by Andrew Mitin

Mr. Darling
    James to his wife and father
    Jim to his friends and co-workers and
    Jimmy to his mother
was not a morbid man, or rather a morbid young man, since he is merely thirty-four years old and may have aged either somewhat or else significantly depending on how long this writing is delayed, in any number of ways, from reaching its audience and so Mr. Darling may very well be in his late thirties by now or even in his fifties, or else, God forbid
    both for his sake and
    the sake of his family
on his death bed, regardless of his present age, if not already many years interred, and so his brief forays into the realm of the macabre would surprise many people, most especially his mother, who has never yet tired of calling her son Jimmy
    never James or Jim
    at least at the time of this writing. 
Mr. Darling is an affable man, smiling brightly whenever engaged in conversation.  He always looks his interlocutor in the eye so that whoever is on the receiving end of his kind attention feels they are more witty and appealing, more erudite and charming than they are and this allows Mr. Darling to move through his life among people who are genuinely glad to see him, whether that be Rachel
    his wife, first thing in the morning or
    his co-workers throughout the day
    his father, when he was alive and
    his mother on special weekend days with visits to
    extended family
        at holidays
        for weddings and funerals
        which have begun to occur more frequently than celebration days and
    Rachel again
        in the evening and at night. 
James prepares his breakfast, which consists of coffee and a piece of fruit, usually a banana, and is lauded for this because Rachel doesn’t care much for coffee, enjoying instead berries blended with Greek yogurt, a packet of instant oatmeal, some wheat germ and a dash of apple cider vinegar with the Mother to start her day.  She enjoys even more the freedom to make this herself, as she sees fit, either with flavored oatmeal or plain, one or two dashes of the Mother, sometimes with blueberries and other times with raspberries, and, mostly on weekends but sometimes during the week, Rachel Darling blends
    chocolate ice cream and
    berries with 
        roasted pecans or
        raw almonds
because she’s been good all week and is getting her work done and James loves her and leaves her to her life while he pursues his own, in just the right ratio, so when the Darlings come together they find themselves renewed
    each in the other
        every evening and 
        again at night.
James was impressed and encouraged.  He looked forward to driving to his parent’s home where the day would progress in much the same way such days had always progressed, even after the addition of Rachel.  Hugs all around and the news of the week followed by the meal.  They would take their seats then one another’s hands and bow their heads.  There was consistency in the home of Mr. Darling Sr.
     benevolence was there and
     expectations too
that James rarely fell short of because Mr. Darling Sr. knew men, having grown into one himself, and he knew what was in their hearts when he saw what they did and he knew James would also do what men do even as he instructed his son to do what was right.  Then James would find a way to tell his father what he’d been reading.  Mr. Darling, Sr. was given the latest news about Alfred Stieglitz or Diane Arbus
    1864-1946 and
    1923-1971 respectively 
and the novels of Geoff Dyer and John Berger, both alive at the time of this writing, and his new-found fascination for the Minor Prophets, a fascination instilled by Mr. Darling, Sr., who was the first to show James that discussing one’s reading habits was a legitimate form of conversation.  After Mr. Darling, Sr. suffered his first heart attack James became cautious around him.  While James could reconcile the logic of heart attacks and could recall numerous instances of hearing about them, most frequently while seated in wooden pews on Sunday mornings, he could not reconcile the fact that his father could possibly be one of those whom the pastor beseeched from other such seated parishioners for prayer.  Mr. Darling, Sr. became attracted to the Psalms.  The Gospels gave him comfort and hope and though he danced through the rehabilitation process, a process his doctor’s had become increasingly encouraged by, which greatly encouraged the family, Mr. Darling Sr. fell ill with pneumonia and
    (Passed into the bosom of the Lord) said the minister
    (Went to be with Jesus, whom he knew and Who knew him) said Mrs. Darling
    (On to his next life) said his cousins and siblings and
    (Away is to where and who cares exactly) said James who
was angry at having to reconcile his father’s mortality and was tired of scratching at hope that he would somehow survive his life, which was feeling more and more like a death sentence, and lamenting the hours he could have spent with his father
    at rehab appointments and
    helping around his home and
    in conversation at dinners and
    in conversation on the road
    (Doing any-fucking-thing any-fucking-where)
but that James had spent doing what he couldn’t remember now, but had had something to do with
    watching the Spartans and
    reading books or
    taking pictures
        that wouldn’t turn out better than they had.
