You are reading Fiddleblack #7
She stood in the doorway with his father, discussing Fence as though he weren’t trying to sleep in the adjacent room: We met not long after he divorced Caddy. Like a month or two maybe. I mean they were fully divorced at that time though. You know. It’s like most people will meet someone when they’re just separated. Her long brown hair, a purple streak that ran from the peak midway to the back of her head. A small sparkling stud in her nose. Eyes and a smile that he had always considered vague.
I’m not divorced, the father said. I haven’t ever been. But if I split with his mother before this happened, I wouldn’t have just gotten back on another horse. Sure as hell I’m not going to do it now. Hell, Fence’s been this way his whole life. On one horse and off another. His mother dies, now here you come. I haven’t seen him in two years and I sure as hell didn’t hear about you the once or twice he called. He falls hard doesn’t he?
Senna paused her speech and considered him, looking back as he slept passed out on the chair while his face rested on his crossed arms on the dining room table. I don’t know, she said. I don’t know that he does.
His father shrugged and poured himself a glass of milk. This ain’t me saying I don’t like you or nothing. Long goddamn week. He drank from the glass and wiped his mouth. But I think he does, he said. He always has.
Fence woke hollow and hurting. He washed his hair and body and shut the water off in the shower. He dried himself and brushed his teeth. He ran his hand along his side where he felt a new mole had grown. Raised and bulbous but miniature, it was perhaps a third nipple sprouting. He fingered it a bit. Pulled and tried to pluck but it was a mole and it was staying there. Cancer or not cancer. Go to the doctor. He hadn’t been to the doctor since grad school and he hadn’t had insurance since he quit the agency. This no doubt had grown secretly in the interim, a small rooted death. He shaved his face with a razor. No nicks. He touched the mole again. Cancer or not cancer.
There was the drone from the exhaust fan above. A deep humidity from outside that soaked everything inside and kept him hot and without a towel as he stood nearly sweating. He flipped on the sink faucet. The pads of his feet collected stuck hairs from the grout. His nails grew or he thought he felt them growing.
He sat with Senna Indian-legged in a Denny’s booth against a window, both drinking black coffee and sifting through wet scrambled eggs. In the window sill there was an upturned dead fly and fingerprint smudges at the base of the glass and outside he could see the slow morning traffic beginning to gather at the country highway’s intersection. She watched the waitress, ambivalent and quiet. The light outside was the sort that made him sick back in high school. The light he never saw drunk every day in college. The light he saw now, each day as he idled with talk radio on three hundred miles away but just like every other asshole outside. He had to interrupt himself: Who killed Jesus?
He was crucified, Senna replied.
Yeah. I know. Who did it?
The Romans, right?
The Romans or the Jews?
Well, Jesus was a Jew. Why would the Jews kill him?
He was an obvious threat, I think.
Yeah. He was going around saying he was the first coming. They didn’t believe him.
I thought the Romans didn’t want someone saying he was more godly than the emperor or whatever.
That’s what the Jews would have you think.
I don’t know, she said.
Could have been a conspiracy. Could be that the Jews didn’t like him and the Romans hated him and he was an all around problem. So both groups put their heads together and ruled on it.
Yeah, she said, still watching the waitress.
What is it with her?
I can see.
Something about a pregnant waitress, she says. At a diner. At a Denny’s.
Can’t be good, he said.
Back at the house Fence sat in his old room. He tossed a small foam basketball into the plastic hoop on the back of his door. It came back and he tossed it again until the door opened, the ball bouncing backward onto his desk. Senna walked in and closed the door behind her and locked it. She sat beside Fence and put a hand on his thigh and she moved her hand upward to the center seam of his jeans and they kissed and unclothed each other and the small boy’s bed still fitted with sport sheets lay beneath them shifting and quiet.
Senna put balm on her lips. She left the room while Fence dressed and returned with a glass of Pink Gin which she gave to him. He drank and puckered his lips.
This is awful. What is this?
Bitters and gin and a little old lemon. It’s a sailor’s drink.
