The Devil Inside Me (a short story)

It’s been a long time since I felt completely whole, ya know. Like, I wake up in the morning and I make coffee and I smoke cigarettes, and the rest of the day I yearn for that ritual – that simple doing of something that makes complete sense to me. I dunno. It’s bland to talk about depression. Like, it’s such a worn trope in writing, and I really do want my work to be varied more than it is. But I have to write because there’s nothing I can do that makes me feel any better, and I’m good at it sometimes.

I dreamt about losing my teeth again last night. That’s not a good sign. That’s six times in the past month that I’ve had that same dream. Every time it’s the same. And every time I wake up and I’m sweating through the sheets. It’s that moment I’m glad she isn’t here anymore. She would just make fun of me, probably.

I’m being annoying. She never made fun of me. Not when we were together, anyway. It’s possible she did so around her friends, but I’m not so sure. I think she loved me as much as I loved her, but that last year together too much happened. It ravaged us. And I know it’s my fault. I never should have gone off my meds, but I didn’t know what else to do.

Anyway, my name is Michael. I’m forty years old. I live in Queens by myself. I’m a singer-songwriter and novelist. I have all of my teeth still- it’s just in my dreams that they fall out. In the past twenty years, I’ve written over 400 songs, ten novels, and five books of poetry. I am certain that I’m very good at what I do. But it isn’t enough. It’s never been enough. It at least wasn’t enough to keep her interested.

I have a feeling that whatever I’m doing with this piece of writing could be done without writing at all. But I’ve made it my goal to write something every day this month. And I’m not going to worry about what it is or if it’s any good. I think I’m back in the mode of work for the sake of it. Like, it only matters if there’s words on the page or music in my ears. And to hell with thinking about if people will like it or if I’m saying anything useful. I’m just going to write. And so be it.

***

This was all not too long ago…

“Wake up, darling. It’s almost the afternoon. Wake up!” she said, and I could hear her through my sleep. But I continued to lay there with my eyes closed, remembering yet another dream of my teeth falling out. “Wake up, Michael! Wake up!” she bellowed.

I opened my eyes and the sun was shining in through a space in the curtains. I watched as shadows danced around my bedside table, it being filled with the remnants of a night spent alone: three empty beer bottles; six dollars in cash; a notebook and a ballpoint pen; a novel, The Master and Margarita, which I had been reading as I fell asleep, slightly drunk and lonely.

“What’s on the docket for today?” she asked as she entered the room, removing her sweater as she did so. “Are you planning on doing much of anything? Or are you still too whatever to whatever?”

I stared at her for a moment and “Hard Times” by Gillian Welch started playing in my head. I shook it from my thoughts, and replied, “Yes, no, maybe so. Play a punching on my toes. This or that cannot be mo’. And so I dangle to and fro.”

“You’re impossible,” she said without laughing. I looked up at her and she had a look of distaste on, like everything I was in that moment was everything she had been waiting to see. “I want a divorce.”

“You’ve said that, yes. That’s okay. You can have everything you want.”

“I want it soon.”

“Yes, yes! Soon! A divorce!”

“Michael, seriously. I’ve made an appointment with an attorney. It’s today at four. I want you to go with me. I want this to go as smoothly as possible.”

“Yes, yes! A smooth divorce! You shall have it, my love!”

“Good lord.”

“The best!”

I sat up in bed and looked at my phone. It was 11:45am. I had been asleep for almost thirteen hours. I thought about the dream of losing all my teeth and I grimaced. I slowly got up and put on my socks and pants and shirt, pulling a sweater on as well. It was a bit cold in our apartment. I wanted to climb back into bed. But I didn’t.

“Do you think you can muster some sense today? I want this to happen quickly. I want out,” she said to me as I entered the kitchen. I didn’t say anything, just set to putting the percolator together, adding coffee grounds and water, and putting it on the stove to brew. And I suppose I was quiet for a bit too long because she gave me a wide-eyed look and sighed and went into the living room and sat down, taking out the previous day’s paper and going about doing the crossword. “You’re a nightmare. You’ve been a nightmare. And I don’t love you anymore,” she said without looking up. “I’m tired. I’m spent. And I just want to be a different person. And the easiest way to do that is to cut you out of my life. I’m serious. We’re doing this today.”

