“Have you ever been in love?”
The question, regrettably, conjured thoughts of the women currently locked in his basement without food or water to nourish her. It had been the first time he had considered her existence in the past few days, and what a place to do it—empty coffee shop, nothing but a day old croissant in his stomach that would not have been sold had he not been drunk enough to purchase it, seated across from a man whose name he could not remember and whose face seemed evil enough to be suspect. He first wondered if she were hungry, for he was hungry, only capable of thinking of others as they related to him. How much time had passed since he had last been home? The days had begun to blur into a singular haze; his last meal, that he could recall, came by way of a trash can and a diminished sense of self-regulation. He could still taste the dirt on the french fries, the mold on the half eaten roll, the piece of cardboard he had mistaken for chicken skin because it was that greasy and he was that inebriated. By now, her last meal might have been her own arm, though he figured her jaw had likely weakened, making it difficult to chew through the muscle—and she had some muscle through which she would need to chew—in order to make the task worthwhile. He almost felt cruel when he imagined it, but he could no longer remember the circumstances that had led to her detainment. Admittedly, he had a history of making irrational decisions in the wake of minor discrepancies: the most recent of which was choosing to get drunk at nine in the morning because he could not find his car keys. Of course, forced detainment of a woman he once claimed to love had to have now topped the list of poor and irrational decisions he had made. Still, shame crept into his emotions when he pictured her—not as she was in his basement but as she had been when he called her “honey” and “cutie pie” and “kitten dumpling”—when she would jokingly refer to him as an alcoholic, playful punch his shoulder and skip off into the distance, instigating a chase, and he would take off after her, wanting to wrap her in his arms and squeeze her until her heart popped onto his plain, black sweatshirt, kissing her neck all the while.
“Have you ever been in love?”
God, he was so hungry. So hungry that he could only think of food, food he had eaten in the past and the food he wanted to eat in the future, food and the woman in his basement occupied his thoughts—they and they alone. He wanted a hamburger, one with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, grilled onions, mushrooms, mustard, ketchup, another slice of cheese, the works. The desire took him back, back through time, to the best hamburger he had ever eaten. Everyone has that memory, where he sits in some establishment, perhaps familiar or perhaps not, and the atmosphere seems on some other plain almost heavenly in nature, and he takes that first bite, the various components combining in such a manner that you swear you can taste the very flesh of God on your tongue. He was high when he formed his memory, and … lately, it seemed that all his best stories began “I was high, and” … he walked the moderate distance to Jay’s Diner to satisfy a craving, eyeing every passing individual with a curious sort of gaze, not entirely sure of his surroundings. “I ate a really good hamburger once,” he replied, tasting the grease dripping off his lips as he maneuvered his tongue to lick it back up.
“And you loved that hamburger?”
“I was in love with that hamburger?”
“Would you make love with it?”
“I think I might have,” he paused. He liked to pause when talking so as to build anticipation to the rest of his thought. It made him feel important though he knew he was not, “Someone keeps hitting me up for child support, anyway.”
The man across from him chuckled. He could not remember the man’s name, but he remembered that chuckle—how deep it was—the kind of chuckle one imagined for Barry White or Santa Claus or the hefty, bearded gentleman behind the counter of this particular counter of this particular coffee shop. “Don’t you want to know why I asked you?”
“Asked me what?”
“If you had ever been in love …”
“Because you’re in love.”
“It’s because—yeah, how did you know?”
“Just a guess.”
“She’s my everything. You know that feeling?”
“I know of it.”
“I wrote her this poem.”
“You want me to help you with it or something?”
“Would I what?”
“Help me with it?”
“Alright,” the man fumbled through the bag in his lap. This man was far too large and too masculine-seeming to be writing poetry. It did not suit his build at all. Just hearing him utter the words, “she’s my everything,” in that low register gave him a feeling of uneasiness that one gets when something happens that should not happen. This man should not love, and he surely should not write poetry about it, “You are the Rita Hayworth of a modern age …”
“I don’t like your first metaphor.”
“Well, think of history. Relatively speaking, Rita Hayworth is fairly modern. Compare her to like … a Joan of Arc or a Helen of Troy or something.”
“But I like Rita Hayworth.”
“Why compare her to another woman at all? It’s so false.” The woman in his basement had never seen a movie before the 90s. It was one of the qualities he found endearing about her, for it made her seem so deliberately out of touch, so adorably dedicated to her own generation. Plus, he had a peculiar disdain for black and white films, and any significant other who did not force him to suffer through a Turner Classic Movies marathon was someone to love, to cherish until death did they part. “Compare her to a tree.”
