it's not like we have no control over things.

I guess maybe we're all just fucked up pieces of shit, trying to be human.

So I grab my phone and send Harrison a response.

Tomorrow, I tell him.

And I turn my phone off and stare at the ceiling.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm really alive or if I really exist. Stupid questions.

I don't know.

I may not exist.

I don't know anymore.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Chapter Nine

This day is definitely new. I've never been here before.

Yesterday, I was mourning the loss of my stupid normal safe existence. Today, I've woken up to realize that it's still here. Here I am, lying in this sofabed with Warren as the sun starts to show through the curtains in the living room. Things are changing, surely. Something inside me is growing new parts, something new and shaky and blind, waiting to be born. But it seems as though nothing outside of me realizes that a change is at hand. The walls are the same, the TV filled with morning talk show hosts, and the kitchen promises breakfast dishes, should I choose to create them.

Who are we to deny change? Or refuse to stay the same? We can't do both.

Imagine a car, ripping through a guardrail of a bridge. This is a theme in my life.

Let's say this bridge is over some unknown void, and the car is just sailing into it with blind conviction that it will hit something.

A river, the ground, maybe even a freeway full of other cars.

It will hit something and it will all be over, finally. The payoff.

But this car is stuck in mid-arc. Time is frozen for it, and all it wants is to be part of the carnage.

Maybe that car is me.

Or maybe I'm driving it.

But I'm starting to think of myself as the car. A willing participant, short-lived, with nothing to lose.

I am in control.


I'm getting the cereal down from the cabinet, and Warren stops me, putting a hand on my wrist.

"Where do you want to go for breakfast?" he asks me.

I make a face at him. "I want my cereal," I tell him finally.

"We're going out," he says.

"Out?" I ask, the word new in my mind.

He laughs and lets go of my wrist. He raises his eyebrows and says, "We're going out. Coffee would be nice."

"Coffee," I say, watching him go through the doorway into the laundry room.

I hear the sounds of clothes going into the washer, and water running. After a few minutes, he comes back and we look at each other as he passes me to go upstairs.

"You started laundry," I call after him.

I hear him laugh as he goes upstairs. Warren does not do laundry. I walk into the hall and I can hear him upstairs opening and closing doors.

When he comes back down, I say, "Are you drunk?"

And he stops moving, his smile goes away. I instantly feel bad.


I opt for iced coffee because I don't like hot coffee that much. Warren gets hot coffee.

"You know you can stay in the house," he says to me.

I sigh, and I turn my iced coffee on the table between my fingers.

Finally, I look up at him and smile, and I say, "I don't know what I'm going to do yet."

He looks incredibly sad. A kicked puppy. A hungry kitten.

I close my eyes. Go away, go away, I tell him in my mind.

"Maybe I'll get an apartment or something," I say finally, not opening my eyes.

I hear him take a deep breath.

"An apartment," he says quietly.

Neither of us says anything for a while, and I decide to open my eyes. He's staring at his coffee.

"What did I do to deserve this?" He asks me.

I open my mouth to say something, but I can't. My stomach is bile. My veins are ice roads leading away from this moment, leading anywhere else. Who cares where they lead?

"You broke up with me. You don't get to be hurt," I tell him.

And he looks away, irritated. He shakes his head, and then after a few minutes, he looks right at me.

"You have no idea what it's like for me. You only see you. I'm some kind of obstacle to you," he says quietly, his voice low.

I have no response. My hands are fists on the table.

"Where did you go?" He says finally, his voice forceful. People turn to stare.

"What are you talking about?" I ask, looking around, "Keep your voice down."

"You haven't been with me in years," he says, his eyes sad.


On the way home, walking along Bernard Street, he keeps looking at me.

"Come home, Aaron," he says.

And I cross my arms in front of me, tears filling my eyes for some stupid reason that I can't fathom.

"Maybe I don't want to come home, Warren. Maybe I want to stay gone."

And we stop walking, staring at each other across the three feet separating us. If I wanted to, I could reach out, take his hand, and we could walk like that. But instead, he turns away and starts walking toward home again, faster this time.


I'm about to take my bags out to the car when he stops me, blocking the doorway, leaning on the door frame.

We stare at each other for a while, me with a duffel bag over one shoulder, and we don't say anything.

"I can't be mad at you," he says finally.

