Pain and the memory of pain. Cycle of pills repeating. The pain won’t quit but the pills run out. If McFadden was a man in semblance with sentimentality he might feel something other than this choking rage and impossible loneliness. He shadowboxes his silhouette cast out on the wall huge and spectral in the living room sipping his fireball. Recalling it aloud.
“You believe that, Jackie. This kid. These kids. Sitting up there with his purple hair. Can’t look me in the eye. No job. Those videogames. Dog shitting all over the house. Fat shit can’t even walk him. Told him to shovel the driveway three times. They got to be shot to hell. Bunch of pussies. This roof. Everything here. It’s all mine. Nothing is yours. Nothing. You believe that, Jackie? You believe it?”
Talking through broken teeth. The VA dicking him around in a cyclone of degeneracy. He was talking to no one. Her ashes had spilt in his drunken bout. She’d been dead two years now.
He thought he put the tumor inside her from all his neurotic behavior and frustrations. McFadden would shiver from this isolation. He stopped paying for the oil to heat the house. Takes to setting small fires in trash cans. His breath plumes before him in crooked spirals reminding him that he’s alive.
Climbing the stairs and into his kid’s bedroom. He has to break open the door, music blaring from inside. The kid tries to get around him. His plea whistling out of the tooth McFadden knocks out of boy.
“You ain’t gonna have teeth. Just like your father.”
“McFadden,” over the radio from another room.
The kid is crying, lying ruined on the floor.
“Go,” he’s over the set.
“We got a fire in the neighborhood. The Hayde ranch. The horses. It’s burning down. Can’t hear nothing over the horses.”
“It’s all burning down. Like repeating apocalypses.”
Daniel is looking at his phone in the aisle of Walmart trying to remember his password to his Wells Fargo account. It hits him. Killyourself123. Nice to set a reminder. He considers the thought of suicide like a good book. Always good to have one near.
He has $117.00 in his account. Considers the price of the dying flowers. It was the middle of the week in the middle of the day and that is exactly how it started to feel. Like it was the middle of nowhere, everywhere. A cerebral nature leaves leaning into deviating rationalities. He closes his eyes and counts to five. Focuses on his breathing and thanks a ghost for these trials and tribulations. The flood is always coming. His faith treading cement.
“Baby,” she calls him as he’s looking down at those numbers. “Just come home.”
“I’ll be home soon.”
“Daniel, my love. If we have each other, we will always be okay.”
“I’ll be home soon.”
He rounds about an aisle and does his pocket shopping. Two cans of sardines would suffice for the day. He would have his breakfast there on the move. They’d been checking the doors more aggressively.
“Sir,” a man says. He is posted up at the entrance in a little automated wheely.
Daniel stops and shows him the receipt.
“The flowers. I don’t see those flowers on here.”
“Jesus. You can’t even get to your fucking feet.”
The man takes a device out and scans the paper. Two police officers come down on him. With no command they haul Daniel away. He hollers that the flowers were dead already.
Tommy pulls up to the suburban house. Barely makes it driving the piece of shit. Can’t afford to put gas in the tank. Red declined sticker on the dash. Feels like he’s been driving straight into the wild blue of the open-ended sky that hung not in a collocation of an opposite to the road but in symmetry.
He knows that the thing was not a man’s car. These are not man’s clothes. He doesn’t have a man’s pair of shoes. Boots worn out long ago. His face looks flat, boyish, and small to him.
Hanging with the boys he falls into himself from their mindlessness. Observing them, Tommy lands face first on his deficiencies and limitations. Wants to get as far away from this weakness as possible.
He leans on his car looking out on any horizon the suburbs offer up. Low white sun, elliptic and holographic and all flattened out. It all seems too bright to be so cold. Rust pervades the houseline, barren of foliage. Just these empty boxes stacked on top of one another. Everything looks the same. He feels like he could blow his brains out in the middle of these tombstone roads and not a soul would come out looking for him. He read somewhere that when Rome fell the whole thing prior felt like a broken home.
