Now that you had not seen this coming Sarah, it’s safer to assume, you are caught off-guard. Perfect. It’s time to put your training to use, and the training remember Sarah, as you have been told by Mr. Kyle repeatedly, is merely about strength, or agility, or tricks, it’s more about the awareness of your mind. So focus.
A man has broken into your house. You have heard the shattering of the window glass. It could be a wild animal too, but what if it is a man? An animal does not know you are home alone, a man does.
He knows you are alone and mom has said she will be late, so of course dad has a big enough window to go out and gamble. You be the secret keeper and don’t tell anyone, not even your brother Eddie when he comes back tomorrow, dad has told you and that’s fine. Let dad gamble. He is not an addict. Plus he is good at it. He is fine. You are fine. Everything is fine.
So come on now, do the thing where, facing downstairs, hands on railing, you hop down the stairs, one at a time, when mom’s not watching, and it’s okay if it’s getting a lot harder now compared to how it felt a few years ago, because someone’s feet are getting longer every day.
At fifteen, Sarah, you grow faster than ever. And people notice that sort of thing; “Hey! You are developing breasts!”
You can hear the loud perverted murmurs from afar in their debauched heads daily on your way to school and back, just like you can hear this Mr. creepy shadowy trespasser rubbing his back and his shoulder on the wall behind the rack. The crumble of the rug is loud too and he thinks he is invisible in the darkness, but little does he know that when you stay in darkness for too long, you begin to see things.
Is he armed? You don’t know that. Take a peak, like you don’t see him, but walk away like you have an idea.
Did you see him, girl?
He is hiding well. Good job, Mr. Shit-faced Cock-Sucking Intruder!
Keep your cool, because what if he is losing his? That’s an advantage right there.
Thanks Mr. Kyle!
Switch on the backdoor light.
The pool never looked better and wait … is that a full moon? How romantic! You wish Dino was here; his hand on your waist, your head on his shoulder, four pair of knees in blue water and then on a happy whim, you both would throw your bodies in the pool, unbutton and kiss, but uh huh, wrong timing, this … focus focus!
Unhinge and fold the door open, some fresh air never harmed anyone and plus the man gets trapped behind the pile of clothes and Eddie’s skateboard and your make up kits and mom’s scotch bottles and dad’s trucker hats and motorcycling gloves and your junk from high school; a herbarium, signed clothes, whistles, gym shoes, Gatorade bottles, white sneakers and umm … what else is there? Stretch belts and sun hats.
Damn! Fuck! Fuck!
The door is jammed. Try harder. One more time?
Did it move? Nah!
Tell dad to get it greased tomorrow, meanwhile try harder, use your core strength. Mr. Kyle? Mr. Kyle? Some fucking help here? Tell me what to do?
Yoinks! Too late.
His shadow slid in to the kitchen. You saw right? Was it his shadow? Or was it a rat? Let’s go with the shadow for now.
Grab the apple cutter from the dining table and hide it well in your pocket. Don’t expose it, don’t twirl it and don’t be too fancy with it, for criminals Sarah, are smarter than you think they are. If they were not smart, they would be called Eddie and we have established, Eddie is a fool. He thinks, “air-mile” is not a real thing. How can you measure miles in the air? Huh? Whatever then Eddie, fail your sophomore, you thick-skull.
Plus who are you, Sarah? Agent Salt?
You make a stupid move, you get knifed in the heart, Mr. Kyle said that, Remember? Now, was it Mr. Kyle? Or was this in a movie? Doesn’t matter. Let’s call it a pro-tip and leave it at that.
Here’s what you are going to do now: First things first, zip your spitless mouth so he doesn’t know where you are in the hall or gargle with acid. You can spew that on his face while burning your own tongue. Eww … I think you should zip your lips. Make no sound. That’s better and no don’t let your gums get molded in the shape of a mangled carcass, you discombobulated dear.
And although knife is just more of a plan B, grip it harder.
Also, are you going to stab him with the handle? Lower the knife, with its blade facing down. Common sense. Idiot!
Now breathe. Not a loud sigh. Gently. Good. One more time, please? It keeps your cool.