"Why not?" I ask, almost annoyed, but mostly relieved. It comes out as a broken squeak of a question.

He smiles, a sad half-smile.

And then he moves out of the way so that I can take my bag to the car.

I sigh and hurry outside.

When I come back to the door, he's blocking the door again.

I stand there, looking up at him from down the back steps and neither of us says anything. His eyes aren't sad anymore. They aren't really anything, but he looks defeated.

"Don't go," he says finally.


As I cross the bridge over 505, I think again of the car tearing through the guardrail, and I know that I'm the car. A willing participant, not a victim.

And who knows what's at the bottom? Who cares if I sink into a river or explode against a sea of oncoming sheet metal? Who cares if I even make it to the bottom at all?

I stop the car on the other side and put my head back against the headrest.

There's a lot in my head right now. All of it's colliding and destroying itself. Over it all, I'm trying not to scream, because I would have to scream to be heard. But I don't think I want to be heard.

After a minute or two, my car is back on the road.


I haven't been home in years. Literally years. I met Warren a while ago. Five years? Six? Something like that.

To put things into perspective, they've never met him.

They didn't want to meet him.

My family is not totally friendly to outsiders. They get me, they're cool with my lifestyle and all that mushy nonsense. They just don't like Warren, because he took me away.

I left them for the city, and for school, and when I met Warren, I left them behind completely. And then I left everything else.

This trip is not without fear and regret, believe me.

Going home at this point is like driving into a brick wall on purpose.


I realize as I start to see the first white farmhouses and red barns and bored cows standing in pastures that I've made a mistake, but I can't turn the car around now. I've come to far. The windows of the buildings downtown stare at me, trying to remember my name.

I am a ghost here. I may never have existed.

My car is a stranger among the beaten, broken Cadillac sedans and pickup trucks. I pass the funeral home and the hearses waiting for the body. I pass the Wal-mart and the Burger King, so different from ours, and I pass the park and then I'm in the residential section. People who don't farm live here, and they own the buildings downtown or they work at one of the factories.

One of these houses is a low flagstone ranch with a treeless backyard. This is where my car stops. I sit in my car, not moving, eyes closed. Shut up, shut up, I tell myself.


The door is red, with a Christmas wreath hanging on it. People here like to start decorating for Christmas before Halloween.

I've got my two bags, one on either side of me at my feet, and here I am.

My hand hesitates, then knocks, then rings the doorbell.

I hear movement behind the door. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the curtains move behind the picture window and I think: I can leave now. I can go home. This isn't my home anymore.

But then the door opens behind the storm door and my aunt is standing there. She seems to have become an old woman, and she looks like she doesn't know who I am at first. I can almost see her formulating a polite way to send me away, but then there's a spark of memory behind her eyes.

"Aaron," she says.

And she opens the storm door excitedly, smiling, and moves aside to let me in.

"Look at your hair!" she says as I pass, and I can smell her perfume. She laughs and shuts the door as I step into the long, paneled living room full of mid-1990s artifacts. The air in here is musty.

I turn to look at her, and she looks at me. She sighs, satisfied with the situation, then she says, "Your old room is an office now. We figure you can stay out here on the couch or with Pete in his room."


The kitchen is the same size as the living room, with all the cabinets and appliances on one side, and the table on the other. The backyard is bright and sunlit through the sliding glass doors. We're sitting at the table now, she with her newspaper and me with my quiet regret.

"Your uncle won't be here unfortunately," she says finally over her reading glasses. "He had to make a run to Chicago."

I had noticed that his truck was gone.

She looks up at me again and smiles. "Aaron," she says. "You feeling alright?"

"I'm alright," I tell her, my stomach cramping.

She lets go of her newspaper and takes my hand. I look directly at her. She smiles and says, "Pete will be home at some point."

"Pete," I say.

"He's missed you a lot," she says. She laughs, and after a minute, she lets go of my hand. She puts her paper down and looks at me with the sad look I've gotten used to people giving me lately. "I suppose we've all missed you, Aaron," she says finally. She looks to her right, out the glass doors. "When you left, Pete just stopped being himself. Your uncle and I hardly recognize him these days."

I take a deep breath and let it out, but it comes out with a shudder. My hands are cold.

"Things don't change here," she says to me. Then she chuckles. "Except for the kids," she adds. "You and Pete, you've both changed. You've got blue hair and he's getting married."