In his unit he was known as the Breaker. Doors, jams, you name it. It was in him. A need for something to break. He would try to learn and temper these emotions and control his reactions.
He thinks about his life and tries to come to some form of a solution to it. To solve himself free of his own human predicament. Only a few bucks in his pocket, negative in the bank. Tommy woke up thinking this would be the day he’d turn his life around. Awaiting a cease fire inside of his head. All the spinning of this carousel consciousness. It would only be the direction that would be altered. A long and forever wheeling.
He checks the tires. Needs to make this fast. An old Ford pickup, all black. One of the American originals. Rigs up the old thing he’d been dragging like a corpse to the back of the truck.
“Don’t make them like you, old boy.”
There was a time he thought he’d be able to forgive. To not be the bearer of any burdens. Take form of a mender and a peacekeeper. He thinks about ringing the bell but it’s done been rung in the distance out in that long red dark creating this achromatic gloom inside the hearts of men upon these discoidal ruins.
Tommy gets in the truck and wires it to life. He knew his luck was running out such as the gas.
“Love you, Mama,” he kisses his palm and blows it away. “Cunt,” he drives off.
A woman comes out of her house in her robe smoking a cigarette with a glass of wine. She checks the mail and heads back into the house as if nothing was missing at all.
Gargantuan flames far off consuming the ranch. McFadden can feel the heat stepping out of his house. He’s still zipping up his gear about his person. The dog and kid wailing behind him. He feels like he needs something to drag other than his deadweight. He takes the hose from the truck in his driveway and pulls it along the snow-covered road.
Siren song cascading about a day shining not of gold but silver. Pinched eyes needed to block the endless steel-colored rays coming from the ground up and all sides from early morning sun. A clashing of elements. Everything looks burnt and feels cold. McFadden trudges on. A truck rolls up on him.
“Jesus, McFadden. Get in.”
“Just hop in.”
“I said I’ll walk.”
A man is calling out in great misery. Hayde kept a cross atop the barn. Two enormous wooden pillars crisscrossed and manmade. It ignites and spins southbound. Names reached out for in the dark of his friend’s lung despair. He’d come up this way many rising suns. Tried hard to honor thy neighbor in bleeding faith. There is a dividing line of twin suns. A universe torn apart. He’d been hoping to find a different one.
He walks against the wind, taking it to the face in cold hallucinatory shards. Coming up to the ranch, three fire trucks posted up outside. Light flurries sifting through the landscape falling in star spangled blood pattering about the scene in all the red light. McFadden drops the hose and runs for the back of the barn where he hears Hayde’s caterwauls. The other men wrestle with the water and fire.
The image bores down those gateways corrupting everything else left inside of him. Inkblots translating eternal oblivion. Burnt mounds lie slain and metastasizing from the earth like tumors about great flames overtaking the barn as horses burn alive. Hayde drags them out one by one. He falls on his back as McFadden comes on him trying to swat out the fire chewing away an old friend.
“They kept sending me in. I just couldn’t go in no more. I couldn’t go in anymore,” Hayde says and keeps on saying.
Daniel has the officers talking about guns just about five minutes into the room.
“Get on the force,” one of the officers says.
“Not made for uniform,” Daniel says.
Cigarette smoke floods the small box construct like a substance. Daniel hits it twice without breathing it out. Holds it there in his chest and wants it to hurt. Wants a birth to the smoke and drift.
“You’re donning one now. Even if you don’t think it,” the officer says.
“Get a job.”
“Not wired that way.”
“Got to take you in. You got somebody you can call?”
“You have a choice.”
“You can let me go. Don’t make it like you don’t got a choice.”
“You got someone you can call?”
“Get out of here.”
“Go,” the officer hands him a card.
No jacket about him against the cold. The wind feels like spit in his eye, oppressive in its force. Cold rain like a tundra cycloning about the flat landscape. All these two-dollar war crimes spreading like wildfires. The spine of his soul is breaking. Just drifting in this place threading the needle between time and space taking on this storm of celestial gravel residing in his head.