And stop with all the delirious imagery, stupid.
What’s with you imagining this boogie man, bending you in two like a pale garment bag and pulling your hair and thrusting bluntly, as the training of Mr. Kyle go down the gutter along with your self-respect and dignity and the permanent scars wrap your babyish face into an insignia of quasi whoreness? God, stop it!
Because none of that is happening tonight. Maybe when you are older and limbless and the guy has a perverted soft corner for you and an obvious certain advantage over you, then, but not tonight. Understand?
Given a baffling last choice, stab your own self. That would add certain nobility to your death. Who the fuck has the balls to samurai herself in the chest? No one! Not even Mr. Kyle, even with all the muscles and bravery accolades.
The shadow is moving in the kitchen, or it could still be a rat. Who the fuck knows? Stay far away. Safety first.
Oh! Here is an idea, throw the expensive oil lamp towards the kitchen.Feeling of guilty? What’s that? Dad can buy things. If not with his salary, then with his gambling money. So don’t brood.
Now, walk quietly towards the door and shut it with a jerk and trap the jerk inside. Good job!
Grab Eddie’s secret cigarette lighter from the cabinet and throw the burning lighter towards the kitchen door.
That’s a lot of flame and a lot of chaos. You did not know fire could make noise? Did you?
Grab your phone, grab your wallet, grab your collection of vogue and run out of the house. Now call up fire department, call up the cops, call up dad, tell him to rush down here; there is a burning man in his kitchen, so his chips on the board can wait. Call up Eddie. Or Don’t? Call up Dino? Would he be asleep?
Mom? Call up mom too, see how her alcoholic face and exhausted body, with blouse on backward, and hair untied like a trainwreck reacts to her house on fire.
Meanwhile try listening to this cock-sucking motherfucking silly-cyphering shit-turd dick-in-the-ear butt-creamery’s screams and make Mr. Kyle. proud Sarah. Did you hear anything? No? Was that a possum?
And then he made sounds one makes, when one is trying really hard to make sounds but he cannot. His mouth felt gagged. He also tried to drag himself up, using one of his elbows as an abutment of some sort, but he felt armless, as in, he had arms but they somehow felt anesthetized. And although he knew they felt anesthetized, he yet, in his mind, could wave them in the air, clasp his fingers into a fist with his thumb on top, or clap vigorously, but in actuality, none of that accomplished anything.
No, no, no, not again, he moaned in his mouth, but his mouth had this futile existence, which if he could recall then, may have seemed like possibly the worst forlorn feeling, out of all the other times he was caught in a web of helplessness.
On his right, from the tinted window, the faint yellow morning light through the drapes, had made its way to his forehead and to the corners of his bed. His bed, on which he lay on the edge, with what felt like a paralysed arm dangling lifelessly and touching the ground and deadening his body, was not creaking anymore. It always otherwise did. Whenever he tossed on it, or breathed heavily on it, or curled himself to plug his phone’s charger.
Had it been a normal morning, he would have woken up, walked over to the window, pulled the blinds and the curtains, perhaps snoozed his alarm for ten more minutes and tucked himself back inside his leopard print blanket. But his blanket this morning had fallen between the chasm that his bed and the adjacent wall formed and somewhere from down there, the ever so aggravating periodic beeps were now reaching to his deaf ears.
The ears weren’t really deaf, just like the mouth wasn’t really mute, but hearing an alarming sound makes one act, and that sort of a thing was missing today. What else was missing, was the sense of being in control of the situation and the sense of having a physical body. However, his mind felt in his control and thankfully so, because he knew where he was, and although his eyes seemed to have blinded him, he could see everything in the room in black and white and grey.
And despite an already eerie aura that he had found himself in, soon it occurred to him, that all of this could be stupefying, if he let it go and instead blended with the air. And so he did, he floated, right above where he lay on the bed with drooping forelimbs and an open mouth.
But before he could comfortably accustom himself to this breezy feeling and drift away into the nothingness, a voice from the other side of the bed, of his girlfriend, or wife, or his lover, or someone from his distant dream said, “Babe, what’s wrong? Babe, babe, what’s wrong? Are you listening to me, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”
In response, he said or he thought he said, “Nothing, I am fine”, but what she heard was, “Grrmm … nthngrrm … grrmm …” followed by heavy sighs and unbearable snarls.