"Married," I say, not quite remembering what the word means. I sit there, sinking into the vinyl dining chair.

She shakes her head and says, "I'm not complaining, but that girl makes me wish Pete had turned out like you. You know what I mean."

I laugh, suddenly feeling okay, and I say, "Why's that?"

She winks at me and says, "Because I'm not ready to be a grandma. I'm not old enough." Then she sighs and says, "And that filthy girl is determined to make me one."

Something about this is so funny that I can't not laugh.

And then we're laughing together.


I've been gone a long time it turns out. They've torn down the drive-in and put up a strip mall. The town has somehow grown a Chinese buffet. A Walgreen's sprouted at one of the three stoplights. Things have changed, after all.

I'm walking down the main road, something I haven't done in years. It's not like home at all, here. It's familiar, but faintly alien.

I find the library has new books, but the building is the same.

I hear my phone vibrate on the way through the park downtown. I pull it out of my hoodie pocket and it says HARRISON. The message says, When are you coming back?

I put my phone back without replying.


I get back a few hours later, and as I'm walking up the street toward the house, my car looks content to be here. I wish I could say the same.


Pete has become an anomaly, a sort of mythical person who is never actually home anymore. My aunt mentions him throughout the day. She talks about him briefly as we eat dinner, and again as she does the dishes.

She goes to bed sort of early, her face tired above her night gown, and I decide to stay up and watch TV.

Cable here is different from cable at home. The channels are dominated by Fox News and The 700 Club. Reality TV seems as out of place as reality itself.

The sky through the curtains gets darker, and the decorative lamp in the front yard bathes the grass in dim light.

It's late at night or early in the morning when I hear the front door lock being fumbled with. Five minutes pass, and finally the door opens. I turn to see Pete, much more adult than I'd last seen him, come in with a pretty girl with bright red hair. A wave of intoxication follows them in, and they leave the door open and stare at me.

Pete's eyes get very sad, then happy, then he turns and starts pushing the girl back toward the door. "Out," he's saying to her. "Out, out, out Hannah."

"I thought I was staying here," she says loudly, staggering out the door.

Pete follows her out for a second, and I can hear them arguing through the storm door. Then Pete comes back in and sits down on the couch next to me.

We look at each other, crickets chirping through the screen.

"Aaron," he says finally, smiling. "You came back."

My stomach is cold.

"I'm not back," I say.

He points to the car backing crookedly down the driveway and over the yard without its headlights on, bouncing over the curb into the road. "That's Hannah," he tells me. The car speeds away with the horn blaring.

"She seems nice."

He grabs the remote and starts to flip through the channels, and I think of Warren.

"How's life?" he wants to know, his dark eyes fixed on the TV.

"I suppose things are okay," I say.

He leans back against the couch and looks at me from under his eyebrows. "Just okay?" he wants to know.

"I've got some complaints I guess," I tell him.

"How's Warren?" he asks after a minute of hesitation. He says Warren's name the way my aunt would. Casually, but coldly.

"He's alright."

"Good," he says finally, passing the remote back and forth between his hands. Then he hands it to me, smiling at me. "I'm going to bed."

He gets up and walks down the long hallway to his bedroom at the end. I hear the thin door open and close, and then I'm alone.


Nights are mostly quiet here, except for the occasional roaring motorcycle or train in the distance. Not at all like home.

The couch is comfortable I guess. More than ours.

I know I don't belong here. I don't know why I came back. The idea of a couple days here is starting to seem like an eternity.

I don't know this place anymore. I don't even know myself.

I've got this feeling in my stomach that I'll never know this place again. I don't know how I feel about that.

I hear my phone vibrating on the coffee table.

I pick it up and it says WARREN. He's calling me.

I answer and I hear him breathing, sort of shaky, maybe in tears.

"Aaron," he says.

I squeeze my eyes shut and say, "What time is it?"

And he starts to really cry then. It's hard to listen to.

"Come home, Aaron," he says finally. "Come home."

And I think to myself, maybe I will.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Chapter Eight

When I open the door to the hall, I see Warren against the wall, asleep. I've told myself until this point that this morning will be okay. It'll be easy, and I'll just get up and go about my business and no one will have to worry about anything. But here he is, and here I am. What the fuck am I supposed to do with this situation?

I didn't really believe I was going to be okay anyway. I don't know about him, but I'm not. It's funny that with all my talk, it was Warren who made the decision.