He sipped again and placed the glass on his bedside table and stood up. Senna stood too, waiting to follow him out. Fence pulled the mattress off his bed to reveal the box spring and and a pentagram inked red in the threadbare cloth with a permanent marker. Its horn points at the head, an arrow to the foot. Fence tried the drink again: I drew that when I was like thirteen.
No one’s flipped your mattress in so long, she said.
Yeah, I guess not.
What was it for? It looks like you cursed yourself or something.
I can’t remember, he said.
The long drive to the funeral led along the old industry canal. Inlets along the water brought joggers interested scenery. Small lots for their cars with their bike racks and their shoes and water bottles. Fence used to stop on the side of the road occasionally. Near enough to a parking area but far enough to avoid the milling joggers. There were paths that park workers built between the brush and dense young trees. He’d walk to the edge of the canal in near secrecy and look back through the tall ground cover to the path where girls ran by sweating and huffing. He’d rest himself against a tall tree or the few guardrails the service vehicles relied on for night work. He’d pick off buds from branches, toss stray cans and plastic bottles into the water. It was relief enough the years ago after he divorced.
It was important to him that he make a good effort to remember the dead lives of himself. All the people he’d pretended to be through all his life. The hard-faller he was, that was the man he became to his father. The weakling, the whine. The strange unconfigurable boy he once was to his mother. How she probably thought of him as she went.
He was this grand curator who moved through sets, settings, relationships, workplaces. It was practically required that he spend those moments remembering each version. It had never happened but it would be hell to switch one with another and be trapped like a liar. He wasn’t a liar, he’d tell himself. Manager of expectations and chameleon. Climber. Fuck anyone that disagreed. You try and be straight. It was impossible to be normal because normal people always lose. Fuck losing for what it’s worth, he’d say. Still said.
Fence took a bottle of muscle relaxers from his parents’ bathroom. It was his mother’s. He took two and opened a beer and Senna sat with him on the couch and drank her Pink Gin. His father had gone to a bar with friends from work who’d promised they’d help him through and the house was still and a relic and all the walls still had the two-prong sockets and there were deep staples in the hardwood floor from where the carpet had been and nail marks from when they’d had a dog.
The pills built a white warmth that bloomed at the back of his neck and rushed up to his head and cradled him. His toes vibrated. Senna shifted her weight and leaned in on his shoulder and he thought he felt a piece of her hair brush against his ear. For an hour they watched the news until Senna stood and took his empty bottle and brought him another beer. She kissed his forehead and left the room. Fence sunk into the couch. The whole room was awful. There was a smell in the house that couldn’t possibly be removed but he wasn’t sure what it was. Every house he’d ever gone to in his life had some kind of stink to it. People shed skin onto the furniture and into the seams at the baseboards. The food they cooked gathered on the lightbulb filaments. The porous walls, fans, the paint on the ceiling with a memory.
He took his laptop from the kitchen table and sat back on the couch. There was a cam girl he’d met online. An Italian with a big ass always in a thong and a halter top. She was up. He engaged her bleary eyed and with another beer. Ten minutes for fifty dollars on his credit card.
Allo, she said. Her English was poor and the accent scared him it was so unfamiliar.
You look sad.
I’m sorry, he said.
You wish I was there to make you happy? She lifted her top slightly and he saw the undersides of her breasts.
Yeah, he said. He unzipped his trousers and unbuttoned his white shirt and he removed his undershirt. Light shone through the flat window behind her. This was another world, another day. He looked out his window. Dull black midnight. She pounced on her futon, shifted. Tits then ass then tits then her strange face pouting close to the camera, lips parted and her fingers in her mouth.
You’re a bad man, she said.
She told him the same things every time and he wondered how many times she’d done this overnight. Her makeup still looked good. From what he could see her flat was clean. He imaged her studying the reverse. This dark room he was in. Television radiance and the pale yellow lamp in the kitchen. Senna could walk out at any moment and he’d be there with the castle of beer bottles and this girl in her lovely flat that was through the looking glass. One would see the other. One would say something first. The muscle relaxer flowers wilted, wet with beer. His father walking in drunk and mad with grief. The weird flood of remembrances here. He came on his stomach and the girl on cam was still pouncing and yammering. She hadn’t noticed. He closed the computer and went to bed.