“I hate you,” Daniel says.
He’s in his car and the thing won’t start. Doesn’t know why he says it. Grips the steering wheel and slams his fists and repeats his words looking out the stained glass before him.
She calls him three times. His phone and the card in his hands the officer slipped him. Something about a place of communion. A job and a room waiting for him whenever he needed with transportation. People who would listen. He laughs at that. Nobody gives a shit what anybody is saying.
Please call me, a text reads, I’m pregnant.
The dial tone rings like serpents in his ear. She answers chewing on something.
“Hi,” she says.
“Were you sleeping?” Daniel says. It’s all she ever did nowadays.
She breathes deeply into the phone.
“Are you sure?”
She keeps on chewing and sounds as though she sets about to small tasks. He can hear her tapping on the phone. She keeps on chewing. He repeats himself into the phone.
“Are you sure?”
“This is our problem. We don’t talk.”
I-80. Hard to stay awake upright. Governing himself to only three hours of sleep at most when and where he can get it. Everything is sets in intervals of a combine he cannot finish. The great neon calamity of his own life exhausts him. He recalls dreams but remembers having none of them when he was asleep.
He ditches the car and walks these winding same roads like interlocking mechanisms of broke-down gears keeping him trapped in place. The clouds rotating levers in a machine sky. He thinks of getting a room somewhere and brooding away his existence but needs to stretch the cash another five days. Slipping into colleges, libraries, hotels, hospitals.
He sees his own past and present and future. Daniel sets to just walking the parkway with his eyes closed hoping for a release. He takes a white cloth from his back pocket and waves it at any traveler’s abiding hands.
Tommy feels a little bit like dancing in the parking lot of the church with nobody there to steal away this reckoning of peace. A small crowd picks up trash about the lot.
The church stands alone in a wide concrete expanse. Shadow of a pale sun behind a frail curtain of a lone, long-drawn-out silver cloud as a vaporous constellation. The church stands alone in the middle of the empty pavement that stretches for about a hundred yards.
“They’ll drag the church through the dirt,” a nun says bent and huddled over ash. She mops it up with her hands. Black under her fingernails.
“What happened to the cross?”
“They took it.”
“It’ll be okay.”
“Sounds something like a prayer.”
“Maybe it is.”
“The same white lie.”
“Don’t talk that way, Nahum.”
Tommy starts picking at the trash.
“That’s alright. We got this. Had some more calls this morning. Young folk. Go on.”
“That’s good. I appreciate everything. All of you. Letting me stay here.”
“We appreciate you, Thomas. Your hands are able.”
“What needs getting done today?”
“Father hung a list outside your room. There’s breakfast. It’s not much.”
“It’s enough. Thank you.”
“It’s in the fridge. New wheels?”
“Take it for a spin?”
“Not if we’re listening to what you pulled up with.”
Tommy smiles and walks on into the church. He is placing chairs in a circle of the small, pale-yellow room when they enter.
“Tommy. We have ourselves a traveler,” Father Oswin says.
“Holy shit,” Tommy says.
Oswin dips his head.
“When you get back, man?” Daniel says.
“You know each other?” Oswin says.
“Tenth infantry,” Daniel says. “Damn man. Small world.”
“Like the walls closing in,” Tommy says.
“Let me take your jacket.”
Oswin reaches for Daniel’s shoulders. He spins sharply and backs away.
“No. No. I’m good. Thanks.”
“You men have at it,” Oswin says and leaves the room.
“Shit. What are you doing here?” Tommy says.
“Can ask you the same thing.”
“We’re in his house. Best watch that mouth.”
Tommy can’t help himself and tongues the air grabbing phantom ass.
“Never anticipated seeing you here,” Daniel says.
“Only house I ever had. When did you get out?”
“Don’t feel like out. Feels deeper in it.”
“What’s the it?”
“I don’t know, man.”
“Shit. I just can’t believe you’re here. How you been?”
