Saturday, May 26, 2012

Chapter Fourteen

There's nothing left to do now that I'm here. I guess I thought I'd come back and see who's living in house. Some part of me may even have wondered who might be washing dishes and staring out the kitchen window at the house next door, and of course part me wanted to know what color the other house was, and if there was still another house at all.


Where is home?

It must be an obscure place, because I haven't known it at all lately. I've got an apartment, now. I've got schoolbooks and a life far from here. I've got a series of rooms and a hallway all to myself, my own corner of the world, but it's not home. Not yet.

I suppose it crossed my mind that the house I once lived in might not even have a neighborhood anymore, and that the city might have fallen away, leaving only a green aluminum sided house with black shutters, standing alone in a crisp white field of snow, a preserved artifact of a previous existence.

I suppose I had great plans for this day, all of them involving leaving the car once I got here.

I'm scared. I can't find the door handle now that I'm here. I'm not even in the driveway. I'm parked across the street. I can tell from the sound of cars moving past in the slush and ice of the street that I'm not in a field of snow.

I squeeze my eyes shut and imagine that I'm back in my little apartment with my school books and my TV dinners.

Why did I come here?

Then, I open my eyes, because I feel someone watching me. Across the street, in front of the house, a group of college kids are staring at me in my car, and I realize I've got to get out of the car or leave this all behind completely.

I breathe in, my lungs filling and clearing spiderwebs.

I've been dead inside for a while. I got away and went back, but part of me died on the way.

It was a small part at the time, barely a scrape when I found myself on the freeway, but it's been chipping away since then.

I look up at the house, and there's a for sale sign in the yard.

The shutters are more gray than black, and the front door is standing open.

There are no curtains.

The bedrooms windows are open or broken. I can't tell from here.


I don't remember everything. I remember our hands touching in the car, his voice in my ear at night when he would wake up and turn over. These things aren't even real, now. These things are ghosts.

I've left the car at the road and I'm almost to the porch now. It's taken me a good ten minutes to get this close because the sidewalk to the house is at least a foot deep in snow, and I'm not actually sure I want to know what the inside looks like.

I suppose everyone knows this feeling at some point.

I knew this place a long time ago.

Approaching the steps, I reach for the porch column, my hand suddenly very small in front of me.

The front door is standing open, and inside, I can see the bare wells in the dim light from the living room windows. On the porch, I stop just outside the door.

I didn't mean to hurt anyone.

Sure, I've made some mistakes. I know I've hurt people; I'm not stupid, but I didn't think I'd come back and see everything like this.

I sit on the floor in our bedroom upstairs for a while, the sunlight outside the broken windows turning red and orange. I stand in the bathroom, staring at the natural brown hair in the mirror.

I go out into the hallway and look out the window at the top of the stairs, scanning the white rooftops and trees for meaning.

I listen to the wind blowing through the kitchen downstairs, and I close my eyes.

The house is a mess.

Down the stairs, now that my eyes have adjusted to the dim light, the living room is a bare room stained in places with mud, the kitchen a wind tunnel with the back door also standing open.

I'm at the sink, now, staring out the window at the house next door.

It's blue, it turns out.

I just stare at it, my eyes burning holes into the paint, through the wall into the happy rooms beyond.

I've got to get out of this house. I can't be here right now.

I go back out through the living room out onto the front porch and sit on the steps.

I don't remember how this happened. I don't remember when my old life became my new life. This empty shell of a house isn't what I expected, these empty rooms and hallways, the family room downstairs with the couch intact, the bedroom upstairs empty save for the mattress against the wall.

I don't remember this transformation.

I've got tears in my eyes, I think.

It might be from the cold.

Maybe it's the cold that did all of this.


At some point walking down Bernard Street sounds like a good idea, so I stand up with my legs like rubber, and I follow the tracks I've made in the snow down to the street.

It's funny how, when confronted with familiar environments, we face familiar questions.

I still don't know who I am. Who really does? Who knows anything?

Fuck. I sure don't know anything.

My eyes are wet even now.

I know I'm heading for University Strip. I don't harbor any denial. I know what I'm doing. After a few blocks of walking across icy driveways and snowy sidewalks, the houses staring from both sides of the street start to look defensive and then exhausted, and then campus and the strip are all around me.

The sun's going down, now. The brick and siding and wood paneling of the buildings are lit by fading sunlight and flickering neon.

There are students coming and going everywhere in little groups, back from winter break. The smells of the strip are there, too. Coffee and books and alcohol and bus fumes.

I know where I'm going.

There's a building around the corner, among a lot of other buildings. Through the doors are the stairs, long and straight up to the second floor, where the hallway bends and spits in two directions.

Now that I'm up here, I'm not sure why I'm here. Closure, I guess. My legs are weak from the stairs, and I'm out of breath, my fingers leaving trails of chemicals on walls down the hallway.

