Troy James Weaver
“Is Sandra there?” I ask someone named Jose. He tells me she doesn’t work at this particular call center, but people are very fond of Sandra and he can patch me through if I’d be willing to hold. “Hold,” I say, “hold away. But make it snappy, please.”
An hour later, I’m still on hold, still thinking about my head Plath-style in the oven, still thinking about whether or not it will be painless like they say it is. I’m scared of the pain, that’s my main problem. I’m scared to feel things. Anything. I mean, what if I like it, the feeling of dying, what if the pain makes me happy and it’s already too late for realizations, because by the time I start feeling it, the pain, and liking it, I’ll be too dead to save myself from myself? Think about it. Then I wouldn’t be able to live in the pain best suited to my spirit. I wouldn’t be able to admire and enjoy my invention of comfort, wouldn’t be able to sleep on the rocks I’ll soon call pillows. Finally, I hang up and think, Fuck, I could’ve killed myself at least thirteen times by now.
Next day at work, hair-twirling kid’s not there. Everyone looks sad. Cancer lady is talking to tall guy and they both have tears in their eyes. What in the fuck is happening? And I get it, the news: he shot himself through the head last night. I go outside and smoke cigarettes, trying to come to terms with it. He was more than a hair-twirling coworker, he was a human being. He was my friend. I mean, I’m so fucking sad I can’t even think. I fumble for my cellphone, wanting to know what people may or may not be saying on social media, needing a little more information. I pull my phone out of my pocket, and see I have two new text messages. Both are from him, the almighty hair-twirling wonder. First one reads: I really need somebody to talk to. And the second one: When you get this, please call me. I can’t breathe. I smoke faster, take bigger drags, hold the smoke in longer, try to hold it in so long I feel my brain cells start fizzling out like sparklers. In four days there will be a funeral. I’ll see him then, one last time. I wonder if we’ll be providing the flowers for his visitation.
What is the best way to die? I answer myself with mute moving lips. I wake up in a sweat, tears in my eyes. I feel so sad I think I’ll go up to that hair-twirling fucker and punch him in his fucking gut tomorrow. Nightmare inducing bastard, that kid. I’ll go up to him and say, “I thought you were dead! You asshole! I thought you were dead!”
My wife, beautiful and wondering, contemplates each passage in a book about saints as she reads aloud to me in our basement. I stopped paying attention after Saint Appollonia, who wore a gold tooth around her neck or some shit, and I wondered what she looked like when she ate, before she was a martyr, gold tooth and all, before we gave the world its veins with plastic plumbing. The image in my head is miraculous, an incomplete painting, an erasure, actually—only a tooth, not yet gold, hovering in the ether of some bloody gums in a sinew-wrapped skull. And I can’t see enough of it—I’m trying to see it, as I write these words. I can’t. My imagination is shot. No pictures to be drawn.
Marigold florets are often mixed with chicken feed. Makes the yolks a brighter yellow, I’m told, for those who care for such things.
After work one day, I buy bullets for a .22. My best friend has one hidden in his closet. I’ve shot targets with it. I’m a shitty aim, but I’m pretty sure I can’t miss my own head. It would be worse than the Tee Ball thing if I missed my own head. I’d have to stay alive just to live with myself. That would be my punishment. I made sure to keep the receipt, you know, just in case.
The hours spill like shadows across the day. It’s three going on four going on seven, feels like the longest 8th inning stretch I’ve never witnessed. I’m watching my corners, waiting for the bums to come out and pester me for change. Recently, I’ve been all along this road and they’re always there, nagging my conscience with their patient eyes, like this one bag lady I met last Tuesday. Her name is Allison. She came at me out of nowhere and only for a quarter to call her sister back in Delaware. I thought, Delaware? My god, how far you’ve come. The soles on her shoes flapped up and down like sad, cartoon lips. I told her I’d give her a quarter if she’d join me for a cup of coffee after she used the phone. She shook her head, saying, “Nah, coffee ain’t a thing.” I knew, I already knew it—what she wanted. “Let me guess,” I said. “You’d rather have a beer, wouldn’t you?” And instantly, I felt sorry I’d said it. These old lips are best left closed. But she didn’t take offense, not at all. She just said, “Actually, I just was thinking I could use a shower. You live close by?” This was the moment her beauty showed its hand. See, I’d misgauged her age by at least fifteen years and was just then noticing what lie beneath my first impressions, because she held her head up for the first time to me and then smiled this smile that said, Just get me to a fucking bathroom so I can show you I’m a lot more than all this dirt on my skin.
It strikes me a few minutes later that neither one of us remembered the obsolescence of payphones, even if we were able to find one.
I take her to my place for a shower. She is in there about thirty, forty-five minutes. I put her clothes in the wash and wait. When she comes out, she looks amazing, like you wouldn’t even believe. We watch Seinfeld reruns while her clothes dry. My wife comes home, startled and uncomprehending, this strange woman sitting on the couch in her bathrobe, and starts with this look and aggressive wave of the hand.
“And who is this?”
“This,” I say. “This—this is . . .”
“Allison,” says Allison, and she sticks her hand out for a shake, but my wife, she just looks at it, turns around and leaves the house.
“Well,” I say, “how about that beer?”
The short walk home must feel like the longest distance when you live in the street.
I dial up the hotline, get a dude named Matt. I tell Matt I’d like to ask him a question. Matt says, “Shoot, ask me anything.” All the sudden there is this horrible swollen feeling in my chest. I go silent. Matt says, “Hello? Hello? Are you there?” I can’t choke through the throat-fucked feeling to say, Yes, Matt. Yes, I am. I’m here. I hang up the phone and swallow back the bile, wipe the tears from my cheeks, and go into the kitchen to eat a hotdog with mustard.
After I wash the last dog chunk down with orange soda, I patch things up with my wife—explain the whole why-I-had-a-homeless-robed-woman-on-the-couch-watching-Seinfeld thing. She says she understands, she thinks I’m a good man and all that you-have-such-a-big-heart stuff, but I sense something in her tone, like she only half-believes my story or something, and, for the moment, I’m okay with that.
I think of the taller dude at work, how he said he use to ride miniature bulls back when he was nine or ten. Rodeo for children—he loved it. Then, one day, they wanted him to ride the big bull, not the mini, and he wasn’t about it. That was the end of his bull-riding career. But he talked and talked about all the pussy he was getting from riding on the minis. At first, I was like, Oh, yeah, well, good for you, man. But then I was like, Wait a second, didn’t you say you were nine or ten. He looked nervous, but he laughed, then I laughed, and then we were both laughing so hard we were unable to stop. I was crying. Then our boss came out of his office. Said, What’s so funny? What’re you guys laughing about? We looked at each other, looked back at our boss, and said, Nothing, just this stupid thing. Don’t worry about it. For the rest of the day, we did the eggshell walk, even while taking the trash out. At the dumpster, dumping the cans, I wondered what it would be like to crawl inside one and take a nap. A few years back, a homeless man died that way. Fell asleep in a dumpster at the mall one cold winter night and got compacted in the trash truck. Truck was too loud to hear his screams. Life feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it? Like a scream that gets muffled by the crushing.
Troy James Weaver is the author of Witchita Stories, Visions, and Marigold. He lives in Wichita, Kansas. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustration by Rachel Lillie