Last night I was thirty feet tall. Had a mouth full of red light.
Sometime after 4 am, a call came in on the scanner.
“Domestic dispute, 601 Division Street. Any units available?”
I stopped mopping to glance at the cartoon, street map on the wall. Division Street is right behind the facility.
One time I posed as a garbage man, riding along with the other garbage men. They didn’t care. They let me pick up the heavy cans. High-fived me with wet hands.
I took home a smashed TV. Still watch it in my cramped room.
Another time I got an orange vest, a yellow hard hat, spiky shoes, and scaled a telephone pole outside my ex-girlfriend’s house. Climbed right up to the buzzing electric lines. Waited and watched her glowing house.
I could see shadows walking past the window, and isn’t that your whole life? Being a shadow walking past a window?
Love is not a riddle you solve with another riddle.
I leaned out and kissed the step-down transformer box.
I licked the transformer. Bit onto the black wires. Buzzing. Humming. Reached up and grabbed higher wires with my hands, hanging like a heartbroken ape.
Guess I can’t die.
“Anyone?” the dispatcher on the police scanner says, desperate, “Domestic Dispute, 601 Division …”
I’m not a cop, but I’ll go.
I can visualize two squad cars parked in 69 behind Food Universe. Four napping cops. Drooling on themselves.
It's the time of morning when society changes its bandages.
I javelin the mop into the hallway and take off my shirt, change into my cop costume. Shirt, hat, badge, baton, replica rubber gun. Taser.
The boiler room is vibrating on auto pilot. I’ll just be twenty minutes. This’ll be fun.
I slip out the back and sprint between the medical waste dumpster and the chain-link fence and then I’m on the street.
Pumping my arms like I’m splitting molecules.
The house is just a couple blocks up. I count down from 1000 with the mailboxes.
The woman is on the front steps, sitting quietly, recently she was weeping. I can smell it. Taste it in the air. Braided black hair and a canary yellow bridesmaids dress (my guess).
She stands when she sees me walking up the driveway. She is barefoot.
“Problem?” I ask, careful not to huff and puff.
“I need to get in my house,” she says. “He won’t let me in my house.”
There’s headlights coming up the block and for a minute I get nervous it’s a squad car but it isn’t. It’s the milk man.
The milkman doesn't wave back.
“Does anyone have a weapon here?” I ask the woman.
“What? No. Just you.”
“Perfect. What do you need out of the house?”
“Some clothes. Some personal items.”
I shine my flashlight and get a proper look and notice that the woman’s bottom lip is fat from being hit. There is dried blood in her nostrils.
“Personal items? That mean drugs?”
She looks away.
“I don't care, I'll get your drugs, your clothes, photo albums. Whatever you want.”
The window opens upstairs. A man leans out, shirtless. “I’ve got a restraining order against her.”
“His own wife!”
“Allison, Shut your mouth.”
I hold my hand to my lips, sssssh. “Sir, come down here and open the door, or I’ll blow your house up with nitroglycerin, metaphorically.”
I take the gun off my hip. I wave it up at him.
The man, like most people, is hypnotized by the gun, or not this gun because it is rubber, but the thought of a gun. He comes down and unlocks the door. Apologizes. Says his father is a cop.
I say, “Well, I’m not your daddy.”
We're inside now. Me and Allison. Walking room to room with a purple backpack. She points I put things in the bag.
I’ve told the shirtless man to pour himself a drink in the kitchen and to stay in there.
“We’ll just be a hot minute.”
Being inside someone’s home when they don’t want you there fills me with birdsong, explosion fireworks, skeletal bliss.
“He cheated on me.”
“I have experience with that,” I say, taking her hand. “Girl I knew became a mechanized shadow. Her face once beautiful to me turned to snow static like a TV station gone off air. Where she stepped, green ooze bubbled up. It’s like that with you and your guy?”
Allison stares at me. “Something like that.”
“I’m not just a cop. I’m also a therapist.”
“It gets easier,” I say. “Try drawing a picture of him being carried away by wasps or vultures.”
“I will. I’ll try that.”
But now she is looking closer at my badge. Closer at my face. Her eyes dart from spot to spot. She’d make a lousy magician. Or poker player. Or believer of any kind.
Dishes ricochet in the sink in the near distance. I hear Darryl yelling.
We end up in their bedroom.
She opens the top drawer and takes all the condoms out, puts them in the bag. I reach on the night stand and take the remote control to Darryl’s TV and throw it out the window.
