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January 31, 2011
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Sin reverberated upwards, ominous and startling as it materialized. It was bleeding through again. Seeping the way ink bleeds through a page. It happened when R’s eyes fixated themselves on the redheaded man three stools down, the man’s callused fingers cupping the diner’s white ceramic mug. Hand lifting, cup rises to face. Lips, rounded and creased slowly parting. And R was aware of his own skin, where every fiber of flannel and denim touched every pore and the sharp clanks of silverware and mumbled conversations were all far away.
His neck jerked down and he was tracing constellations in the gold flecks that punctuated the pastel green linoleum countertop with his fingertip and his heart and his stomach were pulsating frantically, ringing against his viscera like a fire alarm.
Later in the pickup, the bible’s embossed gold letters were dull unblinking eyes holding him in their centers. And as he drove, the road ahead straight and infinite, the mountains turned their backs.

He remembered the sharp echoes of the white cinder block walls and the freckled tiles scrupulously polished. Men’s boneless faces, impotent and set adrift aboard blue and white folding chairs arranged in a circle. Tired eyes glanced up at each other, lips forming mantras describing with whom a man shall and shall not lie. His body grew limp and empty and ached for the fields. Rows and rows of green leaves with eyes for nothing but soil and sun.

It was not the preacher’s words: to have, to hold. It was not the folds of white fabric that draped her frame from wrist to ankle like a tablecloth, lace winding like their limbs would, flesh braiding in discord. Not the one flat kiss on his mouth or the expectant droves of relations, pastel dresses and teased up-do’s, the plastic odor of hairspray.
It was the camera. The camera and its glinting focused eye pointed straight at him, its flat iris and what it reflected back, dark and shining that made the ache seep from his spine.

As he lay in bed that night the man from the diner was with him, so clearly reflected in R’s mind that R could almost feel the man’s hot breath on his skin, foreign and sordid and failing to penetrate the blood, cold and brackish that sloshed through R like a churned brown ocean. His viscera float aimlessly, bobbing like barnacled pestilence caught in the net of his rib cage. And his eyes were open now and they slid over the pink crochet rug she made, lopsided with holes like eyes poking through, dropped stitches and he remembered the scars on the kitchen floor from the coffee mug she shattered when he smirked at it. Cockeyed pink monster he said. And she said well why don’t you just take your pickup truck and leave me, leave me in this goddam empty house in the middle of god knows where if you don’t like it because I know. I know that when you leave me you don’t go anywhere, you just can’t stand it. The sight of me. You just. And when we’re... When we’re in bed you don’t. You never. You don’t even.
Just look at me
Just look at me you son of a b****
Hysterical. She was hysterical.
Why can’t you. Why don’t you look.
And now their wedding photo, hung off-center on the opposite wall asked him the same thing night after night as he, her sole possession, warmed her bed. The rug lay under them, pinning them in its warped center like a spider’s web, holes dotting the extremities like flies. Later she rolled over to touch him, and he tried desperately to silence the waves, the cold crashing blood against the muffled curves of her flesh.

Later he would walk, smothered and burdened and barefoot, naked save for a pair of blue jeans. He would rise and walk until he lay out in the blue black silence of the fields under the cover of stalks of wheat, thousands of spears vigorous and tall. His back cradled by earth, warm and wet, his head dipped in in puddles of mud and holy water, bitter rain sinking deep below the earth. And in the hours to come his mind would blur and smear the pleasantries he witnessed as he remained there in the field, captive to the shining reflections of his sub-conscience. Should and Should Not mingled and interlocked, Was and Was Not braided together in his mind’s eye under the vail of distinct clarity.
But perhaps he was really there. Bare feet dirtying the linoleum floor, patrons resting their forks to look at him and his naked chest and soiled back and first he saw the canvas of flannel, red fibers woven upward, fabric even and harmonious and leading up to the man’s face, red hair and lips creased exactly as they had been. And the ebb and flow of the internal tides, the waves lapping the shores of R’s person were no longer sordid or cold or crashing. They propelled him forward, only forward until he could smell the man’s breath, bitter and sweet like coffee, and read so carefully the languages that flicked across his face and his flesh like braille, like warm winds through steppe lands.

And it was later that morning that his wife found him. The tiny garage sealed like a capsule set adrift. She lifted the creaking doors over her head, and there he was. Soiled back pressed against the windshield, legs limp and sprawled over the hood, face white, left cheek flat against the glass and body still vibrating as the engine beneath him puttered away. And as she panicked, as she grabbed his hands, folded neatly across his stomach, she did not realize that when he started the engine, when he lay on his back and inhaled the exhaust, thick and metallic, it tasted sweet. It tasted so sweet.

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