“Somewhere along the line, I don’t know if something broke. I just stopped feeling like the people around me, these kids in the streets, have any good in them at all.” Morris said, in The Chapel of Rest, before the open casket of his mother’s corpse. “I wake up, I go downstairs. The streets are filled with puke. Used condoms. Broken bottles. Some days it’s all I can do to not just roll over and go back to sleep.”
The funeral director paused at the Chapel doorway, wondering if he could shrink back to his office.
“And then when I do venture down, I feel like such a leper. I walk into the grocery store and they stare at me. It’s like they can smell the stench of... loneliness.”
Emboldening himself, the director walked towards Morris and places a hand on his shoulder.
“Mr. Hacking,” he said, “it’s time we have a talk.”
The director immediately regretted his own breach of protocol, seeing Morris’s venom filled eyes.
Morris stewed in a plush chair in the squeeze of the funeral director’s second floor office. The space hadn’t changed in decades, except for a general paint fade from white to funereal-appropriate beige.
The director, rigid in his chair, also looked much the same as when Morris had first inked paper for mom’s stay. Morris hated the man. The power he wielded over Morris’s life, the snide way he talked, and stared down the end of his nose. Morris wanted to smash his drooping glasses into his face.
“It’s not about the money, Mr. Hacking,” the funeral director said in his most professorial tone.
“I’ll get another goddamn job,” Morris interjected.
He’d only missed two payments for fuck’s sake. It wasn’t as if he couldn’t work if he needed to. The funeral director shook his head dismissively.
“This isn’t a question of financing.”
“Well what the hell is it then?”
“It’s a matter beyond my control, I’m afraid.”
Bullshit. Demetrakas’s had finally just decided they didn’t want to deal with an offspring as steadfast and devoted as Morris was. But Morris wouldn’t just roll over for this pencil dick.
The director stood and moved to look out his tiny window. He couldn’t even be bothered to look his client in the face while he pissed in it.
“Our property has already been sold, Mr. Hacking. This is not personal.”
“Sold? To who? Under what authority?” Morris yelled.
“The new lease we were presented was astronomical, we simply could not meet the numbers.”
“You can’t do this.”
“I don’t have a choice.”
Morris was losing his balance, and couldn’t deny a sudden urge to defecate, which he did right there in the funeral director’s plush chair.
Morris strained for the tenement handrail. He’d climbed these stairs without since he’d learned to walk, and now here it was, a lifeline. He started to cough. A few sharp phlegmy pants of air at first, but then another flight up, his esophagus seized and his breath became shallow. After all the nights of darkness the scuffed green stairs glared back at him. Each cough another razor in his throat. He attempted to shift his arm, but his brain was unable to process any data through his strangled neck. Air didn’t pass, but memory reverberated, “We can’t afford to do business in this neighborhood anymore.” The funeral director had kept his face to the glass.
“Fuck your business,” Morris wheezed between coughs.
His hands were moving again. Reaching for the landing. He pulled himself upwards, shifting his body a stair, then another.
That look in the funeral director’s eyes when he turned his gaze from the bustling avenue to face Morris. He’d seen it before. The night it all happened. In the eyes of men with fancy instruments that didn’t work. Blood on hospital tile. The night they took her away. Before he got her back.
His coughing filled the stairwell.
Patronizing superiority slathered on the hospital staff’s pasty faces. “She’s gone. I’m sorry.”
“Call this number. They’re good. Demetrakas. They can help you make arrangements.”
Wheezing for air between fierce coughs, Morris began to hyperventilate.
“Yes, we’ll take care of everything.”
“You’re bills are overdue.”
“Perhaps it’s time to discuss the possibility of cremation?”
“It’s Wednesday the seventh, I’m sorry. That’s final.”
The blaring emerald green looked familiar, but he wasn’t sure where he was anymore.
“You have no idea what you’re doing.”
His body thudded downward, inflamed with rapid-fire coughs. Tingling spread from his hands to his feet, his lips.