“You don’t have to explain to me, darling,” I replied while staring at the coffee, dark and glorious, slowly rising up through the percolator. “I know as well as anyone how unhappy I’ve made you…made us both. But you have to understand something, and that something is that it isn’t my fault.”

“Yes it is,” she replied.

***

It was three o’clock before I was finished drinking coffee.

“It’s time to leave. By the time the trains cooperate we’ll be late if we don’t go now,” she said. She had finished the crossword by then…she was always finishing the crossword in such a short amount of time. I was never unimpressed by the way she did it, and, writing now, I’m struck by her intellect…she was never just a pretty face to me, mind you.

I didn’t say anything, just went into the hall to get my shoes.

“What do you have to say?” she asked as I sat on the stool by the kitchen table. I didn’t say anything, just looked at her as “I Wish I Was The Moon” by Neko Case played in my head. I didn’t shake the song from my thoughts this time, just let it play as I put on one shoe then the other. “You’re impossible,” she said. “What song is it now?” she asked but I didn’t say anything. She sighed and put on her overcoat. I stood and did the same.

“Oh Holy Night,” I said, finally, with a smile.

“Right,” she said.

***

The attorney was a strong looking man of about fifty years old, his blue suit draped cleanly over a white shirt and grey tie. “You both should know that divorce is a process. We will go through your assets and divide them as fairly as possible. And of course, I should ask first and foremost why you’ve decided to split.”

“Irreconcilable differences,” she said. And I, at the same time, said “Mental illness.”

The attorney looked at me for a moment before replying, “Irreconcilable differences. Okay.”

“It’s fair game, monsieur. I am a wealthy man,” I said. He looked at me with eyebrows raised before writing something down on a sheet of paper that lay before him. The oak table shook with a gust of wind from an open window and I could feel my senses heighten. Suddenly, all of the windows in the room threw themselves open; the wind intensified, blowing his toupee off, and scattering papers about. A flock of birds flew through one of the windows and began to swoop between us. I closed my eyes tightly and began to scream, “No! No! Get back you wretched beasts! Get back!”

I opened my eyes and the room was back to normal; the windows sat closed on the far side of the room and the attorney’s hair was in place.

“Irreconcilable differences,” she repeated.

“Mental illness,” I said.

***

We arrived home as the post was delivered. It was not quite six o’clock.

“What are you?” she asked…it was the first thing she had said to me since leaving the office downtown. We had ridden the train in silence.

“I am a bloke of thirty-nine. I am the sort of genius you can know nothing about. I am a steeping pot of coffee. I am gold and frankincense and myrrh. I am bold and beautiful. What are you?”

“I’m tired,” she replied. “And I don’t want to sleep in the same room as you anymore. I’m going to stay at a friend’s place until further notice. You scare me, Michael. I mean, what the fuck was that back there? You start screaming about birds attacking in the middle of a fucking divorce meeting. What are you?”

“I am a bloke of thirty…”

“Shut it down. Goodbye.”

She left through the door without shutting it behind her. I quickly went over and closed it quietly. Had to keep the birds from getting in. Didn’t want to have to go through that again.

***

Thirteen years we were together. Thirteen years. Thirteen years of both joy and laughter, and sorrow and anger. Thirteen years of ‘How are you?’ and thirteen years of ‘I love you too.’ Thirteen years spent wishing for nothing else. But also thirteen years of feeling upset; discontent and scattered. Thirteen years of my mind playing tricks on me. And, finally, a year and a half of full blown mania, undiagnosed and unmedicated.

It’s difficult to say when exactly it began. I can’t be sure of much. My mind, you’ll realize isn’t but a wrecking ball, in a sense, and sometimes merely a sieve. I’ll never understand what’s it’s there for except to battle with feelings too grand to be explained. And either way, there’s usually music playing. And that, I can’t deny.

