by Craig Calhoun
I know, Lord, that Your judgements are just and that You have afflicted me fairly.
– Psalms 119:75
As soon as I’d pulled my hand from the hole that I’d put in the drywall, I knew that there was really nothing I could say. I didn’t even know how it had happened. Instead, I pulled the loose tag of skin from off my knuckle to make it start bleeding, so that you’d feel sorry for me. You were standing over by the television with your hands clasped over your mouth. Your eyes looked panicked, but I knew that you weren’t frightened. Nothing I did ever scared you.
“Why did you do that?” you half-hissed, half-whispered. The only thing you were afraid of was that the neighbours might hear us argue. “What the hell are we supposed to tell the landlord?”
I had no answers, so I did the next thing that occurred to me, which was was to go put my boots on. As I tied the laces, a trickle of blood moved down my finger and dripped onto the tile. You didn’t even notice it though.
“I can’t do this anymore,” you muttered under your breath, just loud enough for me to hear.
I gathered up my keys and wallet, but left my jacket on the hook so that you’d think I was so upset that I wasn’t thinking straight at all, and walked out the front door. While I waited for the elevator, you followed me out into the hallway.
“Where are you going?” You stamped your feet in frustration. “I’m just trying to help you not feel like shit all the time!” The elevator arrived and I stepped in. As the doors slid closed you said through clenched teeth, “Just fucking stay in your own little miserable world. Be alone. I know that’s all you want.” As the car began to move, I heard you begin to cry.
When I stepped out of the lobby and onto the street, the cold air bit deep into the bare skin my face and arms. I trudged through the snow-covered parkette around the corner, next to our building. I made sure to keep next to the streetlights where I knew you’d be able to see me, if you were watching from the window.
I don’t know what time it was when I fell out of the elevator again after having spent the last few hours as a figure of note, The Idiot without a Coat On, at whatever bar it was that I’d gone to. All night they laughed at me and I took it while keeping my head down and fanaticizing about knocking tables over.
The hallway was completely quiet and my body was completely numb. Bracing myself against the wall, I made my way along, dreading that I was going to find you in bed, furious and pretending to be asleep. When I found the door that had our apartment number on it, I began the search for my keys and right then my stomach churned violently, sloshing a bit of alcohol back up my esophagus. Everything was spinning and I could feel myself start to sweat.
Our front door opened so suddenly that I jumped backwards, my heart thudding. I hit the wall and slumped down to the floor. You were standing there above me, wearing your hat, coat, and scarf. My coat was draped over your arm. You were on your way out to look for me. Tears welled up in my eyes and they were real tears. Kneeling down, you put your hand on my cheek and wiped some of the sweat away. I saw tears in your eyes too.
But your voice was absolutely neutral when you asked, “Are you ok?”
“No, I’m not. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
You pulled me inside and sat me down on the sofa. I noticed that, over the hole in the wall, you’d hung the framed picture of the two of us we had taken at the Grand Canyon.
“Why did you do that? Tell me.”
I lied, “I got embarrassed about what I’d done to the wall.”
You were so beautiful right then, about to go out alone into the freezing night to look for me, to make sure that I was alright. It was the truth when I told you that I knew there was no one in the world that cared more about me than you did.
I just never figured out why that upset me so much.
“You make me happy,” I added.
We kissed and when we kiss, that’s when I know the fighting is over. I took off your hat and jacket and I asked you to marry me. You smiled. I got down on my knee and asked again.
“Will you stop hiding alone in your little world? Let me in with you. Promise me first.”
I squeezed your hand, “I promise.”
So you said yes.
We were suddenly in bed and I wasn’t thinking about anything at all, about what I was doing or how you were reacting to what I was doing, if my face or my voice was right. I’d never done that before with anyone. It was nice.
I thought that I could hear you crying from the living room. The sound was so faint. You were lying next to me though, with your leg was draped over me. In the early morning light I could just barely make out the details of your face. You were sound asleep, your mouth slack, so I closed my eyes.
But then I thought I’d heard it again. I sat up slightly, careful not to disturb you. I couldn’t tell if a light was on out there or not. Listening for a little while longer, I didn’t hear the sound again, so l let myself believe that it had probably been part of some guilt dream or something and went back to sleep.
Rolling over, I noticed that it was morning and that you weren’t there. I called your name and when you didn’t answer, went out into the living room. You were asleep on the sofa, wearing your jacket, toque, and boots from last night. You were clutching my jacket to your chest. I nudged you gently.