He could smell the black smoke billowing from under the junkie’s doorway. Thick and cloying at his chest, his head throbbing. The carbon dioxide in his blood plummeting. His vessels constricting. His brain crying out for oxygen. Stranded halfway between the fourth and fifth floor, where time crawled backwards.
Dorian climbed the stairs with a bottle of Pierre Ferrand and a bag of Georgia’s East Side BBQ—a little gift he’d splurged on in order to celebrate the completion of his latest piece. A nice fat joint, three quarters of a rack of spice-rubbed ribs, and a glass of cognac at four in the afternoon seemed appropriately decadent to fête a giant leap in his art career revamp.
Leaping the stairs two at a time, he was confused by the obstruction in his path; a shit-stained behemoth collapsed in the stairwell. Dorian pulled his keys in self-defense against the potential booby trap. The Ogre looked a tad worse for ware, doughy, pale and coughing his face off. But for all Dorian knew he was about to leap round and shove him down the stairs. Dorian cautiously approached the body, slowly leaning to get a better look. Spasmodic throat contractions seemed to limit The Ogre’s air intake. His eyeballs rolled wildly in their sockets.
“Jesus. Can you hear me?”
The lump continued to pulsate quick and shallow. Dorian stared for a long moment. He then climbed the obstruction, and headed up the stairs.
Dorian stopped at the door to his apartment, the cognac clinking against his doorframe. Celebration. He closed his eyes. A deep breath. Weed, ribs, booze, good times. Act like a human. How had the insufferable thought ever lodged in his head? Fuck. Sure the work was about others. About not turning away. But perhaps it only needed the pair of paintings he’d already finished. Unless the project was a bellwether. The means of not carrying on as a complete and utter cock for good.
But The Ogre?
He reached into his pocket and pulled his cellphone.
Son of a fucking bitch.
“9-1-1: What’s your emergency?”
Dorian burrowed into the hundreds of plastic bags crammed inside the cupboard below his dish-filled sink.
“How should I know? He’s just laying there,” Dorian spat into the phone. “Yeah hold on, I’m looking.”
He finally found a small brown paper bag. He rushed the door, and down the stairs towards Morris’s body.
Kneeling down, Dorian gingerly put his ear to Morris’s mouth, listening to his fast-paced breaths just as the squeaky middle-aged 911 operator instructed. He placed the paper bag over Morris’s mouth and nose. Then he waited.
“What’s supposed to happen now?” Morris was continuing to gag on his own incessant coughs. Dorian’s barbecued ribs sat congealing on the table upstairs, the fries and grilled okra were sweating beyond soggy repair, while he tried his best to save the guy he most wanted dead on the face of the planet.
“OK. It’s not doing anything.”
Middle-age squeak continued in her relaxed tone.
“Fuck’s sake. Yeah, fine.”
Dorian climbed the body. He awkwardly scooped his arm beneath the Ogre’s sweaty pits. Sliding his body underneath, Dorian forced his neighbor’s gelatinous mass up into a seated position, then pressed the bag onto his face.
The breathing slowed. Then his sluggish hand reached up and slapped the bag away.
“Look pal, you don’t want help, I’m gone. Happily.”
So happy, it hurt. The hulking beast in his arms, the thing of nightmares. The number of coital embraces he’d managed to impede with his slamming broomstick—in most cases seconds before climax. The shine of rotten teeth glaring from his cracked doorway. Who’d so freaked legions of impressionable young ladies, never again would they return to Dorian’s bachelor paddock. For all Dorian could muster, any one of them could have been a stable contender. Perhaps without the Ogre upstairs Dorian would be properly satisfied in life and love. A demon who had somehow intuited the most upsetting day of Dorian’s life to perpetrate his latest nefarious deed—injecting his locks with glue, placing a tiny enveloped rodent at the foot of his front door. And that was only in the last year or so.
A pitched growl squeaked from the Ogre’s lips.
“What’s that?” Dorian asked.
“What fire? What are you talking about?”
