Moons waxed and waned overhead, and soon they settled themselves on eastern horizons to rest for the night, carving their faces into sharp, crescent shapes. Verticals grins. Valleys and glens below receded in color and morphed into depressives shades of blue and black, shrouding all those who resided there.
This was being watched from the window of a second story house, which in itself was placed in some contemporary neighborhood, modernized for the needs of western civilization. In a lonely armchair, the man sat comfortably, smoking cigarettes – Salem brand, the kind without the filters – and allowing that last bit of sunlight to peek through the drapery, falling subtlety on the dusty furniture of his loft.
Somewhere in another room of the house, a baby was crying.
He took another drag and puffed a thick cloud of vaporous gray smog into the air, disintegrating as it brushed against the ceiling. The entire room was dingy and dark; everything covered in a thick film of stickiness that accompanies years and years of relentless tobacco usage. Several ashtrays laid scattered on the end tables and desks and couches, some of them tipped over, leaving, in their wake, ebony stains embedded into the carpeting, impossible to extinguish from plain view. There was a television, but it was broken, and had been for some time now. The man picked up the remote control and tried to switch the device on, just to reinstate this fact. When he failed, he placed the control on his lap and sighed.
There was a time when this place was inhabitable, he thought to himself. I remember, there used to be a family here. A loving family, at that. A stable family.
His eyes turned and focused on the open door of a master bedroom, shrouded in darkness and seemingly lost in time. It had been untouched for years, or so he would have liked to believe. The bed was large, spacious enough for two average sized people and possibly one smaller one. The sheets were clean and so were the blankets, and they were spread out over the span of the mattress with such tidiness and preparation, it could have been done by a hausfrau intent on cleanliness.
This was not surprising. The man was alone now, but there had been a woman before – a wife before. Someone who had stayed loyally by his side, cooked his meals, massaged his shoulders, performed oral sex on the nights he felt most miserable, and allowed him to rape her on several occasions when she was most vulnerable. There was a time before when they were the talk of the town, in both positive and negative matters, and they always found their lifestyles at the center of the gossip’s attention. Both the lovers were atheists, yet they lived and worked and played in a neighborhood devoted to the church down the street and its religious teachings. Those same word-mongers who were told to respect thy neighbor and their choices, whether or not they reflected the word of God, cast such stories about them that it drove the couple to brinks of insanity.
Separation was eminent. News of their theological standpoints caused ultimate distress, it began to affect their daily routines. Work was becoming more difficult, friends turned their backs away, and, in the most disheartening of situations, the wife was pregnant. In nine months, the baby was delivered. Several hours after those agonizing nine months, the wife left this world behind, including her widower and the child she never had the opportunity to see. Separation was eminent.
I remember, there used to be peace at this place. Dinners were eaten quietly, while sexual intercourse was performed loudly. There was always something to read, something to watch on the T.V., someone to talk to. There was always something to do. Now it’s all blown away, like dust.
There used to be mirrors strewn in every bathroom and bedroom of the house. They were not large in size, but focused mainly on the faces and the shoulders, which is all was every vainly cared about between the two lovers. Weight and height mattered not, for their vows kept them metaphysically attached to one another and no difference in becoming overweight or underweight, or too lanky or too stout, would ever discourage that. The glassy portals had long since vanished, stuffed into the attics of the household.
He never left the house, except for work, where he went to act normal. On occasion, he would visit a grocer or another market to purchase nourishment for himself. The last time he’d ventured to such a place was weeks ago.
He reached over to his computer printer and pulled a single sheet of paper from the top of a small pile. His pen came into contact with it and he started on a list:
- Something with meat in it (decide later)
- Candy (for dessert)
Formula for the child. The child!
Senses perked and caught sound of baby’s bawling echoing from one of the rooms off to the right in the hallway. The man removed his body slowly from the confines of the chair and, with ease, proceeded in those same, dense darkened hallways towards the nursery. His eyes admired the portraits and the pictures hanging miserably on the speckled coated walls which reflected no light. Webs from the spiders breathed when he moved past them, breaking away little by little when rogue breezes from his hastened movements came into contact with them. Those same silver-framed captives held within them moments in time longer since expired and buried beneath a cynical cloud of woe and painful remembrance.
In one of those pictures, the man saw a distorted reflection of himself: happy and content, with a joyous smile on his face, sharing in the delight of a vanilla milkshake with his beloved. These were the times he wished for, but instead he was constantly reminded of the shamefulness of his wife’s death, leaving him broken and brokenhearted. Depression? There couldn’t be a name to describe what rambled on in the back of his mind.
The door to the nursery was cluttered with cardboard cut-outs of bug-eyed ducklings and bear cubs and pin and blue horses, and in large blocky letters the name “Carlton” was spelled out with the “C” turned backwards for cute and cuddly measures. Brass-colored hinges squeaked as the frame gave way to entry, and the boards under the carpet gave the same notion. This room did not occupy any windows, therefore allowing no light to filter through this thick, unruly darkness. Overhead of the child’s crib, there was a light fixture with several plastic animals dangling carelessly from hooks.
“Now, now,” he said, approaching the wooden crib, lighting a cigarette in the process, “it’s alright, Daddy’s here.”
His hand brushed against the smooth, bald head of his kin, humming slightly in his throat, trying to sooth its unsure nerve and preventing it from weeping any longer, which wasn’t proving successful. Surrounded by the frightening uncertainty of the dark, the child still cried.
“C’mon now,” he said, fondling the air for the light cord. “Hold on, Carl, hold on. I’m getting you some light, all right? Just hold on.”
A long, skinny string came into his possession and he gave a simple jerk, igniting the light bulb above and sending a burst of concentrated brightness into the pit of darkness. The man looked down and rubbed the backside of his hand against the cheek of his child, which was cold and gray, devoid of life and physical gain.
“That’s better, isn’t it?”
The infant corpse did not respond, but laid dormant and still, outstretched in a sleeping position. Its limbs had experienced the after-effects of rigor mortis and they were now stuck into place, frozen like segregated blocks of ice. It was such a beautiful little creature at one point in its existence, but deprivation to oxygen had stolen its life away, choking the phlegm in its throat, pushing poisonous air into the lungs, halting the flow of blood to the heart. An unruly and unfair ending.
One, long inhale of toxic fumes entered into the man’s mouth and exited out his nostrils, brushing lightly against the face of the body.
You were her, he thought. And now you are her, together as one, like mother and son should be.
That night, he slumbered in the nursery, cradling the corpse in his arms, cooing and singing it lullabies and sobbing into its naked flesh. Sorrow emerged for the first time in a long time, and so did realization.
N.P. Miller lives in Winston Salem, North Carolina, where he spends most of his time writing, inciting riots with his girlfriend Ashley, causing a nuisance as a deli clerk in a supermarket, and concocting evil schemes involving vaudevillian llamas at his school where he is going for a degree in language interpretation. He is 22.
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