Two hundred dreams bent into rays that arced across corners without bending or shadowing like real household light. Fence woke once almost fevered. He shifted to cooler parts of the sheets and pushed Senna closer to her edge. He slept again and went somewhere like a metropolis where it rained and where it never did reach dawn. He stood on a rooftop.
This is it, man. Time to do it. You wanted to be someone, do something. You spent all that time wishing, you fuck. Do you think that was a good idea now? Time to prove yourself something. Less than a lot of people, remember. You’re not a cop in a big city. You have zero potential. All your wishes are for your convenience only. Is this really what you hoped for?
He woke before Senna, another shower in a tub slowly beginning to ring with dirt and hair strand smears on the tile. He wore a towel into the kitchen where he poured himself a glass of milk and looked back into the living room. His father slept in a heap of himself, legs splayed under a TV tray on the couch where Fence had come the night before. The television was still on, muted to a community news scroll. The man snored and Fence peeked through the window blinds to see the sun.
They left the house for a drive to Delaware Lake. It was someplace where Fence had a binding to the land, where he could remember his mother and youth and all the times before she was sick and further back before he was absent or drunk or lost to himself being someone else. Lane to lane, Senna’s hand rested on his thigh and when he could he put his hand on hers.
I haven’t been to a funeral since I was eight, she said. I don’t know why I had to go to a funeral at eight. Is that a normal age?
That’s just after First Communion. I think it’s expected by then.
Now it seems like I was too young to see all of that.
They break your innocence then. It’s probably appropriate, you know.
It fucks with you, she says. She quiets and retracts her hand and rests her head on the door frame beside the window: I’ve never had a big loss like this. I don’t know what else to say.
You’re fine. You don’t need to say anything.
What about for your father. He’s still practically ignoring the whole thing.
She put her hand back on his thigh. Outside the car sped long lawns where cows fed, where wheat was run for acres, the silos and corn fields, where a thin roan pranced alone in a circular pen. Green highway signs and the exits to places Fence had been, hadn’t been. Each stop a resident memory or a potential one, a place where he could take Senna and perversely remember. Where they might be together like this, if they were to be together much longer, and where his hand on hers might burn instead of receive what clammy pawing she gave him. Her phone had stopped reminding him of all the might-haves she’d cultured before they’d met. They slept and woke with ease now, without the pressure for sex. She’d come with him to see his mother dead and now she couldn’t reflect for any good thing and he alone held the onus to communicate with the land. To take up Ohio and eat the soil to smell or piss drunk in the night. He was owed something for his family, for her or all the hims or all the hers. There was something each time to take, each go around and whip back into family consciousness where his father was real and his mother would never wake and his friends had grown the same age as him but grown up faster or better, and where the parking lots he’d fingered in had been repaved for park use or community watch and where his old house had germy shit crawling on every surface and underbelly that no one bothered to clean. Where when he’d moved the Midwest had fallen slack on him.
He turned off at the Delaware exit and drove past miles of undeveloped land until they passed the few stores to the small town center. He stopped, parking on the street. Senna looked at him and followed him out of the car.
What is this, a bar?
It’s a good bar, he said.
I think it’s a college bar.
In through the front door they were seated on the patio in the hot sun. Fence ordered an imperial pint of stout and Senna took the same. Off on the street ahead of them there were joggers. The occasional town person but mostly students from a nearby private school.
When were you here last?
Years ago, he said. But after college.
No one sat beside them on the patio and it seemed from outside that the dining room in the building was mostly empty. Fence guessed a few professor couples might have come for lunch. Senna put her legs on the chair next to her and she wrinkled her toes on her flip-flops and yawned. He studied her feet: topaz blue glitter-shimmery nails against the neon pink neoprene sandals. The sun shone down on them, her tan skin and her rounded nails and God the half-round reflections of light that beamed back up to the sky. She adjusted her sunglasses and pulled curls of hair behind her ears.