“How are you feeling?” she’d ask, as if it were ever a question I could fully understand well enough to answer. “Cold,” I would sometimes say. “What kind of cold?” she’d reply. And I’d say “My brain, my thoughts, my body. Cold.” And I would think that was enough. And she’d continue to ask me questions…questions I could never know the answers to. And I would slide into oblivion as easily as down a snow-covered mountain – briskly and without regard to safety. I would reach the bottom of the hill without my head, and breed responses so vast as to not be able to put into words. I would smile at her behind yellow teeth from all the coffee and cigarettes, and she would just stare at me like I was a lunatic.

Maybe I am a lunatic. But I have money so it never mattered. When a wealthy man is ill, it’s easier to pass himself off as merely eccentric. Merely aghast. Merely going through the motions of a troubled life. When a poor man is ill, the police come, and the hospital locks them up.

I’m a wealthy man because of my mental illness. Let that be known. No genius has ever existed that isn’t also ravaged by illness. And my genius has built an empire of words, and music, and books. My illness has gathered me a close knit group of friends who never call around anymore. My illness…

My illness has ruined me lately – or as lately as it was then, not a year ago. But she’s gone now, that’s for sure. We haven’t spoken since the divorce went through. But I’ve got more to say about us. More than I can fit into a neat little story. But I’m going to try.

***

This was about the time we fell in love…

She was sitting there, on my bed, naked. I was standing, fully clothed, in front of the bathroom door, staring at her as she said, “Well, come on then.”

Six weeks later we were officially a couple, eating out every night, and making love every morning. I told her I loved her about that same time, and she told me she had “very strong feelings for me” and defaulted to “I love you” about a week after that. I’m pretty sure we loved each other at first glance, and let me tell you about that.

It was very early in the morning. I had just gotten back from tour and I stopped in at a Waffle House for breakfast…I’m not proud of it, I was hungry. She was there, making a scene about undercooked pancakes. She was going on about how you shouldn’t flip a pancake until all of the bubbles in the middle have popped. I went up to her and asked her if she’d like me to buy her a cup of coffee. She looked at me like I was crazy and asked if I knew how to make pancakes, and could I teach the “fine people at this ridiculous establishment.” I told her I would love to make her pancakes sometime. She accepted the cup of coffee and we talked over breakfast and on for the next three hours, just sitting in the Waffle House.

We talked about everything and nothing that morning. And that was the start of something I thought would last forever- in that moment of meeting her, even, I thought I’d be with her forever.

It’s feelings like this one I’ve come to disrespect, I suppose. I’m not with her forever; we’ve gotten our divorce. And anything worth remembering now is clouded by the knowledge that she didn’t want me anymore. And all because of a few mental breaks.

I’m ill. But I’m not stupid. I know when people are just an asshole.

***

One night out, our first year together…

We were sitting opposite each other at a small table in a sort of upscale restaurant in the east village.

“What will you have to drink?” I asked.

“What do ya have?” she replied.

“What about you? What will you have?”

“What’re ya havin’.”

“What’ll it be, stranger?”

“What’s yer poison?”

“Whatcha drinkin’?”

“We’ve got a slew of beers on tap…”

“I’ll have three Guinness.”

“I’ll have three with you.”

“Glug glug!”

“Slainte!”

We laughed at our absurdities and went about looking at the food menu.

“What looks good?” I asked.

“Hmm. Pizza.”

“We’re in a French restaurant. Get duck la ronge.”

“I don’t want that.”

“Why? It’s a perfectly acceptable dinner.”

“I don’t eat meat.”

“Meat? What! It’s a duck!”

“Ducks are beautiful creatures.”

“So’s a carrot.”

“Not so.”

“So.”

We laughed again and the waiter came over.

“Do you have chicken fingers?” she asked without irony.

“We have a smoked chicken breast with pepper jelly and cream cheese,” said the waiter.

“That sounds delicious. Is that real?”

“It can be for a little extra,” said the waiter, with a wink.

“A little extra what?” she said.

“I’ll have the duck la ronge,” I said.

***

One day in our second year together…

“What do you think is a more utilitarian fruit: apples or bananas?” I asked.

“Utilitarian?” she replied.

“Yea. Like, the most uses.”

“I know what it means.”

“And?”

“Apples.”

“Apples?!”

“Apples.”

“What about bananas. All that potassium!”

“You said utilitarian.”

“I did.”

“So, an apple is both a food and a toy.”

