My buzz is starting to go. I have one more cold beer in the fridge but I’ll let it chill. I've got two good poems in the books tonight (now three?) so I’ll retire while I’m ahead. I have to work tomorrow anyways. For five and a half hours I’ll make thirty-five dollars. That’s what I’m going to sleep for. That’s what I’m committing myself to tomorrow. Maybe I should commit something else.
I sit here alone, in the middle of the night, in a cold house,
under a quiet light, in a small chair, resting my sore feet on a distant table,
thinking about my first day on the shit job, and I can't believe this morning,
less than sixteen hours ago, I was crying.
I just woke from 13 hours of exhaustive sleep and now I’m huddled over the bathroom sink, shoving a toothbrush in and out of the putrid hole in my face.
“He has risen!” my sister mocks. She posts up inside the doorframe. She points, “Do you know what that is inside the rim of the toilet bowl?” I swivel my head. It’s speckled with shit stains. “It makes me gag when I try to clean it. Would you like to?” I swivel my head back into the sink and continue brushing my teeth. I pause for effect,
“Iwouldlike to clean it!” My sister laughs. I am funny to her.
“I will give you five bucks if you clean it.” I don’t pause this time.
I am a goddamn custodian.
I didn’t pause because of my secret. A secret only yet known by me and apparently my subconscious: I am saving up so I can get out of here.
“And when Grandpa gets here this week he’s going to piss all over the seat and the floor.”
“I’m going to be rich!” My sister laughs. I am funny to her.
The difference I suppose, between people like Asimov, Bukowski, Camus, DeLillo, Ellison, Faulkner, Goethe, Hemingway, Ionesco, Joyce, Kafka, Lawrence, Melville, Nabokov, Orwell, Pynchon, Roth, Shakespeare, Twain, Updike, Vonnegut, Wallace, Malcolm X, Yates, Zola, and people like us is that they have something to say, while we just wonder, "Who is Q?"
There is no such thing as an artist: there is only the world, lit or unlit as the light allows. When the candle is burning, who looks at the wick? When the candle is out, who needs it? But the world without light is wasteland and chaos, and a life without sacrifice is abomination.
-Annie Dillard, Holy The Firm
When there's nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire.
At 2:00am I had to go to the bathroom so I got out of bed. The bathroom light was already on and standing inside was my brother, casting a dreary brown gaze into the mirror, razorblade in hand, slicing off chunks of long bristly hairs from under his chin. Earlier in the night, during dinner, Mom and Dad had appraised his unkempt look.
“You’re not helping your chances.” Dad said.
“Why do you keep it?” Mom asked. My brother hadn’t shaved since he moved back in. Striding past him across the hall and down the stairs I could hear the fragile knocking of rain atop the roof and against the windows. Before I stepped into the downstairs bathroom I flicked on the floodlight out back to take a look. It must have been coming down for a while because I could see two small puddles that had pooled themselves in a little depression on the far side of our yard. In their reflections I caught glimpses of the woods that lay past our home. The leaves were gone now. It was getting cold. All there was to see were barren brown branches and ashen tree trunks. Those puddles looked so trapped and dreary all wadded-down in that little depression.
“Don’t worry little puddles, It’s not gunna rain forever. Things’ll dry up.” After I finished in the bathroom I walked back up the stairs and past my brother again. This time he had his beard trimmed down and there was shaving cream over his face and around his lips and he was making short choppy strokes at his cheeks with a disposable razor. I stopped in the doorway for only a moment. I wasn't used to him again. His petrified self-stare: a pillar of salt.
By morning the rain had stopped and as my parents and I were leaving for work we could hear my brother in his bedroom getting ready for his interview.
“Did you shave?” Dad asked.
“Yeah.” My parents smiled at each other.
“Good luck!” Mom wished as she stepped out with Dad. I reached for my keys from the counter and my brother came out of his room. He had cuff-linked his wrists, had a tie wrapped around his neck, and was sporting a terribly fuzzy mustache that crawled over his lip. I gave him a smirk as I grabbed my keys and he lilted his eyebrows at me like he used to do when we were younger, before he moved away. He almost looked happy. I walked out to my car and as I pulled away I wondered if those sad little puddles had any chance to escape, before they froze.