My confidence. I can’t talk to women. To strangers. I can barely make myself understood in public. I think it is the anxiety of expression. I am fine when another is speaking, but once the momentum shifts and I am required to explain myself I go blank. At these moments I forget why I am wherever I happen to be, what I need, want, why I desire to communicate.
Father was like this also. Never a thing to say. One night he died soundlessly in his sleep, without protest. Out of respect, Momma never spoke of him again. I recall his thunderous absence from the dinner table–it was as though he were still with us! Such spaces between utterances. When I was seven, he spoke nothing for all of a year. Momma claimed this was not the case, that one night, perhaps near the Michaelmas, when I troubled his readings with a perplexing geography question, Father drew the atlas from its place on the high shelf and, pointing to a certain page, he whispered, “Utah.”
More comfortable alone, I tend to stay in. What is this going out? Spending money one doesn’t possess, waking up sick? No, thank you. I am never more at peace, more filled with joy, than when I arrive home at the end of a long day and lock the door. It may resound with tappings and boisterous knocks all the night through and I won’t answer. Even my neighbour, I forget his name, will try to wedge his way in, “Clayton? Are you home, sir?” “No.” Who knows what he wants? He is lonely, that is at the bottom of it all.
When I first moved into the building I was overly generous with my open door. He wanted in to compare the plumbing which runs floor-to-ceiling along a shared wall. But what he really was saying was, “I am alone, and it terrifies me.” If he had been honest from the start I would even now invite him in from time to time. But he is dishonest, even with himself. Of what use is a man like that?
I am alone. I have been alone since Momma died. Aside from work, I see no-one, except Minka down at the market. When I enter his store it is only for a jar of herring or a wedge of butter cheese. But Minka is already shouting from behind the counter, “Look who’s not dead! Look! There are three old ladies on this block more shut in than you: one is blind and deaf, one is lame, and the last is a sex fiend, locked up by order of her physician!” If anyone is in the market I will laugh at Minka’s joke. But if we are alone together, I will simply stare at him until he stops laughing. Then, in my most dignified voice, I will say, “One pound of the Fiambre, if you please,” or, at least, that is what I want to say. But instead I stammer and flush and start coughing because I cannot, for the life of me, recall why I went in there. This drives Minka to the very edge of his wits, “Come now! There must be something? Why not point to whatever it is, holding up one finger for a single pound, two for several pounds and so forth? Ah! Is that the pig’s knuckle you are indicating?” He is a clever man, Minka, pretending always that I am selecting his most out-of-date, disgusting stock items. But what can I do? I am gagged in silence.
When I get home, I lock the door in triumph. It is a ceremony with me, sliding the dead-bolt into place, leaning in close to the lock, listening to the restful quietude. I know I am alone, deliciously alone all the evening. As a final gesture in the ritual, I whisper the lock’s manufacturer, “Hazig,” and I run my finger along the metal plate.
The series of successive steps leading through dinner to my retirement into the den are banal enough and hardly warrant description here. I shall say only this: my enjoyment of the dinner hour has increased ten-fold since I blackened the windows. I could never be certain someone wasn’t leering at me as I masticated away in oblivion. They could stare down from any of the hundred-odd windows facing onto mine. This is life in a city: people, people, always people.
Once in the den I lock this door as well. I am doubly alone–within my apartments and inside my theatre of discovery. Pardon. I do not intend to sound pretentious. But this is a special place. It is almost entirely unfurbished, with the exception of an overhead inspection lamp–not unlike those employed by surgeons–as well as a large examination table and, of course, the subject upon it.
I am sorry. All this talk of lonliness, of solitude, may have given over the impression that I hadn’t a co-resident. I guess I have simply ceased to think of him/her as, well, living in the broader sense of the word. No matter how you slice it, pine cone has been with me since Wednesday, September 7th, 2011: 11:37 am.
I was, I admit, somewhat devastated when I learned of pine cone’s passing. I called in to my place of employment and requested the day’s leave. The morning I was to resume my duties–it was a Thursday, I know it to have been a Thursday as it was just yesterday, but, further, it was Trash Day. The streets were lined with dumpsters, blue plastic boxes, bundles of yard waste, compost bins, recycled plastic. As I wound my way through the suburbs I stopped upon a corner turn, passing as I was a compost bin, thrust out of a long, dark walkway. The lid happened to be open and upon the mound of potato peelings, egg-shells (I think these are forbidden in compost), apple cores, wormy pears and peach pits, I spied what appeared at first glancing to be a beautiful blue cloud, whisping thoughtfully in the breezes fluttering there. It was, or, rather had been a tea bag upon a once, but the mold had so completely taken the thing, so fully dispersed the vital energies formerly contained within, that a large, blue ghost resided there, stirring as it might in the gentle sway of a lake tide.
So struck was I by this entropic wonder that I began to, I confess, imagine pine cone all moldy and gone, no longer a spiny, wretched, deceased pseudo-intellectual pine seed disseminating thing, but as a great purple cloud of rot and putrefaction, or several of these vainglorious half-vapours, chuffing about the ceilings of my apartments, a grand armada of pink and green clouds, casting their humours within, pouring forth a strange, cage’d indoor weather, raining a bluey stink, perhaps, but a stink which signalled the final once-and-for-all-time end of pine cone.