I step over him and sit down on the floor next to him, and I look over at him for a few minutes, then I take his hand. I'm not angry today. I'm sad and bitter, broken and near breaking points of all kinds, but definitely not angry.

He's waking up now, slowly, his mouth moving a little, maybe saying something I'll never hear.

I look over at the window at the top of the stairs, down the hall from me, and I can see the sun is out finally. No dark clouds, nothing ominous, just clear sky and dirty glass. It's such a slap in the face, but makes me smile.

And I look down at our hands, then over at Warren again, and he's awake, looking at me, his eyes dark and quiet and full of sleep.

He retracts his hand slowly and rubs one eye, yawning, then he puts his head back against the wall and sighs, staring at the railing over the stairs.

“The couch sucks,” he says to me finally, his words slurred.


I'm at the table with my cereal, and he's in the living room putting his hoodie on.

“I have the day off,” I tell him, and I don't know why I'm telling him. He probably already knows.

He comes into the kitchen. “It must be nice,” he says.

My eye still hurts, but now it's this endless throbbing dull ache.

“I may call my Aunt back finally,” I tell him.

He stops at the sink, turning to look at me. Then he smiles, and laughs a little. “She might like that.”

I smile, kind of, hating my cereal.

“Yeah, she might.”

He turns back toward the sink to look at the dishes. “There are dishes in the sink still,” he says, as though this weren't obvious to me.

I sigh and look over at him, my stomach getting cold.

He looks back at me, his eyebrows raised.

I stand up from the chair, my cereal rotting in milk, and I leave the room, saying, “I'll do them later.”

“I'm just saying,” he says from the kitchen, following me, “You're usually really good about it.”

I stop in the doorway between the hallway and the living room and turn and look at him. We stare at each other, and it becomes obvious what the point is.

“Why don't YOU do the dishes this time?” I ask him, amused.

He laughs a little, but still stares at me.

And I turn and continue into the Living room, knowing that I will do the dishes after he's left.


I do the dishes, but not before hating them for a long time, and what they represent. I do them just like every other god damned day. I do them because if I don't do them, the dishes will never get done, and we'll be eating with toothpicks and paper towels. It's a standoff I'm not willing to initiate, because I'll be the only participant. We're two separate people now, but I'm still the dish washer.

I realize as I look out the window that part of the pink paint has been sanded off of the siding next door, and something about the sight of bare rotting wood tells me that this is important.

I dry my hands and call my aunt.

“Aaron?” she says when she realizes who she's talking to.

There's a moment of hesitation, and then I ask how she's doing, and she says that she's fine and so is everyone else.

And then she says, “Aaron you ought to come stay with us again for a day or two. We miss you a lot down here.”

There's a long pause on my end, full of thought and worry.

“I know Pete would love to see you again. You know, he was so sad when you left.”

Pete is my cousin. The name fills me with voids I can never cross. And after some thought, I say, “I'll think about it.”


I get a call from Martha shortly after that saying that she needs me to come in and handle a situation, and I hate life all the way out to the car.

On my way in, I pass the bridge with no incident, wondering what kind of situation prompts a phone call on my day off.

There are things that don't change even after your ship has hit the bottom of the ocean. Work is one of those things.


Martha meets me in the parking lot, her eyes wide, and she almost tears the door off of my car when I'm parked, not letting me unlock it before he starts yanking on the handle.

“There's a lady saying we made her slip and fall on the floor,” she says, out of breath, holding my door open for me once I unlock it.

I follow her inside, where an woman is flailing wildly at the front counter, talking quickly, and when she sees me in street clothes, her eye get huge and she says, “A health code violation! He's in street clothes!”

I approach the counter and say, “I'm the store manager, Ma'am. What happened?”

And she looks at me like she can't believe I didn't dress up to see her. “Well finally someone who might care,” she says finally, and then she says, “You really need to not leave your mops so wet when you clean the floor, I just busted my god damned ass out here!”

Some people in the dining room burst into laughter, prompting her to look over at them in irritation for a second, and I take a deep breath and smile at her.

“She tried to go down a couple times before she managed to do it,” someone calls from a booth.

She turns indignantly and says, “That's a lie! I went down honestly.” Then she looks at me again and says, “You idiots ought to warn a person when the floor's wet!”

