I go to the same coffeehouse everyday to make a show of my normality. The fact that I sit by myself, never talk to anyone, and do this habitually may be far from most people’s definition of normal.
It is easy for me to make a habit, and hard for me to break one. Even when they are nonessential, I have an urge to perform my routines the same way at relatively the same time each day, and sometimes experience stress when they are disrupted. It is reasonable to want to avoid this outcome, but when left to my own company, it is all I can do to keep from being swallowed whole by a monotony that makes me unfit for anything else. I may live life on my terms, but I would be hard-pressed to describe in what sense it resembles freedom.
Going to the same coffeehouse everyday is admittedly another unbending habit, although it is my one heroic attempt to meet the world halfway. I throw open my cell door and look out, and project through my still and quiet exhibit a picture not unlike that of others. It is a story of a man who is free to reinvent himself: a man who could be loved and befriended: a man who could be redeemed from the worst in himself by one chance encounter with destiny.
Aloysius opened his eyes in an afterthought—believing himself long dead. He adapted to his predicament by sprints and sputters of detail. Noises from the tumbling crash were still somewhere back on the dark highway chiming in the trees. A flashing twelve indicated that the car’s clock survived the impact, whereas the rearview mirror lay in some orientation to his head. It was either up or down, yet angled in a way to capture a piece of the road outside the busted window.
Squeaking gradually emerged over the din of crickets. One of his car’s wheels was spinning: This placed the crash not too far behind him in time. A plopping sound (perhaps brake fluid dripping into the same wheel well) tapped the axle. It circled dizzyingly inside his cochlea, leaving him to float in and out of its rolling echo until it took the form of a woman’s urgent plea: “It’s not enough I tell you I love you, but I want to show you!”
The interior of the car darkened from a shadow at the window. The unnatural voice connected to it did not come from the radio but the misplaced cell phone: “You must let me show you how much I love you!”
Aloysius was certain the blurry image was in the dislodged mirror and not in his head. White smoke billowed from the engine block to cloak her in the plume of a tattered dress.
The woman exclaimed, “You must let me show you!”
Fingers congealed out of the shards of hanging glass in the driver’s window. He tried to make sense of them—to understand their relationship to him. Everything crystallized under a hail of falling debris.
“You must let me show you!”
Skulking metal rumbled; ceiling upholstery—a hangman’s cowl—covered his head. It was impossible to breathe. He struggled to free an arm, yet managed only a hand that sent a chunk of glass clinking to find which way was down. His voice jabbed at her. “I can’t! I c…!”
The creature was abruptly a pestle writhing against him, making the night sticky ink on his skin. Marrow squirmed in her pliable bones with each contraction and attempt to couple. A sliver of moonlight escaped her smothering to illuminate a snarling hare-lipped face rolling over his genitals. Silica granuloma—a tattoo embroidered in dirt—marked its contact.
One of his arms tore away and struck the suitcase lodged behind his seat. It banged into the car roof to empty its contents of ashes and schematics; he gagged on the kicked-up cloud. Saliva, streaked with soot, ran up into his nasal cavities. His freed fingers covered his stinging eyes, and grazed her flesh, which was now covered in the fine cinders: The texture was somewhere between peeled grape and fine-gauge sandpaper.
Aloysius pushed against the slippery slope, but had no place to retreat.
Her hand cupped the still supple member when it burst against her stomach. His muscles contracted to dispossess it, but then wanted only to coil around her forearm with the agony of a bludgeoned snake. It felt as if a dull-edged knife was used to scrape out his insides, and what had been impassable was now oozing freely down firmer bones in her fingers.
His briefs were yanked up over his waist in the manner of a convenient blotter, leaving her to knelt over him and kiss the cool chaff of his cheek. “I love you,” she whispered.
Aloysius sank back into the jaws of the car, feeling its weight shift when his attacker slithered through the blown-out window; bits of silica and leaves were drawn up into her bridal veil. He watched her shrink in the sideview mirror to become something small and inanimate along the roadside, like another fragment from the wreckage. Surely what he perceived was vestigial, or an afterimage stamped on the dry lens of an eye.
Cinders, too small to be crushed into stars, hung in the moonlight, but they inevitably surrendered to the same gravity that claimed him. They sifted down to create a shallow grave, yet perversely offered no sleep.
A few drowsy thoughts dangled from the end of his hide. One took the form of a sweat droplet, which caught on eyelashes and set them fluttering. A snippet of twilight glowed in the rearview mirror: an indanthrone blue stippled low, aureolin clouds. The jeweled hues drooped in the branches, darkening before sloping down to fill the car. A welcomed breeze marked the transition to night, and shadows further softened the sharp, protruding edges of what distraction remained.
For someone who could not tolerate tight-fitting clothes, the feel of jewelry, or five of the six settings on a typical shower nozzle, the trapped man adapted to the continuous sensory pressure of his confinement. He crisscrossed an imaginary line in his head where only a waning Moon and flashing clock marked time on either side of it. When these last beacons were lost, his pulsing eyelids were left to transverse the abyss. Acclimation to his environment was so complete that it was with surprise that his olfactory sense alerted him to a new scent amid fumes of motor oil and gasoline.
He raised a trembling hand to feel the supple, ruffled edge of a lily lying among the torn shreds of the roof upholstery.
She had come back, but did not wake him.
His hand, seized with something, flittered through dust. A strategy was coordinated whereby he was able to stretch as far as the edge of the glove compartment, and over the ragged passenger seat. After thinking he had poked into every cubbyhole, the cell phone was located behind his head.
His ears were dull with fluid, yet a tone thrummed his eardrum. Pressing the mouthpiece to his cracked lips, he tried to summon words, but the phone slipped from his hand and back into its fissure. His mind followed it down, as to create a space to hold it. Yet the world—his world—was now only big enough to accommodate a single thought.
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Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.