by James P. McNamara
This street is a dead end, knocked short to a stump at a thick line of trees. The road barrier between the street and the trees is dented through the middle, those trees spread horseshoe around the block, back up to the outlet. When Isaiah was a little, he was afraid of the trees and the darkness underneath them. There were more houses and apartments here then too, but as time went on, the overgrowth outpaced the population.
He approached the vacant lot between the half-occupied apartment building and the condemned house. The space was wide enough for another apartment building, maybe a tennis court or a garden, anything really. There are a lot of spaces like this, but this one was his. He recognized it as more than geography. The disparate tufts of grass were knee-high in the places they managed to break through the piles of bricks and shattered concrete. He could smell the little flowers budding from the tall stems, could see the faint texture of seeds at their tips in the deeply slanted, peach-purple glow of the street lights.
He found his concrete slab in the dark half of the lot looking into the tree line that skirted this side of the block. The trees marked the crest of a steep hill crowded with drooping, thickly leaved branches that scraped the torn dirt in the wind. He sat in the dark, staring into the threat of the wild, listening to the highway in the distance, car horns and sirens, fireworks or gunshots. The city around him moving at a distance, speaking in post dusk cadences.
No one else was outside. No one’s ever outside after dark.
The pressure was mounting in his mind. They wouldn’t let him go full time at work until he proved he was a “long haul asset.” Whatever that meant. He utilized the pressure, flashing in and out of the day, the last week, the last month. He allowed his mind to bubble up whatever strands he could tug on to unravel: the grocery line at the church’s back door, the hole in his shoe, the quiet of his apartment. The little indignities on little indignities piling up. He let them flow to the front. He sat there waiting for the sensations in his stomach to rise.
He felt the tightness in his diaphragm spread to his throat. He began to salivate heavily, as his throat slightly contracted. He felt as if he could vomit and his eyes began to water. He began to weep. Rolling full heavy sobs that shook him quietly just outside of the touch of the razor angle of the light. His mind emptied with every short stuttering choke. He couldn’t stop, he wouldn’t even he if he could.
He began to regain control of his breath, and to look around. First he peered into the black of the trees on the deep slope. His memory breaking down the block of thick darkness into familiar shapes and depths. The breeze was causing branches to scrap the gravel.
Wiping his eyes, finally settling the his diaphragm to steadier repetitions, he saw the shape of a man over sitting on a stone by the duplex. and another, doing the same, over his shoulder by the condemned house. The two shapes sat perfectly aligned with him. Their shoulders hunched, convulsing like his were a moment ago. They made no sounds. They shook visibly, with their hands cupping their heads. The shapes eventually stopped convulsing, as he had, no longer shaking they looked up to the trees,hunching so they fold their arms into theirs laps in unison.
Staring out into the trees, he listened to the shifting of leaves. If he knew what the ocean sounded like he might connect the two on some level. He wanted to walk into the trees, to walk down that steep slope. In his head the steep hill became a deep wood: dark and thick and with no end. He would build fires and live in silence.
He finally threw up.
He was not afraid. Which, he didn’t quite understand. He didn’t really feel anything towards the shapes on either side of him. The boarded up windows on the house clap against the frame in a stronger gust, blowing dust and dirt right through the shadowy forms. He knew he should have felt something about them. Ill at ease, in some tangible way. He knew they were there, but they weren’t saying anything and that was fine. Silence was good enough.
He wanted to be alone, and on some level he understood that he was alone, in the way he needed, anyway. This was his place of hidden texture, where he could allow the ridges and grooves of himself some open air, and these shadows or blank spaces, whatever they were, were barely here or barely interested. He knew that they could see those grooves in him and didn’t care. He knew that they viewed him in the same manner that he viewed them: something out of sync, but unsurprising.
Bottles rolled into the broken stones about his feet and his tears were dried to his cheeks. He felt like he did when he was a boy: playing in this very lot until dirt had until sweat had carved little canals down his dirt-caked face. He looked around and his shadows were gone. He rubbed his knees, eyes still stinging and guts still aching a little. He felt like he was going to throw up again. He expected this.
He heard an argument at the house down the street. He couldn’t make out what was happening and did not care. He rolled his head back and closed his eyes. He was trying to create an engine that began in his nostrils. Taking in air until his chest couldn’t expand any further, slowly, and then firing it out as quickly as possible. In slow. Out sharp. He needs to drown out the world around him with the internal roar of his own breath.
He opened his eyes, head still tilted to find that two man-shaped shadows had blocked a portion of the sky above him. He felt them on his shoulders, darkly opaque fingers biting into his shirt. He felt one hand slowly move up his collar to under his chin and clamp down: fingers prying his jaw wide. He struggled, but he could not make a sound. He tried to slam his jaw shut, straining the muscles in his neck, bucking his torso as if he could throw his jaws closed, but no amount of strength in him could have closed his mouth.
He was making a noise like a whimper. His eyes darted between the two shadows that stood behind him. He did not want to scream. They had no faces or eyes, but he could feel their lack of intention. It was as if they had they same thoughts as the trees, and buildings around them.
They were like the shapes of men cut from a black cloth. A black translucent hand extended over his face; he felt it enter his mouth, prying his jaw wide. The hand snaked deeper and deeper down filling his mouth and throat entirely. He could not bite down, the strength had gone from him. The shadow reached into his throat up to it’s elbow. The saliva was running down out of the corner of his mouth and fresh tears crowded his sight. He could feel his lips starting to split at the corners.
The hand was deep within him. He bucked his whole body from his knees. He was a spasming muscle, sending choking pleas through his nose, expelling mucus. His throat was contracting uncontrollably, he felt the shadows elbow bumping into his lower lip. He felt it close a fist around one of his ribs. And when the rib was snapped like clean like a wishbone he began to flail his arms wildly, swinging in every direction and touching nothing, gliding through his attackers like they were air. The grip on his shoulder tightened as the shadow slowly began to withdraw its arm from his throat.
He had no idea how long he had been here, but the sun was peeking from behind them, the wash of reds and oranges in his periphery bruising the bare dirt and stone with shallow shadows. The hand was finally withdrawn from his mouth. He coughed viciously and fell to hands and knees. Wretching deeply, convulsing with such violence that he fell flat to his stomach. His mouth tasted of blood. He looked up towards the woods and saw them both standing at the tree line. He knew they were facing him even though they had no faces. Their feet had started to disappear to the ankle with the light of the morning. One had a little white bones suspended in it’s torso. And then the weren’t there, they vanished in an instant, like a glitch in a tape, like they were never here. He forced himself up to his knees and looked to the trees again. He coughed as he stood up. He vomited as soon as got to his feet and almost fell over again.
He inhaled deeply and walked from the vacant lot, back to the apartments next door where he lived. Soon his few neighbors would rouse and move to the stoop out front, or go to work.The natural colors of his world would return for the day. Small chatter from the old men would flit into the middle of the street twisting into the background hum of dozens of songs. Windows would open and dump their sounds and smells down on the sidewalk. He would be in and out of sleeping during this, listening to the sounds of his mother as she watched talk shows and smoked cigarettes on her day off. He would miss it all that day and wake at dusk.
James P. McNamara is a Kansas City based poet. What he wants most in life is to get a back yard and turn half of it into a garden. He does most of his writing in his monthly newsletter at http://outhereincarcountry.com
Previous Kawsmouth pieces by McNamara include Two Poems and Grand Street