And he heard her panic, “Shit, shit, shit … oh my god … shit.” And her floral colorful nightgown appeared black and white to him, her hair on his face, unlike so many other times, did not tickle him, neither did her fragrance stir any emotions.
It was when the salty water drops in the form of sweat or tears or both, from her chin rolled onto his lips and drenched them, his eyes opened wide into the world of colors and his limbs feebly looked for the blanket and the phone inside it.
He planted a kiss on her sleeping cheeks, unhinged the door and stood at the balcony with a cigarette in his hand, staring into the thin yellow lines of the early sunrise at the horizon.
One more person had died that day. And a lot of people were dying that month. It was a depressing time in general; the economy was going down, government’s policies were fucked up and the working class was overworked. When I inquired further, the gatekeeper said, “He was young”.
“How young?” “Late twenties. Maybe twenty-eight or twenty-nine. Doesn’t matter now. Does it? He is dead. He will always be dead.” “But wait … ” I said, “that’s just … and … so … we don’t know how he died?” “We do, we do. And listen to this, it was a suicide. How often do you hear about such a thing?” “Not that often and that’s horrific.” “Indeed! He was a business consultant, quite like yourself. And they found a ligature and a stool in his apartment next to his hanging corpse. I think he was a failure. Classic suicide story. Right?” “Man! How the fuck do you know all this?” “Well, sometimes they have to give out the details of the deceased to the authorities here before they are allowed to bury the body. Like, they need to fill up a yellow form, a death certificate, if you will. And sometimes I overhear things in the assemblage, from the family members or the friends … whoever stands closer to me. I overheard about this one. I think it was his brother who was talking to a relative. Lighter?” “Huh?” “Cigarette lighter. You have one?” “Ah. Of course.”
Then I came back to my workstation. I pulled the curtain sideways. I had a very morbid view of the cemetery on my left. And on my right, people had buried themselves voluntarily. Their faces were too close to their computers and desk files.
I looked at Shreya, 27 and thought, well, she looks like she will never die. She loves her life; always laughs loudly, in fact, laughs at the wrong jokes or before the punchline and puts no amount of effort in her conversational skills. These are hard things to overlook for a normal person. To be frank, she is dumb. Dumb people have it easy. They live a very long stress-free life. In fact, if stress has an arch nemesis, then it’s dumbness.
There was Shiva too, quite younger than all of us, 25 I think. He will die early. He works hard, comes early, leaves late and never smiles. If you told him a joke, his responses were at best, a nod. Like he understood the joke, but he had better things to do. His life span would be very less, say, 45 years. Five years give or take.
Then there was everyone: Abhilash, 30, right next to my cubicle, already had two kids and a perpetual tensed forehead. The longer he lives, the more miserable he will be.
Neeti, 33, pregnant for the first time now, but what a hateful bitch! Hateful people shouldn’t be allowed to give birth and pass on their genes. (If Hitler had ten kids, I bet one of them would have turned out to be just like him.) She should die sooner than everyone else, I thought. It was not even a fair judgment of her age-stress balance. I just hated her.
Three hours later, one more dead body had arrived to the cemetery and I was out for another smoke with the gatekeeper.
“Lighter?” “Yeah! And what happened to this one?” “He was your age, they are saying … 35… but the cause of death is depression? How’s that possible?” “It’s possible. And 35 is slightly older than me, but that’s still very young. Don’t you think?” “Depends.” “On what?” “If you think 35 is young, then it is.” “Come on!” “It’s true. Hear me out, people drop dead all the time. Have you not noticed it? Some are dead while they are alive … you know what I mean? They give up, lose passion and purpose.” “That’s true.” “Not everyone has a job and health like you. You know? You could be 50 and full of life. Or you could be 27, and be miserable for three years and give up by the time you are 30. It depends on who you are. My job as a gatekeeper sucks. But I have a great family. So one balances the other.” “True.”