Your eyes. I’ll never forget the way they looked at me. Without warning, you threw a fist at me.
“Where the fuck were you?” Two years together and that was the first time I’d ever heard you raise your voice.
“I was here! What is wrong with you? ” I rubbed where you’d hit me. “Why are you out here? Why are you dressed?”
“Don’t fucking lie to me! I was out all night looking for you!” You stood up and pushed me away. I tripped, falling backwards over the coffee table. “All fucking night I looked in the dark for you! You weren’t –!”
Everything was silent. Lifting my head, you were lying on the sofa again, still clutching my jacket, asleep.
I groaned, “Hello?”
You didn’t move. I got up and touched your shoulder again. Your eyes. You started screaming, asking where the fuck I’d gone and about everyone you’d gone looking for me. I grabbed your by the wrists.
“I was here last night! We’re getting married! What’s wrong with you?”
“Get off of me, you selfish fuck!”
You kicked at me and I jumped back to avoid it. Somehow the coffee table was standing right-side-up and I tripped over it one more time. When I hit the floor you were asleep again.
I said your name, softly. You didn’t move. I said it again, louder. Nothing. I started to panic. “Hey!” I shouted, clapping my hands together. “Hey!”
You rolled onto your stomach. I walked over to the sofa. You were snoring.
“Hey!” I yelled again, more than slightly hysterical now.
You shot up off the sofa, terrified. Your eyes.
“Why the fuck are you screaming?”
“What are you doing? Can you hear me?”
“Yes! I fucking hear you!” Tears appeared in your eyes. “Why do you torture me all the time?”
You picked up the ashtray and threw it at me, hitting me on the nose. I don’t remember falling but I was on my back, watching the grey particulate cloud of ash drift down. Everything was silence and you were asleep. The ashtray was still on the table, undisturbed and overflowing with my cigarette butts.
I wondered if I was maybe dead.
I waited for you to wake up, standing in the hallway next to the hole I’d made in the wall. When I heard you coming I got nervous and when you saw me, your eyes blazed at me. What I did to make them do that? You rushed at me and started hitting me on the chest. I let you do it. I deserved it. We spun around.
“I was worried about you,” you gulped at the air.
Over your shoulder, I saw another you down at the end of the hall, walking towards our bedroom, taking off your hat and dropping it on the carpet. I turned you around and pointed at the other you.
“Don’t you see yourself?”
You twisted yourself free, “What are you talking about?”
You glared at me, breathing heavily. I let you go and moved backwards, slowly. When I took the fourth step you disappeared, like you’d slipped beneath the surface of the lake. From the bedroom, I could hear you on the phone, calling anyone you could think of who might know where I was.
You called my friends, you called my work, and at noon you went out to look for me again. I followed a few feet behind as you wandered searched As I walked, everyone who passed near me would either gasp or yelp at seeing someone with a bloody gash on his face suddenly materialize right next to them, but as soon as I we were far enough apart, their lives went on like I’d never existed.
I stopped an old man who immediately assumed that I was trying to rob him. I turned around and there he was again, the same old man, continuing on his way. When I turned back, the old man who existed there with me was pulling a small revolver from his coat pocket and calling me a little pansy son of a bitch. I leapt away, slipping in the snow, and he was gone.
I spotted you at the light. I ran down the street as fast as I could, horrified to lose you.
After an hour of this I couldn’t take it any longer and I touched your arm. You stopped. The other you who still thought I was missing, continued on, looking everywhere. You looked at me for a few seconds before you said, “You are the worst thing that has ever happened to me.”
I got on my knees in the snow, trying to explain you what was happening to me. You shook your head and vanished as you turned to run away. You looked around for two more hours before went home and called the police.
I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t stand to see your eyes again. For the next two days I hid from you, keeping close to the walls. I listened to the things you muttered to yourself while you paced. You were convincing yourself that I had run out on you without a word.
On the second day I started to feel sick, the consequence of going out into the snow without a coat on, I guess. I had a fever and, miserable, tried to ask you for help. I’d never heard you make a horrible sound like that before. I shuffled away and lay on the floor next to the radiator for comfort.
Soon enough a week had passed. It was late and my throat was raw. You were sitting on the couch watching the news, looking for me. I heard your phone ring but you ignored the call. Then it rang again and once more you ignored it. I edged along the wall, coughing violently, trying to look over your shoulder to see who it was.
The screen read, Brianna Oliver. I didn’t know who that was. The voice mail tone chimed. You turned off the lights and went to bed. In the dark I hacked away in the corner.