“He hit you? You want me to hit him?”
“No,” she says. “I hit him too. I kicked him in the balls and then he knocked me over and yanked my boots off, threw them in the garden.”
He’s quiet and standing there and suddenly she doesn't live there anymore, so I think I see a smile, but it’s hard to tell because her stolen lip is trembling.
“Thank you,” she says, but I realize that means she is done, the back pack is full and it is time to leave. I get sad. But then the fear returns because I know reality has flipped the light switch back on again—such heavy shame.
I hear the faint squeak of brakes. Out the window I see a real cop coming.
“Allison,” I say, “Go in the bathroom and lock the door. It's for your own safety. I think he has a gun.” She listens. But she thinks I mean Darryl. She too, is hypnotized by guns.
I climb into the closet.
I wait. There are muffled voices far off. Darryl and the real cop who is in the kitchen. And then the sound of the cop coming down the hall. His heavy footsteps, “Hello? Hernandez? This you? You in here? O’Connor?”
When the door to the spare room opens, I leap out.
I’ve taken out the taser from my belt, and now the taser is at the cop’s throat. I pull the trigger on the taser, the fat cop collapses on the floor.
I'm able to handcuff him, arms behind his back. Into the closet he goes.
Allison is hiding in the shower. “It’s safe now, let’s go.”
She takes my hand and follows me out the sliding glass door, confused.
“Ah look at that!” I say. There, through the canopy of trees, “That’s my old friend, the dumb sun. My shift is just about over.”
I’m holding a rubber gun in my left hand and a real one in my right, and only notice when my nose itches.
She finds her boots on the edge of the wood line. Already a slug has made its home on the soft leather, but she bats it off and it falls back into the slimy leaves.
We walk quicker now that she is no longer bare foot. But we don’t go far.
I have Allison sit on some patio furniture in one of her neighbor’s back yard. I have Allison close her eyes. I say, “Count backwards from 1000 and when you get to 0, you are a free woman and your life will begin anew, don’t ever return to the limitations of your old life, the old you has been put on an escalator that is forever voyaging up into the unknown clouds. Isn’t that nice? The new you, is right here, is right in this very chair. There are no unknowns for the new you. Your life is a glowing orb, forever expanding from the palm of your own perfect hand.”
I kiss her hand and she doesn’t seem to like that. But she does close her eyes. And she does begin to count.
By the time she has reached nine hundred and eighty one, I am already well into the woods. Leaping over logs and brush like a hurdler at the Olympic games.
As she reaches eight hundred and twenty, I have already reached my place of employment.
At six hundred I am dressed again in my proper uniform, and though sweaty and winded, I again, am mopping.
By the time she is at four hundred, her neighbor has looked out the back window and noticed she is sitting in the yard.
By two hundred, more real police are arriving. Their sirens can be heard.
By one hundred, I am at the vending machine getting a pack of peanuts.
By her count of fifty, officers Hernandez and O’Connor are walking into the yard. Soon they are speaking to Allison, but she is not responding.
Her eyes are clenched tight and she is counting down. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. She is ready for her new life.
My neighbor had the most beautiful painting hanging in his house.
I was never invited over.
He thought I was a joke, the way I stood on my front lawn in my goblin costume, watering perpetually withering rhododendron.
I’d worn that costume every day since my brother died, sweat rolling off me and collecting inside the rubber shell.
But at certain dusks I was known to fill a juice cup and to take that juice cup across the street onto my neighbor’s untamed lawn.
As the crickets began to sing; I crept to the edge of his house.
As the crickets began to sing. Moon pegged to the charcoal sky, my lungs bursting with lemon sunshine.
Me in my goblin costume, looking in the window at his wife, dancing major league naked—doing some glorious ballerina routine all through the house. Twirling. Leaping. How you spell it? Peer-o-what?
The spider plants swayed in their macramé baskets suspended from the ceiling, and forever reproducing.
Once or twice through the glass, I had heard the Steinway piano make a ghost note from her coming back to this life on a trained big toe.
Those ghost notes cannot be recreated. No one tries.
My neighbor was never home. I think he is a vacuum cleaner salesman but the vacuums are used for something stupid like sucking the souls out of a sleeping person. Keeping. He owns nine different pairs of identical beige dress pants.
And my neighbor’s wife, Molly, well Molly cried the loudest at Dale’s funeral. But my brother died mysteriously. What’s more mysterious? A person’s death, or a person’s life.
