Home » , , , , , » Life, Lies, and the Little Things by Brandon Mason

Life, Lies, and the Little Things by Brandon Mason

I sat in a tepid, dark space, contemplating the ever challenging task of deciding what to write about. Of course, I was conditionally faced with the equally unnerving dilemma of whether or not anyone could feasibly give a damn about what I had to say. I hadn't been 
Life, Lies, and the Little Things
Life, Lies, and the Little Things by Brandon Mason

able to bring myself to play in several days, which seemingly deemed the pen to be my only escape, through torment or salvation. The attempt to narrow down emotions and experiences into something as tangible as consonants and vowels, or ink and paper, seemed almost vain. Yet there are countless stories begging to be told, over seven billion living, breathing ones today, each one unique, yet equally valuable. The weight of them all, and the prospect of failing to do them justice, seemed, and quite frankly still seems, unbearable. Through all my anxiety and self-doubt, I recalled that I could not abandon the lonesome, searching souls. By nature, I would be neglecting my own self. As I stared, rather expressionless, at the blank paper before me, the familiar sound of the repeated clicking of my pen penetrated my train of thought.

Click, click. Click, click. Click, click.

I immediately thought of Waldin.

Such a similar sound had once unconsciously, yet so significantly, altered the course of his life.

There are few things that come more naturally to us in life than lying. We lie as soon as we realize that obscuring the truth often leads to a multitude of benefits, starting with our parents’ attention and ending with our positive reputation after we pass. We lie almost exclusively out of self-interest, yet occasionally we lie for the sake of those we truly care about, or at least we tell ourselves so. It is a common perception that a person’s intellect can be most accurately measured by their ability to lie—their competence in the art of deception. It is also a fairly shared opinion that lying, whether to one’s self or to others, is the source of all iniquity and the gravest form of betrayal. Though I see it is not my place to impose a judgment of acceptance or rejection on either thought process, their tandem beckons a rather interesting question about human intellect. On a simpler note, for one reason or another, we all lie.

I lie.

Waldin lied.

Waldin lied starting at a young age, primarily in order to spare his own image and that of his family. His experience in school was less a learning venture, and more a constant attempt to blend in and appear normal, when he was nothing of the sort. He lied about his parents’ jobs, sometimes claiming they were a salesman and nurse, at other times a teacher and engineer. In reality, his mother and father were in and out of multiple blue collar jobs their whole lives and sacrificed immensely in attempt to write a different narrative for him.

His parents lived vicariously through him, but not in an overbearing soccer mom or an elitist alumni—set on his kid going to his alma mater—kind of way. College was never an option for his mother, who—after her single mother finally stopped taking her pills—had to play mom for two younger brothers, one of whom couldn’t seem to keep his veins clean. While most girls her age were just trying not to get pregnant, she already had two kids at home, who she was barely older than. She lived her youth in the brief lulls when stomachs were full and everything wasn’t intolerably filthy yet, indifferently smoking a cigarette or flipping through endless pages of shit she’d never have. One day she was a teenager; the next she was twenty-three and nothing had changed except for the death of her mother, which at that point was barely a change at all. And then, of course, she met a young man who had been working at the factory since his awkwardly large frame could lift fifty pounds of nails. He was five years her elder but the constant stress and chain smoking left them equals in appearance. Waldin came along only a year after they met, and before either of them thought about school or a real career, they were working overtime to pay for diapers, not classes. As soon as they could, they committed themselves entirely to ensuring that Waldin had, at the very least, an opportunity to be as free as they never were.

They couldn't manage to send him to a private school, and, trust me, they would have if they could have, so they made damn sure they gave him the closest thing. They put him through it all—the summer arts programs, rhetoric classes, cello lessons, a new Rosetta Stone every year through high school, club sports—and he lied through each one. They were reluctantly forced to settle for the best charter school they could find. It was small school on the west side, populated mostly with the kids of the city's elite and business owners, who were too progressive to send their kids to private school and shelter them from the "real" word. One can imagine how well Waldin got along with a bunch of rich kids who wanted to be down to earth and tolerant, minus the whole poverty and trying life experience part. All of his friends had far more than him, materially speaking, yet appearances never revealed their socio-economic difference. He took two buses and a train across town to school, from 7th grade through high school, and never got jumped or mugged, or even hustled for money. It's funny how being completely broke works out sometimes.

Naturally, he concealed the fact that he hated the school and its meaningless politics, and, to be fair, in his more ignorant days he was rather indifferent to it. In retrospect, he always felt guilty for his parents giving so much of themselves for things he never had the heart to tell them he didn’t care about. Waldin lied daily in school, with cliché, premeditated answers, and became an expert at telling people what they wanted to hear, which was rarely the truth. He lied during high school when his father fell victim to terminal glaucoma, claiming he was always on business trips when friends inquired about his absence. When his father finally, through death, won his battle with cancer, he told no one. He did so not because his grief was too great, but because he never saw a point in confiding in those who would never understand him and only fail in finding something valuable to say. Why be truthful to them when all they would do in return, though maybe with good intentions, was be insincere to him?

He lied on his college applications as he claimed that he desired nothing more than to fulfill his lifelong dream of attending a prestigious university and contributing to the campus culture. He even exaggerated his high school accolades and extracurricular endeavors, and, since they were virtually impossible to confirm, why not? If that’s what they needed to hear to accept him, then that’s what he told them. It was all a means to an end, and the end clearly justified the means. It seemed that everything in his early life was purely a means to an end, with no real meaning in and of itself. He dissimulated his way through Columbia Law School and powered straight through to the bar in five years. The look on his mother’s face at his graduation, which he hadn’t seen any semblance of since his father died, was almost enough to send him back to Savanna Heights for life. But he needed a fresh start. He needed to find himself. Of course he did nothing of the sort, until several years later at least. After her passing, he always regretted not coming back home and being there for his mother in her last years. Maybe, together, his lost years and her last years could have been avoided, or, more realistically, delayed. But maybe is always such a useless world to use when speaking of the past.

Waldin was recruited right after graduating by a budding law firm in the city. Lying had become such an uncanny normality that he rapidly excelled and ascended the ranks at the firm. After a few years, he was widely considered to be the firm’s top attorney and his impeccable record spoke for itself. When the senior attorney retired, having made his millions, he seemed to be the obvious front-runner for the position. This is what he had been waiting for his whole life; this was his end. As senior attorney he could choose his own clients and finally work for those who truly needed his help. He could represent the poor and disenfranchised; the victims of the system who were simply fighting to provide for their families. The redemption of the man of two could be his own atonement. The man with two strikes, two families, two jobs, and two options could watch his kids go to bed hungry for yet another night or act outside of the law to find any way to provide for them. His knowledge of the system could be used to bend and manipulate it for the benefit of those who it was originally meant to protect. He could impact the lives of “have nots” in a direct and material way. Everything he had done, all the lies, could be justified through this opportunity. The culmination of all the deception would ultimately be for a clear and undeniable “good”.

He lied endlessly in the courtroom, in defense of millionaires, with expertly crafted monologues, pulling a veil of quotes and previous cases over the jury’s eyes. He lied twenty-five to life down to community service and house arrest, and sat with a fire burning at the bottom of his sternum as the guilty walked free. All the clients with deep pockets were given to him, since he was the best the firm had to offer, each victory bringing a broad smile to the CFO’s face. He lied for the clients with perpetual smug dispositions who saw the dismissal of their sexual assault and embezzlement charges as a foregone conclusion, once they opened their wallets. He lied for these men, whom he so fervently despised, all so that one day he could fight for those he just as fervently sympathized with. And, one day, that day came.

The deliberations over the senior attorney position were to come to a conclusion that morning, and he woke up with sense of optimism that had been absent in his life for quite some time. Though he felt quite different, this morning commenced like any other, and the lies began. He had convinced himself that he must project an evident image of success in order to advance in this world, and that image was vital that day more than ever. He hustled through his morning workout, showered and brushed his teeth vigorously, shaved and combed his hair meticulously, applied a conservative amount of after shave, stared blankly at himself in the mirror for a few moments, and went back into the bedroom to get dressed. Broadcloth shirt, Super 450s pure wool suit, silk power tie, freshly shined shoes, he couldn’t fail. He briskly prepared his usual breakfast of a spinach and egg white omelet with plain steel cut oats. Whether or not he still lied to himself about the enjoyment of this meal was unclear, even to himself, since his taste buds might have just grown indifferent to the blandness. Either way, the image of success and vitality remained intact. After eating, the final touch had to be put on his morning. He walked silently back into his room and left a blueberry muffin, a glass of orange juice, and a note written neatly in cursive, reading, “Had a great time last night. Went to work. Leave your number. I’ll call you.”

If he had ever told a lie in his life, that last sentence was surely it. He found it less complicated this way. He used to elaborate more in his notes and leave his own number. She would call in a few days; he’d exaggerate the complexity of his schedule but find a time for them to meet again. He’d call her the day before and say his current case had intensified and he couldn’t make it but they would surely find a time to reschedule. After a few weeks she would come to the realization that he was never calling back, briefly hate him or occasionally be indifferent, and then move on with her life. His current system skipped directly to that final step. The number left was never called. From time to time he would meet a girl who had a certain chemistry or affinity with him, and he would ask himself why he couldn’t bring himself to call her. Time and time again he produced some clichéd justification like, “She’d be better off without me,” or “I don’t want her to get attached since my career won’t allow me to give her the time she deserves”, or even his personal favorite, “It would only lead to disappointment.” No matter which he chose, his lies were always enough to convince himself and the cycle continued. Without ever waking her, he slipped back out the door, grabbed his suitcase, and left for work.

Chapter 2

The walk back to his apartment after hearing the news that he had not been chosen as the new senior attorney was easily the longest of his life. How delusional he had been. Somehow he thought that his success would solidify the position for him but it actually ensured that he would not be selected. It only made financial sense to keep him where he was. He was already forced to work with the most lucrative clients and the firm could only lose money by promoting him and allowing him to choose his own. His aspirations to work with lower income clients had become common knowledge in the firm. They logically had to promote someone who would chase the six figure clients. This was not news to be taken lightly. Later that day, he sat, how I most often remember him, on his living room couch, with his thoughts turned completely inward. An empty glass and an unopened bottle of vodka sat before him on the table. Held tightly yet delicately in his hand was the gun his uncle gifted to him on his twenty-first birthday, a few years before he passed. It was his uncle’s most valuable possession; a custom crafted Beretta 918 with an ivory plated handle. Its small frame fit comfortably his hand. A single .25 ACP round rested in the chamber, not designed to do much damage yet enough to end a life, if well placed, from point blank range.

Click, click. Click, click. Click, click.

His thumb gently slid the safety back and forth, with a nearly hypnotizing rhythm. Besides the pendulum of his thumb, he sat completely motionless. A looming thought consumed him, a thought that had been ever so slightly creeping up on him over the past few years. Yet that night he could no longer push it to the back of his consciousness.

He was a liar, a phony, a hypocrite.

He was no different than the reality TV stars and pop singers. His entire life he had lied, in any way necessary, and for what? He had always had a greater end to justify the means and now that end had been shattered. The man selected as the new senior attorney was, in fact, younger than him and considering the amount of money that would soon be lining his pockets, there was virtually no chance that the position would be available in the foreseeable future. Sure he could go to another firm but there was no guarantee things would be any different there, and even if they were, none of that mattered to him then. It initially seemed to be a fairly recoverable blow, yet it now brought rise to a far more disturbing reality. He had lied so endlessly that he barely had a vague concept of who he actually was, what he wanted, or what he believed. He had compromised something of such underestimated value, all under the assumption that he had control over the external happenings of his life. Through lies he had always been able to obtain desired outcomes, degrees, jobs, friendships, favors, and pleasures. For the first time in his life the extent of his lack of control had been actualized. Perhaps the greatest lie he had ever told, his most convincing deception, was that he had convinced himself that, if he was willing to lie, he commanded a fundamental control over his life. The only control he had, or perceived control for that matter, resided deeply within his mind now. The only aspect of the external world that he seemed to have any dominion over, at that very moment, was the gun in his hand.

He had never used the gun. It was only removed from the safe on the long nights of the riots. He often sat in a similar fashion on his couch, gun in hand, as he heard the shouts, broken glass, and sirens in the streets. Of course, the sirens came not from police cars but ambulances, since the police rarely bothered themselves with defusing the riots unless they got completely out of hand or threatened to reach Upper West Side. Though it seemed evident that the chaos below would never reach the ninth floor of his building, he still sat, median nerve to steel, every night the streets caved in. The gun wasn’t even a means of protection, but a form of perceived control. It possessed an indescribable, intrinsic power that provided him with a peculiar sense of peace and comfort.

