It ends on a Friday evening.
I come home dead-tired and feel rotten and then sorry for myself and then angry. Business as usual. Then I think about why my mother hasn’t called and told me she understands why I asked her to go to hell the last time we talked because she wouldn’t cut it out with all her just-go-to-a-spiritual-retreat-and-everything-will-be-fine. Then I put my ear to the wall to Daniel’s room and think about why the hell he does nothing I can hear. I know he is in there right now. What is wrong with him?
Then I try not to feel too cold because I remember what silence is all about. What it can be. Not the kind you find at the end of piers looking at mirror-like surfaces of water. No, I think about Miami and blood in my nose and how it tastes.
Then I think about options:
I could stay and pretend that Daniel is normal. After all, I rarely see him. I don’t have a relationship with him. What could he possibly do – to me? Would he come in, one night, with a knife in his hand, trying to rape me? That’s ridiculous. Isn’t it?
I could leave – find another place. It’s not going to be cheap, though? And this place is as cheap as they get. And I still don’t have much money, although I work my ass off every day. But I guess that’s what’s good about charity, eh? The feeling of being grateful is worth it all, isn’t it? No, I shouldn’t say that. Mr. and Mrs. N are good people. They offered me something when I had nothing and nobody wanted me. But the pay is … pfff.
There are cheaper places, but further down the coast, away from Frisco. And I already spend too much time on a bus. And who knows what people are there? At least I know who is here.
Except for Daniel.
Then I give up. I go crazy thinking about this shit. I should just ignore him or … talk to him. But I cannot do either. I feel like I’m frozen in time. Inside me is some deep primeval pool of tar I just stepped in and it pulls me down. I can’t get out. Can’t move.
But … I can pull out my sketch pad. It’s brand new. Haven’t used it since Sacramento, which would be about four months now.
But I take the plastic wrap off and I find the only pencil I have and I start.
And … then I notice the gun. Its muzzle is visible at the edge of my rucksack. I put it there after work and now I pulled it half-way out when I clawed after my pad, at the bottom of the rucksack, beneath a horde of laundry.
For a moment I get up from my chair and go over to the rucksack and leave the pad behind. It’s a reflex. I have to get the damn thing back in there. The blinds are up. Mrs. List always walks in the garden strip just before sunset, like a ghost drifting back and forth, thinking about the time it was alive.
The hell with it.
I pull down the blinds and I pull out the gun and put it on the bedside table. The table lamp will do as lighting.
Because, you know, I could use some warm-up. I haven’t done this for four months. I miss it like crazy but my hands feel frozen.
And if I do something borderline stupid like drawing the damn thing, maybe I can unwind enough to draw something I really want. I mean, if you can’t get the thing out of your head then own it, right? Then it goes away, all by itself. At least that was what a shrink once said to a long-gone friend of mine.
So I sit and draw for maybe half an hour, and I quite enjoy it. The gun is ugly and I mostly like drawing people, anyway. But the concentration is good for me. I almost feel like I was back home in mum’s apartment in Cleveland, drawing all those afternoons because it was the only way to feel good when school was bad.
I should have done this before. I should have – wait. What was that?
For the first time in 3 weeks, there is a sound from within Daniel’s room.
And it sounds like someone smashing a chair through the window.
Suddenly the whole room erupts in explosions of things breaking – the chair, the night table, the bed, and God knows what else. And in between … a howling.
Deep, guttural, primeval.
I want to get up and run now … but I can’t.
Mrs. List comes out from further down the hallway. “What the hell is going on … !?”
I forgot what a high-pitched voice she has. But the howling drowns it out. And then the door to Daniel’s room is flung open, and he is in the hallway and Mrs. List slams her door right shut again.
Did I lock my door?
I can hear him up and down the hallway and he knocks on the wall with something – a leg from a chair? And he rants:
“Fuck it – fuck everybody – fuck it – fuck it – fuck it!!!”
First movement and suddenly I got the gun in my hand. Daniel is back in his room, still smashing and howling and cursing everyone and everything.
Did he have a bad trip? I’ve seen that shit before …
For a moment there is a lull in the storm, and it sounds like he is just sitting down and … I don’t know, breathing? Or more like struggling to get air, like an animal that has been underwater for too long.
I get up and think seriously about going to him, but then he starts shouting “fuck” again in staccato rhythms like it was a perverse poem. Something heavy, metal-like is hurled through what remains of the window.
I stand there on the floor with my gun in one hand and my sketch pad in the other. Then I drop the pad and take a step forward.
For a moment the entire world turns around me. I can see and feel long hot nights in Miami, cold sweat in the bathroom, warm blood in the sink, the smell of make-up trying to cover … it all.
I reach for the only weapon available to me now.
I pick up my phone and call the number.
Mr. Conway answers in his usual amicable way. “What?”
“My neighbor – Daniel – he is trashing everything.” I cram the phone hard in my hand.