After a few minutes, blue light from your phone filled our bedroom when you called your voicemail. You listened to the message four times. I couldn’t hear the words but I could hear that the voice belonged to a man. I heard you start to cry and then say I love you. Your voice sounded so different. I rushed over and grabbed the phone from your hand. You shrieked and I held the phone to my ear but the signal was dead.
“Who was that?”
I held the phone up to my face and you screamed in horror.
“It’s me,” I said, but that didn’t help stop the shrieking.
A couple days later you decided to go back to work. I was still sick, wrapped in a blanket and watching you dress, afraid of being alone. You were almost out the door when the intercom sounded. It was a man’s voice. “I need to see you. Please. I can’t stand this.”
You pressed your forehead against the wall, “No. It’s just not right.”
“Brian, I’ll call you in a few days. I promise. I do love you, no matter what’s happened.”
I couldn’t stand it. I grabbed you by the arm and grunted into the box, “Who the hell is this?”
The intercom was dead. I pushed you down and you slipped away. I walked over to the radiator. I still had a terrible fever. It hurt to move. There was a knock at the door. You went to the door and looked through the peephole.
“You can’t be here. He could come back.”
“He’s not coming back,” It was the man’s voice again. “This is what we’ve been waiting for.”
“I love you, too. I’ll call you next week. I promise.”
Angrily, I hobbled over. All this time you were seeing someone behind my back, hiding from me, lying to me? I pulled you back by the arm and swung the door open. The man on the other side’s face went white. He was blonde and a foot taller than me. You screeched and said my name, like you always did. Your eyes did what they always did.
“What’s going on?” the man stammered.
“Who are you?” I hacked out the words.
“You’re hurting me,” you cried, digging your nails into my hand.
Brian lunged through the door. We fell to the floor, him on top of me.
“She hates you, do you know that?” he grunted.
“Stop, Brian! No! I love him!”
His grip on me relaxed and I laid there on my back, gasping for breath. The two of you stood over me.
You touched his arm, “I don’t hate him, I mean.”
I rolled away and limped over to the kitchen.
The two of you were standing near the hidden hole in the drywall, holding onto one another. You were crying into his shoulder and he was stroking your hair.
“I know this is hard, but he’s gone. He left you. You don’t have to carry him.”
“I hate him,” you said, looking at the floor.
“I just can’t stand not knowing if he’s hurt.”
“Who cares what happened to him? He was hurting you.”
“I care.” You pushed Brian away.
“That’s why I love you. You’re a good person.”
He kissed you.
“I love you.”
I drew a knife from the block in the kitchen. The two of you kissed again. He ran his hands through your hair.
“We can’t,” you said. “This was our house.”
“This is your house.”
“Let’s just leave. You don’t need to be here. What’s going to happen? Let’s take his things and burn them. You can move in with me. Why do you only want these little pockets of happiness, behind buildings and in movie theatres and the rare afternoon at my place? You don’t have to hide.”
He took off your shirt and you took off his. You disappeared down the hall and I followed, holding the knife in my hand. He was on top of you, lying in our bed. I put the knife into his back over and over, looking into your eyes.
“You were hiding this!”
“No,” you whispered.
“What did I do to you to deserve this?”
I brought the knife down until you couldn’t scream anymore. I vomited on the carpet and then walked out of the room and sat by the radiator. I put my fingers in my ears and hummed. I couldn’t stand to hear you moan for another man.
Half an hour passed. Then an hour. Pacing and humming, I took the picture of us at the Grand Canyon and broke it and kept pacing, the hole in the drywall looked at me. Turning around, I saw the picture frame lying on the ground, still shattered.
I ran into our bedroom, calling your name. He was still on top of you. I could see your hair. Blood had soaked the mattress and shined off the carpet. I walked over and nudged you. You didn’t move. I coughed. The knife was still on the floor.
I got dressed, put on my coat, and took the elevator down. The streets were full of people, dressed and on their way to work, all of them giving me uneasy looks as I passed near them. I screamed and everyone looked at me. I kept moving, thinking of what I was going to say when what I’ve done catches up with me.
Craig Calhoun is originally from Tucson, Arizona and began writing fiction when he moved to Toronto in 2008. His work had been published in Descant, The Incongruous Quarterly, Liars’ League NYC, Liars’ League London, In/Words,and Pilot. Currently he resides in Ottawa and is at work on a novel based on “The Idiot without a Coat On”.