I was back to my workstation again. It was late but not entirely unusual for any of us at the office. People typed incessantly on their laptops and overanalyzed charts and numbers.
They should have been home by now, I thought, I should have been home by now. Should have been on a treadmill or in a park, jogging, or surrounded with the loved ones. But yet, there I was, with the cry of printers and conference call auto-tones, and the mildly exhilarating smell of colorful markers.
My coffee had turned cold and my laptop’s lid was fragile and shaky. At an angle, I could see my own dark reflection, shake in it. The whole background shook with me; the co-workers, the floor and the objects. There must have been at least a dozen files open on the screen, mounting my face; excel sheets, powerpoint slides and a series of intranet tabs, you know, those sort of dead things; they had also buried my face into a fix of non-existence.
Started writing diary today. My first post. Never been into diaries before, don’t know if I should start with a, “Dear diary”. Because what’s the point? Diary doesn’t listen. Diary is dead. All the things I talk to, are dead, except for things that aren’t dead, in which case, they are annoying and I don’t like them.
Ellen said yesterday, I must write diaries. Diaries are great ways to remember things. You keep a diary today, it will keep you someday, she said. I don’t know what she meant. But she is smart, so I am sure she meant something nice. Anyway. Got to go. This is all I have to write today.
18th Sept 2001.
Drove car today. Dad said, go slow. I said, I am going slow. He said, then go slower than that, you idiot!
I said, I am not an idiot. Dad said, you are an idiot, and did this thing, where he tapped the back of my head with his knuckles. I pressed the break.
And you wonder, why no one likes you? He said, because you’re an idiot. No one likes idiots.
Dad was angry. I let him be. I don’t like angry people or my dad or my dad when he is angry. I drove slower. He said go slower than that. I went slower than that. He still yelled. I hate my dad.
23rd Oct 2002.
Saw a puppy on the streets. It was raining. Puppy was in the corner. Shivering. Picked him up. Brought him home.
What the hell do you think you’re doing? Dad yelled.
Rescuing a puppy, I said.
From what? He scolded. It’s an animal. It knows how to rescue itself. God knows, where you got it from you fool, he shouted again, do you have any idea what all that thing is carrying on him; germs, worms, fucking bacteria, virus … you stupid fuck. Jesus, you’re nothing like your mom and your sister. And your mom and your sister are stupid as fuck.
I like him, I said. Can I have him? I asked. No fucking way, he said.
Please Marshall, mom said, let him have it.
Fine Stacy, get a fucking pig and a few bears too while you are at it, dad said.
He got angry. Stormed off. Drove away. Heard him pullover at the driveway. Bumped in to mailbox. Dragged the mailbox with him.
Puppy licked my palm. Got him in my room. Put him in a basket. Fed him milk. He licked my palm again.
24th Jan 2003.
Raining outside, but nice weather. Have named the puppy, Jim. Clicked a picture of him, printed it out and pinned it next to Jim Morrison’s poster. Jim and Jim Morrison. They look good. It’s weird, but I like them both. One speaks to me, the other one speaks to me too.
25th June 2003.
Jim is growing faster than I thought he would. His tail is always wagging. He is abnormal. How can someone be so happy all the time around me? He’s got to be abnormal.
Dad having problems with coworkers. Mom said, he could get fired. And if he gets fired, she said, we will have to move to the country side. Give up on this house. Sell the car and the computer and a few furniture.
Told this to Jim, he licked my palm and wagged his tail. He doesn’t know, it’s bad news. Maybe he doesn’t know it’s news at all.
4th Sept 2003
Ellen was crying. Asked her what’s wrong? She hugged me and sobbed.
What’s wrong? I asked. She cried more. Don’t tell dad, she said. He will kill me. I don’t want to die.
What’s wrong? I asked again.
Failed my exams the second time in a row, she said.
Oh, I said. Yes dad will kill you, I said, he won’t consider if you are good at other things. He doesn’t like failures.
I don’t want to die, she said.
I hugged her. She hugged me back tight. Jim hugged her too.
She cried more.
6th Sept 2003
Around forty people came to Ellen’s funeral. Classmates, teachers, friends from her swimming class, her hockey teammates. She was popular. Erik, her bf, gave a nice speech, said, she was the best person he ever knew existed. Cried too, I think. His voice had cracked towards the end. I felt bad for him.
