Brain Damage

The sky was laughing. Eddie rolled over and looked at it again, squinting. There were few clouds today. It was almost entirely a solid deep blue. Despite the heat. How could it be so hot when the sky was so blue? It made little sense. Perhaps that was why it was laughing. Eddie heard the noise again, cracking like thunder, and then he brought the bottle of tequila to his lips. The last swig. Sometimes it helped. The liquor dribbled down over his cheeks, sticky and warm, but the worm hadn't moved.

Eddie looked at it for a moment, peered inside with one eye. Then he patted the bottom of the bottle. The worm stayed stuck. Eddie patted it again, and the worm fell to the neck. Eddie shook it into his palm, pinched it between two fingers, and dangled it above his lips. "Good morning," he said.

He dropped it into his mouth and pressed, squeezed, it against the roof with his tongue. And then he chewed it a little, grinding it on the left side, and then the right. The grass was sticking to him. Fresh cut. Eddie had just mowed the entire lawn on his John Deere. Going over it four times. Marla had come onto the back deck, calling to him, at least three times that Eddie noticed, but he stayed focused on his work. The work had to be done. Again and again and again. He could see her now through the sliding glass door, pacing about, the phone to her ear. He concentrated hard to pick up what she was saying. To translate the vibrations into words. There were vibrations coming from everywhere, all through the air, and that was why words, voices, bombarded you sometimes the way that they did. He was sure of it. If you were sensitive to it, you could pick up anything. Conversations from all over the neighborhood, and orders from the White House. Pentagon briefings, and Al Qaeda wires. I could have saved them all, he thought, every last one of them. The planes and skyscrapers, firemen and police. But he hadn't been listening then, he had been refusing, at least on a subconscious level, and now it was haunting him.

Eddie held the empty quart bottle to his forehead, and when he pulled it away, it smacked loudly with the sweat. The grass was making him itchy, but itchy was good. Itchy kept you alert, on your toes, and right now anything was possible. He heard the sky again, and then he could hear his next door neighbor– beautiful, tall brunette with impossible blue eyes—moaning. Her husband wasn't home–his car was gone from the driveway–so Eddie imagined she was masturbating. Sprawled on the bed, completely naked, with the quiet white ceiling fan spinning above her. She had to be alone as he could hear no one else. No one else breathing. Eddie enjoyed watching her in the yard as she gardened. She had beautiful gardens and beautiful breasts. She often wore a tank top, no bra, tight gray gym shorts. They had a pool, and when she swam, she wore a bikini. He liked to watch her then, too, and he wondered if she minded all that much. She never seemed to. When she submerged beneath the water, he could speak to her, their conversation muffled so no one else could hear. It was then that he could tell her that he loved her, how he could love her, how it could be for the both of them. Then she would rise to the top, the splash deafening in his ears. She finished now on the bed, releasing a cry. Relief and joy and sadness. A small touch of death. Eddie shut his eyes, and felt himself take her hand. Whisper to her. Stroke the hair away from her forehead. Then lower his head, lower and lower. Visiting her much the same way that Zeus used to visit the women of Greece. It was a wonderful way to visit, and Eddie began to smile. The frequency changed then, and he could hear Marla. Still on the phone.

He rolled back on his side to look at the house. The trouble with Marla was that he could hear her voice, but her words never came clear. Not when he needed them to. Their house was a lovely one, albeit now in need of a fresh coat of paint, and it was up for sale. Eddie didn’t want to sell it, but he had no choice. They had told him that he must, and he had run out of money. Bankrupt, he remembered telling Marla, just a few weeks back. Can you believe that? All of that to nothing. I'm bankrupt.

The house was an old Victorian–an hour north of the city–completely restored, that stood on a hill that sat at the foot of an even yet larger hill. The porch wrapped around the front ending in a turreted cupola. A porch swing beneath, pillows patterned with roses and faded from the sun. There were six bedrooms, a finished attic, and finished basement. Eddie had built several large skylights into the roof of the attic so he could look at the stars. Watch the moon. The children each had their own bedroom, but none of them were home today. Hadn't been since the day before–Marla had sent them to stay with her mother. It wasn't healthy for them to be here right now, she said.

