October 20th, 2010
This is my PROMPTuesday submission for today.
He sat in a shredded leather recliner, something shabby he’d hauled from apartment to apartment for 20 years. The chair faced a mirror, an ages-old oxymoronic gold flaked monstrosity so out of place among the chipped wood tables and leaning bookcases that populated his tiny one-bedroom like dead trees. As always, he picked his fingernails as he looked into the mirror, willing himself to turn away, something he’d not been able to do since he’d had both the chair and the mirror. He vaguely heard his son splash in the too-nearby bathroom, “Daddy! I want to get out now!” But he continued to stare into the glass, not ignoring the cries as much as not fully absorbing them.
He tightened the tourniquet, scratching the embattled skin inside his elbow with plucked-down fingernails. After a few long seconds, there was dread release, both externally and internally and he watched himself put his weapons away, for that’s what they were, as surely deadly as a gun or a knife, and went to get his son. He floated past the toilet, avoiding its pockmarked porcelain; flecks he’d seen too clearly and up close the week before when his neighbor found him curled on the floor, blue to his shoulders, barely breathing, as his son stood in the doorway with the telephone in his white hand.
Again, he’d nearly died that night. And as he heard the distant wailing of two red trucks in the distance, he bit down on his neighbor’s finger to let her know he was alive, just alive by an inch, and he came to slowly, so slowly, but enough to walk out the front door to the paramedics to tell them he took a sleeping pill — just one! — with two beers — and had passed out. No, he’d never do that again, he nodded. They never even came inside.
His neighbor said don’t do this to your son again, and she left, trembling. She took her own son with her; he’d also been outside the bathroom door that night with a wide moon face and the white hands. He thinks of her as “neighbor” now, but she’s a good friend really, his dear friend; the one who lives across the way, the one who didn’t really know who he was until last week, the artist who painted him pictures to chase the demons and watched his son and had — before seven days ago — sent her own son over for Lego Night. Now, she checked on him often, by phone of course; she wouldn’t walk inside again, her face told him that much.
He shuffled from cold foot to cold foot as his son emerged from the bath. He dried him off with a soft towel, the only new thing he’d purchased in months. “You hungry buddy?” The boy didn’t answer, just stood at attention letting the towel minister to his pruned skin, until finally, he nodded. “Spaghetti? Hot dog? Anything you want.” His son moved into his arms and nuzzled there for a moment, and they stayed that way until the shakiness pushed them apart.
“Hot dog.” The boy pulled on the grass-kneed pants that had been crumpled on the floor. “With ketchup. Ketchup. OK, daddy?”
“You got it. Just give me a second.”
And once more he settled in the chair; the one before the mirror, as his son walked to the kitchen for whatever could be found there, then took the crackers and the cheese and the speckled banana to their room and shut the door behind him.
He vaguely sees the front door pushed open; but once more he is floating, floating, by the crumbling toilet, by the bath, by the chair, and by the mirror, always the mirror.