“So’s a banana! You can use it like a telephone.” I put the banana up to my ear and said, “Hello? Hi, yes. Sorry, speak up I’m on my banana phone. Hello? You know, I can hear you breathing!”

She laughed and reached for an apple from the fruit bowl on the table between us. She then stood up and threw the apple against the wall. It burst into pieces.

“Toys!” she exclaimed. And we both collapsed into laughter.

***

Our third year together…

“What do you wanna do today?” she asked me.

“I want to be in nature,” I replied.

“That sounds nice.”

“Let’s go!”

We were in the car driving within minutes, packed down with snacks and a pack of cigarettes between us.

“You smoke too much,” she said as I lit yet another one. We had been on the road not an hour and I had already smoked three.

“I’d like to quit. But I like ’em too much, man. Way too much.”

“I’d like to quit too. Can I have one?”

“Yes’m.”

I lit one for her and passed it over. We smoked in silence as the terrain began to change into foothills. I opened my phone to put on some music and she said, “No music please. Conversation.”

“Conversation about music?” I said.

“About life. What do you see yourself doing in five years?”

“Five years? I see myself doing the same thing. Writing and such. What about you?”

“No, I mean what do you see happening?”

“Happening? What ever happens? I mean, whatever happens happens. I dunno.”

“You don’t have any thoughts for the future?”

“What future? There is no future. Only the present and what you make of it.”

“Ok, what do you feel like will happen during some future present?”

“That’s the same question reworded!”

She smiled and asked for another cigarette.

“You smoke too much,” I said. And she stuck her tongue out at me.

“Keep that in your mouth!” I exclaimed. She turned toward me and stuck it out a little farther. “Hey! Keep it…Put that in your mouth!” And she laughed.

***

Our fourth anniversary…

“Presents!” she said as she emerged from our bedroom. We had been living together just over a year, and our home that morning smelled of fresh lavender from what I had gathered from the market downtown.

We were living in a small cottage just outside the city. I was more at home than I had ever been. She was too, I think.

“Oh, I do love lavender. You’re the sweetest,” she said with a cute little smile.

I smiled back and said, “There’s more, darlin’.”

“More? More! Hooray for anniversaries!”

I hadn’t slipped up this time; hadn’t told her far in advance what I’d gotten her. I moved to retrieve that gift from my jacket pocket, and removed a small box before saying, “This is for you.”

“Who else?” she asked and smiled a little wider. I handed it to her, she opened it and her smile faded. “What is this?” she asked.

“An engagement ring. Will you marry me? I’ve been thinking about asking you since the moment I saw you. I want to be with you for the rest of my life. No one else compares with you and I love what we have more and more every day. You’re the kindest, gentlest soul; you’re lovely and funny and cute and I love you.”

She hadn’t looked up from her eyes on the ring, but when she finally did, she had tears in her eyes. “I can’t marry you right now, Michael. I can’t”

I smiled and said, “I knew you’d say that. And it’s okay. That’s why I brought you this as well.” I removed something else from my jacket and handed it to her. It was wrapped and she moved to take off the paper.

“What is it?” she asked as tears began to stream down her face.

I laughed, becoming bashful. “Well,” I began, “It’s an empty box. But it’s full of all the promises I’ve made you. And one day, when you’re ready, I want you to put something in it and give it to me. When you’re ready, darling. I love you.”

“I love you too. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m just not ready.”

“I know. I knew. It’s alright. I still love you.”

“I love you more than I thought possible. You’re the sweetest man.”

***

One afternoon in our fifth year together…

I had just dropped a record and she didn’t like it.

“It’s just so much like your other music. I wish you would do something a little different.”

“Different how?”

“Just different. Different. Like, use some other instruments. I dunno.”

I was stunned by her candor. We had been together about five and a half years, and she had always been very supportive of my music, and I thought she liked it quite a bit. I told her so.

“Well, I don’t know, Michael,” she said. “I just think you’re too talented not to be pushing yourself.

“I think I am,” I said. “I think every album I’ve ever put out has been different from the others. I really think so. I really think that this album is a progression.”

“Oh, it’s a progression I guess, but it’s all so one-note. Hire a drummer. Write some string parts.”