I stop at the door, my hand lingering on the doorknob. I look down and see newspapers piled up. At least a month of insurance fliers and a phone book in a yellow sack are hanging on the knob.

I don't remember when I became an emotional wreck, but I sit down against the wall behind me, staring at the door, and my sobs are quiet against the hum of the hallway lights, broken occasionally by a group of people coming up the stairs or going into apartments.


There's a table outside one of the new coffee shops at the end of the strip. The business is new, and the building has new paint, but I know that table.

Two boys sitting across the table, talking.

God, we were young. We could never have known what we were doing.

Or maybe we did.

I don't even know if it matters.

I'm short of breath now, and in my mind, I remember his half-smile.

Maybe I'll never see him again.

Maybe it doesn't matter.

Never mind.


It's snowing on the way back to the car, walking down Bernard Street toward the empty house I used to live in. The windows of the living rooms of passing houses are bright and full of Christmas trees and blinking lights, red solo cups lined up on all the porch rails. The minivans and Corollas and trash cans wait silently outside of garages and along the sides of the road.

I know these sidewalks, but they're faintly alien now, not at all the sidewalks where I live now.

My feet are small against the snow, and I imagine it swallowing the prints and holes I'm leaving as soon as I've passed. I imagine the world blinking out of existence with my departure.

Maybe that's what happened.

Maybe it wasn't the cold; it was a glitch in reality.

Maybe somewhere, the house is still in good repair, with a nice family living in it. Then again, I suppose Warren and I might also still be living there.

I might be at the sink doing dishes, forgetting my own name.

I might be in the bedroom, crying.

I might be in the living room with Warren, our faces lit by the glow of the TV, our hands miles apart.

I think I forgot how to be in love. I don't suppose anyone knows how to love someone else.

I've got what I wanted now. I've got school, and books, and a place of my own. I've got freedom and I've had a relationship or two since I left here, none of it adding up to home or fulfillment.

I run my fingers along a chain-link fence, listening to the sounds of the growing night, the keg parties in full swing behind the doors and the windows of the houses of Bernard Street. I can see the taillights of my car under a fresh veil of snow.

I'm not ready to leave, yet. I guess I ought to be.

Who knows? I might never leave. I might sleep on the old mattress upstairs, snow coming in through the windows, covering the floors and coming up the walls, burying me alive in freezing white, erasing me from the earth, leaving only an empty house on an empty street.

I am so broken. I know this. Don't tell me I'm not.

I don't harbor any denial about this either.

My feet still fit the holes they made a few hours ago, now filled in partway with new snow.

Maybe he still lives here, a ghost in the bedroom, a phantom in the family room, waiting for me to come home.

Maybe that's just it.

Maybe I never left.

We're the ghosts of Bernard Street, he and I; half-alive, soggy and cold, dragged in by wind and regret.

I bet he still doesn't make the bed.

There's mail from a hundred years ago in the mailbox by the door, and I take it out and scan the porch around me.

I might be dead, I think to myself.

I sit down on the porch steps, ignoring the cold wet burning of the snow. I can't stand right now. I can't be upright. I'm not even human anymore. I can't walk any further than this.

Who am I, really?

I bury my face in my hands, because I can't look at any of this anymore.

I get it.

Just make it go away.


I'm not sure how long I've been sitting here, but now I feel like I can look around. I draw a deep breath and stand up, shaky and alone in the shadows of the porch.

Maybe I'll never come back. I can erase this from my mind, and remember it how it was. I can forget anything, I guess.

Something's moving across the street, and it makes me stop thinking and just stare. For a second, I wonder if the world is ending, and I'm the last to know, everyone else having been taken before me.

I might be the last person on earth.

A figure steps out from the shadows of the yard across the street.

I might have died. I might be a dead body across the concrete of the porch, heart stopped and eyes clouded white.

I come down from the porch and into the light of the streetlamp. We stare at each other for a minute, and then I recognize him.

My heart stops, and I die in the snow.

Or maybe I bleed out in a bathtub placed conveniently in the yard for such an occasion.

I never thought I would see Warren again.

He's a couple years older now.

I suppose I am too.

We don't say anything at first. I'm not sure either of us knows why we came. My mind is full of things I want to say. I want to scream and cry and hit him and hug him and beg him to go away all at once, my chest exploding from the pounding of my heart.

The trees and the houses are so quiet that even our breathing is loud.

“Aaron,” he says, finally, and I back away a few steps, not following the holes I'd already made.

We continue to stare at one another for a few minutes. I can't think. My mind is full of jumbled shit, screaming thoughts and cold snow falling across the void of the world around us.

“Warren,” I say finally.

He comes slowly across the icy road, and I back up a few more feet, then I can't move anymore.

He stops just in front of me, and we're binary stars orbiting one another slowly, gravity destroying our cores.

I want him to slap me for leaving. I want him to call me all the horrible things I already call myself.

“I've missed you,” he says to me finally, our eyes locked.

