As I wandered back into the Hotel St. George, it was summer, and my mouth was still sticky from the wine tasting next door. Pete, Pete, possibly the greatest human that had ever lived was there, in the doorway, holding his cart, his beads around his neck.
He did look a bit like a homeless person, but he was not. He was so “not homeless” that it pissed me off when he was regarded as such. He was old, weathered, educated, alive. “Helooooo, Ryaaaaaan, how are you?, are you getting good maaarks in your school?”, he dragged every word out, each syllable passing through its own accent, French, Jamaican, English, erudite, academic, compelling. This man could read the phone book to me and I would sit, glassy eyed and cross legged in front of him until the birds stopped singing.
He said the most amazing things whenever we spoke. Things that I had wished I could write down and remember. I never had a pen, but his words found a way into me, forgotten until they would be released at the most perfect moment. The guy was liquid inspiration.
A hitman wandered by, mumbling to himself, dragging one foot, the other kicking up dry leaves on his way in to murder the guy who lives above me.
Pete thought I was a student. I never had the heart to tell him I had just graduated and moved here to start working. I told him I was doing well, and asked him how he was, taking great care to enunciate my words and hold my shoulders straight.
“Well you seeee, I’ve just come from the doctor, and my eyes, they have been fixed”, he dropped the word ‘fixed’ about three octaves, ten years of emphasis in one word. “My cataracts, seeee. This doctor has helped me. This street, I haven’t seen it in ten years, all of you look so much younger nowwwww, the trees, they are bloooooming, and I can see so much in the light.”
He smiled. He had the most fantastic smile. 12 minutes had passed since I came in. Pete hadn’t seen anything clearly in 10 years. Ten years and everything was milky to him, and today, he started seeing everything that we take for granted.
I suddenly hated everyone in my building. I hated them for being so caught up in their own minor dramas; getting their mail from the doorman, staying glued to the TV’s latest crisis, signing in their visiting boyfriends, getting stabbed in the neck, quibbling over details. Here we had something actually magical, and they all still treated him like he was a beggar.
I shook hands with Pete and wished him well. I’d see him again.
Night came and I was on the roof with a bottle of cheap wine. The city looked hazy from my perch in Brooklyn, the lights looked like everything I’d pictured from home. I still had the eyes of someone from David’s “Big Country”. I still saw it all as a teeming pile of smelly opportunity. I knew I could barge my way into that beast and write my name all over its insides.
I chose music for the moment, but who knows where I would end up. I wanted greatness, and my eyes were wide enough to look for it. For now though, I was sitting on top of the stairwell to the roof. I was sitting on the door-high cement structure called a “Steve”, as my friend Cliff and I had once named it in a fit of hallucinogenic giggles.
The Steve swayed a little as the door opened. Someone else was on the roof. I didn’t want company, so I crossed my digits, hoping that they didn’t climb up here too. This was my Steve, damnit. I looked over the edge and recognized him. It was the walk. He had a limp, an old injury that never healed right. I recognized him from the lobby earlier, I wonder if Pete saw him too.
He didn’t know I was there as he shuffled to the edge of the roof. He was facing the side of the building that looked over nothing really…no street, no other roof, just a small gap between the buildings that was full of junk and stagnant water. He threw something into the gap. It glinted in the spare light as it went down. He then pulled out a rag, wiped his hands, and threw the rag into the gap.
I was frozen and worried. I couldn’t move or he would see me, and something told me that I did not want this guy to see me. I looked up and there were so many planes in the sky, bringing people like me here to join the chase. Someone had their window open and I recognized the song…
“Up on cripple creek, she sent me….”
I looked back and he was vomiting. Retching and coughing and dumping so much dark fluid onto the ground, over the side. He held his head as he did it, as if he was trying to resist the force coming out of his mouth. Then he was screaming, making terrible pained noises through the liquid, through his teeth. He threw up for a long time, the noises got worse and worse until he stopped.
Now he was crying, holding his head, now he was punching himself in the head, teeth, eyes. Crying and screaming, he came apart right there in front of me. I’ve never seen a person betray their composure so completely, not when my father died, not when the bridge in my hometown collapsed and the wife of the man who was trapped, fused into his burning car, was caught on film. It was a destruction so complete that I knew this man would never be made whole again. He knew this, and instead of coming apart figuratively, he chose to physically dismantle himself.