I lit a cigarette and took a drag before saying, “No. I don’t want to do that.”

“Suit yourself,” she said.

***

Sometime during our sixth year together…

“What would you say to our 16 year old before their first real high school party?” she asked out of the blue. We were sitting together at the kitchen table and she was finishing up the crossword.

I was caught off guard. “Our 16 year old? Are you pregnant?”

She laughed. “No,” she said. “I was just wondering.”

“Well, I think I would say to try not to drink so much that you pee yourself, and never take a pill someone just hands you.”

She gave me an impressed look before saying, “That’s pretty good advice actually.”

“Thanks,” I said. “What would you say?”

“I don’t know. I guess I would follow up with to be respectful of the hosts and don’t have sex with a stranger.”

“That’s lewd,” I said jokingly.

“Lewd?”

“Lewd.”

“Well, I dunno. There’s so much that can go wrong at a party.”

“Well we don’t have any kids so I don’t think it’s something to worry about.”

“What do you think about kids?”

“They’re sticky.”

She laughed. “Yea. I guess so.”

“What do you think? Are you thinking about kids?”

“I’m not,” she said. “I was just wondering.”

***

One night our seventh year together…

“I feel like the Indians are set up to fail next season.”

“Why do you like baseball so much?” she asked.

“It’s a beautiful sport.”

“You just love it like a little kid. It’s charming.”

“Well, baseball is like life in a lot of ways. It’s a game of inches and of instinct. You can either find a hole in the defense 30% of the time, or you can’t.”

“What does that mean?” she said incredulously.

“Hitting in baseball is largely failure. If you fail only 70% of the time, you’re doing very well.”

“There is a beauty to that, isn’t there.”

“There really is.”

***

Our eighth year together, around Christmas…

“It’s the Chris-a-mas season,”

“The Chris-a-mas season.”

“All around the neighborhood, the Chris-a-mas season.”

“IIIIIII just really love you, Christmaaas.”

“IIIII just really think Christmas is the greatest time…”

“Of the yeeeaaaaar.”

“We should be recording this,” I said through a chuckle.

“We are…” she said with a joking menace.

“I like you. You’re fun.”

“You’re fun.”

“Merry Christmas season.”

“And to you monsieur.”

It was December 1st. I remember because it was a week before the anniversary of John Lennon’s death, and I had begun listening to Plastic Ono Band – his first solo record. Every year I listen to his discography starting on December 1st and continue on until the 8th with everything else he did.

“Why do you like this record so much?” she asked. It was the second day of Plastic Ono Band and, if you haven’t heard it, it is very much a depressing listen. But inspiring nonetheless.

“It’s raw,” I replied.

“So is a wound from an ice pick.”

I collapsed into laughter, and paused the music.

“That’s one of the funnier things you’ve ever said!” I exclaimed.

“It’s all in the bag, friend.”

“Superfried.”

She laughed and repeated the word to me with the emphasis of a question.

“S,” I said.

“Ni.”

“Flum.”

“Splish.

“Splash…I was taking a bath.”

She laughed and sang the rest of her version of the line, “lonely on a Saturday night.”

I kissed her on the nose and she sneezed.

“Gadzoontight!” I said.

Just then someone from the row in front of us at the movie theatre turned around and threw popcorn at us.

***

Our ninth year together, at an Indians game vs the Mets…

“Our first baseball game together!” I sang as we got off the train to CitiField.

“I can’t believe it,” she replied. “You love baseball so much.”

“I do.”

We watched the entire game that day from the cheapest seats in the stadium. We ate popcorn and peanuts and drank $20 beers and it was glorious. The Indians won. I got to yell “Touch ’em all time!” when Francisco Lindor hit a three-run home run. I explained to her when there was a balk that once the pitcher makes the slightest movement toward home plate, he has to throw a pitch; he can’t stutter and stop and start again.

Jose Ramirez stole two bases.

She was awed by my passion. I was tickled by her interest. We got drunk and took the train home. We arrived and made love all night long.

In the morning, we were both hung over and I asked again if she would marry me.

And she said yes.

***

Our tenth year together, on our wedding day…

“Babylegs! Let’s drink champagne!” I bellowed through the closed door of our bathroom.