I feel my knees buckling before I actually see the ground and the footprints I've made rushing up to meet me. He grabs me, I guess, because I don't hit the ground.

I don't remember when I became such a weak person.

He holds me to him, breathing deep, body warm, and I wish I could have forgotten him.

We're moving now, his arm around my shoulder, guiding me back to the porch. I let myself drop onto the step and he sits beside me. I look out at my car, waiting for me on the street, and then I look at him, his hair full of melting snowflakes and his eyes full of water.

“I'm sorry,” I say to him, my voice thin. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry.”

And he puts his hand on mine and smiles at me.

I lose my shit, then. I just sit there like some dumb asshole crying and wailing and wishing I were dead.


We all come home eventually.

Some of us come home for good, and some of us only for a moment.

Home is where you know yourself.

Home is where you put your heart in a box and forget where it is.

It might be where you sit up nights watching infomercials, and where you color your hair when you're feeling down.

I don't remember when I became such a sap.


We're going up the stairs now. We're flipping the mattress over onto the floor, and we're lying on it in our parkas.

I can feel his breath on the back of my neck and his arm around me.

I can die now.

I can fade away.

The snow comes in through the window, stronger than before. The floor is covered, and we're still breathing.

Maybe we'll die like this.

I don't mind so much.

The snow freezes on the wall, and spills over onto the mattress. I'm not cold anymore.

I think I'm home.

The snow comes in, settling on our bodies, erasing us from the night, and in the morning, should someone investigate, they'd find only a mattress in an empty bedroom, the carpet wet and cold from snow.

I don't mind at all.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Chapter Thirteen

I suppose I've been in the bathroom about twenty minutes watching myself in the mirror brushing my teeth when the door opens. Warren walks in and goes straight for the toilet for his morning pee. He looks over at me and then up at my hair, turning the water in the toilet bowl a light shade of yellow, and he kind of smiles and scoffs.

I stop brushing my teeth, toothpaste foam collecting in the corners of my mouth and dripping down the stem.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” He asks, narrowing his eyes at me.

“What?” I ask around my toothbrush.

We continue to look at each other. He adjusts his shorts and starts to leave the room, and my heart is going about a million miles and hour as he vanishes around the edge of the doorway.

I stare at the toilet bowl, yellow and full of tiny white bubbles.

I walk over, toothbrush still sticking out of my mouth, and I push the handle to flush it. I wash my hands at the sink and continue brushing my teeth.

“Your hair is going to fall out one day,” he calls to me from the bedroom.

I stare at my reflection in the mirror for a second, then I spit the toothpaste foam into the sink. I turn the water on and close the door so I can't hear anything outside the room.


Today isn't like yesterday at all. I know that I've said that before, but this is the first day that I've had two suitcases in my car.

That's the difference.

Warren leaves without further incident or conversation, preferring to let the door slam behind him as I scrub the cereal out of our bowls at the sink.

I might cry. I can feel it, a sting that has to be swallowed and shoved away, the sounds of the world outside the window, already muted, fade completely, and I start breathing too hard. Focus, I tell myself. Focus, focus. I open my eyes, and the sound of the world comes rushing back in. My legs are rubber.

I put down the bowl I had and I pick up the other to start again.

After I do the dishes, I go upstairs.


In the bedroom Warren and I used to share, with the house empty and the windows open, I can hear the little sounds of the neighborhood: Cars passing the house, the distant chatter of students and old people on the sidewalks, and rising above it all, the absolute silence of things which are no longer reality.

I'm lying on my back on the mattress where I've slept literally millions of times. I've had dreams here, and I've woken up to hear these same sounds every morning for years, with some variation: the trash truck on Mondays, school buses on weekdays, and on Saturdays the wailing test siren from the Fire Department downtown.

I almost remember how I got here. The table at the corner on University Strip, Warren sitting in a chair with a plastic cup of coffee.

God, we were young. I suppose we aren't old now, but we were really young.

It's funny the things you remember about how you met someone.

He had the best smile, sort of a half-smile smile, the same one he still does occasionally. We exchanged names and ideas, phone numbers and secrets.

I thought I had found myself in someone else.

I thought I had found god.

I don't remember when the bedroom became just a room with a bed.


A few hours later, I'm in my car, heading for work. Technically, I'm late. I've got my uniforms in a plastic sack on the car seat beside me, and a plan forming in my head.

I pull into the parking lot, and there are no customers. The lot is empty except for my employees and the regional manager.


I park my car in the space furthest from the building and turn it off, my heart pounding.

This is it, I tell myself. I think of the suitcases in the car, and I can taste stomach acid. My pulse is racing in my head.

My chest hurts, and my hands are white on the steering wheel. I stare at the houses in front of me, across the street from where I'm parked, and they stare at me, aluminum and shingle sided variations of the house I just left, empty eyes watching Burger King, wondering at its existence.

I get out of my car and shut the door, and I stand in the parking lot, my head beginning to throb.

