The chip of glass wedged in his sole flung him back four weeks into the past: Vera smashing her fist through the frame, shredding her little knuckles. His damp vision had doubled the smithereens, trebled them, as he and Finley swept and promised, mother and father picking up after shell-shocked daughter.
He plucked the skulking remnant from his heel like a stinger and there welled a single tear of blood. He saw himself in that red mirror and loathed its convex image, a bald man of middle age sitting house for a home that was no longer his.
Baby, when you love something a long time it gets ruined. He remembered listening as Finley revealed this to Vera while she was but a tot coming to grips with her tattered doll, him smiling and trying to fix things. How right she was.
He hopped to the kitchen sink and dabbed the puncture with a paper towel as he might stanch a shaving nick. Through an open window, he spied a patch of land that’d been razed by machines in minutes. Wafts of ancient loam and wet wood. He had viewed it all with sickening fascination, the swiftness with which something so solid could be torn asunder, cored completely. The beloved garage where he cheered Dodger, King, and Laker was to become an ADU. Accessory dwelling unit. Well, wasn’t he an accessory now? Couldn’t he dwell there? He’d pay rent, of course, anything to be near Vera, and better than the shabby apartm-
But, Fin, all sorts of divorced couples have that situation and it seems to work fo-
This he sensed was Finley’s assault: to have him suffer the overhaul, to twist a twisted knife, while she and Vera enjoyed Croatia, a trip they had together looked forward to, once.
During their dating, he thought the freckles dusting Finley’s nose were cinnamon constellations. Now they looked like sprays of shit.
He pitched the stabbing scrap upon the sink and it skittered beside a glassless frame. The three of them on a catamaran in Maui. How excited Vera had been, pretending to be a Disney voyager and making Dad cluck like her hapless rooster sidekick. He pried the backing, though Vera’s fury had freed him of that necessity, and imagined he was breaking small fingers. Snapshot in his hands. He seized the spiky fragment again and ran it across his pictured neck. It felt weird but it also felt right. This entire fucking thing had taken his breath away, ripped his heart right out of its hole, so why not? They wouldn’t notice.
He counted the days, hired help desperate for his job’s conclusion much like those construction workers boiling under July’s heat. On aimless walks he encountered many Cordova Avenue denizens, and they said hello, yes, but there rang disharmony in their greetings. They knew, and he knew that they knew, and he knew that they knew that he knew. Finley’s game of telephone. He had ceased to be friend or neighbor, had been demoted to intruder, excommunicated leper.
How many barbecues? How many tools borrowed and loaned? How many evenings of winedrunk gossip? How many firelight holidays and blockspanning Halloweens? It hurt, as if each hateful slice of Vera’s destruction was pressing into him and encrusting every available surface of skin.
On some Thursday, the postal carrier began dropping parcels on the doormat, the mailbox vomitous with bills and brochures. He collected them, feeling criminal, and saw an approaching city inspector. They walked to the backyard, talking of exactly nothing. The builders had dug a warlike trench into which they’d slop concrete, channels imprisoned by a lattice of ribbed rebar and plastic tarpaulin. A square within a square. He watched as the bureaucrat surveyed the labor and fiddled with a clunky iPad. The opaque tarp curtained down pretty much to pit level and the spread of iron railings was like cold gingham.
Before bed, he decided to rummage Vera’s quarters. Little surprised him, she and he shared – had shared – a free dialogue. Boys, books, belief. What made him blink uncontrollably like some paparazzo's greedy shutter was an orange bottle of pills. It was a brick, the keystone upon which mortar and rock would quietly separate parent from child.
His sleep was shallow, dreamless, shadowed by ghosts who yet lived in haunted rooms that had never known death. He rose from the couch and the time was ungodly. Silent was the backyard, and black, rays from the half moon reflecting pale yellow along the wind-touched tarp. A spade stuck out of the dirt and the pills he swallowed dry, tasting their acrid speed down the short pipe of his gullet. He freed the shovel and fitted himself between the rebar. He dug into the foundation, in a fight with so many things. Horizontally he impelled the instrument and delved deeper into the standing Earth. He insulated himself inside the tarp, his sweat redolent of soil. The medicine’s surge was like a whip, but one which lost strength with every strike. 7AM the workers had said, 7AM to pour concrete, Mister. At last, he inserted himself into the cavity, an escape in reverse. The burrow was cool and soothing, a comfortable dark. He poked out to the torso and hauled in as much of the shaken matter as possible. He was fading, his head swimming and unmoored. From his interred location, he couldn’t see the house anymore. All he saw was a waking sky. His left foot screamed, that nettlesome shard once removed now restored, embedded eternal. After camouflaging what he judged was enough silt and gravel and sod, he settled into his warren, the plastic tarp draping the border heavily into position. Roots clawed at his cheeks, an orientation. Inside the planet. Piercing his gluey haze was a healthy chug-chug-chug. It brought to his smiling mind Vera’s first cardiogram in utero. Her hammering heart. And as everything he’d ever known was sealed shut by liquid inches, that living beat pulsed and pulsed and pulsed.
Where else could he dwell.