I kind of didn’t want to start dating you, you know. Because of the thing with your mom.
I could see that, he said. He stared into his beer. I could see myself feeling that way.
It’s just that I didn’t know where things would go. I envisioned the whole thing like it is and I didn’t want to put myself in the way.
Well you’re not in the way.
Am I at least on your side?
I think I’m still on my own side.
Not your fault though.
I should know how to feel.
Who knows, he said and stood. He took the pint glass from off of the table and drank the last quarter in one long gulp. She stayed sitting, watching him as he walked off of the patio and outside of the waist high gate that had enclosed them. A bearded man with glasses and a sweatshirt jogged by. Fence could smell him stinking. Behind him the bar server looked through his tinted glass door as though Fence might walk out on the check.
Go to the lake, she said. I’ll be here.
Winding through the narrow streets that ran around the watershed forest, Fence fiddled with the small prescription bottle he took from his mother’s cabinet. Long out on the water a man and a boy fished. Fence imagined they had a cooler for fish partitioned for beer. He thumbed two of the muscle relaxers into his mouth and swallowed with a sip of warm lemonade. Sugar from breakfast and the beer coated his teeth. His stomach was an empty tin room. He checked his cell phone three or four times to see if Senna had called or texted him but she had done neither and Fence considered it fair that she refuse the drag through this. He approached a dirty beachfront parking lot where several trucks and jeeps had been parked in the upper rows toward the water. A man about his age sat in the bed of one truck and sunned himself on a collapsable lawn chair. In a bronze sedan an older man with yellow lens glasses looked out at him melting like a slug. Fence parked for a moment and checked his phone again. Drug floral booms rocked the back of his neck and the centers of his feet up to his wrists and palms and elbows and back down again.
He rolled down his window and listened. This was one place they’d gone to camp and be together. This was one familiar place. The slug man leered at Fence now. The chair man looked dead. The man and his boy out on the lake sat still and counted their fish. Fence checked his phone and the clock. The lake held no waves that he could hear and there wasn’t the chatter of seagulls or other birds from the area. Fence took another muscle relaxer and drove. Last one for the drive, he told himself.
What he wanted was a Catholic church open to him, with a priest sitting in a confessional and waiting, as he’d seen on TV. There were other churches endemic to the spare Ohio landscape where fundamentalism was seeing a rebirth all around him and there were churches of denominations with which he was not at all familiar. The Catholic church he did find was near the university campus but close enough to the midsection of town where he’d left Senna that he might get back to her quickly.
It had a large arched door and a corner stone in the archway and chiseled into the keystone were the letters iota eta sigma and bordering the archway was a tight and ropelike stone coil like wrapped vines that held the arch formidable. Fence entered to a breezeway and a fountain and to the left doors for offices or bathrooms. He passed through to the sanctum where empty pews were presided upon by a small alter and a large wooden Christ and outlying the pews on the walls were the stations of the Cross which Fence walked past carefully, considering each station and concluding at the doors to the confessionals he’d sought. The church was quiet. Air moved overhead and the fountain outside was hardly present but there. He entered the booth and kneeled but there was no sound on the other side, no small door that slid open between them and no What is your confession, my son?
This was a moment like few others to him. There was a simple protocol that he’d expected. Enter and speak and move and believe, or be unshackled of something great. Here in that confessional there was no such case. Fence leaned his head against the gold wooden side of the booth and dreamt as only the muscle relaxers would let him. He drifted back to college, years back when he’d first arrived after building a long unfriendly gap between high school and himself. Then he was older and now he felt old. In this moment Fence stood at a corner between buildings and waited for a bus. All around him students were ushered to classes by their duties and their money and Fence stood still, there on no money because he had none and waiting there for a bus that would take him to more classes and eventually to work and back home to his apartment with enough time to push himself once more to make some kind of grasp at wellness in the infinitely sad girlfriend who spent shuttered weeks in his bed. This time at the bus stop was Fence standing alone. This time was Fence apart and unlike his father and mother who sixty minutes away had begun emptying the room he’d just managed to move from. This time was Fence reflecting on home loss, the permanent separation from one’s childhood home and the true division of parents as his moved on together but did not smile or love themselves or spare him details of the battle. Fence stood on the corner and watched nobodies go by and in a null few seconds when he’d lost himself in daylight a girl stood beside him and smiled. Fence had not seen her before but he thought she was pretty. She looked down and back up, still smiling. I like your boots, she said and walked onto the bus. Fence watched her go on and he turned away and went along down the sidewalk. Those are the times that are connection points, the moments when one is put on the path to shuttered rooms or home loss or worse and those are not the paths any learned man can always see. But then he saw himself. Missed connection by way of nonresponse.