After a moment, I hear the drive thru window somewhere open behind me, and I turn to see Martha's sad little face in the window.

“Aaron he's here,” she calls to me, as though the regional manager's vehicle were not in the parking lot.

I sigh and wave at her, and she waves back, then shrugs and closes the window, and I'm alone in the lot again, except for a single minivan that's just pulled in. I watch it go around the other side of the building, and after a second or two of holding my breath, I watch the minivan pull up to the speaker, and I hear the faint beep inside the building.

I can do this.

My heart is beating me to death, but I can do this.

I've got the sack with my uniforms in one sweaty hand, and I'm clenching my keys in the other, my black hair burning my head in the mid-day sun.

“I can do this,” I tell myself, and I just stand there.

After a moment, though, I start toward the building.

I don't work here anymore. Yesterday was my last day.

The building is closer now, the bricks cold and full of resentment.

“I don't work here anymore,” I tell myself under my breath as I pull the door open and step into the dining room.

The chicken is behind the counter, glaring at me with his name tag crooked.

“Where in the name of cluck cluck have you been?” He asks me when I approach the counter. “Get back here; we need to talk.”

“I quit,” I say to him, the words louder than I had intended.

We stare at one another across the counter.

“Cluck cluck bok cluck?” He asks finally, his voice rising.

I toss the sack with my uniforms over the counter, and I continue to stare at him. I can hear someone laughing, and it's so far away that it has to be someone in the kiddie room at the front of the building, but then it gets louder and louder. Finally, I realize it's me. I'm laughing.

“...any idea what I've had to deal with today?” the chicken was asking me, almost yelling. The empty dining room is full of his voice.

I stop laughing, because I realize how inappropriate it is, but then I think of him answering the drive thru and making Whoppers and I start laughing again.

I back away from the counter and turn to leave, and I hear him behind me.

“You're gonna leave me with this mess? Cluck cluck bok cluck cluck!” he's calling after me as I open the door and go outside.

I'm almost to my car when the window opens behind me again, and Martha's voice calls to me.

“Where are you going?” she asks, almost excited.

I turn to look at her, and she's smiling at me from the window.

“I don't know,” I say to her, my voice loud and echoing in the empty lot. “Away, I guess.”

She nods and says, “Goodbye, Aaron.”

The window closes, and I start laughing again as I get in my car, but now there are tears, too, and I hate myself for it.


When I get home, there are no messages on my phone. No missed calls, either.

What is this nonsense?

I leave my car in the driveway and walk to University Strip, the houses watching me.

I wonder if any of these houses know my name, or if they'll remember it when I'm gone. When my car slips away and never returns, will they stare at one another across the streetlights and parked cars and wonder where I went? Or will they simply blink out of existence?

Do they even know I'm here?

I stare at them, front porches toward the street, attic windows facing forward, exhausted lines sagging and twisting and covered in white and green and yellow siding.

Am I a ghost?

My feet are solid enough on the sidewalk, but I suppose that doesn't prove anything.

When the houses give way to the colorful commercial buildings of the strip, I start looking for him. Harrison, I mean. I want to see him again. He's in my mind, running down the front steps away from me, vanishing into the dark between the houses across the street. I feel like a monster.

I scan the sidewalks, I go in and out of the shops, the bookstores, and the subway. Finally, I'm standing across the street from the building where he lives, staring up at the windows of his tiny apartment.

I feel like a stalker. I feel like I should have an alter in my closet with his photo. Here I am.

Fuck it, I'm going up there, I tell myself, and I cross the road to the door. I go inside and up the long flight of stairs to the second floor. Down the hall, I turn and go to his apartment door.

Don't do this, I think.

My hand reaches across the dust and space and I hear the knock before I see it happen. The sound is loud against the white painted walls.

I lower my hand and the hallway is quiet for a minute, then a group of girls comes down the stairs from the third floor, giggling and talking. They go around the turn in the hall and I can hear them going down the stairs to the first floor. I stare at the doorknob in front of me.

There are no sounds from inside the apartment.

I think about trying to open the door, but instead I just stand there. Time passes. A couple of guys come up the stairs around the corner and open a door at the other end of the hall. It closes behind them, and I can hear muffled laughter.

What am I doing here?

I back away from the door, my heart pounding, until my back is against the wall behind me, and I stare at Harrison's door.

“I shouldn't have come here,” I tell myself, and I turn to go back down the hall, tears forming in my eyes. I can hear a TV turn on behind one of the doors, blaring a commercial about dog food.

I should not have come to this building.

I should not be here.

My hand is white and shaky on the banister, and for a second I picture myself lying dead at the bottom of the long flight of steps, my neck twisted at an impossible angle and my leg broken, the bone sticking out.

Then I continue down the stairs, not thinking at all.

I push the door open, gasping for breath, my ears full of the sounds of voices and traffic, and I run down the sidewalk, away from the strip.

I should not have come here at all.