Healthy, Eddie thought. Nothing was healthy. Our bodies were wasting, dying, from the second we shot from the womb. It was all a race against death. A race to beat it, a race to get there. Eddie put a cigarette in his mouth, struck a match. Blew a smoke ring at the sky. But the sky didn't flinch. If you looked closely there were striations in the blue, threads holding it together. Eddie had just started smoking again these past few weeks. When he was young he had smoked Marlboro's, but these were Parliaments. He had found them upstairs in Marla's bureau drawer, buried beneath her bra and panties. A closet smoker, it seemed. Eddie could never even picture her with a cigarette. The picture would shatter.

Eddie liked the hills because it allowed you to watch things in the distance. They weren't far from the Catskills, purple and blue and beautiful, and Eddie liked to think of the small Dutchmen still up there bowling somewhere. Bowling in the fading mists, smoking their pipes. That's what he needed, he needed a pipe. He crushed out his cigarette. New York was so much different than Massachusetts, so much deeper it seemed. Eddie's mother was still back in Massachusetts, but Marla's was nearby. He imagined she was talking to her now. Or worse, it could be worse. He had put the For Sale sign up three times in the middle of the front lawn, and three times Marla had taken it down. They weren't going anywhere, she had just said the day before.

Eddie had looked at her curiously, filled three quarters of glass with Bombay and topped it with some tonic water. He wasn't yet ready to give up Bombay. He dropped in some ice cubes and stirred them with his finger. "Well, we have to go somewhere.”

Marla took a seat at the table, hands folded in her lap. Her nervous look. Eddie hated the nervous look. It never led anywhere good. "You, Eddie," she said. "You need to go somewhere. You need to get some help. Get some rest."

Rest, sleep. She was going to put him to sleep. "Are you Dutch?" he had asked her.

"What?" she had asked. "What are you talking about? You know I'm not Dutch."

Eddie sipped, swigged. Cold and clear and good. "Just thought I'd ask." He walked from the room, heading towards the basement, and Marla got up and followed him. "Don't walk away from me, Eddie," she yelled. "I'm talking to you."

"I need to work." Eddie flicked on the light, descended the stairs. It was so much cooler down here than the rest of his house. Eddie had insisted they keep off the A/C. It was the first thing that needed to go, the day after he had been let go. The whole firm was going under, and Eddie had been at the helm. He went first. It was only right, he supposed. He could hear Marla's footsteps behind him. Suddenly loud. Too loud.

She was already standing there at the foot of the stairs, arms folded, when he took his seat at his desk. Picked up the day's papers and a pair of scissors and began to cut free the front page. The entire room was covered with headlines. Walls and ceilings, five different dailies. He had tried to do the floor, but it was too precarious. People–Marla and the children–weren't careful enough and the papers tore beneath their feet. A grand waste of newspaper. Eddie cut off the front pages each afternoon and taped them to the wall, covering up the ones beneath when he ran out of space. He was already three pages thick, but he couldn't let go what was beneath, what had transpired. You never knew when you would need to look back at it. To remind yourself what had happened, where the world had been. The project had been going on now for several months and there was still no end in sight. After cutting free the headlines, Eddie stacked the remains of the papers on the far side of the room, two feet from the wall to allow reading room. They were starting to accumulate, dozens of stacks, several feet high. He bound them with string. Marla didn't like it. She didn't like being down here. Eddie had wanted to start moving the papers upstairs, to start in on the walls up there, too, but she wouldn't allow it. She was stifling him. Purposefully stifling him, his expression, his quest for answers.

"A fire hazard," she said.

Eddie nodded. "A testimony."
"A testimony to what, Eddie?" she asked.

"Everything. That's the glory of the New York newspapers. They don't miss a thing. We have it all right here. Everything. Nothing can get by us."