The riots had become as common as fortnights, and no one seemed to know what they were even for or against anymore. There was no longer a specific entity, or government, or institution, or even person to blame. The lack of a clear enemy or equalizing force was exactly what made the riots so frequent and uncontrollable. People simply had become so desperate, so inexplicably oppressed, so dissatisfied with their current condition, that they finally reached the crucial tipping point and lashed out against anything in their way. Any provocation, or even lack of submission, became causation for indiscriminate violence and destruction.

The rioters were not so different from an animal born in captivity who one day begins tossing itself with reckless abandon into the impenetrable viewing glass. It smashes its head until the point of unconsciousness, with no regard for the pain or the futility of its actions. That futility is essentially inevitable because of the lack of awareness of the actual force that restricts its freedom or the meaning behind its captivity. This ignorance forces it to lash out against the only thing in its way, the glass, though it is far from the ultimate confining force. Even if somehow the glass one day gave way to the force of the animal's body, without identification and elimination of those who keep it trapped, its recapture is a forgone conclusion. Matters are only made worse by the fact that it has no concept of what it wants or what it would do outside of captivity. It only knows that it wants out of its current situation. All of its experience has been in captivity and if given freedom would it even have a real chance at bettering its condition? Maybe that’s why many revolutions and rebellions eventually fail. After overthrowing the oppressive force, it is not long before either chaos and anarchy ensue, or, since it is all that they know, a similar condition is reverted back to.

At least the animal born in the wild, who is taken from it, has an ideal to strive for. At least that animal can find some comfort in its suffering through its memories and dreams of freedom. At least it can remember a more agreeable time and hope that one day it will return to that state. The animal born in captivity cannot, even in its dreams, experience what freedom is truly like. It seems that, if the animal’s most fundamental need was not to simply survive, it would surely attempt or at least desire to take its own life. Its deepest rooted instinct can’t be overridden, yet the desire to no longer continue in its current state, the desire to be free, nearly rivals that instinct. This is where the rioter differs from the captive animal. A human’s most fundamental need is far more ambiguous. As unclear as it may be, it seems that it is definitely something far more than to simply survive, in this life at least.

Our truest desire may be to love and be loved, or to understand and be understood. It just as well may be to fight for something that one deems worth fighting for. Most intriguingly, it may be to be truly free. The lack of perceived freedom, the lack of an alternative, the lack of control and subsequent lack of hope for a more desirable existence is what was driving the rioters now. It occurred to Waldin that maybe the common rioter, a young, frustrated man with a crowbar in hand, took to the streets on those endless nights, with a deeply suppressed desire to end no one’s life but his own. Each act of destruction and violence was, on the most concealed level, an attempt to provoke someone else to take his life for him and give him at least the illusion of an honorable and purposeful death. Whether by his own hand or the hand of another, the rioter was exercising his final form of control, control over his own existence. Just as billions of other people chose to continue on in their current state that night, he decided to bring his to an end, and in that choice he escaped with the most primitive form of freedom.

For the first time in several hours the clicking stopped. Waldin felt an unnerving relation to the rioter and it finally occurred to him that he himself was contemplating exercising that final freedom. As abruptly as the thought arose, he frantically expelled it out of his mind. He was a rational man, and there was nothing rational about suicide. Suicide was for the desperate, the hopeless, those with nothing. A man with a six figure salary, a loft in the heart of the city, and a flourishing sex life did not consider putting a bullet in his head. He was simply a man sitting in his living room, holding a means of defense from a real and considerable danger. That was all, nothing more. His nerves settled. The clicking began again. The lies slowly maneuvered back into his mind and he came to rather disturbing, yet probably common truth. In all recollection, there was not a single person that he had ever known whom he had never lied to. Even family, even his mother who he cared about so deeply, he had lied to countless times. Complete honesty had never really occurred to him upon meeting someone, and before he even knew someone at all, he usually lied to them at least a few times, without any real malice. Though the same likely holds true for most people, its poignancy was unshakeable in that moment.

An overwhelming desire for truth overcame him, or, if truth was too vain and ambitious a pursuit for this life, the absence of lies would have to suffice. Maybe honesty was too elusive as well, yet in order to expect it he had to first come forth with it. His only opportunity for any satisfaction or redemption would have to come through the rejection of all lies and delusions in his life. He first had to accept his current condition for what it was. That night he had truly considered killing himself and there was no use in denying it any further. Though the moment had passed and he was as uncertain as ever, Waldin was fairly certain he never wanted to feel that way again. Regardless of what he was in that moment, tomorrow would be a new day and who was to say that he couldn’t wake up tomorrow something of an entirely different nature, a genuine nature?

He placed the still unopened bottle back on the shelf, locked the gun in its safe, looked at himself briefly yet intensely in the mirror, and, upon ever so faintly smiling, laid down and fell immediately asleep.

Chapter 3

The streets were spotless. Ironically enough, they were always in their best condition the morning after a riot. No one knew exactly how, but the effects of the riots were nowhere to be found the next morning anymore. It was like nothing happened. I guess people preferred it that way. It even seemed quieter, but that day he couldn't tell the difference; his ears were occupied. It had been years since he listened to music while walking through the streets. His earlier days in the city seemed laughably similar. He was once a young man, looking to distance himself from his past and reinvent himself, with an unreasonable amount of optimism and a look on his face that drew scorn from life-timers. As time passed working at the firm, his self-image changed. The way he presented himself was gradually altered. He tried to project something that he wasn't. Every moment between his apartment and work was spent engrossed in the day's agenda—how to get ahead, how to be more efficient, how to be more prepared for the future. Day after day, he fought to convince himself that these were the most important concerns of life. Meanwhile, music, along with any other aspect of his life that was not a clear driving force towards those ends, became a distraction.

The city made its first appeal to him as a place of observation, a place to examine human behavior, a place to pick up on the little things that no one else seemed to notice about everyday life. These little things were just as soon labeled as distractions and filed away. He had become disconnected not only with the world around him, but what spoke to the innermost part of him. This left him driven by a grayish intermediary layer between the two, which was so compact and busy yet so viciously empty. Even so, as he walked through the streets that day, some fraction of that void was filled with the sounds of the world and the words of the soul. He reluctantly paused his music only to hear the muffled sounds coming from the clerk's mouth.

"You seriously think I'm stupid or some shit?"

“No, no I … not at all. I just figured it would be worth something, being custom made and all,” Waldin articulated, with unanticipated difficulty.

The clerk laughed disingenuously through his nose. “It’s about as custom made as this piece of shit,” the clerk retorted, pinching his dirty, dilapidated white t-shirt. “This handle sure as hell ain’t ivory,” he said as he tapped the handle on the counter, creating a hollow noise, “and I’d bet it couldn’t kill a sewer rat if it was hungry enough.”

His uncle, in all his generosity, was never much of an honest man.

“Look, I’m not trying to cheat anyone. Apparently it’s nothing special but I’m just trying to get rid of it. So if you won’t give me anything for it that’s fine, but it’ll end up on the streets and don’t blame me when you’re staring down the barrel of this when the homeless vet out there gets sick of having the corner of his cardboard sign for dinner.”

The clerk shifted his mouth awkwardly, struggling to conceal a smile. “Maybe you’re not so bad, kid, but business is still business, and just so you know this gun’s gonna find its home on the streets whether you sell it to me or not. Anyone who wanted a gun for self-defense got one a long time ago. I’ll give you a break though, $115 trade in credit, take it or leave it.”

He had always wanted a record player. It was in decent condition and, though it was a bit awkward to carry home, once he found a place for it he was quite pleased. His rationality had its benefits. The night before he had been seized with the urge to throw the gun out of his ninth story window as a final gesture, yet logic quickly overcame and he decided that he would sell it at the pawn shop the next morning. Ironically enough, his rationality had failed him that day as he walked out of the pawn shop with a record player and not a single piece of vinyl. After a few silent moments of staring at his new acquisition, it finally occurred to him that if he ever wanted to hear anything, he would have to head down to one of the old record stores that still somehow littered the city.

He had admittedly stopped in several record stores throughout the years, fully aware that he had no means to listen to or reason to buy any of the records. Regardless, he still sauntered through the sections, eyes darting like sand flies, and experienced an odd, almost euphoric satisfaction out of fingering through records, only occasionally stopping to draw one out. As each record revealed itself he would try to imagine the moment in which it was last listened to. Each one was a portal to a different time, a different place, and, most intriguingly, a different emotional response to the same stimuli. While one might usually jump to the archetypal situation, he searched for the least likely, or better yet, least expected, listener. Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” was a Texan soldier on the night before the Fall of Saigon. David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” was an addiction counselor from Delaware, preparing for a meeting. Eminem’s “Marshall Mathers LP” was an elementary school teacher from Seattle, losing herself on her lunch break. ABBA’s “Gold” was a young woman, one the verge of overdose, lying next to a man she’s painfully indifferent to, trying to decide if she wants to cry or if she even knows how to anymore.

He would continue on in this manner for hours sometimes, yet today he finally selected an armful of his favorite albums and headed for the register. It became one of those subtly awkward exchanges where there's a certain irony to a situation that only one person is aware of. The cashier looked at him with a suspicious curiosity as he inexplicably fought off a smile, while drawing his card from his wallet. For a moment, he somehow forgot that the cashier had no idea how unexpected and aberrant a moment this was for him. Slightly embarrassed, he quickly grabbed the stack of vinyl and briskly walked out, trailed by a precocious, “Uhh ok, have a nice day,” from inside the store.

It had been quite some time since he had walked through the streets on a Monday morning with nothing to do. What was there to do? What he had he been missing out on? What a laden question that was, yet he had the rest of his life to answer it and in that moment he once again seemed unsure of everything—the only exception being that he sure was hungry, or at least felt that way.

There was a small cafe on 4th Street that he often stopped by on the weekends to read or just take in the scene, when he managed to pry himself away from work. Late Monday morning provided a much different atmosphere. The nine-to-fivers were replaced with the unemployed, the unpublished authors, the struggling street artists and comics, the troubled, creative minds living cigarette to cigarette, fix to fix, gig to gig, spark to spark, fuck to fuck. The junkies get all the shame, since their self-destruction is so apparent, but everyone has their own fix, something that makes them feel alive. Before finding it, most just feel lost or dissatisfied, but after that something is attained, existence without it seems insufferable. Maybe more frightening, yet at the same time more beautiful, than anything else in this life is the suggestion that what that something is could be a matter that we as individuals have no say in. Inevitably self-destructive and depressive, maybe, but at least they lived day to day, moment to moment, emotion to emotion, and that’s more than he could say thus far.

Everyone’s aura seemed depressing but in a comforting, bona fide way, until, of course, his scan reached her. The cliché frustrated him but he let it take its course.

Her face seemed so oddly yet so alluringly familiar. He nearly swore she had caught his eye, at least once before, in a park in his hometown, or while crossing paths on the busy streets, or even at the very coffee house he then sat in. By the same token, he was equally certain he had never seen her before, or anything even remotely close to her. She was beautiful, yet not in an objective, anatomical way that turned heads on the streets and brought out the most shameful desires of men. She was beautiful in a way that made him question the mere definition of the word beauty and if it could even possibly do her justice. There was something so unique about her face, about her eyes, her being, that screamed, almost violently, at his dormant soul. He was immediately reminded of when, as a child, he first overlooked the foothills from a local peak, and felt a longing for something higher, a desire to capture the profound moment forever, yet, though he was young, he knew a photo could never encompass or recreate the experience. So there she sat, in her last moments of indifference to his existence. The world saw a girl, a woman maybe, simply reading alone in a cafe, yet he saw an oyster, wanting nothing more than for someone to give enough effort to open her shell and bear witness to what lay inside. Unbeknownst to him, she saw herself not as an oyster but as a bubble, who, upon allowing anyone to breach her outer layer, would cease to exist.

It abruptly occurred to him that, amidst his foolish, romantic thoughts, he had been standing alone at the counter for several seconds. Embarrassed, he quickly ordered his usual black, decaf coffee and whole grain bagel, left a five at the register, and sat down discreetly in her view. Always pressed for time, he was usually a quick finish at the table, but that day he ate and drank deliberately slowly. She had barely touched her tea and was all but submerged in a book he couldn’t quite make out the title of. This told him that, logically, she would likely be there for a while longer, yet beyond logic it told him something of more significant value. Though they did not yet share desire for each other, in his mind they shared more than a simple enjoyment of reading. They shared the desire to learn, the desire to be challenged by the questions that all books present, the desire to see a glimpse inside the minds of others, and, most considerably, an insatiable desire for something higher. Not in a literal or even moral sense, higher as in something more, something more than the material, more than the superficial, more than the physical, and, ironically enough, more than even words. That very desire is what kept him alive, once again, not in a literal sense, or upon further thought, maybe in a literal sense as well.