The cars are loud on the street, and the houses stare at me.

I should have left town and been on my way by now.

And I stop, looking back at the strip, now a few blocks behind me.

People gather in groups here and there on the sidewalks, and some guy is selling pizza on the corner I just left.

To where? I think. On my way to where?


At home, the TV is not very good company. All I see are happy couples driving cars and eating mints.

I'm a dead body on the couch, rotting to the tune of the latest Snicker's commercial.

I suppose a few hours have passed, now. I'm sitting in the dark, and I can hear Warren's car in the driveway outside. A few minutes later, I hear footsteps on the porch, and the door opens.

I wonder if he's surprised to see me sitting in the dark. A corpse on the sofa watching Cartoon Network. This is what my life has become.

“You quit your job,” he says from behind me, and my heart starts racing again. “I went in for lunch.”


“Why?” His voice is angry, now.

I watch the screen for a few minutes, feeling him standing behind the sofa.

“I had a better job offer.”

He goes into the kitchen without further comment and turns the light on. The light illuminates the hallway between the rooms and shines into the living room through the doorway.

“No dinner tonight,” Warren says, dropping his things onto the counter.

“Leftovers,” I tell him.

I hear the fridge door open, and I picture him looking at the containers, trying to find the one that isn't spaghetti.

“It's in the back,” I call to him, not looking away from the TV.

After a moment, I hear him pull a container out. “I knew that,” he mumbles and I hear the microwave start.

He comes into the living room and lets himself fall onto the couch beside me. It's almost uncomfortable having him near me.

“Another job offer,” he says to me.

“Yeah,” I tell him.

I can feel him looking at me, but I don't look at him.

The microwave beeps, and he stands up and goes back into the kitchen. I can hear the plastic door being fumbled with, and my headache is coming back.

About ten minutes pass, I suppose, the light in the kitchen turns off, and he comes back in to the shadows of the living room and sits down on the couch again with his container of whatever wasn't spaghetti. Pot roast? Potatoes? Who knows.

“I don't think there's a job offer,” he says as he eats.

I don't respond.

We sit in silence, then, except for the TV with its episodes of shows from our childhood and loud commercials for chewing gum, which are, of course, full of happy couples.

“I know you're leaving,” he says, finally, his voice quiet and full of things I haven't heard in a long time.

“Leaving,” I say, and by pure coincidence, the man on the TV says “leave bad breath behind.”

Toothpaste commercial.

I look at him, and he's still eating the food in the container. He looks over at me in the light from the TV, his features mostly obscured by shadow.

“It took me a long time to realize you were leaving, but I guess I can't blame you,” he says. My stomach begins to knot. Shut up, I think. Shut up, shut up.

“Yeah,” I say to him. What else is there to say?

He puts the container on the coffee table and says, “I'll probably move back home.”

Home being his mother's house a few blocks away, near the empty school.

He picks up the container and gets up to go into the kitchen. The light turns on again, and I hear him rinsing it out, then the light turns off again.

I hear him stop at the doorway to the hall. I can't see him, but I know he's there.

“Aaron,” he says, his voice small.

I mute the TV. The whole world waits.


There's a silence now like water. I could swim through it.

“I love you,” he says finally. “Goodnight.”

After a minute, I say, “I love you too.”

Then, he goes up the stairs to the bedroom, and I'm sitting there like a dumb piece of shit on the couch. I might cry. I think I really might.

Alone, scared, hurt and wounded, I lay down on the couch and watch TV in silence until the world closes in around me.


I wake up, and my phone says it's midnight.

Everything is already in the car, so all I have to do is go out there and get it. I'm sitting on the couch in the dark with the TV off and Warren asleep above me.

I can do this, I tell myself.

Stand up, go to the closet, pull out a hoodie.

I go to the sink in the kitchen to wash the container Warren ate out of, slowly and deliberately, and I look up at the sanded-down siding next door. I'm leaving, I tell myself.

“I can do this,” I whisper to myself as I drain the sink. I put the container away and dry my hands, thinking of the world outside.

The highways leading to cities. The places I've never seen. As I cross the room to the door and fumble around the furniture, I think of Warren sleeping.

And of the table on the corner on University Strip.

I think of everything, I guess. Everything a person thinks about before he leaves the only life he's known for years. Sort of like having your life flash before your eyes. This is just as scary an oncoming collision. I think I might shit my pants.

But instead, I just open the door and step outside. There's my car with the suitcases, waiting with silent, cold headlights for me to get inside.

There are the houses across the street, which might blink out of existence the moment I'm gone. This whole world, in fact, might be a bubble of reality around me, no more than a few miles in any direction. I may be the only real person on earth.

I don't suppose it's fair for me to feel bad for Warren, now.

I do love him. I swear I do.

I close the door behind me, making sure it's locked.

I move slowly toward my car, and in my mind, I can see us, holding hands on the front porch the first day we started moving in, and it makes me stop walking, my chest hurting, because I miss that person. The one whose hand I held. The one for whom college was worth quitting, to start a life together.