She started to cry again then. Marla was crying a lot lately. Eddie couldn't understand it. Couldn't tolerate it. Men absorbed the blows, and women shed the tears. "Everything is getting by us," she said. "Life is getting by us."

Eddie shook his head. "Life will never get by us. I won't allow it. If you can see it before you, it is there." He looked around the room. "Life is there, Marla. Life is here."

"This is not life, Eddie. This is crazy. I want you to see someone." Marla was shouting, not making sense.

A transmission came through then. Something from a senator in Nebraska. A few words, but not too clear. Static. They were never as clear in the basement, something to do with being subground. It was another reason, Eddie liked it down here—it gave him some peace.

"Every time things start to go a little bit wrong, you want me to see someone," he said, his words spilling out too quickly, pressured. "Why can't you for once accept the role of outside forces. Outside agents. It's not always me, Marla."

"It is you, Eddie."

"It…is…not…me!!" Eddie took the glass and threw it against the wall. The glass shattered and the gin soaked the face of the president, his jaw tight and his eyes looking as if he were trying to stare you down. The paper was ruined, he would have to get a replacement. "Are you happy now?" he asked Marla. His heart was beating faster, and he was suddenly sure he was going to hyperventilate.

Allie came down then, stopped on the stairs just behind Marla. Allie, seven. She was already getting so tall, legs long and thin. Her mother's eyes and forehead, Eddie's lips. "What broke?" she asked, stopping with her hand on the rail.

"Nothing," said Marla.

"I heard something break," the little girl said.

"Daddy just dropped his glass," Marla said.

The little girl looked at him a moment, and then she slipped by Marla. She walked over and wrapped her arms around his waist, pressed her head against his belly. "I want you to pick me up," she said.

Now he sat up on the lawn, the sweat trickling down his sides, and watched Marla's shadow moving room to room. If she had left, gone with the kids, he could finish what he needed to do inside. Finish each of the rooms. And then everyone could be at peace. Then he could start the job hunt again. But Marla wouldn't leave. Wouldn't let him be. She didn't know the first thing about peace. Eddie heard a door slide open, and the neighbor came out onto her deck. Wearing a T-Shirt, cut just below the hips. Maybe a bathing suit beneath, maybe nothing. Considering she had just finished on the bed, it was probably nothing. She had her hair pulled back in a ponytail. She moved about the deck with a watering can in hand, taking care of the plants. She looked up and smiled, waved, but Eddie didn't wave back. Didn't need to. She knew what he was thinking, and he, she. Marla didn't like the woman, she called her "the slut." And the woman must have known this, too. Must have read it in his head. It didn't bother her though, and that made Eddie love her all the more.

He needed more booze, but he didn’t want to go back inside. Not yet. There was too much noise. Too much Marla. If she knew how much he loved her, she would just shut her none-stop, loud, overbearing, authority on everything, godforsaken mouth. But she didn't know how much he loved her. No one did. Not yet.

Love came from freedom, and freedom derived from love. Two constants that couldn't exist without the other, one never came before the other. Love didn't know time. Time wasn’t involved, couldn't be necessary. Getting back to the days before, years before, could demonstrate that. Love had been there, but it wasn't here. But it would be here if they were there. And if time didn't exist, here was there. Time was manufactured by man. Man destroyed love. It was hard to explain, harder to understand, but he had been thinking about it a great deal. His love for the neighbor didn't diminish his love for Marla, the children, because love was universal. It just was. He loved everybody. Love meant never having to say you're sorry. Eddie began to laugh.

He watched the woman next door pull the T-shirt up over her head, toss it on the deck chair. Then she pulled an elastic out of her hair, shaking it free. She was in her bathing suit, a bikini Eddie had never seen. Blue. White flowers. Blossoming. She dove into the pool, and the splash shattered the afternoon quiet. It was a Wednesday afternoon. It was a wonderful thing to be able to go for a swim in the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday. Freedom.