Fence leaned forward in the confessional. No sound in the church. Nothing percussive. Nothing choral. No echoes or the slightest sibilants of voice. He tried to turn himself, woozy and confined. There was another time after college when he managed databases for a wildlife fundraiser: Everyone’s gone. What if I touch you here. Missed connection by way of exit. Fence shuffled himself into a half crouch and pushed his pants past his ass until they rested held by the backs of his knees. He shat, recollecting in the booth, a wild butterscotch twirl.
The road to the old beauty school where is mother had worked was a normal and cautiously signed road where trees were the lining and the occasional skunk or squirrel corpse lain splattered guts across the ground. Dead animals were everywhere here, not in Delaware, but throughout this state where all the roads were part of a greater machine, as in any state, and where the machine itself was a pummeling force that took in all the mercy and dead hate of every driver who ever left their house upset at their job or their spouse or their fat lazy life. Every animal was an effigy, every car accident a curse come down, realized and smitten.
He could not remember the exact side streets. When she kept him here, outside in the strip mall parking lot while she worked, he could not see the street from the quarter-bouncy horses and the lunch-hour fly bars and laundromats and value grocery stores, the ones he hated where they had to pay a quarter for a cart and where they had nothing he wanted and where he felt like an awful poor man who would never touch a woman and whose mother was nothing but this beauty school teacher who could not even work at a normal beauty shop like all of her friends.
The roads wound, he leaned. He put his hand on the passenger seat as if Senna were sat beside him. He liked to put his hand on her leg. He liked to drive with his left hand. The muscle relaxers had him worried about missing neither and he had no qualms with his recently voided bowels and he felt no finger come down from the sky to strike him and he would not die because she had just died and there could not be two deaths in a family in one month, not without a group accident or death by broken heart and his heart was fucking far from broken, and somewhere three miles back Senna probably sat staring at her cellphone and he thought that if he were back in college, were back at that bus stop, were off in a nether world with the girl that liked his boots, were alive as someone else with someone else, he might say stop looking at your cell phone and start paying attention to me, and stop talking to every man on this planet and only serve me and you will not leave and you will never disappear and you will never be less than the thing I imagined you were when I saw you first.
The long black parking lot that wrapped around the building was intact, newly lined yellow. The building needed a power-washing. All the signs atop the mall shops were lighted red. There was no facade here like there was in his hometown, no presence of quaint sort of village township. Just hard edged, flat roofed lengths of building.
Everything was closed. The beauty school had a few cars in the parking lot and through the windows he saw two women cleaning with vacuums and a mop and yellow wringer bucket sat in the center of opposing sides of chairs and mirrors reflected into mirrors.
He’d sat here once in her car. He had a package of Lifesavers. He liked the cherry ones. A tall-horned buck strode through the parking lot. No cars but it was there and alien and unafraid. Fence felt his arms and his elbows and fingertips with his other fingertips. He touched his warm cheeks and he plucked a hair from his nose to see if it hurt and it did. The buck did not cock its head toward Fence, nor did it acknowledge the infrequent passing traffic from the road past the pavement. Rather it jogged like a show horse over the fresh coated cracks.
Fence rubbed his eyes. He checked his phone. Senna hadn’t tried to reach him. How long had it been. He got back in the car and felt his body become enmeshed in the seat, melting back, his head and the headrest one. As the car drove, he sat behind it. The buck switched its jog to a fast trot.