I turn to look at the house, dark and unsuspecting in the very early morning hum of the streetlights.

To start a life together, I think again. It's not like we wanted kids or anything. Nothing like that.

I suppose we figured we'd live here forever, with the rooms and each other to keep us company. I suppose we never thought we'd leave. I didn't, at least. I was going to grow old here. I was going to collect dust and be happy to do it.

I find myself smiling up at the house, because it reminds me of a life I knew, a while ago.

A man I met at a table at college.

I get into my car, then. I might go anywhere.

And the tears come, then, as I start the car. I look up at the house and I start sobbing, moving the gearshift into reverse.

I might go anywhere, I tell myself, a little less confidently.

And then, I'm backing down the driveway, my eyes wet and my hands shaking against the wheel.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Chapter Twelve

There's a perfect moment, just as the sun is coming up; I remember it from years ago. I literally haven't seen it in years.

I'm on my way down the stairs with the suitcase I've packed, and I can just start to see the world outside through the windows of the house, each room dim and cool, warming in the light of dawn. Outside, with the door standing wide open behind me, I'm beginning to understand why people get up this early.

The streetlights hum and begin to blink out as I put the suitcase in the trunk of my car and shut the lid. I've wondered for years how I'd go when I left. Bus, car, airplane. I could have sold the car for money, I guess.

I stand there, one hand on the cold dewy sheet metal, thinking.

I could go anywhere. The world is full of cities. I look up at the windows to our bedroom and I think of Warren. My throat is tight, now, regret spilling into my thoughts. The world is full of cities, I think to myself again, a little less confidently.

I could drive to any of those cities and just stop. I could drive until the car breaks down.

I look down at the car, smiling.


The rest of the morning passes without much incident. I get in my car and drive to work before Warren gets up, knowing that the suitcase is in the trunk.

I leave the house and enter a time of day I rarely see from outside my kitchen window. My car is waiting to take me away, headlights like eyes, watching me from the driveway.

All the way to work, I think of leaving taking the highway out of town. Visions of plummeting to 505 have all been replaced with the memory of me and my car, the vacuum of silence in my wake, a dead empty highway waiting for rain.

I can leave at any time, I tell myself as I pull into the parking lot.

The store is empty of customers, it's still pretty early. I'm not usually here this early. Martha is standing behind the counter, and my entrance is apparently the most unusual thing her obscure mind has had to comprehend all morning.

“You're early,” she says, looking up from the manager book. She's got all my pens from the office fanned out around her on the counter, and I don't want to know why. “Regional manager, Aaron,” she says to me, her voice full of doom. “He called again.”

“Fantastic,” I tell her, pushing past the fryers toward the office. She follows me, puffing and saying things like “the fries need salt” and “We're out of chicken tenders, people are gonna be pissed.”

“Salt and chicken tenders,” tell her. “Got it.”

I sit down at the desk in the office and pick up the phone. Martha is standing in the doorway, and for a moment, we stop moving to stare at each other. Matha's face is full of anticipation. Maybe I'm supposed to tell her I'm okay. After a second, I motion her away, and she leaves.

I dial the number for the regional manager. I'm going to give this dummy a piece of my mind. When he picks up, I say, “What?”

“What?” he says to me. “Who is this?”

“Aaron,” I tell him.

“You are in trouble,” he says, over the sound of distant papers shuffling. “I've received a call from a woman who says you denied her a replacement order.”

“Well, yes. She wants that order replaced every day, though.”

“Well do it!”

“I replace it every day.”

He sighs, and says, “I understand why you did what you did, Aaron. I really do. It's just the way it is. You can't change decades of mistakes.”

“We give her eight large sandwiches every day,” I tell him.

I hear a fist slam against a desk, and papers shuffling. “Aaron!” he says, his voice loud in my ear. My heart pounds in my chest. “Do you think we're actually losing money by satisfying a customer? If we deny her a replacement order, she tells all her friends, and THEN we lose money.”

I sit there, staring at the wall, not caring. Not caring, not caring. In my mind, the wall is on fire.

“Whatever,” I tell him.

“This isn't a democracy. You have been warned. One more incident, and you'll be gone.”

I hang up the phone, and after a very long time staring at the wall, I close the door.


The iced coffee here isn't as good as Starbucks. In fact, today it fucking sucks.

I've been sitting out in the dining room, ignoring the rushes of hungry people and screaming children and limping old people, because the coffee sucks. I've managed to convince myself that I don't want to be a part of a conspiracy to sell ruined iced coffee anymore.

Hours have passed, with me in this booth.

Strangely, I haven't heard anything from Martha. She's handling the store without a single question or concern.

I'm starting to wonder why I'm still here.

I look over at my car, beyond the window, sitting in the parking lot, waiting for me. I can leave any time I want, I tell myself. Then I stand up, throw my coffee away, and go back to the office again.