Unexpectedly, his often hindering distaste for rejection began to creep up his spine and nearly convinced him to forget her altogether. He began the internal argument that always arose in his head whenever he was faced with an even slightly challenging decision. The latter nearly prevailed, until he figured that the familiarity in her face could only mean that he had, in fact, crossed paths with her before. He had been too much of a coward to approach her before and she had been placed before him today simply as an opportunity to redeem himself, an opportunity to prove right the decision he made the night before. And with that thought, he threw away his trash, stood up, and, nonchalantly as he could, walked over to her.

His proximity drew her eyes to his for the first time and almost caused him to forget his previous thoughts completely. He was a perennial planner, yet nothing could prepare him for his soul’s jerk reaction to the presence of its beckoner. She smiled warmly yet cautiously at his unexplained, yet somehow not awkward, silence.

He gathered himself and managed to get his lips moving enough to say, “Hey, sorry. Okay, um... I know this may seem a bit weird and I’m not even sure exactly what I’m doing here but if you’d just give me a few moments of your time, it would do a lot for me and it might just do something for you too.”

“Well consider yourself lucky. This book hasn’t been doing much for me. Jane Austen makes me remember why dropped out of grad school.”

He let a genuine laugh slip out for the first time in who knew how long. “The lesser of two evils, huh? Nineteenth century British literature or the awkward guy trying to hit on you in a coffee shop. I get it I —”

“Oh no, no. I’d much rather read Wuthering Heights than talk to you. I just somehow got talked into giving Pride and Prejudice another chance.” She was quite sharper than he imagined.

“Well I swear I never thought that book would come in handy.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself just yet.”

“Fair enough. I’m Waldin.

“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Waldin.”

“And you are…?”

“I’m … not quite sure I want to give you my name yet.”

“Okay, I can respect that.”

He slowly felt the stubble he didn’t care enough to shave that morning. “Well here it goes. I experienced something yesterday that I’m not sure I can really wrap my head around yet. I won’t get into it but things are different and let’s just say I don’t want to go back to the way things were. In order to do that, there’s something I think I need to do. I need to make a promise. I’ll never make another promise to you, but there’s one I have to make. I promise that I will never lie to you.

“I know that may not mean much coming from someone you don’t know at all, or anyone for that matter, but I’m only asking for the opportunity to keep that promise. I might offend you, annoy you, or even horrify you, but I also might provide some value to your life that you never could have imagined. I don’t expect anything else from you besides the chance to get to know you and tell you the truth. I don’t expect you to be completely honest with me, because I know how much it would be to ask of anyone, but if you did, I think we could at least experience something rare.”

He paused to take a breath. Her eyes and expression hadn’t wavered since he began speaking and he started to question everything he had just said. “I know that was a lot and I don’t know if you’re follow—”

“Okay. I’m in! Let’s see what happens.”

“Really? Okay great… Uhhh, I don’t have my phone actually, but I can take your number down.”

Without responding, she pulled out a pen, flipped to the last page of her book, quickly wrote something down, and tore the page out. On the table lay the final paragraph and below it read an address.

“So you won’t trust a stranger with your phone number, but you’ll give out your address!”

“Maybe you’re not as bright as I thought. It’s a P.O. Box. Write me a letter, about anything. If what I read interests me, you’ll see me again.”

Before he could figure out how to respond, she stood up and walked out of the cafe, leaving her book and unfinished tea on the table. An incoming meteor wouldn’t have drawn his eyes from her as she made her exit, and after she was out of sight he looked around, marveled by the fact that no one else had done the same. He shook his head and laughed to himself, as he downed the rest of the tea and headed home.

Chapter 4

The age old predicament began to mock him. Not even Waldin was safe from the torture, the torture of the blank page. From the moment he got home, the thought of writing to her consumed him. He pulled a sheet of paper from the printer he never used, and sat down at the kitchen bar. If there was ever a use for those over-priced fountain pens no one ever did anything with, besides look at and test how smooth they write, he figured this letter was it. How was this writing thing supposed to work anyways? Would a gale of inspiration overcome him and set the words moving straight from his sensory neurons to his spinal cord, bypassing his brain, and back to his hand? Should he simply write whatever came to mind? Would a formal outline or plan yield a better product? What was she even expecting him to say? These questions played on repeat for what seemed like hours. It had been five minutes. He always had a way with words and could talk himself out of or into almost anything, but that was improvisation, that was reactionary. He now had nothing to respond to and all the time in the world to second guess and doubt anything he wrote. In time, everything he wrote was fucking garbage, complete nonsense. Everything was uninspired and uninteresting. When speaking in person, there was an urgency, a pressure that drove him, yet without it he seemed so misguided. It was all so inert. Every word lacked permanence, pleading to be changed, and was doomed to be lost in translation. After twenty minutes he had managed to reach the bottom of the page, and, assuming he was as content as he’d ever be with his words, put down the pen.

He finally cracked the seal of the vodka bottle that he’d danced around for months, threw on “Creep”, and poured himself a glass.

Three days went by in what felt like some type of warped time lapse he could only vaguely recall. He went through four bottles and enough paper to form a homeless style blanket over his body. It probably would have been more if his tolerance hadn’t gone down considerably since his livelier days. His environmentalist friends would have torn him a new one if they’d seen his apartment that day. There was paper, folded, torn, crumpled, some written on, some not. He rolled over, pushing off all but one piece of his blanket. Either he was still drunk or what he wrote was completely incomprehensible. Cycling through a few more pieces he found that most of them made little sense, those that appeared to be in English at least. It was like he was lying next to a woman, rambling on about the intricacies of their marriage and children’s futures, who he’d swear on his father’s grave he’d never even seen before. Each word he read spoke undeniable truth that had never left the deepest crevasses of his mind, yet no part of him could recall writing any of it.

... I sit in dark, tepid space, alone but not alone. It seems to be an unavoidable human condition. Or maybe a non-existent one. Is it not possible that in one of an infinite number of parallel universes, I exist, exactly as I currently am? Every single moment, every experience, is simultaneously shared with another me. I am never alone in anything. Shut up. This is it. You’re always alone.

… My heart pumps so slowly. I could stop it if I tried. My fingers, my toes, my face, they scream for blood. The instruments are far more alive than me. How do I miss what I don’t know? My taste buds have slid from my tongue to my throat. Anything is possible besides this. My skull has become the atmosphere of a red giant. It doesn’t make me smarter, only denser.

Some hangover. He quickly tired of sifting through his ramblings. It was too early to read anyways. He tossed the last paper back on the coffee table, with unnecessary exasperation, and slouched back on the couch, only to notice a neatly raised rectangle on his right pant pocket. He awkwardly slid out a precisely creased piece of paper out of his pocket. Its unfolding revealed that the usual, almost illegible print had been replaced by the pristine cursive of his academic days. An unreasonable anxiety loomed and he began to read.

“Dear she who has no name,

He must have fancied the line much cleverer when he was drunk.

I might logically begin with a declaration of self, a statement of who I am and what my intentions are in attempt to impress you or, better yet, endear you to me. I probably would have done so if I had not come to the awkward realization that I don’t truly know who I am. I ask only that you judge me not on who I have been up to this point in my life, and only who I am in each present moment, as revealed to you, and, quite frankly, to myself. I have spent the majority of my life pretending to be someone or something that I am not. My life, in and of itself, to this point, has been a lie. In all recollection, I have lied every single day of my life and to every single person I have ever known. I hope only to stray from this path, starting with you. I can promise you nothing, but in all likelihood you will be confused, and even tormented by my mind, yet I will do all I can to tell you nothing but what I believe to be the truth. Even so, the slightest chance that we might stumble upon something far more meaningful seems worth it to me. I seek to find whatever is real and genuine in this life, for whatever it’s worth, and am willing put forth everything that I am to do so. I find it unfair to ask the same of you, so I won’t. I only present you with the opportunity to, if you will, show up to a duel, not without a gun, but without armor.

When I was eleven years old I sat motionless, listening through an air conditioning vent, as my best friend was abused by his mother for leaving a glass of milk out overnight, which was, in fact, mine.

The closest thing to commitment I’ve ever had is when Valerie rather confidently stated, in the kindergarten sandbox, that she was going to marry me.

My father died when I was seventeen.

Those are three things I have never told a soul. And with that I conclude, or maybe begin.


He gently placed the paper down on the table. Never had he written so clearly and honestly in his life. Despite his fervent efforts, he could not salvage an ounce of memory of writing a single word. The only reason he was sure he wrote it was because those three things were true and he had, in fact, not told them to anyone. It surely sounded like him and they were all thoughts from his own mind, yet it slightly bothered him that he couldn’t remember it, despite how coherent he would have had to have been to do so. He glanced at the empty bottle of vodka and shook his head. Either way there was little doubt he wouldn’t come up with anything better, so he quickly sealed it in an envelope and mailed it out before he could doubt himself again and restart the unending vortex.

Though he was still as unsure as ever, he hadn’t felt that hopeful since Christmas in ‘96 and it seemed as if things might just turn out all right, until, of course, he met Aiden. Aiden was the boyfriend you just knew a girl as intriguing and attractive as her had to have. He had feared she might be involved with someone, but not Aiden. Aiden made Gandhi look like fucking Charles Manson, so it goes without saying what Aiden made you look like. Aiden almost made you wish he was the type of boyfriend that smacked her around a little bit when he got frustrated, or got her mixed up in hard drugs, or had her caught in some cheating inferiority complex, or even just stood her up because he spent too much time at the office. At least then you could hate him like you were supposed to and try to convince yourself that she’d be better off with you, but not Aiden. Aiden was ultra-friendly and cool with you when you met him, and was way too confident and mature to be threatened by you.

There were people who spent summers in the Andes looking for environmental solutions to problems you didn’t even know existed, or fasted during Ramadan despite not even being Muslim, or had read every book on the “100 Books to Read Before You Die” list. Aiden did all that shit. Aiden lost his virginity on prom night to a girl he truly felt something special for. When the time came to make the college decision he encouraged his girlfriend to follow her dreams and go to Cornell instead of following him to Brown. Despite how much he cared for her, they managed the ever elusive clean break. He’d been in three serious relationships, all three of which ended mutually, and he was still actually friends with his exes, but only friends. Aiden double majored in creative writing and poli sci and actually managed to get a well-playing, stable job. He took the semester studying abroad in Spain you always wanted to, and actually became fluent, and still graduated on time.

Aiden’s parents split when he was fourteen, but it didn’t fuck him up, it just taught him how to overcome adversity and made him more mature. Every time his parents called, he picked up and still had brunch with both of them every other Sunday. Aiden spent a year after college exploring the world’s major religions, and was a spiritual guy, but didn’t shove it down your throat. He was very conscious of what he put in his body, but didn’t follow any fad diets and never turned down something you offered him. Aiden drank whenever and whatever you were drinking, but never went too far, and was always ever so slightly less drunk than you. Aiden was in great shape, but wasn’t obsessed with his physique and cared more about his health than appearance. He worked hard to maintain his body, but when complimented on it, he always lied and gave the credit to his genetics, which were actually rather mediocre. He was a gentleman and invariable front-runner, everywhere expect in the bedroom of course.

Waldin tried with every fiber of his being to hate Aiden, but he couldn’t find a single reason to do so. A part of him knew that Aiden was everything he ever strived, but would always fail, to be, and with that hopeless realization, he conceded. Aiden was Tyler Durden’s Tyler Durden and there was no use in trying to compete. Just accept it, Waldin, you’ll never...

Waldin woke up in a flu-like cold sweat. His heart slowly slid back up from its state of digestion in his stomach. Never had he felt more relieved. Aiden was simply a dream. His thoughts about her had been flooding his mind since they met, and his subconscious was, apparently, no exception.

Chapter 5

The next morning, he found himself oddly unable to dismiss the idea that Aiden was not real. Though he knew it was a dream, the concept of Aiden began to eat away at him. Even if Waldin gave everything he had to offer in the highest capacity, were there other factors that were too significant to overcome? Was the battle already lost? Was there even a purpose in trying, in anything at all for that matter, if there were such metaphorical override buttons in life that could control what happened and what didn’t? Whether through God or physical law, was free will and control an illusion? Aiden, in all likelihood, was not real, but what he stood for might be. And if he was real, would that be the end? Would he just let her go and pretend that he didn’t contain an unbearable desire to simply see where things would lead with her? Would he let her be just a girl he talked to that one time, whose name he didn’t even know? Would he write the past few days off as a nonsensical whim and go back to his old ways? Would he take the record player to that sweaty salesman at the pawn shop and head straight to the firm to beg for his job back? Maybe. He sure as hell hoped not, but he found more comfort in hoping Aiden was just an insignificant product of his subconscious.

