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There is No Time to Let Your Blood Dry
People don’t know what it is to be lonely. They live beside light of those that love them, sunning themselves. I see them when I go to town: mothers and their children, groups of friends, men and women, lovers. There’s care in their eyes, the feeling that is so hard to describe. Something links these people who share embraces, laughter or tears. Fragile, beautiful, brittle – their worlds exist as pictures of what it is to be a human, normal – warm. Someone like me must handle those warm people with care, deliberately, calculating every step. Whenever I am near one of them, I feel as if I could trip and shatter them at any time, being awkward and wrong like I am. Coming into this big town means listening to their voices, and remembering lights of mine that are now gone dark. I don’t go into town much anymore. To live around those that know your name and speak your name must be a wonderful thing, but it’s just not something that everyone can have. I know it’s not for me.
Townspeople don’t know the morning wind howl, screeching through a ruined house. They don’t know the silence of a long-dirt trail road, and deep shadows thrown by huge, overgrown trees. They, who have mothers and wives, don’t wander the crazy paths that cross my abandoned town. My town – I call it a Broken Town – has long since died because no one remembered it and no one remained to speak its name. So now it’s gone. I don’t dare to speak it anymore. The name went the same place that my parents did, straight into a black hole somewhere. The Post Office was the last to go, shuttered 15 years ago. I don’t think maps have us on there, since the municipality itself was officially disbanded 20 years even before the post office went. No map has this place, no photos, nothing. The world has forgotten everything of the Broken Town, and forgotten me too.
They do not know what it means to be truly alone.
I feel shame and envy seeing them with happy children, happy friends, loving each other. I don’t remember what it is to hear a name speak my voice, nor do I dare to speak my own name any more than that of the Broken Town. I live underground, in a place beneath the old shop, one of the 11 buildings that crowd around a stoplight that has not worked for years. The shop used to repair autos, before the people – my parents with them – moved away to the bright city where the lights never go off, and the streets are noisy with car horns, cop sirens, people yelling, and the whoosh of air that goes through tall buildings like canyons. That place is far away from where I live, an underground place that gets deeper every day. I started digging down because it was cold, almost ten years ago now. It started with just removing some bricks in a storeroom beneath the auto shop, but then continued with me digging down into the foundation, spooning the concrete away, chunk by chunk over days into months becoming years. I’m good with wires, cables, machines and parts. All practical, technical things are so cooperative, and just need you to pay attention. That’s how they work for you best. Now the water runs and the electricity lights way down there – all the good things of this Earth but heat. When the cold comes, it’s still a problem. It’s also hard to forget the death of the buildings when I go up to the surface. They’re all standing around, like strangers at a bus stop, holding an unsaid secret. They’re also aging. Everything here is faded, except the great trees that crowd around, trees that obscure the winding decayed road that is the only way into, and out of, the Broken Town.
I go into Hopewell, a living town, to cash my cheques and get supplies. Cheques come every month. Some have my Mother’s name on them, some have my Father’s, and a few even have mine. Dad is gone now; he died in the war a long time ago, and it is not something I like to think about. Times were hard after he left mom and me in the auto shop. What did we know – back then – about taking care of engines, fixing transmissions, fiddling with oily pieces of car? This feels wrong – to tell even a piece of paper these things. Silence becomes a habit, and even while writing this I get the uneasy feeling that I am talking out loud in a place where no one is allowed to speak. Better just to forget about it, go chop wood, or sleep, lie down and look at the clouds go by and watch the sun fall. It’s late in the evening now, so it shouldn’t be long . . .
Mom used to say that God makes the clouds. But I don’t believe in God anymore. Clouds don’t mean anything. The same clouds fly over the old auto shop where things used to be fixed, and the big city where she disappeared making money – and way over there where dad died in the war, shot to death. The clouds fly everywhere, free. I like to look at them, and imagine shapes like she taught me to, but I know they are my imaginings.
Even I know that much, and I barely finished High School. The other kids called me a hick and a weirdo for still living out here, it was a long trip into Hopewell each morning just for the benefit of a few lousy classes. Still, I guess it was good to have gotten done, even if I just barely passed. Otherwise I’d be an illiterate weirdo, and that would be good for no one.
I would like to have someone say my name, but the animals I feed do not speak. The deer certainly don’t speak; they just stare, frozen like statues. Deer always run faster than you do, so no sense trying to catch them, even just to talk. Other animals, small ones like groundhogs, otters and foxes, make noises as they fumble in the weeds, smashing their little limbs either trying to run or just looking for good stuff to eat. Animals never say your name, but they do remember you.