Martha meets me at the door to the office. She's out of breath, holding the phone. I knew it was too good to be true.

“We got problems,” she says.


The end of my shift comes after a few hours of me sitting with my head down on the desk, interrupted by Martha's tiny knocking on the door, penetrated by the yells and laughter of the kitchen crew and the sizzle of fries going into the fryer baskets.

I've got my things from the office in a plastic sack. I have decided that I'm finished at Burger King. It wasn't even a hard decision to make.

I grab a black sharpie from the desk on my way out, and I'm heading around the fryers now, with Martha assigning the night crew to positions. I brush past her without a word, and then I put my things down on the counter and stand, staring at the wall, wondering what to say to her. She's the Burger King, complete with deep fried throne.

It's a role we both know and occupy, by pride or by shame.

We all do it, eventually.

I just can't do it anymore.

“Martha,” I say to her finally, over the roar of the teenagers and deadbeats I employ. She looks up at me, having picked up the manager book to show the new girl around.

“Aaron,” she says to me, her eyes suddenly large. This is suddenly the most poignant and ridiculous moment I have ever experienced. I almost want to hug her.

She continues to look at me.

My lungs are full of acid. “You're in charge tomorrow,” I tell her.

She smiles, and I turn to leave. I'm out the door to the dining room, pushing past customers to the doorway leading to the restroom.

I've still got that sharpie, pitch black and full of evil. I lock the door behind me, eying the toilet and the urinal and the sink. Fuck you, fuck you, I think. Sharpie in hand, my heart pounding, I press the black tip to the tile of the wall and I write. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, I write on the walls, over and over until the back wall is covered with F-bombs and my hand hurts from writing, then I step back and I look at what I've written. I put the Sharpie back in my pocket and I unlock the door, wondering what to do now.

I leave the mens' restroom, and behind me through the door, I wonder how many customers see what I've written.

I'm out the door that leads to the parking lot, my car, my suitcase, and my freedom before anyone can say or do anything to stop me.


The message on my phone is simple. Subway, it says. From Harrison.

Subway, I think, with my car already on the way.


This is stupid. Really, really stupid. We've been here for over an hour.

I'm sitting in this booth like I expect something from him.

Harrison, his hair bright green and close cropped, shining in the sun from the windows across the store, talks to me about college and video games and I just sit there, waiting.

“Harrison,” I say to him finally, stopping him in mid-sentence.

He looks up at me from the table, where he has mutilated a pair of chocolate chip cookies.

“What is this?” I ask him.

He stares at me, his eyes wide.

I gesture between us. “This,” I say.

“What?” he asks me, picking up part of a cookie. He looks down again, smiling his half-smile for only a second, raising an eyebrow, and then looking back up at me.

I put a hand down on the wrapper of my sandwich, my insides beginning to bubble. “What are we?” I ask him again, more quietly.

He stops smiling altogether, his face serious, and sits back in the booth, letting the cookie fall onto the table again.

“Aaron,” he says, finally.

I'm waiting for him to say it. I'm waiting for text to become reality, birds to sing, something stupid like that.

“I was kind of out of it last night,” he says quietly, looking away. He takes a deep breath and says, “I'm sorry for texting you. I hope I didn't cause any problems.”

Exploding birds, my phone in flames.

The other customers bleeding from gaping, slashed throats, their screams transformed into gurgles of panic.

I'm waiting to be impaled.

Of course, that's just my brain.

It's all my brain.

“I see,” I tell him, my voice calm.

We stay there a little while longer, but I can't remember what we're talking about.


On the way home, I think about all the time I've spent pretending I live in the house I share with Warren. Going about life, straightening pillows, doing dishes, wasting time, my life passing a minute at a time, month after month. Five years worth of nothing.

It's almost dark, the streetlights humming to life around me, cars rumbling past me on the street, beer bottles along the curb.

The houses are silent monuments, looking on.

I'm suddenly terrified of dying. All those times I could have done it; I couldn't now if I wanted to. I'm scared of not being remembered, a life of doing nothing closing over my head. Reduced to a little stone in a green yard full of little stones that all look the same, the world continuing as though I hadn't been born at all, much less lived in a house and washed dishes day after day.

Who am I?

I'm starting to have the slightest pinpricks of an idea of how to answer that question.

I've got my hands in my pockets now, and I'm almost home.

This house, standing green and black against the sky, complete with garage and broken dreams. This life, full of roads ignored, pathways neglected and overgrown.

I'm almost home, now, my mind filling with dark, bitter regret, twisting around the gutters and the door knobs and the bed upstairs, drawing me closer with ravenous tendrils of normality.

But maybe that's my brain, too.

I make as quiet an entrance as possible. Warren and I barely speak as I make dinner, then we eat, and finally, I am reduced to dishes again.

Boiled down to a lonely piece of shit standing in front of the sink, washing spaghetti off of plates, soda out of cups.

This life is absolute bullshit.