The next few days were dangerous times for the mind. He always slowly dismantled himself when he had too much time alone with his thoughts. The poorly constructed world of instant gratification quickly collapsed on itself. Waldin could not bear to wait. The questions came avalanching in as they always did. Did he misspell the address? Was there a mistake at the post office? What were the odds that it even reached her? Was she too confused to respond? Was she just trying to get rid of him and assumed he wouldn’t even try to write her? Was she unimpressed? Had her response failed to reach him? How long did it take to send a letter these days anyways? Each day the questions increased tenfold. He was so accustomed to nearly immediate responses. When he asked his assistant for a list of potential clients, he was reading it within the hour, by the end of the day at the very latest. When he sent out a casual, “You doing anything later?” he was promptly met with a, “No, I’ll be over around 12,” or if a denial, though they were rare, at least a fairly immediate one. He sometimes imagined her reading his letter, laughing at his pathetic words. She’d show it to Aiden and he’d crack a smile, but instead of making fun, he’d insist that it took courage to write something like that. Fucking Aiden.

It had been six days since he sent out the letter and though that would have been a reasonable rate of return, it seemed like an eternity. As each day slipped by, he began to resign himself to the anxiety he once feared. He immersed himself in his music and began reading again. It was almost therapeutic to get out of his head for a while and take a glimpse into someone else’s. He left his apartment increasingly often, but rarely for anywhere besides the record store, library, and local shops. His music collection flourished and his once pseudo-intellectual, unused, reference filled bookshelf soon became something of actual significance. He’d made enough money in the past few years to last him quite some time. His money had been spent almost exclusively on necessities; always figured he was saving for something. This provided him with the financial security to take a mostly volunteer position at the local library. He’d been spending a lot of his time there recently anyways, and figured he had always wanted a means of interacting with and impacting the city’s youth. Though he quickly learned that the library was more a haven for the city's homeless than anything else, and if not that, a place for kids to play internet games and check social media, the potential for value remained the same. Despite all its shortcomings, the painfully outdated safe haven began to endear itself to him, and it became the center of his newly non-existent social life, his bar, if you will. Though he had more acquaintances than a politician, Waldin never really had many friends, real ones for that matter. That was, of course, until he met a kid a named Leonard, or, as I preferred to be called, Leon.

Not Leo, no one called me that, not since her.

It was the summer before my senior year in high school and I was still seventeen, much more of a man than most, but in so many ways still such a child. Jordan and I were still in that rundown studio on the south side, no bigger than Waldin’s living room, and my brother was still working the streets most nights. Whoever made it back first at night got the bed, which was almost always me; so he usually took the couch that was so worn out we called it the “poor man’s memory foam”. I spent most of my days at the Central Branch, since for some reason none of the local stores were looking to hire the kid they regularly kicked out for shoplifting. Before Waldin I didn’t even read there, I just played the six string that I salvaged from one of the live shows I used to sneak into, in the most secluded corner of the second floor. No one seemed to mind until Waldin overheard me and came up to tell me to keep it down.

“You know this supposed to be a silent read —”

Before he could finish he was disarmed by the melody, which for the first time he fully heard.

Sensing this, I continued to play. Though I rarely admit it anymore, I was good. I was really good, far better than I realized at the time. I just had rhythms and melodies in my head that I didn't understand, that were phantoms, until I started to play. And when I did play I didn't think, I just felt.

I came to a stopping point and pretended to have just noticed Waldin.

“My bad, I tend to zone out. Was I getting too loud?” I asked, fingers still moving.

“Oh, um no, well yes, but that was something else, kid.”

“Na. I was just messing around.”

“Yeah sure, where’d you learn to play like that?”

“Just listening and watching the street musicians and some live shows. Not having shit to do.”

He wasn’t convinced. “May I?”

I handed him the guitar and he slowly plucked some classical tune on the top four strings. I barely contained my laughter.

“And that’s what happens when you let your cello collect dust for ten years. Used to be decent but I never really played any acoustic.”

“I figured. So… Can I…?”

“Oh yeah, sure, keep playing, just try to keep it down. I’m Waldin, by the way.”

He extended his hand. I paused and looked at it for a second, as I always did after seeing Jordan do it a deal a few years back, thought I was some kind of no-shit-taking, “you earn my respect” kid. But this time I broke a smile and dapped him up.

“Leonard, but call me Leon.”

He began walking away but stopped and turned back. “And the reference section might be a better idea. You won’t have to worry about an audience there.” Dude had jokes.

Though I didn’t think much of it at the time, Waldin sensed the beginning of something of cosmic significance. Now granted, knowing Waldin, he probably had that same feeling at least five times a day, about shit of far less consequence, and I hate to admit it, but he was right.

The next day he found me leaning against Encyclopedia Britannica Volumes 6-11, strumming away. Lunch in hand, he took a seat beside me. Armed with a copy of The Invisible Man and a handful of songs he’d obsessed over since he got home the day before, he gave me his best shot. We tried the whole hardened, reserved kid is resistant to open up to the delusional adult who tries to understand him act. Just take a moment to imagine a how receptive a kid, who never met his father and was raised by a single a mother who walked out the day he graduated from middle school, would be of an adult trying to gain his trust. Trust me, I played my part. I was what one might call a seasoned veteran when it came to shutting people out, but nothing could have prepared me for Waldin. All was lost when, for the first time, I asked him a question. He opened up faster than a white girl who happened to have just returned from a six day life-altering “volunteer mission trip” to Haiti, after three shots of Cuervo. Honestly, I can’t recall what question I set him up with, but I doubt it mattered in the slightest. He let it all go, and though it confused me at first, I eventually became content to just witness what unfolded before me. From his first memories as a young child to the dream in which he was a paralyzed invalid being taking care of by an actually non-existent older sister that he had the night before. Every day during his lunch break, which always seemed to last unreasonably long, we talked, or, well, he talked mostly. And most nights, once the library cleared out, except for a few of the persistent homeless, we would talk down at the front desk for another hour or two. I suppose all the years of lying and containment just finally got to him. Not even a played out flood gates metaphor would suffice. When things got too profound or meaningful, he would resort to writing, which was always his more comfortable medium. One day I’d get a letter in the mail about how he didn’t show up to his father’s funeral, and later we’d talk about corn chips.

All things considered, it would be unfair to paint Waldin as a self-absorbed man. Despite how much he spoke of himself, his interest in my life and opinion was relentless. Every few days he’d come in trying to contain his excitement, with a new book for me to read or an instrument he’d picked up for me to play. Some days it’d be an existential thriller, others a cajon he won off a street musician turned hustler. He’d even slip in a few transcendentalist essays from time to time. My early reservations soon gave way to complete absorption of everything he put before me, which was a big step for a kid who churned out C’s with Pete Rose like consistency. Granted I could have had a 4.0 if I showed up to class more than half the time, making me one of those gifted but never applied themselves cases you probably hated in school if you tore your hair out and picked up an Adderall/caffeine habit for B’s. That summer I learned more than I had in twelve years of public school “education” and my mind slowly crept out of hibernation, but at home things remained the same. It seems they always do.

Chapter 6

“I often wake up in the morning and wonder if I am, when it comes down to it, anything more than just hungry and horny.” - W

Checking the mail finally ceased to be the focal point of his day, and, though he still thought of her from time to time, she no longer kept him awake or taunted him in his dreams. And then it came.

Normally, he rarely checked his mail, since all his bills were paid online and nothing he was really concerned about came in the mail anymore. He grabbed the rather hefty stack of paper, and casually scrolled through it. Apparently, type II diabetes and manic-depression were on sale that weekend. He carelessly tossed the pile onto the coffee table, like any other day, but then an off-white envelope with what looked like handwriting on it caught his eye. Naturally, yet obliviously, he picked it up and as he made sense of it all, his heart once again took a plunge towards his bowels. The top left corner read, “Avalyn Creek.”

Of course her name was Avalyn. It had to be. I couldn’t be Jenny or Veronica, or even Dalila, it was Avalyn. He had never opened an envelope so slowly in his life. The whole “heart beating out of your chest” idiom paled in comparison to what he felt inside. He felt less an abnormal beat and more a constant shift and expansion of his heart. The sight of what appeared to be a lone sentence gave him no consolation. He ever so carefully read:

Peu de Vie 9:30 Thursday


The lack of ensuing relief left him rather baffled. Is this not what he wanted? A brief glance at his watch reminded him that his continued anxiety must have been largely due to the fact that it was eight o’clock, on what one might guess to be Thursday. Before he could even process it all he was on his way out the door, in his best attempt at “I dress well and am a unique individual, but not a douche.” He found himself at a quaint French joint on the Lower East Side. Waldin had been in such a hurry he hadn’t even had the chance to get nervous or work up a decent sweat on his palms. The moment he laid foot in that restaurant all the anxiety that typically was spread over several days in advance overwhelmed him in that instance. He was mildly overdressed, at best, and murals of an endless woman on the walls and lantern lit tables presented him with a far less modern scene than he’d expected. The whole scene was the type of casual yet intriguing that almost made you feel insecure about your own nature. It seemed that the entire environment was just an emanation of her aura. Before she arrived it was an empty room, but as each moment of her presence passed, her energy expanded to every corner of the room. Each time he blinked a new accent appeared, a crack in a rustic painting frame, an engraving on the hostess’ counter. It was all her. He found himself completely lost in a room, half the size of his apartment, helplessly disarmed, all before he actually set eyes on her. She appeared before him quite similarly to that first time, head buried in a book, which he would soon learn she faithfully kept in her purse.

“I see Jane never had a fighting chance?” he said, as he carefully drew out the vacant chair.

She returned to reality with swift lift of the head. The déjà-vu cut right to his core. “Oh you think so little of me? I’d never give up on a book. I’ve just moved on to something … let’s just say ‘more contemporary’.” She waved a copy of Atonement, with a sarcastic smile.

He no longer resisted. “So it seems you’re quite the reader but I suppose you’re not too big on writing, based on your response.”

“I figured I’d save my words for when I actually saw you.”

“Well then I—”

“I’d like for you to leave.”

Waldin sat shocked for a moment. “I’m sorry did I—? Did I say something? Are you—?”

She slowly moved her finger over her lips.

“That’s the last lie I’ll ever tell you, for whatever it’s worth.”

His broad smile was met with her rather narrow one. For a moment they enjoyed what one might call an awkward silence, but what another might consider an eye contact not worth defiling with words.

She abruptly severed the moment. “Do you think the baby is drowning?”


He loosely scanned the immediate area, expecting a further clarification. “Well I sure hope not, but I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said with an uncomfortable laugh.

“The day we met, you were carrying a copy of Nevermind. The baby on the cover art, do you think he’s drowning?”

“Oh, well, I’ve been told babies are born with the ability to swim but in time it is lost, so based on its age I assume not. I always thought it was supposed to represent that the loss of innocence and purity through the introduction to society, as the baby begins its endless pursuit of money, if you will.”

“That may be all good and well but I like to think there’s a little more to it.”

“Enlighten me.”

Much to his surprise, she laughed without reservation. “I don’t claim to enlighten anyone—” she paused for a sip of wine “—but what if Kurt was trying to imply that the baby was about to die? What if the baby was about to escape this life before it could be corrupted by society, and greed, and the world we’ve created? What if that was his idea of ‘Nirvana’? And maybe this is just the inner reader in me, always stretching for subterranean meaning, but maybe that foreshadowed him taking his own life.”

“What if that was the most interesting thing anyone’s said to me in years?”

“I’d have to assume your life hasn’t been all that interesting.”

“I’d have a hard time disagreeing with you there, but I honestly can’t seem to get the idea out of my head of the first parent who tested this whole ‘babies know who to swim’ theory out. I’ll have to give a try someday.”

“You plan to have kids then?”

“Usually I’d withhold, but yeah. Maybe not anytime soon, but I’ve always felt that if I could do anything well it would be being a father.”

“It just scares me, I guess.”

“Oh definitely. I know I’d fuck it up. All of our parents fuck us up, one way or another. They’re either there and unload all their shit on to us, or they’re not there, and I doubt I have to explain what that does to a kid.”

“No… You don’t.”

He quickly continued. “I’ve just always been fascinated by how important those early years are, who you’re influenced by, who you learn from. I guess you just have to try not to force your kid into being another you. But I’m my parents’ child and they gave me everything, but apparently I found a way to mess it up. Maybe if I could pass some of them on to someone else, and not fuck it up too much, that kid could do something decent in this world.”

