Look At Me I Wrote A Short Story!
This piece was originally written for a creative writing class I attended my senior year of college.
It has been written that among those who hate your god, the iniquity of the fathers will be visited upon their children to the third and fourth generations, but what sort of fathers and what sort of children are these, who stand like lepers so cold beyond the embrace of heaven?
When he first saw him the man was sitting on a park bench across the street from Kay’s bus stop. Every day the man would be there and he would sit and watch unmoving as Kay hopped down from the bus and walked down his easement, walked alone as he was the only child at his stop. This went on for some three weeks and Kay took little notice. What caused him, that day, to not immediately turn and walk toward his driveway he never knew, but regardless there was a day when, as the bus pulled away, Kay stood and watched the man across the street: he looked to be in his forties, his head was mostly bald and he was short and stocky and wore a black wool coat. As Kay stood and examined him the man looked down the road one way and then the other and then hurried across and as he did this Kay turned and began to walk quickly toward his yard, turning his house-key over and over in his pocket. Just as he reached the porch the man called out to him.
Kay paused, the key was in the door and his hand was on the knob, maybe if he had been quick he could have scurried inside and thrown the bolt behind him. Maybe then the man would have walked around to the back but Kay would have anticipated that and checked all the locks as soon as the front door was shut. Maybe the man would have knocked on a window and smiled and asked Kay to let him in and Kay would have found a telephone. But he did none of these things and the man put his hand on Kay’s back and guided him to the bathroom where he turned off the light and closed the door. Before the man left, some hours later, he pocketed Kay’s house key, and so for a time that would remain to Kay indeterminate, every day when he got home the man would be waiting for him.
It was Kay’s growing forgetfulness, his skittering retreat into a self-made womb of impassivity, that finally ended the thing. He failed, that day, to flush the toilet and his parents did not know what they were seeing. They knew blood in the stool was a sign of colon cancer or some such thing and so they took him to a pediatrician, who, upon examining Kay, summoned all the authorities he knew to summon.
Years later Kay was much as he had been before. He was now the oldest of three children and played guardian to them ceaselessly. But every so often he would look at his younger brothers and wonder what it was the man had been doing to him, what it was the man had seen that had brought him panting to his door. In the coming years he would learn, and shudder, and start to cry again at night, his sobs as silent as they had been in that lightless room.
Kay’s brothers grew strong and healthy and came to pity their broken older sibling, of what had happened they knew only whispers and shadows, rumors of the crime they had been born to blot out, and so when the eldest of them married and his wife became pregnant Kay was still a mystery to them – a quiet, withdrawn, man who lived alone.
In those days he would sit on a bench in a mall a short walk from his house, and back and forth he would watch people walk: in the morning a young woman with a stroller who bore a neat simplicity that bespoke her harried joy; at midday a young girl who strode ahead of her father by a dozen steps with her head thrown back as if the world was bending to her gaze; in the afternoon a teenage couple who held each other’s hands intently, the clasp a desperation, vain and childlike, of the hope in which they lived. In the evening a woman, perhaps in her thirties, who held herself with a weighty glamour, a posture of mature beauty that seemed more the product of will than nature.
Back and forth they would walk and to him they became one person with one life. All the same warm soul. A heart of health that he wondered, some days, if he might cannibalize, for they walked in that mall, back and forth, and if they saw him they gave no sign and so he began to think that maybe he was a ghost and that if he seized one of them he could possess them and become them and be the seen instead of the seeing.
Around the time of his niece’s birth Kay left the city and drove into the desert and lived out of his truck and it was years before they found him. He found a wash some miles from the highway down a dirt road that varied in negotiability as the wind drifted sand across the ruts. He made his camp by a stand of trees so that he would have shade during the afternoon, and down in the wash a small brook ran for most of the year, so that he bought water only for drinking, and he drank little water. There was a liquor store not at the crossroads where he could buy gas and groceries but in the town maybe an hour’s drive farther, and once a month he would drop a couple hundred dollars on vodka and beer; had he known that there were houses in that town where for a fraction of that cost he could have acquired a month’s supply of heroin or cocaine or any other drug he cared to sample, he probably would not have lasted a year in that desert, but he didn’t have the courage to inquire and so he passed his days in half drunk stupors.
In the morning he would wake whenever the sun hit the van and it began to become unbearably hot inside, and then until midday, when he lost all shade, he would lie in a hammock and read or write or stare blankly into the sky. He had only brought half a dozen books but he read them again and again and again, until their covers were bleached unrecognizably and their spines were held together with duct tape. His writing petered out after the first year. There was simply nothing to say. When the sun would strike him as he lay he imagined it burning his skin, as indeed it did at first; he would imagine it searing away his flesh and leaving him pure and desiccated, dry as the sage. Such visions are what had driven him to his hermitage, like the first century ascetics he sought sanctification in the abandoned corners of the empire.
In the heat of the afternoon he would withdraw to the wash and wander through the twisting canyons, growing ever deeper and darker as he ventured upstream, their walls towering cool and overhung, turning the sky into a ribbon-stream above him. One morning in spring he awoke to a grey ceiling of clouds and soon it began to rain, each drop sending up a spurt of dust, and he rose hastily and hurried to the wash. He dropped briefly into the canyon and jogged a short ways upstream before scrambling back out and reaching a promontory overlooking the slot. A few inches of water were flowing through the base of the canyon, a few inches and a growing roar. The violence of the flood was terrible, but he felt only calm staring at the waters surging beneath him, a peace he had only rarely known. He imagined himself carried along by the onrush, riding in the mud and the debris, thrown body and soul into another life. In his mind was formed a psalm: may the sins of our fathers die fetid in our loins; may we find the world to come a city without children; may the great flood find us kneeling in the desert, praying for rain; but it never passed his lips.
It was the youngest brother that tracked him down, followed vague clues to vaguer clues until at last he stood in the sand in the shade of a flowering aloe and asked if their parents and his second brother and his second brother’s wife and daughter, now seven years old, could visit. Kay looked at the photos his brother showed him and said yes.
When Kay’s eyes fell upon her he felt the beginning of an ache somewhere in the pit of his stomach that would not cease for days. She was beautiful – they all knew this, she was a child of the high desert, bronze-skinned and fire-eyed, bright against the gloom of all his days, but to Kay her beauty was not of the moon or the stars that turn in the sky and overawe the mind, hers was the beauty that calls, the beauty that demands an action, however loathsome he knew it to be. His chance came when his brothers had gone to re-fill their water jugs and his parents were napping in the afternoon shade. She had wandered off and was engrossed with a lizard she had found that would cling upside-down to her palm and when he found her she was watching it lick its unblinking eyes. As he knelt beside her she held the creature up to the sun and it leapt from her hand to a nearby boulder and scurried away. Kay put his arm around her. His hands were shaking. She returned his embrace, and then kissed him on the cheek and slipped away to follow her pet and he did not follow.
Kay never touched her again. He never touched anyone again. To him every embrace and every caress was an echo of that indeterminate time, and if they thought him cold, his family, they knew it was a cryonic state he was in, a deep freeze to keep his infection from spreading.