Jim is inquisitive and encouraging.  He makes his rounds through greenhouse sections every day so that when he approaches no one is surprised or too much elated because they expect it, the same way they expect their paychecks
    once a month
    on the last working day of the month,
when some will meet up for a cocktail at
    Reno’s East or North
        never West
    or Crunchy’s
        sometimes the Peanut Barrel
     or else Dagwood’s
because it isn’t on campus but is so very close to campus and Jim will laugh easily and even get in a line or two that will genuinely cause some in the party to remark to themselves that
    I had a good time and
        after all
    there are worse places to work. 
Jimmy is deferential and dotes upon her.  He is conscious of her proximity and never fails to be within earshot if she suddenly needs something or has suddenly remembered an interesting anecdote from her daily routine, when she’d asked for sliced ham when what she really wanted was smoked turnkey, but didn’t feel strong enough to admit her mistake aloud and in front of casual acquaintances who were waiting their turn in the deli, or when she’d happened upon Jimmy’s old bus driver in the parking lot of Tom’s Foods and he’d asked after him, not because he remembered the diminutive boy amongst the hundreds of boys during the years Jimmy rode the bus or the thousands of boys composing every year he’d driven for the district, but because Jimmy had been an acolyte in the church where the Darling’s attended and where the Sanders’ had attended and it was good, Mr. Sanders believed, to ask after one’s own, or when, as Jimmy is beginning to fear, his mother will suddenly stop fixing sandwiches or relaying her anecdote and seek him out with wide eyes in alarm and disbelief, hoping to relate one final anecdote about how
    (Isn’t it funny
     a thing that’s never happened
    to me
     is suddenly happening
before falling into the kitchen counter and collapsing onto the linoleum.  This thought and thoughts very much in keeping with this thought are beginning to assail Mr. Darling at all hours and in varied manifestations, regardless if he is
    Jim or
    James and
he is feeling increasingly anxious about it.  Perhaps it is the fault of all the funerals of late he wonders and believes to be the case, hoping this belief will cause the hallucinations to leave him in peace.  However, eight months after his own father’s funeral, and after two similar services that saw members of his wife’s extended family so interred, the visions have not only not abated but have ramped up to such an incredible degree that Mr. Darling
    believes he is going crazy. 
The visions began innocently enough and were separated by long swaths of time to make them seem like mere aberrations rather than an opening salvo, the first twinge of future labor pains or like a small cut
    on the foot while swimming or
    on the hand while picking berries
whose penetrating object was a mystery, but would later make the limb gangrenous.  By suggesting these visions began innocently is not to say their subject matter is innocent, nor is the term meant to imply these first hallucinations are in some way contrary to the normal run of his daily thoughts, that they are born of some mysterious spirit, or are the result of foreign substances ingested against his will or without his knowledge.  No, these early visions are simply the result of Mr. Darling functioning as a normal human being when decisions and actions from his past rear their unflattering heads in the present and remind him of his old self in the hopes that the future Mr. Darling will be better for it.  In effect, Mr. Darling’s conscience is beginning to affect recall. His earliest memory of having acted in a way that now seems unthinkable to him occurred when he was fourteen.  Jim had recently made out with his girlfriend, a prolonged affair that excited and terrified him to such an extent that he didn’t move, but remained where he was, doing what he was doing, without so much as moving any further muscles
    either in his neck or
    the muscles in his hands
to change their positions on the young girl’s hips or move them off her hips to some other more titillating locale.  He was as though caught in a searchlight and any movement would lead to his capture or else, should he advance any further, the spell would be broken and the young girl would realize it was getting late and that she was afraid of being pressed too much against
    the town’s feed silos
    those same silos
climbed by a fellow townsperson later that evening or else early the next morning where he hesitated upon the small metal grate that acted as a kind of landing to consider the light of distant stars now dead before plummeting off
    feet first
    a pool of unrecognizable mush
only feet away from where the young couple was being inducted into the amorous affairs of men and women.  But it wasn’t the first thrill of sexual adventure that had stricken Mr. Darling’s conscience with shame, nor was it the fact that a man had taken his own life, and in such a horrific manner, leaving it to an elderly couple, who enjoyed waking early with tea and walking the breadth of the town Mr. Darling had grown up in, to find the pulpy remains of the hopeless jumper so close to where Jim and Esther had been that now Mr. Darling 
    subconsciously equates
    sex with death and has
        ever since
    been wary of the one and
    ambivalent of the other
then more obsessive about the other.  No, it was the memory of the evening a few days after the authorities had identified the jumper and released Daniel Harwith’s name to the public, mentioning only that his body had been found early in the morning by Mr. and Mrs. Schouland and omitting the fact that Mrs. Schouland had thrown up upon hearing her husband first gasp then shriek at the gruesome discovery of
    Mr. Harwith’s ankle bones
    swaddling his ear lobes. 
