There is an instant that separates the time when two peoples’ lips touch, and when that touch becomes a kiss. There is an instant when an acquaintance becomes a friend. There is an instant when a memory becomes a stranglehold. For Darryl, that instant happened moments ago.
The drizzle formed into a cadre of droplets that assaulted Darryl’s facial follicles.
Scrunching his eyes several times relieved the invasion. When the water beads regrouped and commandeered the coldness, the battle was over. Darryl pressed his open hand against his forehead and squeegeed over his eyes. Before reaching the tip of his nose he had thought about her remains, twice.
He returned to the kitchen, unconsciously administering his nostrum by taking the seven awkward steps around the squeaky spot in the living room floor.
His bungalow was unpolluted with convention. Her picture, a three by five black and white Polaroid taped loosely near the center of a much larger framed rectangle of glass over a white background hung askew from a string, revolving over the fireplace. The thought of a picture of the pepper shaker taking the place of the original came and went.
Darryl wanted to be well. He tolerated the periodic visits. It was Sunday and Dr. M—— would be there at 3:00 o’clock. He thought about a camera set on automatic ready to take a picture of itself off a reflective surface. He wanted to get a true, indicative cross-section of himself to study, not some ephemeral wisp from perhaps a less faithful part of Mom’s floor-length mirror. Darryl wanted to be well. He didn’t want the doctor to come – but maybe he had a camera.
It was 2:50 P.M. Darryl sat in the tattered recliner with her phantom, posthumous noose around his neck. The doorbell, no, it was a knock, that alerted him to Dr. M’s arrival. He turned to rise as her picture caught the light. A full-length lust proceeded its consummation. A second knock was needed, and it came.
The elderly gentleman entered unnoticed. His eternal face a mask of dried, cracked gray concrete. To Darryl, the visits were like a dog visiting his vomit. He offered him a seat in his least favorite chair, a chipped, dog-chewed Victorian ‘whatever’ wood, near the axis of her spin. He lit the landing lights for the possible formation of something helpful, something tangible.
“So, how goes it, Darryl?”
“About the same, I guess, Doc,” addressing him only peripherally.
“You know, there’s an empty bed down at St. Mary’s – ‘whatever’. The doctor’s voice came from the ceiling as if he was a ventriloquist.
Darryl wanted that picture of himself. With some measure of thought he knew he could rectify his problems. “What are my problems?” he asked himself, more proud of the succinctness of the words he had just strung together than the quality of the question.
“A few dollars down would reserve that room for whenever you needed it.”
The doctor’s voice echoed from the kitchen where he was probably helping himself to a gray sandwich. Darryl turned off the runway lights.
Darryl’s immediate thoughts were just the skin of his despair. The perfect union burned deep inside. He hurried into the kitchen to assure the safety of the pepper shaker. M—— must have gone outside. Darryl felt the first of many strange sensations, like he was not even – there. He had been reduced to a wheel with one spoke.
Some say it’s the vocabulary present that enables discovery. If that is the case, it spelt doom. Darryl had no rhetoric that ended in an unknown way.
There is another instant; just before a thought becomes words. This ‘instant’ was becoming seconds – ever increasing seconds – and coupled with his lack of understanding, often precluded thinking and reason altogether.
The doctor evaporated one more time. Darryl wondered why he allowed him to come at all. Perhaps it was the dog the Dr. stopped bringing with him.
As if a lost boxer in the ring, fighting a title bout, Darryl knelt down on both knees. With arms folded on a window sill of his synthetic dungeon, and his chin resting on top of them, he searched the landscape as if he had rolled some diagnostic dice and expected a revolutionary, existential answer. None came.
He arose. Two minutes left and it was only the second round. Heartbreak took off its gloves.
Pushed by his foe and pulled by the vacuum of the departing final hope, he trod, unburdened by anything remotely akin to liberation, out the back door – free from the concern of the squeaky floor. Up ahead, another clear stretch of fantasy awaited its creation.