Suspending Disbelief

October 30, 2012
I watched, prone on the highest hill as the world churned over my head. The ground was soft against my skin, the fine grass bending sweetly beneath me; a million spineless servants cradling me atop my noble pedestal. The trees standing along the horizon grew shadowy and bleak, my entire sphere of vision cast in a sickly yellow hue. It was almost as if the world were preparing to purge itself of some unseen evil. Maybe it was me.

Everything else was hidden away, safe in nests or burrows or houses. I was here simply because I could be; my purpose an insignificant little flower trapped in a snarl of tortured black weeds. I wanted to do the things that others could not, simply because I could. It was a silver lining as thin as air, and not nearly as vital.

It was better to avoid questions that could not be answered, to merely accept things the way they were. That was a lesson I learned long before things stopped making sense. Perhaps that was why I could drift about like a humble breeze, just barely tickling the cheeks of anyone I passed. I was my own airbag; the cushion to my own impact, but still there was shrapnel stuck in my bones, jagged and stinging with rust.

My eyes fluttered with anticipation as the atmosphere narrowed like an asphyxiating lung. The air thickened and became heavy with a dry, charged static that tasted like metal. The last patches of the pale blue sky ebbed out of sight, overtaken by a curtain of black. The world was choking on its own disease. Still I waited, a tiny speck upon its surface, incapable of doing anything more.

I remember a time when I wasn’t that humble breeze, but rather a twin of the air which now surrounded me; menacing and volatile. It happened somewhere in the middle, between now and where my memory lapsed completely, a circuit for thought cut clean. Beyond that sheer edge loomed an infinite black void that I feared would swallow me whole if I dared to venture too close. Still I found myself wandering out toward that inky chasm, vainly searching for friends and lovers lost in the murky depths of my confusion.

To me the world was a paradox; a place both open and closed. Everywhere sat that same door, sealed with the iron will of whoever it was that controlled these things; always there, always locked. Sometimes I’d approach it with a single, polite knock, others I’d walk right past with stolid indifference, refusing to acknowledge that I was shut out.

Once, just once, I came right at it with eyes ablaze, clawing desperate slashes into its immovable surface, begging to be let inside.

The first trace of lightning streaked across my dazzled eyes, a dagger of bright blue fire. Thunder rolled, rumbling into discord that faded in the distance. Another flash of brilliant blue and one of the grand, dark trees standing sentinel at the edge of the field burst afire. I sat upright a moment and watched it burn, wondering how it must feel to have God’s fickle finger touch down so suddenly and zap you out of existence. My stomach roiled at the thought and I fell back onto my terrestrial mattress.

That day also started with thunder and ended in fire. It was a winter morning, a white and bitter Christmas Eve. The mall was a whitewater rush of bodies clamoring for those forgotten, last-minute gifts, ruthless with their elbows and shoulders. There I was among them, set grim in my mission as I passed by, quieter than the waves of a whisper and thinner than air. The weapon of my choice was strapped heavy and dangerous over my shoulder. I would blast the door off its hinges, oh, if that’s what it took.

You don’t see me but I see you. You don’t see me but I see you.

The litany marched across my mind in a red-hot blaze, cycling and recycling, a catalyst igniting every ounce of rage that had ever been dormant within me.

I’m going to make you see me.

I approached a bench next to the sparkling fountain with its fake, potted plants. An elderly woman sat there reading the newspaper. I already knew that she would not look up and see me, and if she did her eyes would fall upon nothing but empty air. Still I stood there for a minute or more, just in case, granting her a fair warning. She did not heed it.

I pulled the gun over my shoulder, holding it like a trophy I didn’t want to win, the glow of contemporary lamps glinting off its sleek, cold killer’s surface. It looked like it was winking at me; encouraging me.

I steadied my aim. My eyes saw a short, neat laser line between life and death, a perfect pathway for bulleted destiny. My mind’s eye saw something deeper, something interminable, a broken bridge of time and space; an impassable gap between what was and what wasn’t. I wanted to shatter it.

I pulled the hammer back.

The woman looked up, and for a fleeting moment of sick, twisted joy I thought it was because she heard the hammer clicking into place. Instead she raised an arm webbed with varicose veins and waved a trembling hand, her teeth an ugly crescent of yellow decay. I peered over my shoulder to see a blond boy waving back from inside the little Christmas train that was making one more of its endless loops around the fountain.