“It’s funny you say that. I’ve always kinda felt the opposite, in some ways at least.” She paused briefly. “I never met my biological parents. Never knew anything about them, except that they gave me up. Grew up in foster homes until my real parents adopted me when I was eleven. I guess since I never knew who made me, and all they gave me was me was my genes, I figured I’d have no part in passing on what they seemed not to value. A part of me wants to believe they, for whatever reason, sacrificed to give me a chance at a better life, but I’m not sure I could ever think up a situation that would completely justify it. Childish? Maybe. Spiteful? Probably. But it’s just always how I’ve felt.”

“I can’t claim to understand, or even imagine.”

“So if I were to pass anything on, it would be who I’ve become through those who made me who I am. I figured one of these days I’ll take my little sister back down to see the Dominican Republuic and adopt, like my parents did with her.”

“Well, I hear it’s beautiful there, minus the mind-boggling poverty and all.”

“Oh, of course, it’s always minus the mind-boggling poverty. But that would be much further down the line. There’s just so much I’d like to do and experience before I commit my life to something else.”

“Well, you’re talking to someone who essentially wasted the last two, or, well, actually eight years of his life. I’m just coming to realize that I haven’t done a damn thing, so I know all about it.”

“How’s that?”

“It’s not worth getting into, but, as of a few weeks ago, I was a lawyer.”

“Enough said.”

“So I’ll have to assume you’re a yogi or thrift shop clerk?”

“Uncomfortably close. Admittedly, I’ve done about every other cliché, progressive, alternative, pseudo-job there is.”

A more liberal sip of wine was in order.

“I spent my first year after RISD teaching second graders. I loved the kids; it was the parents that ruined it. I taught in what one might call a school in Liberia for six months, and I’d rather not say why I left. When I got back I bounced around a bit, got some of my work into a few galleries, taught contemporary dance at the 7th studio, even had a column in Contrast Daily. Now I’m … how do we say it these days … in between jobs? Finding my way?”

“Well, at least you didn’t start a YouTube channel!”

“Or write a novel!”

“I can drink to that!”

Their glasses rang louder than expected and summoned an awkward silence to the room, which, of course, they broke with laughter.

For the first time he struggled to find something to say. “So, how’s Aiden?” Waldin bit his tongue immediately.

“Aiden? I don’t think I follow.”

“Ahhh. O.K., normally I’d find a way to play this one off.” He was quickly reminded of his overactive sweat glands. “Aiden is the boyfriend my mind created for you, due to my rather rational yet selfish fear of you being taken. Before you get c—”

“Now that’s adorable. I mean to hell with a baby dachshund, that’s adorable! Well, I’ll have you know I’m not committed to anything at the moment.” She made quite the habit of shattering his expectations.

“I’m not sure I can go any further without telling you something.” His smile had by then been replaced by an expression of unadulterated anxiety, which was met with her immediate concern. “The night before I met you I nearly decided to take my own life.”

Unbeknownst to him, his hand had begun to tremor, so much so that he tipped his glass clean off the table, partially spilling the wine on himself. Utterly embarrassed, he excused himself and left for the bathroom. While staring at himself in the mirror, he couldn’t shake the gentle smile on her face in the innumerable moments that passed between what he had just told her and the spilling of the glass. He hadn’t the slightest grip on her, and he was infatuated.

His newfound confidence evaporated as he walked out of the bathroom to find an empty table. His heart found a new home at the sole of his left shoe. How delusional he had been. Surely he’d gone too far. Why did he have to mention it? How could he expect her to react? How honest did he think he could be? How asinine? His questions were interrupted by the sighting of a folded napkin on the table. Inside read:

I apologize for leaving. I’m not afraid of you. I only feared that if stayed any longer, I would end up going home with you, and I think far too much of you for that this quickly.

I’ll be in touch,


He leaned back in his chair with a sigh, not of anguish or even relief, but of something he could only identify as uncharted.

Chapter 7

Waldin found himself awake rather early the next morning. It was a usual side effect of a nearly sleepless night. At least he had avoided another encounter with Aiden. He decided he’d take advantage of the early start and grab breakfast at the cafe. Before he could leave he was met with a creased note, partially slipped under his door, a sight he was growing rather accustomed to. Never had she confused him more.

Come over when you’re ready.

349 E. 11th St.

How plainly cryptic. When he was ready? What the hell did that even mean? What did she expect from him? What was he supposed to be ready for? Then it occurred to him. He would never be more ready for whatever might come than he was in that very moment. Without another moment of hesitation, he took one last look at the note and closed the door behind him.

Waldin figured he would have to be let it in, but most of the apartments on E. 11th were more the rundown, but still oddly endearing, type places; so he somewhat uncomfortably entered the building and made his way up to the third floor. Upon reaching her floor, he was greeted by a few stalks of celery, a tomato, a partially cracked jar of almond butter, and what looked like the handle of a paper bag strewn across the hallway. Instinctively, he began picking up the items only to hear noises coming from behind the door beside him. He quickly rose to find that the door before him was none other than 349. Apparently, the landlord had no intentions of catering to those more numerically oriented. The door was partially open. Far past the point of equivocation, he walked in.

Avalyn, clearly frustrated, sat crouched in front of the fridge, frantically trying to find a place for both tofu and a rather massive bag of carrots. He stood completely silent for a few seconds, and only after deliberately placing her dropped groceries on a side table, did she finally notice his presence. Her eyes locked on his, but there was not an ounce of fear or even surprise in her glance. She carelessly let the bag slide to the floor, from the bottom shelf she had tried to force it onto. Without saying a word she stood up and walked slowly towards him. The space between them gradually diminished until only an inch separated them. It seemed that no force in the cosmos could stop what drew them together. Without pause she gently placed her lips on his, and waited. He contained no defense to her touch and began to kiss her, only to find her lower lip quivering. He pulled away, alarmed at the sight of tears running down her face. His mouth opened to speak but before he could she nodded ever so faintly. In her eyes, which had not separated from his since she saw him, he found an unprecedented awe, a transcendent understanding that spoke louder and more clearly than words ever could. Void of warning, tears seemed to accumulate in his eyes, yet his well trained eyelids held them back. He embraced her face with his hands, and with his thumbs he tried to wipe the tears but she gently slid his hands down and the drops continued to fall. Waldin finally understood. The space between them ceased to exist, and she lost herself in him as he found himself in her. She was not so foolish as to fear rift.

Considering all that Waldin disclosed to me, it might be assumed that I would have more to contribute on what followed. Though I may have enjoyed the details, back then at least, we always had an unspoken “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on the matter. I must not forget that, at heart, Waldin was always a modest man. I suppose there are certain things that serve us better unknown.

“Though in reality she likely ran right into my arms and we immediately made love, I swear we stood there for hours, like repulsing magnets driven together, respectively, by fear and what some call love. Which one drove more I may never know.” - W

It had been years since Waldin had woken up in a room other than his own. He laid his head back down, rather surprised to find Avalyn still beside him, but even more surprised to find himself still beside her. Unsure of how he managed or even deserved to end up in his current condition, he knew only that he wished for it to continue. With a deep, contented breath, he closed his eyes and fell back to sleep. By the time he awoke the second time, she no longer remained by his side. Slowly rolling over, he saw Avalyn sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the window. “I almost forgot how early it still is.”

After a few seconds, Waldin realized that no response was in order. He rolled out of bed and took a seat next to her, quickly realizing she didn’t seem to plan on acknowledging him, or anything around her for that matter, anytime soon. Doing his best to mirror her countenance, he closed his eyes and synced his breath with hers. The simple idea of thinking about nothing seemed rather daunting. Should he suggest getting breakfast? Or lunch? How long should he stay? What time was it even? Why was he just sleeping? She had to be thinking about something, right? Did she even know he was there?

Just as he began to lose his concept of time, she broke the silence. “I sit here every morning, nearly losing my mind, thinking about all that could have been the day before. I nearly cry for all the people I didn’t meet, the experiences I never even gave a chance, the beauty I failed to see. I sometimes even think about ending it all over the grief of all the good I’ve failed to and may never do. Yet, today, I sit here clear minded and somewhat content. And I’m not sure whether to be pleased or utterly horrified.”

He placed his hand gently on hers, and again closed his eyes.

She did the same.

Chapter 8

A few months passed. Waldin and Avalyn spent more and more time together, but still communicated by the occasional letter. There were no labels or further promises, only raw emotions and unfiltered expressions of them. Sometimes she’d retreat and Waldin would lose focus and faith, but they’d always write and they’d always find each other again. I saw Waldin less and less—granted I was back in school and at the library less myself anyways—but when I did see him, he was usually somewhere else. For the first time since I had known him, I felt like he was holding things back. He seemed more guarded and calculated when he spoke. Just when I decided I ought to ask if everything was all right, he invited me to his apartment to have dinner and meet Avalyn for the first time.

Waldin’s loft was far more lavish than I’d expected. I often forgot he was once a lawyer. Upscale as it was, it was rather out of order and disheveled for a guy who treated the Dewey decimal system like sacred dogma. Though most of the furniture and style screamed Waldin, Avalyn was strewn all over the apartment—the elaborate, hand-made “Happy Thursday!” card on the fridge, a subscription to The New Yorker, a patched picnic blanket by the door, a copy of The Second Sex on the coffee table. She was just as described, kind and warm, but with a sublime nuance in her nature that was nearly frightening. I knew I’d never be able to see her as Waldin did. I guess she appeared less attractive, but more captivating, than I had imagined her.

“Though she certainly was not, her beauty was subtle. It was soft-spoken, required focus, didn’t pop out at you or force you to recognize it. Her beauty was not a male peacock or the peak of Mount Roraima. It was an English countryside or a dandelion caught in the wind. You could overlook it as ordinary without even trying.” - W

Most people would miss it, but not Waldin, not by a long shot.

“So I’ve heard a lot about you, Leon. Waldin won’t shut up about your music.”

“I’m decent. There’s kids half my age playing stuff twice as hard.”

“Well, I’m sure there’s people twice your age with half your ability, who make three times as much as me or Waldin off of it. Remember that.”

We all sat down to eat, Waldin still clinging on to his smile.

Both considering ourselves rather close to Waldin, we nearly unconsciously went into bullshit test mode. He mostly just observed, as we picked each other’s brains, occasionally adding an inconsequential remark. Much to my surprise, Waldin had checked his phone that evening more than he had throughout the entire time I had known him. Avalyn evidently took notice, but waited until we all finished eating to bring it up. “Expecting something?”

“Ava please, not now.”

“Not now? Not ever? I didn’t know this was part of the deal.”

“Ava…” He took a quick glance in my direction.

She ran her hand through her hair, dislodging four or five hairs, which she quickly dismissed under the table.

Waldin practically flinched as she sprung up from her seat, reaching across him. “Wine?”

She looked at me reassuringly. I accepted casually, hiding my skepticism. The only time I’d tasted wine was when Jordan and I got awkwardly caught in a Catholic mass after we’d snuck in to get warm. At that age, drinking alcohol as nonchalantly as possible was an art form. My first gulp was a rather sizable one. I figured I might need it to make it through the evening; an evening that bore a significance I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but surely could feel in an uncomfortable proximity to my hand. Only after Waldin restlessly stood up to clear the table did I first notice the aberrant darkness under his eyes.

Avalyn left the room without a word.

I asked him about it as subtly as I could. He said he was fine. Waldin had always been fine.

“I still stand firmly alongside my promise. I often wonder why. Silence grows. She stands firm too, I think. But her truth is pure, though intricate and sometimes even delicate, never ill in nature. It tries me, possesses me at times, but does not hurt me. My truth makes her feel small, like she is weak for letting it eat away at her. I can only hide behind the silence, or risk losing what I … we have become. Often the silence is more revealing. I always break it in time, but it seems we are nearly beyond all of the truths that bring comfort.” - W

Waldin had nearly forgotten how vividly he once dreamed when deep, truly peaceful sleep was customary. He dreamed then more than ever, but never more than with Avalyn by his side. There was one dream in particular, about which he seemingly never ceased to speak. He swore he had it each night, whether he was able to remember it or not. An estranged ambience, which he always failed to explain, consumed him the morning after any night in which he awoke during the sacred dream.

He found himself walking deliberately slowly, on a stone-less beach. The ghost crabs pestered his ankles, but he paid them no mind. He walked with a purpose not yet revealed to him, until, of course, he found the tree. A grand blossom tree came into shape before him and he paused to examine the unavoidable phenomenon. He took a seat beneath its endearing shade and stared in awe at the infinite ocean. Avalyn sat closely behind him, just far enough away that he couldn’t see her without losing sight of what lay before him. Though he fully felt her presence, he never once altered his gaze to get a glimpse of her. He was no Thomas. A sadist dragon approached with the tide, flaring its immense, lilac wings. The sun crashed into the horizon, shattering like an egg, and spilled its contents across the ocean, losing its identity to the sea foam.