Eddie stood up and started across the yard, tossed the bottle into the woods. The air was humming but the sky was now quiet. The neighbor's lawn was starting to get tall, dandelions breaking free. Eddie picked one, and crushed it between his fingers. Smelled it. He hated the smell. Always had. It was one of the most offensive smells he had ever experienced. He knew the neighbor usually had a landscaping crew come do the lawn, but Eddie figured he would offer to do it for her. The grass from his own lawn was still sticking to his back.

The woman looked up him as he climbed onto the deck. Her head bobbing, she was treading water. She swam into the shallower section of the pool, and touched down with her toes. Shielding her eyes from the sun, one of them shut, and her mouth curving on one side to a beautiful crooked smile. Eddie could see his reflection in the water. He was smiling, too. Bed-head, his hair sticking on end. He hadn't showered for a few days. Love and water, he thought, water and love.

"You want to come in?" the woman asked.

Eddie didn't answer at first. Just stood there staring.

"You're going to rinse the grass off first," she said. "Burt will have a bird if he comes home and sees all that grass in the pool.

Burt, Eddie thought. People weren't really named Burt. Burt was lying. Lied to her, to Eddie. It was preposterous. "I just wanted to see if you want me to cut your grass?" he said.

"Why would you cut my grass, Eddie?"

Eddie looked away. Took a deep breath. "Because I can't stand fucking dandelions," he said.

The woman dipped down again, up to her chin. Her hair was slicked back from her forehead. Eyes bright in the sun. Beautiful eyes that matched the flowers on her suit. The flowers were distorted now, spread wide in the ripples. "The landscaping boys are coming tomorrow," she said. "At least they're supposed to be."

Eddie took a seat on one of the Adirondack chairs. A good solid chair. He loved it. Everything about it. It made him feel solid, too. Part of the chair. A tune moved through his head, an old Supertramp song. “Then your wife seems to think you’re part of the furniture….” .The woman swam to the ladder, and ascended to the deck, the water dripping from her as she did. She just stood there for a moment, looking at him, and then she reached for a towel, dried her hair. Eddie looked at her for a moment. He looked at her breasts shaking with the movement of her arms, the beads of pool water dancing upon them. Shimmering. It was all beautiful. Then he looked lower. He didn't care. She didn't care. That much was obvious.

"Are you drunk?" she asked.

“I’m as sober as I’m going to be.” Eddie relaxed back, putting his hands flat on the arm rests.

“Do you want a drink?” the woman asked. Diana, that was her name. Diana was a goddess. The maiden huntress, the protector of all that was wild and free. She was his protector, here, high on Olympus. It was all starting to make a little more sense. It was all divine. Eddie smiled at her again. “Sure. How about a gin and tonic? The blue bottle, he said. What’s the name of the blue bottle?”

Diana looked puzzled for a moment. “Sapphire? I think it’s called Sapphire.”

“Bombay Sapphire,” Eddie said. “Bring it on.”

“I think I only have Tanqueray,” she said, suddenly looking disappointed.

Eddie sighed. “It’s not your fault,” he said. “Tanqueray is fine. “

Diana wrapped the towel around her waist and disappeared inside. Eddie could hear a television going. “No, it isn’t,” a woman’s voice said, and then a man’s response, “But, I’m sure of it.” Diana slid the door shut behind her, sealing off the sound. Eddie shut his eyes, he could hear the vacuum then, coming from his own home. Marla was meticulous about cleanliness, but not about knowledge. Curious about little to nothing. It was something he had never understood about her. The vacuum screeched to an abrupt halt, and then he could hear footsteps. Marla’s. Descending the cellar stairs, the wood creaking beneath her. And then he could hear the sound of papers tearing, coming down off the wall. The sky laughed again, and Eddie’s chest tightened so terribly for a moment he believed he would snap right in two. The sound grew louder, and Eddie tried to block it out. All his work, all for nothing. She was ruining it all. Ruining it all, and he still loved her. God, how he loved her. Perhaps, he thought, he should race over there right now, and fuck her in the cellar. Throw her on the floor, or turn her around. Flesh upon flesh, and one soul passing into another. Marla’s teeth pressing into her lip as she struggled to cum, struggled not to, just the way she used to. It could all be the way it used to be. There amongst the ruins. All his work. Knowledge and vigilance. It doesn’t have to be like this. Hadn’t she said that once? And she was right. It could be just the way it had been before. If only she would let him be.

