Now I Am Doubled Over
Allow me to say a few words, he says, and then he says, people think backwards. I say to the person next to me, I can’t believe we’ve allowed this to go on and the person next to me says, I don’t know what you mean. At this point I’m livid, I am beside myself. I think about starting a fire or setting off an explosive but I don’t because that’s not a nice thing to do on a Sunday morning and I don’t have matches on me or kindling or anything that even resembles dynamite so I remain seated beside myself. And it feels especially true because at this point it’s as if I’m both the one who said, I can’t believe we’ve allowed this to go on and the one who said, I don’t know what you mean. It is exactly like me to be disbelieving and confused at the same time. So this is when I feel the disbelief and confusion at the base of my skull working its way up toward the top of my head and down my spinal column and all the way around into my guts. I can feel it spreading through my pelvic floor, seeping into organs and blood vessels. Now I am doubled over. Now I am on the ground, writhing, and I think why is this happening again. I think about how many times this has happened and in front of how many people. I can hear the people saying this poor fellow or I can’t stand to see him like this or I think we should go home now. Once on the ground like this, writhing, making a spectacle, I realize I might also be the one who said, allow me to say a few words, in the first place, which was clearly a mistake and probably how this whole mess got started.
People Say What, Eat Sandwiches, Watch Television
People say what to me and I say what back. Days go by, weeks, even years. People eat sandwiches and watch television. I’m not around when they do this but I’m certain whenever I’m not around people eat sandwiches and watch television. Sometimes they go to the doctor or for a drive in the country. When people reconvene people they what to me and I say what back. They want to know what is happening, what is doing, what I have been up to. I tell them what do I know. I tell them I have been eating sandwiches and watching television like everyone else. They ask me what’s the problem and what’s the matter. I tell them I dream lives though not my own. I’m not sure who the people are in my dreams. They always try to kill me but I can sometimes outsmart them and wake myself up before anything happens. Then I go to the bathroom and empty my bladder, which is something I have to do all the time now. I tell them that it’s all because of my bladder, I tell them that’s the main problem. They ask me if that’s the god’s honest truth and I tell them how should I know, I’m not religious. The people who say what to me like this, most speak their own languages. A lot of them come from where the water is bad and the people want out. The people from these places are troubled, their languages incomprehensible. Even still I try to make sense of them. I listen for familiar words, sounds. I always look people in the face when they talk to me in their languages. I am always baffled. I say what to them and they say what back. Then they ask what time it is. They ask this because it is time to go and everyone knows it. I tell them it isn’t a good time or bad time, the best or worst of times, but it is indeed a time, much like the time before and exactly like times to come. Seconds go by, minutes, lives begin and end the world over. The people thank me for the time and then ask what I will do with the rest of the day. I tell them that I should clean my house because it is filthy and I should go to the doctor because of my bladder but I am tired and want to go to bed so this is what I tell them. I tell them I will dream them later but promise not to kill me. I tell them it’s because of my bladder that people want to kill me. The people look me in the face and are baffled. They ask what do I mean by this and I tell them what I suspect is true.
Why We’re Trapped In A Failed System
She was sorry for the rain. I told her it wasn’t a problem but did my part and apologized for the trees. This sort of discourse continued for a couple of years. Then one morning I said not everything was our responsibility. She took exception. She said this is why we’re trapped in a failed system. She said this is why people commit desperate outrages against themselves and others. I wanted to argue with her, but I noticed that her eyebrows were misshapen as they performed calisthenics on her face. I can’t tell you how much this upset me. Sometimes I am far too sensitive and shouldn’t be allowed outside where there are other people. Not everybody knows this about me and those that do tend to shun me. To these people I say clean up your own yard-work and then get back to me. I hadn’t said this to her yet, but I was getting reading to. I always have to get into a particular mindset to accomplish anything. Even making breakfast takes a half hour’s worth of silent meditation beforehand. I think she knew something was wrong at this point, because she stopped talking about why things were the way they were. I tried not to look, but it was clear her fingernails were uneven and unpolished. I told her I couldn’t take this anymore. I may’ve said this at a certain pitch, which I’m sure was unsettling. She picked up her head and looked at me square in the jaw. It was like this for a while, two people trapped in a failed system, trying to look at each other. I am here to report that I was the first to crumble, but what’s worse is she couldn’t summon the humanity to place a hand anywhere on me as I wept.
Someone Great Like Socrates
There’s more than one reason I tied you to that bedpost.
If you recall, it’d been raining. That’s first and foremost.
Also, the bathroom and how you were always in there cleaning it.
I can’t count how many times I found you hunched over the tub, your hair up in that bandana, listening to the stereo loud and scrubbing away to the rhythm of the music.
I can’t tell you the toll this took on me.
There’s so much I can’t tell you.
I needn’t remind you that neither of us was in good health nor spirits at the time. I think I was sleeping sixteen hours a day and you were up to a quart of gin.
All of this taken together could devastate anyone, I think.
I, like you, am human. Like you I know nothing.
The rest we can sort out later.
If there is no later, please allow me to say this … be careful who you look at on the subway. They might want money or to kill you.
You have to question the mentality of anyone who willingly looks at another on the subway.
Someone great like Socrates would say the same thing had he lived in the city.
If you get yourself killed I would count it as an unspeakable tragedy, even if I don’t know you anymore, even if by then you’re already dead to me.
Socrates himself was put to death on a subway, I’m almost certain.
He made the mistake of looking up when someone asked for everyone’s attention and they made him drink hemlock for his troubles.
This isn’t the kind of information you can get just anywhere.
You know what you’re giving up.
Do you remember the time I tied you to that bedpost and we discussed Socratic paradoxes and the peculiar ways of the world? I believe I was accused of something horrific and I needed you to sit still long enough to explain myself.
I believe I made myself clear while I was applying the ointment.
The gist was have you ever boarded a train and gone someplace because why the fuck not?
Maybe to see what a new life might be like on the windy side of an old one?
Maybe to get away from the panhandlers on the subway, to say nothing of the philosophers and murderers?
To say nothing of bedposts and slipknots.
If you do this remember me to any perfect stranger once you arrive and tell them what I’ve always told you, that I know nothing. Tell them, in spite of this, I said take special care.
Always, please, take very special care.
Robert Lopez is the author of two novels, Part of the World and Kamby Bolongo Mean River and a story collection, Asunder. His fiction has appeared in dozens of journals and magazines, including; Bomb, The Threepenny Review, Unsaid, Vice Magazine, Norton Anthology of Sudden Fiction Latino, etc. He teaches fiction writing at The New School, Pratt Institute, Columbia University and The Solstice MFA Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College.