A roaring Viking ship came ashore. They stormed the beach, ready to mix the dried blood on their blades with the fresh blood in his veins. But he was deaf to their cries of war. It all drew his eye for only a moment. Such a demanding spectacle yielded only indifference from him. He saw the absurd, he saw the breathtaking, he saw the whole world; more than anything he saw the tree and the water, but only felt her. After a while he wanted to feel the warmth of the sun again and so they walked. In the same way they walked for quite some time, and came upon the very same tree. He sat down in the same fashion and a light grew in him from the depths of his core. By the time it reached his face, the light pushed to escape through his mouth, but he gently bit his lower lip, trapping it within, and smiled.

Waldin awoke from this dream, which came most nights, quietly cursing the darkness he thought he’d been freed from. There was rarely a moment in which he didn’t retreat to or reach for a metaphor or symbol to explain his condition. So easily he detached himself from the tangible, from reality. It was not simply dark in his room because it was night and no lights were on. The darkness consumed him; noticing that he might be close to escaping, it tightened its vice grip even more. And so he went on, as he always did, desperately grabbing for obscure meaning from everything. Even though he slept much more then, there seemed to be no escape from the odd stain on his ceiling that always drew his gaze during sleepless bouts with himself. Many times he’d wish to roll over and wake up Avalyn, but how could she help him? How could she stop his mind from turning every fucking happenstance into an existential crisis? She’d try. So valiantly she would try. She’d take him out in the middle of the night down to the shipyard. They’d unhitch a modest fishing boat and head out to sea, nearing capsizing to get over waves. The boat would toss and turn, nearly throwing them off to probable death in the freezing, dark water and she’d laugh through it all. He would marvel at her spontaneous, fearless soul, and in those moments he forgot. He forgot that it was just a rather pathetic and irresponsible attempt to detach from reality and give the illusion of freedom, which would only increase his anguish tenfold once the moment had passed. He forgot that, no matter what life presented him with, he always seemed to find a way to flip it on its head until he felt nauseous.

Later they’d lie, soaking wet, on the rug in the middle of the living room, as though if they stared at the ceiling fan intently enough it would stop spinning. Together they’d wait for the herbal tea Avalyn always bought to cool; the one Waldin admittedly hated at first, but had developed a taste for. He’d start to decompress and by then she had learned to notice. Her last resort was always to seize his mind by force. But in the end he was inside of her, and she wanted so badly for the inverse to be true.

“I often spent nights or early mornings on the rug in my living room. It was, what I originally perceived to be, a terrible Christmas gift from a co-worker. Interior design was never my forte, but I still think it looks downright awful. Regardless, I wouldn’t dream of getting rid of it now. On nights when I am a particular kind of unsettled, my bed is no place for me. The stain doesn’t seem right. Whether I actually don’t want to sleep or have convinced myself I don’t deserve to, the rug serves its purpose. It’s just comfortable enough to be tolerable, but far too thin and coarse to ever fall asleep on. I’ll lay there on my back for hours, the whole night sometimes, decided on figuring out whatever is bothering me or tearing myself apart in the process. I’ve come to some of my most profound realizations there, but also done some of my most irreparable damage. I hope, in the end, these realizations outweigh their coinciding demons. I wonder if she’ll like my rug.” - W

Chapter 9

“How easy it is to be an island. How simple it is to be a stranger. How thoughtless it is to remain.”

There are few things, in all that I have encountered, more depressing than the visitation call rooms of jails. One might reconsider the significance of the previous statement at a later point, once all is said. Compared to most people visiting, I doubt I was justified in my anger and self-pity, but back then I honestly didn’t really bother myself with giving a fuck about anyone else. I sat down, and immediately noticed the chair’s corner had been broken off, causing a decently sharp edge to drive into my hamstring. I imagined a gang-banger, who was getting the vibe that his old street soldier was going to talk, losing his shit and launching the chair at the glass. Grabbing the phone, still damp from its last use, I took a long look at Jordan and saw something I hadn’t seen in a long time, maybe ever.

“Damn man, you look like shit.”

He didn’t say a word.

“O.K. I get it. It’s no time for jokes. But what the hell happened, J?”

For a few more moments, he sat silently, still not looking me in the eyes.

“Yo, you gotta level with me. No one’s told me shit!”

“You know what, I don’t know what the fuck happened! But I’m pretty damn sure it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have to get some fucked up, antsy ass look-out off the street!”

“How could you put this on me? You know I was in school. I told you I couldn’t be there!”

“Oh no, I get it. You’re too busying playing circus monkey, tryna be somebody you’re not, just to please a bunch of self-righteous assholes who don’t give a shit about you! So go ahead and explain to me why that’s more important than looking out for the only blood you’ve got left on this planet.”

I knew I couldn’t answer.

“Fuck it man. I’m already over it. But this place is killing me. Now makes last time seem like the Holiday Inn. I swear one day they’ll just get tired of this and turn it into a goddamn zoo. All they’d have to do is change the food … a little. Really though, I’ve gotta get outta here.”

I leaned in close to the glass, as if that actually did anything. “You can’t talk like that, man! You know it’d never wor—”

“You losing it? I’m talking bail, you idiot! They probably won’t even give me a fair chance to get out for another month.”

“Shit. How much?”


He looked away when he said it and I couldn’t help but look away when I heard it.

By the time we made eye contact again, there was nothing else that needed to be said. We both understood. Jordan continued anyways.

“Bro, I know what you’re thinking, but just remember, you’re not eighteen for another three weeks. And if you don’t want child protective services up your ass, people coming around our place seeing all kinds a shit they don’t need to, trying tell you what you need like a damn dog, you gotta know what’s good.”

My mind was so ready to fire back with a dramatic monologue about how I’d warned him, how I’d changed, what I’d learned, how things were finally looking up for me for the first time since mom left, and how I couldn’t risk losing that because people like us only got but a few chances, if any, to break the fucking brutal cycle. But all that came out was, “I’ll see you on the other side by Monday.”

Walking out, I had a mouth full of sand. The roof of my mouth felt uncomfortably desiccated and grainy. It was still textured and awkwardly rough against my damp tongue. In trying to fuse the two, I created the elusive point where the desert meets the ocean.

“I cannot decide whether life is a desert or an ocean. A desert seems barren, and for the most part is. In all directions, there is often nothing but infinite sand. One can chose which direction to go, but it all appears to be the same, even though each direction could lead to someplace completely different. Few survive. Those that do are the wretched and hardened, who have developed some obscene ability to keep them alive. Occasionally, some form of comfort will appear and give hope. Once identified as a mirage, it becomes the source of even greater anguish and hopelessness. Even when water is found, the thirst is never truly quenched. Days are scorching and unbearable. Nights are cold and void of consolation. Most search for an escape. Some wander aimlessly. They all find the same way out. The ocean, too, seems barren. In all directions, there is nothing but infinite water. We all fight to keep our heads above the surface, while all value lies below it. The deeper one dives, the more there is to be found, to a certain extent. One can only go so deep without assistance. Other aids and enablers must be used to reach further depths. At a certain depth, everything becomes indistinct. It is unclear whether or not the deepest depths are even worth exploring, or if they can be returned from. These depths are still vastly unknown and unexplored. We know only that there is more yet to be found than we have found already. Some endlessly tread, just above the surface, content to simply survive. Some dive down as far as their body allows, and then return to the surface for air. Few dive and become so consumed by the depth that they go beyond the point of no return. Since an attempt to again reach the surface is futile, they continue downward. They are never seen again. Do they die or find something more? Or both? Is life a desert or an ocean?” - W

The bus ride back from the county jail was a fittingly long one, for all of us. Zoning out to some Django Reinhardt was my typical “never tell anyone about” coping mechanism, but all I did for those forty-five minutes was convince myself I didn’t have a choice. As long I didn’t have a choice, as long as I made myself the victim, who could blame me? All things considered there were only a few options, realistic options, none of them legal. All I had to do was come up with fifteen grand in a couple of days. When I finally realized what I had to do I knew I’d regret it. Regret was fairly low on my hierarchy of concerns back then. Damn was I foolish for that. I had to convince myself of a few other things as well, before I took any action. The only noteworthy of those being that, in all probability, no one would ever know I did it. The final straw had to have been that I hadn’t heard from Waldin since the night at his apartment and it seemed that our relationship had begun to languish.

It was an undoubtedly odd experience breaking into the place I had spent countless hours, breaking not a single rule, besides, of course, getting a little loud with my playing every now and then. I couldn’t have been the first person who thought about stealing those laptops, since the library had managed to get the city to give funding for them, claiming the current technology was limiting the children’s development. It honestly wasn’t too hard of a job; I had been pretty good with locks since Jordan taught me back when we never actually had a key to any place we stayed. I had seen Waldin type in the security code enough times on those nights when we closed the place down. I almost impressed myself with the swiftness and precision I moved with; couldn’t have been more than fifteen minutes, in and out. Made sure to set off the alarm on the way out so no one got suspicious.

Pushing a shopping cart filled with boxes and bags through the back alleys of the Southeast Side at 3 A.M was a lot less suspicious than one might think. Getting them out of my hands as quickly as possible was the hardest part of the whole equation. Luckily, Jordan knew all the local pawn shop owners, and one call from J’s brother was all it took for an early morning drop off. Not that pawn shops were usually known for their moral discrimination, but when it came to high end electronics, they’d take them off of a freshly dead body.

Chapter 10

I took the long route to school; figured I’d see what the scene was like at the library. Things were mostly as I expected, a few frustrated cops standing around asking questions, kids just staring, even though there was really nothing to see, a homeless man claiming he saw it all and would tell for a reward. What I didn't expect was to see Waldin just outside the entrance, smoking. I cannot recall whether I was more surprised to see Waldin smoking or to see him at all. As he saw me approaching, he gave a slight nod of the head and a broad smile. Why his smile struck me as so odd, so bothersome, I never quite decided, but it just didn’t seem to fit the circumstance. I put on my best “what the hell happened here?” face and tried to see shake off my disorientation. Before I could pretend not to know what happened…

“How have you been, kid?”

The bothersome smile still lingered on his long unshaven face.

“Uh, you know me. Getting by. School’s going well. It’s a lot different now. Do you know what—?”

“That’s good to hear. That’s really good to hear. Still playing every day?”

“Yeah, tips are getting better. This guy sat down the other day, watched me play for like thirty minutes. Didn’t say a word until he got up to leave. Said he worked at some art school across town and if I ever wanted to do a demo he thought his students would love it. I figured it’d be nice to do something for the kids. Turns out it’s a university. Took the seven back home real fucking quick.”

For the first time the odd expression abandoned his face.


“I don’t know, man. That’s not me. It doesn’t matter. What the hell happened here?”

“Someone finally got smart I guess.” He took another draw.


“Someone broke in last night. Stole all the laptops and a TV. Did a damn good job too.”

“Shit. All of them?”

“Yeah, God forbid someone will have to crack open a fucking book now.”

I couldn’t help but let out an uncomfortable laugh. A nearly awkward silence ensued.

“Well, you need to get out of here. Class starts in like”—he took a glance at the now cracked, leather-banded watch he was never seen without—“thirty minutes.”

I couldn’t have been more than five minutes away.

“Aight, I’m going. I’ll catch you later. Or whenever you actually show up to work.”

“You take care of yourself, Leon. You take care of yourself.”

Not even getting high could get Waldin off of my mind. And that was saying a lot considering what I managed to cope with in an altered state of mind. There was just something utterly unshakeable about the way he came off early that day. I took a deep draw and looked out at the lights. My friends and I used to go up to the top of this marketing building to get high whenever we got the chance, which, considering our mean class attendance, was pretty damn often. I’m not sure if they were ever really my friends or just guys I got high with. I guess maybe Waldin was my only friend too. We knew a guy who worked the late shift as a janitor there and he’d let us in if we smoked him up. We figured it was perfect. If somehow the cops came we’d see them coming from a mile away. Even if they, by some absurd incident, surprised us up there, all we had to do was toss our shit off the building. It may not have done much for Waldin, but for most of us it was the best view we’d ever seen, as depressing as it might sound.

Far from the tallest building in the city, but it made us feel big. We’d look down at the late-working business men and squash them in between our fingers. We had the power. They were the insignificant drones. For a moment our excess of dopamine convinced us we were freer than them. No one ever admitted it, but we all thought about jumping, at some point, whether too high or too low. I could see it in their stained eyes as they’d peer over the edge, fixated. We never talked about that shit though. We’d just joke about doing things we’d never do or get in circular debates about which chicks were hot from thirty stories up.