I was horrified. I didn’t move for what seemed like hours. He eventually took himself up, wiped his mouth, barely removing the mess he had made of his face, and shuffled towards me. Towards the Steve, towards the door. I pulled back from the edge. I laid as flat as I could. I didn’t move.
The air stayed cool. The city shuddered. It was built on so much granite, and just to remind everyone of its charge, the granite shrugged, just as confused as everyone it was carrying. Support girders cracked, but not enough for anyone to notice yet. The veins running through the island spit their blood all over the streets. The streets spit blood back into the veins. Nowhere was a heart. Every liquid cranked into alcohol and grease, every molecule saw itself in a mirror and was scared.
A star came down, didn’t crash, but came closer, just to make sure it was real. The divine left in disbelief, muttering nothing under its breath. Rock became soil, human became soil, soil became nothing but a novelty. Something for people to take pictures of and send home.
The wind blew and the air above me smelled sweet and human. It smelled like the inside of something. I felt dirt and gravel grinding beneath my shoulder, hurting, almost tickling. I turned my head and realized. I had fallen asleep. The wind blew a little more and it was another song I recognized…
“Doctor my eyes have seen the years…”
I was glad, and it was still night. I must have been out for an hour or so. The wine must have gotten me, oddly, but I was thankful for the bottle that was rolling around near my feet. What a terrible dream. The wind blew again, and there was that smell again, human, pungent, sickly and sweet. Again, and it wasn’t sweet anymore, it smelled like bile and bad breath.
“YOU WERE DREAMING. TELL ME ABOUT YOUR DREAM”, belched a huge, wet, ragged voice, just inches away from my face. Something dripped onto my nose.
It was him, fuck me, it was him. Adrenaline shot through me and my heart flipped and jumped up to meet my face. I ratcheted around and scooted on my butt as far away as I could. I hit the back ledge of the Steve hard, bruising my tailbone, almost falling off. There he was, just far enough up the ladder that he could see over the edge. I looked him dead in the face. His dead, mess covered face twisting, “well, what happened in your dream?”, he choked and wiped bile and snot from his lips.
“Ack. Eye?”, he grinned as he pointed to his wide right eye. It was crisscrossed with thousands of burst blood vessels from all of his retching. He kept pointing though, until he was touching it. He touched his eye harder than anyone should touch their eye, pushing stomach acid and dead skin cells right up under his eyelid.
“I didn’t see anything, I didn’t see you.”
“Neither did I” he said, staring. “Come with me you little shit.”
He grabbed my leg and dragged me off the Steve, my head hitting the rail ladder on the way down, knocking me into a daze as I landed flat on my back on the roof. “Get up”, he spat, as he hauled me to my feet. Into the stairwell.
He walked me down to the room right above mine, room 523.
He showed me the man he had murdered. He showed me where the blade went in, right underneath the Adam’s apple. He showed me where he extracted his pound of flesh. He showed me the money he received to murder him. It was a lot of money. He showed me the pictures of the man’s family and friends, now with no precedent or reason to be in the room. He showed me what his blood would look like when they found him.
He took me outside and walked me through the streets, he took me past happy restaurants and bars, full of happy people and friends. He smashed my face against their windows and made it clear that none of them could help me. He pulled me by my arm until my collarbone broke. He dragged me underground. He showed me where the rats lived. He showed me how to lie down with them and listen. He showed me how to wait there for him to come back. They crawled over me and left their waste in my mouth. Stopping in back alleys he made me watch as he used a broken beer bottle to remove living things beneath the skin of his arms, legs, hand, calves, eye. He vomited and spewed, he pulled chunks of his hair out and showed them to me.
He took me to the freeway and showed me what the car looked like after 52 bullets went through it, before the cops put their guns away, before the driver stopped twitching, before they called it in. He showed me my idols, rock stars, in the privacy of their lush homes as they beat their wives and snarled at their children. He showed me the foam under the pier, the foam in the mouth of an army of rabid dogs, neglected and staring me right in the eyes.
He showed me the girl I would fall in love with. He let me feel the love. She was so beautiful. He showed me everything as he murdered her right in front of me. He slowed down time so the loss crept through me molecule by molecule, so I could feel every millimeter of pain and sadness as the light left her eyes.