Senna sat hands folded at the patio table, staring at her phone and the drying mug smudged up and down with her fingerprints and her lips and the push of her palms against the glass. She checked her phone, her email. She ordered another beer and she sat.
Fence’s father rose from the carpet and wiped his mouth. He shut off the TV and opened the blinds. He took a swig of milk from the carton. He scratched himself and undressed and pulled the shower curtain and turned on the hot water and shut his eyes again.
Over a headstone field near a small pond where a marble angel stood on a pedestal and around her geese flocked, some in pairs and some apart, and beneath the brown-green years of leaves had sunk down to the muck and formed the loose substrate where few things less than insects lived because the water hardly moved.
Fence drove along the route back into town from the strip mall. He turned on the radio to honest chords and a girl singing with a soft country lilt, her voice arising from the half static of an FM station at the extent of its range, the static not harsh noise but the warmth of a youth spent half in front of illegal cable in a single-level ranch somewhere around here in a neighborhood no doubt less expensive at the time and perhaps less holy.
Of all the people he’d been, to all the necessary parties, the friends and teachers and coworkers and bosses, he had always tried to be the same person to his family, and this was something of an unescapable blackness, Fence thought, a tidal kind of inkwell wave amplified to fathom-size and spilled ebon over everything that was worth its validation in love.
The neighborhood was still the same. Still the dogs tied just shy of the houses. The aluminum swing sets for kids who’d rather be inside. The cheap grills left rusted but still used oh so much, and the garbage cans at the ends of the streets on this day which was the single day he did a chore.
He drove around a wide end whose tall-grass lot was once a good playground. He met his street, saw his home. A sun flare. Good weather. Some birds. His old house made of brick so it would not burn down, his father had told him.
His street turned into a long sloping hill that held bigger homes on either side. The dug-ditch yards gave way to worn sidewalks, green lawns into denser forest swallowing the open space.
There was little else to see. From out of the wood the buck came running and in the center of the street it stopped and turned and stared, and this is what the buck was born to do. Fence let go, leaned back as if he could be further away away from the sound. The buck did not flinch and this was the exact point it was made to seek and Fence did not see flashes of anything he had not already seen or thought of earlier in the day.
It was Jesus Christ himself who came to him amid the wreck. Christ could see for many yards the black tread marks that must have squealed in making as the car fought to end its coast into the buck which was splayed and bloated with burst nicety partly beneath and into the front of the car. There was no reason to make Heaven rain or to resurrect. This man was not dead and in place of the nameless buck there were a many replicant more. Fence lay with a broken nose and his face in his airbag where he coughed and gagged. The painted white street sign had been split at the base and its opposing flag shaped placards were embedded in the rooftop. Christ floated half visible to the world, a figurative nobody that had transversed between here and there. He held his thumbs against his palms with his hands upright at the wrists and there was a great diplomacy to his posture unbounded just above the terrestris.
Christ peered through the unbroken passenger window to see if Fence could see him but he could not. Fence wiped the blood that ran from his nose and he wiped all the glass shatters from his eyes and forehead. Christ thought he might have heard the buck kick its leg at the asphalt to leap but when he checked it was clear the buck’s neck had turned too far to the side and its dead eyes had none of the luster of his father’s perfect things. Tough, he thought and he floated behind the car to take in the whole scene. The sun was far off hilly horizon and city lights and cellular towers dotted the prominence and the air was calm and the birds all at once began to sing. Christ grinned and floated farther back from the scene as though he were filming it slowly. He became a red mist in the shape of a crucifix, his own figure there implied. The red mist whorled and exploded outward like water droplets moved in slow motion. All sounds within the human frequency spectrum ceased to sound and animals everywhere raised their heads or turned their ears or stopped midair and Christ vanished.
Elias Marsten is a lifelong Midwesterner, writer and hobbyist hacker. He briefly attended classes in the Ohio State University’s creative writing program as an academic auditor.