Tommy lit a match and dabbed the end of the joint into the flames while he turned the joint between his fingers. He said, “Don’t want the flame to run. Paper burns faster than weed.” He took a couple of sharp puffs. The cherry burned bright. He inhaled deep this time. He passed the joint to his right. “Here take it.” A tiny ring of smoke escaped his mouth. It was lit up like a ghost in the porch light and rose up the center of his face. The ring was twined with strands of white. It disappeared when it left the cone of light.
Melvin took the joint, put it to his mouth, and inhaled. He held his breath and passed the joint to Stan. His lungs ached or worse they itched. He coughed. A huge cloud of smoke lit up the night.
“Don’t waste it.” Three puffs of smoke escaped Stan’s mouth.
Tommy said, “It’s cool man. Coughing helps you get high faster.”
The high rose up in him like a wave hitting him at the beach. Melvin was sure the weed hadn’t hit him this quick before. It was his turn again. He took a deeper hit and held it longer, but he didn’t cough this time. The wave hit him again. He, I… I was losing track of the conversation. But it was my turn again. The joint was very small this time. The heat burned my lips as I inhaled. It singed my fingers. I tried to pass the joint.
“It’s out, dog.” I think Tommy said that, but I’m not sure.
I looked straight at the brick wall that separated this world from the next. No, the wall separated Stan’s back yard from his neighbor’s or so I thought. I couldn’t be sure about the things that I knew anymore. Not when the apricot tree was reaching down its arms to embrace me.
The joint had not caused this. Couldn’t have. But memory was so faulty. Stan had called me. Me or Melvin? Stan had called Melvin. A pizza party. No I think he called Melvin about mushrooms. That was so long ago. The memory has faded so much. It was this a few hours ago. A lifetime ago. Another reality.
“Take off your shoes. The grass feels great on your feet.”
I turned in the direction of the sound. How could I have forgotten that there were other people in the yard with me? There was a figure in the dark. It took so long for my eyes to focus. That was Stan, but he looked Strange. “Stan, you look like a Muppet. The old man from the balcony.”
Stan touched his chin then his nose. He shrugged.
The night pushed me down. I had to struggle to stand. Or was it my balance? I had eaten that stuff. It tasted bad. I had? Melvin picked up the largest mushroom. It had a mottled color of tan and cream. The gills just under the cap were darker not quite brown. There was a hint of blue powder coating the stem just under the cap. Melvin said, “I always imagined that they would be fresh. These things are like wood.” Melvin picked off one of the black flecks. I think Tommy said the flecks were cow shit. But Melvin’s hands. The hairy arthritic knuckles and the wrinkles. They look like candle wax with blue veins submerged. When I see my hands I can’t help but see his.
“You’re right. This is awesome. I love it. This is the best high in the world.” Tommy spoke so loud. I wanted to wonder if the neighbors could hear what he what he had said, but I was not sure that anything existed beyond the brick wall.
Tommy wandered his way over to the fig tree in the corner. He looked like an evil little elf as he hunched under the tree. He squatted then plopped down on to his rump. Tommy was surrounded by vegetation. The low branches made a cave over his head.
Stan said, “Now you, Mel, take off your shoes and come over here. The trees make you happy. You have to try this out.”
I did not want to leave the protective grip of the apricot tree. It gave me a confidence that could not be had in the far reaches of the world where Stan was dwelling. The thirty feet between us was an insurmountable distance. “I’m not taking off my shoes. There are probably spiders in the grass.”
Tommy said, “Don’t talk about spiders, man. You are going to freak me out.”
I kept thinking about the spiders. The tree must have been full of them. They were probably riding their webs down from the branches above me. And what was I doing standing in the grass? The grass had to be full of them. I went as fast as I could to get on the patio. I kept envisioning them, red or orange stripes on black bodies.
Stan said, “Are you coming over here, Mel? Take off your shoes.”
I said, “Alright. I’m coming.” I stood under the porch light. I leaned against the wall. I felt the stucco against my back like biting animals. I felt my skin crawl and pop all over my body. I meant to put my shoes together and against the wall. But I had forgotten about my shoes as soon as I took them off. I walked off the sturdy base of the porch. The grass tickled between my toes. The grass was communicating something that I could not quite understand, but I did not like the feeling.
“Hurry up, Mel.”
Tommy said, “No, you gotta come over here. I can feel the trees growing.”