“You seem distracted.”
“I am distracted.”
“Are you drunk?”
“Always,” she used to tell him the worst jokes, but they would always make him laugh, honestly. Jokes so bad that their awfulness bestowed upon them an extraordinary level of hilarity, and he would catch himself laughing for what seemed to be hours, though he was often disoriented even when sober, with a shrill cackle of a laugh like a castrated but still somehow amused hyena, “I need to go.”
“But my poem …?”
“Tree. Consider it.”
He rushed out of the coffee shop, ignoring the farewells from the disinterested employees being tossed his way, old croissant swishing around his stomach acids and reminding him just how hungry he was. Perhaps, when he freed her, if she weren’t angry … and she might be angry … they could go get breakfast. Was it six already? They could go get dinner then. She would jokingly insist that he sober up first, playfully punch his shoulder and skip off toward Jay’s Diner, begging him to chase her, assuming she had not chewed off her leg yet. Oh God, was he sprinting? Not gracefully, no, but he was sprinting nonetheless. His stomach began to churn, unaccustomed to any sort of physical activity, as his feet fell awkwardly onto the sidewalk with each passing step. It looked as though he had a limp, but in reality he had just forgotten how to run as normal humans ran. Which foot came first? Was there a particular order with which they had to progress? How similar to walking was the task--how much faster did it need to be to meet the classification? Could he repeat steps--left, left, right, right--or would that cause him to stumble? How far did he need to extend his legs to maxmize the distance in between each step; how high should he extend his knees? All of these questions clogged his thoughts, making it difficult to run with any sort of poise, so he staggered and he tripped and he hit the pavement every now and then like an infant just learning to walk who, feeling confident in his new found ability, decides to progress before he is capable. She used to run ... he thinks ... marathons or had run a marathon once or had talked about running a marathon or had once said that she wished she had the patience and diligence necessary to run a marathon or had confided in him that she abhorred the very idea of running and marathons and that, if she could, she would kill every runner who bragged about how far and how often they ran. Together, once freed, they could roam the countryside in search of every arrogant runner and stab them all in the legs and watch them bleed to death. Unless, of course, she enjoyed running. Then, they could run together until the muscles in their legs dissolved, and they'd collapse where they once stood into each others arms and wither away and die together, together, together.
When he arrived home, the entire house was in disarray. Had it he left it that way? ... he might have left it that way. There were tables with their legs in the air, pointing toward the heavens, four arrows aimed at God. Broken vases were scattered across the front room and the living room--the plants they contained were dead anyway. The cabinet drawers, the refrigerator door, the pantry door, the bedroom door, any door you may find in any average house was open, the items inside thrown carelessly onto the floor. He might have done this, might have gotten drunk and gotten angry at how drunk he had gotten, and in a fit he might have marched through the house like Sherman to the sea, destroying everything in his path, a tirade ... a tyrant always making mountains of molehills and then bombing those mountains with H-bombs and Acme-brand dynamite. Yes, he might have done this. Or he might not have ...
She had a tendency to care about to him, to genuinely want to see the best for him, and he had a tendency to care for no one, to genuinely want to drown the world in whiskey, and if she couldn't swim, then so be it. He could not remember why he had done it, why he would imprison the only person who had ever treated him with affection. As much as he wanted to blame alchol or the drug of the month, it was probably simpler than even that. It was probably an act of God, unexplainable. Perhaps, a fit of rage, he was prone to fits of rage. She often annoyed him with the way she would point out his weaknesses and his stengths without being asked to do so, with the way she talked about nothing at all, telling her stupid jokes and talking about her friends and family as if they were all in the room. He did not talk, never had anything worth saying, so she would fill the silence, needing to fill the silence if someone else would not, could not, then he would get annoyed when she did what he expected her to do. Occassionally, it would show on his face, evident, and she would ignore it, and he would try to hide it, pretending to be interested in a story he had heard twice before, hiding that thing he did with his eyes when he was bored which was to let them half-roll until he was staring down at the floor, playing with the hair that draped over his face. She was so strong, so beautiful,
and when the statuette collided with the back of his head, he felt the blow reverbeate through his bones, vibrating his very being. He collapsed onto the ground, alone, as he leaked blood onto the carpet. She did not check to see if he had died.