“You can’t see me the morning of our wedding day! Not until I’m walking down the aisle!”

“Balderdash! Let’s celebrate. I want to spend my wedding day with my favorite person. None of these other clowns. Just you, my darling face!”

She laughed and said, “No Michael! Now come on!”

I adopted a british accent and said, “Alright, jelly bean. And I’ll just go drink champagne with meself. Toodles!”

I could hear her laughing as I walked to the kitchen to get a glass.

“Hey manio,” said Matt as I entered the room.

“Duderface. What’s kickin’?”

“You’re getting married today. That’s pretty much all I’m doin, just being your best man.

“Word. Champagne? A cigarette? Shall we?”

“I’ll join you today, mang. Only ’cause it’s your day.”

“I got hammered at your wedding.”

“I remember.”

“I vaguely do.”

“You weren’t sloppy.”

“Thanks.”

I opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of champagne. “Cheers,” I said as I poured two glasses.

“Cheers!” he exclaimed.

It was a few hours and a bottle and a half of champagne later that the pre-wedding cocktails began. It was a small wedding- close family and a few friends, and that was it. But it was beautiful. Flowers flanked the aisle, which rested between two sets of chairs. A wooden arch replaced an altar. Our friend Francis was the celebrant.

We said our “I dos” at 3:15pm and were on our honeymoon some sixteen hours later.

***

Our first anniversary…

“I wanna take another road trip, like we did for our honeymoon,” she said, parting the silence which had hung around us all morning.

“With me?” I asked.

“Who else?” she replied.

“I feel like I’ve written this story before.”

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing. Let’s go on a road trip. Let’s leave right now. Let’s go!”

She scowled and said, “You don’t have to make fun of me. Whatever.”

“I’m not making fun. I’m serious. I’m ready. Let’s go!”

She left the room without saying anything. “Happy anniversary!” I called out to her.

***

About this time about a year and a half ago…

It was a cold winter morning; there was frost on the windows and the draft was coming through the crack between the windows and their sills. I went for the tape and sealed the cracks while my coffee was on. I lit a cigarette. I had been smoking inside.

“You’re not a philosopher, Michael. You’re just out of work,” she said through the thick cloud of smoke engulfing me. I was mildly surprised she could even see that I was sitting there.

“She has a point,” I think.

“Of course I have a point,” she replied, to my surprise.

I walked to the fridge, retrieved a bottle of beer and a bagel.

“Breakfast of champions,” she said without a smile.

“That’s a good book,” I replied.

I drank the beer in silence while the bagel toasted in the oven, on broil. And I must have waited a little long to take it out because as I opened the oven door, flames began to spill out.

“Michael! Come on! Get it out! Get it out!” she bellowed.

“Hang on, I’ve got it!” I said as she moved toward the fire extinguisher, hanging on the wall.

The flames went out like they hadn’t been there, and I wondered to myself if we’d imagined them.

It was days later before we spoke again…

“You’ve been talking to yourself for hours a day,” she said as the coffee finished brewing.

“Have I?” I replied. “I haven’t noticed.”

“Like, just mumbling. I’m worried.”

“No need to worry, my love. I’m right as rain.”

“Right as rain. Sure.” and she went back to the crossword as I poured cream into a coffee cup.

“Just a little mumblings,” I thought to myself. “Nothing to worry about.”

I took my mug and my notebook and went to sit at my desk. Placing the notebook in the middle drawer, I set to typing at the typewriter and this is what I wrote:

On separate occasion of spirit does my mind recoil from every day things. My able-bodied disruption to a mind at work doth handle brilliantly my turning thoughts, and I go waltzing cheek to cheek with my lover, our bodies in perfect motion. I heard a voice somewhere out in the distance:

“Oh coddled winged things are angels; devils in a haunted wing of existence. There is no way to go backward on your lifeline. You will continue on through the Rainbow toward royalty’s purple- red and fire without a hope to pull you back to it, though Hades yearns for every damned soul to furnish his lair. No, you will drift into oblivion before ever being tortured again. And when nirvana finally wraps its arms around your soul and you know pure joy and love, your essence will glow forever as a star in the void. Do not be perturbed. God wills it.”