“People always say that.”
“You sure you don’t want me to take your jacket?”
“Fire ass jacket, dog. American made leather. Don’t make them that way no more.”
“Don’t make lots of things lots of ways no more.”
There’s a beat between the men. Tommy takes out his phone and gets lost in it.
“You got any?” Daniel says.
Tommy laughs and just shakes his head and keeps on scrolling.
“I’m talking, man.”
“No. No, Danny, I ain’t got any. I don’t do that shit no more. You can try some of this though,” Tommy lights a candle.
“Some of what?”
“That what you’re selling here?” Daniel’s eyes are on a little whicker basket stuffed with cash.
“Nobody is selling anything.”
“We’re all bought and sold.”
“You got to stop thinking that way.”
“I don’t want to think at all. Talk at all. About to chew off my very own tongue and set sail my head straight into the sun. My own Viking funeral. It’s all upside-down, man.”
Tommy looks down at his phone.
“I keep having this dream. Just me yelling fire. People ignoring me.”
“It’s about money,” Tommy says. “It’s always about money.”
Daniel’s eyes on the cash.
“You still with what’s her face?”
“What’s her face.”
“Fuck. Condolences, man.”
“Oswin offered me a job.”
“Where she staying at?”
“I can’t be around it. She tries to rattle my cage. Like this constant cyclone. This cold wind. She’s exhausting to be around. An epic dissatisfaction, depression, loneliness, sadness. Lovely as a corpse. Face like a mugshot. Heart of coal. This murderous look to her, Tommy. True crime aura about her. I can’t stay and I don’t want leave or to be alone. It feels like she’s the enemy, Tommy. Everybody is the fucking enemy. I feel tied up in chains. This never-ending war. If you fight fair, you die. It’s all broken. I can’t get it back. It’s all gone. It always wins.”
Daniel is crying and Tommy pulls him in and the two men hug long and hard.
“We got a job for you. A room. Gonna wake your ass up at three in the morning though.”
“Can he hear you?”
“This close. Like getting CTE from a ghost. Kind of funny, in’it?”
“People say that. They ain’t wrong. Funny thing is, it’s the silence out there that drew me to the silence in here. I’m listening, old buddy. I see you.”
“It isn’t silent.”
“This here is a black church.”
“Look. Got an old Ford out there. Remember the one?”
“Remembering getting hard these days.”
“Fire it up. Drive away, man.”
“Away ain’t a thing. Ain’t a place. It follows you. Always capted and seized by this shadow.”
“Just take it for a spin, Danny. Meet you at the old spot. At the pit.”
“Little hole in the universe. No matter what time of year, man, them trees remained standing like wardens of some distant ring. Them thick red leaves in legions of swirling suns.”
“Able to just drive up to it like flat earth. Drive off straight into the fire. I’ll meet you there with the other car for a trade. Clear your head.”
“Only one way of getting the shit up there outside here.”
“Stop saying shit like that. I need to make a bank run.”
“Yeah. We’ll grab some beers after. Last ones. On me. We’ll quit it together. Quit this fucking generation.”
“About ready to quit the human race.”
“Start with women first.”
“A dying animal in the road has more peace than her. They’re everywhere. This misery here. On every corner. It’s in our hearts. Dissect it out of me.”
“It’s a mindset, Danny. Embrace the growth mindset. We bear witness. We pray. Never mourn.”
“There’s a meanness in me.”
“Was in me.”
“Men can love each other, too. Need each other. I wish a friend on young people I see in here more than a lover these days. Get yourself out of the there times in your thinking. This is here. This is now. It’s all a singular tribe. The human family.”
Daniel listens as he goes, grabbing his things and the keys to the old ride.
“Planting a flag at these new rock bottoms. About to dig a hole at these crossroads.”
McFadden stops along the way back to the house to wash the blood from his arms and his hands by rubbing snow about his person until it’d all gone numb. It leaves patterns in the snow like some Rorschach test inhibited by the earth. It all resembles blood on the land.