He never obscured anything. He wasn’t capable of metaphor or any other mechanism. He wasn’t capable of anything that wasn’t literal. He laughed at me when I broke, when he laughed he lost teeth. When I cried he lost more teeth and they dropped all around me. He disintegrated and pulled himself apart. His clothes became only an idea as his bones showed, splintering when he needed to pick me up, to make me see whatever it was he had to show me.
He showed me a man. This man had a name sort of like mine, and a face that was another sort of like mine. He showed me how dark this man was, how consumed by his own greed and sapped of creativity. He was so sad as he wept into his last dose of some drug whose name he could not pronounce. As this man kicked his legs and foamed at the mouth he kicked up regret, only pieces of his own horrid history. Pictures of mistakes. Signed documents that proved his lies. One by one. This man was weeping and dying and he wouldn’t let me look away. I felt his horrid fingers break against my chin, breathed his skin flaking off as he struggled to keep my head up and seeing.
I crouched and hoped for darkness, hoped for nothing. He was on my back screaming into my ear. All awful breath and dried out gums.
He showed me nothing. He told me everything. His hate came out of him in the most vile voice imaginable, each syllable more putrid and hateful than the one before it. His was the language of metal on metal, of bones breaking in echo chambers, of frequencies beyond hearing, wavelengths that made me deaf to everything except his voice.
He told me of civilizations devouring each other alive for no reason. He told me, in detail, about the deaths of everyone I had ever known. He told me every secret I have ever failed to keep. Called me every name anyone ever called me behind my back. He took all the pity and mercy I have ever given and turned it into a vicious rant, condemnation, spraying the opposite of love deep into my ear. His hate went deep and infected me. It turned my whole being as black and deep as the center of his eye.
“YOU WERE DREAMING. TELL ME ABOUT YOUR DREAM!”, he screamed. I didn’t think he could get louder, I prayed he wouldn’t. But he did.
My eardrums buckled under the bulk of his words. There was a wind now. It howled out of him, screaming and ripping his now frail body into twisted jerky poses. His hands still held me, and as they broke and snapped they only got stronger. His grip grew tough, like a closing vice with no ‘off’ switch. There was no mercy in his grip. I felt my jaw collapse. My screams now mixed in with the roar around me. He vomited dust and bad ideas, his last two fingers crushing together until there were only teeth between them, then dust. I choked on my own teeth and swallowed my tongue just as his final finger broke.
He was unable to hold me anymore so he just lay on my back, his mouth still licking horribly at my ear, beating his handless bones against my ribs, cracking them, frustrating his scream to an even higher pitch. I beat my hands, started pounding them on whatever I could, screaming as the blackness screamed back, loud as a train falling down a set of stairs.
The more I pounded the more my hands hurt; I beat them until they were raw. I beat them on the ground until I could finally see them in the storm raging around me. I beat them one more time and….light….
My eyes started to clear a little in the sunlight. They felt dry, wasted. The light hurt. All around me the world was tearing itself apart. There was noise, sirens, and chaos. I could hear fire burning, smell smoke. People were screaming everywhere. The wind blew and I felt wet. My clothes were sticking to me. I was covered in blood and my mouth was full of something vile, something…substantial. The smell was awful.
What had I done? I took a step forward as the contents of my mouth fell out and slapped my chest and I almost slipped…the ground at my feet was slick with something…hands, teeth, hair, insides, all wiggling about. My eyes were so dry, I blinked, but they did not focus the dark figure in front of me. One step closer and I saw. It was Pete! I was so thankful, “Pete, what happened? What have I done?” I was so terrified, but I knew Pete could help me. As I tried to speak though…I couldn’t…nothing came out but a dry croak from the back of my throat. No words, no communication.
“Please help me, Please”, but he could not hear me. I only dragged my vocal chords into a horrible moan. This made me angry, and the hate He had spattered so carelessly all over my insides started to make itself known. “Destroy him. Negate him”, His words echoed from a dream that did not end. As the wind kissed the blood on my arms I saw Pete’s face, and he raised one arm.
“Help me”, I said one last time.
“I can seeeee you now, my friend”, he said.
A click, and the hammer came down….