I know we all had at least one “what if?” moment. Like when you’re walking on the edge of a sidewalk on a busy street and a bus flies by, so close you can feel it, and you just think, What if? What if something took over me for a fraction of a second, and I took that step? What if I jumped? I guess when we were high we were more concerned with, what if I fell? But, for me at least, the real question was, would I even care? Would people on the street stop, horrified, but then quickly carry on with their lives? Would my “friends” even stop smoking? Maybe, at that point, everything was moving so slowly I’d have time to live a full, decent life before I even hit the ground. Maybe that’s why we all liked it up there so much, because, beyond everyone else seeming small and below us, we did have power. We all had the power of being an instant away from a decision of undeniable significance. A power that we all felt so far removed from in our daily lives. We all were horrifyingly freer, but also closer to death, than we’d ever been. We were closer than when Trevor got beat down to the bone over some supposedly sub-par dope, closer than when Andre got way too crossed off of oxy and schnapps and almost never came back, closer than when the cops let the dogs go on Mario and they hit an artery, even closer than when Jordan and I stared down the barrel of a .45 with an inebriated half of our fucking genetic make-up on the other side of it. And somehow there was some ludicrous inner serenity in that.

There was an empty bottle of some type of Smirnoff Ice, raspberry or cherry, when we went up there the first time. It sat on the six inch cement barrier that bordered the whole rooftop, and, though the alcohol was long gone, the almost too sweet smell of whatever they put in those damn things still lingered. We’d joke about how some light-weight executive must have come up to the roof to try to catch a buzz before “the big presentation”. Every now and then, one of us would get caught staring at the bottle, and upon realizing that everyone was looking, we’d all break out into laughter from the arid backs of our throats. We never did anything with bottle, but it was always there. It became a part of our crew, and not unreasonably so, since it did essentially the same thing as any of us did once we got high. Someone suggested we bring some girls up there one night and play spin the bottle with it. I guess we weren’t quite aware that trespassing and risking death to smoke squashed joints in the middle of winter was not most girls’ ideal way to spend a Tuesday night.

That particular night, the one after the library break in, I really wanted to lose my mind. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who decided to push the envelope. Andre had long lost his head, and was starting to lose his feet, when he got a bit too close to the edge and knocked the bottle over. We all flinched when we heard the glass hit the cement ledge. I swear we all almost tried to save it. After the bottle made its descent, after it shattered into a million pieces, after the piercing noise traveled back up to ours ears, nothing was the same. We all were forced to accept that falling was a possibility, a reality. It might as well have been one of us who fell.

Nothing was said for quite some time. Before any of us could ask why the hell we were making such a big deal out of a fucking bottle, we’d be back to just giving each other the nod in the halls at school the next day. A part of me already knew it would be our last time up there. I just took the opportunity to take it all in once more. I always loved the lights, the ones in the top of slim, metal poles, the ones encased by yellow rectangles hanging above intersections, the ones coming from scattered office cubicles, the seasonal colored ones oddly placed on the tops of skyscrapers. Up there they all looked like hazy spheres, constantly leaking and absorbing energy. Normally you can only look directly into a light for so long without an odd, brain-rattling sensation, but when you were high you just got lost in the light. And whether you didn’t care enough or it was actually what you wanted, you didn’t fight it.

On that last night, I remember an urge within me to call what I saw before me beautiful. Could there be beauty in something so artificial, so uncomfortably geometrical, so unnatural? Maybe not. All it was, essentially, was squares on top of squares on top of squares, with a triangle on top. I could have made one hell of a joke about cooperate America with that one, but I figured no one would understand it anyways. It seems to be an all too frequent conclusion for me.

“For so long it seems I have been trying, with all my might, to force a square into a triangular hole. I told myself if I became strong enough or clever enough, I could find a way to maneuver something into the void that didn’t quite belong. Or better yet, maybe I have been trying to fill a square hole with a triangle. This seems more reasonable. The triangle fits. There is no struggle. But it still leaves much of the void vacant. Though there is something in the space, emptiness still remains. In theory, I should be a terrible Tetris player. I just wish that something would fit. Maybe that’s why drugs are so euphoric, the illusion of the perfect fit. The chemical structure mimics the neurotransmitter, temporarily filling the void, and dopamine is released. It’s not what you really want, but for a while your body can’t tell the difference. But when you come back down, the void is just a little bit larger than it used to be.” - W

Chapter 11

“Let’s get out of here, Ava.”

“What, do you want to get something to eat? I thought you said you didn’t want t—”

“No, let’s really get out of here, for a while.”

“O.K. Where will we go?”

“It doesn’t matter. Just not here. Just not anywhere like here.”

She removed her gaze from the ceiling and turned to Waldin. There was barely a moon that night and she struggled to make out his countenance.

“I’ll pack a bag.”

“No. Let’s just go. Let’s just go now.”

She couldn’t help but worry, but she was far beyond doubting him. “O.K.,” she said with the slightest hesitation.

He got out of bed and walked over to the safe with his shoulder bag in hand. There was a lot less in there than a few months ago, but still a rather significant sum. Waldin paused for a moment and the money glared right back at him. He reached into his bag, grabbing his wallet, emptied the cash from it into the safe, dropped the bag, and headed for the door, Avalyn in hand.

A tiny ghost crab scampered out from behind a rock, as if it had just been told the coast was clear, but, upon catching Waldin’s glare, darted back to contemplate its shame in solitude. Waldin had begun to relate to Columbus’ doubters. Looking out over the infinite ocean, it seemed so plausible that the world was, in fact, flat. As far as the eye could strain to see, past the tremendous protruding rock formations, there was nothing but stretches and stretches of seemingly unbroken water. It all seemed so ambiguous, science, religion, even life. How could anyone claim to know anything for certain? What was unconditionally accepted as fact a thousand years ago is not even given a moment's thought today, and in a thousand years the same will likely be true in regards to the present day. The world is round because we have been told it is, along with a logical, but rather phenomenal, explanation why. We have not experienced the earth’s roundness, yet the earth is undoubtedly not flat? Well, the earth sure felt flat that day. It’s not that Waldin had never overlooked the ocean before. There was just something satisfyingly intriguing about trying to see beyond where the water met the sky. It was in moments like this that he felt the most for Avalyn. It was moments like this when before her it all would have felt so incomplete. Beyond unnerving was the feeling that, when presented with something breathtaking, which you think should make you feel a certain completeness or satisfaction, that it was, however, still empty, still not what you were really looking for. Every moment before her seemed to be overshadowed by this awkward, tormenting, undefinable absence. Freedom from this was what first brought Waldin’s soul to life. How unfair.

For a while there was nothing to be said. The ocean, the rocks, the wind, the sky, the bashful but comforting sun, they said it all. They screamed at his soul, as Avalyn had many months ago. It would only be disrespectful to interrupt. Sometimes silence was fear. Sometimes silence was bliss. Sometimes silence was doubt. Sometimes silence was simply the absence of noise. That day silence was knowing when to shut the fuck up and let a moment speak to you. How ignorant is the idea that we are the only beings, or even just things that can speak? Maybe we’re just the only ones with too much vanity to listen. We’ve been sending out signals into the unknown for decades, but what if we’ve just never all closed our mouths and opened our minds long enough to hear the response of the universe? What could be heard if the human race went silent for a day? Maybe nothing, but even nothing might be better than what we’ve grown accustomed to.

Once it all had spoken its piece, Waldin took his turn.

“You’re going to hurt me.”

Avalyn quickly lifted her head from his lap and looked at him, partly embarrassed, but mostly confused. “I may have gained a pound or two, but I didn’t fancy myself that heavy.”

“It’s not that. I know you’re going to hurt me, deeply. And I will do the same to you.”

“Waldin, what are you talking—?”

“Just hear me out, Ava.”

She sat up completely, crossed her legs and fixed her eyes on his.

“You’re going to hurt me, maybe more than anyone ever could. Whether feelings change, or you need a fresh start, or even if it’s when your time here comes to an end, one day you’ll hurt me. And I’m okay with that. If you never hurt me you could only mean so much to me. I mean isn’t that what all this is, allowing someone to mean enough to you to hurt you? I’m not so certain pain is such a bad thing anymore. Maybe there’s some joy in knowing that you valued something enough for losing it to hurt to cause so much pain. I’d much rather accept that I will suffer than live in fear of it, and never have a chance to feel something genuinely real. Suffering might be better than never feeling anything at all. Maybe accepting that this will end is what gives it its true value. Who would cherish life if we all knew we’d live forever?” He paused a moment, as if he had more to say but wanted to make sure she was still with him.

“Such a beautiful mind you have. And all this time I just stuck around because I thought you were cute.” She always found a way to make him smile when he was trying to put forth his firmest attempt at seriousness. “You know I told myself I’d never do this, but I’ve told myself plenty of things I never kept to.”

Waldin folded his hands in front of his face, letting his chin rest on his thumbs, and found her again. “If you were to jump off this cliff right now, I’d jump with you. Not even to try to save you, because if you wanted to jump I couldn’t take that away from you. I’d jump just to spend a few more moments with you. And if that’s love then I love you. But if love is how I feel about vintage cars or a good massage then surely love is a useless word for this.”

“Every damn word is useless for this, all of this. They all fall short.”

In saying this she rose to her feet and spread arms out to the world, every finger reaching out into the depths of the universe. After a few moments she turned to Waldin and he was met, not with a smile, but a steady, poignant stare. She closed her eyes and slowly began working her way towards the cliff edge, as if to test his claim. His unease escalated as she edged closer. At first he was confused, but in time he understood her call to join her. She was only a few inches from a surely fatal drop, and showed no signs of breaking pace. A few of her toes hung free, when she felt a gentle hand on her arm. He drew her into him but, now as close to falling as her, brought her no further from the edge. Once his eyes were closed, he resigned himself to it all. They stood on the edge of existence, unsure of and indifferent to whatever would come next. For hours, maybe days, maybe even years they stood, neither here nor there. Long after the concept of time had vanished, Waldin opened his eyes. Warmly greeted by the sun, contently sitting in the very same position it had been in when he first closed his eyes, a light grew inside him and he knew exactly what to do.

“Maybe I was wrong, Ava. Maybe I was wrong.”

Chapter 12

“I had managed to escape the city. The skies began to fall. The drops lacked individual volume but fell in abundance. It was the kind of rain that made umbrellas and rain coats doubt their self-worth. The sensation nears a high; every inch of exposed skin tingles slightly. You barely feel it, or even see it, but you know it’s there. In the near mist appeared a young doe. Its face, deformed and bleeding steadily, stared at me vacantly, seeming rather indifferent to the apparent fractures in its skull. I approached with concern and it continued towards me with a shameless limp. The rain diluted the blood streaming down its neck. I knew what I wanted but not what to do. With good intentions but little consideration, I stuck out a hand. It didn’t flinch or run, but slowly began to hobble back to where it came from. The sky no longer held back.” - W

The sun shined without restraint. It was fitting. Waldin’s mother always liked the sun. Though it might normally seem appropriate, she wouldn’t have wanted a rainy funeral. Everyone’s feet would get soaked, and no one liked wet socks, especially in the winter. A snowy Christmas Eve seems perfect until no one can go anywhere and everyone ends up with no gifts and half of a Christmas dinner. That’s what she would have said, or something like it. Waldin seemed to be handling it well, as he always did. Their time away had been cut short when he found a payphone to make his monthly call to his mother and the landlord picked up. He knew she’d pass eventually, but not then. She was only fifty. They said it was heart failure, but Waldin didn’t seem convinced. Ever since his dad died, he knew she wasn’t the same. His father had liberated her from a life of indifference and then so quickly sentenced her back to the same.

Major depression was the clinical diagnosis, but there had to be more to it than that. No dosage of Zoloft could bring back the will to live. A pat on the back and a prescription might work for an STD, but not something that deeply rooted. I guess, in proportion, she was fortunate, because if you didn’t have the money you might just get the pat on the back, and that goes for any mental health issue. They might as well give you directions to the local homeless shelter or a prescription with a manual on how to abuse until your life doesn’t seem worth living anymore.

Waldin had earnestly tried. There was no replacing his father. They had their moments without him, an occasional burst of uncontrollable happiness. A Sunday spent fucking up a vegetarian lasagna and ordering a pizza, or a long night drive filled with questions about what it was like to be a teen in the 70s; those times were impenetrable. But the next day she’d wake up as estranged as ever. Maybe it was retiring to an empty bed that always got to her. He tried to bring her out of the fog. Probably in all the wrong ways, but damn did he try. Then, one day, he just stopped. Soon after he left for college, and not without a great degree of guilt, he left her behind. As often as he could, he visited home, but those visits ate away at him. She seemed so happy to see him, too happy. It occurred to him that these were highlights of her life, and every time he left his throat sealed shut at the idea that, as soon as he was gone, she’d slowly fall again.