I answered the voice audibly:

“I beg your pardon? But with what, for a million years of earthly service, does God reward us with?”

“You will be as a tree is: Grand and docile and strong and majestic. You will sit as a growing thing, as pure Life. Your mind will develop branches and your knowledge will be infinite. And so your lungs.”

“Is it a sort of trip then? I don’t need that.”

“It is, indeed, the opposite of a trip. You will be nowhere and everywhere simultaneously. You will be a part of infinity.”

“Am I not already?”

“No. You are participating in the levels of Hell. Ye who notice the sky is blue, and not red, orange, yellow, or green. You notice it’s purple – like black grapes – when the sun goes down.”

“I notice it red at times before storms. I see it green when there is haze. Does every level of hell not exist on one plane? I always suspected.”

“In the pits of hell there are flames engulfing all things.”

“What of a forest fire?”

*

“What have you been writing? the clickity-clack of your typewriter hasn’t stopped for over an hour. How many pages do you have so far?”

“Two.”

“Is that all?”

“Indeed. My fingers can barely go as fast as I need them to; my mind is racing. And not all over the place; strictly forward. I’m in love with what I’ve written. It is bold and beautiful.”

“The Bold and The Beautiful.”

“Quite.”

“Well come here and kiss me.”

“Well…”

“Do it! Do It!” she chanted.

“I will! I will!” I exclaimed.

True that what was on my mind was that, of course heaven and hell are wholly subjective. But I leapt from my chair and threw my arms around her, kissed her deeply, and began to dance.

“I lurf you,” she said.

“And I you, my love.”

“My lurf.”

“Meat loaf.”

She laughed and stuck out her tongue at me.

“Put that back in your mouth!” I exclaimed. “Put that! Get that! Put that back!”

She stuck it out a little further and I moved to bite it, and did, and she let out a little yelp and said, “Ouch! Michael!”

“I didn’t mean it!” I said, jokingly.

“Beh,” she replied. “My tongue hurts now.”

“Serves you right to stick it out like that.”

“I was just being cute.”

“Cute! Why I outta.”

She suddenly moved toward the other room, and I stood silently as she left. And like a clock’s strike of midnight I heard a loud gong from the basement. And then cats meowing. One seemed to scream ‘Help’ as I turned my back to her and went into bed, curled up in the fetal position and fell asleep.

*

About a week passed, and my mind traveled further down the path toward insanity. With her gone at work a few days that week, the mumbling I had been doing to myself became screams. I constantly heard voices from outside, and in my head. The voice of Satan himself spoke to me regularly, and I grew fearful. On a Friday, I mentioned to her that I should go to the hospital. And we went.

Over the subsequent four months, I was more or less homebound. I left sparingly, mostly sitting around writing stories. And here it is, the collection you’re holding. A lot of good can come from a psychotic episode. And a lot of bad.

*

“I want a divorce.”

It was the first time she had brought it up. I wasn’t surprised.

“You can have it. That’s okay.”

“I’m sorry Michael. It’s for the best.”

“It is, yes. For the best. The best.”

“Yes.”

“Okay.”

***

It’s now six months from when we signed the papers. I’m tired and sick. But I don’t want to go to the doctor. My mind has recoiled back into its natural state. My heart beats regularly, and I don’t talk out loud to myself anymore. Often, I curse her for not giving me a little more time to get back to being me. But it doesn’t matter.

She’s gone now and I haven’t heard from her. She has Eternal Sunshined my existence. And I am more alone than ever, but I don’t mind, and I’m doing fine and I’m more successful now. My books are selling. I’m playing shows. I’m hanging with Mason. We’re touring. It’s all good. My memory of the past thirteen years is blurry; I might have been crazy the whole time. And how.

Regardless, know that I think of her. I think of her making me coffee; doing the crossword. I think of going out and staying in and kissing her nose and everything else. Some days I can’t stop thinking about it all. But I am golden. My life is good. My life is good. My life is good.

Sometimes I feel like if I could repeat it enough to myself, that I can will it to be true. But I’m not too sure.

Mason knows. Ask him. For The Way It Is is nothing if not a way to explain myself fully. Or himself…

“Hey there, Mr. Cramely.” I said. “It’s been awhile.”

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