Robert Lopez

Four Shorts

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; BombThe Threepenny ReviewUnsaidVice MagazineNorton 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.