The door slid open then, and Diana came out, two drinks in hand. A twist of lime floating on top, but not enough ice. Diana never put enough ice in the drinks she made. He remembered that now.

Eddie took the drink though, sipped and smiled.

“Strong enough?” she asked.

“No such thing,” Eddie said. “It’s good though. Very good.”

Diana took the towel off, and spread it over the chair across from Eddie, took a seat, relaxed back. Her eyes matched the sky, nearly perfectly. She was part of the sky. Perhaps she was laughing. “Are you guys still moving?” she asked.

“I think we are,” Eddie said. “I think we have to. We’re always moving.”

“You took the sign down.”

“That wasn’t me. It will be up again. Believe me. It will be up again.”

“I wouldn’t mind moving. ” Diana sipped, made a face. “But Burt refuses. He won’t budge.”

“Bit difficult, is he?” Eddie asked.

“No more than anyone else, I guess,” Diana said. She raised her legs, bending them at the knee. Put her head back, shutting her eyes.

“How old are you Diana?”

Her eyes were still shut. “Twenty seven,” she said.

“Twenty seven,” Eddie said. “And you don’t even have to work. That’s not too shabby.”

“I might go back to work,” she said. “I’m thinking about it. I’m just not sure what I would do.”

“You went to school, didn’t you?” he asked.

“Mmmmm…,” she said, her eyes still shut. “Vanderbilt.”

"Nashville. I've always wanted to visit Nashville. You like the country twang, Diana?"

"You can't help but like it down there," she said. "It's all around you."

“What did you major in?”

“Getting drunk and getting fucked.” She giggled. “What did you major in?”

“Astral projection.”

"Is that why you lost your job?"

"Because of my major?"

Diana shifted a little in her chair. "No, because your crazy."

Eddie pulled at his ear a little. He wondered if she had spoken to Marla, what Marla might have said. It wasn't likely though. Other than cookouts they had once or twice in the summer, she didn't speak to Marla. He didn't imagine they would have much to say to each other. He sipped his drink, and then he noticed a pack of cigarettes on the small glass table beside Diana's chair. Newports. They would have to do. He pulled one out, and then turned the wheel of her lighter three times before he got a flame. He relaxed back and exhaled.

"Don't worry," Diana said. "My mother was crazy, too. I grew up with it my whole life. Sometimes she wouldn't sleep for three or four days at a time, and she killed our cat once. Drowned him in the back yard after she became convinced he was possessed. It was terrible. That was probably the worst thing she did. Usually, she just lay in bed depressed. My father wouldn't divorce her though. I gotta give the guy credit. He just sort of kept her locked away."

"It feels like that sometimes, doesn't it?" Eddie asked. "Like we're all locked away?" The sun was directly above them now, and he could feel it, hot on his forehead. He ran his fingers up through his hair. He crushed out his cigarette, climbed to his feet. "You want to go for another swim?" he asked.

Diana opened her eyes now. Sipped her drink. "Does Marla know you're over here, Eddie?"

"Marla is not interested in knowing," Eddie said. "That's the whole problem. The root of the whole fucking thing." He unbuttoned his shorts and dropped them to the deck. Diana didn't take her eyes from him, didn't flinch. Eddie stepped to the water, tested it with his toes, and then he dove in. He broke to the surface and began to swim. Diana sat forward on the edge of her chair.

"I told you that you had to wash the grass off first," she said.

Eddie looked up at the sky. "I did wash it off. I just did." He rolled over on his back and began to float. A wave suddenly moved against his face, gentle and small, just the touch of a splash, and he could feel her in the water with him. Feel her but not hear her. The hearing, maybe, needed some distance.

Diana swam over to him and began to tread water, her chin level with the surface. She blew a few bubbles. Her eyes were so remarkably blue. She was part of the sky, had to be. It was outstanding. Eddie looked through the water, her long legs flailing, and he thought about touching her, but that wasn't what this was about. Touching her. So what was it?