I look around and see four wet floor signs, one at every door, and I look back at her.

“What?” she says after a second.

I look over at Martha. “Were those signs out when the mopping was done?”

She nods, and the woman finally sees the signs and gasps angrily. “Well fuck, everyone's lying today,” she says finally.

Martha says, “I put the signs out myself right before we mopped.”

“Did not!” The woman glares at her over the counter like she wants to come over it and kick Martha in the face. Then she looks at me, and back to the group in the dining room, who begin laughing again. “I'm leaving,” she says finally, still looking away. Then she turns to regard me with malignant resentment. “This place is a dump, by the way.”

“I do what I can,” I tell her coldly.

“You really ought to be nicer,” she says.

And she leaves.

Martha clears her throat, and I let sigh and go back to the office with her following me. No point in closing the door now.

“She tried to fall a couple times they told me while she was screaming,” she says, and I imagine she means the people in the dining room.

The idea of coming back to this particular world tomorrow is too much stress.

“Martha,” I say finally, and then I stop, not sure what to say next.

She stares at me, her eyes big, and I realize that this is what I've been waiting to say all day to someone, anyone. And here she is.

“Martha I need to get out of this shit hole for a while.”

She stares at me for a few more minutes. “Shit hole,” she says finally, like she's never heard the words before.

I laugh, sitting down in the chair, and I look up at her. “I'm going nuts,” I tell her.

“You need a vacation or something I think,” she says quietly.

And that's it. That's totally it.

I look up at her again, and she starts to smile, cautiously at first, then larger.

“You want to run the store for a few days?”

Her eyes are wide with excitement and she draws in a deep breath.

“You can have it.”


I call my aunt on the way home and ask if she would mind if I came down to spend a few days after all.

“Oh my goodness, that would be just fine. When?” She says, and I can tell she's excited.

I sigh and think about running the car into the bus in front me, just so I won't have to think about anything ever again.

“Is tomorrow too soon?”

There's a short silence, and then she says, “Well that would be wonderful; I bet Pete will be so excited.”

And my stomach is lead.

“Yeah, I bet,” I say.


I haven't made dinner when Warren gets home, and he stares at me like I've lost my mind when I tell him as much.

“What are we eating?” he wants to know, quietly.

“Stuff,” I tell him from the couch, wishing I were dead.

He comes around the couch and sits down beside me.

“Pizza Hut?” he suggests.

I smile, and I turn to look at him, then I nod. “Pizza Hut.”


We take his car, the trees and houses going by, lights on and the dark sky hiding the shapes of garages and sheds and cars between buildings.

“Some lady tried to kill herself today at work.”

“I thought you had the day off.”

“I did. I got a phone call about it and went in.”

We sit in silence for a bit, and then he says, “Did she get herself killed?”

“No, she couldn't do it right.”

And we look at each other and laugh.


“I'm going on a little trip,” I tell him over our pizza.

He doesn't look up, but says, “Oh?”

“To see my family,” I say for clarification.

He puts his pizza down.

“What was your cousin's name?” he asks me again.

“I'll be gone for three days,” I say, ignoring the question. “I put Martha in charge of the store.”

He laughs and says, “Martha.”

I turn so that I can put my back against the wall next to the booth. “You'd rather I put one of your brothers in charge of it?”

And we sit in silence for a while. It's palpable and suffocating. I could touch it if I reached out far enough.

Suddenly he says, “I still love you, Aaron.”

I close my eyes, putting my head back against the wall. “I know you do,” I say.

And after a minute, he says, “Pete. Wasn't that it?”

“Pete,” I say, not really answering so much as repeating after him.


I realize somewhere between Pizza Hut and Bernard Street that I've been this stupid animal, going through life without questioning anything. Isn't that the way it is with everyone though? All of us never asking questions, only doing. Not even being told to do things, just doing them.

Who am I? I am an animal, my hair bright blue and my eye still throbbing.

I am organic matter collapsing into dust.

I text Harrison on the way home telling him I'm going away for a few days, and that Warren broke up with me.

No response.


Eventually it's time to go to bed.

Warren sees me pulling the sofa bed out of the couch and looks at it like he forgot it was there. Finally he says, “I forgot we had that.”

“You can have the bedroom tonight,” I tell him.

He stands there all sad and unreadable. “You don't have to sleep down here,” he says finally.