Jim had, for motives that to this day are confused because misremembered, knocked on his parent’s bedroom door and confessed to having kissed his girlfriend.  Mr. Darling, Sr. waited for him to continue and his mother said
    (Oh Jimmy, she’s such a nice girl) and
Jimmy wasn’t sure if this was a delighted phrase, encouraging him to continue with her or if he’d done something wrong by kissing the nice girl and because of his
        that were just beginning to announce themselves
    and instincts
        that would make a mess of things until developed
she had become something other than a nice girl
    and so 
Mr. Darling performs his rounds every morning and is being reminded of past actions that strike him now with repugnance at himself and at the world whose furrow he’s found himself within.  He enjoys the emptiness of the greenhouses at this early hour before the parking lot is filled and before the plant’s unrelenting demands for water compel researchers and their graduates, undergraduates and technicians to fill the hallways with duties of their own and requests for Mr. Darling to find more pots or look at faulty irrigation systems, or else determine why a pesticide application has done nothing to eradicate the pest problem after twenty-four hours and after the economic threshold had been passed a week earlier, a term mostly used in industry where such things as economics are the driving factor in maintaining healthy plants and not in academia where plant material is grown, not for profit, but for genomes or to test certain chemical reactions upon their delicate foliage and root systems.  Before all of this becomes the minutia that make up Mr. Darling’s day he has these moments walking the somber hallways, reflecting on yesterday’s job performance and anticipating the coming day’s.  It is within these
    quiet reflections
that Mr. Darling looks out a clear pane of glass to see grass freshly mown
    stretching toward the light
    of a warm spring sun and
suffers a wave of chilled panic at the quick memory of knocking on his parent’s bedroom door, a decision
    (No, no)
that led him to break up with his first girlfriend because, he had said, he had a dream about a brunette.  Jim felt this had been God-sent
    a sign
    an omen
    a portent of catastrophe
that proved His displeasure at his having been with Esther, but Jim couldn’t confess this last proof, not having discovered this as a possibility to extricate himself from relationships until he decided to forgo sexual intercourse
    choosing to abstain from the sexual expression of
        desire and
        love until
        appropriately wed
explaining to Esther that his feelings for her did not warrant such physical expression because she was not his soul mate
    (But it would be awesome to still be friends).  
Mr. Darling comes to and the grass is green, the sky a brilliant blue.  He laughs to himself about how seriously he took that momentary memory and goes about his day.  He continues his days until four months later, when the football team is preparing to open their 7-6 season against UAB under a new coach, the school’s fourth in eight years.  Mr. Darling climbs into the peak of a greenhouse to replace a number of vent arms whose teeth, because they are made of aluminum and not steel, have worn down over time and will no longer catch in the gear boxes, rendering them useless in opening and closing the vent to insure optimal growing conditions.  While drilling holes and securing brackets and fitting new metal arms into new metal gear boxes, he falls into the rhythm of work that does not require strict attention to what he is doing.  His mind begins to wander.  He thinks of his mother
    how she will fare after the death her husband
of Rachel
    who is slogging through an entry-level government job
of the coming semester
    when students will return and fill the campus with
        heavy foot traffic
        limited parking spaces
        crowded bars and
        varied reports on police blotters when
like the onset of a premonition, these meandering banalities cease mid-rumination and he sees himself as he is
    on a sixteen foot extension ladder
    working over his head
    then as he isn’t, but might very well soon be:
        slipping from his secure position
        foot maniacally seeking a stable landing
            he believes is there but
            had never actually been there
    body weight shifting right while
    his left hand releases the trellis support and
        he falls backwards
        continues to fall backwards
    until his torso becomes parallel to the benches
    loaded down with the green tufts of sugar beats
    then past parallel
as his left shin is recruited to be the hinge, it having suddenly been thrust into such an absurd position
    straining now
    snapping and
    (No, oh no!)