"You maybe should have waited until it was dark to do this, Eddie," she said.

"No," he said, "the dark would ruin it. I wouldn't be able to see you."

She raised her eyebrows a little. "But you'd be able to touch me. Do you want to touch me, Eddie?" She smacked her lips off her teeth. "Do you want to fuck me?" She unhooked her bikini top in the front for a moment, flashed her breasts, and then started to laugh. Eddie looked down. Even below the surface of the water, they looked perfect. She was perfect, physically perfect. He could hear whispering again then, voices he couldn't recognize, and then once again the sound of newspapers being torn from the wall. The headlines of each announced as it fell. Pictures were rushing through his head. The first time he met Marla, two years after his breakup with Julia. It had started out so quiet and innocent. He had taken her to a movie. A Few Good Men, or something like that. He couldn't remember. She had her hair in a ponytail, and she wore faded jeans. Looked so relaxed. They were still back near Boston then, and after he took her to a restaurant near the water. Lights and sailboats speckling the harbor. Then there was the births of the children, and the loss of one in the second trimester. With the first birth, Allie, he couldn't look, he thought he would pass out, and then by the third, he wanted to film it. She wouldn't let him film it, she threatened his life. He still held her hand, and kissed her forehead as she pushed. It was terrible and beautiful and so full of life. He remembered her father dying, and how he had held her in bed all night long, but after that she didn't want to be touched. For days, maybe weeks. Maeve's infancy, and finding the lumps on her belly that sent them berserk, sure it was cancer and discovering hernia's. A six week old baby with hernia's. She needed surgery, and it was still terrifying, but was much better than it could have been. It was always better than it could have been, wasn't it? Allie's first day of kindergarten, moon face and blue, blue eyes. Little lunch box in hand. The birth of the baby. Cybil. So many Christmases, and vacations in the summer. It was all too beautiful.

Eddie dipped beneath the water again, and shut his eyes, but now there was nothing, and the nothing was louder than everything he had ever heard. His head was throbbing. He broke to the surface, and climbed onto the deck. Diana was still looking at him, treading water. Eddie didn't dry off. He just grabbed his shorts, crumpled them into a ball and headed down to the yard. His lips were going a mile a minute, talking to himself, reminding himself of all that was good. Lists were good. Lists make you think, made you see. He was almost to the house when he looked up and saw the car in the driveway. No lights on, but he heard a radio crackle. A dispatcher. The car was empty, but the sliding glass door opened, and the two officers stepped out onto his deck–Reed and Malloy–just as the ambulance pulled up out front. Eddie stopped for a second, his thoughts speeding and the whispers taunting, and then he started forward again, his hand out as if ready to shake and greet. The officers were on the lawn now, coming to meet him halfway, and he was within twenty feet of them when he turned and ran.

One of them yelled something, something he couldn't make out, and then they were in pursuit. Eddie couldn't hear them but he could feel their breath. He bolted across the yard, and headed for the hill. He had almost forgotten how good it felt to run, his chest compressing and then releasing, the familiar pull on his calves. He was going faster than he ever had before. He was sure of it. His feet were barely touching the ground. He leapt over a boulder, stumbled a little as he landed, and then pushed off the ground with both hands to gather his balance and regain his speed. He could hear the footsteps behind him, and one of them called out, but their words were muffled. Distant. The sky burst into laughter again, but it wasn't happy. It sounded nervous, concerned. Eddie just needed to get to the top of the hill, and then he would see it, and then it would be downhill, and then he would be there. The cemetery. He could set things straight, everything backwards, and everything in motion. He reached the hill and began to take bigger, longer strides as he climbed.