I finish making the bed and I look over at him, tossing a final pillow onto it. “It doesn't matter anymore where we sleep,” I tell him.

He looks like a little kid, small and alone. “It's a big bed up there,” he says quietly.

I sigh and sit down on the sofabed and I say, “Exactly.”

I hear him go up the stairs slowly, and the floor creaks under his feet down the hall to the bedroom upstairs.


I don't know who I am anymore. I might be a stranger, living in an empty house on an unfamiliar street.

I do know that this bed is bullshit, all springs and fuck-yous, with bars that cause organ displacement. I can't sleep. I admit it. The couch does suck, even when it's a bed.

So I turn on the TV and it's the same infomercial we watched a week ago. I remember Warren's comments about it and smile. I change the channel a few times and end up watching an old episode of South Park.

And after a while I hear footsteps on the stairs.

I look over the back of the couch and see Warren standing at the doorway to the hall, rubbing one eye.

“Did I wake you?”

“I was awake already. I can't sleep,” he says.

I sigh and say, “This couch sucks.”

“I told you,” he says.

He comes around the couch and sits down beside me, and I hand him the remote.

“This is fine,” he says, dismissing it.

We watch South Park for a while, and then he says, absently, “I miss us. How we were when we met.”

“Me too,” I tell him.


I wake up to the sound of my phone vibrating on the table by the couch, and I feel Warren's arms around me, his body warm against mine.

Moments like this make me want to scream until I feel better. We're strangers, but we have this strange need to sleep in the same bed.

I reach for my phone, letting myself slip out of his grasp, and he wakes up a little and rolls over away from me.

On the screen the phone says HARRISON.

The message says “Sorry.”

And that's it.

I put my phone back on the table and lay back down, feeling empty, because I'm sorry too.

And Warren rolls over and puts one arm around me again.

I can't fight it, and I don't want to. I sigh as he pushes up against me, and I know that I might still be home after all, even if the house is unfamiliar.

I might still know these halls and these rooms, even if the paint is new and the carpets changed.

Even if I leave here forever.

(c) 2011 Roman Theodore Brandt

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Chapter Seven

This morning is warmer than yesterday, and the sun is just starting to come through the blinds; it's not time to get up yet, but I'm laying here awake and telling myself I can leave, but that I won't. I can hear Warren breathing behind me, on his side of the bed, and I almost wish I hadn't made a big deal about the spaghetti.


The little things never change.

It's 8:15 AM and I'm in the bathroom down the hall brushing my teeth. I'm not making breakfast today. I'm not even sure I'm hungry.

It seems to me that the small details of life are what really remind me that I could have had a different life.

By the time I'm done brushing my teeth and leaving the bathroom, I can hear Warren starting to move around in bed.

I stop at the landing and look out the window that looks over our backyard and the tops of the houses behind ours and there, in the distance, is campus, the towers and spires and trees and everything I left behind.


The house next door is still pink and peeling through the little window over the sink. And the sink has dishes in it from last night.

The living room is out of order as always. I don't feel like picking the little pillows up off the floor and putting them back onto the couch. I don't feel like putting the footrest back down into the recliner. I don't even feel like putting the remotes back onto the coffee table where they belong, because it's pretty obvious at this point that I'm the only person who knows they belong there, and that the footrest should be down, and that the little pillows belong on the couch.

Fuck it. Maybe I'll just get the gas can from the garage and soak it all in gas. If only we still had matches or that utility lighter we lost a few years back. I sigh and run a hand over my hair, and I look over at the mirror by the door and my hair is blue and shining in the morning sun, but my face looks tired, and my eye looks awful.

I need to make better choices. I'm not even sure at this point that I've been making choices so much as ignoring them.

I don't know. I'm suffocating in this house right now.

Warren's not down yet, but I don't feel like eating, and I don't feel like being here, so I'm just going to leave for work early.

It's not that I want to be at work. Believe me. I've got a talking to coming from the regional manager about why I threw a customer out.

At least it's payday.

And tomorrow is a day off. I haven't had one of those in almost a week.


Martha's already at the door when I walk in, and her eyes are wide and full of fear.

“He's in the office, Aaron. I told him you'd be in soon, and he ain't happy at all,” she says.

I sigh and nod, wishing I hadn't come at all.

“You want a Xanex?” She asks me.

I just stare at her for a second.