Mr. Darling is left dangling upside down and shrieking at the far end of the research facility.  He drops the drill he’s been working with and grips the sides of the ladder.  He catches his breath.  The climb down is slow.  When both feet are safely on the ground he finds he can’t stand, his legs are shaking too much, and he bends beside a bench, soaking his knee in irrigation run-off.  The drill no longer functions, the bit has shattered.  Other instances like this occur while he is at work, but none manifest such a physical reaction of his nervous system.  Occasionally, while in
    budget meetings and
    meetings with his staff that
he isn’t particularly interested in, which he leads but doesn’t contribute much besides setting the week’s agenda and listening to
    rudimentary complaints
        commiserating non-verbally
        in the way that seven years of marriage has taught him
his leg will spasm as though startled awake or his head will toss as if shaking off a pest or
    in exasperation of more requests for money
        for student labor and supplies
        greater quantities of compensatory time        
            regardless of university policy’s strict limitations of such
        or else how incompetent certain department’s budgetary analysis is or
        how stupid a twenty year old has been over the weekend
            resulting in a full-time staff member having to interrupt a family dinner
            to do the job right, the result of which is
                the conclusion being that work time is deemed more valuable than
                family time
                    which cannot possibly be the case
                        but of course it is and 
in this instance the hallucination has less to do with his own bodily injury
    although these were occurring with more regularity as
    each succeeding scene builds upon the last
    gaining in coincidence of misadventure and horror as though such scenes initially began a coping process that has become feeble to their task than with that of his loved ones. Particularly his mother, Mr. Darling’s first beloved before Rachel Darling, who has wakened from her sound sleep on more than one occasion, the first time being six months ago, two months after the passing of Mr. Darling, Senior.  At first she believes the shrieking occurs within her dream, but she isn’t dreaming of anything particular that she remembers upon waking at which time she thinks the screams are coming from outside but the windows have been closed for weeks and the furnace is busily clicking on and off  then she knows the shrieks are coming from the sleeping mass beside her.  She is horrified and without any subtlety or finesse she shoves her husband’s shoulder blade then pulls her lover’s love handle at which point his right arm comes flying over his right shoulder, swinging above his wife’s head
    missing it by inches or
    closer since
Mrs. Darling’s eyes haven’t adjusted to the dark and she can’t be certain just how close she’s come to being struck, and strikes the leafy iron work of the headboard, eliciting further shrieking of a more direct nature with an intensity and intentionality that was lacking in his prior shrieks.  When Rachel asks him
    not then, but later that morning
        when they have sat down together
    she with her smoothie and
    he with a left hand finger between the thin pages of Malachi
        his right had covered by an ice pack
Mr. Darling thinks
    (I know what I’ve been so terrified of
    being the proximity of my life to
    the closeness of death
    mere centimeters within my chest
    beating and beating until the beating
    And I can claw and I can scratch and
    I can pull my hair out and dig to the ribs
    the valves are a tyrant unto themselves) 
but he says
    (I don’t know what I dreamt)
and he says
    (Perhaps I’d’ve remembered if I hadn’t been wakened to searing pain in my hand)
which, truth be told, didn’t hurt him as much as he let on but merely surprised him, a fact he wanted to cover up, first because he felt an injury would somehow warrant him a free pass when not discussing the subject of his nightmare and second because he heard the shriek he emoted and didn’t know he’d been the one to cry out.  When he realized this was the case, even in his groggy state, he felt he needed a reason why it had come out so childish and feminine or
    if not these descriptors then
    one more in keeping with an antonym for masculine surprise and 
Mr. Darling did remember the dream.  At least he remembers the subject if not the content:
    the terrible demise of Mrs. Darling, his mother and even if Mr. Darling does not remember the exact scenario in which he sees his mother’s final instance as a living being, he can recall now
    quite clearly
the many more that will follow in the proceeding months
    heart attack
    car accidents
        in town and country and
        upon mountain roads
        at night
        in snowstorms and rainstorms and
        thick fog
    crashing into guard rails
    into on-coming traffic
    then through guard rails and
plummeting into deep ravines, the metal mass searing off hundreds of tree limbs as Mrs. Darling screams for Jimmy to help her
    for God to save her
    for her husband
        (For God’s sake!)