The grass here was tall and matted, dry in the summer heat. Trees spotted the hill. Evergreens, chestnuts, and maples. A rabbit sat frozen ahead of him. A long gray cottontail, crouched in the grass. It watched Eddie approaching and then suddenly broke into a zigzagged hop, advancing up the hill ahead of him. Action contemplated, action decided. The world could use a few more men like the rabbit, Eddie thought. His breath was getting larger, but it was also getting tighter, and he slowed down for a minute to try and pull on his shorts, stumbling again. On the third try he dropped them, and then he kept going. None of it would matter when he got to the bottom.

When he was younger, home from school, his parent’s town, there was a cemetery he would jog in regularly. Life had barely seemed to have started then, but it was already slipping through his fingers. He could feel it. Eddie loved running in the cemetery, and he sometimes fantasized as he did, that if he ran fast enough with each lap he could set the world in reverse, turn the clock back a notch. Change the direction of time, bringing the dead back from their graves, people and events back into his life. There was nothing that couldn’t be prevented, nothing that couldn’t be changed. He could be back in high school, beer parties in the woods, or even younger, holding his mother’s hand as they walked through the baseball field behind his house on the way to the pharmacy. Life was his. All of it.

There was more whispering now. Hurried whispers, moving on the wind. Some telling him to go slower, others telling him to go faster. He could hear Marla–she was out there somewhere, a small voice crying–and he could hear Diana still splashing in the pool. Fuck me, she whispered again. Eddie could see her again, break the surface, only to move directly to a dive, her perfectly round bottom there on the surface for a second before submerging, followed by her thighs, calves, feet, and the last to be seen the tips of her toes. Gone. She was gone for good then, and he couldn't hear her any more. Just Marla, and then the voice of his mother. I worry about you, Eddie. Don't let her do this to you. His mother's voice was drowned by the unrecognizable one again. Faster. Slower. Faster. Eddie had slowed to a jog, and his head was beginning to spin. The alcohol heating in his blood and causing the earth to swirl around him. He could hear the footsteps now, closer, the breathing louder. The summit was within view now, within feet. He slowed for a second, his hands on his hips and his eyes on the sun, as he struggled to catch his breaths. Two deep breaths, the world spinning. And then he lunged forward to again pick up his speed.

He had just reached the top when he felt something on his ankle. There for only a second. But a second was long enough to trip him, send him sailing. Eddie landed face first in the dry grass, his forehead hitting a small rock, and the blood immediately trickling over his eye. Warm and sweet and sticky. He could feel it pumping from his heart, out through his limbs. Everything warm, everything connected. Blood was life, life was blood. Everything was connected. Eddie tried to climb to his feet, but then he felt a knee in his back, and his arms being wrenched behind him. He went down face first again, the dry earth sticking to his wound.

He put his head up, and blew small pieces of grass away from his lips. The cemetery was in sight. Black iron gate, and rambling stone walls. The grass there had grown tall in some spots, and mowed neat in others. Somehow bright green. The tombs were all ancient and crooked, inscriptions worn smooth from wind and time. Many of them had been bleached white by the sun, ready to crumble, and some were mere crucifixes. Others gray slate, eighteenth century, round on top with the faces of strange looking angels carved above the epitaphs. Eddie liked the angels the best, round eyes and bent crooked noses. And some even had horns. He had been down there before, looked at them all. They all meant something, and they all meant nothing. But they could have.

Eddie put his face flat on the ground. The cop above and behind him. Sparse hair, red face, and porcelain blue eyes. He was sweating profusely and struggling to catch his breath. Eddie turned his head to look at him. And then he smiled. "I almost made it," he said.

 

Sean Padraic McCarthy earned his B.A. in psychology from Fairfield University and his M.A. in writing from the University of San Francisco. Upon returning to the Boston area, he studied for several years under C. Michael Curtis of The Atlantic Monthly, and his fiction has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He recently published a third story in Glimmer Train, and he has been a recent four time finalist in their Fiction Open Contest. His short stories have also been published or are forthcoming in The Greensboro Review, Sand Hill Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Confrontation, Water~Stone Review, Event, The Sewanee Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Sou’wester, South Dakota Review, and Another Chicago Magazine among others. He currently works as a human service coordinator for the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health and lives in Mansfield, Massachusetts with his wife and children.

 

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