TOE Short Story :: dark is the night

christopher sly

by Chris Huang

photo by christopher sly

Image by christopher sly

clutching my head between my knees, i braced myself as my stomach violently contracted once more, ejecting what was left of my dinner, soaked in a sour acidic liquid. it burned my throat on the way out and emitted a stale, citrusy odor as it splattered onto the street. the aftermath looked bizarrely familiar, like something i’ve seen before in a museum. jackson pollock was it? something like that. it was amazing how much came out of my stomach. the longer i stared, the more that the chunky brown soup seemed alive; squirming, pulsing like the blob. god, i’m wasted, i exclaimed as if someone needed to know the obvious. that was another one of my annoying habits–stating the obvious. i’ve only recently noticed it as bothering others, and feeling a bit ashamed, have thus tried my best to correct it, although it’s a little difficult and greatly amplified under heavy influence. as i dizzily stood back up and hastily wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, looking quickly to see if anyone was around, i was reminded that i had a huge burrito for dinner. la pasadita, my favorite burrito place, although returning for the first time in awhile, i had found out they had jacked up their prices. the burrito was a little sub-par–the extra fifteen cents seemed to go towards more salt. there were still chunks of that once salty now putrid beef in my mouth. disgusted, i unsuccessfully tried to rid myself of it by compulsively spitting into the grass next to the sidewalk, all the while stumbling, searching for the way home.

i squinted at the street sign once i got to the next intersection. the streets were empty and the apartments behind the tree-lined walk were black and silent, as they well should be, considering what time it was. thomas. where the fuck was thomas? that street name didn’t sound familiar. after fumbling around what was left of the rationality in my mind, i gave up on the half-assed attempt to reorient myself and decided to just keep going down the street. i wish there were other people here to take care of the directions. but there were other people. i had gone out with other people. where were they right now? why had i left them? yes, i remembered now–because i felt sick. i thought about going back, but at this point, it was probably impossible to find the way back to the bar.

as i closed in on another cross street, the early summer sound of crickets began to be drowned out by the sound of cars passing and motorcycles rumbling. another thing i hated about this neighborhood in the summer–yuppies and hipsters posing as bikers. so many fucking posers, and i loved hating on it. i loved that feeling of condescension, of a faux superiority. after the realization of the importance of appearances in life, which came during my 8 month period of unemployment after graduation, i began to notice it in all aspects of everyday routine. i noticed how people used it to their advantage, whether it be with jobs, with women, with friends. i noticed how people got away with being fake, choosing the pretense of being something other than genuine, and i saw their undeserved rewards. unworthy of anything they ever received, yet did anybody ever care? besides those bitter, lonely ones, the ones who lose out in that game, who with a foolish idealism stick to who they are? not that i was one of them. i was guilty as well, and i detested myself for it whenever it happened in those particular times when i felt vulnerable, when i felt the pathetic need for acceptance and the fatal flaws in my introverted personality surfaced. a fucking hypocrit. yes, i hated myself for it, but at least i realized the sad truth of the matter. and i knew it was a rotten thing to do; i condoned it, which was more than what i could say about the rest of those out there who didn’t give it a thought at all. so why didn’t i move if i was so thoroughly disgusted with this place? i guess you could say it’s the place i hated least. the place i could stand the most, without puking all over the place, when sober. at least here, there were a few who were genuine. some who didn’t care about wearing the latest fashion names. who didn’t care to talk about things that made you sound like the new cool thing. some who didn’t care what pretense they gave out. and as much as i cringed at the thought of the tortured hipster come artist aficionado that i passed by many times, i did prefer those ‘counterculture’, often pretentious alternabrats to the cookie-cutter frat-boy preppyjock abercrombie and fitch neo-aryan racist ignorant elitist who lived their blind capitalist enslaved consumerist ruled lives in the rest of the livable parts of the city. i could feel myself build up to one of my patented cynical rages, where i end up shutting myself in my room, in an attempt to lock myself away from the shitty world, where i end up writing dull, pessimistic pieces of crap, and whine all day to myself because i know that no one wants to hear it. at these times, i have the faintest suspicion that i will be alone for the rest of my godawful life. but i’m getting ahead of myself. i still needed to get home. i could feel myself becoming more inclined to belligerence, just when more people began passing by.