    to help her
or else innocently sipping iced tea at a coffee house and being obliterated by a careening cement mixer, whose driver has had a
    stroke or a
    heart attack
or sipping that same iced tea and being shot in the head by a stray bullet or one intended for her from the gun of a deranged person or one in full possession of his mind, because it’s never a woman who kills in this way, at least not that’s reported nationally, and wanting to make a political or religious or socio-economic point as interpreted by media outlets both locally accessible to the heinous act and as far from it as an academic campus halfway around the world, this woman has lifted a handgun.  But on this most recent early morning, Mr. Darling has not shrieked and so has not wakened his wife, who continues to sleep peacefully beneath the dark covers beside him.  He is up, inexplicably, after only three hours of sleep.  Though he feels refreshed and alert, surprising considering the early hour, he knows he will fall asleep again in a few minutes, but after lying awake for nearly an hour with no sign of sleep returning, Mr. Darling gets out of bed, quietly closes their bedroom door behind him, fills a glass with water and turns on the television.  The sudden flash of blue light shocks his susceptible pupils, as though he has just looked directly into the sun and when he slowly acclimates to the pixel twitches
    by slowly turning his face
    away from the wall
    and toward the screen
Mr. Darling believes his eyes have still not adjusted and have, in fact, had their physical make-up altered in such a way that he sees his father standing before him.  Mr. Darling rubs his eyes, believing the apparition to be merely a
    sun spot or
    the afterglow of the last
    television image yet
when he returns his gaze to the place where his father stands, what Mr. Darling believed was an after-image or a sun spot
    (Perhaps a remnant of shadow)
is once again the stature and bearing of Mr. Darling Sr.  He is dressed in the television’s blue light serenely admiring his son, whose breath catches, whose hand clutches the remote and turns the screen to black.  In the darkness now, spots of illumination precede his glances across the opaque living room.  Mr. Darling thinks these spots are early symptoms of a tumor, that he’s heard of these occurring and wonders if he is beginning to experience those symptoms that would necessitate a visit to the doctor’s office and if such a visit would be preferable to that of visiting another sort of doctor, one who would ask Mr. Darling what he thinks these hallucinations mean and prescribe him a dose from some unnameable chemical combination that will cease his experiencing his dead father in the living room.  When he thinks how the presence of either doctor will keep Rachel up nights and how she will mourn his pre-death with
    sorrow-filled looks and
    unpredictable kindnesses and
    probably anger
        directed at him and
        at their God and
        at the world
                more than likely
            has something to do with
            the abnormal growth
            in her beloved’s
            frontal cortex
he chastises himself for having such unmerciful thoughts and sees again the stature and bearing of his dead father.  He appears more like a tree than Mr. Darling remembers, not that his father had once had flesh like rough bark or smooth or that his hair was coiffed in such a way as to denote a bird sanctuary, or even that his limbs were more limb-like than not; it is more that Mr. Darling can’t exactly remember what his father looks like, only what he felt when
    he hugged him and
what he smelled like when
    he kissed his father’s hair and
what he sounded like when
    his wife
Mr. Darling’s mother 
    made him laugh and
this lack of detail in the stature and bearing of his father has joined with that image of a birch tree symbolic to Mr. Darling as an image of childhood that his brain frantically seeks for and decides upon when confronted with the apparition it can’t rationalize.  It is a misfire.  But with the sudden lack of bright stimuli, the emotional distress experienced by Mr. Darling over the past six months and his immersion again into total darkness, his mind must be given some sympathy for continuing to interpret visual imagery in the absence of corresponding visual input.  Mr. Darling
    closes his eyes
    then opens them and
his father remains.  He moves his eyes in rapid succession
    rolling and crossed yet
his father still stands, observing his son’s behavior with a wry grin, a feature of Mr. Darling Sr. who was often in a good mood and who
    while suffering from
    the shock and pain of
his first heart attack was still able to question the route his wife was taking to the hospital and to forget about his own mortality or else to spite it said
    (The country miles are the straightest)
and these are the words Mr. Darling hears his father say to him in that moment of darkness and quiet.  He stares at his father, who stares back wondering, quite reasonably, whether James has lost his mind by hoping such a tactic could possibly rid him of his presence.  Mr. Darling reaches a terror pitch of panic at not being able to will this specter away and he shouts 
    (What then)
and his father reaches out to him
as the breeze proffers a tree’s limb and 
    (No, oh no)
Mr. Darling leans forward in his recliner to bat away the vision’s extension.  He closes his eyes and flails but his ears are not stopped and he hears his father’s voice
    (There is nothing)
unmistakable and clear and Mr. Darling claps his ears and shrieks.  Mr. Darling falls against the floor and Rachel is standing now in the hallway                      
    (There is nothing)
        stunned and
        watching from the doorway
not wanting to get too close to James’ flailing arms or his writhing mass as he begins to locate himself on the pre-dawn living room floor.  When he calms and begins to breathe normally, Rachel rushes toward him
    falls beside him
    petting his forehead
    (Sweetie, there’s nothing there) and
he grips her tiny hand 
    (I should) he says and
she endures while he crushes it and he says  
    (I should have) and