Old World, New Day
It’s a new world, one sans my longtime roommate, Munch. He’s always overdosing on insidious poisons from his past, and I wonder what fine morning I will wake up to find him frozen for good in a fetal curl. All the rooms of the apartment are empty. Munch, the ex-engineer who once worked for S & E, who developed a new plastic that sent the company’s stock soaring into space, who after failing rehab after rehab was salvaged by moi, rescued from underground shelters and a confederacy of stray cats, has vaporized into an emptiness too vast to locate him.
I always tell him there’s hope, the kind of hope Frank Sinatra and Doris Day once sang about, that some night, chancing a walk without raincoat, he will feel the droppings of some sweet melon moon. He can only believe in pain and the luxury of its aftermath.
We are both bonded by the stigma of being lovable losers. It’s a kind of friendship with strong roots and sickly leaves.
“Love never lasts,” he once told me, “the better half of each couple on a moon colony have deserted for lack of proper space shoes. The other half are resigned to their personal craters. Either on earth or moon, you are doomed to masturbate into oblivion.”
Calling Munch’s name a thousand times, whisking through each room again and again, just to justify that I have done more than my share to save the both of us, so that I can feel lighter on my feet in my guilt-free shoes, I find Munch’s old tape recorder conspicuously situated on a wicker chair in his bedroom. Hesitant to turn it on, suspecting it might contain Munch’s long good-bye without the noticeable twitches and facial blushes, I finally hit RUN.
“Charley, I know this is awkward and as the French say, pueril, I’ve decided to say good-bye this way without all the melodramatic hard-on soliloquies that in the end come to nothing. A misfire. You see, Charley, I’ve gone mad without a lover and I was even madder when with him. At first, I couldn’t stand to be apart, that some force of nature, either rain or sun, had destined us to idle in cafes, to pander to each other’s self-sinking indulgences, to fondle each other in ravaged hotel rooms without discount. I truly believed it. Then, Master Bot (my personal sobriquet for him) began to grow tired and twisted, justifying everything by trying a new shape for his needs. After loving one another with root and gut-instinct, Master Bot would burn my fingernails just to hear me scream, just to confirm that I was alive and well in the vortex of pain. I let him do it because I loved him or maybe I felt I deserved pain, that I had no right to protest what’s inevitable.
He said I reminded him so much of the small animals in his childhood, ones in captivity, and the matchsticks, he added, were something he never outgrew. He burned down, he admitted, so many paper houses that could not shelter his flimsy lovers.”
And so Charley, I’m a wreck. Well, when haven’t I been? I want to die, but not sure how or when, or that maybe the whole thing is superfluous because I’ve been dying all along. It only takes a quick of the hand, but I want to have a drink first and remember the good times if there were any. And I want to thank you, above all, Charley, for sheltering me from a storm that soon raged too wildly, broke into every sanctum. Perhaps, we’ll see each other again, veil ami, perhaps not. Take care of yourself. You are as precious as moon children, although I no longer believe in the moon.”
I have to find Munch before he turns to nothing and isn’t discovered for months.
I rush along city blocks, noticing the squirrels bungee-jumping from branch to branch, that is, without all the cords, witnessing the rose-chested Grosbeaks perched on trees as if they could be an oracle. Tell me, I want to ask them Where is Munch? If I don’t save him, I will surely die from self-neglect. Their answer in a song is both obvious and cryptic. I can’t understand their language and the meaning of their octaves, but they give me hope. Sometimes it’s good to be alive.
I search Munch’s usual haunts, the late-night diners and the bars on the outer circumference of town. In one bar, The Golden E-gal, I strike it rich without matchsticks. The barmaid, a middle-aged woman with large brown eyes, the daughter of holocaust survivors, tells me that Munch is upstairs in a private room and that he doesn’t wish to be disturbed. I tell her it’s an emergency. She understands. She can guess the secret-terrors behind Munch’s eyes. She understands his voice-imprisoned-within-another-voice.
Sitting next to a far window with streaks, Munch is staring toward a wall. A half full mug of beer sits before him. I sit down across from him. The table is small, round and nicked to shit.
He speaks without looking at me.
“So you found me, Charley. You’re a good hunter. But I’m not much of a find. No reward for you boy-o.”
He brings one hand up to wipe his lips. I gently grasp his hand, inspecting the missing fingernails, the cinched nail beds, their purplish color.
“Does it hurt, Ernest? Do they hurt?”
He smiles as if to himself. He still doesn’t look at me.
“Everything hurts, Charley. It hurts everyday. I’ve been condemned to hurt.”
I guide his hand to the table. I stroke the back of his wrist.
“They’ll grow back, Ernest. In time, everything will grow back.”
“Will they, Charley?” he says with a slight twist of lips, a twinkle in his eyes.
Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has been published in Elimae, Smokelong Quarterly, This Zine Will Change Your Life, Blaze Vox, Matchbook, and elsewhere. His latest collections of poetry/prose is Future Wars from Another New Calligraphy and Split Brain on Amazon Kindle. He loves 50s Sci-Fi movies, manga comics, and pre-punk garage bands of the 60s.