Molly is beautiful in the same way an avalanche crushing over man-made wonder is beautiful.
Beautiful in the same way an electrified emerald sea bursting through the gates of a baseball stadium would be, washing away all the plastic seats, concession stands of hot dogs, popcorns and lite beers.
She did a Grande Jeté from the sectional couch to the glass top coffee table and bounded down the hall like dawn invading the unsuspecting sleepyhead world.
I’d come there for the painting hanging on the wall all alone. See it there it is hanging above the fireplace?
Oil on canvas. Sloppy. 30” by 20”. Two boys, crouched, scooping up spiky seed balls from the sweet gum trees.
Of course I recognize the boys.
They’re constant neon in my stomach acid dreams.
One boy in a blue straw hat with a black eye and missing a canine tooth, that one be me.
Other boy, Dale. With braces and wearing the novelty tuxedo t-shirt my father got married in, six sizes too big. Dale is still wearing that shirt, just now he’s underground in a pine box.
It’s like whoever painted the painting took a polaroid of me and my brother in the summer yard where we grew up, and recreated it here in the neighbor-who-hates-me’s house.
And I pulled open the stubborn window. Climbing in. Head then arm then arm then leg and leg. My rubber suit moaned as I dragged it and me across the windowsill into the room. Just like getting born.
Sliding down onto the carpet and crawling across the floor. Glee grin terror. With both arms greedy and quick, I plucked the painting off the wall.
Buried my nose in it. Studied it.
Somehow, there my brother and I were, picking up alien eggs, red seed pods. Young. Dumb. Kids loose in personal paradise.
And while the avalanche wife hurled herself through the rest of the ripe house, I climbed back outside the window, into the life that doesn’t have wine or roses or openmouthed kisses for moi.
My plan was to dig up my brother that night and stuff the painting in his coffin. Jump start his heart. I crawled across the lawn like a jail-broke crab.
While I thought about how far it was to the cemetery, I stayed crouched on my driveway. Bouncing in place. The painting face down on hot asphalt.
But there to bother me, was a lone cricket in the careening moonlight.
“Helllllllo, baby” I said, placing my cupped hand down on the thing, incredibly slow.
Make a fist.
The cricket was quiet, was blending in with me. The rotation of earth. The shimmer of stars. The pulse of electric voids.
I put the cricket in my mouth. Crunched down.
Quiet again. Could go back to thinking.
And as my neighbor came home in his miracle of a silver spaceship car, I stood up, and flung the painting of me and my brother onto the shadow soaked-roof of the house I called my home.
He looked over as he passed, fumbling with his keys out of ignorance. His house was unlocked. Even I knew that. He waved.
I said nothing.
I was going to kill him.
Not right then.
I mean sometime when he was really distracted. Maybe when he’s opening his birthday present or something. Possibly Christmas morning.
I thought, maybe later, my brother will be awake in his coffin and help me.
But my neighbor stopped at the foot of his garage and showed me unexpected kindness.
“Yo, Greg—what’s with the Halloween costume? It’s August .&nbps;. . Aren’t you hot?”
I show my teeth. Every single one.
I can feel foam gathering in my throat.
He walks out into the street. Stops halfway though. My glasses fog up from the heat escaping out of the rubber suit.
I'm a chainsaw gonna eviscerate you.
“Know you’ve been through the ringer. Just wanted to say that if you need anything, anything at all, me and Molly are always here for you. Just across the street, man. Talk or borrow an egg or ten, even pop some cold ones if you like.”
He can’t tell, I’m doing my silent scream.
“Okay, man, have a nice night .&nbps;. . Just remember, you have a friend in me,” he said.
He backed away slowly, and I bet he even had 911 memorized. The little lamb.
The little lamb goes finally inside.
By the time he shuts his door, there is his wife, dressed fully in plum, hair in bun, sitting on the piano bench reading a magazine about famous escapes from jungle prison camps.
I scaled the lattice work, almost ripped my own gutter off getting onto my roof, but when I had the painting in my hands, don’t you know I was a flying squirrel, as if each cloud had a vine hanging down for me to swing on.
I felt so much better. Angel of Death kite, slipped from your grip riding the wild wind.
The cemetery was empty. I borrowed the keys to a excavation machine. Tame yellow metal elephant.
A couple scoops of earth and then I had to borrow a shovel from the tool shed to finish the work. As the sun erased the ink from the world and brought daytime, I reached Dale’s coffin, knocked once, twice, thrice. The lid popped up. I shoved the painting into his dead face.