“I got some if you need it,” she adds, smiling at me.

I try not to laugh, because she's totally serious. “You can keep your Xanex, Martha.”

She nods and turns to go back to the counter to help my employees, and I hear her say, “The offer stands if you need it later.”

I may need a Xanex before this is all over.


I can take a lot from someone if they're higher than me in a job. I have my limits of course, but in most cases, including this one, I'm able to replace most offensive statements with the word “banana” over and over and I can keep smiling and nodding. I also like to imagine them as a giant chicken.

“I realize that he used some pretty foul language, Aaron, but it's not our policy to just throw people out,” the giant chicken is saying to me.

I nod and say, “He called myself and one of my employees 'faggot,' and considering that we're both gay, I would say that what I did was justified.”

“Banana banana banana,” the chicken says to me.

And I sigh to myself.

This isn't getting me anywhere.

“Banana banana,” the chicken says to me, its voice rising in anger.

I close my eyes and pretend I'm not here.


Basically I still have my job. But I've been told to be nice.

And now I'm watching the chicken stuff itself into a company SUV and leave, and as I watch it turn the corner out of the lot, I picture it exploding into a ball of fire and feathers and twisted metal.

The image causes me to smile.

I've got some iced coffee now, and once I'm sure I'm the highest level of management in the building again, I'm not leaving the office for a while.

I don't have to sit in the office with my iced coffee, ignoring my responsibilities.

But I'm going to do it anyway.


There's a knock on the door, and then it opens, and I realize I've forgotten to lock it again. I turn to look at Martha.

“Some guy's here to see you.”

Maybe one day Martha will remember Warren's name, and that he comes in every day.

“Tell him to get fucked,” I tell her.

And she looks at me like I've spoken another language, her eyes wide and blank, papers of some sort clutched to her chest.

“Hmm?” She says.

“Never mind, I'll be there in a minute.”

And she leaves, letting the door stand open.

Damn it, I think. And I slam the door.


I see him at the counter when I come around the fryers, his orange hair bright. His face is sad as he looks at me.

“Lunch already, eh?” I say as I approach the register.

“You gonna eat with me today?”

I type his usual meal into the register and say, my voice level and apologetic, “I'm actually really busy, so I'll have to pass.”

And I look up at his face, and he looks like a puppy that's just been kicked.

“You didn't eat with me yesterday either,” he reminds me.

“I've been busy.”

He sighs and says, “Alright.”


I don't know what we're doing anymore. I'm pretty sure I still love him, but we're becoming strangers, and it's happening so fast that I can almost see the end.

What I do know is that I miss him. Isn't that fucked up?


Martha enters my office without knocking again, and I almost close her in the door.

I suppose it's been a couple hours at least since I left the office.

“What is it?” I ask her.

“You need a Xanex yet?”

And I laugh.

She smiles, not understanding why I'm laughing.

Finally I say, “Martha, how would you like to take over for a few hours?”

Her eyes are wide and excited, and she smiles.

“You going home?” She asks hopefully.

I hand her the manager book.


My car knows this road instinctively, and sometimes I think that even if I let go of the steering wheel, it would eventually right itself and just keep going in a straight line home and maybe even park itself in the driveway. Just my luck.

I'm driving over the bridge, and there's a wreck down there on the freeway. Traffic up here's moving slow because the outside lane is full of morbid fucks.

Part of me wishes that car was mine. What a vacation that would be.


When I get home, Warren is still at work. The house is empty. I do the dumb little things I was against doing this morning. I put the little pillows back onto the couch, I put the footrest down into the recliner, I put the remotes back on the coffee table.

Then I go into the kitchen and look at the dishes in the sink.

If I don't do these dishes, they will never get done.

I look up through the window at the peeling pink siding of the house next door, and I suddenly wish there was no house there at all.


It's one of those days where something in the back of my mind is screaming. I'm not sure how to explain it.

Everything's the same, but it's all about to end.

Like when we graduated high school. All of us lined up, our destiny approaching, and all of our lives up until then consumed by the idea of preparing for this moment.

And then you get there and it's like you just keep going. Everything's the same, but now there's no purpose.

There is no point to it after you reach your goal.

And yet we all kept going, some of us flying into careers, and those people obviously had more goals, and some of us into college. But we didn't all make it, did we?

Some of us just kept going, even after our paths became gravel and then grass and then nothing, continuing into vast empty space.

