A BAD MAN GOING THROUGH A SAD THING
by Alan Kulatti
Her eyes were not blue. They weren’t green. Must’ve been brown. She had brown eyes and she called me papi.
I’ll allow it.
The turn wasn’t but a minute away when the sky started sobbing. My cellphone screamed. Flash flood warning. The tempest had arrived. I thought about the hitchhiker I passed 20 miles back. I’d pulled over to get a good look at her, but her thumb was so repugnantly bent out of shape that I recoiled in terror, swerved back onto the road, floored it. It’s been the loneliest drive. It’s likely she’ll drown tonight.
The cross atop the ranch was gone. I parked outside and counted the steps from car to porch. One, two, three, I stopped counting. The socks inside my shoes were wet. My bones were dripping wet.
My father opened the door before I had a chance to knock.
“No umbrella. Happy birthday.”
“Only pussies carry umbrellas. Get in.”
He left the door open and went for a towel. By the time he returned I had already stripped naked. He took one look at me, shook his head, threw the towel at my feet, threw a change of clothes onto the towel, and left for the living room. I dried off and changed, and I joined him.
I sat on the couch, I sunk into the couch. The couch was still a couch, but it sure felt like my father’s bed. No other thing had changed; everything was different now. My mother would redecorate before she ever finished decorating. Decorate, redecorate, place the furniture, redecorate, replace the furniture. She would’ve never let the couch sink, but the couch had sunk. Everything else was the same as it was a year ago.
My father rocked back and forth in the chair in front of the fireplace. He looked like he was getting ready to say something.
We sat in silence for hours; engulfed by hypnotic gyrations every shade of orange, and the pleasant, smooth deluge cracking against the windows. I thought about that girl. Can’t believe she called me papi.
She was at the bar; I was at the bar myself. I saw her standing at the bar, and I checked her out until she noticed me. She noticed me. I made sure she saw me noticing her noticing me, and I hit on the woman to the left of me, and I hit on the woman to the right of me, and I looked up and there she was. She was staring at me.
I thought maybe my father would like to hear this story.
“Wanna hear a funny story?”
“Be damn sure it makes me laugh.”
“By the way. Thanks for coming. Hopefully you won’t have to do it again.”
“What do you mean?”
I watched his mouth open and I watched his mouth close and I watched his mouth open and I watched his mouth close.
I watched his mouth open.
“I want to die, son.”
I watched his mouth close and I thought about my cat. Brown cat, heavy set, stolen goods – catnapped from the local bodega one Tuesday previous. Dear cat, my mate, I didn’t leave you any food. If you’re crafty enough to survive I’ll return you to the bodega and collect my reward.
“I want you to end it for me.”
“I’m not going to kill you, Dad.”
“You had no problem killing Janie.”
“That was an accident.”
“Up for another accident? Sit back, I’ll get the whiskey.”
“What? You’re not gonna drink with your ol’ man on his birthday?”
“Oh, lighten up. It’s just a drink. Then maybe you could take me for a ride. The conditions are right up your alley.”
A flash in my periphery. Seconds later, a boom and a quake. My father fetched the whiskey. The bottle was more than half-full; it reminded me of my youth. Every night I would raid the liquor cabinet, drink less than half of whatever bottle was already opened, water it down to cover my tracks. Victimless crime. Whiskey was the hardest to disguise because the tap water was never brown. Whiskey was my favorite. He poured two glasses.
“So. What’s your funny story.”
I took a swig and cleared my throat.
“Okay. So, I was, you know, with this gorgeous lady, you know, just this beautiful woman, you know, beautiful body, and beautiful, bright, ocean blue eyes. Just like Janie’s. Anyway, while we were, you know, fucking, she kept calling me papi. Anyone ever call you papi?”
He tensed up, his eyes narrowed, he finished his drink, and that was it. The party ended right then and there. I wanted to be sure. I listened to every dramatic step en route to the relieving sound of his door slamming. There, I was at peace. I drank for the both of us.
I drank and I drank some more. I cracked open a second bottle. Winds whispered through the cracks in the foundation; there was no escaping the boiling kettles. The storm intensified and the power went out. A pitiful flame was all that remained. Grasping, flickering. I stared into the pit. Only a matter of time, only a matter of inaction. I sat there as orange and red lost their ground to midnight blue and grey. I sat there and leaned forward, hands held out, feeling for warmth from a source reduced to a useless, solitary ember. Suffocating. I took a swig and stomped it out. My eyes slowly adjusted. The darkness had phosphorescent undertones; the glow, ominous and languid, crept into the living room, and I felt an intensity, a comfort; I basked in it, I toasted myself, I drank to it. The transformation was complete. I took my seat and finished off the bottle in hand. I could still see everything as clear as before; it was colder, but quieter. In the loneliness there was a profound calm, an unconditional surrender. I considered my father’s request. I was on a train once, witness to the most brilliant display of humanity.
The most brilliant display of humanity:
A man, shattered, tattered, blotted, announces himself to the commuters of the train as a homeless diabetic who has a week, maybe two weeks left. He isn’t asking for immortality, a couple coins is all. He gives his speech and makes his way down the train cart, hat in hand. Some of us hope it’s true. He looks the part. As he gimps around, we do our best to imagine that the diabetes has already killed him and that he isn’t here at all, less than a poltergeist even. He makes it to the end and almost has his hand on the handle to the next cart when a man in slumber lifts a heavy wing.
The homeless man leans close.
“You want Valium? It’ll help you forget. It’ll help you go to sleep.”
The homeless man pulls away for a moment, looks the other in his shut eyes, and slowly nods. The man in slumber slowly nods back. In a sweatpant pocket he keeps a song for the vagrant and the derelict, and so plays the maraca of memories forgotten. He reveals the pill bottle and dumps Valium into the homeless man’s hat. The homeless man grasps the handle and phases into the next cart. The conductor speaks. The train listens. My stop. Papi. Still can’t believe she called me that.
In the front console of my car sits enough prescription pills to stop my father’s heart ten times over. Ten dead fathers, all of them mine. Check. Crush the pills into fine-powder, fine-powder water glass, turn off the tap, just force it down his fucking throat. That’s it. I see the man in slumber. Is he not the pride of God? To the car and back, check check check.
But the storm outside is relentless, a sin to steal its thunder, to soak it in, to soak in it. Soak it in and soak in it. A sin. I sink deeper into my father’s couch, wet my lips and kiss the bloodstained glass of his storefront mirage. Notice: sans taste, display an umbrella. Maybe then my car wouldn’t feel so far.
About the Author:
Alan Kulatti lives and writes in Queens.