The screen flickers. I can hardly keep my eyes open.
Hiding under a rotted, sunken bridge, a barren monument in a dry, flat, dirt-brown countryside, I can barely keep my eyes open. I see children wading or floating in pools of blood. All of them, murdered. Not a single survivor. I see the beasts growling and kicking up dust, a cloud of dust that accumulates like a darkly-somber light cast upon a fine transparent glass. The screen flickers. I try to close my eyes, but I can’t.
I see bruised women scurry around like lizards trapped in a burning glass cage, men fused against the glass bleeding tears and alcohol through every pore. I wait for the ceremony to begin. I want to see them hold up the fractured remains of their children and toss them away into oblivion. Children fractured but whole, elegantly stitched and wrapped in knotted twigs; their sweet, sweet faces framed by fine twine, their corpses preserved like dead gods; their mortal flesh submerged in the rancid pigments of dried rotted orange rind.
I drop, drop off, sink into soft bedding.
Been running, don’t own a thing, no clothes, no shelter, only stolen rags which cling from the sweat of my most recent stupor. I change clothes when the foulness of my lower body smells more powerful than the stench that foams around my mouth. I am covered with the bare essentials to not attract attention, but I’d rather be naked. I stopped wearing shoes, my callouses have turned inward. My hunger is infinite. A few days back, my fingers dripped with the fat of some unrecognizable animal quivering with insects. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to snare a spider with my tongue and suck all day on its carefully silk-wrapped prey. I avoid shitting because of the odor and emptiness of my bowels and the pain of a constant dry retching. I only wish I had something to throw up, so as to chew permanently on my own spew.
I hide under a rotted, sunken bridge, and I am disgusting. Something truly disgusting travels inside me. It starts in my stomach and pushes against my ribs. It travels to my crotch and causes a kind of unpleasant arousal. I feel it move all over my back, legs, and arms, finally reaching the center of my being and spreading its contaminating force into all of my peripherals, pulling at my extremities. It pushes me hard into the ground. It is heavier than gravity. But I am not ready to be buried.
I have to sit up, depressed.
On our last night together, my wife and I cleaned what used to be my room but soon became our storage room. Cat peed and shit beneath my desk and I kinda let it go because anyway I couldn’t get to my desk for the clutter of piles and misplaced objects. It was easier for the cat. Now the cat stink had escaped into the rest of our apartment. I think the cat died because I smelled death.
“My room shouldn’t be a storage room nor a litter box,” I told her.
“But your room shouldn’t smell up the rest of the apartment either,” she shouted.
So we cleaned, made a small moment of it. But we don’t clean well together, and I quickly lost interest. Something had caught my eye. I stopped to see what it was, but couldn’t find it. Maybe it was my room – my things, me – that caught my eye.
That’s when my wife yells. Whenever I stop. She has a soprano howl. We were no longer cleaning, we were arguing. I told her: Go away, I’ll do the rest. It’s my room and nobody yells at me here. I am no longer a little boy. I a m n o l o n g e r a l i t t l e b o y.
She left. She didn’t want to be cleaning my room on a Saturday night anyway. It’s my room, I repeated to myself. Lonely, but she had crossed a line, crossed it every time she screamed.
A loud screaming. A burst of anger publicly aimed at an already crying boy. Dad unseeable under the hood of his Parka. Temperature below freezing.
He was three years old, and his shivering legs couldn’t stay on the pedals.
He didn’t want to pedal.
Dad pulled the boy off the bike and pushed him into the doorway. The man’s baritone howl echoed off the frozen buildings of the apartment complex and bellowed deep into the hearts of the suddenly transfixed residents.
He crossed a line and his kid cried tears fought back in all of us. But none of us intervened.
The boy’s mother watched as she picked up the bicycle. I hate mothers like that, submissive, passive, and always picking up after their husbands. Erasing the line.
The next day I wondered if my wife loved me like a mother or hated me like a father? They lose patience, the yellers. They cross the line.
I told my wife what I was thinking. That she vacillates between the two, my dad and mom — active, passive, on both sides of the line. Exhausted, she took it as an inescapable compliment.
I told her about the bicycle, and how I always imagined getting into a fight with the hooded man. I insisted the boy’s tears were a mix of resistance and love: he didn’t want the father to see the loser that he really was. To reveal his own hurt behind the abuse. That would be even more unbearable for the boy, to see his father weak.
I told her about the boy’s scar, the long line across his back.
That day I said goodbye to my wife and child. I thought it had been goodbye forever. But I had seen too many children tortured and dragged until they were no longer children, their pieces everywhere, mixed into the ether, all of them, one by one, cut, each child, a terror still fixed in me, fixed as a frozen expression of everything lost, but as something found as well — like an imperative, an urgency to protect my own child.
I still hear that loud screaming, my father’s growl rippling through the phosphoric dust. A sort of screen burn, a father’s snarl. Dad unseeable under the hood of his Parka. Boy doesn’t want to pedal. His small shivering legs … Dad holding the boy up, throwing him … Dad crossing a line …
The screen flickering …
I fall back, exhausted. I wait for some sweetness to stir in me. I continue watching those drunk men and bruised women dance heroically in the face of tragedy. Their children are gone, indeed; but theirs is the kind of grieving that reawakens their passion.
I finally turn the television off (it was that easy) and disconnect it entirely from the wall and throw it out the window. I remove all antennas, electricity, wires. Everything electronic of our modern era has been crushed and removed from my premises. There is nothing left, not one link to the outside. Windows are shut, curtains drawn, doors locked, walls made bare. And yet the feed of images remains. I have to get out of here and return home.