The smoke follows him home. When he steps inside of his house the kid is there with a gun raised up on him.
McFadden hears the shot before he feels it. There’s nothing to feel other than this heartbreak. It becomes clear to him from the red dark fog of his gaze that the kid’s hand is trembling with the gun still trained on him, unfired.
“Fat fucking pussy.”
McFadden steps forward and grabs hold of the gun. Shoves the kid and gives him the chance to do something about it but he just turns and runs off. It’s hard for McFadden to see him as anything other than just that. This small and pathetic and strange thing. Like they’re not human anymore. The dog cries at the door to be let out and McFadden sets out to kicking it, agitating it, trying to rile it up.
“Maybe you got some fight in you.”
The dog shows McFadden teeth, snapping and breaking skin. McFadden retreats to the door and lets it out and the dog runs for the black smoke over the hills. Another gunshot rivulets about the terrain. He knows the sound of them, make and caliber. He can’t help but choke on his own time inside of his house.
McFadden steps out and walks toward the direction he thinks the echo of gunfire came. He only needs to hear it one time like a lone bell ringing to know which direction it came. Doesn’t need the tracks of treads burnt and spent in one direction maddenings.
Tommy pulls up to the Ford looking out a drop. A black hole swirling with the mad emptiness of a pit, filled with Edenic verdure that seems untouched by all the plant rot and the cold. At the bottom sits a pool of red leaves. The truck is still running.
“Ay, Danny boy.”
When he rounds about the vehicle he is struck in the back of the head and drops to his knees. When he turns around, Daniel is standing on him.
Daniel is holding a gun on him.
“You bitch. That’s why you didn’t take your jacket off.”
Daniel doesn’t say anything.
“All you do is complain, Danny. All your life. Never shutting up on what you don’t got. What’s been taken from you. But you got that gun, don’t you Danny. What’s that getting you, huh? Just take the car, man.”
“I want the truck.”
“You got that money on you?”
“Yeah I got the money on me.”
Daniel shoots Tommy in the face. It all had deeper meaning in his head. Was more drawn-out up there. The suddenness and smallness and meaningless of it brings about a lone truth to him. Tommy falls into the gaping mouth of woodland. Daniel’s seen his whole life there in the long blackness and it moved in circular motion.
He tries to take up things such as writing and journaling this pain. It’d be just for him. Who reads these days. Who engages with themselves in order to engage with his art. The last real book came out twenty years ago.
It all seems to be one same and never-ending story seeking out a healing that could not be found and never ended that kept on going with nobody around to hear it. One of a proliferation of obscene virtue signaling and pseudo-moral lowballs. Hearts and minds ripe for the taking in this grifter society. A war within the soul at hand with ghosts where the nuclear codes lay in the corroded human spirit. The dystopia not lurking without but within.
He thought he wanted the pickup and the cash. Start anew. He sees the real need now. How easy it was to obtain, washing clean everything else. He sees everything so clearly. The great worldly end more subtle than anticipated. Loneliness and despair trampling. Haste to the hate and anger and a slowness to listen. Mental illness of all kinds rampant. An absolute mania to the madness and a complete alienation of the self with unbalanced derangements and a frenzied hysteria of emotional and brain disorders creating an almost inability to stand up on even poisoned ground. Abusive avalanches of drink and drug. A penchant for suicide. No sense of culture or faith or community. A complete welcoming of this meaningless, placeless nirvana. He’s outnumbered. All of us, so many of us, so close together yet so far apart. Daniel finds an inescapable release.
He walks up to the truck and takes the keys from the ignition. Swirling wind rattles the false jungle. He buries the keys making a hole with his hands and places his jacket over it. Places his phone on there. He’d been looking at an old picture of them. Accidentally flicks on a recording. This violence captured and left there in a loop.
When the deed is done he steps up to the dark and sticks his pistol in his mouth and pulls the trigger. Swallowed whole by the dark pit. A little piece of the gut of this world just for him. The only thing American made is the grave.