And therein lies the issue.


I'm taking a walk, now, because I don't want to be home.

And on this walk I've somehow ended up on University strip. I didn't intend to end up here, but I wasn't really paying attention. Part of me was hoping to get lost and never find my way back.

I can hope, can't I?

“Aren't you supposed to be at work?” comes a voice from far behind me, rising over the sounds of buses and people.

I turn to see Harrison smiling at me from down the road with his green hair, and he starts to jog to catch up with me.

As he gets close, he says, “I was on my way home to do laundry.”

Without thinking, I say, “You can do it at my house if you want.”

And his smile fades. “I don't mind doing it at the laundromat,” he says. Then he adds, “Maybe you should come along. That way I have someone to talk to.”


There's an idea that I've been turning over and over in the back of my mind all day, that I haven't admitted to myself until now. But I say it, suddenly, as Harrison's jamming all of his laundry into one Washer.

“I might break up with Warren.”

And he keeps shoving clothes in but looks over at me, his face blank. My stomach tightens. And then he smiles and says, “Really?”

“Yeah,” I tell him, and the idea is just as sudden to me as it is to him.

He closes the door of the washer and looks over at me again, still smiling, and he laughs. “Well you can definitely do better,” he says. “Trust me.”


When I get home I'm confronted by the daunting task of cooking dinner.

I'm pretty determined to avoid that shit.

We've been talking about ordering out for a while.

It takes me a few minutes to remember where the phone book is, but when I find it I decide to order pizza.


When Warren gets home, we barely interact.

We start to eat dinner, and it mostly goes okay. We're not talking, but at least we aren't arguing about spaghetti.

And he then he says, “What's happened to us, Aaron?”

And I have so many answers ready for this question, but none of them come to mind. I open my mouth to say something, but nothing comes out.

He looks at me across the table, so sad. His eyes are wet, and I think he's going to start crying.

“I'm not sure, Warren,” I say, and that's such a lame answer I want to punch myself in the face.

“I don't know who we are anymore,” he says.

We sit in silence for a few minutes, and then Warren takes a really deep breath. I know right then that I've lost my way, and that I'm just flying forward, hoping I'm not already dead.

Then he says, “I can't do this anymore.”

My mouth opens again. After a minute I finally say, “You can't do what?”

“I can't do this life. We're strangers. We aren't even good roommates.”

And that's how it is. All my reasons for staying, all of them were in my head. I'm racing ahead into the dark unknown with no path to guide me, so far lost that there may never have been a path at all.

“Is that how it is?” I say, my voice rising, bracing to stand up.

“Aaron, don't get mad,” he says, his voice cracking.

“Why am I here?” I say to him, practically yelling. “Why am I even here?”

We both stand up and stare at each other, and I think for a second that I might actually climb over the table and hit him until he hits me, and just keep going until we're both hamburger.

But I don't.

I go upstairs to the bedroom and slam the door.

After a second, I lock it too.

Fuck you, fuck you, I think.


I don't have to be here, I tell myself every day. It seems so disgusting to me now. But I tell myself even as I lay here alone in bed that I'm free to leave any time I want.

I've been ripped from my illusion of serving a purpose. I've been thrust into the incredible reality of having stayed long past my time to leave. Suspecting is one thing, but to actually realize way too late that you should have known it was over is another thing entirely.

It's amazing what I've allowed myself to forfeit for the sake of feeling like I belong.

I've kept myself here, a prisoner, and Warren with me.

I'm not sure what I expected.


I wake up a few hours later, my head pounding, my stomach full of acid, and I almost don't make it to the bathroom before I'm throwing up. At first, it's just pizza, but after a few heaves, I see blood, and I can't stop. Then it's all red.

The air is a fine mist of red just then, and the rest of the room starts to fade into darkness, and in the distance is a roaring, a screeching that gets so loud it's coming from all sides.

A harsh white light washes over me, the ground shaking, the water sloshing, and I realize I'm going to die. As I'm filling the bowl with my insides I know that there is a train about to hit me. And I can't stop throwing up long enough to save myself.


I wake up gasping for air, clutching the sheets and blankets and covered in sweat.

I look at the door to the bedroom, and it's still closed.

I sigh and lay back down.

Warren's words are in my head now.

I don't know who we are anymore, either.

I doubt that I ever knew.