Mr. Conway is silent for long moments. “Damn …”
The next hour is like a bad movie going too fast. Mr. Conway was in Frisco, and not in his part of the house as I hoped. The hour it takes for him to get back I spend sitting like a statue in the chair with my gun cramped in my hand and listen to any more sounds from Daniel’s room.
“Fuck … dammit … oh God … ”
That’s all I hear, but his voice gets weaker and he is no longer moving around. But neither am I. I am just squeezing the gun harder.
Apparently, whoever is in their rooms at this hour, too, all decided that that course of action was a great idea and mimic my example. They probably don’t have guns, or Mr. Conway would sure as hell throw them out. But whatever the case, nobody is tempted to come out and have a look. Like … maybe open the door a bit and ask Daniel what is wrong?
So we wait.
Slowly the outbursts die, and there is complete silence. If you didn’t know it, you might as well believe Daniel’s room was empty. The only thing I can hear is the rising wind from the darkening Pacific Ocean pulling at what remains of his blinds. They give off a rattling sound and then finally – clank – a gust of wind pulls them to the floor. Nobody inside the room picks them up.
I hear the door to the hallway open, and Mr. Conway’s footsteps. I hear him opening Daniel’s door. The rest – the few short lines that are said thereafter – I don’t want to hear that. But it sounds like a pronouncement of a mission failure I once saw in a movie. Some soldiers had had to do something, and they had all died. When word got to their superior in HQ, he didn’t hold long speeches. He just informed everyone around him in one clipped sentence that they had lost everything. I guess for Mr. Conway that is as suitable as it gets, with his military fetish and all.
I never got to know what war Daniel was in, but he picks up his things and leaves right after that and then it’s over.
Mr. Conway gets a plywood sheet nailed over the smashed window, and then he locks the door and leaves, too. Not a word to any of us. Nobody comes out to ask, either.
It’s like when Mr. Dreyer had a visit from his wife and they started yelling and throwing things around last month. Mr. Conway also arrived and terminated whatever mission they had with their lives right there and then. Whatever battle they were waging had to go on elsewhere or not at all. They were gone the same evening, but in separate cars.
And all the rest of us stayed where we were. Later on, when I met Mrs. List and Mr. Brockeridge in the kitchen, we talked about why Mr. Conway hadn’t purchased new dishwashing liquid.
And so it is after Daniel is booted out. The next day repairmen are already fixing the room. Ready for a new guest.
It is a sunnier day, and the mist has disappeared, even though it is early morning – one of the few clear mornings by the coast at this time of year. I have put my gun in my bag again, ready to go to Frisco, just waiting for the bus. A little, but not too long.
I am pacing the garden strip between the house and the cliff that leads down to the roaring waves. But it’s not the waves I try not to look at. It’s the window. His window. There are workmen inside. But they don’t care about me. They work. I glance at them while trying to pretend I just stroll. They work. And work. And work. Apparently it was more than just furniture that got trashed, so they will be busy all day, just like me. Too busy to think of too much. Good. I have to get to the bus soon …
I feel my bag. The gun is there, as usual, but the sense of reassurance is gone. What would I have done if he had barged into my room? Would I have shot him? No. He wasn’t dangerous. I should have talked to him. He obviously had had some bad shit happen to him.
But you never know … Would he have beat Mrs. List with that chair leg if she hadn’t retreated into her room? Better safe than sorry, I say. I have to leave it at that. I have to accept that to protect myself; I have to make some choices and not play the heroine.
This conclusion is so obvious, it shouldn’t even be an issue. Especially with a nutcase like Daniel.
I am about to walk up the path to the bus when I notice some of the trash in the grass. He flung a lot out that window yesterday, but this particular trash doesn’t look like trash. In fact, this piece here – I bend down, pick it up … it’s a pad.
A drawing pad. Not unlike mine.
For a moment I look at it. Black, faux leather binding, but inside – sure enough – 100 sheets of 130 grams drawing paper. It’s more expensive than mine and more suited for finished art than just sketches.
I refuse steadfastly in my mind to do it, but I see my hands open the pad, anyway.
On the first page is a date – 14 February 2004 – the day after Daniel moved in. And there is a drawing of a woman. A 25-something woman.
The details are very lifelike.
In fact, they are so lifelike there is no mistaking who the woman is.
It’s black and white, all of it, but on some of the drawings, there is a whiff of watercolors, as if he had started but didn’t quite trust himself enough to proceed.
My hands are shaking more and more as I leaf through the pad. And sure enough: Aside from a few exceptions – a chair here, a cloudy Pacific sky there – the young woman is on most of 3 weeks’ worth of drawings.
So I see myself about 20 times all in all. I see myself so clearly even though my killer mind whispers that I am mistaken, and that it has to be someone else. But in the end, even though my hands are shaking like I still have withdrawal symptoms, I reach the last page and I know there is no mistake at all.
Save for one …
I reach into my bag, pull out the gun and throw it over the edge of the cliff – far, far out into the eternally white-crested waves.