Sand – Part Seven
She finished her drink and glanced over at me. Shifty-eyed and mouth hanging open, I probably didn’t look like the sanest guy in the room.
“Max?” she said. “Are you okay? Now?”
As I looked up at Maddy, it was hard not to think about her severed jaw dangling over her lap like a slab of meat. I shook the thought aside and just said a small, “Yeah.”
“I don’t want to fire you. So, I won’t. I’m going to put you on a suspended absence. You won’t be allowed to come back to work until you’re in regular therapy. I can even write it off as a medical leave. That sound good to you?”
“Yeah,” I said. I barely listened.
Maddy raised an eyebrow. “You in there?”
“Yeah,” I said again. I thought about crushing an ashtray into her skull and beating my fist through her teeth. Instead, I said, “I’m sorry,” confident that she didn’t know what I was really apologizing for.
“I know. It’s gonna be alright,” Maddy said. “I can recommend you some guys in the city that I know. If they don’t work out, maybe you could go to the military. Do you get any benefits?”
I shrugged. “I guess.”
Maddy paused. I tried not to look at her, so I didn’t see what she was doing. Under my vision, she slid a number on a little pad of paper.
“That’s a guy named Yotam Patel I went college with. He runs a practice downtown now and I think he’d be willing to work with you on the cheap if I put in a word. Go see him when you can.”
I picked up the paper, stared into it like it wasn’t there, then folded it into my pocket. I looked up at Maddy, finding her face closer than I thought across the table.
“Thanks.” I said, flat and empty. “Do- Uh, can- Would you mind if I went home?”
“Not at all,” she said, flipping out a cell phone. “You want another cab?”
“No. I want to walk,” I said, standing up. I could see some of the other customers glancing at me from the corners of their eyes. Even if I’d been holding a gun, I doubt I’d be any more noticeable. My face turned red and I started to feel that same rage, building pressure behind my eyes. I turned to Maddy, wanting to thank her for everything she’s done for me since we met up and that I’d probably be dead if it wasn’t for her. Instead, I just spat out, “Thanks for the food,” before stepping over the railing and walking back to my apartment with my hands in my pockets and my head in the dirt.
I’ve gotten good at telling time without a watch. It’s been roughly twenty minutes that I’ve been lying on this bed, shaking under the covers. My muscles are sore from being clenched in the fetal position for so long. I realize that part of the blanket is in my mouth, so I gently pull it out. A thin trail of saliva glistens for a second in the light from the window before falling to a dark spot on the mattress.
It takes me another few minutes to sit up. I’m shiny with sweat. I’ve been laying on my tags, so I have to peel them off my chest like a scab. The room seems just a little bit colder than it should.
Standing in the middle of my room, feeling nude, I hesitate. I feel like I’m getting pulled by invisible strings in every direction. That I’m standing right on the edge of a really deep, really dark hole. It’s been this way for a long time. When the fog clears from my head and I’m left standing with myself, all I want to do is scurry back into the darkness and hide under a blanket. There used to be a kid inside me who laughed and made stupid puns and joked about his shitty car and watched crappy TV with his girlfriend. I guess my fingers weren’t the only thing that got left in Kabul.
I collapse into the computer chair. I pick up the bullet and roll it between my fingers as I stare empty-headed at my swirling screen saver. Empty-headed isn’t quite right, though. I’ve got a million thoughts on a million wavelengths all crashing into each other at a million miles per hour. If I could drill a hole through the middle of my forehead, they’d just start pouring out like smoke. It was a thought I got from Lucas; something he’d said on one of his bad days.
I actually wince at the thought of Lucas. I never want to forget him. I want to live for him and keep his memory alive and all that gay shit, but every time I think about him, his death comes right after. They’re just linked forever in my mind. I can’t think about us getting fucked up and shooting off fireworks in the middle of the night. I can’t think about how mad he’d get if I said his sister was hot, just to mess with him. I can’t think about his face, his voice, or even his name, sometimes. I run my thumb over my two finger stumps. I can remember May 21st just fine.
next: Sand – Part Eight
previous: Sand – Part Six
more by WILL HEMLEPP
photograph by Tyler Barnes