“Really. I want to see that.” Stan went over and crouched next to Tommy in the fig cave. “My body is going down through my feet. I feel roots. I know the trees.”
I was lost in the expanse of open yard and could not move. I was rooted down in spirit. I was connected. I too could feel the trees. How could I have never felt this connection? An over-soul.
My teeth were chattering. I don’t know how long I had been sitting under the fig tree. But Stan was now staring at the back entrance to the garage, and Tommy was nowhere to be seen. As soon as I realized that my body was reacting to the cold, I thought I could feel it. But I could not be sure.
Tommy destroyed the quiet. He should have been yelling with how bad his voice hurt my ears, but it might have been the constant loop that his words had around my head. An echo, but not. His words repeated in my thoughts.
Tommy said, “You have to go inside. Each room of the house has its own mood.”
Inside. Stan’s home. Homes are full of love and warmth. Warm. Wasn’t I cold? How long ago was that? There might be a bed inside. I want to lie down. But I’m not tired.
The flowers were there. Roses. The roses shouldn’t be here. My mother’s. No, not hers. They belonged to Stan’s wife. Out of town for her birthday. Their son doesn’t keep in touch. This was the table in Stan’s dining room. The cream colored walls, the tile floors, and the gaudy chandelier. They wanted to raise the property value. A waste of time. Who wants to move at their age? Wouldn’t they want to die in the same house they raised their kids in? Stan knew better. The idea was hers.
His wife. The roses were hers. A mother’s. My mother’s. The roots grew out of the vase and planted themselves deep in the fresh topsoil of the table. She had loved those roses. For her, the roses were the children that she had never had. The water, the fertilizer, and the constant maintenance created the umbilical cord that breathed life into her lungs. I was an extra, a piece of luggage that she had forgotten in her closet. My brothers and I were kept out in the yard as ornaments, living decorations that brought life and joy to the neighborhood. On the hot days of summer, we were planted in the grass and watered with the sprinkler. When we were in need of a trimming, we were lined up along the edge of the driveway. Rooted safely in our chairs, she came at us with the garden sheers. Our branches were clipped and shaped. She said it kept us healthy and clean, but she must have wanted us to look good. We were an extension of herself. Beautiful flowers grafted to a hardier root.
The rose petals withered and fell to the table. The desiccated crumbs of lustrous red speckled the deep brown wood grain of the tabletop. I swept the crumbs away with my left hand. The bloody spray spattered the floor and the wall. The blood bounced and slid until it came to a rest. But it would not puddle. The roses continued to wither, crumble, and rain crispy crumbs of blood onto the table top. And I ground them in with my right hand and elbow. I only wished that I could cry out: Et tu, Brute? But when I opened my mouth words could not escape, or if they did I could not tell you what they meant.
Stan said, “You’re funny. Do that again.”
What? Where did he come from? I said, “This is magic.” I pulled a rose from the vase. “Watch this.” I shifted my attention. Stan vanished from my mind. I grabbed the rose by the bloom and squeezed. Devoid of petals and stem the rose had become a little green ball. Magic. I rolled the ball across the top of the table. With a wave of the hand, the ball would disappear. And reappear and disappear again. In fact, the ball had this power all on its own. I watched this ball with the enjoyment of child relearning the laws of physics as it blinked in and out of existence. I laid my head on the table an inch away from the ball. I wanted to catch this mechanism of disappearance with my own eyes.
Stan said, “You are boring. I am going somewhere else.”
I grabbed a handful of the crispy crumbles of petal blood as well as an empty bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos and threw them at him. The bag floated and buffeted its way slowly as the arterial spray skittered across the floor. Had I been eating these? No, Melvin had eaten these. Tommy had brought them over. Leave it to a kid to eat something that causes heartburn. Well he was in his 20s, but that is still a kid. Isn’t it? The Cheetos covered up the taste of the mushrooms. Cheetos and plenty of water. They were hard like eating a piece of wood but not as tasty. They still tasted like something he pulled from the couch cushions but the chips did improve the flavor, and the water was necessary to work the mushrooms into a reasonable consistency. Cheetos, Is that what I threw at Stan? Well he was halfway down the hall by now.
I saw myself from across the room. I was shorter than I remember and younger. I can’t believe it. I was wearing some inane t-shirt and faded dungarees. But somehow this childish attire did not bother me as bad as what I was doing. I was sitting with my knees up to my chest leaning my back against the wall. I had my cellphone in my hand and I was flipping it open and shut. I had just gotten the hang of caller I.D. What use did I have for a cellphone? As I looked down upon myself from my astral vantage point, I saw that I was staring at the phone that I would not stop fiddling with. I kept chanting the same five words: “Fuck. I’m late for work.” I hadn’t worked in years. I wish I could just reach down and slap the shit out of myself.
