Addison Zeller ~ Garden of the Gods

When I moved back home I had noth­ing to do, nobody to see, nowhere to go. In the apart­ment over mine some­one vac­u­umed at night. At first I thought it was an insect that lived between the floors, but there was no sense in that, it was too reg­u­lar in its vis­i­ta­tions; with time, the rolling of the machine became more obvi­ous, the lift­ing or realign­ing of fur­ni­ture, even the sub­tle shifts in pres­sure applied to the floor above. Only the foot­steps remained inaudi­ble. Dawn showed my car coat­ed in pine nee­dles and sap, but I didn’t need it. My job only required a key­board and the inter­net. I edit­ed work by oth­er writ­ers, some bet­ter than me, some much worse. I lived through email. I talked to peo­ple so rarely I for­got to make eye con­tact. I winced. I choked up. Sometimes I vis­it­ed a cof­fee shop three blocks down—I made dai­ly appear­ances for a week or so, to force myself out, to break the block­ade I had imag­ined around myself. I’d work a few hours, or pre­tend to work. I’d sip an Americano and flip through a book. I’d type real phras­es, or I’d type non­sense, just to be seen typ­ing. I’d type out non­sense in long para­graphs, some of which I kept. In one, a man is vis­it­ed by a horse who advis­es him not to sleep. In anoth­er, an eques­tri­an stat­ue in a desert­ed square begins to think; it begins to come alive, it dis­mounts its horse, steps down from its pedestal, walks through the streets, but the whole city is desert­ed, it’s a dead city. I had a the­o­ry that there was a lithi­fied city under the sur­face of the one I had returned to, lay­ered with arti­facts of a past I would remem­ber when the descent was made. There were moments, stand­ing on this street cor­ner or that, look­ing up at Pike’s Peak, as I could do from the table at the cof­fee shop, that I did see lit­tle blurred images, waver­ing reflec­tions of pho­tographs I could remem­ber from albums. Pike’s Peak was black in the morn­ing, blue in the evening, and at the cof­fee shop I would eat elk sausage bur­ri­tos. I had to make the city my own again. Be rec­og­nized by new peo­ple. A beard­ed guy with a col­lie greet­ed me every time I vis­it­ed, exact­ly as if he knew me, and of course I won­dered if he did, although I didn’t rec­og­nize him, or know how he would rec­og­nize me. Every day he was there with his dog, lift­ing his chin to me like he expect­ed his nose to wave. I learned to return the ges­ture, or raise my eye­brows in assur­ance of good­will, or my cup, which made me feel stu­pid. Or I’d pre­tend not to see him, because I was typ­ing away, and it was get­ting on my nerves to go through this every time I vis­it­ed, as if I had become attached to his day. Perhaps it was pas­sive-aggres­sive, because he saw me notice his feet, which were always in san­dals, or rather his right foot, which lacked toe­nails. A detail your eye returns to. Or per­haps it was lone­li­ness in a city he didn’t know well. He’d open his table umbrel­la, leash his col­lie, fill a met­al water bowl, tip his head back in greet­ing, then step inside, with­out toe­nails, to flirt with the barista. Sometimes I would talk to her and he would appear behind me, silent­ly; I would turn and see the col­lie leashed to the table, press­ing its nose against the glass door, leav­ing a print behind. She would shift her atten­tion to him—in fact, he had lit­tle to say, but he said it enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly, and she was kind. She would tell me to vis­it places I knew already. Pike’s Peak. The zoo on Cheyenne Mountain, which had a snow leop­ard. The fos­sil beds out­side town; you could look at rocks that used to be shrimp. And the Garden of the Gods, a geo­log­i­cal for­ma­tion that had been a moun­tain when the rocks were shrimp. I’d been there as a child, the pho­tos exist­ed, me in my short pants, red cheeked, with an over­large cap on my head. Had I gone to see my house? Not yet, but I’d dri­ven by on my way in and seen a woman work­ing in the back, prun­ing. I returned along the creek on foot after about two weeks; I hadn’t real­ized the path ran direct­ly behind my apart­ment and passed by the house, or even that the path exist­ed, just beyond the stone steps that led off from the park­ing lot. I walked with­out look­ing too close­ly at any­thing. Lots of peo­ple camped out along the creek; nobody patrolled before evening. I was used to it by now, peo­ple asleep behind juniper bush­es or dump­sters. On an island in the creek a naked man wiped his ass with a bunch of aca­cia leaves. It had begun to driz­zle and his tat­tooed back was slick with droplets. When he turned around, his penis jig­gled inno­cent­ly until his jeans had cov­ered it up again. I ducked my head and passed quick­ly, ignor­ing the Cooper’s hawk that swooped onto the ten­nis court fence to dry its feath­ers. A red Civic was parked out­side the house. All the trees my dad had plant­ed were gone. The peach tree. The shed, too. Wild grapes, small and pale, still grew in a shad­owy cor­ner of the wall. I took pic­tures with my phone, and of the trash cans stand­ing in the right place. A box tur­tle had lived there one sum­mer, in the pine nee­dles. The pine was there. Not the mul­ber­ries. You couldn’t put up a ham­mock any­more. I walked around the side and pho­tographed a cac­tus, the same one prob­a­bly, if small­er than I remem­bered. The front door, the dri­ve­way. Even, with­out think­ing, the car and license plate, but I delet­ed those imme­di­ate­ly, then all of them.


Addison Zeller’s fic­tion appears in 3:AM, Cincinnati Review, Pithead Chapel, trampset, minor literature[s], Ligeia, hex, ergot., and else­where. He lives in Wooster, Ohio.