Writing His Life Away

He doesn’t really care any more. Was a time that all he thought about was making sure he posted, on time, once a week, Mondays, like clockwork. These days it’s enough that he gets out of bed. “Shouldn’t I be feeling guilty?” he asks himself and then rolls over, pulls the covers close, a pillow under his head, the alarm clock tossed into the dresser drawer to live with the socks.

Two months ago he shopped for curtains for his bedroom window. More for keeping the warmth in, the sun out, the room dark, than for aesthetic aspirations or a noise repellent. Now that he’d moved the incessant honking of neglected car alarms, once his nocturnal lullaby, no longer keep him up at night. The junkies, crack-heads, hookers and speed freaks that used to be his neighbors, now a faded memory. Saturday nights, on the sidewalk below his bedroom window, drunk yuppies, wandering home from the bars on Grant Street, holler, curse and cry, bemoaning their lot in life. Compared to the disquieting aftermath that follows a gunshot, the screams of the victim awaiting an ambulance, the usual nightly noises of his former residence, this slight weekly intrusion is almost music to his ears.

The curtains he chose were brown, dark brown. There weren’t any black curtains available at the store. What he had wanted was some kind of fur. Like a fake mink: dark, thick, warm. Make the tall ceilings and stark white walls of his bedroom more like a nest or an animal’s den. Fur curtains didn’t seem to be available either. The saleswoman had screwed up her face. “Fur, did you say fur? I’ve never had anyone ask for fur curtains before,” and then, with a new found urgency, quickly turned away, pouncing on an elderly lady whose question regarding lace curtain stays she apparently found more palatable.

His upstairs neighbor, an investment broker, seems to be awake all night, watching television, pacing, conversing with friends, or maybe he’s just talking to himself. Like clockwork at 3am, he abruptly turns the TV off, leaps down the front stairs to the garage, gets in his BMW, drives off and is gone for fifteen minutes or so. Then the automatic garage door opens, closes, feet on the stairs, the final drop of his body onto what must be the sofa, situated in the room above his bedroom, directly above his bed. In minutes he can hear the TV again. The broker, on the telephone, making deals in far away places, other time zones. A give away nasal tone accents his voice. A constant delicate chopping sound that rings of familiarity begins and stops with every exaggerated inhale. He had thought snorting cocaine passé. Besides, if you have money, can’t you get it delivered? Most people smoke crack instead of snorting. Meth is the current drug of choice, but maybe not for investment brokers. CNN, the sports network, echoes through the ceiling. Champion televised sporting events for an inebriated audience.

The broker’s BMW is starting to age ungracefully. It needs a good wash and wax, a touch up here and there on the paint job, some air in the right rear tire. Twice now the broker has knocked on the front door of the apartment asking for a jump start, the battery dead, the car, windows filthy, immobile, stranded in the middle of the garage. The last time this happened, while the broker fumbled with the jumper cables, he asked him what he was going to do that day. Like he had all the time in the world for leisure, the broker answered that he didn’t know, that he wasn’t sure. “How bout you go get a new battery dude?” was all that was said. The accusation, the recrimination, the annoyance hung in the air as he walked out of the garage and went back to bed.

Lying on his back, staring at the ceiling, he thinks about writing. Thinks about something that happened last week and how it affected him. Was it worth writing about? Did he even care? Outside, the 39 bus, passes by groaning in first gear on its way up the hill to Coit Tower. Down the block a trash truck grinds away as it picks up the containers left at the curb, the mechanical loaders dropping them back down to the sidewalk with a thud. It’s easy to throw blame the broker’s way. Expecting the broker to be something he’s incapable of being is like waiting for fur curtains to materialize while the sun shines in your face as you try to sleep.

The muffled beep of the alarm clock announces that the day has started; with or without you, it is going to go on, uninhibited. Ignoring what he feels is an intrusion he picks through his thoughts, a word here, a slice of syntax there. He’s got a clever sentence in his head. Over and over he rolls it through his mind. Something he’d like to tell the broker. Only it isn’t something that you just blurt out in everyday conversation. Saying it out loud he laughs at its simplicity. The alarm’s beeping continues. The trash truck pulls to a stop in front of the building. Getting up he walks to the desk and searches for something to write with. In the Guinness pint glass with the scissors, pencils and ballpoints he finds a Sharpie.

Pulling on a pair of sweats, a faded t-shirt, he opens the door to his room, walks barefoot into the hall. At the front door he fumbles with the lock, grabbing the door by the ornamental molding because the handle falls off in your hand if you try to pull it. Outside, on the porch, he turns, standing in front of the broker’s door he first looks over his shoulder into the street, then, kneeling, begins to write in big block black letters. A few minutes later, finished, satisfied, proud of his penmanship, he surveys his work like a craftsman admires a job well done. A stroke of his chin, a smile, a nod of his head, recapping the pen, he goes back inside.

There are two doors on the front porch. Both of them painted red, both of them with glass panes for the upper half. Written across the center of the one on the right: “The stench of dysfunction washes off easily once you become present in your own life.” The left, blank, pristine, untouched.

Back in his room, under the quilts, in his bed, he thinks about writing. He thinks about words, about sentence structure, grammar and pronouns. It’s warm under the covers. It’s warm in his room. The curtains having done their job, keeping the light out, the heat in. The alarm clock has stopped beeping. The batteries must have gracefully died. Thinking that there’s much to write about, he slips into a dream. It will be a good day when he finally wakes up and sits at his computer.

This was published in The Sylvan Echo, Volume 1.2 (November 2007)

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