The ceramic floor tiles of the living room floor were not exactly the bed I was looking for, but they were cold against my face. The light from the dining room created a halo as it slowly filtered into the unlighted room. My essence was escaping into the floor. It was being pulled out along with my body heat. And I had become one with the floor. I had faded away except for the sucking of my breath in the puddle of drool on the floor. The brightness that had driven me out of the dining room was a warm and loving presence. I was standing just outside the gates of heaven and staring in on the opaque clarity of eternal bliss, but I was frozen in place and unable to enter. Of course I couldn’t go in. My wife was there. I did not deserve her. The things I had done after she passed on did not make me proud. Who could be expected to keep her grave up year after year? Here children wouldn’t show up after the first year or two. And I have even driven them away. The only one that even comes around anymore is the youngest and she is more interested in child care.
No wait. I can change. It’s too late two beings had me by the arms. I was lifted and dragged away. These demons were dragging me down the long hall to hell. The one on my right stoped to rest. The demon looked a lot like Stan. They leaned me face first against the wall. The texture was not all that different from the floor.
He said, “What are you doing with your lips, Mel. You must think you are Elvis.” The other demon looked like Tommy.
He said, “Let’s hurry up and get him into a bed.”
I was dragged a little further and tossed into my chamber of hell. The demons placed me on the rack where I would be tortured for eternity. It was soft and covered with pillows. As the demons shut and latched the door behind me, I overheard them talking about the sleeping arrangements. It turns out that my cell was the master bedroom and they were debating who would get the guest room and who would get the floor. But as innocuous as their conversation had sounded, I had been laid down face first with my arm pinned beneath me. I am not sure how but I was bound to the bed and could not move. That is my body could not move. My mind was free to visit all the punishments of hell.
The dark of the cell faded away. The walls and the ceiling were gone replaced by a bright blue sky with wispy clouds over an expanse of green. In the center of the field was a mass grave. I was lying in the middle of the decomposing bodies. I was dead, but I began to move. The other bodies began to move as well. I was one among hundreds of zombies scratching at the edges of the pit. I had no control, and I knew that at some point I would make it out of this pit. I knew that I would tear into the flesh of innocents. I could not bear the guilt of what I was going to do.
There was a jolt in my chest then another. Was this my heart? I was in a twilight world between the room and the pit of the dead. Again my chest heaved. Is this a heart attack? Was I dying? My hand pinned under my chest twitched in rhythm with the convulsions of my chest. God what Have I done to myself.
I am being pulled upwards. I see the plain recede into the forest. Each of the trees gathers into one mass. As I am pulled further, I see green mountains and rivers flowing through the valleys. They too recede. I watch the Earth recede before my eyes until it is a speck and then gone. I fly through the void of space faster and faster until I reach a place of utter void and darkness. I exist only as potential energy, consciousness only. This void is everything and nothing. This is the center of reality, the helm of creation. But I am not alone.
A voice speaks. “This world has come to its end. You will act as an instrument in my hand to recreate the world. Nothing will be left unchanged.”
I say, “Not me. Just let me die. I do not want this responsibility.” But it is of no use. The gears of destruction and creation have already gone into motion. The universe spins in a vortex around me. I am the center of a universal spiral. All matter begins to coalesce at the distant edges of the void. It is spinning in reds oranges and whites. Everything moves faster and faster as it converges on my center point. I know that I have a body once again because I can feel the tears streaming down my face. There is a tension in my chest again only this is the tightness of sorrow. I have lost everyone I know and love. Dead and remade. If I can even recognize them, they will never recognize me. The universe comes together all at once, and I open my eyes. I am lying face down in the bed with all the pillows and the sun is beginning to peek through the lace curtains.
I sit at the edge of the bed trying to make sense of what has just happened. Could those things be true? Has the world been remade? No. I remember I am the same old Melvin. I have the same old arthritic knuckles and wrinkled hands. I lift my hands to reaffirm my identity. I am shocked by what I see. My hands are covered in red all the way to my elbows. Is that blood? Are my friends dead? Was I unable to stop myself? There is a phone on the dresser. I am going to turn myself in. No. Wait. I think it’s Cheetos.