Dale sat up in his coffin and said, “Alien eggs.” He gripped the painting to his chest. He kissed the back of the painting.
I hugged him, dusted him off as he coughed, said, “Bro. I know.”
“Why you dressed in that rubber suit.”
“Just a phase, they insist. Why you wearing that joke t-shirt?”
He shook his head and pulled a clump of moss from his tuxedo print chest. “Life was a joke. It’s cool now though ‘cause it’s over.”
I extend a hand down to Dale and he took it, and climbed up out of his grave, sniffing the air, looking sleepy like someone disturbed from too long of a nap.
He plopped down on the grass next to his open burial plot as if reluctant to leave, his feet still dangling in the hole.
“How’d you die?”
“Me,” he said.
“That was some people’s theory, I said they were all crazy.”
“They were right, and you’re probably crazy.” He laughed and shoved me. I shoved him back, but stopped his fall with my foot before he slid back in his hole in the ground.
He laughed again, “My hero. Got any bubble gum?”
“Nah,” I said. When he was alive Dale always had a piece of watermelon gum in his mouth. “Question for you. Who painted this painting?”
“You don’t paint.”
“Everyone is full of surprises,” he said. “I used to juggle too .&nbps;. . I could keep a couple lemons up in the air. What secret talents do you have little bro?”
“Nothing? I doubt that. Ah, find something, man. Find it quick and get on with things.”
“I can’t believe you could paint that good .&nbps;. . ”
He looked down at the painting. “I painted the front, that’s you and me in grandma’s yard .&nbps;. . and my girlfriend painted the back .&nbps;. .”
I didn’t realize there was anything on the back.
He flipped the painting over and there was Molly painted on the reverse side of the canvas. She was nude, as usual, but dancing, suspended in an orange tornado that was passing over endless jail yards, gray and brown, with barbed wire fences and people in striped white and black jumpsuits trying to play basketball with flat basketballs.
I was ready to call this family reunion. Headlocks and shit talk. My brother is back! Like—here’s your only warning: Me and bro gonna burn down this town down. Your dusty house first.
But Dale said, “Alright pal, I’m gonna go back in the ground now. Have a nice rest of your life.” He kissed me on the side of my head, and damn he stunk. “Lose this costume,” he said, “it's not your style.”
“I like it, helps me remember you .&nbps;. . ”
“Don’t.” My brother reached over and grabbed the mask just beneath my right eye slit. My glasses went flying into the grass and everything blurred. As he yanked, the costume ripped and pulled from my head like a dark flower blossom opening.
I felt the breeze on my neck and my chest and then my belly as the rubber split. With both hands now, Dale ripped the suit off me, and in doing so, he fell back into his own coffin and laughed again.
I put my glasses back on. Dale was flat on his back, smirking.
“Why’d you kill yourself?”
He opened one eye and grinned.
He stood up and gave me a look just like he used to do when he was a little kid and he was happy because he knew something I didn’t know. “If I wanted anybody to know I would have written a note.”
“If you had written that in a note I wouldn’t have had to come and dig you up .&nbps;. . ”
“Didn’t ask you to dig me up. Well hold on, maybe I do have a scrap of paper with some more info for you, uh, maybe it’s here in one of my pockets, let me look, I don’t recall.” He stuck his hands in his pocket and looked surprised, “Oh! Here it is!”
He stuck his hand up and there wasn’t a note, he was just giving me the bird. The skin was gone from the hand, maybe it was in his pocket now.
“Love you, dude. Don’t take this raw, but I hope I don’t see you for a hundred more years. And please, tell Molly I’m waiting for her in that place we dreamed about.”
He sat down and closed his own coffin from the inside. The painting was in there with him. Just as well.
I waited for a while to see if he would come back out, but he didn’t. I even called his name and sung his favorite song. But then, a couple feral dogs had appeared at the edge of the cemetery and I worried that they’d eat him if I left my post as quasi-guard, so I covered the grave back up with dirt.
On my walk home, the sun came out and almost set my pale body on fire. Skin so milky that hadn’t seen the sun’s light for so long.
I walked bare assed into town. Admiring things. The stained glass in the churches window. The mailbox someone had built to look like a duck. The sound of someone playing a saxophone in their garage. But only once did I stop, to stand in the sprinklers raging outside the funeral home, the water so cool, so life giving.
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