After school he figured he’d visit more. Of course the opposite became true. His career took a firmer hold on him than even law school, and visiting quickly became an exclusively holiday occasion. A couple of times a year, he’d uneasily ask about how she was holding up, over a honey baked ham. She’d mention some new drug they had her on and try to sincerely say something like, “I think I might be doing a little better actually. Last year was a hard one, but this one seems better so far.” He never knew what to say, knowing if he pressed harder she’d only end up in a worse state. Every now and then he’d find himself staring at that dreaded water stain, and he’d picture his mother. She’d be sitting alone at the kitchen table, pushing her food around her plate, like a disinterested child. She’d finish washing her one plate and fork, and as she walked back towards the living room, she’d pause. This image rarely ceased to torment him. It was ever-present that day. Tears always used to creep towards his eyelids, hoping to sneak out undetected, but there was no reason to resist them anymore. He imagined she’d passed that way, in that very pause.

Waldin figured it would just be him and Avalyn there. Russell stood slightly hunched over, seeming almost as surprised as Waldin by his own presence. Waldin always thought Aaron would be the one to show. He tried to be as cordial as possible, considering the circumstance, but his thoughts were constantly interrupted by Russell emptying another Tic Tac into his hand. Russ seemed clean but only a few days; still needed something to keep him fixated. Waldin couldn’t help but assume he had stopped using upon hearing about his sister and wanted to appear cleaned up for the funeral, only to regress immediately after. Either way, at least he had tried. How ironic would it have been if he had quit? All those years of addiction ended in a time of undeniable pain. I guess no one quits when things are going well. It seems even the darkest moments struggle to eradicate all light.

The service was brief. Waldin stood overlooking the grave for quite some time, Avalyn close behind. She knew she couldn’t take that moment away from him. Russell stood off to the side, obviously uncomfortable and anxious at that point.

“Always thought it’d be me first, Walt.”

A leaf blew up and stuck to Waldin’s pea coat. It wasn’t even particularly cold that day.

“Yeah. Me too.”

The leaf dislodged itself and flew away to dance with the others.

“You know Aaron said he—”

“Wanted to be here but couldn’t? Yeah I know. I’ll be sure to tell Mom—” Waldin paused, swallowing a frigid breath. “You know you can leave. She’s gone.”

“Walt, I —”

“Don’t. I know. Go.”

Russell reached to put a shaking hand on Waldin’s shoulder, but pulled back, ashamed. He walked off slowly, staring at his cheap wingtips.

Waldin reset his gaze on the grave. He was not the only one who suffered from those lost years. There was no escaping the damage of the past. He was different, but being different repairs nothing. Why did he think he could run away and not leave things behind? When trying to get away from it all, beggars still cannot be choosers. He couldn’t evade the idea that she died wondering if he’d even show up to her funeral. At least he was not a coward this time.

Slightly startled by the sound, he turned around to see Avalyn on the verge of sobbing. Waldin recalled that she had never even met his mother. What a goddamned shame. They would have gotten along so well, maybe even better than either of them did with Waldin. He cried for his mother. But Avalyn could not. She only cried for Waldin. The implications were apparent to her. She could only imagine the suffering he would put himself through. In time, he cried for Avalyn too. She grabbed his hand and they gradually made their way back to the car.

Chapter 13

It had been several weeks since Waldin had been by the apartment. After returning from their trip and the funeral, he decided to sell the oversized loft and move someplace modest, not too far outside the city. He couldn’t stand that place anymore. It reminded him too much of the man he once was, the man who killed his mother and nearly himself. After the funeral he drove right past his place and ended up at Avalyn’s. He’d been staying there since. It had grown to feel more like home than his apartment ever did. A few things had been left behind and he figured it would be his last time there. Though he was happy to be leaving, there was a certain inherent nostalgia he felt no need to deny. The movers must have been by early since the door remained unlocked. There was very little left to even identify the apartment as his. Only his books and the record player remained. Besides her, they were the only things that gave him any comfort.

Waldin took a seat on the couch, and with a proud smile looked upon his collection. He tried to remember what each book had done for him, what questions it asked, what little nuances in it spoke to him. This exercise brought a surprising joy to him. An abrupt crashing steered his focus in the direction on his bedroom. Out from his room walked a young man, at most early twenties, with a gun in hand. For a moment he didn’t notice Waldin and seemed deep in thought.

“Oh fuck!” He lifted the gun and advanced on Waldin, clearly frightened. “Don’t fucking move! Goddammit! We’re fucked!”

“Look, I don’t want any trouble! I have money. You can have it—”

“Shut the fuck up and let me think!”

Waldin sat with unprecedented posture, his entire back glued to the sofa. How nonchalantly the man pointed the gun at Waldin pushed his heart right past his epiglottis.

“Where’s all your shit? I thought people here were supposed to be rich.”

“I … I’m moving out. It’s all gone.”

“My fucking luck. What’s in the safe?”

“It’s cash. Like I said, you can have it! Whatever you want is yours!”

The man seemed a bit confused, but motioned the gun towards the bedroom. Waldin calmly unlocked the safe and showed him the money. “It has to be at least thirty grand. And I can get you more, but, please, I don’t want any trouble.”

He said nothing, put the money in his bag, and motioned Waldin back into the living room. Unsure of what to do, Waldin assumed his previous seat on the couch, the man still seeming rather occupied by his thoughts.

“Look, I know what you’re thinking and—”

“Man, you don’t know shit about me!” He aggressively redirected the pistol to the center of Waldin’s slightly perspiring forehead.

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I don’t know anything. But I’d bet you didn’t come here looking to hurt anyone. I’d bet you’re desperate, but you’re not even doing this for yourself. I’d bet you have people depending on you and this was your last option. I’d bet you’re a better man than I am. I’d bet the main reason I’m not in the same position as you right now is because I lied to get where I am. I’d bet you figured you’d take from me because I don’t need it and that’s fair, noble even. So take my money. You need it, I don’t. I don’t even think I want it anymore.”

Though the gun was still pointed at Waldin, the man’s disposition seemed to change.

“Now, I used to be a lawyer. I can help. I know people in the courts. If you have a record I can get it expunged. I can help anyone you know fight charges, give them proper representation. I have more of that in the bank. I can help you. You’ve got to let me help you. You could start afresh. You don’t have to do this.”

The gun had found its way to Waldin’s stomach.

“How the hell am I supposed to know you’re not making all this up?”

“I can’t expect you to trust me. I’m just asking for you to give me a chance. I’m going to reach for my wallet.”

The man nodded in agreement.

“Here’s my card. Call me on that number any time. I’ll do everything I can. I can help you.”

He took a long look at the card. “Fuck man. You don’t get it. But I ain’t no killer. They can’t make me that.”

The man finally lowered the gun to his hip. Waldin flinched as the man grabbed the wallet and headed for the door. A few steps from leaving, he turned back around and compacted his forehead with the base of his thumb and his middle finger. “Goddammit!” He walked out hurriedly, but gently closed the door behind him.

Waldin sat motionless on the couch for some time, undoubtedly shaken up, but oddly satisfied. How absurd was it that he broke into Waldin’s apartment of all others? Waldin had never been a fan of fate, but how else could it be described? What had just happened? Had that man broke in that day to have his life changed? Was the course of the man’s life now completely altered from the path it would have taken if he had chosen any other apartment?

Waldin felt a rush he had never experienced. He sprung up, grabbed a pen and paper, and fired up the record player. “The Sounds of the Smiths” was still on from months ago. “Asleep” was up. It somehow always made him think of Avalyn. What a captivating song, the entrancing piano melody, the haunting wind in background, the gunshot. A bullet raced through the back of Waldin’s skull, entering through the left side and making no exit. The pawn shop owner was right, the old Beretta 918 didn’t pack much of a punch, but it was enough. A shaking hand on the “ivory” handle steered the bullet off center. He had been standing, petrified, behind Waldin since he sat back down. He never wanted to kill him. There was never a choice. Waldin had seen his face. He held the gun, but Waldin held the same power, the power to end his life. Waldin could, in essence, bring an end to his life and his family’s. Waldin never understood. There was no help. There was no fix. There was no choice. Woe to the have nots.

Avalyn had grown anxious outside, and came up to see if Waldin needed any help. On her way up she passed a man with a startling countenance. Never had she encountered such a combination of pain, self-hate, regret, sadness, and hope. She swore a tear rested in the corner of his eye. Though a stranger, she felt a deep desire to comfort him, but he only looked down shamefully and quickly walked by. Upon hearing the music, she made some flippant comment about how The Smiths were more what you’d call “night music”. Surprised not to see Waldin on the couch, as he most often was, she walked towards the bedroom. When she turned back from the empty room, she saw. Without thinking, she collapsed down into the side chair next to her. Her initial reaction was pure shock. Before she could burst into tears something stopped her. She looked deeply into Waldin’s eyes, and, despite the many hours she’d spent lost in them, saw something she’d never seen before. Across Waldin’s faced rested the slightest smile that ever existed. Though she had no way to know what happened, somehow she just knew. He had died listening to his favorite song, thinking of her, and feeling as though he had profoundly affected something of real significance. And it seems that was all he had ever wanted. As the tears began to escape from her eyes, all she could do was smile back.

Chapter 14

To this day, I don’t think Jordan has forgiven himself. I surely haven’t either. It was never supposed to turn out the way it did. I hadn’t seen Waldin in months. I heard that he and Avalyn had just up and left one day. I assumed he somehow knew I was the one who stole from the library and wanted nothing to do with me anymore. Such a shame I didn’t get all the letters he had written me, while he was away, until Avalyn gave them to me at the funeral. He had, in fact, known all along it was me; said the place reeked of my cheap cologne when he came in the next morning. I got Jordan out on bail with the money, but he still ended up pleading guilty to his third petty misdemeanor. After two months inside, he got out to only to learn his girl was three months pregnant. Jordan swore he wouldn’t be like our father. We were three, maybe four months late on rent; he had a kid on the way and we literally had no money after putting everything into getting him out. I remembered where Waldin lived and knew he was loaded. I figured it was harmless. He was gone. Whatever he had left he’d probably want me to have. Things are never that simple.

Jordan nearly lost it when he found out she got an abortion. It was probably for the best. I don’t know. That’s not for me to say. After necessities, Waldin’s money ended up sending me to art school the next year. It’s what he would have wanted. There, after earning a scholarship in my first year, I finally came to terms with my talent and never looked back.

I still see Avalyn from time to time, though it’s been several months since I last did. She handled it all with such grace. I swear I saw happiness in her at the funeral. This happiness burned at my bitter, envious, guilt ridden soul. It was nearly unbearable to face her, let alone console her, after Waldin’s death, knowing the truth. I could barely even face Waldin. The face that glared back at me from the casket could only be described as one that knew something I didn’t, something that, if possible, Waldin surely would have shared with me, over one of Avalyn’s fancy tuna sandwiches. I neatly folded the final letter Waldin wrote to me while he was away, placed it on his chest, and said goodbye. The final words never left me.

“I may forever wrestle with the irony that the more you mature the more you act like a child.”

Whether or not this idea is what he finally came to terms with before he left, he may have been right. Maybe we come into this world as clean slates. We are free from the burdens of judgment, hate, and lust; all of which we are not yet even capable of. We are entitled and attached to nothing. We know nothing; limitations and boundaries are not yet conceivable. We find joy in the simplest of pleasures. We feel without filtration, fear, or fabrication. Maybe life, from the moment anything tries to tells us how to be, is simply the struggle to return to that state. Do we all return? I’d like to think so. But there are plenty of things I’d like to think.

Anyhow, it seems I am now not so different than Waldin once was. I hide behind a lie, a lie I convinced myself was for the best. I too have found my ceiling stain. Can I continue on like this and claim Waldin meant anything to me at all?

Actually, I think I’ll go see her right now.

“Excuse me. I’m here to see Avalyn.”

“Creek?” the desk clerk shot back, pulling his head up from some paperwork.

“Yeah. I think she lives in 12A now.”

“She ain’t here no more, son.”

“Oh. Did I just miss her?”

Avalyn often went out for tea around this time. I could probably find her right now at the cafe where she met Waldin, scarcely different from how he first found her.

“No she’s gone for good. Turned in her keys yesterday. Said she was going to some Caribbean country. Haiti or something.”

I let out a brief laugh and fought to contain the light.

“Something wrong?”

“No, no, not at all. Life lies in the little things, I suppose.”

“What’s that now?”

“Never mind, sir. You’ll see.”


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