Dad said mean things like, if she wouldn’t have overdosed on pills, I would have put a bullet through her head myself. I don’t like failures. And I wouldn’t tolerate failures. She has not just failed herself. She has failed me too. And I am glad she is dead.
4th Aug 2005
I am tired, due to people, due to dad.
Mom’s not keeping well. Dad is still well, but always angry. He slapped me the other day, and said, if I don’t get a job and move out by the end of the year, he will kick me out. I don’t want to get a job. I barely know what jobs are.
I can’t flip burgers, or clean toilets. I can fix a computer, but I don’t think they give that kind of jobs to teenagers. I have never applied for one, but if I did, I won’t get it. I don’t know. If he kicks me out, someone will have to rescue me from the streets, like I rescued Jim. Except I won’t be able to lick anyone’s palm, and I don’t have a tail, which is unfortunate. I like tails. It would be cool to have one.
4th July 2006
Tasted alcohol today. Was forced to, Sam, my friend at school, got it. Said have it. It will ease you up.
What is it? I asked him.
Just bourbon, he said.
Just bourbon? I said.
See, he flipped the bottle and showed me the sticker.
It said, Jim Beam. I knew it was alcohol. Whiskey. But it was named Jim, so I trusted it. I liked the taste too. Smooth. He gave me the bottle. Carried it home. Put it in the cupboard. Hid it from dad. Told Jim not to tell anyone about Jim. Jim wagged his tail. Licked my palms.
I am tired. Due to alcohol. Due to people. Due to dad.
Dad is an asshole. Finally, I said it. I am no longer scared of him. If I saw him right now, I will knock the fuck out of him. That asshole. He never knew how to treat people as people. Doesn’t know what love means. And his breath stinks too, if he is too close to you.
I am addicted to alcohol. Been having a lot lately. At this rate, will have swollen liver symptoms by next year. Will have died by next year.
Going to sleep. Not that late, but, because sleepy, because tired, because drunk.
Dad kicked me out, said go get a job. Gave some money. I rented a room. This room basic, furniture basic. Doesn’t have a TV. Water comes twice a day. I sleep through the first time. The second time, if not drunk, I take shower.
It’s next to a garage. I smell wet paint. I like it. The sink is broken. Clogged by hairs of the previous tenant.
Feel bad for Jim. Can’t get him good food. He doesn’t have a bed of his own. We both sleep on the same bed. But he doesn’t complain. He is nice.
2nd Jan 2007
Received a letter. Mom met with an accident. Dad did not take much care. She died. Was on bed for twenty days. Doctor said, she could have survived, given dad cared. But dad being dad, did not care. Twenty people came to the funeral; mostly her relatives and uncles and aunts, I have never met.
I wasn’t invited and thank god, because, dad must’ve said something mean again. He never loved her and if he did, he never said he loved her. He never loved anyone. Hope he gets fired and dies soon too.
4th Aug 2007
Can’t feel arms. Arms numb. Got up last night with sweat. Been drinking a lot every day. Tried quitting whiskey, had withdrawal symptoms. Got back to whiskey. Eight pegs down as I write this, pen is shaking, due to alcohol in blood. Due to too much alcohol in blood.
8th Aug 2007
Nose bled a lot. White pillow was red when I got up, this morning. This is not good. Jim looks worried too. Doesn’t wag his tail much. Must be scared.
Must get up and call for help. Must get out and get food. For myself, for Jim. Must take shower, must clean up myself and Jim. Can’t get up. Due to blood loss. Due to tired.
12th Aug 2007
Took painkillers. A few more than I should have. Hands numb again. Can’t see things properly. Blurry. Feet bleeding. Had stepped on broken glass last night. Was drunk. Is still drunk. Plus took a lot of other pills too. Did not call an ambulance. Did not call dad. No point.
Plus, he will not help, plus I don’t want him to help.
Plus, I don’t want him to come for the funeral, if I have one. Looked at Jim. Jim looked at me. Did not wag his tail, just licked my palm.