Wednesday, February 3, 2016

THE AQUARIUM

Christmas time arrived early for Tom Greenholz, in the late Fall when the air was crisp and bitter, the ground was hard, the trees were stark and the snow powdered all the lawns in town like a sad confectionary mishap. He killed himself in the coat closet of his little apartment alone on a Sunday night, just before Finals.
It was hard for him to reach a decision on how to go about it. Oh, he knew he was going to die, he'd figured that out weeks ago. His primary concern was the kind of message he wanted his departure to send.
His first, generous impulse was to send a note to his mother and father, telling them not to blame themselves ad infinitum, it had to be. The more thought he gave this, though, the less the idea appealed to him. Did he care whether they laid the blame on their own heads? No, not particularly. Life was a series of beatings, Tom thought, which people had to adapt to or recover from or escape in their own fashions. Let them find their own way, as Tom himself was doing.
Spite, widespread spite, was his next idea. He touched on the notion of leaving short, angry, maybe cryptic messages to everyone—his roommate, his girlfriend, his professors and again the parents...he found a shivery delight in the damage he might leave in his wake, the number of lives he could bruise on his way out. He mulled this last over for days and days, liking the taste of it. In the end he dismissed it as silly, though, showboating of the worst kind. It was all bulky, unnecessary.
Silence, finally, won out. Better, Tom thought, to leave a parade of questions behind. He would sink from life wordlessly, leaving few tremors in death. That would be the best.
The last thing he did before he went was tend to the fish. Tom owned a small tank of fish; a carp, a black moor, an albino catfish and an algae-eater. He sprinkled their fish food over the surface of the bubbling water for the last time and relished the little animals in their simple, unblinking pleasure. Their world was a box, a tiny walk with invisible walls. Had it been since they were born? Did they see those glass borders and wish they weren't there?
He watched them for a few minutes more and was done with them, pleased in the knowledge that his roommate, Danny, would no doubt care for them himself. Danny was that type; a humanitarian, a real litter-picker-upper.
Tom fingered the row of books above his bed: The King James Bible, Edgar Cayce, L. Ron Hubbard, Frank Herbert, Norman Vincent Peale, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Love, Hate, Help, Acupuncture, the How-to of Carpentry, Getting Unstuck, Getting Functional, Getting Headaches. He picked up the cross beside the bookshelf, the gold cross, his last year Christmas present, that last, glowing gift from the parents upstate. It made him sad to look at it, to touch it, but then again, it didn't make him too sad.
He brought it into the closet with him.
Danny, that studious lad, had been gone most of the weekend. He was out on the lake with some curly-topped, porcine Economics major who dressed in pink and purple and who would probably make an easy, eager lay if one told her the right set of lies. Tom was alone, thankfully alone, and it took him most of Saturday to rig up the pulley system.
He shut the door behind him, pulled down the noose and tightened it around his neck. In the dark of the closed closet he kissed the cross he couldn't see and dropped it. He heard it land, puff, somewhere in the carpet.
Kneeling on the little stool, he pulled with his whole body on the rope. Up. Up. Tighter. The pulley was paying its way at this point. He had succeeded in lifting his body at this point, and worlds away, his head was throbbing, pulsing. This was it.
The pulley locked into place. The rope stayed. With one final thrash he punted the little wooden stool out from under him.
Suspended, dangling, Tom felt the world dribbling away and he had a vague sense that he was floating, in the air or maybe deep below the sea. Otherworldly. Drifting, not breathing, swaying.
His throat and lungs seized up, objected. Wait! His rationale tried to override his will, wait! It's almost over, this is the worst part, almost over and then his mind's eye tumbled through a crystal cascade and it was outside the main hall of the university last week, first snow of the season, and he and Rebecca were all rough-and-tumble in the leaves and the pastry powder snow. They were rolling over and over and down and there were his fish, endearing in their soft, mindless way, kissing the water, staring off to the sides with their bubbly, dull eyes. Next it was sunset, sunset, orange embracing gray embracing blackish blue and he and his father were on Cape Cod, sitting on a jetty together, skipping flat, smooth, purple stones over that rolling frothy ocean. Next, Christmas, early morning Christmas, but it was a five-year-old's Christmas, another town, a house with a higher ceiling and the teddy bear-speckled pajamas clung to the sleep-stiffened boy and the pile of presents was was mountainous under the pine, the looming, blue-green pine, new and stunning in its child's eye luminescence and the ornaments that hung from the branches seemed old, ancient, good.
In the dark, Tom clawed at the pulley but its workings no longer made sense. It was like a crazyquilt of alien braille, indecipherable. He banged at it for a minute and he cut his knuckle and then the world began to spin, fast, as if it were going down a colossal drain---his legs kicked in the dark to find the edge of the stool and then went weak. The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow and now all was dark and he felt the last particles of air escape him and whirl up and away to the surface, playing and winding like butterflies until they were gone. Then the black closed in with its warm mitts, muffling everything.
 Originally Published in BLIND IGUANAPRESS circa early 90s. Copyright 1991 C.F. Roberts, 2016 Molotov Editions


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