Many strays – cats and dogs – have wandered through the Broken Town over the years, looking for scraps. They all end up visiting the one remaining human resident, yours truly. They find me pretty easily, since taking the old cans and trash from food packages is a big chore, which I do only once or twice a month. All the trash gets taken away when it comes time to load up the big pickup truck to go into town to buy more provisions for another spell in the woods. Some strays visit only once. Strange little new faces, with shiny eyes, I see them just that one time. I am good at remembering animal faces, so I know. Others come for a few times in a week, then disappear, only to come back later. Yet other cats and dogs are regulars – regular attenders. All of the animals get names, even the ones I see just once. I have a good memory, so I usually don’t reuse any names. Boxer has a missing ear, Sherlock has a missing eye, Babby is always bouncy. Wooly looked like a walking pillow, big and shaggy. Others I just name after how the day was when I met them: Bluesky, Frosty and Slick. Those guys are town citizens, as much as I am. They have the freedom to do as they please, and I don’t shoo anyone away if I can manage to give them something. I love when they eat out of my hands… they recognise their names, recognise me. It sounds so stupid to say it, and I would only ever admit it to a dumb piece of paper, but seeing them makes me happy. Those dogs are like me, and we know all about each other. Some of them follow me around on the property when I have chores to do, and love to watch when I fiddle with the cars. It’s nice to have a kind pair of eyes on you, not everyone has the benefit.
Frightened animals always approach face-forward, slowly. They see you are a human, and they know: humans hurt, humans beat and humans abandon. Everyone is a stray for a reason. OK, maybe they were littered in the words – but it is more likely they were driven off by their owners, abandoned to the elements. That’s when they drift over to the Broken Town, looking for something to eat.
One special dog that came to me six months ago was a yellow lab, heavy of years and slow of step, still on his guard. He had a scar across his the left side of his mouth, which hung low with age. I gave him what was left inside a can of spam, and he licked it up happily – I was sitting outside the old post office when that happened, and none of the other dogs or cats were around. I guess all of these old buildings are my houses. It was warm then.
He came back the next day – and the day after that – for more food, sometimes with others and sometimes without. I fed him. I didn’t have much, but then I needed someone, even if that someone wasn’t a one at all, but an it. He was so old. I remember the first time he came to me, and laid on my lap, awkwardly. We were friends then. My tired hand ran through his dirty coat, and I named him, “Buddy.”
Buddy and I went everywhere after that, and he even went into town where Charles, the clerk at the Hopewell post office, congratulated me on my new pet. Charles always chats with me, about the weather, or about my health. I know his name because it’s on his nametag, not because I’ve ever asked. I guess he knows mine too, since he and the other mailmen are in charge of my P.O. Box. Other people don’t talk to me much though, not even at the pharmacist where I get my medication, or when I go to the market to buy human food and animal food. People must think me strange. I remember the stares I got when I brought Buddy to the market. Well, I’ve seen odder things in the newspapers I buy, and it was no thing to stare at.
Newsprint helps me feel connected to something, even if I don’t understand half of what they are talking about. The world seems huge and complex outside of my Broken Town and the little red pills I take to stay at peace and in health. I know I am too small to ever make a dent in it if I go out there, too awkward, to slow, and getting older too. Other people, the ones with the friends and the families, can try to take that on, the huge giant. I’ll just stay here; I know that thing ate mommy and daddy.
Buddy could never speak my name, but he stuck to me like glue. The approaching winter was hard on him though, and we do not have much warmth to spare in the Broken Town. Nothing goes there but us, and the other strays who are a constant presence. Huddling underground I tried to keep Buddy warm, but he kept throwing up. When he got weaker I began to carry him outside to go to the bathroom. The light was slowly dimming from his eyes; my Buddy was dying. It was only a few days after I realized this fact that our friendship was at an end. We were both resting deep underground where it was warm, and I had the Kerosene lamp on. Looking over the edge of the newspaper, I saw the flinty glint of Buddy’s black dog eyes as they rested on me. He stared at me a while that way, then he closed his eyes, and was gone from this world forever.
Burying my friend was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Our lives were not like those of the Happy People you see in the store or in newspaper ads. No bright sunny kitchens for morning breakfast were open for us, full of smiles. Just hunger, cold and death. When Buddy left, I started to write this diary. I used to talk to him in the long days, but there is no one but pieces of paper to talk to now.