the first was an affectionate looking couple, the perfect looking couple actually. almost floating down the street, towards me, lost in their intimate, almost telepathic exchanges. the girl was svelt, tall, and very pretty. her long, dark curly hair bounced as she strolled down the walk. her peach summer dress blurred in the darkness, aided by my slowed vision, and haloed her man. holding her tightly, one hand around the waist, the other grasping a delicate hand, the man was also as perfect as one can ask for. dashing, well-dressed, confident, and seemingly well-off. perfect, of course, according to the requirements of our mainstream society. my mind under influence took off from there. i could only guess that they worked in some posh 9 to 5 type job, made lots of money and were happy with their corporate life. they probably had perfect lives, the lives that typify the american dream. they probably lived in their own world, mindless of what happened outside of it. they’ll probably marry soon, have kids, and work for the rest of their lives, but not minding, because that is what they wanted, and they were never given any reason to think otherwise or never questioned anything because nothing they ever encountered seemed extraordinary. as they approached, they began to drift away from me, walking farther towards the edge of the sidewalk. their exchange stopped abruptly and they tried to hide the fact that they’re eyeing me, their eyes showing disapproval and a bit of fear. i was taken aback. did i really look that sketchy? i looked at them quickly, but the world spun as i lifted my head up, and i found myself drifting towards them despite their subtle efforts at staying away. i tried not to show that i was aware of their fear. strangely, i was ashamed of myself, for their silent reproach. i was also apprehensive about their fear. why were they scared of me? what was wrong with me? i felt myself being dragged down the path to my own fears. their judgement destroyed what little was left of my confidence. i felt worthless. those piercing, damning looks destroyed my character, my ideals, my beliefs. what made me different from him? what made his life so special? how did he get to where he’s at? was he blessed? consequently, was i damned? how do i become like him? as much as i condescended their blissful ignorance, at the same time, i had to reluctantly admit that i admired and envied them–to live how they lived, without any of the tortuous consciousness of the miseries of life. and once again, i hated myself for being weak, for wanting something that was not me. as they passed me by, i heard hushed murmers. i couldn’t make out what they said, but it seemed to have a negative tone, and i believed it was meant for me. or maybe it might have been my drunken imagination running rampant on anxiety. but as i tried to dismiss those thoughts, a shadow of loneliness crawled over my heart. i continued down the street, listening as their steps seemed to slow down the farther they were, eventually disappearing into the night.

turning at a busy intersection, thinking i had enough space, i walked right into a car, at the stoplight, an old chevy. it honked at me, angrily. i stared at the car, looking for the driver, but couldn’t see anyone in the darkness and the tint of the window. i debated whether to shout at it, or maybe gesture obscenely. but it screeched away before i had made up my mind. was that my fault? i attempted to dissect the event in my head, to determine what happened and whose fault it was, but each step forward ended up undoing the two previous steps. i felt like i was running across a bridge that was collapsing behind me. before i could ponder any further, i noticed a drunk looking young man walking down the street, towards me. someone who didn’t look like he belonged in this neighborhood. the hair above his red swollen face was spiked, radiating a restless energy that seemed ready to explode. the tattered cubs shirt stretched tightly across his chest was stained in alcohol, or perhaps sweat. his eyes were frosted over, yet confronting everything ahead, including me. he looked lost and bewildered. instinctively, i slipped my hands into my pockets. it was my turn to shrink to the edges of the walk. my turn to dip my head and pretend to mind my own business. it was almost enough to sober me up. as he came closer, i could smell the warm stench of beer emanating from his body, which absorbed my own alcohol and smoke drenched odor and made me even sicker. in my mind, i imagined him saying something derogatory, perhaps something condescending. maybe it will be something that will bring me to the boiling point. something that will push me over the edge and get me to say something back, something that will release me. i felt a bit deranged to hope for something like that, but it was hard to deny it. the rage was force fed by the alcohol. oh i wanted so much to shout in his face what a lame tool he was. i wanted to fight him. to push him, even though i knew full well that i would be the one to be punished, i would be the one that would be bludgeoned by his huge arms. but i wanted it. i wanted to manifest every thought and annoyance i had towards him and his kind, to pound away or at least have it pounded out of me. the freedom to let go of my angst. but it never happened. i still could not bring myself to do it, my superego still overpowering all emotions. i looked at him from the corner of my eyes, as he walked past quickly. he didn’t even look at me. i heard a muffled sound behind me a few moments after he passed. turning to look, i saw that in his wavering, stomping strut, he had bumped into a bum, standing in the street behind me sullenly holding a cup and almost knocked him over. i kept walking forward, cringing, ready to hear some loud, slobbering obscenities. but instead, a polite, toned ‘sorry, excuse me’ wafted onto my ears and quite surprised me. i turned back around a bit, thinking that there was some mistake, or maybe i had hallucinated, but soon he and his stench dissipated.