Nobody saw the girl standing perfectly statuesque with the gun, her face a morphed artwork of utter lunacy.

Nobody saw me pull the trigger.

In the blink of a moment between cause and effect, the mangled scraps of my sanity all gone, I was somehow able to wonder if she could even vaguely sense the presence of the cold black barrel’s eye as it bore down on her, ready to deliver.

Nobody heard the thundercrack of the pistol; nobody saw the bright flash or the smoking gun. Nobody saw the gush of red; the divine flood of my paradox reaching out to my toes to baptize me in awful truth. It was as real as I was.

The lady turned the page and yawned, completely unaffected.

That night I held a funeral for all of humanity, specifically a cremation. I picked the perfect family in the perfect neighborhood, the kind where slender housewives made cookies and hot chocolate for the carolers. I joined them—husband, wife, daughter and son—as they sat around a golden turkey, hands locked in prayer. I waited until they were finished before dousing the table in gasoline and dropping a match. I watched solemnly as they perforated my raging barrier with happy smiles and hearty laughter, their flesh blackening to ash.

I left them there to disintegrate, if only in my own mind, and knelt before the Christmas tree. I picked my favorite: a present wrapped in shiny purple foil. Then I left. I never tried to ruffle the curtains again.

I opened my present on Christmas morning. The doll now resided in the forest I called my sanctuary, hanging to a tree by its plastic neck. It was a talisman of my paradox; suspending disbelief.

And so the gale became that tiny wisp of conscious nothing. The world was vastly open if I desired nothing more than to watch free movies—and indulge on a total stranger’s popcorn as I did so—or make every meal and endless buffet. I could wear designer clothes; I could prowl the streets naked. It wouldn’t make any difference. I could make the world my own.

So I vandalized. I tore mailboxes from their posts. I broke windows with bricks. I spray-painted ugly mosaics on houses, schools, churches. No real reason; just because I could. I’d come back to admire my work, only to find everything fixed and pristine. It was as if someone were following me; cleaning up my mess. Or maybe it just faded back to normal. I hoped I would too.
I followed people; learned their stories through third-person omniscient. They were all my secret friends. I loved the time when we went into the cornfield; our feet trudging over the dead stalks of last summer, the five of us bound in a golden ring of friendship. We tied our shoes together and threw them over the power lines. We followed the stream in our bare feet, blazing our youthful trail over smooth, mossy stones; the sunset playing dappled shapes across our cheeks. And even though he was really looking at her, my heart leapt as if it were me.
With time I admitted I didn’t belong. For me that beautiful ring was only a gilded, artificial thing; the memories hollow and stolen. I missed them anyway.
I gazed through the peephole, an unwelcome voyeur.
I saw the crisp black leather of abuse and the dark lust of adultery. I saw the skeletal marvel of anorexia nervosa and the multicolored facets of schizophrenia. I saw conception and birth. I saw hypodermic needles, tie-dyed track marks and dirty, bent spoons. I saw an artist wield his paintbrush like a scepter and create a world with brilliant bright strokes. I saw it all from that cold and lonely outer fringe. I saw what God saw.

I saw murder.

It happened in my sanctuary; my secret, solitary place. Right beneath my favorite tree, the one with a knot shaped like a heart. I clung to the smooth arm of my looking-branch as I would my mother’s leg, my eyes a pair of harrowed saucers as they nailed the homemade coffin in twenty different places and lowered it into a mouth dug out of the ground. I heard her screaming until the dirt effaced the sound.

One of them looked up into the branch that held me, the invisible spy. Even though I knew he wasn’t, not really, he stared right at me with those beetle black eyes that looked gouged into his face by some crude instrument. He smiled wickedly, almost as if he knew I was there, as if he knew I was as powerless as an unborn soldier. That face still burns brighter in my eyes than does the afterimage of a glorious sunset. It will stay there forever, a permanent branding of injustice.
She’s here, freshly buried in my backyard, unseen and unheard, desperate to break the door down. And when I saw her stumble out from the edge of the trees, a mere outline of someone lost in Long Ago and Far Away, I knew it was time to cut the rope. It felt much better to know she wouldn’t remember a thing. Neither did I, and perhaps that was for the very best.

I would go and say hello.
But for now, I only waited for the rain. I wanted it to crash down in sheets, to try with all its might to riddle me hollow; to wash me out into a swampy mire where I would drown laughing.

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