I do a lot of thinking now that we have separate rooms.

I can see the siding of the house next door as I sit on the bed, and I know that something's about to happen. There's a train rumbling huge and distant, closer and closer in the back of my mind.

Something's about to happen to me, and I have a suitcase packed for when it does.

I'm practically a silhouette against the last light of day outside the window, the siding bare and sanded down beyond.

I've come up here to find Warren on this bed, asleep. I guess I should lay down, too. It's not late, but I'm tired.


I wake up to find myself alone. Warren's gone back to his room, I guess.

I get up and go to the bathroom, afraid not to look in the mirror, my heart pounding.

My cheap hair color is fading, and so is my bruise. It's almost gone.

I touch the mirror, and I swear I can feel the pulse of the guy in the mirror, looking at me.

“You need a new hair color,” I say aloud to him.

After packing another suitcase, I take it out to the car, and I decide to go get some hair dye.


My car is cold and loud on the way to the all-night grocery store. They've got a hair dye section full of the reds, blondes, browns and blacks of conservative hair color. I've got a box of black in my hand, and I'm almost to the register, the candy and chewing gum and energy drinks closing in from both sides.

The woman ahead of me has a cart full of beer.

The boy behind the register looks at me with little to no interest, scanning my box of black and telling me I owe him five dollars.

That's freedom. Five dollars, and I'm on my way to my car with a reason to be okay again. This is life, hair color bought in the cold silent grocery stores of early morning, before the birds are awake to sing.

Absolute adulthood is about making choices like this. I know this now.

The lady with the beer is trying to fit it all in the trunk of her car, and I'm standing outside my open driver side door, wondering what's next.


It doesn't really matter what bathroom I dye my hair in. Hair dye is magic. It erases everything on the outside.

I'm home now, staring at my reflection. The box is in the trash, and there I am, reborn, a man with black hair. The blue is gone, and a change has come about.

I put my shirt on and go downstairs to eat cereal.

At the table, my bowl and my spoon making the nice little sounds of breakfast at 3am, I find myself staring at the house next door, and I know we're the same, it and I.

Maybe I fucked my own life up. I fucked it up pretty bad. Things are clearer now than before, though. I've got cereal, and my hair is a new color. I'm full of life and wonder just now, and maybe it doesn't matter.

My phone vibrates in my pocket.

I take it out and look at it. HARRISON, it says.


Harrison is on the porch when I open the front door.

“I had to see you,” he says.

I close the door behind me and we stare at each other.

Then, with no warning, he pulls me toward him and we're embracing, long and deep and sad. I've barely got my arms around him when he's crying, and I have no idea how to deal with this.

“I'm sorry,” is all I know to say, so I say it, but I'm not sure why I'm sorry.

“Don't be sorry,” he tells me, his voice thin and low and full of things I'll never hear in real words. This is all I get: a sad early morning front porch reunion.

We stand there in the glow of the buzzing porch light, our hands in our pockets, and after a while I say to him, “I'm leaving town.”

“Where are you going?” he wants to know.

After a moment, I say, “Away.”

A couple minutes later, after he stops crying and can stand on his own, he backs away, and he looks at me, smiling a half-smile.

“Maybe I am, too,” he says quietly.

And then he's gone, having turned and run down the steps and across Bernard street. I can barely see his dark form before it's swallowed up by dark, for a moment half-hidden by garages and parked cars and trees, almost lit by streetlights, then gone. Suddenly, I'm alone on the porch.

I stand there, wondering if I will ever see him again. When I've squinted into the darkness long enough to convince myself that he's gone, I go inside. I barely know my name anymore. Maybe I'll forget all the names of all the people I know, and I can start over.

As I fill the sink with water, I look up once in a while at the house next door, the exposed wood of the siding barely visible beyond my own reflection, bright and vacant in the glass of the kitchen windows.

I wash the bowl slowly and deliberately, making sure to get even microscopic bits of unknown dinners long ago out of the tiny cracks I cant even see, and then, carefully, I put it in the strainer.


I'm finished.


The end of the road.

I sit at the table for maybe an hour, thinking of all those places I should be by now. I think of the suitcases in the car, waiting for me to get in the car and drive.

I think of Warren upstairs, his sleeping body curled on his side of the bed.

At last, I get up and I go to the doorway that leads to the hallway, lingering for a moment, and then I turn off the lights. I can see the siding clearly now, rough and ugly and changing. I think of my hair, and I reach up to touch it. The kitchen looks faintly alien in the cool dark of night, all of the normal fixtures hidden and replaced by the gleaming phantoms of domestic life.

I'm smiling, because I know this place.

I look directly at the house next door beyond the wet dish rags and the empty sink.

“You aren't the only one changing colors, house,” I say to it, my voice loud and ridiculous in the quiet kitchen, and after a second or two, I go upstairs.


Tomorrow, I'll do something.

This bed is warm, and this house is familiar, but I don't belong here.