some time passed, and i continued to walk on. what was i doing so far from home? i could feel my consciousness slowly draining away. i was tired. what did i do before i left the bar? i tried to recycle through the events of the night. trying to remember. i was having a good time, talking with my friends. what happened after that? i couldn’t see through the dark gaps in my memory. how did i get to where i am right now? i remembered the lovely looking couple, seemingly untouched from the worries of this world. the jock who i so casually, shamefully wrote off. what happened in between? was i just walking? looking around, the scenery seemed a bit familiar. to the left was the huge abandoned lot for the grocery store, dark, except for the small dimly lit pockets of light left by the lamps, trash strewn throughout. every once in awhile a car would drunkenly weave down the street, stirring the bits and pieces of litter lying about. the sidewalk was illuminated by a few sulfur colored streetlamps, covering me in a garish glow. a few neon signs whose owners probably forgot to turn off added strong, unnaturally bright colors. it made me a bit queasy, and i could feel my stomach churn once more. the streets seemed empty, and i shuddered a little. without the distractions of the outside world, i looked inward. emptiness and loneliness. i wanted to go home. i was near though, and i could feel it. turning the corner, i could feel the temporary security of my apartment. the final stretch was inviting. a little ways down the street, i saw someone walking towards me, a woman. her head was pointed downward, and she was walking briskly, obviously wanting to avoid trouble. seemed like she wanted to go home too. even though she didn’t look up, i could sense something about her. in the way she walked–that briskness emanated everything i needed to know about her. she unfolded her arms as she approached, putting them in her pockets. i noticed she wore a university of chicago shirt. my school. that typical hopeful feeling of fate pushed my heart up, briefly. up above the water, so that it finally got that breath of air, free from suffocation. but that could only last so long before going back under. the hope was met by a sour realism. why would someone like this ever want to be with me anyways. so perfect, she seemed. she was probably smart. she was pretty. the gentle steps revealed perhaps a kind heart. the shyness evoked a grace that i so badly desired. i wanted to say hello; i wanted to be saved, but my consciousness held me back. reality held me back. she would probably give me the suspicious eye. she would be able to see through my casual exterior into the depths of my depravity. my curse. she would probably walk quickly away. leaving me to my empty void. giving into the hopelessness, i sighed. resigned, i pushed all those thoughts out and accepted my despair. and trudged on. she passed me, without an utterance. however, before she left for good, disappeared into the night with all that i had previously encountered, i caught something, out of the extreme corners of my eye. in that brief moment, before she left my sight, that microsecond–in that brief whiff of air that embraced me as she passed, that peach smell of her hair–i was allowed a peek, a brief, microcosmal taste of what boundless good that was in her, and consequently, a bit of hope. a hope that there was an end to all this suffering and loneliness. a good end. that there was something out there, an outlet for salvation. in that moment that we passed side by side, when we were the closest, i saw something in her face, her deceivingly stoic face, a brief light to fill my darkness. i don’t know how i noticed something so subtle. but in her stoic face, with her eyes staring at the road ahead, i saw the slightest movement as the edge of her lips curled up in a smile ever so slight. i almost didn’t catch it, and i wouldn’t have if i had not the small last bit of courage to dare to look at her. so insignificant, a small smile. i know it didn’t mean a thing. and she was probably thinking about something else. yet for me, it was all that mattered.

somehow i reached home, and i stumbled up the stairs. the next few actions went by as one. took off shoes, clothes, and fell into the embracing softness of my bed, but not before puking once more, into my trash can. for a second i wanted to clean it up. but that second went by, and i surrendered into the night, letting the darkness wash over me.

January 1, 2009 11:41 pm

::the open end:: Copyright © 2016 All Rights Reserved.