All the Windows and Doors are Broken In
Charles L. Crowley IV
First, the way you wanted it to be, as told by you:
Alistair plays the drums in the garage. Heavy-headed kick drum barrels through the walls like he’s beating our hearts to the tempo pent up in the arches of his feet. We go half-time to double the normal thumping pace of the blood in our veins. And we stay with him until he stops. Sweaty, tired, muscles in his forearms throbbing with an ache like runner’s cramps mid-race, painful and disappointing.
“What’s he doing now?” you ask—scratching your head and turning the page of your crinkly old newspaper from last week that you keep rereading because you can’t remember what day it is anymore.
“I don’t know what he’s doing. Why don’t you get up and find out,” I say.
Alistair walks into the kitchen, adjacent to the room we are in now. The sink chokes and then vomits up fluoride and water, but just barely any because the old galvanized pipes are corroded and unwilling to cooperate.
Are we only recharging? Waiting to get our second wind?
I’d like to think so. It makes it easier to sit here, as my pulse slows again, as my heartbeats sink lower in my chest, leaving more space between, leaving more time for me to catch my breath. I am sweating in this leather chair. It’s like I can feel the skin of what it used to be.
“You don’t get to judge me,” you say and then you flip the page again, and I realize—as I squint and glean better the words you are reading—the paper is damaged, all to hell, from water and your hands. I wonder if you ever actually read those stories at all. Or if its entire purpose was to buffer the space between us. I, a loading screen; you, an unacquainted loveless loaf of a human being; Alistair, the air always around us, keeping us alive, reminding us, always that at one point we took each other, flesh and spirit and fluid and noise and all, and we created something. At one point we saw potential and we were there, but now we are here.
“I’m going outside,” I say to you, cataloging each baggy-eyed, ring rung around your face.
This too is short-lived, the easy breeze that beckons from far-off but also rubs close, against my cheek. What’s it like to be spread so thin and yet remain still so substantial? My transcendental love song can only sing in the short-lived spaces between my sleeping and waking dreams.
Alistair walks outside and stands beside me, drinking his water in a splotchy, stained glass, like someone left it to gather what it would outside.
He stands beside me. And for this moment we are both sincere in our shared solitude, a feigned moment of togetherness, because in some houses all there can be is this eternal flowering loneliness that envelopes us individually and keeps us tied-up and away from one another. Nothing happens here, but everything happens here—especially when, like now, we can reach through the heavy air between us and hold close the hands of someone we once knew. Alistair being someone I once knew and, at the same time, will always know.
How things are, as told by me:
The crutch of your life is and has been and will always be this moment you refuse to be rid of. The day you left home for the wide-open world and left behind your husband and your son. You often speak to yourself about this moment and wrap it tight around your heartstrings, playing them sweet melancholy for yourself, not out of self-pity, but dedicated to the romantic notion of leaving a place and moving onward. You, who always believed anything achievable because of the vast Darwinian potential your hands, feet, legs, lungs, arteries, skull, etc. possess.
You will never let go of that moment. When you got up from your lazy leather chair, ignoring the pleas of your plump and pathetic spouse who had twisted into some horrid alternate-dimensional variation of yourself. Alistair was in the garage playing his drums behind the insolated walls you built for him to keep the invasive sound away from your sanctuary, your quiet, your three walls adjacent to the kitchen and hallway—this all that you traded for the new-model solitude, to which you are now beholden. How is it? All those miles from home… Do you even know where you are? Or how many days it’s been since your secret evacuation took place? That silent havoc you left behind—the folded sweaters piled on your bed, the twisted wire-coat hangers, dying untrimmed lawn, ripped bill envelopes—all this and more, always more it seemed—it all waits, untouched by space and time in your memory and projections, as if at any time, perhaps, you could step back into it. This, the crutch of your life—fixated memories, saved for only yourself—will remain always at the forefront of your meandering hands and heart, leading them wherever you think you’ve chosen to go in your new-found conditionally human expedition.
How things should be, as told by me and perhaps you if you can manage to break in:
Bulbous are the lights that hang from the living room ceiling, kitchen ceiling, bedroom ceiling, and garage. Here in these rooms all light is exposed. Eyes naked to light, light naked to eyes, all taking each other both one by one and all in a moment. Alistair cedes pride to the shadows cast by the dining room table and chairs, four solemn statues, like a manmade wonder in his home, never to be touched. His family has eaten together since he was a child, as far as he can remember, until the last year took hold of them all. Those memories are shrouded in a dirty cloth, hard to see clearly, like worms dug tunnels through their bodies, leaving both the cloth and memories thin and incomplete.