“Damaged from the fire.”
Dorian squinted down at him, dubious.
“Mioko’s fire downstairs? Really?”
A wave of fresh coughing followed a deep guttural throat clearing.
“Listen, the paramedics are coming, they’re gonna help you.”
“No hospitals!” Morris choked out.
“Look, whatever. You can take that up with them.”
They sat in silence, the bag over Morris’s mouth. His chest heaving as he worked to fill his diaphragm.
For the first time, Morris could feel the infinite finality of death. The echo chamber of last breath reverberating in perpetuity. How badly he suddenly wanted to look, and not just to look, but to really see another human face. He needed this like nothing else. Leaning back his head, he let Dorian cradle him. He stared into Dorian’s perfect brown irises. It was the first time in his adult life that he had allowed himself to be this close to another person. And what he saw could only be described as beautiful.
“They’re burning my mom.” Morris said quietly.
Dorian was unsure how to deal with sudden emotional intimacy in conjunction with intense physical proximity.
“When she’s gone, I’ll be completely alone.”
Heavy-hearted, Dorian nodded.
Alone he understood.
“Yeah.” Dorian said softly.
They lay there in the stairwell like that for what felt like a very long time, but was really just a fragment.
A team of paramedics filtered in around them. They took over, allowing Dorian to get out from underneath. The paramedics quickly applied oxygen and wrapped a blanket round The Ogre. His decade-plus neighbor. Morris.
They lifted Morris up, placing his body in an EMS chair with four handles for legs, cinching the blanket tightly around him, resting their oxygen tank on his lap.
Dorian watched as three grown men and a woman, strangers to both of them, lifted the chair and carried Morris’s large constrained frame down the stairs and out of the building.
Long after the ambulance pulled away, as night mysteriously grew warmer than day, Dorian sat cross-legged on the tenement stoop, finally getting to enjoy his cognac the way it was meant to be, straight from the bottle, the brown lifesaving-bag pulling double duty.
Something had changed in Dorian. His breath was clear and steady as he looked out at the bustling droves, but he kept absolutely still, like an ancient Bodhisattva balanced in perfect equanimity. For once, he didn’t feel the need to label every passerby. To categorize, fetishize or somehow denigrate each and every being in his field of view, coming up with something amusing, but almost always disparaging—sometimes a hundred times a minute—to pigeonhole a person by a haircut, the cost of a suit, piercing of an eyebrow, swing of a man purse, or the size of an ass.
Instead he experienced them as a frantic mass of bees, dancing in and out of the endless bars and buildings like so many flowers and honeycomb. He felt all of his senses moving outward with each new breath, until he could see, hear, smell, taste and touch in a three hundred and sixty degree field around him.
His body dissolved.
He became all space and time. Infinite.
And then in an instant, as quickly as this awakening had come—it was gone.
SPECIAL THANKS to my wife @zenmommas for years of support during the writing process, @ericvancewalton for his trailblazing, inspired collaboration and incredible guidance, @andrarchy for his mind blowing insight and friendship, @bakerchristopher for being an inspiration as a human artist and bro, @complexring for his brilliance and enthusiasm, Masie Cochran, Taylor Rankin and @elenamoore for their skillful help in editing the manuscript, and to @opheliafu for the fantastic illustrations she created exclusively for the novel's launch on Steemit and to Elena Megalos for her wonderful character illustrations. I’d also like to thank Eddie Boyce, Jamie Proctor, Katie Mustard, Alan Cumming, Danai Gurira, Stephan Nowecki, Ron Simons, Dave Scott, Alden Karr, Missy Chimovitz, my dad Andy Karr and late mother Wendy, and everyone else who helped lead me to this moment.
I am a Brooklyn based writer, film & commercial director, and crypto-enthusiast, my projects include @HardFork-series an upcoming narrative crypto-noir and my novel Dwelling will soon be premiering exclusively on Steemit, and you can check out more of my work at dougkarr.com, piefacepictures.com, and www.imdb.com/name/nm1512347
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