He lays his drumsticks on his snare drum and walks into the house, empty now, void of those who gave him life, as if they swallowed one another whole, concurrently and paradoxically disappearing into the dust-laden ether that now invades Alistair’s mouth, nose, throat, lungs, veins, blood, and cells.
His mother seemed to be here one day and gone the next. She slipped out, unassumingly through the front door, he supposed. His father sunk slowly, always with constant pace, into himself and then into the chair that cradled him, until they had become one and then nothing.
Outside a wind picks up. Outside rain falls, sometimes on the ground and sometimes on the windows and sometimes in other places.
Alistair opens the front door and stands on the porch with a glass of water in his hands. He steps further into the rain. And he gasps against the volatile air replacing the familiar breath within him. If he falls down, does anyone notice? Does anyone care? Do the neighbors see it happen? Or are they all far away from their windows? Does he pick himself back up or does he remain, by his own volition or that of some other external and alien force, on the cement path leading to his porch? Puddled in the rain, or his tears, or the water from his glass… Alistair will always get back up. He always tells himself he has to. The same way his mother always told herself she had to. Same goes for his mother’s mother and the mother before that as well. A long origami chain of people, stuck together at the hands, telling themselves to always get back up, even when they’re melting into the world around them and losing all definition.
Struggling to physically come to grips with his current situation Alistair asks himself “Where is my father?” or “Where has my father been through all of this?” In most memories he is far off in the distance, stoic and firm, later given to a round and soft disposition as his body acquiesces to the thinning and spreading demands of time, his cone of existence reaching it’s widest point before becoming a flat plane in which he will exist only further on as a memory, such as this one that flashes like a breaking light in Alistair’s head now: his father sits in his chair in the living room reading his blurry smudged newspaper and Alistair gets water from the kitchen sink and, while he is doing this, Alistair’s mother gets up, walks outside, and never comes back. His father never looked up or around and he never questioned her absence after-the-fact. Later, Alistair, while reflecting on his own slow surrender to aging, notices his chin and nose taking form much like the early photos of his young father. He mouths to himself, “I am all you are. I am all you’ll ever be.” He half-imagines himself as his father speaking down to him now, crossing the temporal barrier. Perhaps, in a restroom in the far-off past, Alistair’s father is mouthing a phrase such as Alistair does. Maybe this is the only moment they’ve really ever shared. This used and crumpled moment in which Alistair studies himself in the mirror, growing only slightly more vain, but bearing the weighty shame of allowing himself to become more like that man who sat and died in a chair, never waiting for the woman he had supposedly given his life to.
Enlightenment might be this moment: experiencing your birth and death and life all at once. Experiencing not only your own anguish but also the pain and panic of every person, creature, thing you’ve ever come in contact with.
Alistair fallen forward, smells burning toast and feels his arm is going numb. In the rain, who is toasting bread? He sees his mother in the morning when he is child. She makes toast often, for the whole family, especially on Sunday mornings. Hungry, he chases the scent. What tragedy, when young boys—born and raised on adrenaline—taught to chase the transitory light of their fathers down an impossible hole into the ground—give their hearts, often unknowingly, to over-stimulated demolition squads, squatters resting on their blood vessels, waiting with sledgehammers to collapse the roofs atop themselves.
Briefly, it all comes into view. Perfect cosmic spheres, glorious in their sudden birth emerge from the slovenly pile of dust in Alistair’s lungs. They travel across what seems a century, all of Alistair’s existence, to align planetarily behind his eyes in straight parallel lines pointing to life, to life, to life!
Arrows gleaning the world’s perfection for a moment: weeds budding up from the cracks in cement, the rustic taste of sink water in his throat, the rain pattering lightly now, and the porch lights of neighbors coming on as the world darkens.
All this energy bursts like fire forward down a trail of gasoline.
Alistair presses his fists to the cement and he crawls upward towards the front porch of his home until his numb weak legs come back to life, until his voice returns and he no longer needs to gasp for air.
“This is how things should be,” he says to himself, “You know that. We writhe against ourselves. Like two beings trying to inflict themselves upon one another.”
My hands are pulling clumps of dry grass from my front lawn, and I’ve led myself, as I was always meant to, back to you.
About the author:
Charles L Crowley IV lives in Pasadena, CA, where he survives both Soledad Flores the curandera and Charles L Crowley I the Arkansan moonshiner. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review of Los Angeles, Unbroken Journal, Whale Road Review, #TheSideShow, and Eunoia.